|Man Without Qualities|
Friday, July 04, 2003
Reuters reports that Capt. Garth Manning of the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Lifeguard Division says:
We have never had a shark attack in Los Angeles County.
Happy Fourth of July!
Davis Descending XI: The Rise Of The Recall Voters
Two events of termination have occurred that ought to be unrelated, but, because of the peculiar California political situation, are intimately related.
First: Activists seeking to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis said Thursday they have turned in enough signatures for a recall election.
Second: Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines is terrific - worthy of every glowing review it has received, and far better than, for example, the over-hyped, boring, pretentious Minority Report.
And a Los Angeles Times poll has simultaneously found that 51 percent of those polled want Davis out, while 42 percent would reject a recall. The rest said they didn't know what to do.
Yes, despite the most valiant efforts of the California Secretary of State and strong-arm labor unions, it appears that Governor Davis's Judgment Day is at hand, this result largely the product of the internet. Similarly, the T3 Judgment Day is born of Skynet, apparently some uber-Java-cum-Linux software that infects every computer in the world, thereby elegantly updating the Terminator franchise from the world of 1984 and 1991 where "technology" meant computer chips, to 2003, where "technology" means computer code. Yes, the human world of T3 is attacked and destroyed by open-source-software.
But while Governor Davis and his operatives seem as helpless and paralysed as the foolish government officials of T-3, that movie out-performs on so many levels! It revives a long-dormant franchise so gracefully that one doesn't even realize the franchise was dormant in the first place. It seamlessly and inevitably requires and permits a Terminator 4, but on terms that would, if necessary, permit T4 to be made with or without Arnold Schwarzenegger - should the governorship intervene in his schedule. And in a world of second-best alternatives, if one really must be extinguished by a homicidal cyberorganism from the future, please, please, please let it be a nude Kristanna Loken who does the dirty deed.
And then there is the writing - especially Mr. Schwarzenegger's lines. He must become governor if only because it is impossible to resist the prospect of Governor Schwarzenegger emerging from an inevitable train wreck surrounding the California budget, a wreck which has by then rendered scores of once-promising political careers into mere flying fragments of debris, to inform California voters in his most severe dead-pan: "We need another vehicle." And think about Mr. Schwarzenegger facing down some future whining Sacramento politico's complaint that the Governor has extended unmet promises to secure a budget deal with a cybernetically frank: "I lied."
Let it happen, Arnold, let it happen!
Viewing Note: The police shrink who debriefed John Connor's mother, Sarah, in the first movie and reappeared in T2 is again played by actor Earl Boen who seeks to comfort John's future wife in a cemetery. If you keep Boen's prior involvement in mind, what he says and does and the way he says and does it in this movie make a lot more sense - and are pretty hilarious, to boot.
Thursday, July 03, 2003
The Man Without Qualities is without means of reckoning what Bill Gates owns.
But the Yahoo! Insider Trades site says Mr. Gates has 1,209,713,228 shares of Microsoft stock as of February 3, 2003, which is the most recent trade. Today, Microsoft stock sold for $26.411 per share. So Mr. Gates owns $31,949,736,064.71 worth of Microsoft stock. He is - in short - a very wealthy man.
Microsoft has a total of 10,700,000,000 shares outstanding, for a total of $282,597,700,000 ($282.6 Billion) - so Mr. Gates 1,209,713,228 shares represents 11.30% of Microsoft.
Microsoft has about $46 Billion in cash on hand - and is reportedly likely to pay a dividend of Ten Billion Dollars. Over $1 Billion of that dividend will be paid to Mr. Gates - since he owns over ten percent of the stock. Microsoft could pay a dividend of over $40 Billion - and Mr. Gates would receive over $4 Billion of that.
Mr. Gates will likely pay no more taxes on that dividend income than he would have if he realized the same amount by selling Microsoft stock because Mr. George Bush had Congress pass a law that made dividend income no more taxable than long-term capital gains, and wanted to make dividends entirely tax free. Before that tax reform Mr. Gates would have paid a lot more federal income taxes on the dividend - but that means Microsoft would probably not have paid a dividend at all.
It is certainly reasonable to suspect that there is an advantage to Mr. Gates owning his $1 Billion directly without any need to sell off more of his company - although one has to ask why, if such an advantage exists, Microsoft does not plan to pay a $40 Billion dividend right away. The Financial Times dryly states that "The software giant has come under pressure from shareholders to unlock its war chest as its shares have lagged and cash holdings have grown."
In any event, does any sensible person think that there is a big difference between Mr. Gates owning his $1 Billion (or $4 Billion) directly or indirectly through Microsoft? Does it matter to questions of "social justice" or "social equity" or "class warfare" that Mr. Gates can own and access his dividend directly? Would it matter a great deal more if the planned dividend - which will be paid net of corporate income taxes already paid by Microsoft itself - were entirely tax free to Mr. Gates? If so, what is the big difference that conveys on any of this such looming social significance?
Does it matter that a lot of small investors will now receive a dividend that would not otherwise have been paid because it would not have served the interests of Microsoft's controlling shareholder to pay such a dividend prior to the Bush tax reform?
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Davis Descending X: Demonizing All The Way Down
The Man Without Qualities has warned and predicted that the efforts by those resisting the recall of California Governor Gray Davis would get a lot worse than mere harrassment of recall petition signature gatherers. It promptly did get worse - at least on the rhetorical front.
The Sacramento Bee reports:
A group created by organized labor to derail a recall against Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday ... attempted to indirectly link a Republican congressman financing the recall campaign to Nazi sympathizers.
But it will get even worse. And not just the rhetoric.
Congressman Issa shouldn't leave his car parked on the street overnight, for example.
Link thanks to Mike Daley.
Not to be outdone, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's chief and current President of the EU, appeared to compare a German lawmaker with a Nazi concentration camp commander during a speech to the European Parliament.
Maybe there's a bug going around that makes people compare other people to Nazis?
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Spike Lee (born Shelton Jackson Lee and named "Spike" by his mother for his tough personality) is suing TNN, nee The Nashville Network, nee The National Network, a division of MTV Networks, for changing its name to "Spike TV."
But matters seem to be going from bad to worse for Mr. Lee.
Now the Irish are calling the newest addition to Dublin's skyline - a slender 394 feet high needle placed in the middle of O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, "the Spike", although it was originally named the "Millennium Spire."
No doubt the Irish are doing that just to bask in the glow of Mr. Lee's fame and lofty public persona. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a substantial portion of people living in cities would be convinced that Spike Lee either was connected with the Dublin spire or had authorized the spire. For God's sake, a substantial portion of people living in cities are probably convinced that Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. That kind of thing is one of the big problems with American public education.
Davis Descending IX: Caught In The Web And His Own Past Dirty Tricks(0) comments
Nick Schulz scribes a very interesting article on the swelling recall effort against California Governor Gray Davis. Example:
There are those who think Davis is being hoist with his own petard. The Democratic governor poured millions of dollars into the last Republican primary to defeat then-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who Davis believed was his strongest potential opponent.
Schulz emphasizes the unprecedented role being played by the internet (Jim Taranto has recently emphasized the internet's role in boosting Howard Dean's prospects) and provides links to many interesting web sites active in the recall effort, including two sites at which voters can download the recall petition, sign it and mail it in.
Remember all that classy DNA evidence that the O.J. Simpson prosecutors thought was so convincing but that made the jury's eyes glaze over? Well, the prosecutors preparing the case against Martha Stewart seem to have even less, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
In the case against Ms. Stewart, a key piece of evidence is a tiny, handwritten notation made by her stockbroker on a trading worksheet filled with similar scribbles. Prosecutors claim the broker belatedly inserted the note to help cover up Ms. Stewart's improper stock trading. Their support: Laboratory analysis showing that the blue ballpoint ink he used is different from ink elsewhere on the document. ....
In the Martha Stewart case, the analysis task was ... differentiating between two inks on a single document. When investigators started asking questions about Ms. Stewart's sale of ImClone Systems Inc. shares just ahead of negative news, Ms. Stewart claimed that she had a pre-existing arrangement with her broker, Mr. Bacanovic, to sell the shares if they fell below $60. To support that claim, prosecutors say, Mr. Bacanovic added a tiny "@60" beside the ImClone name on a worksheet on which he had previously jotted notes about planned sales of Ms. Stewart's other holdings. The notation, prosecutors claim, was added sometime in the five weeks after the trade. .... A person close to the case says Ms. Stewart's lawyers are likely to press the government to prove that the notation was added later, not just that a different pen was used. This person says it's possible Mr. Bacanovic could have been interrupted when originally marking up the document and had simply picked up a different pen. "What matters is the time period, not the pen," the person adds. ... [S]cientists can use extraction tests to date many ink samples... The longer [ink] has been on [paper], the less of it will come out. But ... the tests are only fine enough to differentiate between samples six months apart, not the five weeks or less alleged with Mr. Bacanovic's worksheet. ...
Sure. This is a key piece of evidence? That gets you to proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Sure it does. Just keep saying that, Mr. Prosecutor. You've got her. Sure you do.
The case against Ms. Stewart is, to my eye, emerging as so weak that again one must ask the question: Why is the Justice Department prosecuting Martha Stewart?
I do not mean that question as a rhetorical device or one with an obvious answer ("They shouldn't."). No. I suspect there is more here. Namely, I suspect that the SEC and the Justice Department are aware of many other incidents in which Ms. Stewart is strongly suspected to have committed federal securities crimes - but the authorities can't prove those crimes, either.
I suspect this because it is more than passing strange that a brilliant, successful, politically-connected businesswoman such as Ms. Stewart - who is so admirable in so many ways, despite the carpings of her rather obviously envious detractors - should be the focus of such strenuous enforcement efforts for her first offense, especially where that offense netted her so little money and civil and business penalties (loss of her NYSE seat, fall of her own company's stock price, high civil fines, bad publicity, etc) have already been so serious. What's going on?
A similar question was raised by the prosecution and conviction of Wynona Ryder for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Wouldn't it have been enough for the police to confront her and warn her and for Saks to have made her pay trans-full-retail prices for the stolen merchandise - maybe obtain her contribution of a largish sum to some charity and her agreement to do some community service? All without actually prosecuting or arresting her?
Well, yes - for a first offender. Say what one will about the need to make examples of the successful, the fact is that if the Beverly Hills incident had been her first offense Ms. Ryder probably would not have been prosecuted. Neither Saks nor the district attorney would have wanted that.
But it likely wasn't Ms. Ryder's first offense: Transcripts made public after the trial disclosed that Ryder was suspected of shoplifting from two other high-end department stores in the past, but no charges were filed. Prosecutors were not allowed to present those allegations during the trial.
Yes, prosecutors were not allowed to present those allegations during the trial - but those earlier incidents almost certainly affected the exercise of discretion on the part of both the prosecutors and Saks to press forward with charges against Ms. Ryder.
Similarly, my guess is that Ms. Stewart has long inhabited that peculiar Park Avenue demi-monde in which insider stock tips are traded at parties like the names of new hot boutiques. It would be interesting to see the SEC's and DOJ's files on Ms. Stewart. How many past incidents have terminated with a personal belief on the investigator's part that Ms. Stewart broke the law, but with no action other than a memo to files to "watch" her in the future? If Ms. Stewart has such files, it would be a rare member of Congress who would act vigorously on her behalf.
In any event, the "watching" has now ended in legal action. But it has not ended in an "insider trading" charge, only in an "obstruction of justice" charge - further admission by the prosecutors that their case is very weak. And unless the evidence against Ms. Stewart is a lot bulkier than what has already been disclosed, the case is still highly unlikely to result in a conviction. What kind of message will that send to Park Avenue?
What's Distracting III
Common sense and experience suggests that some people prefer to be distracted. Such people often have dogs in their homes that could be trained not to pester their masters and guests, but aren't. The masters seem to prefer endlessly and pointlessly telling the dogs to "get down" or the like.
Such policies are often extended to children, who are not discouraged from interrupting their parents (and their parents' social occasions) for even the most minor of requests. If the children don't interrupt the parent, the parent will often do it with a distracted, midsentence excuse along the lines of "I just have to check on Chris, it's been too quiet up there" - even where the "need" could easily have waited to the end of the guest's sentence and where the child is being tended by another adult or in a location in which there is little chance of precipitous mischief.
In a business environment, such people often have no "interrupts discouraged" policies with their assistants for meetings - meaning that even scheduled, in-office meetings are often interrupted by the assistant's intrusion, explained with an airy or self-important "this will only take a minute" and perhaps "I've been trying to reach this guy for days."
And in a car, such people like to use their cell phones a lot - and engage in other automotive "multi-tasking."
But if in-car "multi-tasking" were discouraged by law, would such people simply let their minds drift while driving? It would not surprise me if their "multi-tasking" - including hair-combing, CD-changing, eating, drinking and telephoning - help hold them to the real world of their current, physical environment, thereby decreasing the number of accidents they would otherwise produce.
Or are legislatures prepared to ban distracted people from the road?
Monday, June 30, 2003(0) comments
The New York Times reports:
French wine sales to the United States, once French winemakers' most promising market and now one of their greatest competitors, are going down the drain. .... Overall French exports to the United States dropped by 21 percent in the first four months of the year, excluding the military category.
The tort bar is widely reported to be eager to sue companies like McDonald's that make people fat. It's wrong, but it is happening. The theory seems to be that the companies suppressed, failed to disclose or outright misrepresented the obese consequences of consumption of their products. There is also an undertone of fast- food "addiction," served up to gut the "personal responsibility" defense.
Maybe it will work. But, if it does, the entertainment industry should surely be next - and the focus should be on the commercial use of sex. The concept of "sexual addiction" has long been accepted. The entertainment companies certainly don't emphasize the darker consequences of the sexual behavior their products encourage. Evil entertainment executives have long lied about their knowledge of such consequences. Indeed, if there is one class of executives who can easily make tobaco executives look honest, it is entertainment industry executives. And, of course, there are plenty of people who will be able to testify quite truthfully that their AIDS, sterility, unwanted pregnancies, bad personal relationships and/or divorces are probably the direct results of a childhood spent consuming Hollywood fare.
And the best thing is that the First Amendment should be no effective defense to such claims - any more than the Amendment was a defense for the cigarette companies for liability arising from their advertising. And if the Amendment allows Nike to be held liable for making false and misleading statements when responding to critics of its overseas labor practices, how can the Amendment be an effective defense to a studio's obligation to support an infant parented by two teenagers sexed-up on some installment of the James Bond "franchise" - or much, much worse.
Often, such liability turns on whether the "speech" in question is "commercial speech" - which at one time was restricted to speech which did no more than propose a commerical transaction:
In its Kasky decision, the California Supreme Court reversed this ruling, introducing a new and extraordinarily broad definition of commercial speech. The court majority rejected the United States Supreme Court's "no more than" formula and instead devised a three-part test for determining whether particular statements constitute commercial speech. ... Under the test invented by the Kasky court, three elements must be considered: the speaker, the intended audience, and the content of the message. The three-part commercial speech test devised by the Kasky majority sweeps within its ambit almost any statements by any corporate or commercial speaker, or entity, involving any public controversy that touches upon the defendant's practices and policies.
First, ... the "speaker" element of the test will be met whenever the speaker is "someone engaged in commerce" ... The second element - the "intended audience" for the speech - is ... satisfied if the intended audience is "likely to be actual or potential buyers or customers of the speaker's goods or services, or persons acting for actual or potential buyers or customers, or persons (such as reporters or reviewers) likely to repeat the message to or otherwise influence actual or potential buyers or customers." ... The third Kasky element - the "content" of the speech - is satisfied ... if a lawyer can allege that a corporation's ultimate purpose is promoting sales....
James Bond movies and, indeed, most Hollywood movies and television shows, seem now to be "commercial speech" in the eyes of the California Supreme Court, entitled to only minimal First Amendment protection.
The Man Without Qualities has two small sons - ages 9 and 4 - who have an abundance of the most enjoyable qualities I can imagine. I try to do the best job possible being their parent. So it came as a shock that while Hillary Clinton says she was raised, among other things, "to protect and defend the democratic ideals that have inspired and guided free people for more than 200 years," I have not spent any time actually, consciously teaching my boys to do that.
In fact, the truth is that I have long considered phrases such as "to protect and defend" as more naturally occurring in the likes of federal or Presidential oaths or as mottos reproduced on black-and-white police cars. Admirable sentiments, to be sure - but it is indeed difficult for me to imagine myself sending the little tykes off with the paternal minder to be certain they take every opportunity at school to "to protect and defend the democratic ideals that have inspired and guided free people for more than 200 years."
Hillary has made me feel so remiss!
I can take but slight succor in today's report that speakers of Mandarin Chinese employ more of their brains than those trafficking solely in English. Yes, each of the little guys is fluent in Mandarin and English, despite the fact that neither of their parents speaks more than a couple of words of Mandarin. And each of the little ones possesses as well a passable, age-appropriate capability in Spanish. And, yes, it is true that the elder boy has spent more than a little while listening to his father prattle on about the wonder and structure of the zeta-function and the urgent need to locate its zeros - as well certain other, more heretical and probably rather ill-considered but emphatic, opinions about how misguided the current infatuation with string theory will likely turn out to be. And then there's all that finance theory and practice that their mother brings home, the older one's uncanny ability to crack an egg neatly with just one of his tiny hands and his even more uncanny knowledge of the use of eggs in cooking. And then there is the boys' more alarming shared proficiency in matters of cartwheels and kung-fu.
But how little all that means where a commitment to our democratic ideals is so woefully lacking?!
Sunday, June 29, 2003
The Man Without Qualities (here) believes that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is likely to be a lot more formidable contestant for the Democratic Presidential nomination than the mainstream media has been allowing.
Now the Wall Street Journal reports:
One pleasure of every Presidential election season is that there is always a surprise. This year's biggest so far is Howard Dean, the former Vermont Governor who has become the most consequential Democrat challenging President Bush.
Also from the Journal's Jim Taranto:
The MoveOn results, which have been well covered in the press, may influence as well as predict the Democrat race. Dr. Dean's victory may boost his campaign, which has been riding high of late thanks to his unashamedly liberal, antiwar message, which resonates with the party's base.
And the Washington Post reports that Dr. Dean is showing new strength as a fund raiser while media favorite, boy-wonder Sen. John Edwards may be wilting:
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D) announced yesterday that he has raised more than $6 million in the second quarter of this year, an achievement many of his competitors privately conceded will add new credibility to his insurgent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In an e-mail to supporters, Dean said that over the past eight days -- during which he formally announced his candidacy, appeared on "Meet the Press" and came in first in an online straw poll conducted by MoveOn.org -- his fundraising surged with $2.8 million in donations.
In the first quarter of 2003, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) led the fundraising race with $7.4 million, but Edwards aides say he will raise substantially less when reports are filed on donations through the end of June. Those reports are due at the Federal Election Commission by July 15.
There is one eternal of government budget "crises": Governments make spending cuts as painful as possible with the old "close the Washington Monument" dodge, protecting non-essential employees and programs by shutting down the most visible services. Reporters take the bureaucratic maneuver hook, line, and sinker.
It happens every time, sometimes more literally than others:
Serious budget shortfalls have historic preservation programs across the country fighting for survival, according to the National Trust, an advocacy group for historic preservation. Historical societies are trying to absorb the cuts by reducing the number of days that sites are open, cutting tours and even contemplating the closing of some attractions.
But state budget crises are mostly the result of recent decisions to irrationally inflate state spending. States that did not recently bloat their spending the way California (for example) did, shouldn't have to "contemplate" closing basic state historical sites - reversing those recent, bad spending decisions shouldn't require defunding "Washington Monuments."
The media knows just what the profligate, manipulative state governments are doing. But the the old "close the Washington Monument" dodge continues anyway - as eternal as tomato soup.
Davis Descending VIII: Almost There
The Orange County Register reports:
Backers of the campaign to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from office say they have collected nearly 900,000 signatures - the minimum needed to qualify for the ballot - and plan a victory celebration on July 4 in Orange County. Campaign workers will continue to collect signatures through the July 4th weekend, and will submit the documents to election officials as early as July 7, said David Gilliard, a consultant to the campaign, which is called Rescue California. "The bottom line is we're just about there."
Since the deadline for collecting the 900,000 signatures is September, it looks like Governor Davis is going to have to deal with a recall - either in November or March, but, with increasing likelihood, November.
Whether the recall vote is held in either March or November, there is a state initiative already on the ballot that will be placed before California voters at the same time as the Davis recall, an initiative which may bring out a lot of Davis opponents. The initiative is backed by Ward Connerly and would bar California governments from collecting racial and ethnic data to track students, vendors or workers in education, contracting or employment. Right now, the Connerly initiative is on the March ballot.
The California Secretary of State is thought to be trying to do the Governor a favor by delaying the Davis recall vote to March. But if the recall vote is set for March, it will coincide with the vote on Mr. Connerly's initiative. But it is also still possible that the Connerly initiative may find its way to the November ballot along with the question of Mr. Davis' recall, as the Register reports:
[The initiative] qualified last July, but not in time to appear on the November 2002 ballot. State law requires [the Connerly initiative] to appear before voters at the next statewide election. But if the [Davis] recall initiative qualifies soon enough, the next statewide election will be held this fall, not in March. Experts differ here, but this could be bad news for Davis.
That's because Connerly's initiative is favored 3-2 by all voters, according to the April Field Poll. Those voters are highly motivated to cast ballots, and political strategists believe most of them are not ardent supporters of the governor - to put it mildly. Even Davis' own Democrats only narrowly oppose the initiative. That means the recall election will excite the Republican base and attract not only those voters anxious to dump Davis, but those supporting Connerly's initiative - a double whammy for the governor when he is most vulnerable. Connerly himself has not taken a position on Davis' recall.
So, either way, the Connerly initiative will probably appear on the same ballot as the question of Davis' recall - in either March or November.