Friday, April 18, 2014

Neat Deal

Russia, the European Union, the current Ukranian government and the United States, signed an agreement that boils down, basically, to saying that the protesters will stop protesting. The United States, who should not have been involved, provided no incentive for compliance, other than that we will stop making threats. The protestors were granted nothing for the promise that they would stop protesting, made for them in a conference in which they were not invited to participate. This Ukranianian thing gets wierder and wierder.

Sure enough, the protestors spoke up this morning and said, basically, "Oh hell no, nobody signed anything for us," so the agreement seems not to have lasted very long. That will surprise on one other than, perhaps, John Kerry who is able to forsee nothing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Insanity

This Ukraine thing has descended into complete detachment from reality, with a reporter, for instance, asking a man on a Ukraine street why he is wearing a mask, getting a reply that “That is a stupid question,” which it is, and the network airing that exchange as if it meant something. I was surprised they didn’t edit it out, and I suspect they didn’t realize that the man in the mask had made a valid point.

President Obama was interviewed by CBS and shown sternly castigating Putin for “actively supporting armed militias within the boundaries of a sovereign nation in violation of international law.” All that was needed was a map of Syria on the wall in the background to complete the perfection of irony in that scene, because not only are we doing precisely that in Syria, we are actually bragging about it. In fact it was only Putin’s intervention that prevented us from actively bombing in support of those armed militias in that sovereign nation.

Obama also keeps making reference to “the legitimate government” in Ukraine. Perhaps he was not paying attention when it happened, but the government in Ukraine that was actually created by an election was thrown out of the building by armed men wearing masks who had taken the building by force, and who then installed their own guys to run the government. I don’t know what planet Obama is living on, but on this planet that bears no resemblance whatever to a “legitimate government.”

When the Army did that in Egypt he called it an “armed coup,” but when armed masked men do it in Ukraine he calls it a “legitimate government.” His definitions are becoming more and more difficult to follow.

Executive Action

President Obama announced a $600 million jobs training program yesterday. That’s a good thing; populist in nature and supportive of the working class. The money, we are told “was already allocated” and is merely being diverted so it does not require Congressional action.

Well, okay, but what was the money allocated for? The money was allocated by Compress and I don’t think it was allocated as a sort of presidential slush fund. It’s quite a bit of money, even for the government. So what were the original intentions of Congress for that money?

Well, it was only Congress and their intentions don’t matter if the President has other ideas, so I guess we don’t even need to know what Congress wanted done with that money. Besides, Congress isn’t popular, and the President is.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Asymmetric Idiocy

Paul Krugman took Ezra Klein to task last week, not in itself an unworthy exercise, but in the process exposed his tendency to both illogic and arrogance and, perhaps, actually validated and confirmed Ezra Klein’s point.

Klein’s topic had to do with tribal thinking, the well established pattern whereby people who are strongly attached to a particular idealism misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. People, he says, screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview, and that is why so frequently that “politics makes us stupid.”

Klein claims that both liberals and conservatives do it, but Krugman says that “the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives,” which is Princeton ivory tower speak for “what I see is that conservatives do it but liberals don’t.”

We could start with a set of tax cuts which Democrats have extended twice and which they, Krugman included, still call “the Bush tax cuts.” Not to mention that “Obama ended the war in Iraq,” which he did by allowing the executive orders signed by George W. Bush in 2008 to be carried out.

We could cite Krugman himself who claimed in one discussion that the post war boom was the result of government spending during the war and had nothing to do with the fact that the war had destroyed all of our competition because “it also destroyed all of our customers.” As if bombs not only turned factories into rubble, but also left no survivors, vaporized gold and obviated the possibility of extending credit.

In one notable discussion he claimed that New Deal spending ended the Depression until it was pointed out to him that that spending was cut back in 1937, at which point the country promptly went into recession. He then switched tactics and said the New Deal spending “staved off” the Depression until WW2 spending finally ended it. He then advocated that New Deal-type spending would end today’s recession, which neatly confirms Ezra Klein’s point that zealots ignore facts which do not fit their worldview, and refutes his own claim that liberals don’t do that.

Klein’s piece is lengthy, ponderous, and difficult to read, which his pieces always are, but buried in there where Krugman apparently missed it is the assertion that while zealots are blinding themselves to facts which do not confirm their prejudices, they are completely unaware that they are doing it. Anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature should not have to be told that, it should be self evident. Unless, of course, it doesn’t fit their concept of how they themselves do their own thinking.

Because what Paul Krugman is claiming is that conservatives do this while my friends and I don’t, but what he is actually saying is that conservatives can be seen to be doing this while my friends and I are doing it without knowing that we are doing it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chopped Garlic

I started to read a piece the other day that was about how one should never use the chopped garlic that comes in a jar. I got as far as the first reason, which is that "it is peeled by subjecting it to a blast of air that can blow the flavor away," and decided that I needed to read no farther and could comfortably continue to use chopped garlic that comes in a jar.

If I am making something that features and depends on the garlic flavor, Scampi for instance, I will use fresh garlic and peel it while preparing the dish. Other than that, Christopher Ranch is my friend.

Going out on a Smarties expedition later today. I haven't had them in quite a while, and I need some Smarties. (Like this is Facebook, or something.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Economists Do Not Live In Reality

From Bloomberg on Central Banks yesterday, “The greater danger comes when disinflation turns into deflation, which leads households to delay purchases in anticipation of even lower prices…” It is incomprehensible to me that anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature keeps repeating this nonsense.

If it were true then the consumer electronics industry would have failed miserably. At no time did a personal computer even cost more than 15% less than the one you bought yesterday. Every person who ever bought a laptop for $1800 saw it advertised the next week for $1500 or less.

Flat screen televisions have been plummeting in price steadily, rapidly and continuously for ten years, and have been selling like pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The only problem retailers have had is keeping them in stock.

If your refrigerator craps out, do you delay replacing it "in anticipation of even lower prices," and for how long do you wait?

Interesting that this one did not come from Paul Krugman’s ivory tower.

The Weapon Doesn't Matter

One place after another I read comments saying, “Thank God he didn’t have a gun,” or “Imagine if he’d had a gun,” which I think is about the stupidest thing that can be said about the event in Murrysville PA. Such commenters are stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime, ignoring the larger issue to ask the more important question, “What in the hell is happing in our schools, our homes, and in our society to make our kids so fucked up?”

They think that they are strengthening some sort of anti-gun crusade, but in fact they are weakening it because they are clearly debunking the theory that it is possession of guns that make school shooters go crazy and embark on killing sprees. The fact that this young man did not kill anyone did not mean that he was not trying to, and the success or otherwise of children’s murderous rages is not our social problem.

Our problem is whatever it is that is creating this kind of isolation and rage in these kids, and if it is so severe in these kids that it erupts into killing sprees, then it surely exists to a lesser but still damaging degree in thousands, if not millions, of other kids. It surely is the symptom of a flaw in the living environment which we are providing for the future citizens of our nation, and we are not even acknowledging that, let alone doing anything about it.

At best, we look at it as individual mental illness, an aberration; but on the scale that it is happening it is clearly something more than that and if we do not acknowledge that and take corrective action this society is heading for serious trouble. It’s not about guns, and it’s not about some poor kid with a miswired brain; something is wrong, and we need to be finding out what it is.

Update: Episodes like this are not the only manifestation of the problem. We see it in the high incidence of rape in our military and on our college campuses. Rape is not a sex crime. It is a crime of violence stemming from rage, isolation and inadequacy.

Part of the problem, I suspect, lies in our passion in protecting our precious little babies from what we percieve as harm. We cannot let their valuable little knees get skinned or their tiny little feelings be hurt. But skinned knees and hurt feelings are part of growing up, and when we prevent that we prevent them from growing up and we wind up with five year old babies in fifteen year old bodies. When we don't deal with that we wind up with five year old babies in twenty year old bodies in our military and on our college campuses and all hell breaks loose.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Follies Abound

I’m trying to decide which outfit is sillier at the moment, the United States government, or NASCAR. The former certainly has more profound implications, but the latter is somewhat more entertaining.

Pro-Russian demonstrators have lit fires, torn down barricades, occupied buildings and generally created havoc in eastern Ukraine; pretty much the same thing that anti-Russian demonstrators did in western Ukraine. John Kerry is appalled, even though he cheered for and applauded the anti-Russians, and is accusing the Russians of instigating the riots and violence, even though he angrily denied accusations that we were behind the earlier anti-Russians violence.

There were actually some tape recordings of American officials discussing how we had spent $5 billion doing precisely what we were accused of doing regarding the anti-Russian riots, but John Kerry simply pretends those tape recordings don’t exist, or that he doesn’t know anyone by the name of Victoria Nuland, or something. The only evidence of Russian complicity in the recent riots is in John Kerry’s feverish imagination, but that doesn’t prevent him from threatening “harsh sanctions” against Russia if they don’t stop doing what there is no evidence, let alone proof, that they are doing.

If it weren’t fraught with such serious consequences it would be hilarious.

Since NASCAR has pretty much no consequence whatever, one can simply sit back and laugh one’s ass off at the antics that it engages in.

Sunday’s race was rained out, and considerable mystery surrounded the rescheduling of it because they waited for more than four hours to decide that it was not going to be run in a Texas swamp. It had been raining in Fort Worth for five days and was still raining at race time, but NASCAR for some reason still harbored the delusion that they could dry the track in time to race. The fact that water was coming up through the pavement from the ground under the race track should have given them a clue that wasn’t going to happen, but apparently they didn’t notice that and failed to check the records which noted that the track had a long history of that happening quite often.

By the time they called the race all of the television networks had decided they had better things to do that looking at a rain-soaked empty race track, so there was no one around to announce when the rescheduled race would be run. There were eight diehard fans left in the grandstand, so those eight people knew when to come back, but no one else did.

The Internet saved their collective ass, and so a decent crowd was on hand Monday morning to watch the rescheduled race. They track was still a little damp, so they started the race under a “green-yellow,” throwing both flags to start the race, meaning, “go but go slow,” which is nobody's idea of a race. Other than NASCAR, that is. The idea was that they would parade behind the pace car while NASCAR consulted with the drivers as to when the track would be dry enough to race on, because of course you always let the inmates run the fucking asylum.

As if they could ever get a consensus anyway. Tony Stewart is a dirt track racer, so the track could have water an inch deep and he would be saying, "Oh hell yes, let’s go racing.” Jeff Gordon came from open wheel, so even high humidity would have him whining, “Oh hell no, we can’t race, we’re swimming out here.”

Not only did they start the race on a wet track under caution instead of waiting until the track was ready to race on, they started it while the jet dryers were still on the track. These are trucks with jet engines mounted sideways, blowing hot air across the track to dry it. So as the parade of cars is passing the dryers the jet blast is blowing body panels off of the race cars. Holy shit, who could have predicted that? The pole sitter has to go into the pits to get the hood of his car taped back into position using duck tape.

They finally throw the green flag, and four laps later Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives his left side wheels into the infield grass on the frontstretch. The grass is so soft that the middle of his car bottoms on the edge of the pavement, disastrously so, and when he returns to the track the pavement edge rips the left front tire off, sending him hard into the wall. The accident throws a couple hundred pounds of mud into the front of his teammate, Jimmy Johnson, who was running right behind him.

The announcers were going crazy making up reasons why Junior drove into the grass. “At this track you can run in the grass.” Not at over 200mph you can’t, even when it's dry. “He was trying to pass the 43 car.” Not in the grass, no. “You can’t see very well out of these cars.” The view isn’t that bad; he could see that what was to the left of the 43 was grass, not track. When interviewed shortly afterward, Junior said simply, “I made a mistake.”

Jimmy Johnson made repairs, but finished in 25th, two laps down.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Priorities

Back in December of last year Florida State University was on its way to a national championship and its quarterback, Jameis Winston, was a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy. Then charges arose that he had been involved in raping a girl on the FSU campus, and that both the team’s championship and his Heisman Trophy were in jeopardy.

As soon as the rumor surfaced I predicted that he would be cleared within two weeks or less, that there would never be anything more than a rumor, and that the status of the player and the university would be unaffected. I did not say that because I believed he was innocent, but because I knew that it didn’t matter whether he had done it or not.

So now we find, from USA Today yesterday, that I was entirely correct. The girl was told if she pursued the case her life “would be made miserable,” not by the men boys who did the rape, but by school officials and law officers, and the case was for all practical purposes not investigated.

What mattered was what the school and the quarterback got; a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. The girl; well the girl just didn’t matter at all. This is America, after all, and we have our priorities.

Ask Hillary Clinton. According to her, we are fighting a war thousands of miles away so that women in Afghanistan can have better lives.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Ignoring The Enemy

Bloggers and pundits are outraged almost to the point of spluttering incoherence by the latest Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance. Some rage that the Supreme Court has destroyed the last vestige of democracy in this nation, others that the “one percent” will do so in the wake of the decision, but I would suggest that these are the wrong targets for blame as democracy dies in America.

Who decrees to American voters that they must vote for whichever candidate purchases the most advertising? There is considerable evidence that voters do, in fact, cast their votes in this manner, but that should be less a condemnation of the candidates and “one percent” than it is of the voters themselves. Voting for whoever spends the most money is a pretty damned stupid way to choose our leadership, so why do we do it?

I know why the politicians and “one percent” do it; it works for them. It gets them what they want. For the underclasses, the people who actually cast the votes, it consistently produces bad leadership, and yet we keep right on voting for whoever spends the most money. Not only that, but we complain about the system which we ourselves are perpetuating with our own votes.

Some call it “magical thinking” to imagine that those who are benefiting from the system, the legislators themselves, will change the system, but I call it stupid thinking. Legislators are making out like bandits; they are not going to cut down the money tree. We have to do that, and instead we keep watering and fertilizing it by voting for whoever spends the most money.

No matter who is spending the most money, elections are still determined by who gets the most votes. All we have to do is vote and not vote for the biggest spender. Problem solved. “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Thursday, April 03, 2014

NASA Joins Insanity Parade

Oh good, NASA is joining the rush to "isolate Russia." NASA is suspending all cooperation with the Russian space agency, except that we will still let them carry our astronauts up to the International Space Station because we don't have the ability to do that on our own. Mind boggling. I'm trying to figure out why the Russians go along with this.

I have a sinking feeling that we are going to push and push and push, thinking we are getting away with it, and all at once we're going to make one push too many and the grits are going to hit the fan.

No Logic Anywhere

NASCAR is proposing a rule change next year, one which will reduce engine power of the race cars. I’m not sure what the purpose of making race cars run slower is, but NASCAR is not exactly noted for doing logical things. “The racing really sucks,” say the fans, so NASCAR responds by making the race cars slower. You figure it out.

I am reminded of A.J. Foyt commenting at Indianapolis some years ago, "Hell, if we're going to hold taxicab races, let's get some damned taxicab drivers out here to run in them."

Of course, most NASCAR drivers today actually are taxicab drivers. The concept of putting the hammer down and nursing a loose car out of the turn onto a straightaway is a foreign concept to them. "I'm loose off," (exiting a turn) they scream at their crew chiefs, "I can't use the gas at all," and demand that the crew chief do something to fix the car.

"A quarter pound of air" in the right rear tire, forsooth.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. would put his car sideways going 200 mph at Talledega and, when asked if he was okay after he recovered it without losing position, laconically comment, "Yeah I’m okay. The car's a little loose."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Logical Thinking Is Also Rare

Reuters tells us yesterday that “NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia” due to it’s “annexation of Crimea.” The entirety of the NATO response to Russia’s moves regarding Ukraine are a real study in a failure of logic. I'd say a certain amount of arrogance is involved as well.

While demanding that Russia pull its troops, which are actually on Russian soil, away from Ukraine, in effect dictating to Russia how it must move its military forces within its own borders, NATO is moving fighter jets and other military forces into the Baltic States to “reassure them” against the threat from Russian forces which are still located in Russia.

Better yet, the article says that NATO “expects Russia's cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan - on training counter-narcotics personnel, maintenance of Afghan air force helicopters and a transit route out of the war-torn country to continue.” So while NATO is suspending all cooperation with Russia on anything Russia wants to do, it expects Russia to continue cooperating with NATO on anything NATO wants to do.

What it takes to engage in that kind of thinking beggars the imagination.

Oh Good Lord

Huffington Post has a headline that reads "Thirteen Dead To Save A Dollar." It turns out to be an article about GM's recall issue, in which defective ignition switches were not replaced in order to "save a dollar," but that savings occurred in each of 3.5 million cars. Not that saving $3.5 million justifies thirteen dead, but that headline is ridiculous.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Innocence Is Rare

There was nothing on after the basketball games the other day, so I watched a couple of episodes of American Greed. The show is only modestly interesting and the plot is a bit repetitive: People invest their money with a rich guy, who spends it on his own lavish lifestyle instead of investing it, and the poor innocent people lose all of their money.

The victims are, however, perhaps not quite the lily-pure innocents that the show’s producers would like for the viewer to think they are.

In the first show the bad guy was advertising unusually high returns on money invested with him, in the neighborhood of 20% or so, and presented his firm as “closed to new clients.” He would tell potential investors that he was not really looking for new clients, and that he was letting them in as a favor to them. Being his client supposedly would provide them with better than average returns, and was a status symbol, so that had quite a lot to gain. And they didn’t put part of their money in his care, they put all of it.

In the second show the bad guy owned a string of “qualified intermediaries,” which are firms where people place cash to avoid paying taxes on it. It’s entirely legal, but they had their money where it was for the purpose of tax avoidance. Again, they had something to gain by having their money in the bad guy’s hands.

I am reminded of a scene in “The Sting” where Paul Newman advises his crew that they have had the misfortune to come across a completely honest man and will need to select a new “mark” because it is impossible to con a completely honest person.

Did these victims deserve to lose all of their money? Of course not. But it was their own greed that put them in the position to have this happen to them.

Friday, March 28, 2014

If It's Broken, Don't Fix It

The Los Angeles Times was asking last weekend where the stories were about Obamacare which portrayed good news for people needing health insurance. It pointed out that stories abounded regarding people who had lost their policies because they had been cancelled due to not meeting Obamacare requirements, but it wanted some stories about people for whom Obama he been a benefit rather than a disaster.

And it found one, of course. It’s hardly surprising that it found a couple who had been previously uninsured but which was now able to buy insurance, since that is precisely what Obamacare is designed to do. I’m guessing that they didn’t have to look very far.

The article listed the couple’s medical expenses at $9536 per year, and said that their insurance policy will cost them $4548 in premiums, with a $2000 deductible. That leaves $2988 not paid, and somebody is going to have to pay that money. It is not going to be the insurance company, it is going to be other people who buy policies from that particular insurance company. So this couple has not reduced the cost of their health care, they have shifted $2988 of the payment for that care to someone else.

But, you say, that’s what insurance is all about. Right? No, it’s not. That’s what socialized health care would be about, if we had it, which we should, but we don't. We have insurance, and insurance is about risk.

I have paid for auto insurance for some fifty years, and have never received the first cent in benefits from it, which is why I pay a very low rate. If you have had a wreck you pay a higher rate. If you’ve had a lot of wrecks, you pay a very high rate, and may not be able to get insurance at all. That's how insurance works.

Based on today’s health insurance model, everyone would have the same kind of auto insurance, we would all pay the same premium, and I would be paying for the damage caused by your car wrecks because it would no longer be about risk, it would be about everyone paying the cost regardless of who benefits or who created the need for payment.

Under that scenario there is no incentive for me to drive carefully. I might as well drive recklessly and have a lot of wrecks because I’m going to pay the same regardless of my behavior. I’m going to pay out if you have a wreck.

So, if I buy insurance from the same company that the couple described by the LA Times purchased from, then I am paying for a portion of their health care. If I buy from a different company then I am not. Is that logical?

With today’s mandates Insurance companies cannot know about a person’s health before selling to them and they cannot turn them down. If I buy from a company which gets lucky and sells insurance to a lot of healthy people I will pay a low price for insurance, but if I buy from a company that has the misfortune to sell to a lot of sick people I will pay a high price. On what planet does that make any sense?

But that's actually the plan. It's the whole basis of Obamacare. It is supposedly logical and reasonable that people who don't need health care should pay for it anyway so that people who are using health care will be able to pay less for what they use. They call that "insurance," but it is no more insurance than I am an astronaut. It is making people who don't need to spend money spend money without receiving any benefit for it so that other people can get more benefits for less money. That would be socialism if it were applied generally to society as a whole, but it is not. It is applied piecemeal on a basis of the corporation which one happens to patronize, so that the benefit is not only selective, but is arbitrarily selective.

It is supposedly logical that I should pay out if you have a car wreck.

Instead of “health care reform” actually reforming anything, it merely took a broken system and broadened its application. If what you are doing isn’t working, do more of it. Or do it with greater intensity. But don’t, for God’s sake, think of doing something different.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Disturbing

lego maniaCBS Evening News ran a piece the other day on how the NFL ran a football camp for high school football players to teach them how to tackle properly. They included "the only person the kids might listen to," the kids' mothers.

The images of mothers flopping through football drills was disturbing in itself, of course. If one of those had been my mother I would have decided to play, I don't know, tennis maybe, or cribbage. Yikes.

But, what has happened to our social structure that "the only person they will listen to" is their mothers? They are not saying that these are kids from broken homes or are underprivileged. They don't hint in any way that fathers are not in the picture, or that if they are not that there's anything remarkable about that. They just imply that it is perfectly natural for mothers to be the most potent image in a young man's life, and I find that disturbing.

That is a trend that has been becoming greater and greater. Football and basketball players have increasingly spoken of their mothers as their support figure. Sometimes that has clearly been due to an absent father, and I get that, but I've seen quite a few where the father has clearly been present but has been in the background as the player speaks about his mother and the role she has played in his life.

I have to tread a bit lightly here, because I did not have a good relationship with my mother, in fact nobody had a good relationship with her, but the person I looked to as a role model and was my teacher and guide was my father, and that would have been the case regardless of how I felt about my mother. That was how boys grew up in my day. In fact any boy whose role model was his mother was destined to lead a pretty miserable life. Today that seems to be the norm, and I'm not sure whether that serves us well or not. I'm inclined to think it does not.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Progress

I had my semiannual checkup at the lung doctor yesterday. There's a little machine to blow in which calculates the state of my lungs, and makes me wonder why I need the doctor. They could put the little machine in an ATM-like thing; insert credit card, blow, and take the printout. The doctor smiled and said he'd love to play golf more often, but that he would miss seeing me, which is a sample of why I like him.

One of the things the machine does is calculate the age of my lungs, and it reports that they are now 79 years old. That doesn't mean that my mother delivered my lungs and then nine years later delivered me, which would be a very tricky business indeed; it means my lungs would be consistent with a 79 year old man. This, apparently, a somewhat metaphysical machine which is telling me that I have "79 year old lungs."

It's an improvement, though, because six months ago I had "86 year old lungs," so while I have gotten six months older my lungs have gotten seven years younger. That's a pretty neat trick, and if I can keep that up by the time I'm 80 my lungs will be teenagers. Unfortunately my heart, muscles, brain and a bunch of other things will continue to get older, so that presents a somewhat incongruous picture. Not sure what I'd do with teenaged lungs.

And I don't think that my train of logic is on the right track, anyway.

A friend asked me what I'd done to create the improvement in my lungs and I told him that apparently not dying was sufficient, because I hadn't done anything. I was, six months ago, closer to the tail end of my bout with pneumonia, so it may merely reflect more complete recovery from that.

I left with a nice warm fuzzy feeling about the nice doctor, but today not so much because the sonofabitch gave me a pnuemonia vaccine shot. It felt fine yesterday, but some bastard hit me in the left arm with a baseball bat when I wasn't looking, hit me really hard, and then two Russian mobsters took me out in the front yard while I was asleep and beat my entire body with big sticks.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Competence Abounds

Jimmy Johnson, six time champion, finished 19th yesterday, 2 laps down to the leader, but we cannot fault him for that result. It was due to a decision made by his crew chief, Chad Knaus, who is usually called “God” for short.

During a caution at lap fifty when everyone else took four tires, Jimmy’s car was given only two tires, and they were not put on the right side where tires receive the most wear, but on the left side. It was a weird call, and the announcers were commenting on it but saying, “Well, I’m certainly not going to question Chad Knaus.”

I was thinking at the time, “I’m sure as hell going to question Chad Knaus. Taking two tires is stupid, and taking them on the left side is stupid squared.” Sure enough, about thirty laps after the restart Jimmy had a blowout of his right front tire. By the time he got it changed he was two laps down. Great call Chad, baby.

Jimmy finished one position and one lap behind Danica Patrick, who was 18th, and one lap down to the leader. She did manage one noteworthy feat during the race. Leaving the pits during a caution, she lost control of her car and clobbered another race car which was stationary in its pit stall. To say that was unusual would be a massive understatement.

The race was yellow flagged with two laps remaining, but no one knew why. After the cars had been parading behind the pace car for several laps the yellow flag was still unexplained, but it began raining so they threw the checkered flag, giving the win to Carlo Edwards who had been leading when the yellow came out. It was later discovered that the yellow came out because someone in the flagstand accidentally leaned against the button. Thus the title; competence abounds.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Kind of Democracy?

Jonathan Rauch has a post this month about the difference between “honest corruption” and “dishonest corruption.” I don’t agree with every point which he makes in the piece, but he does touch on the point of the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy, although he doesn’t dwell on it and probably made the point unintentionally when he said,

Reformers, worried about corruption, also put tight limits on direct political contributions to candidates and parties. The result has been to divert money to unaccountable private groups, many of which clobber candidates who take tough votes to support party leaders. Meanwhile, rules requiring deliberations to be public have proved a mixed blessing, because it’s hard to negotiate in earnest while striking ideological postures for TV cameras.

What I take from that is that the founders formed a representative democracy because they knew that a direct democracy was unworkable and we are pretty thoroughly proving that point right now. Instead of electing legislators and allowing them to represent us, we are watching every single issue which comes before Congress and trying to dictate to our representatives how he/she should vote on that particular issue, and then screaming bloody murder when he/she does not do so.

No matter what Congress does, there is always some noisy minority screaming at the top of its lungs about Congress getting it wrong, so Congress responds by doing nothing. That is, of course, an idiotic response to the problem, but

Representative government means we elect our legislators and then we do not hold rallies to tell them how to vote on issues that raise public passion. If that was the proper procedure we would not need the legislators, we could use referendums on issues. At the end of the term we evaluate the legislator and if, on balance, he has performed in accordance with our principles we reelect him/her. If not, we elect someone else. To vote someone out of office based on one single vote which he/she made while in office is utterly absurd.

He/she, him/her, we need another pronoun.

As usual, we place the blame in the wrong place, or at least partly so. We are outraged that Congress accomplishes so little, but it does not occur to us to think that we ourselves might be part of the reason.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Missing The Point, Again

Some fifty years ago when the media was nattering about the new “service economy” my father made a dry comment that, “What the hell? We can’t all make a living selling hamburgers to each other.” That comment comes to mind when I read the furor over the wages paid by McDonalds and other fast food sellers.

These jobs, “flipping burgers,” were at one time entry level jobs held by high school and sometimes college students to earn spending money and gain some experience in the concept and discipline of earning wages while they studied in preparation for obtaining real employment in their future. So severe has been the degradation of our economy that these have become mainstream jobs, and that is a sad commentary on this nation that is being missed.

Instead of reacting to the situation by saying that we should rebuild our economy so that these jobs are once again nothing more than stepping stones to real employment, we take the approach that we should turn this trivial, meaningless task into mainstream employment and turn this economy into one where we do, in fact, “make our living selling hamburgers to each other.”

Good God Almighty, are we no better than that? Are we the kind of nation whose people are willing to settle for a career as trivial as standing at a grill flipping burgers? Instead of demanding that these meaningless dead end jobs pay career wages, how about demanding that this nation once again create the career jobs that it once had, so that people can do work that means something as well as paying a living wage? How about we keep the entry level jobs for entry level workers and give them something better to aspire to?

This was once a great nation. This was once a nation whose people would never settle for jobs “selling hamburgers to each other.” Today we seem not to have the ambition even to ask for better.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who, Me?

Cat in the TPDogs always look guilty, even prior to any accusation. Cats not so much. They either deny knowledge, or they admit having done it but assert their right to have done so.

Adjust As Needed

Does anyone ever notice the highlighted phrase in the Census Bureau’s report on economic progress, I wonder? When they say, for instance, that “retail and food services sales for February, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $427.2 billion, an increase of 0.3 percent (±0.5%)* from the previous month, and 1.5 percent (±0.9%) above February 2013,” that would appear to indicate that retail sales are increasing. But does it?

I think they forgot to adjust for the phases of the moon, and perhaps the adiabatic effect of the current solar wind, but we’ll have to live with those inaccuracies.

What are those “price changes” for which they are not adjusting? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe those are due to something called “inflation.”

Isn’t that interesting? How often do you read that the budget, or taxes, or some such thing “adjusted for inflation” is stable? But we are always informed that retail sales “not adjusted for price changes” is increasing by some small amount which, if you check carefully, is somewhat less than the amount reported for inflation.

Looking at retail sales of “1.5 percent (±0.9%) above February 2013,” which doesn’t need to be “adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences” because February of 2013 does not differ in any of those respects from February of 2014, and using the good sense to adjust for inflation of 1.6%, we would sensibly report that February’s retail sales were down 0.1 percent (±0.9%) below February 2013,” People are actually buying less; they're just paying more for what they're buying.

Even that is less than an accurate picture since the reported inflation omits energy and food, which constitutes a major portion of retail sales.

I’m not trying to suggest that the Census Bureau has any sort of political axe to grind with their reporting, I’m merely suggesting that their reporting is idiotic.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cause and Effect

The political name of the game now is “economic inequality.” Obama is sort of declaring war on economic inequality, although fortunately he isn’t stupid enough to use that phrase as Johnson did with the “War on Poverty” or Nixon did with the “War on Drugs,” neither of which has worked out very well in the long run.

The undeclared war on inequality won’t turn out very well either, because economic inequality not the problem. It is the result of a whole host of problems which have plagued our nation over a span of several decades. Trying to stamp out inequality is sort of like trying to stamp out death on our highways by making it illegal to die in car crashes, or saying that it’s okay for people to drive drunk as long as they don’t kill anyone in the process. It’s trying to solve the result instead of solving the problem.

Taxing the rich is not going to even make a dent in the actual problems because it doesn’t address the stagnation and decline of working class incomes, and in any case the rich didn’t get that way by having large taxable incomes. Besides which, they are already rich, so how is taxing incomes going to affect existing wealth? A wealth tax? Good luck with that. Forget taxing the rich. Not that it wouldn’t be right; it just won’t do any good toward solving any problems. It might reduce the federal deficit a bit, but we’re talking about economic inequality and it won’t solve any of the problems which have led us to that result.

The labor union movement to some degree signed its own death warrant with the amount of political and economic corruption, both internal and external, which arose within its organizations and its loss was not altogether a bad thing, but the return of the prevalence and power of collective bargaining would go a long way toward restoring economic equality. The balance of power is a beautiful thing, and it works.

Business needs to recognize that short term gain can be long term loss; that when you ship jobs overseas to save production costs, in the long run you wind up with a market which cannot afford to buy your products.

We need a government which no longer pumps an economy based on ever increasing debt and on a negative balance of trade. Both have been pushed beyond their natural self limiting terminus and are diving deeper and deeper into fantasy land. The result is already ugly and will eventually get worse.

We need to dethrone the high priests of deregulation.

And we need to change a national attitude that says, as a sign that Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” speaks of seeing in his high school, that we should “work smart, not hard.” Obama says that every child should have a college education so that he/she can obtain the “jobs of the future,” as if the future will not need welders, or pipefitters, or electricians or any of the other jobs that tire one’s muscles and dirty one’s hands.

We need to make such “blue collar” jobs not only pay a wage with which one can raise a family, but make them as respectable as they once were. We need to make it honorable to work hard; to make these jobs the “jobs that Americans want.” That starts in school, with a curriculum that isn’t merely a preliminary for college, but which introduces children to the trades as it once did.

That starts with a father who takes his son downtown and points. “You see that bridge?” he tells his son. “My two hands helped build that bridge. You play your cards right and you can do something like that.”

We need to restore the march for social justice, which has not just lost momentum since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, but which has regressed. We still have ghettos. The walls aren’t brick and mortar, but they are walls and we need to tear them down. Economic equality cannot exist with the kind of social inequality which persists in our society today.

There is no magic wand; no easy answer. Do you think we can have economic equality in the face of today’s social injustice, unemployment, “dirty jobs,” unregulated commerce, and the world’s greatest debt load? Sure we can. And we can reduce highway deaths by giving the go ahead to drunk drivers and simply telling them, “just don’t kill anyone.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Entirely Predictable

Dianne Feinstein is pitching a fit because the NSA spied on her computer. Poor baby. That comes as no surprise to me. Neither part of it. I am not surprised that the NSA would spy on her because I am not surprised that they would spy on anything. They are out of control and nothing is going to reign them in.

I am not surprised by the senior Senator from my state. Embarrassed, yes, and annoyed, but not surprised. "I am going to support spying on everyone else, but if you spy on me I am going to kick you in the nuts." That's because the senior Senator from my state is special, unique, entitled, and monumentally stupid.

Cooler Head on Ukraine

I have recently been introduced to a blog by David Stockman, who has been, among other things, Director of the OMB under President Reagan. Perhaps simply because, like me, he's too old to get excited by anything that starts with "neo" he is not a fan of neocons or neoliberals.

He wrote a post a few days ago regarding the situation in Ukraine, how it matters to US national interests (it doesn't), and why everyone screaming for US intervention are wrong. By way of background he described the US Warfare State, which struck me as a rather apt term, and said that,

The post-1991 absurdity of bolstering NATO and extending it into eastern Europe, rather than liquidating it after attaining “mission accomplished”, is just another manifestation of [the Warfare State's] baleful impact. In truth, the expansion of NATO is one of the underlying causes of America’s needless tension with Russia and Putin’s paranoia about his borders and neighbors. Indeed, what juvenile minds actually determined that America needs a military alliance with Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania!

The last sentence should have ended with a question mark rather than an exclamation mark, or perhaps both, but the sentiment of the entire paragraph is so powerful that I'm not going to quibble. Well, okay, I just did, but you get my point. As to Crimea, he points out that Crimea was actually annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783 and goes on to say that,

For the next 171 years Crimea was an integral part of Russia—a span that exceeds the 166 years that have elapsed since California was annexed by a similar thrust of “Manifest Destiny” on this continent, thereby providing, incidentally, the United States Navy with its own warm-water port in San Diego. While no foreign forces subsequently invaded the California coasts, it was most definitely not Ukrainian and Polish rifles, artillery and blood which famously annihilated The Charge Of The Light Brigade at the Crimean city of Balaclava in 1854; they were Russians defending the homeland from Turks, Europeans and Brits.

I am bookmarking his blog, because the guy can write the ears off a Missouri mule. You should read the whole piece. Even if you don't agree with him. He is antertaining and enlightening.

PS: in case you don't go thers, I loved his description of the Warfare State as, "the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement." Awesome.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Presidential Fulminations

Our president is in full hue and cry over Russia doing something that has heretofore been the sole prerogative of the United States, namely the use of its armed forces in foreign countries to impose its will. He sent John Kerry to Kiev to tell the Russians that “You don’t just invade another country on trumped up charges to serve your own interests.” Why he could not have told them that from Washington is unclear, but perhaps he thought it would sound less hypocritical if he said it in Kiev. He was mistaken.

Obama told the world that, “The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law,” which reveals his attitude about laws. He did not think that partition would violate international law when the US sponsored the partition of Sudan, nor when we lent military assistance for the partition of Yugoslavia, which Russia opposed, by the way. Obama views laws through the lens of his personal objectives.

He also said that the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s actions "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” which, even for him, is a bit bizarre. Obama’s responses to those actions might present a very real threat to our national security, but short of Obama doing something really stupid the situation is no threat to us at all. And what is a “threat to our foreign policy,” precisely? Even George W. Bush didn’t exacerbate international tension by fulminating about “threats to our foreign policy.”

“We took these steps in close coordination with our European allies,” Obama told us, with respect to the sanctions issue. “I'm pleased that our international unity is on display at this important moment.” He must not have been listening when our European allies were coordinating with him, because all of them have said they are not on board with any sanctions.
Of course for America "coordination" consists of us telling them what to do. That didn't start with Obama; we've been that way for decades.

He also said that “any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.” He doesn’t specify what he means by “legitimate government,” but the current government of Ukraine is the armed mob that took over by means of a violent overthrow of the elected government. So, which government does he propose to include in his proposed (and ultimely imaginary) discussion?

At least he’s not waving a yellow and blue flag like John McCain is.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Fine Lines

From a comment elsewhere (which I cannot now find):

"Whatever you want to say about George W. Bush, he would never have tolerated this nonsense in Ukraine this long like Obaba has. He would have invaded New Zealand by now."

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

We Keep Buying This Idiocy

They keep telling us that a one-year budget will save $43 biillion over the next ten years because the media keeps printing it and we keep reelecting the idiots who are saying it. A one year budget ceases to exist after one year and cannot do anything for the next nine years after that. A one-year budget will not do anything in ten years. It will do something for one year and then die.

Closer examination often reveals that the savings are "back loaded" and are scheduled for the last eight years of the one-year budget. Savings are almost nonexistant in the first year, but then kick in during later years, and we buy that nonsense. There are no later years. It is a one-year budget.

Tell us what will happen during the life of the budget. Anything else is a lie.

Agressors Indeed

It's interesting. Russia does nothing more than sort of mumble in protest as we sign up nation after nation in their neighborhood into our military alliance. NATO is not a boy's club, you know, nor is it an economic organization. It is purely a military alliance, providing for commonality of weaponry and military practices. Russia expresses discontent but does not even make formal protest in the UN as, one after another, we sign up its former allies (satelliet nations) into our military alliance.

But then, when we reach the final ones and attempt to sign up the nation that is actually on their border, their equivalent of what Canada or Mexico would be to us, they say "Oh hell no," and we label them as agressors. They stop our military advance on them and so they are the agressors.

You did know, didn't you, that the "economic aid package" which Ukraine turned down from The European Union included requiring that Ukraine adopt NATO weapon standards and convert their military within a few years. Aside from what that would cost Ukraine, and the profit it would involve for Europe and the US, it was a military incursion into Ukraine; an attempt to make the Ukranian military part of NATO. A reasoning person might see why Russia would object to that.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Posturing Is What We Do Best

Obama warns Russia against military intervention, but even as he is speaking Russia is moving troops into Ukraine.

He warns Russia that there will be costs for military intervention in Ukraine, but doesn’t specify what those costs will be, probably because he can’t think of any costs which we can possibly impose.

Chuck Hagel is asked what we can do if Russia “moves troops into other parts of Ukraine,” and replies, “Well, I don’t want to get into options.” Indeed he doesn’t, since we don’t have any options.

American foreign policy pronouncements are becoming increasingly vapid and embarrassing.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Truth Will Out

Paul Krugman wrote a blog post yesterday refuting the lies which attempt to discredit the “health care reform” legislation known as the “Affordable Care Act,” and in doing so revealed the bigger lie that underlies its passage to begin with and even it’s very name. ”What the Act does,” he said, “is in effect to increase the burden on fortunate people — the healthy and wealthy — to lift some burdens on the less fortunate…”

And that is most certainly not the sales pitch that we were given when “health care reform” was being touted as the answer to the problems which plagued our system. Much was made of the rising cost of health insurance, and we were told that this legislation was going to “bend the cost curve downward,” not that it was going to increase the cost for most of us so that those who did not yet have insurance could obtain it.

We were told that “the Act” would be paid for with all sorts of arcane methods which none of us were quite smart enough to understand. Part of the payment, for instance, would be reductions in Medicare payments which would be absorbed by providers and not offset by reductions in services. They did not explain why the providers who were being paid less would not reduce services.

There were some protests that it was absurd to think requiring insurance companies to cover people who had preexisting conditions would not inevitably raise insurance premiums. They were shouted down as obstructionists, but now Paul Krugman is admitting that such was the intention all along; people without an existing condition will “bear a higher burden” so that people with existing conditions can obtain insurance.

The whole “zero cost” basis of “the Act” sounded like smoke and mirrors to me from the beginning, and Paul Krugman admits from his ivory tower in Princeton that it was indeed a fiction. Every once in a while one of the elites slips up and speaks the truth and make no mistake, notwithstanding how much the liberals love to quote him, Paul Krugman is one of the elites. He has no more concept of the middle class ethos than do the Koch brothers.

Having one group pay more in order to assist another, needier group is not an unworthy proposition, it’s what federal unemployment benefits are about for instance, so I don’t necessarily object to the fiscal basis of “the Act.” What I do object to is being lied to again; being sold something on the basis that “it won’t cost a dime” when it is known very well that the financing is nonsense. I object to the cost finally being admitted only after five years of government maintaining the “zero cost” fiction.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

National Security

russiaThe Department of Homeland Stupidity issued a warning to airlines flying into the United States a few days ago to be on the lookout for explosives hidden in shoes of passengers; shoe bombs. It was, they said, a "general warning," and not in response to "any specific threat."

That was the case with last month's "toothpaste bomb" threat, too.

Thanks to Mr. Snowden, we now know that the CIA tracks terrorists and fires Hellfire missiles at them by using signals from the cell phones that they carry, and we are told that the terrorists have countered by ditching their cell phones and using disposable phones for short periods. I suspect that some teenage girl picked up one of the discarded terrorist cell phones and called a friend to tell her of the really great deal she had discovered on shoes down at the Casbah, "They are really cute shoes and we need to hurry," and you can guess what happened. It winds up with us getting a warning about shoe bombs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What The CBO Actually Said

Headlines everywhere are telling us that a hike in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would cause the economy to lose 500,000 jobs. We know this to be true because the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said so in an official report, which they arrived at after careful and thorough study by highly expert economists and business experts. And they are, to repeat, non-partisan, meaning that they wouldn't fudge numbers to favor anyone.

Except that they didn't say anything even close to that. They said,

"In CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of one million workers."

They said there's a one-third chance that nothing would happen, and that if there were losses it migh be between essentially none or as high as one million, which I translate as a sort of "Our crystal ball is busted and we don't have a clue." I don't know why we're paying any attention to that at all. Pundits translated it as "We'll lose half a million jobs," which is halfway between their worst guess and best guess, and is a mean rather than an average. An average would be closer to 280,000 jobs lost.

So yes, we might lose 500,000 jobs or we might lose a million. But as I read the statement it seems the most likely event is that we'll lose very few or none which is born out by the empirical evidence of history, because every time that the minimum wage ahs been raised the prophesies of wage loss doom have proven to be entirely baseless. A few times jobs have even increased after a hike in the minimum wage.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Always Use Your Siren

When you are proceeding through an intersection on a green light, always be using your car’s siren. What? Your car doesn’t have a siren? Well, then you might be in trouble if some drunk runs the red light and you hit him, according to the family of a young woman who was killed in that manner, because they would say it was your fault for not using your siren.

Their daughter was a passenger in a car that ran a red light and was hit by a fire engine which was using its lights on the way to an emergency, but was not sounding its siren at the time because it was proceeding through an intersection with the green light in its favor. The driver of the car, who was not killed, has pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, which makes him the proximate cause of their daughter’s death, but since he doesn’t have any money they are suing the City of Poway, which does have money. How the money they might receive will replace their daughter is unclear, and how it will compensate them for her loss is equally unclear since they would not have been expecting to depend on her income in future years.

It’s also a bit questionable that Poway has any money, since they are one of the cities that sold those “buy now pay later” bonds that carries something like 4000% interest, but that’s a different topic.

There is also some nonsense in the parents’ claim about the fire engine driver not being properly trained. It originated with the driver not yet having the actual license, but that is not the same as not being trained. The license itself does not convey any training, and part of the training that must be performed is to drive the engine under actual emergency conditions.

The parents’ lawyer says that the fire department must assure that its fire engines are “controlled in a way that it won't hit cars in an intersection regardless of the driver of the passenger car,” which is an utterly ridiculous statement. It’s saying that you must avoid an accident even if I’m trying to create it, and if you fail to do so you are at fault.

I would love to be on that jury. Poway would love me on that jury.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

NFL Standards

This guy is awesome. The "money quote,"

"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!"

Monday, February 10, 2014

On Watching the Olympics

Blogging is going to be light for a while because, hiving no feelings one way or another about Russia's hosting of them, I am watching the Olympics, along with college basketball. I have some 12 hours backlogged on my DVR, much of it stuff that I watch and my wife does not, like curling. I'll be back with greater frequency in March. Well, excluding March Madness.

I am still trying to figure out what to say about Obama's latest executive order. After spending five years deporting illegals at a pace more than double that of any previous president, he now says that he will permit an illegal to stay if he has provided "only marginal support for terrorism." Seriously? Run a stop sign and get deported, but "provide only marginal support for terrorism" and you can stay. Who decides what constitutes "only marginal support" and what is more serious level of support which is worthy of deportation?

And why the change at all? Why tolerate any "support of terrorism?"