mm041: Beavis and Butthead in London jihad | The Register

June 30, 2007

Could not pass this up! Security-industrial complex, indeed… Found via Reddit, blogroll2 after Digg kept giving me errors when I tried to Digg a couple of stories.

Beavis and Butthead in London jihad

Huh-huh-huh, let’s break somethin’

By Thomas C Greene in DublinMore by this author

Published Friday 29th June 2007 17:51 GMT

Police and securocrats know that there aren’t enough real terrorists in the world, which is why they have to keep manufacturing them. This is because citizens tire of being watched by cameras, frisked and x-rayed, having their belongings searched, giving fingerprints to so-called friendly nations on entry, contemplating the myriad government databases where their details and activities are preserved, and wondering if some dour little bureaucrat is reading their email or listening to them on the phone.

Citizens tire also of reading the rolls of the war dead fraudulently sacrificed in the name of counterterrorist “victory”, and of seeing hundreds of billions spent on surveillance and private security, ridiculous wars, and security-related gimmicks and gizmos, when it could be so much better spent on, oh, needs like housing, medicine and pensions, and mitigating actual mass threats to life via such non-sexy routes as traffic safety, fire safety, vaccinations, buildings and infrastructure inspection, water treatment, and food safety.

But the guys with the guns and cameras and listening devices have been on a roll since 9/11, embarrassing their clip-board-toting rivals in the race for public money, even though, collectively, they’ve taken or made meaner far more lives than they can ever hope to protect with their strategy of violence in the name of peace, and fascism in the name of liberty.

To keep the billions rolling in, they’ve got to produce a terrorist every now and then. Only real terrorists are hard to come by, so clowns and stooges with harebrained schemes end up doing bin Laden’s perp walk periodically.

Today we have news from London, where a “big [explosive] device” was discovered inside a parked car near Piccadilly Circus. The device consisted of petrol, propane gas cylinders, and nails. The car containing it had been abandoned after its driver was observed piloting it erratically, crashing it, then running off, like a true professional. Ambulance workers called to assist nearby noticed what they initially thought was smoke inside the car, but which likely was petrol vapour, and contacted police.

Bomb disposal specialists made it safe, and police officials and politicians began slyly invoking the terrorist bogeyman. Heaven forbid the public should be starved of their regular fear rations.

“As the police and security services have said on so many occasions, we face a serious and continuous threat to our country”, day-old PM Gordon Brown said. “But this incident does recall the need for us to be vigilant at all times and the public to be alert at any potential incidents.”

And what an incident. “It is obvious that if the device had detonated there could have been serious injury or loss of life”, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke intoned gravely.

Ah, if it had detonated. Yes, it could have been a real horror. Only, the device could not have detonated. Not under any circumstances. You see, the terrorist wannabe clown who built it left out a crucial element: an oxidiser. The device was pure pre-teen boy fantasy.

“We’ll heat up these propane cylinders with burning petrol, and they’ll go off like bombs”, boys the world over have remarked with glee. They don’t realise that air is a poor oxidiser, and the only “explosion” they will get is when gas pressure inside the cylinders is great enough to burst them. Then the propane will ignite, and a nice fireball will blossom. A fireball, not an explosion.

Oh, the Piccadilly fireball would have blown the car’s windows out, and popped its doors open, and sent various bits like mirrors and so forth into the air at velocities possibly fatal to people nearby. It would have looked really cool, that’s for sure. But an explosive event…a detonation? Not in a million years. Sorry lads: you failed car bombing 101; you did not attend a single lecture; you did not even open the textbook.

Some stupid people did a stupid thing. Yes, they might have injured or killed one or two passers-by, but any body count would have come in spite of them, not as a product of their efforts. You and I are more likely to have been killed accidentally by the lousy driver than intentionally by his Beavis and Butthead car bomb.

This should have been dismissed for what it is: an event on the level of some teenagers getting a tremendously foolish notion, and being drunk enough for it to appeal to them. But we’re hearing whispers of terrorism instead – much as we heard from the Americans when they foiled a “terrorist plot” to blow up fuel storage tanks at Kennedy International. It would have been devastating, prosecutors told us. Only that “plot” had the same hole in it: air makes a lousy oxidiser. If it had been carried out, it would certainly have made a bigger fireball than the one in London would have made. But that’s about it.

So why is this such big news? Because clowns have got to be passed off as terrorists. Because a vast industry depends on terrorists, real and imagined, to justify its existence. We live now in the grip of the security-industrial complex, and that hungry beast demands to be fed. We feed it money hand over fist, and in return, it feeds us fear biscuits, which we are expected to accept with gratitude.

Roll over. Sit up and beg. See the bad man? Good citizen; here’s your bickie. ®

Beavis and Butthead in London jihad | The Register

Thanks, Thomas C. Greene of Dublin!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Quote of the Day:
Reason often makes mistakes, but conscience never does.
–Josh Billings


mm040: Unity08 Watch: Keeping Tabs on a PR Movement

June 29, 2007

 I think that I’ve just learned more than I wanted to about Unity08… thanks to the most interesting folks at  Irregular Times. blogroll

Unity08: The Big Picture

Unity08 is a registered corporation with plans to nominate its own candidates for president and vice president in the world’s first national secure online convention in the spring of 2008. But what kind of organization is it? Full documentation for the following claims is available on the full Unity08 research thread, from which this “big picture” summary is drawn. There are many curiosities regarding Unity08 that you can find on the thread. But the following six points are the most important.

  1. In its initial filing as a corporation, and in its first six months’ original filings, Unity08 claims a primary business address exactly identical to the business address of Peak Creative Media, a political public relations firm in Denver, Colorado. Unity08’s websites (see left) are also registered to Peak Creative Media. Peak Creative Media’s CEO is one Jim Jonas, who was part of the leadership of two Republican presidential campaigns, who has consulted for numerous Republican Senate and House candidates, and who served as an adviser to Roger Ailes of FOX News. Jim Jonas is listed in initial documentation for Unity08 as the President and CEO of Unity08.
  2. The organization loudly proclaims its opposition to the influence of lobbyists in politics, but has quietly brought former and current lobbyists into leadership positions, with the justification that “You have to have been in it to know what’s wrong with it.”
  3. Unity08 says that it will grow its “people’s movement” using only small donations from “everyday Americans,” “people like you,” yet it is suing the Federal Election Commission (with the apparently unpaid help of a lawyer/lobbyist) in order to evade current law and take contributions of unlimited size.
  4. Unity08 has released a “Clean Money Pledge” in which it has challenged members of the public to sign on to a statement in which they committed to the following plan of action: “I will only vote for a presidential candidate who has raised more than half of his/her funds through small contributions of $250 or less.” It further sent out letters to presidential candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties, challenging them to commit to take a majority of their funds from donations of $250 or less. Yet an analysis of Unity 08’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Quarter 2006 IRS disclosures reveals that a full 82% of Unity08’s 2006 donation money came from donors of more than $250. Unity08 appears to have violated its own Clean Money Pledge.
  5. Thomas Collier, Robert E. Jordan, John J. Duffy, and Anthony A. Onorato are both lawyers and lobbyists. They are working for Unity08 in its lawsuit against the FEC. Yet they are not listed in any disclosures to the IRS available as of February 12, 2007 (link | link | link) as having received compensation. Similarly, public relations executive Anya T. Harris is the Chief Operating Officer of Unity08, and yet she also has no record of compensation for her work. It is unclear whether these individuals will receive any reward for their work. If so, when, in what form, and from whom?
  6. Unity08 has not disclosed the amount or the source of any loans provided to it from personal or corporate sources. The terms of such loans are also undisclosed. Such disclosures are legally required if, as the FEC ruled in its Final Advisory Opinion, Unity08 is a political action committee.

There are three important questions one ought to ask regarding Unity08 (or any other ambitious political organization, for that matter):

1. Does the organization live up to its rhetoric? Does it practice what it preaches?

2. Is the organization capable of attaining its own stated goals?

3. If the organization is successful, will the organization improve the current state of politics, degrade the current state of politics, or leave the current state of politics unchanged?

Given the current state of knowledge regarding Unity08, how would you answer these questions?

Unity08 Watch: Keeping Tabs on a PR Movement

Can you say “wolf in sheep’s clothing?”

Don’t worry, Michael Bloomberg, I haven’t changed my mind about you! Just maybe you’ll want to stay away from these guys!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Quote of the Day:
If you can’t beat your computer at chess, try kickboxing.

mm039: An iPod Has Global Value. Ask the (Many) Countries That Make It. – New York Times

June 28, 2007

As I was at work when I found this today, I didn’t have a chance to Digg it, but I’m certain that many have by now. What a fascinating story. Global business defies our quest for simplistic answers.

Economic Scene


Published: June 28, 2007

Who makes the Apple iPod? Here’s a hint: It is not Apple. The company outsources the entire manufacture of the device to a number of Asian enterprises, among them Asustek, Inventec Appliances and Foxconn.

But this list of companies isn’t a satisfactory answer either: They only do final assembly. What about the 451 parts that go into the iPod? Where are they made and by whom?

Three researchers at the University of California, Irvine — Greg Linden, Kenneth L. Kraemer and Jason Dedrick — applied some investigative cost accounting to this question, using a report from Portelligent Inc. that examined all the parts that went into the iPod.

Their study, sponsored by the Sloan Foundation, offers a fascinating illustration of the complexity of the global economy, and how difficult it is to understand that complexity by using only conventional trade statistics.

The retail value of the 30-gigabyte video iPod that the authors examined was $299. The most expensive component in it was the hard drive, which was manufactured by Toshiba and costs about $73. The next most costly components were the display module (about $20), the video/multimedia processor chip ($8) and the controller chip ($5). They estimated that the final assembly, done in China, cost only about $4 a unit.

One approach to tracing supply chain geography might be to attribute the cost of each component to the country of origin of its maker. So $73 of the cost of the iPod would be attributed to Japan since Toshiba is a Japanese company, and the $13 cost of the two chips would be attributed to the United States, since the suppliers, Broadcom and PortalPlayer, are American companies, and so on.

But this method hides some of the most important details. Toshiba may be a Japanese company, but it makes most of its hard drives in the Philippines and China. So perhaps we should also allocate part of the cost of that hard drive to one of those countries. The same problem arises regarding the Broadcom chips, with most of them manufactured in Taiwan. So how can one distribute the costs of the iPod components across the countries where they are manufactured in a meaningful way?

To answer this question, let us look at the production process as a sequence of steps, each possibly performed by a different company operating in a different country. At each step, inputs like computer chips and a bare circuit board are converted into outputs like an assembled circuit board. The difference between the cost of the inputs and the value of the outputs is the “value added” at that step, which can then be attributed to the country where that value was added.

The profit margin on generic parts like nuts and bolts is very low, since these items are produced in intensely competitive industries and can be manufactured anywhere. Hence, they add little to the final value of the iPod. More specialized parts, like the hard drives and controller chips, have much higher value added.

According to the authors’ estimates, the $73 Toshiba hard drive in the iPod contains about $54 in parts and labor. So the value that Toshiba added to the hard drive was $19 plus its own direct labor costs. This $19 is attributed to Japan since Toshiba is a Japanese company.

Continuing in this way, the researchers examined the major components of the iPod and tried to calculate the value added at different stages of the production process and then assigned that value added to the country where the value was created. This isn’t an easy task, but even based on their initial examination, it is quite clear that the largest share of the value added in the iPod goes to enterprises in the United States, particularly for units sold here.

The researchers estimated that $163 of the iPod’s $299 retail value in the United States was captured by American companies and workers, breaking it down to $75 for distribution and retail costs, $80 to Apple, and $8 to various domestic component makers. Japan contributed about $26 to the value added (mostly via the Toshiba disk drive), while Korea contributed less than $1.

The unaccounted-for parts and labor costs involved in making the iPod came to about $110. The authors hope to assign those labor costs to the appropriate countries, but as the hard drive example illustrates, that’s not so easy to do.

This value added calculation illustrates the futility of summarizing such a complex manufacturing process by using conventional trade statistics. Even though Chinese workers contribute only about 1 percent of the value of the iPod, the export of a finished iPod to the United States directly contributes about $150 to our bilateral trade deficit with the Chinese.

Ultimately, there is no simple answer to who makes the iPod or where it is made. The iPod, like many other products, is made in several countries by dozens of companies, with each stage of production contributing a different amount to the final value.

The real value of the iPod doesn’t lie in its parts or even in putting those parts together. The bulk of the iPod’s value is in the conception and design of the iPod. That is why Apple gets $80 for each of these video iPods it sells, which is by far the largest piece of value added in the entire supply chain.

Those clever folks at Apple figured out how to combine 451 mostly generic parts into a valuable product. They may not make the iPod, but they created it. In the end, that’s what really matters.

Hal R. Varian is a professor of business, economics and information management at the University of California, Berkeley.

An iPod Has Global Value. Ask the (Many) Countries That Make It. – New York Times

Our son bought the iPod video model discussed in this story last September. It’s already been replaced once, under warranty. At least it wasn’t toothpaste!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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mm038.1: Jews Sorta Like Bloomberg, Even Though He Won’t Suck Up To Them – Wonkette

June 28, 2007

 We takes our analysis where we finds it … and we found this on Wonkette, thanks to Technorati (–>)

Jews Sorta Like Bloomberg, Even Though He Won’t Suck Up To Them

And the walls of the city came tumbling down - Wonkette

Maybe-candidate Mike Bloomberg is Jewish, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to him, because the richest people in the world are seldom too concerned with Identity Politics or religion or whatever the rest of you people worry about. That’s the word form the Jewish Daily Forward (another media property allegedly controlled by the Jews):

  • “Chuck Schumer will come to a Jewish Orthodox event and start telling people how his great-grandfather came from some town in Europe …. I have never heard Bloomberg do anything of the sort.”
  • Giuliani made a big show of throwing Yasser Arafat out of Lincoln Center, while Bloomberg fought the City Council’s attempts to close the NYC PLO office.
  • He appointed a Moslem to the city’s Human Rights Convention, despite a terrible outcry from the Jews.
  • At some breakfast, instead of talking “sentimentally about his bubbe or love of noodle kugel,” he told the Jews it was good that he raised their property taxes, and they gave him a standing ovation.

Hooray for a candidate who maybe will shut the fuck up about G-d!

Jews Sorta Like Bloomberg, Even Though He Won’t Suck Up To Them – Wonkette

A few posts ago, I despaired of this country ever electing a woman or person of color as president. Silly me, as one of the persons commenting to the above column reminded us. We can add Bloomberg’s ethnic identity to the list, if we want to be glass-half-empty about this. Well, once again defying my curmudgeon rating, I will try to be glass-half-full. Not electing all those types that haven’t fit somebody’s fantasy of True America has led us to our present sorry predicament. Why not change? Why not now? Bloomberg in 2008!

It’s it for now. Thanks, again,


Quote of the Day:
Misery is optional.
–Abraham Lincoln

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mm038: Nerve struck

June 28, 2007

MUDGE’s Musings

I have been evading my responsibilities for most of this month, as I have resorted to what I have called “clipjoints” rather than much original text. It’s been that kind of month, with much more interesting things going on outside than in.

Case in point, the explosion (well, for this lonely corner of the ‘sphere) of interest enjoined by the last post, regarding Unity08. Sure did change the look of my WordPress statistics graph. Nerve struck, indeed.

Many thanks to ClapSo, whose thoughtful and passionate responses prompted me to take a look at his blog with which I am quite impressed. I don’t think I’m quite ready to be as extreme as he is, but he certainly makes a strong case for the bankruptcy (except of cash!) of our existing political system.

Campaign politics is likely to become even more consuming of time and attention than ever this election season, and no better example exists than this column found in the always fascinating and incisive TechCrunch (–>). This article from yesterday is particularly telling.

ElectionVine is a new service being launched today by NewsVine that allows users to embed a US Presidential candidate poll on their sites.

NewsVine sees ElectionVine as their answer to mainstream media’s traditional polling methods, turning the tradition polling model on its head by delivering a distributed polling system that can be used by blog/site owners across the United States. Anyone can hold their own election on their own site and even go as far as endorsing a candidate. The site-specific results show what percentage of each sites readers are Democrats, Republicans, or backers of a certain candidate.

The strength of the application comes with an aggregate view of how the election is shaping up in the eyes of the distributed blogosphere. With several months to go before the primaries, NewsVine expects to have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of these independent polling places throughout the web.

He has included said widget — try it out if you like. On his site: I was bummed that our flavor-of-the-week, Michael Bloomberg is not listed. So, no way I’m putting that widget here, even if WordPress’s technology would allow it or if I could figure it out if they did.

I’m still ready to join up, Mike!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Quote of the Day:
WARNING: Repeated brain usage may be harmful to others.

mm037: A logical progression…

June 26, 2007

A third party candidate needs a third party. Introducing: Unity08. I was directed here as I was reading Newsweek in the lobby of my ophthalmologist today. Works for me…

Unity08: Our Beliefs, Our Goals & Why We’ll Succeed

  • Who We Are
  • What We Believe
  • Our Goals
  • Unity08 on Lobbying and Corruption
  • Unity08 On the Issues
  • Why Unity08 Will Succeed

Who We Are

Unity08 is a group of citizens deeply concerned that the wheels have come off our political system, that the American Dream is slipping away, and that time is short to get things back on track.

We are of all ages, backgrounds, colors and beliefs and from both parties:

  • Some of us have been involved in political campaigns at the state and national levels and served in high government positions.
  • Others of our leadership group have never been active in political life but have been highly successful in the private sector, active in the non-profit world and in other walks of American life.
  • Still others of our leadership group are students, who are concerned that the agenda of special interests is coming before the national interest.

What We BelieveUnity08 believes that neither of today’s major parties reflects the aspirations, fears or will of the majority of Americans. Both have polarized and alienated the people. Both are unduly influenced by single-issue groups. Both are excessively dominated by money.

For most of the 20th Century, the contest for the U.S. presidency was waged over those “in the middle.” Recent Presidential elections, however, have not been focused on the middle but on the turnout of each party’s special interest groups — with each party’s “base” representing barely ten percent of the American people.

We believe that, while the leaders of both major parties are well intentioned people, they are trapped in a flawed system — and that the two major parties are today simply neither relevant to the issues and challenges of the 21st Century nor effective in addressing them.

As a result, most Americans have not been enthusiastic about the choices for President in recent elections, the key issues they ran on, or the manner in which the campaigns were conducted.

Therefore Unity08 will act to assure that an alternative ticket is presented to the American voters in 2008.

Our Goals

We have set three specific goals, and are exploring how best to achieve them.

  1. Goal One is the election of a Unity Ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States in 2008 — headed by a woman and/or man from each major party or by an independent who presents a Unity Team from both parties.
  2. Goal Two is for the people themselves to pick that Unity Ticket in the first half of 2008 — via a virtual and secure online convention in which all American voters will be qualified to vote.
  3. Goal Three is for the delegates to that convention to select the issues which are crucial to America’s future and the questions on those crucial issues which the candidates should address fully and candidly.

The new ground broken in meeting our goals will include new choices for voters, new opportunities for candidates, and new uses of modern technology as well. In pursuing our goals, we will both follow the law in every instance and seek the opinion of the Federal Elections Commission to interpret the law where we are breaking new ground.

We are not looking to build a new and permanent party. That might happen, but our objective is to fix the old parties. A Unity Ticket in office for one term or even taking part in just one election can bring new ideas, new integrity and new leaders to the fore.

We will not waste time assessing blame. Both parties and all of us who have been active in them share responsibility for the current political morass. We hope instead to return the focus of our politics and policy to the common good — those ideas and traditions which unite and empower us as individuals and as a people.

Unity08 on Lobbying and Corruption

Unity08 strongly believes the corrupting influence of special interest money is a major cause of today’s fundamentally broken political system. Lobbyist money plus pandering to the intense ideological bases by both parties yields the blame-game partisan bickering that has destroyed voter confidence. No other issue will get solved until this one does.

Unity08 intends to fix this broken system by electing a bipartisan “Unity Ticket” to the White House in ‘08 funded solely by small-dollar donations from everyday Americans. As a result the Unity08 President and Vice President will enter office not with favors owed to lobbyists and special interests but with a clear mandate from the American people to cooperate and provide courageous leadership on the most crucial, complex issues facing our country.

Want to better understand why Unity08 feels so strongly about this subject? Click here…

Unity08 on the Issues

Unity08 divides issues facing the country into two categories: Crucial Issues — on which America’s future safety and welfare depend; and Important Issues — which, while vital to some, will not, in our judgment, determine the fate or future of the United States.

In our opinion, Crucial Issues include: Global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington’s lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people.

By contrast, we consider gun control, abortion and gay marriage important issues, worthy of debate and discussion in a free society, but not issues that should dominate or even crowd our national agenda.

In our opinion — since the disintegration of the Soviet Union — our political system seems to have focused more attention on the “important issues” than the “crucial issues.” One result: The political parties have been built to address the interests of their “base” but have failed to address the realities that impact most Americans.

Why Unity08 Will Succeed

Here are four reasons we believe the Unity08 movement will succeed:

  1. The American people know that the current political system is broken and that the time is short to fix it.
  2. A solidly-funded movement of millions of Americans can be built online in order to nominate a Unity Ticket of their choice for 2008.
  3. Seeing the numbers, leaders in both parties will see that a Unity Ticket in 2008 represents the jolt the political system needs to get back on track.
  4. The tens of millions of Americans who have not been voting out of cynicism toward the current system are likely to rally to new leadership with a new approach.

The genius of America is that every generation redefines freedom in its own terms for its own times. Unity08, in a tradition as old as our country itself, is committed to still another rebirth of freedom.

For more information about Unity08, please view the Frequently Asked Questions page and the Governance page.

Our Beliefs, Our Goals & Why We’ll Succeed | Unity08: Select & Elect a Unity Ticket in the 2008 Presidential Race

The above was copied (with difficulty) from the Unity08 website. Okay, so if Bloomberg makes sense as a third party candidate, and these folks have been working to get onto the ballots in all 50 states, I sense a convergence of interests, including mine! Can you now see today’s progression, from the Economist’s dimwit voters, to the enlightened voter’s candidate, to the enlightened voter’s party? Logical, huh! Surprised myself. Whew! I think I’ll go lie down and think about all of this. But, as I’ve said for a week now, I am intrigued.

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mm036: President? Or Kingmaker?

June 26, 2007

 Again, from NYTimes… Sunday 24-June-2007:

A Modest Proposal

Mario Tama/Getty Images

MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG of New York insisted yet again last week that he did not intend to run for president in 2008, even as he left the Republican Party to become an independent. Then, on Friday, he tweaked his language somewhat, simply saying, “I’m not going to be president.”

Which opens the door to a Swiftian modest proposal, one that might appeal to any billionaire independent presidential candidate who knows the art of a deal: Rather than try to win the White House outright — a long shot — an independent candidate could instead try for a king-making (or queen-making) bloc of votes in the Electoral College.

In doing so, a moneyed candidate like Mr. Bloomberg could advance his post-partisan national agenda — and gain a great deal of power — by introducing coalition politics to America’s system of government, through a power-sharing plan that catapults either the Republican or Democratic nominee to the presidency. Here’s how it might work:

With the nation divided into red and blue as it has been in the last two presidential elections, all a rich, self-financed candidate would have to do is win a big state (or two) to ensure having a king-making bloc of electoral votes: say, Florida (the decisive state in 2000), or Ohio (2004), or maybe New York (Mr. Bloomberg’s home state), or California (that of his friend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Mr. Bloomberg spent $84 million in 2005 to win re-election as mayor. In 2008, a wealthy candidate could spend five times that (or 10 times, as some Bloomberg associates suggest he might do) to run for president. Under this hypothetical scenario, the money would support a targeted advertising campaign to sell an Electoral College strategy to voters. (You wouldn’t even need to get on the ballot throughout the country.)

The essential pitch to voters: Washington is broken, and we need to find a third way. Elect an independent for president.

But instead of running a national campaign, the independent candidate strives to win the electoral votes of only a few states. This idea is a stretch by the conventional wisdom of American politics, of course. But before 2000 nobody dreamed the Supreme Court would decide a presidential election, either.

“An Electoral College showdown, however improbable, would make the wild ride of the Florida recount look tame,” said Paul A. Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

There is some historical precedent for a king-making scenario. In 1968, George C. Wallace, who rose to prominence as the anti-integration governor of Alabama, ran for president as an independent; his plan was to exploit fractures in the Democratic Party and win enough Southern states and electoral votes to foist his agenda on a major-party nominee or throw the election to the House of Representatives. He carried five states in the Deep South — not enough; Richard M. Nixon won handily. The segregationist Strom Thurmond pursued a similar strategy in 1948, winning 39 electoral votes (nowhere near enough to thwart Harry S. Truman’s storied come-from-behind win).

More recently, both celebrities and rich men have demonstrated the popularity or financial wherewithal to persuade voters in this hyperkinetic news media environment to circumvent politics-as-usual: Mr. Schwarzenegger; former Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota; Jon Corzine, the former senator and current governor of New Jersey; and Mr. Bloomberg himself.

Mr. Bloomberg’s aides say he has no plans to be a kingmaker. Yet suppose an independent candidate with unlimited means carried New York in the general election on Nov. 5, 2008, winning a sharply divided vote among three home-state politicians (with Mrs. Clinton as the Democratic nominee and Rudolph W. Giuliani as the Republican). And suppose the Democratic and Republican nominees split the other 49 states and the District of Columbia in a way that left both just shy of an Electoral College majority (270 votes) without New York’s 31 votes.

With his king-making bloc of votes, an independent candidate could broker a deal with one of the candidates, European- or Israeli-style. Cabinet posts could be divvied up (say, Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary). Specific policies and spending commitments would be agreed to (say, plans for immigration and health care, two top national priorities for the mayor).

NOW, here’s where one or two or 100 lawyers come in. This reform-minded disbursement of power could be guaranteed by a legally executed contract with a hefty cash bond if the eventual president reneges. (There’s nothing barring this in the Constitution.)

The clock would be ticking. A deal to throw the decisive electors to one candidate or the other must be struck in the six weeks before several hundred electors cast their votes in their individual states on Dec. 15, 2008.

A big wild card is the loyalty of the independent candidate’s slate of electors (though perhaps they could be well-compensated by the self-financed campaign). If New York electors gathered in Albany to cast their electoral votes but began peeling off as they cut their own political deals, the grand bargain would be sunk.

“Electors are generally trustworthy, but formal attempts to bind them haven’t been tested that much,” said John C. Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of “After the People Vote.”

If no candidate achieves a majority in the Electoral College, the election would be decided in the newly elected House of Representatives, where each state’s Congressional delegation would have one vote for president.

The Democrats currently dominate 26 congressional delegations to the Republicans’ 20; the 4 other states have an even split of members at this writing. If that partisan split were to hold after Election Day 2008, the Republican presidential candidate would have a huge incentive to make a power-sharing deal so the election never fell to the House.

“If he gets it into the House, a Democrat is going to win the presidency, because they have the votes pure and simple,” said Mario M. Cuomo, the former Democratic governor of New York, who is noncommittal on the presidential race at this point.

A few dozen extra federal judges might be needed on the bench to adjudicate all the potential legal complications. And an independent candidate might find his convictions sorely tested.

“The challenge for him is how a candidate who wins some states by being above partisan politics can engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing that may be necessary for him to actually determine who becomes the president, and under what conditions,” said Mr. Beck of Ohio State.

Yet for an independent-minded politician like Mr. Bloomberg who looks and speaks and acts like a presidential candidate, the lure of the free-for-all election in 2008 may prove irresistible. Being a mayor is one thing; being a president is another; and being behind the throne — well, to paraphrase one New Yorker, Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the kingmaker.

Michael Bloomberg – Presidential Election of 2008 – Electoral College – Republicans – Democrats – New York Times

I can’t help it — I’m just intrigued.

mm035: As National Candidate, Bloomberg Would Have to Multitask – New York Times

June 26, 2007

A lengthy story from last week’s NYTimes.


Published: June 21, 2007

It seemed to be no coincidence that the day after he announced his formal departure from the Republican Party and left open the door to an independent presidential campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg mundanely announced yesterday that the city’s 311 customer service telephone line had received its 50 millionth call.

By focusing on this rather prosaic milestone, Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be trying to reinforce an image of himself as an adroit manager, as if to reassure New Yorkers that, whatever his lofty political ambitions in the future, he remains very much their meat-and-potatoes mayor.

But if the mayor’s tentative tiptoeing into a national campaign accelerates into a marathon, inevitably the question of whether he can run for president and effectively manage the city simultaneously will arise. Can he avoid diminishing the legacy he is still constructing because he will be distracted by a national campaign?

Precedent seems to say no. The consensus, though, is that Mr. Bloomberg, because of his immense wealth, competent staff and willingness to delegate work, may have a better chance of pulling it off.

“The mayor invested a great deal in establishing the 311 system so he doesn’t have to be a pothole mayor,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group and one of Mr. Bloomberg’s strongest supporters in his campaign to charge drivers for entering Manhattan below 86th Street, a program known as congestion pricing.

“He’s transformed the role of mayor,” she said. “It’s not micromanagement anymore. It’s ambassador to the world, business development, restoring confidence in New York City after 9/11.”

Still, running the city has long been viewed as one of the toughest jobs in the country, and some officials are skeptical that Mr. Bloomberg can juggle a national campaign — even an unofficial one — with the responsibilities of running the city’s sprawling bureaucracy.

“I think it takes tremendous focus to keep New York City together,” said Councilman Bill DeBlasio, a former aide to Mayor David N. Dinkins. “I think we are doing well today, but whether the financial situation or the safety situation, it doesn’t take much to have new challenges. And I just think it’s a very hands-on job.”

Moreover, Mr. Bloomberg has some very big plans for his final 924 days in office, including congestion pricing, redeveloping Manhattan’s Far West Side and revamping the way the city collects garbage. All require support in Albany, and while the mayor is known for delegating duties to top aides like Daniel L. Doctoroff and Edward Skyler, he has been personally working the phones to try to push those projects through, his spokesman, Stu Loeser, said.

Will he continue to push hard for those things if he is also regularly crisscrossing the country speaking on national issues? City Council President Christine C. Quinn, an ally of the mayor, said she thought he could.

“Mayor Bloomberg has been, since Day 1 of his first term, laser-focused on making this city better, and I think laser-focused on leaving a legacy of being the best mayor in the history of these five boroughs,” Ms. Quinn said. “Nothing in these last 900-plus days is going to get in the way of that.”

If Mr. Bloomberg eventually declares his candidacy — and, because of his personal wealth and the timing of primaries, he can quietly step around a race for months longer — he has only one precedent to turn to, and that one is not encouraging.

In 1971, two years after being jilted by fellow Republicans and winning re-election, on the Liberal Party line, to a second term as mayor, John V. Lindsay switched to the Democratic Party. He mounted a short-lived presidential campaign the following spring.

Mr. Lindsay, who called the mayoralty “the second toughest job in America,” was dogged by daily crises from City Hall — including the killing of police officers; vitriol over low-income housing proposed for middle-class Forest Hills, Queens; and political sabotage by the governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican.

“No matter how good things are or seem to be today in the city, there is a daily controversy that crops up that creates problems for a national candidate,” said Richard Aurelio, who managed Mr. Lindsay’s aborted White House bid. “Something always was occurring in New York that distracted the campaign.”

For Mr. Lindsay, running for president after barely being re-elected as mayor seemed, if nothing else, like a good excuse to get out of town.

Without having declared himself a candidate, Mr. Bloomberg has already been getting out of town more than in the past. In the last 12 months, he has taken 26 trips outside the state, not counting foreign travel — eight more than he took in his first four years in office combined.

Still, unlike Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Bloomberg would run from a position of unusual popularity for a second-term mayor.

As a billionaire, he would not be distracted by time-consuming fund-raising or be vulnerable to conflicts of interest because contributors did business with the city.

Moreover, he leads a very private life, choosing not to live in Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, and sometimes vanishing on weekends to Bermuda or one of his other retreats and insisting that his whereabouts are nobody’s business.

Edward I. Koch was such a visible presence as mayor that, when he ran for governor in 1982, he had to defend himself against concerns that the city might not survive without him when he left town to campaign. “A mayor of the City of New York is not a city manager,” he said at the time.

Still, Mr. Koch, said yesterday, “there’s no question people will be upset if he runs and doesn’t give up the position.”

“It will be unfair in my judgment, because this city is no longer in crisis,” Mr. Koch said. “He’s got a terrific set of people as deputy mayors and commissioners.”

Chris McNickle, the author of “To Be Mayor of New York,” recalled Mr. Lindsay’s candidacy and Fiorello H. La Guardia’s role as federal director of civil defense while he was New York City’s mayor in 1941, and said it was “hard to find an example of anyone doing both demanding things effectively.”

“At the same time, Bloomberg is the most skillful manager who has ever had the job,” Mr. McNickle said. “He has broken all the rules in the past and may break them again.”

In 1991, with two chartered planes waiting on the tarmac at the Albany airport and only 90 minutes left before a filing deadline in New Hampshire, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo capped weeks of tortuous public deliberations and stepped back from the precipice of a presidential campaign.

Mr. Cuomo blamed Albany Republicans for holding him hostage to budget negotiations.

Now, Mr. Bloomberg, too, is weighing the “plausibility” of a national campaign, Mr. Cuomo said. “He will not run just for the fun of saying he ran for president. He will run only if he thinks he has a good chance to win. And there is reason to believe that this time around might be easier for a third-party independent race than ever before.

“Would he do a better job if he concentrated 24 hours a day on the city? Of course,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Would he do an adequate job if he concentrated somewhat less than that for seven months? In some ways, he could make an argument that it would be better for the city because he could have more impact in Washington.”

In calculating the plausibility of a campaign, should Mr. Bloomberg consider whether he can still be effective as mayor? No, Mr. Cuomo said.

“The mayor doesn’t have those huge, big issues that are cataclysmic in their significance,” Mr. Cuomo said. “He can run the mayoralty from wherever he is.”

Danny Hakim contributed reporting.

As National Candidate, Bloomberg Would Have to Multitask – New York Times

A third party candidate has little chance of winning an election, so says conventional wisdom.

Are these not unconventional times? I wrote last week that I regret that our country doesn’t seem ready for a woman president, nor a (most literally) African-American one. By that criteria, could we possibly ready for a Jew?


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mm034: Vote for me, dimwit |

June 26, 2007

Just another example of why The Economist is, bar none, the most interesting, thoughtful and insightful reading I do.


Vote for me, dimwit

Jun 14th 2007
From The Economist print edition

How the electorate is irrational

Kevin Kallaugher

ANYONE who follows an election campaign too closely will sometimes get the feeling that politicians think voters are idiots. A new book says they are. Or rather, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, makes the slightly politer claim that voters systematically favour irrational policies. In a democracy, rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want. In “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, Mr Caplan explains why this happens, why it matters and what we can do about it.

The world is a complex place. Most people are inevitably ignorant about most things, which is why shows like “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” are funny. Politics is no exception. Only 15% of Americans know who Harry Reid (the Senate majority leader) is, for example. True, more than 90% can identify Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that has a lot to do with the governor of California’s previous job pretending to be a killer robot.

Many political scientists think this does not matter because of a phenomenon called the “miracle of aggregation” or, more poetically, the “wisdom of crowds”. If ignorant voters vote randomly, the candidate who wins a majority of well-informed voters will win. The principle yields good results in other fields. On “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, another quiz show, the answer most popular with the studio audience is correct 91% of the time. Financial markets, too, show how a huge number of guesses, aggregated, can value a stock or bond more accurately than any individual expert could. But Mr Caplan says that politics is different because ignorant voters do not vote randomly.

Instead, he identifies four biases that prompt voters systematically to demand policies that make them worse off. First, people do not understand how the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits: they have an anti-market bias. Second, they underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners: they have an anti-foreign bias. Third, they equate prosperity with employment rather than production: Mr Caplan calls this the “make-work bias”. Finally, they tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are, a bias towards pessimism.

Mr Caplan gives a sense of how strong these biases are by comparing the general public’s views on economic questions with those of economists and with those of highly educated non-economists. For example, asked why petrol prices have risen, the public mostly blames the greed of oil firms. Economists nearly all blame the law of supply and demand. Experts are sometimes wrong, notes Mr Caplan, but in this case the public’s view makes no sense. If petrol prices rise because oil firms want higher profits, how come they sometimes fall? Surveys suggest that, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to share the economists’ view on this and other economic issues. But since everyone’s vote counts equally, politicians merrily denounce ExxonMobil and pass laws against “price-gouging”.

The public’s anti-foreign bias is equally pronounced. Most Americans think the economy is seriously damaged by companies sending jobs overseas. Few economists do. People understand that the local hardware store will sell them a better, cheaper hammer than they can make for themselves. Yet they are squeamish about trade with foreigners, and even more so about foreigners who enter their country to do jobs they spurn. Hence the reluctance of Democratic presidential candidates to defend free trade, even when they know it will make most voters better off, and the reluctance of their Republican counterparts to defend George Bush’s liberal line on immigration.

The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don’t they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon’s ban on self-service petrol stations.

Finally, the public’s pessimism is evident in its belief that most new jobs tend to be low-paying, that our children will be worse off than we are and that society is going to hell in a variety of ways. Economists, despite their dismal reputation, tend to be cheerier. Politicians have to strike a balance. They often find it useful to inflame public fears, but they have to sound confident that things will get better if they are elected.

Easier to diagnose than to cure

In short, democracy is a mess. But dictatorship is worse. Mr Caplan observes that Winston Churchill’s aphorism—that democracy is “the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”—usually cuts the conversation short. He does not think it ought to. To curb the majority’s tendency to impose its economic ignorance on everyone else, he suggests we rely less on government and more on private choice. Industries do better when deregulated. Religions thrive when disestablished. Market failures should be tackled, of course, but always with an eye for the unintended consequences of regulation. Mr Caplan is better at diagnosis than prescription. His book is a treat, but he will never win elective office.

Lexington | Vote for me, dimwit |

So, now, for the few of us who actually think for ourselves (I know, I flatter both of us unashamedly!), I say now what about Michael Bloomberg? An intelligent man who tells the truth? More follows.

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mm033: ‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

June 25, 2007

I can’t help myself, this is just cool. From Wired by way of SciTech Daily Review (–>).

‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

Andrew Curry Email 06.14.07 | 2:00 AM

Looking out from the Roman Forum in a complete 3-D model of Rome.
Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

Rome was at its peak in the fourth century, with over a million inhabitants. It was the largest metropolis the world had ever seen: Not until Victorian London, 1500 years later, did an urban area surpass Rome’s size. This week, an unusual combination of classicists, engineers and archaeologists unveiled something not even HBO and Hollywood could manage – a complete 3-D model of Rome, circa 320 A.D.

It’s a huge model for a huge city. Running a fly-through, real-time model of the ancient city requires serious processing power. “It’s a big engineering problem to have a big model of something that has to be rendered that fast,” says Bernard Frischer, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and the “Rome Reborn” project’s organizer.

View of the 3-D modeled Colosseum.

Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

To create the digital model, researchers scanned a 3,000 square foot, 1/250 plaster model of the city – the “Plastico di Roma Antica” – which was completed in the 1970s. Because of the model’s intricacy – the Plastico’s Coliseum is only 8 inches tall — Italian engineers used laser radar originally designed to measure precise tolerances on jet parts to scan within a tenth of a millimeter. Each 6-by-6 section contained 60 million data points.

Digitizing the scan produced amazing results: a fly-through model of the entire city, street by street, column by column. Yesterday’s demonstration ran on a $2500 Shuttle PC equipped with a 1.5-Gb invidia graphics card that pumps out 30 frames per second, a refreshing change from the $500,000 UCLA mainframe test versions ran on in the late 1990s. The resolution is good enough to run on a movie screen. “We thank gamers for wasting all that time and money – that has really encouraged companies to invest in graphics cards and PCs,” Frischer says.

Frischer’s goal is to create a “moderated wiki” for Rome scholars to use as an online forum. Archaeologists can add or change buildings or monuments as new evidence is unearthed, architects can explore the city’s sightlines and traffic flows and art historians can add details and information to buildings that have been scanned by other teams.

Birds eye view of the digital Rome.

Image: Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007

Scholars hope the digital Rome will lead to a new understanding of how the city worked. “How we gather information defines how we understand the city,” says Dean Abernathy, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. “Publications made to go in a book end at the edge of the page. This gives you the whole context.”

But it won’t just be for academics. “Rome Reborn” has been licensed to a tour company in Rome, and was officially unveiled by Rome’s mayor June 11. In April 2008, an orientation film based on the model (“Rewind Rome”) will open in a converted playhouse across from the Coliseum to give tourists a sense of the city’s past, and dedicated PDA/GPS devices will let them walk the city and see what the view in front of them once looked like. And at some point it might be even easier to travel back in time: Frischer says he’s in talks with online community Second Life as well.‘Rome Reborn’ Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

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