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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Phantom Legion

August 31st, 2012 - 1:45 pm

When Mark Twain said “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” he was underscoring a principle in information systems before the term was invented.  Above all never corrupt your own database. The most dangerous lie you can make up is the one you go on to believe yourself.

When grassroots organizers working for the Democratic party went to follow up Wisconsin black voters off a 2008 list they discovered a curious thing.  ”Sixty percent of Milwaukee’s black voters have disappeared.” Slate explains:

This spring, the League of Young Voters, which was created to mobilize young minority communities, collaborated with the liberal Wisconsin Voices coalition to dispatch teams of young canvassers. Starting in April, they spent eight weeks knocking on 120,882 doors across 208 of Milwaukee’s 317 wards to raise awareness of the gubernatorial recall election scheduled for June. The doors had one thing in common: the voter file said they were all home to a registered voter whom a commercial data vendor had flagged as likely to be African-American.

But the voter file represented a fiction, or at least a reality that had rapidly become out of date. During those eight weeks, canvassers were able to successfully find and interact with only 31 percent of their targets. Twice that number were confirmed to no longer live at the address on file — either because a structure was abandoned or condemned, or if a current resident reported that the targeted voter no longer lived there.

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The Eastwood Speech

August 30th, 2012 - 8:11 pm
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It was an old man’s delivery, but overstatedly so for effect. It was a cutting delivery and for that reason delivered in low key. But for all of  Clint Eastwood’s rhetorical cleverness at the Republican Convention, the speech derived its effectiveness precisely because it wasn’t one of those “I take this platform tonight with pen in hand, bearing in mind the immortal words of Clancy M. Duckworth” type orations. It wasn’t the speech of someone who was running for office.

Rather it might have come from Mr. Weller down at the corner office musing on simple things to not very important people.  How it wasn’t good form to mess things up continuously. How one might lose faith in a man who made one broken promise too many. How at the end of the day everyone either did the job or quit out of decency. Even presidents.

There was no malice in it. Just a tone of regret. But it was redolent of memory too. Of simple things a world away from the Mountaintop, of sentiments a light-year from dramatic arcs, and of ordinary happiness in a universe apart from grand bargains and high-flown rhetorical visions.  They were truths that  everyone who has ever worked knows but has somehow forgotten because they were so ordinary.

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Letters To and From the Dead

August 30th, 2012 - 12:11 pm

American Presidents in their role as father to the nation and commander in chief of the armed force must inevitably write a lot of letters to the families of the dead. Most of these are routine, though some have acquired a political, or a least a curiosity value over time. President Lincoln’s letter to Civil War mother Lydia Bixby commiserating on the loss of her sons was read to great dramatic effect in the movie Saving Private Ryan, both to illustrate the depth of sacrifice of Mrs. Bixby and the humanity of the Great Emancipator. It is however possible however that not all of Mrs. Bixby’s sons reported dead actually perished and that Lincoln actually did not write the letter.

The text has been widely praised as one of Lincoln’s finest works of writing alongside the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address.

Some controversy surrounds the recipient, subject, and authorship of the letter. Although her sons died fighting for the Union, Mrs. Bixby seems to have personally supported the Confederacy. Not all five sons died in battle, with records showing that three of them were still alive years after the war. Historians have long debated whether the text was penned by Lincoln himself or by his assistant private secretary, John Hay.

The recent death of Neil Armstrong once again brought to public attention the eulogy that President Nixon did not deliver. Before the success of Apollo 11 was known, William Safire drafted a contingency speech to be delivered in the event astronauts were trapped on the lunar surface.

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An Uncertain Hour

August 30th, 2012 - 3:04 am

With the Assad regime in Damascus slowly but surely deflating James Linville asks what happens next, citing an article by Telegraph journalist Con Coughlin.  Coughlin refers  to “western intelligence officials” who claim that the Ayatollah Khamenei now accepts that Assad’s fall may be inevitable and has ordered a retaliatory plan drawn up. “The report, which was personally commissioned by Mr Khamenei, concluded … Iran ‘cannot be passive’ to the new threats posed to its national security, and warns that Western support for Syrian opposition groups was placing Iran’s “resistance alliance” in jeopardy, and could seriously disrupt Iran’s access to Hizbollah in Lebanon.”

But Khamenei’s threat seems hollow on the face of things. Iran’s unconventional warfare reach is limited. It’s conventional miltary power, while dangerous, is nowhere close America’s. What Iran might be able to export — but which the Syrian civil war is manufacturing faster than the Revolutionary Guard — is chaos.  Spengler, writing in the Asia Times, thinks chaos is the leading ideology in the Arab Spring.  Contrary to the conventional wisdom that all leaders want security and stability Spengler thinks that Morsi sees an opportunity in trouble. And why not? With Egypt throwing away every chance to pull itself out of an economic hole it may be rational to believe that Mori thinks chaos is an opportunity.

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The Third Bullet

August 28th, 2012 - 11:59 am

When Stephen Hunter’s fictional hero Bob Lee Swagger came to bookstores with the 1993 novel Point of Impact most of the critics attributed the character’s success to Hunter’s vivid writing style, especially as applied to the lore of the gun.  As much or more than any other writer alive, Hunter understands that firearms and the men who wield them, what he calls the American Gunman — though not in the pejorative sense — constituted a major cultural theme in the history of the United States. He is Shane riding into a frontier town, or John Dillinger wreathed in Thompson submachine gun smoke or Audie Murphy holding a battalion of Nazi infantry at bay. The American Gunman was a figure of myth at par with Achilles and his nodding plumes and Hunter hit the mother lode in depicting him.

But what set apart Bob Lee Swagger in 1993 was something else. He was more than just another portrayal of that myth. In  Bob Lee Swagger, who we first find holed up in a trailer in Arkansas with nothing but his wits, rifle and vague unease, Hunter had created the perfect symbol of a generation betrayed. Swagger in his beginnings was really all those Vietnam vets whose superlative skill, sacrifice and prowess had been wasted by the self-appointed Best and the Brightest, sent to their doom for reasons that were too clever by half and which even the puppeteers had themselves forgotten.

So when Bob Lee Swagger is set up as a patsy for the assassination of a left wing Third World clergyman by Ivy League covert operatives pursuing their own doubtful agenda in Point of Impact the reader feels the betrayal anew. When as Swagger takes apart his opponents in the finale you can imagine a certain demographic of readers were not only reading a story, but cheering as they took vicarious revenge for the outrage perpetrated upon their idealism and youth.

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Electric Dreams

August 27th, 2012 - 4:49 pm

General Motors has announced it is temporarily suspending production of the Chevy Volt. Drive On reports: “General Motors is halting, for a month, the manufacture of its well-known but seldom-sold Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car, according to trade publication Automotive News.” It was the second shutdown this year. This may put the kibosh on the President’s well known intention to buy a Volt fresh off the line when he leaves the White House.

“I got to get inside a brand-new Chevy Volt fresh off the line,” he said, “Secret Service wouldn’t let me drive it, but I liked sitting in it, it was nice, I bet it drives real good.”

“And five years from now, when I’m not president anymore, I will buy one and drive it myself,” he said to the cheering crowd who chanted, “Four more years!”

Maybe they can restart the production line in 2016. The electric car has had rough sailing in the marketplace, even with government incentives to boost it. The administration wanted to get 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 and was willing to help it along.

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Happy Days Are Here Again

August 27th, 2012 - 8:34 am

You’re better off today than ever. You just don’t know it.  Obama campaign official Stephanie Cutter has said that President Obama has created more jobs than Ronald Reagan. Cutter made this assertion at MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

“Well, I think that worker probably has a good understanding of what’s happened over the past four years in terms of the president coming in and seeing 800,000 jobs lost on the day that the president was being sworn in, and seeing the president moving pretty quickly to stem the losses, to turn the economy around. And over the past, you know, 27 months we’ve created 4.5 million private-sector jobs. That’s more jobs than in the Bush recovery (or) in the Reagan recovery.”

Set against this is are reports that the average middle class family has lost more than $4,000 in annual real income since Obama became President. Moreover, the middle class families kept losing income even after the President had announced a recovery.

In January 2009, the month President Obama entered the Oval Office and shortly before he signed his stimulus spending bill, median household income was $54,983. By June 2012, it had tumbled to $50,964, adjusted for inflation. (See the chart nearby.) That’s $4,019 in lost real income, a little less than a month’s income every year.

Unfair, you say, because Mr. Obama inherited a recession? Well, even if you start the analysis when the recession ended in June 2009, the numbers are dismal. Three years after the economy hit its trough, median household income is down $2,544, or nearly 5%.

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The Eagle Has Landed

August 26th, 2012 - 12:50 pm

A short time before he died, Neil Armstrong gave a presentation in Australia matching the footage of his landing on the moon against a modern Google map of the moon.  Anyone who has any doubts that the moon landing was real should watch it at this link. The browser will not automatically open on the correct episode. Be sure to choose Episode 4 in the videos below.

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The Pillar of Fire

August 25th, 2012 - 3:54 pm
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A Bubble Reputation

August 24th, 2012 - 2:54 pm

USA Today quotes studies which suggest that 70% of Barack Obama’s Twitter followers are fake. “A new Web tool has determined that 70% of Obama’s crowd includes “fake followers”. The New York Times describes how it’s done.

The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like USocial.net, InterTwitter.com, and FanMeNow.com that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At BuyTwitterFollow.com, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days.

Will Mitchell, the founder of Clear Presence Media, a marketing company outside Tampa, Fla., said that he has bought more than a million followers for his clients, which include musicians, start-ups and a well-known actress he declined to identify.

“And it’s so cheap, too,” he said. In one instance, Mr. Mitchell said, he bought 250,000 for $2,500, or a penny each.

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