Friday, February 27, 2015

The Cosby Thing

I have no real opinion about his morals. Facts are required to form such an opinion, and all I have are accusations. There are a sufficient number of them to lend some credibility to the issue and to create a faint distaste, but...

However, I watched a Bill Cosby special on television recently, and I have no idea why any venue is still presenting him as entertainment. He is inarticulate, misogynistic and utterly boring. I have watched a special on sewage treatment that was funnier.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lip Service Again

President Obama is trumpeting a “progressive agenda for the middle class” which consists of taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage, and providing free community college education. Other than the last, which has some tangible potential but is small and only a temporary fix, the agenda is his usual empty rhetoric.

There’s nothing wrong with taxing the rich but it should not be part of an "agenda for the middle class," since it does nothing to improve the their status. It does not raise their wages, provide them with better jobs, improve their access to truly affordable health care, or improve the conditions under which they work and live. In any case, Obama is talking about one or two percentage points of increase, and a truly progressive tax policy would raise the upper tax rates by twenty points or more.

Leadership should not be talking about minimum wage. Leadership should be demanding that no one in this great nation who is supporting himself, let alone a family, should ever work for minimum wage, regardless of what that minimum wage is. To insist that minimum wage should be sufficient to constitute a living wage is to have given up on restoring the middle class, to have surrendered the whole concept of general prosperity. We are not a minimum wage nation, and we should not be accepting, which we are beginning to do, that minimum wage is our standard of living.

In third world countries people live on minimum wage. In this nation we do not. We live better than that. We probably have to live differently than we do to assure a sustainable planet, but that’s a different issue. The point is that “minimum” is not in our vocabulary.

Free community college is a worthy concept provided that the community college is providing training in trades which constitute preparation for productive career jobs, not four year degrees that cater to the modern life goal of accumulation of wealth. There are job openings right now for welders, millwrights, pipefitters and other “skilled trades,” and providing access to training for those jobs is applaudable.

But more needs to be done to create more such jobs in the future, because the market for those jobs is temporary, caused by retirement of baby boomers and not by market growth. There is growth, but it is not sufficient to keep up with the population, and we cannot settle for the status quo. Once the current job openings are filled employment growth stalls again unless we have done something to create economic growth that is based on real production instead of being merely the manipulation of numbers in financial institutions.

We need, specifically to re-empower the working class so that paid sick leave, vacation and employer-provided health care are not issues mandated by government, but are benefits negotiated by workers because the workers have to power to do so as they once did.

We need to bring back production which has been offshored, so that this nation makes what it needs and wants, and so that the prosperity generated by our consumption is for the benefit of our own people and not squandered abroad.

Instead we get more lip service from our leaders, and we don’t need lip service and platitudes. We need real solutions offered by leaders who have vision and courage. Anybody?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Suing Over $7.91

A Washington state Attorney General filed suit against a florist for refusing to provide flowers to a same sex wedding, based on the state’s law prohibiting discrimination against “protected classes” (minorities). On first read I found the item unremarkable, but then I read “the rest of the story.”

It turns out the wedding involved a long time customer, Robert Ingersoll, who the florist knew very well was gay because he had been buying flowers for his partner at the florist for more than a decade. When he asked the florist to provide flowers for his wedding, she told him, apparently with regret, that her religion did not permit her to participate in same sex marriage. He responded by “giving her a hug,” and then suing her, “claiming $7.91 in out-of-pocket expenses, or the cost of driving to find a new florist.”

My first reaction is that Ingersoll seems to place great value on his freedom to practice his own beliefs, but he apparently does not think that the florist should have the freedom to comply with her own religious beliefs. This odd position is one which is, I think, altogether too common in today’s society. One certainly does not sue purely for damages when those damages are $7.91.

There appear to be two lawsuits ongoing, although the article is not real clear on that. There seems to be one by the couple for “economic damages to be determined at a later date,” which will probably be whatever “punitive damage” windfall the lawyers can persuade a jury to award, and another by the state for violation of the civil code against discrimination, in which the florist is accused of discriminating against a customer she served for more than ten years.

The law is, as was once famously said however, “an ass” and frequently does put law enforcement into positions where they do have to engage in such practice, so Attorneys General filing cases which on their face seem to deny an individual’s freedom for the sake of society’s greater good is not a big deal. If Ingersoll had not been a long time customer of the florist, I would have no bone to pick with the Attorney General.

He is quoted as saying by example that, “If an African American couple walked into a restaurant But that does not reflect what happened here, because the florist never refused to serve Robert Ingersoll because he was gay. She had been selling flowers to him, and presumably to other gay people, for many years. It was specifically the gay marriage that was her issue.

Since she did not refuse to serve gay people, as a juror I would disagree with her position, would tend to argue that selling flowers for a wedding does not constitute “participating in” that wedding. I would strongly suspect that she is a zealot proselytizing against the institution of gay marriage, but I’m not sure I would find her guilty of breaking any law.

The likely outcome, regardless of the rights or wrongs involved, is that the florist will be ruined, the couple will be enriched and the Attorney General will be reelected, all of which is what these trials are really about anyway.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Subron 8: Comms Etiquette

I had not been in the forward torpedo room for a week or so, even though I normally tended to hang out there when I was off duty. The torpedomen kept a high stakes pinochle game going much of the time, and I was one of the few other crew members who was a player of sufficient caliber to join it. My presence there was not universally celebrated.

The torpedomen did not much appreciate me taking their money, which I tended to do, but that generated nothing more than a certain amount of banter. Ill feelings were prevented by buying rounds of drinks periodically.

Somewhat more serious was that tubes forward is separated from my duty area by five compartments and no fewer than six watertight doors, all of which are only three feet tall. What with me being well over six feet tall, those doors presented a certain impediment to me arriving at my duty station in anything like a rapid manner when I was sent for, which sometimes annoyed my division officer. He would make snide remarks like having had to send for a sandwich so as to avoid starving to death while waiting for me to arrive.

The next time he sent for me I brought a sandwich with me, which he did not think was as funny as I thought it was. It created a small problem for the Chief Electrician, because he had trouble concealing that he thought it was funny as hell, but all of that is a different story.

Even more serious was that when any kind of alarm sounded all of those doors would be shut and locked down. And they would be shut very fast; so fast that they sort of made one prolonged bang. I would go flying through as many of them as I could before they were shut, but there was no way I was ever going to make it to my station in maneuvering room, especially since other people, some of them officers, were also using the doors.

To gain my station, then, I would have to call the Captain and ask for permission to open a single watertight door. Having gone through it, I would call him again, report the door secured and ask permission to open the next door. I then had to repeat this process as many times as needed to reach my station in maneuvering room. If I spent my spare time in the crew’s area in after battery I might have to do it once, at most, but coming from tubes forward I sometimes had to do it four or five times, and to say that it annoyed the Captain would be a considerable understatement.

The Captain, however, was a very understanding guy, and he could never bring himself to tell me that I was not permitted to play pinochle with the torpedomen in tubes forward in my free time. He finally reached the point where he would tell me, “Go to maneuvering and call me back to tell me that all of the watertight doors are secured.” My division officer dropped a few hints about where I should spend my free time, but I was real good at being very dense when I wanted to be, and his hints sailed right over my head.

So anyway, I decided to see if the torpedomen had a pinochle game going, so I went to a communications device called the “growler” to call up and find out. Using the growler is pretty simple; pick up the handset, set the dial to the compartment you want to talk to, then turn the crank to make it ring at the other end. First, however you listen to be sure no one is on the circuit, because if someone is, then turning the crank causes a loud and horrendously annoying buzzing in their ear. This was, unfortunately, a step which I had omitted.

I belatedly stuck the headset to my ear and heard a voice say, “Who did that?” Sadly, I recognized the voice. It was, without question, the Captain himself.

“You mean you don’t know?” I asked. There was a brief pause, and then the Captain replied, “No.”

“Ain’t I lucky.” I responded and quickly hung up.

About half an hour later, having found out that a game was starting, I was passing through the control room on my way to tubes forward. Speaking to someone, officer or enlisted, as you pass them is considered good form but is optional with the exception of the Captain; you do not pass him without acknowledgement. Under the circumstances I was tempted to break protocol, but told him good morning and he returned it, and then he spoke my last name. He said nothing further, so I stopped and looked at him. He was sort of half smiling. “You’re not that lucky,” he said,

I waited a moment to see if he was going to say anything else, which he did not, mumbled a hasty “Aye sir” and got the hell out of the control room as fast as I could.

I found out later that he was only guessing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Well, This Sucks

Our weather has turned cold, with highs only around 68, and people are having to wear long sleeves. Not long pants, though; nothing will get San Diegans to wear anything other than short pants and flip flops.

That does not include me, however; blue jeans and western boots regardless of weather. I do not own any short pants or flip flops.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tortured Logic

Jared Turner, of Fox Sports, indulges his fantasies of Danica Patrick stardom by giving us “3 reasons Danica can nab career win No. 1 in the Daytona 500.” His reasons are, to say the least, a sterling example of tortured logic.

Reason number one, he says, is, “her past Daytona success.” The facts rather contradict his starry-eyed thinking, because Danica has run the Daytona 500 three times, finishing 40th, 8th and 38th, for an average finish of 27th. That does not actually suggest high odds on her winning the race this year.

Reason number two is, according to him, that “Daytona loves Cinderellas.” He goes on to cite the number of times that rookies and underfunded teams have won at Daytona, but Danica has run the race three times and is therefor not a rookie, and her team, sponsored by GoDaddy and backed by Hendrick Motorsports, is one of the best funded and technically advanced teams in NASCAR. She hardly qualifies as a “Cinderella.”

The third reason he gives is that restrictor plates make the race an absolute crap shoot with all cars being equal, and means that any car in the race might win. That would mean that her chances are one in 43 of winning, which is hardly the best odds she will have all year. They are, in fact, the same odds she will have in the entire season.

Since this Danica fan wrote this piece of hyperbole, Danica crashed in practice, destroying her car completely, and will be going to a backup car for today’s qualifying race. Awesome.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Well, They Whiffed On That One

CBS Evening News did a segment last night on the report from Kaspersky, and to say that it was a swing and a miss would be a horrendous understatement. They missed the point of that report so badly that one would have to say that they swung the bat before the ball even left the pitcher’s hand, and would have to add that they did the classic spin themselves around and fall down at the plate. I think the pitcher balked and fell down laughing.

CBS went on at great length about the millions of dollars that were stolen, how balances were changed on accounts, and how the “hackers” would have ATMs spit out money at certain times and have people standing by to grab the $20 bills as they came flying out of the slot. Seriously.

Do you know how many man-hours would be involved in stealing the $1 billion that CBS claimed by changing individual balances, transferring amounts from those individual accounts and, for God’s sake, having bike messengers standing at ATMs collecting $20 bills? That would be a very lengthy ongoing enterprise, and they did that for all that time without getting caught? Nobody noticed the dudes hanging around the ATMs waiting for them to start spitting out money?

They actually said that “the hackers would program ATMs to spit out money at certain times, and then have someone there to collect the money.” Really. If they had claimed that they programed the ATM in a manner that would allow an accomplice to enter a code and withdraw unlimited funds, I might believe that, but to have it “spit out money” at a fixed time without assurance that it would, in fact, be collected is absurd, and ATMs do not hold all that much money in any case. Stealing money from ATMs is strictly small time stuff.

Now you can read an article in Reuters, another one in PC World and yet another one in Times of India, all of which are about the Kaspersky report and none of which mention monetary theft at all. What they do say is that Kaspersky discovered spyware in the hard drives of millions of computers which was undoubtedly placed there by NSA for the purpose of spying on behalf of the US government. The monetary theft, if it even happened at all, was a trivial sideline. The actual story was the ability of the NSA to plant spyware in the hard drive operating software of so many computers.

CBS forgot to mention that. They never mentioned NSA or the US government at all, but rather came up with this buffoonery about a $1 billion theft consisting of ATMs spitting out $20 bills. “Bonnie and Clyde would have been so proud,” Scott Pelley closed. Yeah, and Harpo Marx would have been embarrassed by Scott Pelley.

Update, (PS) 9:55am: The content of the piece struck me as bogus even as I was watching it last evening, but then when I went online and read the more objective articles today and realized the degree to which CBS was engaging in puffery and propaganda, I had to laugh out loud. And they are actually critical of Brian Williams.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Neoliberalism is our Frankenstein"

Patrick Smith writes a delightful takedown of today’s neoliberalism which, make no mistake, is the religion of modern Democrats including Barack Obama. He missed an opportunity to draw a parallel to between it and the equally odious and idiotic neoconservatism, leaving a gap which I will endeavor to fill here.

He relates the issue specifically to the crises in Ukraine and Greece, but don’t doubt for a moment that it is not at the center of this nation’s inability to meaningfully recover from the economic crash of 2008; the reason that Wall Street and corporations have actually gained from that crash while the working class has been left on the tailings dump of an elitist economic policy.

Smith points out that neoliberals draw their logic from the English liberal economists Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, which puts them even further from current reality than neoconservatives. Neocons draw from Ayn Rand, who was at least an American and lived in the twentieth century. (She was also a notorious drunk and “woman of loose morals,” but that’s a different issue.) Neolibs are drawing from Englishmen who lived in the 17th and 18th century, and whose thinking was about as relevant to today’s economic conditions as Richard Lionheart’s might be.

He goes on to note that neoliberals sort of “cherry pick” from the writings of people such as Adam Smith, quoting his words only when they bolster their case for the kind of chaos they wish to create. Sort of like fundamentalists do with the bible when condemning certain lives of which they disapprove.

Which is actually a rather apt comparison, since Smith goes on to point out that neoliberalism, “denotes not thought but belief, ideological conviction,” a point which I have noticed often in discussion. They do not tolerate other points of view and take the position that their minds are made up so they therefor do not want to be confused by any facts. Today’s neoliberal finds it very difficult to describe that for which he stands and spends most of any discussion ranting about the evils of the “other side.”

It’s hard to argue against his conclusion that neoliberalism “is the ideology of radical deregulation, radical corporatization, radical privatization … maximal profit without regard to consequences, and the radical devaluation of any serious consciousness of the communities in which all individuals are suspended.”

You might want to argue the first point, citing Dodd-Frank, until you examine the reality of that bill and give thought to what happens if, as Congress certainly intended, it is not adequately enforced. Where are the provisions that assure that it will be enforced, and where are the penalties for institutions which are found to be in breach? What happens if Congress fails to act as specified? The answers to all of that lie in the bills that were passed following the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s.

The relentlessness of privatization can be illustrated by Obama’s trip to California to “enlist the help of major IT corporations in securing the safety of the nation’s communication systems.” Need I say more?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The King Is Dead

The “liberals” at Salon and Huffinton Post are aghast at the announcement that Jon Steward is leaving the Daily Show, a show that they seem to forget is on the Comedy Channel. They are raving about the way that he “revolutionized the manner in which news is delivered,” and worrying about who will replace him. Replace him on the Comedy Channel.

Many are distraught because they claim that the public will no longer have a reliable source of “real news” with Jon Stewart gone, again I remind you, gone from the Comedy Channel. How seriously should we take people who rely on the Comedy Channel as their main source of news? Given that most of them are desperate for Elizabeth Warren to make a run for president, I would say the answer to that is, "not very seriously." And their concern seems to me to be misplaced in more ways than merely with respect to the venue of the show.

As best I can determine Stewart drew a nightly audience of 2 million people, which amounts to about 0.6% of the population. So these writers are not concerned about where “the public” will go for “reliable news,” they are concerned about where less than one percent of the public will go. Of every 157 people in this country, 1 person watches Jon Stewart.

The one time they never listened to Jon Stewart was when he told them, repeatedly, “I am a comedian, not a newsman.”

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Illusion of "Solving Inequality"

Even Republicans are now agreeing that “inequality” needs to be dealt with and they are, like the Democrats, proposing to deal with it by “taxing the rich,” that is by taking small amounts of money away from the richest Americans. That means that instead of owning 99.9% of America’s wealth, the “1%” will then own only 99.8% of America’s wealth, the working class will still be working two jobs to be only marginally able to pay their bills, and politicians can run on a platform of having solved the inequality problem.

Unfortunately, the American voters are delighted with this totally illusory solution. As someone said in a comment on another blog, “The level of acceptance of propaganda as truth in the US has now become staggering in its effect.”

Much is being made of sundry individuals in the 1% saying that they don’t mind paying a little bit more tax, using that as support for the plan of “taxing the rich” to solve the inequality problem. Of course the 1% supports this solution and is happy to pay a slightly higher tax, so long as the basic policies which created inequality and are still contributing to it are left in place. Their willingness to pay a higher tax should be a "red flag" as to just how bogus this solution actually is, something along the lines of Br'er Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch.

Inequality is not the real issue; it is the result of unfair economic and social policies, and is a symptom of those policies in action, and the progressivism in the tax rate is among the smallest of those issues. Solving inequality is going to require changing those policies in major ways, starting with the biggest ones, which are replacing the well paying jobs which were shipped offshore in the name of “globalization” and “free trade,” and allowing the forces of collective bargaining to regain equal power with business.

Taking small amounts of money from the rich may help the poor if it is redistributed in social programs, which for the most part it will not be, but it will do nothing towards raising the living standards of the men and women who work for a living and draw paychecks based on hourly wages. That is what the discussion must be about, because it doesn’t matter how many jobs we generate if those jobs do not permit the workers to support their families with dignity and a provide quality way of life.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Nightly Freak Show

CBS Evening News has a piece last night with Holly Williams purportedly interviewing heroic Kurds who are fighting the terrorist ISIS in northern Iraq, or Syria. She seems to be a little confused about precisely where she is, which might be due to the helmet she is wearing for dramatic effect. The actual effect is more silly than dramatic, since she is the only person in the area wearing a helmet. The actual fighters are wearing cloth caps and, since everyone is walking around in the open and no one is looking the least bit on guard, one has to doubt her claims that she is “at the front lines” and that “a terrorist attack could happen at any second.”

Not to mention that she said early in the piece that “the ISIS forces are four miles that direction,” which hardly portends “an attack any second” and rather debunks the need for body armor and a helmet.

She then holds a Skype interview in which Scott Pelley discusses with her how incredibly harrowing it must be for her to be traveling to such dangerous places, to which she replies that it is indeed nerve wracking to be where one is in danger of being killed but that that’s what brave reporters do. Fortunately, I had not yet eaten my dinner so I didn’t throw it up.

Scott Pelley closed, as he is now closing all interviews with this posturing jackass, “More intrepid reporting from Holly Williams.” Intrepid reporting. Gack.

Meanwhile, Stars and Stripes reports that NBC anchor Brian Williams, now admits that he was being less than truthful when he claimed to have been aboard an Army helicopter that was shot down in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. People who were in that helicopter, it seems, do not recall seeing him there.

One of them, Lance Reynolds, challenges him on Facebook. “Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.” He has more to say.

Williams at first tried to palm it off as having been in the chopper that was immediately behind the one which was hit by ground fire and forced to land, but eventually had to admit that he was in a flight that was following about an hour behind the flight in question, and that he did not arrive until the wounded chopper was safely on the ground and the crew was out of it unharmed.

He claims it was a “mistake” in his reporting, and that he doesn't know how he could have "misremembered" the event. Seriously. He claims that.

Our “mainstream media” is a nightly freak show.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Economic Obfuscation

Dean Baker castigates the Washington Post for telling readers that under Obama’s proposed budget, “interest payments will be larger than spending on any program other than Social Security and Medicare.” He claims that they should have reported instead that, “the interest tab projected for 2025 is 3.0 percent of GDP,” because the Post’s statement does not “provide context” for the amount of interest the nation will be paying, while his statement does.

Apparently he has no idea of what the word “context” means, mainly “the terms in which an item or concept can be fully understood and assessed.”

Saying that the government is spending “more in interest payments than it is on any program other than Social Security or Medicare” strikes me as fairly informative. It suggests that the debt upon which that interest is being paid is rather large and, most importantly, it very clearly tells me that interest payments are interfering with the government’s ability to provide services to its people.

Saying that the “the interest tab is 3.0 percent of GDP” tells me, at most, that the payments are not significantly damaging the nation’s overall economy. Except that it is not the overall economy which is making the payments, it is the government, and Baker’s inane statement tells me nothing whatever about how the payments are affecting the government’s ability to function financially.

Dean Baker is an idiot. He is critical of the media and then offers a “better” statement which provides even less of what he was castigating them for not providing.

But this is the function of today’s economist; to obfuscate and conceal economic reality because if the public realized what was really going on they would react with torches and pitchforks and burn down Wall Street and Washington both.

The purpose of relating everything to “a percentage of GDP” even when it is not a function of the overall economy but is a matter of government spending is a deliberate ploy to make the amounts look smaller and less significant, and to make the public more tolerant of the appalling and profligate waste and theft which has become the primary purpose of today’s government.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl

Both teams use a 4-3 defense, so it doesn't prove my point either way, but no defense will be successful when it sits back eight yards off the line of scrimmage and allows Tom Brady to complete 74% of his passes. The NFL should create the equivalent of throwing a towel onto the field and leaving the premises.

Exciting game? Not really. If the Patriots had played defense during the last two minutes of each half, and had Brady thrown one fewer interception, we would be talking about how boring the game was.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Why a 3-4 Defense Doesn't Work

The 3-4 defense does work very well if the defensive coordinator knows how to run it, but very few do, and as a result the 3-4 is very seldom particularly successful.

When the San Diego Chargers first switched to the 3-4 it was under defensive coordinator Wade Philips, who knows very well how to run that defense. He may be the best coach ever to run that particular scheme, and the Chargers were very successful with it for quite a while. Then he left, and none of his replacements have been able to provide the Chargers with a reliable defense using that pattern.

There was an article in the Detroit Free Press which posited that the Pro Bowl needed to change the way it selected outside linebackers because of teams which used the 4-3 defense, arguing that outside linebackers in the 4-3 did not make as many quarterback sacks as linebackers in the 3-4 and were therefor under-represented in the Pro Bowl. That was evidence, to me, that defensive coaches are not using the 3-4 properly.

Proper use of the 3-4 requires that all four linebackers play as linebackers. That means they are assigned as “head hunters,” assigned to cover a portion of the field with responsibility for defense against both run and pass. You do not merely treat the outside linebackers as nothing more than linemen who are standing up and use them as quarterback rushers. Doing that negates the advantage of the 3-4 in two ways.

First is that you no longer have four linebackers, you effectively have two linebackers and five down linemen and are actually using a 5-2 defense. You now have only 2-1/2 “head hunters” in the defensive backfield on each play because one outside linebacker is rushing the quarterback and the other one is a pass rusher who is wandering around back there wondering what the hell is going on.

You have also told the opponent where the pass rush in coming from. A major advantage of the 3-4 is that the opponent knows that a fourth player will be coming on the pass rush, but he doesn’t know where than fourth man will be coming from. It might be an outside linebacker, but it also might be an inside linebacker, or it might be a safety, or it might even be a cornerback. That makes blocking assignments very difficult for an offense. If he knows that the fourth man is going to be an outside linebacker, pass blocking becomes a hell of a lot easier.

Finally, a 3-4 defense has to be aggressive, has to attack the opponent. In the 4-3 defense you have four down linemen protecting three linebackers, preventing the offensive blockers from getting to and disabling the linebackers. In a 3-4 the linebackers are “naked.” You have only three linemen covering four linebackers, and blockers can easily get to and disable a slow moving or stationary linebacker. In a 3-4 defense the linebackers must be in motion the moment that the ball is snapped; if he remains static even for a second an offensive player can get to him and take him out. Too few defensive coaches realize that.

Announcers go crazy about the “last minute winning drives,” giving credit to quarterbacks and offensive players, but in most of the ones that I have watched, the real cause of that drive was a defense that could not finish off the opponent, and it was almost always a 3-4 defense that did not attack.