Saturday, September 20, 2014

Their bowels sparkle like diamonds

My letter to the editor of The Maui News regarding the GMO ban was published today:

There is disagreement whether the initiative on genetically modified organisms would be a moratorium or a ban. Whatever it is called, it would be a ban.

Businesses rarely reopen following long, indefinite closures. For local farms, we learned this on Molokai when the cattle ranches were closed in order to try to control bovine tuberculosis. The disease was controlled but the ranches did not reopen, even though there was almost no other commercial use for the land.

Nearly two decades since bovine TB was declared over, a few cattle operations are just beginning to venture onto Molokai, but a recent business study calls ranching only a “shadow” of what it was.

There is an allegation circulating on the Internet claiming that all letters to the editor of The Maui News favoring GMOs are written by employees or beneficiaries of Monsanto. So I need to state that I have never received -- or been offered -- anything from any agricultural entity.
Restrained, I think, but there is more to know. For example, if you pick up "Living Aloha: Hawaii's Magazine for a Health Conscious Community and Planet," which is a piece of pro-ban literature available all over, you will learn some cogent things abou the anti-GMO folks.

The underlying question is the evidence for or against harm, actual or possible, from using recombinent genetic methods in farming. This is a scientific question; it can be answered by observation applied to theory.  Arm-waving scare stories and non-specific premonitions of disaster don't count.

Well, it can be answered by people who use evidence and understand and accept the methods of scientific investigation to make decisions. It does not appear that the people pushing the ban are that kind of people.

"Living Aloha" is supported by advertisements, and these are revealing. The largest number are for yoga classes and clinics. The second-largest number (4) are for colon cleanses.

Long-time readers of RtO (or of my "Well, balderdash" columns in The Maui News back before there was a blogosphere) may recall that I call Maui Duckburg because everywhere you go, you hear a quack. It is safe to say that the opinions of people who believe in colon cleanses on health topics are scientifically worthless.

The argument of those who claim they want only a temporary moratorium pending evidence of safety raises the question: what would they accept as evidence?

Book Review 334: Paper: An Elegy

PAPER: An Elegy, by Ian Sansom. 231 pages, illustrated. Morrow

One reason (of several) that I never pay attention to predictions by digital mavens is that they were so stridently wrong about paper. It is easy to make a wrong prediction, but in this case the evidence was right there.

Surprisingly, Ian Sansom doesn’t use it, although he squeezes an awful lot into a small space in “Paper: An Elegy.” You probably recall the factoid I am thinking of: When the plain paper copier was introduced, Xerox estimated that most users would make a dozen copies a day or so.

Fortunately those early copiers were robust, because counters showed that they were making around 100,000 copies a year: a ream every working day. And even if you never heard that story, it’s hard not to notice that the local stationery store runs a more-or-less continuous teaser sale of copier paper if you buy 10 boxes at a time.

As Sansom shows in this eclectic survey, even if the paperless office had emerged, paper would still be in our hands all the time. In fast-paced chapters, he covers advertisements, money, clothing, origami, games and puzzles, spying, money and much more.

Money might be just about the one use of paper that really will diminish because of digital methods. Yet it is hanging on pretty well still. Who knows, the inability or incompetence of vendors to safeguard credit card data may cause a rush back to greenbacks?

If there is a deficiency in this book, it is that Sansom, a teacher in Ireland, gives so little space to each use of paper; and not much to the manufacture of the stuff, although the bibliography shows where to go for more.

Big swathes of interest are ignored, like the move away from chlorine in paper mills. Barely mentioned, but hugely important, is the fact that digital files have a very short shelf life. Among the great advantages of paper over computers is that, once marked, paper can be read without any tools. Even the biggest libraries have trouble finding machinery to read some of their old digital media.


Pretty food

You will never see a prettier plate of tripe stew, at Tante's Island Cuisine.

Good, too, although not the best I've ever had. That would be the tripe stew made by Mrs. Abe Aiona.

(Second-best would be my own, but mine is not local style -- no tomato -- more like menudo.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Chocolate-cream Soldier and other bonbons

While driving to an appointment yesterday, I thought I heard a report on the radio news that the United States is giving Ukraine $53 billion to build up its army, but no weapons.

How absurd, I thought, and of course I had misheard. It's only $43 billion, or about 100 Solyndras.

The image of Buntschli, the mercenary in "Arms and the Man" who goes unarmed and uses his cartridge case only to carry chocolates, came immediately to mind, since Ukraine's president is the "chocolate king." Life seldom imitates art so clearly.

Later in the day, I heard King, er, President Poroshenko solemnly promise to an open-handed, empty-headed and madly cheering Congress (ours) that sure, for certain all of our dollars will go only to incorrupt institutions, which must have magically sprung up since Transparency International did its rankings last year. Ukraine finished 144th.


An honest, open crook

After that, it was almost refreshing to read about Jack Ma. American investors are going to give him around $24 billion (50 Solyndras) for no share in the governance of his fencing operation, Alibaba. All they want is a rakeoff on the profits from selling fake gold coins.

Ma and his gang make no pretense of being anything other than thieves. I do not believe they are more thievish than the mill run of other corporate leaders, just less shy about saying so. Certainly they got along with the corrupt bankers of New York like, well, thieves.

There was no sign that any American investors were reluctant to invest in a corrupt business. They're like Congress that way.

Who is dying in Africa?

The vastly overhyped Ebola epidemic is not West Africa's leading health problem. It may not be in the top 3. But it scares the be-hoozis out of Westerners.

As of today, Ebola hemorhagic fever is reported to have killed 2,500 people. Even if the accurate total is 5,000, that's only 1% of the deaths each year from malaria in Africa.

Measles kills more, too.

But you don't hear rightwingers screaming about measles being brought over the border, and you don't hear even sensible people fretting about malaria arriving via air passengers in New York. (Direct air links between Africa and the United States by American carriers are a recent development.) 

Because they don't think they are going to be sickened at home by measles or malaria. It's a good idea to speak to the locals about how they view the situation.

UPDATE, SATURDAY: From The Washington Post, a column recommending speaking to the locals. I cannot say I particularly agree with all of the column, but the comments are, for the most part, appalling.

 Stupid science tricks

What if you ran an experiment in which half the subjects showed a possible change that might indicate a tendency to a postulated, but unproven, pathway to a medical condition in some people? And in the other half it didn't? And the sample size was 7? You might think that is practically the definition of an inconclusive result.

Virtually every editor in the country put the story on Page One.

The subject is sweeteners. Oh. Morality not science.

Dang liberals

Remember all the bad words liberals applied to Cliven Bundy? Add shiftless. You know who you can
always count on for words about family values and taking personal responsibility: the Palins. Actually demonstrating either, well, no, never. You know whose fault that is? Liberals.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gun nuggets

How responsible, highly trained peace officers manage firearms. Let's choose some lowlights from that report:

The (Honolulu) officer was in the restroom when he accidentally fired his gun, and the pictures sent to us by a viewer shows the bullet ricocheted off the stall door and hit another stall.
Officers investigated after the 911 call was made but there were no reports available to the public.

 last month . . . an officer accidentally fired his gun and killed himself at home.

 HPD also says the officer will remain on patrol during the investigation.
This refers to the live one not the dead one. And:

Bakke says that doesn’t make sense “because any time there’s a discharge of a firearm by a police officer, it’s standard procedure that they’re put on desk duty basically.”
HPD says it’s not necessary.
“At this time, we feel that he’s not endangering the public,” said police chief Louis Kealoha. “He didn’t do a criminal act. It was an accidental discharge. We’re doing an administrative investigation, not a criminal investigation.”
He didn't endanger anybody by shooting his pistol in a public restroom in a department store? Kealoa needs to be fired for incompetence and stupidity.

Moving on to New Mexico, what could possibly go wrong when a business encourages its workers to carry loaded weapons and smoke dope? Oh.

On Sept. 17, 2011, Black says, as she stood on a ladder inventorying guns in a storage area, Rubi "pulled the .38 revolver from her rear pocket, pointed it at her buttocks and then with reckless disregard for her safety, pulled the trigger, shooting plaintiff with a single round from the revolver. Plaintiff collapsed on the ladder."
RtO contemplated but had nothing to say about the 9-year-old girl who killed an "instructor" with a submachine gun at an Arizona recreational center called Burgers & Brews. Beer and machine guns, what could go wrong? I should have contemplated the video (or the still taken from it) more carefully.

Because a commenter who did look closely noticed that the girl's target was a silhouette of a person. Some fun.

(While trying, and failing, to refind that comment, I did find this.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coming to a school near you

If you did not grow up in the South, as I did, you can hardly conceive the level of ignorance. It is not a myth that Baptist preachers told their congregations that if Al Smith was elected president in 1928, the pope would sneak over from Rome in a secret tunnel to enter the White House and tell Smith (a Catholic) how to run the country.

Earlier, the Klan in Georgia told a similar story about the Bishop of Savannah. (My grandfather, from an old -- in fact, the oldest -- Southern family of European descent, had taken a second wife from an Italian-American family, and so T.C., my grandfather, ended up on a peacemaking mission to get the Georgia Grand Dragon to tone down his vile attacks on Catholics. This was around 1912.)

By the time I came along most younger Southerners with any pretensions to education no longer believed in the tunnels, although their attitude toward Catholics was as hateful as ever. The level of hatred of Catholics has cooled a little, although if you listen to "To Every Man An Answer," which is available on radio in almost every community in the country, you will find it still exists, along with even greater hatred of Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and a complicated but basically hateful attitude toward Jews.

All this is by way of introducing a report on the Texas Board of Education mandate that textbooks, to be acceptable in Texas public schools, must subscribe to the old Southern standards of ignorance. This concerns you because Texas is the largest purchaser of schoolbooks, and publishers tend to make the rest of the country follow Texas practice. (It seems to me that it would be a good idea for a foundation, or even a money-making business, to produce and sell non-Texan schoolbooks, but so far that hasn't happened.)

Texas young'uns are to learn that separate-but-equal really was equal, that Islam spread by conquest but Christianity by the gentle force of its message, that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War and many similar delusions held by most Southern rightwingers today. A big push is on to sneak the Ten Commandments into the public schools, despite the fact that, as the report notes, the Founders explicitly excluded the first four commandments from our governmental framework:
The Framers, for instance, were not influenced by the first four Commandments, which deal with matters of religious belief and practice. In fact, notable framers such as James Madison led the battle against government punishment for unorthodox religious belief.
And, as the report does not say, had nothing to say about the rest. Ox-coveting is not mentioned in the Constitution, and, if rightwing Christians were honest with themselves, they would acknowledge that their economic ideas not only permit but require ox-coveting. 

The report by the Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund is scornful. On the chance that you think I have been too scornful, I invite you to look at this loving, Christian message from Robby Gallaty, senior pastor at the Baptist church down the road from where I grew up, in which he calls for murdering homosexuals.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Whip Inflation Now! Whip it again!

The modern economy has so many factors, which interact in so many ways, that it is impossible to model in a general way. However, there are a few observable elements that are nearly as reliable as the sunrise, whether we can fully explain them or not.

RtO has emphasized one: unsupervised markets fail. Some rightwingers call this a feature, not a bug, and the damage done to people not in the markets does not bother them.

Paul Krugman has emphasized that since 2008 fears that inflation is about to break out have proven unfounded. So much so that some even of his fans find him tiresome. (I try to keep RtO from being tiresome, so I have not recently had anything to say about unsupervised markets, but you can bank on the fact that the people who need to understand this most still don't get it.) Krugman is more relentless.

In his column today in the New York Times, he introduces a new idea, which I find plausible. Krugman asks why the inflation hawks (roughly, the Republican Party) insist, against evidence, that inflation is either here or just around the corner. Part of the answer, he decides, is affinity fraud.

And anger against “takers” — anger that is very much tied up with ethnic and cultural divisions — runs deep. Many people, therefore, feel an affinity with those who rant about looming inflation; Mr. Santelli is their kind of guy. In an important sense, I’d argue, the persistence of the inflation cult is an example of the “affinity fraud” crucial to many swindles, in which investors trust a con man because he seems to be part of their tribe. In this case, the con men may be conning themselves as well as their followers, but that hardly matters.
This tribal interpretation of the inflation cult helps explain the sheer rage you encounter when pointing out that the promised hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen. It’s comparable to the reaction you get when pointing out that Obamacare seems to be working, and probably has the same roots.
Well, that helps explain the anger, but as a couple of commenters wonder, what explains the lack of inflation?

This is really easy to understand. The short definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods.

There is certainly plenty of money, even if you and I don't have so much of it. (Another theme I have held for years but never developed in RtO -- I should do that -- is that for the first time in history the world has too much capital.)

But haven't any rightwingers noticed that there are not too few goods? The storage industry, which was a hole-and-corner way of exploiting obsolete warehouses a generation ago, is now huge. Drive through even rural areas of the Mainland and you will see ugly storage businesses popping out of pastures, full of items that Americans own but have no use for.

The capacity of China to grind out shoddy is effectively limitless. Where we do see inflation is in goods that cannot be made in China: like Gilded Age mansions in Manhattan.

Few of these have been single-family homes recently, but they are being snapped up at prices sometimes exceeding $50 mil, with at least that much more required to convert them back to single-family residences. It is described as a seller's market.

For sale: truck or house, $28 mil

I note a photo in the Times of one of these mini-mansions. This one is already being renovated, and there's a workman's truck parked in front of it. The house is not as wide as my Toyota Tacoma is long. Yours, either the house or the truck, for $28 million. Cash preferred, the story says.