Sunday, February 07, 2016

Hillary's Wall Street Speeches

If Wall Street mega-bankers offered me a six-figure payday for talking at a podium for 45 minutes I'd take it. I'd tell them whatever they wanted to hear, I'd massage their egos and justify their greed.

For that kind of money I'd prostitute myself to their wishes knowing that with all that lucre I could buy enough liquor to drown my shattered dreams and debased values. If, at some later point, people wanted to know what I had said to those inflated egos to pump more hot air into them I'd clam up tighter than a, well, clam. That would be my little secret that I would take to my grave.

The big differences are that I'm an unimportant peon that nobody with an endless supply of cash would want to hear speak and...I am not running for President. Hillary had to know these questions would some day be asked.

What Did She Say?
I don't know except if she had said anything to upset the Goldman Sachs crowd, questioned their beliefs, or attacked their business model it would have been headline news at the Wall Street Journal. They were happy with her speeches. She made them feel good.

Friday, February 05, 2016

How to Cheat a Coin Flip

Several Democratic precincts in the Iowa caucus decided the winner between Clinton and Sanders with a coin flip. After the bizarre coin toss at the Packers-Cardinals football game a few weeks ago, I looked into the ways to cheat at this traditional technique to break ties. It's remarkably easy.

Willing It
In 2009, researchers in Vancouver had thirteen subjects toss coins 300 times each and told them to try to get as many "heads" results as possible. All of them did, more than half showing a significant prejudice towards "heads" with the best getting 68% of his flips turn up "heads." The scientists concluded that with little practice anyone can manipulate a coin flip to control for the result.

No Flip Flip
This is a magician's trick and what happened in that football game. It is possible to flip a coin so it does not rotate in the air but simply flutters, creating the illusion of it turning. Whatever was face up at the start will be the result.

Catching the Coin
You know the deal. I toss the coin, catch it, flip it to the top of my other hand, and reveal the result. When I catch the coin I feel one side, heads and tails feel differently, and then manipulate the coin so the side I want is face up for the reveal. This one requires practice and manual dexterity. You can also count the rotations in the air to know the position of the coin in your hand.

Iowa Results
Hillary won six of seven coin flips (the estimates vary widely), that has a 5.5% probability of happening. Unusual but not impossible. The most extreme charge, Hillery winning six of six flips, has a 1.6% probability that is still not impossible. And a coin flip conspiracy would require training hundreds of people in flip rigging techniques on the off chance those skills might be needed to win an extra few state delegate equivalents (SDE) that might translate into one extra convention delegate. And then all of the conspirators keeping it secret.

I love a good conspiracy theory but this one is simply too silly. It was a tie. Neither Hillary nor Bernie won.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Hummin' To Myself

I've been less than impressed with the Iowa Caucus. Ted Cruz has joined the ranks of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum as Iowa winners and he did worse than Huckabee in 2008. So, meaningless. As for the Democrats, a tie is a tie and says nothing.

So, I'm going to write about old music.

Around 1930, Tin Pan Alley veterans Sammy Fain and Herbie Magidson joined the little known Monty Siegel in writing a cute little ditty, Hummin' To Myself.
I've got the words, I've got the tune,
I've been rehearsin' under the moon!
But I got nobody to hear my song,
I'm hummin' to myself!
It was preformed by Joan Abbot in George White's (he was a poor man's Flo Ziegfeld) Broadway musical review in 1932. After that it has been recorded periodically over the years.

In 2004, Linda Ronstadt used it as the title number for her last solo album. It was her third visit to the old jazz tunes of the 1930's through 1950's. Her first two had been with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, this time she used small combos instead of a full orchestra. At 58, Linda's voice was beginning to show the effects of her Parkinson's Disease, a fact she freely admitted in a Vanity Fair article. Intended or not, the song hints at the end of her musical career.

Still, of all the versions I've heard Linda's is the most vibrant and most beautiful rendition. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bizarro America

For weeks now, months really, I've been trying to figure out what the hell is happening in this country of mine. I've looked to history and my own experiences and I can see a few ghostly similarities.

Trump vs. Cruz
I kind of get what mainstream Republicans are feeling. A quarter century ago in local politics I knew two similar politicians. Bob Filner, who was briefly mayor of San Diego before a sexual harassment scandal destroyed his career, was crass, selfish, ruthless and also a political ally. Peter Navarro was seen by many as a progressive hero. But people who knew him, I had worked on two campaigns with him, universally loathed him.

Filner was like Trump, an egoist who would take your side if you first capitulated to him. Navarro was Cruz, someone who wanted all the things you did but was so thoroughly disgusting you'd rather lose than see that bastard win.

Conclusion:  I oddly sympathize with the horror that Republican elites view their party's leading candidates where winning seems like a worse outcome than losing.

Republicans Who Think They Can Work With Trump
Recently, some establishment Republicans have been hinting that they could moderate Trump after he is elected. This parallels eerily what Germans thought about another racist nationalist populist. When Hitler lost the campaign for German president he still had the largest party in the country. The winner, Paul Von Hindenburg, invited Hitler into the government as Chancellor. His thinking was that with Hitler in the government Hindenburg could control and moderate the firebrand and prevent him from causing trouble. But Hitler would not be moderated and within months he had turned the chancellorship into a dictatorship.

Conclusion: Anyone who thinks they can control Trump after the election is a blind fool.

FOX Debate Debacle
The story of Trump boycotting the next debate is like a circus freak show, hilarious and creepy all at once. People are comparing it to a professional wrestling act where bizarre story lines turn debased spectacle into low entertainment. The historian in me sees something worse. Trump is succeeding in belittling not just his opponents but the political party he is seeking to lead. It is the kind of spectacle that the Roman Emperor Caligula would have used to debase his peers in the Roman Senate, like forcing senators to wear slave tunics.

Conclusion: The Republic primary is no longer a political campaign but performance art designed to ridicule the entire country.

Twitter Campaign
1924 - The first presidential campaign where radio was used to reach voters. It didn't have a major effect.
1960 - First televised presidential debates. Some say Kennedy's cool, handsome demeanor opposed to Nixon's sweaty five o'clock shadow tipped the race to JFK.
2008 - First election where the internet may have decided the race. President Obama's skilled use of online fundraising and voter outreach was a deciding factor in his winning the Democratic nomination.

And now, this is the first election where the press doesn't matter, radio doesn't matter, even television doesn't matter. Donald Trump's campaign is centered on Twitter. The media used by celebrities to trumpet their egos in 140 characters or less is now the main media for political discourse. Forget policy papers, if your political positions can't be shrunk down to the size and sense of a Kardashian quote then you have no chance.

Conclusion: We are all screwed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Disappearing Lakes

When you're young you think that you're going to sail into a lovely lake of quietude and peace. This is profoundly untrue. ~ Doris Lessing
Hope you don't like lakes because many are disappearing from the face of the Earth.

Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee
Two of the most famous bodies of water in history are rapidly shrinking mostly due to drought and the diversion of the Jordan River to irrigation. The water level in the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) has dropped so low that water has to be pumped up hill into the Jordan River or that historic tourist attraction would be a dry wash now. As for the Dead Sea, in just fifty years the water level has dropped by over 100 feet and the surface area has shrunk by 40%.

Lake Chad
One upon a time (fifty years ago) Lake Chad was the third largest lake in Africa. Since then it has shrunk by 95%. Human consumption, over 30 million people live in the basin that drains into Lake Chad, and rapid desertification of the region are the main culprits.

Aral Sea
This was once the fourth largest lake in the world. It had a large fishing fleet tapping what seemed like an inexhaustible resource. Then came the Soviet Union. The Soviet government declared the lake worthless and diverted most of its water sources to growing cotton. Now it is four small salt lakes that, combined, amount to less than 20% of its former grandeur. Winds blowing across the naked lake bed kick up massive clouds of toxic chemicals and salts that kill both crops and children.

Great Lakes
In 2013 this dock on Lake Huron was 150 yards from the water.
Not now, but in the future the Great Lakes may be the big story of disappearing lakes. Twenty percent of the free flowing fresh water on Earth are in the Great Lakes and, in the last couple of decades, they have been getting smaller. So far, the drop is a few dozen inches not the several score feet of the previous lakes. Last year saw a, perhaps brief, return of lake levels. Some of the blame is being laid on the dredging of St. Clair River to accommodate freighter traffic that has accelerate the outflow of water from Lake Huron. Add in diversions and climate change and nobody knows what the future of these lakes will be.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Alaskan White Trash

I've resisted writing about the most famous hillbilly family in history, the Palins, for as long as I can. But they forced my hand.

Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin
She has endorsed Donald Trump. Trump has already proven that even billions of dollars can't turn reprobate trash into a gentleman. To Sarah, he is a kindred spirit. They share a hatred of humanity and an overwhelming belief that, no matter how much they have, the world owes them more, more, more, more. They also share a speaking style that is best described as illiterate. Sarah flew to Iowa for this endorsement while her eldest son was rotting in jail.

Track Palin
In typical trailer trash fashion, Track knocking up his first wife six months before marrying her and then divorced her 18 months after taking the vows. She got the baby; he got the guns. He is rumored to be a drug abuser. He has recently been shacking up with chippy in his mother's house. On Jan. 18, 2016, he got smashed (blood alcohol .189), roughed up his girl, and allegedly threatened to shoot himself.  He got his ass thrown in the Wasilla jail.

Mommy Sarah blames Track's fucked up life on President Obama who gave her son PTSD while serving in Iraq in 2008 under then president George Bush. The sister of Bristol Palin's baby daddy says that Sarah forced her son into the military to hide his drug use from the media during her Veep run.

Bristol Palin
Aw, Bristol. She has made a million dollars as a spokesperson for abstinence-only policies. Her religious practice of abstinence has been so strict she has had only two out of wedlock babies. By trailer trash standards, she's practically a virgin.

The Brawl
In 2014, the entire Palin family started a drunken brawl. It was your typical white trash brawl. Teeth lost, ribs broken, a drunken slut (Bristol) throwing the first punch. But, while the Palin's are trash they are also Republican royalty. All criminal assault and public drunkenness charges magically disappeared.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Birtherism Thru History

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President. ~ U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1
If Ted Cruz is elected president then he would be the first president in American history born outside the boundaries of the United States or the British colonies that formed the United States at its founding. That doesn't mean there haven't been many claims made by presidential opponents that their births are questionable.

Thomas Jefferson
The hatred between the Federalists, led by John Adams (r), and the Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson (l), was bitter. Adams supporters claimed Jefferson was not the son of Virginia planter Peter Jefferson and his English-born wife Jane but was the illegitimate child of a "half-breed Indian squaw and a mulatto father" and hence not a citizen.

Andrew Jackson
Jackson is a twofer. During his life opponents questioned both his race and where he was born. Jackson's mother, it was said, was a prostitute who married a black man and Andrew's older brother had been sold into slavery. In fact, his parents were Irish and immigrated in the American colonies in 1765. Andrew was born two years later.

That leads us to the first true birther attack. His opponents charged Andrew was actually born aboard the boat and is therefore not a "natural born citizen." Of course, Jackson was a citizen at the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, so that charge is meaningless.

Abraham Lincoln
The bitter race politics of the Civil War of course led to the charge that the leader of the anti-slave Union was actually a n****r. This canard was probably as popular then as the ludicrous charges that President Obama is a secret Muslim are today.

A South Carolina newspaper described Lincoln as "a lank-sided Yankee of the uncomeliest visage, and of the dirtiest complexion." Political cartoons would characterize Lincoln as a monkey. Even today white supremacists attack Lincoln with the N-word.

Chester Alan Arthur
Another pure birther attack. Arthur was picked as Garfield's vice-president purely because of his connection to the corrupt
Roscoe Conkling machine in New York. Arthur's family had a vagabond life around Vermont in the 1820's, mostly because his father's rabid abolitionist views kept getting him fired.

Opponents of Arthur charged that, during the family's travels, Chester had been born while his family had been across the border in Canada.

Non-President Questions
Barry Goldwater was born in territorial Arizona three years before it became a state. There was no serious question that this was disqualifying although it was mentioned occasionally.

George Romney was born in Mexico of parents who had been born in territorial Utah. Legal scholars said it was a non-issue. It never got a chance to be seriously discussed because Romney dropped out of the race before any delegates were selected.

John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone and received a congressional resolution declaring him constitutionally eligible.

And Now Cruz
For two hundred years courts have avoided defining who is eligible to be president. They consider it a political matter to be decided by legislators or voters. They won't touch the Cruz question.

Cruz most closely resembles George Romney's case. His family voluntarily emigrated from the United States with the intent of permanently living in a foreign country. Romney's family only returned to the US as refugees from the violence of the Mexican Revolution. Cruz's family only returned to the US as economic refugees because they couldn't make it in Calgary.

Both of Romney's parents were American citizens and neither became Mexican citizens. Only one of Cruz's parents was an American citizen and they both became citizens of Canada. George Romney was never granted Mexican citizenship. Ted Cruz was a legal citizen of Canada from his birth until he renounced it in 2014.

Is Cruz a natural born Citizen?
Legally, probably yes. Politically, probably no. The fact that he has held duel citizenship for almost all of his life makes Cruz, at best, a dangerous precedent. What if the next duel citizen candidate has more loyalty to his birth country than his adopted country?