Why Now?
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
  Hurricane Season

November 30th is the last day of the hurricane season and it was rather exciting for those of us who live in the "Sunshine State". It was above average for the total number of storms and one, Ivan, managed the rare feat of making it to the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale at Category 5, constant wind speed greater than 155 mph. Fortunately it moderated before hitting the land.

Of course the real terror begins after the storm when hundreds of people who can't tell one end of a screwdriver from the other buy chainsaws and manage to get them started.

They have six months for the physical therapy and wounds to heal before we become Weather Channel junkies again.

It’s time to wait for Grandfather Frost or the Hogfather as the case may be. I know most people fixate on Saint Nicholas, but I think he should have done a bit more than dispense money to prevent a few girls from being sold into slavery by their father to earn his sainthood and general reverence. Of course, being Turkish he won’t be allowed in the US. His sleigh may be the only thing this new “operational” Star Wars defense system can hit.

 

  What malls were designed to be

Upyernoz at Rubber Hose has been on an upward trend as he celebrated his ascension to the minimum age for Presidents, including a spot in the Atrios line-up.

His post on people being arrested for a “protest” at their local mall coincided with an interview on NPR's Morning Edition [Biography Looks at Creator of the Shopping Mall 11/29/04] with Joshua Olsen the author of Better Places, Better Lives a biography of James Rouse, the creator of the shopping mall.

Mr. Rouse’s vision for malls was to create a town center in the suburbs. He was trying to provide the small town ambiance and convenience for the sprawling bedroom communities springing up around the nation. He included churches in his malls as well as shops and restaurants, and expected that political speeches would take place there. He was building in the 1960’s, so protests were part of the landscape, and he expected them to take place in his “town squares”.

One of the things I have always liked about living in city neighborhoods, and the tiny town I now live in, is the ability to leave my car in the driveway and walk to get what I need for everyday life. That’s how you meet your neighbors and become a community.

I could be snarky and make a comment about Intelligent Design, but I won’t.

The best-laid schemes o' mice an’ men
Gang aft agley
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy!


To a Mouse by Robert Burns

 

  Why are the Pharisees shouting?

Over at Atrios’ place I ran into this post by Hecate featuring a Frank Rich New York Times article.

It would appear that the Religious Reich is rushing to grab as much as they can before they are deemed irrelevant. A decline from 40% of voters in 1996 to 22% in 2004 who put moral values at the top of their concerns does not represent an encouraging trend for the political fortunes of the Apocalypse Posse. Lacking any core values, the Rovian machine will cast off anyone or anything that doesn’t add to its odds of winning elections.

As I doubt there has been that big a shift in belief among Americans, I have to wonder if many religious people are becoming uncomfortable with being lumped in with the “family values” crowd. The majority of good Christians I have met over my life didn’t need to tell anyone about their faith: they simply lived it.

 

Monday, November 29, 2004
  Elections

We have really got to get our act together. Portions of the US election are still in question, with both sides demanding recounts and a slew of investigations going on around the country.

The Ukraine is in stasis following their election with the only thing everyone agrees on is that it was questionable and some states calling for secession.

The Rumanians, right next door, just held an election on Sunday that the opposition is already is complaining was rigged and will require a run-off election, and the ruling party claiming victory without a vote count. Many are saying that Rumania will soon look like the Ukraine, with people in the street.

Two of the three largest ethnic groups in Iraq want their election put off until things calm down, but the biggest group is demanding it go ahead as scheduled.

It is sad to note that the only people who seem to be able to hold a decent election are the Afghanis. When the Afghanis are holding the fairest democratic elections in the world, the world needs to get a grip, slap ourselves up side the head a couple of times, and get back to work on the basics of the process.

It is extremely difficult for the democracies of the West to criticize the faux elections of the dictatorial leaders of the world when we don't seem to be able to hold elections that are above question ourselves. Show some pride people. Let's clean things up.

 

Sunday, November 28, 2004
  Cyberkvetch

Totally worthless factoid to amaze your friends: the largest single use of central processor chips is for television remote controls.

Over the years I’ve made some money from computers and have been using them since 1970. I know that they are capable of great blessings, but some have been turned towards the Dark side and become Cyberkvetches, electronic nags that disrupt your serenity and oneness with the Universe.

It is the slow movement with the bow barely touching the strings, more a suggestion of sound, than sound itself, and a cellphone goes off with a bad electronic version of the opening chords of the Fifth Symphony. It’s difficult to recapture the mood after the lynching.

You walk through the door and it starts: the beeping from the answering machine that won’t stop unless you listen to every message; the chirping from the microwave telling you that it has heated the cinnamon roll; the flashing from the VCR telling you there was a power outage; your cellphone beeping randomly to notify you of a weak battery.

You sit down and turn on your computer and every piece of software pops up a flag asking you to check for updates. You go to a web site and a banner announces that you need a new version of the software plug-in to watch the bad animation you didn’t want to see in first place. [Quick question: how many people realize that the icon used for a missing plug-in is supposed to represent a jig-saw puzzle piece…err…okay, how many know what a jig-saw puzzle is? Boy, that’s a really useful symbol.]

You go to the site of the important software you use, wait for three ads to finish, and find you have the most recent version and don’t need to update anything, but you have just lost ten minutes of your life.

Where is the guy who thought that turning computers into neurotic complainers would help sales?

 

Saturday, November 27, 2004
  Misspeaking

I've noticed that there is a habit for people to quote things that they don't seem to have read. With so many misquotes floating around it's worthwhile to go to the source.

The National Archives has the founding charters, including scanned images of the originals and transcripts in the original spelling-optional form. Anyone who feels inclined to quote the Constitution, the Amendments, or the Declaration of Independence should stop by and read the most authoritative forms available.

The Bible is the most misquoted of all documents, and I can't provide a link because no one can agree on a single, authoritative, English language version. I only consider it a misquote of the Bible when it can be shown when the quote has another recognizable source, Shakespeare most commonly, or it is a generally recognized misstatement.

While we're on misquotes, what's with the "yellow ribbons" to "support the troops"? I realize that a lot of these people weren't listening to the radio in 1973 when the song: Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree was a hit. To say it was maudlin treacle is redundant as it was a hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn, whose "hits" formed the book for lounge singers.

While I don't doubt that the ten-year-olds in Asia stamping out the magnetic signs need the pennies to avoid outright starvation, but I'm more than a little insulted by the symbol. I'm a veteran, and you aren't supporting the troops by comparing them to ex-cons, especially after Abu Ghraib. Read the lyrics! It's about a guy getting out of prison, for crying out loud.

The Iran Hostage Crisis spawned ABC News' Nightline and the resurrection of the saccharine anthem. Nightline could redeem itself by starting another counter for the Bush administration on screen every night, a count down to the end of our national nightmare and a counter for the national debt. The song should be re-buried with a stake through its heart.

 

Friday, November 26, 2004
  Ukraine on the Edge

The Ukraine is once again on the tipping point between Europe and Russia. The election and its aftermath are swirling around this question.

The conventional story is that the nation of Russia was founded in 862 when the Viking leader, Ryurik, was elected as the prince of Novgorod. This notion and the date are based of the annals of Novgorod, the oldest surviving records. Archaeology shows that Keiv, the capitol of the Ukraine, is the oldest city, and was the center of early Russia. When Ioann IV became the first Tsar of all the Russias in 1547 the capitol was Moscow. The Mongol invasion and destruction of Kiev pushed the center of power to Novgorod, and then Moscow.

There were three recognized divisions: the Great Russians, the White Russians, and the Little Russians. The Great Russians are now known simply as the Russians, the White Russians use the Slavic version, Belarus, and the Little Russians are the Ukrainians. The languages display their common roots, but they have separated over the centuries.

When the Mongols were evicted, the Ukrainians came under the power of their Lithuanian and Polish neighbors, but eventually rejoined the Russian Empire in 1654 under Tsar Alexis.

When the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990's not everyone was thrilled. There are elements in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine who want to form a confederation, as well as no small number who think the Russian Empire should be re-united. They enjoyed being a superpower, and want to return to that status.

Lukashenko of Belarus and Putin are on-board with a confederation, Lukashenko believes he will be the leader of the confederation and Putin knows that he will control it. This leads to the Ukrainian election.

The apparent winner, Yanukovich, is Putin's man and will lead the Ukraine into the new confederation. The opposition candidate, Yushchenko, wants the Ukraine to become a full-fledged member of the European Union.

The keys to the Ukraine are the opinions of the Military and the Security apparatus. The model for the governments of the former members of the Soviet Union is this troika: Party-Army-KGB, the Russian version of checks and balances. If the Party, represented by the current President Kuchma, can get either the Army or the KGB to back him in a confrontation with the opposition, Yanukovich takes over. If both back Kuchma, the protests will be put down and the current government officials can continue looting the country. If only one backs Kuchma there will be violent struggles. If both back Yushchenko, there will be trouble, but it is possible that a new, fairer election will be held.

Currently it looks like both the military and security are sitting out the problem, but the "Orange" [Yushchenko's opposition supporters] are ramping up their protests. The Ukrainian supreme court has put things on hold pending an investigation of voting "anomalies" and could order a new election.

Another problem is the ethnic mix: ethnic Ukrainians tend to live in the West, while ethnic Russians live in the East. There are also major groups of Rumanians, Tatars, and Kazaks living in the Ukraine. The country is torn down the middle.

If a new election is held and determined to be fair, that doesn't automatically mean that Yushchenko will win. The Ukraine is a divided country and the result will depend on voter turn-out. Whoever wins, nearly half of the population will be diametrically opposed to their policies. The legislature is evenly split with opposition parties holding a small majority.

Putin is on the path to becoming Rasputin. Vladimir is apparently more interested in ruling the world, than being a peaceful ruler.

More can be found at LIVE at the Nuke Free Zone.

[edited for an egregious swap of directions.]

 

  Marauding Marsupials

[ed: This is a generally true story inspired by a post over at the Yellow Doggerel Democrat, home of Steve Bates, doggerelist, musician, computer guy, and liberal.]

I got a panicked call at one in the morning from my Mother about 5 years ago. She wanted me to shoot the biggest "white rat" she had ever seen. The "rat" was eating from her dog's food dish in the kitchen.

After a routine response regarding firearms safety and the possible housekeeping consequences of discharging a shotgun in her kitchen [ed: You get really weird when people wake you up from a dead sleep.] I went over to her house and found a baby opossum chowing down on Kibbles and Bits by her refrigerator. My Mother's poodle was going berserk at this affront to his dignity and violation of his space.

As my Mother has ceramic tile floors I trapped the little fuzzball with a toilet plunger and slid him out the door. I fastened the hook on the screen door to back porch, the assumed point of entry because of a loose return spring, and went home.

Two nights later, another baby possum inside, this time Kelley was standing defiantly in front of his food dish, forcing the possum into the living room.

This time I got him to climb a broom handle and took him to a patch of brush well away from my Mother's house.

Things were back normal for a while, other than having to pull out my Mother's dryer to re-attach the vent hose. That's when I figured out that the young possum had managed to open the outside vent hatch and crawled in the hose which disconnected from the back of the dryer and gave him access to her house. I added a new exterior vent to my "to do" list [ed: A list that has included the return spring for that door for an extended period.] and went back to programming.

A week passed and he was back.

There on the rug by the outside door to the laundry room was fresh spoor. [ed: Spoor is "Hemingway" for possum poop.]

Mother wasn't interested in waiting out B'rer Possum, so an expedition was made ready.

With the able assistance of the keen nose of that Possum pooch nonpareil, Kelley [ed: A not-so-miniature apricot Poodle, who was bouncing off the walls because he knew the Kibble-napper was back.], I rapidly located the interloper. [ed: You walked right by him on your way out to the back porch, but caught sight of him on your return.]

The kilogram of Killing Machine was climbing a dust mop handle in preparation for plundering Kelley's back-up supply of Beggin' Strips hanging in a bag in the laundry room.

Quick action corralled the marauder and he was duly ejected from the premises. [ed: He fell into a bucket when you startled him and you took the bucket outside.]

The exterior feline patrol reacted instantly to the potential threat by taking up guard positions around the Marsupial of Mayhem. [ed: The flea-bitten slackers wandered over and sat down to watch him haul leaves into the bucket and make a nest.]

Having learned his lesson, the marauding marsupial never attacked again. [ed: You finally got off the stick and put a metal grill over the dryer vent, replaced the return spring, and the possum decided to dine at the feral cat feeding station.]

 

Thursday, November 25, 2004
  Give Me Some Oldtime Computing

I mentioned doing some augury, but that was strictly for personal entertainment, or so my lawyer said after the letter appears from the Guild of Augurs regarding my doing it. [I think it was the puff of red smoke and smell of sulfur that got his attention.]

Actually I’m a computer druid. People think of oak trees, mistletoe, holly, sickles, and dancing in the woods. That generally only applies the lunar branch. I’m in the other branch: solid-state calculations for over two millennia.

These days everyone wants portability, but in the old days we built for reliability. You build a computer with slabs of compressed silicon, quartz, and rare earths and you can guarantee system stability. Some of the systems, like the machine at Stonehenge, have been running for centuries without a re-boot or a crash. Granite and solar-power does that for you.

Of course, with that kind of reliability, management loses interest in paying for an IT staff, and people forget what the machine does. Naturally, within fifteen days after the initial boot the users’ manual was lost or misfiled, and management won’t pay for the extended service agreement.

While I agree that predicting the solstices and equinoxes isn’t as entertaining as Solitaire, and there’s not much of a tax advantage in a piece of equipment that provides a negligible depreciation allowance, the real blow came when people stopped staging music festivals at the installations. It seemed that in no time the old 10 mega-ton units became cattle pens, and the locals started using parts for castles and such.

But computer druids keep plugging away and many of those who work at home have gone back to wearing robes. Given the current state of computers we sound more like the lunars, coming up with reasons why users aren’t getting the results that were promised at the time of the sale. [In the old days we could sharpen sickles in the presence of the irate customers and they left.]

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
  Searching for Inner Truth

I have been assured after consulting the entrails of the turkey starring in tomorrow's feast that we won't be going to war with any country that doesn't meet all of the criteria used for the Iraq War. So until you can answer YES to all the questions on the list there's nothing to worry about.

War Check List:

Is there oil?

Is it Islamic?

Do we lack linguists who speak the language?

Did the current government overthrow a government allied with the West?

Are we basing our intelligence estimates on a group of anti-government exiles?

Are there UN inspectors in the country?

Has Kenneth Pollack written a book about the country?

Has Colin Powell made alarming claims about the country's weapons capabilities?

Does Laurie Mylroie hate the current government?

 

  Happy Thankgiving

My view of Thanksgiving was skewed by my Father's attitude. Having grown up on a poultry farm, he viewed the holiday as the culmination of weeks of work "processing" dozens of turkeys to be frozen and readying a few dozen more for fresh delivery. We generally ate ham when he was alive.

Having been on my Grandfather's farm at this time of year I can understand my Dad's attitude: our meal was subject to interruption by people picking up a fresh turkey at the last minute. A sale is a sale when you are business for yourself.

I didn't get blown away by Hurricane Ivan, today's tornados weren't within twenty miles, nobody is currently shooting at me, and none of my clients has had a major problem in a couple of weeks. That may not sound like much, but there's a great deal of charm to be found in a quiet life.

Tomorrow I will be at my Mother's for a turkey, if the thing ever defrosts. It's tough to do a decent augury with frozen entrails and I don't think druids are permitted to use a microwave.

Enjoy your meal and try to forget about the world's problems for a day: they'll still be there on Friday.

 

  Black & White

I was listening to All Things Considered and Drew Westen had a report titled: "Media Takes Advantage of Brain’s Shortcoming".

His basic premise was that the media has been presenting a barebones story and then having two commentators argue about the story, the assumption being that there are two, and only two, sides to every story and the sides have equal weight, without regard to facts.

Anyone who checks out the Daily Howler is familiar with this situation, and the run up to the election provided multiple cases of this behavior in the major media, often with the media providing both sides of every issue without any attempt at fact checking or even a basic review of the logic of the two sides.

Mr. Westen went on to discuss research that people seemed to ignore the facts and accept the version that makes them feel better. There doesn’t seem to be any critical thinking involved: people may be exposed two sides, but they only hear the facts and views that agree with their beliefs.

Special interest groups have been using this for years to promote their causes. Consider the Evolution/Intelligent Design battle. One side is a true scientific theory based on evidence gathered for over a century, and the other is a construct put together with the single purpose of opposing Evolution. People who have academic credentials are presented as experts to debate the issue.

This entire mess is a form of the false dichotomy: if you disprove A, B must be true, or, more often in certain forums, if you can’t disprove A, then B must be false.

The first problem I have with this trend is that there are usually more than two sides to important issues. I have investigated two-car fender-benders and have come away with a half dozen differing versions of what happened, and none of them matched the physical evidence at the scene. As any long-time investigator will tell you, there is almost nothing as unreliable as eye-witness testimony. As we now understand, the brain has a habit of filling in details from memories already stored and those memories are not usually exact matches for reality.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the situation is that there is no rational filtering of the claims of the two sides that get presented. If one side is presenting documented facts and the other is presenting opinion, that should be noted and more weight should be given to the facts.

 

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
  Late night thoughts

Thank you for everyone who has dropped by to see what I up to over here. It isn’t done yet but things are moving along.

Since it is doubtful I will see any of the money I’ve been paying in FICA taxes for the last 40 years [both halves of the tax for the last 20] I dropped a dollar on the Florida Lotto. The prize is up to $60 million and I have as much chance of winning as receiving a Social Security check with the current administration.

On a happier note, the threat of a military coup is way down with all of our forces tied down by Iraq. You have to wonder where Rumsfeld is going get 5,000 troops for Bush’s coronation. Of historical note, when I was in the Air Force and worked security for a Nixon visit, we weren’t issued any ammunition. I wonder if the Secret Service has figured that one out?

There’s talk of Bush taking a “victory lap” in Europe. After the problems in Chile you have to wonder how many European nations will find that “they are washing their hair” when he wants to drop by for a chat. I can’t see Mr. Blair convincing the Queen to send an invite after the last visit. Oh, I forgot Poland! Yes, Winter in Warsaw, that’s the ticket. Then he can go to Budapest, and finish in Sofia.


 

Monday, November 22, 2004
  JFK

It was late morning and I was on my way to a chemistry class. I had stopped for a drink of water when the news came over the speakers in the classrooms.

For those who weren’t alive at the time: remember what you felt on September 11, 2001 for a taste of November 22, 1963. It was a massive change for the worldview of my generation and it marked the beginning of a period of disruption and decline in the civility of American society.

Having another Massachusetts Catholic senator with the initials JFK running for President this year was unsettling.

At his inauguration John Kennedy made the point: If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

The colors of my world will never be as bright as they were on November 21, 1963.


 

Sunday, November 21, 2004
  RTFM!

First it was “nuk-u-ler”, then “Eye-rak”, and now “kash-ay”. They are just trying to be annoying. The “e” at the end of “cache” is silent; the word is pronounced “kash”.

It’s bad enough coming from young GIs, but some of the embedded reporters are starting to do it. I would suggest a dictionary, but if you can’t pronounce the word, it is unlikely you can find it in a dictionary.


 

  Arrogant enough for you?

In an apparent attempt to emulate his role model, Herbert Hoover, George W. Bush has had money for a Presidential yacht included in the omnibus spending package that the lame duck Congress is attempting to pass.

Hoover took trips in the Presidential yacht in an attempt to improve the morale of Americans weathering the Depression. It wasn’t a notably successful plan.

Somehow this conjures up the picture of the Roman emperor Nero plucking at the strings of a lyre while a conflagration rages through the city of Rome.


 

  Social Security and Tax Simplification
  1. Eliminate the income cap on Social Security taxes, maintain the cap on benefits and the retirement age, and stop using these taxes to finance the deficit.
  2. As originally stated in the Constitutional amendment, all income is the same, without regard to the source.
    1. Capital gains to be taxed during the year in which they are converted to cash and become income with the original cost to be adjusted for inflation before determining taxable gain.
    2. Businesses will only be permitted to deduct the direct costs of producing a product or service with an emphasis on direct.
  3. There is only one type of filer and two forms: one for wage-only filers and one for all others.
  4. The only exemption is the first $15,000 on which no income tax is paid and that is indexed to inflation.
  5. Beginning at $15,001 the rate is 15% and is incremented by 1% at every additional $25,000 beginning at $40,001 up to $515,000, with rate remaining constant above that. All levels are indexed on inflation.
  6. All surpluses are to be used to reduce the National Debt and replace the money from the Social Security trust fund. After that debt is paid off, the rates are to be adjusted downward to reflect the decrease in expenses. The tax rate should be tied to the budget, so that excess spending results in an automatic tax increase to cover the needed funding, unless overridden by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and approval of the President.

The deficits of the American government are soaking up investment capital from all over the world and depressing global economic development. The value of the dollar has been plunging against other currencies because of the rabid borrowing and this cannot continue forever. It cost $940 to buy 1,000 euros in 2001, today it would cost $1,300.

The savings rate is at rock bottom because the interest rate on savings doesn’t even cover inflation. The Dow-Jones Industrial Average has barely gotten back up to where it was four years ago. You save and invest money for increased wealth, not to watch it disappear. Real estate is the only investment that’s appreciating which a prime factor in rising house prices. If there was something worth investing in, Microsoft wouldn’t be sitting on tens of billions in cash, they would be investing it.

Insurance rates are climbing for all types of insurance because the companies aren’t making any money on their investments.

Even the demented Alan Greenspan has figured it out. We are in trouble and it is Bush’s fault. Every action this government has taken is leading the US and the world to an economic melt down.

 

  Am I Blue?

Sartorially I’ve been blue most of my life. Denim has been the consistent theme in the beginning and end, with “air force blue”, “police blue”, and blue button-down shirts in between.

Politically I spent the 20th century as an independent, voting for the individual, rather than the party. I was interested in fiscal responsibility, avoiding foreign involvements, energy independence, environmental sensitivity, and incremental increases in the quality of life for everyone: fairly conservative values, nothing extreme.

As a true believer in capitalism, I have always been leery of corporations as they are a basic violation of the capitalistic ideal. People forget that the muscle in the “invisible hand” that guides the free market is risk and the sole purpose of a corporation is to reduce risk. I oppose the imposition of litigation caps for the same reason, the reduction of risk. I am deeply offended that people can lead large businesses to disaster and walk away with fortunes.

Many of today’s business leaders spend their time watching the stock market instead of the market in which their companies compete. If the leadership of a company spends more time worrying about the opinions of Wall Street wonks than the opinions of customers, the company is in trouble. When a company is in good shape, the stock will rise because of the company’s increasing value.

When I was forced to choose a party affiliation I naturally chose the Democratic Party, the party of small business and economic growth, the party that understands the threat that corporations pose to capitalism and the free market.

The Republicans support corporations with special exemptions, subsidies, and give-aways. They are the party that supports reducing the risks for corporations and transferring the cost to small business and the consumer.

The current Republican Party has eliminated the possibility of splitting your ballot by enforcing ideological orthodoxy on all members. Any member who attempts to take an independent stand is subjected to the Rovian Inquisition and risks their career and livelihood for even minor deviations from the Party Line.

When I wore “air force blue”, I was a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst. I spent eight years fighting the “Red Menace” of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I read a lot of their propaganda and am familiar with its construction and tone. Now, when I had hoped to slide gracefully towards a quiet retirement, I must again sharpen the sword of democracy to battle the “Red Menace” of the Republican Party.

The Constitution of the Soviet Union was as, or more, democratic than the Constitution of the United States, but that didn’t stop Stalin. When his back was against the wall because of Hitler’s invasion, Stalin played the ultimate political cards: patriotism and religion. G-d and Country!", the rallying cry of every politician who wants to justify dictatorial power.


 

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