Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crock of Crap

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has advocated banning sugared drinks that are served in excess of 16 ounces. At the same time he is supporting National Donut Day.   Here some Bloomberg groupie try to explain why the Mayor holds such contradictory positions.  Is he for "public health" or not?

Obviously when the Nanny State picks winners and losers you come up with idiotic distinctions that even a third grader could see as absurd.  Unfortunately, Linda Gibbs, who is a deputy mayor and is speaking in this video does not seem to have graduated from the third grade.  This would be sad if it were not so blatantly ridiculous.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doc Watson and Bluegrass

  I first heard Doc Watson at the UCLA Folk Festival, I think before he appeared in the Newport Festival (which was in the Summer of 1963).   The UCLA Folk Festival was something to present mostly old-time music and Doc's musical mastery figured right in the center.   This is a 1991 video of Doc playing Black Mountain Rag.  Listen for the triplets that he throws in just for embellishment.   I had two conversations with Watson - at the UCLA folk festival and then at the Ash Grove which was a folk hang out in Hollywood.  In both cases he was patient to listen to a young bluegrass musician babble on about how I loved his music.

Doc lived in Deep Gap, N.C.  He died at the Wake Forest Hospital - which is in the town where part of my family came from.

The UCLA Folk Festival was a great experience.  The first year I went, I think I was 17.  I played in a bluegrass group called the Orange County Cross Junction Fruit Stompers .  For most of Easter Week there were concerts and workshops.   I went to see the New Lost City Ramblers (Mike Seeger, Tom Paley and John Cohen) who was my favorite group at the time (they remain high on my list) but in the mix I also got Doc and Libba Cotton and a raft of other traditional musicians - some famous, some not.   Fame for many was not rock stardom but an audience that knew some of their tunes.

At that first year I also had the chance to meet the Rev. Gary Davis. There were some parallels between Watson and Davis - both became blind at a very young age.   Both lived for a good part of their life in North Carolina (Davis was in Durham.) Davis played a Gibson (Hummingbird) rather than a Martin as Doc did.   One afternoon we were walking back from lunch and set up outside the main conference hall to jam.   Davis and his handler came up and asked "Do you boys mind if I play with you?"   We were flabbergasted.  Davis first asked "What do you know?" and then he would play along and embellish.  And then the UCLA Chimes sounded and he asked if he could riff off those - we watched in amazement as he caught the tone perfectly and then improvised off the hour sounds.   Luckily for that event a photographer from the Saturday Evening Post took a shot.  You can see from the picture that the musicians (including me) did not really understand the concept of Jam.  Davis started to play and we just sat there in awe.

One of the other amazing things was the ability to get the photo.  The Post never did publish the photo but I wrote the Post and asked for a copy - which is reprinted above.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Yesterday we were given passes to the Solon Club at Raley Field. (Top shot is from there.) At our baseball park there are a couple of places where you can be separated from the common fan.   As you can see in the upper left of the picture there are a series of sky boxes that corporate seat holders get to entertain clients. Each can accommodate up to about fifty people (in the larger ones.) But then there is the Solon Club.  For an extra fee you can gain admittance to the area.  In the row right ahead of where our seats are located and forward, in addition to the price of a ticket, you pay an annual fee.  That gets you into the Solon Club.

Both photos are from an iPhone
                                                                           What is the attraction?   First, (and this is true) you avoid lines.   So even on the most crowded nights you can get a beer or a nosh quickly.   Second, there is a shaded area, which for day games is helpful.   My wife and I avoid day games because down where we sit it can be toasty.  But third, and this is my point, you get a very different baseball game - one that is detached.  I have always believed that baseball is a participatory sport.   Hearing and seeing what is going on is part of the attraction of the game.  Being able to yell at a lousy call is integral.  And from my perspective that simply is not possible in the Solon Club.   (Second shot is from our seats.)  Often when I get invited to major league parks to the sky boxes I politely decline.  What's the point?   Why not watch it at home? - at least there you don't have to fight the traffic.

The Rivercats played like they were in the sky boxes yesterday.  Although Manny Ramirez finally got his bat to work - he got two hits and an RBI - which brought him back to .250.   Yoenis Cespedes also is the lineup in a rehab situation and went one for three.   The rest of the team went back to its no energy mode.   The Reno Aces popped off for 17 hits and 10 runs to our 7 hits and 2 runs.   We ended up splitting the series with Reno which is leading its division - although we have a better record.  After the first losing series of the 2012 season against the hapless 23-29 Round Rock Express that is not a good trend.   Tonight we begin the first series of the season against the red hot Fresno Grizzlies (who are three and a half games up on us - although we have the second best record in the league).   Let's hope the Cat's get out of the sky boxes for this series.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Manny, Rain and a Lousy Call

iPhone Photo
On Thursday the Cats lost their first series of the season to the Round Rock Express.  Last night the Rivercats returned to a large (estimated at about 10,000) crowd wanting to catch a glimpse of Manny Ramirez who is spending the last couple of days of his suspension with the Cats before he goes back up to the bigs perhaps on Wednesday.    Manny had an unimpressive evening - keeping his average at .250 with a single followed by a ground out fly out, pop out combo.  This is the guy who was quoted in the Bee saying "I expect the attention, after all I am one of the best right handed hitters in the game."  Yeah, right - one for four - so far 20 at bats - five hits no extra bases.

Things started to get interesting when Travis Banwart was replaced with Neil Wagner.  We had been in the lead 3-1 but through a couple of doubles the Aces tied it up.   It then started to drizzle - rare for Sacramento in May but still possible.  Rich Thompson had replaced Wagner and he allowed a hit and a then a series of walks that moved one run across the plate.  But the bases were still loaded. Trey Barham came into to relieve Thompson.  Adam Eaton, the Aces best hitter (over .400) came up and at first was called out on an interesting play - the ball rolled down the bat and hit him pretty seriously in the hand.  Gallaraga tagged Eaton and then tagged home plate scoring an unassisted double play.   But then the Umps decided that Eaton had been hit by a pitch. I'm not sure how they changed their minds - from the description on the radio (By the time all this happened we decided, with a lot of other fans, that the mist was a bit more than that and were listening to the game on the radio.) Eaton had taken a swing at the thing - but that was the decision.

Thompson had had trouble on the mound getting his footing in the rain - he fell a couple of times after his follow through.   When the Eaton play was changed, Thompson got a bit grumpy and was tossed by Herzog - the home plate umpire.   Things fell apart and the Aces scored 6 in the 8th and 4 in the 9th to make the game 13-3.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


For months now I have been hearing about the Association of Mature American Citizens or AMAC - they say they are the conservative alternative to the AARP.

AARP is a horrible organization.  It is a construct of fantasy that somehow is able to contact every person in the US at age 50 to tell them of all the benefits that it offers to "seniors."   When I turned 50 I wrote the then CEO of AARP and argued that they were a bunch of "greedy bastards" intent on bankrupting the country.   I knew the CEO then and he wrote me back a personal note, complimenting me on my moderation from when I knew him when he worked for Chuck Percy.   But I was not joking.  AARP claims to represent all people over 50 but fundamentally and dogmatically represents only the left of the spectrum.   Want to privatize part of Social Security like Chile and a host of other countries did?  No, that would be wrecking Social Security.   Want to balance the budget?  Not on the "backs of seniors."  The AARP is all of what is wrong with Washington politics.

AMAC was developed as a conservative alternative to AARP.  They present a more conservative approach to issues including support for balancing the budget.  And at the same time they offer a raft of services to seniors similar to the group buying programs of AARP.

But I have chosen not to join.  Were I forced to choose between the looney left of AARP and AMAC, I would, of course choose AMAC.   But I fundamentally disagree with the need to be represented as a senior.   Shouldn't we be trying to reduce the size of government by all reasonable means?  I really do not want my concerns presented to Congress - what I really want is Congress to reduce its intrusions into my life.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Facebook Election

The map at the right is from a new new APP (Wisdom) that generates data about Facebook.  It shows political preferences for Facebook users.   That is a quite different picture than what seems to be going on in the electorate.  But then the average Facebook user is 32 years old and has an income of about $49,000.   Even Texas is questionable for Romney.   Wisdom is able to produce a whole bunch of interesting data which I think sets out who users are and what they think.

There are a couple of obvious cautions.  First, not all users fill out a profile.  Second, and more obviously, Montana, which is seen as a blue state - probably has a lot of Montana college students and not to many ranchers in the profile.   This is a lot like the popcorn poll which projected that Truman would lose in 1948.  I think the picture is reliable of who fills out the profiles - just not reliable about the larger trends.   If, over the next few months, this map begins to turn redder - Obama will be in big trouble.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Professor and the Madman

When my wife and I go on a longer drive we often purchase an Audible book for the ride.  This time, for a trip to a wedding in San Luis Obispo, we chose Simon Winchester's "The Professor and the Madman" - read by its author.  This is not a new book but one recommended by our Priest.
I've always been fascinated by the Oxford English Dictionary.   It was an odd project when it was first proposed (in the time of Queen Victoria) and unlike some of the other language dictionaries, which often rely on a panel of experts to determine meaning and background of words, the OED relies on a small group of professionals and a larger group of volunteers who go through both common and obscure texts to discover the meaning of words and to find out when those words came into the language.   English, more than many other languages takes phrases and words from many locations and languages.  In the beginning the researchers took a slip, like above, and wrote the word and then offered a quotation properly footnoted.   That in turn would eventually result in an entry for the OED which looks like this (for the word fascinating) - which
includes a couple of quotations plus the proper spelling and pronunciation of the word as well as a couple of historical references.   The process now is done with computers and a lot of cross referencing and use of databases - but in the time when the project got started in the late Nineteenth Century - all of this was done by hand.   When the current edition came out its leadership said this was the last version that would offer a print edition.

The project was originally able to go forward as  a result of two additions - one a Brit - James Murray who assumed leadership about twenty years after the project had first been proposed.  But the second was a former American Army Captain who was quite mad and confined to a British Asylum.  He had been a physician in the Civil War for the Union and ultimately after his mental state began to decline wound up in London where he shot a man and was judged to be criminally insane.  He spent the rest of his life in asylums but made prodigious contributions to the project and devised a novel way to catalogue words which turns out was much more efficient than had been used before the doctor discovered it.  In the end the two men had a collaboration that lasted decades.  One odd fact was that near the end of their lives they even looked a bit alike - the picture above is of Minor.  The book is interesting but the Audible book also includes a lengthy interview with a current researcher on the OED about how they do their work now.   All in all this was a superb and interesting way to spend the drive down and back.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Romney Decision on Attack Ads

Mitt Romney's decision to rebuke supporters who wanted to produce a series of ads on the extremist statements of the President's pastor was a good one.   Many of the hard core opponents of Obama thought he was doing a McCain but I think his decision was both sound and good politics.

Here are some reasons why -

1) Jeremiah Wright is old news - Indeed, Pastor Wright is an offensive racist.  His sermons reek of tired cliches of the left.  It is impossible to believe that Obama did not get at least some of the extreme rhetoric in a church he claims to have attended for more than 20 years (Wright married the Obamas and baptized their children.)   But all of this was known in the 2008 campaign.   It is my judgment that Romney would not increase his share of voters - people who know about Wright and think negatively about his rants - are not likely to vote more for Romney because of a commercial which points out Wright's absurd notions.  Those who think Wright is a victim are unlikely to be convinced to change their opinion of the President merely because charges are repeated.  Attacking Wright does not get you any new voters but not attacking him may get you some.

2) Romney can claim the high ground - One of the more telling remarks in Romney's press conference on this issue was that he would like to stick to the issues in this campaign.  The problem(s) with this Administration are based on economics not theology.  By rebuking the politicos here, Romney can continue to press the attack on Obama's manifest failures in restoring economic growth.

McCain's stance here is not dispositive.  His campaign was a hodge podge of organization.  Romney's team seems well disciplined.   They can make the point - winning the office does not require such lot shots - that may turn the tactic on Obama.

3) If Romney Wins - this will put him in better stead to lead - One of the major failings of the Obama Administration has been his complete inability to work with the other side.  While critics have argued that he did not even try (and there is truth to that) a case can be made that his inability to develop less partisan solutions was caused by the type of campaign he ran.  But Romney can claim, if he wins, I did not attack personally but on policies and we can have a discussion about alternatives.   That could change the conversation in Washington.

4) Obama is poised to run an old style campaign - The feeble attempts by Joe Biden to attack Romney on his wealth (Biden went to Archmere Academy another elite prep school) this week were silly and mostly laughed at.  Their attempt to tie Romney to Bain's M&A activity was responded to quickly and decisively.  Contrast the whiney ad produced for the president (GST Steel - which was taken over by Bain and eventually failed  - but that is a reality of the business world some attempts are unsuccessful) versus the ad produced by the Romney team that hit the airwaves almost immediately on Steel Dynamics.   In an interview Romney went on to make the point that  indeed some of the efforts by Bain were unsuccessful but the sum total of those efforts is not as large as the clumsy restructuring of the auto industry done by the Administration.  Romney seems poised to go toe to toe with the Obama attack dogs.

The Obama ad - which is more than 6 minutes distorts the reality of the issue.   GS Steel was in deep trouble they brought Bain in to turn the aging plant around - according to Reuters - "The old mill, renamed GS Technologies, needed expensive updating, and demand for its products was susceptible to cycles in the mining industry and commodities markets."   The ad could get labor unions fired up but between its length and the distorted picture it offers - I suspect it did not do much for the President's re-election campaign.

The Steel Dynamics Ad is shorter and better focused.  

Polling on the type of attack ads done by Obama have mixed results.  First, most political advisors think they are effective.  But when voters are polled - most think the type of ads are over the top.   Conventional wisdom here by the consultants may be wrong.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Health Insurance Fables

Like many others in my generation I take Lipitor.  Last year, after an extended period, where Pfizer tried to protect their franchise a generic version (Atorvastatin) was released.  Blue Cross immediately switched me to that cheaper alternative.  There was no choice.   But what they did not do was reduce the price.   I wondered why that was.  So I went to my pharmacist and inquired.  I was told that it takes them a couple of months to "update the formulary" before I will see the price reduction.    I thought that a bit odd and so I went to Blue Cross and was told the same fable.

What confuses me is that the formulary listing which drugs they will cover was updated immediately but for some reason the price list could not be updated with the same rapidity.  This was on Medicare's Part D plan offered by Blue Cross.  At five months I am still waiting for the updated price.

One of the arguments that the President made when he passed the pending monster called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was that the new ton of regulations would ultimately reduce prices.   As a relatively new participant in Medicare, I guess I will hold my breath.   One of the oddest things you find when you become a Medicare participant is that for Parts A and B you cannot get an electronic bill nor can you send an electronic payment (although it may be possible when I begin to receive Social Security).   That does not look like a cost saving measure until you realize that all those people at the billing center are part of the President's promise about all those jobs that the Stimulus Bill created.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Politically Correct Cacophony

California will go through a primary vote in a couple of weeks and this is one page out of the sample ballot.  A sample ballot was supposed to be designed to assist voters in making intelligent choices but this mess turned out by the County of Sacramento makes it almost impossible to understand any issue with any clarity.  

California is a diverse society - fully one quarter of our residents were born outside the United States.  But does this mix of lousy printing and obligatory listing of a bunch of languages assist or deny that intended purpose?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Walkoffs a Pair

Last night the Rivercats opened a four game series against the Omaha Stormchasers.  In the end the Cats scored a come from behind win with a walk off home run by Josh Donaldson - the homer was wonderful if for nothing else in that it was well out into center.   That gave the Cats the win.   But what put us back into the game was Colin Cowgill's homer in the eighth - again a very long hit.   For most of the game we war down as many as 3 runs.  SO the win was extras sweet.

In tonight's game we went up early - 2-0.  But then in a series of miscues we let them tie it up in the ninth.  We came down to the bottom of the ninth and after getting someone on case Derek Norris came up and belted one to left - another walk off homer - but this time worth two runs.   It was just as exciting the second night in a row.

Richard Lugar

I first became aware of Richard Lugar when he was Nixon's favorite mayor.  The mayor of Indianapolis was an innovator.   He was a big supporter of something Nixon pushed called "revenue sharing" which distributed money from the feds to state and local governments based on a formula.   When he was elected as a senator I was impressed with his judicious approach to the issues.   But Lugar was badly defeated (by 20 poitns) in last night's Indiana primary even though he outspent his opponent 3:1.

Richard Mourdock's key to victory was simple - people in Indiana are grumpy about the federal government.   The left will try to make the fall race into something it will not be.  Mourdock is not a conservative ideologue.  Although he did make use of some of Lugar's votes in pressing his campaign my suspicion is that if Mourdock is elected against three term Congressman Joe Donnelley, he will not be an ideologue.   His role in previous elected office does not suggest that.

Lugar spent a good deal of his campaign on defense and as John McCain, who survived a similar challenge in his last race commented defense is not the place to run a campaign.   Lugar assumed a lot.  He assumed that Indiana voters would understand that he no longer lived in the state; that they would value his vast knowledge of foreign relations (much of which was based on principles of the Washington establishment) was more important than key issues like the economy in the state - neither assumption was a good one.

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal commented "What Washington needs is sober and responsible adults. We are as a nation in a moment of real peril, facing challenges that are going to become existential—maybe already are—if we don’t do something about them."   The problem with her argument was that she did not consider Lugar's opponent.  At the same time it ignored a basic principle of representative government - the position of US Senator is not a sinecure.   Part of the reason for elections is to allow voters to gauge the ability of their elected representatives to understand current problems in the state.  Lugar failed that test.

Lugar was somewhat ungracious in defeat.  He commented "He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it," he said of Mourdock. "This is not conducive to problem solving and governance.”  That diminished my admiration for the Senator.    In his formal concession speech he was more gracious and even expressed the hope that Mourdock would prevail in November and would help contribute to a new GOP majority.

One final comment.  I believe that Richard Lugar had a distinguished public career.   But I also believe that he did not deserve re-election.   

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Scholarly Twaddle

A publication called The WEEK published an article on the 2d which asked "Are Highly Religious People Less Compassionate?" - the issue has been covered in place like the Huffington Post.   Each of the articles covered some "research" at UC Berkeley which conducted a series of experiments to discover compassion.  One of the researchers commented "Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," study co-author and University of California, Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer said in a statement. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns."

If you read the coverage of the research (I will admit that I have not read the article in the Journal Social Psychology and Personality Science to be published in the July edition) it has so many flaws one is limited only by the number of options on where to begin.   One of the experiments had subjects see an emotional or neutral video and then received $10 fake dollars which they could give to a stranger.  The non-religious people gave more after seeing the emotional video.   The flaws in the methodology and assumptions on this study are huge.   Did the religious people give less because they knew that simply giving money to a stranger, even one in apparent need, may not help the situation?  (Is that really a doctrinal issue?)   Did the subjects of the study perform differently because they were given "fake" dollars?   The potential for absurd conclusions is gigantic.

One wonders why this research is important.   There is plenty of evidence that both in terms of dollars contributed and in volunteer time that religious people contribute more to charitable causes.  (See for example Why Good Things Happen to Good People).   But the state of Publish or Perish in many universities encourages people to conduct this kind of silliness.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Johnny Mercer Presidency

One of the members of congress that I worked for had a joke he told to aspiring politicians.  He said a good politician needs to only be able to do three things.   First, they have to be for everything that is good.  Second, they need to be against everything that is bad.  But third, they need to be able to tell the difference between the two.

For the past couple of days the Obama administration has been trying to "spike the Osama Bin Laden football."   They've staged a couple of events, including the President's trip to Afghanistan in which Hamid Karzai was a willing accomplice.  (He has always been such a picture of integrity.)   They have even made the claim that George Romney would not have been willing to make the decision to go after Bin Laden.  (Which is a ridiculous claim on its face.)  

I suspect that the staffer who staged the Bush fly in after the toppling of Hussein has had second thoughts about the efficacy of football spiking in politics.   If the Obama people have any grace they should be a bit chagrined about all this nonsense on the one year anniversary of Bin Laden's death.  The president did make the decision and he should receive credit for that but all the extra claims are silly.

One of Mr. Obama's predecessors had a penchant for cataloguing all of his accomplishments in the style of the old song - accentuate the positive - eliminate the negative. Ultimately all that enumeration did not save Richard Nixon.  A president is ultimately judged on his record.   No matter how successful his spin doctors are in weaving the story, ultimately the voters will make a judgement about whether he deserves re-election.  The stunt(s) in the past few days made this president look a bit smaller.   I would not be surprised to see the following campaign slogan appear soon - Everything good came from me, all the bad things came from George Bush.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Jury Service

Today I was asked to report for jury service.  The trial I got called for involved the murders of three people by two others who were members of a Mexican Mafia gang called the Suerños.   The trial was projected to take most of the month of May.   That would have been a problem for my new consulting venture (no income for May) so I was released from serving.

In the time that I have lived in the Sacramento area I have been called for Jury Duty three times.  But to date I have never served on a jury.  The most harrowing was one about a decade ago which was a similar case (complicated and violent) but which I ended up getting excused from as an alternate because I was going to be the final alternate and the one person ahead of me was able to serve.    My impression(s) about jury service - or at least getting called for it - have not changed much - but here they are based on this visit -

#1 - It is a remarkably diverse group but that is a bit deceptive.  While there are all sorts of people in the jury room, that does not mean they all serve.   One guy caught my attention.  He was an aging hippie who reeked of alcohol and tobacco.  (I know because he sat next to me while waiting for a hardship request and grumped that by this time in the day he had normally already had a couple of beers - from his appearance I am not sure what "a couple" means in this instance.)   He was eventually excused and then grumped about having to get the bus to take light rail back to his "place."   Compared to the last time I was there a lot fewer suits (I was not wearing one.)   And some people dressed like they were at Walmart. (No offense to Walmart - but shorts and flip flops does not seem like something one would wear to a court room.)

#2 - My fellow citizens have a lot of reasons to claim a hardship from serving.   The process which the judge used to find people with hardships.  Was to have each of us fill out a questionnaire.  We were then individually interviewed - or so it seemed.   Of the 120+ veniremen about half raised their hands when the hardship request was raised.  We were then sent out of the courtroom and asked to wait for an interview with the judge.  The interview process for the first 15 or 20 took about 5-7 minutes a piece.   If a person came out of the courtroom with a questionnaire (which is a 21 page document filled out to help lawyers choose the jury) their request had been denied.   Of the first group only two came out without the questionnaire.   That started chatter in the remaining group about how impossible the odds were for getting a hardship request approved.   But then the bailiff came out with a sheaf of the remaining requests and called each person's name and we were excused - evidently the judge wanted to interview the marginal claims.  

#3 - The process is a bit bureaucratic.  You are told when to report, then given a little information (very little), then if you are chosen you are asked to go to a courtroom and told to turn off all your electronic goodies (no iPads in the courtroom).  They then run you through introductions including information about the nature of the crime or proceeding.  But the whole process could be simplified.  I suspect part of this comes from the need to be fair to the parties involved but in doing that it may not be fair to the citizens called to serve.   One other impression - the schedule is not intense but not lax either - Monday through Thursday - 9-4:30 - no session on Friday - I suspect that the judge and the lawyers need that time to get all the things done they miss during the trial.

#4 - California is a diverse state. There were two translators in the room and four people had headphones (Both defendants had headphones) and the judge specifically said that two languages were necessary here.  I could hear one of the translators in Spanish - but I wonder what the other language was.

#5 - My impressions of both the defense lawyers and prosecutors reinforced my decision long ago not to be a lawyer.  There are two defense attorneys in the case.  One took an extra step to introduce himself and his client to the group (as introductions were going around).   He seemed a lot more on top of his game than the other defense guy.   The prosecutor made little impression although she was young.

#6 - I was confronted with my own moral beliefs - As the judge introduced the case she explained that the defendants were accused of killing three people who were on bicycles from a car.   She then said that the death penalty was not on the table.  It would have probably been inappropriate to explain why but I wondered.   Over the last decade my views on the death penalty have changed and I wondered before the judge said it was not an option whether I would be willing to impose the death penalty.