Glenn A Knight

Glenn A Knight
In my study

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Monism and Pluralism

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read about someone warning us against some critical danger facing humanity. Global warming is the most dangerous issue facing us today, threatening unimaginable disaster. Abortion is the most terrible tragedy one could imagine, and it is vital that we do something to stop it. There is nothing more important than stopping the gay agenda, the conservative movement, religious intolerance, Islamic extremism, or corporate bonuses. Holocaust denial is undermining the foundations of Western civilization. “It’s the economy, stupid!”

These warnings have three things in common: a conviction that the issue in question is so important that we should ignore everything else and focus all of our energies and attention on it; a belief that overcoming this challenge will at least lessen, if not eliminate all of our other problems; and a tendency to view dissenters as evildoers. When I say “dissenters,” I don’t mean merely those who disagree with the speaker on the substance of the problem and its solution. I mean particularly those who don’t put the speaker’s issue at the top of their personal catastrophic hit parade.

I was taught by my first political science professor to mistrust monist explanations and to prefer pluralistic accounts. As soon as someone says, “The problem is …” my nonsense detector starts beeping. And when they say, “The solution is …” that beeping rises to a shriek. Life isn’t simple enough for any one thing to be the problem or for any one thing to be the answer to our problems.

Marx believed that everything in society arose from the distribution of economic forces. Even he, however, was forced to introduce the concept of “false consciousness,” in order to explain why people didn’t, in fact, behave according to his view of their economic interests. We have seen this variety of monism more recently, not only in James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid,” but from a number of analysts baffled by the tendency of working folk in the red states to persist in voting for Republican candidates. Economics is not the answer, and neither is original sin, man’s violent nature, man’s non-violent nature, women’s non-violent nature, Western imperialism, Zionism, or anti-Semitism.

There are many good examples of this sort of rhetoric in the current healthcare debate. Is the free market the solution to all of the problems we see in healthcare? Is, on the other hand, the creation of a government-owned health insurance company going to put a stop to all of the bad behavior of private insurance companies? Will the Obama administration’s efforts to extend health insurance to more people bring about the end of American civilization? Will they, on the other hand, save our society and economy from all of their problems?

No one problem is going to destroy this country, and no one government program is going to save us from all of our problems. Nor will the rejection of any one government program avert all foreseeable disasters. We have a multiplicity of problems, for which there are a multiplicity of solutions, some of which will raise new problems of their own.

Chicken or Egg

Here's the deal. General Motors is not doing well. Citigroup is not doing well. General Motors took a lot of government money. Citigroup took a lot of government money. General Motors is about 60% owned by the government. The government has a large - maybe 40% - equity position in Citigroup. See, we told you that the government couldn't run large corporations at a profit! That's the position Daniel Gross is arguing against here. If it had not been for the government bailout, GM would be in a class with Packard, Stutz, and DeLorean - gone, gone, gone. No employees, no pensions, no suppliers, no dealers, just a line of vacant showrooms as far as the eye can see. That didn't happen, so far, and we have the Bush and Obama administrations to thank for it.

Listening to Broken Prey by John Sandford

John Sandford. Broken Prey. Narrated by Richard Ferrone. Recorded Books. Unabridged. 2005. 9 cassettes/11.75 hours.

Mystery novelists tend to do series. I suppose that's because their readers like that sense of continuity you get from opening another Brother Cadfael book, or another Kinsey Millhone adventure from Sue Grafton. John Sandford's Prey series features Lucas Davenport, who starts out as a detective on the Minneapolis police force, changes jobs a few times, and is, at the time of Broken Prey, an investigator with the Minnesota state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. (I presume the BCA is fictional.) Broken Prey is the sixteenth novel in the Prey series, which started in 1989.

To admit a personal bias, one of the reasons I like Sandford's novels is that he locates Lucas Davenport in St. Paul, living not far from the University of St. Thomas. There are allusions to St. Catherine's, as well as to the University of Minnesota. Based on descriptions of Lucas's neighborhood, he's living not far from the school I attended for a couple of years: Macalester College. Sandford never mentions Macalester in any of his books that I've read; maybe it's too Protestant for his tastes. In any event, some of the scenes Sandford sets have a certain familiarity for me, even a bit of a nostalgia value. Broken Prey, however, is set in southern Minnesota, and so had very little of the familiar about it for me.

One characteristic of Sandford's style is that he uses a variety of viewpoint characters, including the murderer. This often serves to obscure, rather than reveal, which of the people Davenport is investigating, may actually be the culprit. Broken Prey uses this device to good effect, as Sandford generates a netful of red herrings.

The story, simply put, is that someone is murdering people in particularly grotesque ways. A young woman is found to have been flailed before having her throat cut. A man is found posed in an odd position; his son has been killed by a ferocious blow to the head. So Lucas and his team, including his partner Sloan and his old friend Elle, the psychologist nun, set off to track down the elusive serial killer. There are more killings, many more killings, before they catch their man. Sandford has always provided graphic descriptions of his murders. This time, the massacre in the state mental hospital just goes on and on, and seems to have very little point to it. Unless, of course, Sandford believes that the mentally ill are all better off dead.

From Davenport's point of view, the case is not very satisfactory. Not only does he not prevent the serial killer from striking again, the villain precipitates a bloody shootout. And, even when the killer is dead, his motive and his personality remain elusive. This is the sort of story which isn't very satisfactory if you examine it too closely. Can people really control a person, even a crazy person, effectively at long distance? I doubt it. Can someone as crazy as this character maintain the pose of a normal, working professional for years? I doubt that, too. Fortunately, Sandford maintains a pace that precludes the reader spending the time on that sort of analysis.

Broken Prey is a good listen. Ferrone is a very competent narrator, and the story moves right along. It kept me popping one cassette after another into my player.

Listening to The Tinner's Corpse by Bernard Knight

Now that we've established that I like books on tape (and books on disk), and that I tend to select mystery novels for my easy listening pleasure, I might as well mention another novel I heard recently: The Tinner's Corpse, by Bernard Knight (no relation).

This falls into the class or sub-genre of the medieval mystery, a cult spawned by Ellis Peters and her admittedly excellent Brother Cadfael novels. (I've read them all, I think I own them all, and I've even seen Derek Jacoby's take on Brother Cadfael on PBS.) While the Cadfael novels took place in the 1140s (the first was set in 1139, as I recall) and in the neighborhood of Shrewsbury, Bernard Knight's Crowner John novels are set later and further south. 1195 it is, and the office of coroner, or "crowner," is a new one, created by King Richard's bureaucrats to extend royal power into the jurisdiction of the county sheriffs.

I read one of the early books in this series. It might have been the first, Sanctuary Seeker (1998). The Tinner's Corpse (2001) is the fifth of the Crowner John mysteries. There are now 13 of them out there, with a 14th due in 2010.

Sir John de Wolfe is the coroner for Exeter and its county, and the former Crusader is King Richard's man through and through. This leads to conflicts with his brother-in-law, the country Sheriff, which is one of the many occasions for trouble with his wife. So Sir John spends a lot of time out of the house, chasing skirts, drinking ale by the quart, and solving murders. One might note that it is not the coroner's job to solve murders, but merely to assemble a jury to determine causes of death. If the death is by foul play, the matter is supposed to be handed over to the sheriff. John de Wolfe, though, doesn't trust his brother-in-law, so he tends to hang onto these cases until they are solved. Sir John is aided by his henchman, Gwyn, and his clerk, the unfrocked priest Thomas.

The most interesting aspect of The Tinner's Corpse is the anthropology. Knight describes the society of the tinners, whose ore was so precious that they had their own law and court system, except for capital cases. After many, many description of the peasant farmers on their little holdings, it is refreshing to explore a different facet of medieval society. In fact, it is refreshing to be reminded that there were different facets to medieval society. In the course of his work, Sir John meets all sorts of people, and this gives Bernard Knight occasion for a lot of social commentary. Thankfully, Knight pretty much sticks to the facts and reasonable suppositions, and doesn't spend a lot of time bemoaning the plight of women in medieval English society.

The mystery itself is pretty standard. A tin worker is killed, in what seems to be an attack on his master's prominent position in the industry. Another leading tin master is suspected. Other suspects are raised and then dismissed, and Crowner John closes in on the culprit. It is, as I say, what this journey in search of the guilty party shows about the people among whom Crowner John lives that makes the book worth reading. Or, in this case, worth listening to.

The Tinner's Corpse is on eight cassettes.

The Magazine Market

The attached column by Daniel Gross is about Conde Nast's decision to close several of their magazines. I'm sure that there are people who will miss Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, and Gourmet. None of those has broken into my list of periodical subscriptions, but Gourmet might have had a chance of the occasional supermarket purchase, now that Helen and I are devoted watchers of Top Chef.

I think Gross's key point, that the magazine market might already have bottomed out when Conde Nast woke up and smelled the coffee, is both important and quite possibly correct. As noted above, I receive a number of periodicals. Over the past couple of years, I saw page counts diminish dramatically. I see this as a result of two related forces. First, there are fewer advertising pages. Second, because the magazine is selling fewer ads, it is forced to cut back on content. Information Week, which ran around 60 pages an issue a couple of years ago, has been down in the 30s and 40s more recently. The Economist produced a lot of issues under 100 pages in 2008 and dipped into the low 80s a few times. Even Commentary slimmed down for a while.

Of course, the biggest change on my list was to U.S. News and World Report. The venerable weekly cut back to alternate weeks in early 2008 and then became a monthly. It also became thinner, and each issue has become a mini-book on a single issue: health, the economy, retirement, education, and so on. That a drop in advertising revenue would lead to cutbacks is obvious. A little more subtle is that by focussing each issue on a single topic, the magazine is trying to recruit a lot of advertisers interested in that topic.

So, in 2008 and early 2009 a lot of the magazines I see, from The Atlantic to Wild Bird put out thinner editions and made other changes to react to the economy. But that trend may be over. I'm now reading the October 3rd issue of The Economist, and it hits 122 pages, plus a lengthy special report on the world economy. So Gross may well be right, and the magazine trade may have hit bottom, or at least a bottom.

On the other hand, some publications may be in death spirals. Advertising has dropped, so they've cut content, so fewer people read the paper (in fact, some publications have set out deliberately to cut circulation), which limits advertising rates, so revenue falls even more, so there are more cuts, and so on to the ghastly end. Information Week may be in that boat and sinking fast. Our local newspaper, the Gazette, has shrunk to three sections, and it seems to be shrinking to invisibility. It is also becoming even more parochial than it has been. Even major sports stories have to have a local angle. I'll miss the Gazette a lot less than Gross misses Gourmet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Republicans' Chances in 2010

The attached article from Slate's daily news summary will take you to the Wall Street Journal's piece debunking the notion that 2010 might be another 1994. Here's a direct link to the WSJ's web page.

Either way, for the nation's foremost conservative journal (The Spokane Spokesman-Review? I don't think so.) to be so pessimistic about the Republicans' chances at this point in the midterm race indicates that the GOP is in serious trouble. And who among us doubted it?

Two things really struck me in Seib's article. One is that seven of the 40 Senate Republicans, that's 17.5%, are retiring. The other is a great map showing Democratic districts in which McCain took a majority of the Presidential vote. Those districts, by and large, abut Republican areas of the country. If the Republican thinks the Democrats who hold these districts are vulnerable, I'd flip that thought over. Those Democrats ran ahead of President Obama when the Republicans had a relatively attractive candidate. They're supposed to do better with no one leading the ticket? I don't think so.

Good Evening Everyone

It is a Thursday evening in the month of October, and it's clear and sunny here in Colorado. The snow we had a day or two ago didn't amount to much in my neighborhood. Fall is here, and winter's threatening, but we've still got some good weather to enjoy before the real cold and snow arrives.

I've been working a lot, but things are going pretty well, and my company seems to be making some good decisions. If you follow the link under the title, you'll see that someone thinks that Verizon's deal with Google may even outdo ATT's iPhone alliance with Apple. Here's another link to take you straight to the article in the Daily Beast I note that the author leads with the well-known problems iPhone users have encountered on the ATT network, which is partly their own fault for being bandwidth hogs. Seriously, Apple pushes the 85,000 apps you can get on the iPhone, and iPhone users seem to use all of them. ATT just hasn't built out its network to tolerate that kind of volume.

Well, I hope everyone who drops by is having as good a day as I am. And a good evening to you all!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Listening to Shoot/Don't Shoot by J. A. Jance

I not only read books, I listen to them. When I'm doing certain kinds of work, balancing my checkbook, for instance, or clearing out my e-mail Inbox, it is not only possible to listen to a mystery novel or a thriller, it is downright pleasurable. The medium lends itself to the lighter sorts of material; I listened to a history of the Supreme Court a year or so ago, and it was difficult to keep in mind all of the details of the cases. On the other hand, I have really enjoyed listening to several of the Harry Potter novels.

Shoot/Don't Shoot was my first J. A. Jance mystery novel, and I was sufficiently impressed that I have since obtained another book on tape, a couple on CD, and a couple in print. Why so many? Well, once I got to the library and started checking their holdings, I found that J. A. Jance has not one but three series in print, each with its own chief character. J. B. Beaumont, a Seattle detective seems to be the earliest of Jance's creations. Joanna Brady, the Sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, and the main character in Shoot/Don't Shoot is the second. The newest is Ali Reynolds, the principal in Web of Evil.

One of the things both my wife and I look for when we find a "new" mystery writer, that is, one with whom we are not yet familiar, is a substantial backlist. I suspected that J. A. Jance would not disappoint in that department when I realized that Shoot/Don't Shoot was published in 1995 and recorded in 1996. With three active series, and a new book in each coming out every year, J. A. Jance has produced reading (and listening) material that will last us a good long time.

From internal evidence, Shoot/Don't Shoot appears to be the second novel featuring Joanna Brady. There are references to earlier events which resulted in the death of Joanna's husband, and led to her subsequent election as Sheriff of Cochise County. Now that she's the Sheriff, Joanna has to attend the Arizona Police Officers' Academy in Peoria, outside Phoenix. This means that she must leave her nine-year-old daughter in the care of her grandparents, a difficult separation so soon after the death of the child's father. But the family will get together for Thanksgiving in Peoria, although Joanna's mother Eleanor seems determined not to join the party.

Naturally, all does not go smoothly with any of Joanna's plans, as Thanksgiving is disrupted by an attack on one of Joanna's classmates, the death of one of the instructors, and a disturbing surprise sprung by Eleanor. I won't give that one away, but I think I can reveal that the plot is driven by a series of murders which appear to have been the result of domestic violence. The obvious solution is that the husbands and boyfriends, men who have already encountered the legal system, finally went too far. But what if the obvious solution is not the correct one?

Shoot/Don't Shoot is light entertainment, but Jance creates some engaging characters and puts them into complicated, and sometimes amusing, situations. Joanna Brady is sufficiently complex, and has enough open connectors out to the community, to provide the central character for quite a number of mysteries. I am looking forward to my next adventure in J. A. Jance's world.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is Your Bank Picking Your Pocket?

I've had the feeling lately that my bank was increasing fees for this and that. $2.00 here, $5.00 there, interest charges accruing 15 seconds after the transaction. Daniel Gross explains why that's happening. Gross's explanation pretty much comes down to "bankers are greedy." Surprise!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Straight Man - A Review

Russo, Richard. Straight Man. New York: Random House, 1997. xvii + 391 pages.

Richard Russo is a well-known novelist, author of Nobody’s Fool (1993) (the movie version of which, with Paul Newman and Bruce Willis, I have seen), Empire Falls (2001), and Bridge of Sighs (2007) (which I’m planning to read). Empire Falls won the Pulitzer Prize. Maybe I should be reviewing Empire Falls, which I read in June and July of this year. But Straight Man is my most recent Russo read, and it is a good one.

The hero, viewpoint character, and narrator of Straight Man is Henry William Devereaux, Jr., known to one and all, except his mother, as Hank. Hank has the misfortune to be an English professor at a university in Western Pennsylvania, and is, during the time the action of the novel occurs, the acting chairman of the English department. I say “misfortune” because Hank is the son of a famous English professor, and comparisons with his father all seem to be to Henry, Sr.’s advantage. The father has written many books; the son has published one slim novel. The father has taught at Columbia and other famous, top-rank universities; the son is at West Central Pennsylvania University. (As a graduate of Eastern Washington University, and a sometime visitor to Northern Colorado University, I understand just how much academic dignity is stripped away by a geographic modifier.)

Hank has a few problems. His wife is away visiting her father. His daughter Julie is having marital problems, which come to a climax when she comes to Hank’s house with a black eye. The English faculty want to hold a recall election to strip Hank of his chairmanship. The university is planning to fire a number of faculty, and Hank may be forced to come up with a list of candidates for the axe. And Hank’s creative writing class isn’t doing a lot of writing, and what there is isn’t all that creative.

Some time or other I read that a successful character should, on the one hand, be a distinct individual, a character and not a cartoon, but that, on the other hand, that character should represent aspects of life that a reader could identify with. I guess Richard Russo read that advice, too, because he applies it very successfully. Not only Hank Devereaux, but his father, his mother, his daughter, her husband, the members of the English department, and other members of Hank’s community, are clearly and succinctly drawn, standing out as real individuals. At the same time, I found plenty to identify with in Hank – his tendency to smart-ass remarks, for example. Early in the book that one earns Hank a nose punctured by the binding of a spiral notebook.

I should point out that this is a very funny book. The scene where Hank is speared by the notebook is great. The restaurant scene, when his tablemate manages to insult half of the patrons in the place, all of whom have some relationship with Hank brings out the claustrophobic quality of small communities. And the scene when Hank decides to eavesdrop on the faculty meeting considering his recall is priceless. And then there's the duck.

So what can I say? Richard Russo limns great characters, he builds good scenes, he has a terrific ear for dialogue and a wonderful sense of humor, and his people are real people, people with whom one can identify, even if their foibles are a touch exaggerated. If you haven’t read any good fiction lately, Straight Man is an excellent place to start.

The Ruin of California

In the course of our discussion of geoengineering, one of our little group raised the suggestion of a tidal dam across the Golden Gate. That led one of the others to mention that the San Francisco Bay's ecology has been so compromised already, that there might be little objection to further tampering by knowledgeable environmentalists. As if in response, there was an interesting short article in the September 26 issue of The Economist.

One needs to look at not only San Francisco Bay, but the entire Delta - the system of waterways, islands, pools, and banks formed from the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers near Sacramento. This system drains into San Francisco Bay, which is part of the same large ecosystem. The Delta is referred to as the largest estuary on the West Coast. (That raises a question: Is Puget Sound considered an estuary? There is no one big river that flows into it, as far as I know.)

Now then, the insatiable appetite for water of Southern California has led to the construction of two huge aqueducts, one state-run and one federal, carrying water pumped out of the Delta into the Central Valley and down to Los Angeles. This has created massive environmental problems, killing off local species and their breeding areas, and opening the system up to invasive species. So, we have The Economist telling us that the Bay Area's ecology is severely damaged, and that the cause of this is the diversion of water from the Delta to the south.

And is someone doing anything about this? Well, there were five water bills before the California legislature this year, but none of them was even put to a vote. Meanwhile, the drought continues. I see an on-going story here. (For an account of an earlier episode, see the movie Chinatown, directed by the reviled Roman Polanski.)

Why Is Ken Lewis Retiring?

This is a nice article about the role of ego in the career of the chairman of Bank of America.

As Frank Sinatra sang, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere!" The appeal of New York in various fields - finance, broadcasting, journalism, ballet, classical music, cuisine - is undeniable. So when a kid from Meridian, Mississippi, finds that he can't make it there, it's time to retire.

I've been posting quite a bit from Daniel Gross's Moneybox column. Well, I think it's a good column, and economic and financial affairs have been, and continue to be, critical for the country at this time. Afghanistan, gay rights, and Bo's birthday may be hogging the headlines today, but the economic and financial issues facing this country are going to be driving the real news for a long time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Geoengineering - An Answer or an Abyss?

In the March/April 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs there's an article by David G. Victor, M. Granger Morgan, Jay Apt, John Steinbruner, and Katherine Ricke called "The Geoengineering Option: A Last Resort Against Global Warming?" The article can be found linked to my title or here. It is a very interesting article, and the author's main concern is that we need some sort of international regime concerning geoengineering before some country goes off on its own and does something disastrous.

One of the problems is that geoengineering solutions to things like global warming are cheap enough, and technically accessible enough, that many countries would be able to apply them. For example, a number of countries would be able to launch a rocket into space to distribute sulfur powder, aluminum powder, or water, in order to increase the albedo of the earth. This would cause more solar energy to be reflected, which would counteract global warming. However, it wouldn't do anything about the acidification of the oceans due to increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and it might have side affects which would do great damage.

The authors acknowledge that much of the risk of the geoengineering approach is that a single country could undertake such an initiative, without even consulting its neighboring, which all of the measures required to limit and diminish carbon emissions require cooperation among many countries. About the ninth time China and the United States refuse to take effective action to reduce carbon emissions, the Netherlands - which is at real risk from rising sea levels - might be tempted to hire an Ariane from the ESA to put up some protective shield.

In discussing this concept with some of my friends, I find that most of them are really concerned about the unknown unknowns. That someone would undertake a measure which could have really unintended, and unanticipated consequences. After that, there's the concern that one man's meat is another man's poison - that is, a sudden increase in albedo, with consequent cooling, might slow polar ice melting, but it might also cause draughts in the Sahel or flooding in the Rockies.

There are, of course, other large-scale geoengineering projects, besides those aimed directly at global warming. Exploitation of tidal flows, or harnessing the heat of volcanoes might be examples.

However, even if these ambitious measures don't have evil consequences, it would be very easy for the public to perceive them as the causes of any destructive events which followed their implementation. You and I might know that post hoc ergo propter hoc is fallacious reasoning, but to most people it's just common sense. That is, after all, what most common sense is: fallacious reasoning. So I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the guys who drill a thermal tap into the side of Mt. Rainier a week or so before an eruption wipes out Tacoma.

A Tale of Two Bailouts - II

"The bad news? While the government has pacified the commercial finance, savings, and plain-vanilla banking sectors, it's sending reinforcements into the vast, restive region where the trouble began: housing."

Isn't that just too depressing?

What's worse is that the FHA, the only lending organization in the country to retain some shred of sanity over the past few years, is now buying subprime loans. "In the second quarter, about 14.4 percent of the FHA's loans were at least one month past due."

There may be another shoe waiting to drop in the housing/financial crisis. Can anyone say "Double-dip recession?"

A Tale of Two Bailouts - I

Daniel Gross that we'll be all be out a few hundred billion dollars from the bailouts of the financial system. But what's a few hundred billion dollars among friends? At least, according to this column a lot of money has been collected from the banks in the form of fees and charges based on the amounts the Federal government guaranteed for them. Bank of America, for example, paid $425 million as a fee for a guarantee of $118 billion in loans, which it has now dropped as no longer needed.

I suppose that's the real good news: The banks are doing well enough that they no longer need some of these guarantees. Until the next time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Quicken Acquires - A New Model?

Here's the startling statement from this column by Daniel Gross:

"Yesterday [September 17] , at a panel I moderated in San Francisco, Donna Wells,'s chief marketing officer, stunned a room full of digital marketing pros by noting that she really didn't have much of a marketing budget. has gone from zero to 1.5 million users in two years with no ad campaign, save a mid-five-figures sum spent on search engine terms."'s strategy reminds me of my days as an impecunious college student at Macalester, when I parlayed free tickets and complementary passes, into a series of dates with a girl at no cost to me. Is there another revolution going on?

Where Is Olympia Snowe Going?

The saddest part of this article is the "good riddance" response from a conservative source. Maybe there are Republicans who think it's good for the party to run sitting office-holders out of the party, but I believe that those people have lost sight of the purpose of a political party.

Years ago, numerically-inclined political scientists figured out that you could set up a "Guttman scale" of Congressional votes, ordered from liberal to conservative, and specify just where any given member fell on that scale. For example, only the most liberal members would vote for a single-payer healthcare system, and only the most conservative would vote against the nomination of Ray LaHood for Transportation Secretary. The Republicans seem to be trying to confine their party to those few loyalists scoring a perfect "10" on that scale.

This sort of exclusion is making the Republican Party into a regional party, one whose partisans will fit the same space on the electoral map as did supporters of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond.

A while back I published an essay by Dave Drake about his feelings of having been abandoned by the Republican Party. Apparently, Olympia Snowe feels the same way.

Looking for a Credit Card

One of the things I've noticed lately is that credit card companies have taken to closing accounts if I don't use the cards enough. So I've adopted a couple of tactics, like putting a monthly automatic payment on a credit card I don't use for anything else to keep it active. I took some little-used cards on a couple of trips lately, so I charged a few items on each one. But this article isn't about hanging onto the credit cards you have; it's about getting some credit when you have no record at all.

I think the most important part of this article is the following quote: "When lenders review applicants, they look at five factors: identification, account history, public records (bankruptcy filings, court records of tax liens), consumer statements (challenges to the status of an account with a lender), and inquiries. That last item is the most crucial for those of us with no credit: It shows how many times lenders have requested to review an applicant's credit history. The more times that information has been reviewed (and rejected), the more suspicious you look as an applicant."

Taking Ad Hominem Over the Top

The title of this column gives the game away: Olberman Readies a Glenn Beck Muckfest.

An ad hominem argument is not in itself fallacious. It is pretty much the opposite of an argument from authority. In the latter case, an argument from a relevant, germane, qualified authority is perfectly usable. On the other hand, an argument from authority where the nature of the authority is not germane to the subject matter has problems. (Does the term "expert witness" ring a bell?)

Just so, an ad hominem argument attacks an assertion by attacking its source. This is invalid if the nature of the alleged fault in the source is irrelevant or unproven. It is not true, for example, that everything Rush Limbaugh says is false just because it is said by Rush Limbaugh. No, everything Rush Limbaugh says is false because Rush Limbaugh chooses to say false things.

So, Keith Olberman's "muckfest" misses the point. It doesn't matter if Glenn Beck is a convicted perjurer, a pederast, an embezzler, or a right-wing hack, as long as what Beck says has the color of truth. You might not want to believe what Glenn Beck says because he is such an oily, sleazy, unsavory person, but that doesn't make his statements untrue. (Similarly, you might not want to believe Keith Olberman because he is an agressive loudmouth, but his behavior doesn't make him a liar, either.) Even if Olberman means to focus on the unsavory nature of many of Mr. Beck's statements, one should remember that unpleasant, insulting, and gross are not synonyms for untrue.

Today, on Meet the Press, David Brooks referred to the media circus about health care, and how it didn't bear much reality to what real people were thinking about the issue. Right on, David!

Exciting, Environmentally Friendly, and Profitable

This article by Daniel Gross contrasts the "old industry" financial folks in New York with the "cleantech" innovators in California. Cleantech sounds like being a lot more fun than banking and finance. (Well, okay, a lot of things sound like more fun than banking.) Someone once told me that many doctors went into medicine because it offered a way to do well while doing good. Cleantech has some of that same appeal.