Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Pay Inquiry

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The Pay Inquiry [Kindle Edition]

Warren Jason Street 

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I recently lowered the price on this novella. More titles are on the way this spring. Enjoy if you can!

Big Fonts and Page Designs

I find it a bit reassuring that the Atlantic has adopted what appears to be the large version of the Georgia font, which is what I've been using for the last several years.

When I check and see how the pages I'm responsible for look on smart phones and tablets, they are usually readable and professional looking. I'm going to undertake an effort here shortly to finalize some design issues and lock in my sites so that they are uniformly alike and accessible.

It's not enough to feature content; design and presentation are critical aspects of web site design. I have always preferred simplicity, but, then again, getting to simple takes a lot of consideration. The larger font, using black text on a white background, seems to be the way to go and has been the way to go for as long as we've had printed material. It's funny that we're talking about websites and still using a human technology that is hundreds and hundreds of years old to display it for the human eye.

Someone Always Has Their Undies in a Bunch About Books

Purists, your moment of outrage has arrived:
Authors Guild president and best-selling novelist Scott Turow is condemning's (AMZN) purchase of Goodreads, a leading book recommendation website. 
On the Guild home page, Turow on Friday called the acquisition a "textbook example" of how a monopoly is built. 
"The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat," said Turow in a blog posting on Friday. 
"With its 16 million subscribers, Goodreads could easily have become a competing on-line bookseller, or played a role in directing buyers to a site other than Amazon," writes Turow. "Instead, Amazon has scuttled that potential and also squelched what was fast becoming the go-to venue for on-line reviews, attracting far more attention than Amazon for those seeking independent assessment and discussion of books."
Amazon already is a monopoly, but no one was complaining about that fact when they were able to buy all of those dirt-cheap books, CDs, movies, and everything else for next to nothing from that warehouse that had no air conditioning that was processed by all of those underpaid workers.

Our selective outrage in this country is laughable. If you're seriously worried about Amazon's buying of Goodreads making it a monopoly, then where have you been for the last decade?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Station Wagon Was Already Popular in Europe

Americans have long held ridiculous ideas about cars.

We have clung to the Hummer and the SUV for far too long; we have always sought "power" over "reliability" when it has come to picking cars. Why do they still sell Chevy cars in this country? I would never buy a Chevrolet.

The thing about living in Europe is, you come away with a different view of the automobile because society there is radically prioritized around things that actually matter--gas milage, dependability, affordability, and the needs of the family. That's why I had a good laugh at the idea that millennials in this country are suddenly discovering that the station wagon is something they could actually purchase. All over Europe, families have been choosing the station wagon for decades. Station wagons command a huge share of the market; buying a BMW station wagon for 70,000 euros is commonplace. No one looks down on such a decision.

Here, it's news. What a shame. Having owned two station wagons, I can tell you--when they're in good shape, they're comfortable and preferable to the SUV.

Sedentary You

This is why we need to properly identify the politics of certain issues. The "scooter" crowd is overwhelmingly aged and Republican, and they hate the government because that's what Fox News keeps telling them to do. But, when it comes to cashing in and taking what they have coming to them, you can see that 80 percent of them are too lazy to walk and want the government to buy them a scooter.

In this country, there used to be a thing called shame. If you needed a scooter, and you legitimately couldn't walk, there was nothing wrong with getting in one and using it. The people who don't need it and use it because they are lazy should be ashamed of themselves. Ironically, this just kills them faster because they become sedentary and immobile.

The next time someone spouts off about handouts, welfare, free government cell phones, and Obamacare, explain politely that the people who voted for Mitt Romney did so with their ass flaps hanging over the sides of their Rascal scooters, which were bought and paid for by Medicare.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scott Bute Could Be Considered a Jackass

I was wondering if Scott Bute ever heard of the Iraq War, and the trillion dollars that were spent and the thousands of Americans who were killed there. I was wondering if he remembers who started the war on terror by flying planes into buildings--you know, the terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, who ended up getting shot in the head years after George W. Bush stopped looking for him and for the weapons of mass destruction Iraq no longer had. I wonder if Scott Bute is fully on the side of the anti-Western terrorists that this president is now killing with those drones instead of Sunni and Shia citizens of Iraq who didn't fly planes into buildings.

Probably not.

Scott Bute sounds like an ignorant jackass to me. He hates President Obama so much, he's actually shedding a tear in print for terrorists who want to kill American soldiers. How far do you have to sink to actually defend terrorists? How much hate for America do you have to summon up out of your darkened, twisted soul to take the side of the people who are killing American soldiers just because you don't like the President?

The Economy is Not Growing

This is appalling:
The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster but still anemic rate at the end of last year. However, there is hope that growth accelerated in early 2013 despite higher taxes and cuts in government spending.
The economy grew at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the October-December quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was slightly better than the previous estimate of 0.1 percent growth. The revision reflected stronger business investment and export sales.
Analysts think the economy is growing at a rate of around 2.5 percent in the current January-March quarter, which ends this week.
Steady hiring has kept consumers spending this year. And a rebound in company stockpiling, further gains in housing and more business spending also likely drove faster growth in the first quarter.
Who's talking about this in a substantive manner besides the usual suspects? This story was buried in the business section of the website; the fact that we are seeing growth rates of .4 percent indicates that a recession is looming over the economy. Couple that with the fact that wage earners have less and less purchasing power and you can easily see that we are in appalling shape as a country. Who is telling this story?

I don't buy the idea that we're growing at as much as 2.5% because we still have too many people who are unemployed and far too many companies are continuing their hold on investments and spending. Wage earners need help. Companies need to be given incentives to hire people. Small businesses need to be encouraged in substantive ways to kick off hiring and investing in people. We are shooting ourselves in the foot every single day by not putting more people back to work and by allowing the Republican minority in the United States Senate to obstruct their way to oblivion.

There is a disconnect between what is happening, what the American people are being told about why it is happening, and the political goals of the Republican Party. How do you get away with holding political office while spending years destroying the economy? How is it that the lack of stimulus spending, economic reform, and opening up new markets for American businesses is allowed to continue? When this many people remain out of work, it should be the media's job to explain why. And they're not explaining it. They're giving ideological cover to people who cling to the wrongheaded belief that people are out of work because of government deficits and high taxes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More Betrayal and Neglect From the Department of Veterans Affairs

Now, why do you suppose no one wants to hire a Veteran?
The math is mean. Post-9/11 veterans lug a steep unemployment rate that's a point-plus taller than the civilian rate. Add to that the 34,000 troops who soon will return from Afghanistan. Bottom line: The existing bulge of ex-military job seekers threatens to further swell in a world where stripes carry no sway.

How to crack that cold equation? Just a little face time, says unemployed veteran Ruty Rutenberg, who believes that simply standing eye-to-eye with a hiring manager allows former service members to naturally radiate the ocean of intangibles that can only be absorbed in combat. 
"That presence, that aura about military people is very tough to see online in a resume, where (HR executives) are only looking at lines of text," says Rutenberg, 29, who served as an Army medic in Iraq, riding in Black Hawk helicopters. He's been searching for his "mainstay" career for about a year. "Online, it's tough to tell a person's emotions, let alone a person's energy.
Having exited this line of work recently, let me tell you a few things.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the worst Federal agencies in the country; it is divided into the hospital and care section, the cemetery benefits, the education benefits, and then the other benefits due to Veterans. This agency should be broken up. It is universally hated and regarded as a terrible place to work. It is a failure. And failures should be corrected.

Every senior person should be fired or retired; new blood needs to be brought in to solve the VA's problems. It is a corrupt, incompetent agency led by sentimentalists and fools who haven't gotten the job done. It is an agency that serves as a wake-up call as to what can happen when you let an ingrained Federal bureaucracy establish a "lifestyle" place of employment that rewards them with spa treatments, junkets, fine living, and luxury while doing nothing to improve the lives of Veterans. Millions have been spent allowing VA employees to travel the country, living large on Federal dollars, and in exchange they have delivered failures, waiting lists, and have left hundreds of thousands of Veterans without a dime in their pockets to live on. Simply out of decency and shame, most of these people should have quit years ago.

There should be one comprehensive Federal Agency that provides Federal health care for Federal employees; if the standards for caring for members of Congress were applied to those who are civilians or Veterans, the health care would improve dramatically. There should be no such thing as a "VA hospital" because that benefit should exist for all Federal employees or not at all. By creating a substandard hospitalization system, we have hamstrung it when it needs to expand. They do good work at VA hospitals but they're simply not big enough to expand for when several million new Veterans are added to the health-care needing population. Care should be expanded to all other outlets and costs should be controlled; no one should be allowed to profit from the people who come back from war needing care.

All other Veteran's issues should be handled by the VA. Take away their ability to screw up health care and then let them sort out the other issues like education, vocational training, and the like.

No one wants to hire Veterans right now because no one is hiring; Veteran status is almost meaningless in most cases anyway. An individual is either going to work well at your company or they are going to fail and treating Veterans as a separate cohort is foolish. The same skills that allowed someone to be PFC Snuffy (late to work, lazy, incompetent, etc.) are not cured because they show up at Your Company, Incorporated with Veteran status and a smart looking resume. 

We have incentives to get people to hire Veterans but, the problem is, unless they are already skilled, capable, and have good work habits, you might as well pass on them. This sentimental, noble idea that the military "fixed" what was wrong with them before they joined is ridiculous. If the military actually "fixed" what was wrong with a person, then, chances are, they stayed on active duty. Most of the people who stay in the military do so because they have been given a tax free re-enlistment bonus, a promotion, or they can't do anything else. Most of the people who get out have to get out because they can't get promoted, they're sick of the lifestyle, and they don't want to do it anymore.

This does not make them perfect employees. This just makes them a different group that nobody really wants to hire. We have a fundamental economic problem in this country--companies are not hiring people or paying living wages at a rate that is high enough to begin growing the economy. We are locked in place and can't expand. We are hurting ourselves in the name of a better quarterly profit margin.

Companies simply need to begin hiring, and this whole "crisis" with Veteran's hiring will go away. Right now, it's just a sham, and people are using non-profit status to pretend to be helping to hire Veterans. They're not accomplishing anything significant, and the desperation of people waiting for the benefits to arrive grows worse each and every day. This is why VA needs to be broken up and reorganized.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It Is Now Safe to Ignore Buzz Bissinger

I've never really wondered about Buzz Bissinger; he has functioned like a curmudgeonly troll for the last several years. If you get into the weeds of what is happening with him, it's as if Deadspin just had a collective orgasm over the details of his personal meltdown.

His judgment call in this article is a wonderful example of Bissinger's trolling--he's wrong, he has no idea what he's talking about, but his gut tells him to say something contrary about Dennis Rodman, who became the unwittingly useful idiot of a psychopathic dictator. This kind of thing is not to be praised; it is to be identified for what it is. Rodman gave the North Korean regime a chance to legitimize the continued destruction of millions of souls, one starvation and one bullet to the back of the head at a time.

Safely, he can now be ignored because, well, let the man solve his problems with some dignity and privacy, I guess.

Monday, March 25, 2013

We Are Still Better Off Without Andrew Breitbart

Joan Walsh makes a nice case here for not hating people, and it reminds me of the giddy moment when everyone learned that Andrew Breitbart was dead--a moment when many people said what they felt and haven't bothered to take a moment of introspection.

Here's my moment: Andrew Breitbart being dead is still a good thing, and it is a better world without him. He was an unhinged, racist hate merchant who made money from the misery of others.

Tucker Carlson isn't worth the bother. Remember when he wore bow ties?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Failure of Discretion and Common Sense

The Great Meatball Caper is in the news:
A housekeeper at the U.S. Military Academy could face up to two years in jail if convicted of trying to steal a bag of frozen meatballs.
Estelle Casimir pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in White Plains, New York, this month, according to her attorney.
"She is very upset," said Michael Ferraro. "We've pleaded not guilty, definitely."
Casimir has been charged with stealing from the mess hall at the famed military academy in West Point, New York, on January 30. She faces two counts of misdemeanor crimes for stealing property and possessing stolen property.

She is upset about what happened and I want to add a big so what?

If you, as a manager or supervisor, cannot handle such an incident on the spot, then the institution that you work for deserves to spend months being dragged through the mud and up and down through a legal system paralyzed by frivolity and painful over-seriousness. There are principles and then there are trivial matters. Solve the problem and get on with the day. If Miss Casimir ends up fighting for years to clear her name, how is anyone ever supposed to know if she was telling the truth or not? Where does one find the reasoning to spend months and years and untold amounts of money fighting over a bag of meatballs? This is what leads people to suspect that the rule of law is something to toy around with.

Discretion is something organizations really have to pray for these days because expecting it comes with the understanding that, one day, one of your people is going to have a real "WTF" moment when they choose to make a Federal case out of a molehill.

Two years for a bag of meatballs? Hardly. She should have either been cautioned in writing or fired on the spot, which should have been the decision of her supervisor. And then that should have been the last word.

Paint Your Drone

The people who make and sell drone aircraft are going to have a bigger and bigger problem on the marketing front before too long.

It's not like the technology is, in and of itself, an evil one; far from it. The tactics and missions of drone aircraft are where the debates are raging (I've given up trying to explain myself and it has dissolved into a farce where people start yelling 'drooooonnnnzze!' when you talk about the nuances of foreign policy implications). The technology is benign and this is a benign enough story--the use of drones to measure and track hurricanes.

What I thought was mildly funny was the color scheme on the drone--friendly blue and white, all neutral and space age-y. The killer drones, of course, are that gunmetal gray and come looking like they're going to tear you a new one from above. The ones that NASA wants you to pay for are like something out of the future, of course.

It's the exact same Global Hawk drone, but when you see the white one hovering overhead, check the weather and head indoors. That's how you know there's nothing untoward happening in the skies.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jay Leno Will Never Go

I've read several stories about the supposed switch that will make the Tonight Show a Jimmy Fallon property, and I simply don't think it's going to happen the way anyone wants it to happen. Jay Leno now has plenty of time to make himself impossible not to keep happy.

The problem is not well understood. The television industry now has to figure out how to deal with the value of shows that generate clips that people watch for free on Google's YouTube and other outlets. If you're NBC, and you're producing Jimmy Fallon's show, no one is watching it. The ratings are tiny because it airs late at night. But when Jimmy does a bit on the show that is really, really good, people will go to his website at NBC and watch the clip. Then, the clip will be traded around or moved around onto other platforms, further diminishing what little revenue can be generated from bringing a person who wants to watch television to Fallon's website. Playing an ad before the clip does make a little money, but it detracts from the experience. Someone will just cut the ad, edit the clip, and put it on YouTube and run their own little ad under it. The technology is such that anyone who sits through the ad is not engaged with the ad anyway; they're patiently waiting for the interruption to stop. But the guy who gives you the clip without the ad wins, and is thus rewarded with hits that should have gone to the people who made the content in the first place.

But the value here is that bit, that little clip of Jimmy doing something entertaining. He and his show should get paid for that, but the payment they get for such a small segment will never cover the full cost of putting his show on, year round, in the current parameters of the televisions business.

The structure here, is the problem. You have a diminished experience watching slices and bits and clips of shows and advertisers know this. Why would you advertise to be on any show when all anyone wants to see is the portion of the show that your ad will never appear in? The past model meant that you sat down, you watched television for about an hour, and advertisers had several chances to expose you to their products. This enriched the program and the network because they developed a medium that made it enjoyable. Now, you don't care about anything other than the GIF or the spit-take or the musical bit; you just want to see that and you want to move on to something else. How are you, as an advertiser, supposed to keep paying for that?

So, what's happening here is that NBC is willing to start a war with a master manipulator of business executives, Jay Leno, in order to build a new studio for a show that won't get great ratings because of when it airs so that people can sit at work and watch edited clips of what he did the night before.

This is what you're going to spend millions of dollars doing?

Should Scotland Leave the United Kingdom?

That "single question" is the key here. The people of Scotland are being given a choice as to whether or not to leave the United Kingdom; becoming an independent nation means being able to, among other things, take control of some aspects of the North Sea oil industry.

Leaving the United Kingdom means that the defense of Scotland becomes the responsibility of a country that has to create a military structure from scratch and undertake the expense of doing so. And why not? Scotland for the Scots.

When this is over, there will be no reason for Northern Ireland or Wales to remain in the United Kingdom, either. The whole thing is about to fly apart.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Space Does Not Capture the Imagination Anymore

Space used to thrill people. It does not rise to anywhere near the level of national hysteria anymore, unless there is an accident or a scandal of some kind. When the Federal Government cut the budget for NASA and mothballed the Space Shuttles, who had more than a yawn for it all?

And so, we're left with the International Space Station and all of that feelgood hooey. There's a Canadian in charge. And, before you ask, "When did Canada get a space program?", try and remember that there is a space program in Brazil and India and throughout Europe. There are efforts being made to put people into space that are not affiliated with the now-defunct race between Russia and America to conquer the heavens. But it's as boring as being slapped with tissue paper in a rainstorm.

We now put some of the most powerful technology in human history into space; the watch on your arm is more powerful than any computer from the early 1970s was on any of those missions to the moon or anywhere else. Future innovations are probably going to continue to come from the telecommunications field and that which is associated with communicating around the world. I don't think this has peaked, but our disconnect from pushing into space has meant that these advances are going to be slowed by inactivity. That's why it is important to note how hard India is pushing and how the technological edge is slipping.

How do you know when something no longer means what it used to mean? When you are reduced to celebrating phony milestones. Don't get me wrong--this is big for the people who populate Canada's space program. But this is not going to get people to buy models of the space station and dream of going there one day. The space program has bored itself into irrelevance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Christie Brinkley on Parks and Recreation

When this episode aired, I couldn't stop laughing.

Adding Christie Brinkley as the wife of the hapless Jerry Gergich was one of the bright spots of a rather dismal television season, and I hope they can figure out how to bring her back for more episodes.

Hell, Jerry deserves a spinoff of his own.

The Republicans Are Going to Destroy Your Health Care

Republicans like Paul Ryan aren't even trying anymore:
"This to us is something that we're not going to give up on, because we're not going to give up on destroying the health care system for the American people."
To be replaced by something that directly benefits the people giving Paul Ryan money to run for office, of course.

When you are bought and paid for, you tend to stay bought and paid for. Paul Ryan has been sold to the highest bidder and so he is no longer capable of dealing with anyone as an honest broker. Why, for example, would anyone in the White House want to work with someone who cannot hide their disgust with how things are unfolding in this country?

If you destroy health care in America, you actually end up killing people because the thing that would normally keep them alive--affordable care from a doctor--is what is being destroyed.

This is language that is so vile and reprehensible as to not be believed. It is the kind of venal language that never would have gotten someone like Ryan elected to anything more than village idiot when we had a functioning political process in this country. He is an extremist who doesn't care who dies--health care must be destroyed and he and his ilk are not going to give up on that effort.

My prediction is that there will be zero consequences, no one will care, and Paul Ryan will continue unabated. We are truly well and fcked as a society now, and it will only build into scenes of abandoned stretchers and burning piles of refuse. It will be the Randian future or nothing for these people. Are you weak and vulnerable? Unlucky and unGodly? You are now on your own.

Attacking the Media Narrative

When it comes to influencing the press, it's all a show:
Obama’s sudden burst of public outreach coincides with a drop in his approval ratings, noted first by Democratic pollsters advising the White House last week and now surfacing in a spate of public polls. This raises the uncomfortable question: Is this schmooze-a-thon a legitimate act of humility and leadership or a cynical public display?
I can’t answer that question because I don’t pretend to know Obama’s state of mind. I can tell you that some of his advisers are no more convinced that this strategy will work than they were a few days ago.
“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”
Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”
The real effort behind reaching out to the Republican members of the Senate is to deflect a lot of the lazy "high Broderism" that exists in the media coverage of the White House right now. By carrying to burned-out torch of David Broder, the media can walk around all day long, yelling about how President Obama doesn't socialize or get along with members of Congress like everyone always did back in the good old days.

These people do not have to get along in order to get things done. But someone does need to acknowledge that the Republican hatred for the President extends well past the point where it stops being about anything other than personal and destructive. The Republican Party has obstructed the country into ruin. Everything else that the media discusses beyond that major point is simply posturing and bullshit. 

Want to get something done? Then the media needs to tell the American people that the Republicans will not stop obstructing everything. Ron Fournier is looking into the soul of the president because, quite frankly, there's nothing else to write about. The truth is fairly evident, but the horse race is all anyone wants to read about. This is the equivalent of writing about a car that is sitting on four flat tires as having the wrong kind of hubcaps.

...No other President, as has been often remarked, kept Congress so busy; and, we may add, none of his predecessors (unless it were Lincoln with the legislation required by the Civil War) put so many new laws on the national statute book. Mr. Charles G. Washburn enumerates these acts credited to Roosevelt’s seven and a half years’ administration: “The Elkins Anti-Rebate Law applying to railroads; the creation of the Department of Commerce and Labor and the Bureau of Corporations; the law authorizing the building of the Panama Canal; the Hepburn Bill amending and vitalizing the Interstate Commerce Act; the Pure Food and Meat Inspection laws; the law creating the Bureau of Immigration; the Employers’ Liability and Safety Appliance Laws, that limited the working hours of employees; the law making the Government liable for injuries to its employees; the law forbidding child labor in the District of Columbia; the reformation of the Consular Service; prohibition of campaign contributions from corporations; the Emergency Currency Law, which also provided for the creation of the Monetary Commission.”

Although the list is by no means complete, it shows that Roosevelt’s receptive and sleepless mind fastened on the full circle of questions which interested American life, so far as that is controlled or directed by national legislation. Some of the laws passed were simply readjustments—new statutes on old matters. Other laws were new, embodying the first attempt to define the attitude which the courts should hold towards new questions which had grown suddenly into great importance. The decade which had favored the springing-up and amazing expansion of the Big Interests, had to be followed by the decade which framed legislation for regulating and curbing these interests. Quite naturally, the monopolists affected did not like to be harnessed or controlled, and, to put it mildly, they resented the interference of the formidable young President whom they could neither frighten, inveigle, nor cajole.

And yet it is as evident to all Americans now, as it was to some Americans at the time, that that legislation had to be passed; because if the monopolists had been allowed to go on unrestrained, they would either have perverted this Republic into an open Plutocracy, in which individual liberty and equality before the law would have disappeared, or they would have hurried on the Social Revolution, the Armageddon of Labor and Capital, the merciless conflict of class with class, which many persons already vaguely dreaded, or thought they saw looming like an ominous cloud on the horizon. It seems astounding that any one should have questioned the necessity of setting up regulations. And will not posterity wonder, when it learns that only in the first decade of the twentieth century did we provide laws against the cruel and killing labor of little children, and against impure foods and drugs?
[emphasis mine]

You can read that again and again and see that, in a little over a hundred years, virtually nothing in American political life has changed except for the technology and the desire to avoid run-on sentences.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Inadvertent Ha Ha Shows Up In a Tragic News Story

The item that you see above is what moved through the various feeds that arrive in the Memeorandum system; you can clearly see that an inadvertent "haha i" was added in the feed.

Memeorandum caught this story from Politico, which ran this editorial notice:

You gotta love how people jack around these days.

Breitbart's Kidz Fail Again

If it has gotten to the point where watching the Breitbart Kidz fail is sport, then there is no reason to continue mocking these clowns. They're irrelevant now, and they always will be.

Someone owns the rights to the "Andrew Breitbart" legacy; this could be his image, his published works, or the websites registered in his name. Someone owns those properties and they need to take them back and fire whoever is working for the Breitbart empire (what's left of it) in order to take care of his own children.

When Breitbart died, it was the fact of his offspring that caused a lot of people to shy away from further delighting in his death. However, Breitbart himself never showed anyone's children deference when he was gleefully screaming in their face or destroying their life. He was a toxic individual, and the toxicity of what's left behind is a legacy that is dying quickly. Someone should take care of his kids, of course, but someone should also note that the destruction of what he built can't come fast enough.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hamid Karzai Is Not a Good Partner

The president of Afghanistan has now accused the United States and the Taliban of being partners against his regime. Karzai is now as crazy as a Tea Party Congressman, and that says a lot.

If this is not evidence of his insanity, what is? What will it take for the Obama Administration to pull the plug on the Afghan adventure and bring the troops home?

I hope that this accelerates the drawdown and I hope this leads to some sort of realization on the part of Chuck Hagel. As the Secretary of Defense, he has to look to the interests of our military. He has to be an advocate for what is best for the men and women in uniform. Each and every day they spend propping up the corrupt, venal, and incompetent Karzai is a day wasted.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Busking Does Not Equal Unemployed

This article, from BBC News, is a juxtaposition of two things. On the one hand, it talks about an improved labor sector--more people are going back to work. On the other, it shows a fellow busking.

Since when does being a busker equal being unemployed? Is the fellow busking supposed to go back to a proper job when it comes available? And how is busking not a decent way to make a living.

In the right urban areas, busking is profitable, albeit a bit unreliable for future career concerns unless you want to, you know, make a living as an artist. The elitism these days, it burns.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Justin Bieber is Vanilla Ice

I'm not sure why your go-to guy for an examination of Justin Bieber is a fiction writer, but here's the easiest take I can give you on all of this:

Justin Bieber is simply the new Vanilla Ice. The hatred directed at him, the vacuous non-career built on phony adulation, and the fascination with being a gangsta whatever are all there, right for anyone to see. This kid is going to flame out fast, and he's going to end up having to keep it real while visiting the stoney lonesome.

Let Us Now Dance Upon the Misery of Others

This article is full of good news. If you visit one of the places listed above, you can find great deals on homes and take advantage of a "short sale" or a foreclosure. This means that you can pay less than what people currently owe on their home or pay a reduced price for a home that people have been thrown out of. The problem is, it is also completely devoid of any real compassion or emotion.

Here's the pertinent verbiage:
RealtyTrac found 15 cities where short sales and foreclosures are really taking off, meaning the market of these homes is big and growing -- the complete opposite of overall real estate trends that show inventory is slight and shrinking.
"Short sales are on the rise as a better alternative to foreclosure in many areas -- good news for buyers and investors in markets where short sales are closing more quickly at solid discounts," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a press release. "But buying from the bank may still be a better option in other markets because of increasing REO inventory, deeper discounts and shorter times to close."

Well, thank God for RealtyTrac. How else would I be able to figure out how to profit from the misfortune of others?

If something is "good news" for buyers and investors, doesn't that indicate we are building up another bubble? And, if so, why would it be "smart" to buy a home in a community that already has a terribly depressed real estate market?

Aside from the human factor here--which indicates sentimentality, I know--this is pretty clear evidence that someone is trying to increase home sales at reduced prices so that home sales will rise to a level that can't be sustained, thereby creating another crisis. We need complete and radical reform of how people buy and sell homes in this country; we need substantive mortgage industry oversight and reform. And yet, we have gutted consumer protections to the point where it's impossible to see what difference it would make now. That horse already ran out of the barn years ago.

Let's say you bought a home in one of these places--good for you. Your home is one that you're going to live in or rent? Will you hire someone to oversee it for you while you live and work in another state? What happened to the family that lived there? What happens to the people who live around you? What about their blighted homes, their abandoned areas, and the houses that no one will ever live in again because they have sat unoccupied for five years?

If you stop living in a house, it dies. It corrodes and crumbles. Communities dissolve and fade away. Nobody cares, though. It's all about profiting from the misery of others.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Modern Drones and Civil War Balloons

I had a good laugh at the Republican outrage over this "hot" item from Fox News today. Note that they named the file:
letter from holder to sen paul on drone authority
Attorney General Holder doesn't get his honorary title, of course, because he's merely a member of the Obama Administration; Senator Rand Paul deserves all of their props for forcing the administration to answer a ridiculous question. Another win for wingnuts.

This prompted me to do look at the history of killing Americans from the air and/or with the help of being aloft. Why hasn't anyone bothered to note that Abraham Lincoln ordered the use of drones?

In the modern parlance, a drone is supposed to mean aerial observation from an unmanned aircraft. During the Civil War, the two armies briefly tried to use balloons to observe one another; this use of manned aircraft is about as similar to the use of drones as I could find because, as all wingnuts know in their heart of hearts, shut up, that's why.

Here's Lincoln asking the military to consider using balloons:

And here you have the use of a balloon to direct artillery fire, thus killing "Americans."
More than any other time in the history of the Balloon Corps, Lowe’s operations became well integrated into the army’s operation. For instance, on May 23rd in conjunction with the 2nd US artillery setup on the Gaines farm next to the balloon station, Lowe personally directed the shelling of the enemy’s ground in the vicinity of New Bridge. After 93 rounds, the Rebels scattered with unknown casualties.
Confederate soldiers did not consider themselves part of the Union but they were "Americans" in at least one broad sense. They were Americans because Lincoln wouldn't have it any other way. His use of balloons to empower the military to make killing them much easier did not survive for very long during the war; eventually, the balloons were abandoned because of the reaction that the enemy had towards them--they went crazy trying to shoot them down and capture them.

But, there you have it. The President of the United States can use pretty much any means at his disposal to kill Americans. Who's to argue otherwise with such solid reasoning and such fine examples?

Having an Election in March is Stupid

Before anyone freaks out, this is the problem. The City of Los Angeles held an election yesterday, and nobody showed up to vote. With a turnout of 16%, that should not even count as primary election much less an actual election of candidates to hold office. It's a disgrace.

But the disgrace is not with voter apathy. The disgrace is with those who gamed the system and set up the March election in order to rig the results and ensure a low voter turnout. When Steve Lopez says this:
One idea would be to time mayoral elections so they're on the same ballot as presidential elections instead of a few months later. It seems to me that a mayor has more impact on our daily lives than a president, but national elections draw a lot more Angelenos to the polls.
"One" idea? How about the only damned idea worth positing, my friend?

It's bad enough to hold elections in "off" years; it's the law of the land that says that we must elect our Congressional representatives (and a third of the Senate) in the mid-term election between Presidential elections. But it is absolutely asinine to suggest that holding an election in March is anything other than a direct appeal to apathy, low turnout, and low voter interest or awareness.

Whoever picked March 6, 2013 as election day knew exactly what they were doing; they got the election they wanted when 16% turned out. Everything other than that is just complaining about the obvious.

When Your Word Choices Signify Something Else

While we're on the subject of everyone hating everyone, why didn't Mr. Mike Gordon's letter to the editor explain things a little more clearly? Why did he choose to say "blacks hate whites" in specific terms? I thought it was about "everyone is hating everyone" and yet he deliberately seemed to choose the phrase "blacks hate whites."

It simply did not occur to him to say that whites hate blacks, and that they do so with a remarkable amount of venom and violence? Why did he choose the opposite of that statement? Because it is obvious to every American with a pulse that whites hate blacks in this country, and, if you're talking about why Albert Lea Sucks, it sucks because so many people hate people of Hispanic heritage as well.

I think that there are a lot of problems in this country, and not a few of them stem directly from the fact that there are white people in this country who cannot abide the idea of a black president.

We spent the better part of the two first years of the Obama Administration hearing about how he wasn't even born in this country and how the Black Panthers were coming to take us all out. The Republican Party has, repeatedly, stressed the racial code words that are inherent in their resentment of a black man holding higher office. No less than Roger Ailes, the man who runs Fox News, has been quoted as calling the president "lazy," thereby blowing that racist dog whistle loud and clear for his audience. Despicable.

What is dividing this country is ignorance. If people knew more about the issues, the structural problems with the world economy, what's going on in Europe and Asia, and why our political process is broken, we might get somewhere. But to say that America's problems are the result of blacks hating whites is goddamned ridiculous to an extreme that forces me to, once again, point out the inherent racism of certain elements that appear in the Albert Lea Tribune on a regular basis.

A Gilded Age of Wonder and Excitment

It used to be that a "TV companion device" was another human being or maybe a dog. Cats are not really interested in television, but they are interested in diverting attention away from whoever is watching. Birds make great TV companion devices. They don't do much, keeping distractions at a bare minimum. When television gets boring, send cat after bird, or, if you're really into the immediate moment, send the bird after the cat. How could you possibly watch anything on TV while a cat and a bird fight it out before your eyes? That's the immediacy of life, and that's what is disappearing, rapidly.

Any device that distracts from watching television cannot have come at a worse moment. Now, you actually have to pay attention. Now, you can't let the story go for any amount of time without concentrated viewing. We have abandoned decades of formulaic television in favor of plot and character driven shows that weave story lines of an incredible, cinematic complexity.

This would explain the growth of the companion device. There are, in any given episode of a critically-acclaimed show, moments when you have to reference previous incidents and the quickest way to do that is to search out intelligent commentary. And while this is also a sad commentary on creativity--having to look up something on the Internet so that you might have a clue as to what just happened in front of you and whether or not to like it--it's not the end of the world.

The picture-in-picture capability of most televisions now opens up an alternative possibility--the establishment of a portal to the Internet being available right on screen. This would please advertisers, I would imagine, because that would leave your engagement fixed squarely on what is in front of you as opposed to what is lingering at your fingertips. How long before someone figures this out? How long before a television service provider can figure out how to turn part of your television screen into a tablet device with a direct wireless connection to the Internet? How long before you just sit with a keyboard in front of you?

Information is delivered in so many new and exciting ways. The cliche of it all is that we are constantly being amazed by technology that simply cannot replace actually knowing something. If you already have a working knowledge of the culture, you are probably less likely to have to deviate from what is holding your attention and tap on a tablet or scroll through reference material.

Is this really a good thing? It probably is. Hating technology is as old school as losing the remote.

Blame the Weatherman

Yesterday was a bust.

We were supposed to get a minor version of the infamous "snowmageddon" that has plagued the Northeast for a few years now. What we got was about an inch of wet snow followed by drizzle and a total accumulation of about two inches, at best. Areas around us may have gotten a little more or less, but it wasn't anything to write home about (or blog about).

This reaction [no link because The Baltimore Sun has adopted a business model akin to shooting itself in the foot by giving you previews and then cutting you off when it comes time to assert their right to be paid for being a major newspaper online] is ridiculous:
The longer snowflakes were kept at bay, the faster the wisecracks started coming in on Twitter and Facebook.
"I remember when I was a kid in the 70's and they predicted storms accurately 7 days in advance," Havre de Grace resident Jason Falkenstine tweeted.
"It would be nice to have an apology from meteorologist for being totally wrong," Baltimore resident Jason Sellers wrote.
Meteorologists offered a mea culpa for predictions of Baltimore's biggest snowfall in two years. But, they said, it was the best they could do given the forecasting technology and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region.
"All we can do as forecasters, is give you our best opinion on what is the highest probability outcome. The rest is up to Mother Nature," WBAL-TV meteorologist Tony Pann wrote on Facebook. "No forecaster will purposely give out bad information."
The weatherman is usually wrong; this has been a fact for many, many years. My thinking is that these "tweeters" were just being trolls on purpose. But, then again, there are people who simply cannot accept the idea that the information they are being given is suspect. If you were to base your life on a weatherman's guess, you'd be basing your life on something closer to astrology or bullshit.

A Sunstone With No Direct Connection to the Vikings?

This is a very neat story, but something goes amiss when you discover that the sunstone that was found had virtually nothing to do with the Vikings. That's because it was found in the wreck of a British vessel dating from the 16th Century.

It does indicate that the sunstone could very well have been a useful tool for mariners, albeit really only when it was cloudy or overcast while attempting to fix a position while at sea. A better attempt should be made to correlate how the Vikings sailed long distances with primitive positioning devices; that would make the discussion about the use or utility of sunstones easier to accept.

The crux of all of this rests on allegorical evidence from Iceland, which is where the mineral that makes up the sunstone originated. Icelandic spar is shown to fix the position of the sun on cloudy days and thus, through a series of coincidences and conjecture, we have come to accept the theory that this object assisted seafaring Vikings.

When someone actually finds a sunstone in the wreck of a Viking vessel, then we'll know if this theory is certain enough to accept. I don't think anyone would have been buried with their sunstone; it seems unlikely to me that an object useful for navigation and essential for other members of a group of Vikings would part with such a thing. This is why I don't think that finding a sunstone in a Viking grave would really fully explain anything. It certainly could, but right now I think we're dealing with conjecture and the discovery of a sunstone in a British shipwreck doesn't adequately prove anything.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing Out the Bible

This is the famous robotic arm that is writing out the Bible in Gothic script outside of the cathedral in Trier.

It has been a good year and a half since I took this photo; is this still going on? What is the result of this project? And is it any good?