Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brooks On Political Polarization, and the Internet

Riders on the Storm
Published: April 19, 2010

In 2001, Cass R. Sunstein wrote an essay in The Boston Review called “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?” Sunstein, a professor at the University of Chicago who now serves in the Obama administration, raised the possibility that the Internet may be harming the public square.

In the mid-20th century, Americans got most of their news through a few big networks and mass-market magazines. People were forced to encounter political viewpoints different from their own. Moreover, the mass media gave Americans shared experiences. If you met strangers in a barbershop, you could be pretty sure you would have something in common to talk about from watching the same TV shows.

Sunstein wondered whether the Internet was undermining all this. The new media, he noted, allow you to personalize your newspapers so you only see the stories that already interest you. You can visit only those Web sites that confirm your prejudices. Instead of a public square, we could end up with a collection of information cocoons.

Sunstein was particularly concerned about this because he has done very important work over the years about our cognitive biases. We like hearing evidence that confirms our suppositions. We filter out evidence that challenges them.

Moreover, we have a natural tilt toward polarized views. People are prone to gather in like-minded groups. Once in them, they drive each other to even greater extremes. In his recent book “Going to Extremes,” Sunstein shows that liberal judges get more liberal when they are on panels with other liberals. Conservative judges get more conservative.

Sunstein’s fear was that the Internet might lead to a more ghettoized, polarized and insular electorate. Those fears were supported by some other studies, and they certainly matched my own experience. Every day I seem to meet people who live in partisan ghettoes, ignorant about the other side.

Yet new research complicates this picture. Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, have measured ideological segregation on the Internet. They took methodologies that have been used to identify racial segregation, and they tracked how people of different political views move around the Web.

The methodology is complicated, but can be summarized through a geographic metaphor. Think of the Fox News site as Casper, Wyo. If you visited and shook hands with the people reading the site, you’d be very likely to be shaking hands with a conservative. The New York Times site, they suggest, is like Manhattan. If you shook hands with other readers, you’d probably be shaking hands with liberals.

The study measures the people who visit sites, not the content inside.

According to the study, a person who visited only Fox News would have more overlap with conservatives than 99 percent of Internet news users. A person who only went to The Times’s site would have more liberal overlap than 95 percent of users.

But the core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News.

But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

It is so easy to click over to another site that people travel widely. And they’re not even following links most of the time; they have their own traveling patterns.

Gentzkow and Shapiro found that the Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association — like meeting people at work, at church or through community groups. You’re more likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own neighborhood.

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

I Now Understand The Tea Party

The Society for Creative Anachronism rejected them... :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Funny Counselor Quote

"Your family owes you rent, for the real estate that they are taking up in your head!"

Politics IS About The Sex, As Well As The Money

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Max The Dog, 1998?- 1400 CDT 14 APR 2010

I had Max put to sleep today. I held him, while the injections were given until he died.

Dr. Kee said that this was better than a prolonged period of suffering.

I'm going to be off the air, until Friday.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Max's Lab Results Are Back

And, they are not good.

First, a urinary tract infection. Treatable with anti-biotics. I'm picking them up tonight.

Second, he has diabetes. Glucose levels were above 300, and showing in the urine as well. Insulin injections would be required, twice a day. Max would fight any injections, no matter how small the needle. An he would remember the injections, and come to isolate himself, when they were scheduled. He would also act out, with #1 and #2. The diabetes stresses the entire system as well.

Last, and worse, there are signs that his adrenal tumor is now active. It may already be restricting blood flow, and it may be malignant now. The adrenal tumor is inoperable, due to the proximity of the vena cava. Addison's Disease is now a distinct possibility. Max already has Cushing's Disease.

The combination of all this is that he may suffer a diabetic collapse, or a rapid decline from either Addison's, or the adrenal cancer. In the day that he has been taking the Tramadol, he has seen a release from most of the background pain, but is still easily tired. The vet said that we had caught the progress at an early stage for any one of them, but hinted that there might not be anything possible to do with the adrenal cancer.

And that cancer would drive the rest of his systems down.

Max is almost thirteen.

God's Revenge? Or perhaps Mom wants Max back. I may have to fulfill my role as parent, all too soon. I won't prolong Max's suffering.

My counselor said tonight that after all the sturm and drang, my sister and I had resolved the estate rapidly, with a perfect 50/50 split. The counselor also said that this outcome (with a wicked smirk) was probably pre-destined, as my sister and I were bound to be at odds since childhood. Both of us were all too willing to believe the worst of each other.

Max refused to kill my counselor (the counselor is a doggie person). Rats!

I'll have to let go of the Dark Side, and may have to let Max go as well.

I hate 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Observations 12 MAR 2010

I have not been updating my blog for quite some time. Reason: I've been in a "quiet period", while my mothers estate is settled. The house and the car have been sold, and the proceeds divided 50/50 between my sister and myself (per the will). Now, only the last parts of the estate are being settled, and hopefully it will conclude soon.

This has been one of the worst six months of my life.

Max went into the animal hospital today. His arthritis, at age 12-1/2, is severe. The vet had to prescribe Tramadol (50 mg) three times a day, in addition to his Rimadyl. Tramadol is a morphine variant. Worse, his heart murmur is louder, and he's starting to show signs of liver and kidney disorders. The lab tests are supposed to be in tomorrow.

His energy and agility are way down, and his right front paw is giving out on him on his walks. The walking is needed for his general health, and the pain is making it difficult for him to exercise. Bladder and bowel control are also affected.

Things suck.

I no longer track the calendar, and spring is hardly noticeable for me. Mom's death, and the general handling of her estate, have worn me down. My mustache is now half-white. So is Max's muzzle.

More prosaically, by SOP I have eliminated all my consumer debts, paid off my car, and have been renovating my house, extensively. Sixty-year old wiring has been nearly completely replaced. The upstairs has been completely re-floored. Fans have been installed in most of the major rooms, to aid in comfort, and energy conservation. Networking and the phone wiring have been redone to modern standards. The electrical heating system has been repaired (it had been operating at 50%).

My electrical contractor said that I should have no fear from storms, and earthquakes, due to the immense quantity of new wiring holding it together...

Soon, much of the yard will be cleared, trees trimmed, insulation for the whole house and a new ceiling for the front living room will be installed. This will make the house far more energy efficient. The upstairs bathroom has had 2/3's of the fixtures replaced. A new, energy efficient water heater has been installed. Much of the old, piping has been replaced, resulting in better water quality and water pressure. My antenna array has been mounted to a guyed tripod, raising it about 5' higher, and the antenna cabling for both amateur radio and commercial TV and radio reception have been replaced, and re-run. Performance is markedly improved, and the antenna structure is now far sounder. When the trees and brush have been removed, performance will go up again. Goodbye to the satellite-eating tree to the south! Also, a true grounding system has been installed, making the house much safer, and making direct grounds for the amateur radio system.

Most importantly, the house has been re-organized for a better living style. I now have a hosting space where the living room was, and the front bedroom has been converted into an entertainment center/home theater. My bedroom has a new bed, and I am sleeping more comfortably in it. The air circulation, and quality have improved, so sleeping is much more comfortable. My allergies have been much reduced, with all the flooring and air circulation improvements.

Cleaning up my stuff from the move will take months. All the stuff was shoved downstairs in tubs, awaiting completion of repairs to the house. The move was physically and emotionally exhausting. I still have yet to bring up the books, music, and videos, to keep them from becoming covered in drywall debris.

I will now be able to host, as soon as the ceiling work is done. This will do much to reduce my isolation.

With all this work, I might be able to re-finance on better terms. State Farm certainly thinks so (my premiums have gone down, and their appraisal has gone up).

Dirty Laundry:

After all this, I find myself picking up the phone, to call Mom about everything. The inheritance has no joy. I can't explain this to my sister and niece.

Nor do I feel any satisfaction that every prediction I made was right, and almost every call by my sister, the executor, was wrong.

She bulldozered me out of Mom's house, showing up the Saturday after Mom's funeral on Wednesday, measuring tapes in hand. She planned to spend the entirety of Mom's accounts to re-model the house, and was going to use her boyfriend as contractor.

I had to call my lawyer. She was forced to back down.

I had committed a capital crime: I had stood up to her, and far worse, won.

No time for my grief was allowed; the $8,0000 first-time buyer deal ending in April ovverrode that. Crack! YAAAH!

I was given a month. And pay all the utilities.

I spent two thousand moving, even after filling a 17 foot U-Haul by myself, and unloading it by myself. After the final move was completed, I was sick for ten days. I'm past fifty, and my body couldn't take it. All while working a stressful, full-time job. No sympathy.

Then, the ultimate breach: My niece wanted the value of Mom's car distributed to her. The car had not been separated from the rest of the estate in the will, so it could not be deeded over to her. My sister said she would give her daughter half the value of the car, and she expected me to do the same. Correction: ordered me to do the same. RIGHT NOW (my friends were witness to this).

I was sick, tired, and wanted to grieve and recover. I had just finished a Herculean task of moving. My house was a beehive of contractors, making it livable (and unlivable). Not a good time to be ordering an ex-military man as if one had stars on her shoulder. I had my DD 214 (with the right codes). She had no rank to pull.

I called my niece, and offered to pay for tuition and books, if she would show receipts. She refused, and called me greedy. This is the same niece who finished second on Elimidate (I have the tape and DVD), and still comes home drunk two nights a week from her job, to a two-year old daughter with health issues. Additionally, she's NOT married to the father of her child. She lives with him, and wants to have another child. He's had only one DUI so far...

My friends want me to pitch this to Jerry Springer.

I refused to give her money, without accountability. I also told her that unless she cleaned up her lifestyle, I did not want to be included in the soap opera that is her, and her mother's, life (my sister has been divorced three times, and I have a numbering system for her boyfriends).

My niece went straight to her mother. I am now the Anti-Christ.

My sister wanted to blow all of Mom's funds on the house; it sold as-is, for $5,000 less than what she had expected to receive after her remodeling spree. First thing the new owners did was to rip everything out, and gut the house. Flooring, walls, kitchen, everything. When I moved a free standing cabinet from the kitchen, my sister nearly had a stroke, saying that it matched the rest of the kitchen. That 20+ year old kitchen now resides in the landfill.

Note: she complained bitterly about cleaning the house on the weekend before the closing, and spending money on a cleaning service. She resented my not participating. I enjoyed the first illness-free weekend in months.

The money and time spent cleaning the house are now residing in the landfill as well. When the buyers, on first viewing the house, said that they didn't want the appliances, I got the message.

While moving my stuff out of the garage, I put a scratch on the trunk of Mom's car. My sister wailed. The car was ruined. The car's dealer-buy bluebook was for $8,000.

It sold for $10,000 (2005 Camry's with 7700 miles, always garaged and maintained, are apparently *quite* rare).

I kept my share of the $5,000.

I will omit (not!)the two occasions where she claimed I was stealing from Mom, only to be silenced in seconds with receipts for everything. The first occasion of this was less than four hours after Mom's death. Not a good way to start the post-Mom world. Especially not at midnight, before a meeting the next morning with the bank, where she wrote herself a check for $1,500 out of Mom's account, on an expired power-of-attorney. The other one was when she opened my phone bill (I got myself separate phone and internet service from Mom), and claimed I was running up Mom's phone bill. Two seconds later, she retired, with her ass on fire. Good gun kill, as they would have said back at Nellis.

Note: before Mom's death, I had paid her for her time working on finding a rehab facility for Mom. I showed every evidence of good faith. I had been performing heavy-duty home health care for months.

This counted for zero. My sister wanted her lottery ticket cashed in.

I've changed my insurance to remove my niece. I'm making a new will, leaving the estate to the Humane Society Of Missouri. Doggies need it more than the humans do. Doggies are save-able, humans aren't.

It feels good, to get that out of my system.

There's a betting pool on when they will start asking for money from me. :)

It's Not My Fault!

Op-Ed Columnist
No One Is to Blame for Anything

Published: April 10, 2010

“I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time,” said Alan Greenspan as he testified last week on Capitol Hill. Greenspan — a k a the Oracle during his 18-year-plus tenure as Fed chairman — could not have more vividly illustrated how and why geniuses of his stature were out to lunch while Wall Street imploded. No doubt he applied his full brain power to that 70-30 calculation. But the big picture eludes him. If the captain of the Titanic followed the Greenspan model, he could claim he was on course at least 70 percent of the time too.
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Greenspan was testifying to the commission trying to pry loose the still incomplete story of how the American economy was driven at full speed into its iceberg. He was eager to portray himself as an innocent bystander to forces beyond his control. In his rewriting of history, his clout in Washington was so slight that he was ineffectual at “influencing the Congress.” The “roots” of the crisis, he lectured, dated back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In other words: Wherever the buck stops, you had better believe it’s not within several thousand miles of the Oracle. As he has previously said in defending his inability to spot the colossal bubble, “Everybody missed it — academia, the Federal Reserve, all regulators.”

That, of course, is not true. In last Sunday’s Times, one of those who predicted the bubble’s burst — Michael Burry, an investor chronicled in “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis — told in detail of how Greenspan and others in power “either willfully or ignorantly aided and abetted” the reckless boom and the ensuing bust. But Greenspan is nothing if not a representative leader of his time. We live in a culture where accountability and responsibility are forgotten values. When “mistakes are made” they are always made by someone else.

This syndrome is hardly limited to the financial sector. The Vatican hierarchy and its American apologists blame the press, anti-Catholic bigots and “petty gossip” for a decades-long failure to police the church’s widespread criminal culture of child molestation. Michael Steele, the G.O.P. chairman, has tried to duck criticism for his blunders by talking about his “slimmer margin” of error as a black man. New York’s dynamic Democratic duo of political scandal, David Paterson and Charles Rangel, have both attributed their woes to newspapers like The Times, not their own misbehavior.

Such is our current state of national fecklessness that the gold medal for prompt contrition by anyone on the public stage belongs, by default, to David Letterman. He wasted little time in telling a national audience point blank that he had done “something stupid,” hurt those he loved and had a “responsibility” to “try to fix it.” In the land of Rod Blagojevich and Tiger Woods, the candid late-night talk show star is king.

Woods’s apologetic Masters press conference last week came only after months of stalling, sponsor defections and well-publicized “rehab.” Along the way he briefly hired Ari Fleischer, the former Bush press secretary, to help manage his mess. Fleischer is not the only Bush spin artist to re-emerge as a hired damage-control hand in the post-Bush era. Dan Bartlett, a former presidential counselor, is a honcho at Public Strategies, the company recently enlisted by Goldman Sachs to help erase the indelible tattoo of “a great vampire squid” imprinted on its image by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.

Former Bush propagandists will never lack for work in this climate. It’s remarkable how often apologists for Wall Street’s self-inflicted calamity mirror the apologists for Washington’s self-inflicted calamity of Iraq. In the case of that catastrophic war, its perpetrators and enablers almost always give the same alibi: “Everyone” was misled by the same “bad intelligence” about Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D. Hence, no one is to blame and no one could have prevented the rush to war.

That, of course, is no more true than Greenspan’s claim that “everyone” was ignorant of the potentially catastrophic dangers in the securitization of subprime mortgages. There were dissenters in the press, intelligence agencies and Congress who did doubt the W.M.D. evidence and asked tough questions akin to those asked by financial apostates like Michael Burry during the housing bubble. But these dissenting voices were either ignored, ridiculed or censored in the feverish rally to war just as voices like Burry’s were marginalized in the feverish rally of the Dow.

In the crash’s aftermath, those who created, sold and hyped mortgage-backed securities and exotic derivatives (“financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them) are just as eager to escape accountability as those who peddled Saddam’s nonexistent nukes. In an appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York last month, the former Citigroup guru Robert Rubin floated the same talking points as Greenspan. He described Wall Street’s meltdown as “a crisis that virtually nobody saw coming,” citing regulators, auditors, analysts and commentators. It seems they were all the passive dupes of AAA ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s on toxic subprime assets, just as all those Iraq cheerleaders were innocently victimized by the bad C.I.A. intelligence on Saddam’s assets.

No top player in the Bush administration has taken responsibility for his or her role in selling faulty intelligence products without exerting proper due diligence. There have been few unequivocal mea culpas from those who failed in their oversight roles during the housing bubble either — whether Greenspan, the Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson or Timothy Geithner in his pre-Obama incarnation leading the New York Fed.

In his own testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission last week, Rubin took no responsibility for his record, as Clinton Treasury secretary, in opening the floodgates of deregulation that would fatten his wallet in his post-Washington migration to Citigroup. Nor did he own up to his role as a proselytizer for increased risk at that mammoth bank, where the bad bets would ultimately require a $45 billion taxpayers’ bailout. Rubin maintains that he had no significant operational responsibility as chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee — a role that paid him well over $100 million while there. But as Roger Lowenstein writes in his new book, “The End of Wall Street,” Rubin’s responsibilities did include writing a letter to shareholders in early 2007 for the Citigroup annual report. In sharp contrast to Jamie Dimon’s contemporaneous letter to shareholders at JPMorgan Chase — which darkly confronted potential “negative scenarios” from “recent industry excesses” — Rubin glossed over any gathering clouds.

Last week Rubin testified he “deeply” regretted what happened, but his invocation of collective guilt — “we all bear responsibility” — deflected any accounting for his own individual actions. Even Blagojevich did better than this in his new role as a contestant on the reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” When Donald Trump “fired” him a week ago, the former Illinois governor at last said, “I take full responsibility.”

Surveying America’s moral landscape in his Inaugural Address, Barack Obama called for “a new era of responsibility.” And he has tried to live up to his own creed. “I’m here on television saying I screwed up and that’s part of the era of responsibility,” he said after Tom Daschle withdrew as a cabinet nominee. The president has also taken responsibility for screw-ups ranging from his administration’s tardy discovery of bonuses given to bailed-out bankers at A.I.G. to its failed surveillance of the Christmas Day bomber. Though the president is never shy about attributing a $1.3 trillion annual deficit to his predecessor, he is usually quick to hold himself accountable as well for the $787 billion in deficit spending added by his stimulus package.

Obama has been less forceful in stewarding a new era of responsibility when it comes to adjudicating unresolved misdeeds in the previous White House. “Turn the page” is his style, even if at times to a fault. Many of the Bush national security transgressions, including the manipulation of the case for war, are rapidly receding into history and America’s great memory hole.

The president will not have the luxury of mass amnesia when it comes to the recent economic past. The tax-free Iraq war, as cunningly conceived by the Bush White House, directly affected only those American families whose sons and daughters volunteered to fight it. But the Great Recession has affected nearly everyone. Most of its victims are genuinely innocent bystanders who lost their jobs and savings while financial elites cashed in on the crash.

Both as policy and politics, a serious reckoning for those who gamed the system is a win-win. Yet the fear that the Obama administration is protecting its friends persists. On the same morning that Rubin testified last week, Eamon Javers of Politico wrote about his continued influence on his many acolytes in the White House. That includes Geithner, whom Rubin talked with repeatedly in the weeks before the president released his financial regulatory reform proposal last June.

Americans still waiting on Main Street for the recovery that lifted Wall Street once invested their hopes in Obama. Getting the new era of responsibility only 70 percent right won’t do.