Monday, March 27, 2017

Auto Racing Weekend

Formula 1: Boy, they blew that redesign. The aero kit is ridiculous, and the bigger tires hurt more than they help. Lap times were no faster at Melbourne than they were last year, and an overtaking car could get no closer to the car he was catching than to be trailing by 1.5 seconds before the dirty air from the leading car stalled him out. Not only was there no passing, there was never any hint that there might be passing. They have a lot of work to do to make that sport watchable.

NASCAR: Still doing the boring parade for 380 laps and then ending the race with an "exciting" 20-lap wreckfest, justified by the triteness of "cautions breed cautions." Actually, idiotic driving is what breeds cautions, but the announcers will never admit that a NASCAR driver exhibits anything less than godlike perfection. Admittedly, once in a while a caution is due to a blown tire.

The new "stage racing" means that they no longer have to throw "debris cautions" to try to keep Danica Patrick on the lead lap. Didn't work, though; she finished 26th, two laps down.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Critical Thinking

Following the discussion on Congressional confirmation of Judge Gorsuch provides examples of the decreasing ability of this country to engage in critical thinking.

One of the cases for which he is being criticized is one regarding a truck driver who was ordered to stay with his disabled truck in freezing weather and then fired when he did not do so. He sued the company for firing him and Gorsuch sided with the company. Critics use the case to say that Gorsuch should not be on the Supreme Court because he is a heartless and cruel bastard.

Certainly the company owner that fired the driver is a heartless and cruel bastard, but most trucking company owners are. I have some experience with that. Gorsuch was merely ruling on the legality of the firing, and in the state in question, the law says that employees may be fired for any reason, or for no reason. He did not say that the firing was kind, he did not approve of it in principal, he merely said that it was legal.

Senator Al Franken reverted to his comedian days and repeatedly challenged Gorsuch to tell him what, if placed in the driver’s position, he would have done. He never permitted Gorsuch to respond to the question, merely shouting at him repeatedly, “What would you have done?”

But the legal case under discussion, as any rational, thinking person would know, had nothing to do with what the driver did or did not do. It had to do with the owner firing the driver, and the owner did not need to have a reason for that firing. All of the posturing in the hearing and in the media about the driver freezing is irrelevant, attempting to divert the issue away from reality and reason.

Friday, March 24, 2017

How Blind Can You Be?

The Washington Post does a truly stunning job of missing the obvious today with an article pondering why the death rate among the middle aged is higher in the United States than in European countries. The author notes that the gap is widening as our average age of death gets lower while their gets higher and wonders what the reason could be. He admits it isn’t the popular news frenzy of the “opoid epidemic” causing it, but cannot figure out what it might be.

It never occurs to him that it might have to do with the fact that all European countries have universal health care, while we do not. We do not even have universal health insurance, and if we did, that would be a very long way from universal health care. Of course more of use are dying sooner.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't Use The Phone

CBS News informed us last night that the government can listen in to and record your telephone calls without a warrant, provided that the phone tap is not targeting you, but is catching your conversation incidental to some other phone that it is targeting. I’m not sure that their interpretation of the spying law is correct, although the government may be making it correct on a de facto basis.

What CBS News is saying is that what the intelligence agencies were doing was spying on Russians, which they are legally entitled to do, so anyone talking to the Russians can also be recorded and their conversations used as evidence against them. It’s called “incidental collection,” we are told, and it “happens every day.” Sort of invokes the phrase “collateral damage,” and what it means is that intelligence agencies can record almost everything.

You may not have to worry about a tap on your own telephone, because the law says that you must be informed if your own phone is tapped. (Actually, it doesn’t, because the FISA law allows them to tap your phone without informing you.) You never know, however, when the person you are talking to may be being tapped, which would result in you being recorded and your words being used against you.

Best advice; never talk to anyone on the telephone about anything that you do not want the entire world to know. Someone is almost certainly listening.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What is Discrimination

Trump bans visas from seven nations which are mostly Muslim. Everyone screams discrimination, and several states sue to prevent the rule. Horror is expressed from all corners that this country would engage in such "profiling."

Headline reads, "Britain and U.S. ban most electronic devices in cabins on flights from several Muslim-majority countries." So far, not one voice has suggested that this amounts to discrimination.

Liberal Loss Redux

The last time Democrats lost the White House, to George W. Bush, we had Patrick Fitzgerald. Remember him? He was the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the “outing” of Valerie Plame, and the media went absolutely batshit for over a year “reporting” on the scandal.

Fitzgerald was going to put Dick Cheney in prison and throw away the key; he was going to put Karl Rove in Guantanamo; he was going to indict George W himself All he got was Scooter Libby for lying to the FBI, convicted in a trial that was a featured news item for six months, and Scooter got his sentence commuted.

Now we have Democrats losing the White House again, and does this picture look familiar? Russian collusion in rigging the election; tax evasion; business affairs in the White House James Comey is hot on the trail of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and there are calls for a special prosecutor.

Fitzgerald, by the way, was so frustrated that he went after, and got, the Democratic governor of Illinois. Democrats need to be careful when they select legal assassins. A hit man who draws his sword often feels the need to kill somebody with it before he puts it back in the scabbard.

I mangled a metaphor just a little bit, there, but I made my point.

This is what liberals do. This year they preceded it with massive marches in protest, carrying signs of “not my president,” which translates to “how dare you outvote me.” Then they revert to the more traditional, “We lost because they are criminals.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Stock Car Update

Something like 40% of the verbal diarrhea during television coverage of the NASCAR race yesterday was telling us how wonderful the new "stage racing" is and how much better the racing has become. Another 40% was telling us what a huge advantage it is to be in the lead and have "clean air" because you are a full tenth of an mph faster and no one can catch you, much less pass you, as was proven by Ryan Newman winning going away on old tires.

Those two things struck me as more than a bit inconsistent.

Fans don’t seem to be buying into the hype either. Phoenix Speedway removed all of the backstretch stands and still could only halfway fill the main grandstand yesterday, and the turn four hillside, which used to be a popular viewing spot and drew a big crowd, was completely empty. Yikes.

There was a nice piece in the San Bernadino paper, written by a healthcare writer rather than by a sports writer, about the California Speedway which hosts NASCAR next weekend. It goes on a great length about what a wonderful money maker it is for the region and shows a picture of full stands in 2014. Well, it shows the portion of the stands that was full in 2014. It doesn't show the larger portion of the stands in 2014 that was closed off.

To satisfy your craving for Danica news, she started 25th and finished 22nd. That progress was somewhat less than meets the eye, since six four cars that were running ahead of her crashed or had mechanical issues.

I watch this stuff so that you don’t have to.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Oh, Gack

As I was turning the television off just now I caught the beginning of a commercial that began with a guy proclaiming, "I've taken enough laxatives to cover the Eastern Seaboard." I didn't leave the set on long enough to find out what that was actually about, but it paints a picture that I don't even want to think about.

Chuck Berry

He taught everyone else how to do it, and sang the greatest rock and roll song ever sung. Rest in peace, old man, you done good.

Poster Children

Poster children may be on the poster, but they aren’t always children.

“Meals on Wheels” has received a boost in donations because Trump has severely cut their funding and the media has made them the poster child for the Trump administration’s cruelty. The problem with that picture is that “Meals on Wheels” is not a federally funded program and is therefor not having its funding slashed by Trump’s new budget.

The program is actually a whole lot of local programs which share a name and process, and are funded in many different ways and from many different sources. Some of the funding for some of the programs comes from federal “block grants” which the Trump budget does reduce, but even those block grants are not being eliminated, and the distribution of block grant funds is determined by local governments.

So, if funding to any “Meals on Wheels” program is cut due to the Trump budget the actual cut will be made by a state government, and in most cases the local programs will lose no funding at all.

A well informed voting public is essential to proper governance, and today’s media assures that we do not have that essential ingredient.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Actions Detrimental"

Sports writers who cover what passes for stock car racing these days, that is to say NASCAR, which calls itself stock car racing but is not racing and does not involve stock cars Well, I digressed a little far there. Let’s start over.

Certain sports writers have long been critical of NASCAR for its inconsistent enforcement of rules, given that it actually is rules which are being enforced since the rule book is secret and no one other than drivers, owners and NASCAR officials have ever claimed to have seen one. There is one school of thought that insists that there actually is no rule book and that NASCAR makes the rules up as they go along.

One of the most common rules broken, or at least cited in giving punishment, is “actions detrimental to the sport,” which in the past has included punching another driver in the face after a race. I’ve never figured out quite how this is detrimental to the sport, but NASCAR has issued large fines and put drivers on probation for doing it, and sports writers have pretty much universally applauded that action.

Then last week there was a collision between Joey Logano and Kyle Busch at the end of the race. After his car stopped, Busch got out, made a high speed walk to where Logano was and without exchanging a single word threw a haymaker which landed on Logano’s jaw. It was not his brightest move, because his crew was not around and Logano’s crew was, and Logano’s crew proceed to pounce on and beat the shit out of him while Logano stood back and egged them on.

The same sports writers I spoke of earlier are now saying that this fight is the best thing to happen to NASCAR in several years, in that it will help regain some of the popularity that NASCAR has been steadily losing, and they are applauding NASCAR for not issuing any penalties to either driver for the fight. Seems that inconsistency no longer bothers them, now that they are engaging in it along with NASCAR.

The new generation stock car racing fan comes to the speedway, it seems, to see crashes and fist fights, which explains why punching another driver in the face after a race is no longer deemed to be an “action detrimental to the sport” of stock car racing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I am not Irish

"Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day."

If I am not Irish 363 days of the year, then I am not Irish on one day just because a church of which I am not a member is celebrating the sainthood of someone I don't even care about. No, I am not wearing green today, and I am not drinking any green beer.

Well, I'm not drinking beer of any color, but...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Healthcare Reform" Again

I don't know enough about the Republican plan to actually comment on it, but when I read that the 24 million who will "lose health insurance" included 7 million who will simply choose not to buy it because the individual mandate is being cancelled, I realized we are undergoing more bullshit masquerading as "health care reform" again. Choosing not to buy something, because you are no longer being coerced into buying it, is not the same as "losing" it.

And, like the full year of horse manure than was shoveled at us in 2009, it was not about health care at all, it was about health insurance. When you cannot afford to spend $10,000 on the deductible to reach the point at which it kicks in, health insurance is not health care.

Just another issue on which the two parties differ only in the cosmetics.

Monday, March 13, 2017

United States of Panic

I am constantly astonished at the things this nation can find to consider as threats. I am, apparently, going to have either a stroke or a heart attack either today or tomorrow because we set our clocks forward one hour. The eastern half of the nation is in a state of self-paralysis because a storm is approaching that is predicted to drop a whole foot of snow. A university removed the scale from the school gym because it served as a "trigger" for people with weight problems. Apparently removing the scale was a better solution than providing a "safe space" in the gym.

Good God, we have become a nation of candy asses.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Blind to the Truth

The media and pundrity are still trumpeting outrage about Trump’s accusation “without any evidence” that the Obama administration eavesdropped on the Trump campaign. They are oblivious to their own willingness to disseminate a “dossier” produced by a discredited British former spy accusing Trump of sexual misconduct in Russia, for which they cheerfully admit there is no evidence of validity.

It never fails to astonish me the willingness of the media and punditry to step over a dollar to pick up a dime, in that the resignation of Michael Flynn was caused by an intelligence agency disclosing the content of a conversation that he had with Vladimir Putin that they knew because they had recorded it. These idiots were so excited about what Michael Flynn may or may not have said in that phone conversation that they completely ignored the glaring fact that an intelligence agency recorded it.

As if that were not sufficient evidence, all one had to do was read the New York Times on February 14th, in which they reported that, “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” The second paragraph begins, "American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications..."

How much evidence does one need? The Obama administration used intercepted phone calls to accuse Trump of wrongdoing, and then is outraged when Trump accuses them of intercepting his phone calls.

CBS News palmed that off as “routine monitoring of foreign nationals,” but that is wildly inaccurate. When one end of the conversation is an American citizen the eavesdropper needs a warrant. Period. If the eavesdropper is monitoring the call of a foreign national and discovers than an American is on the line it is required that monitoring cease immediately unless a warrant is in hand for that American.

So either the intelligence had a warrant for Trump campaign staffers, in which case Trump’s accusation is true, or they were intercepting calls illegally, in which case Trump’s accusation is true. The media and punditry, of course, are blind to any of this.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

A Low Bar for Accomplishment

Dean Baker has long been a promoter of Obamacare, and begins an article today (it’s a criticism of the GOP bill replacing Obamacare) with this summary of the program that he and the Democrats have lauded for years as, “The most significant legislation is several generations.”

“In the years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the uninsured population peaked at just over 50 million people. It fell sharply when the main provisions of the ACA took effect, falling to less than 28 million in recent quarters.”

I’m going to ignore his “just over” and “less than” modifiers because if the number of insured fell to, say, five million, I’m sure he would not refer to that as “less than 28 million.” In fact, I suspect if it fell to 27,995,584 he would not refer to it as “less than 28 million,” he would say “less than 27 million.”

So I’m just going to assume that Dean Baker knows that the number of uninsured went from 50 million to 28 million people and ask him a simple question about the “greatest piece of legislation in five decades.”

Why did it take a full year to pass a 2700 page bill that needed five years to deal with less than half of the problem?

Monday, March 06, 2017

California Awesomeness

In 2008 (yes, nine years ago) California passed an initiative, Proposition 1A, in the amount of $9.9 billion (yes, that’s “billion,” with a “b”) to build a high speed rail system which would transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in forty minutes. I beg your pardon, that should be two hours and forty minutes, which is almost as ridiculous.

The whole thing was pretty silly, in that even then the whole system was proposed to cost $43 billion (it is now up to $64 billion), and the initiative was dependent on the rail system being operated without any public subsidy, which no one ever claimed it could do. No public transportation system in California operates without public subsidy, and this system will be more expensive than any existing one by several orders of magnitude.

The initiative also specified that the $9.9 billion could not be spent unless sources for the rest of the funding were secured, which they have not been; that the average speed of the train be 200 mph which, since part of the currently planned route uses existing trackage, is plainly impossible; and that the time from LA to SF not exceed the two hours and forty minutes which, since the train will be sharing track with freight trains for part of its trip, is clearly not going to happen.

In short, none of the conditions spelled out in the initiative have been met, but the authority in charge of the “bullet train” has proceeded with a segment going 164 miles between Merced (pop. 81,743) and Bakersfield (pop. 363,630). Actual construction, however, consists of spending $2.9 billion for a 29 mile segment which will be completed in August of 2019.

Given that the segment, when it is completed almost three years from now, will cover only 17% of the distance between two cites with a combined population comprising 1.1% of California’s population, it’s difficult to see what spending 29% of the initiative’s funds will actually accomplish.

Not to mention that current spending does not include any actual trains, just 29 miles of track for $2.9 billion. Is that awesome, or what? Only California could do that.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Ideology Is All

Was in a discussion yesterday, which I should have known would be pointless, with a guy ranting that Trump will not close Guantanamo. He considered it utterly irrelelvant that Obama did not close it either and that, after eight years in office, he never really tried very hard to do so.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Dissonance, Revisited

No man is an island entire of itself; ... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne

"I am involved in mankind." That's what complicates "self interest," isn't it.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Adjust As Needed

Does anyone actually read the Census Bureau’s report on economic progress, I wonder? 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 2016.” If your head didn't explode, you might conclude that retail sales are increasing, but are they really?

I think they forgot to adjust for the phases of the moon, and perhaps the adiabatic effect of the solar wind, so we’ll just have to live with those inaccuracies, but let’s parse that statement for actual meaning.

First of all, what does “an increase of 1.5 percent (±0.9%)” mean? Well, it means the increase may have been as little as 0.6% or as much as 2.4%. How informative is that, really? They are giving us information which has a 60% margin of error. Your average sports betting bookie can do better than that; much better.

And, when comparing between February of 2016 and February of 2017, how much adjusting for “seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences” do we need to do? Between February of one year and February of the next year? Really?

Finally, what, precisely, are those “price changes” for which they are not adjusting? They are, simply enough, due to something called “inflation.”

Looking at retail sales increase of 1.5 percent which is “not adjusted for price increases,” and noting that inflation in the same period was 2.1%, one might actually draw the conclusion that people are buying less and paying more money for it, and few sane people would report that as “sales are increasing” as the Census Bureau does.

How often does the government report that the budget, or taxes, or some such thing “adjusted for inflation” is stable? But inflation is almost the very definition of instability, so they are saying that “the economy, adjusted for instability of the economy, is stable.”

I’m not trying to suggest that the Census Bureau has any sort of political axe to grind with their reporting, because I don’t think that they do. But government bureaucracies do have a sort of nonpolitical bias against reporting that creates discomfort, that makes things look bad, and so they tend to shape their reporting in a manner that makes the public comfortable.

It creates an uninformed public, actually a misinformed public, which is the opposite of the purpose of the report, but...