Blogs

The Army Wants You to Be "Less" Than You Can Be

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 10:21 AM EST

By weight, that is. The twin catastrophes of America's obesity epidemic and our-never ending wars have the Army caught between a rock and a fat place: America.

From the AP:

The Army has been dismissing so many overweight applicants that its top recruiter, trying to keep troop numbers up in wartime, is considering starting a fat farm to transform chubby trainees into svelte soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, head of the Army Recruiting Command, said he wants to see a formal diet and fitness regimen running alongside a new school at Fort Jackson that helps aspiring troops earn their GEDs.

An Army fat farm? Geez. Eighteen and already too fat to fight.

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Wrecking ReadyMade in One Easy Step?

| Mon Jan. 12, 2009 3:55 AM EST

readymade.jpgMore sad news from the publishing bloodbath: ReadyMade is packing its repurposed-pocket lint-bags and heading to Iowa. The Berkeley-based hipster D.I.Y. magazine is one of the most creative reads to come out of the independent magazine scene; it has a can-do cool that inspires even those readers who don't think of themselves as all that crafty. In 2006, it was acquired by the Meredith Corporation, the Des Moines-based publisher of vanilla standards like Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle. Now, as part of a round of corporate apron string-tightening, Meredith has decided to "relocate" the magazine's art and edit departments to Des Moines. The move, says a company spokesman, will allow RM to "take advantage of the assets we have in Des Moines, like the photo studio and the test kitchen." Because, you know, it's hard to find those in the Bay Area.

The Midwest move may look great on a balance sheet, but it's hard to imagine it doing any favors for RM and its readers. Not that there might not be lots of craftiness in the Hawkeye State (corn-husk coffee tables, perhaps?) but I'd guess that this means the magazine's going to lose most of its core creative team along with its sense of place. It's painful to see yet another instance of a media corporation taking a successful publication and shortsightedly messing with the very secret of its success. (The magazine has clearly been doing something right: Founder and editor Shoshana Berger recently said that it has tripled its readership.) Here's hoping that the old ReadyMade survives its makeover.

Stimulus Details

| Sat Jan. 10, 2009 3:43 PM EST

STIMULUS DETAILS....In case you're curious, Barack Obama's economic boffins now estimate that his stimulus plan will create 3.6 million additional jobs over the next two years. And if you're further curious about how likely this is to affect you, the estimated breakdown by industry is on the right:

To get more detailed information on the breakdown of the jobs created, we use a simulation from a prominent private forecaster on a plan that is similar — though not identical — to the type of plan the President-Elect is considering....The estimates suggest that 30% of the jobs created will be in construction and manufacturing, even though these industries employ only 15% of all workers. Both sectors have been particularly hard hit recently. The other two significant sectors that are disproportionately represented in job creation are retail trade and leisure and hospitality.

Later in the report the authors helpfully estimate that 42% of the new jobs will go to women. Bruce Bartlett emails a very brief critique of the report: "Some of these numbers look rather dubious to me, especially those for 'indirect' job creation." Perhaps so, though the broad methodology seems within the ballpark of reasonableness: they assume a net multiplier (spending + tax cuts) of around 1.3 producing nominal GDP growth in 2010 of $500 billion, combined with a "conservative rule of thumb that a 1 percent increase in GDP corresponds to an increase in employment of approximately 1 million jobs." Paul Krugman thinks these numbers sound roughly right and show that the stimulus package is too small. I'll pass along other economic comment as I see it.

Job Losses

| Sat Jan. 10, 2009 1:29 PM EST

JOB LOSSES....A headline at CNN blares:

Worst year for jobs since '45

The LA Times follows suit. But come on, folks. This is completely bogus. I'm all for dramatizing just how grim our economic situation is, but you can't use raw numbers like this in an era of rising population. The civilian labor force today is 40% larger than it was in 1982 and more than twice as large as it was in 1945. Job losses last year amounted to about 1.7% of the labor force, but in 1945 the equivalent number was nearly 5% and in 1982 it was nearly 2%.

Job losses last year were brutal, and if you count broader measures than the headline unemployment rate they were even grimmer. But there's no need to use moron math to make it seem even worse than it is. "Worst since 1982" would have been fine.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 10:37 PM EST

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL....Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs posted a video Q&A today on the change.gov site and took the following question:

Thaddeus: Is the new administration going to get rid of the "don't ask don't tell" policy?

Gibbs: Thaddeus, you don't hear a politician give a one-word answer much, but it's yes.

That's very good news, though I sure wish Gibbs had given a multi-word answer instead. Mainly, what I want to know is: "What do you plan to replace it with?" We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

Spider-Man Vs. Obama: This is Gonna Be Lame

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 8:45 PM EST

obama_spidey300.jpgMarvel Comics has announced that it's cashing in on—excuse me, commemorating—a "Brand New Day for the United States" by sticking Barack Obama into its next issue of Spider-Man. The story, set on Inauguration Day, "finds one of Spider-Man's oldest foes attempting to thwart the swearing in ceremony of the 44th President of the United States." Wait, Spider-Man has done battle with these kooks? Actually, the baddie is the Chameleon, which I think is one of Dick Cheney's aliases.

Nothing good can come from superheroes meddling in politics. Last year, DC Comics released a series of election-themed comics. Our in-house comic collector-slash-webmaster lent me his copies and, wow, were they bad. So my spidey senses are tingling with something less than anticipation about the Webslinger going to Washington. From the online previews, it looks like the episode's highlight is Spidey doing a terrorist fist-jab with some black guy in a suit. Seriously, if Marvel's going to suck up to the president, it could have at least found an artist who can draw a reasonable likeness of him. Or wait—maybe that's really Cheney before he rips off his cheap Obama mask and reveals himself?

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Asking for TARP Funds Takes Only 27 Minutes

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 6:34 PM EST

PaperResized.jpg

Journalists have written so much about the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), better known as the federal bailout, that it's hard to find a new angle. Seems like everyone's clamoring for a piece of the collective capital. Maybe that's because it takes less than half an hour to ask for it.

It turns out that the application for TARP funds is surprisingly simple. Interested parties can find the complete guidelines for the TARP Capital Purchase Program here. The application is just two pages long. As a test, we decided to fill it out. Including the time it took us to explain this project to our chief financial officer, the TARP application took a mere 27 minutes to complete.

To put it in perspective, here are five things that take longer than filling out the TARP application.

  1. Applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): 4 hours.
  2. Watching Wall Street: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
  3. Making a tuna noodle casserole: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
  4. Applying for New York State unemployment insurance benefits: 30 minutes.
  5. Applying for food stamps in New Jersey: 30 minutes.

One of the only things that takes less time is filling out a credit card application: 2 minutes.

—Alexis Fitts and Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user JRP Photo

Friday Cat Blogging - 9 January 2009

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 3:48 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Yesterday was a nice sunny winter day, so Inkblot got a bee in his bonnet and suddenly decided to scamper up our jacaranda tree. Perhaps he knew that we're about to have it removed and wanted one last look? Hard to say. As usual, though, he didn't really know what to do once he got up, and came scampering down about as fast as he scampered up. Domino, who knows her limits, enjoyed the winter sun from ground level.

In other cat news, the Bush family cat, India, died on Sunday. R.I.P.

Debra Bowen, California's Secretary of State, sends along news of her critters: "I'm up to three cats now — Mapplethorpe, Oz and Sushi. Sushi, my latest pound cat, hangs out on the 6th floor of the SOS office fairly often — and knows everyone who works there, and who has the best sleeping spots at what time of day." She promises pictures someday.

Finally, last week Blue Girl started up Friday Public Art Blogging over at her Missouri blog. "Does Missouri have any public art of cats?" I asked. Probably so, but this week a dog will have to do. And Zoe!

Quote of the Day - 01.09.09

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 3:25 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Ben Shapiro, describing the Benjamin "Henry Gale" Linus character on Lost:

Benry is evil to be sure — but he's pure, solid, wonderful evil in the mold of Dick Cheney.

Yes, this is meant as a compliment.

Lessig's Change Congress Changes Course, Demands Nationwide Donor Strike

| Fri Jan. 9, 2009 2:08 PM EST

Last year, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig announced a new focus on corruption and a new organization, Change Congress, which asked politicians to support its four goals: a ban on earmarks, "total Congressional transparency," public funding of elections, and the rejection of PAC and lobbyist money. Now he's changing course. Today, Change Congress announced a strike of campaign donors until Congress takes steps to eliminate the influence of money in politics.

The strike is directed at a specific goal: passing the Fair Elections Now Act sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC). That's good, because the old model wasn't working all that well. Very few incumbents had signed up for Lessig's plan—a point highlighted by all of the red "Pester Now" buttons on the Change Congress website. (Voters could click on the buttons to harass recalcitrant representatives into taking a stand on Lessig's reform goals.) That page, with its embarrassing list of reluctant politicians, is now gone from the Change Congress site, replaced with a much simpler, much more publicity-friendly idea: the donor strike.

But while a donor strike may be a better idea than asking voters to demand that their representatives take stands on reform, it suffers from the same, fundamental problem: it requires a huge mass of people to sign on to get it to work. Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." The salaries of members of Congress depend on their reelection, and money from PACs and lobbyists help them get reelected. They'll be reluctant to give up that corrupting money unless something else threatens their salaries more. The only way for that to happen would be for a huge number of people to refuse to donate to them. Let's hope enough do. Want to help? Join the strike.