A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

If Harry Reid Is A Liar For Speculating About Romneys Tax Returns….

by evanmcmurry

Pierce, as usual, with a great grab. If Harry Reid, is a “dirty liar” for his claim that Romney paid no taxes during the years for which he won’t release tax returns, what does that make Romney-defender Jonathan Karl?

Harry Reid comes to the floor of the Senate and makes this outrageous charge that has absolutely no evidence — I mean, Mitt Romney paid $3.1 million to the IRS in the one tax return that we’ve seen so far. He paid taxes. (Ed. Note: Objection. Relevance. The return Romney has released are not the issue here.) It’s a completely false charge. (Ed. Note: You don’t know that any more than Reid does because we don’t have the returns.) [Emphasis Pierce’s]

Uh…damn right? Karl knows as much as Reid what’s in those returns. Which makes Karl a dirty liar, too. And everybody who’s defending Romney. And everybody who’s accusing him. And everybody in between. Everybody’s speculating until Romney releases his returns. Call me meshuggah, but isn’t that exactly Harry Reid’s point?

Obama To Fake Own Assassination Because He’s Only Ahead In The Polls

by evanmcmurry

I can handle a lot of nonsense, but I just can’t process TN state Rep Kelly Keisling’s theory, emailed to his constituents last week, that Obama’s going to fake his own assassination attempt to prevent the 2012 election, create “civil unrest,” and use it as excuse to institute martial law*. I mean, anybody who knows anything knows Obama’s going to throw the 2012 election to come back in 2016 as Gay Grover Cleveland. Let’s keep our conspiracy theories in the realm of the reasonable, please.

* Keisling includes the Department of Homeland Security in Obama’s plot. Remember the good old days, when that delightful piece of federal government expansion was part of Bush’s plots?

Good News, Red Sox Fans: Carl Crawford Is No Longer Indicative Of The Apocalypse

by evanmcmurry

Now that $142 million man Carl Crawford—whose name, up through last week, was being ubiquitously paired with words like “mess,” “fiasco,” and “disaster”—is hitting .355/.375/.710/1.085 with eight runs and nine RBI in the past few games, he no longer statistically correlates to the end of the world:

Via Google Trends, red is “apocalypse,” blue is “Carl Crawford.” You can clearly see Carl break away in the end there.

Twitter agrees:

It’s official: Carl, you’re out of the doghouse. Now don’t fuck it up.

Romney’s magical jobs forecast

by pdxblake

Mitt Romney has a curious grasp on the facts, depending on what will help his chances more of being elected.  So it was not too surprising that his initial forecast for employment growth was a laughably implausible 500,000 per month.

He has since ditched this estimate for a slightly less (but still) laughable estimate of 250,000 jobs per month (ht Menzie Chinn).  This estimate is just that, an estimate, and it appears to have been pulled out of thin air based only on extrapolations from previous recession recoveries.

Source: EconBrowser

As Menzie Chinn helpfully reminds, it is higher than the average job creation over the last two presidential administrations (Clinton 196,700 per month, Bush 91,700 per month).  Without an underlying economic model to back up Romney’s figures, there is no reason why it should even be taken seriously since there are few reasons why Romney’s policies would help the economy.  Romney’s policies may even lead to another recession, which would reverse the progress made in the last 3 years.

If the last four years have shown anything, the debate on economics has moved far away from the knowledge gained over the past century and the same old debates come around over and over.  With Romney’s employment projections and debates over his budget’s impossibility for deficit reduction and tax reductions, it seems that we have returned to debating the failed economic policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Great Gatsby Release Date Pushed Back Due To Problems With Realism

by evanmcmurry

The release date of Baz Luhrman’s new version of The Great Gatsby has been pushed back to summer 2013 (~six months) to “give director Baz Luhrman more time to finish extensive 3D effects and a planned all-star soundtrack.” Cuz if it’s one movie that needed to be in 3-D…

Actually, Luhrman’s constant tinkering is somewhat in keeping with the spirit of Fitzgerald. F. Scott either famously or apocryphally had to be pulled away from the printing of the book by editor Maxwell Perkins while trying to make even more last minute changes to the manuscript as it was being printed. Supposedly, Perkins led him out of the printshop by promising him a drink down the street, which, not surprisingly, worked.

That having been said, Fitzgerald, for all the changes he wanted to make, was eventually stopped. Sounds like Luhrman could use a Perkins of his own.

By the by, Luhrman, here’s how to do 3-D without effects:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it-indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.

The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise-she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression-then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.

Like it’s happening in front of you, isn’t it?

Unless Abortion Violates Your Unborn Baby’s Second Amendment Rights…

by evanmcmurry

Medicaid-defrauder and deveined gulf shrimp Rick Scott, fresh from pulling out voluntarily removing America’s Wang from all non-mandatory provisions of the Affordable Care Act, suddenly cares about the sick people of his state again, provided they’re packing heat:

The 2011 “Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act”—one of a series of NRA-backed, aggressive pro-gun laws passed by Florida’s conservative Legislature in recent years—aims at keeping physicians from gathering information on patients’ weapons while discussing their health risk factors. (Decades of studies have shown that even law-abiding, responsible gun owners and their families have higher risks of death by gunshot when they keep a firearm in the home.)

“Patients don’t like being interrogated about whether or not they own guns when they take their child with a sore throat to a pediatrician, nor do they like being interrogated in an emergency room when their Little Leaguer broke his leg sliding into first base,” the NRA’s gun for hire in Florida, longtime firearms lobbyist Marion Hammer, told the Tampa Tribune last fall.

Scott and co. are right: patients don’t like being forced to endure ideologically-based, medically gratuitous obstacles to their health care. Now that we’re clear on that, I’m sure Scott’s conservative governor brosephs will be vetoing certain legislation immediately. (via Wonkette)

Romney’s Tax Plan Is Now The Schrödinger’s Cat Of Policy Proposals

by evanmcmurry

Mitt Romney’s tax plan has officially reached Schrödinger’s cat stage. It simultaneously decreases the deficit and lowers everybody’s taxes—provided, of course, you don’t actually lift the lid and look inside.

So long as the cat is both dead and alive, the Washington Examiner can get away with publishing nonsense like this, attacking Obama’s characterization of Romney’s tax plan as taking from the poor to give to the rich:

[Obama’s] claim is based on a report from the Tax Policy Center, even though the authors — who include one former Obama aide and a former aide to President George H.W. Bush — preface their study by saying, “We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly, as certain components of his plan are not specified in sufficient detail, nor do we make assumptions regarding what those components might be.”

See? How can Obama criticize Romney’s tax plan when he doesn’t even know what it is, because Romney hasn’t told anybody? It may seem impossible for Romney’s plan to both drop the deficit while cutting taxes across the board by 20%, but until Romney says how he’s going to do that, which he won’t, you can’t be sure it doesn’t, which it can’t—except it might! If Romney doesn’t reveal the details of his plan, its two mutually-exclusive aims don’t actually cancel each other out; death and life coexist within the box.

By the way, how did the Romney campaign respond to that study from the Tax Policy Center last week?

The Romney campaign has emphatically rejected the study on several grounds. First, it claims the paper is “biased” because of the involvement of an economist (Adam Looney) who worked on the staff of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers…Finally, it says the study admits it is not really examining Romney’s plan.

Ah. So when the study is attacking Romney’s tax plan, it’s written by an Obama crony and based on chimeras. When the exact same study is used to attack Obama’s characterization of Romney’s tax plan, it’s a bipartisan report that acknowledges its own empirical limitations. Somehow the study got in the box with the cat.

Gun Rights Are Good For The Environment

by evanmcmurry

Calguns Foundation, which appears to be one of those wonderful organizations that fights any legislation related to guns, lest a couple of laws slip through that might momentarily inconvenience gun nuts to prevent mass shootings, wonders semi-seriously if waiting periods are hurting the environment:

Earlier today, Calguns Foundation filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Calfornia’s 10 day “waiting period” (which is really just a dressed-up 10-day ban on law-abiding gun owners’ ability to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear arms). This is a significant piece of litigation that we’re very optimistic about; I think it’s safe to say that gun buyers and transferees have been making two trips for one gun far, far too long. (I wonder how big the 10-day ban’s carbon footprint is…) 

Later in the same post, the author notes that waiting periods discriminate against those reliant on public transportation. If Second Amendment organizations won’t stand up for the poor and the earth, who will?

“You fucking Americans” and other English banking phrases which float off the tongue

by pdxblake

It was always likely that HSBC would be only the tip of the iceberg for banks engaging in questionable business and it has not taken long for a bank–Standard Chartered Bank– to seemingly leap-frog HSBC by a mile.   There were enough transactions with Iranian companies in violation of sanctions (60,000 for a combined total of $250 billion) to give the impression that Standard Chartered was either grossly incompetent or thumbing its nose at US sanctions.

In all, it has the bank tarred as a “rogue bank” by the NY State Department of Finance facing an uncertain future at least in the US.   The sordid details are in a report, and include an internal struggle between the NY and London offices reminiscent of JP Morgan’s whale (based in London, overseen from New York).  For Standard Chartered, the NY office became concerned with the blatant sanctions violation and said it could (*shocking*) cause “very serious or even catastrophic reputational damage” (ht Business Insider).

The US side added “there is equally importantly potential of risk of subjecting management in US and London (e.g. you and I) and elsewhere to personal reputational damages and/or serious criminal liability”.  But, instead of going through the costs and benefits of the business, the London office just sneered:

“You fucking Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians.”

And another massive rogue bank scandal is born.  It’s time, I think to take bets on which bank will be next (my money’s on a large one from continental Europe, but I haven’t decided which one yet).

Happy Birthday, Baby! It’s a T-shirt of a Bus Map!*

by drewnilsen

Buses provide significantly more range, at a much more efficient cost, than rail. However, a seemingly trivial impediment to their adoption — particularly by those who aren’t dependent on public transit — is the indecipherability of bus maps (L.A. example in PDF)

Even here in DC, which only has five Metro subway lines (effectively three, as two lines significantly overlap within the city), people bemoan how difficult it is to get to popular, up-and-coming areas like H Street Northeast/Atlas District  — despite the fact that a bus (the ever-entertaining X2) goes directly from downtown to the burgeoning bar district.

I didn’t ride the bus for years in Austin because I didn’t know where the routes went (smart phones and Google Maps transit directions have somewhat ameliorated this problem). I’m not the only one, and it’s not only Austin.  If you’re new to a city, not knowing where your stop is can become a significant source of consternation and a major obstacle to adoption.

A few simple, affordable changes to how bus routes are presented on maps could go a long way towards making buses more accessible and understandable to the public.First, as much as I love to obsess about the minutiae of accurate maps, the detail of the real world is not helpful for cognitive digestion.

Stylized, graphically-simplified public transit maps — like London’s Tube  and DC’s Metro — make up what they lose in geographic accurancy with a more easily-memorized picture.More significantly, bus maps have suffered from a picture that treats all routes equally. This would be akin to a road map that depicted an unpaved alley the same way as an interstate highway.

There’s a movement afoot to remaster the way bus routes are misrepresented. A Cincinnati activist, Nathan Wessel, has done a fine job in reformatting the city’s bus maps to portray routes in a user-friendly way by frequency [closer map view], going so far as to explain frequent routes (“Hop on!”), secondary routes (“Be prepared to wait a little longer”) and tertiary routes (“Maybe look at a schedule”).

Spider Map graphic from Nathan Wessel, via UrbanCincy.com

Traditionally, all routes — regardless of intervals — have been drawn up identically. So, this change would be a big step forward if implemented by transit authorities. Seattle‘s King County Metro RapidRide is the first I know to do so.

Finally, spiders. Anyone who has ever walked up to a random bus stop — or even tried to decipher a stop online — has faced befuddlement when trying to discern where buses from that (or nearby) stops go.

Although DC’s Metro has attempted to highlight routes emanating from a particular stop, the result is still cluttered.
“Spider Maps” present a better solution — such as Greater Greater Washington’s H Street mockup [closer map view (PDF)]. By reducing the “noise” from other routes — and overlaying neighborhood names without the distraction of other map details — the spider map can convey some clarity for potential riders.

Are convoluted maps the reason that people fear the bus? No. But the accessibility of rail has a lot to do with its simplicity and understandability and, ultimately, the popularity of (expensive) rail over (affordable) buses. At a time when municipal revenues are down and budget cuts are in vogue, cleaning up map presentation is an efficient way to improve service and increase ridership.

*I’ve been asking for these NYC subway map socks for Christmas from my family — composed of Brooklyn natives and transplants alike — for years. To no avail. I want them this year!