January 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


House GOP opposition to fiscal cliff bill grows (JAKE SHERMAN and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/1/13, Politico)

House Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Senate's bill to avert the fiscal cliff, making it nearly certain that Speaker John Boehner's chamber will amend the legislation and send it back to the Senate.

What you miss by not having W as president anymore is a grown-up in the Beltway.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


You're Fired Because ... Well ... Hmmm : Lovie Smith, the coach who got canned on the NFL's Black Monday for no good reason. (Josh Levin,  Dec. 31, 2012, Slate)

Then came word that Bears coach Lovie Smith got pink-axed as well. (This hot new term is catching on, I can feel it!) Since making the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, Smith's Chicago teams have missed the playoffs in five of the last six years. Fair enough, that's how NFL coaches are evaluated. Or, it would've been fair enough if Smith and the Bears had missed the playoffs in the typical way--say, by going 8-8, as they did last year. But this season, Chicago went 10-6. In two of those losses, quarterback Jay Cutler didn't finish the game (against Houston) or didn't play (against San Francisco) due to a brain injury. Frontline players like Brian Urlacher, Tim Jennings, and Lance Louis also missed games down the stretch as the Bears tailed off after a 7-1 start. Even so, Chicago would've made the postseason if the Packers had beaten the Vikings on Sunday. But Green Bay lost, making the Bears the sixth team with 10 wins or more to miss out on the playoffs since they expanded to 12 teams in 1992.

Lovie Smith, then, was fired after leading a team to a record better than that of last year's Super Bowl winner because a bunch of teams he didn't coach happened to have good seasons. Also, he failed to prevent Jay Cutler from getting a concussion.

He's not necessarily a good coach, but he's not going to be replaced by one, is he?
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Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy--And Tuition (DOUGLAS BELKIN and SCOTT THURM, 12/28/12, WSJ)

The bureaucracy finds numerous ways to spend money. Officials have spent millions planning a not-yet-built residential community 20 miles from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus designed in part to showcase sustainable energy and environmental stewardship.

Administrative employees make up an increasing share of the university's higher-paid people. The school employs 353 people earning more than $200,000 a year. That is up 57% from the inflation-adjusted pay equivalent in 2001. Among this $200,000-plus group, 81 today have administrative titles, versus 39 in 2001.

Administrators making over $300,000 in inflation-adjusted terms rose to 17 from seven.

Many forces besides administrative overhead add to universities' cost pressures, among them health-care and retirement expenses. And among the administrative spending, some is unavoidable, such as that owing to federal rules requiring greater spending to oversee research grants or accommodations for students with disabilities.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


The girl at the Grand Palais : The adolescent obsession that inspired an influential yet neglected French classic (The Economist, Dec 22nd 2012)

The life of Henri Fournier (pictured), now better known by his pen name, spun round a single, sunny afternoon in 1905, described in Robert Gibson's valuable biography "The End of Youth". Leaving an art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, when he was 18, he spotted a young woman walking with an older lady. Captivated, he followed them across the river to the door of a Left Bank apartment, afterwards returning to the building whenever his studies would allow. Too timid to knock, he paced the streets outside. Ten days later he saw the girl again--walking unaccompanied to mass--and approached her. Wary but flattered, she agreed to stroll with him by the Seine.

He told her he was a writer (or that he would be one day), the son of a country schoolmaster, now studying in Paris. She told him her name was Yvonne de Quiévrecourt, and that she was staying in the city with relatives, but leaving the next day. At her request they separated at the Pont des Invalides. Waiting where she left him, Fournier saw her look back twice. Years later he was still decoding this gesture: "Was it because, silently, from a distance, she wanted to reinforce her order that I should not follow her? Or was it to let me see her face one more time?"

Fournier clung to the memory long after it should have faded into his adolescence. He waited at the steps of the Grand Palais on the anniversary of his first glimpse of her (knowing, in rational moments, that she would not be there). He returned frequently to the apartment, hoping to spot her at a window. The word "She", its first letter meaningfully capitalised, peppered his letters.

Other frustrations in his life helped this childish attachment foment into something powerful. He twice failed his university entrance exam, which kept him at school long after his peers had left. Mandatory military service prevented a third failure, but brought another two years of gloom. In 1909 he returned to Paris and moved in with his parents, plagued by "the feeling that youth is over and you haven't done what you ought".

Attempts to contact Yvonne brought Fournier further disappointment. In July 1907 he had finally called at the apartment building--to be told by the concierge that she had married the previous winter. Two years later, still disconsolate, he hired a private investigator. He learned her address, and that she had a child.

These discoveries distressed Fournier. Five years after the encounter he still labelled his fixation a "sickness"; occasionally his melancholy brought on bouts of real fever. But it also suited his nature to love at a distance. The memorable months he spent perfecting his English in Chiswick, in west London--where the young anglophile delighted in tea, jam and the landmarks made famous by his beloved Dickens--were marred only by the unsettling worldliness of British girls, who "get too friendly too soon".

What is more, with Yvonne as his muse Fournier's literary career gathered startling speed. [...]

In the novel, 17-year-old Augustin Meaulnes is sent to board at a country school. There he befriends François Seurel--the bookish son of the local schoolmaster and the novel's narrator--and earns the admiration of his schoolmates, who bestow on him the title le grand. Months later Meaulnes stumbles upon a tumbledown chateau where a bizarre wedding party has assembled, its guests in lavish historical costume. There he encounters a beautiful young woman, but afterwards he finds it impossible to locate the strange estate, and the mysterious girl. Before his search comes to an end, a bungled suicide will leave one character disfigured; a brief affair in Paris will lead a young woman to the streets.

The story mixes fantasy and reality. Fournier's childhood home among the moors and marshes of north-central France, to which he felt a morbid attachment almost equal to his longing for Yvonne, provides a nostalgic setting. The book features events and observations first chronicled in letters; a few passages quote directly from his correspondence. But its imagined elements, such as a circus troupe that vanishes overnight, recall the novels of Britain's renowned adventure writers--Kipling, Stevenson, Wells and Defoe. An early chapter cites "Robinson Crusoe".

Drawing the real and fantastical together is the meeting between Meaulnes and the elusive heroine, also called Yvonne. It is a faithful re-enactment of the encounter of 1905 that Fournier had recorded in his notebook. The novel sways between celebrating and condemning the obsessive and destructive search that follows; but Fournier was at least able to give his characters a concluding reunion--part wish-fulfilment, part tragedy--that his own story still lacked.

It's a terrific novel, but one does wish to smack author and hero upside their heads and tell them to get on with life.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


UMass Bludgeons Dartmouth (Tris Wykes, 1/01/13, Valley News)

Momentum swung back and forth in this one, a wild and wooly affair injected with playoff intensity and muddled by ham-handed officiating. Each team had a goal waved off and a player ejected, and 23 penalties were whistled in all.

"It was disjointed, emotional and electric," Micheletto said. "Both teams were fired up, there was spirited play and there were some interesting calls both ways. It was a good test for everybody involved."

Dartmouth (8-3-2) entered the night as the least-penalized of the 59 teams in NCAA Division I, but it paid the price for committing 13 infractions last night. Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet seemed frustrated by the game's uneven pace, a casualty of chippy play and so many whistles. The Big Green was scoreless in five power-play chances.

"We expended a lot of energy killing penalties and there was no flow to the game," said Gaudet, whose team lost for the first time in eight home games this season. "We worked really hard and I'm disappointed in the result, but I can't put my finger on why we lost. It wasn't like we were running around like knuckleheads out there. The referees see the game as they see them, and we have to just take it for what it's worth." [...]

A Minutemen goal was waved off for goaltender obstruction in the 11th minute and Dartmouth went up 2-1 less than a minute later. Power forward Dustin Walsh, a lefthanded shot, threaded a magnificent shot from the bottom of the right circle and into a tiny space over the near shoulder of goaltender Kevin Boyle.

The Big Green appeared to take a 3-1 lead two minutes after Walsh's tally, but Tim O'Brien's tally out of a goalmouth scramble was waved off. In the scrap that followed, UMass skater Joel Hanley was ejected for using a grip on Neiley's face mask to repeatedly slam his head into the ice, and Neiley was handed a minor for goaltender interference.

Two game misconducts, two goals overturned on video review, at least three 5-minute majors and two refs under 5'8".  Just sayin'.....
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Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Pols Lied About True Purpose of Euro Behemoth (Christopher Booker, 12/31/12, Daily Mail)

Forty years ago today, in what was arguably the most fateful political move ever made by a British Prime Minister, Edward Heath took us into what was then called the 'Common Market'.

Such a step had scarcely been mentioned at the previous General Election, and the British people had very little idea of what they were letting themselves in for, other than a trading arrangement that might make it easier for us to sell our goods to our Continental neighbours.

Four decades later, the picture could scarcely look more different. We have seen that supposedly cosy club we joined transformed, step by step, into a vast, bloated bureaucratic empire, imposing its suffocating rule over 27 nations. 

We have also seen it plunged into the most destructive crisis in its history -- one it has brought entirely on itself by its reckless dream of locking the countries of Europe together into the straitjacket of the euro.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM

OBIT: Bob Munden: Bob Munden, who has died aged 70, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as "The Fastest Man with a Gun Who Ever Lived". (The Telegraph,  31 Dec 2012)

One journalist reckoned that if Munden had been at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26 1881, the gunfight would have been over in 5 to 10 seconds. He could whip out his Colt .45 single action revolver (as used by John Wayne), shoot a target and replace the gun in his holster in .0175 seconds, and over his lifetime he won more than 3500 trophies, 800 championship titles and bagged 18 world records in speed-shooting.

Munden's accuracy was deadly. He could burst two balloons six feet apart in what sounded like a single shot and split playing cards -- edgeways. He might not have been quite as fast as the French cartoon character "Lucky Luke", the cowboy who could "draw faster than his shadow", but Munden's audiences sometimes needed slow-motion action replay to convince them that what they had just seen was not a trick.
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Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


The Universe We Know In (Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., 1/01/13, Imaginative Conservative)

Socrates was fond of repeating the advice of the Oracle: "Know thyself." He probably said, "Know thyself," rather than, "Know the world," because it is more difficult to know oneself than to know the world. Self-introspection yields not ourselves, but something approaching infinity beyond ourselves. The first thing we know about ourselves is that we have a faculty whereby we know. Yet, we did not give this strange knowing power to ourselves. We wonder perhaps why we have it.

Plato, in fact, thought that the universe was not complete unless within it something existed that could understand it.

There is no Universe until someone collapses the wave functions.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Obama's Leadership Failure (Robert Samuelson, January 1, 2013, Washington Post)

Whatever one thinks about raising taxes at the top (and I have no objection to it as part of comprehensive budget package), it's not the crux of the problem. The crux of our problem -- the problem being the bipartisan and untenable promises made to most Americans of both high government benefits and low taxes -- arises from an aging population and high health costs, which cause rapid increases in spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Let me repeat some statistics I've often cited. In 2012, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 44 percent of non-interest federal spending. As for taxes, the richest 5 percent paid almost 40 percent of federal taxes in 2009 (and within that, the richest 1 percent paid 22 percent of taxes).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts it this way:

"With the population aging and health care costs per person likely to keep growing faster than the economy [gross domestic product], the United States cannot sustain the federal spending programs that are now in place with the federal taxes (as a share of GDP) that it has been accustomed to paying."

Until Obama conspicuously and consistently acknowledges these realities in straightforward and unmistakable language -- something he hasn't done and shows no signs of doing -- he cannot be said to be dealing honestly with the budget or with the American people. The main reason that we keep having these destructive and inconclusive budget confrontations is not simply that many Republicans have been intransigent on taxes. The larger cause is that Obama refuses to concede that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are driving future spending and deficits. So when Republicans make concessions on taxes (as they have), they get little in return. Naturally, this poisons the negotiating climate.

The only potential outcome of the McConnell negotiations was tax cuts without spending cuts.  The GOP needs to just walk away until the President asks to come to the table.