Sunday, December 30, 2007

History Book

Wide kittyYou know you are getting old when your military service is described in Chapter 8 of 22 chapters in a history book. Sigh.

My sister sent me this book for Christmas. My first reaction was, “Omigod, this is awesome.” Further investigation reveals it is beyond awesome. The story it tells is awesome, the way it tells it is truely remarkable. I've missed parts of several football games with this book in my lap, mentally breathing in the stench of diesel, chlorine and locker room and hearing the hammer of massive engines charging batteries.

My service in “the boats” was more than forty years ago and yet it is as much a part of who I am today as it was then. It branded me permanently in a manner which is by no means unique to submariners, but which is certainly common to us. What was it about? What was it that marked us so, that stamped those silver dolphins so indelibly on our souls?

Part of it was the service itself. We walked the decks in the footsteps of giants. The submarine service was only 3% of the U.S. Navy in World War Two, but those gallant ships sank more Japanese shipping than all other causes combined. No other service suffered losses nearly as high, but there was never a shortage of volunteers and submarines were always fully manned. Twenty years later we always felt the presence of Wahoo and Growler and all the other ships and men eternally on patrol.
USS Gato
A lot is made of patriotism today, and in the military “serving one’s country” but I don’t think that was really a big part of it. My dad was a career Air Force officer and an intense patriot but patriotism was always rather assumed, sort of a background to life. I always knew that I would serve in the military, but I don’t really recall having a real sense of any kind of noble purpose about it. I was just doing a job.

It wasn’t an adventure, I can tell you that. I never saw a foreign port. We left our home port, went to a part of the world where we were highly unwelcome, spied or performed other seriously hostile activities, and then returned to our home port. There was a war on; a cold one, but a war nonetheless and for the boats it was not all that cold. Submarines didn’t do the “showing the flag” thing. We trained against antisubmarine groups and we trespassed in enemy waters for nefarious purposes. It was mostly just long periods of boredom punctuated by brief periods of sheer terror. I guess it depends on how you define adventure.

I think mostly it was the satisfaction of taking on perhaps the toughest job known to man and doing it. Overcoming fear. Doing something that most men simply cannot do. Not only going down to the sea in ships, but going under the sea, and in really old ships; living in an environment which is entirely hostile to man’s presence.

I’m still not sure what it’s all about, but I know that forty years later the pictures in this book can bring tears to my eyes. This book is a treasure.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Food Blogging Friday

Okay, I’ll take a quick break and share one of my favorite “skillet meals,” which I can post pretty quickly. This one is actually pretty healthy if you use salt-free tomatoes and tomato sauce. You’ll need a fairly large and deep skillet. Mine is, of course, cast iron. Enjoy.

Bill’s Spicy Chicken

1# skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 lg onion (for about 1 cup chopped)
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
pinch of ground cloves (or a bit more)
1 lg Bell pepper (red or green), cut to 1” chunks
1-1/2 tsp (or more) fresh ginger, minced fine
1 tsp garlic, crushed or minced fine
1 can diced tomatoes (15.5oz )
1 can tomato sauce ( 8 oz )
1 tbsp brown sugar (or a bit more, see below)

Cut the the chicken into bite-sized pieces and saute it with the onion, stirring frequently, until the opion is just transparent and the chicken is no longer pink.

Add the bell pepper just before chicken is cooked through, along with the cumin, paprika, cloves, ginger and garlic. Stir fairly often, but you don’t need to stir constantly.

When chicken is cooked through add tomatoes with all the juice, tomato sauce and brown sugar. Stir well, bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer for a few minutes. Serve over rice or, preferably, pasta.

The amount of ground cloves is tricky. Cloves is what makes it really yummy, and I use a bit more than a pinch – something close to ½ a teaspoon. But too much really overwhelms – yikes.

I use quite a bit of ginger, probably 1 tbsp or so, and I go heavier on the brown sugar, more like 2-3 tbsp. Be guided by your own taste.

Posting Lull

Posting will be light for a week, or a bit more. I have a client who is doing yeoman service as a slave driver. I know that all three of you who regularly read my work will miss me, but I'll be back as soon as I either satisfy or kill my client.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Wish

Jill, at Brilliant at Breakfast says it far more beautifully than I could:

And if I stand very still and listen to the quiet, I can visualize a young couple in a makeshift shelter, surrounded by well wishers from afar, with a newborn whose arrival they don't quite understand but that they know promises great things for mankind. They're a little bit frightened, but also awed at the huge responsibility they face in caring for this tiny child and nurturing him into the man whom some will believe is a god. As this couple looks up at the same sky I do, they also feel insignificant, and inadequate to the task they face -- not much different from what all new parents must feel. Tonight, millions of people think about this tableau that even I can see. And for a brief time, it reminds them of what they've often forgotten during the shopping frenzy of the last four weeks; of what they celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

For those who believe, I wish you all a joyous Christmas filled with love and wonder.

Thank you, Jill.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

After weeks of speculation, it’s finally official: Karl Rove’s memoirs will be published by Threshold Editions, the conservative-minded imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books overseen by GOP strategist Mary Matalin.

Rove got a $1 Million advance, reportedly, for his book after shopping it to publishers for months and hoping for tens of millions.

Ted Kennedy got $8 million for a book about Chappaquiddick last month…

So Ted Kennedy gets eight times the advance for his book about drowning a hooker while driving drunk, than Rove got for his book about the total destruction of an entire political party (and a couple of countries and a million people or so).

Merry Christmas, Karl.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Healthcare Reform

I wish that people who talk about healthcare reform would quit equating "universal health insurance" with "universal healthcare." They are not the same thing at all.

Did you know that of all the people who went bankrupt due to medical expenses last year, one-third had health insurance?

Does the term “reasonable and usual” mean anything to you? Or “preapproval req'd” (but not obtained), or “pre-existing condition”? These are terms that insurance companies use to avoid paying for medical treatment. Having insurance does not mean having full access to healthcare.

Three years ago I underwent some severe health problems and, even with an excellent and very costly health insurance policy provided by my wife’s employer and deducted in part from her pay, the cost out of pocket for the year was more than $10,000 for medical expenses not paid by insurance.

And what are all of the Democratic presidential candidates offering as healthcare reform? Universal health insurance. While each plan has ways to help people pay for the insurance, not one of those plans will prevent those health insurance corporations from finding ways to deny payment for medical treatment needed by the insured.

These reforms do not assure universal healthcare. What they do assure is increased profits for the corporations who are a major part of the problem in our healthcare system today, increased profits for the corporations who are major financial contributors to the Democratic presidential candidates.

Business as usual in Washington, DC.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Minor Observation

Birds on the chimney cap will drive a calico cat pretty much bonkers.

Media Hostility...

Glenn Greenwald is at it again. If you care about the political and constitutional status of this nation and do not have his commentary site bookmarked, you should do so now. I know of no one who writes more powerfully about the status of our country than he does. His commentary can be found at (a site which I also recommend).

Yesterday his post was a critique both of our media and of the way our country is governed, titled Media hostility toward anti-establishment candidates. Read the whole thing, but he says in part (emphasis mine),

Edwards, Paul and Huckabee are obviously disparate in significant ways -- ideologically, temperamentally, and otherwise. But there is a vital attribute common to those three campaigns that explains the media's scorn: they are all, in their own ways, anti-establishment candidates, meaning they are outside and critical of the system of which national journalists are a critical part, the system which employs and rewards our journalists and forms the base of their identity and outlook. Any candidate who criticizes and opposes that system -- not in piecemeal ways but fundamentally -- will be, first, ignored and, then, treated as losers by the press.

It is very striking how little Edwards' substantive critique of our political system has penetrated into the national discourse. That's because the centerpiece of his campaign is a critique that is a full frontal assault on our political establishment. His argument is not merely that the political system needs reform, but that it is corrupt at its core -- "rigged" in favor of large corporate interests and their lobbyists, who literally write our laws and control the Congress. Anyone paying even casual attention to the extraordinary bipartisan effort on behalf of telecom immunity, and so many other issues driven almost exclusively by lobbyists, cannot reasonably dispute this critique.

Yet because that argument indicts the same Beltway culture of which our political journalists are an integral part, and further attacks the system's power brokers who are the friends, sources, and peers of those journalists, they instinctively react with confusion, scorn and hostility towards Edwards' campaign. They condescendingly dismiss it as manipulative populist swill, or cynically assume that it's just a ploy to distinguish himself by "moving left." In the eyes of our Beltway press, the idea that our political system is "rigged" or corrupt must be anything other than true or sincerely held.

I still have hope for Edwards. If he gets elected it will be despite the media’s best efforts to defeat him, but I think he presents the best hope for real change, for a return of government for the people of this country. We have been without it for too long.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cool Critters

Wide kittyShe is a classy enough critter, but she’s just a bit of a wide load. The vet said that anything over 7 lbs could be considered overweight and she weighs in at 8 lbs 12 oz now.

That would be the equivalent of me hitting the scale at about 290 or so. My doctor would frown on that; he's somewhat less than ecstatic about my present 235.

Im ignoring you
“You have not been truly ignored until you have been ignored by a cat.”

I don’t know what we did to offend her when this was taken, and I’m not sure we knew at the time, but Molly has mastered the art of ignoring her people. Notice the ears.

Wide kitty

This is not a critter, but it is very cool. It was given to me by my “North Carolina Family” and is hand made by a craftsman in Asheville. In addition to looking really neat, it grinds pepper better than anything I’ve ever had.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Exhibiting Leadership

In the movie “Glory” the penultimate scene is of the African-American Battalion advancing on the Confederate fortress that was their downfall, marching along a beach into the teeth of a relentless gunfire of artillery and rifles, steadfast in the face of almost certain death. Their colonel marches
at the front of his troops, saber in hand, leading his men into battle.

Leadership, in those days, was a risky business; but one taken seriously.

Not so much any more. It seems leadership means asking people to give you lots of money so that you can give lots of speeches and make lots of promises that you won’t keep after you are elected. Most of the promises are for things that are beyond the scope of the office you are campaigning for, but today’s leadership says that you promise them anyway.

Leadership means promising what you will do if elected to a higher office while you are failing to fulfill the responsibilities of the office you currently hold; the office to which you already have been elected.

Chris Dodd is in Washington today, campaign put aside while he fights for the rights of the American people as he promised to do when elected to the Senate; fights to preserve the constitution.

Chris Dodd is in Washington today being a leader.

Other presidential candidates are saying they support his effort, but they are not actually supporting it. They are campaigning for their own ends, more interested in their own personal pursuit of power than in the preservation of the constitution of this great country that they want to lead. They have shown that they are full of high-sounding talk about supporting the people of this nation, but when it comes to crunch time they will place their own interests first. They are more concerned with gaining power than with exercising responsibility and serving constituents.

They are as sounding brass; filled with noise and fury, signifying nothing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Predatory Lending 2

A few days ago I commented that the government’s bailout of people who bought homes they could not afford by taking out mortgages on which they would not be able to make the payments was a bad idea. I said that I did not favor the government rewarding bad judgement and financial irresponsibility.

The response has been comments saying that Loan Company A was publishing memos to it’s salesmen saying that they should promote the high rate loans, and that Loan Company B is settling a lawsuit and making refunds because they illegally concealed in the documents that the payments would increase. The implication is that the bad loans are all the fault of these heinous companies that were out in the market place ripping off poor innocent victims.

To defend the government’s program with these arguments is like saying that there are some innocent people in jails in this country. That is a bad thing and the juries that wrongly convicted those people were, I don’t know, corrupt or maybe racist or something. Therefor we should open the doors of the prisons and let everybody go free. Everybody, innocent or not.

I did not suggest in my post that loan companies which violated the law should not be punished and their victims be made whole. What portion of the mortgage crisis does that constitute? I do not have the answer to that question, but I know for sure that it is not the entirety of it. I am reasonably sure that it is actually a fairly small portion.

As to the loan company advising its agents to “push” the high-interest loans, of course they do that. Just because someone is suggesting that I buy something does not mean that I have to do so. Before I commit myself to the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars, fiscal responsibility demands that I do my own due diligence rather than simply signing whatever has been placed in front of me.

How many buyers were sitting at that loan officer’s desk, looking at the “non-conventional” loan because they had already been turned down by a conventional lender? This is another question to which I don’t have the answer, but reading news articles suggests to me that the portion is not exactly miniscule.

Who is the victim when one who cannot qualify for a legitimate loan turns to a “loan shark” instead? Certainly that does not legitimize the loan shark, but does it justify rescuing the borrower? Maybe if the loan was required to save a life, but…

How many borrowers knew full well that a safer loan was available to them but accepted the risky loan because it would “enhance their lifestyle” and thought they could refinance out of it before the risk caught up with them? Right, I don’t know the answer to that one either, but I know full well that it is a significant portion of this crisis. And the government’s plan rescues these borrowers in greater numbers than it does those who actually are victims.

Proponents of the government rescue plan point out that without it the flood of foreclosure will cause home values to fall and that will damage those who own homes. I own a home in Southern California, bought before the home values skyrocketed, and I cannot say that I really want to see it be devalued. Still, perhaps I am not as important as the well-being of the society in which I live. Perhaps the greater good of the greater number should prevail.

Do I really want to live in a society where only the very wealthy can own a home, even if I’m one of those who does?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tortured Confession 2

Keith Olbermann again referred to the Kiriakou “confession” in not one but two of his segments on Countdown last night. In so doing he rather decided to have his cake and eat it too, as in one segment he quoted Kiriakou in evidence that the White House was aware of the torturing, and in the other he exposed the assertion that Kiriakou made as to the effectiveness of that torture as being unlikely in the extreme (as did my post yesterday).

Olbermann is guilty of some rather bad journalism, here; using a source to prove a point in one story and then totally discrediting that same source in another story. Wtf?

Watching Kiriakou on the various shows on which he has appeared, the man comes across as not only a liar, but not even a particularly skillful liar. I see no reason to believe one single word that this man says.

He admits he was not present at the torture session and then goes on to describe it in loving and meticulous detail. His descriptions of the permission needed for each step of the process and how that permission was obtained is damning indeed, but it is also utterly ridiculous.

“You may slap him one time in the face with an open hand and then call me back and I'll tell you what you may do next.” Yeah, right.

The White House may have been involved in the decision to commit these atrocities, and probably was. But the statements of a blatant, obviously lying non-witness to events is not the way to prove it.

Other sources contradict Kiriakou’s claim that the subject he is talking about provided valuable information that deterred “dozens of attacks.” Those sources, who did participate in the interrogation admit that the subject was insane and provided nonsense for the purpose of making the pain stop. Which we know to be the usual result of torture.

Yesterday I seemed to be alone in suspecting this guy’s story was phony. Today I have quite a lot of company.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tortured Confession

The confession of John Kiriakou regarding the CIA use of torture, aired yesterday by ABC news, has the media and blogosphere all atwitter about what a black eye the revelation is to the Bush Administration. Even Keith Olbermann was breathlessly reporting about it on Countdown last night. Me, I’m not sure that this guy is all that real, as a few things he’s saying strike me as a bit “off.”

First, he says that the torture he witnessed was 35 seconds of waterboarding and that as a result the subject not only gave in, but he did so permanently. According to his description the subject actually became an ally and freely gave information without a trace of coercion from then on. After 35 seconds of mistreatment.

Now, I am certainly no expert, and maybe I would cave after 5 seconds. But I have seen films of our soldiers who have been tortured for months and years and some of them did sign documents and make statements, but they certainly did not become allies of their torturers. Is our present enemy one of so little character that a small dose of torture is enough to make them spill their guts for the rest of time? If so, why are we so afraid of them? It’s a minor point, but his description sounds like something out of a dime novel.

Kiriakou is quoted in the news report as saying that the torture he witnessed “prevented dozens of attacks.” Does nobody other than me hear an echo of Bush Administration propaganda in that statement? Why do I have the feeling that this guy is more interested in convincing us that torture is effective, which almost no one believes, than in revealing that our government has been doing it, which everybody knew anyway?

This is a key suspicion for me. He repeats over and over in his dissertation that it was necessary at the time and that it was effective, that it “saved lives.” It seemed to me that this, in fact, was the real gist of what he wanted to convey.

When Gibson asked Brain Ross why Kiriakou was coming out with the story now, Ross’ answer made no sense to me at all. Ross reported that Kiriakou was angry that the torture sessions had been taped and even more furious that the tapes had been destroyed. According to Ross, Kiriakou thought the tapes should have been preserved as a “historical record.”

What? He’s angry that the tapes were made, but since they were made they should have been kept? In what world is that logical?

When a storyteller provides illogical reasons for telling the story, I have to seriously doubt not only the reason for telling it but the facts as well.

I do not really doubt that the CIA has been fouling this country’s honor by torturing, but I do seriously doubt the effectiveness of that practice as reported by one John Kiriakou.

And the effectiveness or otherwise begs the point. The practice is wrong regardless of its outcome. It is a disgrace to this country and dishonors those who have fought and died to secure its freedom. Kiriakou and others may try, but torture cannot ever be justified.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Predatory Lending"

An editorial in today’s New York Times by Paul Krugman today listed three concerns about the current mortgage crisis. The third one was this,

Finally, there’s injustice: the subprime boom involved predatory lending — high-interest loans foisted on borrowers who qualified for lower rates — on an epic scale. The Wall Street Journal found that more than 55 percent of subprime loans made at the height of the housing bubble “went to people with credit scores high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.”

He calls it “predatory lending” but I submit that, in most cases, that term is far from accurate. It would be more accurately called, “serving the borrower’s greed.”

Why did those borrowers not take out the “conventional loans with far better terms?” Clue number one is that many of them replaced just such loans with the subprime ones. Doing so gave them a lower house payment for a year, or a few years, and allowed them to live a more affluent lifestyle. Their assumption was that before the reset occurred “something would happen” to prevent it. They took a gamble for the sake of immediate gratification and, inevitably, many of them lost.

Paul Krugman regards that as injustice and thinks we should bail them out.

My nephew bought a house for his young family in the San Diego area some time ago and last year I rather casually asked him what kind of mortgage he had on it. He looked at me like I had lost my mind and said that “of course” he had a thirty-year-fixed, and added some remarks about not being stupid enough to go for any of those “crazy loans.”

He is a young man, very much enthusiastic about life and adventure, full of plans and upwardly mobile. And he lives within his means. He doesn’t have to have what he cannot afford. How strange. Downright un-American. How dare he display the flag?

I do agree with Krugman that the Bush/Paulson plan is a bad one, but not for the same reason. He thinks it doesn’t rescue enough borrowers. I think it rescues too many.

The victims of this crisis are portrayed as the people who are losing their homes, but they are preponderantly victims not of predatory lenders but of their own greed and/or financial mismanagement. The main victims of the lack of regulation are the investors who purchased those “innovative instruments” which were preordained to become worthless.

Unregulated capitalism becomes predatory.

You either believe in the “free market” system or you do not. (I do not.)
This bunch, including Krugman, wants to have it both ways. They'd like the market to be free to create the kind of “innovate market instruments” that created the mortgage crisis, but when that inevitably turns to destructive chaos they want to be able to step in and make whole those who were burned in the flames.

And, of course, they want to do that without taking away the riches from those who profited in the process of creating the destruction.

No one in the government or business communities is even talking about any plans for making whole the people and institutions who bought the instruments that have turned to junk. And probably no one should be. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. These investors failed to look past the lipstick and bought the pig.

Caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Football

Chargers are favored at Tennessee by a half point this morning. Seems a bit odd, since the latter are a bit better statistically and are the home team. I've been flipping a coin all morning and it has come up heads half the time and tails the other half. Drove the cat crazy.

For the second game we here in sunny (well, cloudy at the moment) San Diego get to watch a titanic battle between two teams with losing records. Our local CBS affiliate has decided that a far more exciting game between the Patriots and Steelers is not in our best interest because the KC/Denver game is in our division and if KC wins that game the Chargers will clinch our division. The Chargers are going to win the division simply by being the least crappy team: I'd rather watch a game with some excitement in it and where it mattered who won.

An interesting weather tidbit: the jet stream is actually dipping to the south of us today. (That's the northern jet stream. There's also a southern one that is almost always south of us.) That's not freakishly unusual, but it is uncommon and the forecast is that it will dip even farther down the Baja Penninsula tomorrow. In addition to being interesting to weather freaks such as myself, it also means that we have to get our snuggies out of storage.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Words to Congress

No doubt the latest scandal, having to do this time with destroyed tapes, will result in our members in Congress fulminating at great length and investigating endlessly one more time about who knew what and just exactly when they knew it. The real scandal is, of course, that the CIA used tapes, for God’s sake, instead of DVD’s but…

May I suggest, ladies and gentlemen of the legislative branch, that you just spare us all the bull feathers? Unless you are actually going to do something about this administration, unless you are actually going to bring someone to justice, just shut the hell up. You are making yourselves sound like morons.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Religious Testing

I used to have a fairly neutral view of Mormons, since I knew very little about them. After listening to Mitt Romney's speech, and assuming the he is representative of the religion, I now have an extreme and highly negative view of them. They should all be confined to an encampment and a chain link, razor wire fence built around it to confine them.

Our constitution says that no religious test shall be applied for any office. Romney says that not only must you be religious to hold office, you must be religious to be a free member of this society. Smug bigotous bastard.

Is The System Working?

Andrew Sullivan had a piece at his blog The Daily Dish the other day titled The System is Working. I would love to be able to say that I agree with his piece in it’s entirety, and I can say that I don’t entirely disagree with it. But I don’t think that the final chapter in this saga has been written yet.

The Democrats may not have stopped the war, but they helped shift its course. That, in turn, saved the war in Iraq from becoming a complete disaster. Now it's merely a rescuable disaster.

I’m not sure in what way the Democrats helped shift the course of the war and to say at this point that it is rescuable is certainly hopeful but is, I think, far from certain at this point. We may safely say that it may be rescuable and that absolutely is a turn for the better, but Sullivan doesn’t say precisely how the Democrats helped get us to that point and he has very little company in his certainty on the rescuability issue. As much as I would like to be, I am not in that company.

But my roster of those who helped get us back toward a rational war-policy would put Bob Gates and David Petraeus at the top of the list.

Bob Gates certainly. David Petraeus has always been a Bush mouthpiece and it is far too early to tell whether his current strategies, such as enlisting and arming former enemies, will prove successful in the long run. Certainly his first two assignments in Iraq were short term successes and long term disasters, and we can only hope at this point that his third one will turn out any better than the first two did.

Mukasey has a chance to do the same kind of thing at Justice.

But will he? The fact that he has a chance to do so is not evidence, to me, that the system is working. In fact, he went to very nearly the same lengths to cover Bush’s backside in his confirmation hearings that Gonzales did in his hearings, so I’m somewhat less than sanguine.

The system that looked rather fragile for a couple of years has begun to assert itself again. It works.

Congressional oversight is, so far, little more than a farce. I take that back: it is nothing more than a farce. Hearing after hearing with not one person held to account, removed from office or convicted of wrongdoing. Just enough to serve the political purposes of the party in power without triggering revenge from the party which is currently in the minority.

The Democratic Congress has made no attempt to restore any of the civil liberties abrogated by this administration, or to restore any of its own power usurped by this president.

And if the president is wise, he'll allow all this to shift, and take some of the credit.

You just have to laugh at that pipe dream. The one thing this president has never been accused of is wisdom. He has always been and will always be an ideologue and will pursue his personal goals monomaniacally.

And if the country is wise, they'll pick a successor who can unite the country around a prudent path forward.

Has Sullivan read or listened to any part of the presidential primaries? Uniting the country is the very last thing on the mind of any of the major candidates, and prudent paths forward have not been proposed by any one of them. They are without exception fearmongering in the mold of the current president and preaching about leaving “no options off the table” in the name of keeping us safe from something that has not harmed us in the last six years.

Statements beginning "if the president is wise","if the country is wise" and "Mukasey has a chance" are not probative of one's cause in writing an article titled The System is Working. They are nothing more or less than wishful thinking.

The system may yet work and, yes, there are a few signs that it is beginning to stir into life. I want it to do so, and I certainly have hope that it will. But this administration still has a full year left in office, and this Congress is still behaving in a manner more self serving than constructive.

The lawyers have finished, and the jury is still out.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Profoundly Stupid

There's beginning to be some thinking that she might not be our next president, but this kind of pronouncement tends to make me think that Hillary Clinton is a fitting successor to the current one.

Defending her vote on the Kyl-Liebermann amendment, she claimed that declaring the Iranian Republican Guard as a terrorist group has already changed their behavior by causing them to quit attacking American troops and sending weapons to Iraq.

1. The amendment did not declare them a terrorist group, it merely suggested that the president do so. Which he did not.

2. There is no actual evidence that they have been attacking American troops and arming Iraq, other than the unsupported word of, um, George Bush, whom even she claims is a serial liar.

3. What evidence can she provide that it was that vote of the Senate that led to the Republican Guard ceasing to do that of which there was no proof that they were doing to begin with?

Okay, I will admit that #3 was not very clearly worded, but neither was Senator Clinton's position.

Update: as it occurs to me

With respect to #1: you think the preznit is ever going to do anything that the Senate "suggests" to him? Get real.

Decision Making for Dummies

Here’s a part of the latest NIE that stands out to me:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.

I wonder if a similar section of another government’s NIE regarding the U.S might read something like:

Our assessment that the U.S. instigated its war in Iraq regardless of international pressure and has been similarly pressing for war in Iran under equally false pretenses indicates Washington’s decisions are not guided by a cost-benefit approach but rather consist of a rush to war irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.

The latest NIE does not surprise me in the least, but its publication and the reaction to it by all and sundry, particularly by George Bush, saddens me to the core. To have our highest elected official not only revealed as a gross and serial liar, but as a completely unabashed and smugly unrepentant one, is a serious blow to a once proud nation.

And there is still a full year to go. God help us all.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Football Observations

Updated below

An observation about Chicago Bears fans. In most stadiums (stadia?), when the home team is down by 17 points with 8 minutes left in the game the stands will begin emptying in droves. That would be especially true if the home team offense had been playing flat for the entire second half. It looked to me like not one single fan had left the house when the Bears tied the game, and then won in overtime. Those are some kind of loyal fans.

Again, the local writers are losing sight of just who the Chargers beat last week, and are suggesting we will win in a walk today against a team that held the Colts to 13 points two weeks ago. I no longer make predictions on the Chargers, but I’m not quite as sanguine as our local pundits. Depends on which team got on the plane.

I am so sick of the grandstanding of one Shawne Merriman, who treats us to his “Lights Out” sack dance and literally pounds himself on the chest after making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. “Um, Merriman, no one even attempted to block you on that play. Pretty much anyone in the NFL can tackle someone who is standing still when no one tries to prevent them from doing so.” There are many in the NFL who are as good or better at playing football as this egotistic jerk, and there are hundreds who are far better men.

I am a big fan of Philip Rivers, have been since he was drafted, but someone needs to take him in hand. Even in a winning cause last week he was unimpressive. Nick Canepa asked “…would you rather have an excitable quarterback, or one who comes off the field hanging his head?” Well, Nick, those are not the only two choices. I’d actually rather have a professional.

If you watch Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, every single pass is precisely on target. Quarterbacks like these either throw the ball away or they hit their receiver precisely where they mean to do so. Rivers hits the receiver in full stride part of the time, but too many of his completions are made because the receiver made an athletic grab of a pass that was just a bit off-target. You cannot throw with deadly accuracy when you are excited; that kind of throwing comes from being professionally calm and in control. Rivers doesn’t seem to be growing in that direction.

Chargers are playing at Arrowhead Stadium today. Buckle up.

Update: Tuesday 9PM

Finally, a deserved win. Still some problems with the aerial part of the offense, but look what happens when you (a) keep attacking them with the best running back in The League and (b) turn the dogs loose on defense. Rivers needs to graduate from grade school, though.

Tomorrow I will comment on the total lack of sanity in Washington.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No bad deed...

The administration is now finalizing a plan to rescue people who are in danger of losing their homes due to the resetting of interest rates on loans that were taken out with low initial, “teaser” interest rates. The plan is that the loans will be frozen at the lower rate for several years.

I’m no economist, so I don’t know what effect this plan will have on the economy of the country, nor do I know what the effect would be of letting those loans be foreclosed. What I do know is this.

For years I have been receiving advertising importuning me to refinance my home and take out money to finance a “better lifestyle,” telling me how much money I could save with lower payments. Knowing that there is no such thing as a free lunch, I ignored those ads and stayed with my 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. I felt that doing otherwise was financially reckless.

If nothing else, people who took out loans they could not afford were guilty of bad judgement in that they accepted advice on a major financial decision from someone who was a total stranger to them.

My reward is that people who took out those bad loans, either through greed or ignorance, are now paying a lower interest rate than I am, thanks to a government that rewards greed and punishes thrift and financial conservatism.

So this plan not only rewards bad behavior, it punishes those who decided not to engage in that bad behavior. Which brings me to the title of this piece, the credo of our present government:

No bad deed goes unrewarded.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Rains Have Come

The NOAA weather service has been unusually confused recently.

For several days they have been forecasting “rain showers” followed by a “red flag” warning. The latter is severe fire danger due to extremely low humidity and Santa Ana winds and the oddity is not that those conditions would follow rain showers, but that severe fire danger would do so. Following a very light rain things would dry out in a matter of hours, granted, but what they have been forecasting has been a system with a really good connection to tropical moisture.

They were saying that most of it would bypass us and go into Arizona, but that we would get showers and some steady rain for 24-36 hours. Amounts, they said, would only be about a tenth of an inch in San Diego, although they admitted that there was uncertainty in the forecast.

Well, the “showers” that were supposed to be arriving later this evening have been pounding on my roof since about 4AM, pretty much without a break. I don’t have a rain gauge any more, but I’d estimate we’ve had at least an inch so far.

The problem lies in forecasting the activity of a "cut off low," a low pressure system over the Pacific that is not connected to the jet stream. These things can sit motionless for days, and when they do move their direction and speed are pretty much random since there is no "steering current" of air to direct them.

What’s interesting is that the “Current conditions” on the NOAA site say that showers are moving through the area now and that the best chance for significant rain is late this afternoon and tonight. So, what is this that we are getting now? Well, according to them, “showers.” All I can tell you is that at times I’m finding it difficult to hear the radio because the “showers” are making so much noise on my roof. We may need an ark when the heavy rain gets here.

This may go from being one of the driest Novembers on record to one of the wettest, in the space of one day. If it keeps up it could become one of the wettest Decembers as well.

All kidding aside, this is much needed stuff; more than welcome. The only problem is that it is coming down hard enough that it may very well cause serious flooding problems in the recently burned areas of the county. Some prevention work has been done, but not anywhere near enough and some of this rain is quite heavy. The people who suffered through the fires do not really need to have more problems added on.

Keep them in your prayers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Arming the Sunni

Sometimes I just don’t get it. Either I’m an idiot or…

I’ve been reading about the U.S. arming Sunnis for quite a while now, and I’ve remained on the sidelines because I just don’t have enough facts to form an opinion. I’ve leaned toward thinking that it was probably not a good idea, but the people doing it are a lot better educated in these matters than I, and they are in the thick of it while I’m sitting safely here at my keyboard in calm and sunny San Diego.

Then there’s this article in McClatchy News today. In part,

“More than 60,000 have had fingerprints and DNA taken and had retinal scans, American officials said, steps that will allow them to be identified later, should they turn against the government.”

Now I’m getting into the “what are they thinking?” territory.

If someone is blasting away at me with an AK-47 how, exactly, is me having his fingerprints, DNA and retinal scan going to help my cause in any way, shape or form? What, I’m going to hold his DNA up in front of myself and he’s going to hold fire because he’s unwilling to shoot himself?

“Hey, guy, this is you. Hold your fire. You’re shooting yourself in the spit.”

He might not want to shoot his fingerprints either. Hold those up too. Somehow I think diving into a foxhole or shooting back at him might be just a bit more effective.

Or maybe not arming the guy in the first place.

But we’re cool because they’re going to stop handing out weapons and uniforms when they have armed a mere 100,000 Sunni. And we are leaving, what, about 30,000 to 50,000 troops there. Oh good, we’re only outnumbering ourselves by 3:1 or maybe only 2:1. I’m so relieved.

The Iraqis claim that some of the “security forces” we’ve armed are already engaged in the final mopping up of ethnic cleansing, but our military denies that. Well, duh. Of course our military denies that. Hell, under those circumstances I would deny that, and I usually tell the truth. Our military obfuscates based on wishful thinking, so of course it denies that it gave weapons to people who then used them to intimidate and even kill innocents. The military doesn’t even need to know that facts of the issue, it can merely deny that it happened. Business as usual, case closed.

There is a saying, I believe it’s an Arab one, to the effect that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

We complicate that a little. (Well, we complicate everything, usually more than a little.) In our case, if you fight us we will either kill you or we will throw you in a prison and leave you there forever. Unless you come up to us and say that you want to fight our enemy. (Please note that this is not the same as surrendering. If you surrender we will throw you in a prison and leave you there forever.)

If you walk up to us and say that you want to fight the same guys that we are fighting we will take your fingerprints and DNA, scan your retinas (“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes, men.”) and will hand you some weapons and a uniform, pat you on the head and give you some kind of blessing.

And then we will, if we have any sense, run like hell. Or not.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Purpose of Regulation

Quite a few years ago government regulators sued at great length and expense to break up AT&T into smaller companies. Part of the deal was that consumers no longer were forced to rent equipment from the phone company, paying many times its value, but could buy whatever equipment they wanted and be able to use it with the phone company's service. That was when regulation was being managed for the benefit of the consumer.

Not so much any more. When you buy a cell phone it can only be used with the carrier that you bought it from. If you want to switch providers you must buy a whole new phone. We also have broadband internet service that is controlled by two massive corporations. Regulation is being managed for the benefit of corporations rather than for consumers.

A few years back European regulators forced Microsoft to unbundle its operating system and now they are taking on Apple. They don't like its policy of selling the iPhone and requiring the buyer to use the service provider of Apple's choice. U.S. regulators had no problem with that policy.

Similar regulatory policies mean that most of Europe has much faster and cheaper broadband internet access than we do here in what used to be the most technology-advanced country in the world.

So let's think about what "democracy" means. As a form of government, it means more than merely allowing people to vote. It means governing for the benefit of the people. Seems like Europe is better at bringing that off than is the United States, which governs for the benefit of corporations.

Monday, November 19, 2007

True Grits

When Jimmy Carter was elected president the entire country started serving grits, but the pap served in most of the country is a pale imitation of grits and I never, ever order them at a restaurant on the left coast. We are in North Carolina and had breakfast at the Waffle House this morning. Grits. Real grits. Good stuff.

After breakfast we drove from Raleigh to Asheville. The color of the trees was beyond description. It was almost like what I imagine an LSD trip might be like. Wow.

My wife kept harassing me about the signs for NASCAR goodies and asking if I wanted to stop and shop. No.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dollar Dip

I have been using a Canadian company for web hosting for years, hosting sites for clients and a couple of sites I do volunteer work for. Their rates have been steady at $6.95/month Canadian, $4.95 American.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

I haven't started a new site in quite a while, and yesterday I had cause to do so. I selected my plan and was quite suprised to see that it was priced at $6.95/month Canadian, $6.95 American. I scratched my head a moment as I thought, "Wow, their price went up."    Oh, duh.

The Bleak Landscape

I’m beginning to come around to the point of view of people who just ignore the political landscape in this country. It’s an increasingly large number of people and I am increasingly sympathetic with their view. The political landscape is bleak and disheartening, and becoming more so.

For a while I had some enthusiasm for Obama, and perhaps an even slightly higher degree of enthusiasm for Edwards, but now I just want all of them to go the hell away. I don’t want any of them in the oval office.

After endless “debates” I just don’t believe a word that any of them say, and I don’t think for one minute that any of them believe anything that they say either. They are just “playing tapes” in response to questions.

Often it seems that they don’t even listen to the actual question. They just pick a tape to play back in response to certain key words that they picked out of what the questioner said.

And the media gives points to whoever has better tapes, not noticing when the politician fails to actually answer a question but swooning over how “tough” or “polished” the politician sounded.

When Edwards charged Clinton with being unresponsive to questions, for instance, she validated the charge by coming back with the non-response that her healthcare plan was better than his. The media loved it; reported than she really floored him with her “response.” They failed to note, of course, that she didn’t answer his charge.

What they also didn’t note is why her health plan “includes everybody” while Edwards’ plan does not. Clinton’s plan requires, requires that those not covered by employer coverage purchase private insurance. From whom must they purchase that insurance? From the companies that have donated millions to her election campaign. She has a plan to help people do that, but she’s not going to reveal that until later. Presumably after she’s elected.

(I’m not sure why she doesn’t just require everyone to be healthy, but…)

Obama is no less a triangulator than Clinton, aggressive in one appearance and meek in the next. He adopts whatever appearance he thinks the audience of the moment wants to see, or whatever attitude the media he’s facing will appreciate and applaud. His campaign is the antithesis of the audacity he advocated in his book.

I still have some appreciation of Edwards, but the media is so devoted to kicking him off of the bus that as part of the political landscape he is all but meaningless. I don’t think his ideas and intentions are hopeless, but I think the media has made his campaign pretty much dead in the water.

We don't even need to go into my thoughts on the Republicans.

This will all eventually pass and we will have another president. Almost certainly not one that will serve this country well, based on the campaign to date, but only a very few presidents have served this country well and we have survived. This country is bigger than one person, however misguided or well-intentioned that person may be.

Old Glory’s survival is more precarious now, but it will endure.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I watch videos

Because the the damn fool political debates contain questions like this:

Do you believe there are any times when abortion is killing a baby? Yes or No?

If a million people die in the next 9/11, would you be willing to chill out about torture? Yes or no?

If you asked me either one of those questions and seriously anticipated a Yes or No answer, I would punch you in the nose. I am not a violent person. I abhor violence. But I would be unable to resist punching you in the nose. And smiling while I did it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Owl in a Bucket, Part II

My niece was apparently quite taken with her uncle having had a pet owl as a kid and carrying said owl around in a bucket. A box arrived today, and in that box was, right, an owl in a bucket. She suggested that I might get a smile from it.

I got more than a smile; I just about fell out of my chair. Note that the bucket is even labelled with the owl's name. What a treasure. Well, yeah, the owl in the bucket, too, but I was referring to my niece.

Santa Ana Warnings

Weather services, including NOAA, are now issuing warnings for strong Santa Ana winds next week and "extreme fire danger." Confidence levels in that forecast are apparently now pretty high.

Yikes. I think I'm glad we're going to NC.

But it rained yesterday in Atlanta.


Fearmongering Redux

ABC News is running the airline screening bomb story again, and again it's liquids. Only this time they are blowing up cars as well as airplanes. They briefly state in the news item that the story was originally released by the government in August. And they are airing it again now because...?

What strikes me as odd is that this time MSNBC picked up on it and included it on Countdown last night. Strange.

Santa Ana Redux

Forecast confidence is not particularly high, but there is a chance for a "strong Santa Ana event" next week. The Santa Ana part is pretty certain, how strong it will be is not. At best it will stir up soot and ash from the October fires, which is not good if you have severe emphysema. In the fires of 2003 I got much more ill in the Santa Ana events subsequent to the fire than from the fire itself.

Fortunately, we will be in North Carolina next week for Thanksgiving with family and the event will be over before we return. Good timing, but the trip was planned six months ago.

Spare Change

Have you got $20,000 to spare? That's your family's share of the current cost of the War in Iraq.

Torture Debate

The revival of this debate was caused by the confirmation hearings for the new Attorney General. He has now been confirmed and sworn into office. Why are we still having the debate? There is something sick about this.

Names don't always matter

When talking to a rep at the "benefits center" at my wife's company yesterday I got called "Mr. Robinson" again. She paused for a moment and then in a very embarrased tone said. "Oh no, that's not your name, is it?"
We had a good chuckle over it. Just a minor disadvantage of being married to a "liberated woman." There are plenty of advantages.

"Ending Combat" in Iraq

The newest bill in Congress vows to "end combat" in Iraq by the end of the year. The precise wording of the bill rather belies that intent as it, "[r]equires a transition in the mission of US forces in Iraq from primarily combat to: force protection and diplomatic protection; limited support to Iraqi security forces; and targeted counter-terrorism operations...". All of those require shooting, killing and being killed which are, by definition, combat. Typical word games from our elected government.

Football Follies

I will miss this weekend's Chargers game due to travels, and probably the next weekend as well. It might be that will be to my advantage and will save my wife some aggravation. I'm hoping that I have someone recording the games so I can watch them when I get back, assuming that I will want to.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Global Warming: Hoax?

John Coleman is a local, um, person (yeah, we’ll go with “person”) who presents the weather forecast (and presentcast) on the independent tv station KUSI here in San Diego. The fact that he’s not on one of the major network stations might tell you something, and if you’d like to see a clip of him in action, here’s a link.

Coleman is a little bit older than I am, and he certainly has more hair.
He predicts the weather pretty well, but not as well as he claims to and certainly no better than his counterparts on all of the other television stations. My wife would rather get her teeth drilled than listen to him.

Coleman has recently taken a stand on the global warming issue, and to say that he has “taken a stand” is rather understating it. He has posts in about a dozen locations on the KUSI website, has posted on ICECAP, and has participated on the Rush Limbaugh comedy show. Oh wait, I don’t think Limbaugh regards it as comedy show. Oh, well.

Here is, in part, what John Coleman has to say about the issue,

It is the greatest scam in history. I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; It is a SCAM. Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create an illusion of rapid global warming. Other scientists of the same environmental whacko type jumped into the circle to support and broaden the “research” to further enhance the totally slanted, bogus global warming claims.


I have read dozens of scientific papers. I have talked with numerous scientists. I have studied. I have thought about it. I know I am correct.

And your mother wears combat boots. So there.

Like John Coleman, I am something of an old fool. Unlike John Coleman, while I never flat out know that I am wrong (if I did I would take corrective steps), I always have lurking in the back of my mind that I might be wrong. Other people, gasp, might be right. So I try to avoid what I call absolutism.

The title of this blog is “On My Mind,” not “What Is Absolute Fact.”

So, I’ve studied about the global warming issue. I have thought about it. I think Al Gore is onto something. I’m not as certain that Al Gore is right as Coleman is that Al Gore is wrong, but I strongly suspect that Al Gore is onto something and that it is really important.

The global warming deniers claim that we cannot alter something so massive as the earth’s atmosphere, but I have seen with my own eyes that the mighty Colorado River no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. We are using it up in its entirety. I can be sure of what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Mankind can change the Earth.

Are we having a similar effect on its atmosphere? I can’t be sure, but I have very little doubt that it’s possible and there is a great deal of evidence that it’s happening as we debate the issue.

And I have a suspicion lurking in the back of my mind that it’s happing a great deal faster than we know.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Small Things Matter

In the infamous “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier event, Bush flew aboard the carrier in a jet rather than the usual helicopter and, in response to being asked why, his office explained that this was done because the carrier was too far from the coast for a helicopter to reach. Turns out the carrier was actually within sight of the coast and they had to be careful to avoid revealing the San Diego skyline in the camera shots that day. He flew in the jet, it seems, because he wanted to do it.

Showmanship and the inaccuracy of his message aside, so what if he wanted to come aboard in a jet rather than a helicopter?

What baffled me at the time was, why would his office lie over something so trivial? Or did they not know the answer and just say whatever came to mind that would sound good?

I couldn’t quite decide at the time which was worse; that they would lie so inconsequentially, or that they would simply make up answers that would seem to reflect credit on their man.

This was certainly not any kind of major crisis of leadership, but these were people who were representing the person holding the highest elected office in this nation. Their careless hubris embarrassed him (well, would have done if he had any capacity to be embarrassed) and reflected discredit, however small, upon the nation.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and her staff, and a tip that was not left at a restaurant. It has now been established that the tip was, in fact, not left. I could care less about that and the waitress herself has pointed out that the country has far more important things to discuss than whether or not she received a tip. Very true, and this post is not about Clinton leaving a tip.

Clinton’s staff contacted the reporter and not only claimed that a tip was left, they specified an amount that was disproportionate to the dinner tab, and they were apparently rather snottily critical of the reporter in the process. And their claim was false.

To paraphrase my question about the “Mission Accomplished” event,

What baffles me is, why would her staff lie over something so trivial? Or did they just say whatever came to mind that would make her sound good?

Sort of makes her promises of bringing change to government sound hollow, doesn’t it? Do we really need four more years of this kind of nonsense?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

Hats off to anyone reading who has ever worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of The United States of America. Thank you for helping to keep this country of ours free.

"On any given Sunday..."

The full quote is that "In the NFL, on any given Sunday, any one team can beat any other team", which is, I think, actually debatable. The Chargers host the Indianapolis Colts today. The Colts are favored by a whopping three points, which means the odds makers didn't watch the Chargers against the Vikings last week.

The Chargers are playing at home, however, in a nationally televised game, and they are royally pissed about how they embarrased themselves last week. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a Chargers win.

That's because I have faith, because I believe. That's because I'm stupid.
But really, you don't quit on your team just because they play a bad game. Well, okay, several bad games. The Chargers are still my team and I will still be watching the game and wanting for them to win.

And believing that they will win.

"...and on Monday"

Or they will accept a gift. Who's birthday was it?

Now all we need is a head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback, some wide receivers who can actually run patterns, and a defense that will play four quarters instead of merely two. Think of what would happen.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fuzzy Thinking

Here’s an example of where we liberals keep getting into trouble. (And, yes, I am not some wishy-washy “progressive.” I am completely unashamed of being a liberal.)

From Foreclosure Turmoil, at The Nation a couple of days ago,

But the real victims of this subprime mortgage crisis are the millions of borrowers who followed the rules, whose only crime was taking out mortgages these lenders told them they could afford.

So people who did not decide for themselves what they could or could not afford, who allowed that decision to be made for them by companies who had a vested interest in making the loan to them, are victims? That’s like saying that a little piggy that walks up to a big bad wolf and invites the wolf to eat it is a victim.

Nothing, it seems, is ever the fault of the person who is harmed.

There is a scenic canyon near Tucson where I used to live. On the rim of this canyon are knee-high barriers and signs warning people to stay away from the edge, but every year some person (usually drunk) climbs over the barrier and falls to serious injury or death. Every time that happens there are lawsuits against the county for not having placed a chain link fence that would prevent approach to the edge of the canyon and which would also, of course, prevent anyone from enjoying a breathtakingly lovely view.

Because the fault lies not with the person who ignored the sign, climbed over the barriers and fell, but with the county for making it impossible for someone to do that.

Conservative thinking is that people should take care of themselves, that doing so is not the responsibility of government. Carried to the extreme, that would mean that we let the homeless freeze and or/starve to death, which I have not heard advocated by anyone.

Liberals think that it is the responsibility of government to take care of those who can not take care of themselves. Carried to the extreme that leads to government taking care even of those who can and/or should be able to take care of themselves. That’s not necessarily an easy line to draw.

I do not think, however, that we should on a wholesale basis absolve people of the consequences of allowing others to make financial decisions for them. Adults in this country really should be required to act like adults.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Gasoline Pricing

A Brilliant at Breakfast post today mentioned that gasoline prices aren't yet over $3.00 most places. The operative phrase is "most places," as here in fun-packed downtown metropolitan San Diego they are running in the vicinity of $3.30 for regular.

Our local news had an item on gas prices a day or so ago and said that
"it could be a lot worse." I don't remember all of the details, but in summer when gas was at a similar price, oil costs were much lower. If the oil companies were taking as much profit now as they were then, the price of regular gas would be over $4.00 per gallon. Back then the refiners were keeping more than $1.00 per gallon profit, now they are only keeping $0.38 per gallon. The difference is that demand for gas is lower in winter.

So they dropped their profit margin from 30% of sales to only 11.5% of sales. The grocery industry, for comparison, typically operates on a margin of 1%-2% of sales.

But oil companies were not gouging during the summer.

Speaking of summer. If the weather is going to be this gray, dreary, ugly, and cold for day after day after day, it could at least freaking rain.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Repudiating Evil

Last night in an interview with Keith Olbermann on Countdown Rachel Madow made the, to me, rather odd comment that “the purpose of impeachment is to save the office.” Ms. Madow is a charming person and an outstandingly clear speaker. I’m on the same point of view as she is pretty much most of the time.

I had to ponder that for a while, though, to figure out what “saving the office” might mean. I imagine that what she meant but didn’t have time to say was that impeachment is the proper response to a person tarnishing the office and that such action would restore the honor and dignity of that office.

Fair enough, but to me a higher purpose of impeachment is to repudiate the action upon which the impeachment is based; to announce to the world and to our own population that “this country does not countenance that behavior by our government.”

I believe it to be supremely important the we as a nation tell the world that George W. Bush does not represent who we are. And, to our everlasting shame and detriment, we are not going to do that. We can no longer vote him out of office and, thanks to a supine Congress, we will not impeach him as our founding fathers designed for us to do when a president disgraced his office.

Nancy Pelosi swore an oath to uphold and defend the constitution and then she announced to the world, and more importantly to the president, that her oath was meaningless when she said that one clause of the constitution she would not uphold; that “impeachment is off the table.”

That statement, a violation of her oath of office, was a political calculation to secure her rise to power. Rather than raising her to greater power, it should have been just cause to remove her from the office she held at the time. But such is the degree of corruption that our government has descended to that it achieved its calculated effect.

It also turned an abusive president loose to engage in even more blatantly open dishonesty, abuse of “executive privilege” and secrecy, and thuggish foreign policy, secure in the knowledge that he could not, would not be called to account.

And so George W. Bush will complete his term and retire to his sybaritic life of retirement, building a library as a monument to his own self image. And a country will be forever tarnished and shamed by his term in office, having failed to stop his crimes.

Congress didn’t have the will, and we were just too busy shopping.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The worker is worthy...

If you’ve read this blog very long you know that I am pro-union, and quite strongly but not blindly so. I don’t support union activity that is abusive to either business or the customers they serve, but that is a rare instance and I support unions in the absence of evidence that such abuse is taking place. When in doubt, I’m going to lean toward the union.

I’ve been reading articles about the Writers Guild for quite a few days now and some of them are expressing hope that the “public will support our cause” while others quite frankly say that they don’t think the public will support them and don’t really care. The consensus among writers seems to be that those of us who are not writers are a bit too stupid to fully understand their cause. The articles which explain the cause universally do so in a rather condescending manner.

All of which doesn’t really draw me to their cause very much.

The issue seems to be with “residuals” which is a deal whereby once you’ve written a script and been paid by the studio for writing it because you were drawing a salary, you then get paid again every time the show is seen by an audience, even if that audience is one person in the privacy of their home.

Something like the “royalties” that a book writer gets when a book is sold.

Except that a book writer doesn’t get paid for writing the book to begin with. And a book takes an enormously longer amount of time and energy to write than does a script for a half-hour show. And a book author doesn’t get paid every time someone reads the book, only when they buy it. And the author doesn’t get paid when someone buys a used book, only when someone buys a new book.

One writer’s article contained the following, in response to a commenter’s question,

"When an engineer develops a product for a company should the engineer receive compensation each time the company figures out a new market for the product or a new application for the product ?"

This is a fair question, but it employs a truly dunderheaded example. An engineer does receive additional compensation when a company finds a new application for the product he created. This is called "owning a patent."

See what I mean about the condescension?

I can think of no industry that gives its engineers the patents on products they create while working on a salary. Engineers do not receive additional compensation, because they do not hold the patent. The engineer receives his salary and nothing else. The “dunderhead” here is not the person who posed the example, but the arrogant writer who rebutted it.

One writer’s article complained that there were very few jobs for writers and as a result they were unemployed a lot. Um, there are even fewer jobs for astronauts, so people who don’t get those openings are forced to get jobs doing something else. I just was stunned by that argument. Because you are able to write scripts you are therefore unable to do anything else?

As a computer programmer, when I created a product while working for hire to another company, the company I was working for owned the copyright on the material that I created. That is a standard of practice that has been tested in courts in every state and has held up. I was happy with it. I would set a price, I did the work, they paid me, and I moved on to the next job.

It did mean, of course, that I had to keep working. I guess it would be nice if I could do one or two jobs and then keep getting paid for them for the rest of my life without having to work again. That seems to be what the writers want, and I’m not sympathetic to it. It’s the “win the lottery” syndrome.

As a “Great American Dream” that one sucks.

Actual numbers are hard to come by, but it appears that “upper tier” writers make an average salary of $200,000 per year, while “lower tier” writers have to get by on a mere $100,000. The writer of the article claimed that those numbers should be double that because “industry can afford it.” Notice that the writer is not considering what the writers are worth, merely how much they can coerce out of “the industry.”

From that same article, once their job ends the existing residual structure kicks in, and the lower tier writers are living at a “subsistence” level, which implies that the upper tier writers are probably not hurting. I also wonder what the writer considers subsistence to be, given that he believes those salaries to be inadequate.

How many of you non-writers get an permanent ongoing salary, subsistence or otherwise, when you get fired from your job? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I’m just not feeling any sympathy for the union, here. Their articles are adding to the distance, because they come across as superior, arrogant snobs who want to be rewarded disproportionately to their task. I started my investigation with a tendency to be on their side, and wound up simply disliking them and not supporting their “cause” which strikes me simply as nothing other than greed.

Everywhere else, in the "real world," people either eschew an intial salary against a share of future income, or they accept a salary in return for their work and their employer who took the risk enjoys the future income. The writers want to "have their cake and eat it too." They want to draw a handsome salary for the work they do, and still enjoy the future income. They want future gain without taking the present risk.

The worker is worthy of his hire. Not largess.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Football Follies

I don't usually go in for "I told you so" but...

Vikings 35, Chargers 17, but don’t let that deceive you; the game was nowhere near that close. One of the Chargers’ touchdowns was a missed field goal by the Vikings returned 109 yards, and the Vikings fumbled the ball away twice inside the Chargers 20-yard line. It could quite easily have been a 49-10 score.

All and sundry were crowing about last week’s blowout over Houston. Go back and read what I wrote. I was unimpressed by 21 offensive points against a second-rate team, and I stated that I saw this loss coming. (I did not think it would be quite this humiliating.) Nick Canepa claimed they did not run up the score on Houston because Norv Turner is too much of a gentleman. I claimed it was because the locals didn't have the horsepower to do so. After this week's debacle, what do you think?

Someone should get Philip Rivers a MRI to see if he has a brain tumor or something. I can count on my thumbs the number of passes he threw accurately. Yes, sometimes he was pressured, but even when he had time to step into the throw he was missing receivers that were wide open.

It’s hard to believe how a team with this much talent can play this poorly.
Or is, perhaps, the degree of talent overstated?

One thing of note, Tom Powers reports in an article in the Pioneer Press of Minneapolis, that Philip Rivers may have actually fueled the debacle.

"He started talking trash, and it got us going a little bit," Sharper [Vikings defensive back] said. "I like it when a quarterback talks to us."

Powers goes on to say that he doesn’t think that it was Rivers’ trash talking that caused the rout, but points out that certainly Rivers' performance was, shall we say, less than stellar.

My point is that when you are on the field performing in a second rate manner, it’s probably a good idea to keep your big mouth shut. It’s also a good idea not to start thinking you are Superman just because you whipped up last week on a team with a losing record.

Maybe I'll point out here that Brees was 35-49 (71%) yesterday for New Orleans, for 449 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 0 interceptions.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Political Parties

The following is a comment to a post at The Belgravia Dispatch about the Mukasey nomination. Bruce Moomaw commented in response to an exchange between two other commenters which a) said that the constitution was formed with the impression that political parties would not exist, followed by a comment that asked b) did such parties not form in any case almost immediately?

Emphasis, where it exists below, has been added by me.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw, November 3, 2007

Yes indeed [political parties did form] -- about a week after the new government was up and running. It startled and alarmed the hell out of them, but they quickly realized there was little they could do about it -- despite the fact that they had previously written interminably about how the formation of political parties was an extremely dangerous and destructive trend in any democracy.

And, unfortunately, a great many of the "defenses against tyranny" that they wrote into the Constitution were based entirely on the assumption that political parties would not exist -- and became partially or wholly useless when they did. For instance, the Framers assumed that it would be very easy to get 2/3 of the Senate together to impeach and remove an overbearing President from office -- because he would have no party allies in the Senate to block such a move. When George Mason objected to giving the President unlimited pardoning power on the grounds that he might use it to cover up his own crimes by pardoning crooked underlings, Madison replied that the Senate would surely immediately impeach and remove any President who acted in such a suspicious manner. Surprise, James!

In fact, that mistake of theirs came within a hair of destroying the US twice in its first two decades -- once when the Presidential election system jammed up in 1800 because it had been designed on the assumption that parties would not exist (we were within three days of Inauguration Day, and a civil war, when Adams finally decided to compromise and allow Jefferson) to be officially selected); and once because the Framers had actually assumed that the Nonpartisan Congress would be the final arbiter of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of laws -- they created the Supreme Court literally as a minor afterthought during the last few days of the Convention. Naturally, after the partisanship of Congress threatened disaster on this front, the acceptance of the "Marbury vs. Madison" decision making the Court the final arbiter of constitutionality instead was necessary, as the final emergency software patch to make the US system of government work (sort of) until now.

But a great deal of our supposed Success Due To The Brilliance of Our Constitution has really just been due to long-time non-legal, informal consensus by the political parties on the limits of their behavior -- and since Bush's entry into the White House, that consensus has been starting to unravel. (I've always suspected that a lot of this was due to the advice of Newt Gingrich -- who, as a political scientist, must know all the weak points in the Constitution that can allow one party to seize semi-dictatorial power -- but I admit that I have no direct evidence of this.) Consider, for instance, the possible ultimate consequences of allowing the Attorney General to be the President's wholly controllable poodle dog (especially when the majority in Congress is also on his side). Or that sinister little clause in Article 3, Section 2 allowing Congress to strip the Supreme Court of its power to review the constitutionality of any law (with a few specialized exceptions) whenever it chooses -- a potential stick of dynamite planted right in the foundations of American democracy, which I believe no one had ever utilized in US history UNTIL the GOP Congress used it to strip detainees of their right to launch civil suits.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Advise and Consent

The presidential election has become much more important. In confirming the latest nominee for Attorney General, the Senate is rendering itself irrelevant and the election amounts now to electing a monarch to rule this country for the next four years.

I was going to wait until Mukasey was actually confirmed before writing about this confirmation, as I had some small hope that it might not happen. But I really knew that it was just wishful thinking.

I’m actually disappointed that the issue which nearly derailed the nomination was his refusal to define waterboarding as illegal. While that issue richly deserved disqualification, to me there were two other issues, even larger, that should have thrown the nomination not only off of the tracks but completely into a ditch.

At some point this Congress simply must stand up to this president’s bullying and browbeating and do it’s damned job, which is oversight. The constitution does not merely allow Congress to act as a check on the Executive, it requires Congress to do so and Congress is failing utterly to fulfill that responsibility. Part of the “advise and consent” clause is the ability not only to say “No” but to say, “Oh, hell no.”

The other issue is a statement made earlier by Mukasey in the confirmation hearings. I cannot find the quote now because the fulmination over his stand on waterboarding has drowned the earlier hearings, but it went something like this in response to being asked if it was okay for the president to violate the law,

“That would depend,” he responded, “on whether or not the act which was outside the law fell within the president’s authority to defend the United States.”

In other words, “Yes.”

What presidential candidate is making any kind of pledge to respect the role of Congress once they are elected to this nation’s highest office? Forget having Congress retake that role on its own initiave; regardless of the party holding the majority, it has clearly demonstrated that it does not have what it will take to do that. Restoring the balance of power that is written into our constitution is going to have to be done by a future president, and no leading candidate of either party is even talking about doing that.

Chris Dodd speaks of restoring the constitution, but he’s got about as much change of becoming president as I do.

There is little hope that we can escape the corrupt form of government into which this country has devolved. What I will do is try with all of the pathetically limited means that are at my disposal. I will protest in posts on my blog, and I will vote against every incumbent in every election regardless of party.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Civilized Nation

Civilized: adj: Showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable.

This is beginning to freak me out. How many governments in the world have discussions about torturing prisoners, with the leadership insisting that they be permitted to do so?

One. My country is that one.

I could be okay with the discussion if it was a short one and ended with the executive being told that torture was “off the table.” But the argument has been ongoing for more than four years, the executive will not take ‘no’ for an answer, and a significant portion of the country supports him.

Other countries use torture, but they don’t talk about it because they are countries with totalitarian governments over which the citizens have no influence or control.

Fully democratic countries don’t use torture and don’t talk about wanting to do so, because their governments are sufficiently responsive to the people that the leaders know that the civilized population will throw them out of office for even suggesting it.

This country’s leadership plays the fear card.

By making the people whom they supposedly serve sufficiently afraid, the leaders of this county actually reduce the level of civilization that the nation enjoys. The more afraid a population becomes the more the “lizard brain” takes control, and civilization breaks down.

The justification for torture is always, “I’m doing it to keep my country safe.” But there is no proof whatever that it does so, and considerable evidence to the contrary. What torture is really about is a gut-level reaction to terrible fear and a step in the breakdown of civilization.

George Washington, founding founder of our country, on torture:

"Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity…"

Not just the person, it degrades the country as well. I want to weep.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

California Kid (updated)

Oops, my bad.

My grandniece is turning seven six, and there is a family gathering next weekend to celebrate this momentous event. (Hopefully the air will have improved by then, as it is still not very breathable for those of us with emphysema.) (Note, it has.)

I’m looking forward to it, as Makena and her little sister, Malia, are quite a pair. They are phenomenons in quantum mechanics; something like photons, which if they ever fall below a certain velocity cease to exist. It takes two people to report Malia’s movement, one to say “Here she comes,” and another to say “There she goes.” I laugh a lot when I’m around them.

Makena was given the choice of venue this year. Asked what’s her very favorite restaurant, one might guess McDonalds or Chucky Cheese, right? No indeedy, she chose Rubio’s. For those who don’t know, that is a chain founded by a local entrepreneur which is famous for fish tacos. No, it has no playground. She just loves Rubio’s. People who move away from San Diego bemoan the loss of Rubio’s, so I can understand, but at age seven six…

So next weekend I’m going to Rubio’s for fish tacos and a seven six-year-old’s birthday party with three generations of family.

Eat your heart out.

I got a very nice email from Makena's Mom, not correcting my error but simply confirming the date and place for her 6th birthday party. There were no underlines or italics, either. I also noticed that she spelled my grandneice's name with but one 'n' in it. Crap. Sometimes when I look like
a fool it's because I am one.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Kitty Wake-up

H/t to Brilliant at Breakfast.

Reality in the Face of "Feel Good"

The Chargers won 35-10 over Houston yesterday, and they did so here at home in Qualcomm Stadium; a stadium which days earlier had been harboring evacuees from wildfires. There's "joy in Mudville" and great glee about how wonderful a victory it was.

Apparently no one quite wants to look at the nature of that "blowout."

The score was 35-3 at the half, and 35-10 at the end. Did anyone notice that the Chargers were outscored 0-7 in the second half? Or that the Chargers "powerhouse" offense actually only scored 21 points against a team that is best described as feckless?

Two of Philip Rivers' touchdown passes were somewhat less than works of art. One of them, in fact, stunk so badly that you could have smelled it had he thrown it in the middle of Miramar Landfill. His rationale for that clunker was that he "was so shocked by how far open Gates was that the ball didn't come out of my hand right." That may be the most lame excuse for a badly thrown pass that I've ever heard.

Did anyone care that we had a receiver open for a touchdown, no defender within five yards of him, in the second half and the Philips Rivers pass missed him by a country mile when Rivers was not pressured?

Champions do not quit playing when they have a lead. I had a football coach once who said repeatedly, "If you are leading by fifty points, you'd better be trying to lead by fifty-six." The purpose of the offensive squad is to score points, and when they are on the field for an entire half without even trying to do that... It wasn't the play calling, the offensive squad went to sleep.

I'm beginning to have serious doubts about our quarterback. He never had an opportunity to make a bad decision under pressure yesterday, because he was never under any pressure, and yet he still missed open receivers and threw balls that receivers had to stop running in order to catch. When questioned about errors, this week and in weeks past, he breezily blows them off as inconsequential.

I enjoyed the game, and I'm happy with the win, but if the Chargers play next week like they did yesterday, they will not put up another win.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Majorities in Government

Steve Soto in a Friday post over at The Left Coaster posits a choice between,

a) Having a Democrat win the White House but maintain only a shaky hold in Congress;
b) Losing the White House but adding another 20 in the House and 10 in the Senate;

A fairly lively and interesting discussion followed in the comments, but are those the only two choices? Actually, two scenarios pose themselves to me as being somewhat more likely;

a) A Democrat win in the White House and adding to the majority in Congress;
b) A Republican in the White House but adding to the Democratic majority in Congress

The mood of the country is really weird right now, and I’m not suggesting that Steve’s choices are really off base. The popularity of Congress is, what, 11% at this point to the president’s 24%, so it certainly doesn’t look like the public is all that thrilled with the Democratic majority that was elected in 2006. Are we likely to build on what is clearly not working? Maybe not, but I still suspect that the voters will blame Republicans more than Democrats and I have little doubt that the Democratic majority will increase.

I don’t think it will help anything, you understand, but I think it will happen.

That leaves the question of president. As Jill put it in her post at Brilliant at Breakfast on Friday,

…that fix is that we will have a choice between a president who will continue to expand the U.S.-initiated conflagration in the Middle East, and a president who will continue to expand the U.S.-initiated conflagration in the Middle East.

Some choice.

That choice is caused by the issue that Hillary Clinton is already the Democratic nominee. Chosen as such not by the voters, not by the people of this country, but by the pundits and the media as directed by the money in campaign coffers provided by corporate sponsors.

So looking back up at the two choices that I have posited, which would you prefer? While you’re thinking about that, recall six years of having a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, and how nicely that worked out for the country. [end snark]

No, I don’t think a Democrat/Democrat combination would be as disastrous as the Republican/Republican one was. Relationships between Democratic presidents and Democratic Congresses in the past have been quite contentious, and I have no reason to believe a future Democratic Congress would fail to properly perform its oversight of a Democratic president.

There are some good things about Hillary Clinton and she has supported some good causes. She certainly is no George Bush. But she equally certainly is a corporatist and a militarist, and she is far too capable of bending a Congress of her same party to her will.

I read constantly that electing Democrats, any Democrats, will be the salvation of democracy and of Democracy for this country and I am convinced that such a belief is a very slippery slope.

Politicians of the Democratic Party spend as much money campaigning as Republicans do, and they obtain that money in precisely the same fashion. Democrats will pass populist legislation, but only to the extent that it is accompanied by benefits for their corporate sponsors. Witness that they could not pass a minimum wage bill until they accompanied it with tax breaks for business.

Electing Democrats will help, and I encourage doing it, but it will not solve the problem. The problem will not be solved until we take the money out of the election process.

In the meantime, the more that government is paralyzed by partisan politics the fewer bad bills it can enact.