Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Everything you want to know about Romney in one sentence

Throughout the day following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, reporters traveling with Romney have asked him what he’d do with FEMA—they asked him 14 different times, according to this report—and he has refused to answer. 

According to Bloomberg News. The reason, of course, is that Romney was on record as wanting to do away with FEMA and now 60,000,000 Americans have an immediate stake in its existence.

I've said before that Romney is a coward. Who now could deny it?

Worse than a coward, really, because the rest of the paragraph in the Bloomberg story goes on to say:

The question is all the more awkward because Romney has recast today’s campaign rally as a “storm relief event.”
I have always thought that Americans basically vote on the basis of character . That is not a bad thing. No one can predict what issues a political leader will have to deal with.

Franklin Roosevelt ran for president on a platform of cost-cuttting and a balanced federal budget.But when he came into office, things had gotten much worse and Roosevelt reversed course. It took a great deal of character to do that. Only Washington and Lincoln as presidents have ever shown so much.

It is easy to imagine :Romney reversing course -- it is impossible to imagine him sticking to a position, if we ever knew what position he held. But doing so in a way that exemplifies a strong moral character?. That's harder.

Gamblers pick Obama

For the past week or so, I've been following the betting on the presidential election at Intrade, the Irish futures market, and to a lesser extent, the Iowa Electronic Markets. (IEM limits bets to $500, which presumably chases the big rollers away and, perhaps, distorts that market.)

The last week as been very volatile, although the plungers are uniformly leaning Obama-wards. The price of a $10 bet was about $6.10 when I first stopped in to look, fell as low as about $5.40 (for reasons I cannot guess), then bounced back to around $6.10.

This morning, it's taken a largish jump and is around $6.60 -- that is, you pay $6.60 to win $10. No limit, although judging by the number of shares offered at different prices, few bettors are placing  bets over $1,000.

Conversely, it costs around $3.40 to  bet to win $10 with Romney. A lot of the horse players I know won't bet on short odds. Dunno if political bettors act the same way. Is money flowing toward R. because the payoff potential is better? Or, as seems more likely, are bettors putting their money on the man they want to win?

Either way, I tend to think the so-called predictive power of a free market is oversold by the free-marketeers. (The IEM is set up as an educational tool to teach college students how markets work; I don't believe it is capable of doing that. I don't believe anybody knows how markets work.)

I prefer the kind of bet where the loser says he'll push a peanut down Main Street with his nose, but nobody seems willing to make those bets any more. Politics was more colorful in the old days, but the influx of money has made it duller in some ways.


In case it wasn't clear the first time, the reason  I am skeptical of markets in general and this market in particular is that it is hard to match the violent swings in the gamblers' odds with anything likely to be happening among the electorate.

The Obama wager is now over $6.90, a rise of nearly 8% in a day and of close to 15 points in a week.

Even if you argue that the outcome of the election (the wager) is on a knife's edge because it depends on the results in 7 or 8 closely divided states, it seems hard to believe that anything happened in those states so dramatic in a week that the odds should have shifted from 55% to nearly 70%.

Or perhaps once the odds in Obama's favor shifted past a certain point -- say, for the sake of discussion, when it passed 67% or 2:1 -- there was a rush of hot money to get in (late) on an almost sure thing.

I can imagine gamblers acting that way, but the way Intrade works, there has to be a counterseller on the other side of every buy. So there's still Romney money in the mix; the book hasn't just seized up.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Well, this is bizarre

Even though I was not following Sandy as obsessively as some people in the house yesterday, even I noticed a Facebook post about the New York Stock Exchange being under 3 feet of water. I've been there and I knew it wasn't true so I passed it by like all the other dreck on the innertubes.

Turns out there is a story there, though, and a weird one.

Somebody named Jack Stuef had nothing better to do than track down the source -- nominally an anonymous Twitter account, but with the Internet, you never can tell -- and found . . . a highly paid Republican campaign operative named Shashank Tripathi.

You might have supposed that this late in the campaign he (Tripathi) would have had more urgent things to do, but apparently not.

And he's a hedge fund analyst. Too sweet.

But that's not why RtO is taking time to note this wicked little lie -- which incredibly enough got onto TV, which is another reason I don't own a TV. No, it turns out that Republicans have serious problems with storms. I cannot guess why.

From another sourcesource, Republican hack Michael Brown attacked President Obama for paying too much attention to Hurricane Sandy. If the name rings a bell, it's from Bush II's "Heckuva job, Brownie" inanity. Yes, the same horse lawyer who didn't pay any attention to Hurricane Katrina.

What is going on with the Republicans?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Having a good time

From a Vanity Fair article about two German  art forgers who stole millions of dollars, got caught and are now in  what Germans amusingly regard as "prison":

The Beltracchis were five months into their jail sentence, and had few complaints about the conditions. Both had been assigned to live in “open prisons”—the equivalent of halfway houses in the United States, without bars, guns, or guards—and were working at Esser’s photo studio five days a week, often until nine p.m. They also had 80 hours of “free time” each month, 21 free weekend nights a year, and extra days off at Christmas and Easter. They had rented an apartment in Cologne to use during their vacation time. “This system of imprisonment doesn’t exist anywhere but here in Germany,” Wolfgang said with a grin, over a lunch of Wiener schnitzel and french fries at a restaurant in an old villa down the road from the loft. Prison officials did, however, insist on strict adherence to the schedule: if the couple reports back late three times in a single month, Wolfgang said, “they will throw us immediately into the closed prison—without any chance to appeal.”

The whole story is amusing if, like me, you think the spread between the best and worst of modern art is very thin.

Businesses Romney does not understand

I’ve been thinking about this post for weeks but putting it off because it’s pretty obscure. On the other hand, Mitt Romney goes around making statements along the line of, “Private business always outperforms government,” and that is wrong.

No one who knows America’s business history thinks that. Of course, the number of people who know America’s business history is very small.

In fact, huge sectors of business exist only because of government supervision or encouragement. In aggregate, most of the U.S. economy would either not exist at all or would be weak and puny without government interference. I don’t have time to list all of them, but let’s take life insurance as an example.

Life insurance is a big, big part of American business. It’s assets were $18,000,000,000,000 (that’s trillion with a T) and cash inflows were nearly $3,000,000,000,000 (trillion again) in 2009. That’s serious money. Without life insurance, capitalism would be hard put to it to find capital.

Yet, until government stepped in, the life insurance business was small, corrupt and disreputable; and, yes, America was starved of capital in those days.

Aside from a couple of benevolent societies (which tried to, gasp, socialize private charity for their members), life insurance was hard to find and often not worth finding in the early Republic. There were no regulations, so insurors did not have to maintain capital reserves. Since they didn’t, they had no need for actuarial science.

Life insurance was not then a form of saving. If you bought a policy, it might -- or might not -- pay off if you were lucky enough to die early. If you were unfortunate enough to live to a normal old age, most likely the original underwriter, figuring you were going to die pretty soon and he had nicked you for plenty of premiums over the decades, sold your policy.

This was legal, since life insurance was unregulated.

If the second buyer was honest (a dubious assumption), if you died on him, he still might not be able to pay off, since he hadn’t received many premiums.

In practice, policies of long-lived customers tended to change hands several times, with each marginal to desperate “insuror” betting that he could get at least one more premium  payment before the customer kicked the  bucket. Prices to buy contracts spiraled downward, and speculators hung around the doors of rich decrepit policyholders (ordinary folks didn’t have the option of life insurance), milking the servants for intelligence about whether Mr. Gotrocks might hold out for at least one more premium payment.

The odds that the holder of the contract when the customer expired would be able to fulfill the policy were remote.

It was, however, a nearly perfect example of an efficient market.

Mitt Romney would have loved it.

Pernicious, meddling politicians and  bureaucrats changed everything.

By regulating insurors, usually at the state levels, requiring adequate reserves and audits, they created a demand for a secondary service business, the actuary.

Once talented statisticians set up shop providing tables for insurance companies, other businessmen  took advantage of their skills for other purposes, and thus was born the multimegabillion consulting sector. It might have happened without government interference, but the fact is, it didn’t.

Other sectors that were created  by, or never thrived until government interference include road building and overland freight hauling, manufacturing using interchangeable parts, electronic computing and aviation.

Why shut down public transportation?

I'm not getting the authorities' reaction on Oahu during the tsunami non-event Saturday, nor on the East Coast anticipating Sandy.

If your goal is to move Americans to public transportation, then it seems to me you keep public transit going as long as possible, you don't shut it down at the first opportunity.

At some point, you've got to stop, but later rather than sooner.

It's already tough to have to rely on a bus system which, in most places, doesn't run 24 hours a day; compared with private cars which are good to go anytime. It just makes it tougher when the mayor shuts it down on a whim.

What did that accomplish on Oahu, other than to frustrate people?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Graham crackers

This is about Romney and evangelicals. Well, not Romney so much as Billy Graham, and not Billy so much as his scheming son Franklin. Billy is probably too senile to know what's going on.

Recall, though, that RtO predicted some evangelical woes for the Romney campaign because evangelicals -- or at least that fraction represented by Calvary Chapel and the like -- really, really hate Mormonism.(See Calvary Chapel and the Republicans, Sept. 17)

In typical sneaky fashion -- and unlike Jack Kennedy, who confronted his version of Protestant hate head-on in public by addressing a ministers' association -- Romney sought an audience with the ga-ga high priest of American Pharisaism (is any event less in tune with what Jesus said in Matthew 6: 5 & 6 than a football stadium full of Billy Grahamites bellowing their prayers?).

Liberty-loving Americans cried foul, that Billy Graham Ministries was using its tax-exempt position to push a political candidate, but though inassailably valid of course they got no response. No bureaucrat is going to tackle Billy Graham by pulling his IRS exemption, and if one did the president -- whoever he was -- would have his head.

But someone did pay attention when Franklin Graham reversed decades of Billy Graham smears by scrubbing the label "cult" from all mentions of Mormonism from the Billy Graham Enterprises websites.

Although Billy Graham was the all-time champion brown-noser of presidents, I am willing to imagine that were he still in possession of his faculties, he wouldn't have gone that far. Maybe I give him too much credit.

While the political cowards who tremble at the power of Christianity held their peace, the Christians themselves did not. The Washington Post reportsreports a sampling of evangelical hatemasters who are washing their hands (metaphor carefully chosen, you bet) of Grahamism.

It is hard to say how much of evangelicalism this little sample truly represents. No doubt it is common opinion at Calvary Chapel, but American evangelicalism covers a lot of territory. I cannot guess how many of them will sit on their hands this election because of Romney's Mormonism. But some surely will.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Romney and the Navy

RtO doesn't give me much opportunity to call on my lifelong interest in naval affairs, but the breadth and depth of Mitt Romney's ignornance is a welcome chance.

We don't need a great many ships in the bluewater navy now. During World War II, a carrier task force included three heavy and one light aircraft carriers, with an escort of one or two battleships, three or four heavy and light cruisers and at least four divisions of destroyers, 16 of them. That doesn't count distant surface and subsurface scouting and distant cover vessels.

Just the core task force contained at least 25 surface warships, and the fleet train supply ships added another six or eight: oilers, ammunition ships, cargo vessels.

Today, a carrier battle group of one carrier has more firepower, range and capability than a whole WW2 task force, and the escort consists of two ships. I remain a skeptic about the fighting capabilities of the Aegis cruisers, but if their past record is any guide, adding more of them wouldn't enhance the battle group's capabilities.

If you do the math, you'll quickly see that the Navy's surface ship count today needs to be only a tenth what it was in the steam era for the same punch. And with nuclear propelled ships, the call for oilers has nearly vanished. Store ships are five or six times as large as WW2 cargo vessels, so fewer of them are needed.

Romney, of course, has not said what ships he'd like to add to the fleet, but he's a Republican, so we can safely assume he means big, showy, useless ships (like the battleship New Jersey that the Republicans brought out of mothballs during the Reagan years and turned into a floating coffin at the price of five or 10 Solyndras). You can be sure that he, no less than Reagan, is not interested in small, cheap, vital vessels like minesweepers.

During the Reagan years, the Navy didn't have any minesweepers. You may recall that when mines began to be effective in the Persian Gulf, the Navy used civilian tankers as "deep draft minesweepers."

That's because, in one of many lapses of competence in the high command, the Navy had decided that minesweeping could be done by expensive, limited range, low endurance helicopters. It's a big ocean, and when needed, the helicopters couldn't cover the water.

This despite the fact that during WW2, antishipping mines were one of our most effective and efficient weapons, delivered against Japanese home waters by B-29s and submarines.

Dropping a mine under cover of darkness is not the kind of Sgt. Rock warfare that appeals to Republicans, who want to be seen to be making a lot of noise, whether anything gets accomplished or not.

So, yes, there is a deficiency in our Navy and in our armed forces generally. But it is not of ships. It is of competent and honorable admirals and generals. They proved incompetent in Bush's wars, which they managed to lose despite overwhelming materiel superiority.

The civilian high command, of both parties, has not been better, either.

And while we're on the subject, I had thought about writing up one of Romney's (and rightwingers' generally) stupider beliefs: That government cannot "pick winners" or perform better than private businesses.

This is not true. About 90% (by dollar volume) of American private business would not exist without government regulation, stimulation and origination. Strong words, which I can back up though at this time I will limit to just one naval example.

Industrial rationalization, innovation and efficiency were invented by governments. In a specifically maritime sense, at the Arsenal in Venice, which produced the dominant naval arm of the middle ages; and at the dockyards of the Royal Navy in the 1790s.

To expand the fleet to meet the challenge of Bonaparte, the Royal Navy required tens of thousands of blocks. To that time, each block had been bored and shaped by hand, a process that took weeks. The naval constructors invented multiple-head, powered boring and shaping machines to produce blocks for the navy's tackle and the course of history changed.

(In America, the so-called American System was a mere copy of the British government innovation and was falsely credited to Eli Whitney. Whitney was, in fact, a complete failure who never delivered a single workable weapon to the army. The American System was developed in the 1830s and '40s at tremendous expense by the Army at the Harper's Ferry Arsenal, and only after the Civil War did private businesses learn the Army's methods and apply them to, for example, sewing machines. Republicans fervently believe that government is incapable of doing these things, but that is because they don't know their own history.)

Where's the aloha?

Driving into town last week, I saw a couple of unMaui slogans on cars.

First, on the side of a new Honda: "Punish and torture . . . "

I don't know what to make of that, but it was disturbing to see the car turning into the hospital.

Less obscure was a slogan on the back window of a working pickup truck: "Take a shower. This isn't Paia."

Clear but mean-spirited.

The haole-go-home stickers have been less common recently, and I haven't seen "Puinsai" for years.

So it goes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In which RtO agrees with Mitt Romney

First, let’s clear up something. RtO does NOT believe that Mitt Romney believes airplane windows should crank down. I’ve watched the tape. Romney was trying to make a joke.
He doesn’t know how to go about it,  but he was joking. Trust me.
Romney caught some heat when the tape of his secret talk to the rich degenerates in Florida was revealed for saying that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. No kiddin’. They had an election  about that, and the no-peace group won in Gaza. The pretend-for-peace guys won on the West Bank.
There wasn’t a peace party on the ballot anywhere.
So if you believe – as RtO does not believe – that Palestinians govern themselves (internally anyway) by a democratic process, Romney’s statement was pellucid truth. Who could object to pellucid truth?
Quite a few people, obviously.
A good time for Palestinians to have been for a peaceful settlement would have been early in 1967, when there weren’t any Jewish settlements in the West Bank (nor any Jews either), or in Gaza.
The Arabs have been trying to exterminate the Israelis for over 60 years now. At the beginning of the effort, there weren’t even any Palestinians. Nobody in 1948 self-identified as a Palestinian, just as nobody in 1800 self-identified as a Rumanian. Now, or course, we have self-conscious Rumanians and Palestinians.
On the whole, neither development seems like a net gain, although Americans can be grateful that a Rumanian army was available for Stalin to attack at Stalingrad in 1943; but the tides of nationalism have a logic that ignores cost-benefit analysis. I cannot think of any benefit to anybody from Palestinian nationalism.
So Romney’s on solid ground. I wish I could think he understands why.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What color are Smurfs?

Tricia and I went to see "Frankenweenie" over the weekend. I like Tim Burton films, although this is not one of his best. I didn't feel like I'd wasted $7.50 (senior discount), however.

I did think I'd wasted an hour watching previews -- actually only 15 minutes by my watch. (It's an anti-Rolex, a 50-year-old HMT from India. All it does is tell time, and even that only to within a minute every couple of hours. I bought it because of its lack of functionality.)

There's going to be a Smurf movie, it seems. Apparently there was another already. The signage said the Smurfs are blue. Surely they were purple?

Is this a Democratic plot, or what?

I once met a man who claimed to have every Smurf item ever made, at that time about 4,000 Smurf dolls, Smurf lunch boxes, Smurf mouse pads and, for all I know, Smurf condoms. He carried around a picture of a room in his house filled with Smurf stuff.

I'd swear it was all purple.

Another alternative energy misstep

The Washington Post has an enlightening background report on the bankruptcy of A123, which tried to make batteries for electric cars.

RtO is already on record as dubious about electric cars. And just about every other kind of alternative electricity, based on nearly 40 years of reporting on failures of one kind or another. Heard much about fuel cells lately?

Probably not.

The Post says to expect to hear about this in political terms. No doubt. Romney has already told several lies about government-backed alternative energy programs.

You have to wonder why. The truth is bad enough.

What's not mentioned by the Republicans, ever, when they jump on Solyndra, for example, is that these bad deals got a lot more private money than government-guaranteed loans. In A123's case, a hell of a lot more.

Sort of puts the kibosh on the idea that business can do a better job.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jack Welch takedown

Bloomberg News takes down the ridiculous Jack Welch on employment numbers:

If former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch’s charges of a political fix to manipulate economic data ahead of the presidential election are true, there must be a vast econometric conspiracy embracing auto dealers, real estate agents, the Federal Reserve and corporate America’s 96-year-old Conference Board.
But other reporters had already exposed Welch for the nut that he has become. What's worth reading are the comments of the rightwingers at the bottom. Bottom here being used in two senses.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Truth squads

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I'm going to restate the obvious: This has been the most entertaining political campaign since 1968. And it's getting better all the time.

Setting aside the always laughable racist lunatic Ron Paul (because none of his supporters are old enough to vote), I think most people would have picked Michelle Bachmann as the most entertaining candidate, and she's still at it even though she's out of it (in both senses of that phrase): See here for an example that even some Republicans found bizarre.

But move over, Michelle. A new top dog is in town, and his name is Mitt. Never in my most imaginative speculations would I have proposed that the Republicans would have to follow Romney around with a "truth squad." But they have had to.

In Des Moines (graveyard of rightwing nuts -- it's the place where Lindbergh made his antisemitic speech and started the downfall of the America First movement), Romney made a statement about abortion policy that was insuppportable to even his party. The Des Moines Register (a paper I worked at once, long ago) gave  the most Mitt-friendly spin to his statement, but  the fact remains that the party had to disavow it.

And that wasn't the only time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not a democracy

Rightwingers are fond of correcting anyone -- leftwinger or not -- who describes the country as a democracy. No, it's a republic, they say, just as if that means something.

Anyhow, the McCarthyites have always made it perfectly clear that they don't like democracy. Here's a line from a rightwinger today at a blog I sometimes read. It concerns Romney's lie during the debate about how his health plan would cover preexisting conditions.

The Republican (yes, Republican!) truth squad had to correct him the next morning. He left out 38 million people. Anyhow, when I mentioned that Romney had won the debate by telling lies, this was the response from Angry Old Guy:

Romney is trying desperately to fudge the issue because he knows the correct policy is politically toxic.

To hell with those voters. Too lazy to take responsibility and too dumb to know what they want.

Somebody didn't get the memo that Romney was "completely wrong" about the 47%.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The loneliest man in Arkansas

When a lot of people who ought to have known better were running around like crazy people accusing Bill Clinton of cocaine-trafficking and murder, Gene Lyons patiently debunked the nuts. Not that many people paid attention.

Being a good newspaperman in Arkansas is not easy, and a case can be made that it's harder than ever now. Lyons keeps trying.

As a Southerner myself, I think he has written a classic takedown of backwoods lunacy.

They’re not conservatives at all, in the classical sense, but sentimental fanatics seeking to purge the nation of sin; adepts of “limited government” with their noses buried in women’s panty drawers; apostles of a lost utopia located in a nonexistent past, most often in ’60s sitcoms like the “Andy Griffith Show.”

If a conservative is one who wishes to conserve the good ideas of past generations, Lyons is exactly right that Southern rightwingers are not conservatives. In Arkansas today, Republican candidates are publicly praising slavery and calling for the death penalty for sassy kids.

My grandfathers, both genuine Southern conservatives, would have called these people lunatics. And they are.

In my grandfathers' days, these lunatics generally called themselves Democrats, for merely historical reasons -- when the North defeated the Confederacy,it was led by Republicans. Southern Democrats did a lot of harm to the party and to the South and to the nation, but their damage was limited because they did not control the entire Democratic Party.

The lunatics are now calling themselves Republicans, and only an optimist would say they don't have that party by the short hairs. Gene Lyons says:

Dislike of Obama has grown to cultlike proportions across the region. Statewide polls show the president losing by thunderous majorities. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute highlighted in the New York Times shows that “among southern working-class whites, Romney leads by 40 points, 62-22, an extraordinary gap.” In the Midwest, Obama leads among the same group. Subtract the African-American precincts, and the president might not win 30 percent of votes in states like Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The William Akin candidacy in Missouri is diagnostic. Akin's crazy remarks about reproduction were so offensive to so many Americans of all shades of opinion that the national party felt obliged to disown him. That stand for decency did not last even one full orbit of the moon.

Head fake

I like Bloomberg News and link to a lot of stories there, but its headlines are the worst.

For example today:

Ex-GE CEO Welch Leaves Fortune After Twitter-Post Backlash

I thought he was giving away his money, but no, apparently he's holding onto it.

Turns out after his Donald Trump moment purveying a conspiracy theory about faking jobs data, he decided Fortune magazine isn't the place for him. So he's taking his crazy talk to the Wall Street Journal.

It's the right move. He'll fit right in with the other dingbats writing for Murdoch.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A bad recipe for our reefs

The Maui News–mend-coral-reefs.html?nav=10reports that after a lot of work, a local group in alliance with NOAA has come up with a summary of what is causing decline of West Maui’s reefs.
Unfortunately, diligence is no substitute for knowledge, and the West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management task force blew it. While some of their conclusions are valid, the big, expensive one is baloney. The Maui News says:
The county’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility role involves pouring 3.5 million to 5 million gallons a day of nutrient-rich treated water underground using injection wells, Hood said. These nutrients have been blamed, at least in part, for killing coral and feeding algae blooms that strangle it.
The truth is, the treated wastewater is not rich in nutrients. It is very low in nutrients. If it weren’t for the yuuck factor and the slight possibility of disease organisms, you could drink the stuff. Hundreds of millions of people drink water a lot worse that what goes down the injection wells.
For years now, and notwithstanding the EPA spent a million dollars back in the early ’90s trying to convict the wells and failed, a band of environmental zealots have been running a campaign against the effluent. If they had merely visited the Central Laboratory and observed the testing of the effluent (done daily), they’d know better. It’s not too late. The lab operates every day of the year.coral reef
There’s a lot of bogus “information” out there about the oceans. The same Sunday The Maui News helped publicize the wrongheaded West Maui report, the Los Angeles Times ran a,0,7494056.story,0,7494056.storystory about the dangers of an acid ocean:
Rising acidity doesn’t just imperil the West Coast’s $110-million oyster industry. It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say.
Not worry though. The ocean is not turning acid, if you go swimming, your suit won’t dissolve. The ocean has been alkaline for billions of years and it will continue to be alkaline until the sun expands and burns us to a crisp.
The ocean is about as alkaline as a glass of Alka-Seltzer.

Book eview 258: Natural Affairs

NATURAL AFFAIRS: A Botanist Looks at the Attachments b etween Plants and People, by Peter Bernhardt. 225 pages, illustrated. Villard, $25

As I wrote in a review of one of Peter Bernhardt's other excellent collections of botanical essays, a surefire way to identify a faker when it comes to discussions of evolution is to ask whether he says anything about plants. Fakers never do.

The whole intelligent design fraud is about animals. Darwin knew better.

Even if he had never written about theory, he would still have been the greatest experimental biologist of his time (perhaps of all time) and one of the greatest field naturalists.

In 1877, Darwin published “The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species” based on his study of South African wood sorrels. What he noticed is heterostyly, an important feature of plant reproduction that is still not fully understood.

Bernhardt writes, “For me, much of Darwin's genius comes from his talent for using the most common creatures to explain complex topics.”

I guarantee that none of the phonies at the Creation Research Institute ever heard of a wood sorrel nor could any describe the ins and outs of the forms of flowers that botanists call pins and thrums.

In other essays, Bernhardt considers what goes into a salad, why saffron is so expensive (and describes how phony saffron is made), the contradictory mystical reactions of Spanish priests to the passionflower, and daffodils, among other byways of people inyeracting with plants.

As always, Bernhardt's writing is graceful and meaty (or should we say planty?). In three volumes, I have caught him in only one, somewhat excusable error.

On a visit to Hawaii, he fell for the tall tale about forest places too dangerous to visit because violent marijuana farmers are protecting their (squatted on) turf. It's a good story to thrill the tourists but it isn't true.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review 257: Lost Black Sheep

LOST BLACK SHEEP: The Search for WWII Ace Chris Magee, by Robert T. Reed. 246 pages, illustrated. Hellgate, $24.95

Lost Black Sheep” is a most unusual example of “greatest generation” memoir. The subject, Chris Magee, scored nine victories in the South Pacific with the Black Sheep, second only to squadron commander Pappy Boyington. Then he joined the Israeli air force in 1948, one of the few goyim to help defend the Jews from attacks by Egyptian bombers.

The not-so-great part of his life included smuggling, some mysterious flying for unspecified troublemakers in Latin America and eight years in Leavenworth for bank robbery.

It is sometimes suggested that young adventurers have a hard time coming down from the early high of combat, but the other Black Sheep, with the exception of Boyington, came back to civil life and uniformly did well. (I did not notice until starting this review that my second-hand copy of “Lost Black Sheep” has a label indicating that it was formerly owned by Ned Corman, a Black Sheep fighter pilot who later was a captain for PanAm and did well enough to retire to Wailea before his death in 2008.)

Robert Reed does not suggest that it was a thirst for action that got Magee into trouble, although he was a restless man with little regard for rules even as a youngster.

Later, though, he settled down and led a quiet life. Besides quick reflexes,he had a powerful mind, but lacked direction. He spent decades studying crackpot theories like anthroposophy.

He also had an unformed talent for writing. His letters are consistently interesting but as undisciplined as the early part of his life.

After entering prison, Magee was lost to family and friends for decades. The second half of the book describes how Reed tracked him down and how the Black Sheep veterans reintegrated Magee into their fraternity.

There is a startling revelation in this part of the story, which I am not going to give away.

Cats are out of the bag

So, I visited Kepaniwai Park and the place is still overrun with cats. Maybe time to rethink the idea of controlling unwanted cats by feeding them?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some background for capital gains tax issues

Bloomberg reports that the top 1% creamed off 93% of the increase in U.S. economic product. This is a whole lot less sustainable than the allegedly unsustainable national debt.

It also, and this is only stating the very, very obvious, blows a hole in any argument for further lowering taxes on the rich. Even if we admit (against evidence) that reducing marginal tax rates on high-income people somehow magically increases job-creating investment, at the 93% level any incremental increases in the effect have to be negligible.

You wouldn't know it from listening to John Boehner, but the reason jobs are not being created is not that capital for investment is lacking.

Nut graf:

In this recovery it’s proved better to own stock than a house. For stockholders like Hemsley, the value of all outstanding shares has soared $6 trillion to $17 trillion since June 2009, the recession’s end. Even after a recent rebound, the value of owner-occupied housing, the chief asset of most middle- income families, has dropped $41 billion in the same period, part of a $5.8 trillion loss in home values since 2006.
This is the difference between reality- and faith-based economics.

Read my toes

One legacy of being a retired reporter is that I am still on several email lists for the east of Baldwin Avenue woo-woo crowd. Usually I kill them out without reading them, but now and then, just to keep up, I check to see what the gullible are up to these days.

Toe readings.

I have no idea what a toe reading is, and since it would cost $60 to find out, will never know.

Wealthy called to action

An "open letter" advertisement in the New York Times addressed to the rich was not aimed at me, but this being a democracy, I clicked through anyway. In it William Louis-Dreyfus (founder of the Dreyfus Fund and father of a well-known TV actress) makes an eloquent -- and loaded -- appeal for a broad-based democracy.

Nut graf:

I’m 80 years old and retired from the work that made me rich. Among the many things that contributed to my wealth is the political society in which it was earned. The voter suppression effort is a direct assault on that society and on the democracy which it created. We who have the blessing of our millions need to know that protecting our assets demands preserving the democracy that made them possible.
I don't know whether other uber-rich patriots are responding. Dreyfus himself says he is giving $1 million to unnamed non-partisan groups that will defend voting rights now and in the future. (The letter is on the website of the Brennan Center, a legal think tank.)

Actually, protection of voting rights seems to me to be far more the kuleana of government. Plenty of Democratic-oriented groups have protested the Republican legislative efforts to curtail voting, but so far it has been the courts that have been effective.

One wonders, now that it has been proven that the Republicans are spending millions to run fraudulent voter registration programs, whether public opinion will come to the fore. I doubt it.

Abundant evidence that voter imposture has been undetectable has not managed to shame the Republican legislators and local party officials. Why would they develop conscience now?

(Considering the number of Republicans who have been buying guns and ammo and threatening violence if they don't win the election, I think "call to arms" in the advertisement for Louis-Dreyfus' letter was poorly chosen.)

UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon

The Washington Post rounds up reaction to the court decision stalling the Pennsylvania voter ID law. This one says it all. No one can possibly deny now that the purpose of the Republicans was to punish the poor.

“Justice Simpson’s final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID.” — state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chief sponsor of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.
How dare those poor people be born without a birth certificate!


In comments on, "Youngrightwinger" sez:

"I'll give this guy $1 million if he can find anywhere in the Constitution where it says voting is a right."

However, Youngrightwinger describes himself as a libertarian, so I guess he isn't speaking for Republicans, or not for the GOP kind of rightwinger.

Louis-Dreyfus may not have pried any money out of rich patriots (I have asked the Brennan Center but have not had an answer), but the reactions from the rightwingers are priceless.