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Print This

A technical note: I have added a "print this" link at the bottom of each item. Alas, technology being what it is, it prints everything that is on your screen, rather than simply the item with which the "print this" is associated. If you want to print a single item, click on the title, then click on "print this" at the bottom. You'll get just the item, not the top of the column and the sidebar. This inability to print an item out has been irritating me for years, and I tip my hat to Typepad for the solution, even if it isn't perfect. Apparently, I could concoct a solution with XML and a style sheet, if I knew anything about XML and style sheets.

Political Briefs

  • How big is too big? How about a maximum size of $75B with 15% first tier capital as opposed to running the risk of the FDIC (currently with a negative $8B in its fund available to pay off depositors at failed institutions) being liable for on the order of $275B if a $300B bank fails.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

4 stars out of 5

As the film notes at the beginning, "more of this is true than you might imagine." The book is based on a work of non-fiction, and its web site does something I wish every "based on a real story" movie would do: it discusses the question of what's true and what isn't. I remember enough of the news stories over the years to know that several of the research projects in the film were actually conducted by the military. The reviews of this film have been terribly mixed, leasing me, as it did one IMDB forum poster, to ask, "did I see the same film?" Now, it isn't Casablanca, and no one is ever going to teach the script in film school, except as a bad example. Director Grant Heslov and writer Peter Straughan both have thin résumés, and it shows. The movie drags in places, and their plot is thinner than their résumés. This is a film you go to see if you love the stars. I love the stars. George Clooney (tanned to within an inch of his life), Ewan McGregor (who has to put up with constant "Jedi Warrior" references), Jeff Bridges (in a very Big Lebowski/Dude kind of role) and Kevin Spacey (playing evil as only Kevin Spacey can). Watching these experts at work, even with thin material is an absolute joy. It ain't art; it does not raise any eternal questions, or make you think. But it does make you laugh. And, saving the best for last: it is only 93 minutes long. Huzzah! Even if you don't like it, you won't have wasted a 2012-size block of time.

Ninja Assassin

0 stars out of 5

For the love of God, run, don't walk, in the opposite direction if someone, even someone you love, asks you, as my niece asked me, to join you in watching this pitiful excuse for a movie. The previews contain every worthwhile moment of the movie. For years to come, if you look up "unbelievably bad" in the dictionary, there will be a still from this film. Where do I go to get those 90 minutes of my life back!

Daniel Dern on White House sense of humor, Richard Dalton on checks in, Craig Reynolds checks in, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern notes: White House Spoofs Turkey Pardon

Richard Dalton notes:

More on the dead tree publishing agenda. My own feeling is that this consortium approach may be both too much and too little--too many big ego players and too little marketing sense in the digital world. It's nice to call yourself the iTunes of magazines, quite another to be plugged into the digital world and inventive enough to generate the needed buzz. Steve Job's is Fortune's executive of the decade for a reason.

Dalton also found this in my review of Food Inc. "I was glad I was watching on DVD so I could skip past the hidden camera scenes in the pig slaughterhouse."

He responded,

I'm sorry, Paul, I know those and other shots of calves and chickens and turkeys and all the other "food animals" blithely being brutalized are very disturbing. But we won't stop allowing other sentient beings to be treated that way (and we do allow it by our inaction) until we're willing to face the pain they live (and die) with. I know I turn my head too often, but nothing will change until humane treatment of animals is more important than the smell of a steak barbecuing or the Thanksgiving turkey roasting.

In addition, Dalton passed along Teachers as Heroes, which is a lovely and inspiring article. The Internet widely attributes it to Jonathan Bradley, Assistant Principal at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio (who really exists), but it turns out it was written by Forrest J. "Frosty" Troy, in the 2001 Christmas edition of The Oklahoma Observer.

Craig Reynolds checks in:


Dan Grobstein File


If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my ten previous Thanksgiving messages. I missed a year--maybe I was too distracted by teaching.

Once again this year we will all be in Orinda, with both my daughters. Who knows what wackiness will ensue this year. Vicki and Marlow both have to work the week of Thanksgiving, but for the third time, I have the whole week off. I pay for it at the end of the school year, which is now the second week of June instead of the first.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a job that still gets better every year, I have my health, such as it is, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Regular readers know I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. It is still true that I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974, when I started working as a professional journalist. This is my seventh year. Each year gets easier, and I get better, but it never gets easy.

Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is now has an apartment in the city and works now, so I only see her once in a while. Rae is also in her own apartment.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.

The years I spent full-time with my girls are priceless. The time I spend with them now is priceless as well.

Not everyone can work in a home office--and I don't anymore.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful that I have two living loving parents and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I am grateful to be alive. Not a bad way to start the day. For reasons I don't want to detail, I am extremely grateful just to be alive.

I am thankful for 245; down 55 from my peak. I am thankful for the fact that I will still be near that weight next year at Thanksgiving.

Every week at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Orinda, the priest concludes the service with this homily. The provenance seems uncertain; the Internet lists several attributions. All I know is, it touches me every time I hear it and is sound advice for life:

Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God be with you now and always.

It has been with me. I hope it is with you. In the meantime, I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Thinking About Afghanistan, Fed Independence, Briefs

Bill Moyers looks at presidential decision making in time of war

There probably should be a constitutional amendment to Article II, section 1, clause 7 changing the oath to read:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, that I have viewed, listened to, and understood the complete videotape of Bill Moyers Journal of November 20, 2009 and have read and understood the complete transcript of Bill Moyers Journal of November 20, 2009, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Being from Chicago, Barack Obama can learn many things from his hometown:
1) While not included in the Moyers Journal, LBJ spoke with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley about Vietnam. LBJ complained it was extraordinarily difficult to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam and asked how he could ever possibly accomplish the seemingly impossible and get the troops out of Vietnam. Daley responded to this effect: You put the fascinating troops on the fascinating airplanes and fly the fascinating airplanes out of the fascinating country (actually in place of "fascinating" Daley used another word beginning with "f").

here is talk by various American officials (notably Secretary of State Clinton and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and every so often President Obama) of the need to end corruption in Afghanistan as a condition precedent to creating a government with the support of the people of Afghanistan. Pres. Obama has made clear that without popular support of the Afghanis, U.S. efforts in Afghanistan will not succeed. The New York Times and other publications have reported that President Karzai's brother is (in addition to being a paid asset of at least one U.S. government agency and a well paid landlord for a U.S. facility) a major participant in the production, distribution, and export of illegal pharmaceutical products. President Karzai has selected as his Vice President and cabinet ministers various persons who are also, allegedly, major recipients of graft and participants in various undemocratic denials of due process (e.g., murder and extortion). Given that Afghanistan is a foreign nation with traditions, languages, and cultural norms which may be different than (and more difficult for an American to understand than) those in Chicago, let's put this in terms of Chicago. How likely is it that when asked (as Pres. Karzai and his ministers are being asked) to forego corruption and violence, Al Capone would have agreed to do so? What basis, if any, does Pres. Obama have for thinking that Pres. Karzai, his Vice President, his ministers, and his brother will act any differently than Al Capone?


Fed Independence
The independent Fed put us in the current economic situation; with the debt just over $12T (courtesy mainly of the policies liberal and imprudent spending advocated by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush). If we ran a surplus of $200B per year (Bill Clinton's highest surplus was about $236B in FY2000), it would take 60 years to pay off the debt. Because of the debt expected to be incurred in FY2010 and later years, the national debt will probably be higher than $12T by the time the economy will support consecutive long-term surpluses. The Fed helped put us in this mess. Now the bankers who helped themselves to your money courtesy of Henry Paulson and Tim Geithner wish to keep on putting your money in their pockets and some Over 300 Members of Congress want to know the details so they have proposed an audit of the Fed. The Fed, the bankers, and your employee, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, do not want to tell you what they have done and are planning to do with your money
Independence of the Fed


DVD: Food Inc.

4 stars out of 5

I give this documentary four stars for a couple of reasons. First, it is good. Second, my wife thinks its important message needs to be spread more widely. Writer-director Robert Kenner has put together a deeply disturbing summary of most of the things that are really wrong with America's industrial food. He did it with the assistance of Michael Pollan, author and on-air host of the recent PBS documentary the Botany of Desire, and Eric Schlosser, the most intellectually rigorous farmer I have ever seen, who delivers one of his longer speeches while casually gutting free-range chickens. Kenner shows the venality of the large food companies, their total lack of interest in whether their products kill us or not and destroy the environment, and the total lack of interest on the part of Congress in protecting us from tainted food. Along the way, he takes a brief detour into utter greed; for example, the decision to use corn to feed cows and chicken although it is unnatural feed that results in food poisonings and deaths, Monsanto's roundup-ready soybeans and the advantage it takes of participating farmers,. there is also the major conflict of interest the old government revolving door, including the Supreme Court's doorstop, Clarence Thomas, one of whose rare opinions was a big wet kiss to former employers. There are several memorable human scenes, but I was glad I was watching on DVD so I could skip past the hidden camera scenes in the pig slaughterhouse. Still, there were brief images in this film that will stick with me for a long time. Let's pass Kevin's Law! (HR 2749) and vote by consciously selecting the food we buy!

Planet 51

2 Stars out of 5

This CGI film is lame, but not ultra-lame. It is moderately well done--but I think we've proven now that anyone can do good CGI. The plot involves an American astronaut who lands on Planet 51--where he's the alien! And then the fun begins! Except it never does. Even John Cleese as the alien mad scientist cannot breath life into this turkey. Well, at least it came just in time for thanksgiving. The problem is, it just isn't that funny. On the upside, at least it's short--a mere 90 minutes.