AGAINST ASTRONOMIC NITPICKING. The Pluto wars seem to have finally come to a conclusion as astronomers decide it's not a planet after all under their new definition of planet. The Associated Press reports: "The new definition of what is -- and isn't -- a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one."
WHY WAL-MART MATTERS. I'm of the opinion that how to handle Wal-Mart is among the two or three most important issues facing the country. The conversation hasn't caught up to it, and the arguments being had mostly miss the mark and collapse in their own short-sightedness, but the mega-retailer's impact on the economy, ubiquity across the country, and aggressiveness in using its size will eventually force a reckoning proportionate to its power. Which is why it's such a disappointment to see Jonah Goldberg's sneering, superficial treatment of the subject in today's LA Times.
THE WAGES OF INCOMPETENCE. When I run into conservatives, especially neoconservatives, a point I impress upon them with which they either eagerly or grudgingly agree is this: Because of the bungled, too-few-troops, no-occupation-strategy, go-it-mostly-alone approach in Iraq, we may never know for sure whether the grandiose theories of the PNAC�ers like Paul Wolfowitz are visionary or foolhardy. Although I happen to find the PNAC approach frightening, my view is incidental to that fact. Iraq became a Petri dish experiment in which the �Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal� forgot to place the organisms and the stimulant agent inside the dish in the first place.
One should never make too much of a single month's data, but yesterday's report of a sharp falloff in existing home sales, price declines throughout most of the country, and record inventories of unsold homes, might be seen as supporting the view that a bubble is bursting, but not in the NYT.
SPEAKING OF VACATIONS. The RNC may have a beef with Markos Moulitsas taking a vacation, but that's not a position likely to win them more Catholic supporters this summer. Over the weekend, the Pope -- yes, the real, actual Pope -- issued a reminder to his flock that taking a break is the spiritually beneficial thing to do, and should be encouraged:
Working too hard, even for those leading the Catholic Church, is bad for the spirit, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday as he greeted tourists at his summer residence outside Rome.
TALE OF TWO TEXANS. Inspired by this mash note from Time's Blog Of The Year, I remembered that one of the finest moments in Spike Lee's masterful HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina came when Douglas Brinkley -- who's much more shrill, and gratifyingly so, as a talking head here than he's ever been on Jim Lehrer's show -- recalls the visit that President Lyndon Johnson made to New Orleans the day after Hurricane Betsy made landfall in 1965. Even considering the inevitable Lyndonisms -- "This is your president.
FREE ADVICE. Far be it from me to give advice to the good folks at the Republican National Committee, and they're certainly entitled to risk death and dismemberment in the dungeons of Grand Vizer Kos. But, given the great vehicle that the Internets are for helping us celebrate anniversaries, do the ambitious little GOP drones really want to get snarky over the next couple of weeks on the subject of someone's relaxing vacations?
I wrote a short note a couple of days ago about an article in the Washington Post on the immigration bill passed by the Senate. I wrote that the article used an estimate from CBO that was based on an error in the bill's wording that would almost surely be corrected before the final passage.
After someone sent me a note, I reread the CBO report and I realized that the article had correctly reported the spending in the bill, as projected by CBO. However, it had neglected to mention the increase in tax revenue that CBO projected based on the corrected wording.
House prices have stayed even with the overall inflation rate from 1950-1995. Since 1995 they have risen by more than 50 percent in real terms. There has been no remotely comparable increase in rents. As a result, home building has been hugely outpacing the rate of household formation and vacancy rates are at record levels. Given this information, economists should see a bubble in the housing market and expect prices to plummet. Instead, when they see bad news on sales, they are surprised.
RACE IN REPUBLICAN RACES. Raw Story reporter Brian Beutler has catalogued a surprising number of racist remarks from Republican candidates this year and noted the national party's response -- or lack thereof. Unlike Macacagate, most of these examples have not garnered national media attention.