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Sunday, January 31, 2010

It all depends on who's counting 

The story has been everywhere. Avatar is a $1 billion dollar movie. It is the highest grossing movie of all time. But as we have long heard, "There are three ways to not tell the truth: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Is Avatar's claim to be the biggest movie ever subject to this cliche? An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times makes the case.

The issue in question as the LA Times frames it, is Avatar the largest box office movie ever? As is so often the situation, the answer depends on how one frames the question. Avatar is indeed the biggest grossing moving of all-time when analyzing gross revenues, i.e. total dollars. However, when the metric is changed to adjust for inflation, the Avatar is nowhere to be found.

The biggest movie of all-time for individual ticket sales, i.e. fannies in the seats, and the biggest movie of all-time when considering inflation adjusted gross revenues are the same flick, "Gone With Wind." It garnered what would be in today's dollars nearly $1.5 billion in ticket sales. To give you an idea, dear readers, of just how different the two lists are, check this out from the Times: the all-time not adjusted for inflation gross revenue top 50 list includes only five films from before 1997, but check the adjusted for inflation gross revenue top 10 list, there's only one film, "Titanic," that was released in the last 30 years.

This phenomenon is part of longer term trend in American cultural history where folks conflate the most recent and the best. America wants everything that is new to be improved, new and improved are as linked as peanut butter and jelly in the American psyche. It is not good enough to simply be the best home run hitter or the best sprinter of one's era, one must be the best ever. The Clarion Content worries that this kind of thinking provokes a vicious cycle that labels far too many tremendous efforts failures. The movies are apparently not exempt. The LA Times writer, Patrick Goldstein sums it up well, "I don't know about you, but when I think of how much cultural heft a film has, I'm more interested in how many people enjoyed the communal delight of being in front of the big screen, not simply how much money they had to pay to see it."

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

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BCS to be reviewed 

The best team in the country was???

The Clarion Content was just excoriating the Obama administration last week on our politics page for its failure to object to the merger between two existing harmful monopolies, Ticketmaster and Live Nation. There is better news out of Washington, D.C. today. While the President was courtside watching the Duke game yesterday afternoon, with Veep Joe Biden who looked like he couldn't tell the teams apart without a program, the Justice Department was indicating its preliminary willingness to look into a harmful sports monopoly, the college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

The BCS is, of course, prima facie an anti-competitive system. It is deliberately designed to exclude and minimize opportunities for schools not in the six "power" conferences. The BCS worked just as its designers intended this year when it denied undefeated Boise State and Texas Christian a chance to compete for the national title. In fact, it not only excluded these schools from a national title game or any opportunity to play in one, but in a fit of extreme protectionism, it refused to allow them to play any team from the so-called power conferences in a BCS sanctioned bowl.

This behavior is monopolistic and highly objectionable. It would be bad enough if it were perpetrated by a private entity, but coming from an organization that includes many public universities, it is genuinely perverse. We agree, of course, that there are far bigger problems facing the country. However, we are glad to see the Obama administration is at least on the right side of this anti-trust issue. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote in a letter to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a leading rabblerouser on the topic, that, "This seemingly discriminatory action with regard to revenues and access have raised questions regarding whether the BCS potentially runs afoul of the nation's antitrust laws...The administration shares your belief that the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football ... raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties."

Is it going anywhere? Probably not, much more likely it is strictly for public consumption, and the Obama folks showed their true colors in raising nary an objection of significance to the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation which will raise the already ridiculous prices for concert tickets even higher. The BCS signaled its inclination to continue to ignore any and all objections in a statement released by its chairman, "This letter is nothing new and if the Justice Department thought there was a case to be made, they likely would have made it already."

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

A win for the pirates? 

The Maran Centaurus

The Greek-owned oil tanker Maran Centaurus was ransomed for between $5.5 million and $7 million by East African pirates. It carried two million barrels of Saudi Arabian crude oil valued at more than $156 million. Theoretically they paid pennies on the dollar to get their cargo back. Reportedly $5.5 million in cash was dropped directly on to the deck of the hijacked ship.

The Centaurus was taken about 700 miles northeast of Seychelles, an island country north of Madagascar. The captors subsequently docked the tanker along the Somali coast in the pirate town of Xaradheere, located in central Somalia. The crew promised to share part of the ransom with the pirates of Xaradheere in exchange for docking the tanker, according to the Wall Street Journal. On board at all times were pirates with rocket propelled grenades and twenty-eight hostages.

Unfortunately for the pirates, it was not quite as easy money as it seemed. The pirates fell prey to the old saw, there is no honor among thieves. Despite their apparent generosity, the pirates allegedly gave the crew about $400,000 to divide among themselves because they had been cooperative, the buccaneers fought amongst themselves. The Journal reported that according to residents of the town, by nightfall at least three pirates lay dead in the street. None of the crew were harmed.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the State 

The Clarion Content is doing our first live Twitter event tonight. President Barack Obama's first State of the Union speech is just about an hour away. Follow our live commentary on the event, the President and the speech at our Clarion Content Twitter feed. (We are asking you in advance, dear readers, to forgive the cynicism, it is the occupational hazard of the journalist.)

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Regular readers know that the Clarion Content has been complaining for some time that the Obama administration has represented far too much continuity with previous governmental policies and behaviors and too little change. Perhaps our expectations were raised by the soaring rhetoric of the Obama campaign, as the President's defenders have pointed out he cannot waive a wand and close Guantanamo, for example. And the President did signal in his campaign that he was going to forge onward in Afghanistan, (the decision that most irked the Clarion Content). However, it is when the administration patently reneges on a campaign promise that our hope is dented. One such moment was when Obama and the Senate refused to allow C-Span to tape the conspiring that wrought the now failed Health Care Reform bill. Another such instance occurred yesterday.

The President's most ardent defenders point to the reform of the Justice Department as one of Obama's significant breaks with the reign of King George the II. The Clarion Content does not buy that for a moment. Although, we are willing to grant the administration a temporary pass on Guantanamo, it has yet to stop warrantless wiretapping of phones or speed the declassification of documents. Yesterday in a move that underlines just how embedded corporatism is in American government, the Justice Department announced its approval of a merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation. The DOJ claimed that this merger would not increase ticket prices. This is so patently bullshit that it would be easier to argue in favor of the Orwellian equation 2+2=5. Since Ticketmaster and Live Nation came to dominate over the last decade, concert prices have more than doubled and service fees for processing tickets have climbed to as high as 50% per order.

In the first major anti-trust case for the "new" Department of Justice what this opinion makes patently obvious is that Obama has not changed the government's support for big corporations over the little guy one iota. The more evident that becomes, the more likely he is swept aside by the same populists and progressives that brought him to power. Regardless of the claims of his defenders about the Department of Justice, given the choice and the chance, the Obama Administration has repeatedly stood with elite and entrenched interests over those of the outsider.

Like all of us, he will reap what he sows.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Airline Travel 

The Clarion Content is not a big believer in interdiction. If the War on Drugs has taught us anything, it should be that one has to win on the level of motive. If one can't erode the motivation, one can't interdict everything. We think that this cross-applies. Hence, we were not too stressed by a couple of anecdotal reports we received recently about airline security after the near disaster in Detroit.

In two different place we heard essentially the same story, nothing has changed. One was a local Durham friend who traveled to Australia for ten days in early January. While there she obtained a European brand kitchen knife made from a ceramic composite. It is neon yellow, and we saw her caught raw chicken with it after her return. It is a sharp pairing knife with a three inch blade. Having purchased it while in Australia and done no cooking there, she somehow forgot that she had it in her handbag. She unthinkingly brought it on the plane on her flight out of Melbourne, unmolested, undiscovered and unaware.

While not as extreme we saw a comment that read much the same from one of our favorite football writers, Peter King in Sports Illustrated. He wrote in last week's column on the divisional playoff round, "Nine flight segments since the aborted terrorist on the plane in Detroit on Christmas. Zero difference in security that I've seen. Have I just missed it? Or is there just not the vigilance we should be seeing? Hard to tell, but I've not seen slower lines with more patdowns or anything I thought we'd see. I hope TSA knows what it's doing."

Things that make you go, hmmmmm. Anyone?

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frank Rich on point 

It is a mighty rare day when the Clarion Content agrees wholeheartedly with liberal ideologue and New York Times columnist Frank Rich. However, we think he got the tone and tenor of what the Massachusetts Senatorial election signifies about the mindset of American electorate just right.
Obama’s plight has been unchanged for months. Neither in action nor in message is he in front of the anger roiling a country where high unemployment remains unchecked and spiraling foreclosures are demolishing the bedrock American dream of home ownership. The president is no longer seen as a savior but as a captive of the interests who ginned up the mess and still profit, hugely, from it.

That’s no place for any politician of any party or ideology to be. There’s a reason why the otherwise antithetical Leno and Conan camps are united in their derision of NBC’s titans. A TV network has become a handy proxy for every mismanaged, greedy, disloyal and unaccountable corporation in our dysfunctional economy. It’s a business culture where the rich and well-connected get richer while the employees, shareholders and customers get the shaft. And the conviction that the game is fixed is nonpartisan. If the tea party right and populist left agree on anything, it’s that big bailed-out banks have and will get away with murder while we pay the bill on credit cards — with ever-rising fees.
David Brooks and others who have written about the erosion of the American meritocracy, especially in things like college admissions, have sounded this alarm previously, and been ignored. Obama road this anti-elitist wave of anger to power, but has yet to provide any solutions. Until the ground shook this week he was kowtowing to the bankers' man, Timothy Geithner. In the Clarion Content's view the critiques of his health care bill as patently corporatist and written by lobbyists were accurate. Kennedy and Reagan both struggled in their first years, it is not too late for Obama to pivot. Now is the time. This is an inflection point. Can Obama adapt or is he a Clintonista proclaiming a "3rd Way" to appease while pushing the same old agenda?

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Still paying the price 

For all the Clarion Content's criticism of Barry Obama's first year in the presidency, which has recently downshifted from simply poor (ala C-) to outright crummy (more like a D,) it is important to occasionally recall how truly awful his predecessor was. America and Americans should still be weeping at the legacy of the tyrant King George the II (and not just for starting two wars of choice that have cost thousands of lives).

This week another one of King George the II's bequests reached out and bit the country in the ass. The Supreme Court struck down large portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. The vote was along strictly partisan lines. Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, several of whom would have been comfortable sitting on the bench in the CCCP, voted to eviscerate McCain-Feingold. The Clarion Content is reminded despite our disagreements with Al Gore and John Kerry neither of them would have nominated the likes of Alito and Roberts to the bench. (Goodness knows who Ralph Nader or Ron Paul might have put up there.)

The justices (it almost sounds farcical to call them that) King George the II wrought gave the Supreme Court a 5-4 majority to strike down the provisions of McCain-Feingold that banned political advertising paid for by corporations and unions in the thirty days before a presidential primary and sixty days before general elections. The court, cloaking its decision in the rubric of free speech, decided that American elections are indeed for sale. No doubt it was not far from their minds that unlimited corporate spending on elections will disproportionately benefit their benefactors, Republicans and entrenched political interests.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Kabul attacked 

Has anybody told these folks what they are in for?

In a move that is less of a Tet offensive, and more simply designed to show both Afghanis and Americans that the government of Afghanistan has no more than the thinnest veneer of control, Tailban forces attacked the capital of Kabul today. It was a moved timed symbolically to coincide with the swearing in of Afghani President Hamad Karzai's new cabinet.

The assault was widespread aimed at creating as much panic and fear as possible. It was also designed to show the Taliban's reach (if also revealing their limits and inability to make frontal attacks on troops centers or hold territory). The BBC and other sources reported coordinated attacks at the Presidential Palace, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Department, Afghan Telecom, the Feroshgah-e-Afghan shopping center and the Serena Hotel, all located at the heart of an ostensibly very heavily protected capital.

The BBC quoted Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai, saying that it cast a shadow over a London conference later this month intended to demonstrate the Afghan government's ability and willingness to take charge. As the Clarion Content has said continuously since 1993, Afghanistan is not governable centrally as conceived by Western policymakers. The state of Afghanistan does not exist save as a mapmakers conceit and as an opportunity for local elites to accept bribes and siphon western aid into personal coffers.

The BBC notes, "A large number of cabinet posts remain vacant. Parliament has twice rejected many of Mr Karzai's nominations for a new cabinet, forcing the president to direct deputy ministers or other caretaker figures to run their ministries."

Among the conundrums facing American leadership, the Taliban does not need to win on the ground to achieve its desired outcome. For their purposes, a tie is sufficient, they must merely show that the American "way" and the American "stooge" are incapable of providing peace and economic stability.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wasted Food 

In the dumpster?

In Durham, North Carolina we are lucky to have a reasonably competent local paper, the Independent. We are even more blessed to have a wonderfully vibrant and activist population. The Independent this week noted one such Durham citizen's efforts. Jonathan Bloom is writing a book about the food wasted in America.

His website, like the Clarion Content, is a conscious call to action. Bloom notes that "Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption." This feels like something we must have already known in our collective guts, but it is horrifying nonetheless. Bloom goes on to tell us that this "comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise." Worse a recent study found that America's food waste is bigger than ever, "US per capita food waste has progressively increased by ~50% since 1974...Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ~300 million barrels of oil per year."

Durhamanian Bloom is working on an important issue. Check him out here at wastedfood.com. And keep an eye out for his book. In the meantime check out this practical advice link that we encountered on his site, "10 Tips to Reduce Food Waste in 2010."

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not a Puma ad 

This risque picture was never quite a Puma ad. Apparently a small Eastern European agency affiliated with Saatchi & Saatchi created the ad, trying to win business with a Puma subsidiary. They had no such luck. The ad did go viral anyway.

Of course, on the blog where we found it the robotic Google Ad Sense paired it with ads for Puma products.


Train follow-up 

The Clarion Content was just railing the Obama administration recently about its lack of relative expenditure on building and repairing train infrastructure in America. We were reminded here in North Carolina, that this lack of spending has real costs in terms of safety, and consequently lives. At a local railroad crossing long renowned for malfunctioning signals and crossing arms, a mother and her five year-old son were killed by an Amtrak passenger train Christmas week. A three month-old daughter survived. Nearby office workers in the small town of Efland where the accident happened said the crossing's signals and arms malfunctioned so frequently that one kept the railroad company's number on her desk.

Another local citizen was quoted in the Durham Herald-Sun "They've [the crossing arms] been going just wacko, up and down up and down, and there's no train coming. We've made calls before [to the Orange County Sheriff's Office] to report the problem." The grieving father told the press in the days after the accident that his wife and kids were on the way to a dentist appointment for his son and running early for it. He believed there is no way his twenty-six year-old wife tried to beat the train or the crossing arms. In his view the signal or crossing arms must have malfunctioned again.

According to InjuryBoard.com, "In the last 10 years, there have been more than 30,000 railroad crossing accidents and more than 3,600 train accident deaths." Which in all honesty, the Clarion Content has to concede is not that many considering the amount of trains on the rails and cars on the roads. However, the need to modernize the American rail system offers an opportunity to attack any of these deaths, like those in Efland, NC that come from old, dilapidated, inadequate equipment.

In another tragic accident from faulty crossing arms, this one in Minnesota, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp was fined an additional $4 million dollars by the state for attempting to cover-up the equipment's failure. Much like their initial reaction to the Efland accident, the railroad immediately attempted to blame the deceased victim. This is exactly the kind of situation where the government has a role to step in and protect the American taxpayer from a corporation with far deeper pockets for lawyers in the land of liability.

We urge our readers to please exercise caution at railroad crossings.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

NFL predictions 

After last weekends games the Clarion Content has to say we have never seen a more wide open final eight in our NFL memory. We could make a reasonable case for each of these eight teams to win a Super Bowl. Vegas more or less agrees. The current odds are:

Indianapolis Colts 5 to 2
San Diego Chargers 3 to 1
New Orleans Saints 4 to 1
Dallas Cowboys 5 to 1
Minnesota Vikings 6 to 1
New York Jets 14 to 1
Baltimore Ravens 14 to 1
Arizona Cardinals 20 to 1

The only surprise in that list for the Clarion Content is the Cardinals at longer odds than the Jets, but Vegas is probably comparing their respective defenses.

Since we feel utterly unable to predict the outcomes of this weekends games, we thought we might steer you instead to our favorite sports columnist and his terrific column. Read the talented Bill Simmons on Week Two of the playoffs here.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pandemic Scam 

Wolfgang Wodarg

The Clarion Content has been saying it for some time, but it was nice have a public health official back us up. The World Health Organization calling Swine Flu a pandemic was a ridiculous scam contrived for the benefit of huge pharmaceutical companies. The head of health for the Council of Europe, Wolfgang Wodarg, said calling H1N1 a pandemic was "one of the greatest medical scandals of the century."

He went on to tell the UK tabloid the Sun that, "The great campaign of panic we have seen provided a golden opportunity for representatives from labs who knew they would hit the jackpot in the case of a pandemic being declared. A group of people in the WHO is associated very closely with the pharmaceutical industry."

How huge a money maker was it for big pharma? The CDC estimated 61 million people got vaccinated in America alone.

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Banking follow-up 

Bank of America's HQ

The Clarion Content highlighted last month how the bankers made a pile on the front end of the mortgage market collapse. We quoted a New York Times feature that discussed the SEC's on-going investigation into banks that designed synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s and then bet against them.

At the time our banner read, "Bankers made it coming and going..." which is no surprise to veteran observers of market capitalism. Here at the Clarion Content, we were weaned on the Latin American debt crisis of the "Lost Decade" and the S&L collapse.

Our last feature was an investigation of how banks made out on the front end of economic chaos, this week we ran across a Business Week story about banks profiting on the back end after being bailed out by the American taxpayer. The flip side profiteering is rooted in the Public-Private Investment Program, (PPIP) which was introduced in March by Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, to buy as much as $1 trillion in toxic assets from U.S. banks.

Business Week reports that banks including Charlotte based Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs added a combined $2.74 billion of the debt that was frozen, and considered toxic, as recently as March of last year. Essentially they are investing in the very assets the government was coming in to bail them out of and wipe off their books. Business Week notes, too, "Prices of these securities may slump again, leaving the banks exposed to potential losses that the Treasury Department's rescue plan was designed to mitigate."

They were unable to get a comment from officials for Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley or the U.S. Treasury Department about this chicanery. It is inherent and systemic. The mechanism is designed for this to happen whether we are capable of acknowledging it or not. As Business Week notes, "Any time the government says, 'We're going to buy something in the securities market,' they're putting out a sign that says, 'Free money, come and get it!'" They also note that the government is an co-owner via warrants and shareholdings of most the banks involved.

Their conclusion, this is market timing and gaming of the system. These securities are supposed to trade on whether or not the underlying mortgages have value. If they do, then the securities have value. If they don't, well then as Business Week concluded, "PPIP is not going to fill up buildings."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lane Kiffin to USC 

Who's ready to take on the Trojans?

We could not have said it better than ESPN columnist Pat Forde did, "Paris Hilton has paid more dues than Lane Kiffin."

We are predicting that Lane Kiffin does about as well with USC football as Tim Floyd did with USC basketball. USC Athletic Director, Mike Garrett, can take credit for both hires. For those of you who do not recall, Floyd's Trojans looked good for a minute, making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen (once). Unfortunately, four years after his arrival Floyd resigned as the head coach, USC vacated its 21 wins from the 2007-08 season, and ordered self-imposed sanctions which included withdrawing from postseason consideration (including the Pac-10 tournament) for the 2009-10 season.

Kiffin leaves Tennessee fourteen months into a five year contract, one game over .500, with a string of "minor" NCAA violations in his wake.

Smooth move, Ex-Lax, errrr, AD Garrett.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A big economic ripple 

Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner can tell us things are getting better until they are blue in the face, the facts on the ground, as we see them, continue to make us skeptical. As you know, the Clarion Content is fascinated by sports, and not simply for their own sake, but for what they communicate about a culture and its society. As such, we have been harping on for months that American sport is about to get its comeuppance, because American society hasn't seen economic turbulence like this is seventy years or more. And sports for all its claims to centrality in American life, has in places and regions less tenuous holds. There are teams in both the NBA and NHL that are here today, but that will be gone in less than five years. Heck, there might even be one or two of those in the golden goose, the NFL. The new American pastime has been the one impregnable sports fortress, a revenue generator non-parallel for the media empires and advertisers. But in this unpredictable economic climate, perhaps one presaging the fall of a hegemon, even the heretofore unassailable walls can be vulnerable.

A new item we ran across today underlined that premise. CBS reported that for only the second time since 1967, Super Bowl ads were generating less revenue this year than last. Forty-three Super Bowls, across vagaries that included the Vietnam War, stagflation, the oil embargo, the Carter years, the first Gulf War, 9/11, the second Gulf War, Katrina, and only once before has the Super Bowl's ad revenue declined. Ads are going for anywhere from 7% to 16% less than they were for last year's telecast. Pepsi won't place an ad for the first time in twenty-three years. Other big regulars, Federal Express and General Motors quit placing ads last year.

As our sources at Market Watch put it, "Once the Super Bowl begins to show signs of softening and weakness, nobody [in sports] should feel safe."

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A painting 

As you may or may not be aware, the Clarion Content changes the banner picture over the header of our sections, Politics, Pop Culture, and Sports, each time we publish a new article. We generally obtain the banner pictures for our "New Posts in the Sections" post by using the Google Image finder to track down a picture for whatever words we find clever or that strike our fancy at the particular moment. We then have an answer post for readers to guess and see the words searched for at Google Image along with the sites resourced for the pictures and the links to click through to them.

This time we ran across such a striking painting when we searched the phrase, "treading water at night," that we thought we would rather publish the whole painting. It was done by Maura H. Kenny. Check it out at the Libia Fine Art Gallery.

“Night Swim” is a 22"x30" watercolor painting.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Artest struggling 

The Clarion Content has been telling you since the beginning of the year that we didn't like the Ron Artest acquisition for the Lakers. We warned that he was a head case waiting to detonate. We had no idea how literally that might be true.

Since Artest took a header down a flight of stairs on Christmas night he has not been the same. Before the injury, he was averaging 12.3 points per game. He missed five games after falling and hasn't cracked double figures in the four games he has played since returning. In his most recent game against the Bucks, he crashed hard to the floor after being fouled by the Bucks Michael Redd less than a minute into the game. An Artest the LA Times called indifferent, managed only two shots on the night and totaled two points. Since being back in the line-up he has averaged less than an assist per game, too. After the Milwaukee outing Phil Jackson was saying maybe Artest needed to have his reexamined.

No joke.

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Wassup in Massachusetts? 

The Democrats couldn't lose his seat, could they?

How abysmal has the Obama presidency been so far?

If one simply judges from the perspective of the American citizen, it has been a C, maybe a C-. Starting with health care was an atrociously bad idea. Going for too ambitious a health care bill compounded the problem. And settling for a bill that may not only be not good, but actively bad, surely proved that three wrongs don't make a right. Escalation in Afghanistan was an even worse decision for the health of American. Still it is year one, the presidency has a steep learning curve, and Obama has at least managed to produce rhetoric on the right side of some constitutional issues. Recall the last guy was an F- who thought of the Constitution as an impediment, so Obama has been better than that by far.

However, if one were to rate Obama strictly as a member of the Democratic Party, which no one on the Clarion Content's current editorial board is, we would have to think that they would be tempted to give him that F. Democrats are on the run nationwide. Obama and health care have set them up to be routed in the mid-term elections. Last week saw retirement announcements by Senators Chris Dodd and Bryon Dorgan, as well as Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. But even more dismaying to Democratic party members has to be that Obama is perceived as so bad that the most solidly blue of states may be abandoning him. Nowhere on the political map is a state as blue as Massachusetts. The Democrats have viewed the state as a birthright since the Kennedy era. But amazingly the special election to fill Edward Kennedy's Senate seat, to be held on January 19th, is in doubt. Or so say some of the polls.

The Wall Street Journal quotes one pollster, "The Massachusetts Senate race is shaping up as a potential disaster for Democrats." Our favorite poll analyst, since the untimely passing of Tim Russert, is Nate Silver. He takes on the various Massachusetts polls on his blog, FiveThirtyEight. His conclusion, "part of being a good forecaster is knowing when to make a bold forecast and knowing when to proceed with more caution; the Massachusetts race calls for a heavy dose of the latter."

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Facebook makes you jealous 

One more reason to ditch Facebook, researchers say it makes people in relationships jealous. Forgive us, if we are not surprised.

One of our Ohio readers recently emailed us this link from CNET News. The article discusses a study from the University of Guelph in Ontario published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior. The study says Facebook feeds a vicious cycle of partner snooping and jealousy. Some subjects in the study describe themselves as becoming addicted to such behavior.
"Ambiguous scenes involving a partner and contact with past romantic and sexual partners are among the common triggers of jealousy in romantic relationships, and these ambiguous scenes are a regular occurrence on Facebook... Heightened jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner's Facebook page. Persistent surveillance results in further exposure to jealousy-provoking information."
The only way to win is not to play the game.

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Some good news in Cincinnnati 

This left-handed fireballer will be joining the Reds come Spring...

There was some good sports news in Cincinnati this weekend. It surely was not the Bengals who got throttled by the New York Jets for the second week in a row. This loss ended the Bengals best season in a dogs age. No, the good news came from another Cincinnati franchise that has not won anything in what feels like forever, the baseball playing Reds.

Baseball does not have the revenue parity of the NFL so the Reds have a much more uphill climb than the Brown family's Bengals. The Bengals legendary stinginess has hurt them over the years, but is different than the Reds who simply don't have the revenue to compete for the biggest names, which is why this weekend's news came as such a surprise.

Word is that small-market Cincinnati stunned the rest of baseball yesterday by agreeing to a five-year, $30 million deal with Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban left-hander, whose fastball has been clocked near 100 mph. The Reds swooped past amongst others the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays for the unproven Cuban fireballer.

There is hope on the Ohio River, even in the middle of this bitterly cold winter. Pitchers and catchers report in less than two months.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Soon to be everywhere 

Once we at the Clarion Content saw the Annie Leibovitz photo of Tiger Woods on the cover of the February 2010 Vanity Fair, we could tell you unequivocally, it is about to be seen everywhere. Leibovitz is an amazingly gifted photographer. This shot of Tiger shirtless, in a black toboggan, pumping iron is sure to be iconic. Whether fairly or unfairly is almost unassessable. The story accompanying it is already attracting media buzz. Favorable and unfavorable. But the picture, the photo, it is thing. It is as if Leibovitz saw inside of Tiger before anyone else knew, this photo and six more inside the issue are four years old!

Had they been published four years ago they would have been seen and interpreted in an entirely different light. We were recently musing in our reaction to the movie Avatar that Art and society form a hall of mirrors. When examined in different ways, they reflect slices, pieces, different sections, different angles, different perspectives. It depends both on where one stands, and where things stand generally. Art processes through human consciousnesses. It is a cycle of reflection, refraction and interpretation. A cycle that it is constantly on-going and never static between people and our Art.

Tiger is in flux.

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Mad Respect 

Brandon Roy still winning games for injury plagued Portland

The Clarion Content hasn't seen enough of the Portland Trailblazers to understand truly how they are doing it, but we have to give them mad respect. We must admit when their centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla went down with series injuries within days of each other we thought that the Blazers were in trouble. We figured in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, where even presumed scrubs like Memphis and Sacramento are showing resilience and talent, there was no way Portland could hang in there. We were sure they would slowly and steadily fall out of the playoff picture.

Brandon Roy and the rest of the cast have proven us wrong. We are definitely surprised. The Blazers are now seven up and three down in their last ten, including a win last night over the defending champion Lakers. It is not like Oden and Pryzbilla are their only injuries either, Portland is also playing without starting forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder surgery,) Travis Outlaw (broken left foot,) and guard Rudy Fernandez who had to have a back surgery. Seriously.

Who is doing it for the Blazers besides Roy? Would you believe thirty-five year-old former Fab Fiver, Juwan Howard? Howard is averaging nearly 12pts and 7 rebounds per in his last five games. What about straight out high schooler, now twenty-three year-old, Martell Webster? Once the highest NBA draft pick ever assigned straight to the D-League, Webster is only averaging 10.4pts and 4 rebs per on the season, but he has exploded since the big guy's injuries. Webster is averaging 19.2pts and 6+ rebs per in his last five.

Can these cast-offs, along with Andre Miller and Brandon Roy, keep it up and somehow allow injury decimated Portland to stay in the playoff race? The Clarion Content doubts it, but the Blazers have already proven us wrong once this season. Keep your eye on them.

One more note of local interest, the Blazers signed former Dukie Shavlik Randolph to a 10-day contract on Friday.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Canadian student evicted after 18 years in the dorm 

The University of Victoria has won the right to evict Alkis Gerd'son who has been living in a school owned dormitory room since 1991. According to the Globe and Mail of Canada, "A court decision made public yesterday upheld the university's right to evict Mr. Gerd'son." Gerd'son has admitted living at the residence for three years without taking courses, the university asserts he hasn't taken a class for credit since 1997. He completed a bachelor of arts degree in 1993 and a bachelor of education in 1997.

Ya gotta love Canada, where he has been on provincial disability benefits since 2003! The first floor room costs Gerd'son $655/month. And he isn't going to leave just cause the court ordered him to, the Globe and Mail reports, "the case is also due to go before a human-rights tribunal in June, and Mr. Gerd'son said if he does receive an eviction notice, he'll [quote] discuss that with my legal counsel."

And you thought they were making that stuff up in Real Genius.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Facebook revenge 

One of our California readers sent this one in to the Clarion Content. It is the single most wildly brutal piece of Facebook vengeance that we have seen to-date. Imagine this scenario if you will, older sister finds out younger brother (high school kids both of them) has a twelve pack of beer stashed in his room. For reasons unknown, she decides to rat him out to their parents. The ultra-strict parents ground him for three months.

He is pissed. He decides to rummage though her room seeking an opportunity for revenge. Boy did he find it, in the form of a handwritten list of hers detailing all the guys with whom she has hooked-up. What does he do with the list? Publishes it to Facebook!?! And tags all the guys on the list so they know about it! See his post here.

Wow. Technology.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hip-Hop know about this? 

The Clarion Content ran across this fascinating Robert F. Kennedy quote in the most recent issue of Esquire, "After all the abuse the blacks have taken throughout the centuries, whites are just going to have to let them get some of these feelings out if we are all really going to ever settle down and have a decent relationship." Kennedy's quote was, inevitably, from some time before 1969. Today, forty years worth of context onward this relationship between the races is not hard imagine, but an atmosphere where a white politician could utter that kind of sentiment is difficult to envision indeed.

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A harbinger or two 

What is over that next hill?

The Clarion Content stumbled across a two notes this week that we wondered if were harbingers. As regular readers know, although our hope is that the global economic turbulence has peaked and the world economy has bottomed out, we are not confident that is the case. In support of our concerned point of view we read an intriguing analysis in the Christian Science Monitor about the opening of the world's tallest building.

Come again you say?

Well according to the Monitor, when the newest "world's tallest building" opened this Monday in Dubai it was "an exuberant architectural triumph in the middle of a deep economic swamp." The Monitor notes that, "It's often that way. The tallest skyscrapers always seem to pop up just as the economy is headed down." They have interesting graph noting some of the previous correlations of new "world's tallest building" title holders and economic slumps. Their theory is "The skyscraper index works because developers tend to make ambitious gambles with huge new towers at the point of the business cycle when interest-rate and price signals can get distorted." They cite the Austrian School economist Mark Thorton. The Austrian School's austere teachings have been popping up more frequently in these hard economic times.

The second harbinger was from a political stability angle rather than an economic one. But perhaps, it is the way in which the world economy has wobbled that prompted the rarely hysterical Economist to run a chart of the day under the heading of "Global Tinderbox." The chart shows a world map that rates countries by their state of potential combustibility in 2010. Their conclusion? 2010 could be a year that sparks unrest.

Dark portends.

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NFL Notes and predictions 

Could this guy win another Super Bowl?

A few NFL quickies to tide you over, dear readers, until this weekend's NFL playoff games. The first is a trend NFL insiders have noted in the last several weeks. The Carolina Panthers hung on to Coach John Fox, the Bears elected to keep Coach Lovie Smith, ditto for the Houston Texans and Gary Kubiak, apparently the Bucs decided not to drop the over-matched Raheem Morris and it is possible even the Cowboys will let Wade Phillips survive. This trend, to allow the lame duck or all but fired coaches to survive, has surfaced suddenly. The NFL is a copycat league. As Clarion Content fave Petros Papadakis would say, "But why?"

The smart money says it is because of money. Once again, it is all about the benjamins. The owners think it is likely or at least quite possible that there will be an NFL work stoppage in 2011. If the owners of these franchises with lame duck coaches and in some cases staffs too, don't can the old guy and hire someone new, they will not be on the hook for any coaching salaries in a year where there may be no or fewer games. Conversely, fire a coach or a staff with more than one year remaining on their contract(s) and an owner might end up paying two coaches or worse two coaching staffs in a year were there is less or no football. Hmmmm. This is not a good sign for fans rooting against a work stoppage that affects the season.

Our second note is much more positive. We have to give a shout out and kudos to Tennessee Titans running back and East Carolina alum, Chris Johnson. Although his team just missed the playoffs thanks to Coach Jeff Fisher obstinent support of Kerry Collins, Johnson became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. It is an amazing accomplishment. It is even more impressive set in the context of the team's 0-6 start. Johnson surely didn't get any freebie yards running out the clock in those games. Johnson passed a couple of remarkable Hall of Famers in Week 17. He wiped two of the best of the best from the record books, one of the baddest bruisers ever, and one of the fleetest afoot of all-time.

Johnson broke the franchise rushing record set by the immortal Earl Campbell, 1,934 yards. Forget Adrian Peterson's stiff arms, Campbell was a man amongst men, the single best banging, run directly over you running back in NFL history. Johnson also broke the NFL record for yards from scrimmage, Marshall Faulk's season for the ages, 1999, when he had 2,429 yards from scrimmage. Two totally different styles of back, and Johnson surpassed them both.

Remarkable. Congratulations Chris Johnson!

Our quick NFL predictions for this weekend.

The New York Jets at the Cincinnati Bengals

The Jets killed them in Week 17. The Bengals aren't exactly a veteran, playoff tested team. The Clarion Content sees a lot of things leaning the Jets way, but we can't believe a below-average rookie quarterback is going to win on the road. Sorry Sanchito.

Bengals 17-14.

The Philadelphia Eagles at the Dallas Cowboys

Another rematch of a Week 17 game, the Cowboys shocked the Clarion Content by winning that one. Could they end their long playoff win drought? And save Wade Phillips job? Maybe, but we will have to see it to believe it.

Eagles 30-21.

The Baltimore Ravens at the New England Patriots

The Patriots loss of wideout Wes Welker will be very tough to overcome. He represented 30% plus of Tom Brady's total completions this season. The Pats run defense is suspect. Ravens runner Ray Rice is excellent. It sure is awful tough to take Joe Flacco on the road over Tom Brady. But...

Ravens 24-17

The Green Bay Packers at the Arizona Cardinals

This is the toughest game of the weekend to pick. It is another rematch, the Pack crushed last week when the Cardinals turtled and went totally vanilla. It figures to be a shootout. Both teams have a lot of weapons. If Anquan Boldin plays, we like the Cards for sure. Even without him, we like them a little bit.

Cardinals 38-31

We recommend great caution investing real money in these picks.

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Food Rules 

Michael Pollan author of The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food announced on his website recently that he has a new book forthcoming. It will be called Food Rules. Pollan in his own words explains the premise,
"The idea for this book came from a doctor—a couple of them, as a matter of fact. They had read In Defense of Food, which ended with a handful of tips for eating well: simple ways to navigate the treacherous landscape of modern food and the often-confusing science of nutrition. “What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely,” they would say. “I don’t have time for the big nutrition lecture and, anyway, they really don’t need to know what an antioxidant is in order to eat wisely.” Another doctor, a transplant cardiologist, wrote to say “you can’t imagine what I see on the insides of people these days wrecked by eating food products instead of food.” So rather than leaving his heart patients with yet another prescription or lecture on cholesterol, he gives them a simple recipe for roasting a chicken, and getting three wholesome meals out of it – a very different way of thinking about health.

Make no mistake: our health care crisis is in large part a crisis of the American diet-- roughly three quarters of the two-trillion plus we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented by a change in lifestyle, especially diet. And a healthy diet is a whole lot simpler than the food industry and many nutritional scientists –what I call the Nutritional Industrial Complex—would have us believe. After spending several years trying to answer the supposedly incredibly complicated question of how we should eat in order to be maximally healthy, I discovered the answer was shockingly simple: eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refine grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit.

So I decided to take the doctors up on the challenge. I set out to collect and formulate some straightforward, memorable, everyday rules for eating, a set of personal policies that would, taken together or even separately, nudge people onto a healthier and happier path. I solicited rules from doctors, scientist, chefs, and readers, and then wrote a bunch myself, trying to boil down into everyday language what we really know about healthy eating. And while most of the rules are backed by science, they are not framed in the vocabulary of science but rather culture—a source of wisdom about eating that turns out to have as much, if not more, to teach us than nutritional science does.

Pollan says that his is a simple and unconventional diet book. It consists of sixty-four basic rules, each with a paragraph of explanation. It sounds like a powerful tool to the Clarion Content.

Check out Pollan's website here.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Its the infrastructure, stupid 

The glide path for Reagan National is right down the Potomac

One would think that with all the signs of America deteriorating underneath us that Americans would react more strongly to so many of our precious dollars being spent on foreign wars of choice. Maybe the time is coming, in another context the Los Angeles Times was just talking about the movement of Ron Paul's ideas toward the political mainstream.

The infrastructure failure that caught the Clarion Content's attention today was the hour long power outage at Reagan National Airport from 12.30pm to 1.30pm. The Associated Press reported that, "the problem originated at an airport substation." You will recall, dear readers, just last week a power substation failure was blamed for massive holiday train delays.

Today outbound flights were grounded for an hour and the FAA stopped flights leaving for Reagan National from taking off during the power failure because electric jetways weren't working and there was no way to offload passengers at the terminal.

The signs are everywhere, just look around.

The Clarion Content encourages readers to send their stories and/or images of aging and failing infrastructure in their local areas. We will attempt to collate and post as much of it as possible.

Of course, Americans, ourselves included, must bear in mind that our infrastructure complaints are relative as this post from a Beijing blogger in the aftermath of the city's heaviest snowfall since 1951 reminds us.

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"Don't tase me, bro," an official policy? 

Who can forget the cries of the University of Florida student who demanded that he be allowed to ask a question of, out of all people, Senator John Kerry. While many may recall the YouTube clip of Andrew Meyer, fewer likely remember that Meyer was charged with resisting an officer and disturbing the peace, but the charges were later dropped. A twenty-one year-old, at the time of the incident, Meyer was indeed, tased by a University of Florida police officer as he was being forcibly removed from the room. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the incident and cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing. The underlying sense that the event was a prank or staged detracted from its otherwise darker nature.

In this case, the state's apparatus ruled it was okay to tase.

When to tase and when not to has been a thorny issue since the appearance of the taser as a police weapon. A standard police taser delivers up to 50,000 volts of electricity to the body, usually causing overwhelming response in the nervous system resulting in muscle contraction and temporary incapacitation. Occasionally, a tase results in sudden cardiac arrest and death. Whoops.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to weigh in on the thorny issue. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the, "ruling came in a California case involving a Coronado police officer who used his Taser on a motorist who got out of his car, agitated but not threatening the officer after being pulled over." The problem is that the 9th Circuit has no better idea where to draw the line then the cops do. Their ruling says that, "stun guns should only be used under limited conditions, since they represent a more serious use of force than other nonlethal police weapons." Brilliant. No kidding.

Watch the Meyer video again and note the State said a tase was considered okay in this situation, despite the position of obvious physical dominance the police were already in. Note too, that the 9th Circuit Case started with a cop who thought it was okay to tase a motorist who was agitated about being pulled over by the law.

The Court has a series of tests the cops are supposed to consider pre-tasering, "Is there danger to the officer or others? Was the suspect accused of a felony or misdemeanor? Was the subject actively resisting, or was the resistance passive? Was there some less serious alternative way to quell the disturbance?" These kind of things are always shades of gray. Frequently, the police have to make the decision at high speed in potentially life threatening situations.

According to the Mercury-News, in the City of San Jose where police officers have killed six people with tasers since 2004, the "City Attorney Rick Doyle said he saw no contradiction between the ruling and city police policy, which he said is based on an officer using a 'reasonable' level of force."

Sounds like "Don't tase me, bro," isn't exactly an official policy yet.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Nate gets out of jail 

Nate Robinson was finally freed from Mike D'Antoni's doghouse yesterday and he exploded for 41 points and eight assists as the Knicks beat the Hawks in Atlanta in OT. Coach D'Antoni let go his grudge and Robinson blew up. After weeks and weeks of ignoring Nate, he let him play. Robinson had fourteen games in a row of, "Did not play, Coach's decision." D'Antoni had paid no mind to the "Free Nate" chants in the Garden as the Knicks ground out an 8 win and 5 loss December, their best month in ages. But following a defeat at 3 and 30 New Jersey, with no rhyme, reason or explanation Robinson was paroled.

Robinson, one of the Knicks leading scorers last year at 17.2ppg, and their second best player, wasted away while D'Antoni stubbornly played the retread, he'd be a has been, but he's a never was, Larry Hughes. D'Antoni followed this same pattern in Phoenix while he screwed up the peak of Steve Nash's career. He shortened his rotation like he was a Mafia Don and these were the only 6 or 7 guys in the whole world he could trust. At the Clarion Content, we have disliked the D'Antoni hire from the beginning, and we can only hope Nate stays in his good graces. Next up, the Knicks return to the Garden to face the Pacers Sunday.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Interesting Links Flash 

This is a brief, brief version of our long overdue interesting links updates. The Clarion Content gratefully thanks all of the readers who have submitted an interesting link or two in the many months since we have posted a new batch. We will have a full interesting links recap in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

For now, may we stay your appetite with these morsels?

For starters our northern most New Jersey reader sent a link to an amazing and beautiful series of photos captured during a massive impromptu snowball fight in Times Square. These shots by Doug Kim, posted on his website, "Chasing Light: photography, sandwiches, cigarettes" will blow your mind and warm your heart. Kim admits that in addition to snapping these wonderful photos, "[he] had to put the gear down several times for some payback." Sweet!

This blog, "Interesting Finds", came to us because we used one of their photos as a banner header for the New Posts in the Sections. When we looked into the source behind the photo, as we are want to do, we found a cool blog. And how could a find, called "Interesting Finds" not be part of our Interesting Links post? Some of the latest Interesting Finds, "11 daring predictions for 2010 from ComputerWorld," a teaser and link to a fascinating article with tech predictions for the coming year. And how about, "10 Sensational Homes Built from Straw," a post with great photos and explanations about real homeowners discovering the beauty, comfort and energy savings of new straw bale construction techniques. Keep up the good work! Check it out here.

Finally this interesting link came our way through the "oddcrew" blog. It is called Facehunter and it is another superb photo site from a widely traveled photographer. It is filled with fantastic shots, billed as "eye candy for the style hungry." Find it here. We liked it so much we put it in our "Spots to Pop to" list in the Pop Culture section.

This is the link to old Interesting Links posts. (After clicking through the link, you have to scroll down past this one for oldies but goodies.)

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2009, that's a wrap 

2009 was a weird year on a lot of levels. Sports, as so frequently happens, mirrored society. Here is how our favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons, summed it up, "2009: the year when Kobe and A-Rod led teams to championships, Tiger became a pariah and Norv Turner became a top-five NFL coach."


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