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    • The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future
      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
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Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

Red Beanie Boys: nuns help poor too much and condemn sexytime violations too little

Has the whole world’s first and second estates’ completely lost it?  I mean, talk about people who could use a refresher course in the classics.  Don’t they remember what happened to all those kings and princes who insisted on playing god with the power of life and death?

The Vatican is definitely pushing the envelope.  They’ve decided to step in and take over a North American nuns organization, rather imperiously, a la the UVA Board of Visitors, because:

In April, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had authorized a takeover of the LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the nation’s 57,000 nuns and sisters. The Vatican’s “doctrinal assessment” said the group was not sufficiently promoting orthodox teachings on sexuality and gender and was spending too much time focusing on social justice issues.

Although the Vatican has been officially scrutinizing the LCWR for several years — and has viewed the U.S. nuns with some suspicion for decades — the takeover came as a surprise. LCWR leaders requested a face-to-face meeting with Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, who Benedict named to direct the Vatican effort.

After last week’s talks in Rome, Farrell and Mock said the meeting had been an opportunity for “open dialogue.” A Vatican spokesman said the meeting took place “in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality.”

But right after the meeting, Levada gave an interview in which he said the talks may in fact be a “dialogue of the deaf,” and said the nuns are associating with people who “aren’t representing the church with any reasonable sense of product identity.” Sartain and another U.S. bishop involved in the takeover also said the investigation was aimed at the LCWR, not nuns in general.

Farrell called Levada’s comment “unfortunate” and in its statement on Monday, the LCWR rejected efforts to try to separate the group from the wider community of U.S. nuns, which it said has “keenly felt” the impact of the Vatican campaign.

Yes, the comment was unfortunate but not nearly as unfortunate as the sentiment behind it.  By the way, when did the Vatican get a marketing department concerned with “product identity”. Can you just imagine the personality statement from the ad and marketing group?

“Our product says tradition.  It is not crunchy granola.  It doesn’t wear jeans or have a vegan diet.  It’s wine in golden goblets. It is not who you want to have a beer with. It says it’s going to be here for another 2000 years. It is gentlemen’s club. It’s about labor and delivery while strapped to a bed, not earth mothers and unassisted home water births. It’s the beauty of shame and the ecstasy of fasting…”

Lovely.  More authoritarianism just keeps coming our way.  This won’t end well.

Meanwhile, here’s a great idea:

Tuesday: Clearing the Instapaper Queue

Let’s see, what have we got in there today:

1.) How useless is marketing?  Let me count the ways.  I went into Lowes the other day to buy some molding for my generic builder’s grade bathroom mirror.  The guy showed me *one* profile that would fit my mirror.  One.  I told him it was too narrow.  You know that fricking “take it or leave it” shrug that 60 year old men who work in the molding department of Lowes give you?  That shrug that makes you want to shoot him through the throat with an arrow just to watch the surprised look on his face while you stand over him saying, “Bet you’ll never do that again”?  Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah, the reason why Lowes doesn’t have the right molding with the channel on the back that goes around the mirror clips is because some smug asshole in marketing decided YOU didn’t NEED it in zip code 02134 (That’s ZOOM!).  Welcome to Soviet Suburbia where everyone gets to choose the same mediocre decor, food and fashion that all your neighbors will buy as determined by your local demographic and mined studiously by some MBA in marketing.  You’ll never get anything different because nothing different is ever offered for sale and therefore does not go into the database as the kind of thing your demographic will buy.  No, it doesn’t make any sense.  That means if you want something with taste, style or is a smidge different, you have to keep shopping out of your area or go online to buy it.  Fun.  Just what I always wanted to do.  I hate to shop.

Anyway, here’s an article from the NYTimes about marketing for the upcoming movie, The Hunger Games, which I am dying to see this Friday.  If you haven’t read the book by Suzanne Collins, I highly recommend it.  It’s young adult fiction but it’s really too good for sarcastic, sulky adolescents.  So this article is all about marketing and how this guy is marketing his skills as a marketer to market a movie that needed zero marketing and how he created this facebook page and a website and trailers and stuff and that’s why the movie is going to be the blockbuster that ate Jurrasic Park.

No, the movie is going to be a monster blockbuster because the books were that good and it features Jennifer Lawrence, who is the next Meryl Streep.  The distributer should have saved the money.  All it would have taken is one or two trailers on TV or youtube to have screaming girls from 12 to 64 lined up around the theater on Friday.  Twilight?  What’s Twilight?

When are American businesses going to learn that the thing that marketers sell best is themselves?  Other than that, they’re fricking useless.

2.) A new height for helicopter parenting: purge your house of “toxins” before the little tyke comes home from the hospital.  It’s the new “vaccines cause autism” and “genetically modified crops are bad” thing.  {{rolling eyes}}  Like you can isolate your kid forever from the world.  Oh, please, don’t even tell me how there are things that can harm and cause cancer and they’re in everything, EVERYTHING!  You nervous types really need to chill.  Rats get cancer from anything, ask any phamacologist.  They’re kind of prone to it.  A rat study is just a warning that if you eat a ton of that stuff or breathe it 24/7 for 20 years, you *may* get sick.  There are better tests than rat studies.  If you have time to worry about this instead of some poor kid drinking polluted water in a third world country, you’re making way too much money or you need to find a hobby.  Like palm reading or astrology or some other embarrassing belief in things you can’t understand.

Yes, I am a little irritated this morning.  Why do you ask?  The world is full of gullible people freaking and going to extremes when they really just need to use common sense and stop feeding their kids formaldehyde.

3.) David Silverman, head of American Atheists, writes Why We Need a Reason Rally for the Washington Post.  Um, because way too few Americans actually use reason in everyday life?  Just a guess.  David says:

America is one of the most religious countries in the world. And if you are non-religious, it can seem that without religion you cannot be elected to public office, cannot be considered a moral or ethical person, or be considered a patriot. It does not appear to matter what religious beliefs you cling to so long as you can tell anyone who asks, “Yes, sir or ma’am, I believe in God.”

Well, when you put it that way.  He makes it sound like there’s an incentive to lie about religious beliefs.  Hey, how many of the 12% of Congressional representatives and senators that are non-religious can we expect to come out at The Reason Rally on Saturday?

What does secular America believe?

3.5) From Derek Lowe’s blog, In the Pipeline, news of a new study that shows that cancerous tumors are full of hypermutable cell lines.  In other words, in some cancerous tumors, there is a heterogenous collection of cancerous cells containing different mutations. This may be caused by the first mutation running wild and setting off other cell mutations and before you know it, you’ve got a bunch of cells breaking free and getting into trouble. This is the kind of thing geeky evolutionists get off on.  The bottom line is that it’s going to take a lot more work for us to get to the bottom of what’s going on in every cell.

Too bad we’re all laid off.  Bummer.

4.) This one’s funny.  Fox News says that James Carville said that Hillary was going to run in 2016.  I read this blurb and Carville said no such thing.  It’s what he didn’t say that intrigues me.

5.) Paul Krugman is having another “Hey, guys, we’ve been eating grass” moment about Barack Obama’s persistent intimidation by the Washington Press corps and how that has made his policies suck, big time. In his blog post, Political Malpractice, Krugman writes:

Finally, it’s hard not to have the sense that when political types in this administration talk about appealing to “voters”, what they really mean is appealing to self-proclaimed centrist pundits who claim to have their fingers on the pulse of independent voters. Aside from the fact that they don’t — that the complicated psychodramas concocted by pundits exist only in their heads, not the heads of voters — experience shows that nothing Obama can do will satisfy these guys; they need, professionally, to maintain the pretense that both sides of the political divide are equally extreme. How many columns have you read demanding that someone stake out centrist positions that happen to be exactly what Obama has already been saying?

I have to say that the various accounts of what went wrong are converging on a very depressing picture, in which White House political “experts” actually believed that trying to please the Washington Post editorial page was a winning political move.

And I worry that they’ll double down on this mistake in an effort to prove that they were right all along.

Ya’ think?  Hey, did you know that the economy is recovering?  Neither did I.

6.) Dave Weigel at Slate wonders Why Obama ever won in the first place and gets some honest answers which may come as a bit of a shock to the Obama campaign that is still thinking it had something to do with his political gifts,  genius campaign and brilliant speaking style.

7.) And finally, my dream house, off the grid, in Extremadura, Spain.  I love the water features and the happy accidents they produce.   Contributions for making my dream a reality are gratefully accepted.  Get me out of New Jersey before I break out my bow and arrows and go hunting.

Friday News: Things I don’t have time to read (but you should)

protein art. See foldit below

Running late again, sports fans.  I’ve been quizzing Brooke on lipids vs fatty acids vs trigycerides this morning.  Gahhh!  Make it stop!

So, anyway, I have a small compilation of news but I haven’t had much time to read them all the way through.  Take a look and tell me what you think.

1.) Myiq has already touched on this.  The New York Times has a big headline that reads:

Bill Clinton Urged Democrat to Quit Senate Bid

!!!

Jeez, the White House must really hate the guy(s).  Who do they hate more?  The beloved ex-president who is busting his ass campaigning for Democratic candidates or the Democratic senate candidate who supported the Big Dawg’s wife for president?  Damn, does this make sense?  Why would the White House cripple two important candidates 5 days before the election?  And why does the rest of Congress put up with it?

2)  Obama is a piss poor socialist.  According to Politico (always take with a grain of salt), under Obama Corporate profits have climbed magnificently.  Note to the socialists: this guy is giving you a bad name.

3.) Ted Strickland is toughing it out in Ohio.  Seems like a pragmatic guy.  The Big Dawg campaigned for him.  But it looks like Obama has the most to lose if Strickland loses:

Even as party leaders in Washington leave some vulnerable Democrats to fend for themselves in the final days of the campaign and scramble to shore up incumbents who might be more viable, one candidate is being given particular assistance: Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who is in a difficult battle for re-election.

The reason is not simply that he still has a chance of winning. For Mr. Obama, the fate of Mr. Strickland could be very much tied to his own, since a Republican in the Ohio governor’s seat could make his re-election to the presidency in 2012 that much more complicated.

Ohio is one of nine states where Mr. Obama expanded the Democratic map in the last presidential election, and his advisers believe the electoral votes here are likely to be among the most critical to assure his return to the White House. Republicans do not disagree and have used that argument in the final stages of the midterm election campaign as a motivating factor.

Wow, that’s a tough one.  Vote for the guy Bill Clinton endorses or vote for the Republican to exact revenge on the president you were pressured to vote for instead of the candidate you actually voted for in the primary of 2008.  I’d be asking myself, can I survive four years of a Republican governor?  Well, we in NJ are suffering through it.  It’s not pleasant and for sure the guy’s no long term thinker…

Ehhh, go with Strickland.  Obama’s not savvy enough to save his own ass in 2012.  And anything can happen.  He might even be challenged by a better presidential candidate from his own party.  (Hint to party: you only have *one* viable alternative)

4.) Charles Krauthammer is not really in David Brooks league as the Saruman of the right.  He doesn’t know how to finesse his words as finely as Brooks in such a way to make you think you have absolutely no hope of prevailing against the masters of the universe so why don’t you just bow down or slit your throat now, you helpless underlings?  Still, Chuck gives it the old college try and attempts to wrangle the obvious- that voters are pissed as hell at Democrats for a variety of reasons- into some kind of reason to celebrate the Reagan revolution?  Ehhh, I don’t get it.  Nevertheless, Chuck is taking the anger part seriously in a way the Democratic party is not:

The beauty of this year’s campaign, and the coming one in 2012, is that they actually have a point. Despite the noise, the nonsense, the distractions, the amusements – who will not miss New York’s seven-person gubernatorial circus act? – this is a deeply serious campaign about a profoundly serious political question.

Obama, to his credit, did not get elected to do midnight basketball or school uniforms. No Bill Clinton he. Obama thinks large. He wants to be a consequential president on the order of Ronald Reagan. His forthright attempt to undo the Reagan revolution with a burst of expansive liberal governance is the theme animating this entire election.

Democratic apologists would prefer to pretend otherwise – that it’s all about the economy and the electorate’s anger over its parlous condition. Nice try. The most recent CBS/New York Times poll shows that only one in 12 Americans blames the economy on Obama, and seven in 10 think the downturn is temporary. And yet, the Democratic Party is falling apart. Democrats are four points behind among women, a constituency Democrats had owned for decades; a staggering 20 points behind among independents (a 28-point swing since 2008); and 20 points behind among college graduates, giving lie to the ubiquitous liberal conceit that the Republican surge is the revenge of lumpen know-nothings.

Yeah, he’s not in Brooks’ league.  It must be maddening.

5.) Anglachel has a trio of new posts.  I haven’t had time to dig in but don’t let that stop you.

Marketing and Sales

Clouds and Clarity

Plebian Acts

Hypergraphia:  It’s not a bug- it’s a feature!

And now for something completely different.  Have you ever had a secret desire to fold a protein but didn’t know where to start?  What would your friends think?  Does that mean you have to start wearing pocket protectors and a calculator on your belt?

Well, worry no more, secret protein folders.  You can get in on the game with no experience necessary.  In fact, you might even have an advantage if you know absolutely nothing about science and if you’re a female who works well with others in cooperative teams  (there’s a study that says so.  I’ll add the link later).  The game is called Foldit: Solve puzzles for science.  Check it out.  I expect The Confluence to have the winning team.  Let’s kick some tertiary structure ass!!!

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