Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Subron 8: Captain's Mast

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

My nephew asked how many times I'd been to Captain's Mast. Ha.

On a diesel boat Captain's Mast was never conducted at sea, and was held somewhat irregularly when we were in port, but whenever one was held and I was not there the Captain wanted to know why not. I think he was not sure how to hold Mast without me there.

I nonetheless got the third chevron below my crow before I got my first hashmark. To those who don't know, that means I made E-6 before I finished my first four-year hitch. That certainly could not be done in today's Navy, and I'm not sure it could have been done then anywhere but on a diesel boat, and only by an Electrician. EM's were in short supply.

And, at the risk of being immodest, I was very good. I had a hell of a reputation when it came to diagnosing a fault in a motor controller, or finding a distribution problem and, best of all, I was the best jury rigger on the boat. That was a skill highly valued on a 21-year-old diesel submarine, a ship type that was already becoming the bastard stepchild of the submarine Navy, which was rapidly going nuclear.

Response to comment, Wednesday afternoon
And I'm still not going to answer the question, because I don't know the answer. Let's just say it was not a particularly rare occurrence. It typically had to do with overly enthusiastic consumption of alcohol while on liberty which, in those days, was by no means considered a heinous crime.

And luck had nothing to do with the time and place, buddy. The choice of rating was deliberate when I joined the Navy, specifically designed to give me the best chance of winding up on a submarine and specifically on a diesel boat. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get waivers due to being taller than the maximum height allowed, and with my test scores they were hell bent to put me on a nuclear boat, which I emphatically did not want. From about age ten I had been determined to serve on an operational diesel submarine and I worked my ass off to make that happen.

A Study In Overreaction

And for today’s lesson in overreaction, we turn to the provision in the “Health Care Reform” bill that passed in 2010 regarding “high risk insurance pools” for people who had been turned down for insurance by the health insurance companies. The projected cost per person for this provision was $13,026, and the current projected cost for 2012 is $28,994 per person.

Certainly this is not terribly good news but it doesn’t, I think, call for the total meltdown engaged in by one financial piece that I had the opportunity to peruse.

Here's the truth folks -- if one percent of the population is "high risk", that's 3 million people. If the cost per person is $30,000 a year then we're talking about $90 billion a year. And that's if it's just one percent of the population.

Remember, the original design was for people who (1) were employed, (2) therefore could pay, but (3) had been turned down. When you look at the total panoply of uninsured, about 16% of the population, the odds are that we have at least one percent of the people in this category.

Simply put this is one trillion dollars over ten years, basically. Which we do not have.
Which we cannot raise. Which, incidentally, is almost one quarter of all Medicaid spending in 2010. That's right -- a 25% increase for 1% of the population.

That’s a longer quote than I usually engage in, but since I’m not going to embarrass the writer by linking to the piece, I wanted to bring all of it to you. I think he went a little off the rails there.

He’s talking about “one trillion dollars over ten years,” which is a masterpiece of irrelevancy, since the “high risk pool” provision expires in 2014 and the program only has this year and next year to run. So even if it was $90 billion per year, he’s off by almost an order of magnitude.

But even his “1% of the population” is massive overreaction, because spelled out right there in the article to which he is reacting is the very clear statement that only $600 million was spent in the last 18 months, so getting from $400 million per year to $90 billion per year requires a somewhat staggering leap of imagination.

His train of thought starts with an “if,” followed by an “odds are” and a ten year figure for a two year program, leading to a 25% spending increase for a presumptive 1% of the population. And I thought the sleeping pill study algorithm was flawed.

Oh God, Another "Study"

So now we have another of these “studies” which reveals that modern medicine is probably killing you, all in the name of the greedy profits of sleazy corporations and to save time for lazy doctors, because they can simply write you a prescription instead of having to spend time with you. Sleeping pills are killing you people, slaughtering you like cattle in a packing house.

I am very familiar with Scripps Health, the outfit which published this “study,” and in fact I had surgery done there just last month. They are quite a good health care organization, and that is a point worth making. They are not a research organization; they are staffed with practicing doctors and nurses who cure sick people who walk in their doors.

The study followed 10,000 sleeping pill users and 23,500 non-users in Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2006. About 1 percent of non-users died during that time, compared to 6 percent of sleeping pill users. Since the medical records available for the study didn't include the cause of death, it's unclear how sleeping pill use contributed to the higher death rate.

(emphasis mine) Notice that they were working from medical records. So, do they know whether or not the sleeping pill users were taking the pills properly? They do not. Do they know whether the pill users were even taking the pills at all? They do not; they only know that prescriptions were written for the pills.

They do not know, for God’s sake, what the cause of death was. Patient Alpha was murdered by her husband when she asked him for a divorce. She had been taking Ambien for two weeks, therefor her Ambien use contributed to the death rate. Give me a break.

They say that, “the team's algorithm considered both users' and non-users' age, [blah, blah] to determine if any other conditions were contributing to the mortality rates.” Right. Did it account for the two-week user who was shot by her jealous husband? No, only actual research would do that, and knowing the actual usage and actual cause of death, you idiots.

I always love this “we had an algorithm which adjusted the data for…” No, you had an algorithm which massaged the data to produce the results you wanted it to produce. Or even if you had no preconceived result, what makes you so certain that your “algorithm” was valid?

The publisher of the study warns that sleeping pills can result in “waking up in a ‘hangover’ state, where they are at a higher risk for falls or car accidents.” Any medication has to place some responsibility on the user for proper use. If you take a sleeping pill at 2:00am and then get up at 6:00am to drive to work then you might well be at risk for a car accident. The warning labels on the medication tell you very clearly not to do that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a vested interest, as I take Ambien regularly due to a neurological issue called Parkinson’s Disease. Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep is a common aspect of that disorder, and without the medication I would probably never dare to drive a car at all, as I would be falling asleep all day. Vested interest or not, this “study” strikes me as bogus.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fracking Responsibly?

An op-ed in today’s New York Times by Joe Nocera is an example of why this country is failing to control the corporate pillaging of both our environment and our economy. The title is “How to Frack Responsibly,” but read it for yourself, and tell me how in hell it lives up to that name. It doesn’t even come close. The first paragraph is, in its entirety, “Fracking isn’t going away,” and in the second paragraph we find this,

To put it another way, the technique of hydraulic fracturing, … has more than proved its value. Fracking’s enemies can stamp their feet all they want, but that gas is too important to leave it in the ground.

Do you really need to read any further to figure out where this asshole is going with his half-witted, corporate propaganda diatribe?

He does ask the question, “How much methane leaks into the air as a result of fracking?” and answers himself, “Incredibly, nobody knows.” Then, instead of responsibly saying that we should hold off on engaging in this pernicious process until we know the answer to that question, he says we should study it and think about regulations, and meanwhile continue fracking and leaking at the maximum possible rate because… Well, you know, because the drillers need the gas.

Incredibly, he has some so-called environmentalist outfit on his side,

One thing I’ve always liked about the Environmental Defense Fund is its hardheaded approach. Founded by scientists, it believes in data, not hysteria. It promotes market incentives to change behavior and isn’t afraid to work with industry.

These people are the ones who apparently gave this bonehead the idea that we should study the fracking process rather than actually, you know, stop it, or at least make major changes to it and make those changes now, before major damage is done to our environment. Not only that but if regulation is ever implemented, these idiots don’t want the federal gov't involved, they think that states would do a better job. Right, like the states’ records on regulating the oil industry is such an unblemished success.

Missing completely from his half-witted discussion is the effect of fracking on domestic water supplies, which is a well documented ongoing disaster and ample reason to shut down fracking in its entirety immediately.

Subron 8: We Have Air

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

Somewhere in North Atlantic, running on the surface in heavy weather. Pughead, a Machinist Mate 3 and I are in the pump room working on the high pressure air compressor. There are several things wrong with this picture, but we’re doing it anyway, and we are not having fun.

Most things on a submarine are dual purpose, so that if something fails then something else can be cross connected to serve in its place. If the bilge pump fails, for instance, we can cross connect and use the trim pump to pump bilges. That gets bilge water in our trim tanks, so we don’t do that unless we have to, but accumulated bilge is a problem, especially on this pigboat, which leaks like a sieve.

Anyway, one of the things which we have two of is the air compressor which provides us with compressed air at 3000 psi. That air is critical, as it provides the pressure for our hydraulic system, and is what we use to blow our ballast tanks when we want to surface. We use enough of our stored air surfacing, usually, that we can’t dive again until we replenish our supply of high pressure air using these beasts, which are powered by electric motors and are located in the pump room directly below the control room.

So when one air compressor produces a loud clank and craps out, that presents a major problem. We are on our way somewhere that we aren’t being told about (now revealed to be the north coast of Russia), and if we have only one air compressor we’ll have to abort the mission and turn back. The situation calls for a control room conference, which includes me in case the problem might be the motor or a control, and I happen to be the closest Electrician. I opine that motors don’t usually fail with a loud clank, but…

So the MM3 and I go below into the pump room. There isn’t a whole lot for him to check out, as the air compressor is a sealed unit which is replaced in its entirety when need be and is never repaired by the ship’s crew. He checks for metal filings in the oil and such and finds nothing. I check the motor and motor controls with the same results. We disconnect the coupling and find that the motor turns, while the compressor seems to be partially seized up. This is not good.

We go back up to the control room and make our report, and more of a crowd has gathered. The Chief Electrician is there and asks me a few questions, which I answer. The Engineering Officer and the XO have a few questions, and no one seems to like those answers either. The Captain isn’t saying anything, but he’s looking at me, and I kind of know why. I’m one of the top ranked Electricians on the boat and, while I’ve caused a bit of trouble from time to time, I also have a reputation for getting things done.

Mostly, in the Navy, repairing machinery is the province of Machinist Mates but, like most diesel boats these days, we don’t have many of those so the Electricians Mates, who normally care for electrical distribution, motors and motor controls, also pitch in on dealing with anything powered by an electric motor. On a submarine, that’s pretty much everything, so we stay pretty busy and I’ve done a good bit of mechanical work.

“We could take it apart,” I pipe up, “and see if we can fix it.”

What had been a gloomy silence turns into a “there’s a crazy person in the house” silence, and everyone is staring at me like I’ve suddenly lost my mind. All except the Captain, who was already looking at me and whose expression has not changed at all. I have a sinking feeling that he somehow suckered me into saying that.

“It’s sealed,” he says, “shipyard job.” But he’s still looking at me. I’m thinking about the time I stole the mooring lines off the sub tender, and I have a hunch that he is too. I’m not a big believer in letting petty regulations stand in the way of what I need to get done.

I shrug. “Better to ask forgiveness after we get back than to ask permission after we abort.” I’m not actually sure what that means, but I get the tiniest hint of a smile.

“Even if we’re stupid enough to do that,” the Engineering Officer chimes in, “we don’t have any parts.”

“Might be able to make ‘em,”
I come back. “Or if something’s broke we could probably weld it up. We jury rig half the stuff we fix.”

“Oh, that’s encouraging,”
someone retorts. The XO gives him a dirty look.

After a bit more discussion the Captain says to go ahead and I immediately wish I had kept my stupid mouth shut. The MM3 agrees to help and I send for Pughead, who is my favorite “partner in crime.” The three of us are gathering tools and getting ready to go below and the XO puts his hand on my shoulder. “You really think you can get it going?” he asks. I just shrug.

We get below and start on the problem and it doesn't take long to figure out why this thing is replaced rather than repaired. There isn’t room down here to take this effing thing apart. So we’re down here where there is room for maybe one guy, two at a pinch, and there’s three of us. It’s hotter than hell. We’re fighting with doing something that we’re not supposed to be doing, with machinery that we don’t have plans for, and we’re doing it on an unstable platform. There is, needless to say, a good bit of cursing and yelling, using the Navy’s favorite word, which starts with “f,” ends with “k” and isn’t “firetruck.”

At one point the XO comes halfway down the ladder and wants to know how the job is coming and I want to tell him to just eff off and leave us alone. I was not in a very good mood and had already told two Chiefs and a Lieutenant (jg) to do precisely that, but it’s best not to do so with the XO, so I just make some noncommittal noise. He offers some officer-like encouragment and then observes that, “it sounds like you’re trying to teach two machines how to mate.” He’s never really approved of bad language.

“Yes sir,” I tell him, “when they get the hang of it we’ll let you watch 'em.”
He opens his mouth, looking sort of like a beached carp, but can’t think of a snappy comeback and so merely closes it and leaves.

After taking apart several things that weren’t the problem and therefore didn’t need to be taken apart, we finally find the problem. The compressor has cylinders, much like your car but a little more complicated and the cylinders aren't all the same size, and a valve has broken off and gotten sucked into a cylinder. Happily, it didn’t do any real damage in there and with some welding and grinding we can cobble up a new valve. After about eight hours or so we have it pumping air, and it holds up.

And I have banked up brownie points for the next time I might be facing the “The Man” at Captain’s Mast. All in all, not a bad day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reverse Tribalism

The liberal side of the blogosphere has devolved almost entirely into an exercise in discussing the insanity and/or disgusting nature of the current crop of Republican candidates. There is little or no evaluation of Obama’s campaign or of his efforts at governance, to the rather pathetic degree to which such efforts exist. At several places I have commented on that point, saying that posters and commenters claim to be liberals and asking why they are discussing conservative issues and ignoring the Democratic campaign, and the responses have been interesting, to say the least.

Some have been personal, of course. One person said that “some education would help” me. I don’t doubt the validity of that, but I don’t see what it has to do with this subject. Many were of the “you’re an idiot” variety, which suggested to me that I struck some nerves.

One response was that “we’re vetting the Republican candidate at this point in time,” to which I would respond with, “Yes, that’s rather the point of my statement, but why?” The posters and commenters all profess to be liberals, so how many of them are going to be voting in Republican primary elections? I didn’t think so. Given that, for what purpose are you “vetting the Republican candidate” then?

Another said that “there is no Democratic campaign.” Oh really? I believe Mr. Obama is going to be really disappointed to hear you say that, since he has been spending a hell of a lot of money, time and energy to stand behind podiums all over the country and shout campaign slogans. Apparently you’ve been so busy “vetting the Republican candidate” that you didn’t notice your own candidate campaigning. It might upset him to know that his own base is not listening and doesn’t, in fact, even know that he’s doing it.

I suspect that liberals are actually very unexcited about their own candidate, who is decidedly not very liberal, and they don’t have a lot to crow about either with his accomplishments or his campaign promises. So they turn to making themselves feel good by trashing the other side. It may work for them, but it just makes them look pathetic to me. “We don’t have anything to say for ourselves, but boy those other guys are really stupid.” Color me unimpressed.

More American Insanity

Afghanistan erupts into violence directed at the American occupation, hundreds of thousands of people pouring into the streets across the country to express their hatred of the "American occupier," and the response from "the highest levels of the Obama administration and Pentagon" is that maybe we can't pull out after all, at least not as soon as scheduled, because the Afghan troops are not yet able to control the riotous mobs.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Waxing Poetic

Secretary Clinton is going off the deep end, saying that if Assad doesn't do this and that that he will "have more blood on his hands," that it is "despicable" the way that Russia and China voted on the UN resoltion and asking, "whose side are they on?" Well, not on ours, probably. They voted against us in the UN rather than against Syria because, in their own words, they "didn't want to open the door for American interventionism and regime change as in Libya." She apparently didn't hear that part.

She sounded really pissed off, but of course she pisses off really easily.

Update, Saturday morning: Secretary Clinton is fond of saying that "the world is united against Iran," and is probably soon going to say that Russia and China will "find themselves isolated" if they continue to refuse to vote against sanctions on Iran. Juan Cole at Informed Comment has provided us with a nice world map putting that into proportion, with red being nations boycotting Iran and green being nations refusing to do so. That doesn't look like a world "united against Iran" to me.

lego mania

Auto Bailout Reality Check

I do think that Obama was right to “bail out” the auto industry, but that process and its outcome is in need of a little bit of a reality check today, the first being that Obama didn’t even start the process. He came into the middle of it, finishing up a process that was begun by George W. Bush who donated $17 billion of TARP funds to the cause in his last month in office. Obama then followed with $60 billion a few months later.

Note should be made that the bailout did not include Ford Motor Company, which restructured on its own and has become profitable without government intervention.

It also should be pointed out while crowing about GM’s “highest profit in history” that the profit level has been reached by inflation (each unit sells for a far higher price than historically) and cost cutting, not by a true increase in sales, which are still at abysmal levels compared to historical highs.

Let’s also make note that, while GM is adding jobs, the number of people they employ is still vastly smaller than the number they employed before the restructuring, and the average wage is quite a lot smaller, even considering the $7000 profit sharing checks that workers will be receiving this month. The reduction in workforce and wages was part of the bailout, a condition imposed by the government.

Finally, the impact of GM having paid back its loans is lessened a bit by the fact that the government has not yet been able to redeem its GM stock without losing it’s metaphorical shirt. The majority of GM stock is still owned by the taxpayers, and for us to be able to sell it at so much as break even on our investment, that stock would have to more than double in value.

And, of course, Chrysler is now owned by a bunch of Italians.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Michael Crashes, Hilarity Ensues

There were two Waltrip brothers involved in the first Gatorade NASCAR race at Daytona today, Darryl doing commentary and Michael driving one of the race cars. Darryl is a former NASCAR champion and was a very decent driver, Michael is more of an egotistical “personality” than he is a driver, and has about as much success driving a race car as I would have being a quarterback for an NFL football team.

Michael managed to crash his race car while leaving the pit after a fuel stop late in the race, which was hardly a stellar display of driving skill because he was pitting all by himself and the crash was totally unassisted, but the announcers managed to fall all over themselves in a manner that made Michael look positively expert.

First, the accident itself was unobserved; all that the audience or announcers saw was Michael’s car hitting the wall. Darryl immediately speculated that Michael must have cut a tire, causing him to spin out. There was no evidence for that, the two tires that could be seen were fully inflated, but Darryl never needs any evidence to start declaiming why a crash is not his brother’s fault.

Then Larry MacReynolds declared that the crash and ensuing caution was a “huge break” for Denny Hamlin and Marcus Ambrose, two drivers who had made pitstops earlier. No, Larry, it would have been were they still on the lead lap, but they had been passed by the leaders just a few minutes ago and were now a lap down and so the caution is of no help to them whatsoever. Perhaps you didn’t notice the leaders passing them, or forgot that they had done so, but since you are narrating the race, noticing and remembering is what you are supposed to do.

Then we see a replay of Michael’s crash and it is clear that he botched the transition from the flat apron to the banked racing surface. Darryl’s “cut tire theory” is blown so he now launches into a theory about how Michael must have picked up some debris on his hot tires which caused him to lose traction and spin out. That theory is visibly weak and no one else picks up on it, but Darryl repeats it several times, becoming more enamored of it each time he repeats it.

Then another announcer sort of spoils Darryl’s moment by telling us that Michael has just apologized to his crew for making a mistake and crashing the car, admitting that the wreck was his fault and saying, “Sorry, guys.”

Darryl is unswayed, saying that “I really think that he picked up debris on his tires,” and repeating his theory as to why the wreck was not his brother’s fault. Where he thinks the debris came from is unclear, as there has been no wreck and Michael has been driving in the racing groove and has not been anywhere that debris would have been being deposited.

This announcing crew sort of reminds me of the trio on the Bob Newhart Show. “Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” Except the two Darryls never have anything to say.

Tone Deaf

One of the problems I have with Obama is his unwillingness to face difficulty head on, other than to take relatively “cheap shots” at Republicans. His reaction to rising prices for gasoline is typical. From The Hill newspaper a couple of days ago,

He will highlight the fact that production is up and imports have fallen, and will note additional steps the nation can take to deal with higher gas prices, the officials said.

None of which addresses the problem. Admittedly, he can’t really do anything about high gas prices, so instead of exercising leadership and telling people to face facts, he tries to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t really a problem, and does his version of “drill baby drill.”

And he seems, at times, to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the American people will hear. His proposal to cut corporate taxes and “close loopholes” at this point strikes me as utterly inane. Voters are going to hear the “cut taxes” part in great numbers, but few are going to hear the “close loopholes” part, and of those who do very few are going to believe that any loopholes are actually going to get cut.

So what people are hearing is that he wants to raise taxes on the rich and cut taxes on corporations, and I doubt there are going to be very many voters who think that makes any sense.

Count me, by the way, among those who think that corporate rates will be cut, that no loopholes will be closed, and that Obama is idiotic to propose this in the present environment.

CBS and Ultrasound

CBS News did a lengthy piece on a proposed law in Virginia which would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, a law which has since been dropped. CBS went into a great deal of detail about the proposed law, and gave the distinct impression that it was something new and revolutionary. It is not. No fewer than seven states already have such laws, and both Texas and Oklahoma (you can figure it would be them) require the viewing screen to be placed where the woman must view it. The proposed Virginia law did not require that.

Suppressing Rebellion

I'm not sure the comparison is entirely valid, but in condemning the "brutality" with which Assad is suppressing the rebellion in his country, we might want to reflect upon the fact that The United States was not exactly restrained in the manner in which we suppressed rebellion in this nation. Sherman's march to the sea was hardly an act of kindness, and he burned Atlanta to the ground. Vicksburg and Shreveport were shelled for weeks without discrimination. We thought then, and continue to think now, that such action was justified in maintaining the integrity of our nation.

We may not consider Assad to be legitimate, but he does; and he still enjoys considerable support in his country. What is he supposed to do about those who are trying to overthrow him by force? He is meeting force with force, admittedly with greater force, and I'm not sure that he doesn't have the right to do that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Justifying The Unjustifiable

Paul Krugman asked a question in a column on Feb 13th, wanting to know, “How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality?” This is, of course the liberal mantra, that conservatives are detached from reality, but they have no problem with their beloved leader in the White House coming up with gems like the following.

On the war in Afghanistan, “We are denying them space in which to plan their attacks.”

The attack of 9/11 was planned in Hamburg, Germany, and the attackers did their training in Tampa and San Diego. The last three external attacks on this nation have originated in Yemen. The last several attacks “prevented” by the FBI have originated in the United States.

Sort of reminds me of the insane asylum nurse who asked an inmate why he was doing something and was told it was for the purpose of keeping the elephants away. The nurse pointed out that there were no elephants anywhere near the asylum, and the inmate calmly replied, “See, it works, don’t it.”

On Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “We can’t allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, because that would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

Does he even listen to himself when he says things like this? Israel has nuclear weapons and Iran, if we accept his rather doubtful premise, is trying to develop them. If this is not an existing ongoing nuclear arms race, then what is it? There has been a nuclear arms race ongoing, according to his premise that Iran is seeking nuclear weaponry, and he’s blathering about Iran trying to start one.

Conservatives make statements which are detached from reality for the same reason that liberals make statements that are detached from reality; they are trying to justify the unjustifiable. Liberals like to believe that conservatives are the only ones who do that. No, liberals probably do it to a lesser degree, but the practice is not unique to conservatism.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Friendship 7, Mercury Program

Fifty years ago today. I did not realize the the Atlas rocket was built in San Diego. Of Course, in 1962 I did not really know that San Diego existed. I did boot and EM school at Great Lakes, Submarine School at New London, and was still there when John Glenn made his flight. Shortly after that I would be stationed in San Diego, but not for long, and it was not until 1994 that I made this city my home.

Anyway, in 1962 I was certainly aware of the Mercury program, and later of Gemini and then Apollo. Like much of America our space program kept me glued to my television set for many huors. What happened?

Is Our Government Honest?

From a post at Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis, an interesting observation from looking at numbers posted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those are the folks who tell us that the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3% and that the economy is recovering.

In the last year, the civilian population rose by 3,565,000. Yet the labor force only rose by 1,145,000. Those not in the labor force rose by 2,420,000.

And I have a bridge in Brooklyn upon which I can make you such a deal.

The Three Phases of War

Andrew Bacevich doesn’t seem to buy into the “greatest military in the history of mankind” theory. In his piece at Tom Dispatch describing the WFKATGWOT (War Formerly Known As The Global War On Terror), he described the aftermath of our military’s invasion of Iraq as, “when harassed by minor insurgencies and scattered bands of jihadis, they proved surprisingly slow to figure out what hit them.”

Indeed. I recall that variously being described as “shit happens,” “a few die hard loyalists,” and as “a last gasp.” That “last gasp” lasted something like seven years. It should be noted that he reserves his contempt for our leadership, and not in any way for the fighting men and women of our armed forces, whom he holds in the highest respect. I share his position.

You should read his piece in its entirety, but the gist of it is that he breaks the WFKATGWOT into three phases.

The first phase he labels “Liberation,” and I’m pretty sure that is sarcasm. The alternate label for that is “shock and awe,” but he makes it clear that while it may have shocked a few, it didn’t awe very many, as they waited for the dust to settle and then kicked the shit out of us. I think the Marines at Iwo Jima might have warned them that that might happen.

The second phase is “Pacification,” otherwise known as the Patreaus era, or the religion of COIN. Read the history of its application both in Iraq and Afghanistan and you might realize that the only thing that was “pacified” was the American public. By making the public able to ignore anything happening beyond our borders, we were able to move to phase three.

Phase three is “Assassination.” This is sort of the “wild west” policy of “just kill ‘em all and let God sort 'em out,” and I, personally, find it the most repugnant of the three; not only in that we are doing it, but that the public not only accepts but cheers it. We violate the sovereignty of a nation with whom we are not at war and summarily execute someone against we have established no actual proof of wrongdoing. Not only does the public accept this, but they cheer wildly and call the man who ordered it a national hero.

It would be bad enough if it were killing only that one person, but it kills bystanders in significant numbers, persons whom we do not even pretend have done anything wrong. We simply deny that they got killed at all, or we declare that they were persons who deserved to be killed without even knowing who they were.

You may be okay with all of that. I most definitely am not.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Does This Make Sense?

No posting yesterday because we were without power all day. Late posting today because we have been expecting a brief shutdown again today and did not know when it would occur. Happily, it occurred just five minutes agter the PGA sudden death overtime was completed. Anyway, in the “how does this make sense” department:

Warren Buffet says that he pays less tax than his secretary and urges a 1% tax increase on rich people, says he’s willing to pay and additional 1% tax himself. “Occupy Wall Street” hails him as a hero, while condemning rich people as evil doers and thieves. Warren Buffet is among the five richest people in the nation, but because he claims to pay less tax than his secretary he is hailed as a hero. Really?

Obama says the religious employers have to provide birth control in their health care packages and outrage ensues. Then he says that the employers need not do so, but the health insurance plans offered by employers must do so. Of large employers, 40% are “self insured,” meaning that they do not utilize an insurance company but pay the cost of health care themselves. Of companies with over 200 employees, 82% are self insured. For these companies, then, there is no difference between the employer and the payor of health care costs. So how is Obama’s “accommodation” actually a solution for the outrage that first arose? Well it is because he says so, and it is not permissible to subject Mr. Obama’s pronouncements to critical evaluation.

The United States economy is recovering dramatically, with jobs being created and unemployment dropping at rates which are quarantined to secure Obama’s reelection. The DOW will break 13,000 this week. Meanwhile, Greece will default on it’s debt shortly, Europe is sliding into recession, housing bubbles are bursting in Canada and Australia, Japan is enduring a sharply increasing trade deficit, as are we, the price of oil is rising sharply, and China’s economy is slowing dramatically. None of the world’s economic problems will affect us in the least, though, so don’t worry about anything. Vote for Obama and buy stocks.

Canadians want to build a military base in Germany. For what purpose is unclear; apparently just to have an "overseas military presence." Somebody named Carlm says, "What are those Canadians thinking, eh? Let the Germans fend for themselves, they've got the money and the know how to do the job, if they choose. But why would they when others, namely the US, are dumb enough to do it for them." Do what for them, for God's sake? Who is attacking Germany these days, that they need massive numbers of troops for defense?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inducing The Voters

Paul Krugman has a column in the New York Times today, pondering the strange fact that the so-called “red” states which elect the most Republicans are precisely the same states that benefit the most from the government spending that Republicans profess to hate so much. As is typical of people who have lots of money, live in cloistered environments, and make their living studying society rather than living in it, he gets it wrong. He manages to blame it on the Republicans.

He says, for instance, that “working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues.” Indeed. Think about that for a moment while I rephrase it for you. “Working-class Americans decide to vote against Social Security for themselves because they want to prevent someone other than themselves from getting an abortion.” And that decision is forced upon them by the G.O.P, according to Paul Krugman. The poor, helpless voter plays no role in making that voting decision.

He goes to great length to point out that a huge portion of people voting Republican do so because they think that “government spending mean programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on” and should therefor be slashed, even though they themselves are recipients of Social Security and Medicare. Somehow that, too, is the Republicans’ fault and not an indication of the stupidity of the American voting public.

Paul Krugman makes the same flawed assumption that virtually all liberals make; he assumes that Republicans know that they are wrong, know that what they are doing is bad for the country, and want to do it anyway because they have evil intentions. He is so impressed with his own conviction that it is incomprehensible to him that anyone could not believe as he does. He is an idiot.

Republicans are as fully convinced that they are right as he is convinced that he is right. His convictions look as ridiculous to Republicans as theirs do to him.

Politicians make sales pitches. Right now Democrats are trying to convince us that we are winning in Afghanistan, that the summary execution of citizens is justified, that the economy is booming, and that killing civilians overseas with unmanned drones is a good thing. Republicans are trying to convince us that spending is a bad thing. Both sides are trying to convince us that Reps and Senators being millionaires all is perfectly suitable.

Americans have to pay attention, and they are not. It’s not the Republicans’ fault and its not the Democrats’ fault. The fault lies with it’s the voters who are not voting, or who are voting stupidly because they are listening to and believing lies. They are not “induced to vote” by anything. They vote stupidly because they are stupid, or because they just don’t care.

And that, dear friends, is how democracy dies.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Choosing A Side

If you want to go to liberal blogs and discussion boards to read about liberal issues, about what liberal policies the government should be doing or why Obama should be elected, forget it. They don't talk about things like that. To be a liberal, one talks about how bad the Republicans are, the awful things that conservatives are doing, and why the Republican flavor of the day should not be elected. They do crow at great length about how Obama is going to win in a landslide come November, but only because the opponents are such criminal idiots.

Conservative groups decry liberal policies to be sure, but to a very large extent they talk about conservative issues, the policies which their candidates and legislators are proposing, and why Republicans should be elected. Some of those policies and proposals make sense to me, but most of them do not, and their candidates are mostly very unattractive.

At this point I see absolutely no reason to support either side.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Subron 8: Black Smoker

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

Maneuvering room, first dog watch, steaming on the surface, five days out of home port New London. The 7MC squawks, “Maneuvering, bridge,”

I reach up and press the lever, “Maneuvering, aye.”

“Maneuvering, this is the Captain on the bridge. Who’s on the motor controls?”

“Bridge, Maneuvering. EM1 Heffner speaking, sir.”

“Okay, Heffner, what’s your engine lineup?”

The Captain is a little lax on comms protocol, but I don’t think I’m going to set him straight on that. He’s asking me about the engines, even though I’m an Electrician and am on motor controls rather than in the engine rooms, because the engines on a submarine do not directly provide propulsion for the boat. Each engine is permanently coupled to a generator, which provides electricity to charge batteries and to turn the motors which drive our propellers. Once the engines are started by the Enginemen, they are controlled by the EM’s in the Maneuvering Room. The Electricians even decide, for the most part, which engines will be used.

The Captain can see from the bridge which engines are running, the exhausts and engine cooling water discharges are clearly visible from there, but he doesn’t necessarily know what the engines are doing.

“Bridge, Maneuvering. I have engines one and two on battery charge, Captain, and number three on propulsion. Engine number four is idle.”

I probably should have said that number four was out of service, but I was trying to keep heat off of the Enginmen, who were working furiously to get it back up; something to do with injectors. It had been out of service since we left port and was supposed to have been running by today, and was not.

“Is number four in service?”

Well, so much for covering the Enginemen’s asses. “Bridge, Maneuvering, negative sir. They were working on it when I came on watch. Said they should have it up sometime tonight.”

“What’s the state of your battery charge?”

“Bridge, Manuevering,”
Just because the Captain blows off comms protocol doesn’t mean I’m going to, “both batterys are at about 80% sir. I need about another hour with two engines.”

“Okay, Maneuvering, we can live with 80%. Number three is smoking like a bitch. Shut it down and use a single engine on charge. Tell the Enginemen to clean their damned injectors. Bridge out.”

“Bridge,Maneuvering, Shut down three, one engine on charge one on propulsion. Aye aye sir. Maneuvering out.”

I begin the modestly complex process of moving the levers, called “sticks,” which control the routing and amount of electrical current to motors and batteries and, when the timing is right to do so without stopping the propellers, reach up and hit the kill switch for engine number three.

I kind of want to tell the Captain to talk to the Enginemen about the injectors himself, because they don’t work for me, although when we want to get on their nerves we tell them they do because of the way the engines are managed. If it had been the Engineering Officer I might have done that, but not the Captain. So I get on the “growler” and call the after engine room. “The Captain says that engine #3 is smoking and suggested that you might need to clean the injectors.” How’s that for diplomacy?

“The effing injectors are effing fine,” I’m told, “and smoke is the least of our problems. The effing engine is not shutting down.”

What? I look up at the rpm indicator for number three. Sure enough, it’s really low, but it’s not zero. “Have you manually pulled the fuel racks?” I ask. Stupid question, and not very constructive, as all it does is piss them off. The engine is not getting any fuel, and it’s still running. Weird.

“Maneuvering, Bridge.” Shit, he sounds pissed.

“Maneuvering aye.”

“What the hell’s with number three? It’s not shut down and it’s smoking even worse.”

“Um, we’re working on that Captain.”

“You’re working on that?”
Yeah, right. I don’t blame you for not believing that Captain, I don’t believe it either. “What does that mean?”

I was hoping he wouldn’t ask that, because I have no idea what it means, and I'm the one who just said it. It is not uncommon to have trouble starting an engine, but no one has ever heard of not being able to stop one. “Seems the engine isn’t shutting down, Captain. We’re working on it.”

As I’m speaking I see the rpm indicator drop to zero. I take a chance and tell him the engine just shut down, and hold my breath.

“I see that. Bridge out.”

So how was the engine running without fuel? Well, the Enginemen use something called “cotton waste” for cleaning. It looks rather like shredded cloth or balled up twine, and it turns out they had been tossing it into the bilge when they were done with it. It had been sucking up against the engine air intake and had clogged it up, so the engine was sucking air in through the crankcase. The air was picking up lubricating oil vapor, so the engine was running on its own lubricating oil. Which is why it was smoking. They got the engine to shut down by removing all of the crud from the engine air intake.

More Tribal Tactics

Let me see if I have this right. The Republicans “caved on the payroll tax cut,” in that they will allow it to be funded with additional government debt, and the Democrats won a huge victory which will all but guarantee Obama’s reelection. If this is what Democratic victory looks like, we are well and truly screwed in this benighted country.

Obama, from the day he took office, has been criticizing Republicans for cutting taxes, spending and running up the deficit. He has not been subtle about it, calling that a policy of “running the car into the ditch,” and it continues to be a part of his campaign today. So today we celebrate a Democratic victory that cuts taxes and increases the deficit. What just happened here?

Just last night I saw a film clip of Obama on the news saying, “We can’t go back to the policies which created this mess to begin with,” and advocating a tax cut which increases the deficit, with his supporters cheering lustily. Maybe we should pass the tax cut and increase the deficit in order to somehow magically restore the economy, but you just can’t reasonably do that and at the same time criticize the Republicans for cutting taxes and increasing the deficit.

More of the “It’s okay when my tribe does it” thinking.

Keystone Kops Update

Well, this is slightly better, but I'm not sure how much.

Police had planned to detain the suspect late Tuesday afternoon when he had a scheduled appointment with his parole agent, San Diego police Lt. David Rohowits said. But the man called his agent about 4 p.m. and said that his car had become disabled on the freeway. San Diego police officers then headed immediately to the location on I-8, with the help of El Cajon police and the California Highway Patrol.

So it was not known whether or not he was in the car when police arrived on the scene, and it took more than two hours, with no fewer than five police agencies combining their talents and forces, to determine that the suspect was not in the car. Meanwhile, the public was treated to dramatic television coverage of as many as half a dozen officers pointing their guns at the empty car, repeatedly advancing to within a few feet of the car and then slowly backing away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keystone Kops

Freeway madness
California Highway Patrol pulled this guy over on a San Diego freeway at about 4:30pm on Tuesday. He was suspected of a home invasion robbery which occurred in January. They ordered him to leave the car and he did not do so, and so the San Diego Police Department was called in and a standoff ensued.

Traffic was backed up for miles as the standoff lasted for more than two hours. A policeman stationed on top of the retaining wall dropped a tree branch on the back window of the car, shattering the window. This modern, high-tech procedure failed to drive the suspect out of the car. Police moved in on the car with weapons drawn and broke all of the windows, and could not see the suspect. An officer attempted to pry open the trunk of the car, something an average crook could do in a matter of seconds, and failed to accomplish the task, even when assisted by another officer employing a battering ram. He did pry it open sufficiently to ascertain one rather astonishing fact.
Freeway madness
The police had been pointing their guns at an empty car.

Notice the retaining wall behind the car and the total lack of plant material or any obstruction on the shoulder of the highway. Somehow, the suspect managed to exit the car and remove himself from the neighborhood without the police noticing, leaving them screaming at and threatening an empty car with their weapons for more than two hours.

Sleep well San Diego, your police department is on duty.

Creating Change

Greece: this is how it’s done. Not with coffee klatches and singalongs in public parks. You do not change the power structure with persuasion, you change it by making it fear you.

I am not necessarily a big fan of labor unions are they are constituted today, but I am an unrelenting supporter of collective bargaining. When we went on strike we did not sit outside holding hands and singing songs. We shut them down. When they tried to run the plant using supervisors we barred the gate, cut truck tires and overturned trucks. When they threatened to call in the National Guard we told them to go ahead, and that if they did so we would burn their factory to the ground.

Had we been demonstrating our resolve by singing songs they would not have believed us, but they had seen the tenor of our determination and they absolutely believed that we would do precisely what we said that we would do. The National Guard stayed in its armory and we won the day.

Were we right? I don’t know. Were the higher wages that we were demanding justified? Well, they had no more right to hold them down than we did to demand an increase. It was power against power. As we saw it, we were fighting for our future.

I am not in this fight because I am now an old man and it is not my future that is at stake. I fought for my future and now these children of privilege must fight for theirs. They think they can do that with campouts and singalongs in public parks. They are pathetic. If that is the best they have
to offer then they deserve no future.

No, I am not advocating the overthrow of our government by force. We did not burn their factory to the ground. We merely showed them that we were willing and able to do it and made them fear that we might.

Fear is the only language that power understands.

Where's Our Next War?

CBS News is still frantically campaigning for a war with Syria. Every night they run a highly melodramatic piece about the "desperate fight for freedom" and the "struggle to live free" of the "unbelievably brave freedom fighters," describing the latest "massacre" and complete with the same film clips every night in "an exclusive report from CBS staffer Clarissa [Whatever] reporting independently in Syria."

I haven’t yet figured out how a CBS staffer providing exclusive reports is “reporting independently” precisely. Perhaps it just means they aren’t paying her expenses, or won’t bury her if she gets killed.

Last night they also provided a self aggrandizing narrative of how Clarissa got into and out of Syria, creeping through mud drenched fields in the dead of night with no trees under which they could "take cover" and "literally wading through canals" risking death or worse. She was very impressed with herself.

Scott Pelley then asked Clarissa, "Last year President Obama led NATO to launch an air campaign to support the rebels in Libya and overthrow Ghadaffi. Is there any chance of anything like that in Syria?"

As if she would have better sources inside the rebel camp for that information than he would have in Washington, making it the silliest question asked so far this week. But he has to keep finding different ways to inject the suggestion that we go to war in Syria, which he does about two nights out of three.

And note the "to support the rebels in Libya and overthrow Ghadaffi" part. He seems to forget, or be ignoring, that the UN mandate under which we were operating expressly forbade assisting either side, and prohibited any attempt at regime change. I guess that's okay, since our government also ignored those two provisions.

Meanwhile, as Glenn Greenwald points out today, NBC News is agitating that we go to war with Iran. Personally, I think we are going to push Pakistan too hard and will accidentally wind up at war with Pakistan. Although it could be Somalia.

Monday, February 13, 2012


While we are in the midst of a pissing match over who will or will not pay for birth control pills, Athens is on fire. You won't see that in the New York Times, or much of any American media. The problem? The people want one thing, government doesn't agree, and the people are pissed off. In this country we "occupy" a public park and sing songs; have a nice campout. In Greece they let the government know that they are really pissed off.

And The Winner Is...

I have to laugh every time the President and his opposition get into one of these spats. Presently, Obama loyalists are saying that he is now a runaway winner in the November election because Republicans have "gone too far" with this contraception issue. This time, liberals are saying, the public will realize that Republicans are batshit insane and that they harbor a visceral hatred for women and so, according to Tom Friedman, the “Republicans might as well sit out” the 2012 elections and reserve their energy for 2016. (So I guess he’s suggesting they sit out the midterms in 2014 as well.)

News flash. This is February, and the election is in November. By the time voters go to the polls nine months from now they will not even remember that this little pissing match even took place. Exit pollsters will ask what role the “contraceptive issue” played in the vote that they just cast and the voter will give a blank look and say, “What contraceptive issue? What are you talking about?” Except the question won’t be asked, because the pollster will have forgotten about it too.

The election may be decided by some trivial little pissing match, they usually are in what passes for democracy in this nation, but it won’t be this one. It will probably be a misplaced flag pin on a lapel or something, but this one will have been forgotten.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

$48B Trade Deficit

The 245,000 jobs created did not result in universal enthusiasm and joy, as it turns out that the general public is still concerned about jobs, and the consumer confidence index dropped in January. Rather understandable, since the people who are crowing about what unbounded good news that is all have jobs, while tens of millions of the public at large still do not. If you have been unemployed for eighteen months and have no real prospects of employment it’s hard to be enthusiastic about news that some 245,000 jobs have been created and left you out.

Meanwhile, our balance of trade went farther into the red to the tune of $48.8 billion last month, the highest deficit it has seen since before the recession. The media should be screaming bloody murder about this, on the front page above the fold, but they barely mention it, on page twelve.

The problem with the trade deficit is twofold. One is that it creates more debt in this nation, the other is that it is the result of our overvalued currency which makes us less competitive worldwide and reduces our exports. Do I need to add that restoring our ability to export goods would add jobs? “Taxing the rich” will not come close to offsetting the $48 billion per month we are losing due to trade and monetary policies. This is another example of tinkering with trivia instead of tackling the real issues that face this nation’s economy.

There is a little gem hidden in there that blows the whistle on gasoline prices, too, but no one is picking up on that either. CBS News ran a segment the other day asking why gas prices are so high at this time of year, when lower usage normally causes them to drop. One reason given was that “several refineries are closed for maintenance,” causing lower supplies and keeping prices up. Noted in the trade data, however, is that exports “grew slightly in December, with records set for petroleum, services and advance technology goods.” If gasoline is expensive due to the short supply caused by closed refineries, why are we setting export records in that commodity?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Free Lunch For All

I don’t get this latest political controversy in the first place, and I sure as hell don’t get the so-called “accommodation” which Obama offered. To begin with I had no "dog in the hunt," because birth control is a nonissue for me and I believe that health insurance should provide it at no cost just as I believe that auto insurance should provide oil changes at no cost.

Well, okay, maybe not. If health insurance is going to provide daily routine health care, then women’s reproductive preventive care should be part of it.

So the health insurance plans offered by employers must include contraception, and the premium cost is shared between the employer and the employee. Religious organizations freak out because they don’t want to be forced to pay for something that they don’t believe in. Churches are outraged, Republicans are delighted and Democrats are dismayed. Why would Obama do something this controversial in an election cycle?

Well, it worked didn’t it? We’re not talking about the economy, jobs and the unemployment rate. We’re talking about how the fate of the nation rests on who pays the cost of birth control pills. That was his goal, to distract us from talking about issues for which he has no solution. In all fairness, nobody has any solution for that, really, but that is beside the point. Talking about that hurts him, so he wants to be sure we don’t.

Maybe if we talked about it more something could be done that would at least help create jobs and reduce unemployment, but he doesn’t care about that. He cares about getting reelected.

Unfortunately for Obama, he forgot that many Democrats are also Roman Catholics, and Catholics can be even more intransigent and unreasonable than Tea Partiers, so he is forced to beat a hasty retreat. His hasty retreats are often conceived deep in the recesses of his Harvard mind, and he really should vet them with someone on this planet before trotting them out.

He says that “the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.”

Now, trying to describe what’s wrong with this is sort of like trying to describe the Aurora Borealis to a blind man. I mean, you know what the Northern Lights look like, but how do you put it into words? Similarly you can smell the dead fish in his statement, here, but how do you define the components of the odor?

We’ll start with contraception being offered not by the employer but by the insurance company hired by the employer. If a man kills his wife he’s a murderer, but if he hires someone else to do it he’s not a murderer? So churches are fine with, “I’m not okay with contraception, but I’m okay with hiring someone else to do it for me.”

Or is it a case of the church saying that they actually don’t mind providing contraception to their employees, they just had a moral objection to paying for it and are willing to accept it for free?

According to the statement, the service is being offered “free of charge.” Well, what if someone comes up to that insurance carrier and says that they don’t want any of the other services, but they do want the “free contraception” which they offer? Even drunks figured out long ago that the “free lunch” at the neighborhood bar was not really free.

And how does is government able to dictate to a business that it must provide a service and not be paid for it? More specifically, it must do that based on religion, because it must provide that service to religious customers without payment, but may require payment from secular customers. Not only is that an unwarranted government interference with a business’ ability to conduct its affairs, but it seems to me to be government favoritism toward religious institutions and therefor unconstitutional.

What if Obama walked into, say, Target and started walking through the store and marking items at random and saying, "You have to give this item away free to anyone who is a Catholic," next week? Would we all applaud?

Unfortunately, this “accommodation” will probably hold up, because Democrats are too loyal to point out the flaws in it and Republicans are too stupid to even notice them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tribal Campaign

It’s interesting how writers can inadvertently reveal themselves. David Atkins has a piece at Hulaballoo today having to do with an outfit which purports to fact check campaign ads, and to do so on a sufficiently timely basis to be effective within the campaign. (Good luck with that, by the way.)

David says that, "When I want to see what latest lies are coming out of the conservative media establishment" he knows where to look and follows that with, "When I want to see what latest conservative attacks are coming down the pike" he also knows where to look, and he stops there.

I don't see him expressing any interest in "what latest lies are coming out of the liberal media establishment" or "what latest liberal attacks are coming." Is that because he believes that liberals don't lie and/or attack, or because he merely doesn't want to catch them doing it? If it’s the former I have news for him, and it’s the latter I have to ask why not.

Glenn Greewald has an interesting piece about how liberals were almost unanimous in their hatred of everything that Guantanamo stood for and wanted it closed forthwith, until it became apparent that Obama is not going to close it, and now a majority of liberals are either indifferent to its presence or favor leaving it open.

That single issue is not the point, so much as that each side today believes that everything the other side says is a lie and everything that their own side says is the truth, and any amount of “fact checking” is not going to change that. This political campaign is not about facts, as David’s expression of interest points out; this campaign is about tribalism.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Office For Life

George Stephanopoulos is interviewing Mitt Romney, and he asks him, "Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception?" Disregarding the question itself, Romney has not been a governor since 2006. Was he elected to that office for life?

Similarly, some nitwit was addressing Rick Santorum, and began a question, "Senator, do you agree..." How many United States Senators do we have in this nation? Well, according to the constitution, one hundred. According to the media, several times that number, because apparently that office is held for life, no matter what the voters decide.

Bill Clinton is sometimes referred to, properly, as "Former President Clinton," but he is more often referred to simply as "President Clinton," and the media frequently addresses him as "Mister President" to this day. I have never seen him correct anyone who addressed him in that manner.

Ignorance in king in this nation, and it seems that elected office is for life.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Technocracy Redefined

I have never actually disagreed with anything written by David Brooks in one of his editorials, but don’t worry; I’ve never agreed with anything he’s written either. That’s because I’ve never figured out what the hell he’s talking about. Frankly, I don’t think he knows either.

Today he’s babbling away about Obama the “technocrat” and I actually started reading it because I wanted to see what could possibly lead him to level that charge. I can imagine Obama as many things, but “technocrat” is not really one of them.

Early in the piece he pronounces that “The essential truth about poverty is that we will never fully understand what causes it,” which is a little strange because poverty is clearly caused by a lack of income. Even David Brooks should be able to figure that one out. I realize that conservatives have tons of theories about how welfare programs cause poverty, countering the liberal theory that such programs help to alleviate poverty.

Having told us that we can never understand the cause of poverty, he then waxes inanely eloquent at rather great length about the nature of the cause of poverty.

There are a million factors that contribute to poverty, and they interact in a zillion ways. The list of factors that contribute to poverty could go on and on, and the interactions between them are infinite. Therefore, there is no single magic lever to pull to significantly reduce poverty. The only thing to do is change the whole ecosystem.

This is what I meant about neither agreeing or disagreeing with anything that Brooks writes. What in the hell does any of that mean? He seems to be saying that creating jobs will not “significantly reduce poverty,” which rather beggars any contact with reality.

He then admonishes us that “If poverty is a complex system of negative feedback loops, then you have to create an equally complex and diverse set of positive feedback loops.”

Okay, we can “never fully understand” what causes poverty, he says, but then he describes it as a “list of factors” which creates a “complex system of negative feedback loops” which must be countered by… Whatever. Nowhere, of course, does he mention a lack of availability of decent jobs.

He also doesn’t seem to understand what a “feedback loop” is. By the theory he espoused there, the old saying about a chain and its weakest link would have to be changed to read, “To unchain anything, one must cut every single link in the freaking chain,” because a breaking a “feedback loop” is much like making a chain fail, all it takes is cutting one link. Just as a chain is dependent on each of its links, feedback is dependent on each part of its process, and a feedback loop ceases to exist the minute that any one element within that loop is removed.

If action A leads to B which leads to C which leads to D which leads to E which leads to F, then killing D eliminates the journey from A to F without doing anything about A, B, C, E or F. Feedback loops are extremely easy to disrupt.

And I’m still waiting for the “technocrat” thing, which he finally drops on us out of thin air. There is no buildup to it, no lead-in, just,

Members of the Obama administration aren’t forcing religious organizations to violate their creeds because they are secular fundamentalists who place no value on religious liberty. They are doing it because they operate in a technocracy. Technocrats are in the business of promulgating rules. They seek abstract principles that they can apply in all cases.

Emphasis mine. And here I thought that technocracy had to do with the application of science to the conduct of social order. I was waiting for Brooks to tell me the advanced scientific principles that Obama was cramming down our throats and about which Brooks was prepared to go all Luddite in his resistance to, and instead I’m getting that he is all pissed off that Obama is in search of “abstract principles” which can be universally applied, which actually sounds like an attempt at applying some sort of “fairness doctrine” to me.

He winds up with a little homily about how our society should be more like a rain forest than like a military battalion, and I can't even begin to explain that one. Go read it for yourself.

Subron 8: A Joke Backfires

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

Dockside, New London Submarine Base, “availability period.” That’s one of those weird Navy terms which means the opposite of what it sounds like. It means we are undergoing repairs of various types and are “available” to the sandcrabs (civilian shipyard workers) and are not actually available to perform missions.

I’m down in the battery well replacing a couple of cables, with a “non-qual” helping me. This is a guy who is new on board and has not yet performed the studies and tests needed to earn his "fish," the silver dolphin insignia worn by submariners. The process usually takes about six months and, in addition to serious study and performance testing, is accompanied by a good bit of hazing.

I drag a fairly heavy cable into place and, trapping a piece of it under my foot where he can’t see it, show him how it comes up about six inches short of reaching its attachment point. I make a big show of straining to make it reach, near as dammit pulling it out from under my foot in the process and ruining the plot, and finally “give up.”

“Shit,” I tell him, “We’re going to have to stretch it. Go up to tubes forward and get me the cable stretcher.”

He’s looking at me a little skeptically, and I get annoyed and tell him to just get his ass in gear and go get it. While he’s gone I head up to get coffee.

Of course the Torpedomen don’t have the cable stretcher. They lent it to the motor repair facility just last week. The non-qual comes back to tell me that, and I am hugely annoyed with him.

“Just get me the damned thing,” I yell at him. “Get your useless butt ashore and get it. There’s work to be done and you’re holding it up. Don’t come back without that effing cable stretcher.”

He heads ashore in pursuit of the cable stretcher and I finish my coffee and then return to the battery well and finish installing the perfectly adequate length of cable. His pursuit, as you may have concluded by now is fruitless; the motor repair facility doesn’t have it either, having lent it just two days before to the torpedo testing lab; the torpedo testing lab lent it to…

He returns to the ship sans cable stretcher to find the electrical division secured for the day and everyone laughing their asses off at him.

A few days later I’m pulling wires through some conduit and this same kid is helping me again. We’re using a lubricant to do this which we call “monkey shit.” I’m sure it has an official name, but I have no idea what that name might be, as I’ve never heard it called anything else. I have even put that term on requisition forms, and gotten what I ordered. I use the last of what we have, and I hold out the empty can and casually say to him, “Run up to supply and get me another can of monkey shit.”

He neither takes the can nor replies and I look at him. He’s glaring at me and shaking his head. “I may be a boot,” he says, “but I’m not stupid. You’re not doing that to me again.”

Doing Democracy

The Americans who are being put on trial in Egypt were there we are told, to “teach Egyptians how to do democracy.” The Egyptian government says they incited the riots and that is what the trial is about. My suggestion is that our government get those who who are still in Egypt out of the country, using force if need be, and then let Egypt do whatever it wants to. Just tell them that they aren’t getting their hands on our people.

That doesn’t mean that I have a lot of sympathy for the idiots who felt the need to go to Egypt. When a country is in the midst of a low level civil war, I would suggest staying the hell out of that country. And they were teaching Eygpt “how to do democracy” were they? Are you kidding me? Someone from the land of American politics was teaching Egyptians how to “do” democracy? This nation lost touch with how to do democracy decades ago.

The Drones Resume

This absolutely infuriates me. From Reuters yesterday,

A U.S. drone aircraft killed 10 suspected militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region near the Afghanistan border on Wednesday, security officials and residents said, the fifth such strike this year.

In Wednesday's attack, a drone fired two missiles at a house suspected of being a militant hideout in the village of Thapi, 15 km (10 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.

Emphasis mine. We now kill people on suspicion, and we kill them by the houseful on suspicion. This is who we have become. Not only assassins, but assassins of a degree and willfulness that we don’t even care about certainty. This is what this president has turned my country into and moreover, fully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse this policy.

And note that they are called “militants,” not terrorists. They are not suspected of plotting to attack the United States, but rather to attack our forces in Afghanistan, which is their country. They are Taliban, which has never killed a single American who was not attacking them in their own country. And we kill them in their houses, along with their wives and children, based on suspicion that they might be planning to resist our occupation.

And it goes unnoticed while we complain about how much money the rich have; while we parse political talks to find phrases we can take out of context and use to attack the speaker; while we wrangle over how much money our government spends without giving any thought to the purpose of that spending, merely arguing over the amount of it.

I once wore the uniform of the armed forces of this nation, having volunteered to put my life at risk to defend this nation and it's people.
I most certainly would not make that same choice today.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Now, This Is Wierd

I have never quite gotten the point when my wife checks the expiration date on sour cream. I mean, I don't really get using cream that has gone bad in the first place, but worrying about its "use by" date seems just misplaced to me. But this weekend I caught her actually removing the lid and smelling it to see if it was okay. Smelling it. Lady, it's freaking sour cream; it smells bad when it's good, what does it smell like when it goes bad?

Well, by definition it doesn't "go bad," it is bad, but...

Actions Drown Out Words

The United States is all kinds of indignant over the fact the Russia and China exercised their veto on the Syria resolution, pronouncing the move "disgusting" and such. No one in our government recognized that it happened as a result of our own damned fool actions.

We led NATO into a war in Libya which was supposedly for the purpose of protecting lives, the so called “responsibility to protect” doctrine, and then from the day we started the mission said that it would not end until Ghadaffi was gone. So whatever we said before, the war was actually about regime change because we didn’t stop until Ghadaffi was not only gone but dead.

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you say.”

Now Russia and China are saying that they are not going to support any kind of US-led resolution on Syria because they are concerned that the US and NATO will make use of any such resolution to “engage in regime change as they did in Libya.”

It’s not an invalid position. The UN resolution regarding Libya specifically prohibited action in support of either side, and the US-led NATO forces openly and blatantly supported the rebel forces. Not only did they do so, but the leadership of this country specifically said that support of the rebel forces would not end until “Ghadaffi is out of power,” which is undisguised regime change by force.

So on the “fool me once shame on me…” theory, Russia and China, having supported R2P once and gotten regime change by force, are not going to support R2P by the same actors a second time. I cannot say that I blame them.

Oh, Well, That's Okay Then

Paul Krugman says that a crash in Europe won't affect the US economy much, a mere 2% or so, so we don't need to worry about Europe's economic devastation. So we've all been hyperventilating over Europe for nothing. What a relief.

Now if he can just get this nation's inflation rate up to 5% so that the government prospers while poor people starve, he would be happy as a proverbial clam. Paul Krugman is an idiot.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Super Bowl

That was a really good game. Two excellent teams, both well coached, playing proficient and disciplined football. That is what a championship game is supposed to look like.

Until the last four minutes, during which the Patriots displayed a rather stunning degree of ineptitude.

Eli was clearly the better quarterback of the two. No contest. Brady threw the ball away resulting in a safety, he threw an interception that was just a stupid throw, and at the end of the game he was missing his receivers. On the interception, I knew when the ball left his hand that the throw was idiotic, and the pass that Wes Welker dropped was a poorly thrown pass. (Yes, Welker should have caught it nonetheless.) Manning either completed his passes or threw the ball away.

Is It Wisdom? Or...

I’m reading “The Operators” by Michael Hastings, which was recommended to me as an “explosive” expose of the war in Afghanistan. I’m a third of the way through it or so, and mostly it’s just boring. One whole chapter is devoted to describing going out to dinner and telling stories about waking up smelling like strippers. A whole chapter.

He makes one statement which, I think, illustrates why he wrote the book, and why a lot of people think it so “explosivly” reveals the misconduct behind the conduct of the war. He says that, “I didn’t quite get it, but then no one quite got what Graeme Lamb was saying. Wisdom is like that.”

Actually, wisdom is not like that, but bullshit is, and too many people mistake bullshit for wisdom. True wisdom makes the point and is understandable; otherwise, why make the point? Bullshit seeks to impress, and frequently does so with obfuscation. Remember the old saying that goes, “If you can’s dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

I think that Stanley McChrystal baffled Michael Hastings with bullshit, and he passed it on in his book.

Super Bowl Sunday

I am so excited. Pant, pant, pant. Eli Manning, who said he would sit out the season if the Chargers drafted him, versus Bill Belichek and the team that did victory dances on the Chargers' logo at midfield. Of course, the mood I'm in at the Chargers right now...

On a related note, our local small town newspaper was recently bought by Doug Manchester. This is a local developer best known for having his hotels boycotted due to his contributions toward the passage of the infamous Proposition 8 banning same sex marriage. He has already begun turning it into a lesser rag than it was.

His paper editorially proposed a $1.2 billion waterfront stadium proposal, on the front page no less, and he cannot understand why it is not gaining any traction. Even Dean Spanos, owner of the team, is still backing the $800 million midtown proposal. Manchester feels his proposal is much better for the city. He does not say that he would be the best developer to handle his proposed project, but...

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Why The Sudden Confidence?

The stock market is swooning over the latest jobs report, as are some of the media outlets and pundits. Other media outlets and pundits are saying either that the BLS reports are lies, or that the numbers underlying the jobs creation of 243,000 and drop to 8.3% are much more bleak. I don’t buy the first assertion, but there certainly is some validity in the latter, as the numbers leaving the work force is pretty stark, and the percentage of the population which is employed is essentially unchanged from the low point which it reached at the bottom of the recession.

The question that occurs to me, and one that has not been explained, is what caused the increase in hiring? What is the source of this sudden increase in confidence that caused employers to start adding employees?

It’s not consumer spending, that was dismal in December, so why the January hiring? Housing prices were down in December. The European crisis is showing some small signs of resolution now, but it was still in full explosion mode when this hiring occurred. American politics have not improved. There is much horn honking and bell ringing about the new jobs being added, and rejoicing about the economy improving based on those new jobs, but no explanation of what invoked the hiring.

Do we have a self licking ice cream cone economy? The economy is improving because employers are hiring, and employers are hiring because the economy is improving. Which means employers are hiring because employers are hiring?

I don’t think these numbers are lies, per se, but I don’t trust them either. And that’s nothing against the Obama administration; I didn’t trust them when the Bush administration was doing them either. They are based on the “household survey and the “birth-death model,” and they are not only “seasonally adjusted but the January numbers are “annually adjusted,” and this years January numbers are adjusted for the 2010 census” as well.

So in most months they are adjusted estimates” and this set of numbers are estimates that have been triple adjusted. Just how seriously should we take that kind of thing?

The government estimate of retail sales uses a “birth-death model” to estimate retail sales, one which became so widely discredited that it is no longer even reported. Or if it is, they no longer report it by that name.

For the “birth-death model” the government had a group of retail stores which they interviewed monthly, and retail sales estimates for the nation was reported based on that group of stores. Then they make some complex and unexplained “assumptions” about new stores and the death of existing stores, but they do not assume that any of the reporting stores are in the “death” category, and any of those stores which did not respond were assumed to have zero change in sales.

You do see the flaw in that, right? The government did not. Think Circuit City. They didn’t accommodate the concept that stores might not respond because they were out of business and their sales had dropped to zero. So that meant that the increase reported by other stores was bogus, it was not true increase in overall sales, it was business they inherited from stores which had closed. Meanwhile the defunct stores were being included as if they were still selling at their previous pace, so retail sales estimates were wildly inflated.

Is jobs reporting by the BLS suffering from similar flaws with its “surveys” and its “seasonal adjustments” and such? Well, I certainly don’t know the answer to that, and there is no way to really be sure whether it is or not.

In the case of retail sales, there is one certain measure to evaluate relative retail sales levels, and that is to look at sales tax collected by states. Those are real numbers and are available in pretty close to real time, as retailers pay those taxes monthly for small retailers and weekly for large ones. By comparing those tax collections on a month by month basis we can get a pretty accurate estimate of what retail sales are doing. We used to see those numbers published fairly regularly, but I haven’t seen them in quite a long time. Perhaps someone got tired of them being in conflict with government estimates?

For employment there is a similar measure, and that is income tax withholding submitted by employers. That is also real numbers and is submitted in real time, since the money is paid to the government within ten days of being withheld from employees paychecks. The increase in job creation should be pretty easy to verify within a couple of weeks if those numbers are made public. Somehow, though, we never see confirmation of the BLS “estimates” by showing that they are reflected in the employer income tax submissions.

I can’t help but wonder why not.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Sin By Juxtaposition

All of this hyperventilating about the health insurance that religious organizations are required to offer is just plain silly. Makes me glad I forswore formal religion all those years ago. The fact that a church must provide insurance that covers contraception for its workers does not mean that those workers have to engage in the practice of contraception, for heaven’s sake.

My health insurance pays for Cancer treatments, but that doesn’t mean that I have to get those treatments even though I don’t have Cancer, just because my insurance offers it. Sheesh. Somehow these bishops think that just being offered a service is a road to hell, even if you decline the service.

If I know that you are unhappy in your marriage, for instance, so I come up to you and offer to kill your wife and you say to me, “Oh good lord no, I don’t believe in murder,” have you done anything wrong? Show me a District Attorney who is going to charge you with anything.

The Obama Administration’s requirement is perfectly reasonable.

Leading The Parade

I can’t find where I read it now, but one editorialist commented that the earlier date for the change away from a combat role in Afghanistan was a welcome move but that a “more stately roll out of the policy would have been better; a presidential announcement more suitable than a somewhat hapless comment by the Secretary of Defense.”

Except that this has long been the way this administration does things, using the leakiest White House staff in history. By “leaking” policies in advance they can get media and public response before the official "roll out” that the editorialist refers to. If the response is favorable they can then proceed with the policy. If it is unfavorable they can deny that they ever had that policy in mind at all and that the “leaker” was misinformed, merely “misspoke” or that his remarks were taken out of context.

On the Libya issue that was called “leading from behind.” I've commented on Obama’s leadership as “looking for a parade to get in front of.” The “White House leak” or that offhand comment is how the Obama White House forms that parade. When enough people have joined the parade, and it is safe to do so, Obama comes out and gets in the front of the formed up parade. Leadership.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Afghanistan Role Change

From the New York Times, and the non-stop flapping gums of Leon Panetta, we now hear that we will "step back from a combat role" in Afghanistan in mid-2013, and that "role of our troops will gradually change from combat to support." There is no mention of troops coming home, and no mention of what factor, precisely, will prevent the enemy from shooting at and/or bombing our troops. Just that the "warlike nature" or our presence in Afghanistan will begin diminishing sooner.

Absent from this is any declaration of victory or any real reason at all. One might infer reasons, of course, such as that the French have gotten fed up and are leaving, and that all American decisions are now based on the fact that Obama is actively campaigning for reelection.

To paraphrase a former president, "We do these things not because they are hard, but because they are easy."

And, of course there’s the usual phrase that comes every time that Panneta shoots off his mouth, namely that, “Since then Mr. Panetta’s advisors have been scrambling to clarify his remarks and are now saying that…” It seems that the President still does not quite have his Secretary of Defense under control, and that the role of Panetta's "advisors" is not so much to "advise" as to play the role of the guys in the parade who follow the horse teams with the wheelbarrows and shovels.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Obama's Wonderful Mortgage Plan

This was actually first announced several days ago, but our progressive president is pushing his "mortgage rescue plan" pretty hard as part of his "populist" reelection campaign. The plan will is the rather awkwardly named, "Broad Based Refinancing to Help Responsible Borrowers Save an Average of $3,000 per Year" plan, and it will,

"...provide borrowers who are current on their payments with an opportunity to refinance and take advantage of historically low interest rates, cutting through the red tape that prevents these borrowers from saving hundreds of dollars a month and thousands of dollars a year."

Precisely why do homeowners who are "current on their payments" need rescuing? Why does the plan do nothing for homeowners who are behind on their payments, homeowners who have lost their jobs and can't make their payments, and homeowners who are in foreclosure? It only works to lower payments for homeowners who don't appear to be in need of having their house payments lowered. That is just plain weird.

Answering My Own Question
It is the usual campaign ploy used by all politicians. It sounds good and and relies upon the fact that voters will listen to the "buzz words" it contains, "helping homeowners," "saving $3000 per year," "cutting red tape," and not listen to what it actually says. Something like naming a bill the "Clear skies Initiative" when it actually allows an increase in the emission of pollutants.

Election Coverage

I actually tuned in to MSNBC election coverage last night for about ten minutes or so. Good Lord.

Republicans, I heard, all just despise every one of their candidates and would vote for a jackass if it was on the ticket. A real jackass, I mean, the kind with four legs and hooves. The majority who voted in the primary wish that someone else were running. Almost all of them had at least three reasons not to vote for Romney, but voted for him anyway. If Obama had been in that primary, he would have gotten 207% of the Republican vote.

That’s sort of hard to reconcile with the highest voter turnout for a Republican primary in something like 100 years, but the Rhodes scholar princess was undeterred by trivial data like that.

Chris Matthews told us at great length how even the candidates are unhappy as hell, and that none of them are “having any fun” in this campaign. He spent almost five minutes describing how grumpy and disgusted Romney is and how much he is hating this year’s campaign, and for several minutes of his diatribe there was film of Romney being shown, laughing hilariously, waving and kissing babies with great glee. He sure looked like he was enjoying the hell out of himself, giving Chris an unbroken track record of not knowing what the hell he is talking about.

Then we had Chuck Todd come on to tell us that Romney was the big winner among left handed auto mechanics of Lithuanian descent. He carried 80% of them, Chuckie told us, with eight votes. One left handed auto mechanic of Lithuanian descent voted for Ron Paul, and one of them didn’t vote at all. He was unsure why that one left handed auto mechanic of Lithuanian descent did not vote, and suspected that he might be dead, although why that would prevent him from voting was uncertain. That one non-voting left handed auto mechanic of Lithuanian descent, however, does “leave the door open” for Newt Gingrich.

Now Romney’s support among right handed auto mechanics of Lithuanian descent was somewhat...