Friday, February 23, 2007

Following the herd


How many did you see last year?

I caught at least a few minutes of all but #5...and I really watched 1-4, 7, and 9.


Nothing To See Here


The President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (PWG) – A.K.A. the Plunge Protection Team (PPT), depending on your outlook – has released guidelines on regulating hedge funds. Or did they? The strongest language there consists of phrases like “maintain and enhance", "consider the suitability", "commit sufficient resources", and my favorite, demanding they "work together" with regulators and supervisors; so it would appear that the Treasury Department, SEC, and Federal Reserve want to watch hedge funds about as closely as the DoD has Halliburton. With these funds now controlling over $1.2 Trillion in assets, and recent stories like Amaranth Advisors which lost $6 Billion in less than a week, the potential to seriously impact the functioning of markets is clearly there. It seems irresponsible that the Federal Government has backed away from even requiring large funds to register with the SEC, leaving these groups with little public scrutiny.

Interesting in the context of the following facts from the WSJ:
  • The New York Stock Exchange said today that margin totaled $285.61 billion in January, up from $275.38 billion in December and passing the previous peak of $278.53 billion. That high was set in March 2000, as the Nasdaq Composite Index hit its apex — and tailed off from there.

  • The VIX, commonly known as the “fear index,” is hovering around 10, a low point, suggesting a lot of carefree folks out there these days. This level is often a turning point, a calm before the storm, so to speak.

  • The Treasury yield curve inverted months ago, suggesting a recession was on the way. Although it hasn’t happened yet.

  • The Dow industrials, transports and utilities all closed at new highs on the same day last week — something that became a routine occurrence in just two years, 1929 and 1986, both preludes to big market falloffs.

  • The current rally is now the third longest since 1900 without a 10% correction.
Maybe this time is different.

“Even if Microsoft were Free…”


The title of this post is a quote from a NY Times article discussing the introduction of Google Apps. Google Apps is an amalgamation of two previously released applications suites, including Gmail, calendar, instant messaging, Doc & Spreadsheets, and an HTML editor, all available for free over the internet, and easily integrated into a standard web domain to be shared by an office or small company. Provided you can hit the internet, Google supplies the software, the servers, the maintenance, and therefore the people that perform system’s administration – a savings of an estimated $80k on staffing alone and therefore a better value than Microsoft similar offerings “even if Microsoft were Free.”

Granted, considering Google’s egregious license agreement and the fact your stuff sits with someone else, most big business will shy away from the free services – but big business isn’t the fastest growing market segment for business software. Is Microsoft the next Blockbuster? Probably not, they are too big, too diverse, too rich, and have too many talented people to be marginalized entirely. However, the delays and problems with Vista and the next Office – as well as their ho-hum reception – would indicate the more agile Google has fired the first shot across the bow, and may be the first real competition MS has had in years.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'm back!


What, you didn't miss me? The new blogger has finally allowed me to post again. Now, if I could just remember all the things I wanted to say over the last few weeks...

Friday, February 16, 2007

I'm out


I'll be away next week aboard the dinghy to the left. Blogging will be, at best, sporadic. I assume the world will get along without me whether I make comments about it or not.

Arrogant incompetent


"... but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Chris Bowers has the poop on the latest Pew survey.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Not much, but it's a start


Senate Democrats are getting testy.
Senate Democratic leaders abruptly switched course in the Iraq war debate today, shelving a complicated non-binding resolution that has run into procedural hurdles, in favor of a House version that simply states Congress's objections to President Bush's troop escalation plan.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this afternoon announced that the Senate would take a rare Saturday vote on whether to consider the House resolution, which is expected to pass that chamber Friday, with some Republican support ...

The House resolution expresses support for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq, but objects to Bush's plan to increase combat forces by 21,500.

"We are determined to give our troops and the American people the debate they deserve," Reid said.
Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer is a little exercised over the arbitrary removal of a number of US Attorneys.

Now, if only the Dems can continue to pursue these issues vigorously ...

Pipe dream


The New Times is reporting that
When Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his top officers gathered in August 2002 to review an invasion plan for Iraq, it reflected a decidedly upbeat vision of what the country would look like four years after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.

A broadly representative Iraqi government would be in place. The Iraqi Army would be working to keep the peace. And the United States would have as few as 5,000 troops in the country.
And elephants would fly ...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fool me twice ...


As someone who from the get-go felt that the Iraq invasion was a train wreck waiting to happen, I can't help watching the runup to a confrontation with Iran with the same kind of horror.
President Bush said Wednesday he's certain the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons used by fighters in Iraq against U.S. troops, even if he can't prove that the orders came from top Iranian leaders.
Here we see the same kind of crackpot theorizing that we saw four and five years ago—when it didn't make any difference what could actually be proved; the warmongers simply made up what they wanted the truth to be.

We've been down this illogical road many times before with this administration. My hope is that with a new majority in the House of Representatives (Holy Joe removes the majority in the Senate as he is obviously in accord with our delusional president on this issue.), perhaps some semblance of sanity can be achieved regarding this new "threat."

100 percent not gay


I've been remiss in not following the Ted Haggard debacle more closely, but let me try to make up for it.

I'm sick and tired of sanctimonious morons bashing gays when, in fact, they're homosexuals themselves. The fact that The Reverend Mr. Haggard ingested crystal meth while having his jollies with his boy toy makes this abominable situation even worse.

And what's the reaction when these pecksniffs are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, so to speak? They go right back to trying to appear as bastions of rectitude.

Thus it is with The Reverend Mr. Haggard, who, mirabile dictu, has now been completely cured of his errant ways in a mere three weeks.
"He is completely heterosexual," said the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur, Colo., one of four pastors who supervised Haggard's "restoration." "That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."
Oh, I get it: He wasn't gay; it was just behavior he exhibited. This kind of blather is reminiscent of Fred Rogers' deathless contribution to psychology: "It's you I like; it's not the things you do." Of course, Mr. Rogers was speaking to three-year-olds. In the Haggard instance, it seems like three-year-olds are speaking to us.

Happy Valentines Day, everyone. Drive carefully.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

This is Comforting


We all know that the U.S. military lowered its recruiting standards, allowing high school drop-outs, the overweight, and the stupid, in order to meet its recruiting goals. But did anyone really expect this:
The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.
It has also increased the number of so-called “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal pasts, even as the total number of recruits dropped slightly. The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army’s moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

The number of waivers for felony convictions also increased, to 11 percent of the 8,129 moral waivers granted in 2006, from 8 percent.
So let me get this straight, the policy of the American government is to give weapons training to people with violent criminal histories, sending them to a war zone where their job is to police a violent sectarian conflict, and, if they are lucky enough to survive without injury, return home to the U.S. With President Bush's recent cut in VA funding and stories like this:
VA system ill-equipped to treat mental anguish of war
The Department of Veterans Affairs is facing a wave of returning veterans like Bowman who are struggling with memories of a war where it's hard to distinguish innocent civilians from enemy fighters and where the threat of suicide attacks and roadside bombs haunts the most routine mission. Since 2001, about 1.4 million Americans have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other locations in the global war on terror.
Despite a decade-long effort to treat veterans at all VA locations, nearly 100 local VA clinics provided virtually no mental health care in 2005. Beyond that, the intensity of treatment has worsened. Today, the average veteran with psychiatric troubles gets about one-third fewer visits with specialists than he would have received a decade ago.
I'm guessing we can look forward to a lot more stories like this last month from Britain:
Gulf war veteran who slid into despair and self-loathing after leaving the army admitted yesterday that he had cold-bloodedly shot dead four members of his family after finally "flipping".
and this from a little closer to home: John Allen Muhammad.

Dear God!


This headline caught my eye:
Daylight-saving glitch threatens mini-Y2K
So I guess I should expect a lot of hype and nothing to happen again? Or maybe just a "mini" nothing is going to happen. I can't wait.

Laying the Groundwork


John McCain says:
By the way, a lot of us are also very concerned about the possibility of a, quote, "Tet Offensive." You know, some large-scale tact that could then switch American public opinion the way that the Tet Offensive did.
It is an interesting comment given that, as others have pointed out, a newly released poll shows that 63% of Americans want a timetable to withdraw from Iraq by 2008.

Obviously, McCain is delusional and blinded so much by his own rhetoric and beliefs that he ignores that fact that he is in the minority now. But I can't help to think that McCain is laying the groundwork for the next in the long line of excuses for why "we" lost Iraq. After the Tet Offensive, conservatives and Viet Nam war supporters made no bones about who was responsible for losing the war. General Westmorland, Commander of US forces in Viet Nam from 1964-1968, wrote in his memoir:
The war still could have been brought to a favorable end following the defeat of the enemy's Tet Offensive. But this was not to be. Press and television had created an aura, not of victory, but defeat.
Why do I think that McCain will include a similar statement in his memoir after the inevitable failure of the "surge"?

The Academy Awards


Yahoo! has a site where one can give one's opinion regarding the Oscars. I seem to have agreed with the "expert opinion" more often than not, which may or may not be a good sign as to my taste.

What all the fuss is about


The strength of the blogosphere has been demonstrated with the hubbub surrounding John Edwards' campaign's hiring, firing, and then rehiring of two bloggers who rubbed some people the wrong way.

One of the bloggers has just submitted her resignation, but that's clearly not enough for the homophobic misogynists.



Here's a record that'll make one's skin crawl. How any team could've hired this martinet after his horrid performance in Kansas City is beyond me. (The parallels with Tom Coughlin are striking.)

Oh well. Good riddance; I'm sure we won't have Marty Schottenheimer to kick around any more. (For a moderately amusing story, click here.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just another reason to hate Duke Basketball

Sporting Goods

In comment to former NBA player John Amaechi's revelation that he is gay, recent Duke player Shavlik Randolph offered this gem, "As long as you don't bring your gayness on me, I'm fine." Good stuff. I knew I hated him but I thought it was because of his play in the 2004 Final Four game against UConn.

(To be fair to Duke, not something I'm wont to do, Grant Hill offered this assessment, "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring.")

Nevertheless, Duke's four ACC losses in a row warms my heart. Of course, UConn could not be playing worse this year. Sunday's loss to Georgia Tech was unbearable and actually unwatchable. Do any of these guys know how to hit a mid-range jump shot or even finish a play? How about a good outlet pass once in a while?



I know that several readers of this blog are big Hillary fans, but a couple of the bloggers I read don't feel that she acquitted herself well over the weekend in New Hampshire regarding her position on Iraq.

David Kurtz's post on the subject is here, and Tom Grieve says at Salon's War Room that
Clinton's husband understood -- at least in the end -- the value of sometimes admitting that he was wrong. Why does she find it so hard to do the same? Does she fear the political fallout from such an admission? That doesn't make a lot of sense: Seventy-five percent of Americans thought the war was the "right decision" in early 2003, but only 40 percent do now, suggesting that a lot of Americans have had the same sort of change of heart that Clinton could acknowledge but won't.
This is clearly an issue that won't go away. With a vast majority of Americans disapproving of a president who can't admit he was wrong, Ms. Clinton would do well to heed such disapprobation.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On to Tehran


It's pretty clear where the US is headed when we see stories like this:
Sophisticated Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq have killed at least 170 US and allied soldiers since June 2004, senior US defence officials have said, amid ongoing carnage ...

US defence officials presented their evidence at a background briefing in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, after Washington stepped up criticism of Iran.
Apparently we're to forget that so much of the "evidence" regarding Iraq's danger was manufactured and accept this allegation with no hesitation. The Bushies just won't quit with this crap, and there's no reason to do so as long as the country's Congress is peopled by quislings.

As Digby says:
Today we are looking at a concerted PR campaign to implicate Iran in the Iraq war, a third carrier group is steaming to the Gulf and nobody believes a thing the US Government says.

And we watch as our democratic institutions seem to be incapable of hitting the brakes and I'm not sure I understand why. It was one thing after 9/11 for everyone to be caught up in the emotion of the moment. There is no such excuse now. The entire world knows now that the US is not only irrational but it is widely perceived as being incompetent. What could be more dangerous than having delusional megalomaniacs playing Risk at a time like this?
What, indeed?

UPDATE — Kevin Drum has more.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I think we knew this


I know that this has been posted elsewhere, but it gives one pause to have it substantiated that
Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general ...

In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general's conclusion that his actions, described in the report as "inappropriate," were not unlawful. "This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment,' " he said. "It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance."
Two things: I think just about everybody who has a brain in his head knew that intelligence regarding Iraq was being reworked prior to March, 2003. This just shows that those suspicions were justified.

Second, this incident certainly doesn't contradict General Tommy Franks' impression of Doug Feith.

I'm not saying she's a whore


Something decidedly not to look forward to:
Neil Cavuto, a long-time Fox News business anchor, is the network's Man of the Moment. Fox ... announced on Thursday the worst-kept secret in the media world: that it expects to launch the Fox Business Channel in the fourth quarter. And Cavuto is leading the charge. He'll supervise FBC on a day-to-day basis.
This would be the same Neil Cavuto who's so famous (and so hideous) that he's had a new kind of punctuation mark named after him. Hoo boy.



A story that's been going around since yesterday has to do with increased incidents of autism in the US.
About one in 150 American children has autism, U.S. health officials said Thursday, calling the troubling disorder an urgent public-health concern that is more common than they thought.

The new numbers are based on the largest, most convincing study done so far in the United States, and trump previous estimates that placed the prevalence at one in 166.

The difference means roughly 50,000 more children and young adults may have autism and related disorders [emphasis added] than was previously thought -- a total nationwide of more than a half-million people.
It's the "related disorders" that've caught my eye. As one who first learned of Asperger's Syndrome when a young relative's symptoms cried out that something wasn't right, I can't help but think that the rules have changed regarding diagnosis.

I've known kids who were full blown autistics—kids who had absolutely no interaction with events going on around them. This is obviously what diagnosticians had in mind when the condition was first identified. Now, like many other conditions, the definition of autism has been expanded to include conditions that comprise a variety of social maladjustments—including, one assumes, something so mild as sweating before giving a speech.

It seems a truism that everyone is neurotic in one way or another. This report may do nothing more than justify people's going to therapists or parents' insisting that their children receive educational special services.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dear Drift ...


Are you hosting Daily411's March on the Pentagon party next month?

Just curious.

Pleasure Reading


What with the Libby trial and the various Congressional hearings, it's actually fun to read many blogs these days.

By the way, has anyone seen Feckless Leader recently?



I know that I've been less than kind to Connecticut's governor in the past, but her budget speech of yesterday was one of the most progressive orations I've heard since the days of the Great Society.

May she stay the course.

Controlling the message


If nothing else, the Libby trial is affording the hoi polloi a look into the cozy relationship that the media have with the federal government. As Tim Ruttan of the LA Times said on the NewsHour last night:
I think we see the picture of a certain strata of the Washington press corps which has a certain relationship with people in the administration at its highest level based on access and mutual convenience. It's not a pretty picture ...

[I]f you stand back from what occurred during those months [immediately after the Plame outing], you have the picture of a number of high level Washington correspondents, very fine news organizations, who were essentially missing the story in the interests of preserving their access.
It can't be stated much plainer than that. When the messenger is controlling the message, it's pretty hard for us peones to have a glimmer of what's going on.

Thank goodness for Internet sites such as Media Matters, Daily Howler, and Editor and Publisher for trying to get their readers past the smoke and mirrors.

Back on Board


Thanks much to Chill for getting me onto the new (and improved?) Blogger. Post to follow.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Plantation

Sporting Goods

This story caught my eye last week and not because I'm a huge NHL fan. Last week, after a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brandon Shanahan of the New York Rangers had a couple of things to say about the officiating:
"I don't know what the deal is," an angry Shanahan said. "Guys hit [Jagr] late, guys hit him high, guys hook his hands. He doesn't complain. He just goes out and plays and plays and plays. The referees just seem to have a different set of rules about the way people get to play against him."
Having read more than my share of stories about athletes who dared criticize officials, I obviously expected a strong rebuke from the NHL and a fine. What I saw instead was a surprise:
"I think criticism is a great form of adjustment for us," Mike Murphy, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the league's "war room" in Toronto. "The more honest criticism directed at us helps us watch our department close to make sure we do things right.

"Criticism isn't something we run from."
and so was this:
"We don't muzzle our players," NHL vice president Colin Campbell told TSN of Canada on Thursday. "We're not happy that Brendan Shanahan chose to be critical of our officials but he is, within limits, free to say what he wants.

"Brendan is a veteran player and has been in our league a long time. If he feels this criticism will help him or his teammates or his team, that it might give them an edge or that it just needed to be said, that's up to him. But I can say that our referees aren't going to change the way they call the game because of criticism from anyone. Our referees have a great deal of integrity and they call the game as they see it," Campbell said.
This is interesting because it is so refreshing. For some reason, I got used to this:
  • Shaq fined $15,000 for criticizing NBA officials

  • and this:
  • The Chicago Bulls fined forward Tyrus Thomas $10,000 on Tuesday, one day after the rookie said he only was interested in the money for the NBA's slam dunk contest.

    These are only two examples of the many that I could have pulled from the last year in the NBA. Now, I'm don't mean to imply that the NBA has to allow players freedom of speech as a constitutional right, (thanks law school ... now would somebody please tell ESPN analysts), but part of the principle behind the first amendment applies equally everywhere. At its most basic and simplistic, allowing people to express opinions contrary to your own demonstrates respect.

    What interests me is the two different approaches that two very different leagues take to treating their employees. The NHL, a league run by white men and played predominantly by white men, allows its players to openly criticize the league and its officials. The NBA, a league run by white men and predominately played by black men, muzzles its players and openly treats their words and opinions with contempt.

    Draw your own conclusions.
  • Oh, Great


    The Colts-Bears was the 2nd most watched Super Bowl in history. We can now look forward to the NFL rules committee, with a little pressure from above, doing what they can to get the Colts back to the Super Bowl.

    Here are some suggestions:
    -To avoid inclement weather, all playoff games must be played in a dome (replacing original suggestion of games postponed in the event of snow).
    -5-yard legal contact area reduced to 5 inch legal contact area.
    -Multiple receivers can go in motion, CFL style.
    -Teams get a point each time their quarterback shows up in a commercial during the broadcast.
    -Teams lose a point for each supermodel/smoking hot actress the QB has dated.
    -Ty Law and Asante Samuel may not play for the Patriots (though they probably don't need a rule for that to happen)

    I'm sure the Colts new shamless ploy of having their offensive line jump if a defensive player goes into the neutral zone will go unaddressed.

    The Senate's Spinelessness


    This was supposed to be the week that Congress finally weighed in on President Bush's calls for a surge of 21,000 troops into Iraq. This was supposed to be the moment that the Senate finally flexed its muscle. This was supposed to be a moment for democracy. Alas, it was not to be.

    It's no wonder that Feckless Leader thinks of himself as the decider. As long as there are gutless politicians in the Senate (no matter how the Democrats try to spin this), F.L. can do whatever he wants, and the US populace can go suck an egg.

    Ground Control to Captain Lisa ...


    Here's the titillating story of the day.
    An astronaut drove 900 miles and donned a disguise to confront a woman she believed was her rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot, police said. She was arrested Monday and charged with attempted kidnapping and other counts.
    The former astronaut reported that she felt "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship" with the pilot.

    I suppose some parallels can be made with the runaway bride story of a couple years ago, although this affair grew at a much higher velocity.

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    A new video


    Here's a video that's making the rounds of my portion of the blogosphere. Comments about it can be found here and here.

    Quote of the Day


    Florida Governor Charlie Crist in discussing FEMA's assistance in his state's recovery efforts after weekend storms:
    "There's no question about it. This isn't Louisiana. This is Florida. They really come in here and come in here strong."
    As Soupy Sales used to ask, now what do we mean by that?

    In the running(?)


    I thought to title this post "The Most Delusional Man in America," but then I thought that there were too many other candidates. Nader's certainly in the running, however, and is an embarrassment to himself, his former ideals, and his supporters.

    The National Budget


    The big news is that
    President Bush will send Congress a $2.9 trillion spending request today that seeks billions of dollars more to fight the Iraq war and tries to restrain the spiraling cost of the government's big health care programs.
    In other words, the compassionate conservative wants more money for killing people and less money for curing people.

    It's likely that the spineless Congress will go along with this idiocy if the current ditherings in the Senate are any indication.

    Somehow, these morons want to demonstrate to their constituents (who are way ahead of the Senate's curve) that they're against the occupation while not cutting ties to Feckless Leader. For whatever reason, they feel obliged to stick with a president whose approval rating is 30% and with a policy that has an approval rating lower than that. It just goes to prove Mencken's assertion that "democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    The NIE


    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has just released the declassified "key judgments" (available here if you're really into this stuff) of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Among them: It's not fair to say that Iraq is in a "civil war," but only because that term isn't broad enough to cover the scope of the problems the country is facing. And meddling by Iran and Iraq's other neighbors "is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability," but only because Iraq's "internal sectarian dynamics" are fully capable of causing enough trouble on their own.

    Other commentaries on the Estimate can be found here and here.

    Kill me now


    I have a cold that's lingered for the better part of three weeks, we're in the dog days of winter, and the Bushies apparently want to bomb Iran. I don't know if I can take much more.

    I've tried to ignore the Iran story for the last few weeks simply because I thought it was so preposterous that it couldn't possibly be true. Unfortunately, the possibility of attack seems to be turning into a certainty now. The increased naval deployments in the Persian Gulf sure don't seem to be there to afford crews a vacation.

    This is madness.

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Code Orange! Code Orange!


    You'll pardon me for thinking this is hilarious.
    Ten blinking electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a publicity campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. At least one of the devices depicts a character giving the finger.

    Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.

    "It's a hoax — and it's not funny," said Gov. Deval Patrick.

    Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner Inc. and parent of Cartoon Network, said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," a surreal series about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball.
    The funniest part of the whole situation is that
    the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia,
    but they were only discovered in Boston.

    Obviously the ad campaign was worthless, but it's also not exactly surprising that the vaunted Department of Homeland Security was asleep at the switch on this for as long as the devices have been in the aforementioned urban areas.

    UPDATE — Here's another view of the incident.

    Molly Ivins has died


    One obit is here.

    In my opinion, she was the best progressive writer of the last decade and was one of the very few pundits who was willing to call the president on his ridiculous post 9/11 assertions.

    She will be sorely missed and never truly replaced.

    Requiescat in pace.