Archive for March, 2013


March 20, 2013


I’ve been thinking about moderation, and why it’s rarely seen nowadays. And why that is so.
Begin with something that’s been thoroughly demonized by now: tobacco. New York’s mayor recently moved to have tobacco products removed from view and hidden somewhere behind the counter.
There’s no question that tobacco is potentially harmful. The statistical connection between smoking and lung cancer on the one side, and oral tobacco use and cancers of the mouth and throat, is well established. The US Surgeon General has required large and blatant warnings on packages and on any advertising that’s put out to convince the public that despite the problems, tobacco is not all that bad.
Alcohol, too; alcohol is damaging to the health and causes problems in driving. Alcoholics exist, and so like tobacco alcohol can be addicting.
Cocaine; heroin; other drugs, rendered illegal because of addiction and danger to the health. Cocaine has been known to cause fatal heart attacks as well.
And yet, not all persons who try these things become addicted or suffer health problems attributable to the use of these substances.
And that led me to contemplate the concept of moderation. Native Americans used tobacco for centuries with no known side effects. South American natives chewed coca leaves to obtain the active ingredient in cocaine, and heroin is a derivative of a painkiller that’s commonly used in medicine.
What renders all of these dangerous and addictive is the cheap and readily available excess. It becomes too easy for someone who tries one of them, and finds the experience pleasurable, to decide to repeat it.
A Native American council passing the pipe around the circle is unlikely to become addicted. The same is true of chewing coca leaves. But some bright merchandiser decided to increase the potency of the tobacco (more specifically, the nicotine that’s present) and the alkaloids in coca. Indeed, the earliest Coca-Cola got the name because it contained extracts from the coca plant and the cola nut. Heroin, too; that was originally thought to be less addictive than morphine.
Now that Coca-Cola and other cola drinks no longer contain coca, we’re finding that the sugar also is addictive, although in a different fashion. But we consume too much of it for our health. There’s an epidemic of diabetes nowadays, and many trace that to the unrestrained intake of sugar.
The latest culprit is caffeine, the substance that is present in tea (fairly weak), coffee (somewhat stronger), and concentrated in the so-called ‘energy drinks’. There are currently early attempts to regulate these because some have died after consuming them. Caffeine is also known to result in a mild form of addiction.
Food, too. Look around you at the numbers of obese and overweight people. Consider that there are public and private gymnasiums nearby to help you sweat off those pounds, and yoga and karate and pilates classes to supplement the gyms. These wouldn’t have succeeded in the 18th or 19th Century; people got plenty of exercise and food was not nearly so cheap nor so readily available. But consider now that if you go to a supermarket to shop and they tell you your favorite fruit isn’t available because it’s out of season, you are likely to change stores. The next one imports those out of season fruits and vegetables from places where they are in season.
But it’s only because all these substances are cheap and so readily available that use can easily proceed to overuse and then abuse.
The same behavior patterns repeat in other ways. Books, for example; how many books do you own that you haven’t read in a year or more? Got a file of cookbooks on the shelf, just in case you decide to take up Middle-East cookery? While you’re thinking “Not my books!” consider how often you go online for information rather than take the time to search through one of your reference books. Encyclopedias? Really? When so much is so readily available online and when there’s a backup ‘hard copy’ available in the nearest public library? If you haven’t used any of them for a year, or two, or five, do you really need them cluttering up your shelves? How about the clothes you haven’t worn in years and may even have forgotten you own?
How about gadgets and machinery? I confess that I’ve got things that I bought and didn’t find the use for them that I anticipated, but which lay around in my shop because I might someday decide they’re handy?
Consider the case of ‘hoarders’. Some buy jewelry or gadgets, others collect pets.
Cheap and readily available.
And so we’ve become a society where we’re all addicts in one fashion or another.
Disclaimer: my own addictions are tools for the shop, coffee, and books. But I plan to see which of these I can begin to give up.
Coffee is pretty safe, I think.


March 17, 2013

I’m a moderate in most things, but I frequently get called “liberal” because I don’t accept much of the Neoconservative silliness.
I got involved in a discussion in my Facebook group, The Intelligent Round Table, and the general commentary favored the rights of citizens and Americans and how the government was intrusive and spied on all us innocent people. So I wrote this in answer:
Turn the situation around and look at it from the other side.
Say you’re charged with the task of protecting your people and your government. You accept that responsibility.
Now what? Are you going to decide that you can’t possibly spy on people inside the country? Knowing that there are enemies who are going to universities, working at jobs, taking classes, suborning others? Not fiction; it’s happened and continues to happen.
Or are you going to exempt citizens, while realizing that naturalization or even native birth won’t prevent them from actively working against your country by raising funds for terrorists and attempting to encourage others to attempt terrorist attacks?
Do you believe, if you’re in that situation, that you could excuse failure by taking the high moral road?
Recall something I posted earlier, about military officers: a commander is responsible for everything his command does or fails to do.
Excuses aren’t acceptable. The costs of failure are high, even extreme. Remember Poland in 1939. France. Belgium, Holland, Norway, Finland. Or Nanking, or for that matter all of China under Japanese control, and other places like the Philippines.
Or more recently, Kuwait. Without foreign intervention, Kuwait would now be a conquered province of Iraq. And even when the Iraqis were driven out, they hauled everything they could steal with them until finally being forced to abandon their loot.
I can’t prescribe a solution for this dilemma. I can only say that it’s much more complicated than simplistic suggestions are prepared to accept.
Older, educated, trained, and presumably competent people get to make most of the decisions. But the final decision often comes down to a young person with little education or training or judgment. And at that level, things aren’t straightforward at all. Act, or don’t act? Follow orders, or deviate while accepting responsibility (think Wikileaks). Even then, those responsible people exercise poor judgment, as evidenced by the documents that were leaked. And some of those younger people command aircraft and have literal life or death at hand.
It’s not a perfect world. Indeed, it’s quite messy, because we are discussing humans and human behavior.
If this makes you think, then I’m happy. I don’t care which side of the question you eventually favor, so long as you think about it and then accept responsibility for your conclusions.

Grass Roots Economics

March 11, 2013

Economics, grass roots approach:
If you wander until you find yourself a piece of unclaimed wilderness; and then clear the land with a flint axe you’ve chipped out yourself; and then made a tool to put seeds into the ground; and then collected seeds and planted them; and if the rains failed, or came at the wrong time, you either added water from a bucket you made yourself or ditched to take off the excess water. Then you harvested whatever grew from those seeds and sold the produce.
Continue until you’re rich.
And do all this while feeding yourself and any family you’re responsible for. Also, protect yourself, because there are those who will take the easier approach and simply take your harvest.
Doesn’t sound very practical, does it?
But if you’re not going to clear the land by yourself, then you’re going to have to pay someone to do it for you, perhaps with a share of the crop. If you need water or ditching to protect the field, you’ll need someone to do that. And if you want to send that crop to a market, then someone must build the road. And if you want warriors to protect you and the other workers, you must also pay them.
They now expect a share of the crop, because they’ve done their part in seeing that it got to harvest.
If you want to get rich, you’re going to have to take more than a proportional share.  You’re going to have to exploit the others who helped you.
Or you can come in afterward, plant a field, and then use a road that someone else built and have your fields protected by someone who’s there. And whine about taxes because you didn’t hire those warriors or road builders or educate the workers to raise your crops and harvest them.
And in time, you can manage your affairs by hiring others to do the work. But by this time, you aren’t doing any of that work yourself. And invariably managing others begins to seem more important than simply working in a field or at a bench, so you must take a larger share for yourself.
You can also apply this logic to mining or manufacturing or whatever. Oh, and if you’re manufacturing, you might want someone to protect you from competition. Government will do that, if suitably bribed. Somehow, it seems more macho to bribe government officials than to meekly pay taxes.
Here’s the kicker: if you followed the first example, doing everything yourself, you won’t ever get rich. Peasants proved this over the thousands of years that primitive farming existed. The practice was called ‘subsistence farming’ for a reason; the farmer was lucky if indeed he managed subsistence. The work required is dawn-to-dusk. Children are needed to help with the work and to care for parents if they survive beyond working age.
The other corollary is that generally speaking, if you get wealthy, you got that way by exploitation.
‘Nobles’ exploited serfs, basically land-slavery. Manufacturers exploited workers. Instead of paying a proportionate share of what’s produced, find desperate people and employ them for much less. Or buy slaves and provide minimal housing and clothing and poor food.
Or you can exploit by trade; pay a pittance to the weaver of carpets and then ship the carpets to a place where they can be sold at a profit. The less you pay to the weaver, the higher your profit.
And of course always avoid any taxes; after all, it’s YOUR money, right?
You earned it all by yourself.

Suicide by Drone

March 7, 2013

I hate to waffle on a comment; as a general rule, I don’t believe that there’s a valid excuse to target an American citizen in America. If law enforcement knows the location of the person, then arrest him/her and take them in for trial. But…
That said, I can foresee circumstances. Suppose the person is involved in attempting assassination of a political leader or other criminal acts; and normal means of apprehending him/her are not available. Say this person is surrounded by a militia or other armed group, AKA David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which is prepared to resist legal efforts to arrest their leader.
How many law enforcement persons are to be sacrificed in the attempt to arrest this person? Or put another way, at what point does law enforcement effort become military effort?
And how much right does an accused person have to resist arrest?
Once an accused is notified that he is being sought by law enforcement, if he refuses to submit to arrest then I consider that anything that results from this are his own fault. An accused person is often permitted to surrender at some nearby facility and to be accompanied by their lawyer when they do so; happens all the time.
Failure to comply with the law, for example when police tell someone to drop their weapon, is likely to get you killed. It’s called “suicide by cop.” Add “suicide by drone” to that label.
If an accused refuses the surrender option, then I would see no blame for a president or even a sheriff or police chief or FBI supervisory agent in applying whatever force is necessary to carry out the neutralization. “Neutralization” means, in this context, arrest if that’s reasonably possible, or targeted killing if that option isn’t present.
I’m much more prepared to see the accused killed than I am to see law enforcement agents killed. It’s not uncommon nowadays to see cops targeted by accused individuals, or as happened in California, to be the object of revenge killings. Once the accused was located in a cabin (as happened), why send in cops to winkle him out? Notify him that he must come out with his hands in the air, with no weapons on his person, and if he refuses, send in the machines. In California that meant machines to begin dismantling the cabin. A drone strike does the same thing. If it saves the life of a cop, I’m for it.


March 3, 2013

There’s a fellow I know who’s already been advised that he will be getting a pay cut. Forty percent; he’s the worker, and they are about to have their first baby, so there’s no possibility of a second job anytime soon.
They have a mortgage.
Probably a car payment.
And a new arrival any day now.
What effect will that 40% cut have? What kind of stress will this introduce into their lives? They should be happily celebrating, but instead, they have to be worrying.
Not the bankers, of course. They won’t lose, regardless. And defense contractors? They can easily weather the storm until payments get back to normal. But there are going to be a lot of worried people who don’t have that cushion. They won’t be spending as much, even if they have the money.
There will also be new unemployed to add to the already high levels. Companies won’t be hiring; instead, they’ll be laying people off because there’s less money out there to buy things as the cuts begin to kick in. People won’t be buying new cars; they’ll make the old ones go another year or two.
While the politicians wrangle and posture, the economy will slow, and then begin to recede once again. People caught in that will get more desperate. A period of two years or so when the recession began to slow and unemployment dropped is about to reverse.
It’s not as if we don’t have a good idea what will happen. Just look at Europe. Look at Greece and Spain and Portugal. Look at 25% unemployment overall, and 50% unemployment among young adults.
Look at the happy TeaPublicans that have demanded this. Remember that they’ve demanded those cuts while their sponsors, the Koch brothers and others who’ve funneled all that cash through Rove and Norquist have gotten richer all the time. But also realize that even those won’t be happy; they gain riches through an active economy.
Remember the Great Depression. Remember that Republicans were in charge and pushed austerity as the way to get out of the depression. Remember that it took Democrat-led government spending to do that, New Deal spending followed by wartime spending, to finally end the depression and bring on the postwar boom. The Great Depression also had the Dust Bowl to fuel it, but don’t be too happy; we have had a succession of droughts already. Last year those droughts reached into the Midwest. And Phoenix had a succession of dust storms that rivaled those of the Dust Bowl. The west and other areas too had wildfires; austerity means no new planes and fewer firefighters. We don’t need those guys; Mr Romney said so.
But hey, recession is good for us. OK, austerity is good for us; gotta reduce that deficit! Your TeaPublican leaders tell us so.
Comes the next election, I think I might want to tell them a thing or two. At the ballot box.
No Republican. Never again.