Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Tell Me How This Ends"

The title quotation is attributed to General David Petraeus but, as with most of his wisdom, it does not originate with him. It comes from studies performed by the military following the war in Vietnam to assure that we do not get dragged into quagmires of endless war again, and became an element of the Powell doctrine, in which he says that we should never enter a war without having a clear “exit strategy.”

Of course that went by the board in 2002 with George W. Bush, when they thought that Iraq would throw flowers at our tanks and that no exit would be required because we would just be passing through. The eventual exit was based on at least a pretense that the country had reached a position of stability; a pretense which has now been thoroughly debunked.

We are exiting Afghanistan later this year, for no reason that I can discern other than that Obama has decided it is time to leave. Our original entry was supposedly for the purpose of capturing Osama bin Laden, but we failed in that effort within a couple of months. We then were supposedly driving out Al Queda, which we effectively did within a year, at which point our mission seemingly changed to defeating the Taliban. No one can even really pretend that we have done that, but we are leaving anyway.

So now we are starting a war to destruction with the Islamic State, and are not even talking about when or how that one ends, other than admitting that if it ends at all it will be “a long time” before it does. We don’t even have any assurance that it will end at all.

So “how does this end” is no longer a question to which an answer is required before we enter a new war, it is a question which we no longer ask.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Did They Do That?

Either how did the Chargers beat the Seahawks, or how did they lose to the Cardinals? Wtf? It was, in any case, a great football game. The Chargers made me nervous, though, with the way that, while controlling the ball on offense for 42 minutes against only 18 for the Seahawks, they allowed the Seahawks to hang aroung close on the scoreboard. With that kind of ball control, the difference in score should have been greater than a mere six points when 1-1/2 minutes remained in the game.

The Chargers defense attacked like a pack of wolves on a crippled moose, and I hope John Pagano made a note of how that worked out. He has a tendency to "sit on" a six point lead, which not infrequently causes that lead to disappear.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Another "Long War," Part 3

Obama seems finally to have united the nation, having come up with a plan for destroying ISIS which absolutely everyone thinks is utterly stupid. Since he announced it Wednesday, I have not read one single article in support of his plan, and have read dozens which slam it for various reasons ranging from the plan not being sufficiently violent to the fact that it exists at all.

Rosa Brooks punks Obama for violating his promise to avoid “dumb wars” and lists several reasons why this war is even more dumb than was George Bush’s Iraq war. The article is behind a pay wall which grants one free visit per month, I believe, so you might be able to read it. If not her reasons pretty much run along the lines of the ones I've posed earlier, with a couple of additions.

She points out that Obama’s “fatwa of jihad” against the Islamic State is a marvelous recruiting tool for them. Just as jihadists flocked to Afghanistan to throw Russia out of that Islamic homeland, they are surely going to flock to the Islamic State to throw the Great Satan out of the Islamic State desert. If there are 30,000 fighters there now, you can bet there will be 50,000 there in a year or two.

Part of Obama’s eleven dimensional plan is to prevent foreign fighters from joining the fray, of course, but good luck with that for several reasons. It’s not going to happen.

She also points out that Syria is a Russian client state and that bombing in that nation without its permission is not only a violation of its national sovereignty and of international law, but is fraught with a significant risk of bringing us into direct conflict with Russia, which has nuclear weapons and the capability of delivering them to every part of the United States.

I would add that it risks bringing us into direct conflict with Syria, but of course for Obama that is a feature, not a bug.

Obama does not acknowledge the concept of "national sovereignty," of course, and he is not concerned about Russia because he regards them as a “regional power” (apparently nuclear missiles don’t count) which is afraid of picking a fight with us because of our much larger military. He must not have been listening when General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the JSOC, told him that our military is currently so badly broken that it would “shatter” if Obama got us into another war.

Obama’s comments about Russia sound like the same arrogant schoolyard bullying that George Bush engaged in, except that he uses somewhat more refined language. The attitude, however, if you listen beneath the smoother words, is pretty much the same, as is the policy.

Obama admitted in his speech that ISIS does not currently present any threat to this nation, but that there is a chance that it might someday do so, albeit even then not particularly deadly threats, and that he is therefor launching military strikes against it in two countries. Preventive war against possible future threat. He was appalled when George Bush was doing this, but now that it is his turn to do it

Someone posed the question, “Does this mean that we are going to be at endless war forever?” My reaction was that it was a remarkably silly question.

Friday, September 12, 2014

This Is Going To Be Brutal

The Chargers play the Seahawhs in San Diego Sunday. That in itself would make one pity the Chargers, but the forecast is for a high of 96 degrees, 90 at the beaches, and the game is at 1:00pm. The temperature in the stadium will be well over 100 degrees. Yikes.

Another "Long War," Part 2

An interesting aspect of Obama’s declaration of war on ISIS was when he said that the plan is one which “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” If those two nations, especially Somalia, are his definition of success, I would certainly hate to see his definition of failure. And I’m not sure than anyone who has more than two functional brain cells would equate the strategies; massive and frequent bombing attacks with manned aircraft does not really equate to aiming at individual “suspected terrorists” with missiles fired from unmanned drones.

I had to wonder what he had been smoking when he said that “It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples' right to determine their own destiny.” Except that when the people of Crimea held a vote to determine their own destiny we called it illegal and demanded that the vote be declared void.

Obama has redefined “leadership” repeatedly during his time in office, and he did so again during this speech. After talking at great length about our strength and leadership, and how urgent it is to destroy ISIS for American security and because two Americans had been beheaded, he then said that we are unwilling to risk our own soldiers to do it. What kind of nation wants other nations to risk their troops to achieve its own security? Especially while boasting about its own strength and leadership.

Someone else, Obama says, will have to do the dying on the battlefield in order to win the war that Obama is starting. That game of “let’s you and him fight” gives new meaning to his penchant for “leading from behind.”

Form a “broad coalition” to start a new war and then say “we’ll provide the leadership, you provide the dying.” American exceptionalism at its best.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Another "Long War"

My reaction to Obama’s speech was basically, “Wow, I skipped The Big Bang Theory for that?” I was, to say the least, underwhelmed, but at least it was mercifully short. I threw up in my mouth a little bit at the “our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden, but as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead” part. Tell that to the people who still don’t have jobs and parents who have lost children on the battlefield.

Pat Lang has an excellent analysis at Sic Semper Tyrannis, and I suggest you read it. The colonel served as an intelligence officer in that area of the world for many years; he knows his stuff, and he writes clearly and understandably on the subject.

I would only add my own commentary on the part of the plan that calls for “arming the Syrian opposition.” For one thing, Obama’s insistence on deposing Assad regardless of the conditions is absurd. Secondly, when you have three groups fighting in an area, how is adding a fourth to the mix going to make the situation better? We are going to be trying to bomb Assad and ISIS while not bombing the “Syrian opposition.” How well is that going to work?

We are bombing in Syria because “if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” which was the reason for bombing Cambodia during the war in Vietnam. That eventually led to the killing fields of Pol Pot and the deaths of millions.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Surfing Culture

What intrigues me is that no one seems particularly upset by the Chargers loss to the Cardinals on Monday night. The local sports writers are basically saying that the Chargers did what the Chargers do, which is lose games they should have won; nothing to see here, move along. The coaches and players are saying that they played well and just made some mistakes which cost them the game; nothing to see here, move along.

Nobody asks the question which is sort of the great white shark in the swimming pool; why did the Charger players make those mistakes?

I would suggest that it has to do with a lack of mental discipline, something which the Chargers have suffered from for many years. No coach or general manager has been able to overcome it, and I think it goes with being in a city whose culture is “let’s go surfing.”

I would like to know where the Charger players were on Saturday night. I can pretty much guarantee you that the majority of them were not studying their playbooks, but were in downtown Phoenix studying something a great deal more lively than x’s and o’s. The local sports writers, none of whom have ever played football, all claim that players can be in a drunken stupor on Friday night and have recovered fully to play at peak level on Sunday. They are wrong.

The mistakes which I see being made at game time are for the most part due to a lack of mental focus, and by far the majority of them are being made by players whose names appear in the society pages as having been part of “the scene” on Friday nights. There is a connection. The Chargers will consistently win games, and championships, when they have players who are less interested in being celebrities and more interested in being professional football players.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Funky Red Lines, Maybe Pink

I normally take a dim view of Obama making threats and issuing “red lines,” but the ones he drew at the NATO meeting in Wales don’t bother me much. He said that we would “not hesitate to protect" one of NATO’s members against loss of its independence. He did not specify what might cause that loss of independence, but he was looking toward Russia when he said it.

"We’ll be here for Estonia,” he said. “We’ll be here for Latvia. We’ll be here for Lithuania.” Pretty easy words, since he knows that there is precisely zero chance that Russia will invade any of those countries. It was a little awkward when hi got to the end of the alphabet and had said nothing about “being here” for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden's rhetoric addressing a different theater of operations about how, "after a proper period for grieving" we will "follow them to the gates of hell because that's where they will live" suggests to me that Joe may be showing his age a bit.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

NFL Kickoff

The opening game Thursday night is Packers/Seahawks which is, to say the least, an interesting pairing. But then we have Monday night bringing us the Chargers at the Arizona Cardinals. Are there any two teams in the NFL which inspire less national interest than those two? That game is the second half of a Monday night double header, starting at 10:20pm EDT, so only about six people on the East Coast will be watching it regardless of which teams are playing, but...

The Raiders are in desperation mode already, and the season has not even started yet. They announced that they will not start Matt Schaub at quarterback, but will go with rookie Derek Carr. That's the second year in a row that the Raiders have traded to get a starting quarterback and not started him, but it's the first year thay benched that starter for a rookie.

The Chargers are, of course, the class of the NFL. They will probably not win sixteen games during the reqular season, but no one will beat them legitimately and they will win the division easily, will all of their post season games without even breathing hard, and win the Super Bowl with one hand tied behind Philip Rivers' back. Just ask the sports writers for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

What's The Point?

CVS Pharmacy is changing its name to "CVS Health" but, according to several reports, will not be changing the signs on its stores, which rather makes one wonder why it changed its name.

The name change is pursuant to the chain stopping the sales of tobacco products, which you would think would generate rave reviews for the management which made such a socially responsible decision. That seems not, however, to be the case, because every social comment I have read in response to the announcement has been that they are remiss in not stopping the sales of soft drinks and candy as well. Because, apparently, stopping cancer is useless unless you stop obesity at the same time. Somebody is going to have to explain the logic of that to me, because I don't get it.

Of course, my father died of lung cancer which undoubtedly originated with his heavy smoking, and I have never had a family member die from obesity, so perhaps I lack perspective. I don't think so, however; I think my perspective is just fine. I think that there is something wrong with a society that refuses to credit a firm for doing something good, but instead criticizes it for not doing more.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

This Is Getting Ridiculous

The college football season kicks off tonight, with Texas A&M taking on South Carolina, so I look to see what channel the will be on. Neither team plays in the Pac-12, so I don't have to worry about the game being on that new silly-ass Pac-12 channel.

Seems I spoke too soon. The game in on the SEC channel, because now the Southeast Conference also has its own television network. So where is that silly thing on the 1800 channels on my stupid Cox list of channels? Or is it even there at all? Yes, it's three numbers away from the Pac-12 channel, at number 1316, and yes, it is high-def.

At least my beloved LSU Tigers will meet Wisconsin on a real network Saturday night. I will have to record it, though, because I will be in Fontana, watching the Indycar season finale live.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mission Creep

According to The Guardian last Saturday, US officials have said that there is now a “new context” for confronting Isis…following the beheading of US journalist James Foley.”

Of course there is a “new context” for expanding violence. America will always have a “new context” for expanding the scope of our infliction of death and destruction.

The original air strikes in Iraq were, according to Obama, in pursuit of an “extremely limited objective to protect lives” in Erbil and tens of thousands on Mt. Sinjar who were in eminent danger of being massacred, and he assured us that there would be no “mission creep.” Turns out the numbers on Mt. Sinjar were more than a little bit exaggerated, as was the threat and immediacy of massacre.

Then there was a “new context” in the need to assist in the retaking of the Mosul dam. Then we needed to “do something” about the killing of James Foley because his beheading was so much more painful than is the peaceful and painless death which we inflict, often on women and children, by means of Hellfire missiles.

So now we need to entirely destroy the Islamic State forces before they develop a “safe haven” from which they can “launch major attacks upon America,” but we are told that the White House is dithering with a “mounting concern” over “how to target Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar Assad” because Obama is “is loath to be seen as aiding the Syrian government, even inadvertently.”

This is a real conundrum, isn’t it? Two forces are fighting each other. One of them is headed by a “evil dictator” who you have declared has “lost his legitimacy,” is a threat to your allies in the region and must step down. You have taken the position that this guy must go and you are not going to back down from it.

The other is a group which you have defined as an existential threat to yourself. You must destroy this force or risk your own destruction, but doing so risks helping the guy that you have said is evil and must go.

Perhaps the problem lies in the way that you have defined the two forces.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hypersonic Spin

Writers who are unfailingly loyal to Danica Patrick are having to resort to desperate measures to write positive things about her. I cracked up at the phrasing of this one,

"Though Patrick would fall another few laps behind, she was able to drive her way back into the top 30 by the time the checkered flag flew."

That means, actually, that several cars running in front of her crashed.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

NFL Fantasy Football

ESPN provides projections of the fantasy points expected for each player in the league, but I'm not sure how seriously we should be taking thses projections when forming our teams. Like most fortune telling schemes, there are inconsistencies.

They project only 84 points for Antonio Gates, for instance, because they say that the Chargers have essentially replaced him with the younger and now seasoned Ladarius Green. For Green, however, they project only 82 points because they say he will be playing in the shadow of the veteran Gates. That's sort of like saying that you can't have your cake because you've alread eaten it, and then in the next breath saying that you can't eat your cake because you don't have it yet.

On the other hand, the two of them add up to 166 points, which is about right for one really good tight end. So maybe each guy will play half of the time and they have it right. I'm no fortune teller either.

They also project 153 points for Johhny Manziel, which is only going to happen if he is awarded 25 points for each concussion and 80 points for a broken leg.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Things That Are Obvious

Hillary Clinton will run unopposed in the 2016 primary election because everyone is afraid to oppose her. The Clintons are famous for punishing anyone who runs against them and no one ever dares to do so.

That is, of course, why Hillary Clinton won the primary election in 2008.

Missing The Point

I watch Grey’s Anatomy and enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it is my favorite program. I also like the character played by Jesse Williams although, again, not really my favorite. I think I will like him better next season after watching Jesse Williams speak with such elegantly restrained anger on the issues reflected in Ferguson, MO recently.

What’s interesting is that his line that “the media starts in the middle of the story” has caught people’s imagination and, in a masterpiece of irony, every film clip I can find of his discussion on CNN starts with him speaking that line, which is in the middle of what he has to say and misses the very important beginning. His whole point goes something like this:

“When a white kid shoots up a school,” he says, the media discusses the kid for days in terms of background. “We go back to the day of his birth,” Jesse says, “We have to understand him.” (emphasis his) But in a case like what happened at Ferguson Jesse says, in the line that has become famous, “the media starts in the middle of the story, which is a black kid shot in the street.”

He makes a very powerful point, diminished significantly when you leave out the first part of it. I have long asserted that we should not even know the name of the “white kid who shot up a school,” let alone spend days in this ghoulish analysis of his psyche, and Jesse’s point is profound. We know the shooter’s inner workings, but as to “the black kid shot in the street,” we don’t even know what his hobbies were.

And even when people hear Jesse Williams talk about the racist attitude in media they focus on one line, miss the meaning of it and, in discussing what he has to say about the media reporting half the story, they talk about half of what he has to say.

Racism is alive and well, thriving in America.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Things that make sense (?)

Warnings on the prescription bottle for Ambien, which is a sleeping pill, include one which says, "May cause drowsiness." Really? One actually would hope so.

Unreasoned Discourse

I have now come across three “liberal blogs” which gleefully reference the same AP article claiming that health insurance companies are finding ways around the new “health care reform” laws to “discriminate against the sick” or to “discriminate against those with chronic health conditions.” I am not going to quote at length from the article, but it consists of nothing other than vague accusations and statements which sound like accusations but actually are not.

It refers, for instance, to “the narrow networks of hospitals and doctors that insurers are using to keep premiums down,” which is untrue & nonsensical.

The actuality of networks is that insurance companies set payment levels for the plans to keep costs down, just as Medicare does. Medical providers are then invited to participate in the plans and decide for themselves whether or not they want to do so. Many decline because the payment levels are not high enough to suit them. "Narrow networks" are the result of choices by medical providers, not by insurance companies. If your doctor is not in the network it is because he wants to be paid more than that network is paying. Some doctors also refuse to accept Medicare.

At one point the article goes off its “attack the insurance industry” track, attacking the law itself to claim that, “The law also takes away some of the motivation insurers have for chasing healthy patients.” Of course one of the major and most controversial aspects of the law is that healthy people have to sign up whether they want to or not and, a minor point, the term "healthy patients" makes no sense. By the definition of “patient,” a healthy person is not a patient.

One of my favorite little pieces of nonsensicality is where a state insurance commissioner is quoted as saying that, “the federal government should establish a basic level of protection that states can build on,” which the ACA actually does. Remember the flap about plans being cancelled because they did not meet the minimum standards set by the ACA? This is an insurance commissioner criticizing the federal government for not doing something which it is doing in the new legislation that is the topic of his current discussion.

Liberals like to say that those who attack the “health care reform” law have to resort to false and incoherent arguments in order to do so, but here is a case where an attack dog is using the same tactics to attack the insurance industry. Have we completely lost our ability to engage in reasoned and reasonable debate?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Truism

I forget who it was who said that, "It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." I have not had much to say about the Chargers because it is still preseason, but the San Diego Union-Tribune sports writers have not been quite as circumspect.

On Thursday one of them was comparing this year's team to the "Air Coryell" era, because they won their first preseason game against Dallas the preceeding week; a team which has the league's worst defense. On Friday the Chargers lost to Seattle 41-14. During the time that the starters were playing the Chargers lost 24-0.

I'm still not saying much about the Chargers, because it's still preseason.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Atlantic Interview

Consensus on Clinton after her Atlantic interview seems to be that she is being “disloyal to Obama” in being critical of his policy in Syria. I’m not sure why anyone would think that she owes him any particular loyalty at this point, and my take is that the interview actually highlights the loyalty which she demonstrated during her tenure as Secretary of State, a period during which she did owe him loyalty.

Clearly, we now know, she disagreed with him very sharply over how he was handling the civil war in Syria, but having failed to sell him on her preferred policy, she kept her disagreement to herself and carried out the policy set by her boss. One has to rather admire that kind of political maturity.

Not that I found anything to admire in the content of the Atlantic interview. Her hawkish positions on Syria and Iran utterly appall me, and I find her desire to turn the United States into a vassal of Israel seriously disturbing. The whole thing added to my already rather strong impression that having her as president would be a dismal and utterly depressing experience.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Yes! Absolutely

programmerOnly a computer programmer can truely appreciate this. It had me rolling on the floor today.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Insanity Abounds

The amount of nonsense being promoted by our government and the media over this business in Iraq is simply mindboggling, and nobody calls bullshit on any of it.

Obama is demanding that Nuri al-Maliki step down before he will commit to engaging against the “Islamic State” forces, another of America’s endless “regime change” demands in the Middle East. So while we claim in our own elections that we should not change our president (or presidential party) in the middle of a foreign war, we demand that Iraq should do a regime change while engaged in a war on their own territory. The logic, or lack thereof, of that is simply awesome.

Meanwhile we are bombing our own military equipment in northern Iraq; equipment which we gave to Iraq to make it safer and which we are now destroying in order to make Iraq safer. It would be cheaper to simply blow that shit up here at home where we manufacture it. Would doing that also make Iraq safer?

The Washington Post tells us that Kurdish forces have retaken two towns in northern Iraq “in the wake of U.S. airstrikes on the towns.” This is in line with the American practice of “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” which so endears us to indigenous populations.

It also tells us in the same article that our demand for regime change is not going well, as Nuri al-Maliki is staging what amounts to a military coup in Baghdad, flooding the city with heavily armed troops loyal to him, including the American Green Zone.

The media has also been presenting our air mission as having stopped the Islamic State forces in their tracks and saved Baghdad and all of the cities in northen Iraq from harm. People who know better tell us that it has done nothing of the sort, and that F/A-18s flying in pairs off of a single carrier are grossly insufficient to the task.

Obama assured us that our mission in Iraq would not involve "boots on the ground" and then justifies the air attacks by saying that they are protecting our diplomats and troops in Irbil. He has withdrawn the diplomats but not, apparently, the troops, who are "military advisors." (Remember Vietnam?) Perhaps these troops are wearing tennis shoes.

He also has been assuring us that any engagement in Iraq will be “very limited” in nature, then turns around and tells us that the air attacks will be going on for a very long time. In other words we will be performing a limited mission for an unlimited time, which is a contradiction in terms.

Of course, contradictions in terms are Obama’s specialty.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"The Look"

MollyMolly continues to do well on a regimen of two pills and a shot given twice daily, alomg with subcutaneous fluid once per day. She doesn't seem to mind any of this except the last, which she doesn't much like but normally tolerates quite peacefully.

Yesterday when the young lady came to do the sub-q fluid Kathy sort of rushed to get Molly, which caused her to freak and run under the bed. Naturally, I was appointed to pull her out, since women will always look to the man of the house to perform the hazardous duty. So I'm putting her in the place where the sub-q fluid is done and Molly is giving me "the look."

This is something that cats can do and dogs cannot. Dogs have to show teeth and/or lay their ears back, but cats can do it merely with "the look." Her ears are not back, no teeth are showing, but her eyes are unmistakably telling you that she is planning your imminent death. Navy Seals have been known to say, "Oh hell no, this is your cat," and back away from that look.
I am no Navy Seal, but Molly and I have a relationship so I stood fast, the fluid treatment proceeded and no blood was shed. I did breathe easier afterward.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Immortal Question

Question: How many Chargers defensive players does it take to tackle one opponent? Answer: Too many. At least one whiff precedes any actual tackle. Sheesh. Some things never change.

Update, Saturday night: Question #2, How is Danica going to do her usual routine of "advancing to the rear" when she is starting 43rd?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Bashing Russia

For some reason Obama is going out of his way to be insulting and rude to Russia. After referring to it as a “regional power” which didn’t want to go to war with us because we have a bigger army a couple of weeks ago, he spoke to the issue again last weekend in an interview with the Economist.

"I do think it's important to keep perspective. Russia doesn't make anything," Obama said. "Immigrants aren't rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking."

The first thing that popped into mind when I read that is that we have been having to depend on Russia to carry our astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station for some years now because they still make space vessels and we do not. Something that fewer people know, but which I’m sure Obama does, is that when we want to launch satellites we have to buy rocket motors from Russia for our launch vehicles, because they make very good rocket motors and we don’t make them at all.

Russia is also second only to the US in the manufacture of weaponry. Add $8 billion in exports of machinery and $5 billion in electronic equipment exports, and it’s kind of hard to see that “Russia doesn’t make anything.”

According to Wikipedia, Russia has 300,000 legal immigrants each year and about four million illegal immigrants. Pretty small numbers compared to the United States, but it rather puts the lie to “Immigrants aren’t rushing…”

Life expectancy of the Russian male is 65.1 and rising faster than ours.

The population of Russia stopped shrinking in 2009, and has grown every year since then. The number of people living in poverty in Russia declined from 40% in 1999 to 13% in 2010, a 67% decrease, compared to a 44% increase in this country; from 32 million to 46 million.

I don’t know which would dismay me more greatly; that our president is that ignorant, or that he is that much of a liar, and such an unskilled liar to boot.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Finland?

What do you get when you cross Finland, Bluegrass, hillbillies, and the hard rock band ACDC? You get this. Who could have guessed that there was a guy in Finland who know how to play spoons?


Monday, August 04, 2014

Excuses Abound

USA Today has a headline reading “Tire problems derail Patrick, Johnson at Pocono” today. I’m not sure if they didn’t watch the race or, perhaps, merely do not know what constitutes a “tire problem.” Even what they write does not constitute a tire problem for NASCAR’s queen of hyperbole.

“Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet smacked the wall as she exited turn 2 on lap 14,” they write, “before a severe tire rub led to a flat right-rear on the next lap.” That, dear readers, is not a tire problem. That is a “gratuitously hitting the wall” problem, otherwise known in sports as an “unforced error.”

They quote Danica Patrick as saying after the race that “I just wish I would have been smart enough to bring our GoDaddy Chevy to pit lane as soon as it happened.” I will not go into my opinion of her intelligence here, but her crew wishes she would have brought the car into the pits on the next lap, too, as they were screaming at her on the radio for the entire lap for her to do precisely that. Intelligence had nothing to do with it, all she needed to do was be able to follow instructions.

The article finishes by noting that she also “had a gear problem at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and finished 42nd.” Her gear problem at Indy was pretty much like her tire problem at Pocono; she dumped the clutch before the crew dropped the jack during a pit stop, and when the wheel spinning under power hit the pavement it broke a rear end gear.

Danica Patrick is not particularly impressive, but the people making excuses for her are awesome.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

"Fullest Confidence"

We tend to forget that the functional title of our president is “chief executive” of the nation. His job is to assure that the giant enterprise which is our nation’s government functions on a day-to-day basis, and no president has actually performed a supervisory role in governance with anything like success since Lyndon Baines Johnson, or even really attempted to do so.

At least before Obama when there was a massive failure in a government department there would be firings of the department heads and Cabinet members, but in the Obama administration we get instead that the President “has the fullest confidence” in the heads of the offending departments and nothing more than promises of “investigations.”

John Brennan headed the CIA when it hacked into and spied on the United States Senate, and then he lied to Congress about it while under oath to tell the truth, and yet President Obama “has the fullest confidence” in him and plans to keep him in his present position indefinitely. God help us all.

Informing The Public

Dean Baker accuses the New York Times of “frat boy reporting” in its article regarding the VA spending bill because they give the amount of the bill as $17 billion which he says is “presenting readers with really big numbers which mean almost nothing to any of them.” He “corrects” that problem by telling his readers that $17 billion amounts to “approximately 0.45 percent of annual spending,” which I regard as giving his readers tiny little numbers which mean very little more to them than do the big numbers provided by the New York Times.

What really matters is not what percentage of government spending that $17 billion amounts to, but rather to what degree it solves the problem. If spending 0.45% of the annual budget on the issue solves the problem, then it hardly makes sense to spend more than that, so telling us what percentage of the budget is being expended is no more informative than is giving us the amount of the expenditure.

The point he wants to make is whether or not the expenditure is major in terms relative to our national spending, but that is a minor point, and by saying that the amount means “almost nothing to any of them” he sort of insults the readers. The number will certainly be meaningless to some readers, but most readers who follow politics, even casually, will be able to put that number into context fairly readily.

What matters in terms of real national interest is whether or not we are solving the problem at the Veterans Administration, and examining the size of the expenditure does not answer that. We should be asking about the size of the expenditure relative to the size of the problem at the VA. Is it large enough to solve the problem? Knowing that it is 0.45% of spending tells us no more about that than does knowing that it is $17 billion.

He does make a valid point in saying that the article fails to say whether the expenditure is for one year or for multiple years, but even there his point is weak because the nature of the need is not made clear either. He is asking about the expenditure, but is not asking if the need is a one-time need or one which is ongoing, and to what degree that need is being met by the bill.

It’s also a bit odd that Baker can tell us what percentage of annual spending the bill amounts to while complaining that “the time period is certainly not clear from this article.” He asserts that $17 billion is “0.45% of annual spending,” regardless of whether that amount is spent in two years or is spread out over ten years. Rather strange math.

At any rate, "providing information to the readers" would really consist of comparing the spending amount to the problem, not to the national budget, and telling the public how far the amount being spent goes toward solving the problem, so in actuality Dean Baker is being no more informative than is the New York Times.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Unwillingness to Criticize

On the face of the two political parties are highly critical of each other. Democrats rant at great length about Republican obstruction, and Republicans call Democrats “socialists,” but it’s all window dressing. There’s a lot of name calling and charges over trivia, but never any real, serious accusations of wrong doing or inability at governance.

Even the current nonsensical impeachment talk is about “border security” issues and not over several real issues that could be used such as declaring war in Libya, changing the “health care reform” law in several substantive ways, civil liberty issues or his policy of assassination.

Every president has administrative issues, but Obama has set records. The Obamacare website was budgeted for $56 million, cost $209 million and still was not functional when it rolled out. Fixing it was supposed to cost $91 million, more than the original cost, but wound up costing more than $175 million. In 2012, $7 billion of the $10.5 billion spent in Afghanistan was wasted. Massive problems at the VA have been being covered up, and now $17 billion is needed merely to put a patch on the problem.

Republicans should be making a major issue about this, campaigning on it in fact, but they are not because they know that when they regain power they will do precisely the same thing.

The problem is not that “big government doesn’t work,” but that neither party is able to make it work because they are not interested in governance. They are interested only in maintaining their own party’s hold on power. The time that Obama spent on fundraising trips could have been more profitably spent making sure than the VA, DOD and Health Department were being properly supervised, but he was too concerned about being sure that his party had enough money to buy the upcoming elections to properly supervise the Executive Branch.

That’s not to criticize Obama, because he did not spend any more time on fundraising trips than did George Bush before him, and Bill Clinton before him. The president’s primary function is to serve as the head of his political party, and only secondarily is he the chief executive of the nation which elected him to office.

The idea that a nation with 3.8 million square miles and 317 million people needs a “small government” is absurd, and big government not only does work, it is absolutely necessary. It needs to be staffed, however, by people who care about governance and not about partisan power.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another Economist

Some dude in the Wall Street Journal has written a piece on “Nine Reasons To Love Your Mortgage.” It doesn’t give his resume or CV, so we don’t know his qualifications, but he must be an economist, because he knows nothing whatever about finance.

1. “It's your cheapest way to borrow,” he says, which actually makes sense but would be a bit more logical if he didn’t start by saying that, “I'm not crazy about carrying debt.”
2. “It's a negative bond,” which seems to me like a bad thing and not a reason to “love it.” He pretty much confirms that thought by saying that “it might make sense to sell bonds to pay down your mortgage.” That’s hardly something you would do if you “loved your mortgage.”
3. “It leverages your entire financial life,” hanging like a financial anchor over every investment you want to make, every financial plan you have, every… Seriously?
4. “It's a backup source of emergency money,” which is where the nitwit doesn’t know the difference between the mortgage and the property which is secured by the mortgage. One can get some extra money from the equity in one’s home if the mortgage is low enough and is one can show ability to repay, but one cannot get extra money from the mortgage itself. And if you lose your job, good luck borrowing additional money against your house.
5. “It makes inflation your friend,” because inflation makes the price of your house increase forever and ever, amen. First of all, that has nothing to do with the mortgage. Secondly, a lot of people found out in 2008 that that theory is bullshit.
6. “It lets you profit from falling interest rates,” by playing the refinance game, except that eventually it no longer works.
7. “It's an effective way to build wealth,” which is a redux of #5 and was debunked in 2008.
8. “It's your default investment.” How many investments need to be repaired to the tune of $14,000 that you just spent for that new roof?

The last one is the zaniest one yet, equating to the insane guy who said that he was beating his head against the brick wall because it felt so good when he stopped doing it.

9. “Paying it off can drastically reduce your cost of living.” Not having it at all would have allowed you to have the lower cost of living to begin with.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

California Water, Part 2

I’m still pondering the severity of our water crisis compared to 1977, when things were so bad, apparently, that one could be fined for failing to capture and reuse the condensation from one’s air conditioner and a green plant in your yard was a hanging offense. According to the twit from the water department, we aren’t in that bad of a condition this time around.

Bruce commented that we have supposedly learned to use less water per capita, which is a good point. Hizzonner the governor says we have a goal of using 20% less water per person, but I’m not sure than anyone thinks we’ve met that goal. The water bill for my HOA has gone from $1500/mth ten years ago to $5000/mth now and we have exactly the same lawn area that we did ten years ago. I have been agitating to reduce lawn area and relandscape to lower water usage and have done nothing other than make myself unpopular.

According to the best numbers I can come up with, we had 88 km3 of water in storage for each one million population in 1977, which was regarded as disastrous and required that all green landscapes be allowed to die. If we have, as Bruce suggests, learned to use 20% less water, then a comparable number today would be 70 km3 per one million people, but we don’t even have that. What we have today is 56 km3 per one million people.

If that doesn’t qualify and an “oh shit” moment, I don’t know what does.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making Things Up

CBS Evening News is always good for some light entertainment. They said last night that Russia is providing heavy weapons to the Ukrainian rebels and that the equipment is “identical to the equipment used by the Ukraine army so that the rebels can claim they captured it.” Let’s think that concept through for a moment.

A third party is trying to determine where the equipment came from and is told by the rebels that, “No, Russia didn’t give these tanks to us, we captured them from the Ukraine army last week.” So the third party goes to the Ukraine army and asks, “Hey guys, are you missing any tanks?”

The minute that the Ukraine army says, “No, we aren’t missing any fucking tanks,” the jig is going to be up on that little story about where the tanks came from. Somebody is making shit up, and if it isn’t CBS News then they are incredibly gullible.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

California Water Wars

Lying and distorting facts is not limited to the federal government; state government can come up with some real gems of altered reality too. From the Los Angeles Times we get an article headlined “Major California reservoirs below 50% capacity as drought wears on,” in which California Department of Water Resources spokesman Ted Thomas says that, “When all 12 of the major reservoirs are combined, the average is at 60%.”

Here are the twelve major reservoirs and the current status for each.

I don't know where the water department twit gets that 60%, because if you take the average for each lake, add them together and divide by twelve, you get 40% which is nowhere near the 60% he apparently pulled out of his ass.

But even if it did come to 60% or somewhere close to it, it would not tell a true story, because the size of the reservoirs makes a lot of difference, and California's reservoirs vary enormously in size. When you have a tiny little reservoir that is 90% full, and a monstrous big reservoir that is 10% full, they do not average out to give you 50% of your water capacity.

If you look at the our major reservoirs, the biggest reservoirs are at 36%, 37% and 26% full, while down in the southern part of the state Pyramid Lake is at 92% of its teacup-sized capacity. If you add up the total capacities and the total contents, the total percentage of water stored in those "12 major reservoirs" is only 36% of the total capacity.

Ted Twit Thomas goes on to say that “That's puts the state in a far better position than it was 37 years ago, when a crippling drought brought the statewide reservoir average down to 41%.” Well, it would if his 60% was an actual number rather than an imaginary one, but in this universe 36% is actually less than 41%.

Not that it really matters, because he’s actually saying something to the effect of “my apple is better than your orange” because the reservoir capacity and population are both just a little bit different now than they were 37 years ago. The population in 1977 was in the close vicinity of 20 million and is about 38 million today, so it has grown something like 90% in the past 37 years. The reservoir capacity has grown from 4300 km3 in 1977 to about 6000 km3 today, or about 40% growth in the same period.

So, to recap, we have 36% of a capacity which has grown 40% to serve a population which has grown 90% but we are in better shape now than we were when we had 41% of capacity back then. Brilliant.

Ivory Tower Economics

Here’s a sterling example of the manner in which economists are disconnected from the real world. They sit in their ivory towers and totally ignorant as to how real people live, and therefor do not have the slightest clue of what they are talking about. Dean Baker is talking today about the “wealth effect” of housing on consumer spending, and he says,

If a homeowner owed $100,000 on a home whose price dropped from $300,000 to $200,000 (leaving them with $100,000 in equity), we would expect them to cut back annual consumption on average by between $5,000 and $7,000.

Oh really? Why would you expect that, Dean, and why that amount?

The “we” there is presumably him and Paul Krugman, because any person who works for wages and owns a house with such a mortgage would not really expect that homeowner’s consumption to change at all. Those of us who live in the real world know that the equity in our homes cannot be spent until we take that equity out of our homes. I have no earthly idea where Baker gets the idea that someone will spend $5000 to $7000 more per year, regardless of income, simply because of untapped equity in his house.

My wife and I may or may not be typical, probably aren’t, but the equity in our home went from about $50,000 when we bought it, to about $400,000 at the peak of the market, and then down to about $280,000 at the 2008 slump. Want to know how much our spending habits changed throughout those fluctuations? Right. Zilch.

The “wealth effect” of overvalued houses was not that people would spend a lot of money merely because they had a high-priced house, as Dean Baker seems to think. The effect was caused by people taking that equity out of their houses in the form of refinancing and second mortgages and using that money for consumer spending.

The reduction of spending when home values collapsed was not due to some sort of psychological trauma inflicted on the homeowners involved; it was the result of there being no more equity available to take out in the form of spendable cash. If Dean Baker would come out of his ivory tower and meet some real people, he would know that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Helpless Little Children?

I keep seeing claims that humanitarian concerns demand that we shelter and take in these 52,000 children at our border because they are "helpless little kids." Really? These kids travelled more than a thousand miles through rather hostile climate on their own, riding freight trains and foraging for food. There are one hell of a lot of American adults who could not accomplish that. Whatever these kids are, "helpless" they are not.

Maybe we should take them in, maybe not, but let's not play silly word games.