She'll Never Be a Soldier

She'll Never Be a Soldier

Our small community suffered a heavy blow last night. This lovely, strong, active young woman, our next-door neighbor, not yet 17, had a congenital heart valve defect for which she'd already had several open-heart procedures. She was due for open-heart surgery this summer, but then she was expected to need only one more, at the age of 21, after which the repair was expected to be permanent.

That's her on the left, in her party dress, just last night. In the middle of dancing at the ROTC Military Ball, she dropped like a puppet with cut strings. Her young dance partner had only time to break her fall and lay her gently on the dance floor. She was gone before medical help could arrive.

Cheyenne Turner had lived since she was quite young with her grandparents, our neighbors across the south fence. She was a brave young woman. She also had one of the loveliest, purest, most unaffected sopranos I've ever heard. This afternoon I said she sang like a bird. My neighbor reminds me that when I first heard her, that's not what I said. I said she sang like an angel.

The Japan Syndrome

The Japan Syndrome

Update: Explosion; What's with the Containment?

This happened sometime during the night, or at least, I couldn't find news reports at about 12:30 a.m. Central. The BBC report, last updated this morning at 8:14 Central, says the Japanese authorities are claiming that the "container housing the reaction was not damaged and radiation levels have now fallen. . . . [T]he concrete building housing the plant's number one reactor had collapsed but the metal reactor container inside was not damaged." Four workers were injured. It's clear that steam escaped, but it's not yet clear how contaminated the steam was. Radioactive cesium and iodine had been detected hear the number one reactor before the explosion. If the metal reactor container inside the concrete building was not breached, that's certainly good news. Although it's too early to rely on the frantic bits of official releases being reported worldwide, it's still possible that the steam, which is being blown out to sea, was not wildly dangerous. The damage to the nuclear plant, however, is considerable, and the damage to the nuclear power industry worldwide is incalculable.

Original post: Japan has 33 nuclear reactors, of which half a dozen or more were shut down by the earthquake. One in particular is turning some hair gray: the 480MW Fukushima nuclear plant about 160 miles north of Tokyo.

The plant had emergency systems, of course. The violent shaking of an earthquake triggers a shutdown in which the control rods are plunged into the nuclear core material to damp off the chain reaction. But the control rods don't work properly if they are allowed to melt -- and it's hot in there. So there's an emergency cooling system, which is basically a lot of liquid (water? I don't know) circulated by pumps through a cooling tower and cooling pond. The pumps are electric. The primary system is to run the pumps on the normal power grid, but the power grid was knocked out by the tsunami. Not to worry; there's a back-up: diesel generators. Unfortunately, those were knocked out by the tsunami, too. But hold on: there's a back-up back-up, which is batteries. They last for 8 hours.

The U.S. military has a crash-priority task to get more generators and/or batteries in there, along with everyone in Japan who can help with the same. If they lose the back-up back-up power to the cooling pumps, all the coolant can boil off in as little as an hour. When the coolant boils off, the reactor core can melt. At Three Mile Island in 1979, loss of coolant for 30 minutes led to a 50% meltdown. Not that meltdowns punch through the crust of the Earth or any of that nonsense, but radiation levels do start rising, and you worry about radioactive steam building up pressure and breaching the containment structure. Indeed, the Japanese government announced earlier today that the pressure was 50% above normal and that they planned to vent some gas to prevent too high a build-up. The gas is "slightly radioactive," they report. They also state that the level is so minimal that the release would cause no danger.

I'm as big a supporter of nuclear energy as you'll find, but that doesn't inspire my confidence. It's one thing to know that the U.S.S.R. couldn't build adequate safety systems, but Japan? It was a big earthquake, but not unprecedented, particularly in an especially earthquake-prone region. The tsunami was a well-known consequence of earthquakes at low altitudes near the coast. It's not hard to predict that an earthquake and tsunami might knock out the power grid. So how come the back-up diesel generators weren't someplace safer? How come the batteries are adequate only for 8 hours? I'd like to think that nuclear reactors were a little more conservative than this.

Elmore James

Elmore James:

One of the pieces Bill Kirchen does below is a riff from an old Elmore James piece called "Dust My Broom." I don't think we've looked at James before here at the Hall, but I'm sure you all know the piece.

Elmore James was called "King of the Slide Guitar" for a reason. He was also a veteran of the US Navy, and was there present at the invasion of Guam.

A fighting man and a true artist -- just the kind of man we respect here at the Hall.



This video of death threats aimed at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is making the rounds.

Professor Jacobson asks why people aren't afraid to say this, even though many are professionals. Professor Reynolds agrees, pointing to a climate of impunity.

I can't agree that these people are fearless. "I hope someone shoots him" strikes me as a gutless thing to say. If you really believe that violence is warranted as a means of resisting political changes, you should take responsibility for your feelings and pick up a gun. Why should somebody else go to prison -- or to hell -- for you?

These cowards just hope that somebody else will have the courage of their convictions.



A huge 8.9 earthquake has struck Japan. A really nasty tsunami already has hit Hawaii and is due to strike the Pacific Northwest U.S. any minute now, with California an hour behind. Incredible video is coming in:

This one is almost deceptively calm until you get near the one-minute mark, and then you want all those guys on the bridge to get off the bridge and out of there.

For perspective, here are the largest earthquakes on record per Wikipedia. This one would rank number 7 worldwide, counting all the earthquakes we've ever been able to document (and estimate the sizes of) in recorded history.

1. 1960 Chile 9.5
2. 1964 Alaska 9.2
3. 2004 Sumatra 9.2
4. 1952 Kamchatka 9.0
5. 1868 Chile 9.0
6. 1700 Canadian/U.S. border West Coast 9.0
7. 2011 Japan 8.9

Every 0.1 increase in the Richter scale means about a 1.3x increase in intensity. Every 1.0 increase means a 10x increase in intensity. The difference between an 8.9 earthquake and a 9.5 earthquake is 10 to the power of (9.5-8.9), or 10 to the 0.6 power, which is about 4x, if I'm doing it right. So this earthquake was about 1/4 as big as the biggest one we know about, ever. Worldwide, earthquakes from 4.0 to 5.0 are basically a dime a dozen. From 5.0 to 6.0, they happen more than 100 times a month. From 6.0 to 7.0, a little over ten a month. From 7.0 to 8.0, a little over one a month. We can expect one over 8.0 only about once a year, and you can see from the above chart that "greater than 8.9" means you're going back hundreds of years to find a good pool of equivalent events.

It does get worse. Going back 65 million years gets you the asteroid impact that may have finished off the dinosaurs, and 250 million years gets you the Permian extinction -- the beginning of the Dinosaur Age -- which may or may not have had something to do with a million years or so of Siberian volcanoes leaving basaltic flows miles deep over an area nearly as big as the continental United States. Whether the Permian extinction resulted in part from an impact, or seismic upheavals, or something else, no one knows for sure.

They say the tsunami in northern Japan was 33 feet. So far, though, the reports in Hawaii and the U.S. west coast sound pretty moderate. I hope so.

CNN Thumbnail

A Thumbnail Sketch:

CNN has put together a useful thumbnail sketch of the current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. It's remarkable that there's been this sudden push for democratic reforms across the entire region. If only we had seen this coming and had planned for it...

Well, no matter. The French are on the job, threatening airstrikes in support of the rebels in Libya if Gadhafi uses chemical weapons or attacks civilians. That's a more robust policy than the "no fly zone" that has been suggested -- which, on reflection, is both too weak and too expensive in that it requires you to control all the sky all the time, rather than just taking out Gadhafi's air assets once.

Time was we'd have been a bit embarrassed to have the French out-cowboying us, but in this case it's appropriate.

One of our 2012 requirements should be that 'any Presidential candidate must be a horseman.' Or horsewoman, as the case may be.

The Rest of the Jury Story

The Rest of the Jury Story

Since everyone who commented on my jury story agreed that Little Company was out of luck, you'll be happy to hear that the jury agreed with you. They were out only an hour before coming back with a decision that no contract was breached. They felt sorry for Little Company and would have awarded some damages if they could, but they took seriously their duty of sticking to the words of the contract they had been asked to examine. What's more, if they'd agreed there was a breach, they would have awarded only the legal fees for fighting the Mexican government, not the millions of dollars in lost profits.

Sometimes I worry about juries, but the defendant's lawyer told me she has great faith in their intelligence and good sense. She said this even in the middle of the trial when things didn't seem to be going well. She was right.

But should the jury really have put aside its sympathy for Little Company? After all, wasn't there some good sense in that nagging feeling that Little Company was getting hung out to dry for something Big Company did that they couldn't control?

I look at this trial as a problem in contract drafting. Little Company signed a guaranty agreement that it didn't understand. It should never have promised to make good to the Mexican government for the errors of Big Company without thinking through what would happen if Big Company screwed up something Little Company couldn't control, and without making sure Big Company was on the hook contractually to pay them back if that happened. In those situations, it's crucial to get a written reimbursement agreement (called an indemnity), and be sure it covers not only final losses if you lose but also expenses of defense even if you win in the end. An insurance policy would be a good idea, too. Corporate directors get both before they agree to serve. So Little Company might have been better off asserting a claim against its own counsel, if it bothered consulting any, than against Big Company. Maybe Big Company would have refused to sign an indemnity, reasoning that that's what they were paying their trusted native guide for: to make sure there were no problems in Mexico's wild and woolly legal system. In that case, Little Company could make an informed decision whether to sign the guaranty and keep getting commissions, or go find another customer. (The guaranty wasn't optional; the Mexican government requires it of an agent for a foreign principal engaged in the import business.)

The case is also a problem in legal pleading in a lawsuit. As I said in the comments below, the agreement that went sour here is not the agency agreement, it's the guaranty agreement, but Little Company didn't allege a breach of the guaranty agreement (for good reason, since LC didn't get BC to co-sign it). The jury was confused by the task of finding a reimbursement obligation in the agency agreement, for the very good reason that it's not in there.

If the reimbursement obligation had been anywhere, it would have been in the guaranty agreement or in some indemnity agreement signed in connection with the guaranty agreement. If that stuff isn't written, or isn't written properly, it's the plaintiff's job to plead a statutory duty, or implied duty, or breach of some inherent duty of principals to agents, or duty of good faith and fair dealing (that's the "moral obligation" of corporations to corporations). The thing is, you don't get to dream all that up in front of the jury; you have to plead it right at the start. Why didn't the plaintiff do that here? Who knows? They didn't seem to know much contract law. They seemed to think that playing on the jury's feelings of sympathy and outrage would be enough.

If the plaintiff didn't plead the right theories, why didn't the defendants get the case thrown out on motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment before it ever got to the jury? The answer is, they tried, but the judge wouldn't grant the motions. I think there's almost no doubt the defendant would have won on appeal no matter what the jury had done. For one thing, the plaintiff waited too long to file the suit, and its theory of why the statute of limitations hadn't run was, um, unorthodox. But the jury didn't get to hear those aspects of the case. Only the appellate court would have heard them.

As for the lost profits, the jury wasn't having any of that. Now, it's true that the idea of damages for the lost value of Little Company's destroyed business wasn't crazy. After all, one day they had a business, and the next day it was basically dead. The problem was that it's one thing to project future business, and another to make it up out of thin air, with no historical basis. "I coulda been a contendah!" Texas law is admirably clear about speculative future profits not grounded in any historical track record. The plaintiffs hired a damages expert who came up with a number and then backfilled with analysis and data (as he admitted in an incautious email -- when will people learn?). The defendants hired a more experienced damages expert who said if someone turned in work like that at his firm, he'd be fired on the spot. I guess the jury wasn't impressed.

So remember: don't go around signing guaranty agreements. They're very tricky. The associated law of indemnity, reimbursement, contribution, joint and several liability, and subrogation are some of the hardest areas in business law. That jury was being asked to sort out one of the thorniest legal problems there is, and they weren't even being pointed to the right issues!

Jury Duty

Jury Duty

I got called for jury duty this week. My number was so high that there wasn't much chance of my being chosen, but I got interested in the case -- a contract dispute -- so I came back for the last three days to watch the trial. I'm curious what you guys would have made of the situation.

Big Company leases oilfield tools to Pemex, the Mexican government-operated oil exploration and production company. Big Company has no employees in Mexico; its only assets there are the equipment it has leased to Pemex. Little Company is Big Company's agent in Mexico.

The agency agreement between Big Company and Little Company is fairly short. It deals mostly with the calculation of commissions on leases. It also provides, however, that Little Company will take measures to ensure that Big Company stays in compliance with Mexican law. Furthermore, it provides that Little Company will pay all of its own costs and expenses of acting as agent.

Little Company develops contacts with Pemex and generally sees to it that Big Company is complying with a variety of local requirements, including all the stamps and fees that are involved in moving all these products across the border. In this connection, Little Company signs a document assuring the Mexican government that it will be responsible for any violation of Mexican law by Big Company. Big Company does not sign this "guaranty" document and in fact may not even be aware of its existence.

Pemex leases some huge tools from Big Company that are needed to install wellheads on the sea-floor in the Gulf of Mexico. Pemex uses the tools only once per well and doesn't need to keep them in its own inventory, but it does need to keep them long enough to complete each well. Mexican import/export law contains an exemption from customs taxes for equipment that comes into the country for short periods not to exceed six months. Sometimes, however, Pemex needs to keep the tools offshore more than six months. One of Little Company's employees in Yucatan is a good "fixer" who stays friendly with Pemex. He typically persuades Pemex to bring each tool back from offshore within six months, even if that means just putting the tool on a big semi and sending it back across the border into Texas briefly, before it goes right back into Mexico and back offshore until the wellhead is finished. Unfortunately, the fixer dies suddenly, and the only guy left in that division is an engineer who, despite his skill at explaining the product, doesn't really know all the ropes about the import/export dance. In fact, no one else in Little Company, including its big brass in Mexico City, really has this dance on his radar screen at all. Back in the U.S., Big Company has never paid much attention to the issue, because things always went smoothly before.

Suddenly an alarm goes up. Someone -- perhaps a government official or a Pemex employee -- alerts Little Company that a couple of tools have been in Mexico more than six months. The Mexican tax authorities are raising a stink: your exemption isn't good any more, pay those import taxes! After a brief scramble, Big Company gets its tools back from offshore and brings them back by truck across the border to Texas without incident, paying a late fee to the customs authorities there. Big Company then gets underbid on the next few Pemex projects that come up, and stops doing business in Mexico.

The Mexican government, however, isn't finished with Little Company. It sues Little Company for some amount that Big Company may still owe, for unexplained reasons. The amount sought is vastly greater than the late fees Big Company paid at the border; in fact, it's nearly as much as the two giant tools were worth, almost $600,000 total. The Mexican government seizes Little Company's rather meager office assets indefinitely. What's worse, it blacklists Little Company's two main guys, preventing them from bidding on any Pemex business or even talking to anyone at Pemex. Little Company tells Big Company what's happening. Big Company sends all the information it has, showing that Big Company brought the tools back over the border as soon as it could get them back from Pemex, and that Big Company paid the late fee at the border.

Over the next five years, Little Company doesn't manage to sell any products to Pemex. The blacklisted principals in Little Company move all of its employees to some other affiliates, but those affiliates don't sell anything to Pemex, either. This may be because the affiliates lack the services of the principals, but there is some evidence that the blacklist applies to the principals only in connection with some of the affiliates, not all. Little Company claims that, although it had never actually sold anything to Pemex before, it had made some impressive demonstrations to Pemex officials and was on the verge of making some great sales when it was shut down. Little Company therefore claims it lost several million dollars in profits over the five-year period after the seizure and blacklisting. At the end of that period, the Mexican tax authorities quit chasing Little Company, but it's still not clear why they sued in the first place, or why they stopped, or whether they might start again.

Back in the U.S., we get to the lawsuit I sat through this week. Little Company sues Big Company for breach the agency agreement, arguing that Big Company violated Mexican law and then left Little Company to face the wrath of the Mexican authorities alone. Little Company asserts that the agency agreement requires Little Company to pay only its own expenses, not those of Big Company. It follows, therefore, that when Big Company failed to pay its own expenses and Little Company got hit up for them instead, that was a breach of the agency agreement.

So who wins? What facts are left out that you'd want to know more about before you could decide?

Bill Kirchen

Bill Kirchen Plays... Well, Everything:

In accord with T99's Billboard post from a week or so back -- and in deference to today's very high gasoline prices -- let's join Bill Kirchen in remembering the grand old days of the hot rod Lincoln.

You always have to admire a man who will try to match Earl Scruggs. You don't hold it against him that he can't -- of course he can't. It's a glorious thing even to have made an honorable try.

Here's a few more men giving it a good shot.


That's a Lot of Rowing:

Young couples start falling apart after only three years these days, because of 'the stresses of modern life.'

Romance begins to fall flat at this point as couples take each other for granted, argue ever more and lose their sexual appetite, researchers say. Those in three-year plus relationships row for an average of 2.7 hours per week compared with 1.2 hours for those still in the first flushes of love.
I don't sustain three hours a week of "rowing" with everyone I know put together, nor would I wish to do so. That sounds exhausting.


I might buy off on Tim Oliphant*** but the traditionalist in me finds the rest of the nominees extremely unsettling.

*** language alert, one word only

Like Sarah

What I've Always Liked about Sarah Palin:

Barbara Kay, toward the end of her piece, hits on exactly why I've always liked Mrs. Palin -- and been glad of her influence in the public space.

Mama Grizzlies [celebrate], rather than repudiate, their biological natures. Mama Grizzlies see men as different but complementary to women, and therefore as collaborators, not adversaries. Sarah Palin’s Down’s Syndrome-afflicted child and military-serving son — whom she speaks about proudly at public events — aren’t an anomaly in this circle of unapologetically maternal women. Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party caucus, has nurtured 23 foster children over the years.
This principle is also the one I believe in, in the form of chivalry. Chivalry is an ethic of willful service to each other. To frame it in terms of the post just below, it is an ethic of putting the Beautiful ahead of personal interest. It honors the difference, because "to honor" is to sacrifice of yourself for something that matters more than you.

The "Mama Grizzly" ethic is chivalric in this sense. It is willing to endure even severe personal sacrifices in order to honor others: raising a child with disabilities, or taking seriously the duties of wife and mother even when they conflict with personal advancement. It also extends honor to those 'on the other side' of the sex divide who are sacrificing for the mutual good: of husbands, fathers, and sons who serve in our wars.

This is a wholly good and positive development.


The Egyptian Situation:

A small group of women activists in Egypt -- 200 or so by their own count -- discovered yesterday that the pro-democracy revolution did not suddenly alter society. Blogger "Texas Sparkle" has an update on the constitutional questions in Egypt.

The all-male legal committee that was convened to amend the country's constitution has drafted an amendment that prohibits a man with a foreign wife from running for president. The amendment's wording makes it clear that a woman running for president isn't even envisaged.
This is a better situation than it looks, though: you don't erect defenses against something you never imagined. Future Egyptian women of courage will not be troubled by an amendment banning them from having a foreign wife if they want to run for President.

There's always a long road in front of any movement that wants to create significant changes in society. Political changes are usually easier to effect, because you need only sway relatively few people -- the right few. A social change requires swaying at least a plurality of the entire population, and a solid majority if it is to be a secure and lasting change.

Different toolsets are involved. People try to change society with laws, but that only leads to culture wars. What really changes society is either personal interest, or aesthetics.

That is, either you convince people that the change you propose will help them; or you convince them that it is a more beautiful and perfect way to live. That takes time, and it takes courage, and it takes conviction. We won't see it quickly in the Middle East, but we didn't see it quickly here either.

There is one further warning. Political change moves fast, but social changes move slowly -- with one exception. There is a switch in the human mind between peace and war: that one flips. The person who wishes to pursue social change must therefore push slowly and constantly, without flipping the "fight" switch. Few changes that have pushed past that point have won their cause, and those only that have had the support of the warrior class: for example, the President's and National Guard's backing of the push to force desegregation here in America. So far the army in Egypt has intervened to stop violence against women in the square at least twice, but it's not clear that they're devoted to the principle, as opposed to having a general (and praiseworthy) desire not to see women brutalized.

Law and Knitting

Law and Knitting

A woman after my own heart. She left a promising mergers & acquisitions career at Dewey Ballantine to open a knitting shop, which did OK for a couple of years, but then decided to return to her M&A practice, where they were happy to welcome her back. At the verge of rejoining Dewey, she found that the partner she worked for was moving to Weil Gotshal, so she went with him. She was 8 weeks pregnant at the time. Last year she had another baby. This year she's making partner at Weil. She says she still knits occasionally when a conference call goes on too long.

Too many lawyers underestimate the appeal of the textile crafts.

The Smartitude of the Noble Elephant

The Unbearable Smartitude of the Noble Elephant

Apropos of Grim's series of posts on thinking horses, allow me to present my favorite animal: the elephant.
Elephants recently aced a test of their intelligence and ability to cooperate, with two of them even figuring out ways that the researchers hadn't previously considered to obtain food rewards.

The study, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights not only the intelligence of individual elephants, but also the ability of these animals to cooperate and understand the value of teamwork.

Scientists now believe elephants are in league with chimpanzees and dolphins as being among the world's most cognitively advanced animals.

... The researchers positioned a sliding table, holding enticing red bowls full of yummy corn, some distance away from a volleyball net. A rope was tied around the table such that the table would only move if two elephants working together pulled on the dangling rope ends. If just one elephant pulled, the rope would unravel. To get to the front of the volleyball net, the elephants had to walk down two separate, roped-off lanes.

A total of 12 male and female elephants from the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, participated. It's estimated that fewer than 2,500 of these animals are left in the Thai jungle, so conservation efforts now are critical.

After quickly learning that the corn-on-the-table task could not be successfully completed solo, elephants would wait up to 45 seconds for the second "partner" elephant to show up. If the researchers did not release this second elephant, the first one basically looked around as if to say: "You've got to be kidding. It takes two to do this." In most cases, the elephants got the corn.

Two elephants, named Neua Un and JoJo, even figured out how to outwit the researchers.

"We were pleasantly surprised to see the youngest elephant, Neua Un, use her foot to hold the rope so that her partner had to do all the work," Plotnik said. "I hadn't thought about this beforehand, and Neua Un seemed to figure it out by chance, but it speaks volumes to the flexibility of elephant behavior that she was able to figure this out and stick to it."

The other "cheater," JoJo, didn't even bother to walk up to the volleyball net unless his partner, Wanalee, was released.

"Perhaps he had learned that if he approached the rope without her, he'd fail," Plotnik said, adding that such advanced learning, problem-solving, and cooperation are rare in the animal kingdom. Other animals clearly engage in teamwork, but he thinks they are "pre-programmed for it," unlike elephants that seem to understand the full process.

The study interested me because of the fairly widespread tendency to use "science" to excuse selfish, self interested, or outright amoral behavior on the rather shaky grounds that such behaviors are "natural". I've never been sure who these folks are arguing with (their own consciences, perhaps?) - spend a few moments watching small children and it's impossible to escape the conclusion that we humans, left to ourselves, can be real pips.

Instinct doesn't - and can't - explain the complex behaviors of either animals or humans. And in the case of humans, we can study something more relevant than the mating rituals of lemurs: we have recorded history. Human civilization is based on the observed truth that we can and do rise above our instincts all the time. But for those determined to ignore more pertinent comparisons, there is plentiful evidence in the animal kingdom that qualities like altruism, cooperation, and even the willingness to sacrifice for others have tremendous adaptive value. Just watch these elephants cooperating to achieve something neither of them would be able to do on their own.
I really enjoy reading studies, but tend to have far more faith in them when the results surprise the researchers (or contradict the hypothesis being tested) than when the study conveniently proves a scientist right.

Or maybe I just really like elephants :p

Discussion question for the day: do female elephants wear makeup for other female elephants, or is this evidence of lingering patriarchal oppression and objectification by the male of the species? Inquiring minds want to know.



Apparently Senate Majority Leader Reid believes that the Elko Cowboy Poetry Festival is dependent on government handouts.

“The mean-spirited bill, H.R. 1 … eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts,” said Reid. “These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.”
I'm sure they get grants -- that's what these grants are for -- but I wonder how much they depend on grants. The reason I ask is that the recording they put out one year -- Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering -- features an opening monologue by Baxter Black that asserts the gathering had proven that poetry could be profitable. It's probably not worth $0.99 to listen to three minutes of boosterism about the festival, but the clear impression is that it's doing just fine.

(On the other hand, the track called "Silver Spurs" certainly is worth the price, as are several tracks from the two-volume set.)

It looks like National Review was curious too, and report on the relatively modest grants.

So what is the upshot here? Is Elko doomed, or will it do just fine -- perhaps scale back a little, at most? Usually festivals are fundraisers, even little county or state fairs.

The money at issue hardly matters; we're not going to get to solvency in ten- or fifty-thousand dollar cuts. It's entitlements that must be addressed, especially Medicare, Medicaid and government pensions. Maybe there's a principle that matters, and maybe not: I can see reasons to argue that at least the initial $50,000 grant was money-well-spent, and similar cultural startups might be worth supporting as well.

Still, it seems like Elko might be able to sit deep, and ride this one out.

Hai-yi-yi-ku, yay!

Hai-yi-yi-ku, yay!

OK, now those Republican budget-cutting fanatics have gone too far. Harry Reid to the rescue, pointing out that:

“The mean-spirited bill, H.R. 1, eliminates National Public Broadcasting,” said Reid in a floor speech. “It eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts. These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival."
Ace and his band of commenters are on the job, as usual, filling the gap with non-federally funded, all-volunteer cowboy poetry, though I had to scroll through quite a few before I could find one suitable for quoting here even in redacted form:
For Harry

Your politics are pure Communist red,
My poems are faded cowboy denim blue.
Stop wasting our money you stupid corrupt evil b****rd.

It's Not Our Fault!

Senate Democratic Slogans:

The Politico reports that the Senate Democrats are looking for a 2012 slogan. They have a few suggestions. The early favorites (apparently actual?):

"We've Got Your Back, Barack";

"Repeal Republicans in 2012"

"Had Enough Tea?"

"Brick by Brick, We're Building a Firewall"

"Hey GOP? You're Firewalled!"
Firewall? Really? Wouldn't the President's veto be the firewall against Republican madness -- or are you already writing him off?

Politico also had some suggestions:
"Because Harry Reid really likes his nice Majority Leader office";

"Please, please, please vote for us in 2012!"

"Why not?";

"Will the last Senate Democrat in office please turn out the lights?"
How about:

"It's not our fault!"

"You know the Republicans are just as bad."

Guitar as Percussion

Guitar as Percussion:

Working the strings way up the neck, too. Now that's a man who can fight his rifle -- so to speak. It's not a combat art at all, but I admire a master of any instrument.



George Will says there are five plausible candidates for the GOP nomination; plus President Obama, that makes six people to focus your eyes on, if he is right. He states:

[S]ensible Americans, who pay scant attention to presidential politics at this point in the electoral cycle, must nevertheless be detecting vibrations of weirdness emanating from people associated with the party.

The most recent vibrator is Mike Huckabee....
Ah, wait no! That wasn't the line I meant to quote. (Did George Will really just call...? Nevermind.) Here we are:
Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
John Podhoretz disagrees, and names a few more:
It could be Chris Christie. It could be Paul Ryan. It could be Marco Rubio. It could be Bobby Jindal.
And there is what Hot Air is calling a "scrimmage" in Iowa.
Pawlenty, Gingrich, Santorum, Herman Cain, and Buddy Roemer(?), only one of whom stands a shot at winning the nomination.
The one they mean is Pawlenty.

So, here is the "plausible" candidate list for 2012 according to the leading conservative commentators:

1) President Barack Obama
2) Governor Mitch Daniels
3) Governor Haley Barbour
4) Former Governor and Ambassador John Huntsman
5) Former Governor Mitt Romney
6) Former Governor Tim Pawlenty
7) Governor Bobby Jindal
8) Governor Chris Christie
9) Representative Paul Ryan
10) Senator Marco Rubio

For the sake of argument, let's consider this list. Of these, who is your favorite and why? Are there any that are entirely unacceptable to you? (We will take it as read that conservatives will consider the current President unacceptable; that doesn't need further explanation on this occasion. Any conservatives who intend to vote for him, though, are encouraged to say why -- as are any liberals who favor, say, Haley Barbour.)



Incunable, or sometimes incunabulum (plural incunables or incunabula, respectively) is a book, pamphlet, or broadside, that was printed — not handwritten — before the year 1501 in Europe. "Incunable" is the anglicised singular form of "incunabula", Latin for "swaddling clothes" or "cradle" which can refer to "the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything." ...

There are two types of incunabula in printing: the Block book printed from a single carved or sculpted wooden block for each page, by the same process as the woodcut in art (these may be called xylographic), and the typographic book, made with individual pieces of cast metal movable type on a printing press, in the technology made famous by Johann Gutenberg.
The Center for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care has recently digitized 57 of these early texts, including an edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'arthur. You can read this, with a little effort, even though it is in middle English and in a "typeface" that is quite unfamiliar.

Take a look at the column on the top right. It may take a moment to make out what it says: but after you start to read it, you'll find that you can do so with relative ease. By the time you get to "a grymme hooste of an hondred thousande men" you should be able to make out large sections. In Middle English, if you find that you hit a word you don't recognize, sound it out. Very often you'll recognize the word -- or a cognate with a modern English word that will let you grasp the meaning -- once you hear it out loud. If you're accustomed to reading Shakespeare, you'll already know some of the archaic language; and once you can do this, you can read Chaucer and many surviving poets in the original.

If you don't want to squint at the typeface, you can find the same text on page 845 of this electronic edition.

Financial Problems

Financial Problems:

Today I'd like to talk about two significant financial issues for the average American, one private and one public. They share two common threads.


Turns out Citibank, which had been collecting hundreds of dollars a month from us to pay the insurer, hadn’t made the payments. It was, I later learned, one of the usual tricks mortgage servicers use to squeeze more cash out of their customers. About a month later, I learned of another trick: Citibank informed us that it was increasing our monthly payment by nearly $300....

My wife and I are reasonably savvy consumers – she has a brand-name MBA, and I began my career as a business reporter for the Wall Street Journal – but we were no match for a bungling bank. After five months of trying, we still haven’t been able to resolve all of Citibank’s mistakes – nearly all of them, curiously, in the bank’s favor [...]
FDL points out, quite rightly it seems to me, that the "shared experience" of having been ripped off by the bank is what woke up this Washington insider to a wicked reality.

We are fooling ourselves most of all. United States government debt in public hands is now more than $9 trillion, but most people still don’t realize what it will take to pay that off.

Here’s an example: Say that you have $20,000 in Treasury bills. You probably believe that you own $20,000 in wealth. This will encourage you to spend and come up with ambitious plans. Yet someone — quite possibly you — will be taxed in the future to pay off the government debt. The $20,000 may be needed in order to do that.
These cases are alike in that average Americans are involved in supposedly safe, bedrock investments -- mortgages and Treasury bonds -- with pillars of the community. That they are being misled or outright ripped off by these pillars is a moral outrage.

They are alike in another way too. If "we" need your $20,000 investment returned to "us" in taxes, it is partially because "we" spent a boatload of cash to bail out banks and major corporations who made bad investments. In other words, we are making your investment a bad investment so as to prevent them from suffering the costs of their bad investments. Why did these banks and corporations get bailed out? Because they were politically connected.

Why are the bank's errors so often -- "curiously" -- in their favor? Put another way, if it's their error, why aren't they the ones responsible for fixing it at whatever expense? Because that's the way the law is written. Why is the law written that way? Because...


Sexual Political, Part Deux

Sexual Politics, Part Deux

Is it a violation of the Sabbath to try to stir up trouble on this stuff today? This article claims that research shows a strong correlation between intelligence in men and their tendency to place a high value on sexual fidelity. In women, however, there is a strong prejudice in favor of sexual fidelity regardless of intelligence. Does this mean women are simply capable of understanding the obvious, regardless of their brains? Do men have to reason something out that women grasp by some kind of mysterious intuition (always a popular theory)? Or is this just another of those studies where someone manages to link intelligence to a pet theory for the purpose of shedding approval of the pet theory? Another possibility, I suppose, is that the advantages of sexual fidelity are considerable more obvious even to the dimmer members of a sex that can get pregnant. The flip side would be that only the more intelligent men were likely to look beyond immediate selfish advantage.

The article makes no attempt to distinguish between male and female fidelity, and in this it echoes the problem I find with most discussions on the subject.

Women and World War

Women and World War

Kathleen Parker writes this week about why women should take advantage of their special strengths rather than try to become men -- nothing very new there. She did get my attention with the following two assertions:

Research shows that companies with more female employees make more money. And recent history makes clear that nations that oppress women are dangerous nations.
I'm not sure what "research" it is that shows that companies with more women make more money; that would be interesting to find out more about. (Unfortunately Ms. Parker provides no sources.)

The other claim is one I've heard before, but as attractive as it is to my own sensibilities, I have to wonder about it, too. Is it really true that a culture that oppresses women is necessarily more dangerous to its neighbors? Why would that be? Certainly we have some glaring examples of oppressive cultures that recently have been giving the whole world a hard time, but I'm not sure we can show causation and not mere correlation there. No doubt a fundamentalist Moslem would argue that the U.S., with its perverted sexual mores, is the worst offender among the nations of the world. Admittedly, it's easier for countries with gender-equality traditions to get along with each other than with countries who loathe this kind of thing. What do you think?