Making The Cut

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Posted on : 12/31/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

This editorial cartoon was in our local rag recently.  I think it covers the issue nicely.  Have a look.


But I Am Sure He Did Not Mean Me

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Posted on : 12/30/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently suggested that we need national election standards.

Election officials across the county should “be striving to administer elections more efficiently and more fairly,” Holder said, according to the remarks.

“This means taking steps to address long lines at polling places — and ensuring that every polling place has an adequate number of voting machines,” Holder said. “We must acknowledge that giving our fellow citizens access to the voting booth for longer hours and over additional days will enable more of them to cast their ballots without unduly interfering with the work or family obligations that so many have.”

Holder also said that the “ordinary citizens who, just last month, endured long lines, biting temperatures, and blazing sun to make certain that their votes would be counted” were continuing the legacy of Americans who have fought for the right to vote.


The snow drifts in hell must be eight feet deep at this point.  I agree with Mr. Holder.

Although I would include elements like ensuring that voters are citizens of the U.S. before they are registered, and ensuring that felons/prisoners that are ineligible to vote under state laws are in fact prevented from voting.  I also want to see voter ID requirements strengthened; especially in the case of same day registration/voting.  We have had far too many instances where people are voting without being properly identified as qualified voters, or voting in multiple jurisdictions.

A comprehensive set of national election standards would resolve many questions about our current elections practices.  It would, theoretically, secure the right to vote by not only establishing common voting conditions and methods for reviewing voter rolls, but by also clamping down on fraudulent registration and voting.

I am more than a little skeptical about Mr. Holder's ability to be truly comprehensive.  I am willing to bet that the electoral issues that concern me do not concern him in the slightest.

Who Owns You?

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Posted on : 12/29/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

On the international front, socialism is on the rise in France.  Socialists recently won control of most of the government and immediate set to work solving their deficit problems by raising taxes on the rich.  Those taxes were one factor for Johnny Depp's decision to return to the U.S.  There have been other reports of France's elite moving to the U.K., Belgium, and other countries to avoid those confiscatory tax rates. 

Recently, France's Prime Minister had a hissy fit over several high profile actors, and others that took similar precautions to preserve their earnings.

I find the bureaucratic outrage to be more than a little amusing.  It is as if these socialists believe that those people are the property of the state rather than being individuals who have the freedom to choose the conditions in which they live.  Why should they be surprised when those individuals exercise that freedom in the face of an overly bureaucratic government that is imposing an intolerable level of taxation?

The exodus is predictable, as is the socialist response.  Sadly.

In THAT Pocket!

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Posted on : 12/28/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

I just found this interesting....and thought you might as well.


Reading The Rule Book

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Posted on : 12/27/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

One reason why I lean towards the GOP is that they attempt to maintain the pretense of have read and understood our Constitution at some point in the recent past.

Each member of the House has had to attach a Constitutional Authority Statement (CAS) to every proposed bill since Jan. 5, 2011.

However, one group of Republicans is unimpressed by the offered justifications for constitutionality.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC) analyzes each statement—3,865 in the first year alone—and in response to some of the more questionable justifications began emailing every congressional office a “Questionable Constitutional Authority Statement of the Week.”

“We started highlighting horrible Constitutional Authority Statements because there were so many of them,” said Brian Straessle, RSC spokesman. “Think of it as a shaming mechanism to get people to think seriously and carefully about the intended limits of the federal government’s power.”
Newt Gingrich, for all of his flaws, had at least one redeeming quality.  He thought that members of Congress should read the Constitution as well as the works of the founders so that they would have some sort of familiarity with what the words in the Constitution mean.

The Democratic leadership abandoned that idea a long, long time ago.

Christmas Perspective

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Posted on : 12/25/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Via the outstanding men and women at BlackFive:




A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS POEM

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I  gazed round the room  and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door  just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
a lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled  here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's  freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the  snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light.
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every  night."

"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from  the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's  a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam,'
And now it is my turn  and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But  my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a  foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my  sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that  this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting  and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I  asked, "or prepare you a feast?"
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from  your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love  us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.

- written by Michael Marks in 2000

Merry Christmas 2012

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Posted on : 12/24/2012 10:12:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

All of the best this season to my many valued readers.  As a Christmas treat, please enjoy this unique Christmas tale.  And always remember why being away in a manger may not be the most sanitary condition in the world.

Unreal Reality TV

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Posted on : 12/23/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

One of the few "reality" TV shows that we watch from time to time at Casa de Todd is "Storage Wars".  The premise of the show is that people compete at auctions for the contents of storage containers.  The folks on the show are given a limited opportunity to view the container from an aisle way (no touching/entering please) before bidding on the contents.  What they see is what they get.

In theory.

A recent story suggests that the show's producers were juicing some of the containers that were won by the show's paid participants.  One of the participants, Dave Hester, had a spine and a conscience and protested the deceitful practice.  As a result, they stopped juicing his containers.  And then they fired him from the show.

David Hester's suit claims producers have added a BMW Mini and newspapers chronicling Elvis Presley's death to lockers in order to build drama for the show and that his complaints about the practices led to his firing.

Hester is seeking more than $750,000 in his wrongful termination, breach of contract and unfair business practices lawsuit. A&E Television Network declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

"Storage Wars" follows buyers who bid for abandoned storage lockers hoping to find valuables tucked inside.

"A&E regularly plants valuable items or memorabilia," the lawsuit states. Hester's suit claims he was fired from participating in the series' fourth season after expressing concerns that manipulating the storage lockers for the sake of the show was illegal.


What is interesting is that on the show, Mr. Hester is presented as a bit of a self-centered ass.  Perhaps he was just covering his.  Or perhaps reality TV really isn't all that real to begin with.  In either case, it is good to see someone doing the right thing for a change.

Twitter Classic

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Posted on : 12/22/2012 01:40:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Via the Blogfather comes a pointer to:

"being democratically elected doesn't mean everything you do thereafter is by definition democratic"
Indeed.....

Setting Em Up And Knocking Them Down

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Posted on : 12/21/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,


I Hate Spammers

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Posted on : 12/20/2012 07:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

And I work hard not to hate anyone.

My recent post, "Nefarious", resulted in 19 hits.  Oh man was I excited!

Until I saw that they call came from one website and that it had nothing to do with anything.  Just someone looking for a trackback.

I Am Definitely Going To Hell For This One

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Posted on : 12/20/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Need I say more?


Nefarious

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Posted on : 12/19/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

The Blogfather has this precisely correct.  If this had been done by some people/groups on the right, then the media would be screaming bloody murder and calling for new regulations.

More than 4 million people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 did not vote this year. But by applying new voter science, Obama nudged enough replacements in key states — many who were rare or first-time voters — to give him his margin of victory (leveraged even larger by the Electoral College).

Years of stealthy multimillion-dollar efforts paid off forAmerica’s left in the 2008 and 2012 victories by President Barack Obama. Using new voter science to get rare and first-time voters to go to the polls, the races have changedAmerica’s electorate — those who make the country’s decisions by showing up and voting.

Aided by $5 million minimum from George Soros, plus millions more from others, at least two secretive institutions were created to enable this effort by focused research on behavioral science. Their results are made available only to liberals and their causes.
Just imagine if the Koch brothers had been involved....

How Far Will This Go?

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Posted on : 12/18/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Much further...I hope.

State Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon) publicly acknowledged Saturday that he is gay, making him the first openly gay lawmaker in Pa. and the only* currently sitting openly gay Republican state legislator in the entire country.
A GOP that has abandoned the culture wars can only be a progressive step for our country.

Book Review - The Missing Ring

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Posted on : 12/17/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

It was not my original intent to visit this year's college football national championship game, but it seems that circumstances have led us back to a repeat of the 1966 season where Notre Dame edged out Alabama.  The controversy surrounding the selection of Notre Dame that year is documented in "The Missing Ring", written by Keith Dunnavant.

So my recent reading of this book is certainly timely.

I think it is fair to put the weakest part of this book up front.  The author is a "homer"; a graduate of the University of Alabama.  A man who received some modest assistance during his time at Alabama from Paul "Bear" Bryant.  He writes about the 1966 Crimson Tide team that narrowly missed achieving a phenomenal three national collegiate football championships in a row.  While I think it is obvious that his relationship with Alabama fueled his passion for researching this book, I think it is also fair to note that his history with Coach Bryant and his time at Alabama may...or may not...have affected his perspective.

"The Missing Ring" arrived in my book pile a few years ago for no discernible reason.  Such was the sales job performed by whoever prepared the book cover.  The fact that it was in a bargain books bin probably helped.

Mr. Dunnavant begins his story with the training camps and recruiting efforts of 1965.  The image he creates of training camp is one of a crucible where boys are forged into men via discipline and rigorous exercise.  It is a place where one imagines "character" as oozing from the walls and seeping into the skin.  The garbage cans kept in the team's gym as receptacles for athletically induced regurgitation served double duty establishing the mood for the facility as well as yet another bonding experience for the athletes.

The theme that Mr. Dunnavant reiterates time and again are how Coach Bryant expected effort, achievement, and unswerving loyalty to the program which in turn produced the sort of young men that he could then mold into national championship caliber teams.  The sole weakness of "The Missing Ring" is the persistent return to this theme after it had been adequately addressed in the initial chapters of the book.

The story continues with views into the personal lives of various Alabama players of that era.  Imagine my surprise to discover that Kenny Stabler had played for the Tide.  I watched many of his professional football performances on Sunday afternoons as a young lad.  The story of his youth and his time at Alabama was quite interesting.  See the book for details.

When it gets down to it, Mr. Dunnavant's case on behalf of the 1966 Crimson Tide comes down to two essential elements; the reaction to racism in the state of Alabama and disproportionate enthusiasm within the sports media for Notre Dame.

The civil rights struggles in Alabama were deep and bloody.  Anyone with a passing sense of American history understands that the white political leadership was in the middle of making their last stand against progress for everyone in general and black Alabamans specifically.

The continuing specter of segregation caused many across the country to take a rather dim view of southern states in general and Alabama in particular.  This presence of this perspective created a situation where the sports writers only needed the flimsiest of excuses to justify their national champion votes for another team; any other team.

The Notre Dame football program has been the long time beneficiary of positive press coverage.  This is a bit ironic given that during the 2012 season, the media constantly underestimated and dismissed Notre Dame's achievements on the field.  And yet the Irish will play for the national championship this year against...Alabama.

Mr. Dunnavant suggests that Coach Bryant was not pleased with segregation at Alabama.  He also suggests that the coach felt that opposing segregation at the university would harm his football program.  Coach Bryant's critics may justly criticize that stance as defending the comparatively unimportant health of a football program while sacrificing the far more important issue of civil rights for oppressed Americans.

Mr. Dunnavant suggests that the coach envisioned blacks playing at Alabama "some day".  In lieu of developing such valuable additions to his program, Coach Bryant apparently steered young black men to integrated programs where they could be successful.  In another small irony, one such young man ended up playing a role in the 1966 tie between Michigan State University and Notre Dame that year.

In any case, Mr. Dunnavant suggests that the media used the heightened racial tensions as an excuse to under-rate the 1966 Crimson Tide.

MSU nearly beat Notre Dame that year.  Perhaps the most controversial game on Notre Dame's schedule that year.  At the end, with time running out, Notre Dame elected to control the ball in pursuit of a tie rather than to play for the win; and potentially lose the game as well.  Notre Dame's coach apparently felt that the media would not penalize his team for a tie with the then #2 ranked team.  But they would penalize him for the loss.  He wanted the national championship more than he wanted to win that game.

The combination of the negative perspective of Alabama and the optimistic perspective granted to Notre Dame cost Alabama a third straight national championship;  their "missing ring".

The final piece of the puzzle in the story is the absence of any sort of playoff requirement at the end of the year.  At the time, the AP and UPI polls ruled the championship race.  A split between the polls resulted in co-championships.  One poll or the other may decide to declare a champion before the college bowl games or after.

It is one of the most compelling arguments for the current BCS system.  It remains a strong argument for a real, multi-game playoff system today.

I am unprepared to unquestioningly accept Mr. Dunnavant's narrative as the definitive truth.  But it is an interesting and well told perspective.

There are many golden nuggets of collegiate football history to be found within the pages of "The Missing Ring".  Enjoy.


Predictable Results From Obamacare

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Posted on : 12/16/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

It seems that Walmart has decided that future new hires that do not work at least 30 hours a week will no longer be eligible for the company's health care plan.  Currently that is not the case.

Instead, those people will have to apply to the newly expanded Medicaid program.

Anyone that has watched the last 80+ years of American history should not be surprised.

We passed Social Security.  Employer pensions steadily declined.

We passed Medicare.  Employer paid health care for retirees is now nearly non-existent.

At each step of the way we have separated those with money from their moral obligation to assist others.  They figure that having paid their taxes, that they have have discharged their civic duties.

Why should anyone be surprised that CEO salaries have skyrocketed in the wake of the government assuming (illegitimately) the civic responsibilities of corporations?

Never Trust 'Em

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Posted on : 12/15/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Yet another cautionary tale about the capricious winds of government devastating private business owners.  The short version appears to be that a couple asked their local township if they could use their residential driveway to access land they owned that was zoned for commercial purposes.  The township agreed.

After a few years of rapid grown, the couple's new neighbors complained.  The township reversed itself and decided to start enforcing zoning restrictions on the couple without compensating them for effectively taking their established businesses.


News Flash - West Point Still Stands...

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Posted on : 12/14/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

...even after a lesbian couple gets married there.  Congratulations to the newlyweds!

The U.S. Military Academy's Cadet Chapel at West Point hosted its first same-sex marriage Saturday
Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, exchanged vows in the regal church in a ceremony conducted by a senior Army chaplain.

The ceremony comes a little more than a year after President Obama ended the military policy banning openly gay people from serving.

The two have been together for 17 years. They had a civil commitment ceremony that didn't carry any legal force in 1999 but had longed to formally tie the knot.

The couple live in New Jersey and would have preferred to have the wedding there, but the state doesn't allow gay marriage.

"We just couldn't wait any longer," Fulton said.

Paying The Bills

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Posted on : 12/13/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Having been following trends in education for some time, I was particularly surprised to find that the theoretic economic benefits of a college education that are sold to high school students fell so short.


We cannot continue subsidizing educations that do not make economic sense.  Students cannot continue to sign up for a lifetime of indebtedness.  Like every other economic bubble in the world, this one will break eventually.

Wouldn't we be better off by not having our government create them in the first place?

The obvious...to me....solution is to put colleges on the hook for the debt if students are not able to find fiscally rewarding employment within their field of study.  And to require colleges to advertise the benefits of what they are offering on a "by field of study" basis.

Most kids are smart enough to avoid a train wreck, if they can see it coming.

The Change Is A Comin'

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Posted on : 12/12/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Or at least we will have it if Congress decides to the smart thing instead of the popular thing.  Recent history isn't encouraging on that perspective.

In any case, we really need to do away with the paper dollar and replace it with coins.  I'd even go so far as to suggest that we copy Canada and establish a $2 variant.

I know a lot of people don't like the current $1 coins due to size issues that make is slightly similar to the current quarter.  We have managed do deal with pennies and dimes that similar in size, so I'm not sure why this is such a big deal.

However, the government might consider making two-tone coins for easier visual recognition.  They might also consider using other features (scalloped edges, a hole in the middle, etc.) that will make it easier to tactilely differentiate the $1 coins from their $0.25 cousins.

The GAO's Lorelei St. James told the House Financial Services panel it would take several years for the benefits of switching from paper bills to dollar coins to catch up with the cost of making the change. Equipment would have to be bought or overhauled and more coins would have to be produced upfront to replace bills as they are taken out of circulation.

But over the years, the savings would begin to accrue, she said, largely because a $1 coin could stay in circulation for 30 years while paper bills have to be replaced every four or five years on average.
"We continue to believe that replacing the note with a coin is likely to provide a financial benefit to the government," said St. James, who added that such a change would work only if the note was completely eliminated and the public educated about the benefits of the switch.

Even the $1 coin's most ardent supporters recognize that they haven't been popular. Philip Diehl, former director of the Mint, said there was a huge demand for the Sacagawea dollar coin when production began in 2001, but as time wore on, people stayed with what they knew best.
 The sooner the better.

Just Piss On That!

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Posted on : 12/11/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

You may have heard about Glenn Beck's recent kerfuffle.  It seems that he took a figuring depicting Barack Obama as Jesus Christ and put in in a jar.  He then filled the jar with urine.  It turns out that the fluid was actually beer, which is pretty humourous for what should be obvious reasons.

Now I don't watch or listen to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.  Primarily because I find some of their attempts at sarcastic criticism to cross lines that I am unwilling to cross.

But this particular stunt is perfect.

A few years back, an artist by the name of  Andres Serrano created a bit of a kerfuffle with his "art" image of a plastic figurine of Jesus on the cross submerged in a yellow fluid that Mr. Serrano claimed to be his own urine.  The piece won an award that was funded in part by the National Endowment of the Arts and became yet another in a series of incidents that suggest that the NEA is wasting our tax dollars.

Fast foward to today, and we have folks that are supportive of Mr. Obama's agenda making favorable comparisons between Jesus and the President.

Mr. Beck then takes that near-religious fervor and criticizes it a way that mimics that of Mr. Serrano's artistic criticism of Christianity.

We end up with the folks that thought that Mr. Serrano and the NEA had done nothing wrong now being outraged when similar contempt is expressed towards one of their icons.  Apparently, do as they say, but not as they do?

It most certainly is not a step in the right direction with respect to comity and tolerance between different points of view.  But it a timely reminder that if one expects a certain amount of deference toward one's icons, then perhaps one should demonstrate a certain amount of deference towards the icons that are important to others.

Book Recommendation - Old Man's War

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Posted on : 12/10/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Courtesy of the Blogfather, I have been reading about John Scalzi for several years.  I just didn't have a chance to read any of his work due to the already sizable pile of my reading list.

As fortune would have it, I have been reading Mr. Scalzi's blog for longer than I have been reading his fiction.  He is overly enamored with sarcasm like so many others.  Regrettably.  His writing there is otherwise most enjoyable.

His first science fiction book is called "Old Man's War".  Many have favorably comparied Mr. Scalzi's style to that of the late Robert A. Heinlein.  The closest of Mr. Heinlein's books that is comparable with "Old Man's War" is "Starship Troopers".  As I have observed before, the movie is nothing like the book.

I was reading a review of "Old Man's War" that described the plot as a cheat when compared with the plot of "Starship Troopers".  I find the two plots to be reasonably similar.

In "Starship Troopers", the protagonist joins the military.  During basic, he he learns how to wear an operating powered armor.  The reason for the armor is to make the soldier stronger, faster, better than the alien hordes that humanity is fighting.

Mr. Scalzi takes a little different approach, but the result is the same.  Part of that approach is a personal computer that is integrated with the user.  It operates something like Apple's Siri.  Except most folks call it "Asshole".

I will leave that aspect of the book there so as to not ruin the book for you.

I was most impressed with Mr. Scalzi's ability to create very human characters.  Our protagonist is John Perry; a 75 year old retiree that has decided to enter the Colonial Defense Forces.  Earth is well protected from conflict with the aliens.  Earth colonies....not so much.  So people living on Earth, like John Perry, are recruited to leave the Earth and join the CDF.

One of the reasons why John Perry is willing to leave the planet is that he really has little left to live for on Earth.  His wife had died of a stroke a couple years prior.

He didn't want to live out his days as a man who lives for nothing more than his next visit to his wife's grave.  It is a portrait of a man who hurts so deeply.  I hope I never hurt like that.

I hate visiting here.  I hate that my wife of forty-two years is dead, that one minute one Saturday morning she was in the kitchen, mixing a bowl of waffle batter and talking to me about the dustup at the library board meeting the night before, and the next minute she was on the floor, twitching as the stroke tore through here brain.  I hate that her last words were "Where the hell did I put the vanilla."

I hate that I've become on of those old men who visits a cemetery to be with his dead wife.  When I was (much) younger I used to ask Kathy what the point would be.  A pile of rotting mean and bones that used to be a person isn't a person anymore; it's just a pile of rotting mean and bones.  The person is gone -- off to heaven or hell or where ever or nowhere.  You might as well visit a side of beef.  When you get older you realize this is still the case.  You just don't care.  It's what you have.

For as much as I hate the cemetery,  I've been grateful it's here, too.  I miss my wife.  It's easier to miss here at a cemetery, where she's never been anything but dead,  that to miss her in all the places where she was alive.

I didn't stay long; I never do.  Just long enough to feel the stab that's still fresh enough after most of eight years, the one that also serves to remind me that I've got other things to do than to stand around in a cemetery like an old, damned fool.  Once I felt it, I turned around and left and didn't bother looking around.  This was the last time I would ever visit the cemetery or my wife's grave, but I didn't wan to expend too much effort in trying to remember it.  As I said, this is the place where she's never been anything but dead.  There's not much value in remembering that.

Part of the process of joining the CDF requires tests and evaluations.  One of those evaluations is designed to evoke an emotional response.
A little later in the afternoon, I got pissed off.

I've been reading your file," said the Colonial, a thin young man who looked like a strong wind would sail him off like a kite.

"Okay," I said.

"It says you were married."

"I was."

"Did you like it? Being married."

"Sure.  It bests the alternative."

He smirked.  "So what happened?  Divorce?  Fuck around one time too many?"

Whatever obnoxiously amusing qualities this guy had were fading fast.  "She's dead," I said.

"Yeah?  How did that happen?"

"She had a stroke."

"Gotta love a stroke," he said.  "Bam, your brain's skull pudding, just like that.  Good that she didn't survive.  She'd be this fat, bedridden turnip, you know.  You'd just have to feed her through a straw or something."  He made slurping noises.
After missing his wife so terribly, he ends up having his memory of her terribly abused.  But all is not lost.  He gets to see her again....sort of.  It's complicated.

"Old Man's War" accurately expresses a military experience.  He nails the camaraderie and esprit de corps that is part of any successful military experience.

I particularly appreciated that he spelled "Marines" correctly; capitalized.  It was a back-handed reference to the earth bound USMC, but it was accurate nonetheless.  His use of the Corps' Rifleman's Creed also demonstrated a depth of knowledge on the subject of military relationships and practices.

Another example would be the military treatment of race.  Marine Drill Instructors teach that there is no such thing as white, or black, or brown, or anything other than "green".  The intent is to break down any sense of individuality and to build a common perspective.  Mr. Scalzi's CDF does something similar, but with a twist.

Given the many comparisons with "Starship Troopers", I think it is worthwhile to note the dissimilarities between the two works.

As I suggested in my review of "Revolt in 2100", Mr. Heinlein's characters never used coarse language outright.  But it was readily implied.  The That goes for sexual activity as well.

Mr. Scalzi is a bit more expressive in these two areas.

A deeper difference is the deeper sense of analysis and purpose within the plot.  At a deeper level "Starship Troopers" seeks to express a successful social framework for human progress and expansion.  It explores issues of individual rights and responsibilities.  It explores the unbreakable bond between authority and responsibility.  It also explores how all of those issues affect successful governance.

By contrast, "Old Man's War" is just a ride that takes the reader along.  It presents some very interesting technology.  It certainly presents an intriguing and engaging narrative.  But it only explores what exists.  It does not explore why those conditions exist.  It is the difference between a trip to the African savannah and taking a safari ride in a zoo.  Both can be entertaining and enjoyable experiences.  But only the former is enlightening.

As Mr. Scalzi acknowledges the influence of Mr. Heinlein's work on his own, I think it is fair to observe where he falls a bit short of that comparison.

"Old Man's War" was an enjoyable read.  It was also successful enough that I bought and read "The Ghost Brigades"; Mr. Scalzi's follow up to "Old Man's War".






Leash That Woman, Would Ya?

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Posted on : 12/09/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

From that bastion of feminist thought that is Saudi Arabia comes news that the kingdom had created a policy where by the movements of the female chattel of that country...that would be all of them...are automatically reported to their male owners.  Anytime a woman crosses the Saudi border, a text is sent to "her man"; whether or not he requests such service.

The couple who alerted al-Sharif was travelling toegether (sic). As they did, the husband received a text message from immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

While details are sketchy, it sounds like the service is not opt-in. Since the husband in the couple above was surprised by the SMS, he didn't have to "sign up" to get the message.

It doesn't seem like the tracking is carried out using a tracking device on the person of the woman, at least. Instead, it seems that the immigration authorities simply text the "guardian male" on record when a woman leaves the country, manually.
In the article, someone sarcastically asks why they just don't install RFID chips in their women and be done with it.

Never give advice to oppressive regimes.  They don't understand sarcasm and just might do as you suggest.

How Did We Get Here?

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Posted on : 12/08/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

I have been mulling a longer piece on the causes of the 2008 fiscal meltdown, but really haven't been able to motivate myself to get it done.  But this piece in the Washington Examiner lays out a couple of the causes that have been largely neglected in the media.

The media narrative has been that the 2008 meltdown was caused by greed; specifically corporate greed.  I happen to agree that corporate greed played a huge role in the collapse of the housing market.  Companies like Countrywide created mortgages where there was a significantly reduced probability of repayment.  Companies like Goldman Sachs....primarily Goldman Sachs...monetized those loans and then created worthless derivatives based on those loans.  When the fiscal house of cards collapsed, they were left holding all the money.

A nice deal....if you are Goldman Sachs.

I also think that individual greed played a role.  Specifically, the individual desire to have more than you can reasonably justify based on your income.  It isn't enough to just be able to "make the payments".

I can recall discussing mortgages back in the early 2000s with a friend.  Someone in his family had just taken out a mortgage where they would not be required to repay any principle.  They just had to make the interest payments.  We both thought they were nuts.

How did the market develop loans for which there was no expectation that the principle would ever be repaid?

It turns out that there was a program created during the Carter administration called the Community Reinvestment Act.  It was designed to help some folks obtain mortgage financing that might not otherwise be able to do so.   A big deal to those that qualified, but not really a big deal in the larger home finance market.

The Clinton administration took that program and put it on fiscal steroids with his National Homeownership Strategy.  The Bush administration changed the name, but otherwise kept the same program in place.  This program broadened the pool beyond otherwise credit worthy poor people to include people who had no rational expectation of repaying those loans.

I don't have the video, but I do recall seeing Mr. Clinton on TV in the fall of 2008 saying that perhaps his administration had been a little too aggressive when it came to boosting home ownership.

With more people buying homes, the price of homes went up.  Speculative investments were made on speculative investments.  Leveraging of debt occurred.

You would still think that the private risk incurred in creating such debts would cause financial institutions to shy away from the so-called "sub-prime" mortgages.  Here is where the government doubled down on a bad idea.

The amount of private risk was minimized by the federal government.  At the time of the meltdown, the U.S. government was almost the sole purchaser of sub-prime mortgages due to the efforts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Essentially, the government created the mandate for the loans and then created a market that would offer the loans.  The net result is a tale that should have grown old by now; privatized profits and public risk.

From the article linked above:

"All of us participated in the destructive behavior -- government, lenders, borrowers, the media, rating agencies," said Warren Buffett. "At the core of the folly was the almost universal belief that the value of houses was bound to increase."
There are naturally other elements to the saga.  The influence peddling between members of Congress and companies like Countrywide that prevented the Bush administration from limiting the number of risky mortgages that Fannie and Freddie were snapping up.  The lax enforcement of investment laws by the SEC during the Bush administration.  The gutting of the Glass-Steagall Act (passed by a GOP led congress, signed by a Democrat President) may have also played a role.

It is corporatism...government imposed policies that favor certain corporate interests...writ large.

And the results were unsurprising to anyone that has spent more than a few moments studying American history.

All Things In Their Own Time

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Posted on : 12/07/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

I had set aside today's entry thinking that I would put a little something together in honor of Pearl Harbor Day.  But then nothing unusual or interesting came to me.

Until earlier this week when we lost a great American.  An icon.  A legend.

Master jazz musician; Dave Brubeck.  He passed away this week a day before he was to turn 92 years old.

Given the season of the year, perhaps this little Brubeck gem is appropriate:



Mr. Brubeck was also a U.S. Army veteran who served with Patton's 3rd Army.  He ended up playing the piano for some of the other soldiers stationed in Europe and was asked to put together a band to keep the guys entertained.  Which he did.

Aside from his visionary piano performances, Mr. Brubeck was also a leader in the area of civil rights.  His quartet was one of the first racially integrated bands in the Army.  He maintained that sort of integration after leaving the Army which caused no small bit of trouble on some college campuses where they played.

 Some musicians and critics openly resented his success, and others questioned his prominence in a form of music that was created primarily by black musicians.

But Mr. Brubeck was an outspoken advocate of racial harmony and often used his music as a platform for cross-cultural understanding. He once canceled 23 of 25 concerts in the South when local officials would not allow his African American bass player, Eugene Wright, to appear with the rest of the group.

On a tour in the Netherlands in the 1950s, the African American pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith was asked, in Mr. Brubeck’s presence, “Isn’t it true that no white man can play jazz?”

Without answering at first, Smith gestured toward Mr. Brubeck and said to the reporter, “I’d like you to meet my son.”



His gifts to the uniquely American world of jazz music were many.  His creations have inspired generations of musicians as well as simple jazz enthusiasts like me.

And while Europe isn't the Pacific...and it sure isn't Pearl Harbor...there is at least a modest tie with the day and those that served.  As someone that opened up new perspectives in American culture, I'm sure that Dave Brubeck would appreciate the attempt.

You can listen to NPR's remembrance of Mr. Brubeck here.

The title of this entry is a bit of a pun.  Dave Brubeck innovated with unique musical time signatures based on his travels around the world .  It ain't much of a pun, but it works.  Again, I think Mr. Brubeck would get it and appreciate it.

Getting Better All On Our Own

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Posted on : 12/06/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

There has been a modest amount of buzz about recent reports that the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other country.  I think it is important to keep in mind that we lead the world in carbon emissions.

At least until China catches up in a few years.

So it should be the easiest for us to make reductions.  Sort of like when an obese person goes on a diet.  Those first few pounds are pretty easy to lose.

Most of the reductions came due to recent progress in natural gas mining and recovery.  Natural gas produces far less CO2 when compared with other fossil fuels.

Where The Killing Is

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Posted on : 12/05/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

In all the hubbub over guns and deaths, there is a lot of number fiddling that goes on.  Take for example this piece that accurately points out that 62 school aged children were killed by guns in Chicago this year.  It also accurately points out that 442 school aged children were shot this year in Chicago.

The underlying point that this piece makes is that Chicago is some of the most draconian anti-gun laws in the country.  And still, these kids are dying by the wagon load.

Here is the deception.  While the vast majority of those kids were certainly "school aged", my bet is that they were not in school.  My bet is that the vast majority of those kids were killed willfully taking part in drug deals when they were shot and/or killed.

Which brings to mind a salient point that if we really wanted to cut the number of deaths due to guns in the U.S., we would legalize drugs immediately.  It would have the salutatory effect of also cutting other rates of crime as well.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the tragedy in Connecticut last month.

The underlying point that kids are dying in Chicago under some of the most onerous anti-gun laws in the country is a fact.  Adopting those kinds of laws on a national level will do nothing to cut gun deaths in the U.S.  We will instead become a nation of unarmed victims amidst armed brigands.

Establishing public policy based on unusual circumstances seems to be counterproductive to me.  The dominant problem causing gun deaths in America is our failed War on Drugs.  The dominant problem causing mass shootings is people with untreated mental health issues.  Addressing both of those problems would be of far greater service to progress than making life easier for the criminals that walk in our midst.

Person Of The Year Fluke

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Posted on : 12/05/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Literally.

It appears that Time magazine has included Sandra Fluke in their list of candidates for 'Person of the Year'.  for those that may not recall, Ms. Fluke is the college student that was subjected to the rather boorish behavior of Rush Limbaugh after she announced that she wanted her contraceptives covered by her university insurance program.  The university in question is associated with the Roman Catholic church.  For better or worse, those Catholic folks have a problem with contraceptives and objected to being forced to pay for something that they oppose as a matter of faith.

Now before anyone gets all het up, I am well aware that Ms. Fluke's testimony included the fact that some contraceptives have very serious uses for other medical conditions.  And I happen to agree with her that if someone has one of those conditions, then it isn't exactly unreasonable to expect your health insurance program to exclude include the appropriate medication from in the available treatment options.

That being said, I can't think of a single reason to include her on any list of important people.  Michael Graham of the Boston Herald agrees.  I think his take is worth reading for the larger social commentary.

Can you think of anyone who better represents the America of 2012 than Ms. Fluke? I can’t.
She’s got it all: The “Generation Cupcake” inadequacy (“So what if she didn’t earn the award — give it to her, anyway!); the “Occupod” sense of entitlement (“Somebody should be buying my condoms, and it ain’t gonna be me!”); and, of course, the liberal detachment from reality (“There’s a war on women! We’re being oppressed! Just ask Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice and Oprah!”).

Then there’s the economic angle. One could argue that the icon of the failing Obama economy is the college grad with a worthless degree under his arm and a bed in his mom’s basement.

Time magazine gives us Sandra Fluke, with a bachelor’s degree in (no joke) Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, no marketable skills, and still on the academic track, living on the largess of others.

I’m not trying to be mean to Sandra Fluke. Unlike Rush Limbaugh I make no comment on her personal life or sexual proclivities.

But I also didn’t — and would never — put this unaccomplished 30-something on the “Person of the Year” list for publicly whining about paying her own bills.
He pretty well sums up America in 2012.  Whatever it is, someone else is responsible.  Ms. Fluke is a perfect fit.

edited 12-6-2012

It Takes All Kinds - Local Edition

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Posted on : 12/04/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

The following actually was scheduled for 11/12/2011.  I have no idea why it was not published.  Blogger must have hiccuped.

It still applies.

...

I saw something last week that gave me a bit of pause.

Stationed in front of the local Post Office were a pair of young ladies with an obvious political message.  It was a pretty cold day for early November and you had to respect their passion even if you disagreed with their politics.

One of the young ladies was white; perhaps 'European' in today's vernacular.  The other was definitely of African extraction, although I have no doubt that she is every bit the American that I am.

The posters on display showed our President, Mr. Obama.  Bearing the 'toothbrush' style mustache once popularized by Charlie Chaplin.

And Adolph Hitler.

The accompanying text suggested that these young ladies support impeaching Mr. Obama for some reason.

I am pretty adamant about opposing that sort of hyperbolic imagery.  I thought it compromised civil debate when it was applied to Mr. Bush.  The same is true now that Mr. Obama is the subject of such criticism.  Neither one was/is even close to being in Adolph Hitler's league.  People with legitimate public policy disagreements should be able to agree on that much.

I suppose the other option was the young ladies were conducting a social science experiment to see how people would react.

I didn't stop to find out which was the case.

Spending Cuts Vs. Tax Hikes Explained

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Posted on : 12/03/2012 02:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , , ,


This pretty well encapsulates the current "negotiations" on our deficit spending problem.

Book Recommendation - Revolt in 2100

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Posted on : 12/03/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Throughout Robert Heinlein's literary life, he created an alternate world that embraced technology and an individualist perspective on the world.  Mr. Heinlein is credited with predicting the impact of future technologies on society even though his predictions were errant with respect to the specifics of those technologies.  He was an avowed anti-Communist, a veteran, and a visionary.

Robert Heinlein is one of my favorite authors.  His book "Starship Troopers" should be required reading for every high school student.  Ignore the movie for anything more than titillation and explosions.

I happened across his book "Revolt in 2100" in the library.  In reality, this is one modest length book with a few short stories tacked onto the end.

Robert Heinlein has always impressed me for a variety of reasons.  His repeated treatments of the themes of individual liberty and individual responsibility are thought provoking.  His outright advocacy for equality of any dimension continues to be relevant to current events.

One aspect of Mr. Heinlein's writing is his ability to allow the reader to infer language and actions.  His books never contain profanities, yet you know when someone is using them.  His books never include overtly salacious content, yet almost everyone is having sex and characters wander around au naturale at some point in many of his stories.

Apparently, Mr. Heinlein was an infrequent nudist.

"Revolt in 2100" takes place in an America dominated by a theocracy.  The protagonist, and a few other characters, undertake an accidental journey where they discover some of the dirty secrets about how the theocrats maintain their power, how they justify actions that are antithetic to their professed faith, and how tenuous their hold on power truly is.

Our protagonist is John Lyle, member of the personal guard of the Prophet Incarnate.  This guard is known as the Angels of the Lord.  Also he is an officer and graduate of West Point, his duties are the sort that are more typically performed by an ordinary soldier.

Mr. Heinlein frequently uses military characters or characters that are veterans in his stories.  Being a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Mr. Heinlein believed that military service was a virtuous experience.  Call me biased, but I generally agree!

John Lyle has grown up accepting the version of history taught by the church/state that presented the religious leadership as being divinely endorsed.  Religious instruction and monitoring of the population being the "will of God".

John graduates from West Point and eventually joins the elite guardians of the church/state leader.  A position where his commission earns him the lowest rung on the ladder.

As a part of this elite unit, he learns that the government expects him to have human failings.  It plans to use those failings later on to obtain either leverage on his future behavior, or as justification to terminate his military career if it should ever become an inconvenience to the church/state.  The 'wise' officer being the one that is monitored to commit a few lesser failings in order to better hide the greater failings that they enthusiastically enjoy.

Such failings inevitably involve women.  Imagine that!

John then meets one of the Sisters that "minister" to the leader of the church/state.  And, yes, the scare quotes imply just what you think.  But she didn't know what she was agreeing to do when she joined the Sisters.  Imagine her surprise when the moment of truth arrived.

The story proceeds from there as John and his paramour join the resistance. 

The short stories include a cautionary tale about wishing for real anarchy.  (i.e. the total lack of government as opposed to the socialist state that our modern "anarchists" promote)  Also included is a story about space exploration in the asteroid belt.

"Revolt in 2100" is solid work by Mr. Heinlein, even if it is not his best work.  It was a reasonably enjoyable read.


Larry Hagman

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Posted on : 12/02/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Like most folks my age, I've seen Larry Hagman in a lot of roles over the years.  "I Dream of Jeannie" is the obvious first exposure, but he's a pretty good actor and got around, theatrically speaking.

I am also known for having to tell you one story just so the story I tell afterwards will make sense.

I recently found one tribute to Mr. Hagman that includes:

End of that story. Here's the sequel...
Go read them both.  You won't be sorry.

Red Meat For The Masses

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Posted on : 12/01/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Simon Jester has been back on the 'Net for a few weeks now.  While one needs to be careful about the quantities of delicious red meat that is included in one's diet, a prime cut skillfully prepared is always a devilishly good treat.

The same applies to eating steak.

From the Simon Jester information page:

We are Simon Jester.

We are not anarchists.

We are not Far-Right or Far-Left.  We are the seventy percent in the middle.

We are not Capital “L” libertarians, although we do have sympathies with their platform.

We are neither bitter clingers nor conspiracy nuts.

What we are is a group of folks that think we see liberty and freedom eroding in our beloved United States.  We see the policies and agendas of the hirelings in Washington D.C. heading toward an
abbreviation if not outright abrogation of the Bill of Rights.

We think that the Federal government is grasping to consolidate power using the current crisis, since as Rahm Emmanuel said, it’s a terrible thing to waste.  We think the Federal government, not just this administration, is more interested in self-serving personal, political, and party power than it is in actually doing its best to do the least.

This President didn’t make it this way.  It has been heading along this path since Woodrow Wilson held political prisoners and FDR held four terms as president; since Johnson’s Great Society and Nixon took us off the gold standard; since Bush Sr. lied about no new taxes, Clinton desecrated the Oval Office, Bush Jr. rammed through the Patriot Act, and Obama wanted every high school kid to ‘volunteer.’

...

Simon Jester.  A symbol, since “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein was published in 1966, of dissent against authority.   Let the press, and the government, and your neighbors know that you are paying attention to what the Federal government is trying to do.  Let someone ask you what that little devil underneath the word “Citizen” across your chest means and then explain it to them.  Explain to the one pool reporter who shows up at the next Tea Party that you and Simon have your eyes open and are watching as the government tries to control your life.  Explain to your pastor, or your waitress, or your barista at Starbucks, that our government is power hungry and that you and others like you are trying to be heard.
We are Simon Jester.

And, yes, Robert Heinlein is one of my favorite authors.

Why Oh Why Is The Sand In The Sky?

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Posted on : 11/30/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Because there is a hurricane in the air.

Whether it is Mississippi flood plains, the barrier islands of the Outer Banks, cities that exist below sea level, or other vulnerable locales, it have frequently wondered about the wisdom of using federal dollars to rebuild these areas after a disaster strikes.  In the wake of hurricane Sandy, it is nice to know that I am not alone.

By rebuilding in areas that are prone to major damage, we are not only wasting tax dollars, we are also putting lives at risk.  Wouldn't we all be better off if these areas were instead purchased by the government and turned into parks or preserves?

Over time, disaster relief costs would diminish and we could stop charging flood insurance for properties that physically cannot flood.

...

Tangentially, I was reading a story about the New York residents that were abandoned for weeks on end following Sandy.  One of the residents was complaining about the lack of help in any form for her area.

She made the curious comment that she didn't have flood insurance as she could not afford it.  And yet she still seemed to think that the feds would come riding to the rescue with dollars a-plenty for one and all.

This is the world we have built.  I can think of better ones.

I Know Where You Are

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Posted on : 11/29/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Imagine a government agency that can compel certain groups of people to visit its offices.  The imagine that this agency further compels these visitors to wear identification tags during every visit.  Imagine those ID tags also contain RFID chips so that the government agency can know where each and every person is while in or near their facility.

How many people would be outraged?  How long would this policy last?

The agency is a school.  The "certain groups" would be students.

The number of outraged families is one.

By the time the government gets around to mandating that RFID chips be surgically implanted in every citizen, I fully expect not to hear a single "baaa".

One of the reasons for structuring our public school days in hourly segments was to prepare students for life in an industrial setting.  They had to be trained to move in response to bells and similar broad scale signals.  Independent thought and pursuit of personal interests went right out the window.

Where better to wear down the public's expectation of privacy than in our public schools.  In another 30 years, the government will be able to go where it wants, when it wants, and no one will dare suggest it to be out of place. 

The Fourth Amendment right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects as well as our expectation that government agents would secure warrants before conducting a search will be so twisted as to become unrecognizable to the men that wrote the Amendment in the first place.  If they can do it to the "commerce clause" and the "general welfare clause" to permit the New Deal, Social Security, and similar extra Constitutional activities, then we can expect people that support a "living Constitution" to fully embrace a government that readily asks the digital equivalent of "papers please" on a routine basis.

It Didn't Go Far Enough

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Posted on : 11/28/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Denny's franchisee John Metz had a good idea.  Rather than raise his prices to cover the costs associated with the ACA, he was going to institute a 5% surcharge so that patrons would know why the cost of their meal had gone up.

People were outraged.  Mr.Metz's comments were misconstrued as representing Denny's policy instead of it being just his franchise locations.  Sales fell.  Denny's corporate got anxious.  Telephone calls were made.

And the makings of a great idea swiftly fell.

It would have been a better idea if Mr. Metz had created his surcharge that covered all of his tax liabilities instead of singling out the ACA.  Then he would have been doing a real public service.

We had a couple gas stations in the area that put stickers on their pumps letting people know how much they were paying in taxes as a part of every dollar spent on gas.  It was interesting and informative.  I think it would have had a more lasting impact if such information was required on every gas pump.

But y'all already know that I'm a little off on the subject of taxes....

The Stories That Matter

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Posted on : 11/27/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Some encouraging news from last week.  It seems that more people were following the news of the "fiscal cliff" than were following the lurid details of the Petraeus affair.  In fact, the debacle in Benghazi and the latest between the Israelis and the Palestinians were also of more interest to the public than the ultimately private issue of Gen. Petraeus's sex life.

How To Raise Revenue

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Posted on : 11/26/2012 01:00:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

End the corporate welfare that exists within the loop holes in our tax laws.  As Professor Reynolds suggests, the first to go should be the Hollywood tax cuts.  But there's more!

ALONG WITH MY PROPOSAL TO REPEAL THE HOLLYWOOD TAX CUTS and various other ideas on how the GOP can push popular ideas that will hurt Democratic constituencies, several readers have suggested that the Republicans in Congress push cable-unbundling as a cause. It will, they suggest, make consumers happy, hurt the entertainment industries and probably put MSNBC out of business since, well, how many people would actually pay to get MSNBC? . . . .
Given how infrequently the entertainment industries support my perspective, I think ending their preferential tax treatment is an excellent place to start.

Book Recommendation - Tales Before Tolkien

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Posted on : 11/26/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Whilst perusing the fantasy and science fiction section of one of our local library branches, I happened across "Tales Before Tolkien" edited by Douglas Anderson.  The forward promised a view into the fantasy fiction that the godfather of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien read.  Included as well were some works by authors that were known to Tolkien that he may or may not have read and works that no one reasonably suspects him to have read, but that certainly reflected the state of fantasy writing in the years before "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" were written and published.

In many ways, this book is an unbidden view into the workings of Tolkien's fantasy world.  If the avid Tolkien reader imagines that all of the fantastic characters and circumstances simply bubbled up as works of his unique ingenuity, then "Tales Before Tolkien" will disabuse that reader of such wild thoughts.  Having loved lingering over Tolkien's use of language to present such a unique world, it was a bit of a disappointment to discover that the idea of confusing trolls by speaking while invisible was not a unique idea.  Nor was the concept of elves as illusive beings that live from an almost unworldly, exclusive perspective.

One of the tales included is "Puss-Cat Mew" that was written by E.H. Knatchbull-Hugessen in 1869.  Tolkien was read to from a collection that included this story.  There are many elements within this story that are reflected, amplified, and refined by Mr. Tolkien in his writing.  I won't spoil the surprise as to which elements those might be.

Only one or two of the stories were really difficult to get through.  Those few stories contained lengthy passages that threatened to become nearly Randian in their length of prose and depth of minutia.  I will confess to skipping past a couple of them.

My favorite tale of the collection was "The Regent of the North" written by Kenneth Morris.  Mr. Morris' work was almost certainly unknown to Tolkien.  Yet he evoked a certain sense of perspective that most any Tolkienian dwarf would find comforting.

"The Regent" tells the tale of a Viking lord who is sorely disappointed that his king has adopted this "new" Christian faith.  The lord sees Christ as a weak deity that is unworthy of the allegiance of decent Viking men.  Rather that submit to his king's command that the lord should come and accept this new faith, the lord flatly refuses in the hope that his king will attack his keep.  Better to die as a man fighting for that in which he believes than to kneel and scrape to weakling idol.

The king, in a fashion worthy of his new faith, offers forbearance and tolerance to his vassal lord.  "I will not trouble with you" the king sends in response the lord's outright challenge.

The lord is incensed at being essentially dismissed to live out his days being ignored by his king.  After raging about for a week, the he sends for his fifty most loyal men.  He proposed that those who were willing accompany him as he went a-viking.  They would sail forth to raid and rend.  They would fight the ocean and the elements if no better foes could be found.  And if death should find them during their travels, then they would die manly deaths on their feet rather than joining the mass of ignoble races answering jangling church bells to offer ignoble prayers.

By the end of the story, all of the lord's men have died at sea.  His ships were wrecked on a far northern coast. He has ridden a lengthy sleigh ride pulled by a lone reindeer and finds himself surrounded by a pack of wolves.

Battle with a worthy foe is about to commence.

This story spoke to me from two perspectives.  One is the larger narrative of the relative virtues of living such a physical life.  The lord is presented to the reader as a positive character who virtuously defends his country, his people, and his keep with enthusiasm.  Were it not for his king's conversion, the lord would have been venerated in old age or death for his faithful and manly service.

In our laudable pursuit of equality among the genders, I fear that we have denigrated the manly defense of justice, honor, and defense of the defenseless.

The second perspective was that of religion.  Never fear, dear reader.  I am not some blossoming Odinic novitiate.  I'm not looking to put the Thor back in Thorsday.

What I am is skeptical about all religions.  Might there be some sort of higher power out there?  Might we be the mote in a deity's eye?

Perhaps.  If there is, then I reasonably suspect that he/she/they have expended the fullest fraction of their interest in planting us here on planet Earth that will ever be expended.  I also reasonably suspect that they have nothing to do with any of the texts that are associated with any religion; past, present, or future.

Or perhaps not.

I see little difference between either conclusion given the lack of divine interaction.

I share our protagonist's skepticism regarding Christianity even though I do not share his alternative.

This collection was an interesting read and worth your time.



Also edited by Mr. Anderson is "Tales Before Narnia".  I haven't read it, but given the quality of the Tolkien tome, I think this one might be worthwhile for Narnia fans.


As The Election Rolls To A Close...

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Posted on : 11/07/2012 07:28:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

While we are waiting for the results from the only poll that matters to be finalized, I've got a few words of wisdom.  At least, I like them....

To my friends in the GOP:

You understand fiscal sanity.  You understand national defense.  But your "social war" is a losing proposition.  Recognizing that everyone has rights...God given rights according to some...is not a bad thing.  Strengthening the right of women and minorities to vote and work and live as they choose has strengthened our country.

Gay marriage and abortion are not dragging our country down.  They are distractions that cause your candidates to say goofy...dark...things.  See Missouri and Indiana for examples.

More pointedly on abortion, while I might agree with some of your positions, the basic problem is that this is not an issue that you solve after pregnancy occurs.  It is one that is solved years before the two people responsible got busy making the two-backed beast.  And it doesn't require government to solve it.

We already know that GOP leaning areas give more to charity than Democrat leaning areas.  So perhaps it is time to step up your charitable game some more.

Our country was founded upon the idea of individual liberty.  Not the collective.  And certainly not "corporate liberty".  Yet the individual has few champions in federal office these days.  Corporations and other organizations (i.e. unions) pretty much get what they want at our expense.  Perhaps the GOP ought to become advocates for individual liberty.

You can begin some "training wheels" legislation.  I call it "The Individual Right To Privacy".  It requires companies, non-profits, and political candidates to assume that the individual does not want their mailbox, fax machine, email inbox, and telephone jammed with the associated forms of spam.  If they want to advertise via these messages, then they must first obtain confirmed permission.  If they don't have permission, then it is trespassing; a crime that puts the CEO or the candidate in jail.  Call me and we can do lunch to discuss the details.

If you can manage this one, then you might be ready for bigger challenges.

To my friends in the Democrat Party:

Stay classy.  I read of far too many incidents of intimidation yesterday.  The victims were decidedly not voting for Mr. Obama.  This sort of thing is a dark shadow on your reputation.  As above, see Missouri and Indiana for examples of what happens when that dark shadow gets too big.

The single biggest problem we have today is spending.  Government does too much of it.  Our long rate of federal revenue is in the 18-20% range.  We cannot continue spending 25% of GDP while only having 18-20% of GDP revenue.

Where are you willing to compromise?  We can probably fiddle with taxes on "the rich" a little, but not enough to solve that 25% gap.  It ain't even close.  Do the math.

We have education programs spread across close to a dozen different federal agencies.  Why?  Couldn't we save some money by combining them under one agency?  Might we prevent people from double dipping and save money that way as well?  How can we apply that principle elsewhere?

For a brief moment in January of this year, Mr. Obama's press office was touting his intent to eliminate wasteful spending.  It lasted about one news cycle.  I was encouraged.  Then the next news cycle came.

While there is certainly some waste in the DoD, Defense spending has been steadily declining as a percentage of GDP for the last 50 years.  Defense spending is not the source of our problem.  Social spending is.

Are you prepared to identify programs that don't work so they can be ended?  Can we reduce civilian federal employment?

Can we make our economy more competitive?  Are you prepared to eliminate the corporate income tax in exchange for raising taxes on individual investment income?  How about making all income taxable at the same rate?  Wouldn't this allow companies to bring their profits (and the jobs that go with them) home from tax havens like Ireland, and various countries in the Caribbean?

A free market economy is the best option.  Bar none.  How do you plan to make it better?

And to my Libertarian friends:

I know that the GOP and Dems and their media myrmidons won't talk about our issues.  We have to keep trying.  The best quote I saw this week was regarding the third party debate that so few people watched:

"Six questions were posed to the nominees, and answers ranged from all in agreement to all four sharply disagreeing with one another. However, there was none of the pandering, gutless nonsense that pervaded the mainstream "debates." Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party candidate, even stated, "If you want to end the drug war, then you should vote for a different candidate," as he expressed his support for federal legislation against narcotics. While one may disagree with him, his honesty and integrity should be appreciated by anyone, especially considering how different that is from the nonsense we've seen up until this point."

Don't give up.  History isn't over.

Monkeying Around

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Posted on : 11/05/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Robb Allen makes a most apt analogy.

His basic point is one I try to make frequently;  that whatever authority you grant one party to do things for you, the other party will eventually be in power and use that same power to do things against you.  One of my greatest fears in the War on Terror is that successive exchanges of majority positions will expand government authority, diminish individual liberty, and leave us less safe.  That has been the cycle with respect to the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty.

I see little reason to expect to be disappointed this time around.

Take a look at Robb's post.  It's worth the five minutes it will take.

Not...Quite...Like...That...

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Posted on : 11/03/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

So the corporate home office sends a notice.  They are asking for the model, serial number, and barcode number for your company supplied laptop.

What should you send them?

The model, serial number, and barcode?

2012 Elections - Presidential Edition

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Posted on : 11/02/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

My absentee ballot is already in.

I voted for Mitt Romney.  I voted that way for a few good reasons.

I really would have preferred to vote for Gary Johnson.  But due to vagaries in Michigan's election laws, Mr. Johnson's appearance on the Michigan GOP primary ballot made him ineligible to run in the general election as anything other than a write-in candidate.  So the value of voting for Mr. Johnson went way down.

The three issues that matter most to me are fiscal responsibility, the U.S. Supreme Court, and national defense; specifically winning the War on Terror against Al Qa'ida, Ansar al Islam, and their fellow travelers.  While Mr. Romney is not perfect on either of these issues, he is better than the alternatives.

Gary Johnson wants to bring the troops home before the war is won.  That's called surrendering.  It is the wrong course of action.

While I was surprisingly pleased with Mr. Obama's continuing prosecution of the War on Terror during his first couple of years in office, he has continued to demonstrate that he really does not believe that we are in a war.  Either that or, he doesn't believe that winning this war matters.

Mr. Obama's response to the recent, planned terrorist attack against our facilities in Benghazi, Libya seem to represent his distilled perspective.  When he could have responded, he didn't.  Instead, is swallowed the terrorists' propaganda and regurgitated it for American consumption.

That is not the sort of leadership that I can support.

On the economic front, it is crystal clear to me that Mr. Obama does not know how anything about real world economics.  He knows how he wishes economics works, but he knows nothing about how economics actually work.  His continuing threats to increase income taxes have needlessly slowed our recovery.  While some of his stimulus spending was worthwhile, a lot of it was not.  Finally, the significant tax increases that are coming next year due to the ACA will put a further damper on the economy.

I would add that Mr. Obama has been a pretty good "friend" of Wall Street.  He elevated "corporatism" or "corporate-capitalism" far beyond anything Mr. Bush did.

That doesn't make Mr. Bush "good"... just not as bad in that category.  "Too big to fail" is a problem.  We need to stop using privatizing profits while we leave losses to the public budget.

Mr. Obama had an opportunity to do something about the structural problems with our federal budget.  Specifically, Medicare and Social Security (along with other social spending) are crippling the federal government.  They need to be reformed.  Fixing our spending problem would have gone a long way towards creating a strong recovery.

Instead, he created even larger structural problems for the federal budget.

The final issue is the Supreme Court.  As above, I don't think Mr. Romney is going to nominate great Supreme Court justices.  I think Mr. Obama has and will continue to nominate lousy ones.

I believe that the U.S. Constitution is our "social contract".  It empowers the federal government to undertake certain actions.  It leaves any other powers with the states or with the people.  It also guarantees individual liberty.  The entire purpose behind the words in the Constitution was to place limits on the size and scope of the federal government.

As I was reading on a legal blog last week, conservative justices and judges have continually given a comfort and counsel to libertarian leaning law students.  They accept those students as clerks, thereby giving them invaluable experiences.  And while they have not ruled in favor of the Constitution over "precedent", they are not hostile to the concept.

Left wing justices and judges have been continually hostile to libertarian leading law students.  They never accept them as clerks.  They rarely listen to their thoughts.  Left wing justices and judges have a history of ignoring the plain language of our Constitution and instead seeking extra-Constitutional "guidance" when writing their rulings.

So while conservative judges are unlikely to support the plain language of the Ninth Amendment regarding gay marriage, they are equally unlikely to support the next power grab that comes out of Congress and/or the administration when it comes to further nationalizing parts of our economy.

So I voted for Mitt.  Not because he is a great candidate.  Just because he will do less harm than the other options.  Had Gary Johnson been on the Michigan ballot, I might very well have voted for him as he would have been correct on two out of the three issues that I care most about.

Not exactly one of the great electoral moments in my life.

2012 Election - Michigan Ballot Edition

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Posted on : 11/01/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

I'm done voting this year.  I think absentee voting will be a big part of my future as the hassle is a whole lot less.

For those not interested in Michigan politics, have a nice day and move on to something pleasant.  'Cause this is gonna get thick.

We have six proposals on the ballot this year.  Most of them seek to amend the Michigan Constitution.  The proposals, and my thoughts follow.


A Scary Future

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Posted on : 10/28/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :




I'm not certain which is worse.  The fact that robots are quickly developing problem solving skills, or that this laboratory work is ahead to the technology used in this novel that I have rolling around in my head.  When you can't out dream scientists, you have a problem.

Apologia

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Posted on : 10/26/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Surprisingly, I did not bother to watch any of the Presidential debates.  Quite frankly, I won't be voting for Mr. Obama and my political junkie genes must be fading.  Add to that the fact that none of my issues will be seriously debated and the candidates that I want to hear, Gary Johnson chief among them, were excluded from the event.

One example of a personal issue that will be safely ignored is the global implications of America's "War on Drugs".  While the US deals with an array of mafiosi, gang bangers, and other reprobates, nations throughout Central and South America deal with the private armies of drug dealers that undermine the ability of those nations to foster civilization and progress.  Decades of failed drug policies have funded drug dealer backed dictatorships in response to America's demand for drugs and motivated other dictatorships that rise in response to America's demand for drug policy compliance.  This problem is compounded when you remember that the Taliban uses money raised from the sale of heroin products to fund their efforts to oppress or re-oppress vast swaths of the Middle East.

Money fuels these tragedies.  Drugs have such a high "street value" precisely because their are illegal.  Legalizing, regulating (and taxing) currently illegal substances would be the best way to foster civilization and progress among our friends and allies within the western hemisphere and to de-fund our Jihadist enemies.

But of course, Central and South America barely got the briefest of mentions.  The foreign policy implications of our failed War on Drugs were simply never on the table for discussion.

The flotsam and jetsam that follows from these debates can be entertaining.  The most recent bit to float my way has to do with whether or not Mr. Obama ever apologized on behalf of the US during his post election tour of the world.

The fact is that he never used the words "apology" or "apologized".

The other fact is that those are about the only words of atonement and humility he didn't use.  Those that followed the tour at the time widely noted his various pronouncements that were aimed at effectively saying "we in the US should learn our place".  Jennifer Rubin has linky article on the subject.  Follow her links for more.

This is an issue where I significantly differ from Mr. Obama.

The blood and treasure of the United States liberated over 15 million Afghanis from the oppressive imposition of Sharia law by the Taliban.  We gave them a chance to step out of the stone age and take a few steps forward.  Should we apologize?

The blood and treasure of the United States liberated roughly 30 million Iraqis from the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.  We not only gave them a chance at have an Iraqi version of democracy, they accepted the opportunity and still hold competitive elections to this day.  How long they are able to hold their democracy may be a function of meddling by the mullahs in Iran, but Iraq has an opportunity at democracy and freedom while it lasts.  Should we apologize?

We were able to effectively bully Syria out of Lebanon a few years back.  Primarily because they saw that we were unafraid to spend our blood and treasure in defense of human rights and individual liberty.  The best way to keep U.S. Marines out of your cities is to not meddle in your neighbor's affairs.  Should we apologize to the Lebanese?

We spent some treasure and little blood helping the Libyans turn out Muammar Gaddafi's oppressive regime.  While I do have questions about our use (or non-use) of force in that conflict, I generally support our efforts....led by Mr. Obama....to foster individual liberty and democracy in that country.  It is my understanding that while the Libyans would have appreciated more support from us, they are grateful for the assistance that we did provide.  The recent terrorist attack on our Libyan consulate was not representative of Libyan sentiments.  Should we apologize to them for our recent assistance?

The punditry will bat this issue back and forth quibbling over whether the use of some variation of "apology" is required to make Mr. Obama's apology tour an "Apology Tour".  For my money, he sought to denigrate our past efforts and leadership on the world stage under the theory that reducing our leadership role would somehow transmute our enemies into friends.

As our ambassador to Libya briefly learned a couple months ago, that theory is misguided.  To put it politely.

Your Neighborhood Quilter

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Posted on : 10/15/2012 10:24:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Alright, y'all.  I need a little help figuring out how to assemble a quilt.  The options are below.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

This is the basic block.  It is roughly 21" x 21".

Option 1 - Everything pointed the same way.

Option 2 - Inboard pointed in, Outboard pointed out.

Option 3 - 4 Pack in/out

Option 4 - 4 Pack windmill

Option 5 - Small windmills
I will have the full story after the quilt is assembled and it the recipient has it.