Geoffrey Norman Articles

Death Valley Days

And nights
Feb 01, 2016
The name, you think when you first lay eyes upon the place, says it all. The wide, shimmering flat that is streaked with white that you know without being told is salt. The hard, angular mountains with no sign of vegetation growing on their slopes. The washed out colors—reds, browns, copper. The absence of sound even though it seems there should be some air moving. Read more

Bernie at the Bridge

The red whirlwind comes to New Hampshire
Jan 18, 2016

Manchester, N.H. -- Crossing from Vermont into New Hampshire, you get a feel for what is driving the improbable Bernie Sanders campaign. The two states are separated by the Connecticut River valley, where the American industrial revolution could be said to have begun. The river supplied power for the mills, and the small towns and farms were a source of eager labor. The American system of manufacturing was born here. Even the British, who ordinarily thought they had all the answers, came to study the way things were done in the Connecticut River valley. Downstream, in Massachusetts, the factories turned out guns; far upstream, the Fairchild Company supplied industrial scales to the world.

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9:13 AM, Dec 24, 2015

"The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man."

-Walter Percy, The Moviegoer

"Oceania was at war with Eurasia; therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.

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Ethan Allen Lives

The original American populist
Dec 28, 2015

In 1775, Fort Ticonderoga was known as the "Gibraltar of the New World." So when Ethan Allen—who was never one to think small—learned of the unpleasantness at Lexington and Concord, he proposed to muster his troops, the Green Mountain Boys, at the tavern in Bennington that was more or less their headquarters and immediately march upcountry, find some boats for an amphibious assault, and take that fort. He and the "Boys"—who were a blend of militia and vigilante committee—had been fighting their own fight for almost 10 years. It was the fight between the yeomanry and the aristocracy, and it has been going on, in one fashion or another, ever since.

His men were armed, probably, with long rifles and muskets,

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Eroding Trust

4:00 PM, Dec 11, 2015

Gallup reports that

In the week after the deadly shootings in San Bernardino, California, Americans' confidence in the federal government's ability to protect citizens from acts of terrorism has dropped to a new low of 55%.

Numbers like this get one's attention. But even more arresting, perhaps, is the Gallup finding that

Confidence in the U.S. government to protect citizens from terrorism is down 12 percentage points since June, and is now 33 points lower than the 88% who said they had a "great deal" or "fair amount" of confidence shortly after 9/11.

Which accounts, no doubt, for why gun sales are booming and another poll establishes that

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Putin Pushing Nukes

11:31 AM, Dec 11, 2015

Bloomberg reports that

President Vladimir Putin ordered defense chiefs to strengthen Russia's strategic nuclear forces amid rising tensions with the U.S. over the global balance of power.

One tends to forget about nukes as part of various states's arsenals. France has nukes and we don't give them a thought. Nor those belonging to Great Britain. With so many other things to worry about in the age of asymmetrical warfare, we tend to think that nukes have been taken off the board. Then, yesterday, we learn that North Korea claims it has developed a thermonuclear device.

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Playing Hurt

The casualties of football.
Dec 21, 2015

In the National Football League, it is the year of the orthopod. Football, the cognoscenti like to say, is a game of injuries, but this year, it sometimes seems as though that's all that it is. That, and the blown call, anyway.

ESPN recently did a little segment on the casualties suffered by one of the teams playing in its Monday night game. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had torn two tendons in his knee a couple of weeks earlier. But he managed to engineer a game-winning drive before leaving the field and heading to the OR and a long, painful rehab. Earlier in the season, Flacco's favorite pass receiver, Steve Smith Sr., had gone down with a torn Achilles tendon. It was the end of his season and, probably, his career.

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A Thermonuclear Korea?

4:34 PM, Dec 10, 2015

CNN is reporting:

North Korean state media indicated Thursday that the reclusive nation has added the hydrogen bomb -- also known as a thermonuclear bomb -- to its arsenal, a development that, if true, would represent an upgrade to its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Hard to know what is going on in that sadly primitive country where people eat grass and starve while their oppressor and leader, Kim Jong Un, boasts of making North Korea:

"...into a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.

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First Time Claims: Not-So-Good News

1:42 PM, Dec 10, 2015

Reuters reports that:

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to a five-month high last week.

But this is, somehow, not such bad news. Nothing to see here, folks, since:

… this likely does not signal a deterioration in the labor market as the underlying trend remained consistent with tightening conditions.

And there are still:

… hopes that labor market tightness will spur faster wage growth and gradually push inflation toward its target.

There was a time, not so long ago, when inflation didn't have to be pushed and an increase in the number of people filing for unemployment was considered, at the very least,

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Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

2:23 PM, Dec 08, 2015

The Washington Post is treating seriously Senator Harry Reid's claim that "the current Senate was 'the most unproductive Senate in the history of the country, and there are facts and figures to show that.'"

The Post goes on to do one of those tedious, tendentious "fact checks" and to award the senator some Pinocchios – three in this case – after the Post researchers established that he was wrong in:

... asserting this is the "most unproductive" Congress in U.S. history. That's a pretty extreme statement, given there are other metrics that indicate this Senate is operating at a better or faster pace than the last Senate when Reid's party headed the majority. Reid needs to be more careful

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The Economy: Slowing Down and Maybe Backing Up

1:29 PM, Dec 08, 2015

Crude trades below below $40. Copper has "sunk as low as around $4,440 in late November, the lowest in some six and a half years." Larry Summers is warning in the Washington Post that:

… U.S. and international experience suggests that once a recovery is mature, the odds that it will end within two years are about half and that it will end in less than three years are over two-thirds. Because normal growth is now below 2 percent rather than near 3 percent, as has been the case historically, the risk may even be greater now. While the risk of recession may seem remote given recent growth, it bears emphasizing that since World War II, no postwar recession has been predicted a year in advance by the Fed,

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Air Raid, Pearl Harbor. This Is No Drill.

5:04 PM, Dec 07, 2015

December 7, 1941 was, as President Roosevelt said a day later when he asked Congress for a declaration of war, "A date which will live in infamy." HIs speech lasted seven minutes. The attack united the American people who had been bitterly divided on the matter of entering the war that was consuming Europe – France conquered, Great Britain neutered, the Soviet Union teetering – or remaining, somehow, neutral.

Earlier that year, the drafting of military aged men was upheld in Congress by a single vote. The vote to declare war would have been unanimous except for the dissent of Congresswoman Jeannette Pickering Rankin of Montana.

A German declaration of war on the U.S. on December 11 ended any debate. The U.S.

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Bernie: The People's Choice

6:42 AM, Dec 07, 2015

Or, the choice of Time Magazine readers anyway. Seems that Bernie Sanders, who at this time last year was a marginal figure in American politics, "has topped Hillary Clinton as the people's choice in Time magazine's annual Person of the Year vote."

It is an online poll, however, which measure intensity as much as anything else and Sanders supporters are nothing if not intense. But he did lap the field coming in with "10.2 percent of the vote [defeating] the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, who got 5.2 percent, Pope Francis (3.7 percent) and President Obama (3.5 percent). Former Secretary of State and current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton picked up just 1.4 percent, while Republican nominee leader

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A Duffer’s Progress

No staying put when there’s putting to be done.
Dec 07, 2015

Golfers have a hard time explaining the appeal of their game to those who do not play. And in fact, golfers sometimes have a hard time accounting for their passion even to themselves. The old quip about how a round of golf is a “good walk spoiled” seems to stick with a lot of people. But buried in that line is an acknowledgment of something important about golf: Almost every round is, at the very least, “a good walk.”

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Punishment for VA Execs Rescinded Due to Clerical Error

3:29 PM, Dec 04, 2015

The VA set out to send a stern disciplinary message to some scammers in the higher levels of its bureaucracy but, well you know, things happen. As Kellie Lunney of Government Executive reports:

An administrative error has forced the Veterans Affairs Department to rescind the punishment for two senior executives who were demoted after the department's watchdog found they used their positions of authority for personal gain, the VA said on Thursday.

There is a problem, though. It seems, is that:

… the department has to restart the disciplinary process because it failed to provide the two employees with all the information regarding their punishment during the

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Bonnie and Clyde Hit San Bernardino

11:36 AM, Dec 04, 2015

It seems that:

… [Tashfeen] Malik underwent and passed a Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism screening as part of the process of getting [her] K-1 visa. The visa would have been effective for 90 days, after which Malik would have had to apply for green card status through the Department of Homeland Security as the wife of an American. It was not immediately clear whether she did so.

This would have been after she met Syed Farouk in Saudi Arabia in September 2013. After which she:

… applied for a K-1 visa at the American embassy in Islamabad in May 2014 and Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia that July to bring her to the U.S.

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Sanders vs. Republicans

2:02 PM, Dec 02, 2015

As reported by The Hill, Bernie Sanders is:

... more electable than Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton against several top Republican candidates, according to a new national Quinnipiac University poll.

More "likable" too, one suspects. This has long been a problem for Clinton but things may be getting better. Seems:

... her likability has gone up among Democrats from 23 percent in September to 31 percent. A Clinton aide said Tuesday she has always been "remarkably durable" among Democrats.

Sanders could well win in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the savants, and then we shall see just how "likable" Ms. Clinton is in defeat and under pressure.

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Obama and the Legacy Trap

1:33 PM, Nov 23, 2015

Coming up on his final year in office, the president’s mind is doubtless on his legacy. More, perhaps, than other presidents had been when they were running out the string. Obama is something of a literary man, after all, having published a best-selling memoir before his election.  He is accustomed to shaping his own story.

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Bernie: What I Mean When I Say 'Socialist'

4:38 PM, Nov 19, 2015

Bernie Sanders gave a big speech at Georgetown University today and used the opportunity to make clear a few things:

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Right in the Backyard

5:21 PM, Nov 18, 2015

As Kellie Lunney of Government Executive writes, a new watchdog report reveals that

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It Was a Bomb

4:19 PM, Nov 17, 2015

Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times writes that “after hedging for 17 days,” the Russians have confirmed what everyone suspected.

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Bernie's Bad Night

And Hillary's, too.
1:12 PM, Nov 15, 2015

It wasn’t much of a debate.  This might have been because of the scheduling.  Everybody ought to have something better to do on Saturday night than argue over the correct level of the minimum wage.  Also, the atrocity in Paris hung over the proceedings, making the words of the candidates seem even more calculated and inauthentic than usual.

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Wrong Footed Fed?

1:14 PM, Nov 13, 2015

The last non-farms payroll report pretty much sealed the deal in the minds of Fed watchers everywhere.  We had, at last, achieved the desired degree of inflation. Rates would be going up.

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Larger Share of American Youth Living at Home

11:38 AM, Nov 11, 2015
From Kate Davidson of the Wall Street Journal, we learn of one more reason to hope for a return to four percent growth and generally good economic times.  Read more

Option Football

1:09 PM, Nov 09, 2015

You quit or we don’t play. That is essentially what dozens of players on the University of Missouri football team told the president of the university. They had lost four straight games, five of their last six, including a 31-13 home loss to Mississippi State on Saturday night.

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Bernie Faltering?

3:13 PM, Nov 06, 2015

It has been a tough few weeks for Bernie Sanders.  Before the debate, his numbers were soaring, his crowds were growing, and there was a palpable and almost arrogant sense of confidence among his supporters and inside his organization where they talked magnanimously about considering Hillary Clinton for the vice-presidential spot on the ticket.

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Gas Attacks Confirmed

10:34 AM, Nov 06, 2015

Reuters is reporting:

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France Steps Up

4:32 PM, Nov 05, 2015

The U.S. Navy is stretched thin, especially when it comes to aircraft carriers and as Richard Sisk writes at

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Boots on the Ground; Fighter Jets in the Sky

2:32 PM, Nov 05, 2015

The Pentagon is sending several F-15s to Turkey, as David Axe writes at the Daily Beast.  Their mission will not be to conduct strikes against targets on the ground.

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Why We Gamble on Sports

Because that’s where the money is.
Nov 02, 2015

The same government that warned you off whole milk and urged you to load up on carbs may now be moving to protect you from the snares of fantasy sports wagering. And the people who worship at the temple of government believe this is the just and proper thing to do. Presumably they will put the same people who ran Fannie and Freddie on the case.

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