T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
an irreligious blog
with egalitarian and individualist tendencies!

On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!

Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Soyez bienvenus!

Intelligent comments are always welcome!

Monday, April 30, 2012

On a Journey - by Herman Hesse

On a Journey

by Herman Hesse (1877-1962)

Don't be downcast, soon the night will come,

When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.
Don't be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain fall, and snow fall,
And the winds come and go.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vandalized by Speech - by Gregory Rodriguez

Vandalized by Speech
by Gregory Rodriguez
Los Angeles Times / Opinion
March 26, 2012

[ A public square awash in racial invective is sure to alienate many Americans and weaken democracy. ]

Hate speech is a form of vandalism. It defaces the environment, and like a broken window, if left untended, signals to other hoodlums that the coast is clear to do more damage.

But unlike the proverbial broken window, which urban police departments and criminologists urge us to repair to maintain the aura of social order, nobody seems to be in much of a hurry to nip hate speech in the bud. That's because since the ill-fated attempt by several universities to regulate hate speech in the 1980s and '90s, any discussion of reining in racist taunts inevitably degrades into charges of political correctness and ends abruptly with the invocation of the 1st Amendment.

America's future depends on how well we learn to manage our diversity. Yet when it comes to hate speech, we pretty much adhere to the advice we give elementary school students to defend themselves against bullies: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. Or, as a 1st Amendment lawyer might say in a haughtier tone, because regulating speech could erode our freedom to criticize the government, hateful rhetoric is the cost of democracy.

But the cost of democracy isn't exactly being borne equally by all Americans. Despite, or perhaps because of, the social and political gains by minorities, nonwhites seem to be facing a barrage of invective these days that, if left unchecked, could damage our democracy in the long run. Even conservative cultural critics like Charles Murray are acknowledging the emergence of a disenchanted white lower class, and the Republican Party in particular is leveraging this group's disillusionment to its advantage. Some of this resentment is expressed in racial terms and goes well beyond politics.

Last week, a blatantly racist anti-Obama bumper sticker went viral on social media. Not long before that, a federal judge in Montana admitted having emailed a joke about the president that compared interracial sex to bestiality. During an NCAA tournament game a few days ago, members of the Southern Mississippi pep band hounded a Latino point guard for Kansas State with chants of "Where's your green card?" And Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain wrote recently about a heckler who told the U.S.-born mayor of Los Angeles to "go back to Mexico."

A decade ago, I would have made a sharp distinction between discrimination and prejudice. I understood and agreed that while the law could prohibit discrimination — that is, the denial of opportunity based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc. — it couldn't do much to keep people from feeling and expressing prejudice toward others. But nowadays, with racist rhetoric rising, I've decided we aren't taking the social effects of this type of vandalism seriously enough.

I'm not worried about anyone's hurt feelings. What I am concerned about is the extra burden nonwhites (and other minorities) are expected to bear when entering the public square, and the way tolerated hate speech may keep them on the sidelines and weaken our democracy.

Political scientists proved a long time ago that negative campaigning depresses political participation. Sociologists have argued that the decline in all kinds of civic engagement is a consequence of individual citizens becoming alienated from the larger community. Surely there's nothing like a public square awash in racial invective to foster such alienation. Although concerted attacks on a minority could mobilize its members in the short run, it stands to reason that a steady barrage of hate will force them out of civic action in the long run.

In his forthcoming book, "The Harm in Hate Speech," New York University political philosopher Jeremy Waldron calls racist rhetoric a "slow-acting poison, accumulating here and there, word by word, so that eventually it becomes harder and less natural for even the good-hearted members of the society" to engage all the members of the community. He argues that hate speech is calculated to undermine the "good standing" that everyone in a diverse democracy must have for it to function smoothly.

It's that good standing, by which he means dignity, that enables citizens to engage "on a straightforward basis with others .... in public, on the streets, in the shops, in business, and to be treated — along with everyone else — as proper objects of society's protection and concern."

I'm not ready to say that the United States should take steps to follow Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Denmark and Germany in adopting laws to regulate hate speech. But we also can't afford to continue pretending that this rhetorical vandalism isn't the kind of broken window that represents a serious threat to an orderly society.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Unwieldy Economic Recovery - by H. Meyerson


An economic recovery that leaves workers further behind
By Harold Meyerson,
Washington Post / Opinions
Published: April 10

Why is this recovery different from all other recoveries?

Many of the reasons are widely known: Rebounding from a financial crisis takes an excruciatingly long time; the huge decline in housing values has reduced Americans’ purchasing power; large corporations are making do with fewer employees — at least, in this country.

But what really sets the current recovery apart from all its predecessors is this: Almost three years after economic growth resumed, the real value of Americans’ paychecks is stubbornly still shrinking. According to Friday’s Bloomberg Brief, “the pace of income gains is well below that of the past two jobless recoveries and real average hourly earnings continue to decline.”

The Bloomberg report cites one reason for this anomaly: Most of the jobs being created are in low-wage sectors. According to Bloomberg, fully 70 percent of all job gains in the past six months were concentrated in restaurants and hotels, health care and home health care, retail trade, and temporary employment agencies. These four sectors employ just 29 percent of the country’s workforce but account for the vast majority of the jobs being created.

Among the economy’s better-paying sectors, construction still has an unemployment rate of 17 percent. Given the persistence of mass foreclosures, the continuing decline of housing values and Republicans officeholders’ reluctance to allot public funds even for paving roads, construction isn’t coming back anytime soon.

Hiring has picked up in manufacturing, but manufacturing wages are falling nonetheless. The standard wage at Midwestern auto factories has declined from around $28 an hour to $15 an hour for workers hired during the past two years. New hires have their hourly wages contractually capped around $19, no matter how long they may work for the automakers. But the plunge in wages hasn’t stopped at $15. At a new high-tech locomotive plant in Muncie, Ind., Caterpillar is hiring workers at $12 an hour. That’s $24,000 a year — let’s say $30,000 with overtime, if there’s overtime — to assemble some of the most sophisticated machinery that this country builds. That’s not the kind of money you can send your kid to college on, or use to shop for much more than your daily bread.

So, if not to workers, where’s the money going? Of the companies that comprise the Standard and Poor’s 500, net income (chiefly, their profits) has risen 23 percent since 2007, the last year of the bubble, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. Their cash reserves have increased 49 percent during that time — in large part because they’re neither hiring in the United States nor boosting their workers’ incomes. Workers are producing more: “In 2007, the companies generated an average of $378,000 in revenue for every employee on their payrolls,” the Journal reported. “Last year, that figure rose to $420,000.” But workers are seeing none of that increase in their pay.

Profits and dividends are up and wages are down — which is why, as University of California economist Emmanuel Saez has documented, all income growth in the United States in 2010 went to the wealthiest 10 percent of households, and 93 percent to the wealthiest 1 percent. Profits and dividends are up largely because wages are down, as JPMorgan Chase chief investment officer Michael Cembalest has documented. “U.S. labor compensation,” Cembalest wrote in a newsletter to the bank’s major investors last year, “is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and U.S. GDP.”

Why is this recovery different from all other recoveries? Because American workers have lost all their bargaining power. That’s a function of ongoing high unemployment levels, but not only that. The 1981-82 recession had even higher rates of joblessness, but wages didn’t continue to decline during the ensuing recovery. There have been two fundamental alterations in the U.S. economy since Ronald Reagan was president, however. First, American multinational corporations now locate much of their production abroad. Second, with the rate of private-sector unionization down to a microscopic 6.9 percent, workers have no power to bargain for higher pay. Employers can serenely blow them off — and judging by the data, that’s exactly what employers are doing.

This recovery differs from its predecessors because it is concentrated among the affluent, and almost entirely among the very rich. Until we address the imbalance of power in the U.S. economy, and until Americans regain the clout that their parents and grandparents had to compel employers to share their revenue more equitably, the difference between our recoveries and our recessions will grow harder to discern.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Lying as a Business Plan" - by Richard Cohen

Mitt Romney, a man of falsehoods
By Richard Cohen *
Washington Post / Opinion
Published: April 16,2012
Among the attributes I most envy in a public man (or woman) is the ability to lie. If that ability is coupled with no sense of humor, you have the sort of man who can be a successful football coach, a CEO or, when you come right down to it, a presidential candidate. Such a man is Mitt Romney.

Time and time again, Romney has been called a liar during this campaign. (The various fact-checking organizations have had to work overtime on him alone.) A significant moment, sure to surface in the general election campaign, came during a debate held in New Hampshire in January. David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” turned to Newt Gingrich and said, “You have agreed with the characterization that Governor Romney is a liar. Look at him now. Do you stand by that claim?”

Gingrich did not flinch. “Sure, governor,” he started off, and then accused Romney of running ads that were not true and, moreover, pretending he knew nothing about them. “It is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC. And you know some of the ads aren’t true. Just say that straightforward.”

Me, I would have confessed and begged for forgiveness. Not Romney, though — and herein is the reason he will be such a formidable general-election candidate. He concedes nothing. He had seen none of the ads, he said. They were done by others, he added. Of course, they are his supporters, but he had no control over them. All this time he was saying this rubbish, he seemed calm, sincere — matter of fact.

And then he brought up an ad he said he did see. It was about Gingrich’s heretical support for a climate-change bill. He dropped the name of the extremely evil Nancy Pelosi. He accused Gingrich of criticizing Paul Ryan’s first budget plan, an Ayn Randish document whose great virtue is a terrible honesty. (We are indeed going broke.) He added that Gingrich had been in ethics trouble in the House and ended with a promise to make sure his ads were as truthful as could be. Pow! Pow! Pow! Gingrich was on the canvas.

I watched, impressed. I admire a smooth liar, and Romney is among the best. His technique is to explain — that bit about not knowing what was in the ads — and then counterattack. He maintains the bulletproof demeanor of a man who is barely suffering fools, in this case Gingrich. His message is not so much what he says, but what he is: You cannot touch me. I have the organization and the money. Especially the money. (Even the hair.) You’re a loser.

There are those who maintain that President Obama, too, is a liar. The president’s recent attack on Ryan’s new budget proposal sent countless critics scurrying to their thesauruses for ways to say lie — “comprehensively misrepresenting” is the way George F. Will put it. (He also said Obama “is not nearly as well educated as many thought.”) Obama does indeed sometimes play politics with the truth, as when he declared that a Supreme Court reversal of his health care law would be unprecedented. He then backed down. Not what he meant, he said.

But where Romney is different is that he is not honest about himself. He could, as he did just recently, stand before the National Rifle Association as if he were, in spirit as well as membership, one of them. In body language, in the blinking of the eyes, in the nonexistent pounding pulse, there was not the tiniest suggestion that here was a man who just as confidently once embodied the anti-gun ethic of Massachusetts, the distant land he once governed. Instead, he tore into Obama for the (nonexistent) threat the president posed to Second Amendment rights — a false accusation from a false champion.

A marathon of debates and an eon of campaigning have toughened and honed Romney. He commands the heights of great assurance, and he knows, as some of us learn too late in life, that the truth is not always a moral obligation but sometimes merely what works. He often cites his business background as commending him for the presidency. That’s his forgivable absurdity. Instead, what his career has given him is the businessman’s concept of self — that what he does is not who he is. This is what enables the slumlord to be a charitable man. This is what enables the corporate raider to endow his university. Business is business. It’s what you do. It is not who you are. Lying isn’t a sin. It’s a business plan.

Monty Clift in "I Confess"
* cohenr@washpost.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eat your broccoli, Justice Scalia - by Steven Pearlstein

Eat your broccoli, Justice Scalia
By Steven Pearlstein, 03/31/2012 *

If the law is an ass, as Mr. Bumble declares in “Oliver Twist,” then constitutional law must surely be the entire wagon train.

Like most Washington policy wonks, I spent too much of last week reading transcripts of the Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the new health reform law. This was to be a “teaching moment” for the country, an opportunity to see the best and the brightest engage in a reasoned debate on the limits of federal power. Instead, what we got too often was political posturing, Jesuitical hair-splitting and absurd hypotheticals.

My first thought on perusing the briefs filed in the combined cases was to notice what wasn’t there: any involvement on the part of Corporate America.

For the past 20 years, big business has complained endlessly about escalating health-care premiums, which they correctly blamed on “cost-shifting,” including paying indirectly for the free care provided to the workers at firms that did not provide health benefits. They wanted an end to fee-for-service medicine that rewarded doctors for providing more care than necessary. Some even talked of reforms that would begin to move the country away from an employer-based insurance system.

Yet despite the fact that “Obamacare” did all of those things and more, there was not a single brief in support of the law from an organization representing big business.

Small businesses have spent the past two decades complaining that the reason they don’t offer coverage is that it’s too expensive because they don’t get the large-group and community rating advantage. So how did the National Federation of Independent Businesses respond to a law that assured small businesses the benefits of large-group purchasing and community rating and threw in billions of dollars in subsidies to boot? It signed up as one of the named plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

It’s hard to know what the business community will demand if the Supreme Court overturns the health-care law. At that point, however, it will hardly matter, since they will have lost all political credibility on the issue, particularly with the Obama White House and anyone who happens to be a Democrat.

That said, I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom that, in light of last week’s oral arguments, it’s a sure thing that the court will overturn the law or its individual mandate.

Judging from their blatantly partisan bleating from the bench, it is certain that Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito will join Clarence Thomas in doing whatever it takes to impose their conservative, free-market, nothing’s-changed-since-1788 agenda on the country.

An essential element of the Republican strategy these days is that, whenever confronted with an obvious failure of the free market, the correct response is always to try to turn the tables and blame it on misguided government policy. So it was this week when the solicitor general and several justices tried to make the obvious point that one reason so many Americans lack health insurance is that the market is inherently unlike any other in that we don’t deny medical care to sick people who can’t pay for it. It is from this anomaly that springs the “individual mandate,” a requirement that all citizens buy health insurance, to prevent them from becoming free-riders on a system paid for by others.

Rather than wrestling with this obvious anomaly, however, Scalia and Alito simply gave it the old Republican razzmatazz, blaming the government for creating the problem in the first place by obligating hospitals to treat the sick even if they are uninsured and cannot pay for the care. It was the kind of sophomoric logic you’d expect from high school debaters — or a Republican presidential candidate at a tea party rally — not from members of the highest court in the richest country on Earth.

Michael Carvin, the lawyer representing the NFIB, was clever enough to see that this was not going to be a winning constitutional argument. The proper constitutional solution to that dilemma, he explained, was not to shut the emergency room door on the uninsured, but simply require them to buy insurance when they show up seeking emergency care.

Ah, I get it! An insurance market in which nobody has to sign up for coverage until they’re ready to make a claim. Why didn’t Aetna and Kaiser think of that? And if it works for health insurance, why not extend it to fire, auto and flood insurance as well? Scalia and Alito, of course, wasted no time in taking up this brilliant idea.

Another of Scalia and Alito’s cute debating tricks was to latch on to an opposing argument and take it to its illogical extreme in order to show how silly it is. By this technique, the individual mandate suddenly became the first step on the proverbial slippery slope to government requiring that all Americans buy broccoli or a gym membership because those, too, will make us all healthier and thereby lower health-care costs.

It is axiomatic, of course, that the power to regulate, or to tax, or to criminalize is the power to regulate, tax or criminalize stupidly. The power to require you to buy airbags for your car is also the power to require you to buy leather seats and a surround-sound stereo. The power to levy a fee for buying a handgun is the power to levy a fee for not buying a handgun. The power to criminalize abortions is the power to criminalize condoms and birth-control pills.

But for some reason, when it comes to requiring Americans either to buy health insurance or pay a fee, we are now supposed to believe that “all bets are off,” according to Chief Justice John Roberts, or that “a fundamental shift” has occurred in the relationship between the individual and government, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy.


For starters, the Constitution already limits the “abuse” of such power by subjecting those who wield it to regular elections in which citizens are free to decide what is going too far and what is not.

And as justices know all too well, there are already in the case law scores of judicial tests that have been successfully applied to a wide range of congressional actions and powers to assure that they are reasonable and rational, that they are not arbitrary, that they are necessary to achieve a legitimate or compelling state interest. Surely Justices Roberts and Kennedy and their legion of summa cum laude law clerks can conjure up a workable criteria to distinguish a law requiring the purchase of health insurance from a law requiring the purchase of pomegranate juice.

If there is a legitimate challenge to the law, my hunch is that it is likely to come over the question of whether the individual mandate is as narrowly drawn as possible to achieve its objective. If regulating the interstate market for health care requires regulating health insurance, and if assuring a healthy insurance market requires solving the problem of free-riders who drive up premiums and taxes for everyone else, then isn’t the solution to require everyone to buy “catastrophic” insurance?

Roberts asked that question twice, but got no satisfactory answer, either from the solicitor general or any of the other justices. The reason is that there is no good answer. The safer ground for health reform was always to base it, at least initially, on policies that cover major medical events such as a heart attack, a premature birth, or treatment of cancer or a serious chronic condition. Yet such an approach has always been rejected out of hand by liberal Democrats and powerful “disease lobbies” who were intent on finally achieving health-care coverage that was both universal and comprehensive. Now their over-reaching has not only driven up the cost of health reform and made it difficult to win broad political support, but has also put the entire law in constitutional jeopardy.

In the end, Roberts will see the institutional peril in overturning the most significant piece of domestic legislation in a generation, particularly in the wake of the overtly partisan decisions of Bush v. Gore and the Citizens United. With Kennedy in tow, the chief is likely to articulate a modest new limit on Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce that would allow health reform to proceed in some fashion. Or, as he hinted in oral arguments, he may duck the commerce clause altogether and simply uphold the individual mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing power. The cacophony of accompanying dissents and concurring opinions will make it difficult to figure out who won, who lost and exactly what precedent was set.

The law, in other words, remains an ass.

* Published by The Washington Post 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Tantrum Method" - by WriteWoman of Shoreview

The Tantrum Method: 'I screamed and stomped my feet until my poor mother lost her temper.'
by WriteWoman of Shoreview
Pioneer Press Bulletin Board
Posted: 04/07/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
Updated: 04/07/2012 09:10:11 PM CDT

"A Cautionary Tale.

"Several weeks ago, I confessed to an episode with Ex-Lax that falls in the category of, I hate to say it, stealing! That wasn't the main point of the story, but it was the bottom line! Worse, I received no 'physical discomfort' for my bad behavior!

"Today I thought I would reveal another awful childhood indiscretion (one of the big ones you don't easily forget), which I still remember 60-plus years later.

"I was very, very angry at my mother for not letting me do something, or maybe for stopping me from doing what I shouldn't, or some other infraction of the 'house rules' (that part, I've forgotten), and I decided a tantrum would get me my way. I screamed and stomped my feet until my poor mother lost her temper (she was slow to get angry) and told me that if I didn't stop all the racket, she would throw a glass of cold water on me!

"Ewwww...she wouldn't...would she? I mean, she was very, very angry with my behavior...so I thought better of all the screaming and foot stomping in the kitchen and ran to her bedroom and jumped on her bed! Ha! Safe! She wouldn't want to get her bed all soaked, I was sure of that. I might have been right...had I not screamed that out at the top of my lungs!

"Oh, yes, she marched (I'm quite sure it was marching) into her bedroom with THE BIG GLASS of cold water and threw it all over me! Dumbfounded...I was just dumbfounded! (I don't think I knew that word at the time.)

"I ... never made a challenge like that again - ever!

"Moral: NEVER taunt an angry mother!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Calling Radicalism by Its Name" - NY Times

Calling Radicalism by Its Name
New York Times Editorial
Published: April 3, 2012

President Obama’s fruitless three-year search for compromise with the Republicans ended in a thunderclap of a speech on Tuesday, as he denounced the party and its presidential candidates for cruelty and extremism. He accused his opponents of imposing on the country a “radical vision” that “is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity.”

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential front-runner, has embraced a House budget plan that is little more than “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” the president said, a “Trojan horse” disguised as deficit reduction that would hurt middle- and lower-income Americans.

“By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development, our infrastructure — it is a prescription for decline,” he said, speaking to a group of Associated Press editors and reporters in Washington.

Mr. Obama has, in recent months, urged Republicans to put aside their destructive agenda. But, in this speech, he finally conceded that the party has demonstrated no interest in the values of compromise and realism. Even Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes in multiple budget deals, “could not get through a Republican primary today,” Mr. Obama said. While Democrats have repeatedly shown a willingness to cut entitlements and have agreed to trillions in domestic spending cuts, he said, Republicans won’t agree to any tax increases and, in fact, want to shower the rich with even more tax cuts.

The speech was the first time that Mr. Obama linked Mr. Romney, by name, to his party’s dishonest budget and discredited trickle-down policies. As Mr. Obama pointed out, Mr. Romney described as “marvelous” a budget that would drastically cut student financial aid, medical research, Head Start classrooms and environmental protections. Mr. Obama further ridiculed the budget’s deficit-cutting goal as “laughable” because it refuses to acknowledge the need for new revenues.

The speech was immediately attacked by the House speaker, John Boehner, for failing to deal with the debt crisis, but Mr. Obama pointed out how hollow that charge has become. “That argument might have a shred of credibility were it not for their proposal to also spend $4.6 trillion over the next decade on lower tax rates,” he said. The math is, in fact, quite simple: cutting both taxes and the deficit can mean only more sacrifice from the middle class and the poor, ending the promise of Medicare and Medicaid. Over the long term, the deficit can be brought down through a combination of cuts and new revenues; doing so immediately, as Mr. Romney and his party want to do, would reverse the fragile recovery.

Mr. Obama provided a powerful signal on Tuesday that he intends to make this election about the Republican Party’s failure to confront, what he called, “the defining issue of our time”: restoring a sense of economic security while giving everyone a fair shot, rather than enabling only a shrinking number of people to do exceedingly well. His remarks promise a tough-minded campaign that will call extremism and dishonesty by name.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lascia ch'io pianga - George Frideric Handel

"Lascia ch'io pianga" (Let me weep)
from the opera RINALDO
by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

As performed by Patricia Petibon (1970 -)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Altered Meaning of Zimmerman's 911 Call - by James A Fox

Altered meaning of Zimmerman’s 911 call *
Posted by James Alan Fox **
Crime and Punishment / April 5, 2012

Where is the outrage? More to the point, where is the news coverage?

You may have missed it. Actually, unless you were searching for it (or are a frequent viewer of Sean Hannity's show), you probably did.

It seems that a version of the 911 tape that we all heard over and over again of George Zimmerman calling the cops to report suspicious behavior by 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just before fatally shooting the boy was like something out of the Nixon White House -- edited. Sure, we all heard it with our own ears, but it is what we didn’t hear that’s key to understanding the confrontation between the neighborhood watchman and the Skittles-toting youngster.

Back on March 27, a full month after the shooting, NBC’s Today Show aired Zimmerman’s call to the police, featuring these words: “This guy looks like he's up to no good … he looks black.” The recording then went viral as did the presumption of racism in Zimmerman’s overreaction. The juxtaposition of Martin looking suspicious and looking black was enough to accelerate a firestorm of anger and protest.

Apparently, hearing is not exactly believing, or rather shouldn’t be. The folks at the the Today Show had shortened the Zimmerman tape for broadcast (as if the show didn’t have lots of time to devote to the story).

Here is the fuller version of the recording:

Zimmerman: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about."
911 dispatcher: "OK, and this guy -- is he black, white or Hispanic?"
Zimmerman: "He looks black."
And so, Zimmerman’s description of Martin as looking black came only in response to a specific question about race/ethnicity.

Earlier this week, NBC revealed its blunder. "During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret," said the network said in a prepared statement. "We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers."

It surely helps that NBC has apologized for altering the tape. This should alter how we all view the incident and perhaps we should collectively apologize for prejudging, if not misjudging, the circumstances surrounding divisive episode.

NBC has to answer for its error of "omission" -- omission of a few key seconds from the 911 recording. But so too does the broader news media need to answer for its decision largely to ignore NBC's distortion after having reported heavily on the response.

* Source: Boston Globe
** James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Deserving Server - by L. Oakes and N. Norfleet

Moorhead waitress gets her $12,000 tip
Star Tribune staff writers
April 5, 2012 - 9:42 PM

To weary waitress Stacy Knutson, the $12,000 rolled up in a takeout box and left by a customer at her Moorhead restaurant table last year wasn't just a tip.

It was a miracle.

Unfortunately, she had little time to rejoice before police seized the cash, claiming it was drug money. On Thursday, Knutson was blessed yet again when the authorities had a change of heart and returned the money she was counting on to help pay her family's mounting medical bills.

"I never ever lost faith," Knutson said on Thursday night, minutes before she was handed her check.

The saga began in November. Knutson, 43, was a couple of hours into her normal graveyard shift at the 24-hour Fryn' Pan in Moorhead when she noticed a takeout box that a customer had left at her table.

Knutson followed the woman to her car to give it back, but the customer told her, "No, I am good, you keep it." After taking the box back inside, Knutson realized that it was too heavy to contain just leftovers, so she opened it and was shocked to find wads of cash rolled up in rubber bands.

Despite the fact that her family "desperately needed the money," Knutson decided to notify police. Officers told her to wait 90 days in case someone claimed the money, but authorities later decided to hold the cash longer because they said it smelled strongly of marijuana and a drug dog detected a residue of narcotics on it.

An offer of a $1,000 reward

Police offered to give Knutson a $1,000 reward for turning in the money, but she filed a lawsuit last month seeking all the cash. "As Christians we believe that there are angels among us, and I do not doubt this can be a testament to that," Knutson said in the suit. "It is a complete miracle to see our prayers answered, but then difficult to face the reality of the struggle it is to obtain it from the Moorhead Police Department."

Attorney Craig Richie said Thursday he had planned to argue that almost all paper money in circulation has drug residue on it.

Moorhead police Lt. Tory Jacobson said that from the moment Knutson's lawsuit became national news this week, "everyone in this department was getting unbelievable numbers of phone calls, blasting us, even wishing me and my family would die."

But Jacobson protested that police were just following procedure. "We knew public opinion would not be in our favor, and we got some black eyes," he continued. "But we think this result is awesome. It's wonderful for her."

Interim County Attorney Michelle W. Lawson said that in order to calm the chaos and let the police department get back to business, she asked a judge to authorize the department to release the cash immediately. "Unfortunately, this came across as a case of government corruption, but it's really a story about a citizen doing the right thing and the police doing the right thing," Lawson said.

Knutson, who hadn't been able to sleep for the past couple of days, said she was thankful that everything was resolved. Money has been tight, she said. Within the past year, her family has made several trips to the hospital, including when she fractured her knee last May and had to be off the job for more than a month and when her husband was hurt at work. Knutson currently is making ends meet by working two part-time jobs, in addition to her full-time gig at the Fryn' Pan.

The decision to give her the money also drew instant rave reviews from community members. "It couldn't have happened to a more appropriate person," said the Rev. Jeff Seaver, a pastor of Knutson's church, Triumph Lutheran Brethren. He said Knutson often helps provide child care at church services. "She hasn't had it easy ... She works really hard," he said.

"This is a woman with five kids who has been a waitress for 18 years," Richie said. "She and her family were praying and asked God's intervention to touch these people's hearts, and that's what happened. It was about God providing for her."

Knutson was back waiting tables Thursday night.

larry.oakes@startribune.com / nicole.norfleet@startribune.com

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney" - by David Javerbaum

[A Feynman diagram of an encounter between a Romney and an anti-Romney. The resulting collision annihilates both, leaving behind a single electron and a $20 bill. - NY Times]

A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney

By David Javerbaum *
New York Times / Opinion
Published: March 31, 2012

THE recent remark by Mitt Romney’s senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom that upon clinching the Republican nomination Mr. Romney could change his political views “like an Etch A Sketch” has already become notorious. The comment seemed all too apt, an apparent admission by a campaign insider of two widely held suspicions about Mitt Romney: that he is a) utterly devoid of any ideological convictions and b) filled with aluminum powder.

The imagery may have been unfortunate, but Mr. Fehrnstrom’s impulse to analogize is understandable. Metaphors like these, inexact as they are, are the only way the layman can begin to grasp the strange phantom world that underpins the very fabric of not only the Romney campaign but also of Mitt Romney in general. For we have entered the age of quantum politics; and Mitt Romney is the first quantum politician.

A bit of context. Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force — the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany — compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals.

But the Romney candidacy represents literally a quantum leap forward. It is governed by rules that are bizarre and appear to go against everyday experience and common sense. To be honest, even people like Mr. Fehrnstrom who are experts in Mitt Romney’s reality, or “Romneality,” seem bewildered by its implications; and any person who tells you he or she truly “understands” Mitt Romney is either lying or a corporation.

Nevertheless, close and repeated study of his campaign in real-world situations has yielded a standard model that has proved eerily accurate in predicting Mitt Romney’s behavior in debate after debate, speech after speech, awkward look-at-me-I’m-a-regular-guy moment after awkward look-at-me-I’m-a-regular-guy moment, and every other event in his face-time continuum.

The basic concepts behind this model are:

Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.

Probability. Mitt Romney’s political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms of likelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, no view can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.

Uncertainty. Frustrating as it may be, the rules of quantum campaigning dictate that no human being can ever simultaneously know both what Mitt Romney’s current position is and where that position will be at some future date. This is known as the “principle uncertainty principle.”

Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.

Noncausality. The Romney campaign often violates, and even reverses, the law of cause and effect. For example, ordinarily the cause of getting the most votes leads to the effect of being considered the most electable candidate. But in the case of Mitt Romney, the cause of being considered the most electable candidate actually produces the effect of getting the most votes.

Duality. Many conservatives believe the existence of Mitt Romney allows for the possibility of the spontaneous creation of an “anti-Romney” (Fig. 2) that leaps into existence and annihilates Mitt Romney. (However, the science behind this is somewhat suspect, as it is financed by Rick Santorum, for whom science itself is suspect.)

What does all this bode for the general election? By this point it won’t surprise you to learn the answer is, “We don’t know.” Because according to the latest theories, the “Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.

And all of them losing to Barack Obama.

* David Javerbaum is the author of “The Last Testament: A Memoir by God."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Suzanne" - by Nina Simone

Nina Simone
by Nina Simone (1933-2003)

Suzanne takes you dow
n to her place by the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night forever
And you know that she's half crazy
And that's why you want to be there

And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mea
n to tell her
That you have no love to give her

She gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover.

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know
that she'll trust you
For you've touched
her perfect body with your mind.
Now, Jesus was a sailor
When He walked upon the water
And He spent a long time watching
From His lonely wooden tower

And when He knew for certain
Only drowning me
n could see Him
He said, "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"

But He himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almo
st human,
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.

And you want to travel with Him
And you want to travel blind
'Cause you think, maybe you can trust Him
'Cause He's touched your
perfect body with His mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She's wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbor
And she shows y
ou where to look
Between the garbage and the flowers.

There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the mornin',
They are leanin', leanin' out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror.

And you want to travel with her
And you wa
nt to travel blind
'Cause you think, maybe you can can trust her
She's touched your perfect body with her mind.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Changing the Status Quo on Knowledge & Expertise - by April Rinne and Jerry Michalski

Polymaths, bumblebees and the ‘expert’ myth
By April Rinne* and Jerry Michalski **
Wasington Post / Opinion
March 29, 2012

Some of the smartest people in the world economy are twenty-somethings who dropped out of school. But if you ask politicians and policy wonks on both sides of the aisle, dropouts are synonymous with “lost opportunity” and “failure.”

The conventional wisdom, after all, is that the only person who should tackle an important problem is someone who has made it successfully up the educational fish ladder. This includes 12 years of an excellent grade school, 4 years in, preferably, an Ivy League undergraduate college, two to six years of post-graduate work for some extra initials after their name, and then, hopefully, a little pragmatic experience.

Meanwhile, household names like Zuckerberg, Jobs, Dell and Gates belong to college dropouts who founded multi-billion dollar companies. There is also a growing crop of largely unknown entrepreneurs who are opting out even earlier thanks to opportunities such as the Thiel Fellowship program, which awards high school students $100,000 to skip college for at least two years.

Not only is the innovator’s track often counter-intuitive to conventional wisdom, some of the things they create run counter to linear thinking. Not many people would have predicted Wikipedia’s success given a description of how the project was supposed to work. But the site is so widely used that, in January, when it went dark in protest of anti-piracy legislation (which some argued was tantamount to censorship), it was reported on by nearly every major news outlet around the world.

The role, importance and meaning of “expertise” in the new economy are evolving rapidly. There is a growing trend towards focusing more on what you know — wherever and however you learned it — rather than where you went to school (or how much it cost). This means that fundamentally important attributes such as common sense and curiosity are starting to take primacy.

The self-critical expert

Against this backdrop, it’s useful to take a fresh look at what experts are (and are not) today.

Say, for example, you are trying to solve a complex problem such as the global financial crisis. Do you ask an economist, a sociologist or a political scientist? Each of them individually is too constrained. The more multi-faceted the problem, the more forces intersect and the more challenges one must face within a siloed system.

Also, experts usually get their reputation based on a big idea or thesis they have presented. After that, most, although not all, tend to interpret nearly everything through that lens. It’s the rare experts who can really flex, learn and change their deeply held beliefs.

Finally, many experts have learned to make confident proclamations because it raises the likelihood that someone will follow their advice. But sometimes they are too confident. As “Black Swan” author Nassim Taleb infamously tells us, “It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie.” One may find Taleb’s take overly glib, but psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman also says, “organizations that take the word of overconfident experts can expect costly consequences.”

In short, recent years have shown so-called experts to often be too narrow, too vested or too confident.

Today, let’s learn

Meanwhile, the dynamics of learning and innovation are shifting, expanding and extending democratic power to more people. A key reason for this is that open, free curriculum and learning materials are becoming more widely available.

Start with Khan Academy. If, over three years, Sal Khan can create nearly the entire math curriculum and start covering French history and biology by himself while making it available to anyone for free, imagine the possibilities of the next decade.

Then, imagine what those people could do if they worked together. After all, the cost of experimentation and creation is going down. Couple this with the fact that occasionally crowd sourcing produces a more expert solution than a celebrated expert. Therein could lie a recipe for grassroots educational success.

Polymaths and bumblebees

We need to lighten up and stop vigorously defending the status quo.

Today’s interdependent world demands polymaths, bumblebees and boundary-crossers. We need people who can collaborate wildly and freely, remixing ideas and then turning them into real experiments. Our experts are not infallible and, in fact, have contributed to some of our nation’s greatest failures. In Oct. 2008, as the global financial system was starting to crumble, former Federal Reserve Chairman and go-to economy expert Alan Greenspan famously admitted that he was wrong about deregulation – one of the central tenets of his economic philosophy.

We need a new kind of expert — one whose expertise is hard-won through direct experience and whose point of view is both flexible and principled. We need people who have a deep sense of the world’s inner workings and interdependencies and who are comfortable in multiple settings and speak multiple national and disciplinary languages. These should be people who can absorb new material very quickly, and then improve it as they share it with others. We need to rely on people who are more than just an “expert” on any one topic, but across topics

We don’t need to do away with experts entirely. Instead, let’s update and refine what it means to be an expert in the 21st century.


* April Rinne is the director of Water.org’s WaterCredit initiative, which uses microfinance tools to address water and sanitation needs. In 2011, Rinne was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

** Jerry Michalski runs The Relationship Economy eXpedition (REX), a for-profit organization that convenes privately and publicly to discuss issues relating to the economy. He was formerly the managing editor of Release 1.0.