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K Marx The Spot

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04 February 2013


Tagg Romney was kind enough to announce that he is not running for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts. Guess what? I'm not running, either. (It would have been interesting to hear questions of how in the world his mother's so-called blind trust just so happened to invest $10 million in his fledgling hedge fund.)

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Posted by Tim W at 2/04/2013 09:50:00 PM

28 January 2013

Stop and Shop is Hiring. Not.

Who says that there aren't jobs out there? Yesterday's Boston Globe had a 20-column inch display ad:

Now Hiring
Replacement Workers for
Cashier and Clerk Positions

The temporary employment
would occur in the event
there is a strike or lockout
because of a labor dispute

They're offering the regal sums of $15 per hour for full-time and $12 per hour for part-time positions, with the added bonus that the new hirees would be helping to break the union that made the place a barely tolerable place to work.

Stop & Shop took exactly the same tack three years ago, in the hopes of battering the union then. (It didn't work then. Perhaps Stop & Shop is hoping that recent news stories of the problems that the Shaw's chain is having will somehow make its workers cower in fear. Or perhaps the company's masters have no ability to alter the company's sclerotic playbook.)

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Posted by Tim W at 1/28/2013 06:10:00 PM

03 March 2012

Two Can Play at That Game

So Rush Limbaugh has the audacity to deem a Georgetown law student who called for mandatory insurance coverage of contraception a "slut" and a "prostitute."

Those are pretty harsh terms for someone who has a clear history of being a drug addict and a junkie.

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Posted by Tim W at 3/03/2012 02:14:00 PM

14 October 2010

The Green Party in Microcosm

This would be a great headline for The Onion if only the crack staff there had thought of it first. Rich Whitney is running for governor of Illinois. Alas, some voters will see the name "Rich Whitey".

There are typos and then there are complete and utter catastrophes.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled "Rich Whitey" on electronic-voting machines in 23 wards—"about half in predominantly African-American areas." The error only occurs on screens voters would see when they are reviewing their choices (Whitney's name appears correctly on the initial screens), but officials say the error cannot be corrected before election day.

How better to explain why the Green Party is almost never a viable public force in American politics? (One would think that a green party would have real grassroots, or at least a political base concentrated enough to make the other parties worried about Green electoral victories above the level of school committee or city council.)

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Posted by Tim W at 10/14/2010 02:57:00 PM

01 June 2010

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Who is the bigger sucker?

The fools who buy the books Kevin Trudeau touts on his infomercials? Or the advertising executives who sell him the time? Ladies and gentlemen, I present Mr. Peter Morton of the New England Sports Network.

Dear Mr. Morton:

As I write this, NESN is showing a Kevin Trudeau infomercial. Mr. Trudeau is peddling a book, which is noteworthy mostly because his 2004 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission bans him from selling almost anything. (The only thing he is allowed to sell is "informational publications.")

Frankly, I am appalled that NESN sees fit to allow this chronic scamster an outlet. Does NESN really need the money so badly? (The New York Times outlined Mr. Trudeau's colorful career in 2007, here.)

How desperate is your typical cable regional sports channel for tainted late-night advertising money? My guess is that it is not desperate enough to allow nudity on, but desperate enough to let a chronic fraud on.

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Posted by Tim W at 6/01/2010 12:26:00 AM

17 May 2010

News, Weak

Word comes that the Washington Post Company is trying to find a buyer for Newsweek, because it has been losing "tens of millions" of dollars annually.

I know one way to save money! Make some cuts, and fast, on that Newsweek.com web site!

A recent Newsweek "web exclusive" had the brilliant Ramin Setoodeh explain that

[F]rankly, it's weird seeing [Sean] Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is....

For decades, Hollywood has kept gay actors—Tab Hunter, Van Johnson, Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson, etc.#8212;in the closet, to their own personal detriment. The fear was, if people knew your sexual orientation, you could never work again. Thankfully, this seems ridiculous in the era of Portia de Rossi and Neil Patrick Harris. But the truth is, openly gay actors still have reason to be scared. While it's OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in Brokeback Mountain), it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse.

This is arrant nonsense. Rare? The idea that gay or lesbian actors cannot play straight roles is absurd. I do not pretend to be completely up on popular culture, but I do not remember John Gielgud playing gay role after gay role, or Lily Tomlin playing only lesbian roles, or Ian McKellen flopping when he played straight roles, or Derek Jacobi seeming like he was hiding something about himself, or Richard Chamberlain being wooden and insincere. Just because Sean Hayes is undistinguished hardly proves anything.

The truth is that actors and actresses stay in the closet because there are a lot of bigots out there. Some are in show business and don't want to hire gays or lesbians. Others are the garden-variety bigots who view gays and lesbians as somehow subhuman—coming out of the closet means that one and one's partner are out of the closet in real life, and that is not always easy or safe or even possible.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/17/2010 01:06:00 AM

02 January 2010

If I Ran the FDIC...

Business Week asks, Should This Man Be a Banker?. The man in question is Stephen Ross, who founded the Related Companies development firm.

Maybe he should, and maybe he shouldn't. But perhaps the regulators (not to mention the folks at Business Week ought to ask themselves why two companies which featured Stephen Ross in their executive suites are now either wothless or next to worthless.

In January 2007, Centerline Holding Company traded for about $20 per share. It now trades at 9.5 cents per share. Stephen Ross (and his partner Jeff Blau) resigned from the Centerline Board of Trustees in June to "address certain potential conflicts of interest." At the time, Ross was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Blau was a Managing Trustee.

In January 2007, American Mortgage Acceptance Corporation, a REIT afiliated with Related, traded at about $16 per share. Blau is a member of the board of Trustee of American Mortgage, whose stock, when it trades, changes hands at 1.5 cents per share nowadays.

To put it kindly, these fellows have not had a good last few years as fiduciaries.

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Posted by Tim W at 1/02/2010 03:16:00 PM

30 November 2009

Scariest Sarah Palin Moment Ever?

This might be the most damning thing Sarah Palin ever said. From The New Yorker's review of her memoir:

When Fred Barnes, the Weekly Standard editor and writer, asked Palin who her favorite thinker was, she replied, "You."

She might be the only person in America, including Fred Barnes to think that way.

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Posted by Tim W at 11/30/2009 02:04:00 PM

23 November 2009

When Researchers Go Bad

How do you know when researchers have too much time on their hands? How about when they are implementing a real-world version of a quarter-century old video game?

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Posted by Tim W at 11/23/2009 08:29:00 PM

03 November 2009

Thanks for Not All That Much

Dear Newsweek:

I was pleased that you asked Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu about the Iranian nuclear threat in your interview with him. But did you ask him about Israel's own nuclear arsenal? Surely one has a better appreciation of Iranian motives if one considers what Iranians consider to be Iran's external threats.

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Posted by Tim W at 11/03/2009 02:09:00 PM

18 October 2009

Passing for Wisdom

Now thank God for the media
for saving the day
putting it all into perspective
in a responsible way.
(The Offspring, Stuff is Messed Up)

One always hopes that someone given a weekly column in a respected news magazine would be wise, or at least would aspire to wisdom. Alas, many of those who actually have such columns are more than happy to play stupid semantic games with their readers. Jon Meacham of Newsweek has shown that he is no exception. A recent column on bipartisanship actually starts off well.

That is why the sooner the political conversation takes into account the fact that there has never—never—been a golden age of bipartisanship, the better. There have been, it is true, eras in which there was more rather than less cooperation across party lines, but rival forces have always tried to destabilize one another.

One could argue that The Era of Good Feelings from 1817 to 1825, when there was only one viable national political party, was an exception, but even then there were important regional issues (four men fought fairly hard for the Democratic-Republican nomination in 1820, for example) and the issue of slavery was the cause of a great deal of political infighting. But I digress.

Alas, Meacham forgets that partisanship need not be a bad thing. In real life, partisanship, yea, even vociferous partisanship, is the only sane course of action.

Words have consequences, too. I wish that more liberals had appreciated this point during the George W. Bush years. It was wrong then to demonize the president, and it is wrong now....

I would argue that the 1980s were manageably mad in political terms. Liberals went crazy decrying Ronald Reagan, who was said to be a nuclear cowboy who hated the poor. Enough Americans, however, found Reagan to be a good man with whom they might disagree on particulars but whose essential character was worthy....

Reagan may or may not have been a "good man" but a huge number of his policies were borderline insane—his economic policies hobbled the federal government for a generation; his defense policies wasted hundreds of billions of dollars for absolutely useless missile defense systems; and his international policies included incredibly stupid and blatant violations of international law.

As for the first excerpt, when your administration treats prisoners in the way that the human monsters who ran the Inquisition in centuries past or the Soviet gulags in the last century would have treated them, then you certainly deserve the moniker demon. That the Bush administration is not seen by people like Meacham as morally repugnant says a lot about what opinion-makers in America are willing to overlook for the sake of cultivating sources and pleasing the powerful. Demons come in more than one form.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/18/2009 10:06:00 PM

16 October 2009

Blame It On Rio

Catching up on recent copies of The New Yorker brought out this flabbergasting fact from Jon Lee Anderson's article on the gangs of Rio de Janeiro.

Rio's police... kill more people than police anywhere else in the world; in 2008, they acknowledged killing eleven hundred and eighty-eight people who were "resisting arrest," or slightly more than three people a day. By comparison, American police killed three hundred and seventy-one people—classified as "justifiable homicides"—in the entire United States in the same period.

The population of the United States in 2008 was about 304 million. The population of Rio de Janeiro is either about 6 million or a bit over 14 million, depending on whether you mean the municipality or the metropolitan area. So, the homicide rate for Rio's cops is at least 63 times as those of American cops, whose gentleness and passivity is so well-known throughout the world.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/16/2009 10:33:00 PM

09 October 2009


The surprise news that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize resulted in at least one amusing juxtaposition.

Among the critics of the prize are both Obama's conservative critics ("[H]e's the first to win it without having accomplished anything" from National Review Online) and... the Taliban ("He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan").

That's only amusing until you realize how much of the conservative movement in the United States would welcome theocracy.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/09/2009 09:36:00 AM

04 October 2009

Market Watch

If you have a 401(k) plan at work, you cannot help but notice the incessant cheerleading for equity investment from your 401(k) provider.

But over the last 10 years, how good an investment have equities been? The answer is not that hot, even though the last two quarters have been quite good. As I have done before, you can see here the actual returns for five Vanguard mutual funds—their S&P 500 fund, their total stock market index fund, their total international stock index fund, their total bond market index fund, and their money market fund.

The graph shows that the bond market fund has done the best by far over the last 10 years, with the international fund just beating out the money market fund for second place (its last 12 months have only somewhat regained its dramatic losses over the previous 12 months, whereas the money market fund has paid very low dividends recently). But, still, if you parked $10,000 of retirement money in the money market fund 10 years ago, you would have $13,652 now. If you had invested that in the S&P 500 fund, you would have lost money, not just before inflation, but overall, with a position of $9,776.

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Posted by Tim W at 10/04/2009 09:38:00 AM

20 September 2009

Another Reason Labor Unions Matter

At least in Boston, labor unions do what the Democratic leadership can't—they can shun so-called Democrats who like to kiss the moneyed butts of insurance companies.

Stephen Lynch, who won the special election to fill Joe Moakley's seat some years ago and has faced only token opposition since, had taken out nomination papers to run for Ted Kennedy's seat. But now it seems that he won't run after all. And it's not surprising why.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely face only token opposition—the only candidates on the Republican side are a suburban selectman and a two-term state senator. But there are several well-known candidates among the Democrats. And when most of them showed up at the annual Labor Day breakfast, most of them got to speak, except for Lynch, who has continued his conservative bent in Congress by opposing attempts to reform health care.

A candidate who can't get any respect from labor unions won't win the Democratic primary in Massachusetts. Hint to progressives: you can run against Lynch in 2010 and get union backing.

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Posted by Tim W at 9/20/2009 03:13:00 PM

19 September 2009

Petty Bourgeoise

Just how petty can a condominium board be? Let's find out.

For children at the Room to Grow preschool in Tewksbury,... [t]heir playground is gone.

After a yearlong battle between the school’s owner, Wendy Bowen, her landlord, and the board of managers that governs her building, the slides, swings, and climbing structures were taken down on Aug. 28.

"We've been in this location for 20 years, and the playground has been here for 17," said Bowen. "But last August, they raised issues about it."

"They didn't show proper process for protection of the children," said Mike Naddif, who owns a unit in the building and sits on the board.
"What if something happened to a kid? All the unit owners would be liable."

In response to safety concerns, Bowen said, she increased her insurance to release other tenants of liability. Her landlord, meanwhile, worked with the Tewksbury Planning Board to track down original permits for the playground. Bowen said the landlord was able to find the permit from the initial building plans, but final permits after completion were not on file.

Then the board directed Bowen to dismantle the playground by January because it sat on common space that is part of the overall complex and does not belong to any one unit in the building.

In a residential condominium, it's reasonable for owners to make sure that others are not using the common spaces for themselves; people use their backyards, for example, for all sorts of things.

But have you ever seen a commercial condominium's open space? It's generally nicely landscaped, and quite pristine. And never used for anything. Rather than have open space used for the playground, just like it has for 17 years, some petty tyrants would rather it get sprayed with enough Roundup and fertilizer every two weeks so that it looks nice and green (and so that the Merrimack River gets enough chemical runoff).

But it gets better.

But the school was dealt a final blow when the board notified Bowen that she was going to be responsible for its legal fees as well as her own. Bowen said the additional financial burden was the last straw.

"To challenge the trustees' right to assess fees would have required costly litigation," said Mark Rosen of Goodman, Shapiro, & Lombardi, the attorney representing Room to Grow and the school's landlord. Bowen was advised to sign off on the elimination of the playground.

In response to questions as to why the playground became an issue now, after so many years, the board's attorney said timing is irrelevant.

"The central issue is not how long it's been here, but whether it has ever been a lawfully permitted use of the site," said Richard O'Neil of O'Neil & Associates.

"The bottom line is that there was never any such approval by the Planning Board."

This really is a fascinating story. A business owner and her landlord are on the same side of an issue—that it seems obvious enough that the town had approved of the playground and that the playground was doing no one any harm. They made sure that reasonable questions about liability insurance were covered. And it's not like her neighboring businesses mind having the youngsters around.

For Jack McKenzie, a unit owner whose accounting firm, McKenzie & Frawley, is just a few doors down from the school, that reasoning was not satisfactory.

"This whole situation has been unjustified. That playground has been here for over 15 years and it's never been a problem," he said.

"It's always been a pleasure to see the kids out there."

The problem, of course, is that some people let their anal sphincters define their entire personalities. In a perfect world, Mike Naddif would find that his more humane clients were taking their sales and marketing business elsewhere on the grounds that his marketing skills are clearly deficient. In our actual world, we can only hope that Wendy Bowen finds a better location for her school and that her landlord campaigns to kick the current condo board out on their respective backsides.

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Posted by Tim W at 9/19/2009 03:56:00 PM

18 September 2009

Just Stop It!

Every year, athletic teams at high schools and colleges are reminded in stark terms, that hazing of new players is intolerable.

And every year around this time, when baseball teams make their last road trip of the year, we see stories like this one of the Boston Red Sox dressing rookie players up. Almost always, at least someone is dressed up as a girl. (It's so funny: the rookies are sissies!)

it is well documented that hazing has led to serious injuries, emotional traumas, and even deaths. Why, then, do professional baseball teams do it every year? And why do the media always cover and encourage it?

(I should point out that the Yankees once did this initiation thing in a respectful yet funny manner. In 2006, the veterans made the rookies travel in George Steinbrenner costumes—blazers, turtlenecks, gray wigs, and aviator sunglasses. No bras. No go-go boots. Nothing sexually bizarre. And yet everyone had a good time in spite of all that.

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Posted by Tim W at 9/18/2009 04:16:00 PM

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