Friday, January 30, 2009

Time to Panic

It is Friday, and rather late in the day to boot, and I have not yet set the menu for the Superbowl. I'm trying to persuade my wife on chili dogs, but she greets that idea with a world class sneer, so I don't think chili dogs is on. I'm leaning toward braised/bbq ribs, but am dithering now in indecision.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up.
You just have to go along. We're having Superbowl chili dogs tomorrow.
You have no idea how brave that makes me. Or how stupid, maybe. Possibly both. If you hear loud noises from San Diego...

Military Government

I am beginning to think that we have, after more than 200 years, reached the point that this nation is actually run by a military government, with civilian elected officials in place merely as figureheads. After eight years of President Bush “listening to his generals” as to how to conduct the war in Iraq, I had hopes that Barack Obama would reassert civilian control of the military, but he is showing no real signs of doing so.

Consider this article in the New York Times. Obama has called his commanders in and issued a directive to create a plan to get us out of Iraq. This nation has signed an agreement with Iraq that sets a deadline for us to be out of that country. Yet here is General Odierno saying very plainly that he is the one who will decide when we leave, and that it isn’t going to be any time soon. There is not one word in what he says about civilian direction, about international agreements or about presidential directives. There is nothing other than “I think” that is determinant in his plans for leaving Iraq.

The very headline is anathema, “Obama Seeks Accord With Military.” After eight years of the constant barrage of the use, and misuse, of the title “Commander in Chief” we have the President “seeking accord” with the military? The design of our constitution is that the President issues orders to the military, and that they salute smartly and carry out those orders.

Then consider this from the German news Spiegel Online. US General John Craddock has decided that NATO forces can and should kill on sight any Afghans suspected of dealing in drugs. No proof, or even any evidence is required; if you think they might be doing anything bad just blow them away. Our European allies are already furious with us for our indiscriminate use of airstrikes and the resulting loss of noncombatant lives, and they are refusing to comply with this directive. They actually consider action pursuant to this directive to be a war crime.

This, to me, clearly falls under “rules of engagement” and as such is a policy decision. Not only is this general engaging us in activity which is sure to increase the hatred with which the population of the area views us, but he is a military person formulating national policy in making this decision.

Admittedly Obama is new in office and is dealing with economic issues. The economy is the most important thing on the public’s mind at this point, and not without good reason. Obama himself said, however, that a president should be able to do more than one thing at a time.

Things are not going as well as advertised in Iraq and they are going to hell very rapidly in Afghanistan. Having generals running amok in these two highly dangerous war zones surely deserves some immediate attention from our President, and the American people deserve some reassurance from him that he is indeed in charge.

Update: Friday, 1:15pm
More develops in an interview between Rachael Maddow and Dan Rather on the former’s television show last night. Dan Rather talks about a tour of Afghanistan from which he has just returned, where he met with General David McKiernan. Rather and Maddow discuss that “policy is being formulated from the bottom up” as if that is a good thing, and Rather goes on at some length about the general’s conviction that ultimate “victory” in Afghanistan is going to involve extensive military incursion into and extensive operations within Pakistan. So here is another general discussing the invasion and military operations within what is not only a sovereign nation, but one that is nominally an ally. His discussion makes it plain that this policy is coming from the general, not from civilian leadership.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Model T Thinking

A friend of mine sent me a YouTube clip about the Model T the other day, and I was amazed as I watched it. Not amazed they way you might think; not amazed at how primitive the assembly line was. Quite the opposite; I was amazed by how much smarter they were in business back then.

Henry Ford paid higher wages. He did that so that his workers could afford to buy his cars. He cut the work day from nine hours to eight hours. He did that so that his factories could work three eight-hour shifts. He was smart. He did things that were good for his workers, and that benefited his company. He invented the assembly line because he had one simple philosophy, “What is the easiest way to build this?”

Some time ago, maybe 15 years or so, I was at a talk where a "brand new idea" was being discussed. The brand new idea was to bring plant personnel into the engineering department when new products were being designed and to have them provide input as to how easy it would be to manufacture the new product so that ease of manufacture could actually be part of the design process. They gave as an example an IBM printer panel that used five different fasteners. The factory guy pointed out that the assembler had to put down and pick up five different tools in the process of assembling this panel. Nobody could explain why the different fasteners had been specified, and the design was changed to use a single type. The assembler then used one tool throughout, for an astounding savings in time and a dramatic increase in productivity, all by the simple expedient of getting some input into the engineering design department from the factory supervisor.

They were very proud of their innovative thinking, but I sort of wondered why it had taken them so long to get over a bad case of stupid.

When did they quit considering ease of manufacture in designing products, and why did they do something so incredibly stupid as that in the first place? They were very proud of redesigning the panel to use a single fastener, but how in God's name did the panel get designed to use five different fasteners to begin with? What utter moron made that initial design decision, and why on earth would anyone do something so mindnumbingly dumb?

If this is the caliber of people we have in our manufacturing industry today, then we are well and truly screwed.

Watching clips that are shown on the news as our auto industry troubles are discussed, clips of modern assembly lines, I have to conclude that this is the caliber of people we have in our industry today. Just look at the way these lines are functioning.

The lines making Model T’s were masterpieces of simplicity. Assembly started from the bottom up. Parts and subassemblies were dropped into place and bolted on. Everything pretty much literally “fell into place.” The workers were standing upright, and were holding tools which they used repeatedly; plain ordinary tools which were of a design that allowed them to be used for many, many purposes.

I will grant you that, due to driving at higher speed in a more crowded environment and with higher safety and comfort needs, today’s car is a much more sophisticated machine, but the assembly process has become complex beyond all reason.

Today’s car line has workers standing waiting for a machine to bring them a massive assembly and move it into place; they do little more than guide it. The workers are climbing into the work in process, placing parts inside the new car, climbing underneath it, and spending an astounding amount of time waiting idle for the system to bring them their next task.

Retooling an assembly line doesn’t just require retraining workers or accumulating a new set of parts. It requires that, but it also requires millions upon millions of dollars of investment to build a whole new set of unique, specialized machinery to lift, guide, insert and transport; machinery so specialized that it can only be used for one make, on one model and for one year.

I can’t help but think that part of this comes from the “you’ve got to be able to send your kids to college” mantra that is part of our political landscape today. We have developed a mindset that a college-educated professional is somehow better than a blue collar worker building cars or refrigerators.

The world, our community, needs real things. It needs food and the implements that are used to raise that food; tractors and harvesters and the like. It needs refrigerators, and railcars, and the materials to make them like steel and aluminum. Working in the factory and the mill and on the farm in a shirt that has a blue collar does not require a college education, but it is honorable work. It should be respected and it should pay well enough to support a family in a reasonable degree of comfort.

It should pay well enough and be sufficiently respected to make young men and women aspire to it. It once did. At one time the blue collar worker was sufficiently respected that engineers did ask for his input when designing new products. At one time a young man could come out of high school and get a job on which could support his family and live comfortably, and hold his head high.

Women weren’t included then, at least not sufficiently, except for briefly during wartime, but they certainly could be now. And should be.

Workers on the Model T line were respected. They were well paid, had steady employment, and they drove cars. A job on Henry Ford’s assembly line was something to be aspired to. It didn’t require even a high school education.

But the main problem, I think, is stupid thinking by employers. They design products whose manufacture requires five type of fasteners instead of one. They replace workers with robots to reduce labor costs, but those robots don’t buy products, they don’t sustain a market. Businesses drive down wages and make it impossible for workers to afford to buy their products. They create markets for less expensive products. They ship jobs overseas and wonder why nobody is buying their products. They engage in short term thinking that formulates policies that are suicidal in the long term.

Politicians have the endless slogan that the answer to rising unemployment is “education and training” but that is nonsense. The solution to rising unemployment is more jobs, and real jobs, not make-work jobs sitting at a keyboard feeding the myth of the “information age.”

Years ago, as we were supposedly moving to a service economy, I recall my father mumbling, “Hell, we can’t all make a living selling each other hamburgers.” Well we can’t all make a living selling each other Google search results either.

Henry Ford paid his workers good wages so that they could buy his cars. But they bought more than cars. They bought refrigerators and washing machines. They bought homes. They went to dinner at restaurants and they had good times at night clubs. They could afford to do these things because they made good wages.

Employing a lot of people and paying them good wages creates is good business; good for the business that does it and good for other businesses. That policy maintains healthy markets, sustains a society and supports an entire economy.

That’s Model T thinking, and we need to return to it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bipartisanship My...

If I hear the word "bipartisan" one more time I am going to get on an airplane, fly to DC, and stalk the halls of Congress with a stick, whacking anybody who says that word in the most tender spot they have.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tribal Journalism

Journalism continues its tribal policies even after the elections. The journalists take sides, and then conduct interviews in accordance with tribal loyalties. If the interviewee in on the same side as the journalist it is like a polite dance, otherwise it is a contest to determine who will emerge alive.

For instance Rachel Maddow has gained a reputation as the new great bastion of liberal journalism on cable news. This is the lady that who is going to bring talk radio to the teevee, striking terror into the hearts of the evasive politician. Well, maybe not to evasive Democrats.

She had a discussion on Afghanistan policy with Claire McCaskill yesterday, a discussion which I watched but for which no clip appears on her MSNBC website. McCaskill (D, Missouri) listens politely to each question, and then talks at length without even coming close to answering the question asked. Rachel Maddow at no point calls her for being evasive.

For instance Maddow asks whether we are going to engage in counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and McCaskill makes a lengthy speech about how we’d better not start rebuilding that country because the last time we did that was in Iraq and we wasted a lot of money.

In addition to not answering the question asked by Rachel Maddow, that answer is wrong on another level, namely that rebuilding the country is precisely what we should be doing and are not, but Maddow merely thanks her and concludes the interview.

Hardly the “ruthless journalist” that her reputation promotes. For Republicans and other conservatives Maddow is all teeth and claws, for Democrats and other liberals, well…

Monday, January 26, 2009

Money is Not Fungible

Having gotten billions of bailout dollars from us the taxpayer, Citicorp is spending $50 million for a new private corporate jet. But that's okay, you see, because they assure us that they "are not using taxpayer money to pay for the jet."

Well, I'm certainly relieved to hear that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Tice Relevations

A man named Russell Tice has come out with, according to Keith Olbermann, “shattering” revelations about the spying performed by the NSA under the Bush Administration. Olbermann is having a really serious case of the vapors about this, and I don’t doubt that much of what Mr. Tice says is true. I’m not sure why Olbermann is quite so terrified, however, and if I’m going to try to prove this case in any kind of court I would want a far more credible witness than Russell Tice.

To begin with, Tice is the classic publicity hound. He makes a speech about how he volunteered his information to the Obama campaign, and rather petulantly observes that they did not “use him” for anything other than stuffing envelopes and such. He then goes on at some length about how he has written a “handwritten letter” to now-President Obama, stressing that it is handwritten because he knows that he is spied upon and wiretapped “24/7” by the NSA. Come on. He could still type a letter on his computer, print it without saving it to disk, and put it in the mail; but he stresses repeatedly that the letter needed to be “handwritten” due to all of the spying to which he was being subjected. He finally makes a speech that reeks of false modesty about having taken an oath to defend the constitution and “just doing his job, really.”

I have been on several juries, and if this guy was a witness for either side I would not believe a single word he said.

The accusations he makes are vague in the extreme, moreover, and the vast majority of what he has to say is hearsay and guesswork. Phrases like “Well the obvious use would be” and “I was told” and “it could happen that” abound in his testimony. I listened to this piece twice and virtually never does he testify to what he actually did or saw done first hand. Perhaps, as an insider, his suppositions bear more weight than those of someone not in the business, but they are still almost en their entirety nothing more than suppositions and guesses.

It may be that everything he and Keith Olbermann are accusing the NSA of doing are true, but a far, far better witness than Russell Tice is needed if any real conviction is to be obtained.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mixed Feelings

I have been having really mixed feelings of pride and shame in my country the past couple of days. It’s uncomfortable.

Pride that we elected an African-American as President, of course. Pride in the steps he has already taken toward restoring the values of this great nation: restoring openness in government, reducing the influence of lobbying, closing Guantanamo and the network of illegal prisons, establishing a plan to remove occupation troops from Iraq, appointing two outstanding envoys to troubled parts of the globe.

“I think this not only keeps my campaign promise, but goes toward renewing principles set by our founding fathers.”

No fan of Hillary Clinton, how could I not be moved by her reception at the Department of State on Thursday? How could I not have derived a sense that we are indeed turning in the right direction when I listened to her speak to her new staff?

But the response of a large part of this nation to this change of direction fills me with a very deep shame to be a citizen of the same nation. How can such a major part of our leadership and our citizenry be so cowardly, so terror-filled, so utterly afraid of a small band of men that poses a threat to individual lives but no threat to us as a nation whatever?

Terrorists simply pose no “national security” threat. Positing the worst case scenario, that a nuclear device destroys an entire city, does that cause the United States to be unable to continue functioning as a national entity? It does not even come close, even if that city is Washington, DC. Certainly this is a serious threat, and one to be taken seriously, but it simply is not a “national security” issue.

Terrorists pose a threat to national security only if you define national security as “a threat to any individual American life.” (In my opinion that is a pretty stupid way to define it, and what one really means when one does that is, “national security means keeping me, personally, safe.”) Given that definition, sending Americans into Iraq and having more than 4000 of them killed is a damned poor way to accomplish national security.

Three thousand of our citizens die every single month on our highways, and we don’t care. There is no outcry, no demand for action, no outrage. That fact goes utterly unnoticed by our leadership, and unremarked by our media. Three thousand deaths per month, 36,000 lives every single year, is simply the cost of doing business.

There are undoubtedly a few people who are terrified of our highways and freeways, but the vast majority of us jump behind the wheel without a single thought of being killed. Not only do we join the throng on our roads, but a majority of us drive like absolute maniacs, adding to the carnage by speeding recklessly and violating traffic laws right and left. Of course we blame the insurance companies for charging high rates, giving no thought to our insane driving habits. But that’s for another essay. Meanwhile we slaughter 3000 of each other on our highways every single month.

But the thought of 3000 people being killed one time sends us into a frenzy of terror and an irresponsible abandonment of principles upon which this nation was founded.

While 53% of the public thinks that torture should not be used under any circumstances, a full 40% think that it should be. Four in ten of the people of this nation are so fearful for their individual lives that they are willing for inhumane methods to be used to preserve them in their suburban homes with their SUV’s and their big-screen TV’s.

A prison in Afghanistan was attacked by a Taliban army, and our leaders use that to fearmonger against “terrorists” being held in continental prisons for fear that those prisons will “be attacked” despite the certain fact that there are no Taliban armies in the continental US.

American prisons hold people like the man that bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building. They hold Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and the Unabomber. But Americans are so freaked out and terror-filled by these Muslims that they have instilled them with superhuman powers and decided that they cannot be contained by these same prisons. Americans are filled with an unreasoning terror that they will escape and roam our streets, killing us by the thousands. They will, of course be unstoppable by any law enforcement or military forces which might be deployed against them.

People who think thusly are not people with whom I want to share a nation.

“The President believes that when we uphold the principles upon which this nation was founded that we have taken a step toward making the nation more safe.”

That is a man with whom I am proud to share a nation.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Illegitimacy Abounds

From CNN News today (I know, "News" is redundant and inaccurate),
Word started spreading that White House officials had invited just a small group of print journalists in to witness the historic moment a second time, but had failed to invite a representative from the five major U.S. television networks.

CNN and other television networks have complained to the White House but have not gotten a clear answer from White House officials about why the video cameras were locked out.

So the whole point of the ceremony -- getting the word out there that the president was in fact inaugurated -- was undermined by the fact that now there's no videotape to prove he was sworn in.

Not to mention that it may run counter to the main message the president was trying to deliver Wednesday with his executive order pushing for more openness in government.

Let impeachment begin. Or do we even need impeachment?

Bad News Department: 8:15am
Now that he has begun his second term as President, after a very short but active first term, Barack Obama cannot run for re-election in 2012.

Oh Noes! Despair! 8:45am
He didn't use a bible the second time!!! He's not Preznit. Where's Biden?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
The Senate is delaying confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General because they do not believe he supports the use of torture. In fact, he has said rather specifically that he opposes it, and the Senate seems to think that this is a bad thing. They seem to hold to the now-debunked belief that we need to torture to "keep America safe." (Or they are afraid that Holder might prosecute those who authorized its use, which includes some of these self-same Senators.)

To illustrate just how dysfunctional the Senate is, they are simultaneously delaying confirmation of Leon Panetta as CIA chief because "extraordinary rendition" was used under the Clinton Administration, of which he was a member, even though he has never said he supports its use.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good Start

Okay, everyone has been saying to wait until he's in office and judge Barack Obama by what he actually does. (Well, not everybody, but people with good sense.) Insofar as I could, I have been doing that. So, he's in office, and he's done something. He issued an order regarding the way that the Freedom of Information Act is to be administered by his government.

It is an absolute masterpiece of clarity.
"In the presence of doubt, openness will prevail."

How's that for keeping a promise? Is that "change we can believe in"?

Higher Education

I have written on my opinion of some of the professors of our institutions of higher learning here in San Diego. Seems idiotic professors aren't limited to San Diego; Harvard has at least one. N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard, contributed to a New York Times editorial today with a question (he's a professor of economics),
2. President Obama supports the estate tax. Why should a person who leaves his money to his children pay more in taxes than another person with the same lifetime income who spends all his money on himself?

Um, professor, that person isn't paying any more taxes than does the free spender. It's an "estate tax." That person is dead.

"Former President Bush"
I've now read about a dozen blog posts about how good that title sounds, and more than half of them have been by writers who have more than one time referred to "President Clinton" within the past year. In fact, the "former" or "ex-" is correct usage; this nation has only one president at a time, and the title applies to the office and not to the man. The tendency to apply the usage only to former presidents whom we did not like is annoying.

As is the ongoing tendency to refer to "the nation's commander in chief." This is not some kind of military dictatorship, and our President does not strut around in a uniform with a chest full of medals and a sash across his shoulder, wearing a sword and jackboots. We have, as a nation, no "commander in chief." We have a President.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nothing to fear...

We all know the famous quote from FDR's inaugural speech, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself..." How many know that the sentence finishes, "...nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

To me the latter part of that statement is more powerful that the first. "...nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes..." Barack Obama is the calm, still voice leading us out of that terror.

One problem remains, and it is a big one. Again from FDR's inaugural,
"Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men."

The "rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods" have not admitted anything, and they have not abdicated. They roam the halls of Congress today, even as we speak, corrupting everything and everyone they touch. They have extracted $825 Billions from us already, and they seek more. Their practices do not "stand indicted in the court of public opinion" because they have obscured those practices in rhetoric and deception.

As FDR described them then, they remain today,
"Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish."

The dismantling of anti-trust was part of the deregulation that failed us. Big banks swallow little banks and then, without competition, they swallow people. And in their hubris, "too big to fail," they extort government, and the circle is complete.

Calmness in the face of disaster is necessary, curative, healing; but it is not enough. Unless the power of the "rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods" can be curbed a calm demeanor will avail us little.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Thoughts

We are having another sunny, warm day which I should be outside enjoying. I'm not because I am going to be watching football. I'm hoping for results that wind up with a Pennsylvania Superbowl. Eagles/Steelers. Pennsylvania would go nuts.

Lunch at the waterfront is usually reserved for summer; even with our mild winters, the waterfront is a tad chilly for strolling then. But with the summer we've been having, I was down there a few days ago and it reminded me of a post I made in August of 2006. It was a nice moment, so I'm going to reprint it today.

A Dream Fulfilled
I like to have lunch by getting a sandwich and taking it down to the waterfront. There are lots of ships there, of course. The U.S.S Midway, a carrier with a long and noble history, is there to be toured, as are the Star of India, Berkeley, Californian and some other historical treasures. Cool stuff. The U.S.S. Reagan is in port across the harbor right now, and she gives new meaning to the term “really big ship.” I eat my sandwich and then stroll by the historical ships.

Two ships I omitted above are in port long term but temporarily. One is a Russian nuclear submarine, and the other is H.M.S. Surprise. Yes, as in Master and Commander. The set of books by Patrick O’Brian holds a place of honor in my bookcase (I have read all of them twice) and I have seen the movie so many times that my wife says I can quote the lines before the actors speak them.

The other day as I was gazing at Surprise a family of four came up. The kids, ages perhaps eight and ten, were more interested in tee shirts for sale than in any of the ships. The wife saw me smiling as I watched her family and, as her husband went off to buy tickets, told me, “He just finished reading book number twenty.” When he came back with the tickets we engaged in conversation and he said that this ship was why they had come here from Seattle on their vacation.

He gazed at Surprise with his eyes dancing as we talked, and I could see that our conversation was giving him a chance to prolong the anticipation so long enjoyed. We talked for a while about reading the books and watching the movie as his kids looked for tee shirts and his wife looked on, sort of lovingly tolerant. I didn’t say a whole lot, I was just enjoying watching him as he eyed the ship while we chatted.

Then he wished me a nice day and walked up the gangway, his family trailing behind him, his head tilted way back to admire the forest of rigging, clearly enraptured as he at last realized his dream of treading the deck of H.M.S. Surprise.

It was a really nice lunch hour.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Justice at Circuit City

Circuit City is folding its tent and stealing off into the sunset. Toast. It couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch. This is the company, you may recall, that laid off all of its senior employees because they were too highly paid. They even had the gall to offer them the opportunity to apply for the newly available jobs that had been created by their layoffs, at the lower starting wage. It's so, so sad that they are now going out of business.

Friday, January 16, 2009

U. S. Airways Flight 1549

It was no miracle. It was the confluence of excellence.

It was excellent training, skill and personality in the pilot and flight crew of U. S. Airways Flight 1549. It was the durability and superb flight capability of the Airbus A320. It was the outstanding reactions and seamanship of the boat crews of half a dozen companies and agencies on the Hudson River. It was the courage and calmness of the passengers on the flight.

The only grandstanding was by some politicians who were not even involved. They rushed to the scene to get their faces on television. That’s what politicians do. Some of the passengers talked to the media, but they didn’t talk about what they did, they talked in a somewhat awed tone about what the pilot did. The pilot remained in seclusion; he will talk to investigators before he has anything to say to the public.

Airline pilots have always had my highest respect, and that certainly was not diminished today. He made every decision exactly right, in a matter of seconds, executed those decisions flawlessly, and saved the lives that had been entrusted to him.

Not much has been said about the airplane itself. I don’t recall how often, in my Navy days, that we wanted to go to The Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and thank them for building rugged submarines. A lot of people should be thanking Airbus for making good airplanes; an airplane that remained flyable without power, that survived the impact of the ditching, and that remained afloat long enough to get everyone off.

Granted, surviving the ditching had a lot to do with how skillfully and gently the pilot put it down; but still, at those speeds, water is about as soft as a brick wall and the impact is not trivial. That is a rugged and well built bird.

There was much concern when Airbus introduced its “fly by wire” that the plane would become unflyable when power was lost. Well, so much for that theory.

I know this. I will fly on U. S. Airways any time, any place, and I will never hesitate to board an Airbus A320.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another story of pilot skill with a less happy ending occurred when I was living in Atlanta. A DC-9 flew into a thunderstorm and reported to controllers that hail had knocked out both of his engines at 33,000 feet. He flew the plane, without power, down to a level at which he found a highway that he thought he could land on. He got his flaps and landing gear down and lined up on the highway and was about to touch down when one wingtip hit a tree. About a third of the passengers survived, but without the incredible skill of this pilot, none of them would have.

That event was only a few miles from my house, and I’ll never forget being absolutely blown away by that pilot’s amazing calmness and skill under the most awful conditions.

Just think how safe our roads would be if we drove our cars the same way pilots fly planes.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dining With the Enemy

Barack Obama said in his campaign that he would use diplomacy as President; that he would talk with leaders of nations with whom we disagreed, etc. A couple of evenings ago he had dinner at the home of George Will, and the guests included such notables as Bill Kristol.

Talk about proving your point...

Rain Year Explained

San Diego measures annual rainfall for a year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, which has always seemed a bit odd to me. Finally, a few days ago, I read the explanation for that and I guess it actually makes a pretty good sense after all.

In most of the country rainfall is pretty much evenly distributed throughout the year, but not so here. We have rainfall concentrated from November to May and usually have something close to zero precipitation in between. San Diego is actually desert, and we have a lower average annual rainfall than Tucson, Arizona in the Sonora Desert.

So if we measured our annual rain amount on a calendar year we would get parts of two rainy seasons. By starting it in the middle of the calendar year as we do here, we are tracking the amount that falls during a single, and complete, rainy season.

I'm not entirely sure why it's important to do that, but it does seem logical.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Role of Surgeon General

Over the past week or so I have been conversing with several people regarding the appointment of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General. I have expressed that, while I see considerable merit in the appointment and have much admiration for him as a person and a physician, I have concerns that his resume shows no experience in the field of public health service and that I consider that to be a serious lack in an appointment as the director of the National Public Health Service.

Interestingly, every one of the people I have talked with have equated public health service with either universal health care or with public health education. The former is a completely different issue, and the latter is but one small facet of the medical discipline that is public health service.

Medicare is an example of universal health care. (Or it would be if it were extended to all residents of the nation, as it is in most civilized nations.) It deals with the delivery of medical care to individuals, as individuals. The doctor or medical facility delivers the medical care, and the universal health care process takes care of covering the cost of that care.

Public health service provides for health concerns as they affect society as a whole; dealing academically and practically with cause, effect, eradication and prevention.

A dramatic example of public health service in action is the history of Malaria in this nation. Prior to World War Two, Malaria was endemic to the US, mostly in the eastern part of the country and particularly in the south. In 1947, spearheaded by the US Public Health Service an effort was begun to eradicate Malaria from this nation. This effort included treatment, education and elimination of the disease vector; the mosquitoes that carried it. In 1949, after just two years, the country was declared free of Malaria as a significant public health problem. Today it would be unusual for anyone to develop the disease here.

The Center for Disease Control is located in Atlanta as a result of being an outgrowth of that Malaria eradication effort. It continued to monitor Malaria control until 1952. The CDC is an important part of our national health effort today, although it is not part of that Service and is not under the direction of the Surgeon General.

At any rate, a director of a Public Health Service needs to be more than merely a fine physician, and more than an educator or public speaker. He/she must be capable of designing and directing a massive multi-disciplinary program from start to finish. Public health service is a complex and difficult medical-based administrative discipline, not a just a high level form of medical practice.

It is a sad note for our present National Public Health Service that seventy years ago, with the primitive resources available at that time, we were able to eliminate Malaria in just two years of national effort. Today we are unable to eliminate West Nile Virus, another disease transmitted by mosquito, and are not even trying at a national level. States are left to their own devices, a method certain to fail. Any state that succeeds will just be reinvaded by a neighbor state that has not eradicated the disease.

This is a national problem that our National Public Health Service is not dealing with. In part it may be that they are not being given adequate financial resources, but looking at the bio’s of recent Surgeons General suggests another possible reason; Surgeons General with medical rather than public health service backgrounds.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why He's Called Tweety

I actually like Chris Matthews, and watch Hardball regularly, but he can be and rather frequently is an utter idiot. He never seems to know when he is making a complete fool of himself. Well, according to my wife, neither do I so I guess I shouldn’t be too critical, but at least I don’t do whatever it is on national television.

Tweety’s obsession with Sarah Palin is downright embarrassing. He alone in the news world thinks that she is hiding an innate superior political acumen and that she will, at the appropriate time, dazzle the entire political world with it. I’m not sure, and I don’t think that the organ he is thinking with is his brain. He claims that, “she knows exactly what she’s doing when she lets her eyes go up in the air.” Yeah, Chris, so does a high school prom queen when she unbuttons her top button. She’s getting adolescent newsmen to start pole vaulting around the newsroom.

Then he awards the “first ever Hardball Award” to Roland Burris for having the “moxie to stand up and demand what is rightfully yours.”

Burris had to know, and was undoubtedly told by more than one person, that his acceptance of and insistence upon this Senate seat would create embarrassment for his party and his president-elect, and that it would distract and detract from the momentous events leading up to an historic inauguration. That he desired so badly to sit in the Senate for two years to be willing to have all of that happen for his own personal gain is hardly worthy of any kind of award.

Then yesterday he was thrilled by the “passion” with which George W. Bush delivered his self-defense in his final press conference. He admitted that the President was wrong and that much of what he said was utterly detached from reality, but he admired the manner in which all of that self-aggrandizing crap was delivered and was thrilled by the event.

Chris Matthews greatest failing, in my eyes, is that he expresses great admiration and affection for people who engage in the most gross form of destructive and dishonest self-promotion. He seems utterly unable to see through the most gauzy veneer of absolute bullshit. I will never forget (or forgive) the “thrills that ran up his leg” as George W. Bush strutted on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln declaring “Mission Accomplished” when anyone who had read even the American corporate media knew that Iraq was about to descend into chaos.

More than the moment, Tweety, context has meaning.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Game Day

In postseason play the home team is always favored, as the higher-seeded team gets the home field advantage. So far this weekend the Arizona Cardinals beat the Panthers in North Carolina, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Titans in Tennessee, and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Giants in, well, New Jersey (their home field).

Can the San Diego Chargers, playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a few minutes, make it four for four? It's game time.

Sunday, 5:30pm: That was embarrasing
Do not let the 35-24 score fool you; the game was nowhere nearly that close. In the third quarter the Chargers ran one offensive play. One play for zero yards. (It was a pass which was intercepted.) They committed two turnovers in that quarter. I have never seen anything like that in a regular season game between badly mismatched teams; but to see it in a postseason, playoff game between two division champions...

This was another massive coaching failure. The coaching staff was terrified of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They, not they players I think, but the coaches, were pretty much wetting their pants at the prospect of having to face this team. The defense played a very effective aggressive attacking style, holding the Steelers to zero points, until late in the first half when Big Ben completed a long pass. At that point the defense went to sitting back deep and using its "we're not going to let you complete a fifty-yard pass" mode. The game was effectively over when that coaching decision was made.

Update 2: Monday, 7:10am
From Tim Sullivan, of the San Diego Union-Tribune,
The Chargers don't like to dwell on their missing parts, but it was impossible to watch the Steelers driving with impunity without imagining how different things might have been with Merriman.

And yet the Chargers defense, without the sainted Merriman, held Pittsburgh to zero points and were pretty much in control for almost the entire first half. The coaching staff, for reasons known only to them (if, in fact, the reason is actually known to them) decided to revert to the ever-failing four man vanilla pash rush and set the secondary in a deep zone.

Even with Merriman, complete with his batman hood and superman cape, when the Chargers rush the same four people in entirely predictible patterns against a playoff caliber team, they are going to put no pressure on the quarterback. The return of Superman Merriman is not going to make any real difference when the Chargers' coaching staff continues to use a "prevent" defense for an entire game.

Opponents do not need to complete the fifty-yard pass that the Chargers are preventing, when they can complete an infinite number of eight-yard passes and twelve-yard runs for five touchdowns per game, staying on the field and keeping our offense on the bench for up to an entire quarter.

"The Chargers don't like to dwell on their missing parts" Sullivan says, but that is pretty much all they have done all year. Instead of looking at why they have actually lost games they have come up with platitudes about "close games" and bad calls by the refs, and have continued with the same bad coaching and player attitude.

"Close" only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. Champions don't lose close games and they don't win close games, because champion teams don't play close games. Champion teams play with attitude and they win games with margins that mean that bad calls by refs and bad bounces by the football don't matter.

Update 3: Monday, 8:00am
Who/what are the team and sportswriters going to blame next year when Merriman is back and the team is still losing? They don't seem to recall that we lost last year when he was playing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

No Explanation Req'd

weekend forecast

Presidential Attitude

Yesterday President-elect Obama made a big speech regarding economic policy. Questions followed, during which time it was suggested that his plan might need modification and that parts of it were meeting with disagreement from various quarters. Being presidential, Obama made snide remarks about those who disagreed with him, defended his positions, cut down the positions of others, and said that he would veto any bill that did not precisely meet his specified plan.

No, wait. That wasn't actually what he did.

What he actually did was say that he wanted the plan to work, and that any good idea would be included in the plan; that he didn't care where the idea came from. He said there was no "pride of ownership" in the plan. He said he welcomed ideas from all quarters.

Good heavens. Is that any way to run a country? (Well, imo yes.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Chicken & Rice Skillet

meal in a skillet2 chicken breasts, roasted or grilled (i.e. leftovers)
1 sweet onion (Vidalia, Mauai, Texas Sweet), cut to 1” chunks
1 red Bell pepper, cut to 1” chunks
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup white rice, cooked
1 tsp+ garlic, crushed or minced fine
½ - ¾ tsp Oregano
½ tsp Thyme

Tear the the chicken into bite-sized shreds and saute it with the garlic and olive oil over medium-high heat until it is just barely starting to brown. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook with the heat still medium-high, stirring fairly often, until the onion is just starting to turn transparent. Add the peas, Thyme and Oregano and turn the heat down to medium.

Add the rice as soon as the peas are thawed and stir everything in together. Keep the heat at medium or just a little on the high side so that the rice browns a bit and let it cook for ten minutes or more. You can turn the heat down after a while and let it simmer for half an hour or so, but you’ll need to stir it from time to time, even if you are using a non-stick skillet.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Cutting Cost of Government

I’ve refrained from commenting on Obama’s appointments and the like, since I prefer to judge people by their actions rather than by less tangible means. A couple of things in this blog in the Times, however, concern me.

This “performance officer” sounds a lot like the function of the General Accounting Office. This agency has been performing extremely well for many years at it’s appointed task of rooting out government waste and inefficiency. That the government has completely ignored the results, with Bush even going to the extent of shutting it up, is not the fault of the agency. It is well staffed and very effective.

Ms. Killefer is presumably not going to be sitting alone in a back room wearing a green eyeshade, so it seems to me that creating her office with its own staff is a duplication of effort. That rather increases the cost of government all by itself, and it increases the degree of bureaucracy in Washington. Not quite consistent with the kind of change that Obama promised in his campaign.

Thre is also a statement by Obama that “changes in Social Security and Medicare will be central to efforts to bring federal spending in line.”

Obama has noticeably not talked about reducing overall military spending. On the contrary he is talking about increasing it, about making our military even larger. His cost cutting will, however, include Social Security and Medicare.

In the aftermath of an economic meltdown which devastated the retirement savings of millions, he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. He wants to increase jobs to take care of “working people” but doesn’t seem as concerned about people who are past working; people who saved all their lives for retirement and saw those savings wiped out and who have only Social Security to fall back on.

Not to mention that those things are sparately funded, with their own taxes, and have nothing to do with federal spending.

Just thought I'd let you know

new ownerYes, that's the current forecast. For January. The Chargers will be playing in Pittsburg, where the forecast is for 19 at gametime, with snow flurries. I'm watching it on television from home.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Right to Self Defense

Updated below, Wednesday morning.

So, let me ask you this. If a man is standing on my neck and I am hitting him on the kneecap with my fist. He takes out a gun and shoots me in the head. Is his action with the gun properly defined as “defending himself” when he could have stopped me by simply not standing on my neck?

“Israel has the right to defend itself.” Says President Bush regarding the destruction that that nation is raining down upon Gaza, just as he said earlier when it rained down similar destruction upon Lebanon.

There are no good guys here, and it bothers me that our media and our leadership keeps referring to the Israeli acts as “self defense.” The invasion of a neighboring country and the destruction of its infrastructure is not self defense. The retaliation against insurgents, people who are fighting against the illegal military occupation of their land captured in war and occupied in defiance of United Nations and international laws and conventions, is not self defense.

The firing of unguided rockets by Hamas into Israel is a war crime, in that those weapons are not specifically targeted at military installations and are therefor capable of killing noncombatants. But bear in mind that Israel is blockading Gaza, depriving the entire population of food, energy, medical supplies and other necessities of life. When that fails to unseat a democratically elected government, Israel resorts to invasion and destruction. Blockade and destruction of infrastructure are known as “collective punishment” and that too is a war crime. The fact that what you are doing is being done in response to a criminal action does not make it non-criminal.

Otherwise known as, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”

Hamas is not the “good guys.” The Palestinians are not the “good guys.” The Israelis are not the “good guys.” All of this destruction and death accomplishes nothing other than an outlet for hatred and fear. And we keep getting sucked into it by an irrational degree of unreserved support of a nation that, with our full support, has turned into an international gang of thugs.

There probably is no solution, at least none that we can provide. The least we could do though, it seems, to me, is avoid telling them not to stop killing each other.

Update: Wednesday, 7:30am
From The Guardian, admittedly not a bastion of objectivity, but...
I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

The writer is Avi Shlaim, an Israeli. Read the whole thing, but be prepared for a degree of discomfort.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Not "Sweetness" but...

5'6", 181#, 329 yds, 2 td's.
Darren Sproles.

Do not let that 23-17 score fool you. Take away a few times that Chargers decided to momentarily put their heads where there is a serious lack of sunshine and this game was 31-10 with no overtime required. The better team won.

Observed in the stands was a hand-lettered sign, "Jay Cutler: Probowl, Payton Manning: MVP, Watching Philip Rivers beat both of them: Priceless."      Indeed it was.

A shout out to Utah. Who would have imagined that they would knock off Alabama, and do so in such a decisive manner. That was no fluke. I'm not buying the "number one" claim, but they deserve a lot of acclaim for a truly superb season.

Not so much NBC, who sucks as much as any other network. In the earlier game with eight minutes left Collingsworth is saying that, down by 14, the Falcons still had plenty of time and could afford to stay with their running game. I thought that was a pretty stupid comment, and apparently so did he because less than two minutes later he was commenting that they needed to pick up the pace as they were running out of time. Moron.

Any why, exactly, does NBC pick as their visiting "expert" the recently-fired president of the Detroit Lions? This is the man who built the team that just became the first in history to have an 0-16 season. A team, in fact, that could have played 16 high school teams and still gone 0-16. Why do they think that we would consider his profound opinions about football matters to be remotely worth listening to?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Homeward Bound

Watching bowl games yesterday. Networks all really, really suck.

Georgia gets a really good runback on a punt by Michigan State, enhanced by a MS penalty. We go away for a long string of commercials and when we return Georgia is celebrating a touchdown and the announcers are talking about it as if we had not missed it.

In the second half of the Rose Bowl we are subjected to an inane discussion between Mussberger and some no-name sidekick about subjects having nothing to do with the game in progress. The discussion is stupid as hell, the camera is on the pundits as much as it is on the field, and play after play runs off without comment from these idiots. Admittedly, the game was not very competitive at that point, but still...

Anyway, homeward bound today. Home in time for the NFL playoffs.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dumb and Dumber

Word is that the Obama economic stimulus plan will include lowering income tax withholding to stimulate the economy. The thinking is that consumers will spend the $40 or so per week they receive on their paychecks, while a big check of $1000 would go to paying down debt.

My reaction to that is seriously negative on a couple of levels. First, consumers would be better off paying down their debt. Second, it suggests an effort to rebuild an economy based on consumer spending. That economic model has already failed, and done so in a major way. Why do we want to rebuild a failed model?

Here we go again: populism wins over good sense.