Miscellaneous Musings & Opinions (2017)
IKEA People: At the Swedish furniture and home accessories giant, "a simple desk or dresser contains, by IKEA's own admission, at least 26 different species of wood from at least 18 different countries - and usually far more. The result is a sleek but crumbly piece of furniture, sure to camouflage into any new apartment. Jennifer and Jason use their dressers every day without a thought as to the work or the materials that made them." It's the equivalent of unpainted pine furniture from the 1960s - although those items, while modestly priced, were solid wood, usually pine.
"We must not sneer at Jennifer and Jason, many readers are sure to point out, for choosing IKEA. Their incomes, though high in the global scale, are likely to be lower than their parents' were, and they often have to move in order to climb the employment ladder. It is only reasonable for them to buy something inexpensive, transportable, and replaceable. IKEA fulfills an important niche in the middle-class market - for cheap furniture that still retains a semblance of respectability. The company has exploited this market to become the global empire that Sweden never had, a kind of Viking revenge on the modern age." But give IKEA credit - their in-store restaurants offer tasty meatballs.
Like IKEA's raw materials and components, the hypothetical Jennifer and Jason "are untraceable, a "composite material" made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees - Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that.
They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionals' kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peers', and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably "spiritual but not religious." They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city ... Jennifer's and Jason's urbane style masks a hollowness." Ouch.
This is the 21st Century version of the 1960s anthem, 'Little Boxes', written by Malvina Reynolds.
It became a hit in 1963 when Pete Seeger sang it. The song has been recorded by numerous artists:
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same.
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And they all look just the same.
And the children go to school,
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.
After a few drinks it sounds a lot like Guy Mitchell's 1952 hit 'There's A Pawnshop On The Corner Of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania'.
Some things never change ... including conformity. Even so-called non-conformists do it. (posted 10/6/17, permalink)
What Intelligence? Ol' Remus of the Woodpile Report offered this damning assessment of 75+ years of U.S. Intelligence agencies. "Let's see how much "bang for the buck" we're getting from DC's bespoke suited and storied intelligence services. Pearl Harbor in 1941, oops. The Ardennes Counteroffensive, or Battle of the Bulge, in 1944, the biggest battle fought by the U.S. in World War II, sprung while DC was certain German resistance had collapsed. China entering the Korean War in 1950, big surprise, where did they come from?
Russia, which DC said "couldn't build a decent alarm clock", launched the first satellite ev-ver in 1957, the first of many firsts, even 'though DC's odious Operation Paperclip "guaranteed" it couldn't happen.
Castro took over Cuba in 1959, obviously some sort of fluke. Put the 1968 Tet Offensive in Viet Nam alongside the Battle of the Bulge. Then it was DC's biggest "unknown unknown" of all time, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Didn't see that coming. Too busy schmoozing with their counterparts at KGB to take care of business, perhaps.
Then came the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 by Moslem amateurs who all but took out announcements in the newspapers. Nobody coulda knowed, except anyone who did their job. And we can be assured they were stunned by the absolutely unpossible election of Donald Trump in 2016.
DC's intelligence services routinely embarrass themselves, decade after decade, yet they strut their stuff and talk wink-wink conspiratorially at Georgetown cocktail parties. Okay. But why do we listen to these people? They're either lying or incompetent or delusional, same result whichever way." Amen, Remus.
Of course, there are private-sector examples of poor intelligence as well. Large organizations of all kinds tend to be insular navel gazers, filled with well-dressed, glad-handing college grads who play the corporate game well but fail to keep in touch with what's happening in the real-world, street-level marketplace. They're trained to be inwardly focused.
Kodak and Polariod missed the digital camera revolution. Most Super 8 movie camera producers never entered the consumer video camera business. Sears and other big retailers were slow to move online. By the time they did, all the seats were taken, mostly by upstarts. Tower Records and Sam Goody never thought music would be sold in any form except physical plastic discs or tapes.
Newspapers initially shunned online content because they couldn't see a revenue model. Craigslist, Zillow, AutoTrader and other unknowns snuck in and stole their most profitable ad revenue streams. Not a single department store forecasted the rise of big box warehouse stores and/or responded to the challenge.
In 1972, I wrote an internal white paper which predicted that chrome bumpers on cars would disappear, replaced by soft, heat-resistant, paintable plastics that would survive low-speed impact without damage. The 'experts' in the company scoffed at the notion that their hard, brittle plastics would be affected. They completely missed the opportunity to develop new materials needed for a fast-growing, emerging market which would eventually reach over 30 pounds per vehicle - 500 million pounds annually. Overall thermoplastics usage has grown from an average of 60 pounds per vehicle in 1970 to over 330 pounds today.
Large organizations have a long and bad track record in the foresight biz. They're too big and too myopic. (posted 9/18/17, permalink)
Goodbye Columbus: The Los Angeles City Council has voted to replace Columbus Day with 'Indigenous Peoples Day'.
Ol' Remus wrote, "It's legit only if they honor human sacrifices, tribal warfare and raiding parties, cannibalism, torture and slavery. They didn't call indigenous people 'savages' for nothing." Ouch.
I have never understood the politically-correct celebration of Indigenistas, which seems to have started in the 1960s when Buffy Sainte-Marie sanctimoniously appeared singing her sad (on many levels) songs, appointing herself as spokesperson for an underachiever culture that didn't write anything down, invented nothing, domesticated not a single animal, never had anything like the Renaissance, Magna Carta, Arabic numbers, noodles, an abacus, Book of Kells or Thomas Aquinas - a people that basically spent two-plus depressing millennia fishing, weaving, hunting buffalo and making up stories about coyotes and bears.
Consider this: The world is full of wonderful Italian restaurants, featuring such delicious dishes as Beef Bolognese, Lasagna, Chicken Marsala, Veal Parmigiana, Manicotti, Pizza Margherita, Pork Scallopine, Garlic Tomato Bruschetta and more. Ever seen a Native American restaurant (not counting roadside stands selling Fry Bread)? Me neither. Nuff said.
Poor Chris Columbus. He deserves better. (posted 9/8/17, permalink)
Sometimes I Wonder If America Is Turning Into Russia: History is being scrubbed and statues are being "disappeared" faster than you can spell 'Joe Stalin'.
Last week's Charlottesville, Virginia riot was over a statue. Reading
Pravda the U.S. media, one would think that it was all about the KKK and Nazis. It wasn't. It was a bunch of bubbas (some were Klanmen and/or neo-Nazis) who had a legally-secured permit to protest the pending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a legitimate historic figure - especially to those who live below the Mason-Dixon Line. Or, as it is now known, the iHop-Waffle House line.
A bunch of permit-less, leftist 'Antifas', allegedly funded by mega-wealthy troublemaker George Soros, showed up and picked a fight. It escalated into a riot; the police protection promised to the legitimate protestors was woefully inadequate and many police reportedly left the area on stand-down orders from command. The Antifas were surprised because they generally pick on elderly protestors who don't put up much of a fight. The bubbas were better prepared and gave these bozo anarchists a pretty good whoopin'. Good on 'em, as they say in the South.
A mom-beating, Hillary-loving jerk named James Fields ran over people in his Dodge Challenger, killing a woman and injuring 19 others in the process. He is, according to a recent report, a member of Antifa. As you might expect, the mainstream media is, by and large, not reporting this because it doesn't fit their preconceived narrative that Mr. Fields is a racist, Klan-loving, Nazi Trump supporter.
President Donald Trump rightly expressed outrage over the violence mixed with sadness for the dead victim and those injured, noting correctly that "there is blame on both sides." For this, he was excoriated by the press and pundits who were only looking for a condemnation of racist white supremacists. Actually, I feel that Trump should have also blamed the mayor as well as loudmouth lefty Governor Terry McAuliffe who failed to protect their own citizenry.
Jeff Laffite Jones summed it up best: "Black people who were never slaves are fighting white people who were never Nazis over a confederate statue erected by Democrats because Democrats can't stand their own history anymore ... yet somehow it's Trump's fault."
Earlier this week, hundreds of progressive zealots protested at NYC's American Museum of Natural History. They demanded the removal of former President Theodore Roosevelt's statue from the museum's grounds because they have rewritten history and declared ol' Teddy a white supremacist.
In Chicago, Bishop James Dukes, black pastor of Liberation Christian Center, has demanded that a statue of George Washington be removed from a city park and that Washington Park be renamed. It's all because our first president owned slaves, as did many of the founding fathers.
In Philadelphia, several black members of the City Council, want Frank L. Rizzo's statue removed. Rizzo was a no-nonsense police commissioner who became Philadelphia's mayor in the 1970s. They've accused the late Mr. Rizzo of inflicting "racial wounds that have not yet healed." Give me a break. These morons conveniently forget that black Mayor Wilson Goode oversaw the dropping of a large bomb on a house in mostly black West Philadelphia in 1985. The city-sanctioned bombing caused an enormous fire and burned down several blocks of row houses. Eleven people died in the fire and more than 250 people in the neighborhood were left homeless. Talk about racist, reckless mayoral behavior.
What's next? Will Philadelphians tear down the Rocky Balboa statue in front of the Art Museum? After all, Rocky repeatedly punched an African-American man. And, in a 1985 movie sequel, he spent time in Russia, working with Russians. Maybe Rocky was secretly laying the groundwork for Trump's Russian-backed presidential victory some thirty-one years in the future. 'Back To The Future', a movie about meddling with the past, also had its theatrical release in 1985. Coincidence ... or what?!
When you're rewriting history, anything is possible. (posted 8/17/17, permalink)
No Pickup Truck Required: Six years ago, I purchased a new propane grill. Alas, it is near-dead. There is much corrosion, despite my efforts to take good care of it. I've replaced parts, repainted the exterior, reinforced the corroded handle holes with washers and other sundry repairs. The manifold is leaking badly and various corroded holes are growing alarmingly larger. It was made in Shekou, in the Guangdong Province of China, so what do you expect? The grill's predecessor was nine years old when it died and the manufacturer had gone out of business. The propane grill before it also died of a rusted manifold but lasted about 15 years. That manufacturer had also gone belly up. Fifteen years, nine years, now six years - not a good trend.
Fearing that the old grill would die any minute, depriving my wife and I of our weekly cookout, I decided to purchase a new grill. It is shiny, has a stainless steel cover and door. It looks very sleek - like a 1930s Art Moderne crematorium for small pets. Best of all, was on sale - although the price was almost three times as much as its 2011 predecessor.
The Char-Broil two-burner propane grill has a piezoelectric igniter and features a "Tru-Infrared Cooking System," whatever that means. Best of all, the store offered free assembly - which closed the sale for me. (The 2011 grill had to be put together by me. It took me almost three hours, although the deceptively optimistic instruction book claimed it would take a mere 35-45 minutes to complete. Yes, if you were a Chinese preteen laborer being whipped and threatened with death.)
I brought the shiny new grill home in the enormous trunk of my '39 Plymouth business coupe, which doubles as a truck when the occasion requires. I had no trouble fitting the new, bigger cooker in the Plymouth's cavernous trunk.
For many years, our family got by with a charcoal-heated hibachi grill. There is a great deal of manly ritual involved with proper firing of a hibachi: the creation of The Great Charcoal Pyramid, the interlayment/underlayment of combustible newspaper, the starter fluid Dousing Ritual and the Tossing of the Match.
As with all ceremonies, it is time-consuming: the fire must be checked on and tended to regularly until the coal is the correct color. There is a required Lavage Observance as well. Charcoal is inherently dirty and you'll be doing food handling activities, so there is always The Washing of the Hands to remove black soot, newspaper ink, residual starter-fluid odor and other assorted filth.
My parents never had an outdoor grill, so I learned these various ceremonies (and Special Loud Incantations whenever I burned my fingers) by observing friends who had cookouts, reading the back of 20-pound bags of Kingsford and recalling my altar boy training as an incense thurifer at funeral Masses. Actually, the little charcoal briquets placed in the gold thurible looked like the Kingsford ones except each had a small cross embossed on the surface.
Come to think of it, charcoal grilling is a cleansing ritual just as ceremonial incensing at religious events. The symbolic value of the fire and smoke about purification and sanctification. In one case, it's the soul. In the other, it's the meat.
The only ceremony in the propane-cooking process is Changing The Tank, which happens twice a year - kinda like Advent/Lent. Or taking off/putting on snow tires.
We cooked a large Costco prime fillet mignon yesterday on our new purchase. It was delicious. How delicious, you ask? Ruth's Chris delicious.
I just hope that this stainless steel work of industrial art doesn't disintegrate in a few years. (posted 6/26/17, permalink)
Happy Birthday, Joe! My son and namesake will turn 50 years-old tomorrow. I'm happy for him, because he has accomplished much in his life so far, has been married for 28 years and has a fine son of his own.
Joe is a talented artist and moviemaker and is manager of publications and IT for an Oregon college. Joe always had a talent for drawing. It seems like only yesterday that Joe was five years-old and I was teaching him how to draw Mickey Mouse.
In 2011, I gave a Father of the Bride speech at my daughter's wedding and praised the accomplishments of my children. I pointed out that, in 1982, for Joe's 15th birthday, I decided to make a birthday card which was a parody of some of his space alien comic strips. Even though I'm not a bad sketch artist, my renderings paled compared to his. Even at such a young age, his drawing ability was better than mine.
At first, I found this development disturbing, but then I said to myself, "Hey, dummy, this is what you've wished for. You wanted your children to be better than you." And they are.
As for his movie skills, I remember loaning Joe my Super 8 movie camera in the early 1980s, so he and his friends could produce a hilarious stop-action segment. He now produces horror movies, has won awards for his work and is well-known to the many people who follow that genre. Joe's artistic talent has continued to grow and has served him well. Plus, in work and at play, he is doing what he loves.
|In this 2015 photo, Joe signs pre-ordered copies from the first print run of his graphic novel, 'Demonized'.
As for me, the fact that my first-born is now 50 makes me feel old. Which I am. Such is life. My dad never lived to see me reach fifty. His dad died when my dad was only 25 years-old. So, this milestone is not only my son's, but a Sherlock family record as well. May he have many more years of enjoyment.
Happy birthday, son. (posted 6/26/17, permalink)
Barking Mad: The June 3rd Islamic terror attack in London, which resulted in seven deaths and almost 50 injured was horrific. If you're even the slightest bit Islamophobic, the large cities of Great Britain are not great places to be these days.
The three dead terrorists lived in Barking, part of East London. While the town has ancient roots, several historic sites and once had a lively shipbuilding industry, it has become a dump - full of public housing populated by seedy-looking people. The largest ethnic group in the area is Pakistani. There are also lots of immigrants from North Africa and East Asia in residence.
My wife and I were in Barking briefly in the mid-1990s. Even then, the place was slummy and unnerving. We didn't stay long. The British term, 'barking mad' - meaning crazy, supposedly refers a medieval insane asylum attached to Barking Abbey in the old town.
Watching the non-stop television coverage of the attack, I was surprised by the many non-British vehicles used by police. The staple of the London police force was once Vauxhall sedans. Or English Fords. The current police cars include BMWs and Audis in the mix. I saw Renault and Mercedes ambulances as well as Volkswagen Transporters in police livery.
England - a nation of shopkeepers, according to Adam Smith and, possibly, Napoleon - once produced many home-built delivery vans, panel trucks and lorries, with nameplates such as Commer, Bedford and Leyland. Commer went out of business in 1979; Bedford was gone by '86. Leyland is now owned by Paccar, an American truck manufacturer, known for its Peterbilt and Kenworth brands.
British van manufacturing collapsed in 2013, after Ford ended 100 years of vehicle production in the U.K. with the closure of its Transit factory in Southampton. Ford moved production of the Transit van to Turkey. Vauxhall still makes vans at its Luton plant, 30 miles north-northwest of London.
Top truck brands in the U.K. these days are DAF (Dutch), Mercedes (Germany) and Scania (Sweden). The Ford Transit remains the top-selling van in Great Britain, followed by the Vauxhall Vivaro, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Volkswagen Transporter.
The company which manufactures those iconic London taxis is owned by Geely of China.
Sadly, Britain becomes less British each year - its cars, its trucks, its taxis and its people. (posted 6/6/17, permalink)
Why Health Care Costs So Much ... shown in one graph:
Regarding those so-called administrators, Karl Denninger wrote, "They're nearly all paper-pushers who contribute exactly zero to actual consumer care. The problem is that all of these people draw salaries and thus drive up the cost of medical care by ridiculous amounts." What do these people do? Many are paper-pushers who deal with getting reimbursed by various health care providers. Others are there to keep records so that doctors can cover their asses in case of a malpractice action.
These medical bureaucrats do not raise the level of your medical care. They simply add cost. A corollary of Parkinson's Law is: Bureaucracy expands to consume the money available to pay for it. The only cure is to cut off the money.
Forty-years ago, health insurance covered major items. It did not cover routine prescription drugs. You used your health insurance when you were really sick. Office visits were an out-of-pocket item. And most doctors didn't take credit cards. Health insurance didn't cover contraceptives. If you needed them, you paid out-of-pocket. Health insurance didn't cover routine dentistry, abortions, sex change operations or most psychiatric treatment. That's why health insurance was relatively inexpensive in those days.
Consider this: In 1961, my dad bought a brand-new VW Beetle for $1,600. In those days, an office visit to our primary care physician was $3. House calls were $5. At those prices, ol' Doc Delaney could still drive a late-model Buick. Most doctors drove Buicks in those days, usually Roadmasters. Doctors' parking lots at hospitals were filled with near-luxury cars like Buicks, Ford Thunderbirds and Chryslers. The few Cadillacs belonged to brain or heart surgeons.
Today, an entry-level Volkswagen - a Golf TSI - costs around $20,000 - an increase of 12-fold. By that measure, my primary care physician should be charging $36. But he charges $150 for an office visit. He doesn't make house calls. He drives an older Honda Accord. Today, doctors' parking lots contain fairly mundane vehicles - Camrys, Ford Explorers and the like.
Physicians tell me that they are caught in a squeeze between ever-increasing, fast-rising malpractice insurance premiums and fee caps and/or discounts demanded by HMOs, PPOs and Medicare. Many can no longer afford near-luxury automobiles. I know several doctors who have thrown in the towel and simply closed their practices.
Cars have gotten safer over the years. Medicine has gotten better over the years. But a bare-bones VW TSI priced at $83,000 would be as indefensible as current health care costs.
Today, a veterinary office visit costs $40-50, compared with $150 and up for a human doctor. However, many veterinarians make more money today than medical doctors do. Why? Their patients never sue. Lawyers, especially the ambulance-chasing kind, are one of the main reasons healthcare costs so much.
Many of the tests that physicians order have no medical purpose; they are simply cover-your-ass tests to insulate doctors against possible lawsuits. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey revealed that malpractice cases lead to more than $200 billion in annual costs from defensive medical practices. A recent Harvard study revealed that 40% of malpractice suits are frivolous, leading to 15% of the payouts.
Veterinarians also don't have to deal with insurance and/or Medicare paperwork and the cash flow problems resulting from these two behemoths. In most cases, vets deal directly with the customer on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Tort reform should include hard caps on pain-and-suffering awards, as well as a board of lawyers and doctors to review potential cases. 'Loser Pays' legislation would probably eliminate 95% of all medical malpractice lawsuits. (posted 6/2/17, permalink)
Bad Restaurant Review Of The Year: And, remember, the year is still young.
Food critic for the UK's The Guardian, Jay Rayner eviscerated the overpriced dreck served at Le Cinq in the Four Seasons Hôtel George V, Paris in a biting - no pun intended - review.
||In 2001, Carol offered a toast beneath a naked marble statue at the Musée d'Orsay restaurant, a very good place for a relaxing meal. For some reason, I'm thinking we had rump roast as an entrée.
"There is only one thing worse than being served a terrible meal: being served a terrible meal by earnest waiters who have no idea just how awful the things they are doing to you are." That's the case at this Michelin-rated three-star restaurant.
Decor? "The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with thick carpets to muffle the screams. It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you. There's a little gilt here and there, to remind us that this is a room designed for people for whom guilt is unfamiliar. It shouts money much as football fans shout at the ref. There's a stool for the lady's handbag. Well, of course there is."
Starters and mains are priced at $75-150. "The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon. It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a “"spherification", a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger. My companion winces. "It's like eating a condom that's been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer's,” she says. Spherifications of various kinds bursting, popping, deflating, always ill-advised turn up on many dishes. It's their trick, their shtick, their big idea. It's all they have."
Some dishes have the "blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dulled brass coins. We hit it again in an amuse-bouche which doesn't: a halved and refilled passionfruit, the vicious passionfruit supplemented by a watercress purée that tastes only of the plant's most bitter tones. My lips purse, like a cat's arse that's brushed against nettles.
The cheapest of the starters is gratinated onions "in the Parisian style". We're told it has the flavor of French onion soup. It makes us yearn for a bowl of French onion soup. It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager's party. There are textures of onions, but what sticks out are burnt tones, and spherified balls of onion purée that burst jarringly against the roof of the mouth. A dish of raw marinated scallops with sea urchin ice cream is a whack of iodine. It is the most innovative dish of the meal, though hardly revolutionary. Sea urchin ice cream turned up on Iron Chef America back in the '90s.
A main of pigeon is requested medium, but served so pink it just might fly again given a few volts. It comes with brutally acidic Japanese pear and more of that flavorless watercress purée. A heap of couscous is mined with a tiny portion of lamb for $100." Read the whole appalling, yet amusing article, please.
Then consider dining at Le Grand Louvre in the museum, under the Pyramid. Or the fine restaurant at the Musée d'Orsay. We've had outstanding meals at each. Jay recommended the remodeled Hemmingway Bar at The Hôtel Ritz as an alternative. (posted 4/25/17, permalink)
Chop Chop: The Trump Administration's first budget takes a pick axe to a bloated list of government programs, "eliminating funding for old stalwarts like the community development block grant program and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, slicing into traditional areas of diplomacy and annihilating federal environmental efforts while dedicating more money to defense, veterans and building a wall along the Mexican border."
Public Broadcasting does very well on its own these days. Big Bird and his pals on 'Sesame Street' bring in over $121 million per year in revenue - from licensing fees and the like. Public television as well as NPR (National Propaganda Radio) are havens for ultra-liberal screeds, with nary a conservative voice to be heard.
The new budget would end the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program (a wasteful windfall that gives transit agencies incentives to build expensive and obsolete transit systems), end funding for Amtrak's long-distance trains, eliminate HUD community development block grants and reduce funding for public land acquisition. Federally-subsidized transit systems are notorious for throwing money away, wether its spending $50,000 apiece for bus fare boxes or $250,000 for a hideous sculpture of a deer with a human baby face on it.
The administration has proposed transferring air traffic control to an independent, non-governmental organization, which would quickly install new equipment and increase airline capacities and safety. It would also eliminate "the so-called Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airports in smaller communities. Trump also proposes to eliminate the TIGER grant program, a relic of the 2009 stimulus bill, that has funded streetcars and other ridiculous projects."
"Eliminating community development block grants would save $3 billion, which is a lot of money. This should be cut, says the proposal, because “the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results." The budget would also cut $35 million for affordable housing."
Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney called climate change research "a waste of your money" regarding proposed cuts in that area. The EPA has become a bloated bureaucracy devoted to terrorizing businesses and landowners.
Of course, liberals don't like it: The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof tweeted, "I feel as the Romans must have felt in 456 AD as the barbarians conquered and ushered in the dark ages." Hyperbole much?
David Harsanyi wrote, "Under Trump's budget, the Education Department would see a 14% cut, which, for those who believe the federal government should have no role in local education, is around 86 percent too little. The good news is that $1.4 billion will be re-allocated to encourage local charter schools, private schools, and school-choice initiatives that will help minority and low-income children escape from failing schools. This might be the best "investment" the DOE has ever made for poor kids."
These and other cuts could represent the largest reduction in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II and will undoubtedly cause a substantial drop in government employees, something White House officials said was one of their goals.
"You can't drain the swamp and leave all the people in it," OMB Director Mulvaney said. Sounds like a good philosophy. (posted 3/22/17, permalink)
The Speech: After listening to President Trump's address to both Houses of Congress on Tuesday night, I turned to my wife and said, "That should have been his inauguration speech." Oh, well. Better a month late than never.
It was an inclusive speech; President Trump used the word "we" more than 100 times. In 2010, President Obama actually referenced himself approximately 117 times during his speech to Congress.
Many of the Democratic house members looked like glum fools. They didn't know how to react; sitting on their hands when Trump made a bipartisan remark. It was as if the Dems didn't know if they were Americans. Democrats brought illegals as guests; Trump invited the relatives of those murdered by illegals. (Talk about one-upmanship!) At the end of the speech, most Democrats scurried away like roaches when the lights are turned on. Including all those women who dressed in white for "solidarity" - to what, the Klu Klux Klan?
The Democratic 'response' consisted of an old man - a former governor - prattling on. He looked like the guy who answers the door for the deliveryman in those mail-order catheter commercials on FoxBusiness.
Trump laid out an inspiring vision of optimism and hope. I was reminded of Reagan's "shining city on a hill" speech. "My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America." After the Obama years, confused Americans needed to hear that.
"When we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began. The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.
We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls. And the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action. From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears - inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past - and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.
I am asking all citizens to embrace this Renewal of the American Spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and believe in yourselves.
Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America." Amen. (posted 3/2/17, permalink)
Faux Rage: Internet meet scheduling site Meetup.com is angered by the president's extreme vetting program, noting that "after the recent executive order aimed to block people on the basis of nationality and religion, a line was crossed. At a time when core democratic ideals feel under attack, we feel a duty to spark more civic participation. Last week, we created 1,000+ #Resist Meetup Groups to act as local hubs for actions on behalf of democracy, equality, human rights, social justice, and sustainability."
Jack Baruth probed for the true motives behind the manufactured outrage and found: "Meetup, the company, just filed for more H1Bs than it's requested in the entire history of the H1-B program." Jack wrote, "While it's touching to think that Meetup is deeply vested in the rights of Somalis to travel to the United States, it seems far more likely that they are just hoping to prevent Mr. Trump from getting enough momentum in his administration to eliminate, or drastically revise, the labor policies that are keeping high-skilled white-collar American citizens out of a job. This is corporate activism in perfect synecdoche: a focus on the bottom line dressed up with some marketing-speak to warm the hearts of dipshits with masters' degrees in feminist basket-weaving."
Jack has written about H-1B scams before and I've posted excerpts with my comments here.
I've seen more than one of these scams firsthand. I once worked with an architectural firm. They had lots of H-1B junior architects and designers, not because there wasn't an ample supply of very talented American architects in the job market but because they could pay foreigners less and underbid competitors. Many of these 'temporary' foreign workers (who can stay here for up to six years) lived in dumpy, shared apartments.
Here's an interesting immigration comment from a gentleman at Jack Baruth's site: "As a black male who is a registered Republican and wealthy, let me be first to say that I agree: The immigrants coming here are doing their best to change America rather than assimilate to it. I have no loyalty to them (any of them) and my recommendation is the swiftest way to stop them is to end the welfare state.
My tax dollars are better spent on Hellcats and Trackhawks. America only has 322 Million (tops) but there are more than 5 billion living in poverty. You can't bring them all here. You can't save them all. So why punish taxpayers by shuttling them in and handing them welfare checks?
President Trump is doing exactly what I wanted him to do." Amen, brother. (posted 2/28/17, permalink)
The Perils Of Collecting: Jack Baruth wrote recently, "The Boomers were the engine behind a Golden Era Of Antiques, denizens of an economic and spiritual paradise who nevertheless couldn't stop looking backwards at their perfected childhoods. ("If you want to be really authentic about nostalgia for the Seventies," one wag wrote a while ago, "You have to get your head around the idea that much of the Seventies consists of nostalgia for the Fifties.")
It would be easy to laugh at them and the way they inflated the prices of everything from a 1959 Les Paul to a 1970 Chevelle to the stratosphere - but didn't I, the enlightened Gen-Xer who believes in nothing, just pay serious money for two reproductions of BMX bicycles from 1986? Yes I did. So the ground beneath my feet on this issue is more like shifting sand."
Many of my friends are pre-Boomers - born just before or during the war years. They collect many of the same things as Boomers: reproduction pedal cars, replica Wurlitzer jukeboxes and the like. Their walls, shelves and dens are filled with Fake Nostalgia - something I've written about before.
They lust after things like two-seater Thunderbirds and do-wop music. The problem with the '55-57 Birds is that average-condition examples haven't moved much in value in the past 35 years or so. And those who lusted after them are now entering their 70s and downsizing. Or moving into Senior Living Gulags of one sort or another.
Such people aren't buying much stuff these days. None are interested in seeing do-wop groups perform because the original members are mostly dead and the licensed ones don't sound the same. Elvis impersonators are aging and have swapped their vintage Gibson J-200s for Hurrycanes. Even Beatles Tribute Band concerts are getting hard to find; the prospective audiences need too many intermissions for rest room breaks. It seems like all the tribute groups performing at county fairs and second-rate Indian casinos these days are for ABBA - a '70s thing. Or '80s metal bands.
Speaking of nostalgia, investing in model cars is also a dicey game. I've written explicitly about that here.
Mr. Baruth continued, "What will be valuable and collectible? My crystal ball is broken, so I couldn't say. Maybe nothing. Most young people spend most of their time interacting with computers and tablets nowadays. Vintage computers have only sentimental value, so I'm guessing that “vintage iPads” wont be worth much in the year 2046. (If you think otherwise, I own six Atari 800s and I'm open to offers.)"
Jack is planning to get rid of his 'collectible' baseball cards with the "Great Duraflame Baseball Card Burning of 2017." Jack says you're invited to attend and bring your own collectible cards. Or flammable Elvis memorabilia. (posted 2/10/17, permalink)
The War On Poverty Is Being Won: Oxford economist Max Roser, founder of the Our World in Data project, provides compelling evidence for that claim. Rather than focusing on today's noise, he and his team look at data to pursue the question, “How are things changing?”
One of his most striking charts concerns extreme poverty. “Extreme poverty” is defined as living on the equivalent of $1.90/day or less, an amount that's adjusted to account for non-monetary income (trading for carrots), cost of living across time and so on. Here's the picture:
Dr. Roser offers this explanation of the picture: "In 1820 only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living, while the vast majority of people lived in conditions that we would call extreme poverty today. Since then the share of extremely poor people fell continuously. More and more world regions industrialized and thereby increased productivity which made it possible to lift more people out of poverty: In 1950 three-quarters of the world were living in extreme poverty; in 1981 it was still 44%. For last year … the share in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%.
That is a huge achievement, maybe the biggest achievement of all in the last two centuries. It is particularly remarkable if we consider that the world population has increased seven-fold over the last two centuries … In a world without economic growth, such an increase in the population would have resulted in less and less income for everyone; a 7-fold increase in the world population would have been enough to drive everyone into extreme poverty. Yet, the exact opposite happened. In a time of unprecedented population growth our world managed to give more prosperity to more people and to continuously lift more people out of poverty."
David Snowball wrote: "I'm struck less by the fact that things are getting better, more by the fact that they're getting better faster which is marked by inflection points around 1950 and 1970. The same pattern holds for global literacy, child mortality, education, fertility and even respect for human rights. ... But the important things are, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, getting better. They're getting better because it's in our nature to seek better, rather than to surrender to worse."
Technology, the spread of democracy and capitalism are major factors here. There is reason to rejoice. (posted 2/6/17, permalink)
Can California Be Saved? Roger Simon is wondering if gay Republican Peter Thiel can reinvigorate California by becoming its governor.
Roger wrote, "Back in the sixties and seventies when the Mamas and the Papas recorded 'California Dreamin' and The Beach Boys were washing us 'Good Vibrations' and Hollywood was making movies like 'The Godfather' and 'Chinatown', I thought my adopted city - L.A. - was the center of the known universe and a good portion of the unknown universe as well. Now … not so much."
In the 1950s and '60s, California was perceived as America's dream, especially Southern California - a land of warmth and sunshine, blue ocean and beaches not far from the city. Then there were the palm trees, modern freeways, interesting and novel (for me) architecture and lithe, tanned people dressed in sharp clothes who drove gleaming, desirable autos. Just watch old '50s television shows set in the Golden State - like '77 Sunset Strip'.
In the period from 1955 through 1960, over 600,000 people migrated from other states to California. In January 1972, I finally visited the fabled state, arriving from cold, snowy Philadelphia - after slogging through a dirty, slush-strewn airport parking lot full of filthy, salt-encrusted cars. I landed at LAX with its iconic, spaceport-like control tower and my senses were overwhelmed. It was a warm night with starry skies ... goodbye, wool overcoat!
Spellbound, I rode the freeway with its a lava stream of red taillights, gawked at the big palm trees, the colorful signage, the always green grass, the unusual desert-type shrubbery, the unfamiliar chains of restaurants (Carl's Jr., The Velvet Turtle, Taco Bell, Sizzler, In-N-Out Burger), the sleek, gleaming cars speeding down the wide concrete and the tightly-packed housing developments - each with a tile roof, swimming pool and privacy walls.
I remember sitting outdoors at 10:00 pm with business colleagues in someone's backyard, drinking California Zinfandel and looking up at the stars, with only a small fire pit to provide a bit of warmth in winter. Not that I needed it; compared to the freezing industrial East, it was practically tropical.
That night I fell in love with California. To me, it was just like in the movies. And television.
Then things began to change. The rot began in San Francisco, which had become a haven for the homeless and hopeless. Crime increased. The city became more seedy. I believe that California-the-Dream entered hospice when people were forbidden from helping turn the venerable cable cars around at the ends of the line (Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf). Barriers were erected. If you crossed the line you'd be arrested. It was OK, however, for tramps to squat and take a dump in any public place in SF. They were a protected class and immune from arrest. Everything had become backwards and inside-out.
There's rot in Los Angeles. And Sacramento, too.
Then there's the outrageous behavior from various Southern California low-brow rap stars, social flotsam or cultural jetsam created by ill-behaved reality-show stars and other appalling entertainment newsmakers.
The Golden State has indeed fallen on hard times, with a poverty rate that is now twice as bad as West Virginia's and substantially worse than the rates of poverty in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. Democrat-run California earned its last-place rank under the federal government's new measure of poverty, which incorporates more detailed analyses of welfare payments and the local costs of food, gasoline and housing. Thank you, Sanctuary Cities.
The state's costs are boosted by its environmental and workplace regulations. Businesses are packing up and leaving at an ever-accelerating rate.
That's what being ruled by leftists and allowing the unrestricted flow of illegals will get you. It is extremely sad to see a state so rich in natural resources (especially its fertile farmland) be destroyed by politics.
Peter Thiel might be the right person to save the Golden State. He's not a politician and is a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. And a doer. Peter is the co-founder of PayPal and author of the a thought-provoking book, 'Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future'.
I'd like so see him get a shot at restoring California's golden days by building a new future. (posted 2/2/17, permalink)
More 'Musings' can be found here.
Other Pages Of Interest
copyright 2017 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.
If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.