Thursday, July 31, 2008

Growth Weaker Than Hoped?

Classic case of horrific reporting here. The much ballyhooed "recession" we are in continues to be just one quarter seems that GDP grew (again), doubling in April to June the relatively anemic January to March figure.

We are in a slowdown, there's no doubt about it. But it isn't time to go to the mattresses.

Radley Balko Asks Senator Obama Some Questions

Balko is a pretty effective thinker over at Reason. He puts a few libertarian oriented questions to Senator Obama in this column. I have strong libertarian streak, but one of the problems with libertarians in general is that they have no real policy for actual governing. I like how libertarianism nuances conservativsm, but as an ideology all its own, it is suited only to theoretical situations.

Brazil Moving Out on Nuclear Power

Brazil is a country with a lot of problems....but with problems come opportunities. Proceeding forward with increased nuclearization of their electrical supply, side by side with an enormously effective reliance on sugar cane derived biofuels, puts this growing economy on a glide-slope to continued growth AND energy independence. We can learn from our growing neighbors to the South.

Accountability, Navy Style

News this morning of the firing of the Captain and XO of the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, one of our nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. There was a fire onboard recently, one that caused upward of $70M worth of damage. I know little about the details of this story, only what I've read in the open press. Apparently, poor engineering housekeeping practice (stowage of flammable materials, unauthorized smoking areas) contributed to this fire.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the things I love most about the Navy. The organization holds people accountable like no other (ok, maybe the Communist Party in China is better, but I digress). Anyone who has ever commanded a ship knows that you are inescapably responsible for everything that happens on your watch. There is no such thing as "I was asleep", or "I was ashore". With the benefit of unquestioned authority comes indivisible accountability and ultimate responsibility. It often seems unfair, and I have seen the lives of friends wrenched in the jaws of this harsh sanction. It is however, what distinguishes the Navy from other pursuits, and when on occasion, the Service deviates from this sanction, it weakens itself in an effort to appear more human.

In the early '50's, the USS HOBSON and the USS WASP collided with the loss of 176 lives. The Wall Street Journal offered the editorial below in an effort to explain why the Navy must act as it does. I reproduce it here to remind myself of its stirring words:

"One night past some 30,000 tons of ships went hurtling at each other through the darkness. When they had met, 2,000 tons of ship and 176 men lay at the bottom of the sea in a far off place."
"Now comes the cruel business of accountability. Those who were there, those who are left from those who were there, must answer how it happened and whose was the error that made it happen."
"It is a cruel business because it was no wish to destruction that killed this ship and its 176 men; the accountability lies with good men who erred in judgment under stress so great that it is almost its own excuse. Cruel, because no matter how deep the probe, it cannot change the dead, because it cannot probe deeper than remorse."
"And it is even more cruel still because all around us in other places we see the plea accepted that what is done is done beyond discussion, and that for good men in their human errors there should be afterwards no accountability."
"Everywhere else we are told how inhuman it is to submit men to the ordeal of answering for themselves; to haul them before committees and badger them with questions as to where they were and what they were doing while the ship of state careened from one course to another."
"This probing into the sea seems more merciless because everywhere else we have abandoned accountability. What is done is done and why torture men with asking them afterwards, why?........"
"We are told men should no longer be held accountable for what they do as well as for what they intend. To err is not only human, it absolves responsibility."
"Everywhere else, that is, except on the sea. On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them both goes accountability."
"This accountability is not for the intentions but for the deed. The captain of a ship, like the captain of a state, is given honor and privileges and trust beyond other men. But let him set the wrong course, let him touch ground, let him bring disaster to his ship or to his men, and he must answer for what he has done. He cannot escape...."
"It is cruel, this accountability of good and well-intentioned men. But the choice is that or an end of responsibility and finally as the cruel scene has taught, an end to the confidence and trust in the men who lead, for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do."
"And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More on the HOUSING CRISIS (oh my!)

Robert Samuelson is a very smart man, and probably one of the better editorial writers on the scene today. His column this morning echoes something I've been pounding home here lately--that America's obsession with home ownership is not a great thing for our economy. Sure, owning a home is a great thing and generally speaking, a good investment. But not everyone should own a home, and not everyone should own as much home as they do. But further to the point, we should never forget that most of the people who are defaulting on their mortgages NEVER OWNED THEIR HOMES--THE LIEN HOLDER DID! The suggestion that someone "owned a home" who made 12 of 360 payments (or 24, 0r 36....) is loony.

We don't have a housing crisis in this country. A housing crisis would occur if there weren't enough housing. We've got plenty. What is in short supply is common sense and the strength of character to let people who have made unwise decisions suffer the consequences.

Trade Talks Crumble

A story probably not getting the press it deserves (what with a HOUSING CRISIS and all) is the failure of the Doha Round of trade talks. We're going to keep running into issues with China, India, Russia and Brazil as their economies grow and ours takes up a smaller share of the world's total. Not content to be told what to do, these developing nations are not content to sit idly by and have their economies yoked while the big, industrialized nations reap the benefits of their previous dominance. Energy, trade, defense, diplomacy. We'll see these countries over, and over again disagreeing with us. The only saving grace here is that we and the Euros generally agree....

Senator Stevens Should Resign

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Innocent until proven guilty...I know, I know. But Stevens has always rubbed me the wrong way, with his bullying bantam cock personality. I am very much against term limits for any office (including President, by the way), but I sure wouldn't have minded seeing one take this guy out long ago. He gives the Republican Party a terrible name.

We're Sorry About Slavery; Can We Move On Now?

It appears as if the House of Representatives, in their capacity of representing us, have apologized for the institution of slavery. To whom their apology is made, I find myself without answer, as anyone actually living at the time of emancipation is no longer with us.

On whose behalf they are apologizing is an interesting question also, as my relatives hadn't yet made it over from Europe when the Civil War ended.

But I am willing to accept that as a gesture, this has symbolic meaning to some Americans, and I am genuinely happy that those who sought such an apology have now received it. But can we move along to other subjects now?

A man is running for President who is half-black. Institutionalized racism is a thing of the past (if anything, the racial disparity in the "housing crisis" would point to the lending world's falling all over themselves to lend to minorities). Ain't no way in hell reparations are going to be paid, so what do you say we just move on as a society, huh?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Housing Crisis (cont.)....Extreme Makover Family Facing Foreclosure

Yes, our housing "crisis" rages on. It seems a family....basically handed a $450,000 house in ABC's "Extreme Makeover", used the house as collateral for a "business" loan. Now they are going to foreclosure.

All those people who volunteered, all those people who donated...screwed by people who never should have been trusted with an asset of that magnitude in the first place.

Home ownership is not a human right.

What Would Al Gore's World Cost

I don't think anyone who looks at energy closely is surprised by what it is going to cost us to ween ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and domestic coal. Ronald Bailey of Reason has done some calculating to guess at what Al Gore's Carbon-Free energy plan would cost...and the costs are staggering.

Why? Mostly because wind, solar and geothermal simply cannot yet scale to the capacity of our coal and natural gas electrical plants. Nuclear can, and it can do so for significantly less than Gore's favorites (Al's not much for nuclear power).

Bailey does a good job in this article pointing out how moving to alternative sources of producing electricity both benefits the environment and lessens our dependence on oil. As we become better at producing power cleanly, more reliance on electric cars will make much more economic sense. Less gas in cars equals less money in the pockets of folks who want to kill us or who want to fund people who want to kill us.

Deadbeat Businesses

The GAO says American businesses have underpaid over $58 Billion in payroll taxes (that's right folks, that was a "B"). Now I'm as pro-business (and especially pro-small business) as the next guy, but this is a scandal. The representative of the US Chamber of Commerce sounds a note of warning, urging caution that the interest and penalties could "sink" some companies.

Good. That's what should happen. If you can't pay the basic obligations of your business (and meeting payroll is one of them), perhaps you really don't have a "going concern".

Monday, July 28, 2008

Senator (Dr.) Tom Coburn

Apparently, Harry Reid believes Tom Coburn is a bit of an obstructionist in the Senate. Coburn apparently has the temerity to wish to see programs evaluated and analyzed before money is spent on them, needlessly. I wish we had more fiscal conservatives like Coburn in the Senate. The problem I have with Coburn though, is his social conservatism, which I am less thrilled about. More on this in another post.

China and Energy

Great article in the WaPost this morning describing the growing car culture in China. The true scope of the energy challenges before us comes into sharp relief when one considers that even if only ten percent more of China's citizens move into the middle class, we're talking about 130 million people. We cannot drill our way to energy security, we cannot conserve our way to energy security, we cannot blow our way to energy security, we cannot shine our way to energy security and we cannot radiate our way to energy security. We can however, achieve energy security by pursuing a balanced portfolio of energy alternatives. Reliance on foreign oil in the face of huge increases in demand in the developing world is a plan doomed to fail, a plan that will hobble our economy, and a plan that will certainly result in a decline of American influence in the world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oil as a GOP Issue

I think the WaPost has it right with this story. Tying Senator Obama to the Speaker of the House's objections to increased drilling is a two-fer. You get to hammer the Dems on lacking a solid, executable energy solution at the same time you remind the Republican base who President Obama's best friends would be.

The Housing "Crisis"

Our friends on Capitol Hill, in collusion with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President of the United States, have acted to address the housing crisis (or more appropriately, the financial crisis within the housing industry). I cannot even begin to address my disappointment with this bill and the conditions that necessitated its creation. So I'll let a friend's email to me speak to it:

"I’m a little surprised President Bush is going to sign this. I’ll tell you why I don’t like this one. When I signed (in about 30 different places on as many forms) my mortgage papers at closing, I gave my word that I would do all the things in the contract or risk losing my home (or more precisely, risk losing my ability to live in the home my bank owns and allows me to inhabit as if it were mine). So did everyone who bought a house. Even the ones who bought a house between January 2005 and June 2007, the period for which this bill applies. I am also guessing that nearly every person who bought a house had the opportunity to achieve sufficient education to be able to read what he or she was being asked to sign. My mother is one such person who did just that). My mother lives on a very modest retirement income. My mother lives within those modest means by making decisions that enable her to keep her word to the lender with whom she made the contractual agreement. And, yes, like many, she has had some unexpected expenses about which she was too stubborn to tell her children who could help her, and which she covered by going without medication for two months and by not driving her car and staying home except to go to church. She did that because the thought of defaulting on her promise to the lender was just not an option in her mind. She pays her taxes on time and in full every year. Yet those who signed their contracts with lenders either without reading them or with no appreciation that it was a written promise TO BE KEPT NO MATTER WHAT, those people will, courtesy of our elected officials in Washington, and after infrastructural pass through costs, get my mother’s taxes to get them out of their “unjust” mortgage arrangements. I know my critique of this bill may sound, may even be, cold-hearted, but if the Federal Government rewards that kind of behavior, will this nation, this culture ever lift itself out of its addiction to credit? Is it going to take another all out depression to change us? It’s as if the Declaration has been rewritten to include “…life, liberty and immediate gratification”. I’d say we are a nation of whiners but that didn’t work out too well for the last guy who said it."

Ok, back to my words now...sorry about the font shift, can't fix it. I'm actually not surprised the President is going to sign this bill. He's the "compassionate conservative" and gosh, isn't this bill so very compassionate? He's also the "ownership society" President, whose late 19th century view of man, land and dwellings has accelerated this incredibly selfish march into fiscal insolvency.

A couple of thoughts: home ownership as an investment is over-rated, especially when the average American homeowner has 60% of his wealth tied up in his home equity. This is not "diversification" and as the decline in housing prices has shown, this does not make fiscal sense.

The mortgage interest deduction is counter-productive, convincing people that they can have more house than they can possibly need or afford under the guise of "getting it all back" at tax time. The problem comes in meeting monthly obligations waiting for that IRS check.

I've come to decide that there should be a cap on the home mortgage interest deduction, to say, $15000 or so. After that, no one cares how big your mortgage is and the size of your house should not have an inversely proportional impact on your tax bill.

Finally, the whole "bail out Wall Street but not Main Street" crowd has got it all wrong. Of course it is a shame if a lot of people are foreclosed upon. Horror of horrors, they'll have to rent somewhere until they can get their acts together. If the big banks fail though, the whole economy slides into the tank. There just is no real comparison here.

George Bush, Manager-in-Chief

David Broder's column in the Washington Post this morning is a thinly veiled shill for a friend's book; that said, the friend's book gets at something that I think will be come more apparent over the course of the ten years or so that follow George Bush's retirement from office: that while some of George Bush's decisions have been questionable, the common portrayal of him as stupid, uninterested, detached or worse...simply doesn't cut it.

Like Dwight Eisenhower, much of what we know of the Bush Presidency will be revealed in the research that follows it. Eisenhower was treated as somewhat of an amiable dunce of an old man while in office. Scholarship that followed revealed the lie this was. Eisenhower was a master organizer who completely redrew the White House decision making mechanism to ensure he got decision quality advice so that he could make only the tough decisions.

Anyone I know who has worked closely with George Bush, and there are just a few, are quite open about his intellect and his personal influence over the workings of the staff. They say without hesitation that HE is in charge, that he sets the tone and tenor, that he has constructed the staff mechanisms to suit his decision-making style, and that he is a superb leader and manager.

The decision to go into Iraq on the cheap without sufficient inquiry into post-war matters will serve as the blackest of black marks against this administration. That said, it is not the whole story, and in the light of accumulated evidence, when Iraq is a stable nation and Al Queda (sp?) is an afterthought, people will be able to judge this Presidency in a fair manner.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Obama: Light of the World

I'm sure many of you have seen this, but it is one of the funniest things floating around the internet today....

Anglicans, Episcopals, and Homosexual Bishops

I am watching with bemusement the events at Lambeth, the Church of England's every-ten-year international convocation of member church Bishops. As you all probably well-know, the Episcopal Church in America is part of the "Anglican Communion" and as such, is a participant in the events at Lambeth. Watching the events from the sidelines is at least one Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson, relegated there by the Archbishop of Canterbury in order that his presence does not cause additional commotion due to his much publicized sexual preference. He is gay.

The Anglican Communion is being split by the US church's elevation of Robinson to the Bishopric. US Episcopals wear their liberality as a badge of honor, with Robinson's elevation (as well as their overall leader being a woman) seen as evidence of the church's adaptation with the times.

Let's face it; the Episcopal Church is leading the way toward relativism in American Christianity. They have looked at something considered amoral by Christians for two thousand years and have now elevated it to the status of that which should be celebrated.

While I am not at all in favor of using the Bible as a rule book, I've got to believe that there are some things in it that you just don't mess with, at least not if you wish to be taken seriously as a Christian denomination.

I have on occasion, engaged Episcopalians in discussions of this matter...when I wonder aloud if they would elevate a priest to the Bishopric who had been openly cheating on his wife, they are aghast. It seems only trendy sins are worthy of embracing.

Oh Great California, Save Us From Ourselves...

The Golden State has banned trans-fats, Arnold be praised. As someone who may soon be making monthly trips to California, I am particularly grateful that I will no longer be exposed to the evils of these molecular killers.

Each time we let the government takes something away, we become less worthy of the freedom we have.

Obama and the Military Hospital

I don't know what to think about this one, and I urge readers to keep their powder dry. It appears Senator Obama's campaign was warned off from a visit to recovering service members in Germany, as the DoD wanted to ensure that the service members did not become part of a political show.

Ok, I can certainly believe that this was the case. I don't however, believe that the Senator would have been in any way prohibited from making a private visit without campaign staff and reporters. From the perspective of the campaign, I think this would have been even a better idea than a fully covered visit, as it would have shown the Senator in a more sedate, serious and contemplative light.

Either way, Obama made a mistake here, and a junior varsity one at that.

"Oprah-fication" of Politics Rolls On

It seems as though Senator Obama's famous couch denizen supporter has had an impact on his campaign. The Senator's volunteers have taken to gushing their own personal stories on the campaign trail, in an effort to "connect" with others with similar stories. This kind of politics makes me a bit queasy, reducing great issues to "what's in it for me?" or "how has it impacted me?" What makes me even more queasy though, is that this kind of politics works in America.

Friday, July 25, 2008

CW is Big-Time Pro-Israel

I should probably let you all in on a serious bias of mine. I'm hopelessly Pro-Israel. I am prepared to debate all comers on this subject, but if you care to engage, I urge you to read your history. I urge you to become familiar with the creation of the State of Israel, and how the original UN mandate also created a Palestinian state. I urge you to read about the war that followed, as neighboring Arab states fought to destroy Israel rather than accept it as a cost for a Palestinian state.

I am well-informed as to the Zionist movement of the late 19th Century, and I know all about the activities of Zionists throughout the early 20th Century. That said, if the authority and legitimacy of the UN is to mean anything, the creation of the State of Israel was legal and legitimate.

The Palestinians have made a living out of victimization. Let's face it; calling entire cities with walls, streets, sewers, water and electricity "refugee camps" sixty years after their creation begs credulity. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ladies and gentlemen, are the spoils of war! When Jordan, Syria and Egypt ganged up on Israel in 1967, they relinquished the right to complain when Israel annexed these lands to guarantee its own security.

Israel is a thriving democracy amidst a cesspool of craven dictators and plumed scions of lines long gone fallow. Anyone complaining about the influence of "the Jewish Lobby" on politics in the US simply doesn't understand US voters. The Jewish Lobby has no impact on me. Suicide bombers in pizza shops do.

That said, I am troubled by this latest move by Israel. I support a Palestinian state, achieved by Israeli remittance of lands taken in the Six Day War. I support such a state ONLY with serious signs by the Palestinians and other neighboring Arabs that Israel is legitimate and is not threatened. The only hope Israel has of achieving these goals is to cease building settlements in the occupied territory, moves which only serve to inflame the situation. I realize there are domestic Israeli politics afoot here, but this ceased to be an Israeli domestic question 60 years ago.

If the Palestinian question were solved today, the Arab world would quickly fall in on some other grievance to justify their cultural and political stultification.

Will Ferrell, Comic Genius

Will Ferrell has a new movie out, and it is unlikely that I will go to the theater to see it. Not that I don't like Will Ferrell, mind you. But for a grown man, a Will Ferrell movie is best enjoyed on DVD, by oneself or in the company of other suitably childish compatriots (a ship's wardroom provided an excellent venue). I have yet to run into a woman who completely "gets" his movies, and for the sake of my engagement, I do not hope to.

Who can forget the fight scene in "Anchorman"? Or Ferrell streaking down the street with his wife following closely behind in "Old School"? Virtually every scene in "Talledega Nights" is a scream, and his cameo in "Wedding Crashers" nearly stole the show from another childishly funny man (Vince Vaughan). On a recent flight, the man next to me had "Semi-Pro" on his laptop DVD, and I secretly watched the whole movie without sound...and chuckled to myself the whole way.

Let's hope Will continues to make great movies like this, and resists the temptation to segue into "real movies".

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Don't Like Robert Novak

Novak is a pompous ass (some would say I have special insight into such people). Today's paper has two stories in which he is featured, one in which he was cited in DC for striking a pedestrian with his, get this, convertible Corvette.

The other is this editorial. Novak, along with many Republicans in Congress, seem to think that there is some kind of great conspiracy out there to deprive men and women serving overseas of their right to vote. Obviously, Novak is interested because there is a common misconception that the military is conservative--and if conservatives are being deprived of their vote, well then, this can't be acceptable.

Novak simply doesn't know what he is talking about.

The officer corps is right of center, certainly more right of center than the general public. But officers make up probably less than 20% of the total number of people in uniform. Our enlisted ranks are far more likely to be centrist or left of center than the officer corps, sort of like you would see in the classic 1950's business model (management conservative and Republican, labor unionized and Democrat).

If there were in fact, a problem for military people to vote, solving such a problem would not necessarily be a benefit to Republicans.

That said, there simply is no systemic problem here. Anyone who has served in a leadership position in the Armed Services DREADS the election season, as we know that we will be subject to admonitions, exhortations, and direct orders all designed to make sure that we find some way for our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to exercise their right to vote. Getting appointed as Voting Assistance Officer is one of the worst collateral duties a young officer can get, as no matter how well you do the job, there is no measurement designed to let you know you've done good enough.

Military absentee ballots don't get posted because the military is dominated by the same people who choose to sit out elections in the civilian world: young people. They simply have other things on their minds.

As for Novak, I propose that we conservatives work with liberals to make a deal; we'll see if we can get Novak to go away if they get Maureen Dowd to shut up.....

A Fellow Blogger, Silenced

Good story this morning about a young soldier in Iraq who set up an blog to keep the folks back home up to speed on how things were going for him. From the story, one gets the impression of a smart, dedicated, patriotic young man who had an obvious talent for writing. Short bits of the blog are contained in the article, and I must admit to thinking that this would have been a blog that got my attention.

That said, I am not a fan of open blogging by active duty military people. The military is there to protect free speech, not practice it. We take oaths, we take orders, we do our best to carry out all the lawful ones and we resist the unlawful ones. It is a dirty, grinding, often obtuse world into which very few civilians have the perspective necessary for sustained viewing. Irrespective of how truthful and entertaining 1st Lt. Gallagher was, his blog created a window just big enough into an often chaotic world for misconception and mis-perception to thrive.

I waited until I retired to unburden myself of these thoughts publicly. I'd prefer today's military do the same.

The Feminization of the Olympics

RANT ALERT: I am not a fan of what has become of the Olympic Games, or more specifically, how the Olympic Games are covered on TV. As a boy, what I saw was competition, moving from venue to venue in order to capture the thrill of competition no matter how fringe the sport was. Today, we are treated to another helping of what I refer to as "The Feminization of Sports" (see: Super Bowl Half-time Show).

In the Feminization of the Olympics, network coverage focuses in on certain competitors, providing excruciatingly detailed backstories of how this competitor had "overcome adversity" in his or her life. Usually accompanied by mandolin riffs and filmed with gauzy lenses, these human interest stories are designed SPECIFICALLY to attract female viewers.

Cable and the internet are helping to combat this trend by providing the networks with methods of serving the hard core sports fan that which he invariably seeks: competition. But woe be unto the ardent sports fan who happens upon prime-time network coverage. Be prepared to bring your Kleenex's.

Just once, I'd like to see an Olympic medalist address the camera and say, "You know, I've had it pretty easy. Mom and Dad loved each other, along with me and my siblings. I was always better at most things than everyone else, and I'm pretty much just a happy person." Surely one of these people exist?

The Tour de France

I am a huge fan of this event. Like NASCAR, technology and great analysis has helped to propel this once fringe event into something viewers can really enjoy. Given my antipathy to the sports that dominate this time of year (baseball (yawn) and the WNBA (chuckle)), the return of the Tour each year is something to be savored.

I would really like to see them drop their drug testing program though. Drop it altogether. The sport is rife with doping, and it is a farce to think that the top riders aren't finding ways to skirt the rules. I say, let them all dope! This way, no one can claim to be "playing by the rules", no one gets an unfair advantage. You wanna juice? Ok, but your body gets to pay the consequences.

The Surge is Working

Sorry to have been out of touch for a few days; back today with vengeance....

Probably one of the better summaries of the impact of the surge on fortunes on the ground in Iraq. I think the author is a bit too sympathetic to Mr. Rumsfeld et al, but the evidence is beginning to be too much for even liberals to ignore.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joys of Air Travel

Yesterday's flight from Charlotte to San Francisco found me in the row in front of the exit row, and directly across from one of the three lavatories available to the unwashed in coach (the rows of seats across from me had been removed to accommodate the accommodations).

One must wonder why the tilt back feature of seats in front of the exit rows has been disabled. Do they really believe that the 3.76 inches of tilt are going to matter? It's not like these are business class seats that really recline.

And the joys of being near the commode...ah, lovely. Each opening and closing of the door revealing a new treasure of heavily perfumed air mixed with the toxic emissions of the previous occupant. If this were not bad enough, having to listen to the uber-banal chatter of those in line was enough to make one consider cross country car trips.

Pickens Plan

A reader pointed our direction to T. Boone Pickens' much ballyhooed new plan to vastly increase our dependence on wind energy and switch largely to natural gas powered vehicles. I like this plan, it makes a lot of sense, and it has potential. What's wrong with it? It ignores nuclear energy, it ignores domestic drilling, and it presupposes that huge tracts of land will be made available to the wind energy producers for their turbines. Putting aside the fact that Pickens has BILLIONS invested in wind energy (he seems to be every liberal's favorite oil tycoon now for his selfless switch to wind....they need to check their facts), thinking along these lines is healthy and required to diversify our energy supply. That said, the supply has to be really diverse, not just diverse enough for T. Boone and his heirs to profit.

Limited Action

Things could be light for a day or two here on the CW while I tend to some job interviewing in California.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Country Mouse, City Mouse

Great story on the cultural divide in this morning's paper. Apparently, residents along the Potomac River in Virginia's Fairfax County are strategically setting up duck blinds near their property in order to preclude actual duck-hunters from using them, as there are rules regulating the siting of such blinds. If the resident does not exercise their right, hunters have what is essentially a squatter's right.

Now, I don't have a strong opinion on this matter, but there are several issues at play. I am a fan of property rights, so I certainly would support a resident being able to preclude the construction of a blind on one's property. But we're talking here about areas clearly NOT the property of the resident, blinds that are sited in the river proper. I'm also a fan of sleeping late on weekends, and as someone who resides most of the time on a cove frequented by legions of waterfowl and the hunters who seek them, I can assure you that the volleys of shotguns in the morning--with the windows tightly shut--are enough to awaken one's latent Non-Combat Stress Disorder.

What I'm really interested in here is the conflict itself, and the means for its mitigation. I think it is crafty and underhanded for residents to place these blinds solely to deprive hunters of the right to do so. But I also think it is brilliant. I'm all over the map on this one, but since I don't have a stake in it, I'll just watch from afar.

"...Blowing in the Wind...."

Today's paper brings us yet another in a series of editorials extolling the virtues of wind and solar as sources of energy diversity for our country. Can we all just nod our heads and say, "Solar Good, Coal Bad" and get on with it? Yes, Mr. Tisch, solar and wind are great ideas, and I look forward to seeing them eventually begin to be scaled in a way in which real, usable power can be delivered to the grid in meaningful capacities. But we're just not there yet. And we'll never get there as long as Ted Kennedy doesn't want to see wind turbines from his deathbed in Hyannis, or as long as economically viable solar farms threaten the mating habitat of the fly-tailed dung beetle.

We have 104 nuclear power plants in this country producing nearly 20% of our electricity needs. Virtually every single site was surveyed to include room for growth. Yes, nuclear energy costs money. Capital costs to get a plant up and going are very high. That said, once the plant is up and operating, per-kilowatt costs are competitive with other capacities those other sources are simply not technologically ready to deliver.

Any discussion of energy security of this country must consider nuclear power if it is to seriously address the problem.

Whose Money is it Anyway?

Michelle Singletary writes a personal financial column for the Washington Post called "The Color of Money". Generally, it is a pretty good source of common sense financial advice for folks not in the stock options and buyout world. Today's column is off the mark though.

Basically, the column is a discussion of the merits of a plan put forward by left-leaning Center for American Progress and the Pension Rights Center, which advocates elimination of the option to borrow money from oneself within a 401K. This is yet another instance of the classic approach of the left to many social issues, and it is that the people of the US are not to be trusted with their own money. You see this played out in the whole issue of privatizing a portion of social security benefits. The rhetoric of the left comes down to one thing, and that is that the government has to protect people against their own bad decisions.

I don't buy this. If you build up wealth in a 401K, it is no different than any other asset. If you need cash for some other reason, it makes perfect sense to borrow against a 401K--as long as you pay the loan back. If you don't, you suffer the it should be.

AMC's "MadMen"

If you're interested in becoming addicted to a new entertainment vehicle, I recommend tuning in to American Movie Classic's (AMC) "MadMen" marathon today, in which all episodes of season 1 will be replayed. Season 2 begins next Sunday night.

The show revolves around an early 1960's Madison Avenue advertising firm, and it is brilliant, stylish, and interesting. Obviously, they've glammed up 1960 a bit, but it really does look like a pretty cool world. Some things will jump out, such as the ubiquity of alcohol and smoking (I wonder what kind of liability insurance the producers have, what with all the second hand smoke on set), the amazingly true-to-life costuming of the characters, and the seriously locker-room mentality of the firm (a business now dominated by women and gay men).

Give it a shot; I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Timberlake or Brady?

Ok guys, if you could swap places with Justin Timberlake or Tom Brady for a day (or a week, or a life...) which would it be? Talk amongst yourselves.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore, Wind Machine

Al Gore's speech yesterday on renewable energy was yet another example of his getting the story on energy right from A-Y, but predictably missing on the next step. Al's got a lot of flaws, and his bloviating on man's contributions to global warming is downright zany, but moving away from coal and oil for our nation's energy needs simply makes good sense. Al's got a point in this speech, but by completely ignoring one major source of immediate relief, he fails to grasp fully the tools we have at our disposal. Nuclear energy is sitting here, proven and safe. We need to invest in more nuclear energy, but it apparently doesn't register in Al's world.

Fourth Law of Thermodynamics....

Back in my Navy days, we used to cite the little known "fourth law of thermodynamics", which states that "if the heat's on him, it's not on you!" America's Air Force has come in for a lot of heat lately, much of it deserved. This latest story on the upgrades to executive lift accommodations for USAF brass is a bit of a cheap shot though.

I've traveled extensively with four-star officers in while on active duty. If the average American knew what we paid these guys (about $168,000), they'd realize we get amazingly talented individuals to serve in relatively low-paying positions at a time in their lives when their corporate counterparts are raking in millions of dollars. I'm not excusing the horrible optics associated with this story, but I am suggesting that making the flying a bit more comfortable for people who travel constantly on our nation's business for an hourly rate of about $40 an hour isn't necessarily a national crime.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Have You Hugged an Illegal Immigrant Today?

I have. Well, he's legal now at least. But my beloved brother-in-law initially entered this country illegally from Ireland, something I only learned today. He came seeking a better life than that in his native country, which when he left it, was the sick old man of the former British empire.

I'm glad that President Reagan signed immigration reform in the 80's that allowed him to go back to Ireland and re-apply to return and stay legally.

That seems to me to be a logical part of any new immigration reform. We need to do a better job of controlling our borders, we need to do a better job of tracking folks who come here and then overstay their visas, and we need to do a better job of figuring out how to turn those who are here already (illegally) into taxpaying, law-abiding residents. Some call it amnesty. I call it smart.

100 Visitors!

Sorry I've been a slacker for a few days. Just checked Google Analytics this morning, and it seems this little blog has attracted 100 readers in 23 states! How bout that?

"Oh No, Not the Comfy Chair!"

I wrote a bit last week about Christopher Hitchens' recent trip to the waterboard and the dangerous decline in what is actually considered torture. Two stories (here, and here) lead me to believe we've fallen even further from a realistic notion of what is to be avoided than I previously thought.

In the first, we have a detainee apparently crying for his mother. My goodness. Have we really become so heartless as to make a boy cry (putting aside for a moment that he is held for having thrown a hand grenade at US troops)?

In the second (and even more laughable), a detainee complains of sexual coercion at the hands of some presumably tempting little tomato of an Inquisitor who actually touches his thigh! Ye gads! Are we no longer civilized beings? What's next? Godiva chocolates and soft music? Do we have no standards?

Obama's Foolish Consistency

It is nice to see Senator Obama coming in for criticism over his continued adherence to an arbitrary timetable for the removal of our troops from Iraq. My pleasure exists on two levels.

First, I think a public exclamation of a timetable simply gives the miscreants seeking to overthrow the Iraqi government a date after which they can operate with impunity. By saying we'll leave on this or that date, they simply head off into hiding for a bit, only to pop up again when we leave. Should we privately have timetables by which we ratchet up the pressure on the Maliki government? Absolutely. But keep it quiet.

Secondly, the Post's editorial gets at something I wrote about last week, which is questioning Senator Obama's widely heralded good judgment, when in point of fact, his lack of support for the surge has turned out to be just as wrong-headed as any who believed that we'd have a cakewalk in Iraq. While the Senator (from the relatively anonymous position of representing Hyde Park in the Illinois State Legislature) did not support the war, his recent pronouncements in opposition to the surge from the well of the US Senate and elsewhere bring his judgment seriously into question.

Maryland, NCLB, and Who?

This morning's paper contained a generous editorial finally casting some credit for increasing Maryland standardized test scores to the landmark 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

Yet nowhere in the editorial is the mention of one name: George W. Bush, President of the United States. Local educators in Maryland come in for praise, as well they should. But failure to mention the incredibly important role of a man who won the Presidency--in no small measure due to his dedication to improving education nationwide--is simply inexcusable.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Women's Soccer

Ok, I really, really need to be careful about what I say in this post. My wonderful girlfriend doesn't really get into politics or blogs, so it is likely she won't read this. But if she does, I need to keep it on the up and up. As a champion sailor and Division I athlete in two sports, my kitten does not cotton to these rambles.

All things considered, there is not a single sport that both men and women play that I find myself thinking the women's game is as good....except soccer. I just watched a great bit of the US vs. Brazil in women's soccer, and the quality of play was incredibly high. Best of all though, you don't get the whining, writhing scenes of players clutching shins and ankles, racking up injury time and extending the game. You also don't see a lot of fake dives designed to make the other person look they committed a foul. The game is clean, fast, technically beautiful and exciting.

There may be another game I enjoy watching the women play as much as the But that's only because women's golfers have gotten much younger, better looking and more attractively clothed in the recent past.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Phil Gramm and Whining Americans

Phil Gramm's recent comments about the toughness of John Q. Public were right on the mark, profoundly insightful, and just plain stupid.

Recently citing a "mental recession", Gramm referred to the US having become "...a nation of whiners." What Gramm was talking about here was the propensity of Americans to over-estimate the decline of their economy beyond that which actual "facts on the ground" would suggest. It is common to hear incredible gnashing of teeth about an economy which at last check, had historically low interest rates, unemployment, and inflation. Yes, there are problems, serious ones, which require serious solutions. But this is not the Great Depression, and it is not even technically a recession.

That said, Phil Gramm was unwise to say what he did. It doesn't matter how right a politician is, you don't get elected (or get your man elected) by criticizing the American electorate. Barack Obama found this in Pennsylvania with his "clinging to their guns and religion" riff. The American Public is a pouty, preening group who thinks that this country's "shining city on a hill" status somehow imbues them with perfect judgment and clarity. It doesn't. The genius of our founders was ensuring a system in which individual, group and class interests would clash with each other. They didn't devise a system for perfect people, they devised a good system for a nation of self-interested individuals of varying intelligence and civic virtue.

Phil Gramm's comments reflect that varying intelligence, both in their criticisms and in the flawed nature of their delivery.

Waterboarding, Torture, and Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens' article in Vanity Fair laying out his recent voluntary exposure to waterboarding is fascinating stuff, as most of Hitchens' writing is (I exclude here his nasty treatises on atheism). After undergoing this most celebrated of techniques, he declares that it is indeed torture.

He may be right, to him, waterboarding is torture. But let's face it. How likely is Hitch to ever have faced any other torture technique? Is there any sense of comparison or relativity here? Is there some magic line over which an interrogation practice steps in which it is no longer subject to relative evaluation? Is loud music constantly played equivalent to waterboarding, equivalent to torture? Is waterboarding equivalent to some of the techniques imposed on our prisoners in Viet Nam?

The point here is that the Bush Administration actually sought to try and define torture in a manner that would give it tools of persuasion it felt were necessary to prosecute the war on Islamic fascism. Those tools included waterboarding which, it found, was on a scale of practice significantly below those thought to constitute torture under the famous ":

"We conclude that for an act to constitute torture as defined in Section 2340, it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under Section 2340, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years. We conclude that the mental harm also must result from one of the predicate acts listed in the statute, namely: threats of imminent death; threats of infliction of the kind of pain that would amount to physical torture; infliction of such physical pain as a means of psychological torture; use of drugs or other procedures designed to deeply disrupt the senses, or fundamentally alter an individual’s personality; or threatening to do any of these things to a third party."

The problem with calling waterboarding torture, no matter how uncomfortable it may make the subject, is that it opens the door to greatly diminishing the real physical and mental effects which make true torture an abhorrent practice. I don't doubt Hitch found waterboarding uncomfortable, and given his 15000 cigarette a year habit, life threatening. I don't doubt that Khaild Sheik Mohammed also found his experience uncomfortable. But by the definition put forward by the Bush Administration (one that I believe to be well-reasoned), waterboarding is not torture.

Aside: though this is a serious subject, I am reminded of the great Monty Python sketch in which the Inquisitor, vested in the robes of the Church, sentences a non-believer to "the comfy chair".

Retire Already, Brett

I love Brett Favre (I can never say or write that name without thinking about Ben Stiller in "There's Something about Mary"). His joy in playing the game of football, his thorough inability to understand that throwing the ball harder won't necessarily mean the other team won't catch it, and his schnauzer-like baiting of defensive linemen all serve to put me squarely in the Favre Fan Club.

That said, his decision to try and come out of retirement is a bad one. Now I'm all for individual rights, don't get me wrong. But I'm also for binding contracts. The Packers own Brett Favre's NFL rights and if he voluntarily retired, so be it. He is retired. If he wishes to play again, the Packers have a right to take him up on the offer or decline it, even as they deprive another team of his service.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Building Roads is What Government Does

The government of the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to stumblebumble its way through transportation policy. Classic city vs. rural, Republican vs. Democrat battle going on here. Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia need enlightened transportation solutions. More roads, different kinds of roads, mass transit, etc. All of this costs money. This is what government (especially state government) is supposed to do. Additionally, this is what the federal government is supposed to do (see interstate commerce clause, US Constitution).

But the Republicans in Richmond have done a fine job of locking down any real enhancements to Virginia's roads by allowing rural interests to cause a stalemate. Virginia needs better transit; I'm sure the fine Republicans in Richmond could get busy with finding offsets in the budget from other superfluous programs to contribute to road building. Maybe the lottery proceeds should go to transportation (but wait, then education would be underfunded, as the Virginia Legislature walked away from its fiduciary duties to state education when the lottery goose laid its golden egg.)

I'm a conservative, I'm a Republican, and I am embarrassed at the conduct of the Virginia GOP.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

This morning's Washington Post contains an editorial calling for the end of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy governing gays in the military. I am still thinking about where I stand on this, but I have a few thoughts on the subject.

First of all, the notion that gays are somehow being hunted down and rooted-out of the military is just not true. In the ten plus years in which I served in the military under the policy, I did not witness nor was I even tangentially associated with the discharge of a gay person that didn't ultimately start with a freely made admission of homosexual conduct. That is, the person in question came forward and voluntarily admitted to homosexual conduct. In this position, a commander has little choice; the policy has been violated and so the person must be processed for discharge. Not once did I see or hear of an investigation of any kind that "outed" someone serving honorably and quietly carrying on their personal sexual life.

Secondly, admitting to homosexual conduct is a virtual guarantee of discharge with little or no besmirchment of one's record (unlike testing positive for drugs). "Coming out" is a relatively pain free way of breaking one's enlistment contract when one comes to realize that military service might not be exactly what the recruiter sold them. (See also under this method of breaking one's contract: suicidal ideation. I used to drive my senior enlisted adviser nuts when he would bring me an "I'm thinking of hurting myself" case and I would say something like "You're full of s--t. You love yourself too much to do something like that.")

Thirdly, if any sex is hurting our readiness, it is heterosexual sex. In my crew, that meant Seaman Timmy and Seaman Tammy schtupping each other resulting predictably in Seaman Tammy's pregnancy and loss to the crew. Because the personnel system couldn't send us a new Tammy for six or seven months, we'd be shorthanded. Eight pregnancies in the sixty days before our deployment (six months away from home)...I wrote my entire crew an email citing statistic after statistic on how disadvantaged single parent raised children were. Boy did I raise a stink! My boss sent it to his boss as an example of the innovative ways waterfront captains were using to stem the tide of this problem...the big boss thought I was being to harsh and controversial....

Finally though, I do think it is probably time to just trash the whole policy. I honestly believe that young people today (i.e. those who make up the vast majority of our military) are a lot more accepting of deviant behavior (and by that, I mean deviating from the norm--this is not a value judgment) and that fears in a decline of unit cohesion are overblown.

Skin Cancer Drops Among Young Men

Good news from the medical front, it seems as though skin cancer rates among young men have begun to level off (and slightly decline). Bad news is that young women's rates have increased.

Considerable space in this short story is devoted to why rates have gone up for young women, and the culprit is apparently tanning beds. But little time is spent on why rates have leveled off for men. I think I have the answer---video games.

I'm amazed at how pervasive video games are among younger men. At 43, I am sort of on the cusp of the phenomenon. While heading off to sea all those years, there was clearly a generational divide between those who congregated in the wardroom to watch movies and those who went to their staterooms to play video games. I always considered my billion dollar AEGIS Cruisers and Destroyers to be the ultimate video games, but alas, my young officers sought ever increasing levels of enjoyment from an ever increasing array of video complexity. My Chief Petty Officers in the ship I commanded networked a bunch of computers together in their mess so that they could play games with six or seven folks at a time. I'd walk in and just shake my head.

So, as our young men become whiter (can I say that?) and less susceptible to skin cancer, they become doughy and slothful. Win some, lose some.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Holes are Racist

Indeed. Check this out. While conducting a meeting of county commissioners, a white commissioner complained of a traffic ticket office having become a "black hole". He was immediately set upon by two black commissioners who found his use of the term "black hole" racially insensitive. I'm not making this up folks.

As a racially sensitive white man, I propose the following be stricken from our lexicon:

white noise, white-out, white wedding, all Navy uniforms with the word "white" in them, whitecap, teeth "whitening".

Thank you.

Heavyweight Championship

There is a big boxing match this weekend, one in which three heavyweight crowns are up for grabs. You didn't know this? My post is the first you've heard of it? Well, be not fearful of your masculinity (if you possess it), as I'm not sure I know anyone who knew there was a heavyweight fight this weekend. The decline of boxing as a major sport in the past twenty-five years has been precipitous and sad. The great heavyweight fights of the 70's, followed by the incredible middle/welterweight fights of the 80's, have always struck me as among the sporting world's grandest spectacles.

Where did boxing go? Killed by truly horrible spectacles like "Ultimate Fighting" and the like. I miss the elegance and the fury of boxing at the highest level. These new brands of fighting simply don't stack up.

Academic Gains in DC Schools

Good news from ground zero in education performance; there have been noticeable gains in performance among DC students in standardized math and science tests. This is an excellent story, one that brings hope that profoundly dysfunctional school systems can change.

What I find odd about this story is the angle on who should be credited with the increase. Should it be the former Chancellor, Clifford Janey, or the current Chancellor, Michelle Rhee? Interesting question, though one that ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room....President Bush. Though I question the federal government's role in education beyond that of a funding engine, it is inconceivable that a discussion of performance in schools these days does not at least tacitly acknowledge the contribution of standards and enforcement made by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Used to date a teacher once, and boy, did she complain about "No Child Left Behind". "It is forcing us to teach to the test" she would say. She'd say it to whomever would listen...finally, one day, I asked her if prior to NCLB she was in the habit of testing her students on material she hadn't taught. She did not find my question funny.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jesse Jackson, Urologist

I love Jesse Jackson; he can always be counted on to say things worth hearing. Bottom line here? If Barack Obama is pissing Jesse Jackson off, then maybe he's not all bad.

Technical Issues

My apologies to those frustrated in my silence today (besides me). Our ridiculous villa here in Jamaica lost its internet for an interminable period. I am frightened by how addicted I've become to this medium.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Press Covering Itself Again.....

I'm a reasonably well-informed fellow, I have a great deal of interest in the world around me, there are a diverse number of things that interest me and I really do think the Washington Post is a quality newspaper. That said, I simply cannot stand the fact that it (along with much of the rest of the press) delights in covering stories with front-page importance that mean little or nothing to anyone outside the newspaper business. Who gives a crap who the editor of the Washington Post is? Was there no serious news going on anywhere in the world to which the precious front-page space could be allocated? Again, this is not the standard knee-jerk conservative rant about the liberal tilt of the mainstream media. This is a very focused criticism of a profession with a bit of an ego problem.

The Third Rail

It seems that what George Bush started, neither candidate can stop--actual planning to reform social security. It is high time this trend flowers. For too long, a system conceived in the
Depression to provide a lifeline to the truly needy elderly, has come to be seen as just another middle class entitlement. The system is seriously broken, with fewer and fewer people to pay in and more and more people taking out. Several steps must be taken, and it appears both candidates are talking about them, though neither seems to have a coherent whole.

The first thing to be done is to re-brand the system. Too many people view Social Security as a pension plan...and it is not. It should never be seen as anything but a supplement to retirement saving.

The age of benefit receipt must be raised. We are living longer, and the system must be periodically adjusted to reflect this fact. Whenever I hear people talking about how this would trap people in horrible jobs longer, I return to my first security is not a pension plan.

Benefits should be means tested. Well-off seniors should not receive full benefits. The continuing fiction that social security has support because it is not "welfare" is completely undercut by the fact that a growing number of beneficiaries lives on social security so long that they vastly outstrip (plus interest) what they had paid in.

Stopping the payroll tax at $102K should end (horror of horrors, I'm advocating a tax increase). But every dollar taxed above $102K should have the ability to be invested in a personal retirement account. Additionally, those making under $102K should have the option of investing some of their money in a personal account.

Social Security is worth saving, if it is reformed. If not, then it will fail. Fact is, whenever I sit down with advisers to talk about retirement, I always tell them to eliminate Social Security from the planning. It is easier to plan that way....

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Writing of Paul Theroux

The great shame of my life (or one of them at least) is that while I have read a great many books, I am not well read. I had not read Lolita until just a few years ago, I only got around to Catcher in the Rye last year (hated it!), and I have not read anything by V.S. Naipaul.

Recently, I have begun to try and address this problem, and I intend to work on it for the remainder of my years. My girlfriend, who is indeed well-read had a book of short stories by Paul Theroux hanging around as we packed for this trip. I decided to throw it into my bag for kicks, and I am glad I did. Apparently a novelist and travel writer, the volume I have isn't so much full of short stories as it is a compendium of magazine articles submitted over the course of twenty years, from the mid-sixties until the mid-eighties. During this time, Theroux held two main jobs, teacher and writer--sometimes at the same time. Some of the best writing is about his time as an expat in Africa and Indonesia, especially his thoughts on what it was like to be a white man in Central Africa in the mid-60's.

I heartily commend his work to those of you who have not yet enjoyed it.

Weapons Costs Spiral

Story in this morning's paper about how several big-ticket weapon systems are greatly over-running initial cost estimates. I have seen this issue up close, and it is definitely a problem. More correctly, it is a series of problems.

First, there's the requirements definition process. Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) buy really is one of their chief functions. Service requirements definition processes aren't too far off from what many have gone through when they try to build a house....lots of changes to the plan, and each of those changes costs more money. Because it takes so long for many of these systems to mature, changes in technology greatly outstrip the capacity to deliver the capability. New toy comes along and folks want it included.

Next there's the contracting process itself. More oversight must be placed on the front end, ensuring that the cost data developers put forward is actually attainable. There's an uneasy relationship between the service program managers who really, really want to field the capability, and the contractors who really, really want to build. Both have a vested interest in keeping cost figures as low as possible, at least until you've reached a point of no return.

Finally, there's a leadership problem. Very few people ever get fired because their program had cost over-runs. Oh sure, every now and then the egregious offenders get sacked. But for every program manager whose firing makes it into the press, there are dozens more who have lorded over programs with cost over-runs that just don't make it to the eye-popping level.

This is fixable, but it will take time and leadership.

Asians: The Minority That Doesn't Matter

Apparently, the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia will have a plurality of Asian students in its next entering class. Bully for them. While various ethnic and racial victimization groups continue to point to phantoms of ongoing systemic discrimination, the Asian community does what it does best--quietly clean everyone else's clocks. Strong families, an emphasis on education, and dedication to success in the marketplace are all hallmarks of America's various Asian communities, and these are values for all Americans to celebrate.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Air Travel

I may be forced in the light of accumulated experience to deviate from free-market principles. I've decided that if you really wish to fly well, you must fly government sponsored carriers. I can't really be sure why American carriers can't seem to make money (except Southwest, whose success remains a beacon of hope to me), but when it comes to my flying comfort, I'll take a carrier with funding from central governments any time! I've flown Air Jamaica a few times recently and found it to be efficient, well-run, and well-staffed. The flight attendants seem aware that they aren't really there for our safety, but to serve us good meals and drinks. Additionally, there are plenty of them and they are generally young and attractive. Reminds me a bit of a Caribbean version of Cathay Pacific....

A few pet peeves in air travel, if you will. The first is, again, flight attendants. I have flown literally hundreds of thousands of miles, if not in the millions, in my day. I have never needed the assistance of a flight attendant for my "safety". I have however, needed them countless times to bring me a pillow, a Diet Coke, or a pencil. These are the skills I value in air staff, and the airline that reinforces them (as opposed to this attempt at flight attendant self-esteem in deeming them essential to my safety) will get my business every time.

Another peeve of mine is the fellow behind you who seems incapable of extricating himself from his seat without pulling on the headrest in front of him...which also happens to be supporting your head. After raising his frame, he releases the headrest causing a brief but notable forward movement and backward acceleration of your head. Are there no armrests upon which to push? Should we install pneumatic lifts to aid these poor souls?

Enough whining. I told you I was a curmudgeon.

Death of Jesse Helms

There is a good bit of memorializing going on in the conservative press at the death of Jesse Helms. I have been asked elsewhere in this blog for my own thoughts on his passing, and they follow.

Jesse Helms was not my kind of conservative. Though I'm sure he and I shared some elements of ideology, I very rarely heard him express them in words or in a manner in which I would have felt comfortable. He was a bully, he did not appear to possess an intellect worthy of note, but he was apparently a successful politician.

I will leave further memorializing to those who felt warmly about him.

A Little Slow This Week

Filing dispatches this week from a little vacation spot in Jamaica, where we (sig other and her two kids) have gone while my lovely lady recovers from recent surgery. She is fine, thanks for asking.

She has however, begun to suspect that this "blogging" thing might be taking up a wee bit too much time. In order to allay her fears, I have promised balance while we are here.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

DC Schools

I've always seen the DC schools chief as a dream job, a chance to break a lot of china while doing some important work. Current DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is doing quite a bit of that. She has incredible topcover from Mayor Fenty, an amazing amount of energy, and a take-no-prisoners demeanor that I think the job requires.

There are some incredibly entrenched interests there who oppose her, but I remain hopeful Ms. Rhee can succeed. The DC school system is a disgrace, and those who wish to pour more money into education need only look at the poor return on investment the nation's capital gets on the second highest per student spending in the country.

Mugabe and National Interest

The morning paper has a nice inside story on how Robert Mugabe engineered (with a great deal of help) his recent election "victory" in Zimbabwe. This man is evil, he is a criminal, he and his band of thugs have taken a country poised for success at its colonial handover and driven it into the ground.

But what should the US role here be? Should we lead the chorus of international disgust? Yes. Should we initiate sanctions and other economic weapons to weaken his rule? Yes. Should we provide any and all technical and intelligence assistance to an indigenous effort to overthrow him? Yes.

But this is as far as we should go. Our interests must continue to drive our foreign policy. We have little or no interest in Zimbabwe, aside from humanitarian. I am unconvinced that the humanitarian case here is worth American blood. It is certainly worth African blood and the blood of the colonial powers who birthed the failed and failing states all over that continent.

There are of course, situations where humanitarian questions transcend simple matters of emotion. The Balkan Wars in the early 90's are an excellent case, as the Balkan States have always been a strategically tender area. Where West and East meet, one World War started here and a Cold War found great purchase here. Our actions there were warranted, especially in light of European fecklessness.

Zimbabwe does not rise to this level of strategic importance.

Navy SEAL Mike Monsoor...Hero

There are no words....

Friday, July 4, 2008

Watching Obama Move to the Right....

Senator Obama is moving predictably to the right on the issue of the Iraq war and Charles Krauthammer is on the job to call him on it.

Barak Obama is revealing himself to be a cynical and opportunistic politician, tacking to the right now that he has the primaries under his belt and the left-wing of his party mollified. His moves bespeak a man un-anchored in anything more permanent than a desire to win the Presidency...and they are also the actions of perhaps the most talented politician of our time. We could be in deep trouble--this guy really knows how to move.

Crotchety Old-Man Update

Ok, as I indicated on the very first day of blogging here, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon. Things sometimes tend to irritate me that would pass quickly by others of more a more tolerant mien. That said, whilst traveling to the Eastern Shore yesterday, I and several thousand of my closest friends, had the opportunity to sit...stopped in 90 plus degree traffic...while Prince George's County Maryland police effectively closed portions of I-95, I-495 and Route 50. This action was taken in order that the head-of-state-like funeral procession for a slain PG county policeman could proceed from his police station, to the fire station where he volunteered, to his final resting place. Let's get the important part out of the way; I am unhappy that a fine, family man was murdered by a miscreant. I believe his comrades were on the right side of things by wishing to solemnify his service. But closing major interstate highways on the afternoon prior to the July 4th three day weekend so that an amazingly over the top procession of police cars, motorcycles, fire trucks and county vehicles could proceed untrammeled by interaction with the hoi-polloi on its way to its homes...constitutes a serious lack of judgment and abuse of power and authority by the police.

The Declaration of Independence

I read recently where Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard attends a cookout each July 4th at which the host reads aloud the Declaration of Independence. Thinking this a wonderful idea, I took to my computer this morning to read this document anew. I highly recommend taking the time to read this remarkable piece of political thought. If you're reading this blog regularly (thank you!), your knowledge of history surely provides you with the understanding that the 13 original colonies fought hard prior to the Declaration to remain subjects of the Crown. Reading over the bill of indictment that makes up the largest part of the document, one cannot help but be reminded of the abidingly conservative nature of that revolution. It was a revolution undertaken to preserve rights already possessed. Whenever you hear George Washington compared to some tinhorn, left-wing revolutionary dedicated to the overthrow of an established order, remember that George Washington started out simply wanting the established order to be enforced. Happy Fourth of July, fellow citizens.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Democrats and Veterans

One key trend in modern Democratic politics is the wholesale embrace of Veterans and Veterans issues.

By taking up the cause of caring for "...him who shall have borne the battle..." Democrats seek to gain credit for being "pro-military", something that most of the American public seems to be these days. But dig a little deeper, and Democratic embrace of Veterans issues is not the same thing as support for the military. In fact, Veterans are a key potential constituency for Democrats, occupying they do a position of dependency on the government (a valuable trait for potential Democratic voters). I am a retired Veteran, and I am (at times) a little embarrassed at the largess extended me in my dotage. A healthy pension, mostly free medical care, commissary privileges, access to the VA medical system, and a full menu of VA education, financial, and training benefits are just some of the wondrous emoluments of my status.

But larding the gravy train for Vets is NOT the same as supporting our people in uniform. That means so much more. It means providing them with the equipment they need to do their jobs...not just the popular stuff like up-armored HUMVEES and enhanced body armor...but the ships, planes, tanks and systems designed to support them. It means supporting the effort to undermine our enemies by providing our intelligence services with the tools they need to do their jobs, including enhanced surveillance. And it means...more than anything else...public support for winning the war they are in, not the one politicians would want them to be in.

Great News from Colombia

Looks like the Colombians pulled off an imaginative operation....good for them. I love the part about the Faux-FARC members wearing Che Guevara T-shirts. After all, what could possibly better establish your credentials as a left-wing revolutionary than wearing Che T-shirts! As I write this, I am wearing a T-shirt with an iconic Che-Like image of Ronald Reagan....around the image are the words "Old School Conservative".

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Income Tax Burden

Let's have a little tax chat, shall we? Take a look at this report showing how the income tax burden is distributed in our country. The "graduated" tax was instituted to be "fair"; that is, so that higher income earners would pay a higher percentage of their income to the government. I'd be surprised if most folks in our country really knew how those taxes were distributed.

A few simple truths: the top 1% earners in our country pay a dollar value in taxes greater than that contributed by the bottom 90%. The top 10% of wage earners...defined in 2007 as those making over $103,912 paid 70.3% of the total tax bill in this country. The bottom 50% of wage earners in the United States paid--get this--3.07% of the nation's income tax bill.

Now I know, income taxes are not the only taxes people pay. Payroll (Social Security, etc) taxes make up a sizable portion of monies deducted from our checks each month, and these taxes are levied equally on income (up to a certain level).

But the next time you hear a politician talking about the rich paying their fair share...think about two questions: What do they consider rich, and how much more is fair?

Democrats, the Filthy Rich, and Obama

What is it about really rich people that seems in many cases to pre-dispose them to support of Democrats in general and Senator Obama in particular? Isn't it common knowledge that Democrats seek to redistribute wealth and most of the fiscal policies that Senator Obama espouses levy a heavy burden on the rich? Why do so many of the truly wealthy seem to vote so overwhelmingly against their own interests?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Because the truly rich are indeed so rich, there are no such things as "pocketbook" issues to them. They simply have so much money that there are very few foreseeable options that the federal government could undertake to divest them of their wealth that would actually make a meaningful difference in the way they live their lives. They care not if the capital gains rate is 15%, 25%, or 35%. Because social security represents a rounding error in their monthly cash flow, that which is deducted for it is even less significant, whether it is the first $97K of income or that above $250K. Their wealth insulates them from the issues that the rest of us find important. What does this insulation bring them? Why, the freedom to be socially conscious, of course, a luxury many of us are unable to afford.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Barack Obama Defends His Patriotism

This story in this morning's paper has me a little ticked. I receive the scurrilous email rumors detailing Senator Obama's various offenses against our country all the time....things like....wants to change the National Anthem, why he doesn't wear a flag lapel pin, that he is a practicing Muslim (or even worse, some kind of Islamofascist Mole)....This tripe is manufactured and purveyed by incredibly small-minded people, people whose participation in the political process is really quite regrettable. Senator Barack Obama is a good man, a smart man, from all appearances a good husband and father, and a gifted politician. These attacks are silly and are beneath contempt. Senator Obama provides us with more than enough ammunition to attack his candidacy through his bad policy ideas and his total lack of experience on the grand stage. Let's keep the battle going on those lines.
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