January 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Back From the Fiscal Abyss, California Balances Its Budget (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 1/11/13, NY Times)

Mr. Brown was not just talking about a balanced budget. He projected that the state would begin posting surpluses starting next year, leading to a projected surplus of $21.5 million by 2014, a dramatic turnaround from the deficit of $26 billion -- billion, not million -- he faced when he was elected in 2010.

The governor said California's finances were strong enough that he wanted to put aside a $1 billion reserve fund to guard against future downturns, and included in the budget sharp increases in aid to public schools and the state university system, both targets of big spending cutbacks.

The change in fortunes reflected cuts that were imposed over the past two years, a temporary tax surcharge approved by voters in November that expires in seven years, and a general improvement in the state's economy.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


An Instrument Comes Into Its Own (JIM FUSILLI, 1/01/13, WSJ)

With virtuosity and no small application of wit, the New York Theremin Society seeks to elevate the instrument to the status its members believe it deserves. At a show at Joe's Pub in mid-December, five thereminists performed a range of material--including ambient and techno music, classical compositions by Alexander Scriabin and Richard Wagner, and pop by the Beatles, Enya, and Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. During the concert, the instrument's bizarre nature was often secondary to its beauty and versatility.

Over borscht at a restaurant on the Lower East Side a few days before the show, Dorit Chrysler and Rob Schwimmer, the society's drivers, spoke of the theremin with affection and bemusement.

"I thought it was the kookiest, most expressive thing," said Ms. Chrysler, age 40, remembering her initial exposure to the instrument. "The only thing comparable is the voice. But the theremin is an extension of the body."

Mr. Schwimmer, 58, was familiar with its sound, but he hadn't seen it played until the late 1980s, when a clip of Clara Rockmore (1911-1998), perhaps the instrument's greatest virtuoso, ran on television. "I remember trying to reconcile the physical motions with the sound. I really didn't know which hand was doing what."

A theremin player manipulates the electromagnetic fields around two antennae--one of which controls pitch, the other volume. The tiniest movement affects the sound, more often than not to a dissatisfying end. To create the sonic impression of a soaring spaceship or a laser beam is fairly simple. To play George Harrison's "Within You Without You," as Mr. Schwimmer did at Joe's Pub, isn't. Yet the theremin appeals to amateur musicians who think it's easy to play.

"Evidently, the dropout rate is phenomenal," Mr. Schwimmer said.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Jindal: 'Our Goal Is to Eliminate All Personal Income Tax and All Corporate Income Tax' (DANIEL HALPER, 1/10/13, Weekly Standard)

Jindal announced today that his "goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax."

"We are meeting with every legislator over the coming weeks to discuss the details of the tax reform plan. Our goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax in a revenue neutral manner. We want to keep the sales tax as low and flat as possible," says Jindal in a statement provided by the Louisiana governor's office.

"Eliminating personal income taxes will put more money back into the pockets of Louisiana families and will change a complex tax code into a more simple system that will make Louisiana more attractive to companies who want to invest here and create jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Murky History of Foosball : How did the tabletop game get from parlor halls in 19th-century Europe to the basements of American homes? (Derek Workman, 1/04/13, Smithsonian.com)
A group of young Parisians playing foosball at a cafe in 1958. (Rue des Archives / The Granger Collection, New York) 
In the best tradition of skulduggery, claim and counterclaim, foosball (or table football), that simple game of bouncing little wooden soccer players back and forth on springy metal bars across something that looks like a mini pool table, has the roots of its conception mired in confusion.

Some say that in a sort of spontaneous combustion of ideas, the game erupted in various parts of Europe simultaneously sometime during the 1880s or '90s as a parlor game. Others say that it was the brainchild of Lucien Rosengart, a dabbler in the inventive and engineering arts who had various patents, including ones for railway parts, bicycle parts, the seat belt and a rocket that allowed artillery shells to be exploded while airborne. Rosengart claimed to have come up with the game toward the end of the 1930s to keep his grandchildren entertained during the winter. Eventually his children's pastime appeared in cafés throughout France, where the miniature players wore red, white and blue to remind everyone that this was the result of the inventiveness of the superior French mind.

There again, though, Alexandre de Finesterre has many followers, who claim that he came up with the idea , being bored in a hospital in the Basque region of Spain with injuries sustained from a bombing raid during the Spanish Civil War. He talked a local carpenter, Francisco Javier Altuna, into building the first table, inspired by the concept of table tennis.  Alexandre patented his design for fútbolin in 1937, the story goes, but the paperwork was lost during a storm when he had to do a runner to France after the fascist coup d'état of General Franco. (Finesterre would also become a notable footnote in history as one of the first airplane hijackers ever.)

While it's debatable whether Señor Finisterre actually did invent table football, the indisputable fact is the first-ever patent for a game using little men on poles was granted in Britain, to Harold Searles Thornton, an indefatigable Tottenham Hotspur supporter, on November 1, 1923. His uncle, Louis P. Thornton, a resident of Portland, Oregon, visited Harold and brought the idea back to the United States and patented it in 1927. But Louis had little success with table football; the patent expired and the game descended into obscurity, no one ever realising the dizzying heights it would scale decades later.

The world would have been a much quieter place if the game had stayed as just a children's plaything, but it spread like a prairie fire.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Richard Nixon -- the last great liberal (Douglas E. Schoen,  January 09, 2013, FoxNews.com)

Nixon was not only a fervent supporter of the Clean Air Act, the first federal law designed to control air pollution on the national level; he also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency. The creation of the EPA represented an expansion of government that would face fierce opposition were it being debated today. The EPA is also one of the agencies on Capitol Hill that the business community most detests--along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which polices working conditions. OSHA is another Nixon creation.

Herbert Stein, chief economic adviser during the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked: "Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal."

How many remember that Nixon was a champion of affirmative action? "Incredible but true", as Fortune magazine put it in 1994 when Nixon died, "It was the Nixonites that gave us employment quotas." Though many credit John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson with initiating affirmative action, it was rather Richard Nixon who first sanctioned formal goals and time frames to break barriers to minority employment.

Social Security benefits, a cornerstone of the Democratic Party platform, were also crucial to Nixon's policies. He ushered in a minimum tax on the wealthy and supported a guaranteed income for all Americans, a move that would rile today's Republicans to unprecedented heights.

And finally, consider health care: Nixon's proposed reform would have required employers to buy health insurance for their employees and subsidize those who couldn't afford it. Nixon's version of national health care was a far more liberal concept than Bill Clinton's or Barack Obama's--and it failed because of Democratic opposition, not lack of support from Nixon's own party. (Ted Kennedy later said that opposing Nixon's health-care plan was one of his biggest political regrets.)