Thursday, 26 March 2009


Cat snips - 2

(I’d hunt up a couple more, but right now my “connected at 46K” modem won’t do better than 28K. Growl!)

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Press

WSJ’s “two stories” opinion page

There’s an intriguing “how’s that again?” moment on today’s Wall Street Journal Opinion page.  First, start at the top: In his column, headlined “The Real AIG Disgrace, ” Holman Jenkins, Jr. begins his defense of the American International Group bonus payments in the face of widespread outrage by noting

There is not a shread of justice in the hysteria that followed.  As AIG chief Ed Liddy explained on the Hill last week, the people receiving retention bonuses were not the same people who launched AIG’s unhedged housing bets...
All clear so far?

Not so fast.  In the next column down (“The ‘Populists’ Are Right About Wall Street”) Thomas Frank asks:
Why did the Treasury Department allow the payout of many millions in bonuses to executives of the unit that sank the company?
Hey, wait a minute..!

One would think that, after almost a month of sound and fury, hours of television time, thousands of column inches of newspaper coverage and a Congressional investigation, everyone  would know exactly which groups of AIG executives were on track for bonuses.  But there appears to be some confusion in the Journal’s opinion department.

Or perhaps not.  Frank very carefully says “executives of the same unit.”  What he does not say is “the same executives.”

Now I know the standards for opinion writing are (supposed to be) different from those of pure reporting.  If it’s opinion, personal disparagement, exaggeration, and loaded language are all part of the tools.  But when a writer shades the truth, or omits relevant facts just because they don’t agree with his position, this reader is going to call him out of bounds.  It’s like the witness who tells the court, “I didn’t hear anything,” but fails to mention that the reason he didn’t hear anything was because he was playing Grand Theft Auto with headphones on and the volume turned up.  In this case, Frank’s construction, while true (in the sense of “not false”), leads the reader to the (mistaken) conclusion that the people slated for the next round of bonuses are the same ones who killed the company.  Great for stoking populist fervor, but unfair to the audience, and not strictly true.[1]

A newspaper column shouldn’t have to be parsed like a contract.  Lawyer tricks with language only reduce the writer’s credibility.  And if those storied “multiple layers of editors” allow those tricks to make it into print, it’s the entire publication that suffers.

Two stories make a great house.  But when it comes to facts, “two stories” isn’t what I want from my newspaper.

UPDATE 090325 17:00:  So, Mr. Frank, was stoking the fires of populist fervor a good idea or not (especially since, thanks to the bailouts, “we” now own 80% of the company)?
[1]  Not that there’s a lack of valid targets. Consider the newspaper industry, where Gannett Corporation just awarded $2 million in bonuses to CEO Craig Dubow and four other top executives,[2] despite widespread layoffs and furloughs (with more to come), a number of newspaper closures, and an 80+% fall in stock price.  But maybe that’s too close to home.

[2]  Admittedly, Dubow’s bonus is down 50% from last year’s.  This year he gets $875,000- atop his salary of $1.17 million.[3]

[3]  See, that’s how it’s done:  Tell the whole truth, mention any extenuating circumstances, and still leave the reader thinking it was a bad deal!

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 16:31:20 GMT | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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In Passing

More power to ’em

This evening, Glenn linked a Wired article by Brendan Koerner, “Power to the People: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now.”  It’s not a bad article, as such go, at least as a layman’s explanation of the issue.[1]  But it gets off on the wrong foot with this inaccuracy:

Go ahead, blame Edison.  He’s the guy who invented the business model that got us into this mess.  Edison Electric Light, founded in 1880, was a vertically integrated monopoly that controlled everything from generation to distribution.  (It even owned the bulbs in customers’ homes.) As utilities sprouted across the country, they saw no reason to deviate from Edison’s successful blueprint.
Well, not exactly.  Better to blame Elihu Thomson, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse.

You see, Edison’s system was Direct Current, and in those pre-transistor days, D.C. presented a problem:  Practical transmission of D.C. electric power was limited to a mile or so, because of cable resistance.  More than a mile, and the conductors had to be made so thick as to be impractical.  Oh, you could raise the transmission voltage, but higher voltage would be more hazardous, and there was no efficient way to knock a high transmission voltage down to something more suitable for consumer use.  So Edison’s central generating stations were limited to locations where the customer density was high enough to keep the transmission lines short.  For others, Edison’s “Company for Isolated Lighting” would install stand-alone generating plants.[2]

Westinghouse, on the other hand, championed an Alternating Current system.  A.C. could utilize high transmission voltages, even voltages greater than the generators produced, because A.C. voltages can be raised or lowered by using a simple, no-moving-parts device made up of two coils of wire wrapped around an iron core: the transformer.  The advantages were obvious, especially for locations that required long transmission distances or had low customer density.  When the famous Niagara Falls.power project went on line in 1895, it was equipped with Westinghouse A.C. generators.  Edison, on the other hand, continued to champion D.C., and came late to the A.C. party.

So Koerner gets it exactly backward (maybe he was too busy frothing at the Edison Company’s “vertically integrated monopoly”).  If we had continued to follow Edison’s original model, big generating plants would be found only in major urban areas.  Everywhere else you’d find small neighborhood plants, or generators whirring away in the basement.  The “grid,” if any, would be rudimentary.  And the efficiency problem would be far greater than the 7% grid transmission losses which (a different) Wired article decries.

The other irony is this:  For many 21st Century applications, D.C. is actually “better” power.  Electronic devices, computers, radios, and the like, use D.C. exclusively.  Electric heat and most types of lighting don’t care what kind of power they get; in fact A.C. lighting can produce stroboscopic effects that are annoying, and, in some circumstances, dangerous.  Only certain types of motors do better with A.C.  But D.C.’s advantages were swept away by A.C.’s efficiencies of large-scale generation coupled with long-distance transmission.

So in today’s home or office you can find a host of items whose first task is to convert the A.C. that comes out of the wall outlet into D.C., so they can do their jobs.

Suggested reading: Check out Maury Klein’s book The Power Makers (Bloomsbury Press, 2008) if you want to know more of the fascinating story of the electrification of America.   (The image above is a link to the Barnes & Noble product page.)

[1]  Be sure you don’t overlook the “10 Ways” in the article’s sidebar. There are some good ideas, although the mix of too much command economics with an insufficient grasp of engineering realities bothers me.

[2]  One of the earliest (with its own boiler, steam engine, and dynamo) went into in the New York City home of J. Pierpont Morgan, which was too far uptown to be served by the Edison Company’s pioneering Pearl Street generating plant.

Posted by: Old Grouch in In Passing at 01:19:05 GMT | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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Monday, 23 March 2009

Dear Diary...

Early (more than) one morning

The time:  0 dark 30.  The place:  The bedroom.

Me:  (In bed, asleep)  z-z-z-z-z

Alice the Cat:  (jumps onto bed, walks across pillow)  Hey!  You!  Wake up!

Me:   Grumble... whaa?

AtC:  (winding around on pillow, taking care to occasionally step on my head)  My plate’s empty!

Me:  (still mostly asleep)  Huh?

AtC:  It’s EMPTY.  The PLATE!  As: There’s NO food!  At all!  EMPTY!

Me:  (rolls over, looks blearily at clock)  What time is it...?

AtC: ...and if my plate is empty, well that means there might NEVER be any more food.  And if there’s no more food, I’ll starve!  STARVE, I say!

(Note:  This is a cat who weighs in at 23 pounds, and might be charitably described as “portly.”)

Me:   (snuggling back into covers)  Go back to sleep.  It’s too early.

AtC:   (cross talk)  Wasting away.  A mere skeleton!  Bones with scraps of fur.  Oh, woe!

Me:  Look, I’ll feed you after the alarm goes off.  In (looks at clock again) two hours.  Just like I do every morning.

AtC:  (wailing)  But you don’t understand... it’s empty!

Me:  (silence, fakes falling back asleep)

AtC:  Starve!  Starve!  (makes her way to the foot of the bed.)

Me:  z-z-z-z-z

AtC:  (pouting)  Well, if he’s not going to rescue me, I’ll have to fend for myself.  Guess I’ll just have to kill something... like (spots object) THIS FOOT.  RIGHT HERE!

Me:  HEY!!

AtC:  Grrrrrr!  (looks up, feigns surprise)  Oh good, you’re awake.
(brightly)  Um, the plate is empty, and I’m feeling peckish, so how about putting some food out, hmmmm?  I’ll be eternally grateful!

Me:  Sigh!
(Gets out of bed, stumbles toward stairway with cat underfoot.  At the top of the steps, cat realizes that if she kills me now, the plate won’t get refilled for a while, so stops the winding and thunders down the steps kitchen-ward.)

AtC:  Food!  Food!  Joy!

Me:  (Makes it to kitchen.  Finds can of catfood.  Opens it.  Refills plate, noting that it’s not really empty: There are a few scraps left, but I guess those don’t count.)  There.  Happy?

AtC:  Yum!  (munching noises)

Me:  (Heads back up stairs.  Makes a stop at the bathroom– “since I’m already up.”  Return to bedroom, to discover cat curled up in the middle of the bed’s warm spot.)  Hey, you...

AtC:   Go away.  Can’t-cha see I’m asleep!  Z-z-z-z-z!

Me:  C’mon, move over.

AtC:  But it’s warm...

Me:  I though you were starving...?

AtC:  That was then... but I’m all better now.  Hey, you wanna skritch my head?  Aaand my chin?  Oooo, do the ears, too!  Purrrr-zzzzzzz.  (drifts off)

(The scene ends with Alice the Cat, curled up in a doze, and Me, staring at the ceiling as the first gimmers of dawn show through the windows, trying to get back to sleep.  Sigh!)

Posted by: Old Grouch in Dear Diary... at 17:14:47 GMT | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Blogger comments blackout continues

Just a note to all my buddies who have Blogger-hosted weblogs that use Blogger’s comments system:  The where’s-the-captcha problem continues at this end.[1]

This has happened before.[2]  Blogger does some kind of a code revision, and the captcha starts getting trapped amid security authentication and permissions problems.  And (needless to say) if I don’t get served the captcha, I can’t authenticate my comments.[3]  Unfortunately, I don’t get any error messages at this end.  Also unfortunately, the browser which I use doesn’t have a big enough userbase to make fixing things a high priority at Google.

Fortunately, they will still (eventually) fix it.

But in the meantime, folks who use Blogger comments ain’t gonna be hearing a lot from o.g. Because, much as I love you all, loading Internet Exploder solely for the purpose of making a comment is not going to happen.

So to Shermlock, and Brigid, and Joanna, and Tam, and Turk, and Roberta, and Breda, and all... if you’ve missed hearing from me, it’s not because I’ve developed a hate for you, it’s just because the #&*(@^ comment thing won’t work.  Just wanted you to know.

And Roberta, hope your mom is doing well.


[1]   Yes, I have javascript enabled, and make sure “cookies to all sites” is selected before loading the comments page.
[2]  most recently about 18 months ago.
[3]  Blogger’s audio captcha function has never worked for me, but since K-Meleon also ignores any music at those all-talking all-singing all-dancing websites I view the lack of audio as a feature.

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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Dear Diary...

Memo: Drink morning coffee *before* reading Slashdot clear the first-thing blearies first.

“Unauthorized” Particle, hmm? Whataretheygonna do, arrest it?


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Friday, 20 March 2009


Screwtape’s new recruit

Oh, this is priceless:

My Dear Wormwood,

I note with pleasure that you seem, in most respects, to have hit upon the proper balance between empty (though still plausible) protestations of your conservative bona fides, and the task of undermining anything in the way of genuine conservative principles...

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In Passing

The List: Add Grassley, R-Iowa

First it was cheap demagoguery.

And now he’s co-sponsoring the Senate’s version of the bonus tax.[1]

Previously: The List.

[1] Oh look, Olympia Snowe is a co-sponsor, too! How surprising!

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Wow, I’ve arrived!

Just deleted my first batch of oriental comment spam.

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More nuance, please!


SPIEGEL:  Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word “terrorism.”  Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

NAPOLITANO:  Of course it does.  I presume there is always a threat from terrorism.  In my speech, although I did not use the word “terrorism,” I referred to “man-caused” disasters.  That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.
“Nuance,” huh?


Prepared, in advance, for the next September 11th
Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack were all inconvenienced in a series of deliberate unfortunate and deadly terrorist acts man-caused disasters.

The victims inconvenienced were in airplanes or in their offices -- secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers.  Moms and dads.  Friends and neighbors.  Little Eichmanns.

Thousands of lives were suddenly ended altered by evil, despicable acts of terror culturally and historically justifiable man-caused disasters.

The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief grudging admiration, terrible sadness guilt, and a quiet, unyielding anger sincere desire to understand why they hate us.

These acts of mass murder man-caused disasters were intended to frighten inspire our nation into chaos and retreat thoughtful reflection.  But they have failed.  Our country is strong stubborn.  A great people has been moved to defend attack a great nation that is no better than any other.

Terrorist attacks Man-caused disasters can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but and also they cannot touch reflect the foundation evil of America.  But although these acts shatter steel, but unfortunately they cannot have not yet dented the steel of American resolve arroganceWhich is kind of sad, when you think about it.

Via:  NewsBusters via Ace
[1]  Mostly from this comment by “Milesdei,” with a few extra crossouts by o.g.

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