Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hilton HHonors announces First Quarter 2012 promotion

    Hilton has announced its First Quarter 2012 promotion, and while there is some moaning and groaning over at the board, I think it's decent enough for several reasons.
    The promotion, simply called More Points, offers a bonus of 1,000 bonus HHonors points per night from Jan. 1 2012, to March 31, 2012. As an added bonus guests who stay at least two weekend nights, counting Thursday night as a weekend night, will get an additional 5,000 bonus points. So if I'm reading the offer correctly, a stay of Thursday and Friday night would garner 7,000 bonus points.
    Here's why I think the Hilton offer is generous enough. Promotions have been decreasing across the board at all hotel chains. Most hotels offer fewer promotions at the start of the year as everyone is concentrating on booking enough stays to guarantee their loyalty status for the next year. And many chains offer absolutely nothing until Feb. 1.
    Using Jinny as an example, she will need 28 Hilton stays to keep her Diamond status for 2013. There is a natural desire to get ahead of the curve and get a few more than 14 stays under her belt by July 1. That way she will almost be assured of making Diamond for the next year. Aware of this, the chains then roll out some better promotions after mid-year, to make sure that people who have already earned their tier status don't stray to greener pastures.
    The fact is that with this promotion a traveler with 12 nights that include two weekends is almost certain to earn enough regular and bonus points to get a free hotel room anywhere in the world. In places like London these rooms cost as much as $500 per night. So unless or until the program gets gutted, it's a pretty good deal.
    We can always hope for more, but for a First Quarter promotion I think it's okay. Be sure to check the exclusion list as a number of hotels aren't participating.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Twelve-day celebration better for Christmas

    Today is the first day of Christmas!
    One of the many ideas my spousal unit has vetoed over the years has been my desire to celebrate Christmas and Santa Claus over 12 days instead of having a obscene mass of toys and presents dumped on the children on Christmas Day.
    My dream was to have a simple Christmas Day, with merely a stocking filled with a few small trinkets and perhaps one small gift. Then each day a new gift would arrive, with the biggest gift arriving on Christmas' final day, January 5, or perhaps three final gifts on January 6, Epiphany, which marks the arrival of the wise men bearing three gifts for baby Jesus.
    In these days when we hear of people using pepper spray and fists to beat other people to popular tennis shoes, a simple Christmas Day is mighty appealing. I think it's fair to say that the true meaning of Christmas shouldn't be about pepper spraying people to keep them from buying the items you wish to purchase. (As an aside, the stores which provide a limited number of deeply discounted sale items should be required to pay damages to people who are injured as a result. The injuries are foreseeable, therefore the merchants should be liable.)
    Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Christ. Celebrating it over 12 days with a more simple Christmas Day would promote that.
    Oh, and we could buy most of our gifts on deep discount at the after-Christmas sales. Half-price wrapping paper, too!
    Maybe next year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On taxing wealth, Huey Long had it half right

    If Huey Long were on the political scene today, chances are I would be dead set against him. He was a despot and a demagogue. And yet, if you look back at some of his proposals, they aren’t so radical at all. In fact, water them down a little and they make darn good sense!
    Some of Long’s proposals are already law. The credit for Social Security and other New Deal programs belongs to Huey Long, not Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt only enacted them in order to take the wind out of Long’s sails, as Long was a serious contender for the 1936 presidential election and was agitating mightily for them.
    Long’s signature campaign platform was his Share Our Wealth plan. Essentially this plan was designed to whittle down the large estates and help the poor. Long hadn’t done his math, because it really wasn’t going to help the poor that much, but he told one reporter that was a worry for another election.
    Long’s plan, which I don’t agree with entirely, would have effectively sought to cap both income and wealth. He started out wanting to tax estates of $50 million or more (1933 dollars!) but quickly amended this to estates of $5 million or more. His plan was to cap annual income at $1 million and to progressively tax large estates, so that a $5 million estate would pay a five percent annual estate tax and an estate of $8 million or more would pay an annual estate tax of eight percent. Although I don't agree with the scope of Long's plan, I am surprised that there is essentially no voice in America calling for any taxation on wealth. What voices there are call for a one-time, ruinous tax at the time of death, which is counterproductive.
    It’s worth noting that Long’s plan really wouldn’t confiscate these people’s wealth, only whittle it down – a death of a thousand cuts, if you will.
    So what would Long’s plan look like today? A million dollars in 1933 is almost equal to $18 million today. $5 million is almost equal to $80 million. I’m not in favor of capping income at all, but levying a few wealth taxes on estates of more than $80 million – or more than $10 million for that matter – isn’t going to harm anyone.
    Now let me add that I think high income taxes are always a bad idea. People really will quit working and quit investing. There are a lot of good reasons why we shouldn’t tax income at high rates, no matter how high that income is.
    But a small annual tax on wealth is another matter. I think Huey Long’s proposed eight percent tax on large estates is too large, but a two percent annual tax on large estates and a three percent tax on mega-estates isn’t going to “confiscate” anyone’s wealth. Make it four percent and you can do away with the death tax altogether.
    This wealth tax can also be applied to corporations that send their profits overseas. The corporation either has a net worth or not. If it does, tax it. I’m always amused when people like Warren Buffet call for an increase in the income tax. You could raise the income tax to 90 percent and it wouldn’t hurt Buffet, because he has very little income in relation to his wealth. He never sells anything, and thus never has to pay taxes on his profits.  But tax his wealth, and suddenly this man will have to pay his fair share, and see if he doesn’t sing a different tune on taxes!
    Make no mistake, rich people contribute a lot to this country. I am a capitalist through and through. But over the last dozen years or so the moneyed interests have manipulated the system to profit when times are good and to have the taxpayers cover their losses when times are bad. Essentially over the past 10 years there has been a mass confiscation of wealth and income from the American middle class to transfer it to the high end of the upper class. Should we as a society snatch a little back it isn’t “confiscation.” It’s a self-help repossession.
    Our system is no longer a capitalist system, but a crony capitalist system, where spoils are distributed based on political contributions or racial affiliation.  Most schemes to raise taxes do so by hitting the upper middle class while allowing the super-rich to avoid taxes. It’s wrong.
    If we follow Huey Long’s advice and tax wealth, we tax everyone, and tax everyone fairly. We just don’t need to go overboard while we’re doing it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

KLM Airlines to link Facebook to seat selection process

    It had to happen. KLM Airlines is coming up with a system to allow customers to view Facebook profiles of potential seatmates.
    I'm a little uncertain exactly how this system would work. Personally I wish airlines would just enforce some rules, such as requiring big people to buy two seats, banning perfume or smelly people and requiring the upper legs and shoulders to be covered.
    The idea is that we're all going to socially network while flying on an airplane, and so we should pick someone we have something in common with to sit by. The problem is that most people want to be left alone when they fly. Years and years ago there was a computer game called Leisure Suit Larry. Larry gets trapped into a middle seat next to a guy in the aisle who won't shut up, and as a result he can't save the day as it were. The solution? Larry hands the guy a religious tract and tries to strike up a conversation. Mr. Verbose runs into the bathroom.
    I predict more people will act like Leisure Suit Larry than will try to act like a desirable networking partner. I don't want a stranger to pick me and then try to talk to me.
    If I ever fly an airline with this type of seating system, I'll be changing my profile picture to that of Jabba the Hut. I'll start posting things like "Lost three pounds this week. Down to 463!"; "Doctor says he can't find cause of body odor problem, but he's still working on it."; "Got a trip coming up and feel AWFUL. Hope I'm not coming down with the flu."
    That seems like the best way to get a row to myself.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In 1947 Jordan's king begged us to put end to Mid-East turmoil

    Here's an interesting essay, written back in 1947, by the king of Jordan, King Abdullah. Don't know if he had a speech writer, but it is a fine an essay as I've ever read. To understand the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the Mid-East, read this column. Then ask yourself, why didn't the United States allow some of these Jews to come here?
    There's a lot to be said against the notion of "kings." But the royal family of Jordan ranks as one of the best in the world. It is a somewhat real, somewhat artificial dynasty, created from a family with Saudi roots and supposed descendancy from the prophet Mohamed. But if all royals acted like those in Jordan, the world would be a better place.

"As the Arabs see the Jews"
His Majesty King Abdullah,
The American Magazine
November, 1947

I am especially delighted to address an American audience, for the tragic problem of Palestine will never be solved without American understanding, American sympathy, American support.

So many billions of words have been written about Palestine—perhaps more than on any other subject in history—that I hesitate to add to them. Yet I am compelled to do so, for I am reluctantly convinced that the world in general, and America in particular, knows almost nothing of the true case for the Arabs.

We Arabs follow, perhaps far more than you think, the press of America. We are frankly disturbed to find that for every word printed on the Arab side, a thousand are printed on the Zionist side.

There are many reasons for this. You have many millions of Jewish citizens interested in this question. They are highly vocal and wise in the ways of publicity. There are few Arab citizens in America, and we are as yet unskilled in the technique of modern propaganda.

The results have been alarming for us. In your press we see a horrible caricature and are told it is our true portrait. In all justice, we cannot let this pass by default.

Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

Palestine is a small and very poor country, about the size of your state of Vermont. Its Arab population is only about 1,200,000. Already we have had forced on us, against our will, some 600,000 Zionist Jews. We are threatened with many hundreds of thousands more.

Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

Think for a moment: In the last 25 years we have had one third of our entire population forced upon us. In America that would be the equivalent of 45,000,000 complete strangers admitted to your country, over your violent protest, since 1921. How would you have reacted to that?

Because of our perfectly natural dislike of being overwhelmed in our own homeland, we are called blind nationalists and heartless anti-Semites. This charge would be ludicrous were it not so dangerous.

No people on earth have been less "anti-Semitic" than the Arabs. The persecution of the Jews has been confined almost entirely to the Christian nations of the West. Jews, themselves, will admit that never since the Great Dispersion did Jews develop so freely and reach such importance as in Spain when it was an Arab possession. With very minor exceptions, Jews have lived for many centuries in the Middle East, in complete peace and friendliness with their Arab neighbours.

Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and other Arab centres have always contained large and prosperous Jewish colonies. Until the Zionist invasion of Palestine began, these Jews received the most generous treatment—far, far better than in Christian Europe. Now, unhappily, for the first time in history, these Jews are beginning to feel the effects of Arab resistance to the Zionist assault. Most of them are as anxious as Arabs to stop it. Most of these Jews who have found happy homes among us resent, as we do, the coming of these strangers.

I was puzzled for a long time about the odd belief which apparently persists in America that Palestine has somehow "always been a Jewish land." Recently an American I talked to cleared up this mystery. He pointed out that the only things most Americans know about Palestine are what they read in the Bible. It was a Jewish land in those days, they reason, and they assume it has always remained so.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is absurd to reach so far back into the mists of history to argue about who should have Palestine today, and I apologise for it. Yet the Jews do this, and I must reply to their "historic claim." I wonder if the world has ever seen a stranger sight than a group of people seriously pretending to claim a land because their ancestors lived there some 2,000 years ago!

If you suggest that I am biased, I invite you to read any sound history of the period and verify the facts.

Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most—but not all—of the inhabitants of Palestine.

It is significant that the Philistines—not the Jews—gave their name to the country: "Palestine" is merely the Greek form of "Philistia."

Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!

Italians might claim England, which the Romans held so long. England might claim France, "homeland" of the conquering Normans. And the French Normans might claim Norway, where their ancestors originated. And incidentally, we Arabs might claim Spain, which we held for 700 years.

Many Mexicans might claim Spain, "homeland" of their forefathers. They might even claim Texas, which was Mexican until 100 years ago. And suppose the American Indians claimed the "homeland" of which they were the sole, native, and ancient occupants until only some 450 years ago!

I am not being facetious. All these claims are just as valid—or just as fantastic—as the Jewish "historic connection" with Palestine. Most are more valid.

In any event, the great Moslem expansion about 650 AD finally settled things. It dominated Palestine completely. From that day on, Palestine was solidly Arabic in population, language, and religion. When British armies entered the country during the last war, they found 500,000 Arabs and only 65,000 Jews.

If solid, uninterrupted Arab occupation for nearly 1,300 years does not make a country "Arab", what does?

The Jews say, and rightly, that Palestine is the home of their religion. It is likewise the birthplace of Christianity, but would any Christian nation claim it on that account? In passing, let me say that the Christian Arabs—and there are many hundreds of thousands of them in the Arab World—are in absolute agreement with all other Arabs in opposing the Zionist invasion of Palestine.

May I also point out that Jerusalem is, after Mecca and Medina, the holiest place in Islam. In fact, in the early days of our religion, Moslems prayed toward Jerusalem instead of Mecca.

The Jewish "religious claim" to Palestine is as absurd as the "historic claim." The Holy Places, sacred to three great religions, must be open to all, the monopoly of none. Let us not confuse religion and politics.

We are told that we are inhumane and heartless because do not accept with open arms the perhaps 200,000 Jews in Europe who suffered so frightfully under Nazi cruelty, and who even now—almost three years after war’s end—still languish in cold, depressing camps.

Let me underline several facts. The unimaginable persecution of the Jews was not done by the Arabs: it was done by a Christian nation in the West. The war which ruined Europe and made it almost impossible for these Jews to rehabilitate themselves was fought by the Christian nations of the West. The rich and empty portions of the earth belong, not to the Arabs, but to the Christian nations of the West.

And yet, to ease their consciences, these Christian nations of the West are asking Palestine—a poor and tiny Moslem country of the East—to accept the entire burden. "We have hurt these people terribly," cries the West to the East. "Won’t you please take care of them for us?"

We find neither logic nor justice in this. Are we therefore "cruel and heartless nationalists"?

We are a generous people: we are proud that "Arab hospitality" is a phrase famous throughout the world. We are a humane people: no one was shocked more than we by the Hitlerite terror. No one pities the present plight of the desperate European Jews more than we.

But we say that Palestine has already sheltered 600,000 refugees. We believe that is enough to expect of us—even too much. We believe it is now the turn of the rest of the world to accept some of them.

I will be entirely frank with you. There is one thing the Arab world simply cannot understand. Of all the nations of the earth, America is most insistent that something be done for these suffering Jews of Europe. This feeling does credit to the humanity for which America is famous, and to that glorious inscription on your Statue of Liberty.

And yet this same America—the richest, greatest, most powerful nation the world has ever known—refuses to accept more than a token handful of these same Jews herself!

I hope you will not think I am being bitter about this. I have tried hard to understand that mysterious paradox, and I confess I cannot. Nor can any other Arab.

Perhaps you have been informed that "the Jews in Europe want to go to no other place except Palestine."

This myth is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, the organisation which promotes with fanatic zeal the emigration to Palestine. It is a subtle half-truth, thus doubly dangerous.

The astounding truth is that nobody on earth really knows where these unfortunate Jews really want to go!

You would think that in so grave a problem, the American, British, and other authorities responsible for the European Jews would have made a very careful survey, probably by vote, to find out where each Jew actually wants to go. Amazingly enough this has never been done! The Jewish Agency has prevented it.

Some time ago the American Military Governor in Germany was asked at a press conference how he was so certain that all Jews there wanted to go to Palestine. His answer was simple: "My Jewish advisors tell me so." He admitted no poll had ever been made. Preparations were indeed begun for one, but the Jewish Agency stepped in to stop it.

The truth is that the Jews in German camps are now subjected to a Zionist pressure campaign which learned much from the Nazi terror. It is dangerous for a Jew to say that he would rather go to some other country, not Palestine. Such dissenters have been severely beaten, and worse.

Not long ago, in Palestine, nearly 1,000 Austrian Jews informed the international refugee organisation that they would like to go back to Austria, and plans were made to repatriate them.

The Jewish Agency heard of this, and exerted enough political pressure to stop it. It would be bad propaganda for Zionism if Jews began leaving Palestine. The nearly 1,000 Austrian are still there, against their will.

The fact is that most of the European Jews are Western in culture and outlook, entirely urban in experience and habits. They cannot really have their hearts set on becoming pioneers in the barren, arid, cramped land which is Palestine.

One thing, however, is undoubtedly true. As matters stand now, most refugee Jews in Europe would, indeed, vote for Palestine, simply because they know no other country will have them.

If you or I were given a choice between a near-prison camp for the rest of our lives—or Palestine—we would both choose Palestine, too.

But open up any other alternative to them—give them any other choice, and see what happens!

No poll, however, will be worth anything unless the nations of the earth are willing to open their doors—just a little—to the Jews. In other words, if in such a poll a Jew says he wants to go to Sweden, Sweden must be willing to accept him. If he votes for America, you must let him come in.

Any other kind of poll would be a farce. For the desperate Jew, this is no idle testing of opinion: this is a grave matter of life or death. Unless he is absolutely sure that his vote means something, he will always vote for Palestine, so as not to risk his bird in the hand for one in the bush.

In any event, Palestine can accept no more. The 65,000 Jews in Palestine in 1918 have jumped to 600,000 today. We Arabs have increased, too, but not by immigration. The Jews were then a mere 11 per cent of our population. Today they are one third of it.

The rate of increase has been terrifying. In a few more years—unless stopped now—it will overwhelm us, and we shall be an important minority in our own home.

Surely the rest of the wide world is rich enough and generous enough to find a place for 200,000 Jews—about one third the number that tiny, poor Palestine has already sheltered. For the rest of the world, it is hardly a drop in the bucket. For us it means national suicide.

We are sometimes told that since the Jews came to Palestine, the Arab standard of living has improved. This is a most complicated question. But let us even assume, for the argument, that it is true. We would rather be a bit poorer, and masters of our own home. Is this unnatural?

The sorry story of the so-called "Balfour Declaration," which started Zionist immigration into Palestine, is too complicated to repeat here in detail. It is grounded in broken promises to the Arabs—promises made in cold print which admit no denying.

We utterly deny its validity. We utterly deny the right of Great Britain to give away Arab land for a "national home" for an entirely foreign people.

Even the League of Nations sanction does not alter this. At the time, not a single Arab state was a member of the League. We were not allowed to say a word in our own defense.

I must point out, again in friendly frankness, that America was nearly as responsible as Britain for this Balfour Declaration. President Wilson approved it before it was issued, and the American Congress adopted it word for word in a joint resolution on 30th June, 1922.

In the 1920s, Arabs were annoyed and insulted by Zionist immigration, but not alarmed by it. It was steady, but fairly small, as even the Zionist founders thought it would remain. Indeed for some years, more Jews left Palestine than entered it—in 1927 almost twice as many.

But two new factors, entirely unforeseen by Britain or the League or America or the most fervent Zionist, arose in the early thirties to raise the immigration to undreamed heights. One was the World Depression; the second the rise of Hitler.

In 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, only 9,500 Jews came to Palestine. We did not welcome them, but we were not afraid that, at that rate, our solid Arab majority would ever be in danger.

But the next year—the year of Hitler—it jumped to 30,000! In 1934 it was 42,000! In 1935 it reached 61,000!

It was no longer the orderly arrival of idealist Zionists. Rather, all Europe was pouring its frightened Jews upon us. Then, at last, we, too, became frightened. We knew that unless this enormous influx stopped, we were, as Arabs, doomed in our Palestine homeland. And we have not changed our minds.

I have the impression that many Americans believe the trouble in Palestine is very remote from them, that America had little to do with it, and that your only interest now is that of a humane bystander.

I believe that you do not realise how directly you are, as a nation, responsible in general for the whole Zionist move and specifically for the present terrorism. I call this to your attention because I am certain that if you realise your responsibility you will act fairly to admit it and assume it.

Quite aside from official American support for the "National Home" of the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist settlements in Palestine would have been almost impossible, on anything like the current scale, without American money. This was contributed by American Jewry in an idealistic effort to help their fellows.

The motive was worthy: the result were disastrous. The contributions were by private individuals, but they were almost entirely Americans, and, as a nation, only America can answer for it.

The present catastrophe may be laid almost entirely at your door. Your government, almost alone in the world, is insisting on the immediate admission of 100,000 more Jews into Palestine—to be followed by countless additional ones. This will have the most frightful consequences in bloody chaos beyond anything ever hinted at in Palestine before.

It is your press and political leadership, almost alone in the world, who press this demand. It is almost entirely American money which hires or buys the "refugee ships" that steam illegally toward Palestine: American money which pays their crews. The illegal immigration from Europe is arranged by the Jewish Agency, supported almost entirely by American funds. It is American dollars which support the terrorists, which buy the bullets and pistols that kill British soldiers—your allies—and Arab citizens—your friends.

We in the Arab world were stunned to hear that you permit open advertisements in newspapers asking for money to finance these terrorists, to arm them openly and deliberately for murder. We could not believe this could really happen in the modern world. Now we must believe it: we have seen the advertisements with our own eyes.

I point out these things because nothing less than complete frankness will be of use. The crisis is too stark for mere polite vagueness which means nothing.

I have the most complete confidence in the fair-mindedness and generosity of the American public. We Arabs ask no favours. We ask only that you know the full truth, not half of it. We ask only that when you judge the Palestine question, you put yourselves in our place.

What would your answer be if some outside agency told you that you must accept in America many millions of utter strangers in your midst—enough to dominate your country—merely because they insisted on going to America, and because their forefathers had once lived there some 2,000 years ago?

Our answer is the same.

And what would be your action if, in spite of your refusal, this outside agency began forcing them on you?

Ours will be the same.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marriott 2012 First Quarter MegaBonus Promotion -- Stay twice, get one free

    Marriott's first quarter MegaBonus promotion is the same they've had for the past several years. For most customers, it's stay two nights, get a free night certificate.
    Now for the fine print. The free night certificates are only good at Category 1-4 hotels. The certificates are only good for six months or so. And you can only earn two of them.
    But for the occasional customer, the Marriott deal is likely as good as it gets. Certainly anyone who stays in hotels at all would be foolish not to plan four Marriott stays from Feb. 1 to April 30, 2012, the promotion dates. Four stays gets two free nights.
    Admittedly the free nights aren't going to be in a top-flight Marriott. With a Cat-4 maximum, you're looking at a Courtyard or Springhill Suites, not a full Marriott. These hotels still often cost $150 per night, making this a great value.
    It should be noted that the Marriott bonus offers vary. High-frequency customers will tend to get bonus points offers. But the "stay two, get one" offer seems to be available to everyone else. It's a great deal. Some have reported success in calling to have their offer changed, so if you don't like your MegaBonus offer, call to ask for a change. Oh, and for those of you who want airline miles instead of the MegaBonus offer, Marriott is offering 2,000 bonus airline miles per stay. Not bad really, but not as good as the 5,000 Delta miles per stay from the summer of 2010. Those miles sent our Lucy to summer camp!
    Visit the website to sign up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You heard it hear first: Ron Paul to win Iowa

    You read it here first!
    On Nov. 11 I reported that Newt Gingrich was moving up in the polls and Ron Paul was holding his on. I predicted that Paul might pull a "surprise" in Iowa.
Ron Paul supporters are likely the most devoted out of all the candidates, and my personal opinion is that Paul could surprise everyone with his showing in Iowa. Iowa rewards commitment and effort and I think Paul just might win, although I'm not sure how that is going to lead him to victories in other states.

    Since that post Gingrich has moved up dramatically in the polls. He leads in most states except New Hampshire, and leads Mitt Romney nationally. Recently Paul has shed his fourth-place role and is now in third-place nationally. And in Iowa two recent polls puts him in a strong second place behind Gingrich.
    If the election were to be held tomorrow, I think Paul would take Iowa. It's the intensity factor. I'd give Paul supporters an intensity factor of 9, Gingrich supports a 6 and Romney supporters a 2. These Paul supporters are going to make it to the caucuses and they're going to make it out in big numbers. Gingrich, meanwhile, is still suffering from a poor organization on the ground.
    The real question is what happens after Iowa. Paul is running a very strong third in New Hampshire. My new longshot prediction is that Romney will drop like a stone in New Hampshire after a terrible showing in Iowa and Gingrich will take the state with Paul coming in second. Then comes South Carolina and Florida, where Paul doesn't stand a chance. The best Paul can hope for in these states is second, and that's pushing it. But if Paul can limp into the Nevada and Maine caucuses, who knows.
    Oh, and the man the press just loves? Jon Huntsman may yet have some life in him. His recent one-on-one debate with Newt Gingrich elevated him and revealed him to be not quite the liberal everyone feared. He could be the guy people turn to to get the Gingrich without the Gingrich.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My spring letter to DM unpublished, my advice unheeded

    I wrote the following letter to the editor to the Daily Mississippian back in the spring. It never ran. In their defense, I thought I was running it near the beginning of a new editor's term, which used to begin April 1. Apparently it arrived near the outgoing editor's end of term and was thrown in the wastebasket. I accompanied this letter with a cover asking that it be published so the staff could get student feedback, so there was no misunderstanding as to it being a private letter. The editor just didn't want the criticism.
    I am constantly disappointed in the Mississippian, in that I think quality should have gone up in tandem with technology over the past 25 years; it seems to have gone down. I exchanged a couple of messages with a staff member earlier this year, I was told that journalism faculty teaching reporting classes are not requiring their students to turn in two stories each week which can then be picked up by the student paper. If that's true, I think we need new faculty.
    As I point out in my unpublished letter, putting out a quality newspaper is easier today. Twenty-five years ago, publishing a "mug" shot might take two hours. The photo would have to be taken, the film developed and dried, the photo enlarged and dried, type modified to leave a hole in exactly the right space, a red-out put down, the photo sized, and so forth. Today a "mug" can be taken with most cell phones, emailed in, edited and on the page in five minutes. It's all done on the computer.
    But enough. Here's my letter, which was never published. I hope some newspaper staff members might make their way to this blog and heed some of the advice.

Dear Editor:
    The staff of The Daily Mississippian works hard. I know, I've been there. You are to be commended for your hard work and your desire to produce a product that serves everyone in the community. With that said, I would like to make some suggestions that in my opinion would improve the newspaper.
    Twenty-five years ago we were still laying out stories with photographic type set in strips. Photos had to be "shot" and pasted in. Including small "head" shots was actually quite difficult. Today, having a great paper design is easy. The Mississippian ought to be head-and-shoulders better in appearance and content than it was years ago, and quite honestly it's not.
    Here are my suggestions on how you can improve the paper:
    • Your coverage of campus events is very weak. Major events come and go and frequently aren't even mentioned in the paper. You need a Campus Calendar that runs every day. It should feature the Brown Bag lunches, the upcoming plays and musical performances, and any other not-for-profit event that is happening on campus or in Oxford. If it's happening it ought to be there. It may take up space, but it will be one of the most read parts of the paper.
    • Your paper needs shorter stories and more of them! Most people are not reading these giant blobs of gray that you are plopping down on the front page, and the ability to write really long stories does not make one a good journalist. You need lots of 6- to 8-inch stories and should limit most stories to 12 column inches. Perhaps one story a day can run longer – up to 24 inches – put please go ahead and jump the thing. The people who are interested will follow the jump, those who aren't will get enough info before the jump.
    Just to give you an example, right now there are ads in the paper for Barksdale Honors College students presenting their honors theses. Perhaps with the assistance of a journalism professor you could have had someone assigned to write a six-inch story with a mug-shot on each of these presentations. No need for an epistle, just a quick story. I assure you that more people would read 10 of these six-inch stores then would read one of the overwritten 60-inch masterpieces that you frequently have.
    • Your front page needs at least four stories every day. If there is a big Mississippi story, you should include it. You should devote a small amount of space inside to state and national news briefs. No need to run long stories – just give your readers the headlines and they can go to the Internet to get more if they want.
    • You need to use photographs more wisely. Put a frame around your photos. Run people small and things big. Lighten them up; they're over-inked. If you quote someone, run a tiny "mug" shot in the story whenever possible (eventually you should have a library of hundreds of "mugs."). Never run a photo without a cutline. Identify people in photos. If you have two photos on a page, make sure one is the dominant photo and is at least twice the size of any other photo.
    • Create multiple points of entry to your stories. That means that in addition to the headline virtually every story should have a roughly 14-point subhead over one column. Use mug shots. Use fact boxes. Use quote-outs. If you can put a dollar bill on the page and it only covers body type, you're doing something wrong.
    • Read and steal ideas from great newspapers. I may hate the politics of the Clarion-Ledger, but it, like almost all Gannett papers, is well designed. Learn from it. Join the Society for News Design and attend some workshops and the annual convention. The next one is in St. Louis this fall. Join and go! The last one I attended was almost 15 years ago, but I was sharing a drink with a fellow named Daryl, and after a while I couldn't stop myself. "Mr. Moen," I told him, "I enjoyed your text book." He thanked me for buying it. We all had a great time. Join this group and you will have the chance to learn from and with the best. Student memberships are only $60.
    • So have a good time. It doesn't always take more work to put out a better product. It just takes better choices. I hope you will consider some of the suggestions I've presented to you; and if not, you still have my best wishes for a great year.
Frank Hurdle
DM Editor, 1987-88

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oxford Schools have orchestra concert, improvement on display

    My sixth-grade daughter Lucy took part in the Oxford School District Orchestra's annual Christmas concert on Thursday, Dec. 8.
    The concert was really three concerts in one. First up was the Beginning Orchestra, made up mostly of 6th graders with a few 9th graders taking orchestra this year for the first time. Next up was the Intermediate Orchestra, made up of 7th and 8th graders. Last up was the High School Orchestra.
    The beginners started out by playing most or all of the songs they have done this semester. The first song was simply a one-string piece. They finished with Jingle Bells. You could really see the increase in complexity as the semester progressed. I've included a video below of the Beginner's penultimate piece, Ode to Joy. Oh, and if the camera seems to linger on a certain cello player, well that my prerogative.
    Next up was the Intermediate Orchestra. I've included just over a minute of their performance of Pacem Noel, a medley that includes The First Noel.
    Finally came the High School Orchestra. These kids were really doing some playing; they were truly outstanding. Their performance included a Christmas carol sing-along, and they ended with Fandango. Again I only filmed just over a minute of this. I regret not recording the whole piece, because when they finished it was a "wow" moment.
    I've posted three separate videos rather than making one long one. This is to allow those of you who just want to get a quick listen to each group to be able to do so without having to watch a five- or six-minute video. The difference in quality is pretty amazing, and you can see it by watching each clip for 10 or 15 seconds.
    The Oxford School District has a fine music program. The orchestra program is under the direction of Benji Wilson. The chorus is under the direction of Chris Brown. The Middle School band also does an outstanding job.
    Anyway, here's the clips for those of you who might want to take a peek:

Beginning Orchestra, Ode to Joy

7th & 8th Orchestra, Portion of Pacem Noel

High School Orchestra, Portion of Fandango (wish I had recorded all!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingrich criticism shows disdain for working class

    Let’s get something straigt. America’s child labor laws are truly stupid. Children ought to be able to work a few hours a week. It’s good for them and good for society.
    Newt Gingrich, of course, has been coming under fire for saying exactly this. In explaining his position he explained that poor children might be offered jobs working at school, such as helping in the office or assisting the janitor in cleaning the bathrooms.
    Needless to say, the liberals are up in arms. Bathrooms! They say any suggestion of any jobs for children other than that of president of the Coca-Cola Company is demeaning and will subject the children holding these jobs to ridicule. Note that no one is talking about forcing these children to work, only about allowing them to work if they wish to.
    I took over my brother’s afternoon paper route either at age 9 or on my 10th birthday. I remember my horror shortly after noon on Christmas 1970 when my older brother walked into the house with an air of satisfaction and said, “I picked up your papers for you.” I never dreamed there would be paper delivery on Christmas Day!
    I survived. When the weather was truly bad my mother would make my brother drive me on my route, or else she drove me herself. So I didn’t suffer, but I did sometimes get rained on. The notion that allowing children to work will kill them is just a giant load of, well.... But the average liberal today would never allow such a job.
    My paper-route job was actually part of a job chain. My brother had the route before me, and before him Franklin Harrison, and before him Don Dent. I don’t know who had it before him. Each of these three graduated from the paper route to shining shoes at Mr. Walker’s Barber Shop, and then to a job a Peel’s Drug Store. I retired after the paper route, but my brother followed the job chain.
    That meant he shined shoes at Mr. Walker’s Barber Shop. At the end of the day he was expected to sweep and mop, and as I recall was not paid one penny. His services were considered rent payment for the right to shine shoes in the store.
    Imagine, if you will, that Newt Gingrich were to suggest that a poor person might take a job at a barber shop shining shoes. “Shining shoes? How demeaning.” “Sweeping without pay? Slave labor!” You can bet if the liberals had their way jobs like shining shoes at Mr. Walker’s Barber Shop would simply no longer be available (and in fact they aren’t, as people don’t go to barbers much, anymore).
    The outrage of liberals over Gingrich’s comments demonstrates for me the disdain these people have for the working class. These people claim to represent the working class, yet they are outraged over the notion that a student might work as a janitor’s assistant to earn a few extra dollars. The idea of janitorial work is so repugnant to them that they can’t imagine that any person, student or otherwise, would want to do it. This is work Americans Won’t Do; that’s why liberals want to import so many illegal immigrants, which of course drives down wages to make sure that such work is work that American’s Won’t Do.
    I happen to like Newt Gingrich, but I recognize that those who dislike him are not without grounds. It boils down to having a different vision for America.
    Make no mistake, I’d rather be a brain surgeon than a school janitor. And I’d be more than happy to put America’s schoolchildren to work assisting brain surgeons, if they are able. But if not, perhaps they can assist the school janitor, instead.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

No need to worry about Ron Paul's so-called 'extreme' views

    Sometimes people say they like Ron Paul, but some of his views are "too extreme."
    Indeed, Paul is essentially a libertarian. Most Americans have a libertarian streak, but don't take it quite so far as Paul.
    Here's the thing to remember. Paul is running on a platform in which he is seeking to actually weaken the presidency. I've compared it to Mississippi's John Ed Ainsworth's run for state land commissioner, where he pledged to abolish the office if elected. He was and he did. Supposedly he ran on a $10,000 bet claiming that he could get elected with virtually no campaigning simply because his name would be at the top of the ballot.
    People forget that the president's job is simply to carry out the laws and policies passed by Congress. Obama, unfortunately, has ignored the Congress and acted as if he is a legislature of one. For example, when Congress refused to pass the DREAM Act, which would have granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Obama instructed the INS to operate as if the law had been passed. That's the act of a dictator, not a president.
    Paul wants to weaken the presidency and to return our government to one governed by the Constitution. This means restoring power to the Congress and to the states. His role as president will be little more than a hired hand -- okay, an influential hired hand -- but one who obeys and enforces the laws passed by Congress.
    So no matter view Paul may have that you think is too extreme, you don't have to worry because it won't happen unless 51 senators and 218 House members agree with him. And if that happens, by definition it isn't out of the mainstream.
    One job that Paul takes seriously is that of commander in chief of the armed forces. He is morally bound not to go to war without Congressional authorization. Likewise, he wants to bring our troops home. No other candidate, in either party, supports peace. They all want more war, more death, and more money thrown down the toilet.
    If you don't like Paul, that's another matter; in that case don't vote for him. But if you do like him but have concerns, put those concerns to rest. His whole moral philosophy of governance is based on the duty of the executive to defer to the legislature and to respect the authority of the states. Isn't that what we all want?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Republican Jewish group bans Ron Paul from debate

    In the News of the Disgusting, the Republican Jewish Coalition is holding a debate and everyone is invited except for Ron Paul. The most recent national polls show Paul in third place nationally and in second place position for the kick-off of the all-important Iowa caucuses. Nationally he’s behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and nobody really likes Mitt Romney. Paul’s support is stout.
    Because if the intensity of his support, I think Paul may win the Iowa caucus. He has more cross-party support than any candidate. Unlike many or most Paul supporters, I also like Newt Gingrich, but I really like Ron Paul and am pulling hard for him.
    But the Republican Jewish Coalition has banned Paul from its debate. They say his views are out of the mainstream of the Republican party, and that to invite him would be the same as inviting Barack Obama (If they really believe that they are smoking crack).     The explanation:
Paul was not invited to attend the RJC’s candidates forum because the organization – as it has stated numerous times in the past – “rejects his misguided and extreme views,” said [RJC Executive Director Matt] Brooks.
    What Matt Brooks is saying is that Paul is opposed to massive foreign aid to Israel and he is opposed to continuing to involve our nation in war after war after war. That’s not acceptable to the American Jewish lobby. It’s extreme to support peace.
    What’s funny is that while Paul may not be popular amongst American Jews, many Jews in Israel would probably support him wholeheartedly. Israeli Jews understand how important it is to achieve peace, and they know that a hawkish, hard line isn’t always the best way to achieve that end. In fact, if you read stories sometimes about the most militant Israeli Jews who are out in their settlements clubbing their Palestinian neighbors, what you will find is that most of them are American Jews or their progeny who have emigrated to Israel.
    So what we have is the Republican Jewish Coalition stating for the record that the only presidential candidate who supports peace is too far outside the mainstream to even be heard. What they are afraid of, of course, is that more people will want peace than will want to go on helping Israel to beat up on the Palestinians and other assorted Arabs. My view is that if Israel wants to beat up on some Arabs they ought to do it on their own. America as a whole is tired of fighting Israel’s proxy wars. I support the right of Israel to be secure in her borders, but what’s been happening for the past dozen years goes far beyond that.
    If the Republican Jewish Coalition wants to exclude Ron Paul that’s their right. But clearly all of us should attempt to divine what the Republican Jewish Coalition supports, and as Americans we should support the opposite.
Let’s face it, the mere fact that these people have banned Ron Paul is proof that they are working against America’s interests, not for them.

The video below is dedicated to the Republican Jewish Coalition: