Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why no one can be trusted with a firearm

This event in Michigan, one in a series: Man Accidentally Kills Self With Gun During Demonstration On Gun Safety It would be tragic if it weren't so funny.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Going back in time

The Washington Post headline sounds like it was ripped from the pages of 1914: Whip-wielding Russian Cossacks attack But, no, today in Sochi.
The text is overrestrained: "The Cossacks roughly pulled off the masks and flicked their whips at the group." The accompanying video shows something more than "flicking." It was a beating. But it's the 21st century, so they didn't ride down the unarmed women on horses or beat them with the flat of their swords. Just a reminder, I guess, that the peasants really were revolting. When I read the numerous screeds of the rightwingers about communism, they seem to forget that. This op-ed in today's New York Times about Bahrain puts a curious spin on the problem of trying to move toward popular self-government in traditional societies. Russia suggests it cannot be done in under a hundred years.

Try blaming Obamacare for this

The New York Times unearths a curious story about increasing health expenses.
It is an interesting problem for free-marketeers. If you have a little-needed product that can be produced for about $50, how do you make money? Of course, if you raise the price to $28,000, it becomes rather easier to get into the black. If you have a captive market. You know who make good captives? Infants. While it looks as if this particular scam has added mere millions to the nation's health care costs, a similar dynamic works with some vaccines (and other low-cost, high-impact nostrums). The public benefit is enormous but it is impossible to achieve it via a market.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How to become a famous, respected Republican economist in 5 EZ steps

1. Write a "think piece" (but be careful not to think TOO deeply) proposing to reduce the minimum wage to $3 an hour -- $2 would be even better. 2. Submit to a high-flown corporate-shill publication like National Review. 3. Deposit check, accept appointment as senior fellow at Heritage Institute, apply for seven-figure grant from Americans for Prosperity to research benefits of negative wages. 4. Lease villa at Antibes for season. 5. Never work again. This is not a spoof. RtO was on this trend even before its recent efflorescence, writing (See: "So just starve already," Jan. 31) that Ricardo's Iron Law of Wages (which never went away in corporate circles) is ready for a big comeback. Only a little over a week later, Robert Strayton proposed in the Wall Street Journal that the hideously extravagant $7 minimum should be cut to $5. The Journal called it: A MINIMUM WAGE THAT WILL WORK, and asserted it would create "millions of jobs." "a $5 minimum wage will 'trickle up,' " Strayton claimed. Trickle seems exactly the right word. His heart is big. He yearns to help "Single-parent families, often headed by an educated young woman with one or two infants who supports a live-in partner on an entry-level job income." Hmm. It would seem even simpler to raise the pay of an educated woman, but that is not how business works. It works like this. (The link tells the story of Tim Armstrong, a chief executive who lost his company $200 million or $300 million (nobody's counting, eh) on a doomed venture that everybody knew was doomed, but is being encouraged to do better next time via a $12 million (a year, not an hour) raise. He intends to achieve this goal of all publicly-traded corporations of driving revenue directly to the bottom line by slashing the benefits of the young, educated women who work for him because some of them have the ill-judgment of having "one or two infants.") The blood, er, ink, was not dry on Strayton's manicured hands when at Bloomberg News aspiring famous Republican economist Michael Strain raised (or is it lowered?) the stakes by proposing a $4 minimum wage. Strain is not overly concerned with young babymakers. His heart bleeds for the long-term unemployed: "Careful studies conducted in recent years indicate that being out of a job for such a long time is a serious obstacle to re-employment in and of itself." So, rather than, say, re-equip American business with managers who are not so stupid they will not hire qualified people because their own (the managers', that is, not the ex-workers) policies caused a lengthy recession, Strain would prefer offering the workers what I suppose we could call a non-living (others might say, starvation) wage. Strain, being a deep thinker, understands this might have unintended consequences. No, not that the workers will starve. Dumbesilleh. They don't hire you at the American Enterprise Institute to worry about starving workers.
Of course, we can’t just lower the minimum wage for the long-term unemployed to $4 an hour and leave it at that. Society must have as a goal that no one who works full time and heads a household lives in poverty. This policy would have to be paired with an expanded earned-income tax credit, or with more straightforward wage subsidies -- federal transfer programs that supplement a worker’s labor market earnings with tax dollars.
Wal-Mart couldn't have said it better: Let the taxpayers pay our workers, since we won't. Strayton also worries about the (possibly) undesirable consequences of paying Americans Third World wages. Not that that would be bad for the workers, but what about the poor employers?:
How would such a program operate? At the government level, with as little red-tape as possible, although government must protect current workers by guaranteeing they will not be subject to any wage lower than the one they now earn. At the employer level, hiring $5-per-hour personnel must be balanced against the risk inherent in the often-inexperienced people such a wage attracts. As an incentive, the IRS can allow a 50% tax deduction on all wages paid at the $5 level during a test period. Facing workforce mobility issues (prospective employees without cars, bikes or gas money), employers can offer transportation, water, food and necessary material services for which they may also claim tax deductions.
I hear West Virginia has some otherwise unsalable water that benevolent employers could foist off on their Ricardian hires as "drinking water" and get a tax break at the same time. Woo! Woo! Win, win. He writes, without evident irony, that "government must protect current workers." From whom, he is discreetly silent. Don't ask, don't tell.

Book Review 312: Storm on the Horizon

STORM ON THE HORIZON: The Challenge to American Intervention, 1939-1941, by Justus D. Doenecke. 547 pages. Rowman & Littlefield The isolationists and anti-interventionists never had a chance even though right up to Dec. 7, 1941, a majority of Americans did not want to go to war against the fascists. That is the obvious conclusion from Justus Doenecke’s tedious “Storm on the Horizon.” It is not Professor Doenecke’s fault it is tedious. To get to a mere six pages of analysis he has to lay out 322 pages of summaries of anti-interventionist arguments, supported by 170 pages of endnotes. Before we have waded through a quarter of this, it is apparent that the anti-interventionist cause was too fractured, with too many leaders to form a successful political movement. The interventionists had the supreme advantage of one leader, Franklin Roosevelt, who knew exactly what he wanted although he did not know how he was going to get it. Doenecke does not like the term isolationist, since that applied to only a fraction, perhaps a smallish fraction of the anti-warriors. The antiwar impulse was strong from 1919 on, but it did not begin to create an effective national organization until less than a year before Pearl Harbor. And even the America First Committee spoke for only a segment of the anti-warriors, who ranged from Christian pacifists to Trotskyites to anticolonialists to Anglophobes to out-and-out Nazis. They made a lot of noise, tending almost as much to drown each other out as to advance their own positions.. The other thing that Doenecke’s meticulous reading of thousands of statements shows is that few indeed of the anti-interventionists were convinced themselves of the principle that almost all of them repeated, that America had no business with entangling alliances and Old World quarrels. One who did was Garet Garrett, who had the largest or second-largest audience among the anti-warriors as editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post. Garrett was a pure isolationist. He did not care what anyone who was not an American did. Almost all the other anti-interventionists did care. They supported their positions by endless claims to know what the belligerents or neutrals would do. They were wrong about 99.9% of the time. Or they were sure that if America got involved, it would become a dictatorship (or already was one), see its democracy disappear, face economic catastrophe, financial collapse etc. On this side they were 100% wrong. Most anti-interventionists professed to loathe Hitler and hoped he would not win. But like the first two passers-by in the parable of the Good Samaritan, they did not feel any necessity of getting involved. There was a term of the time for them, used by commies: objective fascists. That was about right although the communists and fellow travelers, who were for intervention before they were against and then for it again, were in no position to scold others. Even within the administration, there were skeptics of various degrees; and Roosevelt was almost alone in understanding that Hitlerism represented a new kind of international evil. While others were thinking in terms of the Congress of Vienna and pondering how to distribute colonies or trade zones (either to bait a peace settlement or to wind up a war), Roosevelt was single-minded. (He was as much an anticolonialist as Norman Thomas but he was not prepared to forget Hitler in the goal of dismantling the British, French, Dutch or Japanese empires. He also had to worry about expansionist Japan, something that the Euro-centric anti-interventionists spent few cares upon.) All this swims to our attention from the ebb and flow of anti-interventionist arguments. Doenecke summarizes them without much comment. His range is vast but his selection somewhat surprising. Garrett hardy appears, perhaps because his stance never changed, while all the rest were as changeable as butterflies. Still, Charles Lindbergh, who toward the end was the cynosure of the anti-warriors, does not get quoted all that often; less often, even, than his wife. And a decidedly fringe participant like Boake Carter is quoted constantly. Carter is forgotten today except by rightwing radio ranters, to whom he is a hero, and he was losing stature even in 1940. He was a strange duck and in many ways emblematic of the weaknesses of the anti-interventionist movement, if it can even be called amovement. His qualifications to comment on political affairs derived entirely from the fact that he understood the rules of rugby. He was the prototype for Ronald Reagan, a handsome ignoramus with a pleasant voice who was adopted by big business to produce radio propaganda disguised as news. The prince of publicists, Edward Bernays, who worked with him in his glory years as an anti-New Dealer and the most popular radio commentator in the country in 1936, thought he was crazy then; and Carter was clearly insane by 1940, but Hearst and Mutual continued to give him a tub to thump. What he understood about political or military affairs could have been printed in large type on the back of a postage stamp, but he is well worth attention in 2014 because he was what Rush Limbaugh or Neal Boortz are, and the sponsorship issue is the same, too. “Storm on he Horizon” is more a book to be consulted other historians for Doenecke’s valuable work in dusty files than to be read as a holistic account of the anti-interventionist moment. But it is also useful because the surviving narrative was written by the winners of this political dispute, and they have not been eager to recall the underhanded methods they used. These methods were well-enough understood -- even embellished -- at the time, and Doenecke’s tome (and thorough notes) does provide considerable detail about the Roosevelt administration’s expedient (to say the least) methods; though the story of the interventionists is not to be found here. ,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Anticipating the deluge

Occasionally, I cross post an item from my commercial blog, kamaainaloan.com/wordpress. This is one of those occasions: A little late — and a lot more illiterate than the predecessors — Barron’s comes to note the arrival of Suttons & Robertsons pawn shop for the rich in Manhattan. Kamaaina Loan blog has already noted the incursion of the newcomer a month ago based on reports in the New York Times and other publications. In some ways, the Barron’s report is better. It points out that while S&R can claim to have been in business for 250 years, it is really a new enterprise, having been taken over by a much younger, bigger firm with dreams of globalizing a local brand, sort of like what happened to Krispy Kreme donuts, although no doubt DFC Global hopes not to repeat that fiasco. We like DFC chief Jeffrey Weiss’s characterization of his target customers as people with “lumpy incomes” and intend to steal that. Most of our customers are rather less rich than his but the conundrum of lumpy incomes is just as pressing. On Maui, with the visitor industry pulsing through peaks and bottoms and sides and saddles, lots of working people find that — just like investment bankers waiting for the year-end bonus — the bills arrive before the money does. Another interesting factoid — of no obvious relevance to us in Maui, though — is that while the uber-rich keep about 9.5% of their richness in tangible things (Aston-Martins, spare houses), that rises to 18% in places like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and China. It helps to have a handkerchief full of jewels you can stuff in your pocket when fleeing the revolution. Pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers made a good thing out of the Russian Revolution, as the exiled aristocrats unloaded their Faberge eggs, jewel-encrusted ikons and silver-gilt tea services in Paris, London and New York. A La Vieille Russie (To Old Russia) moved from Kiev to Paris about 1920 and opened a branch in New York in 1934. It’s still there, across the street from the Plaza, and as late as about 1970, you could still buy the sweat of Russian serfs, once removed; although after three generations the plunder of the oppressed had finally been processed through the digestive organs of the capitalist snake, and the last time we were at A La Vieille Russie, it was reduced to selling reproductions of Georgian furniture and there wasn’t an ikon in the joint. (There are some rather pitiful-looking ikons, no jewels, in their online store at www.alvr.com; but the goose that laid the Faberge eggs is just about dead.) The article is in Barron’s “Pentadaily,” which is described as “Insights and advice for families with assets of $5 million or more.” It’s a shame Pentadaily cannot afford any copy editors. We are considering adopting a slogan for the Kamaaina Loan blog. Maybe: “Insights and advice for families with assets of hard work, lots of children and an Hawaiian heirloom bracelet or two.”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review 311: The Upland South

THE UPLAND SOUTH, by Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov. 121 pages, illustrated. Center for American Places The Upland South, where I was born and raised, is a strange but lovable place: beautiful, violent, ignorant, musical. Terry Jordan, a well-known cultural geographer, grew up at one remove: Dallas, Texas, with grandparents in Tennessee. In this little book, written as he knew he was about to die of pancreatic cancer, he poured all his feelings and roamings about a place he loved but knew he was never a part of. One theme, gently but persistently present in”The Upland South,” is that a great deal of nonsense has been written about it, notably claims that it is the American home of “Scotch-Irish” folkways. Even so eminent a historian as David Hackett Fischer in “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” has shopped this simplistic notion. Jordan-Bychkov notes that once the Census Bureau started asking people about their ancestry, they generally answered either “American” or “English,” at the same time betraying practically no knowledge at all about the geography of the British Isles (or anywhere else, in my experience). He thinks the regional identity formed around 1790-1815 in Middle Tennessee of elements ultimately deriving from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Finland, Sweden and the indigenes. He notices -- and this is the kind of thing you have to spend time with people learning -- that a large proportion of these Southerners will claim Indian forebears. Not enough to endanger their status as white people, but staking a claim to have been here “always.” In fact, though, the Upland South has more Indian in it -- both ancestral and cultural -- than its inhabitants realize. Jordan-Bychkov locates the camp meeting in Indian meeting grounds, which surprised me; and among the five physical cultural markers he selects is one I have never seen myself, although I have traveled many thousands of miles through the Upland South. But then I was seldom stopping in cemeteries. His marker is the graveshed, a low, peaked, open wooden structure put over an inhumation burial. Jordan-Bychkov says it continues the Creek custom of corpse disposal, which left the body above ground (protected by a roofed palisade) until the bones were collected in a charnel house and finally buried under a mound. Not common in “Dogpatch” and unknown elsewhere, the graveshed is a perfect example of a folk tradition. Almost no one today who puts them up knows why. It is just a thing that is done. (In searching for an image of a graveshed not in Jordan-Bychkov's book, I find the Library of Congress has an example from southern Alabama, well outside the Upland South. No information is given but perhaps this one is directly derived from Creeks, who live and lived there, and not via mediated white folkways.)
His other markers are notched-log carpentry, the dogtrot cabin, the transverse-crib barn and the county courthouse on the square surrounded by business buildings. There could be many others, but “The Upland South” was being written by a man in a hurry, with much to convey and not much time to convey it. “The Upland South” is the second fine volume I have read from the Center for American Places, which is devoted to “enhancing the public’s understanding of, and appreciation for, the natural and built environment.” These -- or at least this one and “Changing Mines in America” by Goins and Raymond (See “Book Review 271”, March 9, 2013) -- are superior guidebooks, much more deeply informed than even the better commercial guides, but they are published in such tiny editions (1,500) that they can hardly be making much impact. And even those editions are not selling out. Both my copies are new first editions, and “The Upland South” was published more than 10 years ago. (They are also be available in paperback but are not common.)

Just another day

The weather on Maui is so good that anything less than perfect can be a disappointment. Today does not disappoint: warm, blue sky, puffy clouds, light breeze. The tree in the center is a mango in my neighbor's backyard. The foreground tree is a koa.

Domestic science

Every now and then I visit the Encyclopedia American Loons, which appears to be the work of one very obsessive guy. A little is enough. Through the power of links, I was introduced to something called RationalWiki which is an encyclopedia of loons run as a collective. All by way of introducing a short but poignant and suggestive paragraph that demonstrates that life among the crazy is pretty lively:
Makow had a falling out with fellow crank Jeff Rense over Makow's insistence that the Fukushima accident was intentional. Rense didn't believe him, and refused to continue linking to Makow. Makow then teamed up with Rense's 7th wife to claim Rense has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.[10] Makow maintains a section on his site dedicated to pointing out Rense's character flaws.
Hmmm. I don't know whether I am more impressed by a vendetta by a seventh wife or the indication that there are some things too crazy even for professional nuts. My life seems colorless by comparison.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Quack, quack

While noodling around on the innertubes, I sometimes come across things that shock me. Maybe they shouldn't at my age, but they do. When I was preparing the previous post, I searched for "eagar + guinea worm" in order to find the link to an RtO post from 2008. Whenever I do a search like that, I usually get some results for Eagar, Ariz., a tourist town that was settled by (my brother tells me) three brothers from the Mormon Battalion who were probably not our relatives. The links are most often to motels or restaurants, but this time up came one of the most blatant quackery come-ons I have ever seen, and as a reader of Science-Based Medicine, I've seen some of the worst. How do I know it is quackery? Because guinea worm is not found in the New World and because it could not be treated by stem cells anywhere; and any number of other signals that you will find yourself if you click over and read that twaddle. I have given up worrying that if I publicize a crooked link like that, someone will be led to it and be taken in and fleeced of all they own or die from buying quack treatments for a real disease. Hey, if it happens, it's your funeral.

Local boy good makes

Besides buying Lanai and spending several times as much money as you and all your friends will expend in your entire lifetimes on a sailboat, Larry Ellison is putting down major coin toward eradicating polio. It rather looks as if the amount required is questionable on economic grounds: $5.5 billion to eliminate 400 cases per year. It might be better to spend that kind of money trying to get Muslims to stop being so ignorant and promoting polio. Because if you heap up sand or dollars to such heights, they just slide back down and bury your legs up to the knees. Over and over. I hope he succeeds, but he won't. Been there, done that with guinea worm. I have been saying so since 2001.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Are you sure those leafs are from a maple?

Toward the end of this segment of an interview with Canadian reporter Robyn Doolittle (around the 6:14 mark), Jon Stewart is astounded to learn that Toronto mayor Rob Ford's approval rating is over 40%. That's higher than Barack Obama's, about twice that of the congressional Democrats and three times that of the House Republicans. Forget what Rob Ford's been smokin'. What are the Toronto voters suckin' on?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

GMOs love you

GMOs like you This post is by request from someone involved in the bill before the Maui County Council. Glad to oblige. I should have testified. Because a lot of people who have no idea what they are talking about have testified about the GMO/pesticide bill, let’s review our junior high science. Those of you who managed to wriggle out of the science requirement (you know who you are) shut up. The VI Commandments of Eating Genes A gene is a package of DNA. Unless inside a working cell, it is inert. Think of it like a CD full of information without an optical reader to access it. There is not much of it. All the DNA in a whole cow wouldn’t cover the period at the end of this sentence. DNA is digestible. It readily breaks up into its components, which are amino acids. Your alimentary canal is accustomed to absorbing amino acids. You couldn’t live if it didn’t. A loose amino acid is indistinguishable from any other. Your body cannot tell whether it came from an organic peanut, an “inorganic” peanut or a test tube. (This is why paying extra for organic food is a bad investment, but that’s a topic for another day.) Mixing amino acids is OK. Once it passes your gullet, the system down there cannot tell whether the proteins (made of amino acids), vitamins, minerals etc. came from a GMO strawberry that includes an antifreeze gene from the fish called the arctic char; or whether you blended a natural strawberry and a natural char in the Vitamix for a delicious fish smoothie. If you eat a mushroom cheeseburger, you are mixing genes from all the main kingdoms -- funguses, plants and animals. Eating GMO food cannot make you sick. (The only way it could would be if a food were engineered to contain a poison. Most of the food we eat contains some poisons. Plants have their defenses against insects, and we eat those poisons. We do not usually get sick because we are big and insects are small. The amount sufficient to repel an insect is too small for us to notice. But some plants [and animals, too,like some shellfish] can contain so much poison that it could kill us; that is why we do not eat poison arrow frogs.) NOW, ABOUT GMO PLANTS & ANIMALS IN THE ENVIRONMENT This is a big issue, and I will address only the problem -- if it is a problem -- of the link between growing GMO crops and using pesticides, because the bill is premised on a link GMO = more pesticides. This is unlikely. Farmers were using pesticides before genetic engineering came along, and frequently they used too much, with bad consequences. (Atrazine is one of the chemicals the anti-GMO people are worried about. Atrazine has been used for a long time, and when oversprayed it can leach into groundwater. In northeast Iowa, atrazine in farm wells was blamed for the deaths of several newborns, but that had nothing to do with GMOs. As it happens, atrazine is in the news. The NPR report tells us something we already knew about the legal and public relations departments of big corporations -- they can be awful -- but nothing about atrazine.) However, the consequences were overwhelmingly good. We do not experience crop failures, like you get with organic farming. Will GMO crops require/induce greater use of pesticides? Probably not, for a couple of reasons. First, GMOs are helpful in no-till farming, which addresses the real biggest threat to farming, which is erosion. Second, GMO farmers are likely to be better educated than ordinary farmers, and so more likely to adopt best practices, like no-till, integrated pest management and -- yes! -- following the labels on pesticides. WILL MONSANTO OWN ALL OUR SEEDS? No, this is too silly to go into, but a lot of people are worried about it. IS IT TOO SOON TO BE SURE GMOS ARE SAFE? I have been shooting up GMO insulin since 1982.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Data Privacy Day, that was

Did you know that January 28 is the annual Data Privacy Day, when "business owners and managers, vendors and concerned citizens tak(e) time to raise their awareness of the most up-to-date approaches to keeping their companies’ and their own data safe"? Yeah, me neither, but my daughter does. On her blog, she has what sounds like some excellent rules on the subject. A pity, though, that apparently nobody took Data Privacy Day in 2013 seriously. Not at Target anyway. Good name, Target. Was it ever. Over at Great Guys blog, there is a thread that has evolved into a spat over responsibility and who does a better job of taking it, government or business. Really, to take the side that it's business, you have to be ready to overlook, well, everything.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pointing the thumbs of scorn

Maybe the problem with Russian communism wasn't the communism but the Russians. As a one-time newspaperman, I had my doubts about tweeting as a reporting method, but it seems more than adequate for the Sochi Olympics. Funny stuff as long as you aren't there.

Who -- or what -- is LKRGAL?

Driving into town yesterday, I passed a silver BMW with vanity plates LKRGAL. I get the GAL, but what to make of LKR? Liquor, looker, locker, lurker, linker, leaker? I asked Alan at work, who is more in tune with trends than I am, and he voted for "looker." Kinda vain, even for a vanity plate, I thought, but Alan says people let it all hang out.