Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Creation According To Saint Albert

The Creation According to Saint Albert

Genesis, Chapter One

1:1 In the beginning Saint Albert, The Goracle of Music City, created The Book.

1:2 And The Book was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the Book. And the editors of the Book moved upon the pages of it, to give it form and substance.

1:3 And The New York Times said, "Let there be sales:" and there were sales of The Book.

1:4 And Saint Albert saw the sales, and that they were good: and he said "There could be profit and sustenance in this, both for me and all my descendants, and all the tribes of lobbyists." For he had grown weary of being the Junior Senator in the land of the Tennesseeans.

1:5 For Saint Albert called The Book "Earth In The Balance", and before his book there was nothing, and without it, we would all be destroyed. And this was the end of the first day.

1:6 And Saint Albert said, "Let there be a Powerpoint in the midst of my laptop, and let it terrify those who follow me and obey my commandments."

1:7 And Saint Albert made the Powerpoint, and divided the facts which were obvious from the facts which were inconvenient for his argument: and it was so.

1:8 And Saint Albert called the Powerpoint a Rough Draft For A Screenplay. And this evening and morning were the second day.

1:9 And Saint Albert said, "Let the Screenplay be filmed, and let my my visage be imposed upon the face of the Powerpoint for all who follow me to see and witness:" and it was so.

1:10 And Saint Albert called the Screenplay a Documentary; and he named his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth": and those who stood to profit thereby called it good.

1:11 And Saint Albert said, "Let the Documentary bring forth awards, the same awards which go to all Democrats, who, by being nominated, are always assured of victory:" and it was so. But those whose hearts had hardened against him declared these awards to be an everlasting stench in the nostrils of the righteous and an unholy thing in the temple of Reason.

1:12 And the Documentary brought forth profits, the creeping financial kind, and the flying political kind, and the consultant kind; and Saint Albert saw that these profits would be mandated by Congress and the rulers of this world, and that they would be very, very good.

1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day. And there was fear and trembling throughout the earth, for all this time Saint Albert had merely been warming up.

1:14 And Saint Albert said, "Let there be a timeline, and a sense of urgency, and a panic; for I grow old, and wish to fully profit from my creation; so let all warming be a sign of Global Warming, and let all cooling be a sign of Global Warming also . And those who deny that cooling is warming, let them take their place with The Holocaust Deniers.

1:15 "And let us no longer speak the words 'Global Warming', for the current cooling will confuse the sheep of our pastures, causing them to look upon their thermometers for verification. Let us now speak of 'Climate Change', for by doing so, all bets will be covered:" and it was so.

1:16 And Saint Albert created for himself a house; and it was as great as any earthly habitation; and the carbon footprint of his house was compared to that of The Concorde; the carbon footprint of his house was likened to that of a Ukrainian Steel Mill, and the emissions of Interstate 35 on the Fourth of July weekend; and his house was likened unto the dwelling of a Republican who does not recycle.

1:17 And the sheep of his pastures cried out to him, saying "Albert, Albert, why do you preach salvation, but practice destruction? And Saint Albert grew weary of their moanings, and he gave his habitation solar panels, and new windows, and ductwork.

1:18 And Saint Albert declared that it was good. But his enemies declared his improvements to be a vain and foolish thing, for they had unconfessed sin in their hearts, and their deeds were evil, and they were not the sheep of his pastures. For they had looked upon his electric bills, both before and after, and they mocked him and made merriment while posting Saint Albert's electric bills on the Internet (which Saint Albert had created).

1:19 For the Tennesseeans are a stubborn and ungrateful people, and they would not vote for him in 2000, for prophets are without honor in their home country. And this evening and morning were the fourth day.

1:20 And Saint Albert said, "Let the people of the earth sing praises unto my name forever, for I am great and mighty. Am I not as heroic as Parsifal? Am I not more worthy than Don Giovanni? For Tipper and I are as Tristan and Isolde, and we shall be glorified in the heavens and in the earth, and at La Scala in Italy. Bring forth an opera, so that my works and my name shall be sung and praised throughout the nations."

1:21 And the sheep of his pastures brought forth the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal and the tenors and one soprano; and the libretto of that which began as a Book and grew to a Powerpoint which begat a screenplay which begat a documentary which begat a Nobel then begat an opera: and Saint Albert saw that it was good.

1:22 And Saint Albert blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and create more wondrous markers of remembrance to my name."

1:23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

1:24 And Saint Albert said, "Bring forth a musical, so that my praises may be sung on Broadway by those who love show tunes. For what profiteth a man to win a Grammy and Nobel, but have no Tony?"

1:25 And the sheep of his pastures brought forth a Musical, so that the philistine cattle who do not enjoy opera may glorify Saint Albert also, each in his own way: and Saint Albert saw that it was good, for it had productions numbers, great sets, a torch song, and some real toe-tappers.

1:26 And Saint Albert said, "Let us make more graven, written, and spoken monuments to mine own image, after my likeness: and give me dominion over the fish of your seas, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, for only I can save them. And give me dominion over your thermostats and your fuel economy, and your CO2 emissions, and your carbon footprints. Give me dominion over your congressional spending and your tax breaks. For I am a jealous God, and I want it all."

1:27 Thus man created Saint Albert in God's own image, in the image of God created we him.

1:28 And Saint Albert saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. But he had not yet brought forth the Earth In The Balance videogame, or the Climate Change lunchbox, or Carbon Footprint running shoes, or An Inconvenient Truth - the animated series. We have no Global Warming thermos, or Tipper The Iceberg beer coolers.

1:29 Because on the seventh day, he rested. I hope.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My employer hires a lot of ex-cons.
Most of these parolees try incredibly hard to avoid returning to prison.
Many of them fail.

This editorial by Jason Ziedenberg ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about three years ago. (I was obsessively clipping excellent newspaper articles long before I began blogging.) Ziedenberg accurately predicted that Martha Stewart would have an easy transition from prison to home to successful career. Then he looked at the other 600,000 less fortunate people who are released from prison every year. Here are a couple of the vital paragraphs:

The other 600,000 people who leave prison every year are generally not so lucky. As the prison and jail system tripled over the 1980s, from 500,000 to more than 2 million, policy-makers cut education, job training and treatment programs in prison. As a result of those cuts — a direct consequence of directing corrections funds to build more prisons — people are leaving prison less prepared for life on the outside, and with less assistance from the parole system to help people get a job, get back into school and to return successfully to their lives crime-free.

No surprise, then, we are seeing a growing number of formerly incarcerated people being returned to prison for parole violations and new offenses, ensuring that the exit from prison is nothing more than a turn-style door leading right back inside.

I believe that Ziedenberg got it basically right, but missed the bulls-eye. People don't return to prison because of programs being cut. They return to prison because one particular group's programs are beautifully maintained.

Let's assume that the following statements are true:

1) Policies and systems should be evaluated in terms of the incentives they create, rather than judged by their stated goals and objectives.

2) Newly released prisoners are obligated to meet with parole officers at inconvenient locations, inconvenient times, and as often as the parole officer deems necessary. The ex-con often has to pay the parole officer a supervision fee. Failure to jump through any of these hoops often means a return to prison.

Statement number one is a distillation of Dr. Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics", and therefore carries at least the same level of infallibility as the Book of Leviticus. Number two comes from my experience working with ex-cons. Statement number three isn't vital to my argument, and is my opinion only. Here goes....

3) The parole system is a "make work" program for unemployed sociology majors.

Ok, on with the argument. Look at the ex-cons in your workplace. If there aren't any, ask yourself why not, since the streets are full of them.
Could it be that having to leave the workplace in the middle of the day (for idiotic parole meetings) discourages employers from giving these people jobs? And requiring people to pay "supervision fees" when they're fortunate if they can find a minimum wage job, is this nothing more than a good way to encourage ex-cons to steal?

The stated goal of these programs? To help ex-cons return to society.
The hidden incentives of these programs? There are abolutely no rational incentives in place to encourage people to hire ex-cons. The parole system makes it almost impossible. The decision to do hire a parolee comes loaded with a hundred headaches.
And how would you feel about living next door to an ex-con who has to come up with extra parole officer money every few weeks?

Every ex-con I've ever hired has been required to follow a program that is virtually guaranteed to keep them flirting with unemployment, discouragement, and theft.

Our system is designed to create failure and recidivism.
Our government social workers/parole officers guarantee themselves full employment with an expanding "client base".
And now the United States has the world's highest incarceration rate.


I think not.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thomas Sowell and Tim Russert

Please stand for this month's reading from The Gospel According To Saint Thomas....

Economist Thomas Sowell, the smartest man in the world now that Milton Friedman is dead, has proclaimed that the loss of Tim Russert was the loss of a national treasure, since there is no replacement journalist of comparable objectivity, intelligence, and diligence on the horizon.

Despite being a huge fan of "Meet The Press", I had vowed not to write anything about Russert's premature departure. I thought that we spend too much energy lamenting the loss of people who happen to be on television, and not enough time enjoying the company of those who aren't.

Dr. Sowell has shown me the error of my ways in this case. Tim Russert seems to have been the real thing.

Therefore, I recant my earlier mistaken opinions about the value of Tim Russert. These opinions are now abhorrent and are an anathema to me. (I think I remember those phrases from an old movie about the Inquisition.)

The man has spoken.

Thus endeth the reading from The Gospel According To Saint Thomas.

You may be seated.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Caption This

I need a caption for this picture:

You Owe Your Soul To The Company Store

A few days ago, I watched a genuinely atrocious 1958 movie adaptation of William Faulkner's The Hamlet. It's called "The Long Hot Summer", and the filmmakers took a great Faulkner story about White Trash Meanness and ran it through the Tennessee Williams / Big Daddy / Delta Plantation mold to achieve.....well, not much.

Flem Snopes, the anti-hero of the book, is described by Faulkner as "a froglike little man with eyes the color of stagnant pond water". Hollywood, of course, put Paul Newman in the role.

Then they changed one of the great names in Southern literature (Flem Snopes) to the more generic and less repulsive "Ben Quick". Paul Newman couldn't play someone named Flem. For the sake of this post, and to eliminate confusion, I'm going to call his character "Flem".

Flem Snopes had a bad reputation. Whenever he got shafted in a job or a business deal, his employers' barns tended to burn down. Flem appears at a new town and approaches one of the landowners for a sharecropping arrangement. Jody Varner, the landowners son, tells Flem about a piece of land with a small house that Flem can farm. In exchange, the Varner family gets half the crop. This was called farming on "the halves". And Flem will have to "furnish" - i.e., purchase seed, fertilizer, groceries, and equipment - from the plantation's store.

Most of the big plantations had one of these stores. The prices were inflated on most items, but through the formal sharecropping agreement, tenants were required to purchase certain items only from "The Company Store". If you didn't have an arrangement like that of Flem Snopes, who farmed on the halves, you worked for pay in the form of company store vouchers = aka "scrip". It was a modified form of slavery. If your compensation could only be used in one place, you could never leave. And you sure couldn't make the plantation stores compete against each other, since your scrip was only good at one location.

If you're of a certain age, you probably remember Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of "I Owe My Soul To The Company Store".

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

One of my grandfathers worked as the bookkeeper on a large Mississippi plantation and my mother can remember him coming home complaining about how the sharecroppers got shafted. His job probably involved keeping track of the shafting.

Is there anyone in his right mind who would now be willing to sign up for one of these sharecropping arrangements where you are obliged to spend your money at the company store?

Well, halfway through "The Long Hot Summer", it occurred to me that we're all headed further and further down that road. Some of our political leaders want to require us to spend our money with their contributors. They've taken the idea of the company store, wrapped it in the flag, sprinkled it with patriotism, and put a banner out front that says "Protect American Jobs".

Here's a good example.

Sugar from overseas is much more reasonably priced than sugar grown in Florida. Unfortunately, Florida is a large swing state. So not only can you not buy sugar from overseas without paying a big fat tariff to bring the cost up to Florida prices, but you have to pay a subsidy to Florida's sugar producers every time you send a check to the IRS.

A lot of this money goes to Florida's Fanjul family, a group that makes Faulkner's plantation owners look like Cesar Chavez. According to one estimate, if the year 2000's total subsidy paid to sugar farmers was $560,000,000.00, the Fanjul's took home $65,000,000.00 of it. They hang out with royalty, ski in Switzerland, and they helped inspire the failed TV series "Cane".

Not a bad day's work. Or not work, depending on how you look at driving to the bank to cash a check.

By the way, what is your cost per job saved by sugar tariffs and subsidies? Per year? $826,000.00 (Here's one way to do the math.)

So as we get closer to the November elections, you're going to hear more and more politicians slamming Free Trade, NAFTA, and the idea of open markets.

Try to remember.... the Fanjul's give these politicians obscene amounts of money. So do the ethanol producers. So does every other lobbying group.

And you'll have a choice: get off the plantation, or owe your soul to the company store.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs

The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs

Published: June 16, 2008
The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.

The A.P.’s effort to impose some guidelines on the free-wheeling blogosphere, where extensive quoting and even copying of entire news articles is common, may offer a prominent definition of the important but vague doctrine of “fair use,” which holds that copyright owners cannot ban others from using small bits of their works under some circumstances. For example, a book reviewer is allowed to quote passages from the work without permission from the publisher.
Fair use has become an essential concept to many bloggers, who often quote portions of articles before discussing them. The A.P., a cooperative owned by 1,500 daily newspapers, including The New York Times, provides written articles and broadcast material to thousands of news organizations and Web sites that pay to use them.
Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.
On Saturday, The A.P. retreated. Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P., said in an interview that the news organization had decided that its letter to the Drudge Retort was “heavy-handed” and that The A.P. was going to rethink its policies toward bloggers.
The quick about-face came, he said, because a number of well-known bloggers started criticizing its policy, claiming it would undercut the active discussion of the news that rages on sites, big and small, across the Internet.
The Drudge Retort was initially started as a left-leaning parody of the much larger Drudge Report, run by the conservative muckraker Matt Drudge. In recent years, the Drudge Retort has become more of a social news site, similar to sites like Digg, in which members post links to news articles for others to comment on.
But Rogers Cadenhead, the owner of the Drudge Retort and several other Web sites, said the issue goes far beyond one site. “There are millions of people sharing links to news articles on blogs, message boards and sites like Digg. If The A.P. has concerns that go all the way down to one or two sentences of quoting, they need to tell people what they think is legal and where the boundaries are.”
On Friday, The A.P. issued a statement defending its action, saying it was going to challenge blog postings containing excerpts of A.P. articles “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.” An A.P. spokesman declined Friday to further explain the association’s position.
After that, however, the news association convened a meeting of its executives at which it decided to suspend its efforts to challenge blogs until it creates a more thoughtful standard.
“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy said the company was going to meet with representatives of the Media Bloggers Association, a trade group, and others. He said he hopes that these discussions can all occur this week so that guidelines can be released soon.
Still, Mr. Kennedy said that the organization has not withdrawn its request that Drudge Retort remove the seven items. And he said that he still believes that it is more appropriate for blogs to use short summaries of A.P. articles rather than direct quotations, even short ones.
“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” he said. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”
Even if The A.P. sets standards, bloggers could choose to use more content than its standards permit, and then The A.P. would have to decide whether to take legal action against them. One important legal test of whether an excerpt exceeds fair use is if it causes financial harm to the copyright owner.
“The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story,” said Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School. Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue.
“It’s hard to see how the Drudge Retort ‘first few lines’ is a substitute for the story,” Mr. Wu said.
Mr. Kennedy argued, however, that The Associated Press believes that in some cases, the essence of an article can be encapsulated in very few words.
“As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value,” he said.
But he also said that the association hopes that it will not have to test this theory in court.
“We are not trying to sue bloggers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.”

I hope I used this properly.
For an additional usage of this article, click here.

Happy Belated Father's Day, and May The Force Be With You !

My brother in Tennesse was in the middle of Father's Day festivities, and asked his 3-year old son Dean if he wanted to be a father someday.

Dean thought about it, and said "I still think I want to be a Jedi more than anything else."