September 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Most Dishwasher Detergents Are Lousy:  (Probably because they don't contain phosphates, and the manufacturers are still looking for decent substitutes.)

But Consumer Reports did find three that cleaned well, Finish Quantum, Finish Powerball Tabs, and Cascade All in 1 Action Pacs.

Since the Powerball Tabs cleaned pots well, and were the cheapest of the three (21 cents per load as opposed to 30 and 29, respectively) they gave it their "Best Buy" recommendation.

I've tried it a couple of times, and it does clean much better than the store brand I was using.  (The water in this area is relatively soft, which may help.)

However, Consumer Reports did not test the Powerball Tabs for glass film and aluminum discoloration, which are problems with some dishwater detergents.  (And I did find some complaints about those problems, though none mentioned the Powerball Tab version of Finish.)  I haven't noticed either problem, but I am notoriously unobservant about such things.

The Cascade detergent did pass the film and discoloration tests.

One oddity:  The versions produced by the same manufacturer often had markedly different scores.  For example, the magazine tested six different Finish detergents; they scored 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 15th and 18th out of 23.

The worst dishwasher detergent?  365 Everyday Value from Whole Foods.  It is practically free, however, costing only 1 cent per load.
- 3:02 PM, 24 September 2011   [link]

If You Are Looking For Something Interesting To Do This Weekend, here's a possibility.

But I would advise against it, unless you are a great kayaker — and have great insurance coverage.
- 2:16 PM, 24 September 2011   [link]

Worried About Being Hit By That Falling Satellite?   Here's the official NASA site, which will tell you when to duck.

(I've been wondering why they have such a range of outcomes this late, and have tentatively concluded that much depends on the orientation of the satellite, that it would have far more air resistance in some orientations than others.  If you know a better explanation for this uncertainty, please let me know.)
- 8:54 AM, 23 September 2011
More:  The most recent update (10:30 AM, EDT) confirms my guess about orientation and uncertainty.
Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite's rate of descent.  The satellite's orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent.  There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent.
In other words, be alert, even if you are in the United States.
- 10:50 AM, 23 September2011
Still More:  The orientation, and the "solar flux", which is a fancy way of saying that the earth's atmosphere expands when heated by the sun, so the amount of drag on the satellite varies.

By now, the satellite has fallen "over the North Pacific Ocean", which does less to narrow it down than one might like.
- 9:40 AM, 24 September 2011   [link]

The Obama Administration Does A Modified Limited Hangout On Solyndra:  With the help of the New York Times.

For example:
"We had to knock down some barriers standing in the way to get these projects funded," Matthew C. Rogers, the Energy Department official overseeing the loan guarantee program, said in March 2009, just days before Solyndra got its provisional loan commitment.   Mr. Rogers said Energy Secretary Steven Chu had been personally reviewing loan applications and urging faster action on them.

Two committees of Congress, the Department of Energy's inspector general and the Department of Justice are now investigating what went wrong in the Solyndra case.   In Washington, it has set in motion a highly partisan battle over the benefits or failings of Mr. Obama's stimulus program.

Some Republican lawmakers have raised questions about political interference in the loan decision, pointing to the fact that George B. Kaiser, a billionaire from Tulsa, Okla., was a fund-raiser for Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign and the backer of a foundation that is Solyndra's leading investor.  While he has met with top White House and administration officials multiple times, Mr. Kaiser and administration officials say they discussed issues related to his foundation, not Solyndra.
In other words, the Obama administration was rushing to do the right thing, and blundered.   And anyone who suggests that the administration committed crimes is probably a mean Republican.

Is that picture broadly right?  Perhaps.  But I think it likely that we will learn, eventually, that the favoritism to Solyndra crossed legal lines, as well as ethical lines.   In other words, we are likely to learn that it was a crime and a blunder, to modify Joseph Fouché's famous line.

(Younger readers may need an explanation of "modified limited hangout".)
- 8:35 AM, 23 September 2011   [link]

Julian Assange Has Two Standards On Open Information:   One for others, and one for himself.
The autobiography of Julian Assange is published today despite attempts by the WikiLeaks founder to suppress it after a bitter row with its publisher.
. . .
It appears despite his decision this year to withdraw his co-operation.  After protracted efforts to secure either his consent to publication or the return of an advance worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, his publisher, Canongate, has decided to go ahead.
His double standards won't surprise anyone who has paid even a little attention to what he does, as opposed to what he says.
- 7:09 AM, 23 September 2011   [link]

I'm Back:  This morning, my provider, Seanet, would not let me put up posts.  So, though I had written some, as you can see below, they were not up.

(Not sure what the problem was.  I put in a complaint this morning, and I am guessing that someone fixed whatever permission needed to be fixed.

Probably not relevant, but I'll mention it anyway:  Usually I work under Ubuntu, but a few minutes ago, I got tired of working and switched to Windows 7.  When I got there I tried an FTP connection to Seanet, and succeeded.  Probably just coincidence, but it's possible, I suppose, that I reset some flag here or there by using the Windows program.)
- 2:38 PM, 22 September 2011   [link]

186,282 Miles Per Second:  It's not just a good idea, it's the law.

Or is it?  Experimenters have measured slightly faster speeds by neutrinos.
Scientists at the world's largest physics lab said Thursday they have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than light.  That's something that according to Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity - the famous E (equals) mc2 equation - just doesn't happen.
. . .
CERN says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.  Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant.  But given the enormous implications of the find, they still spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there was no flaws in the experiment.
And now they have asked other scientists to find their mistake — which they are almost sure must be there somewhere.

(It sure would be fun if their measurement is correct — but that isn't the way to bet.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research.)
- 1:09 PM, 22 September 2011
More:  Yesterday, a caller to the Hugh Hewitt show suggested that they might have made a surveying error, that they had measured the distance between particle accelerator and target incorrectly.
- 7:19 AM, 23 September 2011   [link]

You've Probably Heard The Anti-Capital Punishment Side Of The Troy Davis Execution:  Here's the "pro" side, from Ann Coulter.
It's nearly impossible to receive a death sentence these days -- unless you do something completely crazy like shoot a cop in full view of dozens of witnesses in a Burger King parking lot, only a few hours after shooting at a passing car while exiting a party.

That's what Troy Davis​ did in August 1989.  Davis is the media's current baby seal of death row.

After a two-week trial with 34 witnesses for the state and six witnesses for the defense, the jury of seven blacks and five whites took less than two hours to convict Davis of Officer Mark MacPhail's murder, as well as various other crimes.  Two days later, the jury sentenced Davis to death.
I haven't checked her arguments, but she says that "more than a dozen courts" have ruled against Davis.  So I suspect that she is right.
- 12:22 PM, 22 September 2011   [link]

We Knew Bill Clinton Was Careless:  But, even now, he can surprise me by showing us just how careless he is.
A long-lost, highly valuable Moon rock brought back from the Apollo 17 mission has turned up in the files of Bill Clinton.

The rock was one of 50 presented to each state, and was given to Arkansas while the ex-president was governor.  The rock, worth millions of dollars, had been missing since at least 1980 until an archivist found it in old gubernatorial papers.
Clinton isn't the only governor to have lost a moon rock, and one, John Vanderhoof, "kept" his on leaving office, though he did give it back eventually.

(Vanderhoof is a Republican. Other than this little problem with the moon rock, he appears to have been an honest politician — and he had a superb record in World War II, judging by his medals.)
- 7:17 AM, 22 September 2011   [link]

Italian Members Of Parliament Get Good Pensions:  Even if they are ex-porn stars.
She is famed for being the first woman to uncover her breasts live on Italian television, for recording a song entirely about the male organ, and for offering sex to Osama bin Laden (in return, she said, for giving up terrorism).

But now Ilona Staller, better known as Cicciolina, is the unlikely centre of a bitter row over the cost to ordinary Italians of the perks enjoyed by their country's tens of thousands of politicians.  It emerged on Monday that the Hungarian, who starred in almost 40 hardcore pornographic movies, will soon be enjoying a €39,000-a-year (£34,000) pension, provided by the taxpayers of her adoptive homeland.
For serving a single term of five years.

She isn't getting a special deal.  But her pension is making Italians wonder about all the others, too.
- 1:34 PM, 21 September 2011   [link]

The Three Levels Of Obama's Deficit Proposals:  It is helpful, I think, to see Obama's proposals as having three levels.

The first level are the actual proposals, which are intended for the policy wonks.  For example, when Obama talks about a Warren Buffett tax, they hear a new version of the Alternate Minimum Tax, and perhaps higher rates and fewer deductions for those with higher incomes.

You can find the second level in Obama's speeches, the kind of speeches that the Associated Press just criticized. Let's take a close look at the most-discussed paragraph in that Monday speech.
It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.  Anybody who says we can't change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out.  They should have to defend that unfairness -- explain why somebody who's making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that -- paying a higher rate.  They ought to have to answer for it.   And if they're pledged to keep that kind of unfairness in place, they should remember, the last time I checked the only pledge that really matters is the pledge we take to uphold the Constitution.
That paragraph is not as clear as one would like — as is often true of political rhetoric.  But we can read it literally.

And, if we do, we conclude that Obama wants to change the tax laws so that all those who earn wages of, for example, $50 thousand a year should pay a lower tax rate than those who earn, for example, $50 million a year.  (Almost all of them do, already.)

In fact, what Obama is saying is impossible, without giving up "loopholes" that nearly everyone in his party supports, for example, tax-free bonds.  (For that example, and some others, see this brief article.)

A little farther along, Obama lays out the alternative to his proposal:
It comes down to this: We have to prioritize.  Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount -- by $4 trillion.  So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal?  Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we're going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.  We can't afford to do both.

Either we gut education and medical research, or we've got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don't get.  We can't afford to do both.
Again, Obama is less clear, less specific than one would like, but again, if we read it literally, we would conclude that Obama thinks that we can solve our deficit problems, keep Medicare as it is, support education and medical research — if only the rich pay their "fair" share (whatever that is) and some big companies give up their loopholes.

And that's impossible, too.  No one who has taken a serious look at our deficit problems believes that we can solve them without serious entitlement reforms, no matter how much we tax the rich or end business loopholes.

Why did Obama promise us two impossible things, just after his breakfast?

Because, and here we come to the third and most important level, he understands how many voters will hear what he said.  What many will hear from the sound bites broadcast by the networks is something like this:  Many rich people are paying little or no taxes, and many companies are benefiting from tax loopholes.  If we make the rich pay their "fair" share and eliminate those loopholes, then the rest of us won't have to suffer any pain.

(Think I am exaggerating?  Take a look at this Froma Harrop column.)

Now there is one small problem, as you may have noticed, with the second and third levels of Obama's proposals.  Eventually, they will run into reality.

Does Obama know that?  I'm not sure.  But I am reasonably sure that Obama doesn't care, that, like most machine politicians, he views campaign speeches like the one on Monday, as ways to win power, not serious proposals.

(One thing often left out of discussions of taxes on capital gains is that the gains are not indexed for inflation.

Hedge funds are often criticized for they high payments to their officers, payments that, as I understand it, are treated as capital gains, rather than income.  I don't know enough about the details to decide whether this is fair or not, whether this is good for the economy or not, but I do know who the principal protector of hedge funds is: Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.  And I suppose that alone is a reason to be suspicious.)
- 1:13 PM, 21 September 2011   [link]

Lucky For Us Those Drone Bases Are Secret:  Otherwise, if our enemies knew where they were, they might might find ways to counteract them.

Although I must admit that leaking their locations to the Washington Post may not be the best way of keeping them secret.
The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.
Though to be fair, WikiLeaks seems to have leaked the locations first.

(Where possible, I would prefer to launch the drones from warships in international waters, rather than from friendly countries.)
- 5:57 AM, 21 September 2011   [link]

Joy Behar And Rachel Ray Think That Bill Clinton is charming, brilliant, and honest.

Two out of three ain't bad, though I would say "smart", rather than brilliant.
- 5:28 AM, 21 September 2011   [link]

David Brooks Generated A lot Of Laughter When He confessed that he had been a sap for Obama.  (Here's an example of that laughter.)

But I have some sympathy for the New York Times columnist, because he was fooled by a master.  And because Brooks is, apparently, beginning to catch on to Obama.  He has a way to go in that journey, but he has made the first steps.

And I almost always like it when a journalist admits error, frankly, as Brooks did.
- 6:29 PM, 20 September 2011   [link]

When I Saw The Picture That The NYT Used to illustrate their long piece on Rick Perry, I thought they had made a weird choice, but I didn't realize just how weird.  Our newspaper of record made Perry into a plant that doesn't grow in Texas.

(Arizonans, too, will be amused by the mistake.)
- 5:11 PM, 20 September 2011   [link]

UPS To USPS:  I am expecting a small package and was tracking it this morning when I found out that United Parcel took it all the way to the local post office, and will let my postman bring it the last mile or so.

In some ways, this makes a lot of sense to me, since the postman has to come by six days a week, and the UPS delivery guy may not.

But it does make me wonder, as I have before, why the Post Office didn't deliver more such packages, given their advantage.
- 2:42 PM, 20 September 2011   [link]

Progressive Consumption Tax?  Our federal income tax code tries, simultaneously, to encourage saving and investment, and to tax the wealthy at higher rates than the poor and middle class.

Unfortunately, those two goals often conflict.  Since the wealthy do much of the saving and investment, putting lower tax rates on saving and investments benefits them disproportionately.

But that saving and investment is good for all of us, so if we tax it too much, we are all worse off.

Economist Robert H. Frank has proposed getting around that problem with a "progressive consumption tax", which he described in a column in last Sunday's New York Times.  (You can download the column here.   It's titled "Darwin, the Market Whiz".)
Under a progressive consumption tax, taxpayers would report their incomes, much as they do now.  They'd also report their annual savings, much as they do for tax-exempt retirement accounts.  The tax would be based on "taxable consumption" — the difference between their income and annual savings, less a standard deduction of, say, $30,000 for a family of four.  Rates on additional expenditures would start low and rise gradually with taxable consumption.
In Frank's opinion, such a tax system would cut back on competitive spending for status, and would encourage saving and investment.

Would a few secretaries still pay proportionately more than their bosses under a progressive consumption tax?  Almost certainly — but I don't think that Frank would believe that was a reason to reject his tax system.

Obama wants to tax the rich more, for being rich; Frank wants to tax the rich more, to the extent that they spend their money on themselves.

(On the whole, Frank is on the left, though more independent in his thinking than most leftist academics.)
- 10:33 AM, 20 September 2011   [link]

Smoking Or Obesity?  I've been wondering about this possible connection.
Professors Charles Baum and Shin-Yi Chou found that smokers were 0.078% less likely to be obese.  The declining use of cigarettes explains 2% of the increase in obesity (which is a low number but larger than any other factor).
So it's a weak relationship, but the strongest that they found.

Which leaves me still wondering about that possible relationship, and others.

(Here's a stray thought:  Perhaps what we need to explain is not obesity, but its absence.  Perhaps most humans are naturally obese — if we have access to all we want to eat.  And now, for the first time, most of us in developed nations do.)
- 9:34 AM, 20 September 2011   [link]

Another Obama Speech, another Associated Press Fact Check.
"Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires," Obama said Monday.  "That's pretty straightforward.  It's hard to argue against that."

The data tell a different story.  On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data.  They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.

There may be individual millionaires who pay taxes at rates lower than middle-income workers.  In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the Internal Revenue Service.   That, however, was less than 1 percent of the nearly 237,000 returns with incomes above $1 million.
And when those millionaires don't pay federal income tax, it is usually because of tax breaks designed, not to benefit the rich, but for some other purpose.  For example, for many decades, federal tax laws have allowed states and cities to issue tax-free bonds.  This lowers the interest rates those states and cities have to pay on their borrowing — but it also lets the wealthy receive tax-free income.

I don't doubt that there are many genuine loopholes that benefit some of the wealthy; after all, there are literally thousands of lobbyists trying hard to slip them into our tax codes.  They must succeed occasionally, or they wouldn't keep their jobs.

But the AP is right; in general, the wealthy pay a much larger share of their incomes in federal taxes than the poor or the middle class.  President Obama should stop implying that they don't.

(Warren Buffett has helped Obama confuse people by an incomplete discussion of his own taxes.  When Buffett says that he pays at a lower rate than his secretary, he is leaving out his share of the income taxes that his company pays every year.  That's a fairly sizeable omission, about $1.68 billion.)
- 8:06 AM, 20 September 2011   [link]

How Did UBS Trader Kweku Adoboli Lose $2 Billion?  Tim Worstall has an informed guess.  He believes that Adoboli succumbed to a common temptation, and slipped from pure (and risk-free) arbitrage to speculation.
But if this is what Adoboli was doing then how can he have lost $2 billion for UBS?   There's no risk right?  Ahhh, but here we come to the great temptation of every pure arbitrageur.  To move from this making pennies on simultaneous purchases and sales to taking a position: to speculating in fact.  I can see that the price is moving to make me an even greater profit: what if I delay my second part, my sale or purchase, just for 10 minutes to give the price a little further to run?  Or a day?  Or a week?  This is now time arbitrage or, as I say, speculation.
That seems plausible, but Worstall does not explain the other side of the puzzle:  Why didn't the management or software at UBS detect what Adoboli was doing?

(Adoboli has some computer training, so he may have figured out how to fool the company software, as Jérôme Kerviel did at Société Générale.)
- 7:31 AM, 20 September 2011   [link]

Questions "Mainstream" Journalists Won't Ask (1):   For some time, I have been thinking about how I could improve "mainstream" journalism.  I didn't think that it was enough just to criticize the mistakes, the bias, and the poor reasoning, as I do here from time to time.

Instead, I thought that I should do some positive things, and find ways to give my criticism more impact.

I am going to start this little project by suggesting a question for "mainstream" journalists, a question that they should ask House members, and candidates for the House.  I have been calling it the "Pelosi question", and will continue to do so as long as she is the leader of the House Democrats.  (And maybe after that.)

Last year, before the national election, I would have used this version of the question:   "If you and Nancy Pelosi are elected to the House, and she runs for Speaker, will you vote for her?  Why, or why not?"

As far as I know, none of our local "mainstream" journalists asked the local candidates that question, last year.  (The most likely would have been Kyung M. Song, who covers Washington, D. C. for the Seattle Times.  I'll be sending her an email, just in case she has used that question.)

Journalists should ask the Pelosi question, because that vote is, in most sessions, the most important vote that a House member casts.  And there are sometimes a few House members who do not vote for their party's choice for Speaker.  (There were reports in late 1998 that a few Republican members were planning to vote against Bob Livingston.  He withdrew, even though he had been selected by the party caucus.)

I've asked the question myself, with interesting results.  My own congressman, Jay Inslee, has refused to answer it, twice.  (I'll be asking him the question again, soon, in a new variant.)  Rick Larsen, the Democrat who holds the 2nd district to the north of Inslee's 1st, agreed to answer the question during last year's campaign.  He did say that he would vote for Pelosi, but refused to tell voters why.

"Mainstream" journalists may disagree with me on this point, but I think that the best questions for elected officials — are often the ones they don't want to answer.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:14 AM, 19 September 2011   [link]

It's International Talk Like A Pirate Day:  If you aren't sure how, you can get some hints here.

(And if you are a spoilsport, as I am from time to time, you can read what little we know about how pirates actually talked.)
- 1:02 PM, 19 September 2011   [link]

Mickey Kaus Thinks that the taxpayers should have been ahead of the UAW.
How about paying back the $15 billion first?  I'm sure there are sophisticated arguments for why the UAW members shouldn't pay back the taxpayers who bailed their employer out of bankruptcy before they negotiate a deal that gives them each a $5,000 bonus.  I just can't think of them right now.
Neither can I.
- 12:41 PM, 19 September 2011   [link]

The European Dept Crisis Shouldn't Give Us Schadenfreude:   Because, as Gretchen Morgenson explains, we won't escape the consequences.
Make no mistake: the troubles of Europe and its debt-weakened banks will imperil the United States.  For many, it is no longer a question of whether but when Greece will default on its government debt.  How far the sovereign debt crisis might spiral, and its precise ramifications, are unknowable, but some fault lines are evident.

Carl B. Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, N.Y., outlined what he sees as the major risks — and they fall into two categories.   One is the potential for losses incurred by financial institutions that wrote credit insurance on European government debt and the European banks that own so much of that paper.  The other is the likely economic hit as banks in the euro zone curb lending significantly.
In other words, American banks will take hits — and so will the American economy.

As in 2008, "credit default swaps" may do enormous damage.

(That combination of metaphors, "spiral" and "fault lines", doesn't make much sense — but we can kind of figure out what she means.)
- 9:21 AM, 19 September 2011   [link]

Here's A Cartoon Criticism Of Obama's latest "jobs" plan, which has, as we all know, more than a little resemblance to his "stimulus" package.

(Professor Mankiw may not agree with that interpretation, but I think it's a fair one.)
- 9:03 AM, 19 September 2011   [link]

Is Passing Obama's Latest "Jobs" Bill Urgent?  Not for Senate Democrats.
The Senate likely will not take up President Obama's plan to create jobs until next month following a planned recess period, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber said Sunday.
It's almost as if they don't want to be too closely associated with the bill.
- 8:08 AM, 19 September 2011   [link]

Libertarian Steve Chapman Calls For Obama to be satisfied with one term.
But there is good news for the president.  I checked the Constitution, and he is under no compulsion to run for re-election.  He can scrap the campaign, bag the fundraising calls and never watch another Republican debate as long as he's willing to vacate the premises by Jan. 20, 2013.
You may be wondering why I am writing about this, since any genuine libertarian would never have wanted a statist (as they would say) like Obama in the White House to begin with.

But here's the surprise:  Chapman is one of the libertarians who endorsed Obama in 2008.  So he has changed his mind about Obama, though he isn't very clear about why.  (And, just to keep us puzzled, he endorses another statist, Hillary Clinton, in the column.)

That small group, libertarians for Obama, fascinated me in 2008, and continues to fascinate me even now.  You don't see chickens backing Colonel Sanders very often, and you don't see libertarians backing a man with Obama's views very often.

But some did, and none of those that I have read have explained their decision — to my satisfaction.

(Chapman has been described in some blog posts, for example, this one, as an "editor" at the Chicago Tribune.  Actually, he's a columnist and editorial writer for the newspaper, not an editor.

And, to give him his due, he can be quite good when he writes on some subjects, regulation for instance.)
- 7:09 AM, 19 September 2011   [link]

Maureen Dowd, Blockhead:  All right, that's unfair, though I am not sure whether that's unfair to Dowd, or to blockheads.

In today's column, Dowd uses a famous movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to make this point about President Obama and his Republican challengers.
The Republicans are now the "How great is it to be stupid?" party.  In perpetrating the idea that there's no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers "Dumb and Dumber" primary in which evolution is avant-garde.
. . .
So we're choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity?
As evidence for this generalization, Dowd attacks George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, and, of course, Rick Perry.

She does not mention a Republican candidate with a good chance to win the nomination, Mitt Romney.  He was not a great student in high school, but by the time he reached Harvard, he was superb.
Romney still wanted to pursue a business path, but his father, by now serving in President Richard Nixon's cabinet as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, advised that a law degree would be valuable.[36]  Thus Romney became one of only 15 students to enroll at the recently created joint Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration four-year program coordinated between Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.[37]  Fellow students noted Romney's strong work ethic and buttoned-down appearance;[37] he lived in a Belmont, Massachusetts house with Ann and by now two children.[29]  He graduated in 1975 cum laude from the law school, in the top third of that class, and was named a Baker Scholar for graduating in the top five percent of his business school class.[33][37]
Romney went on to have a brilliant business career.  Whatever else the man may be, he is no "blockhead".

Dowd mentions Bush's mediocre academic record at Yale; she does not mention that, like Romney, he earned an MBA from Harvard, and had a very successful business career, after several false starts.  And, if she knows that Bush is something of a bookworm, fond of serious history and biography, she does not share that knowledge with her readers.

Dowd attacks Newt Gingrich for his "pseudo-intellectualism".  That's not a term I would use to describe the former professor, and successful author.

Michelle Bachmann, like Barack Obama, earned a law degree.  Hers was, granted, from a less prestigious university than his, William & Mary, rather than Harvard.  But it is also true that, unlike Obama, she does not seem to have benefited from affirmative action in her academic career.

(At this point, I will make an observation that will infuriate many supporters of the two:  Bachmann and Obama seem alike to me in their rigidity of thought, and their carelessness with facts.  He hides that defect well, rather than flaunting it as she does, but a careful observer can find it.)

Finally, Rick Perry, who inspired Dowd to write this silly column.  He was not a great student as an undergraduate, as he himself will tell you.  (And his undergraduate transcripts were leaked, just in case you had any doubt.)  But he went on from Texas A&M to become a pilot in the Air Force, which requires more than a little intelligence.  And his political career shows a shrewdness that should put to rest any doubts about his native intelligence.

There isn't a blockhead in that group.

And Barack Obama?  Is he, in fact, an "egghead"?  Not as far as I can tell.  We don't have his transcripts from Punahou, Occidental, Columbia, or Harvard.  But we do know that he didn't win academic honors at the first three, and that he has published nothing of significance except for two fictionalized autobiographies.  And his reading lists suggest to me that he is not much of an intellectual.  (Here's my latest discussion on that subject.)

Finally, an ironic point:  The movie Dowd begins with makes a point opposite from hers:  The real hero, the man who really shot Liberty Valance, is the "blockhead", not the "egghead".  And the "blockhead" succeeds because he has a more accurate picture of the world, and because he is willing to sacrifice his love for the good of his community.

(I was inspired by this post.)
- 4:20 PM, 18 September 2011   [link]

Some Lawyer's Jokes write themselves.
Alisha Smith, a well- respected lawyer in the New York Attorney General's Office, who helped win a $5 billion settlement from Bank of America for a securities fraud case three years ago, was suspended from her job yesterday after it was discovered she was moonlighting as a professional dominatrix.
If you can't think of a punch line to go with that story, you aren't trying.
- 8:19 AM, 18 September 2011   [link]

The French Take Cooking Seriously, as a new cookbook reminds us.
Earlier this year, she asked her colleagues to contribute a favourite recipe from their regions.  The result is La Cuisine de la République, Cuisinez avec vos députés! ("The Cuisine of the Republic: Cook With Your Deputies!"), a culinary tour of France recorded in a 295-page album of recipes, history, humor, braggadocio and nostalgia.

"It is our national responsibility to cook and to eat well," [Françoise] Branget, a deputy from the centre-right party of President Nicolas Sarkozy, said as she washed sand from fat, spongy morels at her kitchen sink.

"There are no political parties around the dinner table.  By creating this book, male and female deputies are defending their regions and carrying out their political mandate".
That's one of the things I like about them.

Many deputies take eating seriously, too.
As for the elected aristocrats of the French Republic, they know how to dine well, too.   Deputies, who have a private restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower, organise themselves in food clubs like the Parliamentary Club of Friends of the Table.
The deputies almost certainly don't use "pork" to mean wasteful spending, as we do, because the Omani newspaper cut short that last sentence, which ends with: "and the more down-to-earth Friends of the Pig".

(The New York Times, where I found this, has three recipes adapted from the book.  I am sorry to say that none looked especially appetizing.)
- 2:48 PM, 17 September 2011   [link]

Christopher Caldwell Explains Chancellor Merkel's dilemma.
Merkel's problem is that her country is trapped sharing a currency—the euro—with a lot of nations that have overborrowed: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain.  Not all of the so-called PIIGS countries are corrupt, and not all of them are profligate, although Greece is both.  What they all have in common is that they had no business borrowing for the past decade at the low interest rates appropriate to a sluggish German economy that was simultaneously rebuilding East Germany's Communist wreckage and reforming West Germany's leviathan welfare state.  Now all of these countries are flat broke or near it.  Greece's three-year bonds carry a yield of 172 percent.  And the solution that they and the leaders of the European Union in Brussels are suggesting is that all of them should be dealt out a piece of Germany's massive current-account surplus, its sterling savings rate, and its triple-A credit rating, preferably through the creation of a common "Euro-Bond."

Merkel cannot say no.  She leads the country whose arrogant un-neighborliness the European Union was set up to abolish.  But she cannot say yes without violating the law and colluding in the looting of the people who voted her into office.
Most European leaders prefer that Merkel break German law and disappoint German voters, rather than force them to confront the inevitable Greek bankruptcy.  That desire may be natural, but it is short-sighted.
- 12:58 PM, 17 September 2011   [link]