Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - Good Riddance

On a personal level, 2013 had some really sucko aspects for me, and I'm happy to see it leaving.  Much of the year was spent with concern for my mom in a downhill slide that ended a few weeks ago.  I spent a lot of hours driving and almost doubled the miles I put on my car this year in trips to visit her.  I had a bizarre accident at work - found out a few weeks later that they had soaped the stairwell, not just wet mopped - and I still have a 3" or so diameter lump on my butt that won't go away.  Work has had some more downs than I'm used to, including weekend "get your *** to the airport Monday morning" calls.  On the other hand, my second patent disclosure is in process, so there were some positive things, too.  I've never paid much mind to the "whole new year, whole new future" line of thought, because a year is just a convenient way to mark time.  We could use Julian Days, but month/day/year is shorter.  I'm going to deliberately delude myself a little and allow myself to think I'll get a new start when the calendar turns in a few hours. 

For the country and the world, though, 2013 sure had some weird moments.  How about New York electing a full-bore communist as mayor?  Expect Comrade DeBlasio to follow France's lead and invoke a massive wealth-punishing tax which will affect the city badly.  I can't say I care, except for you know they're going to get in trouble and come to the rest of the country for bailouts. 

Speaking of weird New York stuff, who can forget the "Carlos Danger" adventures of Anthony Weiner, in which Weiner sent photos of his, um, happiness to someone named Sidney Leathers and various underage girls. This, of course, was a comeback... wait, a re-entry... no.. this was a return to politics for the Weiner, who left office in disgrace after a similar sexting scandal seemingly just the other day.  But since Weiner-Danger ran against DeBlasio in the NYC primaries, all you New Yawkers realistically can say you have a communist because of the Weiner.  He really did slip it to everyone!

And speaking of annoying little pricks, Mayor Bloomberg spent millions of his own dollars out of pocket on the campaigns of anti-gun MAIG members across the country, and 23 of them went down to defeat.  Bloomberg outspent the pro-gun forces in Colorado by 7:1 and still lost.  Now we have Colorado Democrats telling Bloomberg to stuff it and get out of their state.

But wait!  We're not done.  New York still has epic weirdness to go.  Elliott ("Client 9") Spitzer, the former governor who left office in disgrace after a prostitution scandal, thought he should run for office in New York City, too!  If that isn't weird enough for you, try this:  Spitzer is dating a former campaign aide to Comrade DeBlasio and is divorcing his long-suffering wife.  The only thing missing from the New York City Parade of Perverts was Bob Filner, and he was busy in Sandy Eggo, being criminally charged with groping pretty much every living person in the county with two X chromosomes. 

While I'm on the subject of annoying little weirdos, I can't forget Miley Cyrus.  Personally, I barely was aware of the little twit.  She's a former Disney kid, "child star", and you know how weird they can get.  Apparently weirder than I ever thought.  One minute she's out of sight, out of mind, the next minute she's this horrifying, vaguely reptilian creature in Slut Barbie underwear twerking all over the stage while committing unhygienic acts with both Robin Thicke and a foam finger.  If I were Robin Thicke (at his age, not mine!) I think I'd still be rocking back and forth in the shower muttering, "can't... get... clean...".

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/27/3830019/dave-barrys-year-in-review-2013.html#storylink=cpy

The mind-numbing incompetence of the Federal Government was a huge story this year.  How about the financial crises that come back every few weeks?  We've been in a crisis every few weeks for years, yet they're always unexpected.  Unexpected to anyone with the financial acumen of some species of moss.  Which is still smarter than most congress critters.

In the Obama Amateur Hour, foreign policy division, Vladimir Putin punked the president when Secretary of State John Kerry stupidly blurted out something that seemed entirely made up on the spot, that the only way Syria could avoid being bombed would be to hand all their chemical weapons over to someone else.  Putin, of course, saw the opportunity and stepped up to embarrass Obama (wouldn't you?), allowing Syrian strongman Assad to return to killing his people with guns and barrel bombs instead of chemicals that don't explode.  The wonderful Arab Spring they supported so vocally has collapsed in both Egypt and Libya as well as Syria.  All of those countries are in the crapper, Mooslims are burning Christian churches to the ground, and worse.  But our leaders are Harvard grads.  They're smarter than us. 

And don't forget the Website From Hell, Satan's Own Healthcare.gov.  They had three years to develop a web site for eCommerce; a web site to sell insurance plans to people legally required to buy them.  After all, how many times have you been cornered at a party by a life insurance agent; no fun, right?  This should be easier than selling hot tea to Eskimos.  There's only about two billion websites online RFN that do it better than this, and yet it launched with "a few glitches".  Roughly the same number of glitches as the number of grains of salt in a pound.  Eventually signing up as many as six people, the millions of people trying to enroll kept noticing their confidential personal information showing up on TV during random episodes of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians". 

But I can't end the year in Weirdness without mentioning Pajama Boy, the androgynous White House mascot who launched a thousand memes by encouraging everyone to sit around in a onesie, drink hot chocolate and convince those neanderthal relatives that you, as a 20-something with a degree in Hungarian Gay Poetry, 1900 to 1935, know more about their insurance needs than they do.  The thing to remember here is this was reviewed to the highest levels in the administration (possibly as high as Valarie Jarret herself!) and they thought this is the right imageThis is way we want to depict ourselves!  They're surprised and offended that anyone thinks this image is funny. 

So as we stumble toward 2014, a year with so much weirdness to overcome, remember to drink responsibly and I wish you all a happy, prosperous, safe and free New Year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reading Roundup

I've spent most of the last couple of days wandering around reading some interesting things, and I thought I might do a roundup/tab clearing/around the blogs post to point out a few of them.

John Robb at Global Guerillas posts "Is Extreme Wealth Concentration Profoundly Anti-Inflationary?"  He goes on to talk about the limited effect on prices the current money creation is having and concludes:
One reason this financial excess isn't causing rampant inflation is that it is flowing into the hands of a ever smaller number of people, and those people don't (can't) spend enough of it to inflate prices of everyday items.

IF this is true, and given the rate at which income and wealth is continuing to concentrate, almost any amount of expansion could be possible.
First off, I doubt inflation is as low as he thinks it is; think of how food packages have gotten smaller while prices have gone up at the same time.  Remember that food and energy aren't included in the inflation numbers so no matter how badly you get hurt, the official numbers say everything is fine.  I heard today that several areas of the country now have real estate prices above the 2007 peaks. That's more than the Fed's quoted 2% inflation goal!  Second, let's say Robb is right and there is very little inflation; since that demonstrates that the monetary expansion doesn't work, why would they want to keep doing it?  Monetary creation has the potential problem of alienating bond buyers, something we're starting to see now as 30 year bond yields are going up to attract buyers.  That has many bad potential side effects, so why keep doing it if it doesn't work?

Next, WRSA links to an article about an interview with self-proclaimed lesbian feminist Camille Paglia, in which she defends manliness, what she terms "Masculine Virtues".  She talks about the inherent differences between men and women in leadership: "If civilization had been left in female hands," she wrote, "we would still be living in grass huts.".  She talks at length about the "war on boys".
Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. "Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It's oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys," she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. "They're making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters."
She talks about the fundamental idiocy of the doctrinaire feminists running so much of academia:
Then there was the time she "barely got through the dinner" with a group of women's studies professors at Bennington College, where she had her first teaching job, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. "I left before dessert." (Emphasis added: SiG)
She even talks sense about some of the things that have us saying "where are the feminists on this?":
More important, Ms. Paglia says, if the women's movement wants to be taken seriously again, it should tackle serious matters, like rape in India and honor killings in the Muslim world, that are "more of an outrage than some woman going on a date on the Brown University campus." 
I find the article remarkable not in what it says, but in who it is saying it.  Many more conservative women have said the same things, not to mention lots of guys.  In that sense, it's like walking into your 4 year old's room and finding him doing algebra.  It's not that the algebra is remarkable, it's who's doing it.  

Almost everyone online, from calm rational folks like Borepatch and Bayou Renaissance Man to the "ready to hit the street with a battle rifle" crowd have linked to Clark's article on Popehat, "Burn the Fucking System to the Ground".   While I agree with so much of what he says, I find myself asking my usual questions:  Exactly what do we do?  BRM links to Joel at The Ulimate Answer to Kings with his response.  While Popehat says "Burn it to the ground", Joel says ignore it.  Turn your back on it and get away as best as you can.  I respect that, and I could probably do the kind of life he describes, but I also remember a quote attributed to Pericles that goes, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”.  Saying no to governments usually leads to SWAT raids and your dogs being shot. An expanding tyranny will have to be dealt with at some point.

Finally, as a followup to last week's post on The Best Economy Ever.  A close up of the DJIA since 1987. 
Comparing the left side of the chart to the right, before and after the start of the blue lines, you can see a progression of continually higher highs and higher lows on the left.  The low on the line of 1990 was above 1989 and below 1991.  That's a normal expanding market.  After that, the pattern of snap backs shows up.  The ugly thing is what happens during the first to second year after the yearly tick has hit the upper resistance limit.  You can see that there is typically a very large pull back within these two year periods.  That will be in 2014 to 2015.  Probably not "in three days" 2014, but it could be.

Now recall that the Fed has said they're going to start "tapering" this year: reducing the amount of monetary creation.  That constant flow of newly created money is what created this distorted market, and reducing the flow when the market is heading for a correction anyway will probably compound that correction.  It could get ... interesting.  Very bad timing on the Fed's part, and you can be sure that the Fed's technical analysts see the same things. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Toby!? What Happened to You, Man?

We had the final fun show of the year today so we had to go see the state of things.  No acquisitions, but the prices of guns were reasonable.  Saw at least two S&W M&P 15 ARs with iron sights "out the door" for around $650.  Ammo was still pricey, with bulk .22LR still going in the range of .10/round.  Popular calibers like .223 in 55 gr FMJBT and 9mm 115gr FMJ, were still more than a year ago; maybe .45 to .50/rnd for the AR food and $20-ish for 50 rounds of 9mm. 

The crowd was pretty dense, on a warm, humid, and occasionally rainy afternoon.  We got there late, after 2, and stayed almost till closing at 5.

The title here isn't about this, it's about Toby Keith.  Several sources are carrying the story that Toby Keith's new restaurant in Woodbridge, VA, "I Love This Bar and Grill", prominently displays this sign on the front door:
I'm not naive enough to think that Toby Keith is in a back office in this building going over the books, making sure enough pickles are on order, and seeing the sign every day; I'm sure he hired a company to run things for him.  It's possible he doesn't know (or didn't) - but I may be too generous with that.  David Codrea says:
It's instructive that five years after Keith wowed NRA members, he declared himself a supporter of “the most anti-gun president ever to occupy the Oval Office” in 2008 when he praised Barack Obama, calling him “the best Democratic candidate we've had since Bill Clinton,” and then honored Obama by performing at his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.
The Blaze linked to a Boston Herald interview Keith did in 2011 where he said he has a concealed carry license and carries everywhere he can.
“I’m all about good people, licensed and trained, carrying a concealed weapon,” Keith said. “The bad guys are always gonna be carrying guns. There are so many guns in the U.S., and so many bad people that do harm with ’em. If just 1 percent of the non-felons would go get their concealed-weapons license and carry a gun where they can, 1 percent puts you in a pretty good position of being somebody that could save a bunch of people’s lives.
I'm gonna give the last word to David Codrea on this piece:
That means if someone who is not deterred by “No Guns” signs decides the I Love This Bar & Grill in Woodbridge represents a soft target where evil is guaranteed success, Keith will have a tough time explaining to survivors why he thought rendering their loved ones defenseless was a good and moral business decision to make.
I know there are boycotts being discussed, but I'd never see the place.  I'm just sorry to hear we have another big name hypocrite putting his name on restaurants.  

I'm So Confused

Why have the remarks of one reality TV star become a media circus, with millions of people reacting and thousands of columns and blog posts devoted to it?  I'm not even remotely a fan of the show, and know next to nothing about it, but I stumbled across an episode back in August when I was in Toronto.  I've seen maybe as much as 15 minutes of it.    

Goober over at Nothing About Everything has a good piece on this, including direct quotes of what Robertson said.  I've read Phil's remarks and he repeatedly says stuff like "but that's just me".  I don't see a whiff of him personally hating people or advocating hate and Goober reaches the same conclusion.   Yet acres of print (including millions of characters online) have been devoted to it, and the amount of butt hurt is epic.  To borrow from Goober:
Notice how he says homosexuality is a sin, and then lists other sins, including bestiality, and the homosexual movement says “ZoMG! He just compared homosexuality to bestiality!” but they totally miss out on the entire message.  By that metric, he compared adultery to bestiality.  Or drunkenness.  Or theft.  Because all he did was list off a bunch of sins, and called them all sin.  He didn’t compare homosexuality to bestiality, and to make that claim is specious at best, and downright dishonest at worst; which is  sin, just like bestiality…  ZoMG!  Now I’M doing it!  I just compared dishonesty to bestiality! 

Oh, wait, no I didn’t.  Anyone who isn’t an idiot can see that all I did was say that they are both sins.  So that argument for making it hateful falls flat.
As I've said many times (even in this space, I think): is homosexuality a sin?  Absolutely; but so is cheating on your taxes, or weighing out a sale with a thumb on the scale.  None of them is worse than any other.  Something that annoys me no end is people getting all upset about a homosexual teacher but not that Mrs. Crabapple and the (also married) Coach DeFense are fooling around on the side.  Phil Robertson specifically mentioned this, "sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men", so he specifically said heterosexual people fooling around are sinning too, which is even more evidence it wasn't a hateful tirade against gays. 

It seems to me the logical problem the groups freaking out are having is saying since behavior A = sin and behavior B = sin, therefore A=B.  I think the better analogy isn't thinking algebra, it's set theory.  Set theory says A is an element of S, and B is an element of S, but nothing about how else A and B relate to each other.  They're not the same, they just belong to the same set; the same class of things - behaviors, in this case. 

But even that avoids the biggest confusion.  The thing I really just don't get is that if people don't believe the Bible is really true or that "the Kingdom of Heaven" exists, why do they get upset when someone tells them a book they don't believe says they can't get something they don't believe exists?  Why does it even matter to them?  If they don't believe the Bible is true, then there's no such thing as sin; so why would being labeled "a sinner" bother them?  With the amount of bacon I eat, I'm sure Muslims think I'm a sinner.  Can't say that bothers me even a little bit; not even a nano bit. 

I personally don't know more than one or two words from the Harry Potter universe, but I sure wouldn't get upset if someone totally wrapped up in Harry Potter told me if I did something wrong, I couldn't get into Hogwarts.  Maybe that's a weak analogy, but non-believers getting upset when a Christian tells them what the Bible says makes zero sense to me.

Consider two situations.  In the first, a friend starts telling you about a new restaurant they've been to or maybe a new hobby they've picked up or some other new thing they've recently discovered that they really enjoyed and they got a lot of happiness out of.  Chances are that whether you thought it sounded good or not, you'd be polite and thank them and then either let it drop or go look into it.  In the second situation a friend tells you about a new church they've been to, or perhaps a new pastor/teacher they've heard that they really enjoyed and they got a lot of happiness out of.  In the second case, way too many people (most?) react completely differently, yet the motivation of the friend is the same in both cases.  They found something they really enjoyed and that they got a lot of happiness from and they're sharing it with you because they like you and want you to have the same enjoyment they're having.

Now, I can tell you the scriptural way to explain the difference in reactions - that one recommendation from the friend is politely accepted while the other is angrily rejected - is that the Holy Spirit is "convicting you" - telling you that there is a God: He's right and you're not.  If you don't believe that explanation, if you think I'm nuts for suggesting it, why should you be offended in the least?  If you don't believe there is a Holy Spirit, no one can be telling you that except yourself.  If you're talking to yourself, I guess they say that's not troublesome as long as you don't argue with yourself.  And lose those arguments.

Breaking Change:  I see A&E just announced they will resume Duck Dynasty with Phil and the full family.  I'm sure that will suck up another few barrels of ink.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best Economy Ever??

Yesterday, the DJIA set another nominal record (highest number, regardless of what it's really "worth").  Not just a record high, it was the 50th record high of the year on the Dow, with the S&P 500 recording it's 44th record high close of the year. An average of almost one per week for the entire year. 

StockTiming.com posted this plot of the Russell 2000 Index, an index of smaller company (small-cap) stocks.  Nominally, the best it has ever been, too. 
Clearly by these measures, the economy is better and healthier than ever in the history of the world.  Do you think things are better than in 2000, when the US Debt to GDP ratio was less than 58% (today it's over 107%)?  This measure says it is.  Expect it to start raining lollipops.  Expect lions and lambs to lie down in verdant fields washing each other luxuriantly.  Swords beaten into plowshares.  Peace and happiness for everyone forevermore.  Just listen to your favorite Democrat; I'm sure that's what they're saying. 

Funny thing, that.  If you look at how the market has been behaving over the last 19 years, it has been displaying a discomforting pattern: higher highs, yes, but lower lows, too.
Analyst Marty Chenard, who posts this, adds:
If you don't get what this 19 year chart of the DOW is saying, do a search on "expanding wedge technical analysis".
The short version is that it indicates a snap back is brewing - see points labeled 1 and 2.  When it snapped back before, it snapped viciously, and the expanding wedge indicates a correction now would be to the range of Dow 6000.  The most dangerous time in a market is when everyone is saying it's good.  The old saying is that the time to buy is when there's blood in the streets and everyone else is selling desperately; the time to sell is when everyone thinks it's sunshine, lollipops and rainbows forever.

Dow 6000 would put blood in the streets. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stay Safe Out There

This safety tip on how not to start a chain saw from my emails:

Note the lack of safety glasses and hearing protection!  Hardly a safe way to start a chain saw, that's for sure. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

You can change the words, but you can't change my warmest wishes for everything good for you and those you cherish. 

With my mother's passing on the 2nd of the month, it has been rather low-key around here. My kids and grandkid are about a thousand miles away so no big get together. My brother and his family are off visiting his in-laws in the northeast. It will be just the two of us. Due to some complications, we actually exchanged gifts last weekend.

Churches, like all groups, have personalities, and in the one I attend, it would be remarkable to toss a wadded up paper ball and not hit an engineer, nurse, doctor, or a tech professional.  It's not news to this bunch that Jesus was probably born in the spring or fall rather than in the dead of winter, or that the December 25th date comes from adapting to the Roman Saturnalia or other pagan holidays; nor would they be shocked if you told them Christmas has more secular than holy traditions associated with it and many things that are totally engrained in the holiday traditions started out as advertising gimmicks. 

I've heard another explanation for why December 25th was chosen. It's close to the solstice, the longest night of the year - which made it the darkest night of the year in those days. Jesus was the light of the world, and the symbolism of bringing light when things are at their darkest fits perfectly with the story. Yes, it has become commercialized; shopping, food and football. I love it anyway. Thank the masters of Madison Avenue - propagandists, really - who have learned how to push so many people's buttons - to get us to buy things.  (Newsflash: there was no little drummer boy when the events we portray as the nativity happened - and that was probably a year after Jesus' birth.)

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." -- Dr. Seuss

Hold close the ones you love.  If we're very lucky, this will be the worst Christmas of our lives; everything in life gets better year by year for the rest of our lives.  And if things get worse, we'll remember this as the "good old days".  Either way, hold tight.  "Before you dot another 'i' or cross another 't', Bob Cratchit!"

It's one my of my blessings that a group of really great folks stop by here to share my blather.  Thanks.
So however you mark this day, enjoy it well.  Spend time with family or friends or both.  Remember the good service members deployed far from home.  If you're LEO, or fire; EMT, Nurse or MD, and are one who must work while the rest of us rest, thank you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hot Days, Warm Barrels

Despite the unseasonal heat, over 85 by noon, Mrs. Graybeard and I hit the gun range today along with a friend.  Not just idle shooting, not that there's anything wrong with that, but to sight in Mrs. Graybeard's 10/22 Takedown and the friend's hunting rifle in 7mm Remington Magnum.  And to test out a modification I made to my Remington 700 .30-06 (a 1984 model I picked up in 2010).  

About a month ago, I was ordering something from the candy store, and was just short of the "free shipping" threshold.  So looking around, I stumbled across the Kwik Klip conversion kits to turn the 700 from the internal box magazine to a detachable magazine.  A little crazy, I'll grant that, but why not?  It turns out the installation was so easy it almost fell in place by itself, and I thought I'd try it out to make sure everything runs smoothly.  Excellent!
Ran the four round magazine it comes with at 25 yards, just to remember the rifle, then loaded six into the 10 round magazine and moved out to 100 yards.  According to the Winchester Ballistics app I run on my phone, the rounds I was using should rise another 2.6 inches on the way to 100 yards, so I aimed about that low and they behaved just as predicted.  Those are the diminutive but deadly Mrs. Graybeard's hands setting up a shot on the Lead Sled, not mine, and she got the same results.   Everything fed just fine (of course it's still a bolt action rifle, duh!, but magazines can barf up and I wanted to check it out with the gun warm from shooting). 

The other reason she and I needed to go was to check her Ruger 10/22 Takedown.  We've been having some issues with this gun and it just seems that the Takedown doesn't go back together accurately enough.  She was off at 25 yards by several inches, so it would be off the paper at 100 yards and unusable for real shooting at any distance.  We set it to zero, then went to break the rifle down.  Oops - the fold down front sight was jamming on the scope's front bell and preventing the take down!  The simple act of undoing the latching mechanism, twisting just a few degrees like that and then returning everything where it was put it off target again.  Here's the kicker: we replaced the first (Tasco) scope with that new one (BSA) because of similar issues we thought were from that scope.  We're down to one of two things: either leave it as a plain old 10/22 - never take it down again, in which case it's expensive for a stainless 10/22 - or talk with Ruger and try to figure out what's going on.  I've heard some talk about them going back together a couple of minutes of arc off, but that's all within the center 1" ring of the targets. If it's off 3", that's more like 12 minutes, and I think that's the kind of error we're seeing.

We also helped a good friend zero his Savage hunting rifle in 7mm Remington Magnum.  I've never shot that caliber before, but it seems pretty good.  According to that Winchester ballistics app, it shoots a 175 grain bullet faster than a 150 grain .30-06 by a few fps, but I'm sure the higher velocity and heavier bullet gives it higher impact energy.  His rifle was off zero, which he found on an annual hunting trip to Montana in October.  I think we straightened that out.

I know that the folks under an inch of ice in the Northeast aren't going to like to hear me complaining about it being 85, but seriously, I can use a break for some cool weather.  It has been under 50 twice this fall/winter and maybe under 60 one week total since last March.  It can be hot all year around here, and I can use the few weeks we might get every year to cool off a bit.  To be honest, the only people I know who don't like it to cool off now and then, and especially around Christmas, are the transplanted northerners who came here to get out of the cold.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

And The Word of the Day Is...

Elitist.  While both the stupid party and the evil party like to call each other elitist as an insult, the idea that a small cadre of "disinterested technocrats" could run free adults' lives better than they can run them for themselves is at the core of progressive politics (c.f.).  Progressivism, of course, has infected both parties; there is little difference between a John Boehner and a Nancy Pelosi in terms of the amount of power they want over us or the size of the government they want; there's just a bit more fiscal responsibility in the former. 

It was actually last night when brother Borepatch posted "Elitist Bemoans Declining Popularity of Elitism", a link to The Death of Expertise on Tom Nichols on The War Room blog: Nichols is all butt hurt about the world not bowing to his expertise in foreign relations.  Now don't get me wrong: we do have some people who read a few articles about something on Wikipedia, or on a blog, and think they're as qualified as someone who has studied the subject for decades, but two things always need to be kept in mind.  First, in many cases, people don't get 20 years of education, they get one year 20 times; that is, they refuse to really learn new things, things that conflict with their first year's learning (this is much easier when mistakes are academic and don't punish them in some way), or they never encounter anything but the same things they learned in year one so they don't need to learn.  Second, and more importantly, only the most arrogant, self-centered elitists would refuse to admit that the elites are quite frequently wrong about extremely important things. 

As Borepatch put it:
No, we do not question Expert Foreign Policy opinions on Russia because of spectacular failures of past Russian Policy Experts (c.f. the CIA's assessment that the USSR was the world's 3rd largest economy in 1988), it's because we don't appreciate his PhD.  No, we don't question the research from the current Academic Establishment because it has produced oddball policy recommendations regarding Global Warming and Keynesian Economics - it's because we don't even understand what a PhD means.

Oooooh kaaaaaay.
Go RTWT at Borepatch.  Only a masochist would read the whole thing at Nichols' place.

This morning, I was reading columnist John Kay on Townhall with his version of the 30 Best Quotes of 2103.  I suppose #30, sucked me in.   ("Oh, the guy who bombed Boston is on the loose in my neighborhood? Super glad I don't have an AR-15 with 30 round mags" Said nobody, ever. -- Katie Pavlich).  The one that struck me as completely full of win was #14 from Ace of Spades HQ. The setup is that some asshole named Josh Barrow asserted that a small set of elite (including himself, of course) were better fit to tell us how to live our lives because you and I are stupid. 
What is going on here is that a cadre of people who have a very narrow skill-set -- primarily law or some public policy degree which featured very little math, and that math was Math for Liberal Arts -- have decided that they can comprehend the workings of everyone else's job in America, simply because they went to a Good School.

Well, actually, most of them didn't go to a Good School (by which I mean a truly elite school like Harvard or Princeton); most of them went to lesser schools. But they have Harvard grads in their social circle, so they now count themselves as part of the club.

They do not know what they don't know.

They believe they are masters of the universe, but in fact are masters of almost nothing at all, not even the narrow range of material they studied before immediately going into a career of government work or government agitation.

They believe themselves to be transcendentally hypercompetent, a delusion that they are permitted to cling to only because they've never been in positions of actual responsibility where their decisions will result in well-defined failure or well-defined success.

Obama is of course the apotheosis of this type. He not just their high priest, but their demi-god, a half-god born upon the earth.

But they are all just like him -- sky-high on personal estimation of their capabilities, and yet scandalously short on actual accomplishments.

And these are the people who presume that they can run the world for us, and do our jobs better than us.

They can't. And I didn't even need to see Healthcare.gov crash and burn in Icarus-colored flames to know it.

How did I know that their self-esteem greatly outpaced their level of competency?

Simple: Because I've met them.
Apparently what started the exchanges on the Twitter was that said asshole tweeted, "If anything, the problem with Obamacare is that it lets too many people keep their existing health plans"!  When people started complaining that he doesn't know what's best for their situation, he responded like a true elitist, essentially saying, "Of course I know better than you.  You're stupid.  I'm better than you".  (to be clear: my quotes, not his)

You should read that

Over the years, I've read America described as anti-intellectual, that we have a strong mythos of a lone "cowboy", the entrepreneur that goes up against the experts and wins: "they said it couldn't be done" and proves them wrong.  Of course, this has happened over and over again and our country is full of products like this from the "it'll never fly" of the Wright Brothers to the "nobody needs a computer at home" of the late 1970s, and more.  Of course, sometimes the experts are right and it can't be done; we just don't hear of those.   We're not anti-intellectual, we just have that "you're not the boss of me" spirit; a spirit of finding our own way and finding what's best for us by ourselves.  It's the spirit that made our country.  I hope it's not gone.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Petty Tyrants

While it's generally true that the closer the government making laws over us is, the easier it is to intervene and change them, the fact remains that government in general attracts those who want to rule over other people, and they have a natural tendency to expand their rule over our lives.  To do so, they have a natural tendency to expand control over every aspect of our lives.  To borrow the "Philosoraptor" meme:
Today's example comes from little Kenmore, New York, between Buffalo and North Tonawanda.  A story on amateur radio site QRZ.com shows that city zoning has decided that hams should spend $1000 to file a permit for a radio antenna (not even a tower) on their property. That is for a permit, which may be denied and doesn't include any other fees.
The board passed a separate law Tuesday regulating the placement of amateur, or ham, radio antennas. The law includes a $1,000 application fee for a special-use permit.
In itself, that seems stupid to me.  Either it confuses towers with antennas or it's an attempt to make sure no hams have useful antennas in Kenmore.  A very useful amateur HF antenna can be made with wire thin enough to be invisible from more than a few feet away while cellphone towers are usually a hundred feet or more tall and quite visible from a mile or more.  How many teens, or young families, or retirees can afford $1000 just to apply to put up an antenna?  Plus, it ignores that in most of the country, hams routinely provide emergency communications support that the municipalities can't even afford to provide.  But stupidity is not illegal and if they want to chase amateurs out of the community, that's their privilege.

But my point isn't the stupidity of the law or outrageous amount of the fee.  My point is the city's response when an amateur told them that the FCC had preempted local law, declared they were in charge of such regulations and said that cities needed to "reasonably" accommodate amateur radio.  
"Please note that the Village, prior to passing this law, had no regulations pertaining to HAM operators, and such antenna structures were prohibited by local law. This local law represents the Village’s efforts to expand the rights of HAM radio operators."
Here we see the classic petty-tyrant, control-freak bureaucrat view:  since there were no laws pertaining to ham radio antennas, they were therefore illegal.  Whatever is not specifically legalized is forbidden. Welcome to the police state.  And I add the banana republic tag because of the outrageous fee that guarantees nothing.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Little Humor

I know I've been a drag to be around, but I have this annoying cough and chest cold that just won't let up.  Been taking Mucinex and Tylenol, hot tea, cough drops ... all the usual OTC junk.

And I'm just nowhere near as gifted writing about it as Brigid is.  (Hope you're feeling better, Brigid)

So a little humor.  A friend sent me this listing for an 85 Inch Samsung Ultra High Def TV on Amazon.  On sale today for only $39,997.99!  As sometimes happens on Amazon, the comments have turned into a viral humor fest and worth reading in their own right.  I give you the top one; go read some more.
This review is from: Samsung UN85S9 85-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED UHDTV (Black) (Electronics)
My wife and I bought this after selling our daughter Amanda into white slavery. We actually got a refurbished. It's missing the remote, but oh well-- for $10K off, I can afford a universal, right? The picture is amazing. I've never seen the world with such clarity.

Amanda, if you're reading this, hang in there, honey! We'll see you in a year.


I just wanted to add an addendum to my review. Since posting it, we have received a flood of responses. People have said some pretty hurtful things--even questioning our values. Let me assure you, this was not an easy decision to make, and we made it as a family. Obviously, it's very personal. But in light of all the second-guessing, I wanted to explain our thinking.

First and foremost, screen size. I really think you can't go too big. 85" may seem huge, but you get used to it fast. Second, resolution. Is 4K overkill? Please, that's what they said about 1080P! More dots = better. Period. And as far as this being a $40,000 "dumb" TV, people need to re-read my initial post: WE BOUGHT IT REFURBISHED. It was only $30,000.

Some of you may think I'm avoiding the "elephant in the room"-the real reason why this was such a heart-wrenching choice. So let's just get it out there. Yes, the 120 Hz refresh rate is a disappointment, especially on a 4K. But life is full of compromises. And frankly, we hardly notice. All in all, no regrets.

P.S., as for our daughter, NO ONE has the right to question our parenting. Totally out of bounds. Amanda was going into 7th grade, so it was going to be a transitional year anyway. Now she gets to see the world. How many kids her age get to go to Bahrain? I sure as heck didn't, but you don't hear me screaming "child abuse." Bottom line: MYOB! Seriously.


Has it been a year already? Wow! I guess that's what 8 hours a day of immersive TV will do for you! Many of you have expressed your eagerness for an update. Well, here goes.

Generally, the Samsung has held up beautifully. We have noticed a little bit of lag, mostly in multi-player gaming--but not enough to cost us any firefights. There have been some issues up-imaging low rez content, but that's to be expected when you early-adopt--we're still "waiting on the world to change," as John Mayer would say (gosh he's talented.) On the plus side, we feel like we are now officially part of the cast of GOT. The other night Peg almost had to open a window to let Daenerys' dragons fly out!

And you'll all be happy to know our darling Amanda is back with us, safe and sound. She has changed a little. She's less talkative than before (though she had some choice words for me when I asked her to clean her room). And she's started wearing eye make-up, which has Peg a bit concerned. But welcome to thirteen, I guess. We're just glad to have her home. And she loves the TV. That's the main thing. In fact, she spends so much time in front of it lately, you'd swear she owns it.
The list of other reviews

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Admit I'm Surprised

So Bernanke announced the Feds were going to taper - cutting $10 Billion per month from the $85 Billion they're creating out of thin air, an 11.7% cut in money creation, and the markets took off on the news, with the DJIA up almost 300 points (1.9%) 
I admit I'm surprised.  I also don't think it's over.  But I'm just some random dood on the Intertoobs, not a highfalutin reporter for Forbes who says "The taper, it turns out, for the stock and bond market -- and perhaps even the economy altogether -- matters a lot less than we thought."   I think one day doesn't mean squat to the world's markets. 

If you come here regularly or often, you'll know that I believe that the entire "recovery" in the stock market is a bubble being blown by the money the Fed is creating.  Corrected for this monetary creation, the DJIA has been going down in value since around the year 2000 (along with everything else - that's down in value, up in price).  All that money has to go somewhere, and that's where most (all?) of it's going.  I know there are those who think the velocity of money can be kept so low that inflation is not going to be a problem, but I laugh at that.  It's the perfect printer theory

I expected the markets to repeat the famous hissy fit they threw a few months ago when they mentioned they'd have to taper some day.  I was wrong, at least for today.  But without the constant inflow of new money going into the market, I can't see how it can go up for any length of time.  To be fair, though, flow is still there, it's just down 11.7%. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Techy Tuesday - Hydrogen Cars

In the last week, a couple of car makers have announced they'll be offering hydrogen powered cars, with Hyundai's hydrogen fuel cell (i.e., electric powered) Tucson SUV to be offered in February - about 6 weeks from now.  There's a catch - it will only be offered for lease in the Los Angeles area.
Hyundai said the Tucson Fuel Cell will be capable of refueling in under 10 minutes and will offer instantaneous electric motor torque of 221 lb-ft. The company added that it logged 10 million test miles on its fuel cells since 2000.

Leases of the Tucson Fuel Cell will be limited to California, in part because the Los Angeles area has nine hydrogen refueling stations. Hydrogen refueling stations are extremely scarce around the rest of the country. To make it easier for the car’s lessees, Hyundai said it would provide unlimited free refuels for two years.
To me, this last paragraph underlines the experimental nature of the car and system.  They're only going to lease them, in case they need to recall them all for shredding, and they're going to make the fuel free to help keep tabs on the use of the cars.  I'll bet they require some number of maintenance visits so they can monitor how the systems age in general use. 

This isn't a first, though. I know that GM actually previewed a hydrogen powered SUV in New York City area a few years ago - again because it was one of the few places in the US with hydrogen availability - and was touting this hydrogen fuel cell powered SUV in 2006.

Car and Driver notes:
The Tucson-badged model uses the same in-house-developed fuel-cell stack, lithium-polymer battery, and hydrogen tank capable of carrying 12.3 pounds of the gas as does its Euro-market counterpart. It also delivers the same 134 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque by means of the same electric motor.

The Tucson Fuel Cell’s hydrogen tank and lithium-polymer battery gobble underbody space, so there is less room for passengers and cargo when compared to standard U.S.-spec Tucsons. So while overall length actually increases by 0.4 inch, second-row legroom diminishes by 0.6 inch, and cargo capacity drops by 1.9 cubic feet.
Honda has announced its own hydrogen fuel cell car will be hitting dealers in 2015.  While the Hyundai is (forgive me) pedestrian in its appearance, the Honda is more "daring"; a sleek concept car. 
The problem here is obviously the fuel infrastructure.  Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe (well, except maybe for stupidity) but it's also the smallest molecule in the universe.  Hydrogen leaks out of systems very easily.  It's found in natural gas deposits, and can be produced from natural gas, or it can be made by distillation using any source of waste heat.  We just don't have an established system for storing and distributing hydrogen.  Hydrogen powered vehicles don't need a pressurized gas tank, full of gaseous hydrogen, it can be stored as a metal hydride.

I've always been somewhat of a fan of hydrogen for power use, though not a "fan boy" like some of these sites.  Unlike the majority of alternate energy systems, you could run your car on Hydrogen instead of gasoline right now, with minimal changes.  You'd need a different fuel system, and that's the major difference.  The electronic controls, if you have any, would need to be tweaked, and timing advanced, but that's pretty easy.  There's really no particular reason to go for fuel cell based electric cars.  Hydrogen can be burned like any other flammable gas.  The reason for the fuel cell/battery approach is probably to gather good will from the greenies. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Projects Are Born From Lesser Ideas

Hat tip to Robb at Sharp as Marble for linking to Sebastian who, in turn, led me down the rabbit hole to a home CNC-made 19-by-God-11, made by a reader named Jason.  Very picture rich post here
There are two novel, even inspirational things about this 1911.  First, it's made of aluminum instead of steel.  I'm sure that has been done in the world of 1911s, but doing it makes the home machining easier (it might be possible to use an alloy that can be heat treated and hardened after cutting it).  But the real inspiration is that Jason started with MILSPEC plans for the 1911 and split them down the middle, so that two halves are bolted together to complete the gun.  The one set of cuts I couldn't figure how to make with my micro mill was to hollow out the magazine well.  Cutting it in half fixes that.  Going in through the grip, the well is deep, and deep cuts with light duty machines are risky propositions to start with.  The other problem is that even with the most rigid, big machines, cutting with a long bit is likely to have problems with the cutting bit bending over its length.  When cutting out large amounts of metal like a mag well, the best tool to use is your drill press.  It's the cheapest, most effective way to remove cubic inches.  You just need to be careful because drill bits wander a lot, long thin bits are the worst, so leave a thick margin to clean up with your milling machine.

The barrels, slides, and all the other parts aren't hard to find - I think Brownells has virtually an entire catalog of them.  He had to do some fitting and filing to get the gun to fire, but fire and cycle it does, nicely. 

As a bonus for those it will matter to, this appears to be a Taig mill, another micro mill of similar size and capabilities to what I have. As CNC mills go, they are not all that outrageously priced and capable. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some Economically Free States Remain - The Question is Which Ones?

Townhall publishes a Fraser Institute report (92 page pdf) on the most economically free places in North America.  The institute is labeled as conservative/libertarian on Wiki, for what that's worth.  Take a look at the results (click to embiggen, as always)
Note that they show Colorado as one of the most free, California as in the second quartile and a lot of other honestly puzzling results.  Illinois is more free than Florida and Tennessee?  Both Florida and Tennessee don't have state income taxes while Illinois does.  That surely can't be the only justification for being more free; but how much does it take to outweigh it? And California better than Arizona? I personally know some Arizonans who would love to send some of the California refugees back. 

According to the report:
And here’s the ranking for economic freedom in states and provinces. As you can see, Alberta and Saskatchewan are in the top two spots, followed by the American states of Delaware, Texas, and Nevada.
If you look at the policies that sub-national governments actually control, the rankings change a bit. Alberta still comes in first place, but Saskatchewan plummets.

Meanwhile, the best American state is South Dakota, followed by Tennessee, Delaware, and Texas.
That sounds a bit more like my perceptions. North Dakota, home of the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is just below them in 8th place. 

My impression is that they developed an algorithm - a way to calculate an answer, these ratings - and they now believe it to be true.  In my business, we then spend a bit of time and money to see if the algorithm gives answers that agree with reality.  I think they need to do that.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Busy ... So Cats

Without a doubt the second funniest cat video I've seen this year.  A Cat Wearing a Shark Costume Cleans the Kitchen On A Roomba.  (No embedding - I keep getting weird stuff with embedded videos, like instead of that dude shooting an arrow through soft body armor, I get videos I linked to ages ago).  What gets me about this is how visually funny it is and yet nobody thinks it's anything other than completely routine. 

The Funniest video I've seen is that one of the dogs afraid to walk past the cats in their house.  Everyone linked to that.

In Principles of Self Defense, Jeff Cooper says, "Observe your cat.  It is difficult to surprise him.  Why?  Naturally his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not all of it.  He moves well, using his senses fully.  He is not preoccupied with irrelevancies.  He's not thinking about his job or his image or his income tax.  He is putting first things first, principally his physical security."   We all know Cooper's color code.  If there's one thing I've noticed about my little buddy Mojo, he is never in condition white, unless he's really unusually sound asleep.  Most times he'll look asleep until one out of the ordinary sound happens.  Then he's wide awake and fully attentive.  As anyone who has observed predators will tell you, nobody locks on to a target like a predator.  That's the level of attention that sound gets.

(Mr. Never Fully White - color not withstanding)

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Budget Deal

Conclusion: crap sandwich.  It doesn't do anything to correct the unsustainable, financially destructive course we're on.  Continue to prepare for the coming economic collapse or dark ages or whatever you want to call it. 

You've got to know that the chances of a responsible budget deal getting done in DC are about the same as freezing to death in a Florida August, and this bill proves it.  The tiny cuts of sequestration are reversed and spending increases discretionary spending by $26 Billion next year.  It cuts the sequester reductions by $63 B over the next two years.  There is a promised spending reduction out in in the future.  They always promise to do things after they're out of office, or "in 10 years".  Very few details are available.  Some are here

Most importantly, it doesn't go after entitlements or any of the real problems.  It essentially raises spending by fees (a tax by any other name...)  I'm sure you've heard about the TSA fees more than doubling; it also raises Customs and Border Patrol users' fees.  It cuts benefits to military retirees who are still "working age".  The modern definition of working age: alive.  Not really.  They mean under 62.

The ugly truth is that with the evil party in strong control of over 2/3 of the fed.gov, you're lucky to limit the damage to small increases in spending.

The cure for our economic problems is economic growth, and the way to get that is cut government spending and regulations drastically.  Send the Fed.Gov home.  There is no information I can find on the income side of the equation, but with discretionary spending of $1012 billion, that means the total spending when you include the nondiscretionary side is going to have to approach $4300 Billion ($4.3T) and with the kind of revenues we've had lately, we're still deficit spending at least half of that. 

I guess I can count on not getting a Christmas card from John Boehner.

Good.  I hate sniveling.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pretty Durn Impressive

Watch what a modern crossbow can do to equally modern level IIIA body armor:

Granted this is $1450 "Tactical" crossbow, but cutting through soft body armor and then getting 14" penetration into ballistic gel is nothing to laugh at.  Even though it's only 150-ish ft. lbs, it's very effective when a single, well-placed shot will do. 

The only drawback to this bow is the long cycle time to reload, but you won't have too little penetration; the same guy shows the same crossbow putting arrows through a car door, too.   It's interesting that the first crossbows were used to cut through the first soft body armor (leather and chain mail) and today's crossbows can cut through modern Kevlar body armor. 

Years ago, an older guy I worked with told me that if you're ever shot with a crossbow, you were going to wish you were really shot with a gun.  He went on to tell a story, I have no idea if it's true, of a homeowner who heard the proverbial bump in the night of a burglar in his home, and armed with his crossbow, literally nailed the perp to the wall, like a bug in a science lab, and left him there until the police came. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Techy Tuesday - Electric/Gasoline Hybrids Achieve Flight

A while back (2012) we had a good discussion about Hybrid Cars, Batteries and drive train options.  The comments add a lot to the story and a couple of comments mentioned that in many industrial systems, an internal combustion engine (ICE) is used at its best - to run a generator - and the electric motor is used at its best - to deliver lots of torque.  Zendo Deb brings the smart (as she always does) about several aspects.  Worth your time to read.  In particular:
Most cruise ships today, as well as a lot tug boats, ice breakers, military vessels and the like, use gas turbines (jet engines) to generate electricity. They use the exhaust to generate steam and more electricity. And they use the electricity to run everything - including the motive power to the boat. Trains have been diesel-electric since the 50s. You run the ICE or the turbine at high-constant speed, you use electric power to maximum torque at minimum RPM, and everyone is happy....
(and she goes on to discuss the liquid sulfur batteries big locomotives use and their poor fit into the way people use cars).

As you might imagine from me digging up that old post, this is exactly the approach taken by a consortium of companies claiming credit for the the first hybrid drivetrain to power a small airplane.  
Aerospace engineers at Siemens, Boca Raton, Fla., EADS, Herndon, Va., and Diamond Aircraft, London, Ont., Canada, are field-testing the DA36 E-Star, a plane that is a stepping-stone between gas power and a pure electric vehicle. The E-Star is the first aircraft to use electric power from a generator driven by a small gas engine. The two-seat, prop-driven plane’s serial-electric hybrid drive lets the aircraft take off quietly and cuts fuel consumption and emissions by up to 25%.
And they score extra geek points for using a Wankel rotary engine!  (animated engines view)
The plane carries a relatively small Wankel rotary engine from Austro Engines, Germany. It spins a generator, which, in turn, powers a 70-kW electric motor that turns the prop. The 28.5-lb motor gets additional electricity for taking off and climbing from a battery. The battery recharges during cruising. Overall, the plane uses 80 kW of power on takeoff and 65 kW during cruise. A new Siemens drivetrain cuts the airplane’s weight by 220 lb, which significantly extends its range.
I think I'm most impressed about them improving the weight efficiency of a small airplane this way.  General Aviation aircraft are a tough environment because they tend not to have much extra payload capacity.  They tend to be small and not very powerful.  The hybrid drivetrain has the effect of adding 220 lbs of payload for a given range or extending the range with the original ratings. 

(Side note:  does this look like a macho, rugged aircraft to you?  Looks pretty light and fragile to me).


Monday, December 9, 2013

Forensic Labs Are Corrupt, Too

A chemist for the state of Massachusetts, Annie Dookhan, pleaded guilty on Friday to falsifying tens of thousands of drug arrest investigations.  WBUR has collected its stories on Dookhan into a website called Bad Chemistry, an investigation which they say calls into doubt 40,323 cases she was personally involved in and 190,000 cases the lab worked on.  The lab is now closed.
"The ripple effects of the potentially bogus testing are staggering for the criminal justice system and for the defendants. As authorities review the cases involved, they're also considering cases where defendants received stiffer sentences because of previous offenses. Or cases where defendants risked or lost jobs, public housing, custody of their children, or deportation.

"District attorneys have set up 'war rooms' in their offices just so staffers can research and match the cases in which Dookhan tested the drug evidence. They've hired retired judges to preside over to review each case and decide whether to release those incarcerated and/or hold new trials."
But, of course, it doesn't end there.  Gina Luttrell at Townhall takes up the story:
According to the Boston Globe, state police also fired a drug analyst from the same lab for allegedly falsely claiming in court that she possessed a Bachelor’s in chemistry.

The corruption does not seem to have stayed within the lab. When Dookhan was convicted, her emails revealed close ties to prosecutors in the state, including Norfolk Assistant ­District Attorney George ­Papachristos, who resigned when the emails were released revealing a “flirtatious” friendship. ... One email chain suggests that prosecutors in touch with Dookhan knew they were getting falsified results but pressed forward anyway
Research shows that the problem reaches far beyond a few states. According to a study published last year in Criminal Justice Ethics, the American system by and large perverts the incentives of the people working in it, such that everyone, from police, to prosecutors, and, apparently, even the lab scientists, are more motivated to get a guilty verdict rather than to ascertain real guilt or innocence.
This is a short ways from a story I've covered before: civil forfeiture, in which police legally steal money from people under the argument that anyone carrying that much cash must be involved with drugs.  That's not from a conviction by jury, but simply by seizing assets in a traffic stop or at an arrest.  Nationally, several police departments and prosecutors' offices brag about cars and boats they got this way.  But it's not just civil forfeiture on steroids and it's not just Massachusetts; only eight states have laws that bar the use of forfeiture proceeds for the benefit of the seizing police department, and of the other 42 states, 16 give at least 50 percent of seized assets to law enforcement, and in 26 states, it is 100 percent.  By creating a system which rewards its police for seizing property and that funds state crime labs by convictions, is it really such a wonder that someone like Annie Dookhan would do what she did to ensure that her lab got as many convictions as possible?

To borrow Gina Luttrel's conclusion:
When Dookhan pleaded guilty, Attorney General Martha Coakley said, “Certainly one of the victims in this case, and the actions of Annie Dookhan, is the public trust.” Indeed, the public’s trust has been broken, but not by Dookhan herself. Rather, it has been soiled by the criminal “justice” system that aligns everything in such a way that the most rational thing for Dookhan to do her own self interest was to put innocent people behind bars.

What we have here is not a case of one woman attempting to meet her own wild ambitions. What Americans have is a system that is designed, whether intentionally or not, to get as many people thrown in jail as possible. It is a system that is broken, and it is a system that desperately needs to be revisited. And it’s not just Massachusetts’ problem.
St. Petersburg (Florida) police getting a little too cute with a seized car...(source)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Iceland Can Teach the US About Our Own Constitution

It received very little press in the US, but in response to their involvement in the '08 economic crash, the people of Iceland took to the streets with pots and pans and overthrew their government.
Can you imagine participating in a protest outside the White House and forcing the entire U.S. government to resign? Can you imagine a group of randomly chosen private citizens rewriting the U.S. constitution to include measures banning corporate fraud? It seems incomprehensible in the U.S., but Icelanders did just that.  Icelanders forced their entire government to resign after a banking fraud scandal, overthrowing the ruling party and creating a citizen’s group tasked with writing a new constitution that offered a solution to prevent corporate greed from destroying the country. The constitution of Iceland was scrapped and is being rewritten by private citizens; using a crowd-sourcing technique via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. 
Randomly chosen citizens rewriting the constitution?  There's a quote from William F. Buckley that goes, "I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."  Iceland is doing it.
(Image source) In Iceland, the protesters look like Gandalf.

The time could be coming.  I don't know if you've seen the story, but South Carolina and Virginia have formally called for an Article V Convention of State (COS), and Florida is expected to lend its support to the cause. Article V, of course, is "a mechanism put in place by the founders to enforce a checks-and-balances system for the federal and state governments. While amendments to the Constitution can be proposed and passed in Congress, Article V also allows for the states themselves to propose amendments. If two-thirds of the states submit an application to Congress, Congress must then call a Convention of States to propose amendments to the Constitution."

I've always been afraid of an article V convention, thinking it was going to be a Constitutional Convention or Con Con.  Matt Bracken paints the Con Con in the way I always feared it would go in his EFAD series: just who's going to show up at this sort of convention?  The professional astroturf protesters from SEIU, Occupy Whatever, Organizing for America, and every other leftist or communist group you can shake a stick at.  Right wing people work for a living and can't take off six months to be there  But a convention of the states is not a Constitutional Convention and it doesn't have to go there.  Quoting from the Aiken (SC) Standard:
“Washington will never limit its own power,” Taylor said. “They'll never pass amendments to balance the budget, put term limits on themselves or give the states their rightful Constitutional authority.”

Bob Menges, a Constitutional law professor, is also the state director for the COS Project in South Carolina. Like Taylor, he also feels the convention is necessary.

“When the framers agreed on Sept. 15, 1787, to add a provision in Article V for the states to amend the Constitution, they in effect were telegraphing a message to us in 2013, a message to us showing us the way back inside the fence of the Constitution,” Menges said.
And switching to Glenn Beck's take:
“Constitutional Convention scares the crap out of me because it opens everything else up, however, that’s only if the states are out-of-control. And there are a lot of people now fighting it on the conservative side… I believe this is the only way back. There’s a massive reset coming, and the Constitutional Convention is the way [the founders imagined] it.”

Internet Spotty

The cable guy is on the way to fix the intermittent hangups and stoppages - last night was the first time in over a decade I spent an hour and a half downloading a file (granted, it was big).  In the mean time ... cartoon!
Ken Catalino

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tone Deaf

With all the reaction around the world to the NSA monitoring every last aspect of our lives, you wouldn't think the NRO - the National Reconnaissance Office - would be quite so tone deaf as to use this logo publicly:
The new logo features a giant, world-dominating octopus, its sucker-covered tentacles encircling the planet while it looks on with determination, a steely glint in its enormous eye. The logo carries a five-word tagline: “Nothing is beyond our reach.”
As LC Aggie Sith at Hookers and Booze says, "Cthulhu could not be reached for comment".

The logo was used in connection with the launch of an NRO mission from Vandenberg AFB last night, NROL-39 a mission likely to be a radar imaging satellite, part of the NRO’s Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, which was intended to produce new-generation optical and radar-imaging surveillance satellites, replacing the earlier KH-11 and Onyx radar imaging spacecraft.  An NRO spokesman (the world's easiest job because they're never allowed to speak) said: 
“NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide,” said Karen Furgerson, a spokeswoman for the NRO. “‘Nothing is beyond our reach’ defines this mission and the value it brings to our nation and the warfighters it supports, who serve valiantly all over the globe, protecting our nation.”
The NRO is an agency that was once so secret, its existence couldn't be talked about.  Among the blackest of the "black agencies" (top secret), NRO is responsible for planning and deploying the nation's spy satellites.  The existence of the NRO was first revealed in a congressional leak in 1973, but they still weren't spoken of until the SALT treaty between the US and USSR, when reconnaissance satellites were referred to as the "National Technical Means".  Today, while the NRO's existence is known, everything else about it is still classified: its missions, its org. chart and even large chunks of its budget.  An excellent overview is contained in a 1986 book called Deep Black (Amazon's link reveals it's out of print, and only available as a used paperback).  The book also discusses the "No Such Agency", CIA and other aspects of the spy satellite programs. 

Of course, they aren't necessarily tone deaf to depict themselves as an octopus sucking up every bit of communications, they could simply not care what anyone thinks.  "What?  You don't like us monitoring you?  So whaddaya gonna do about it, punk?"  


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Little Roundup

First, I haven't posted this graph in quite some time, so let me update the Calculated Risk Blog's chart of percent job losses in recessions since WWII:
It's hard to pick the intersection with "normal" since it goes beyond the edge of the plot, it looks like employment will return to pre-recession levels at around 80 months since the start of the '08 recession.  There's some disagreement on exactly when to count the start, but most writers seem to peg it in December of '07 or early in '08.  That means recovery will be complete in late 2014 to early 2015.  But I don't think I believe that.  First, it seems like there's a second dip coming, and second, this is just the "news blurb" unemployment number that the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes up with, so it doesn't include the number of people who are out of the market.  It doesn't reflect the "labor participation rate" being lower than any time since 1978. 

In the past, I've pointed out something that may not leap out at you: notice that the four longest recessions since WWII have been the four most recent recessions, in order by date.  If that trend continues, the next recession will be longer than 80 months, and probably by a large margin.  I believe the explanation for that is the continually increasing regulations and laws we live under are stretching them out. 

Next is a plot I should have posted yesterday.  This is the 30 year bond breaking out of its flag pattern.  Obviously, we have long way to go to get to that 2011 peak, and 2011 was deep in the current recession, so the fact that yields are up is not a sign of gloom in itself, it's just saying that the Fed's policies aimed at keeping interest rates near zero are running out of life.  Note that with the exception of a short retreat earlier this year, the rate has been going up since the summer of 2012.  (image from StockTiming.com)
Pew reported on Tuesday that:
For the first time in surveys dating back nearly 40 years, a majority (53%) says the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago. The share saying the U.S. is less powerful has increased 12 points since 2009 and has more than doubled – from just 20% – since 2004.
I think a result like this comes from more and more people feeling their country and the world they knew are slipping away.  People know something is wrong, they just haven't quite figured out what to do about it.

Finally, a note that famous Marxist Nelson Mandela apparently died of old age today (yeah, I know, they'll call it something else, but he was 95 and stuff just stops working well for most people by that age).  Good riddance.  You can be sure all sorts of twits will be talking about how wonderful he was.  Dying of old age is a privilege his wife denied many, as she's credited with the invention of "necklacing" - tying political enemies up with a petrol-soaked tire around their necks and shoulders, and then lighting it on fire.  An incredibly awful way to be killed, done as a warning to those who were not being executed that day, to keep them from crossing Nelson.  Both Nelson and Winnie are on record endorsing it to execute enemies of their ANC party.

NOTE: Edited to add (12/6 1330 EST) Bayou Renaissance Man has a couple of long pieces on Nelson Mandela which are considerably more kind to Mandela than I was here.  Peter is a South African expatriate, and so has much more knowledge about events and history there than I do.  Further, in my haste, I misread that Wikipedia piece I linked to as saying Nelson personally endorsed necklacing, when it clearly says it was his wife:

" Winnie Mandela, then-wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela and a senior member of the ANC, even made statements that endorsed its use.[2]

One  comment that I like sums up the situation by saying that there were simply no alternatives to terrorism when Mandela was starting his revolt against the administration - it was the living embodiment of JFK's quote that "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." What matters more is how he lived after his successful overthrow of the government.  While I personally won't be doing any celebration of his life, I won't be doing any celebration of his death, either.