Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Ode to the OED

I was just a young undergrad in Russian and East European studies at the University of Washington when I first discovered the Oxford English Dictionary, in the hallowed stacks of the reference section of Suzzallo Library. Suzzallo, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is an absolutely massive library even by the standards of major universities.  There are over half a million items in its Russian collection alone. Although I had no academic use for it, the OED always held some sort of fascination for me. Whenever I passed by its score of volumes I would always grab one at random, turn to an arbitrary entry, and read through its remarkably detailed and descriptive histories of words, marvelling at the ridiculous effort it must have taken to compile it, its OED OCD, if you may.

Years later my interest only became stronger when I read Simon Winchester's fascinating history of the writing of the OED The Professor and the Madman, a rather entertaining recitation of the 8 decade long development of the first edition. It was then that I truly understood the depths of the obsessive personalities, and the sheer love of language that had gone into creating this remarkable history of the English language.

Because the OED, for those who have never spent much time reading it, is not a conventional dictionary, with a pronunciation guide, a list of definitions, and an entry for its etymological origins, it is rather, a history book of the English language, with citations for words going back a thousand years, covering the development of the word and all its meanings, connotations and subtleties.

So it is with this in mind, that I stumbled upon a 1973 compact edition of the OED in a used bookstore in Seattle the other day. Naively, I didn't even realize that this existed. How could you shrink a telephone booth sized collection of massive tomes costing as much as a mortgage payment into just two volumes and keep even a fraction of the content? I pulled it from its cardboard sheath and discovered how, they had shrunk the typeface so that each page was 4 regular pages, and had even included a cheap plastic magnifying glass, to aid those without superhuman vision.

Years removed from my OED experiences, I didn't purchase it immediately, despite the discount price, but it nagged me for weeks, so the next time I was in the neighborhood, I dropped by the used bookstore, ostensibly to look around, but really with only one target in mind.

I snatched it up and returned home, only to discover the cheap plastic glass, was in fact too cheap and too plastic. I was only with difficulty able to make out the text. A venture the next day to Cost Plus World Market though, and I was set. I returned with an old fashioned style magnifier. An item perfect in both presence and practicality.

It was now that I could pour over the text. A discussion with my significant other lead to looking up the first word, panache (movie reference: "Really, I had to look it up."). Original meaning, not flair or flamboyance, but feathers, then became plumage in military caps. Who knew?

Is it practical? Probably not. I could look up just about anything I wanted on the Internet, and wouldn't have to strain my eyes or my arms, lifting 10 pound volumes and balancing it on the edge of my desk peering through a magnifying glass, but that isn't really the point. Sometimes you just have to do something for the love of it, and because it represents something that is important to you, in this case the beautiful history of the English language, as represented in the hallowed tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: S, Classical Writers and the Meaning of Literature

I am a book guy, for lack of a better term. When I bought my new house, the first major project I started on was remodeling the basement, with built in bookshelves on which to stack my collected tomes. I have nothing against e-readers, in fact I own both a Nook and a Kindle (I prefer the Kindle Fire, quite useful device) but still when I decided to take the leap and read Ulysses I went with an old hardback version (A US first edition I proudly managed to pick up at a used book store for the paltry price of $7) even at the risk of damaging it, rather than simply reading it off the screen.

So I suppose it should not come as a surprise that I would be fascinated by a book that I had come across at the local Barnes and Noble, not for its content, in fact I was completely unfamiliar with the author (although not the creator, more on that later) or the subject of the book, but by its physical appearance.

There it was, lying on the table in a cardboard sleeve and shrinkwrapped, the story S, created by noted film and television director J. J. Abrams, and written by relative unknown college professor Doug Dorst. I could make out the format of the book based on the description and what I could see of this spine, but it was not until I got it home and ripped off the plastic with my greedy little hands, that I truly saw what I was in for.

S, is the story (as opposed to the actual novel) of a mysterious character and amnesiac who knows himself only by that initial, and the mysterious stylized letter that keeps on popping up everywhere. What S consists of though, is much more complicated, but that is not the book itself. The book itself is in the form of an old library book, published in 1949, titled the Ship of Theseus, written by the entirely fictional enigmatic author V. M. Straka, a world renowned literary legend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

OK, following along? Now the story, as opposed to the novel, is that of Straka, which is taken to the second level by the translator F. X. Caldeira, who uses the foreword and the footnotes to communicate to both the original author, and the reader, both overtly and through codes and clues scattered throughout the text.

But wait, we aren’t done yet! The story, once again as opposed to the novel, begins not with the text of the novel, or the comments of the translator, but with a handwritten note scribbled in the margins in blue pen:

Hey – I found your stuff while I was shelving. (Looks like you left in a hurry!) I read a few chapters & loved it. Felt bad about keeping the book from you, though since you obviously need it for your work.
Have to get my own copy!

Jen, who we soon find out is an English student at the fictional Pollard State University then begins communicating with the original owner of the book, a grad student named Eric. So the book itself, an aged yellowed and stained library book, complete with stamps bearing the checkout dates of previous patrons, we discover that Eric swiped it from his high school library, becomes the medium for the story, not the story itself!

So Eric and Jen communicate their personal stories and develop a relationship as they analyze the book the Ship of Theseus to discover more about what the identity of the great literary legend V. M. Straka. As a result, this work ends up existing on several different levels, not just as a book, but a tribute to books itself. The book not only contains the story, it is part of the story itself. It is the book as theater, and its pages are the stage upon which the play is presented.

Now based on what I have said, it should be no surprise that I enjoyed it immensely, although by its very nature it is an extremely complicated read without a clear ending. At some point I am going to have to go back through it and reread it to see what I missed. I think much of this intentional, as the story exists in much more than just the text of the novel, but in the actions of Jen and Eric and the backstory of the author itself. Another clue to this is that the publisher has also provided other resources to follow the story, chief among them two websites http://eotvoswheel.com/ and http://www.radiostraka.com/ which provide even more about Straka. Of course it is no surprise that fan generated sites have already been created to discuss the secrets of the book and share insights and discoveries.

The theme of the novel, which is even hinted to in its title The Ship of Theseus, is that of the nature of identity, which is of course also the subject of the wider narrative as to the identity of Straka. An even more intriguing point it raised though, is what is the nature of literature? What defines a great work of literature and what quality makes up a classic?

As I mentioned earlier, the original concept for this story was created by J. J. Abrams who apparently being too busy making Star Trek and Star Wars movies then had his production company Bad Robot search for an author to bring his concept to life. They found Doug Dorst, a writing teacher at Texas State University – San Marcos, known mostly for a comedic ghost story called Alive in Necropolis. Now Dorst seems like a reasonably talented writer, although I have not read his previous work, but Abrams obviously had a rather difficult challenge in front of him in casting his author.

A quick aside – I am a big fan of the HBO show Entourage, a series about a movie star named Vincent Chase and his childhood friends who make up the show’s title. A few years ago I watched one of those “making of” specials where they discussed the difficulties they had casting the young stars in the show (the only really established actor being the super agent Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven). The main problem being, who do you cast to realistically play a movie star, who isn’t already a movie star? The show’s producers ended up going with the completely unknown Adrian Grenier, an actor with movie star looks, if limited acting ability, which is indicated by the fact that despite the popularity of this award winning show, he has appeared in little else.

So Abrams was left with a similar dilemma, how do have someone pull off writing a classic novel written by a literary genius, without having a classic literary genius to write it in the first place? This also brings us to the more basic question, as to what defines a classic work of literature in the first place?

Now this is a subject I can hardly answer in one short essay, and this review is getting too long to begin with, but I would argue that it would consist of three things.

1.       The use of prose in a sophisticated and stylistic manner.
2.       Thematic depth which goes beyond just the storyline.
3.       A book which is appreciated over time and not just by one generation.

Now the collaborators of this work certainly can’t directly address the third point, since they won’t know the lasting effect of this book for quite some time. As enjoyable as I thought it was it may just be a flash in the pan, all but forgotten in a few years and relegated to the clearance bins of history. The first two are where they seemed to have focused their effort.

First of all, the style, while this is entirely subjective of course, and hardly universal, nobody would argue that James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway write in similar styles, literary fiction is generally regarded to have been written in some unique and well thought-out style, not just generic prose as one would find in a newspaper column. Dorst addresses this through the use of flowery, period specific vocabulary, and almost Kafkaesque imagery.  For example from the text on page 274:

He is swimming in a mountain lake, and she is waiting for him on the far bank. They are at high elevation: the flora consists solely of twisted krumm-holz formations, and the moon, fat and gold, takes up an eighth of the night sky. He strokes and kicks through ink-dark water but gets no closer to her. She waves, calls out something that might be his name, and he strokes faster, kicks harder, but gets no closer – he might even be drifting backward- and this is when he feels tiny punctures breaking the skin of his belly, thighs, feet and legs as leeches begin feeding on him, and the dread that grips him has nothing to do with losing blood or realizing he has become some other creature’s prey but rather has to do with fear of what he will look like to her when he gets out of the water, and he wonders whether perhaps it isn’t better to drown-

The second point, the use of multiple layers of meaning,  I have already addressed, which of course exist in this story even one layer deeper through the further story of the author and Jen and Eric. So does the author create the illusion of a classical work of literature through this? This is entirely subjective of course, but I would argue yes. Like any book it has its weak points, some strained metaphors and awkwardly worded passages, but it at least gives the impression of a novel which could have been considered a classic at some point in time.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that what we perceive as “literary classics” are the most successful novels, but that they fit into a certain perceived class, as opposed to the controversial taxonomy of what is often referred to as “genre fiction”. One can certainly have an incredibly popular and well received novel and not have it considered literary. Consider the works of John LeCarre and Tom Clancy. They both wrote spy thrillers, but the former is considered literary, while even rabid Clancy fans would not consider him a writer of literary fiction, even though as far as thriller writers go he was arguably much more successful.

This is of course an argument with no true boundaries or solutions, but that is what I found most intriguing about this work, S, it is a tribute to the book, in its physical form, worn and tattered pages yellowed and smelling faintly of mold and mildew, and it is also a tribute to the written word in general, great writers in all of their eccentricities, and the never ending question of what great art truly is. As such, it succeeds in existing beyond mere printed words on a page.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Brilliance of James Madison

I have to shake my head at all the people who are incensed by the fact that Congress is using its budgetary powers as a check on executive authority, as if this is some new overreach. This is not a bug, it is a feature. The system was designed that way.

From Federalist 58:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Arsonists for Trayvon!

Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. A Hispanic man shoots a black teenager, so get your revenge by burning down a Greek restaurant. Apparently he had something against the Tzatziki Sauce.

The fire was started about 2:15 a.m. at the corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street in Seattle's Central District. The first arriving engine company found flames coming from the back of the Med Mix restaurant near a storage area, and light smoke was found inside the restaurant.

On the building the arsonist used red spray paint to write, "4 Pratt and Trayv."

The owner believes that message refers to Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed by George Zimmerman, and Seattle civil rights leader Edwin Pratt, who was shot to death in 1969. Pratt's case is technically unsolved, though deputies believe he was killed by hitman Tommy Kirk, who was killed in a dispute later that year.

Unfortunately this is the natural result of certain political figures who have been using this incident to drum up racial tensions.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Clueless Economist of the Day

Joseph Stiglitz, who has been one of the leading economists calling for more government intervention in markets over the last 30 years is shocked to find that student loans are a financial bubble. With a complete lack of self-awareness though, he claims that rising tuition is the problem.

America is distinctive among advanced industrialized countries in the burden it places on students and their parents for financing higher education. America is also exceptional among comparable countries for the high cost of a college degree, including at public universities. Average tuition, and room and board, at four-year colleges is just short of $22,000 a year, up from under $9,000 (adjusted for inflation) in 1980-81.

Uhh, yeah, ever think soaring tuition might have something to do with the fact they are being subsidized by goverment loans?

Then he, of course, blames this on the relatively minor for profit sector.

Yet education loans are almost impossible to write off in bankruptcy court — even when for-profit schools didn’t deliver what they promised and didn’t provide an education that would let the borrower get a job that paid enough to pay back the loan.

We should cut off federal support for these for-profit schools when they fail to graduate students, who don’t get jobs and then default on their loans.

While I am not opposed to that, what about the non-profit schools? It can cost $150,000 to go to law school, in an industry where there is little need for new lawyers.  I am pretty sure the University of Phoenix doesn't cost that much.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Academic Standards

It has been nearly two years since I first blogged about Greg Valentini, the Hero of Tora Bora, and was ignored by LA Times reporter Steve Lopez after I pointed out to him that he was making up his story.  The lawsuit itself seems stuck in that legal purgatory that major lawsuits usually get mired in, but Valentini's bogus stories continue to make the rounds, this time in the left wing magazine, The Nation.

Greg Valentini is a homeless vet in Los Angeles who took part in the initial invasion of Afghanistan and participated in the assault on Tora Bora that sought Osama bin Laden. 

 Now to be completely ironic, the article was written by a rather distinguished Harvard graduate history professor at UC Irvine by the name of Jon Weiner, who, irony of irony, lists this in his C.V.

Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Power in the Ivory Tower. New York: New Press, 2005. 

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Oh, Now He Has Standards

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, my favorite no standard journalist, has now suddenly decided that while truth may not be a journalistic standard, not having to work for a company owned by a libertarian is.

At a Los Angeles Times in-house awards ceremony a week ago, columnist Steve Lopez addressed the elephant in the room.
Speaking to the entire staff, he said, "Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Austin Beutner's group." No one raised their hands.
"Raise you hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch." A few people raised their hands.
Facing the elephant trunk-on, "Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by the Koch brothers." About half the staff raised their hands.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Paul Krugman Finally Gets Something Right

This guy is just too easy of a target. Back during the Bush administration:

With war looming, it's time to be prepared. So last week I switched to a fixed-rate mortgage. It means higher monthly payments, but I'm terrified about what will happen to interest rates once financial markets wake up to the implications of skyrocketing budget deficits.

And today:

For three years and more, policy debate in Washington has been dominated by warnings about the dangers of budget deficits. A few lonely economists have tried from the beginning to point out that this fixation is all wrong, that deficit spending is actually appropriate in a depressed economy. But even though the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far — where are the soaring interest rates we were promised? — protests that we are having the wrong conversation have consistently fallen on deaf ears.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Want to Make a Bet?

The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced new rules this week limiting "risky mortgages".

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is releasing Thursday much anticipated new mortgage rules, which will restrict the kind of subprime lending practices that caused both the financial and housing sectors to crash five years ago.
 The new rules come at a time when regulators and banks are trying to find a middle ground between overly lax and overly tight lending standards.
 About a decade ago, mortgage lenders started broadening their base of customers by offering an array of exotic loan products with esoteric names: subprime, Alt-A, or low-doc loans that required little to no documentation of income. Teaser rates and option ARMs that offered low initial monthly payments that later ballooned.
 Those loans got millions of borrowers into loans they ultimately couldn't afford, and it resulted in one of the worst crashes in modern history.

 Now this sounds great in concept, but since it has been government policy to force banks to make home loans to as many people as possible, want to beat that they will soon be suing those same banks for failing to give out those very same risky loans that they are legally prevented from making?

OK, that isn't really a fair bet, since the government is already doing that.

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $175 million to settle allegations that it discriminated against minority borrowers, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

The DOJ accused Wells Fargo, the nation's largest residential home mortgage originator, of pushing African-American and Hispanic borrowers into more costly subprime loans or charging them higher fees than comparable white borrowers. More than 30,000 minority borrowers between 2004 and 2009 were affected, the Justice Department said.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Consistency Much?

Last week the Seattle Times ran an editorial condemning the man who made the movie attacking Muslims.

If the trailer of this movie is any indication, it is crude, mocks Islam and purposefully aims to inflame the devout....

People in the Muslim world should understand that this man's movie is him talking, and not the opinions of 300 million Americans. In the United States he is free to say what he will -- that is our culture -- and we are free to condemn him. Which we do.
His movie is trash and he is vermin for having made it. Provoking rage among the devout might be allowed under the First Amendment, but that doesn't mean people should do it.

This week:

'Book of Mormon' tickets on sale Sept. 22

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Look Back

I am shaking my head listening to Joe Biden go on for five minutes about Obama's wisdom in authorizing the raid on Osama bin Laden.  Well, I guess it was wise, in that he didn't listen to the advice of... err.. morons like JOE BIDEN.

Vice President Joe Biden confessed this weekend that he advised President Obama not to launch the mission that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden last spring.
During remarks at a Democratic congressional retreat this weekend, Biden explained that when it came time to make the final decision, he had some lingering uncertainties about whether the 9/11 mastermind was in the suspected compound in Pakistan.
When the president asked his top advisers for their final opinion on the mission, all of them were hesitant, except for the former CIA director, now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Biden said.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Spinal Tap Presidency

The New York Times reports on the Obama campaign's excuse for their diminishing crowd sizes on the campaign trail.

Good crowds, especially compared with the hundreds that typically turn out to see Mitt Romney. But four years ago Mr. Obama often was drawing five-digit throngs, filling arenas’ nosebleed seats and overflow rooms and regularly requiring shutdown orders from the local fire marshals.

Which raises a couple of questions: Where are the crowds now? And what does it mean for the results in November?

“We have plenty of time for big rallies,” a campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said between the rallies on Thursday. “Our focus right now is on exciting our supporters and winning over undecided voters and the smaller and medium-size events are the best venue to accomplish that because the president can closely engage with the crowd.”

I think I have heard a variation of this excuse before.  Oh yeah, the cult rock mocumentary classic, "This is Spinal Tap".

Marty: The last time Tap toured America, they where, uh, booked into 10,000 seat arenas, and 15,000 seat venues, and it seems that now, on their current tour they're being booked into 1,200 seat arenas, 1,500 seat arenas, and uh I was just wondering, does this mean uh...the popularity of the group is waning?

Ian: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no...no, no, not at all. I, I, I just think that the.. uh.. their appeal is becoming more selective.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Vigilante Justice?

OK, this is a bit old, but the more I think about this the more it pisses me off.  From a recent New York Times editorial on the Colorado Batman shootings:

What we do not need is more heedless rhetoric like we heard on Friday from Representative Louie Gohmert, the Texas Republican who drew a bizarre connection during a radio interview between the horror in Colorado and “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.”
Mr. Gohmert added: “It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying? That could have stopped this guy more quickly?”
That sort of call to vigilante justice is sadly too familiar, and it may be the single most dangerous idea in the debate over gun ownership.

Alright, whether we should be arming ourselves or not is certainly a fair debate, although one I have rather strong opinions on, but since when is defending yourself from someone who is trying to kill you "vigilante justice"?  The right to defend yourself from harm is such a basic human right it hardly needs discussion.  It is not a right that we give up to the government.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Paul Krugman: Then and Now

Never let it be said that the man is not flexible in his beliefs.

His column from yesterday:

You don’t even have to make a Keynesian argument about jobs to see that. All you have to do is note that when money is cheap, that’s a good time to invest. And both education and infrastructure are investments in America’s future; we’ll eventually pay a large and completely gratuitous price for the way they’re being savaged.
 That said, you should be a Keynesian, too. The experience of the past few years — above all, the spectacular failure of austerity policies in Europe — has been a dramatic demonstration of Keynes’s basic point: slashing spending in a depressed economy depresses that economy further.
 So it’s time to stop paying attention to the alleged wise men who hijacked our policy discussion and made the deficit the center of conversation. They’ve been wrong about everything — and these days even the financial markets are telling us that we should be focused on jobs and growth. 

 The same Paul Krugman from 2003, when the deficit was 1/4 what it is now.

 How will the train wreck play itself out? Maybe a future administration will use butterfly ballots to disenfranchise retirees, making it possible to slash Social Security and Medicare. Or maybe a repentant Rush Limbaugh will lead the drive to raise taxes on the rich. But my prediction is that politicians will eventually be tempted to resolve the crisis the way irresponsible governments usually do: by printing money, both to pay current bills and to inflate away debt.
And as that temptation becomes obvious, interest rates will soar. It won't happen right away. With the economy stalling and the stock market plunging, short-term rates are probably headed down, not up, in the next few months, and mortgage rates may not have hit bottom yet. But unless we slide into Japanese-style deflation, there are much higher interest rates in our future.
I think that the main thing keeping long-term interest rates low right now is cognitive dissonance. Even though the business community is starting to get scared -- the ultra-establishment Committee for Economic Development now warns that ''a fiscal crisis threatens our future standard of living'' -- investors still can't believe that the leaders of the United States are acting like the rulers of a banana republic. But I've done the math, and reached my own conclusions -- and I've locked in my rate.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Right, Really?

From an article on the debate over the ride free zone in downtown Seattle.

"The free-ride zone is not a privilege but a right, and it should be something Seattle people should be proud of having," said Whitney Knox, caseworker for Catholic Housing Services. To her, the repeal "seems kind of mind-boggling, with all the wealth we have in this country."

Now I commute by bus to work most days, so I am as pro-transit as anyone, but how did a limited free area for transit become a "right"?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Truth-Challenged Eugene Robinson

Editorialist Eugene Robinson attacks the character of Mitt Romney, in a rather ironic way:

Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.
"Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history," Romney claims on his campaign website. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.
An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news website owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that "there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear."

Mr. Robinson however, ignored the analysis of the fact-checker at the Washington Post, his very own newspaper, which gave that Marketwatch article 3 out of 4 Pinocchios.  

In the post-war era, federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy has hovered around 20 percent, give or take a couple of percentage points. Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II — completely the opposite of the point asserted by Carney. Part of this, of course, is a consequence of the recession, but it is also the result of a sustained higher level of spending.

Robinson replies to this claim in an on-line chat earlier today, but he just doubles down on dishonesty.
I suppose it's too much to ask that you actually read what I wrote. My column says that Romney's claim that under Obama "federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in modern history" is a lie. It remains, in fact, a lie. Glenn Kessler's fine Fact Checker column is an assessment of a claim the president made about spending. While Glenn disagrees with the central assertion of the Market Watch column that I cite -- that spending has risen at only 1.4 percent a year under Obama -- he sets the actual figure at 3.3 percent for the period in question. This is still far, far lower than the rate at which spending increased under Bush, Bush or Reagan. Funny how the big-spending presidents are all Republicans... I should add that Poynter's Politifact truth-squad accepts the 1.4 percent figure, but I included the 3.3. percent number in my column because one doesn't diss the home team. Glenn makes the point that Obama would have spent more if the Republicaans in Congress had let him. I acknowledge that fact, but still there is still no way to justify Romney's false claim. 

He is avoiding the fact, however, that the 3.3 percent number, is only if you start counting from 2010, which as Kessler points out, is highly misleading.

 In theory, one could claim that the budget was already locked in when Obama took office, but that’s not really the case. Most of the appropriations bills had not been passed, and certainly the stimulus bill was only signed into law after Obama took office.

Bush had rescued Fannie and Freddie Mac and launched the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which depending on how you do the math, was a one-time expense of $250 billion to $400 billion in the final months of his presidency. (The federal government ultimately recouped most of the TARP money.) So if you really want to be fair, perhaps $250 billion of that money should be taken out of the equation — on the theory that it would have been spent no matter who was president.


Under these figures, and using this calculator, with 2008 as the base year and ending with 2012, the compound annual growth rate for Obama’s spending starting in 2009 is 5.2 percent.  Starting in 2010 — Nutting’s first year — and ending with 2013, the annual growth rate is 3.3 percent. (Nutting had calculated the result as 1.4 percent.)

As the saying goes, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not their own facts."

Monday, April 30, 2012

Diversity... I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Reading the American media can be quite Orwellian lately, especially from the state of California.  Take this recent AP article on "diversity" in the California university system with the headline "Campus diversity suffers under race-blind policies".

Junior Magali Flores, 20, said she experienced culture shock when she arrived on the Berkeley campus in 2009 after graduating from a predominantly Latino high school in Los Angeles.
Flores, one of five children of working-class parents from Mexico, said she feels the university can feel hostile to students of color, causing some to leave because they don't feel welcome at Berkeley.
"We want to see more of our people on campus," Flores said. "With diversity, more people would be tolerant and understanding of different ethnicities, different cultures."

Aside from the fact that Miss Flores hardly seems to be "tolerant and understanding of different ethnicities" herself,  the article lists the racial breakdown of UC Berkeley:

With affirmative action outlawed, Asian American students have dominated admissions. The freshman class admitted to UC Berkeley this coming fall is 30 percent white and 46 percent Asian, according to newly released data. The share of admitted Asians is four times higher than their percentage in the state's K-12 public schools.

So a campus that is 70% non-white is "hostile to students of color"?



Monday, April 23, 2012

I Blame Bush!

James Taranto points out this particularly idiotic editorial by Catherine Poe of the Washington Times.  He concentrates on the accusations of racism against Republicans, which by now is pretty much old hat.  I was more amazed by another typical accusation.

Like it or not, Republicans know President Obama inherited the Near Depression from President Bush, caused by the Republican love of tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, love of war, hence the Iraq debacle, and love of deregulation, thus our financial collapse. 

Ok, you can make at least a logical argument, although an extremely weak one regarding "love of deregulation" although there was no actual regulation that was ever "deregulated" that would have stopped the housing bubble, and Democrats certainly never proposed one, but how exactly are they blaming tax cuts for this?  Really?  In what feverish left-wing fantasy do you get from "tax cuts for the rich" to "housing bubble based on sub-prime mortgages"?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The More I Think About It Old Billy Was Right...

I just finished reading economist and mathematician Steven Landburg's The Big Question, an interesting, if somewhat confusing examination of life's "big questions".  One interesting point he did bring up, which admittedly fit into my biases, is that lawyers are one of the few, if not the only professions where being intellectually dishonest is not only accepted, but required by their ethical code.  Think about it, if a scientist puts forward a hypothesis which is disproved by others, he is ethically required to change his hypothesis, that is the whole point of the scientific method.

You will never catch a lawyer, on the other hand, saying "You honor, I change my mind, the defense witness has my client dead to rights.  There is no question he did it."  He is legally and ethically required to keep promoting his defense, whether the evidence supports him or not.

This is not to say that this is bad, or that lawyers are inherently evil.  I have friends who are lawyers, and they are good decent people, but that they represent a unique position among our professions, one that is required to be dishonest.  Maybe this is why so may politicians are lawyers?  Over half of the current Senate for example.