Saturday, January 31, 2009

Well, THAT worked well!

Last month Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, ostensibly to finally & forever get rid of Hamas.
In three weeks of high-tech carnage the IDF killed at least 700 civilians. They destroyed schools & hospitals.
"The civilian deaths sparked public outcry abroad and prompted senior U.N. officials to demand independent investigations into whether Israel committed war crimes.
[Israel promises troops legal backing over Gaza war, Reuters, 25 Jan 2009]

Did it work?
Hard-liners strengthened by Gaza war
By STEVEN GUTKIN and KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writers
Sat Jan 31, 2009
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The biggest gains in the Gaza war have gone to the hard-liners on both sides. Hamas is declaring victory, while Israel's leading hawk is the front-runner in elections just over a week away.

Gaza militants fire rocket into Israel
A confession: I read Leon Uris's Exodus when I was 13. From that time forward, Israel's right to exist as a Jewish homeland has been central to my politics. During the Gulf of Aqaba crisis in 1967 I rushed home from summer school every day to watch the U.N. Security Council debate the issue on TV.

BUT: in today's mess, I find it difficult to sympathize with either side of the conflict.
Israel wants Hamas rocket attacks to stop. Is making life unlivable in the Gaza Strip the best way to accomplish this?
Hamas presumably wants the Palestinians under its governance to prosper. Is firing rockets at Israel really the best way to accomplish this?

The high-tech weapons employed by Israel are really good at blowing things up.
The purpose of war is to achieve a lasting peace.
I'm having a hard time seeing that blowing things up is leading to a lasting peace.

... and even Israel's short-term goals were not met: the rocket attacks continue, and Hamas has not been destroyed.
All Israel seems to have accomplished is to confirm that it truly is the enemy of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Stop the madness.

The right idea

The folks at Americans United for Change have the right idea.
Here's a radio spot airing in Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania:
NARRATOR: Listen to what Rush Limbaugh said about President Obama's Agenda and his Jobs Package.


NARRATOR: The Obama Jobs bill overwhelmingly passed the House.... But not one Republican voted yes. Every Republican member of the House chose to take Rush Limbaugh's advice. Every Republican voted with Limbaugh....and against creating 4 million new American jobs.

We can understand why a extreme partisan like Rush Limbaugh wants President Obama's Jobs program to fail....but the Members of Congress elected to represent the citizens in their districts?... that's another matter.

Now the Obama plan goes to the Senate.... And the question is:

Will our Senator, ___ ,side with Rush Limbaugh too...


NARRATOR: OR will he reject the partisanship and failed economic policies of the past,

and stand up for the people of ___
Every day, tens of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs.
Congressional Republicans are happy to support a failed ideology in favor of their country.
They think all that's wrong with the Republican brand can be fixed with a skillful Public Relations campaign.
(I'm not sure what they think it'll take to fix the country.)

Never forget.

Some folks in need: a plug for my favorite charity

Storm-struck KY calls up entire Army Nat'l Guard
By BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press
31 Jan 2009
MAYFIELD, Ky. – Gov. Steve Beshear called up his entire Army National Guard on Saturday, tripling his troops with his state still reeling from a deadly ice storm that knocked out power from the Midwest to the East Coast.

More than half a million homes and businesses, most of them in Kentucky, remained with out electricity from the Ozarks through Appalachia, though temperatures creeping into the 40s helped a swarm of utility workers make headway. Finding fuel — heating oil along with gas for cars and generators — was another struggle for those trying to tough it out at home, with hospitals and other essential services getting priority over members of the public.
Laura Howe, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said the organization had opened more than 34 shelters for some 2,000 people.

[emphasis added]

If you are so inclined:
Each year, the American Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters, including house or apartment fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills, transportation accidents, explosions, and other natural and man-made disasters. Locally, the most prevalent disaster is residential fires.
Although the American Red Cross is not a government agency, its authority to provide disaster relief was formalized when, in 1905, the Red Cross was chartered by Congress to "carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and apply the same in mitigating the suffering caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same." The charter is not only a grant of power, but also an imposition of duties and obligations to the nation, to disaster victims and to the people who generously support its work with their donations.

American Red Cross Disaster Relief Services are free, an outright gift of the American people.
If you care to donate:
Disaster Relief Fund.


Iraq sculpture honoring Bush shoe-thrower removed
Maybe MoMA could be convinced to purchase it?...
... or - better yet - include the purchase in the stimulus bill; sculpture to be displayed on the National Mall! - a fitting tribute to W and his minions.

Never forget!

I'm not alone!

In a post below I suggested that the financial genius 'super star' myth is hard to kill.

Digby also noticed... and has responded to this absurdity much more completely and cogently than I.

Next up: a reckoning?

U.S. will not renew Blackwater contract in Iraq
Fri, 30 Jan 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has told Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm whose guards are accused of killing Iraqi civilians while protecting U.S. diplomats, that it will not renew its contract in Iraq.

The move was not a surprise following Iraq's decision to deny a license to Blackwater, which drew intense criticism after its guards opened fire in Baghdad traffic in 2007, killing at least 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

Good riddance to mercenaries.

Never forget!

Wishing 'em well (honest!)

Voting begins in Iraq under tight security
30 Jan 2009
BAGHDAD - Iraqis passed through security checkpoints and police cordons to vote Saturday in provincial elections that are considered a crucial test of the nation's stability as U.S. officials consider the pace of troop withdrawals.

Recalling the joy with which I participated in our own elections back in November, I hope that our Iraqi friends experience similar joy & hope in their provincial elections today!
I further hope that polling goes smoothly, and that the results are accepted as legitimate by all parties.

Knowing that there's a better chance of election-day intimidation & violence in Iraq than anything I've ever had to face, I also applaud our Iraqi friends for their courage & hope as they go to the polls.

Best of luck!

W's mess for all to see!

Economy's new plunge is worst in quarter-century

I'm just happy to know that the fundamentals of our economy are strong - otherwise we could really be in trouble!

Never forget: this is W's mess!!!
(... and, oh yeah, his Republican enablers in Congress helped him!)

Just in time!

FDA Investigating Peanut Company Behind Recall
Firm Could Face Criminal Charges
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009
The federal government has begun a criminal investigation of the peanut company responsible for an outbreak of salmonella illness that has sickened hundreds of people, killed at least eight and prompted one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.
The move came after federal officials discovered that the company had knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella 12 times in 2007 and 2008.

[emphasis added]

More of, "W - the gift that keeps on giving."
... and more of, "self-regulation is an oxymoron."

W's FDA oversaw e. coli contamination of spinach, and tainted medicine from China.
W slashed FDA's budget repeatedly - specifically underfunding food inspections.

The "free market" crowd, following Friedman, just can't believe that any industry can't police itself.

A moral: "self-regulation" is oxymoronic not only in the world of high finance, but in other industries as well!
AND: the failure of "self-regulation" really can have bad consequences for America & Americans.

Again, if anyone in your presence ever mentions the glories of self-regulation, the appropriate response is a loud guffaw!

Never forget!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Oil patch squeaks by...

Exxon, Chevron profits top view
By Anna Driver and Braden Reddall
Fri Jan 30, 2009
HOUSTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) posted higher-than-expected quarterly earnings on Friday as refining profits helped offset a steep decline in crude oil prices.

Exxon, the world's largest publicly traded company, said fourth-quarter earnings fell by a third, but full-year profit of $45.2 billion set a new company and U.S. record.

[emphasis added]

Why do we need to give these folks tax breaks???

Note: I was "raised on oil". My dad was a geologist for various incarnations of Standard Oil of Indiana - J.D. Rockefeller's erstwhile evil monopoly.
I had a summer job coding FORTRAN for Amoco (one of the incarnations of Standard Oil).
Oil paid for the house I grew up in, for my clothes, my food, and my expensive college education.
I've nothing against Big Oil per se.

What I don't understand is why we give these guys tax breaks, extremely favorable no-royalty leases, and other "incentives".
Why do they need additional incentives, other than the pure capitalist profit motive???
Will they stop drilling, pumping, and refining?
Will they give up year-after-year record profits???

[How did W manage to fail in the oil business?]

Have a nice day.

W's Gitmo - "Help wanted: office manager"

I've noted previously that W never really seemed interested in simply governing.
DoD awarded a $300Mn contract to a 23-yr-old to provide ammo to our Afghan allies.
Parsons, KBR, and the rest took billions of our dollars for Iraq "reconstruction" - and never delivered. Even Laura Bush's vaunted state-of-the-art children's hospital in Basra was abandoned when half-finished.
A horsey guy was put in charge of FEMA.

Apparently this disinterest and disdain for the basic business of governing trickled down to the lowest levels of administration.

A former Gitmo prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Darrel Vandevelder, appeared tonight on The Rachel Maddow Show and revealed that when he arrived at Gitmo in 2007 he found the prosecutors' office in disarray.
Evidence and case files were stashed haphazardly on bookcases, in poorly labeled plastic containers, in binders... In trying to assemble coherent files, he discovered that some evidence was simply missing.

What this office needed then - and probably needs today - is simply a competent office manager. Someone who knows how to file stuff.

W: the gift that keeps on giving.

David Brooks and the myth of the corporate 'super star'

Tonight on The News Hour David Brooks opined that the folks running the biggest financial institutions were super-stars who deserved their exhorbitant compensation.

The 'super star' myth simply will not die.

I've pointed out before that once-successful, 'super star' professional coaches (e.g., Landry, Torre), get FIRED when they stop winning.

Hewlett-Packard FIRED Carly Fiorina for poor performance.

The David Brookses of the world insist that if these guys aren't properly compensated, they'll depart their companies and leave an unfillable leadership vacuum.
"Unfillable"??? - Why not try out new blood with new ideas... No, not recent MBA grads, but successful managers with a track record.
NO ONE PERSON IS INDISPENSABLE! - This is a fairly well-accepted business adage... at least, in the manufacturing sector (where I've some experience).

In addition - these nominally irreplaceable geniuses ARE THE ONES WHO GOT THEIR INSTITUTIONS INTO THIS MESS!!!
Why would anyone WANT to keep 'em around???

Wall Street bonuses totaled $18.4Bn in 2008.
Intel's 2008 net income? $5.3Bn.
- NOTE: Intel is the largest supplier of microprocessors in the world, with somewhere around 75%-80% market-share. They have cash reserves somewhere in the neighborhood of $12Bn.

In one of Wall Street's worst years, they paid bonuses three (3) times Intel's net income!
What's wrong with this picture?

Note: Intel makes things. You can hold a microprocessor in your hand. The things Intel makes - microprocessors - are in your desktop PC, your notebook PC, your smart cellphone, your iPod.
Wall Street financial geniuses make 'paper'... or, more recently, vapor-ware - fancy financial instruments that somehow represent money, but are not transparently identifiable with tangible things.
They exist only to create the illusion of wealth - they are not in themselves wealth.

Never forget!

A modest proposal

note: I'm becoming something of a class-warrior.
It just happened. I'm not proud of it.

Here's a modest proposal regarding disbursement of TARP funds:
No company shall receive future TARP funds if...
... 1. It received TARP funds in 2008
... 2. It paid employee/executive bonuses in 2008
... 3. More than 5% of these bonuses exceeded $200,000.
Why $200,000?
95% of American households make less than $177,000.

I'm figuring a bonus that exceeds by $23,000 the income of 95% of households is the limit of fair compensation in the current environment.
Why 5%?
I don't want to punish the 'poor' worker bees who have come to depend on bonuses to supplement their salaries.
BUT: if more than 5% of the folks are getting excessive bonuses when their institutions are failing, that's a 'corporate governance' problem!
I'll be sending SecTreas Geithner this modest proposal shortly.
(I'll also copy my Rep & Senators.)

W bashing

During W's tenure through 2007 (last year available):
median household income increased 1.6%
80th percentile household income increased 2.2% (the best!)
Meanwhile, GDP increased 17.9%.

Who got that 18% raise???
Yes - let's talk about the redistribution of wealth in America!!!

[p.s. Note that only Bush I comes close to W's performance!]

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm on a roll - more on that $4,000,000,000,000

Premise: estimated cost to buy up mortgage-related "toxic assets" is $4,000,000,000,000.
$4,000,000,000,000 = 80,000 median-income households ($50K = median household income).

I'm going to stick with Plan 1 (see below): give 80,000 households $50K to make whole their mortgage and credit card debt. (... and if your household has no delinquent mortgage or credit card debt, the money is yours to do with as you please.)

What to do with your $50K?
Well - this entire analysis is based on the median-income household, so I'll work things out for the median-priced home.
(My stat buds may quibble - but I'm just going for a ballpark estimate here.)

In 2007 - pretty much the peak of the market - the median-price home ran around $250,000.
In Dec, 2008, the median price was close to $210K - a 16% decline.

Take your $50K and refinance for the current market-price.
You walk into the mortgage company with a 24% down-payment, in cash.
You need to finance the rest (= $160K). Get a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage.

The original mortgage-holder eats the remaining 16%, and writes it off immediately.

In one fell swoop we've:
1. Secured an affordable mortgage for you.
2. Injected $50K into the financial system.
3. Helped stabilize housing prices.
4. Limited loss to original mortgage holder & subsequent "derivatives" to 16%.
And you get to keep your house!

Of course, this depends on original mortgage-holder being willing to take a 16% loss immediately. What if you have to eat it?
You're now walking into refinance with 20% cash down-payment ($50K of $250K), and financing the remaining $200K - which is what the house is worth. We get 3 out of 4:
1. Secured an affordable mortgage for you.
2. Injected $50K into the financial system.
3. Helped stabilize housing prices
... + 4b: made whole the mortgage. No one has to write off anything!
And - still - you get to keep your house.

Caveat: I stress - what I know about economics & finance can be written in big block letters on a postage stamp.

Still another way to spend $4,000,000,000

Some might argue that giving $50K to folks making less than $50K/year is extravagant, or otherwise an unfair redistribution of wealth.

Okay - how 'bout we just give folks an amount exactly equal to their annual incomes? (In addition to that income!)
If your household made $30K, you'd get a check for $30K.
If your household made $70K, you'd get a check for $70K.

Since this is supposed to help those who can't help themselves - and reduce the toxicity of bad mortgage and credit card derivatives - we'll restrict our attention to those households making less than $100K/year - the lower 80% of households.

This plan would cost about $3,968,259,612 - about the same as the $4,000,000,000 being contemplated to acquire toxic assets!

New estimate in... ("fun with numbers" was just in time!)

Cost of shoring up U.S. banks may be in trillions
By Emily Kaiser
Thu Jan 29, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The cost of restoring confidence in U.S. financial firms may reach $4 trillion if President Barack Obama moves ahead with a "bad bank" that buys up souring assets.
[emphasis added]

[Remember when I used to get upset about the $500Bn wasted in Iraq?]

$4,000,000,000,000 = 80,000,000 median-income households.
The Census Bureau reports about 116,000,000 households in 2007. 80K is about 70% of the total.
Perhaps it would be easier to simply identify those households in the 70th percentile & below and give 'em each $50,000 - to be used to make whole outstanding mortgage & credit card debt.
For those with no credit/mortgage problems to make whole - they just get to spend the money as they see fit!

Note 1: the 70th percentile of household incomes in 2007 was about $75,000. Sorry - under my plan, if your household income exceeded $75,000 you'd get no government largesse!

Note 2: Alternative plan - Let's argue (somewhat speciously) that the really po' folks don't have mortgage debt, and concentrate our efforts on the upper end of the income distribution.
95% of households made less than $177,000 in 2007.
That's 110,000,000 households.
We could give the richest 80,000 of those making less than $177K the $50K: if your household earns between $25K and $177K, you get $50,000 of government largesse - to help make whole any delinquent mortgage or credit card debt. Again, if you've no delinquent mortgage or credit card debt, you can do what you want with the $50K.

Note 3: 4,000,000,000,000 seconds = 126,839 years.
That's a very long time.
Modern humans (homo sapiens) have only been around for about 200,000 years.

Fun with numbers

I've suggested using "median-income household" as a unit of measure to help put big $ numbers in perspective.

The median-household income is $50,000.
(... actually, just over $50,000 - but the $50K number is close enough!)

How long is 50,000 seconds? - just under 14 hrs (13.89 hrs)
How long is 1,000,000 seconds (that's a million seconds)? - about 11.6 days.
How 'bout 1 billion seconds? - 31.71 years.
... and 1 trillion seconds? - 31,709 years.
That's a long time.

The Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed about 144Bn seconds ago.
David was King of Israel about 95Bn seconds ago.
Jesus lived about 63Bn seconds ago.

If you spent $1/second, it would take you just shy of 26,000 years to spend the $819Bn stimulus.

If you were paid $1/second - every second of the day - your annual income would be $31,536,000.

Have fun with numbers!

My letter to my Rep & Senators

Senator Bingaman/Senator Udall/Congressman Heinrich:
President Obama's efforts to achieve "compromise" with House Republicans did not work.

Please - when the bill goes to the Senate, pass a Democratic bill: fewer tax cuts, more infrastructure spending.
Family Planning & rehabilitating the National Mall both seem worthwhile.

I believe Congressional & Senate Republican incumbents have made an admirable case against themselves in 2010: "The country screams for help. Tens of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs every day. Congressional & Senate Republicans respond with partisan politics, putting Party above Country."

In 2007 & 2008 I was disgusted with headlines along the lines of, "Congressional Dems cave to W". Your respected Republican colleagues are still not interested in governing, but only in advancing a failed ideology.

Please: No more compromises! Do what's right.


Value for money???

US may spend up to two trillion dlrs to save banks: report

I've argued before that spending $600Bn on Defense would be okay... IF we got $600Bn worth of defense!

I'm similarly inclined to be okay with $2Trillion to rescue the banks... IF we get $2Trillion worth of value.
The initial $350Bn bailout didn't seem to buy us much.
Will the $2Trillion be better spent???

I don't really know what "nationalization" means, but maybe we oughta be considering it if we're paying that much money.
I've no faith in the current crop of financial geniuses, I see no up-side to saving the banks' shareholders on my dime, the current boards seem about as interested in corporate governance as W and his Republican enablers were in Governing the Country.

What are we buying with $2,000,000,000,000???
$2,000,000,000,000 = 40,000,000 median-income households.

Never forget!

W's economy: never forget!

Never forget: this is W's economy!!!
Americans receiving jobless benefits hits record

Kodak posts 4Q loss, plans up to 4,500 job cuts (AP)

New home sales post 14.7 percent drop in December

December durable goods orders drop 2.6 percent
Come 2010 the Republicans hope to run on Obama's failed recovery...
Don't let 'em forget: Recovery from WHAT??? - from the economic collapse brought on by Republican ideology!!!

In the best of all possible worlds, Obama's recovery plan will work, and the Republicans will have nothing to hang their hats on.
BUT - just in case: NEVER forget that W & his Republican enablers brought us to this precipice!!!

Never forget!

Iraq's tribute to W

W hoped to leave a 'legacy' in Iraq.
Cheney continually predicted the Iraqis would erect monuments to W.

Well, it's happened:
Iraqi shoe hurler inspires art in Saddam hometown
29 Jan 2009
BAGHDAD – When an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at George W. Bush last month at a Baghdad press conference, the attack spawned a flood of Web quips, political satire and street rallies across the Arab world.

Now it's inspired a work of art.

A sofa-sized sculpture — a single copper-coated shoe on a stand carved to resemble flowing cloth — was formally unveiled to the public Thursday in the hometown of the late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
Maybe not what W & Cheney had in mind, but, hey! - it's art!... A case could be made that W & his minions did more for art in Iraq than in the U.S.

Sing a song!

Who'll protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq???

This could be fun:
Iraq won't allow Blackwater to operate in country
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press
29 Jan 2009
BAGHDAD – Iraq will not allow Blackwater Worldwide to continue providing security protection for U.S. diplomats in the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Thursday.
Does this mean U.S. military takes over?

Have a nice day.


What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses
Published: January 28, 2009
"By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street — except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

[emphasis added]

That's 368,000 median-income households.
How many "employees at financial companies in New York" got bonuses totaling $18.4Bn??
I somehow doubt the number comes close to 368,000!!!

I've lost count, but I believe that something like 100,000 Americans have lost jobs this week (and the week ain't over!).

Yes - let's talk about the redistribution of wealth in America!!!

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Stimulus bill passes House with NO Republican support.
When our economy was shedding tens of thousands of jobs per day, Congressional Republicans chose partisanship over the welfare of America.

Even though President Obama accepted several Republican changes to the bill - they still voted against it.

Party over Country: The Congressional Republicans at work!

Good news (sarcasm... sort of)

From Think Progress's "Think Fast":
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) say they want “100 percent” opposition to the recovery package. In a House GOP meeting yesterday, no Republicans “spoke up in disagreement when urged to oppose the legislation by their leaders.”

Personally I support the House Republicans' stance.
I'd also like to see Rush Limbaugh & Sarah Palin as the Republicans' leaders in 2010 & 2012.

"When Americans were losing tens of thousands of jobs per day, the Republican Party opposed relief." - That's a talking point I'd be happy to see in the next two election cycles.

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What to do with Gitmo (humor)

Keith Olbermann quotes one of his conservative sports-casting colleagues to the effec that, once the 'worst of the worst' are gone
"... they oughta keep Gitmo open & send all the Wall Street CEOs there!"

... Though this still makes no sense to me...

AP IMPACT: US bets execs can save banks, this time
By MATT APUZZO and DANIEL WAGNER, Associated Press Writers
Tue Jan 27, 2009
WASHINGTON – It's one of the ironies of the U.S. financial bailout: The banking executives now managing billions in taxpayer money are the same ones who oversaw the industry's near collapse.

I realize the analogy is faulty but...
Joe Torre took the NY Yankees into the post-season for 12 consecutive years, and to three consecutive World Series victories.
When the post-season success ended, the Yankees got rid of him.

Jon Gruden was the youngest NFL coach to win a Superbowl in 2003.
The Bucs canned him this year when he couldn't repeat, and led the team to losing seasons.

So... Why are the financial 'geniuses' who got their companies into the current mess still kept around?
I didn't understand it when Enron paid retention bonuses to senior execs, for their supposed 'expertise'.
I don't understand it now.

Can anyone enlighten me???

Whaddaya know - they do have some shame!

Citigroup will not take possession of new aircraft

My sincere hope is that under Obama's Treasury, financial institutions receiving taxpayer-funded 'bailouts' will be subject to more strict 'governance' requirements than they were under Paulson: restrictions on executive compensation, cost-controls, etc... Oh - and it might be nice to see something in the bailout contracts that stipulated just exactly what the banks were to do with the money.

I've seen nothing to suggest that we got much in return for the first $350Bn.

It is encouraging to see that Citi was susceptible to simple shaming.

Have fun.

Seems I was wrong...

In post below I stated belief that Sadrists would be winners in upcoming Iraq Provincial elections.
Seems I ought to be paying attention to today, not last year:
As Iraqi Elections Loom, al-Sadr's Political Clout Fades
By Mark Kukis, TIME
Baghdad Monday, Jan. 26, 2009
The once fearsome Muqtada al-Sadr has been very quiet lately in Iraq. Political analyst Amir Hassan Fayht says the reason the onetime Iraqi militant shows less and less political muscle is simple. "He gave it up," says Fayht, dean of the college of political science at Baghdad University, "just like that."
Elections are this Saturday.

I'm tired of this courtship already

Officials: Family planning money may be dropped
By DAVID ESPO and ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
26 Jan 2009
WASHINGTON – House Democrats are likely to jettison family planning funds for the low-income from an $825 billion economic stimulus bill, officials said late Monday, following a personal appeal from President Barack Obama at a time the administration is courting Republican critics of the legislation.
[emphasis added]

I'm tired of this courtship.
Yes, I understand Obama's desire for "bipartisanship" - but I've seen little to suggest the loyal opposition is giving anything in return.
More tax cuts, less infrastructure, less family planning...
Will this look like a Democratic stimulus bill or a Republican gift to big biz by the time it reaches the floor???

I'd far prefer President Obama take his case for the bill he wants to the public - dare the Republicans to defeat it.
Use the daily headlines:
"Every day the Republicans in Congress delay this bill is another day that tens of thousands of Americans lose their jobs."
W did this effectively for much worse policies!


Monday, January 26, 2009

Encouraging headlines from Iraq

Iraqi prime minister expects faster US pullout

Iraqi oil exports hit five-month high

Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis to vote, but not along sectarian lines

Headlines like these ought to make it all the easier for Obama to declare victory & get out!
(... tho' I suspect the neocons will insist that this progress proves we have to stay for another 100 years.)

How 'bout if we get everybody to agree, in writing, that "the surge worked"? Would that make Wm. Kristol sufficiently happy?

At least the headline writers are having fun

Colorful, to the point:
Job-killing recession racks up more layoff victims
Brief, memorable:

I double-dog dare ya!

‘Campaign architect’ Karl Rove speaks to students about Gitmo, presidential legacy
Posted January 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm
By Chelsea Kate Isaacs // News Editor
The Miami Hurricane (Student Newspaper of the University of Miami Coral Gables, Coral Gables, FL, since 1929)
Karl Rove, one-time deputy chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, spoke to a jam-packed Storer Auditorium at the University of Miami Thursday afternoon.
“One year from now, Gitmo won’t be closed,” Rove said.

Okay, President Obama: you've been double-dog dared!

... who cares what Rove says??? - I mean, other than the double-dog dare thing.

BUT: this is the crap that Obama must face.
The Roves of the world don't much matter... but the folks who listen to 'em just might!
As with economic stimulus & many other things, President Obama needs to use his bully pulpit effectively to drag the rest of us, kicking & screaming, along with him.

He IS the President.
W talked us into a pointless war.
Surely Obama, with far greater oratorical/rhetorical skills - can convince us that closing Gitmo is THE RIGHT THING TO DO!

Have a nice day.

Blast from the past (my own)

Loyal readers may recall this post:
Friday, January 4, 2008

Trade policy seen key as White House race heats up
By Nick Zieminski, Reuters
Fri Jan 4, 2008


I just checked some recent polls on voter priorities. While it's true that "the economy" and/or "jobs" are among the top 3 issues in all polls as far back as September, it seems a stretch to conclude that "trade policy" per se is on anyone's mind. I suppose you could make the argument that voters who are concerned about the economy and jobs ought to be concerned about trade policy, or could be convinced that trade policy is also important, still... who sees trade policy as "key"????

Reading the article reveals the answer:
Anxiety about the state of the U.S. economy, including a weak housing market and slowing jobs growth -- especially following Friday's anemic employment data -- is likely to influence voters' view of the U.S. role in the global economy, say experts on trade and manufacturing.

Ah! Experts on trade see trade policy as key!

Let's ask some teachers. Then we can write our own article, "Education seen key as White House race heats up."
... or some casino owners... "Gambling seen key as White House race heats up."
... or some accountants... GAAP reform seen key as White House race heats up

This could be fun!

A prediction: Any candidate who starts explaining his/her trade policy will NOT be his/her party's nominee!
[emphasis added]
Does anyone remember any of the candidates - in the primaries or the general - explaining his or her trade policy?

No, I didn't think so.

News? - not surprising. Implication? - I disagree

Guantanamo Case Files in Disarray
Situation Complicates Prison's Closure
By Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 25, 2009
President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Now, I'm not surprised that W's minions maintained "no comprehensive case files" on many Gitmo detainees - this seems in keeping with the overall incompetence & hubris of W's Administration.

What I don't understand is why this "complicates Prison's Closure", or why this is a "set back" to Obama's intention to close Gitmo.
If the files can't be found, there is very clearly no rationale for detaining those so-called 'worst of the worst'.

W screwed up. Big surprise.
Why should 'innocent-until-proven-guilty' folks have to pay for his incompetence???...
(... and, based on what we've learned of evidence that HAS been found, there's every reason to believe that the stuff that's missing is exculpatory!)

W's misguided fanatacism has created far more terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Muslim world than the few hundred poor souls now in Gitmo.
Let 'em go.

It really is time to STOP THE MADNESS!!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winning hearts & minds

U.S. Forces Kill Couple In Raid on Iraqi House
Military Says Man Led Assassin Cell
By Anthony Shadid and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 25, 2009
BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 -- U.S. troops stormed the house of a former army officer Saturday in northern Iraq, killing the man and his wife, wounding their 8-year-old daughter and unleashing anger among residents at tactics they deemed excessive, police said.

Afghan president: US forces killed 16 civilians
By JASON STRAZIUSO and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writers
Sun Jan 25, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai condemned a U.S. operation he said killed 16 Afghan civilians, while hundreds of villagers denounced the American military during an angry demonstration Sunday.

When our tactics result in locals denouncing our presence, it's hard to frame a plausible argument that the tactics are contributing to achieving what ought to be our strategic objectives...
... though I note that we've never really articulated any strategic objectives, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Maybe this oughta be Obama's first task: clearly define our ultimate aims in both ongoing wars.

At least then we'll have some clue about how to measure progress... other than "number of bad guys killed" - which doesn't seem to mean very much. We've killed lots of bad guys. Are we closer to a desired end state for all the killing? Who knows? - We haven't said just what that desired end state is!

Have a nice day.

A Psalm for Wall Street

Do not trust in extortion; in plunder put no empty hope. Though wealth increase, do not set your heart upon it.
[Psalm 62:11]

Though not a believer, I nevertheless find Psalms a wonderful source of wisdom & consolation - for almost any occasion.


Earnings, economy - here comes 'terrible'
The week ahead: Investors gear up for a deluge of weak earnings and the biggest plunge in GDP in 26 years.
By Alexandra Twin, senior writer
Last Updated: January 25, 2009
NEW YORK ( -- Investors this week will face the largest batch of company report cards yet, in what is quickly shaping up to be the worst quarter for corporate profits in a decade.

How long before the talking heads start blaming Obama for this mess???

... and why is this BUSINESS news coming out on Sunday?

My sage advice: hold onto portable tangible assets - you may need 'em for the new barter economy.

On the bright side: so far there's no evidence of inflation - so we're not yet facing 1920s Weimar Republic.
[It'll be interesting to see how the Fed responds if/when inflation does raise its ugly head: raise rates to curb inflation & risk killing the recovery, or keep rates near 0, fueling a Weimar-like fire?]

Sing a song!

Did they ask Greenspan?

Obama Plans Fast Action to Tighten Financial Rules
Published: January 24, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to move quickly to tighten the nation’s financial regulatory system.

Officials say they will make wide-ranging changes, including stricter federal rules for hedge funds, credit rating agencies and mortgage brokers, and greater oversight of the complex financial instruments that contributed to the economic crisis.

Doesn't Obama realize that regulation just interferes with the Market's inherent efficiency?
Has he checked these plans with Greenspan?
Isn't it enough to just promise to give billions of dollars to financial institutions that become too big to fail?

Oh, wait!
That must have been the Ghost of Milton Friedman, temporarily inhabiting my mind.
[I really ought to stop sniffing glue!]

Just curious

What will Nancy Grace do when the Caylee Anthony case is concluded?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

MSNBC probably won't cover this dawn-to-dusk

Elections are test for al-Maliki, Iraq
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jan 24, 2009
BAGHDAD – Iraqis vote Saturday in the first nationwide election in three years, choosing provincial leaders in what amounts to a test of Iraq's stability as the U.S. plans to remove its troops.

I'm betting on big wins for the Sadrists...
... and hoping for something approaching a peaceful day at the polls - "credible election without significant violence", in the words of the above-cited article.

Remember Iraq?

[... Plus another dig at former Texas Governor Bush - from my favorite speech!]
Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to reopen --with new name
24 Jan 2009
Source: Reuters
By Khalid al-Ansary
BAGHDAD, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Iraq will reopen its notorious Abu Ghraib prison next month, but will change the name which became synonomous with abuse under both Saddam Hussein's rule and U.S. occupation, a senior official said on Saturday.
First, note that the U.S. occupation & Saddam's rule are now linked together based on abuse at Abu Ghraib!

Second: Remember W's promise to Iraq?
Bush Announces Five-Step Plan for Democracy, Freedom in Iraq
... America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison.
[W's War College Speech, 25 May 2004]
And what became of that marvelous gift to the Iraqi people?
Report: Empty prison in Iraq a $40M 'failure'
Rather than trying to rehabilitate the failed project, the Iraq Government has decided to simply reopen Abu Ghraib... under a new name.
This plan will probably cost somewhat less than $40Mn.

W: the gift that keeps on giving!

How low can we go?

Downturn Accelerates As It Circles The Globe
Economies Worse Off Than Predicted Just Weeks Ago
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The world economy is deteriorating more quickly than leading economists predicted only weeks ago, with Britain yesterday becoming the latest nation to surprise analysts with the depth of its economic pain.

... and:
Iceland PM is first global political casualty of the crunch
Prime Minister resigns after week of violent protest
By Sophie Morris in Reykjavik
The Independent
Saturday, 24 January 2009
Iceland's embattled Prime Minister Geir Haarde may have become the first political casualty of the global credit crisis, announcing his resignation yesterday, and clearing the way for elections in May.
My advice? Resist the impulse to send your old gold to "Cash for Gold" - you may need it for the new economy.

Gathering up other tangible portable assets may be a good idea, too.
[I'm thinking my G&S tradecard collection may come in handy in the new barter economy!]

Just a little fun: 'transition' - behind the scenes

Photo taken moments before Vice President Cheney struck Vice President Elect Biden with his cane three times in cadence with the words, "Shut the f*#k up."

real news!

Newspaper claims suspect transformed into a goat
Fri Jan 23
LAGOS, Nigeria – One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft. In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a Mazda car two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Will charges be brought?

Amid all the headlines surrounding Obama's swift action to un-do W, here's a little-trumpeted piece regarding KBR in Iraq:
Army: Negligence caused GI's death
By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press
22 Jan 2009
WASHINGTON – An Army investigation called the electrocution death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq a "negligent homicide" caused by military contractor KBR Inc. and two of its supervisors, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.
I'm not a lawyer, but "negligent homicide" sounds like a genuine criminal act.
Will KBR or any of its employees be charged? Prosecuted??

In addition to "Obama reverses W's policies on XYZ", I'm hoping to see many, many more smaller news item like the one above:
Stories of small victories over the corrupt practices of W's contractors.
Perhaps stories of civil breach-of-contract suits brought against contractors to recover some of the billions of dollars wasted in Iraq?

Have a nice day.

what passes for 'news'

Prerecorded music at inauguration causes flap

Remember the violin, cello, clarinet & piano quartet at the Inauguration?
Turns out that - because the piano couldn't stay in tune after prolonged exposure to low temps - the music piped to the crowd was recorded, with the musicians really playing, but not miked.

This 'scandal' has captured the imagination of the cable news talking heads.
It was mentioned briefly yesterday.
Today? I noted at least 4 'news' programs that devoted significant time to 'analyzing' the 'scandal'.
This is journalism???

And we wonder why the media covered the build-up to Iraq so poorly?

High school career days (redux): a humorous personal tale

One of my stat colleagues & I used to make routine visits to 'high school career days' to help promote math/science education.

I later encountered a funeral director who also participated in these affairs.
We compared notes.

Turns out, on day 1 of 'career days', if a student hadn't signed up for any of the offerings, he was sent to the funeral director.
On day 2, if a student hadn't signed up for any of the offerings, he was sent to the statisticians.

There you have it: if you're too bored to make your own choice you get Death & Statistics!

High school economics & career days

In a previous life I participated as a presenter at several high school days - letting kids know what careers in math & stat might be like.

I recall my own 'career day' experience in 9th grade. Somehow this ended up part of our English curriculum: research a career, write about it, and deliver a brief speech about it to the class.

If memory serves, most of my classmates and I chose from among a fairly restricted list of possibilities.
No, there was no formal "list" from which to choose - it's just that none of us really knew what was out there, so all settled on a very small subset of careers (e.g., teacher, biochemist).

The brief note about the oxymoronic "decoupled economy" below suggests a tactic that allows students to both get a better understanding of economics and help 'em think seriously about career options.

Here's a starting point:
Verdana is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft Corporation.
That's right: someone designed the Verbana font!

Here's where it goes:
"Pick up your textbook.

"Look at the cover. Someone - a graphic artist - designed that cover.

"What's the cover made of? (likely cardboard & cloth).

"Where'd the cardboard come from? - it's a paper product - likely derived from wood pulp. Where'd the cardboard come from? Who was involved in making it. (loggers, truck drivers, chemists, industrial line workers... the list goes on & on & on).

"Let's focus on the loggers. How'd they get to the forest? What tools did they use to cut down the tree? How'd they get the tree from the forest to some intermediate shipping point? Who made the tools? Where'd the metal come from? - miners!"
You get the idea.

Take a simple everyday object - a textbook, a pencil, a chair - and trace its origins. Who were all the people involved in getting that simple object into your hands? (... salesmen, accountants, artists, scientists, technicians, artists, miners, ... and who fed all these people? - farmers, ranchers, butchers, ... and where'd they all live? in houses? who built the houses? carpenters, masons, cabinet-makers, plumbers, electricians... )

Pretty soon you've opened up a world of possibilities - not just 'teacher', 'scientist', 'veterinarian'...
At the same time, you've provided an introduction to fundamental economics: who pays for all this? How are prices set? Where's the money come from?

Just an idea.

Uh-oh! (again)

Samsung Electronics reports first quarterly loss
By KELLY OLSEN, AP Business Writer
22 Jan 2009
SEOUL, South Korea – Samsung Electronics, the world's largest manufacturer of flat screen televisions, memory chips and liquid crystal displays, posted its first ever quarterly loss Friday as the global economic slump hit prices and demand for mainstay products.
[emphasis added]

The economic malaise seems not to be limited to the U.S.
What happened to the "decoupled" global economy?
... Oh, yeah - that was another conservative myth... along with "self-regulation".

Add "decoupled global economy" to the list of economic/financial oxymorons.

Have a nice day.

I guess they don't watch Lou Dobbs

Nashville voters reject 'English First' proposal
22 Jan 2009
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville voters rejected a proposal on Thursday that would have made it the largest U.S. city to require that all government business be done in English.

It wasn't even close: 57% to 43%.

Hurray for Nashville!
(Who'd a thunk?... oops - there goes my anti-Bible-Belt prejudice again!)

A better "to-do" list for our new President

We the people of the United States, in order to

form a more perfect union,
establish justice,
insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That's it.
Six items:
1) form a more perfect union,
2) establish justice,
3) insure domestic tranquility,
4) provide for the common defense,
5) promote the general welfare,
6) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
That's his problem.

Message from long-time friend & sometime correspondent

I just received this email from an old Army buddy:
Subject: My message to the new President

Because I can.

My message to the new President:

"I'm a 56 year old retired Air Force major and a current DOD civilian. (NSPS sucks, by the way.) I voted for you because you appear to be a very bright, disciplined and moral man of action. I believe that only the exceptional person can resist the arrogance of power. I hope that person is you. All I ask of you is that you do your absolute best to make America the envy of the world. Yeah, that's all. Oh . . . and try not to break anything."
Not too much to ask, is it?

Have a nice day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I was being sarcastic - honest!

My previous blog ("al Qaeda in Albuquerque" - entire content attached to this blog) was named to tweak W. I somewhat sarcastically hoped that the name would compel some nameless NSA functionary to keep tabs on me, and keep that same nameless functionary from harassing one of my likewise innocent fellow citizens.

Turns out I might not have been too far off.
Former NSA analyst Russell Tice has been revealing to Keith Olbermann on Countdown that NSA really has been intercepting/analyzing private phone, email, computer, fax, credit card, etc., transactions of just regular Americans.

I need to spend some time getting thoughts in order - probably for a later post.
But - my initial response to this news is to question the very idea of government secrecy & classification.
The Declaration speaks of Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.
In modern parlance, "consent" implies informed consent.
Government secrecy and classification precludes us granting our informed consent to our Government.

In recent years the amount of stuff formally "classified" seems to have mushroomed (though who can really know???).

Initial response: start from scratch.
Everything now "classified" to be made public record, now, today, immediately.
What really needs to be kept secret (e.g., identities of spies, new methods, new technologies) to be justified on a case-by-case basis.

As stated above - I need to reflect on this, get my thoughts together... channel my visceral mistrust of Government.

Till later.

Does anyone at State know what this means?

Clinton vows robust diplomacy as State Dept chief

No - I'm not asking if anyone at State knows the specifics of SecState Clinton's policies...
I'm asking: Is anyone left who knows the dictionary definition of "diplomacy"???

Just in case, and as a public service:
Main Entry: di·plo·ma·cy
1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility
[Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary]
... and since the definition includes the word "negotiations", here's more help for staffers at State:
Main Entry: ne·go·ti·a·tion
: the action or process of negotiating or being negotiated

Main Entry: ne·go·ti·ate
Inflected Form(s): ne·go·ti·at·ed; ne·go·ti·at·ing
intransitive verb
: to confer with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter
transitive verb
1 a: to deal with (some matter or affair that requires ability for its successful handling) : manage b: to arrange for or bring about through conference, discussion, and compromise
... and it looks like one more helpful hint is needed:
Main Entry: com·pro·mise
1 a: settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions
That bit about "mutual concessions" is likely to confuse more than a few folks at State, but I'll trust 'em to look it up themselves.

The stated goal of compromise, "settlement of differences", may take more than a visit to a dictionary. Perhaps a series of short-courses is in order.
I'd be happy to draft the curriculum.

Have a nice day.


Microsoft stuns with profit miss, job cuts
By Franklin Paul and Bill Rigby
22 Jan 2009
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp stunned Wall Street with disappointing results that included plans to slash up to 5,000 jobs and a warning that profit and revenue will almost certainly drop over the next two quarters.

Looks like no one is immune from the W virus.

In my former job I never ceased to be amazed that the "best and the brightest" in the company insisted that continued growth was inevitable - and not just growth, but exponential growth.
What was particularly frustrating to me was that business planning was predicated on this assumption of "growth today, growth tomorrow, growth forever."
I got to participate in "very long-range" planning exercises, and would occasionally comment that, "There's always the possibility the company won't exist by the end of this horizon (~10 yrs out)."
This elicited a few chuckles; folks patted my head affectionately, then demanded that I revise my models to reflect more "realistic" (i.e., exponential) growth.


Deep Thought

"Things would be so different if they were not as they are."
[Anna Russell, "How to write your own Gilbert & Sullivan operetta"]

no overseas travel contemplated...

no, not me: w, cheney, rumsfeld!
From Think Progress:
U.N. special rapporteur on torture calls on U.S. to prosecute Bush and Rumsfeld.
In remarks that aired on German television last night, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, urged the U.S. to pursue former President George W. Bush and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on charges that they authorized torture and other harsh interrogation techniques:
Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.

“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Indeed, a bipartisan Senate report released last month found that Rumsfeld “bore major responsibility” for abuses committed at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other military detention centers. Just last week, a Bush administration official overseeing Gitmo trials said Rumsfeld approved the torture of one particular detainee. Bush himself said last year that he was aware of his advisers’ discussions on torture and recently admitted that he personally authorized waterboarding Kalid Sheik Muhammad.

[emphasis in original]
Won't our European friends be legally obligated to arrest W, Cheney, or Rumsfeld if any of 'em set foot on EU soil?

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack HUSSEIN Obama

My hope is that the media refer to our President as
Barack HUSSEIN Obama (without the "all caps").

... NOT to emphasize the exotic name, but to get us used to it.

We've become quite comfortable with "Muhammad Ali", "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar", and "Pago Togafau" in the world of sports.
There's no reason we can't accept Barack Hussein Obama as a fully American name.

Have a nice day.

C&L Bounce

Mike of "Mike's Blog Round-up" over at Crooks and Liars was kind enough to link to my post,
Obama's First Inaugural (revisited),
today - under the heading INAUGURATION QUICK HITS ("Founding Documents").

As always, this produced a significant bump in my readership - up to 182 for the day!... Tho' none of my visitors left a comment!

Thanks, Mike!

Starting my wish list

Some things I hope Obama does (in no particular order):
- kill missile defense program
- revisit Pentagon programs overall - let's not spend $600Bn/year for $200Bn/year "defense" value
- close Gitmo
- end warrantless wiretapping
- revisit FISA - weaken & make more transparent the FISA court; I'm less than happy that a secret star-chamber court even exists!!!
- repeal the so-called Patriot Act
- declare victory in Iraq (Wm. Kristol has!) and get out
- strengthen regulation of financial markets

I'm sure there's more to do, and I'm not sure that all items on this list are a top priority... but as noted below: the way to get good ideas is to generate lots of ideas & toss out the bad ones.

... and just for fun: what would it take to convince Obama to laugh out loud every time anyone suggests the sufficiency of market self-regulation?

Because the current approach is working so well...

Mitchell As Envoy Could Split Center
by James D. Besser
Washington Correspondent, The Jewish Week
21 Jan 2009
The expected appointment of a special envoy to breathe new life into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could split the pro-Israel center while pleasing the Jewish left and outraging the right. The schism could be particularly deep if, as was widely reported this week, President Barack Obama appoints former Sen. George Mitchell to the job.

Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administration — Mitchell’s reputation as an honest broker — could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support."

[emphasis added]

Yes - and this historical & current support has been wildly successful in dealing with the MidEast conflict!!!

Recall a popular definition of insanity:
Do the same thing over & over and expect different results.
Maybe it's time to try something different - like, say, a balanced, even-handed approach!

(I thought I was through saying this):
Stop the madness!

a first step toward ending our shame

Gitmo war crimes court halted at Obama request

The more we learn about the so-called "evidence" used to justify the detentions, the more we learn about the evidentiary rules used to "try" the detainees, the more Gitmo cries for closure.

No, I don't know the "right" way to disposition the remaining detainees, but keeping 'em locked up in legal limbo is wrong.

The sooner President Obama closes this disgrace, the better.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Creativity 101 - a challenge

There's a good chance I'll devote more than a few posts to economics. This in spite of the fact that what I know about economics can be written in big block letters on a postage stamp.
(I did take a one-year "econ 101" class in college... 35 years ago... and I took it 'pass/fail' [I passed].)

Acknowledging my basic ignorance, this post will take a different tack, and invoke not Economics 101 but Creativity 101.

Many years ago I attended a short-course on "creativity". I believe it was sponsored by a local chapter of what was then the American Society for Quality Control (now the American Society for Quality).
I remember exactly one lesson from this short-course:
The trick to generating good ideas is to generate a lot of ideas, then toss out the bad ones.
It's easier said than done.

Anyway - here's the challenge.
It seems clear that no one knows how to right our economy.
Lots of proposals have been put forth by the so-called experts - all of them based (I hope!) on some at least semi-plausible model.
Trouble is, there isn't any one right model - if there were, economics would resemble physics more than magic.

How to generate lots of ideas?
Ask a bunch of folks to generate lots of ideas!

So - if you've brilliant ideas for fixing the current economic mess, send 'em in!
Send 'em to your Congressional delegation - your Congressman and your Senators. (It wouldn't hurt to send 'em to President Obama & to his economic team, too!)

The only rule: no idea is too weird.
(The hard part of "generate a lot of ideas, then toss out the bad ones" is generating LOTS OF IDEAS. Folks - all of us - tend to self-censor way too much!)

Next time you're on lunch break, jot down an idea or two.
Waiting in dentist office? Jot down an idea or two.
Nothing on TV? Jot down an idea or two.

Collect 'em.
Send 'em in.
(Reminder: NOT TO ME!!!)

Encourage your friends to do the same.

It might help to provide some rationale for each idea - what's your model? ... but if you can't articulate your model, that's okay:
Send in your ideas!

Can't hurt.
Might help.
Costs very little.

Obama's First Inaugural (revisited)

Obama stated that, "... we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents."

Which of our founding documents informed Obama's Inaugural Address?

Only two texts were cited explicitly:
The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, 13:11 ["... set aside childish things"]
Thomas Paine's The American Crisis ["Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).]"
Tho' Paine's pamphlet could be considered a "founding document", to do so is a stretch. Few would argue that St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is one of our founding documents.

The standard list of "founding documents" is short: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
A third document, much later than these two, frequently informs our understanding of our country: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Obama references the Declaration directly:
"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
which paraphrases the Declaration's assertion that
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
He alludes to the Constitution:
"Our founding fathers ... faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations."
BUT... he quotes only the Preamble, and that only twice, referencing "we the people, and "common defense".

Obama's mention of the "rights of man" is somewhat ambiguous - it could plausibly reference either another Paine pamphlet (The Rights of Man, 1791), or the Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789 - a French Revolutionary document.
Given that Obama elsewhere quotes Paine's American Crisis, the Paine pamphlet seems the likely target of Obama's reference - and could more legitimately be considered a (minor) "founding document".

Obama once obliquely references Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, when he speaks of
"... the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
That rhetorical flourish, "their full measure of happiness," is reminiscent of Lincoln:
"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people... by the people... for the people... shall not perish from the earth."
I suggest that Obama's debt to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address goes beyond this brief rhetorical flourish.

Indeed - reading Obama's First Inaugural and then reading Lincoln's above-cited passage suggests that it is Lincoln's sentiment that Obama tried to capture throughout his Address:
"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work..."
Does anyone else see this?

Out-of-season, pointless fun (no politics!)

For the past few years I have compiled opening-night souvenir booklets for several shows - both shows in which I've performed, and shows which I have supported.
For Musical Theatre Southwest's 2008 Christmas production, Scrooge - the Musical, I continued this tradition.
My single most fun discovery included in the Scrooge memento booklet was an ultra-condensed version of A Christmas Carol. Here 'tis:
Ebenezer Scrooge: Bah, humbug. You'll work thirty-eight hours on Christmas Day, keep the heat at five degrees, and like it.

Ghost of Jacob Marley: Ebenezer Scrooge, three ghosts of Christmas will come and tell you you're mean.

Three Ghosts of Christmas: You're mean.

Ebenezer Scrooge: At last, I have seen the light. Let's dance in the streets. Have some money.

The End
As advertised: out-of-season, pointless fun.

Obama's First Inaugural

Lots of folks much better versed in politics, history, and rhetoric will be commenting on Obama's First Inaugural Address.
That won't stop me from offering my perspective.

Pre-Inaugural commentary from the elder Obama daughter, Malia:
"First African American president -- it better be good."
No pressure, Mr. President!

Length: just under 2400 words (2396) - putting it at about the 66th-%-ile (eye-ball estimate: 37 of 56 Inaugurals have come in at 2400 words or fewer).
[Length in Words of Inaugural Addresses (chart)]

First impression: Obama did not achieve the soaring rhetoric of Lincoln's Second, FDR's First, or Kennedy's only.
Nothing approaching, "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right",
"the only thing we have to fear is fear itself",
"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country".

That said, it seemed a well-crafted speech, modeled more-or-less on FDR's First, which seems appropriate given the challenges facing Obama.

What was not said: Obama did not directly invoke MLK. Rather, he personalized King's dream:
"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across the magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."
I found this more powerful than any platitudinous reference to MLK could have been.

There were moments in which I felt uncomfortable - feeling sorry for former Texas Governor George W. Bush, as Obama none-too-subtly lambasted W's policies:
"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
"Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."

[Text of President Barack Obama's inaugural address
Each of these is a direct refutation of W's policies.

Finally, above I suggested that Obama seems to have modeled his First Inaugural on FDR's. Here are a few excerpts from FDR's that Obama's mirrors:
FDR: This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
[Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address]

Obama: Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

FDR: And yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.

Obama: We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.

FDR: Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation is asking for action, and action now.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. ... but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing great -- greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our great natural resources.

Obama: For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.

FDR: In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor: the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others; the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

Obama: And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
These parallels seem more than coincidental.

An Inaugural for the Ages?
Maybe not.
An Inaugural for today? Yes - I think so.

Bye-bye W... + a final concession

First: My Grand Conspiracy Theory was delusional. There was no last-minute national emergency compelling the declaration of martial law, the indefinite adjournment of Congress, and the installation of W as permanent protector.
I suppose there is some chance that we'll someday read a news article about W's last days to the effect that, "W dissed Cheney; prohibited plot to stay in power."... but I doubt it.

Second: I've one lingering anti-W image, based on the movie Angels with Dirty Faces. In the film, the gangster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) goes to the electric chair pleading cowardly for his life. This was done at the request of his childhood friend, Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien) - to help Father Connelly persuade his young charges that the gangster was really a coward, not worthy of their respect.
I've been picturing W as the pleading Rocky - begging to be allowed to stay.

Surprisingly, from all accounts, W has been exceptionally gracious in his final months, cooperating with Obama, and being genuinely helpful.
Maybe this IS similar to Rocky's change of heart at the end - doing what he can to ensure a positive legacy.

Finally - in future posts I'll do my very best to remember to refer to W as, "former Texas Governor"... NOT as "former-" or "ex-" president. This is in keeping with Ted Rall's long-ago suggestion to erase the W Administration from our history.

Have a nice day.

Idle observation

My wife & I watched the swearing-in & speech together, and were awed by the size of the crowd on the Mall.

She to me: "I've never watched one of these before. Have you?"
Me: "No."

I sure hope Obama comes close to living up to his billing.

Join hands and sing ...

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

"... value for money"

If your master is surly, from getting up early
(And tempers are short in the morning),
An inopportune joke is enough to provoke
Him to give you, at once, a month's warning.
Then if you refrain, he is at you again,
For he likes to get value for money:
He'll ask then and there, with an insolent stare,
'If you know that you're paid to be funny?'

[Yeomen of the Guard, Gilbert & Sullivan]

We've tossed $350Bn of $700Bn "bailout" package to the banks, insurers, and brokerage firms... Best as I can tell, so far without effect on the larger economy.

Will Obama's regime figure a way to get us "value for money"???

!!** Welcome to Private Buffoon **!!

Oh! a private buffoon is a light-hearted loon,
If you listen to popular rumour;
From the morn to the night he's so joyous and bright,
And he bubbles with wit and good humour!
He's so quaint and so terse, both in prose and in verse;
Yet though people forgive his transgression,
There are one or two rules that all family fools
Must observe, if they love their profession.

[Yeomen of the Guard, Gilbert & Sullivan]

Note 1: Private Buffoon is simply a continuation of previous blog, al Qaeda in Albuquerque, whose somewhat provocative name was chosen to tweak W and his minions. Since they're no longer officially on the scene, the point of the name is lost.
Nevertheless, to help me maintain some sense of continuity, I've imported all previous AQA posts.

Note 2: the new blog also provides me a natural opportunity to post a new picture of myself - as The Ghost of Jacob Marley from a recent production of Scrooge - the Musical.

The obtrusive "!!** ... **!!" in the heading of this post is intended to demarcate Private Buffoon from AQA:
de·mar·cate (d-märkt, dmär-kt)
tr.v. de·mar·cat·ed, de·mar·cat·ing, de·mar·cates
1. To set the boundaries of; delimit.
2. To separate clearly as if by boundaries; distinguish: demarcate categories

[The Free Dictionary by Farlex]
Welcome to all.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Countdown clock at 0 days 0 hours 0 minutes 00.0 sec...

... I think it's off by about 12 hours!

With many of my fellow citizens, I'll be watching PRESIDENT Obama take the oath of office tomorrow (10 a.m. local time).

Here 'tis:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
[U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1]
Note: the "so help me God" bit was added by Washington, setting a so-far unbroken precedent.

Pursuing W

Yes - it would be easier to forget him & move on.

BUT the damage he has done cannot be set right without a full accounting.

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., said it well:
"I understand that many feel we should just move on. They worry that addressing these actions by the Bush administration will divert precious energy from the serious challenges facing our nation. I understand the power of that impulse. Indeed, I want to move on as well -- there are so many things that I would rather work on than further review of Bush's presidency. But in my view it would not be responsible to start our journey forward without first knowing exactly where we are.

"We cannot rebuild the appropriate balance between the branches of government without fully understanding how that relationship has been distorted. Likewise, we cannot set an appropriate baseline for future presidential conduct without documenting and correcting the presidential excesses that have just occurred."

[Why We Have to Look Back, WaPo, 16 Jan 2009]
One of my correspondents just sent me an email stating that he'd just sent a note to his Representative & Senators urging them to support Rep. Conyers's initiative.

I recall a perhaps apocryphal FDR anecdote:
FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.
[Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Man of the Century, an address by William J. vanden Heuvel to the Monthly Meeting of The Century Association, 4 Apr 2002; emphasis added]
President Obama has indicated a reluctance to drag the nation through what would almost certainly be an ugly investigation.
Perhaps if he believed he had been forced to do it - forced by us, his constituents - he would be less reluctant.

Largely plagiarized from my correspondent's email, here's the letter I just sent Rep. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Tom Udall, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman:
I fully agree with Rep. John Conyers's call for a full and complete investigation of Bush Administration misconduct ("Why We Have to Look Back", John Conyers Jr., Washington Post, 16 Jan 2009;

We cannot just forget about it & move forward. We cannot just say mistakes were made. Recall George Santayana's quote, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." No one should be above the law. Especially the President of the United States and his administration.

Please initiate or support a full investigation of President Bush's actions as recommended by Rep. Conyers.
And please urge President Obama to allow the Department of Justice to pursue this investigation wherever it may lead.

Thank you.
For those of you in NM1, here's contact info:
Senator Jeff Bingaman
(202) 224-5521

Senator Tom Udall
(202) 224-6621

Congressman Martin Heinrich
1505 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-6316
[email contact form at:]
Have a nice day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

MLK Day plans: doing my part

I've been informed that Monday is MLK Day.
I'll commemorate it as W's LAST DAY - time to clean house.

Though it's not a particularly public-spirited gesture, I think I'll take the "clean house" bit literally, and clean the house.
The symbolism is worth it.

Have a nice day.

On second thought...

... I may ask for Treasury to take over some "troubled assets".

Contest: can any of my readers suggest a multi-word, multi-syllabic, financial-instrument-sounding name for a PowerBall ticket? Using Enron-esque accounting I can value it at $20Mn - which value I honestly believe to be "impaired". If Treasury could take it off my hands at 10% of valuation, I'd be really happy.

Sing a song.

Just for fun...

... I hit the U.S. Treasury's TARP website today, hoping to find some way to apply for TARP funds... without being indicted for fraud.

It's not clear that this is possible - all the posted deadlines have passed.
Maybe with the new funds (the next $350Bn) now available there'll be a window of opportunity. I'll visit Treasury again after the Inauguration.

My plan is simple: represent my current situation honestly. Use my SSN whenever magic ID numbers are sought. It'd be nice if I could come up with multi-syllabic, multi-word, bureaucratic-sounding synonym for "retired statistician & homeowner" as the name of my "privately held institution".
I'd be asking for direct infusion of $$$, not to unload "troubled assets".
I'd be more than happy to guarantee that funds would NOT be used to acquire other entities, to pay executive bonuses, or to fund extravagant weekend team-building exercises.

Have a nice day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

US Airways Flight 1549: Good news

Not only did 150 + 5 crew walk off the plane thanks to expert response of captain & crew, BUT...

Nobody paid much attention to W's farewell address: all news focused on the 'miraculous' ditching of Flight 1549!

(... AND: W did NOT appear on the scene with bullhorn!!!)

W's farewell speech

Sorry - I didn't watch it.
Did he use complete sentences?

Me? I'll be lunching with former colleague on Tues to celebrate, in his words, "the screen door hitting W’s ass on his way out."

I'll wait till Obama is formally sworn in to celebrate - I'm still waiting for a surprise that may keep W around longer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our MBA President at work

[As previously noted, I'm going to miss that header - might as well use it frequently while I still can!]

Quick tapping of unspent $350 billion in works
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Jan 11, 2009
WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic leaders said a vote could come as early as this week on providing a second $350 billion for the financial industry, after assurances Sunday by President-elect Barack Obama and one of his top economic advisers that the money would be better monitored and spent.

Confession: My first read of this was that W was asking for the cash to spend in his final week in office.

... BUT- "Our MBA President at work" is still an okay header.
On Friday, 9 Jan 2009, the Congressional Oversight Panel published its second report on TARP.
The conclusions?
Shortened, paraphrased: Paulson's Treasury hasn't a clue!

A previous post noted Paulson's take on the situation:
"There is no playbook for responding to turmoil we have never faced," Paulson said in prepared remarks before the House Financial Services Committee.
This same previous post took the liberty of suggesting to SecTreas Paulson just what his job ought to be:
SecTreas Paulson, not that it's my place to tell you your job, but: isn't it a reasonable expectation that your top priority over the past 2 months ought to have been drafting a playbook???
This calls to mind a time-worn biz adage: "If there’s no time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do things over?"
So far I've seen no evidence that he's taken my advice!

Meanwhile, my email inbox features this purportedly true account:
The Mustang Ranch and $750 billion bail-out.

Back in 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it.

They failed and it closed. Now, we are trusting the economy of our country and 850+ Billion Dollars to a pack of nit-wits who couldn't make money running a whorehouse and selling booze. Now if that don't make you nervous, what does???
Note: this was under Bush 41 - like father, like son.
[FYI: previous post noted that W has presided over worst economic fiasco in modern U.S. history. The linked article notes that income growth showed similar stagnation only under Bush 41!... if anyone's interested, I've got nice Excel graphs that confirm this contention!]

Meanwhile, David Brooks insists that there's no evidence supporting a belief that fiscal stimulus works - pretty much ignoring the New Deal & JFK's response to 1960 recession.
"The Keynesian policies enacted under the Kennedy administra­tion in the early 1960s had all the hallmarks of a successful economic experiment."
[Great Experiments in American Economic Policy: From Kennedy to Reagan]
In Brooks's world, the only reason we're talking fiscal policy is because we've run out of monetary policy options.

It's true that we've run out of monetary policy options - but that doesn't erase at least two very real examples of Keynesian fiscal policy success!

Have a nice day.

Our MBA President at work

I'm going to miss being able to use that header!... Meanwhile:
Economy Made Few Gains in Bush Years
Eight-Year Period Is Weakest in Decades
By Neil Irwin and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 12, 2009
President Bush has presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades, according to an analysis of key data, and economists across the ideological spectrum increasingly view his two terms as a time of little progress on the nation's thorniest fiscal challenges.
Who'd a thunk?

Thankfully, this long national nightmare is ending soon.
[See Countdown Clock to the left!]

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Galileo, redux

In the latter half of the 20th century, historians of science questioned whether, in fact, Galileo had carried out the experiments he cited as evidence for his theories of falling bodies.
This perhaps healthy skepticism was put to rest with the discovery of "a manuscript page obviously containing experimentat data."

Galileo's own description suggests that he used both his pulse and a clepsydra (water-clock) to measure time:
"... We repeated this experiment more than once in order to measure the time with an accuracy such that the deviation between two observations never exceeded one-tenth of a pulse-beat...
"For the measurement of time, we employed a large vessel of water placed in an elevated position; to the bottom of this vessel was soldered a pipe of small diameter giving a thin jet of water which we collected in a small glass during the dime of each descent, wheter for the whole length of the channel or for part of its length; the water thus collected was weighed, after each descent, on a very accurate balance; the differences and ratios of these weights gave us the differences and ratios of the times, and this with such accuracy that although the operation was repeated many, many times, there was no appreciable discrepancy in the results."
That seems to settle the matter: Galileo used a water-clock.

But wait! Modern attempts to replicate Galileo's results have been unsuccessful - the accuracy he asserts cannot be replicated. Now - it could be that the moderns are less adept at experiment than was Galileo. This is not altogether improbable - as noted previously, Galileo is the experimental physicist par excellence.
[For what it's worth: Galileo mentions repeating his experiments "a full hundred times". If he averaged the results of these hundred trials, his asserted accuracy could easily have been attained. Indeed - as a professional statistician, I rather like this explanation. Galileo himself, however, makes no mention of averaging, and seems to suggest that each individual reading met his standard for reliabilty/accuracy.]

Nevertheless, a second, plausible method for determining the inverses of the required time ratios has been proposed (... by these same moderns who failed to reproduce Galileo's water-clock accuracy!). That is, a method whereby only distances need be measured directly, the time intervals being held constant.

I happen to find the alternative plausible.

Think: train on track, or car on segmented pavement - click-clack, click-clack... if traveling at constant velocity, the click-clack providing a constant beat.

Suppose that moveable 'frets' could be introduced into Galileo's inclined plane - such frets sufficiently small as to not significantly impede the descent of the marble... say, thin threads strung across the track. By adjusting these frets so that, to the human ear, the resulting click-clacks were equally spaced in time, Galileo could easily measure the distances between successive click/clacks to arrive at his laws of falling bodies - essentially holding time constant.

The moderns used this technique to achieve Galileo's stated accuracy. They further note that Galileo, coming from a family of musicians, "may have used rhythms in order to measure very short time intervals."

For a much fuller discussion (with photos, footnotes, and all that jazz), see Reconstructing Galileo’s Inclined Plane Experiments for
Teaching Purposes

Me - I like the rhythm method!