Monday, July 27, 2009

Carnes Lord on Weakness In American Policy

Carnes Lord, Professor of military and Naval Strategy at the U. S. Naval War College, and author of The Modern Prince, has written the following:

"A characteristic weakness of the American approach to war and force has been the tendency to draw a sharp distinction between wartime and peacetime."

I wonder, does he think that explains these guys?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on the "Science" of Economics.

During the last Presidential campaign, the nation was treated to one of those so-called stimulating debates that the so-called conservative right is famous for, namely, "the redistribution of wealth".
That sterotypical American, 'Joe The Plumber", with the overt assistance of the teat-sucking media, reminded us all how much we hate the concept of distributing the wealth of America because of its ugly dirty association with that well-known European evil called SOCIALISM.
As often happens in moments like these, I find myself asking questions of myself that no one else seems to ask.  Here are some:  isn't all our wealth redistributed one way or another?  And isn't the redistribution of America's wealth controlled by the corporations and the government working together?   Isn't the trickle-down theory a form of wealth redistribution?
Isn't wealth redistributed daily in the form of setting prices, wages, salaries, bonuses, and, yes, Golden Parachutes?
When CEO's move our factories overseas, aren't they redistributing America's wealth, and yours , and mine?
So, we are not really talking about Socialism here, are we?  No, we are talking about keeping the redistribution of wealth in the same hands where it has been since the birth of the Nixon Administration.
So, how well is it going?  Here's one answer.  
In the 1960's, it was still possible to say that a hard-working enterprising young person could 'work his or her way through college'.  That was a famous American story, revered and justly so.  But it is long gone now.
Today, graduates begin life with an onerous debt.  This is the new American story.  This is the New Capitalism at work.  Or is it the New World Order?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Scandal of Automobile Repair

No, I am not preparing to discuss how cars are so complicated that we are no longer able to repair them ourselves.  That is worthy of its own post.
No, this is about the cost of taking your car to a garage for repairs.
The pricing of automobile repair is established by coded standards based on units of time.  The labor costs based on these units of time are in excess of the actual time required.  The system rounds upward the unit of time, usually in 15 minute increments.  A 5 minute task will be charged as 15 minutes (or more).  A 35 minute task will be charged 45 minutes (or more).
These charges start with a base Labor cost of 60 minutes, due, I suppose, for the work required to start the process.   Some call it a 'hedge factor' to offset possible losses.
Added to these labor costs is the material cost of parts which is usually fixed at a straight 100% mark-up.
When the repairs are finished and billed, the customer finds at the bottom of the invoice, as a percentage of the subtotal for material and labor, a figure for Shop Costs, i.e., rags, hand cleaner, paper floor mats, etc.   This add-on percentage will run from 10% to 25% of the subtotal for material and labor.
I submit that this Shop Cost add-on is passing the cost of normal overhead on to the customer, a practice unheard of in the past.
I further submit that this whole policy is a form of price control and not free market capitalism.  It socialistic capitalism and works only to the benefit of the corporation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On The Good Ship Breckenridge

In a recent post I mentioned the naval troop ship U.S.S. John C. Breckenridge and, my personal memory thus aroused, I began to recall the experience and realized I was looking back fondly at a few weeks loaded with discomfort.
We (a thousand other military personnel and I) boarded the ship in Tokyo Bay for the return home after service in the Far East.  I spent the first night vomiting in the ship's toilets (or 'heads" as the Navy calls them).
This happened with the ship at anchor.  We were not underway yet!  Not a good sign.
I spent the next few days vomiting and trying to complete the cleaning details assigned to us to keep us busy.  A sailor in the boiler room advised me to eat saltine crackers until I couldn't eat anymore.  He said it helped fight stomach acids and reduced throwing up.  I waited in line for an hour at the ship's store to buy a box of crackers and learned I had been given good advice.
Our 'quarters' were the ship's hold with row after row of hammocks stacked 5 or 6 high with ladders to gain the high beds.  Hot, sweltering, smelly.  Meanwhile, each morning, a one or two page info sheet was distributed with weather information, a couple of news headlines, and a handrawn map of the Pacific with a tiny representation of our ship showing our progress across the great ocean.  It looked like we hadn't moved. Depressing.
Free movies on deck each night it didn't rain.  Calamity Jane, which most of us had already seen.  But I stayed to watch it again.  I remember Doris Day riding a horse on a trail telling us that she used to have a secret love but now she was shouting about it from the highest hill, she was even telling the golden daffodills that her secret love wasn't secret anymore.   
While at ships' store, I had bought a paperback novel, The Royal Way by Andre Malraux.  I read some of it on deck but most of my reading time was spent in my hammock.  The atmosphere of that hold augmented the atmosphere of the book which is the story of two men searching for treasures from royal ruins in the jungles of Cambodia.  The themes were the usual Malraux interests of death, individual quest, and adventurism with side trips on art and sculpture.  I enjoyed the book, admired Perken (I think that was the main character's name) even when he was not being nice at all.  A good read, but I know the book is rarely mentioned in any critique of Malraux.
To enhance the malaise of the trip even more,  I got a severe toothache.  Fortunately the ship had a dentist, and he pulled the tooth.  So when the ship flowed into the bay of San Francisco, I was  better able to enjoy seeing the Golden Gate bridge, the prison of Alcatraz, and the shoreline of California, the USA.
After two years absence, it looked very good.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Urine Sample

One of the joys of being male is the ability to pass urine in a variety of  situations, some of which are self-amusing, enjoyable, or challenging.
Of course, in the beginning,  a very young boy may wet the bed, or wet his pants when excited.   When I was in First Grade, I left a puddle under my chair in the classroom.  I remember looking back at it as I left the room at the end of class and wondering if it would be there when I returned the next morning.  It wasn't.
Then one advances into real boyhood and the exercise of one's imagination.  I peed from rooftops, either off the gable letting urine fall to earth or onto the sloping roof itself to watch the slow trickle of pee over the asphalt shingles drip into the rain gutter.
I peed from a tree house, and from many other trees I had climbed.  I have peed in pools, ponds, streams and lakes. Off docks.  Out of boats.  Behind trees, and shrubs, and in alleys;  against the wheels of a car (with a door open to conceal my act).  I have pissed in the manure drop of a cow barn and down woodchuck holes.  I have shot flies, mosquitoes, salamanders and other assorted wildlife with a forceful yellow stream. I have peed in bottles, cans, boxes, plastic bags, ditches, catch basins, french drains, and gutters.  I tried to see how far I could send it and how wide a sweep I could make of the stream.  It was, as Tony the Tiger would say,  Gr-r-r-eaat!
As a man I have been less silly but there were circumstances which accounted for some odd experiences.   Flying from Seoul, Korea to the island of Paengnyongdo I needed to relieve myself and was directed to a relief tube in the side of the fuselage.  "Don't aim for it" a crewman told me, "put it in there so you don't miss."  The urine went into the atmosphere to evaporate.  Very efficient! 
On the island itself, our camp had a 2 inch diameter  iron pipe sticking out of the ground at a 45 degree angle.  Again, this was a relief tube for urinating.  Packed yellow snow around the base of the pipe was confirmed by the footprints in the snow coming from all angles in the camp.
Returning to the states on the troop ship USS Breckinridge, we had gang toilets but the urinals were not stalls or wall hung fixtures.  Instead they were twenty foot long metal troughs for the men to use standing side by side.
I suppose that all these methods are gone now that we have a coed military.
Today of course my life is a different story.  I don't stream;  I dribble.  And I am afraid of heights and I am too old to serve my country again.  C'est la pee!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Shakespeare By The Sea XIX

For nineteen years community theater people have staged a production of a Shakespearean play on the lawn of Carlin Park on A1A in Jupiter, Florida.  Because the site is just a few hundred feet from the Atlantic ocean, the outdoor event has been called Shakespeare By The Sea.  The play has always been free to the public.  People only have to bring their own chair or blanket and use the upward sloping lawn as the seating area.  Bringing one's pet dog and one's own refreshments is encouraged also.  The atmosphere has always been relaxed and congenial.
Last evening we attended the first showing of this year's production of A Midsummer-Night's Dream and it was delightful.  The set design matched the occasions of the play but more importantly it permitted the many exits and entrances to occur expeditiously and unobtrusively.  The dance sequence by The Dancing Fairies looked professionally done.  Overall, the acting was well done with special praise for Alan Gerstel as Peter Quince and Kevin Crawford (also the Director) as Bottom.  An appreciative audience laughed loudly at all the right places.  The only flaw was the sound system which was overloud and out of balance.  Shouted speech was often indecipherable.
This year marked the first time the play was performed on a permanent stage built specifically for the event.  The architect has designed an open building that resembles a large proscenium arch.  Concealed behind and beneath the stage are air-conditioned rooms for dressing, storage, a green room and private restrooms.  The cost was $1.6 million.
Shakespeare By The Sea has come a far way from the first productions done in a dusty field with ant hills, and without water or electricity.  Park improvments over the years have given us established lawns, rest rooms, drinking fountains and hose bibb outlets for pets.  And all is still free but this year, for the first time, the company asks for donations.
I can forsee the future here. The event has become institutionalized.   It has a building, or, as bean counters prefer to say, a plant.  It will not be long before there is an admission charge and other improvements.
I am reminded again of the truth of an unfailing proverb:  Nothing fails like success

Monday, July 13, 2009


"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

from The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stormy Weather

Yesterday I stood listening to the rain outside the open window.  I tried to differentiate and sort the many sounds:  water falling in a steady stream from the roof valley;  water dripping from one leaf to the next;  water falling from the sky to the shrubs and trees; high up and away the drumming of thunder;  rain splashing in the rock fountain, rain on the concrete walk, rain on the roof.  Such variety of sound!  And then a mockingbird sang.  And the wind chime moved in a breeze and gave off a thin piercing sound.  A ring-necked dove cooed.  An Orchestra !

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The C.I.A.Again

Here we go again.  CIA Director Panetta has canceled a covert operation that has been running secretly for the past several years without the knowledge of Congress and without oversight.   After 4 months on the job, he just found out about it this week.  I wonder what else he doesn't know.
Now, an Inspector General report advises that the Bush administration ran intelligence gathering operations that were unauthorized and illegal.
The former President was fond of saying that Al Qaeda hated our freedoms. 
I believe Bush hated our freedoms too.  Certainly he had contempt for them.
But don't look for an explanation.  Or charges.  The people who run things are afraid of the truth.
And the people who are run are afraid of the future.
We have become a fearful people waiting to be told what to think and what to do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Name Game

Miss Ann Thropy

Archie Pelago

Justin  Credible

Tess Tickles

Cal  Isthentics

Bob Olink

Harry Naugahyde

Peter Putz

Bruce Losis

Tom Foolery

Penny Saver

Bill Board

Dr Heckle & Mr. Snide

Mother Smothers

Al Dente

Frank Blunt

Got some of your own?  Click on   COMMENT  and let's have'em !

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Racism: contribution to the dialogue.

Several years ago, Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan novelist living in France, wrote a book titled "Racism, As Explained To My Daughter".  In this book he tells his daughter "You are not born a racist, you become one."
Well, maybe, I thought, but ...... you are not born a non-racist either, yet very few people seem to become one.  Especially in America.
I find the term 'racism' to be a hurdle to addressing the problem of racial discrimination.  A mere recognition of differences is not inherently racist.  To think it is reinforces stupid thought.
The cover story of the March/April 2000 issue of Poets and Writers magazine was the novelist Ana Castillo.  In the interview, Castillo remarks that she doesn't write in "standard white English"  but in "second-language English."   In her creative moments, she "rejects hierarchical thinking characteristical of Western Culture" and chooses instead "spirituality."  She speaks disapprovingly of "the homogenization of Latino culture" and states that she doesn't write for a 'gringo audience."
Is this racist?  Or is it an honest recognition of differences?
I believe it is the latter.
What would  persons who became  non-racist be like?  How would they deal with the recognition of differences?  How would they employ the concept of difference without offending someone?  And if they were unsuccessful in this effort, would they be termed 'racist'?
What man hasn't felt at a disadvantage upon finding himself in a room full of women?   Or, vice versa?
What poor person wouldn't be intimidated by the wealth and luxury of Tiffanys?
At school bus stops, the girls cluster on one side while the boys form their own group some distance away.  This is normal, natural, even comical.  But if whites and blacks form their own groups in a college cafeteria, this is evidence of racism.  Why?
If we can be taught racism, is it possible that we can be taught to see racism where it doesn't exist in order to help us in the struggle to eliminate it where it can be found?
If so, how will we know when we have done the best that can be done?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Yesterday evening, freshly showered but tired after a day's work in our sub-tropical yard, and too fatigued to read or write, I went looking on TV for some escapist feature.  So much M. Jackson coverage, I was forced to  search the sports channels where I found an indoor volley ball match being played in Catania, Italy by the Italians vs the Americans. 
I have played a lot of volleyball in my life so I do know and love the sport.  After several minutes of watching the ball being batted back and forth, I observed a practice, a group gesture the like of which I have seen more and more lately.  I refer to the practice of a team coming together after a play has been completed to touch hands, pat rumps, hug, or otherwise acknowledge physically a completed play.  It matters not whether a point was scored.  Indeed, the bodies touch in congratulation even when the point is lost.
In baseball, too, when a player hits a home run or simply scores on someone else's single, that player is greeted with a standing ovation of handshakes, high fives, punches, rump pats, etc.  Very different from the game of my long ago youth when a three run homer might elict "Way to go, Joe!" from one or two sitting fellow players on the bench.  This group groping is definitely a trend.
Now, don't misunderstand me.  I have no moral objection to this practice and I am aware of the modern day need to reinforce self-esteem and team spirit.
What I don't get is why every single team and sport indulges in this activity.  Other nations emulate.  The Italian volleyball team performed the same New Age rituals as the American team.  One would think that somewhere there is a team that has thought for itself and simply does it differently.  But there isn't.   This seems unnatural me.  Nature  thrives on diversity.
Personally, I find it distracting from the game.  I find it not spontaneous but contrived.
Does this mean that it is being taught, or required?  Is it League or Association policy? I wish I knew.
Probably it is just old fashioned peer pressure.   It isn't easy being free.


"Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program;  in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies, it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism.  And with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities, it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.  A Conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege."

F.A. Hayek, from The Road To Serfdom

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Howard Nemerov Poem of his chosen for month of July

Atlantic City, June 23, 1957 (AP) - President Eisenhower's pastor said tonight that Americans are living ina period of "unprecedented religous activity" caused partially by paid vacations, the eight-hour day and modern conveniences.
"These fruits of material progress," said the Rev. Edward L. R. Elson of the National Presbyterian Church, Washington, "have provided the leisure, the energy, and the means for a level of human and spiritual values never before reached."
Here at the Vespasian-Carlton,  it's just one
religous activity after another;  the sky
is constantly being crossed by cruciform
airplanes, in which nobody disbelieves
for a second, and the tide, the tide
of spiritual progress and prosperity
miraculously keeps rising, to a level
never before attained.   The churches are full,
the beaches are full, and the filling-stations
are full.   God's great ocean is full
of paid vacationers praying an eight-hour day
to the human and spiritual values, the fruits,
the leisure, the energy, and the means, Lord
the means for the level, the unprecedented level
and the modern conveniences, which also are full.
Never before, O Lord, have the prayers and praises
from belfry and phonebooth, from ballpark and barbecue
the sacrifices, so endlessly ascended.

It was not thus when Job in Palestine
sat in the dust and cried, cried bitterly;
when Damien kissed the lepers on their wounds
it was not thus;  it was not thus
when Francis worked a fourteen-hour day
strictly for the birds;  when Dante took
a week's vacation without pay and it rained
part of the time, O Lord, it was not thus.

But now the gears mesh and the tires burn
and the ice chatters in the shaker and the priest
in the pulpit, and thy Name, O Lord,
is kept before the public, while the fruits
ripen and religion booms and the level rises
and every modern convenience runneth over,
that it may never be with us as it hath been
with Athens and Karnak and Nagasaki,
nor Thy sun for one instant refrain from shining
on the rainbow Buick by the breezeway
or the Chris Craft with the uplift life raft;
that we may continue to be the just folks we are,
plain people with ordinary superliners and
disposable diaperliners, people of the stop'n'shop
'n'pray as you go, of hotel, motel, boatel,
the humble pilgrims of no deposit no return
and please adjust thy clothing, who will give to Thee
if Thee keep us going, our annual
Miss Universe, for Thy Name's Sake, Amen.

Howard Nemerov
American poet 1920-1991


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day, July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes;   and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  (italics are mine)

There is always talk about the need for a revolution in this country.  Some people are always unhappy and griping about conditions, trends, policies, etc. The American public is referred to as sheep without the will to fight for change.   From time to time I have been among those who felt that way.
But when weren't governments run by greedy despots, or foolish dolts, or evil murderers?  And for centuries the people have borne their crimes and sins and that appears to be the way of life.
Still there is great variety in the herd, and many ordinary people do lead full lives.  I do not have the power to know what every individual thinks nor the right to tell them what to think.  I do not have the right to decide what makes others happy.  I have no reason to interfere with their freedom to live their lives their own way.
Most people do not want to be in charge of the lives of others.  It is an onerous and thankless task.  And I have learned that revolution, even worthy ones, will kill its dissenters as easily and cheaply as any established despotism.
In the end, it seems, all systems will resort to the gun, the whip or the prison cell.