Do I love this exchange? You bet I do! General Odierno seems to be kind of fed up with this clown who inherited his seat in the House of Representatives when his father retired. (By the way, this apple, like the Senator Paul apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.  Congressman Hunter’s father wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier either.) 



If you have an interest in divergent thought process, otherwise generally known as “another way of looking at it”, you will love the website and videos produced by the The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The resident genius and my learned colleague on this blog, the enlightened Barry, linked to their website some time back.

Since then I and a few of my friends have delighted in discussions regarding their insights.

Their work puts a spotlight on the answer, “We’ve always done it this way. That’s why we are so wonderful.” – and prompts a new question – “Can it be better done differently?”

 Most of my friends and others who access this blog are people whom I like to think are “out of the box” thinkers and Flat Earth Economics proponents. If I am correct, you and they will enjoy this website. The link explaining their raison d’être is here:

 To go directly to their outstanding videos on current subjects of interest, you can go directly to :



Black Turnout, GOP Denial Both High


Did black turnout exceed white turnout for the first time in history, as the Associated Press reported over the weekend, simply because a black guy was on the ballot? Look, there’s no denying Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket made a substantial difference. But Obama wasn’t the only factor driving this, and I invite conservatives to deceive themselves into thinking that this is the case. Because for all this talk about a “new” GOP out to steal minorities’ hearts, the (usually white) people doing the talking seem to forget that today’s Republican Party is doing more to stop black people from voting than George Wallace ever did.

A voter marks her ballot at the Bowen Center in Pontiac, Michigan, August 7, 2012. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

First, let’s look over the AP findings. It’s pretty amusing, really, because this is one of those cases where the interpretation and implied lesson depends wholly on who’s writing it up. At HuffPo, the headline read “Black Voter Turnout Rate Passes Whites in 2012 Election,” which is pretty neutral and straightforward, but if anything I suppose is designed to make your average HuffPo reader think: good.

Whereas at The Daily Caller, the head was “Report: 2004 turnout numbers would have elected Romney,” which of course was designed (whether intentionally or not) to make your average Caller reader resent the march of time and its ineluctable effects on the body politic. There is also the implication in Caller-style packaging that Republicans don’t need the brown people. Just nominate someone who can crank up the “white community,” and problems solved. We’ll be hearing more, I suspect, from that faction as the months and years propel us toward 2016.

In any case. African-American turnout, the AP reported, was just slightly higher than white turnout. Now I wouldn’t deny that Obama had a lot to do with this. That’s just the way it works. Ethnic or racial groups who don’t normally have a chance to vote for one of their own for president tend to come out in pretty big numbers—Greeks in 1988, for example. So there’s basic pride. Additionally, there can be no serious question that African-Americans watched the Republicans’ barely sane thrusts and parries against Obama, the birtherism and the Kenyan socialist meme and all the rest, and thought, “What a bunch of racist loons,” thus resolving even more deeply to get to the polls.

But this went well beyond Obama. How to explain the story of the elderly African-American man in Florida, which made the rounds right after the election, who stood in line until 1 a.m., I think it was, to cast his vote? In other words, it was well after Obama had been declared the victor. He wasn’t voting just for Obama (assuming he did). He was likely also voting to say stuff it to Rick Scott and the rest of the state’s GOP, which tried to pass an incredibly regressive voting law that a federal judge threw out.

The Republican Party is thus more officially racist than it was in Nixon’s day.

We are in agreement in our collective memory that Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, to win the white votes of the South by playing to the collective majority animosity toward blacks, was a shameful thing. Only Nixon, we think. The thug. Then, of course, at the local level, we have had what might be called the Intimidation Strategy, the anonymous handbills and fliers distributed in black and brown neighborhoods telling people they couldn’t vote if they hadn’t paid their electric bill or all their back parking tickets.

But the Southern Strategy and the Intimidation Strategy were nothing compared with what the Republican Party is doing today. Today’s effort to keep African-Americans, and to a considerable extent Latinos, from voting is not regional and subterranean; it is national, and it is official, with the weight of governors and legislators from across the country behind it. Lest you think this is going away, that 2012 represented some kind of crest, I am here to tell you that you are woefully incorrect. Ari Berman of The Nation tracks these things more closely than any other journalist I know of. Here is Berman’s list, as of a month ago, of voter-suppression laws being pushed around the country:

• Mandating a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot: Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Washington, Wyoming

• Restricting vote-registration drives: Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

• Banning Election Day voter registration: California, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska

• Requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote: Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia

• Purging the voter rolls: Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia

• Reducing early voting: Arizona, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin

• Disenfranchising ex-felons: Virginia

Do Republicans really think black and brown (but especially black) people just won’t notice all this? I suppose they must. They think that people won’t see what’s right in front of their nose. And of course, Republicans don’t actually talk to black people—well, they talk to black Republicans, but that is sort of like evangelicals talking to Jews for Jesus and thinking they’ve gauged Jewish opinion—so they have no way of knowing how disingenuous they look.

The Republican Party is thus more officially racist than it was in Nixon’s day. Back then, at least they had Jackie Robinson and Sammy Davis Jr. And at least, back then, the Republican Party did these things in code and not via the law. It was not so brazen as to think it could on the one hand be waging efforts in half the states to keep black people from voting and on the other be improving its “outreach.” The black vote will dip a bit when Obama retires, but as long as Republicans insist on these tactics, they will be doing more than they know to keep turnout high and keep hope alive.

Has the world gone to hell in a hand basket or has the world finally woken from ignorant slumber? Where do you stand on this issue: Inside N.B.A. and Out, Words of Support (Mostly) for Collins The public response Monday to Jason Collins’s announcement that he was gay was overwhelmingly supportive, at least among other professional athletes.

ImageThe public response Monday to Jason Collins’s announcement that he was gay was overwhelmingly supportive, at least among other professional athletes.

Collins’s essay, in which he came out as the first player in a major American sports league while still pursuing his career, was published online by Sports Illustrated on Monday morning. It precipitated an outpouring of supportive comments on social media sites by his fellow N.B.A. players, former professional athletes and President Obama, among countless others.

“Congratulations to Jason — society couldn’t hope for a more eloquent & positive role model,” read a message on Twitter by John Amaechi, who in 2007 became the first former N.B.A. player to talk speak publicly about his homosexuality.

Current players posting in support of Collins included Tony Parker of San Antonio, Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers and Knicks guard Jason Kidd, Collins’s former teammate when both played for the Nets.

The Lakers star Kobe Bryant wrote: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.” He added the hashtags “courage” and “support.”

There has been much debate about how such an announcement would be received on the professional sports landscape, and it remains to be seen how Collins, 34, will be treated when he steps on the court for the first time since coming out. He will be a free agent on July 1 but plans to pursue a new contract.

Bryant’s Twitter message was reposted more than 20,000 times in the hour after his post, with some reminding him that he once sparked a controversy, and received a $100,000 fine, for directing an antigay slur at a referee who had called him for a technical foul. Since that incident, Bryant has voiced his support for the gay community.

Outside the N.B.A., encouragement was posted to Twitter by President Obama and Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Martina Navratilova, Spike Lee, Michael Strahan and others.

Michelle Obama wrote on Twitter: “So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back! —mo”

The White House’s Twitter feed said: “President Obama called Jason Collins this afternoon to express his support and said he was impressed by his courage,” adding the hashtag “equality.”

Athletes from other sports also took to Twitter to support Collins, including the retired tennis star Andy Roddick and the Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo, two N.F.L. players who have openly supported gay issues, sent messages of support.

Robbie Rogers, the American soccer player who recently came out as gay, posted, “I feel a movement coming.”

Collins started the day with fewer than 4,000 followers. By Monday night, he had more than 60,000.

In contrast to that widespread support, the ESPN reporter Chris Broussard drew criticism for comments he made calling homosexuality “a sin” on the network’s “Outside the Lines” program.

Broussard took issue with Collins’s description of himself as a Christian because he was “openly living in unrepentant sin.”

He added: “I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize him as a Christian.”

David Scott, a spokesman for ESPN, declined to comment about Broussard’s statements., like other sports Web sites, received an unusually high number of reader comments on stories about Collins’s announcement. On, many of the comments were strongly critical of Collins; some included gay slurs.

“We are monitoring as always with our standard approach,” Scott said. “We don’t pre-moderate, but we are reviewing comments, flagging those that cross the line and handling according to our policies.”

Chris Stone, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, said that the magazine had prepared for inflammatory comments to be posted on its Web site as soon as Collins’s essay was published.

“We’ve been pretty careful about curating the comments on our site because it did get a little bit out of hand pretty quickly,” Stone said.

But he added that the comments had been positive over all.

“When I look at the general response, I see a message of overwhelming support and admiration,” he said. “What it tells me is that maybe we’re more ready for this than we might realize.”

One of the few negative public comments from a pro athlete came from Mike Wallace, a Miami Dolphins wide receiver, who wrote on Twitter, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys.”

Wallace followed with one saying that he was not bashing anyone but that he did not understand homosexuality. He ultimately deleted both messages and postedanother clarification in which he apologized for offending people.

The rare negative reaction among N.B.A. players came from David West of the Indiana Pacers, who took issue with Collins’s introducing his race as part of the story. He chose to not elaborate when pressed by his followers.

One of the strongest messages of support among active N.B.A. players came from Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, who wrote: “Wow this is amazing all smiles. So so happy Jason Collins came out & announce he was openly gay all support over here.”

Jerry Stackhouse, a guard for the Nets who is a former teammate of Collins’s, said Collins had told him that “I’m probably about to become one of the most popular or unpopular guys in the next few days.”

“He’s definitely become popular,” Stackhouse said.


Zach Shonbrun contributed reporting.

The link below might provide you a better understand why Congressman Issa and his ilk want to shut down the United States Postal Service. “They” can then continue to loot the U.S. Treasury and transfer wealth from the lower income brackets to the corporateers by awarding this kind of money to their friends and political supporters. What the price of stamps for ordinary folk will be when the takeover is complete will be anyone’s guess.

FedEx Wins $10.5 Billion Postal Contract as UPS Shut Out

FedEx Corp. (FDX) won a seven-year contract with the U.S. Postal Service valued at about $10.5 billion to carry mail between U.S. airports, fending off a challenge from United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS)

The new accord to fly Express Mail and Priority Mail starts in October once the current deal ends, FedEx said yesterday in a statement. The Memphis, Tennessee-based company didn’t give details beyond the value and length of the agreement.

The contract locks in FedEx’s business with the Postal Service and erases concern that it would lose some work to UPS as the U.S. mail carrier restructures after years of losses. FedEx has a larger U.S. air network and already has the labor and assets to handle Postal Service volume, most of which is processed during the day after the company’s premium overnight packages and documents have been cleared.

“This contract win is a sorely needed shot in the arm for FedEx,” Justin Yagerman, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in New York, wrote today in a note. He recommends buying the stock.

FedEx rose 1.4 percent to $94.46 in New York, while Atlanta-based UPS fell 0.3 percent to $83.50.

FedEx shares have tumbled 13 percent since reaching a 2013 closing high on March 15. The company cut its annual earnings forecast on March 20 as customers shift to cheaper deliveries.

Frozen Out

Analysts such as Kelly Dougherty of Macquarie Capital Inc. in New York said FedEx investors were worried that UPS might have taken away as much as 30 percent of the postal business.

FedEx described its bid as “competitive,” which Dougherty said is a signal that it has lower profit margins than the current contract. Dougherty rates FedEx outperform.

Some analysts trimmed their earnings estimates for FedEx. Art Hatfield, of Raymond James in Memphis, lowered his estimates for fiscal 2014 by 15 cents a share, to $7.35, and for fiscal 2015 by 20 cents, to $8.60.

Although FedEx probably won the deal on “lower pricing,” it was better than losing the business to UPS, Hatfield said.

“We view this deal as the best FedEx could have hoped for,” wrote Hatfield, who rates the stock outperform.

The $1.5 billion-a-year contract implies about $100 million, or 6 percent, less in annual revenue, Deutsche Bank’s Yagerman said.

FedEx got about $1.62 billion from the Postal Service in fiscal 2012, up about 8 percent from a year earlier, according to estimates compiled by Washington law firm Husch Blackwell LLP, which tracks postal contracting. UPS got $126.4 million.

Contract Competition

UPS said in July that it planned to fight FedEx for the postal contract, triggering speculation about what financial terms might be set after the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The Postal Service didn’t elaborate on those issues yesterday. The agency said in a statement that FedEx’s contract proposal represented the “best value,” and a spokeswoman, Katina Fields, declined to discuss specifics.

FedEx’s winning the sole award for the domestic airlift work was a “disappointment” to UPS, said Kara Ross, a spokeswoman for the world’s biggest package-delivery company.

“UPS has other contracts with the USPS and will continue to provide excellent service and the company looks forward to future opportunities to expand its business with the USPS,” Ross said in a statement.

FedEx has been flying for the Postal Service for 12 years, and the new accord provides more flexibility for possible changes as the service restructures, FedEx Express Chief Executive Officer David Bronczek said in the statement.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brendan Case in Mexico City; Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner

What you should understand and why you should care about algorithms?


More and more of modern life is steered by algorithms. But what are they exactly, and who is behind them? Tom Whipple follows the trail


From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013

There are many reasons to believe that film stars earn too much. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie once hired an entire train to travel from London to Glasgow. Tom Cruise’s daughter Suri is reputed to have a wardrobe worth $400,000. Nicolas Cage once paid $276,000 for a dinosaur head. He would have got it for less, but he was bidding against Leonardo DiCaprio.

Nick Meaney has a better reason for believing that the stars are overpaid: his algorithm tells him so. In fact, he says, with all but one of the above actors, the studios are almost certainly wasting their money. Because, according to his movie-analysis software, there are only three actors who make money for a film. And there is at least one A-list actress who is worth paying not to star in your next picture. 

The headquarters of Epagogix, Meaney’s company, do not look like the sort of headquarters from which one would confidently launch an attack on Hollywood royalty. A few attic rooms in a shared south London office, they don’t even look as if they would trouble Dollywood. But my meeting with Meaney will be cut short because of another he has, with two film executives. And at the end, he will ask me not to print the full names of his analysts, or his full address. He is worried that they could be poached.

Worse though, far worse, would be if someone in Hollywood filched his computer. It is here that the iconoclasm happens. When Meaney is given a job by a studio, the first thing he does is quantify thousands of factors, drawn from the script. Are there clear bad guys? How much empathy is there with the protagonist? Is there a sidekick? The complex interplay of these factors is then compared by the computer to their interplay in previous films, with known box-office takings. The last calculation is what it expects the film to make. In 83% of cases, this guess turns out to be within $10m of the total. Meaney, to all intents and purposes, has an algorithm that judges the value—or at least the earning power—of art.

To explain how, he shows me a two-dimensional representation: a grid in which each column is an input, each row a film. “Curiously,” Meaney says, “if we block this column…” With one hand, he obliterates the input labelled “star”, casually rendering everyone from Clooney to Cruise, Damon to De Niro, an irrelevancy. “In almost every case, it makes no difference to the money column.”

“For me that’s interesting. The first time I saw that I said to the mathematician, ‘You’ve got to change your program—this is wrong.’ He said, ‘I couldn’t care less—it’s the numbers.’” There are four exceptions to his rules. If you hire Will Smith, Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, you seem to make a return. The fourth? As far as Epagogix can tell, there is an actress, one of the biggest names in the business, who is actually a negative influence on a film. “It’s very sad for her,” he says. But hers is a name he cannot reveal. 







Page 2

IF YOU TAKE the Underground north from Meaney’s office, you will pass beneath the housing estates of south London. Thousands of times every second, above your head, someone will search for something on Google. It will be an algorithm that determines what they see; an algorithm that is their gatekeeper to the internet. It will be another algorithm that determines what adverts accompany the search—gatekeeping does not pay for itself.

Algorithms decide what we are recommended on Amazon, what films we are offered on Netflix. Sometimes, newspapers warn us of their creeping, insidious influence; they are the mysterious sciencey bit of the internet that makes us feel websites are stalking us—the software that looks at the e-mail you receive and tells the Facebook page you look at that, say, Pizza Hut should be the ad it shows you. Some of those newspaper warnings themselves come from algorithms. Crude programs already trawl news pages, summarise the results, and produce their own article, by-lined, in the case of Forbes magazine, “By Narrative Science”. 

Others produce their own genuine news. On February 1st, the Los Angeles Timeswebsite ran an article that began “A shallow magnitude 3.2 earthquake was reported Friday morning.” The piece was written at a time when quite possibly every reporter was asleep. But it was grammatical, coherent, and did what any human reporter writing a formulaic article about a small earthquake would do: it went to the US Geological Survey website, put the relevant numbers in a boilerplate article, and hit send. In this case, however, the donkey work was done by an algorithm.

But it is not all new. It is also an algorithm that determines something as old-fashioned as the route a train takes through the Underground network—even which train you yourself take. An algorithm, at its most basic, is not a mysterious sciencey bit at all; it is simply a decision-making process. It is a flow chart, a computer program that can stretch to pages of code or is as simple as “If x is greater than y, then choose z”.

What has changed is what algorithms are doing. The first algorithm was created in the ninth century by the Arabic scholar Al Khwarizami—from whose name the word is a corruption. Ever since, they have been mechanistic, rational procedures that interact with mechanistic, rational systems. Today, though, they are beginning to interact with humans. The advantage is obvious. Drawing in more data than any human ever could, they spot correlations that no human would. The drawbacks are only slowly becoming apparent.

Continue your journey into central London, and the estates give way to terraced houses divided into flats. Every year these streets inhale thousands of young professional singles. In the years to come, they will be gently exhaled: gaining partners and babies and dogs, they will migrate to the suburbs. But before that happens, they go to dinner parties and browse dating websites in search of that spark—the indefinable chemistry that tells them they have found The One.

And here again they run into an algorithm. The leading dating sites use mathematical formulae and computations to sort their users’ profiles into pairs, and let the magic take its probabilistically predicted course.

Not long after crossing the river, your train will pass the server farms of the Square Mile—banks of computers sited close to the fibre-optic cables, giving tiny headstarts on trades. Within are stored secret lines of code worth billions of pounds. A decade ago computer trading was an oddity; today a third of all deals in the City of London are executed automatically by algorithms, and in New York the figure is over half. Maybe, these codes tell you, if fewer people buy bananas at the same time as more buy gas, you should sell steel. No matter if you don’t know why; sell sell sell. In nanoseconds a trade is made, in milliseconds the market moves. And, when it all goes wrong, it goes wrong faster than it takes a human trader to turn his or her head to look at the unexpectedly red numbers on the screen.

Finally, your train will reach Old Street—next door to the City, but a very different place. This is a part of town where every office seems to have a pool table, every corner a beanbag, every receptionist an asymmetric haircut. In one of those offices is TechHub. With its bare brick walls and website that insists on being your friend, this is the epitome of what the British government insists on calling Silicon Roundabout. After all, what America can do with valleys, surely Britain can do with traffic-flow measures.

Inside are the headquarters of Simon Williams’s company QuantumBlack. The world, Williams says, has changed in the past decade—even if not everyone has noticed. “There’s a ton more data around. There’s new ways of handling it, processing it, manipulating it, interrogating it. The tooling has changed. The speed at which it happens has changed. You’re shaping it, sculpting it, playing with it.”

QuantumBlack is, he says, a “data science” agency. In the same way as, ten years ago, companies hired digital-media agencies to make sense of e-commerce, today they need to understand data-commerce. “There’s been an alignment of stars. We’ve hit a crossover point in terms of the cost of storing and processing data versus ten years ago. Then, capturing and storing data was expensive, now it is a lot less so. It’s become economically viable to look at a shed load more data.” 

When he says “look at”, he means analysing it with algorithms. Some may be as simple as spotting basic correlations. Some apply the same techniques used to spot patterns in the human genome, or to assign behavioural patterns to individual hedge-fund managers. But there is no doubt which of Williams’s clients is the most glamorous: Formula 1 teams. This, it is clear, is the part of the job he loves the most.

“It’s a theatre, an opera,” he says. “The fun isn’t in the race, it’s in the strategy—the smallest margins win or lose races.” As crucial as the driver, is when that driver goes for a pit stop, and how his car is set up. This is what QuantumBlack advises on: how much fuel you put in, what tyres to use, how often to change those tyres. “Prior to the race, we look at millions of scenarios. You’re constantly exploring.”

He can’t say which team he is working with this season, but they are “generally at the front of the grid”. Using the tens of billions of calculations per second that are possible these days, his company might offer the team one strategy in which there is a slim chance of winning, but a greater chance of not finishing; another in which there is no chance of winning, but a good chance of coming third.

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Is your city in the top 20? Are you surprised….no you’re not?

The 20 ‘Most Well-Read Cities’ in America, According to

Amazon Holds News Conference
David McNew / Getty Images

Where in the U.S. can you find the the biggest bibliophiles? Online e-tailer Amazon just reached into its mammoth pool of purchasing data to pull out its third annual list of cities in the U.S. where the “most well-read” among us apparently reside.

(MORE: Today’s Google Doodle: Happy Birthday, Ella Fitzgerald!)

Here are the top 20, in order:

1. Alexandria, Va.
2. Knoxville, Tenn.
3. Miami, Fla.
4. Cambridge, Mass.
5. Orlando, Fla.
6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
7. Berkeley, Calif.
8. Cincinnati, Ohio
9. Columbia, S.C.
10. Pittsburgh, Penn.
11. St. Louis, Mo.
12. Salt Lake City, Utah
13. Seattle, Wash.
14. Vancouver, Wash.
15. Gainesville, Fla.
16. Atlanta, Ga.
17. Dayton, Ohio
18. Richmond, Va.
19. Clearwater, Fla.
20. Tallahassee, Fla.

The company says the rankings were determined “by compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since June 1, 2012, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents.” This is Alexandria, Va.’s second consecutive year in the top spot, according to the company; newcomers to the list include Vancouver, Wash., Dayton, Ohio, Clearwater, Fla. and Tallahassee, Fla.

The most romance-oriented city? Knoxville, Tenn., says Amazon, which purchased the most books in the “Romance” category, top among them E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Abby Gaines’ Married by Mistake. For business, Amazon says Cambridge, Mass. topped the charts, spending most heavily in the “Business & Investing” category on titles like Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most and StrengthsFinder 2.0.

Amazon’s definition of “well-read” leaves plenty to be desired, of course, since it’s based on sales alone. British physicist Stephen Hawking’s acclaimed popular science explainer, A Brief History of Time, was a major bestseller, moving more than 10 million copies since it first appeared in 1988, but it’s also often referred to as one of the “most bought, least read” books around.

MORE: McDonald’s Burger Looks the Same – 14 Years Later