Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twitter: teetering on the brink

Everyone is tweeting these days. Celebrities, politicians, companies, orgs, websites, what have you. Currently, there are over three hundred million users (I'm one of them, for the record) collectively making over three hundred million tweets per day. That's a lot of information. Many of the tweets include links and/or hashtags. For those unfamiliar with the latter, a hashtag (#) used in front of a a term--like #occupy--creates a tag for the term that allows it to be easily located in a search, creating a list of all tweets with the term. And when that list gets long, when enough people use the hashtagged term in a short period of time, it becomes a "trend," appearing as such on homepages of twitter accounts.

There's no question that Twitter is an effective tool for delivering information in truncated form. And in my view, there's also no question that it's both fun and easy to use. But these two things--an effective tool and a fun service--are very different things, in a practical sense. This dichotomy exists throughout the web, and indeed characterizes the entire web itself, but perhaps nowhere is the stark contrast more apparent than in a Twitter feed.

Links to recent news stories and commentary on issues/events run alongside pointless personal tweets and joke trends, based on who is being followed in a given feed. Financial and business related updates coexist with links to sexy photos and sports results.

And there's nothing wrong with any of that, really. It's life at a frenetic pace, very much a microcosm of what most experience in their daily lives, with the added bonus of being a searchable database. But as Twitter moves into its sixth year of existence--with exponential growth in use--it's perhaps time to ask where it is really going and--more importantly--who is paying for the trip.

Earlier this year, a fund-raising effort garnered some $800 million in private investments. More recently, Prince Walid bin Talal of the Saudi royal family announced a $300 million investment in Twitter. As means of facilitating these invenstments, the company was valued at over $8 billion. That's a very big number, to say the least, particularly for a company that operates at a loss and whose revenues are predicted to just barely exceed $100 million for the year. In comparison, Amazon.com's initial valuation--at the time of its IPO--was just over $1 billion. Now--some sixteen years later--Amazon.com has annual revenues exceeding $30 billion.

But Amazon is in the business of selling products. Twitter--like Facebook--has only advertising dollars as a source of revenue. Supposedly, Facebook has been successful in garnering advertising monies and--for the advertisers--promoting products, services, and websites. Twitter is still working on their approach; in my opinion, Twitter remains wonderfully ad-free and that does not bode well for their business model.

Really, I'm unclear as to how there can be a truly effective ad campaign on Twitter, aside from what is being done now--charging companies for "promoted" tweets that appear on the home page. Given the nature of the vehicle--the "tweet"--there hardly seems enough time to accomplish anything more than name recognition, and banner ads would seem to be just as effective, in my view.

So, where is this $8 billion valuation coming from? Is there anything to it? 2012 may be the year that we find out, as I don't think the current investors will be willing to wait to much longer to see signs of a return on their investment. And that's going to mean an IPO at some point in time, which will mean a new valuation.

And if the revenue sources are really there--and I don't think they are, at the end of the day--that $8 billion might be just right or even a little low. If the sources are being overstated--as I think they are--so what? Twitter is still viable, just not the cash cow some hoped for. It can still generate sufficient monies to operate and even be profitable in the future. But some people will have been taken for a hell of a ride.

Cheers, all.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Carnac in the house!

Since I've already done a "worst of 2011" piece, it seems only fitting that I also join in the other popular game of giving predictions for the new year. Being a bit of a Johnny Carson fan, I'll do mine ala Carnac: answers first, followed by the questions (or is that Jeopardy?).

  1. Answer: a K-street lobbying firm, a Home Shopping Network knife show, and a small closet in Rand Paul's basement. Question: Where will Newt, Rick, and Ron end up after finally realizing that they won't win the nomination?
  2. Answer: a giant vat of chocolate pudding. Question: Where will Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky celebrate the 17th anniversary of their first encounter?
  3. Answer: Palin 478, Obama 60. Question: How many books will each of these people sell in the next year?
  4. Answer: Mitt Romney. Question: Who will Hillary Clinton endorse for President?
  5. Answer: Hillary Clinton. Question: Who will George Bush endorse for President?
Now that this is out of the way, a few slightly more serious predictions:
  1. And actual economic recovery will finally begin to materialize by late summer. Everyone in DC will take credit for it--of course--but it will be nothing more than the business cycle, bolstered by a small tech boom.
  2. The Republicans will maintain control of the House and gain control of the Senate, but Obama will be elected to another term, along with a new Vice President: Hillary Clinton.
  3. The Supreme Court--in a close decision--will not strike down any provisions of Obamacare.
  4. Climate Change--as a political issue--will all but disappear from political discourse.
  5. The EU will splinter and fail.
Happy New Year!

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most Foolish Statements of the Year

As the year draws to a close, the ever-original tradition of making best and worst lists has moved into top gear. Best movies, worst outfits, best songs, worst gadgets, best apps, worst this, best that. We really need a meta list of the best and worst best and worst lists, I think. But that seems like a lot of work.

Instead, lets consider the apparent need people have to see see the tabulation of all of these things into lists. It's certainly not a new phenomenon. And it's something that--I think--begins in early childhood. Children live to list their preferences, are quick to name their best friend or their favorite toy. It gives them--and us, when we do it--a sense of control or power over things, even inanimate and uncontrollable things.

But what's surprising about the popularity of these year-end lists is that someone else is ordaining who or what is best and worst, is establishing a ranking. Of course, the lists can also be great fodder for debate. But debate about what, really? Which LOL cat picture was truly the best, the funniest? On that level, it's all meaningless blather. Yet, we largely accept the lists as somehow valid, as somehow signifying a reality.

Do the lists say more about us--as people--than about their actual content? Do we need to see a list of the Most Embarrassing Celebrity Moments of 2011 to feel better about ourselves? Do we take a false pride in the Most Memorable Sports Plays or 2011 because we happen to have seen some of them, or because one of our favorite teams or athletes is represented? Or maybe we bothered that one of our favorite moments is not represented in the list.

Regardless, I give you the top five most (in reverse order) foolish statements of 2011:

5."I probably heard about it in the last few weeks."--Eric Holder, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May, with regard to Operation Fast and Furious.

4. "This was a prank intended to derail me or distract me, whatever it is. It is not a federal case. Now maybe it will turn out, maybe it will turn out, forgive me, maybe it will turn out that this is the point of Al Qaeda’s sword and that this is the effort that is going to, this is where it’s going to begin..."--Anthony Weiner in June, still attempting to falsely claim that his Twitter account had been hacked.

3. "The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don't know who he is. It's crazy."--Donald Trump in February, with regard to Obama and his birth and subsequent childhood in Hawaii.

2. "However many jobs might be generated by a Keystone pipeline, they're going to be a lot fewer than the jobs that are created by extending the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance."--President Obama in December.

1. "As the thing started to unfold and there was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler Youth. Who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."--Glenn Beck in July, on the tragic shootings in Norway.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beat that (class warfare) drum!

An article in yesterday's Washington Post informs us that members of Congress having been getting richer, while average Americans have been getting...nowhere:
Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity. 
Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.
And of course, the obvious conclusion follows:
The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers.
Amy Bingham at ABC News pipes in today with a similar piece:
The average American’s net worth has dropped 8 percent during the past six years, while members of Congress got, on average, 15 percent richer, according to a New York Times analysis of financial disclosure. The median net worth of members of Congress is about $913,000, compared with about $100,000 for the country at large, the Times’ analysis found.
Scary stuff, right? The bastards in DC are sucking up all of the money, as everyone else struggles to get buy. And this kind of rhetoric has the added bonus of playing well to people on a the left and on the right.

But how accurate, how meaningful is this kind of analysis? There are five hundred and thirty five members of Congress: one hundred Senators and four hundred and thirty five Representatives. How much does it take to skew theses results? The same question can also be asked for the oft-cited numbers of CEO pay, as compared to the average worker. The ratio here is usually in the 400+ to 1 range, but as PolitiFact notes, it's highly inflated, at the very least:

But on the specific comparison of CEO pay and average-worker pay, we found two liberal groups -- the Economic Policy Institute and the Institute for Policy Studies -- that have produced long-running studies of this question. 
The most recent chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows a ratio of 185 to 1 for 2009. According to the group’s calculations, the peak since the mid 1960s was almost 299 to 1. But it was never as high as high as 475 to 1. 
Meanwhile, the most recent ratio from the Institute for Policy Studies is also smaller -- for 2010, it was 325 to 1. In previous years the ratio on two occasions has exceeded 475 to 1 -- to be specific, 516 to 1 in 1999 and 525 to 1 in 2000. 
The Institute for Policy Studies’ ratios are higher than the Economic Policy Institute’s due to methodological differences. Sarah Anderson, who has co-authored the Institute for Policy Studies reports, said the figures can vary depending on several factors, including which CEOs are sampled and what types of compensation for both the CEO and the worker are used in the calculation.
Note the qualifications at the end: which CEOs are sampled is critical. If the right group is used--for instance, CEOs of the twenty most profitable corporations--I have no doubt that a severe ratio, perhaps even greater than 500 to 1, could be demonstrated. But that's a far cry from all CEOs. Let's remember that the typical company is not ExxonMobil or AT&T. Many, actually most, companies with CEOs are relatively small. Their CEOs make more than the average worker, it is true, but not hundreds of times more.

But even with a larger sampling, the big dogs at the top can skew the numbers. Consider 100 companies, wherein the CEOs all make $500K a year. Good money, to be sure, but not even 100 times the salary of an average worker. Now, add in one behemoth with a CEO making $84 million--the 2010 compensation package of the Viacom CEO--and what does the average salary become for the group? Over $1.3 million. Add in a few more super salaries and the average can easily get near the two or three million a year mark, pushing the ratio past 100 to 1.

There is no question that wealth creation has--over the course of the past thirty years--proceeded at breakneck speed, even with downturns. Thus, there are yearly salaries available now that exceed those in the past by very wide margins. But what does this mean for our Congress and the average American comparison? Well, look at the fifty wealthiest members of Congress, as reported by Roll Call for 2011. That's some big money. And a look at past lists would show even bigger money, as some of the wealthiest Congresspersons of all time are no longer in office.

So, how much skewing is going on here? Did either the Washington Post or ABC News bother to do the analysis? Of course not. Why ruin perfectly good class warfare pieces?

Cheers, all.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oblivion

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Best wishes to you and yours. May you have a wonderful holiday season.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks. 2011 is coming to close with the U.S. economy looking no stronger than it did a year ago. The world economy is in a state of flux. The Arab Spring is quickly becoming the Arab Winter. Republican Presidential hopefuls are continuing their circus acts. And it's become next to impossible to find a decent pork chop out there.

But we'll limit today's discussion to just the first item, the U.S. economy. To supposedly boost the sagging economy, Congress and the President have gone ahead with their oh-my-god--it's-so-incredibly-stupid plan of extending the payroll tax holiday by two months, as if this measure actually had anything to do whatsoever with the dopey metric of "job creation."

And that metric--job creation or "created jobs"--became common terminology after the stimulus package of 2009. When the metric faltered, when actual empirical data demonstrated how it was being misused, it was supplemented by the even-more-dopey metric of "saved jobs."

The current struggle for the administration in this regard is making the case that either are both metrics are useful for measuring the effectiveness of current policies, chief among these being the payroll tax holiday and the extension of unemployment insurance benefits. For wrapped up in the bill that extends the payroll tax holiday is an extension of unemployment benefits for two months.

Another extension of unemployment benefits.

And somehow, economic theory is being twisted to argue that such an extension benefits the economy, even though it is now settled fact--even among people like Paul Krugman--that the only demonstrable consequence of such an extension is a decrease in employment. The idea that this extension, along with the payroll tax holiday will create or save jobs is laughable, yet the argument is being made, again and again and again.

Of course, the problem that many on the left have--when it comes to "fixing" the economy--is that what they really want done, what they really want to see, is another massive stimulus bill. And given the current make-up of Congress, that is just not going to happen.

But suppose it could happen? Is there any chance it would be a good idea, would have the desired impact on the economy? The same economists and thinkers that opposed to first Stimulus Bill would certainly say no. And no doubt, the same ones that argued for the first would--by and large--argue for a second. But as Robert Samuelson deftly points out, there is another danger, one becoming all too likely because of events in the EU:
For the record, I supported Obama's stimulus -- though disliking some details -- and, under similar circumstances, would again. The economy was in a tailspin; the stimulus provided a psychological and spending boost. But how much is less clear. As Romer notes, estimating the effect is "incredibly hard." For example, the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of added jobs from the stimulus ranged from 700,000 to 3.3 million for 2010. 
Suppose a new stimulus -- beyond renewal of the payroll tax cut -- did succeed at significant job creation. By piling up more debt, it would still risk aggravating a larger crisis later. There is no long-term plan to curb deficits. Americans seem to think they're invulnerable to a bond market backlash. Economist Barry Eichengreen, a leading scholar of the Great Depression, is dubious: 
"Given low interest rates and the still-weak U.S. economy, it will be tempting for the U.S. government to continue running deficits and issuing additional debt. At some point, however, investors will recognize this behavior for the Ponzi scheme it is. ... If history is any guide, this scenario will develop not gradually but abruptly. Previously gullible investors will wake up one morning and conclude that the situation is beyond salvation. They will scramble to get out. Interest rates in the United States will shoot up. The dollar will fall. The United States will suffer the kind of crisis that Europe experienced in 2010, but magnified."
Imagine the consequences if the bottom drops out of the U.S. bond market. There will be no entity large enough to buoy the government, as the numbers are just too big. There was a great deal of fear-mongering, with regard to the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, supposition that not doing so would cause a default. This was complete nonsense. But not so, here. The bond markets can react very quickly; investors--including large institutional ones--will get out if they need to. And the ability of the government to borrow money will come to an end. Default would be a given.

In such a situation, a payroll tax holiday would be an impossibility, as no monies could be borrowed to make up the difference in the Social Security Trust Fund. Extending unemployment insurance benefits would be just as impossible, as there would be no source for the funds. And this is worth noting, since the viability of these extensions is as important--if not moreso--than their supposed benefits.

Plans to curb runaway government spending and prevent fiscally unsound policies are attacked as being "austerity" measures. But they're not; they're rational solutions to combat a long term problem that few in Washington DC are willing to face, for it's just easier to pass the buck. At some point, that buck has got to stop. But there is little evidence that this will happen. Common sense has passed into oblivion.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's good to see some brains still functioning...

An editorial from yesterday at USA Today argues that the payroll tax stalemate might be good thing. And in that regard, the editorial board is absolutely correct, since--as I've explained before--the payroll tax cut means that the deficit will be increased, as a matter of course. As the editorial notes:
A one-year extension would drive up next year's federal deficit by more than $100 billion.
 And of course, Social Security is already running at a deficit. Whatever short-term benefits are obtained from extending this tax holiday--in my view, there are none--are easily offset by the long-term costs. It's pointless at best, foolish at worst.

Yet, both supposed "sides" are publicly stating that extending the payroll tax holiday is their end goal, that it's what should be done. As the USA editorial notes, there might very well be some political maneuvering going on in Republican-land:
At the end of next year, the unaffordable Bush tax cuts are set to expire. Extending the payroll tax cut would set a precedent and give ammunition to those who want another extension of the Bush cuts, adding as much as $5 trillion to deficits over the coming decade.
This is a cogent observation, even if the underlying premise--that extending the Bush tax cuts adds to the deficit--is wholly wrong (also something I have explained before).

To be clear on this, payroll taxes and income taxes are not the same kind of animals, when it comes to the debt. Payroll taxes directly fund--on paper--Social Security. Any reduction in the monies collected has to be made up via borrowing, regardless if other spending is cut elsewhere to "pay" for the cuts. So, the debt is increased automatically. Not so with income taxes. First, reducing the income tax rate does mean--as a matter of course--that fewer income tax dollars will be collected in the future, since the situation is not static and changing rates creates incentives that impact the economy. This is reality, and no politician or bureaucrat can honestly claim otherwise. And second, even if there are fewer dollars collected, it doesn't mean the government must go deeper into debt, as not all government spending is mandated by law. Some can be decreased or even eliminated, unlike the monies that must fund the Social Security Trust Fund.

Two very different kinds of taxes, with very different consequences from changing rates.

Still, the USA editorial at least recognizes the reality of payroll tax holidays. And it calls for moving forward with the Keystone Pipeline project, while also recognizing the stupidity of tying the project to payroll tax legislation. Three out of four ain't bad. Kudos to you, USA Today.

Cheers, all.

Take the art and run

Article first published as Public Vandals on Technorati.

Vandalism is a very common word and--when used--the meaning is crystal clear: the wanton destruction or defacement of property, private or public. And vandalism has been a problem for people, as long as there has been a concept of property. But the term, itself, dates from Roman times and references the Vandals, a Germanic tribe that invaded the Empire and--in 455--sacked Rome, itself. There is some question as to how extensive the "vandalism" of the Vandals really was, but the term has entered the common lexicon, for better or worse. Regardless, there is no question that extensive plundering occurred, as the Vandals made off with a great deal of riches.

Today, large stashes of riches in states, nations, cities, and homes are not so easily plundered in such a manner, as they often exist in theoretical form, in banks and investments. However, there are places that do hold unparalleled riches, still. Chief among these--aside from the Fort Knoxes of the world--are art museums, with some paintings being valued at over one hundred million dollars. Thus, the total value of art at some museums can easily exceed billions of dollars. Of course, it's very difficult to steal such artwork; it's very tightly guarded and near-impossible to sell, if stolen. The occasional museum theft is big news.

But what about stealing an entire museum, an entire collection of valuable art, assembled over a lifetime? That would seem to be beyond impossible. Yet, in a saga that goes back decades, it may actually be happening, may already be a done deal. The collection in question is that of the Barnes Foundation, a heretofore private collection amassed by Albert C. Barnes in the early twentieth century and housed in Lower Merion, outside of Philadelphia.

Not simply a museum, the Barnes Foundation was designed to be a school for artists. The collection, itself, was never intended to leave the building, to be sold, loaned, or the like. The French artist Henri Matisse visited the school and called the Barnes (the shorthand name for the school and collection) "the only sane place to view art  in America." Currently, the collection is valued at more than twenty five billion dollars.

Barnes passed away in 1951, but left a detailed will that specified the disposition of the school and the collection. His wife controlled them until her death in 1966. From there, since Barnes had no children, control of the school and collection passed to Lincoln University, via Barnes giving it the authority in his will to name four of the five board members of the foundation.

What follows from here is a tale of manipulation, as various groups and individuals squabbled over the control of the collection. But one thing is crystal clear: Barnes very much wanted--and indeed, ordained--that the school and collection remain in Lower Merion, that the unique character of the Barnes would endure. He was very cognizant of the ways in which private collections could become public ones and had no desire to see this happen to his own.

Of course, money must be a consideration. Barnes' endowment fund--quite large at the time--was not sufficient to provide for all needs for all times, with regard to the physical plant and the administration of the foundation. And given that he has no descendants, it might be something of a fanciful wish that his possessions should remain eternally out of the reach of all others.

That said, the state has in interest in seeing that properly made contracts--like wills--are enforced, as a matter of course. Yet, the collection is now set to be moved to the city of Philadelphia--against Barnes' wishes--and is controlled by a fifteen member board, effectively taking control out of the hands of Lincoln University, also against Barnes' wishes. In fact, control is now largely in the hands of several charitable trusts, including the massive NGO, the Pew Charitable Trusts, headquartered in Philadelphia, proper. The story of how all of this came to pass is told in a feature-length 2009 documentary film entitled The Art of the Steal.

Admittedly, the film paints a very one sided picture of the events, yet there seems little doubt that what has come to pass contradicts the explicit wishes and designs of Albert Barnes. The collection is poised to become another public museum, with more access than ever before, yet ultimately serving the needs of the city of Philadelphia, most directly. One cannot help but wonder if this same scenario could be replayed again, perhaps robbing Philadelphia of its new artistic jewel in the service of some other city. Whose art is it, after all?

Monday, December 19, 2011

American Exceptionalism and Freebird

The idea, the theme, of American exceptionalism is nothing new. It sprung from the earliest settlers from Europe and fueled the Revolutionary War. There was a strong religious undertone in the beggining--and indeed, it still exists for many--that saw the new nation as a "City on the Hill," a phrase sourced in the Sermon on the Mount and used by John Winthrop in a sermon in 1630.

It is a powerful allusion and was repeated oftentimes by many American politicians, most famously by Ronald Reagan on a number of occasions. The idea that America--the United States--can be such a place, a shining example to other peoples and nations, was reinforced by the experiences and writings of Alexis de Toqueville, who provided the intellectual justification for the religious link to liberty in the American experience:
Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.
Of course, this was in 1835. The religious element in America was very different at the time, as compared to today. And it is proper to remember that it was religion--Christian religion--that spawned the Abolitionist Movement and then--many years later--the Civil Rights Movement. Oftentimes, the American South is seen not  only as the home of slavery and--consequently--racism, but also as the home of the overtly religious. Prior to the Civil War, this was not the case.

The South, as compared to the North, was far more irreligious. And given the need to justify the enslavement of others, this is not surprising. The destruction visited upon the South during the Civil War and during Reconstruction was--as is often the case for periods of misery--a wellspring for an invigorated religiosity, both among the white population and the newly freed--but far from free--black population. The South found God, oddly enough, because it lost.

But we can trace another Southern peculiarity from that same period: the wanderlust theme of American music, particularly prevalent in--but not limited to--country music and southern rock. However, the roots of the theme run much deeper and in fact lead back to England and the growth of a wage-labor economy, something that disrupted traditional communities by creating incentives for people to travel in search of better work. And indeed, these incentives fueled the growth of first the Colonies--and other territories in the British Empire--and then the new nation of the United States.

But the pre-Civil War American South remained less affected, due to its slave-labor agriculturally-based economy. The Civil War changed all of that, thus created a very rapid growth of the theme, thanks to all of the above factors.

And thus, we have decade after decade of the theme emenating from the American South. Traveling, Rambling men, who can't be tied down to one woman and one place expound upon their nature, finding a home no where except for--in later years--the American highway. For the growth of the American highway system fed the theme, as well. Highway songs. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed into law the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, a project that truly began the expansion of roadways that we all currently take for granted, that connect the nation form sea to sea.

Nearly twenty years later--in 1974--highways were a given, they defined much of the interior, as the travel patterns created new communities and left others to wither and sometimes die. And it was in that year that the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd released the single Freebird, a song that would become one of the most requested rock anthems of all times. And it's worth noting that just a year earlier, the Allman Brothers Band--the mother of all southern rock bands--released Ramblin' Man, their biggest hit.



The lyrics of both are worth considering. Freebird:
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see
But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn't be the same
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
Lord knows, I can't change 
Bye, bye, baby it's been a sweet love
Though this feeling I can't change
But please don't take it so badly
'Cause Lord knows I'm to blame
But, if I stayed here with you girl
Things just couldn't be the same
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change
And the bird you can not change
And this bird you can not change
Lord knows, I can't change
Lord help me, I can't change
Ramblin' Man:
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can
And when it's time for leavin' I hope you'll understand
That I was born a ramblin' man 
Well my father was a gambler down in Georgia
And he wound up on the wrong end of a gun
And I was born in the back seat of a...Greyhound bus
Rollin' down Highway 41 
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can
And when it's time for leavin' I hope you'll understand
That I was born a ramblin' man 
I'm on my way to New Orleans this mornin'
Leavin' out of Nashville, Tennessee
They're always havin' a good time down on the bayou
Lord, them Delta women think the world of me 
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Tryin' to make a livin' and doin' the best I can
And when it's time for leavin' I hope you'll understand
That I was born a ramblin' man 
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Lord, I was born a ramblin' man
Ramblin' man specifically references a highway, but both are very much the same song. And both appeal to religion as justification for the singer's nature. Iconic in nature, these songs appealed to a listening audience of both men and women; the "movin' on" spirit of the rural man was taken as given, as a fundamental reality. And in this respect, it was very much a truth, with regard to the often-cited American exceptionalism. Even today, the theme remains.

Politically, it's something that must be considered; it feeds both the outlaw image and streak of individualism characteristic of a very conservative rural society. And to be fair, the gun-toting, rebel flag-flying image of the free-wheeling, wild-eyed southern boy can obscure a racist element, at times, though not as a matter of course. But the critical element is the wanderlust and the corresponding antipathy towards a dictating authority that is engendered.

The latter is what seems to escape many people, particularly outside the United States, but within as well. It's not simply an objection to authority, per se, but the particular extension of authority that limits the individual in the name of the greater good. Right and wrong are inconsequential in such cases; it's about basic fundamental natures and being able to choose one's own path in life.

Because Lord knows, I can't change.

Cheers, all.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Senate passes payroll tax break extension

The Senate voted overwhelmingly today--eighty-nine to ten--to extend the payroll tax holiday for two months. But the bill included a bit that would require the President to grant a permit for the Keystone pipeline, though it also left him with an out in this regard.

As I've noted previously, the entire "payroll tax holiday" is a stupid idea. Extending it merely means growing the debt for no real reason, given that net income could simply be increased via a cut in income tax rates. Nonetheless, the vote will surely be spun as some sort of "victory" for the middle class and the President's economic agenda. At the same time, the inclusion of the Keystone requirement will be spun as a Republican "victory." And in a way, maybe it is, depending on whether or not the bill is ultimately signed into law.

But it's the height of stupidity that construction of the Keystone Pipeline--which I have also addressed previously--should be linked to a bill dealing with payroll taxes. One has nothing to do with the other. Of course, it's equally ridiculous for Obama to block the construction of a fully vetted project that would actually create jobs and boost a sluggish economy.

Almost makes one lose faith in the government...

Cheers, all.

Was there ever income equality?

The current intelligent-sounding term du jour appears to "income inequality," and the Occupy movement--no matter what is has or has not accomplished, otherwise--can certainly be credited with helping to drive the popularity of the term upwards. There's no doubt that income inequality carries some meaning and--as a metric--has its uses, but is it really that useful, is it really referencing an important idea that needs to be understood and actively addressed? Is it something that should be "corrected"?

For those who may not have heard of the concept, income inequality simply refers to the dispersal of income in a society, with regard to individual, and how--amazingly--this dispersal is not equal. Thus, some people have higher incomes than other people.Well, duh. Has there ever been a society where this was not the case, where there was income equality? I suppose it's possible that such equality might have existed in severely limited closed communities--like maybe some sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune--but in any historical nation, particularly those with market economies? Impossible.

Nonetheless, the analysis of income inequality seems to have become a very rich field of study. Take a look at the Wikipedia page on the term. That's some heavy stuff. Hardly simple talk for all to understand. The gini coefficient in particular requires more than a little background in mathematics and statistics in order to really get a full understanding. And I'm not really sure how useful Wikipedia is on something like this, with people who may or may not really understand this stuff haphazardly editing the page. But that's really neither here or nor there. The point is, just measuring income inequality is no simple feat. And understanding the how and why of such is equally difficult.

But regardless, allowing the income inequality was actually a problem to be solved, what is the "right" distribution? How much income inequality should a society have? Who makes that decision? And once decided, note that the only means of "correcting" the inequality is via punitive measures, punishments for phantom crimes, something that--apparently--large numbers of people have no problem with.

And there's the reality I mentioned above, that income equality is impossible in market economies.Not only that, it's income inequality that drove--and continues to drive--wealth creation. Capitalism--the current "dirty word" du jour--functions (meaning it creates wealth systemically) because of potential benefits from risk-taking endeavors. And--this is the kicker that some just can't seem to understand--the benefits over the long term create more wealth than what could have been lost. That's why, even in the current economy, potential to create wealth remains.

In an opinion piece at the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow demonstrates this lack of understanding perfectly.  He points to apparent delusion of the part of the American public who seem to wrongly feel that there isn't a problem, that they're not on the short end of the stick. He concludes with the following:
Yet another Gallup report issued Friday found that most Americans now say that the fact that some people in the U.S. are rich and others are poor does not represent a problem but is an acceptable part of our economic system. 
If denial is a river, it runs through doomed societies.
The denial is all his. And--unfortunately--he's far from alone in that regard.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dubious sightings of racism

Article first published as Jesse Jackson Slanders the Truth on Technorati.

Jesse Jackson, in an opinion piece at the Chicago Sun-Times, takes Gingrich to task for his now-weeks-old comments about poor children, about how schools might consider replacing janitors with such children. Jackson rightly notes the stupidity of Gingrich's remarks--albeit quite belatedly, since much of the rest of the political media had already addressed them--but then goes on to offer his own bit of thoughtless analysis:
The not-so-hidden assumption in Gingrich’s slur is that he’s talking about urban poverty and black and Hispanic kids. Actually, poverty is worse in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Worse in Appalachia than in Chicago. More poor children are white than black.
Jackson is right, with regard to the numbers. But where did he find this "not-so-hidden assumption" in Gingrich's remarks? Nothing Gingrich said hinges on race or ethnicity, whatsoever. Yet, Jackson sees race immediately, assumes it's there as a matter of course.

Gingrich once suggested--while in Congress--bringing back orphanages on a large scale for children on welfare. That idea is as dumb as this one, but there's nothing racial about it, in any way, shape, or form. Gingrich made these remarks in response to a question from the audience at a speech for the Harvard Business School. He concluded by saying:
You're going to see from me extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America and give people a chance to rise very rapidly.
This is yet another example of Gingrich thinking every wild idea that passes through his mind is a good idea, a legitimate idea, and one that needs to be expressed. He gives no thought to the actual job requirements of  school janitors, apparently believing that all they do is empty trash cans and mop floors. And he fails to recognize the limitations of such a program, along with the potential costs and liability issues for schools.

But nowhere does he even hint of a racial component, nowhere does he invoke race or ethnicity. Yet, Jesse Jackson is apparently not content with criticizing what is actually there, but must also criticize what is not there. In doing so, Jackson not only treats Gingrich unfairly, he also does a disservice to the legitimate racial issues and systemic racism that continues to exist in the United States. Attacking non-existent racism only serves to feed the cynicism of those who question every claim of discrimination or infringement of minority rights. One would think that by now, Jesse Jackson would have learned this lesson. Alas, it would appear that he has not.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Battle of the Colline Gate

Thomas Hobbes dedicated his book De Cive (On the Citizen) to the Earl of Devonshire and began it with the following passage:
The Roman People had a saying (Most Honoured Lord) which came from the mouth of Marcus Cato, the Censor, and expressed the prejudice against Kings which they had conceived from the memory of the Tarquins and the principles of their commonwealth; the saying was that Kings should be classed as predatory animals. But what sort of animal was the Roman People? By the agency of citizens who took the names Africanus, Asiaticus, Macedonicus, Achaicus and so on from the nations they had robbed, that people plundered nearly all the world. So the words of Pontius Telesinus are no less wise than Cato's. As he reviewed the ranks of his army in the battle against Sulla at the Colline Gate, he cried that Rome itself must be demolished and destroyed, remarking that there would never be an end to Wolves preying upon the liberty of Italy, unless the forest in which they took refuge was cut down.

What does Hobbes mean, what idea or ideology is he really advancing with that quote? As every schoolboy knows (an expression that is a fallacy of argument, by the way), the Romans of pre-empire days did not trust Kings, were adamantly opposed to giving one man the power to rule. Sulla, by way of civil war, became Dictator of Rome in 82 BCE, the first Dictator in nearly a century. This quote refers to the penultimate battle between Sulla and Marius the Younger. Pontius Telesinus--a Samnite by birth--sided with Marius.

In the annals of history, this moment is one now largely ignored, in favor of other seemingly more significant moments. And it is a great tragedy of out times that such is the case. The Battle of the Colline Gate capped a war for liberty, a failed war, and moved Rome permanently forward towards Empire. Sulla--as Consul--had begun to limit the powers of the Tribunes, and thus of the common citizens, while strengthening the aristocracy. Yet, he was also a reformer of the courts. His foes-- like Pontius Telesinus--feared such consolidation and were very much inclined to view Rome as a confederation of peoples. But we must be crystal clear about one thing: "king" and "dictator" are not synonymous in the mind of Hobbes, at all.

The ideological issues at stake here are deep; Sulla's position is not wrong, as a matter of course, nor is Pontius'. We might be tempted to see the argument in the context of out times as a Federal/State issue, and that is not wholly unfair, but it goes beyond that. At stake here is the fundamental source of authority, of government power: does the power of all become one, or can the power be divvied up among peoples? And it should be noted that--despite the chain of events he set in motion--Sulla ultimately gave up his dictatorial powers freely.

The next lines from De Cive:
There are two maxims which are surely both true: Man is a God to Man, and Man is a Wolf to Man. The former is true of the relations of citizens with each other, the latter of relations between commonwealths. In justice and charity, the virtues of peace, citizens show some likeness to God. But between commonwealths, the wickedness of bad men compels the good too to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud, i.e. to the predatory nature of beasts.
For Hobbes, there was no difference between citizen and king, with regards to their behavior. Given the opportunity, both would prey on others. And that opportunity best presents itself when there is an "other" to take advantage of, another state/commonwealth.

Thus, Cato had good reason to distrust Kings,  but just as good reason to distrust the non-King, the one appointed or elected to lead/rule. Pontius Telesinus was right, as well. The only way to ensure that no one took advantage of power was to destroy the vehicle of that power, in this case Rome, in general the government.

Within the framework of the state, there is ample room for bad behavior; it's a given, an inescapable reality. There is no solution to remedy this, no way to "fix" things permanently. And oftentimes, we need the wolf.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's the little things

This post is part of the November 2011 Blog Chain at AbsoluteWrite. This month’s challenge is a simple holiday story.

Most of my memories of the holiday season are good ones. As a child, I was fortunate to be in a loving family with relatively successful parents; there were no "hard times" to speak of, no years of meager gifts. In my college years, the holiday season was an extended party within my fraternity, with gift exchanges, booze, sex, and maybe a little bit of charity work on the side. As an adult, my wife and I have always enjoyed the season, decorating our home and reveling in the giving of gifts, first to each other and then to our children.

And really, there is nothing better than seeing the look of wonder in a small child's eyes from experiencing all of the holiday trappings, not to mention the presents on Christmas morn. This year, my youngest has really immersed herself in the show, from decorating, to baking, to the annual TV specials. And I can't wait to see her face, come Santa time.

But there is one blemish on my record of memories. As the holiday season approached in 1980, when I was in 9th grade, I woke up one morning feeling quite bad, or at least so I am told. I have no memory of the day, whatsoever. My mother told me to go back to sleep, though apparently I was worried because my science project was due on that day, so I first spent some time getting it ready before returning to bed. A little while later, she brought me a glass of juice,  then became quite worried at my lack of response and greyish complexion. She called an ambulance.

What followed was an extended period of missing time; I have bits and pieces in my mind, a doctor or nurse hovering above me, a bumpy moment in an ambulance, voices distant then close, lots of scurrying around. Some clarity finally returned and I remember having popsicles, while hooked up to machines and an IV, in what was obviously a hospital ward. My parents visited daily and brought me a radio to listen to as I grew more aware and expressed my boredom. One of my biggest worries at the time was missing the NFL playoffs. From the radio, I learned that the Raiders--my team--were due to face the Brian Sipe-led Browns (the "cardiac kids") and I very much wanted to see the game.

The staff was able to bring in a TV set and I got to see the game, watching most of it with a nurse who--it turned out--was from Cleveland. That was on January 4th, 1981. Obviously, there had been no traditional Christmas for me or my parents. Shortly after this point, I was moved to a private room, where I stayed for another week or so, before being released and returning home. And it was in that room that I learned the details of the last nearly four weeks:

An ambulance rushed me to the local hospital in Newport News where I was attended by the father of one of my best friends. I was barely breathing and he determined that I had contracted viral pneumonia. The local hospital didn't have the needed facilities, so I was moved--via ambulance--to MCV hospital in Richmond.

On the way, my ambulance broke down and a new ambulance had to be sent to pick me up and take me the rest of the way. My parents--who were following at normal speeds--came upon the ambulance that had broken down and at first believed that I had died, until they got out and asked the driver who was still there.

In Richmond, I was in intensive care for most of my stay, on morphine and unable to move, as the doctors and nurses tried to keep me alive. Close to midnight on Christmas Eve, my heart stopped. A doctor at MCV performed CPR on me and successfully restarted my heart, saving my life.

From that point on, I began to recover. I had lost an unbelievable amount of weight--from lack of movement and solid food--had to undergo therapy to walk again, and experienced a number of other complications. But I survived.

My parents spent their time in Richmond staying at the Ronald McDonald House (years later, they would go back and serve as caretakers there). If you're ever looking for a worthy charity, this is a pretty good choice.

My highlights from that year's holiday season:

Popsicles, the only thing I could eat for quite a while. I liked the orange ones best, I am told.
Skateaway by Dire Straits and Celebration by Kool and the Gang, the two most played songs while I was intensive care. Both bring back a flood of memories when I hear them.
Fried Chicken, my first solid food after my ordeal. And to this day, I also love hospital food.
Playing chess with the doctor who saved my life. He visited me often and will never be forgotten.
My friends that drove over to visit me.
And my parents. All that I went through, they went through, too. And more, really.

Still, the little things--the popsicles, the songs, the chicken--are the ones that stick out in my mind. Oddly, it's the little things that make the season, even here.

Cheers, all.


Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
pyrosama
Cath
AbielleRose
writingismypassion
Domoviye 
AuburnAssassin
Areteus 
Diana Rajchel
Alynza
SuzanneSeese
robeiae
SinisterCola
MamaStrong
kimberlycreates

What an ego!

It's a difficult thing for the great majority of us to fathom, the mindset of those with egos burning brighter than a thousand suns. The assumption that one is just so much better, so much more important, so smarter, more attractive, athletically superior, or what have you pervades every industry with a public face, from politics to movies, from sports to TV news. But the true egomaniacs are few and, in my opinion, easy to spot.

And that's especially true when they flame out. Witness the Charlie Sheen show, that captivated the public for month after month. Or the semi-periodic Alec Baldwin explosions. But it's still easy to spot them, even when they don't explode, as is the case for star athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Terrell Owens, and Manny Ramirez, to name but a few. Team owners--like Jerry Jones--can be just as bad, ego-wise.

Certainly, there are also some mighty big egos in the world of high finance. Donald Trump goes where other egos fear to tread, it is true, but there are still others that approach the Trump in their self-certainty. Fabrice Tourre, former Goldman Sachs veep that was heavily involved with the creation of exotic securities, actually had the audacity to refer to himself in the third person as "the Fabulous Fab." Outside of professional wrestling, who does that?

But it looks like the Fabulous One has company, in the person of Jon Corzine. As I've previously discussed, Corzine is at the center of the collapse of MF Global. And despite the panegyric spin form friends, Corzine's star is sinking rapidly. New details are emerging about his activities as head of MF Global:
Mr. Corzine compulsively traded for the firm on his BlackBerry during meetings, sometimes dashing out to check on the markets. And unusually for a chief executive, he became a core member of the group that traded using the firm’s money. His profits and losses appeared on a separate line in documents with his initials: JSC.
This is no way to run company, at least for most people. It is, however, very much consistent with the Jerry Jones style of management. And in that same light, it's also consistent with someone approaching what they are doing--in this case running an investment firm--as a hobby, of sorts.



The problem with that, of course, is that real people worked for MF Global, real people were customers. And many of them are now out in the cold, thanks to Corzine's reckless activity and monstrous ego. Way to go, Jon.

Cheers, all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A weak field, but so what?

There continues to be a great deal of discussion regarding the weakness of the Republican field for the Presidential nomination. And to an extent, such discussion--following from such criticism--is fair. After all, the field includes a Northeastern pseudo-conservative, a know-it-all flip-flopping K-street insider, and an apparent creationist, given to making insensitive remarks. And those are the supposed front-runners, the "serious" candidates.

But here's the thing: the Office of President is about leadership, it's about overriding--not specific--issues, and it's about having a path forward. As much as we would like to know with certainty where candidates are on these things, we often can't. Too many times we think we know, only to be proven wrong by the candidate in short order.

Witness the quite divergent Presidencies of Democrats Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. One oversaw an economic boom--something that was mostly a consequence of Clinton knowing to stay out of the way--while the other was there for a downward spiral that led to the coining on the term "stagflation." And make no mistake, Carter's policies were part of the problem. One managed to be the leader of the Free World, the other stumbled like a buffoon, in that regard. Yet, looking back at their candidacies, both were credited with having strong intellects, with possessing political acumen, and--by those on the left--with positions consistent with social justice, with a willingness to meaningfully address these core issues.

Bill Clinton served two terms and had it not been for his sex drive, would have left office with a record of successes rivaling any recent President. Carter was out after one and his bungling led to a new faction in the Democrat Party--Reagan Democrats--that easily carried Reagan into office with huge electoral numbers, rarely seen (the most electoral votes ever received by one candidate, in fact).

And let's remember that Reagan, himself, was seen as weak by many, as a bit of a joke candidate. No doubt--if he were running today--the Republican field would still be "weak" to most people. This is not to suggest that there's a Reagan lurking in the field. It's certainly possible (I'd humbly suggest that Bachmann is the most plausible in that regard), but not really the point. Which is that the weakness of the current President makes the issue irrelevant.

After all, just three days ago, the President said this:
I know the suggestion right now is, is that somehow, well, this Keystone issue will create jobs. That's being determined by the State Department right now, and there is a process. But here's what I know: However many jobs might be generated by a Keystone pipeline, they're going to be a lot fewer than the jobs that are created by extending the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance.
Extending unemployment insurance creates jobs? That claim is so laughable, it's not even worth addressing. It's nonsensical blathering that indicates a complete lack of understanding, with regards to how the economy--or any economy--actually functions. Moreover, Obama presents his point as an either/or proposition, which  is equally laughable.

How strong does a Republican candidate really need to be, in order to be better than that?

Cheers, all.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A movie to see: Margin Call

I attended a Heritage Foundation event the other day in Palm Beach. It was very good, informative and interesting, plus I got to meet Karl Rove again and pester some the Heritage policy wonks about all of the stuff they were getting wrong.

I had driven up the day before, so I had a free evening at the resort. Party guy that I am, I stayed in my room and watched a movie. But it was a movie I hadn't seen before: Margin Call, staring Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and others.



The movie is about an investment bank--supposedly based on Lehman Brothers--at the very beginning of the financial crisis of 2007/8. Essentially, a junior analyst discovers that the mortgage backed securities aren't really worth anything close to the market price and that the bank is so over-leveraged, a drop in the price of these securities would be catastrophic. The entire movie takes place over two days--mostly one night--and is simply fantastic.

But I have to say that the bank and players remind me as much of Bear Stearns and its principals, as of Lehman Brothers. House of Cards is a great account of the former and what transpired in a matter of days within that firm.

Either way, Margin Call is a great movie, splendidly acted, that provides some real insights into the crisis and what people were/may have been thinking.

Two thumbs up and a bag of chips.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Obama's Society of the Harmonious Fists

A lesson from the past:

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, much of China was in a state of turmoil. Due to a series of natural disasters, the continued presence of foreign missionaries, and the exploitation of the Chinese economy by foreign powers, many people in China were prepared for open rebellion. Members of one pseudo-secret society--The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists--were already engaged in localized acts of disruption. This group, known to Europeans as the Boxers, had been actively suppressed by the Chinese government for many years.

As the century turned and the unrest continued to spread, the Emperor of China--Guangxu--followed the advice of foreigners and some members of the court by enacting a series of reforms, intended to pacify the masses. Instead, it led to even more unrest and--eventually--a coup d'etat by the Empress Dowager Cixi, aunt of Guangxu. Cixi began supporting the Boxers, first secretly then openly, thus setting the stage for the Boxer War.

Cixi had hoped to use the Boxers to rid China of foreign influence, even though she had no intention of actually changing the traditional structures of China, no intention of giving up any power. But she miscalculated and ultimately was forced to rely on the foreign powers to reclaim her throne, though at a heavy cost. China was forced to pay reparations for war, payments that continued until 1939. Really, the Imperial Dynasty never recovered from this period. It was severely weakened in scope and power. The Chinese army was splintered and local leaders controlled their own forces, setting up a scenario for a possible return to the Warring States period in Chinese history. The growth of the communist movement in China and the advent of World War II, however, ended this possibility.

Ultimately, the ruling class of China was wiped away, as the People's Republic of China was realized. Whatever China is today, Communist China became a reality because of the Boxer Rebellion, first and foremost. It was the touchstone. And the crippling consequences for China from that period were a direct result of Cixi's misreading of the Boxers, her mistaken belief that they could be easily used and controlled.

They were a violent and emotional group, sure of their righteousness, yet deeply wrong about most everything else. Leaders--politicians--that would use such groups, that would willingly fan the populist flames of resentment for personal ambition risk much. Too much, more often than not.

Cheers, all.

Pearl Harbor Day

It's been seventy years since the United States was summarily drawn into World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Growing up in the seventies, this was always an important day, probably because veterans of World War II were plentiful, many in their late fifties or early sixties and in significant positions throughout society, from political offices, to educators, to management in various corporations. As such, the day was not one that could go by unnoticed, given the cost of the War, personal experiences, and fallen comrades.

But now, those people are gone. The number of World War II veterans is dwindling rapidly. According to Wikipedia, there are some two million veterans still alive (out of sixteen million), with over eight hundred dying every day. There are no more World War I veterans still alive, the last one from the United States--a Mr. Frank Buckles--having died this year.

It's a sobering moment, knowing that these people are fast disappearing from the world, taking with them their memories from such a significant period in world history. My own Grandfather--Carlton Upright--served in Europe during World War Two. He passed away in 2005, having served as a sergeant in the 9th Army 135th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion "C" Battery and having been awarded the French Croix de Guerre. I think of him often and wish he was still here, wish I had more time with him, partly to know more of what he knew and experienced during the War.

Recent schools of thought suggest that the Empire of Japan was forced into war with the United States, that the latter's expansion of economic activity and control in the Pacific was essentially choking of the economy of the former. And there is some merit in that. Some. In that respect, the attack on Pearl Harbor was perhaps the only chance Empire had of defeating--or at least stalemating--the United States. Nonetheless, the attack at dawn was a surprise, catching thousands off guard and sending over twenty four hundred Americans to their graves.

After the news of the attack reached the mainland, support for isolationism all but disappeared and the United States quickly declared war on the Empire of Japan. Germany soon declared war on the United States in response and World War II extended around the globe.

All that we are today, all the lines of demarcation around the world of peoples, economies, and nations are products of this past in identifiable ways; the War did more than define a generation, it established a world order. And it created a mythos of the American experience, built first and foremost on the day that would live in infamy. We would do well to remember it, even as those that experienced it move on.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Experts rule in the BCS and in Politics

Article first Published as The BCS Title Game and National Politics on Technorati.

It's official. The BCS title game will be a rematch: LSU v. Alabama. Earlier in the season, LSU squeaked out a win over the Tide in a defensive struggle. Now--in order to win the now-not-so-mythical championship of college football--they will have to do it again.

There is plenty of talk out there about whether this is right, just, fair, or what have you. For LSU did beat 'Bama once--when 'Bama was number one--and has not dropped a game since. On the one hand, what did 'Bama do to deserve another shot? Beat up on Georgia Southern, Mississippi State and Auburn? Not exactly a stunning series of victories.

On the other hand, who else deserves the shot? If not 'Bama, then who? Oklahoma State has one loss, too. And they closed out the season with a thorough drubbing of a top-ten opponent, Oklahoma. Stanford also has one loss and  finished the season with a win over a ranked opponent. Then there's Boise State--perennial outsider--with only one loss to TCU. So, why 'Bama?

Forget what the sportswriters are saying, forget the SEC conspiracy claptrap, forget the networks. The end result here is a product of one principal thing, alone: the preseason polls. Here they are (the top ten, anyway), for those that may have forgotten:


1Oklahoma (42)0-01454
2Alabama (13)0-01414
3Oregon (2)0-01309
4LSU (2)0-01296
5Florida State0-01116
6Stanford0-01101
7Boise State0-01065
8Oklahoma State0-0933
9Texas A&M0-0885
10Wisconsin0-0829



LSU is undefeated and Alabama is the highest ranked team--from the preseason--with only one lost. The entire BCS exercise is nothing but the justification of "expert" opinion. From the moment the season starts, the position a team has in the polls is a hype-point. Teams not in the top 25 have to "earn" their way into it, something the preseason picks get to opt out of. 

It may be the case that LSU and Alabama are the two best teams, insofar as they are the two teams with the most talent, the best on paper. But that shouldn't matter. What should matter is the games. On the field, we already know who the better team is: LSU. Why do we need to see it again?

And the world of national politics is no different. Ron Paul--the Boise State of the Republican Party--remains on the outside looking in. No matter what he does, he can't get to the top. Jon Huntsman wasn't even on the preseason poll, so he'd be lucky to just be around at the end. Cain? Flash in the pan. Mitt Romney--off an on front runner--remains in the conversation, no matter what. No matter how well or how badly he does, he's a "legitimate" contender.

And why? Because the "experts" say he is, no other reason. If he's smart, he'll be pulling for LSU.