Friday, June 20, 2008

The best sentence I read today

"What's good enough for gay bowlers ought to be good enough for even the most politically correct of political scientists -- or so one would think."

This from Charlotte Allen's hilarious de-pantsing of the American Political Science Association's deliberations of whether to break their contract to have their convention in New Orleans because Lousiana has voted to ban same sex marriages.

APSA actually has something called the "Committee on the Status of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals and Transgendered in the Profession" which is pushing for the boycott, though the "Committee on the Status of Blacks in the Profession" is in favor of sticking with the Big Easy.

Having lived in New Orleans for a few years I can say unequivically that it is an extremely gay-friendly town so I'd endorse Ms. Allen's observation that, there is something inherently ludicrous about a proposed boycott of New Orleans to protest discrimination against gays.

Mungowitz: care to defend your tribe??

Two views of Roger Federer

One is from a fuzzy headed punk who likes to do imitations of other pros and is convinced that his effluvia smells like roses, viz. Novak Djokovic:

“Some things are changing. I think he’s a little bit shaken with that loss and mentally he has been struggling in the last couple of months,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “It’s normal to have ups and downs after four years of absolute dominance on the men’s tour.

“New names are coming, fresh talented players who believe more they can win against him and I am one of them,” Djokovic said. “Suddenly he is worried a little bit.” (full article is here)

The other, slightly different, view is from 14 time grand slam champion Pete Sampras:

“There is a burning desire in Roger to break my record, and when he does it I would like to be there,” Sampras said Thursday. “I said to Roger, ‘Just make sure it’s in New York or London. Australia is a long way to go. (But) if it worked out like that, I would fly there.’

“I would just let him enjoy it as his moment but (I would want to be there) just to respect the record and what he was able to do and to just say, ‘Congratulations.”’

Despite Federer’s loss to No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, Sampras is confident the Swiss star will bounce back at the All England Club.

“He’s created this monster of winning so many tournaments and so many majors and doing it with ease,” Sampras said in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “As great as Roger is, he’s going to have his losses and his bad days. It’s just human nature to go through some lulls.”

That doesn’t mean he has lost his edge, Sampras said.

“In the majors, he’s still the guy that’s most likely to win them,” Sampras said. “He’s lost a couple and, if anything, that’ll do him some good. It’ll get him going and fired up. He’ll be just fine.” (full article here)

Wow, you could hardly see a better distinction between no-class and class, eh? For the first time in my life, I'll be rooting for Federer to win Wimbledon and the US Open.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ask not for whom the worm turns..... turns for the general election!!

Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all

The Democratic nominee, in an interview with Fortune, says he wants free trade "to work for all people."

By Nina Easton, Washington editor

WASHINGTON (Fortune) -- The general campaign is on, independent voters are up for grabs, and Barack Obama is toning down his populist rhetoric - at least when it comes to free trade.

In an interview with Fortune to be featured in the magazine's upcoming issue, the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA "devastating" and "a big mistake," despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he answered.

Obama says he believes in "opening up a dialogue" with trading partners Canada and Mexico "and figuring to how we can make this work for all people."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that Obama-as the candidate noted in Fortune's interview-has not changed his core position on NAFTA, and that he has always said he would talk to the leaders of Canada and Mexico in an effort to include enforceable labor and environmental standards in the pact.

Nevertheless, Obama's tone stands in marked contrast to his primary campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment; but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in their hometowns.

The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in setting a protectionist tone.

In February, as the campaign moved into the Rust Belt, both candidates vowed to invoke a six-month opt-out clause ("as a hammer," in Obama's words) to pressure Canada and Mexico to make concessions.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called that threat a mistake, and other leaders abroad expressed worries about their trade deals. Leading House Democrats, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, distanced themselves from the candidates.

Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA. On the afternoon that I sat down with him to discuss the economy, Obama said he had just spoken with Harper, who had called to congratulate him on winning the nomination.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

hmmmm, phone call for Austan Goolsbee!!!!

New Music Alert

People!! Four great bands have just put out new releases!

1. Wolf Parade: "At Mount Zoomer". If you don't have all work by Wolf Parade and co-frontman Spencer Krug's other band Sunset Rubdown, you should get them posthaste. While this new effort is not as immediately appealing as WP's previous release "Apologies to the Queen Mary", it is a clear winner.

2. The Notwist: "The Devil, You + Me". I am a huge Notwist fan. "Shrink" and "Neon Golden" are landmark recordings. This new one is on first listens, very good indeed.

3. Silver Jews: "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea". I don't think this is as good as their classic, "American Water", but David Berman is always worth listening to.

4. Bonnie Prince Billy: "Lie Down in the Light". Will Oldham's masterpiece is "I See a Darkness". I think his new album is the best thing he's done since then which is saying something considerable.

At least we dodged this bullet

There is a great article in today's WSJ by Matt Moffett about the frictions between ex-president Nestor Kirchner and his people and current president Christina Kirchner and her people and how said friction is contributing to the nascent re-meltdown of Argentina (the article is gated, but here are the good bits).

BUENOS AIRES -- When Cristina Kirchner was elected in October to succeed her husband as president of Argentina, he guaranteed he would let his wife stand on her own two feet. "I would do very badly by interfering," Nestor Kirchner said.

But Mr. Kirchner couldn't help but interfere when Mrs. Kirchner faced her first domestic political challenge, helping to turn a dispute with farmers into a full-blown political disaster.

Mr. Kirchner's heavy-handed meddling and Mrs. Kirchner's erratic behavior helped stoke 100 days of disruptive protests by farmers after the government changed the tax on soybean exports, which had been fixed at 35%, so that it would shift in line with rising international prices.

Mrs. Kirchner's approval ratings have plunged, the economy has reeled and the government's conflicting messages have caused many Argentines to ask: Who is really in charge, Cristina or Nestor?

Mrs. Kirchner has, at times, seemed more flexible toward farmers, who are demanding the government repeal the tax increase. Tuesday, Mrs. Kirchner, moving to cool off growing political tensions, said she would send the proposed tax change to Congress for debate and approval.

Mr. Kirchner has been unwavering in his hostility toward farmers, whom he sees as a power-hungry coterie that seeks to undermine the government.

There have been open conflicts in Mrs. Kirchner's cabinet between Cristinos, loyal to her, and Nestoristas, beholden to him. At a political event in April, TV cameras captured her first economy minister, Martin Lousteau, who was pushing for negotiation with farmers, arguing heatedly with Internal Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, a Nestorista who favored a hard line. Mr. Moreno ended the discussion with a throat-cutting gesture. Not long afterward, Mr. Lousteau quit in frustration and was replaced by one of Mr. Kirchner's men.

The confusion grew more acute a few weeks ago when the couple didn't seem to be on the same page about a massive rally of 200,000 farm supporters in the city of Rosario. Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, the government's main negotiator with the farmers, was traveling with Mrs. Kirchner and said the government would make a new proposal to farmers on the soybean tax. The next day, after he spoke to Mr. Kirchner in Buenos Aires, Mr. Fernandez said there would be no new proposal and no more talks.

That same week, Mrs. Kirchner called for a "tolerant, democratic and respectful Argentina." Her husband, as head of the Peronist party, drafted a blistering statement calling the farm protesters "coup- mongers" who aimed to topple the government.

Whatever we get in November, it least it won't be Billary and this kind of tomfoolery!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Elections, Romanian style!

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The residents of a Romanian village knowingly voted in a dead man as their mayor in Sunday's municipal election, preferring him to his living opponent.Neculai Ivascu, 57, who ran the village for almost two decades, died from liver disease just after voting began -- but still won the election by a margin of 23 votes.

A local official said the authorities decided to keep the poll open in case Ivascu's opponent, Gheorghe Dobrescu, won, avoiding the need for a re-run.

"I know he died, but I don't want change," a pro-Ivascu villager told Romanian television.

In the end, election authorities gave the post to the runner-up, but some villagers and Ivascu's party, the powerful opposition Social Democrat Party (PSD), have called for a new vote.

Well, I know the American electorate does want change, but I really like the idea of voting in a dead chief executive. Whattya say people, Reagan in 2008??

Texas Barbeque Ratings: Kreuz's is #2?

The current issue of Texas Monthly rates "The Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas". T. Cowen fave Kreuz Market comes in second.

However, all is not well in the BBQ kingdom:

the biggest change over the past five years is that the gas-burning commercial smoker is gaining ground (for an explanation of how it differs from a traditional pit, see PITS). To give the devil his due, this contraption has brought acceptable barbecue to areas where it hardly existed, like the Rio Grande Valley. The danger is that it will replace traditional pit-smoking, as fewer and fewer people are willing to get up at three in the morning to sustain this labor-intensive craft. The smoker has also enabled giant, mediocre chains like Dickey’s and Bill Miller (about 70 locations each statewide) to proliferate like houseflies. With so many children cutting their teeth on institutional barbecue, one fears for the future.

And so we issue this call to arms: Perfect pit-smoked meats rank with the finest expressions of culinary art anywhere, and we must not allow them to disappear. It is incumbent upon all Texans to celebrate and support our state’s uniquely sooty, fat-besotted heritage. The cost will be a measly $7.95 or so a plate, including sides, a small price for the satisfaction not only of preserving our history but of ingesting a masterpiece.

Not just Texans, people!! Go forth and eat!

Is Kobe overrated? Is the whole Western Conference Overrated?

The Celtics absolutely pwned the Lakers in the finals. LA blew historic leads at home and was not competitive on the road. Laker-hater #1 (Bill Simmons) has a theory about why:

Boy, Kobe sure seems to have trouble scoring on these Shane Battier/Paul Pierce types, doesn't he? If someone's a little bigger than him, stays between him and the basket and has the reach to contest his jumper, and if that person is flanked by smart defenders who remain aware of what Kobe is doing at all times, it sure seems Kobe has trouble getting the shots he likes. Not to belabor the point because it's a moot discussion at this point, but MJ didn't have a "kryptonite" flaw. He just didn't. Of everyone from the '90s, John Starks probably defended him the best ... and it's not like Starks was shutting him down or anything. He just made MJ work a little harder for the points he was getting anyway. The point is, Jordan did whatever he wanted during a much more physical era, and when he faced great defensive teams -- like the '89 and '90 Pistons or the '93 Knicks -- nobody ever shackled him or knocked him into a scoring funk. Kobe? He looks a little lost offensively against the Celtics. It's true. Same for the 2004 Finals against Tayshaun Prince, another lanky defensive player with a good reach. Just remember to mention this on his NBA tombstone some day.

I do think the turning point in the series was Paul Pierce's defense on Kobe in the second half of game 4.

However, I think you can make a stronger case that the whole Western Conference is/was overrated. The Lakers won the west easily and got crushed by Boston. In contrast, Atlanta and Cleveland both took the Celtics to 7 games!

I know Kobe is the MVP and that his stats against the Celtics were better than LeBron's were, but I'll take LBJ in a heartbeat over Kobe any day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Jack of all trades is a master of ......?

Hey Ben Bernanke, WTF???

I guess he feels like he's done such a great job in his actual job, it's time for him to branch out and help in other fields?

Bolstering the performance of the U.S. health care system is one of the biggest challenges facing the country, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Monday.New medical technologies and treatments are allowing people to live healthier, longer and more productive lives. However, the aging of millions of baby boomers coupled with rapidly rising heath care costs are accounting for an ever-growing share of both personal and government budgets — strains that will become increasingly burdensome unless changes are made, the Fed chief warned.

Challenges, he said, fall into three major areas: improving access to health care for the 47 million Americans — or about 16 percent of the population — who lack health insurance; bolstering the quality of care; and controlling costs.

"Improving the performance of our health care system is without a doubt one of the most important challenges our nation faces," Bernanke said in remarks to a summit on health care reform organized by a Senate panel on Capitol Hill.

The Fed chief didn't talk about the Fed's next move on interest rates or the state of the U.S. economy in his speech or during a brief question and answer session afterward.

Here is the full story, and in closing let me offer Ben this piece of advice: Zapatero! a sus Zapatos! (translation here)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Robert Samuelson joins the Club

The Angus Gridlock Club, that is:

But for me, McCain does have one provisional and accidental advantage. By most appraisals, the Republicans will get slaughtered in congressional elections, and I have a visceral dislike of one-party government. It didn't work well under Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Divided government doesn't ensure good government, but it may limit bad government by checking the worst instincts of both parties.

Amen, brother!! (you can read the whole article here)

Argentina creeps closer to trouble

Last month, I casually tossed out the notion that Argentina may be on the verge of another serious economic crisis. Besides the issues I raised then (inflation, farmer's strike, reserve losses), which are ongoing, it now turns out that the Argentine public debt is 56% of GDP which surpasses the level it reached (54%) at the beginning of the 2001 crisis. And, if you include the amount owed to investors who refused their crisis related haircuts and are suing to recover, the figure is actually 67% of GDP!


Plus, Argentina is off the IMF gravy train and is in default to the Paris Club countries for a few billion, so their main source of external funding is good old Hugo Chavez, who has been charging a fairly healthy (13%) interest rate on his dough.

Of course, given that independent estimates put Argentine inflation at over 20%, maybe Hugo needs to think about doubling his rates!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

NC Bar Assoc

A bit of investigation by friend-of-truth Steve Newton.

Some more reaction.

Sr. de la Torre, I beg to differ!

Guano-mania rages again in Peru!

ISLA DE ASIA Peru— The worldwide boom in commodities has come to this: Even guano, the bird dung that was the focus of an imperialist scramble on the high seas in the 19th century, is in strong demand once again. Surging prices for synthetic fertilizers and organic foods are shifting attention to guano, an organic fertilizer once found in abundance on this island and more than 20 others off the coast of Peru, where an exceptionally dry climate preserves the droppings of seabirds like the guanay cormorant and the Peruvian booby.

But all is not well in the guano kingdom:

While the bird population has climbed to 4 million from 3.2 million in the past two years, that figure still pales in comparison with the 60 million birds at the height of the first guano rush. Faced with a dwindling anchoveta population, officials at Proabonos are considering halting exports of guano to ensure its supply to the domestic market.

Uriel de la Torre, a biologist who specializes in conserving the guanay cormorant and other seabirds, said that unless some measure emerged to prevent overfishing, both the anchovetas and the seabirds here could die off by 2030.

“It would be an inglorious conclusion to something that has survived wars and man’s other follies,” Mr. de la Torre said. “But that is the scenario we are facing: the end of guano.”

Oh Sr. de la Torre, you just couldn't be more wrong. I invite you to come to Washington DC, where I assure you there is no end to the guano!