Picture of the Day

April 30, 2009 at 11:03 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Griddle Virgin Mary

-Miles Lascaux

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No Bonuses for George

April 30, 2009 at 9:46 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

“When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”

From George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, Thursday, April 30, 1789. One Two hundred and twenty years ago today.

-Miles Lascaux

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Facelifts Are for White People.

April 30, 2009 at 7:14 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Really, do people of any other skin tone and ethnicity ever even get them?  Remodeling of facial features — plumper or thinner lips, rounder Asian eyes, deboned Jewish noses, less flared African American noses, like Denzel Washington’s — is another story.  But facelifts?  All white people.  Is it an accurate observation that a lot of Caucasians, particularly the fairest, have fragile skin that dries, wrinkles, and sags easily, and that therefore we age much more noticeably and unattractively than other ethnic groups?  If so, then the thorough mixing of races that some fear and loathe about the future will be a net aesthetic gain (and monetary saving) for the entire species.

That’s one thing that gets my attention about the cosmetic-surgery craze.  The other thing is that it is a trade-off between youthfulness and individuality.  You can continue to look youngish indefinitely provided you’re willing to give up looking like you.  Among the movie and commercial stars who no longer look like themselves, or like anyone in particular, for that matter:  Sally Field (in Boniva commercials), Lindsay Wagner (in Sleep Number bed commercials), Sharon Stone, and to an extreme, Faye Dunaway (all white people!).  Can you think of some more?  Even someone as relatively young as Nicole Kidman has begun to make the tradeoff.

Just idle thoughts.

~ amba

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Home To Roost

April 30, 2009 at 2:56 am (By Amba)

On NPR this evening, Robert G. Wallace, the author of a forthcoming book called Farming Human Pathogens, basically stated that factory farms are breeding grounds for the likes of H1N1 (I want to pronounce that “Heinie,” rhymes with “Swinie”).  According to Wallace, as a precondition of obtaining IMF loans, small Mexican hog farmers were forced either to consolidate or to sell out to multinational agribusiness corporations.  Factory farming, a barbaric and unhealthy (for everyone) practice, is being aggressively exported and has diseases like the new swine flu as part of its karmic cost.

Here’s Wallace’s blog.  He has a tendency to speak in jargon, which is a pity, because what he is saying is of the essence.

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If Thoughts and Prayers Have Force —

April 30, 2009 at 2:35 am (By Amba)

— please, please add your erg of lift to bearing tiny Charlie Miller aloft. 

Danny’s son, Charlie was born very prematurely and has lost his twin brother, Oliver.  In his favor, Charlie was stable from the get-go and is in one of the best NICUs in the country, with a record of coaxing tiny preemies into healthy kids.  But, oh my God, he weighs only one pound, ten ounces.

Hold them up, hold them up/ Never do let them fall …

~ James Taylor, “Never Die Young”

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Insert “Specter is Haunting ____” Pun Here

April 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

I’m embarrassed to admit that Arlen Specter has always been pretty much my idea of what a modern U.S. Senator should be. As a lifelong Pennsylvanian, I’ve had a chance to vote for him every time, and I never passed it up.

Mind you, I never did it with enthusiasm, either. He’s an arrogant man who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He’s not likeable. Well, so what? There are certain job categories that ought not to be filled based on likeability. Senator is one of them.

But it makes him a poor patron saint. Which is why Republicans who are of an independent stripe, lik me, probably won’t ever have one of those.

His switch of party means nothing, in terms of his politics. He’ll keep voting the same way. I am sure he realizes he is in his last years, so he will pursue his remaining agendas — most of them harmless or beneficial to the nation as a whole — using the power of his political fulcrum.

He switched to get re-elected. He knows this state from stem to stern, having long ago transcended Philadelphia. Only Tom Ridge could stop him now.

When the Senate was set up, it was meant to be in large part above the fray and the popular tumult. The section of the Federalist devoted to it (about #62 through #69, I think) gives me the strong impression that Hamilton and Madison would have wanted it kept from the sweaty hands of party machines. They made no explicit mention of party machines because there were none then.

Specter, Mike Mansfield, Calhoun, that sort of person, who is secure enough and ornery enough to do and say what he senses is right. Who has devoted his leisure not to getting re-elected every few months, but to deepening the study of law and government and humankind. Who has an eye on the long-range good of the country, not the expedience of the party.

Do they all fail at that ideal? Of course! That’s the point of the Constitution. We’re not electing saints or philosophers. If there’s one thing the Founders knew, that was it. Everything in balance. The idea was to get great work out of elected men while they were chasing their venal and selfish ambitions. It was a good trick, while it lasted.

-Miles Lascaux

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One ($5 Billion) Promise Too Late

April 29, 2009 at 5:05 pm (By Maxwell James)

Nearly lost in yesterday’s hubbub over swine flu and pork traders was the most recent update on the auto industry’s flailing. Apparently Chrysler, in one more last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy, will now be 55% owned by the UAW in exchange for renegotiation of workers’ pension funds. I find this decision rather sad.

It’s not widely known, but for a brief period in the early 1980’s Chrysler actually had an employee stock ownership plan (as did the other members of the Big Three, IIRC). Corey Rosen, head of the National Center for Employee Ownership, tells the story of its arrival and demise. Basically, the union never really got behind the concept, and demanded the company buy the stock back in 1985. The size of the plan was $162 million at its inception in 1981 – then 16 percent of the company’s value at the time- and each employee received $8200 when it was ended, roughly $16,000 in today’s dollars.

Now, look at the numbers today. 26,000 employees get 55 percent of the company in exchange for relinquishing $5 billion in retirement benefits. But Chrysler isn’t worth $5 billion right now – in fact, it probably isn’t worth $1 billion (hard to say, since the company is majority owned by a private equity firm, but its peer GM has a market cap of $1.12 B right now, and is a larger company).

So at the very best, that 55 percent equity stake is worth $500 million or so – basically as much as what they sold their 16 percent for over two decades ago. And that’s without looking at the lost retirement benefits. By any standard, this is not a very good deal for the automotive workers, and its chances of saving the company at this point are slim.

It’s pointless to gripe about what might have been, but it’s hard not to wonder whether things might be different now had Chrysler’s ESOP not been dissolved. As this article points out regarding GM, the right employee ownership plan could have offered one way of proactively bridging the gap between management and labor with regard to retirement benefits and salaries. There is also a small but growing body of research demonstrating a positive correlation between corporate performance and employee ownership, especially when paired with open management practices.

I believe that the future of the labor movement – and it does have a future – will be based on fostering employee ownership and workforce development. But this particular example has probably come far too late.

~ Maxwell

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Road Rage is Altruistic?!

April 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm (By Amba)

Short of the murderous kind, yep, says Professor Herbert Gintis, emeritus at the University of Massachusetts:

Mostly people think altruism is goody-goody or warm and fuzzy. But, the biggest part of making society work is needing to retaliate, wanting to hurt people who hurt you. It’s much more important than the precondition to cooperate, because if you don’t have punishment, you can’t get cooperation. Strong reciprocity can be cooperation and conditional punishment.

So, we believe the heart of altruism is not only the willingness to cooperate and help — empathy and caring for others — but also this negative side of human nature: retaliation or retribution.

Let me give you an example that you would not even think is altruistic normally, but is: road rage.

What exactly do you mean by road rage and how is that altruistic?

Pathologically, it’s when somebody behaves badly on the road and you shoot them. Usually, though, when people drive through a yellow light or are in a wrong lane, people honk their horns, shake their fists at them. Our argument is that this behavior of getting angry at another driver, who you’re never going to see again, has strong reciprocity. It helps keep people honest.

If you don’t drive the proper way, some guy honks his horn and you feel humiliated; you’ve done a bad thing and you got caught. But he didn’t do it because he cared about keeping people honest. He honked his horn because he was pissed at you. This is true in subjective altruism. By honking your horn or yelling at someone for doing a bad thing, this is an altruistic act. It might have cost you something, not much. But it keeps the rules of the road going. It keeps people honest, so it’s an altruistic act.

You’re upholding the norm of fairness by hurting someone who was unfair. But you didn’t do it because you wanted to uphold a norm for the group. You did it because you were angry at the guy.

Calling Michael, um, Grant:  hey guy, now you can feel good about feeling good about yourself on the road!

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April 29, 2009 at 12:17 am (By Amba)

And not only me, but the people I could’ve killed.

As tweeted lately, I came as close as I ever have to falling asleep at the wheel — on a routine, relatively low-speed 13-mile drive on local streets.  I was sure the drive was so short I’d be able to keep myself awake for the duration.  And I fought to do so, and almost failed.  One way or the other, I was never going to make that mistake again!

The tale in tweets (bottom up):

Lucky lucky lucky — me and the people coming at me. Fair warning!

It was as if I ceased to exist right at the wheel of a 3-ton hunk of steel going 35 or 45. It was as if I was raptured. Potential killer me!

Short trip, doesn’t matter, if that happens again I’m pulling into some mall parking lot and taking a nap. Doesn’t only happen on highway.

SOOO sleepy I pulled up in front of my apt. and immediately fell asleep before getting J out of the van. Amazing how the brain insists sleep

Lucky to be alive tonight. Driving home from swimming pool, only 13 mi., SOOO sleepy my consciousness began to dissolve several times.

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Notes toward a definition of what we’re doing here

April 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm (By Amba)

Note to a longtime blogfriend & potential contributor about a month ago (if I’ve posted it before, forgive me; I’m entering the Repetition Years).

It’s auguring to be a somewhat nonpolitical place — not that anything is off limits.  But politics doesn’t dig deep enough to get at what we seem to be longing for . . . our bearings.

Note today to a new political blogger seeking to exchange links:

Much appreciated, but I’ve just largely decommissioned AmbivaBlog and am spearheading a less political group blog, Ambiance, which doesn’t have a blogroll yet.  It’s not that we rule out talking about politics, just that we have the feeling a much broader shift is underway and politics is just the tip of the iceberg, if that.

I hope the “we” is not presumptuous.  This isn’t “my place.”  So correct me if I’m wrong; or elaborate more on what you think is going on here, or would like it to be.

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