The Wires

The Ledes

Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

New York Times: "Artur Fischer, a German inventor who registered more than 1,100 patents, including the first synchronized camera flash and an anchor that millions of do-it-yourselfers use to secure screws into walls, died on Jan. 27 at his home in Waldachtal, in southwestern Germany. He was 96."

White House Live Video
February 10

2:10 pm ET: President Obama addresses the Illinois General Assembly

2:30 pm ET: Vice President Biden participates in a discussion of the "cancer moonshot" (audio only)

4:25 pm ET: President Obama speaks at the Hoogland Center for Arts in Springfield, Illinois

Go to WhiteHouse.gov/live.

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Public Service Announcement

New York Times (February 4): "Pregnant women whose male sexual partners have spent time in a country with confirmed transmissions of the Zika virus should either abstain from sex or use condoms during intercourse for the duration of their pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced.'

USA Today: "Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they're using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. 'Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,' said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.'"

New York Times (January 14): "Federal health officials are debating whether to warn pregnant women against travel to Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in newborn babies. Officials say it could be the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid a specific region during an outbreak." ...

     ... NYT Update (January 15): "Federal health officials on Friday advised pregnant women to postpone traveling to 13 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies." ...

... The Washington Post reports on the crisis in Brazil.

CW: Not sure if the movie is any good, but Ron Howard's intro is primo. Here's the trailer:

... The New York Times story, by Brooks Barnes, is here. "Kept a secret for months — no small task in Hollywood — 'Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie' was released to coincide with Mr. Trump’s victory on Tuesday in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary."

New York Times: The leader of a group of "aging thieves" who last year pulled off "the largest burglary in England’s history" may have been an ex-policeman. The others have been captured, but "Basil" is still at large & his identity is unknown to investigators. Surely there will be a movie.

Washington Post: "Media mogul Sumner Redstone has resigned as board chairman at CBS Corp. after a court battle raised questions about the 92-year-old executive’s mental competence. He was replaced by Leslie Moonves, the longtime CBS president and chief executive, CBS announced Wednesday. The transition took effect Tuesday when Redstone was appointed to the role of CBS chairman emeritus, CBS said."

... New York Times: "A small 16th-century oil on panel largely kept in storage at a Kansas City, Mo., museum is a work by the Dutch Renaissance master Hieronymus Bosch, researchers [in the Netherlands] said on Monday, a finding that, if accepted by other scholars, would add to the tiny list of about 25 recognized Bosch paintings in the world. The painting, 'The Temptation of St. Anthony,' dated 1500-1510, had previously been attributed to the workshop of Bosch or to a follower of Bosch, known for his comic and surreal images of heaven and hell and the earthly moral purgatory in between."

Radio host Diane Rehm discusses her "retirement" plans with Karen Heller of the Washington Post.

Washington Post: "A lost story by famed British children’s author Beatrix Potter — the Tale of Kitty-in-Boots — has been discovered among her memorabilia and will be published this year more than a century after she wrote it. Jo Hanks, a publisher with Penguin Random House who made the discovery at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, called the story the biggest Potter discovery in generations and almost certainly the last, the London Times Newspaper reported Tuesday."

Boston Globe: "Late Night host (and New Hampshire native) Seth Meyers stars in this trailer for his fake movie, Boston Accent, which just laughs at all the devices used in every movie ever made in Boston":

Tim Egan's Confession: "I can no longer wait in a grocery store line, or linger for a traffic light, or even pause long enough to let a bagel pop from the toaster, without reflexively reaching for my smartphone."

Planet Nine. Caltech: "Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly." ...

... CW: Planet Nine, my ass. I will never abandon Pluto! But this is a mighty thrilling development. ...

... UPDATE. Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post interviews Mike Brown, one of the discoverers of Planet Nine. It turns out, as certainly every astronomer knows, that Mike Brown was also the guy who killed Pluto! Even his daughter is mad at him for that.

New York Times: "Five planets will parade across the dawn sky early Wednesday[, January 20,] in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month. Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It will be the first time in more than a decade that the fab five will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York."

Los Angeles Times: "The backlash against this year's Academy Award nominations escalated Monday with announcements by director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith that they would boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony, citing the absence of people of color in all four acting categories for the second year in a row. If other prominent entertainment industry figures join the boycott, it has the potential to spoil Hollywood's annual showcase event."

Donald Trump playing Donald Trump in movies & on teevee shows:

New York Times: "#OscarsSoWhite, that damning hashtag that made the rounds last year, can again, unhappily, be revived for this year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced Thursday morning.... The only Academy nods for two of the year’s biggest films about African-American characters went to white people.... In all the lead categories — best director, picture, and all four acting categories — only Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Mexican auteur who won best director and picture last year, for 'Birdman,' adds a note of diversity. This year he was nominated for 'The Revenant.'”

Los Angeles Times: "Nominations for the 88th Academy Awards have been announced, and 'The Revenant' is leading with 12, including for best picture. Other nominees for best picture are 'The Big Short,' 'Bridge of Spies,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'The Martian,' 'Room,' and 'Spotlight.' All the snubs, surprises and reactions from nominees coming below." Full coverage via the linked page.

Christian Science Monitor: "... thanks to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University, the lowly incandescent bulb is getting a jolt of new life. The six-researcher team says it has found a way to boost the bulb's efficiency twenty-fold, which would leave today's favored compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the dust, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology." ...

     ... CW: If these bulbs go into production, it should make Rand Paul very, very happy. If only MIT could do something about his big-shit problem. Science does have its limits.

Los Angeles Times: "A 21-year odyssey came to an end Tuesday when National Football League owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to move to Los Angeles for the 2016 season and gave the San Diego Chargers an option to join the Rams in Inglewood."

** Washington Post: "In a paper published in the open-access journal eLife this week, researchers say they have pinpointed what may well be one of evolution’s greatest copy mess-ups yet: the mutation that allowed our ancient protozoa predecessors to evolve into complex, multi-cellular organisms.... Incredibly, in the world of evolutionary biology, all it took was one tiny tweak, one gene, and complex life as we know it was born." The paper is here. ...

... CW: Sorry, fundies, this is a lot more exciting than a trip to the Noah's ark amusement park or whatever it is.

The Los Angeles Times' Golden Globe coverage is here.

New Yorker: More Pluto!

New York: "Lumosity is one of these 'brain training' programs, and yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission, many of those claims aren’t backed up by science. On Tuesday, Lumos Labs — the company behind Lumosity — agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $2 million for misleading consumers on claims that playing these mental games would help with cognitive performance and prevent mental decline as we age. 'Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,' Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. 'But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.'”

New York Times: "Twitter is experimenting with introducing a longer form of tweet, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans, in what would be another gradual move away from the simplistic design sensibility that the service was originally founded upon. The project, which internally has been referred to as 'beyond 140,' is still in its testing phase and is not set to be introduced until at least March...."

Washington Post: "Four newly discovered elements managed to squeak their way in[to the periodic table] just before the end of 2015, filling up the table's seventh row and marking the first additions since 2011." CW: Since I know squat about chemistry, let me say here -- in the fullness of my ignorance -- that the periodic table should stick with elements that occur in nature. If chemists want a "sub-periodic table" to show off their lab-created, unstable elements, let 'em have it. I don't see how an "element" can be artificial. Anyone who knows what s/he's talking about is free to set me straight.

TPM: "Twitter announced Thursday it's bringing back Politwoops, the popular gaffe-tracking transparency tool that tracked politicians' deleted tweets, after unceremoniously killing off the service earlier this year.... Twitter revoked developer API access for the project, a venture of The Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation, in August 2015."

If you are interested in what George Lucas thinks about the "Star Wars" series & other stuff, you can find out here, presuming Charlie Rose doesn't monopolize the conversation (okay, silly presumption). ...

... Later Lucas said he was sorry he said some of those nasty things.

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Sunday
Jul222012

The Commentariat -- July 23, 2012

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is seriously unimportant. But it is a good example of why reporters should know what they're writing about. The NYTX front page is here.

Arms Control, American-Style. Jack Healy of the New York Times: "Unhindered by federal background checks or government oversight, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people inside a Colorado movie theater was able to build what the police called a 6,000-round arsenal legally and easily over the Internet, exploiting what critics call a virtual absence of any laws regulating ammunition sales." ...

... First, Ignore the Problem. Donovan Slack of Politico: "White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday that the Obama administration has no plans to push new gun control measures in the wake of the deadly shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater. Carney said that includes a reauthorization of the Clinton-era assault-weapon ban that lapsed during the George W. Bush administration." ...

... I posted a link to Jill Lepore's excellent New Yorker piece on the history of gun control at the time of its publication in April, but if you missed it, here it is again. ...

... Helen Lewis of the New Statesman posts this 2009 video of forensic psychiatrist presenter Charlie Brooker, who features a forensic psychiatrist advising how to report a mass murder, "assuming your aim is to prevent further ones:

Don't start the story with sirens blaring.
Don't have photographs of the killer.Don't make this 24/7 coverage.
Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story.
Not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.
Do localise this story to the affected community and as boring as possible in every other market.

     ... CW Oops! Thanks to reader David D. for suggesting the correction above. The psychiatrist, David D. says, is "Park Dietz (whom, if I recall correctly, defense attorneys call Dr. Death because he has been so successful in testifying against the insanity defense in capital murder cases)." Lewis posts shots of the front pages of British dailies; none took Brooker's advice.

New York Times Editors: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is implicated in the LIBOR scandal & should recuse himself from participating in any inquiries. CW: thank you for saying so. Obama should fire that twerp today. ...

"Too Big to Regulate." Prof. Gar Alperovitz in a New York Times op-ed: the only way to control the big banks is to nationalize them -- an idea first proposed by the conservative Chicago school of economics during the Great Depression. ...

... Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times interviews Neil Barofsky, the former TARP inspector general. Bottom line: regulators are corrupt, Treasury officials are corrupt. They purposely don't do their jobs so they can get good jobs at the banks they supposedly oversee. This is not a surprise, of course, but Barofsky's confirmation, as Morgenson writes, is "depressing." ...

... Yves Smith lists "Six Reasons the Obama Administration Will Hate Neil Barofsky's Book." ...

... ** Barofsky himself sounds off at Bloomberg News. He lets both Geithner & Holder have it. P.S. taxpayers gets stuck again & the banks walk off with more of your cash. ...

More from Heather Stewart of the Guardian on the super-rich & their super tax avoidance: "A global super-rich elite has exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore -- as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together -- according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network. James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited...."

Economist Nouriel Roubini, in Slate, outlines five reasons the U.S. "isn't even close to a robust recovery.... For several reasons, growth will slow further in the second half of 2012 and be even lower in 2013 -- close to stall speed."

Paul Krugman: "Climate change denial is a major industry, lavishly financed by Exxon, the Koch brothers and others with a financial stake in the continued burning of fossil fuels.... Large-scale damage from climate change is no longer a disaster waiting to happen. It’s happening now." ...

AND Krugman shoots down David Brooks -- again. After posting a graph that shows the U.S. as the most violent among advanced countries but also dramatically demonstrates that violence is in steep decline here, Krugman writes, "I find all these laments about declining values among non-elite Americans hard to take seriously. If things like single parenthood were as bad as they say, how can social pathologies have declined so much?"

Felix Salmon of Reuters: "There's still room for the [U.S.] Postal Service to reorient itself and become a successful 21st-century utility -- but there's no way that's going to happen if ... Congress prevents it from entering new businesses.... The Post Office is broken, in large part thanks to unhelpful meddling by Congress."

President George W. Bush in a Washington Post op-ed: "Laura and I, along with the Bush Institute and partners from the public and private sectors, started Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to save women from breast and cervical cancer, two of the leading causes of cancer death in Africa. Like PEPFAR [the AIDS relief program], the success of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon depends on a broad alliance of private companies, nonprofit organizations and governments."

Jeremy Peters of the New York Times: "National Journal said it would ban the use of quotations that had been massaged or manipulated by its sources, joining a growing chorus of news organizations that are objecting to a practice that has become increasingly common in political journalism."

The Charlatan Experience. Nitwits on parade -- sometimes burn their feet. Carol Pogash of the New York Times talks to some of the people who attended motivational charlatan Tony Robbins' multi-million-dollar hoax -- I mean seminar -- and burned their feet on a fire walk. But, hey, they admit it was their own fault for not being sufficiently motivated.

Presidential Race

Julie Pace & Steven Peoples of the AP: "The acrimonious presidential campaign eases back into action Monday after a weekend pause.... Romney made a low-key return to political activity Sunday night in northern California, where he courted Republican donors at three campaign fundraisers.... From Colorado, Obama flew to San Francisco to start a previously scheduled three-day trip that includes a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., campaign fundraisers in California, Oregon and Washington state, and a speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans. But the campaign cancelled a rally planned for Portland, Ore."

Jeffrey Jones of Gallup: At an average 46.8 percent, President Obama's approval rating this quarter is still significantly below the 50 percent that nearly guarantees re-election -- but "Obama appears in much better shape now than the two recently elected presidents who were denied a second term -- Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush -- both of whom averaged below 40% approval their 14th quarters in office."

Tom Edsall of the New York Times on Obama's voter-suppression strategy -- discourage white working-class men from voting by exploiting their suspicions of Romney.

Jacob Weisberg of Slate: "Romney is accusing Obama of practicing 'Chicago-style politics.' Apparently, he has no idea what that means."

The Travels of Willard. On the eve of Romney's overseas trip, Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post recounts Romney's earlier international exploits. CW: instead of going to England, Israel & Poland, Romney should travel to the Caymans & Bahamas & such to visit his money.

"Lazy Mendacity." Jonathan Bernstein in Salon: why do Romney & other Republicans repeatedly tell lies that are so easily disproved? "My guess is that it has to do with the growth of the partisan press, and especially the role of the Republican-aligned media – Fox News and conservative blogs and talk radio. ...

... Glenn Kessler on Romney's "didn't build that" ad: "Obama certainly could take from lessons from [Elizabeth] Warren or [Franklin] Roosevelt on how to frame this argument in a way that is less susceptible for quote-snipping. And Romney certainly could answer Obama's argument by engaging in a serious discussion.... But instead, by focusing on one ill-phrased sentence, Romney and his campaign have decided to pretend that Obama is talking about something different -- and then further extrapolated it so that it becomes ridiculous." Read Kessler's whole post; it's interesting.

Lisa Miller of the Washington Post: "I wonder how the presumptive Republican nominee reconciles his great, secret stores of wealth with the principles of his Mormon faith.... Romney, it seems, has missed the spirit of his faith -- or, as evidenced by his offshore stash, is selectively interpreting it. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, taught that there is no shame in money earned through industry.... But Smith, like Jesus, had a profound loathing of income inequality. The earliest LDS communities, in fact, embarked on an experiment they called The United Order, in which they shared all goods, property and profits, according to their needs."

Right Wing World

David Edwards of Raw Story: "Tea party-backed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) says that the right to own high-capacity ammunitions magazines like the 100-round drum that was used to kill at least a dozen people in Colorado last week is a 'basic freedom' that is protected by the U.S. Constitution." Includes video. ...

... CW: Johnson argues that semi-automatic weapons "are used in hunting." I don't doubt it. But if hunters are so fucking lazy they can't be bothered to pull the trigger more than once & so fucking incompetent they can't hit their prey with a single shot -- and the aid of a sight & all the other hunting folderol they use to get the best of Bambi, they should find some other "sport" in which to showcase their incompetence. Jerks.

Local News

The institution of the California Republican Party, I would argue, has effectively collapsed. It doesn't do any of the things that a political party should do. It doesn't register voters. It doesn't recruit candidates. It doesn't raise money. The Republican Party in the state institutionally has become a small ideological club that is basically in the business of hunting out heretics. -- Steve Schmidt, Republican consultant ...

... Adam Nagourney of the New York Times on the Republican party in California: "... the state party -- once a symbol of Republican hope and geographical reach and which gave the nation Ronald Reagan (and Richard M. Nixon) -- is caught in a cycle of relentless decline, and appears in danger of shrinking to the rank of a minor party.... Registered Republicans now account for just 30 percent of the California electorate, and are on a path that analysts predict could drop them to No. 3 in six years, behind Democrats, who currently make up 43 percent, and independent voters, with 21 percent."

News Ledes

... New York Times: "Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died on Monday at her home in San Diego. She was 61."

President Obama speaks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

New York Times: "His hair a frizz of neon orange, his hands shackled, James E. Holmes sat wordlessly through his first court appearance on Monday, a starkly different figure from the once-promising student recalled by acquaintances or the black-clad gunman accused of striding into a crowded movie theater and fatally shooting 12 people."

Reuters: "U.S. prosecutors and European regulators are close to arresting individual traders and charging them with colluding to manipulate global benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with a sweeping investigation into the rigging scandal."

New York Times: "In a coordinated display intended to show they remain a viable force, Iraqi insurgents launched at least 29 separate attacks on Monday morning that killed at least 70 people, setting off car bombs, storming a military base and ambushing checkpoints, Iraqi authorities said."

New York Times: "With street battles still flaring in Syria's two main cities, the Syrian government said on Monday that its forces would never use chemical weapons in its domestic conflict, describing them as outside the bounds of the kind of guerrilla warfare they are fighting." ...

... AP: "A new rebel group boasting some 1,000 fighters launched an operation Sunday to capture Syria's largest city, Aleppo, while government troops using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery rolled back opposition gains in the capital Damascus. The spread of fighting into a second major metropolis displayed the rebels' growing confidence even though they still can't hold ground against the government's heavy weapons, pushing Syria's civil war toward a new phase of destructive urban combat."

CNN: "Penn State University will be hit with fines in excess of $30 million as part of 'significant, unprecedented penalties'" expected to be announced Monday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a source familiar with the case told CNN on Sunday." ...

     ... ** NBC Sports News Update: "The NCAA handed down severe punishments to Penn State on Monday in the wake of a sex abuse scandal, including a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban and the vacating of all football wins from 1998-2011. Also, the football program's scholarship allowance have been reduced from 25 to 15 per year for four years."

New York Times: "The powerful men accused of responsibility for [atrocities in Afghanistan] -- some said to be directly at their orders, others carried out by men in their chain of command -- are named in the pages of a monumental 800-page report on human rights abuses in Afghanistan from the Soviet era in the '80s to the fall of the Taliban in 2001, according to researchers and officials who helped compile the study over the past six years."

AP: "Jury selection is to begin Monday in Drew Peterson's long-delayed murder trial, where prosecutors want the former suburban Chicago police officer's wives -- one he's charged with slaying and another who has disappeared -- to effectively testify from their graves through friends and relatives about his threatening to kill them."

Reader Comments (13)

Toward the end of the New York Times article on the ease of ammunition sales, there is this quote from Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, 'who told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the killer might have built a bomb or found some other lethal device if no assault weapons had been around. '
This is one of the arguments I absolutely despise: people could build a bomb and kill as many people. It is such a lame response to an obvious problem. With this kind of attitude, we'll never know what appropriate regulation of guns and ammunition will accomplish. If they start bulding bombs, there are ways law enforcement can address that situation. But it is a scenario that is really unlikely to occur. We'll probably never know since , with politicians like we have, we may never get saner gun laws enacted.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria D.

Paul Krugman's post on climate change politics reminded me that maybe it is time to tell the real story. You know, the one nobody wants to even think about. Yes, the greedy scumbags play a major role in climate change. Yes they will make it worse. But they are not the principle problem. The ultimate problem which will never be solved is the population of humans on the earth.

In 1927, there were 2 billion.
In 1999, there were 6 billion
In 2012, there are 7 billion
In 2027, there will be 8 billion
In 2046, there will be 9 billion.
Today there are 81,700 more people than there was yesterday.

Yes if we start going solar it will help. Yes if we get rid of coal it will help. But if we need to feed another 81,700 people today, if a third of them are going to drive a car, use air conditioning and take a breath or two, the resources will not be available and their contribution to global warming will far exceed any effort to control global warming. In other words we are so good at our evolutionary purpose, making more humans, that we will soon see a serious, what should I call it, readjustment in population. How many will survive? How will humans be organized? It will take a really clever science fiction writer to explain how this will work out. Does a serious effort to reduce the pollution part make sense. Yes, it will definitely make a difference. Will there ever be any effort to control population. Never. The Chinese have tried and even they are having problems. Their advantage is not only an awareness of the problem, they don't have to deal with religion. So overall there is no hope.

Sorry for such bad news but reality doesn't go away.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

Someone should tell Ron Johnson that the deer hunters in Wisconsin now use bow and arrows and have been doing so for years. What prey, pray tell, do hunters shoot with semi-automics? None that I know of.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPD Pepe

@PD Pepe -ummm, people?
@Marvin Schwalb -oh, wait, maybe there is a solution....

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralan

Marie,

There's a lot to talk about regarding Colorado, the NRA, and more, but I wanted to slow down and comment on your most recent piece because I think you touch on something vital to the nation's life of the mind, as it were.

I have to take issue with your estimation of your Examiner article as unimportant. The Times article in question is symptomatic of a fourth estate in serious need of a few basic skill sets itself, mainly the understanding of how to properly write an essay or construct a thesis. Essays are written to discover something along the way or to support an opinion with relevant examples. Too often, pieces are offered up that stink, from the first paragraph, of pre-conceived conclusions. The “writer” has already determined what sort of moral they wish to claim and simply cherry picks information or details to support this notion (calling David Brooks, calling David Brooks, come in David).

Talk about problems with pre-fab.

If this guy were a serious thinker as well as a keyboard pecker (and that other kind of pecker), he might have found in this assignment as an opportunity to examine some fundamental changes in the way Americans live their lives. Instead, he drags out a soggy old “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be….and I’m Here to Tell You Why” sandwich that leaves you asking not only “Where’s the beef” but “…how come the lettuce is wilted and brown? And what’s with this stale bread?”

The entire premise, as you point out, is fatally flawed and I have to agree that had this guy ever made anything besides that ashtray in 10th grade shop class, or attempted anything close to serious home repair, this story might have been worth the its pixels.

He mentions This Old House. Great choice! Love that show. But mostly because I like watching people who really know what they’re doing using specialized tools that I will never be able to afford.

“Okay, let’s see what Norm is up to here in the attic” “Well, Kevin (sidenote: Kevin O’Connor is a twit. I miss Steve Thomas.), we have some rot around the rafters so I’m going to have to use my Reichenbach rotating titanium-tipped reciprocating switch saw to cut a 3/16” groove along the edge of each of the 72 rafters, because my 40 years of experience tells me that this is aged Elderberry wood which was used by certain Amish craftsmen back in the 20s in place of oak, and Elderberry will crack if attacked with any of the usual methods.”

Sheesh.

Even mastering the proper use of a mitre box or any of the 560 varieties of saws, of the manual or power variety, can be daunting and take years to acquire and to learn to use properly and safely.

I used to work on all my own cars. I even learned to blueprint engines thanks to friends who were experienced auto mechanics. I could drop an engine, pull and rebuild carburetors, replace alternators, generators (when we still used them), solenoid switches, and perform basic to extreme tune ups. The one thing I rarely did was brakes. Why? They were somewhat specialized and required a select tool set. And not being a professional mechanic, I didn’t do them enough to get really good at them. Because you screw up a tune up, your car may not start. You screw up the brakes, you won’t stop. Which is worse?

So I left brakes to the pros.

I’m sure Mr. Woe is Us at the Times would call me a slacker and blame me for contributing to the downfall of Western Civilization for not learning to correctly rebuild a master brake cylinder.

(Seriously, one could apply such thinking to almost every area of modern life. Does not learning the craft of making our own clothes, our own butter, milk, soap, or growing our own food make us slovenly slackers? Why stop there? We should be making our own arrowheads and running around the forest in loincloths shooting wild game!)

As Marie’s experience shows, the way we now approach our homes and our increased ability to do and understand some things we never could (albeit, leaving the tough stuff for the pros) offers a window into a dramatic change in our economic and habitat landscapes. I don’t have a pre-conceived opinion as to what that change is because I haven’t done enough research and thought long enough about it to come to a reasonable and supportable conclusion.

Guess that’s one reason I don’t write for the Times.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

Re: I said "carpenter not car-painter." Your essay today is close to home. First, the new building materials; mastics, sheet materials, flex pipes for plumbing and electrical runs , fittings that snap rather than thread together and the new generations of tools that only require a push or pull of a finger have greatly reduced the need for craftmanship. The DIY homeowner stapling pre-cut plastic foam crown moulding to her livingroom wall with a air staple gun is a far cry from a trim carpenter who sets his own profile knives into a shaper , runs liner ft of stock out of a hardwood and then lands the mouldings on beds that have previously been installed on true and plumb walls. Don't confuse drywall and a skip finish with plaster. Quote from an old time electrician, " When I see flex, I see a LIE." Lazy, Inexperienced, Electrician. Now days you don't even see flex, you see romex. Newer isn't better, newer is faster, faster is cheaper and profit comes from cheaper. To bemoan the lack of craft in todays world is to acknowledge that making money is more important than making it right.
Second, todays products properly installed are great. Getting them installed properly is the problem. The best window in the world is only as good as the weatherproofing that surrounds it. Tilebacker board is a great product but without solid blocking the shower is going to leak like the Supreme Court. You get what you pay for on the product but you get what you deserve on the install. Since time is money and money talks good craftmanship goes into the dumpster if you have a bad contractor.
Third, There are guys and gals out there that are true expert craftsman and women; most of us just can't afford them. I have been on jobs where everything was done to the highest standard. Five to six hundred bucks a square foot. You want drag mouldings on plaster walls with hand-cut stone floors, mesquite carved doors and a garage elevator? No problem Mr. Romney.
Fourth, Few people care these days about true craftmanship. I am constantly butting heads with other tradesmen who's idea of quality is "GE". (good enough) Or "looks good from my house". The devil is in the details and many don't want to waste the time. Again time is money and money talks.
Five, most kids(generalization!) don't want to be the laborer/ apprentice these days. Hell, most kids don't want to get their hands dirty these days. So how are you going to instill craftsmanship in the next generation? I quite proudly tell young kids that I'm still a better laborer than they are and am forty years older. Doesn't shame them a bit. Craftsmanship comes from years of experience and learning from others. Few have the time for that.
I've rambled on and on like a remodel gone bad but unlike most subjects I comment on here Realitychex I actually know something about craftsmanship in building. To the writer in the NYT I would say craftsmanship isn't dead but it isn't something you can buy for cheap nor can you learn it from a chair. To Marie I would say, Jez, you've got fifty-two windows in your house?

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJG

Guns for everyone.

This is the NRA backed right-wing motto. In fact, to listen to many conservative “pundits”, the real answer is exactly this: guns for everyone. The thinking--if you can call it that--is that if moviegoers in Aurora had gone to the theater all packing heat, the instant that scalawag pulled out his assault rifle, he’d have been mown down in a hail of lead from the simultaneous firing of hundreds of “peacemakers” in the cool, calm, NRA-blessed hands of audience members. Victims? No way baby! We made Swiss cheese out of him. Kilt his ass dead.

Nice fairytale. But it’s nothing but NRA wanking material; a pimply-faced, puerile fantasy the kind that appeals greatly to many conservatives. Fantasies involving guns and death and braggadocio, and comic book heroism and waving flags often do. Look at George Bush’s play date on that aircraft carrier. A flight suit dress up. All he lacked was his GI Joe tagalong doll with the kung-fu grip (although he probably had that in the chopper to play with on the way back to being the Decider in Chief. “Git them towel-heads, Joe!”).

So everyone packing is the answer, is it? Let’s test that theory.
Arizona is the most permissive gun ownership state in the country, which, by extension makes it the most permissive gun ownership place in the world, outside some remote island nation where all the inhabitants are now dead of gunshot wounds.

Last year when Gabrielle Giffords and other innocent citizens were attacked by another shooter with a semi-automatic weapon, you might have expected, had the NRA theory been any good, that at least a few people in the audience would have done a Keanu Reeves, pulled back their black dusters and drew down on the varmint, thus ending his shooting spree in a deadly spray of blazing hot lead, turning him into bloody red meat. (Purple death prose gives those guys a huge woody.)

Yeah.

We all know that didn’t happen. Why? Well, even if there were a fair number of people in the crowd carrying concealed weapons (an Arizona specialty), it’s not at all an easy thing to shoot someone.

Even if they’ve been assiduous about learning how to handle a weapon and shoot it accurately, as Barbarossa mentioned yesterday, it’s one thing to shoot at a stationary target, a much different thing to draw and fire at someone who is moving and shooting back at you. There is abundant anecdotal evidence on the part of police and military personnel regarding how difficult it can be to shoot another human being. to shoot to kill. Especially the first time. Many of the best trained can pause, can freeze up or miss their target completely in the chaos. And those people are professionals.

Many rough and tough NRA type beer-belly cowboys like to envision themselves back in the Old West with Charlton Heston, where Men were Men and a man’s best friend was his Colt .44 or his Winchester Rifle. Okay, so let’s go back to the Old West in Arizona. Many, if not most, frontier towns in the 19th century required everyone to turn in their weapons upon entering town limits. They understood all too well the insanity of allowing everyone to walk around heeled, especially in bars where the slightest provocation could turn into a blood bath. They had real world common sense regarding firearms.

Not today. “Give ‘em all guns and we’ll all be safe” is the cry of Fox commentators, NRA shills, and morons (same thing, I know).
And when terrible things do happen because of the easy availability of military grade weapons and assault rifles, the right is ready with two quick, surefire answers. One we heard from George (Self Defense) Zimmerman last week: “It was God’s Will! I was merely his instrument.” The other can be read in today’s apologia for NRA madness from Ross Douthat: “Well, it’s really too bad, but these things happen and you can’t blame ideology.”

No Ross? We can’t? How ‘bout this: right-wing ideology has embraced the “all guns all the time and no regulation EVER” motto of the NRA and they have made it a political third rail to even suggest any kind of controls placed on the ability of deranged people to purchase weapons whose only reason for being is to kill human beings. Lots of them. Quickly.

No ideology involved? God’s will? These things happen? Fallacious, insultingly stupid bullshit.

More fantasy from the right. More bodies in the future. And the NRA chiefs and supporters who cluck-cluck about how terrible it is that even more people have been murdered, smirk behind our backs, safe in the knowledge that no one will take them on. I’d like to believe Gail Collins when she says that day will come when people will rise up, but it takes a leader to do that. The Republicans, the conservative media, the NRA, all shoot to kill whenever anyone rises up to lead.

Weapons for everyone. Except any who oppose them.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

Tried to post this on NYTEX but it rejected my credit card twice, so I gave up. Fuck it, I know when I'm not wanted. But what I really wanted to ask is why is that woman sawing that table in half?

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Singer

@James Singer. I believe she is planning to saw thru her knee & is practicing on something inanimate as she moves toward her goal.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarie Burns

Re: James Singer you're a funny man; always enjoy your comments. In my house the answer to your question is, because she wants to.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJG

JJG: Your comments reminded me of our Italian carpenter hired at first to just fix a banister or something small like that, but he ended up practically being a part of the family building us the most artfully crafted book shelves whose span covered one whole side of a room–-good oak with grooves––and soon he was redoing this and building us that. He took forever––slow worker, talked your ear off, stayed for lunch every day he was working for us, but his work was a labor of love and skill and beauty; you, J, would have had much in common I would imagine. How much I admire and am in awe of craftsmen like this.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPD Pepe

@Marvin Schwalb

Dear, don't you know? God will provide.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie in Massachusetts

@Julie in Massachusetts , the same god who lets millions die of starvation every year. And that loss which I would estimate at about 15,000 people a day doesn't even come close to solving the problem.
It's really going to get ugly. Don't plan on having any corn for dinner later this year.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb
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