Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Predicament

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why We Haven't Seen Any Martians

If I was out in the desert and I saw that thing arrive and start doing that stuff, I would run like hell. So would you.

Click on the picture --


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Worth Watching

Click on the picture --


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What to do about Gaza

An Unsympathetic Note

No matter how bad Ted Kennedy's health becomes, he'll never be any deader than Mary Jo Kopechne. For those with short or forgiving memories, she was the 20 year old girl who drowned in Kennedy's car when he drunkenly drove it off a bridge at Chappaquiddick coming home with her from a party in 1969.

Kennedy served not a single day in jail for what was arguably second degree manslaughter. Kennedys do not do jail time in Massachusetts.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More Profundity

There are two great things I have learned about my life. One is that almost all disasters are self-inflicted. The second is that knowing that they are doesn't change anything. So it really doesn't matter what I do. It will all turn out the same anyway. Not because fate makes it that way, but because I make it that way. Someone once wrote that the one thing all my failed relationships have had in common has been me. I am the one person and situation I can never get away from. Like Popeye and Hashem, I yam what I yam.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Buddhism for the Unenlightened

There are three main flavors of Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Theravada.

Hinayana (the 'lesser vehicle') is the oldest form of Buddhism and was founded by the Buddha himself. (Buddha is not a name. It means 'enlightened one'. The man's name was Gautama Shakyamuni. Similarly Christ means 'savior' in Greek. Jesus is a Grecization of Yeshua. His name in English would have been Joshua Josephson, but that doesn't have as religious a ring to it.) The basic idea was to find a way to get off the Hindu wheel of existence -- birth, death, reincarnation, followed by more birth and death, and so on. The plan was to improve one's karma by good deeds, by prayer, and clean living. Eventually one's karma gets so good that one achieves nirvana, which is bliss, peace, and nonexistence. Some in the West call Hinayana, the "don't be a schmuck" school of Buddhism. Actually I am the only one who calls it that.

Mahayana ('the greater vehicle') arose about three hundred years after Buddha lived. The basic motive for it was that rich people never made it to nirvana in Hinayana. Then as now, getting rich and not being a schmuck were pretty much mutually exclusive. Also, having to wait several lifetimes to get time off for good behavior seemed to be carrying delayed gratification a bit far. So Other Pathways were invented (calling them "shortcuts" is sooo rude). Meditating, giving alms to the poor, particularly poor and even not-so-poor, monks, endowing monasteries, also worked. The object became to meditate until one reached a hair short of nirvana, but hesitated at the last moment, thus becoming a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva deferred the final winking out of existence so that his body would remain as a visible evidence of the reality of the process, a reminder of the way to nirvana for all to see. They deferred their own final gratification and fulfillment out of compassion for the rest of the beings still suffering on the wheel of existence. Suggesting it was also a cover story for the fact that nobody was ever seen to wink out of existence, is generally considered in poor taste -- which is why I brought it up. Otherwise you might mistakenly think you were just seeing some old fart in a loin cloth sitting around doing nothing.

Theravada ('thunderbolt') is practiced in Tibet and Mongolia. It is what happens when ignorant backward peoples are exposed to a sophisticated religion like Buddhism. First, it never occurs to them to drop their worship of spirits and demons and a million petty gods and godlings. They just add a few Buddhist noises to their mass of superstitions and folk idiocies. Second, nobody worries about doing good works and meditating when you are chasing your yak across the steppe and the Huns will be here any minute. In any case enlightenment and nirvana weren't what you wanted anyway. You need somebody to pray to to save you from the Huns and to protect your yak from hoof-and-tohkes disease. Including primitive garbage in a religion is called syncretism. Tibetan Buddhism is a syncretic religion. The thunderbolt refers to a response to the inconvenience of having to meditate and think and pray and generally go to a lot of trouble. The plan is that if you perform pointless rituals and give food offerings to the gods, they may, just may, and just for the hell of it, send you to nirvana right now, all-expenses-paid. There are those who call this the Lotto school of Buddhism. Actually, again, I am the only one who calls it that.

And that's the name of that tune.

Why Is Everything So Hard to Understand? Is It Me?

This map makes some sense and no sense.

It makes sense that traditionally redneck, poor, ignorant backward states like the Deep South would have few women elected to office, led by South Carolina as the most backward and conservative state in the Union -- an honor usually reserved for Mississippi. The Confederacy, originally intended to keep blacks down, is still keeping women down. It makes sense that the two southern states that have had large influxes of northerners, Florida and North Carolina, would be more enlightened than the rest of the South.

It makes sense that prosperous liberal progressive states like Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii would elect women. Even Colorado, though the home of Adolph Coors, is often progressive. Same for Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

But what gives with conservative states like Delaware, Maryland, and Nevada? Or Arizona, the reddest of red states, Land of Goldwater and McCain? Why are prosperous progressive states like Massachusetts, New York, California, and Wisconsin only in the middle of the pack? And Pennsylvania and Michigan actually in the rear?

Why don't my models of how things work ever work?

Later note --

Perhaps it isn't only a question of the progressiveness or regressiveness of the voters. It may also have to do with the candidate pools. Perhaps otherwise inexplicable states like Arizona, Nevada, and Delaware have particularly large pools of multi-millionairesses? Maybe any woman wealthy enough to buy a seat in the Pennsylvania or Michigan legislature is wealthy enough to leave for somewhere else?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

By the Way

Did you know that clicking on a picture or cartoon on this blog will pop up a larger version of the picture or cartoon? Try it, you'll like it.

Terrific New Gizmos

Everybody who has ever taken a foreign language in school can read it a little but it is still a foreign language. As one painfully struggles through the online text, one is constantly stymied by unfamiliar words. Even with on-line dictionaries it is still painfully slow and tedious. One gives up and falls back into monoglot sloth.

Enter gTranslate 0.3.3. It is freeware so the price is right. It is a browser plug-in so one does not have to launch it separately. It is minimalist, so the definitions are just one word.

One highlights the word one wants by double-clicking it, say "bouge". Then right-click on it. Toward the bottom of the right-click menu will appear, 'translate "bouge" >'. Click on that to get "move". Underneath "move" is a line which permits setting the languages translated between.

All the major European languages are there, including Dutch, Portuguese, Greek, and Russian. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are there. All but Chinese go only to or from English. Arabic is included but not Hebrew. Grrrr.

Pros: It's fast, free, and easy to install and use.
Cons: One word translations are often not great.


Another gizmo which does almost the same thing is Google's Translator Buttons. They are even simpler. One goes to the URL below, then drags the preferred button to your bookmarks toolbar (click on 'View --> Toolbars' in your browser menu if you don't see it. Make sure there is a checkmark next to it.) . If you are reading this your probable choice will be 'English'.

Highlight some text (not limited to one word at a time) and click on the 'English' button you just dragged onto your bookmarks toolbar. It will detect which language the highlighted text is in and translate from that language into English or whatever language you selected.

Pros: Fast, free, even easier to use, and requires no installation at all.
Cons: Pops up a separate page with the definition on it, and you have to back-arrow to get back to your text. Takes you away from the page you were reading. Again, Arabic but not Hebrew.


Gizmo un autre qui ne fait presque la même chose que Google Translator's Boutons. Ils sont encore plus simple.

It works only one sentence at a time and generally produces garbled nonsense. It really works only for single words and short phrases.


There were two large ravens crying out loudly and circling in obvious distress yesterday. I felt like a criminal for spiriting away their little Edgar, until it occurred to me that it was under their care that he had irretrievably fallen thirty feel out of the tree.

Later I found another nestling, almost identical to Edgar, lying on the sidewalk near where I had found the first. So Edgar's being on the sidewalk had not been an accident. Someone has been pushing raven chicks out of their nest somewhere in Gus. My guess is that it was other ravens competing for territory. Good for the individual who does it, bad for the species. Not unlike profiting from global warming. I've got mine. I'm in the nest, Jack.

I was about to be late for the UPS office to still be open so I left little Allen on the sidewalk until I got back from my errand. When I got back he was gone. I have a bad feeling about this.

There are cats in the neighborhood but I was in a hurry and I figured they wouldn't get him before I got back. I was also afraid I would look like an idiot for calling Animal Control again the next day with another little raven. And he had so little bargaining power.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Emily Latella Says.....

Never mind. Animal Control showed up and took Edgar off to wherever they take homeless little ravens. Edgar had perked up considerably from the water and the meal worm and was ready to meet his new life. I was surprised to see, when the officer opened the truck, that instead of a cage, there was a bust of Homer for Edgar to perch on. I asked the officer whether I would ever see little Edgar again. Quoth he, ".....

A Golden Opportunity

When I got home with a mattress and box spring from Costco this afternoon, there was something on the sidewalk that I thought at first was a crumpled plastic bag. On closer inspection it turned out to be a bird. On still closer inspection it proved to be a juvenile raven, still in its down, partial wing feathers, and no tail feathers at all. My first impulse was to dither. My second was to call County Animal Control. Their first impulse was to dither. Their second was to call somebody else. Someone may or not call me tomorrow. In the meantime the local ants were taking an interest in the nestling. Being eaten alive by ants did not seem a fitting end even to a little bird so I put on work gloves and went out and put it in a box with torn up newspapers and brought it in the house.

It had been lying on a hot sidewalk on a hot day so I figured it was probably dehydrated and likely to die of that. So I went to the local mall pet food store and got plastic syringes and meal worms. I have been forcing open its beak and squirting water in its mouth every hour for two hours now. It has recovered enough to be able to raise its head. In a couple more hours I will try to get it to eat a meal worm (the raven chick may eventually come to think of me as Mother Teresa -- I doubt the meal worms will.). On the third try I got the meal worm in his mouth and he closed his beak. I don't know if he has swallowed it yet but I assume he will eventually.

So here's the problem. I am leaving for the summer on Monday, Tuesday at the latest. I am going to attempt to bicycle across Canada south to north. After that I plan to go to an eclipse in China in August. When Animal Control doesn't show tomorrow, what do I do with the raven?

According to wikipedia, ravens are considered highly intelligent, make good pets, and have been known to live up to 40 years in captivity. So it could be pet for a child to grow up with, or for an older person a pet that can outlive you. It could become a boomer heirloom. You could teach it to say, "Nevermore", and write anguished poetry about it. Tentative name is Edgar.

There has to be someone out there in blog land who will have pity on a poor little bird (who will eventually grow up to be a grand big bird.). According to wikipedia ravens are omnivores and eat most things that people eat, much like a dog. Time to step off the sameness of dog, cat, goldfish. Find out from the original source if there is balm in Gilead, whether you'll ever see Lenore again. Get a raven. Now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Warm Puppy

Things seem at last to be working out. I have tenants for my house, a prospect of a place to store the Pachyderm, a real estate lady who is willing to, and sounds capable of, taking care of the house while I'm gone, and the stock market is up a little bit.

I have to buy mattresses and furniture for the Irish girls from Trinity College Dublin who will be here. But they (the mattresses and furniture) will be in the nature of an investment. I learned from Mark and Wendy about a website called VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) which brokers renting one's house by the week or month to out-of-towners. With the euro so high, Europeans can spend a lot of dollars without spending many euros. Next summer I will be ready with plans and furnishings to rent the house all summer long.

The exciting thing is the astronomical rents people are getting for weekly rentals. When I saw the same sort of thing in France I thought they were pretty reasonable until I realized the rents quoted were per week, not month. VRBO is the same thing only in the US. I had thought one had to be European to have the effrontery to charge so much. I just have to work on being pointlessly rude and I will become a Frenchman. (Not true. The French are actually quite polite, but that is the stereotype, based on harried Parisian waiters in August. Many of them were student leftists working summer jobs, and who used to all be Maoists. Ancient history now.)

I will live in the little apartment and become my own concierge. Or, if I can really get everything to break my way, I could leave next summer too and rent the little apartment in return for conciergerie of the big one.

Anyway, I am elating too much too fast. For now it will suffice to just get my act together to get out of here and go bicycling in Canada and not get hurt along the way. I expect to be out of here by Monday. Or so.

I even put up a venetian blind in the front room. I was frustrated at Home Depot because the window measured 32.75 inches and the nearest size they had was 33", no 32" anywhere. Grrr. I was too annoyed to just let it go and just before giving up on having the thing cut by the never-to-be-found employees, I noticed in eensy-beensy tiny little type that the "actual size is 32.5" " Whatever. I happily bought it from a self-checkout machine that kept describing me as an unexpected object in the bagging area. Then came home and put it up. Now the sun is no longer daily reducing my red front room rug to a red rug with an ochre corner. Hooray!

The secret of happiness they say is to be easily amused. I think I'm there.

Even Bastards Can Be Right Some of the Time

______ Wow! A chance to make up a new word! I googled Ford Super Chief 250 and it turns out to have a triflex engine. With the usual corporate animosity to the English language and clear speech and meanings, that means a tri-fuel engine. It can run on gasoline, E-85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), and hydrogen. It uses a supercharger to run on hydrogen.

Of course there is no hydrogen in service stations yet and precious little E-85. But that isn't Ford's fault. On the other hand, when there starts to be hydrogen available, it will be in short supply. So the Ford SuperChief will transition seamlessly from being a gas-guzzler to being a hydrogen-guzzler.

But for marketing purposes, Ford is right in thinking that American pickup buyers will never buy hydrogen powered trucks if they see them as wimpy substitutes. A huge luxurious truck with a massive V10 is the right thing to do to get these things out the door and onto the road. For the transition to hydrogen-powered vehicles to work, people have to want them.


A cyclone has devastated Myanmar, leaving tens of thousands of Burmese dead, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, homeless. The Myanmar military government has reacted by actively resisting foreign efforts to send food and medical aid to the Burmese victims of the cyclone. The reasons seem to be that both local and national officials expect substantial bribes to let the rescue effort proceed.

Yesterday an enormous earthquake leveled large areas of Sichuan province in China. About ten thousand Chinese are thought to have died and hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, are homeless. Units of the People's Liberation Army have been sent to do rescue work. The local police have been directed to do rescue work. Civilian agencies from all over China have been sent to the area to help with the rescue and recovery effort. Premier Wen Jibao has flown to the area from Beijing and is directing the rescue effort. There has been criticism of the Olympic torch festivities going on at a time of national disaster and they have been scaled back.

The Myanmar government is able to extract bribes from Western governments and aid agencies because the Westerners care what happens to the Burmese people and are strongly motivated to do something about it. The Mayanmar authorities both as individuals and as an institution clearly don't care. They are conscious of the difference to be able to extract money from the Westerners on the basis of the difference of motivation. The government's indifference to the suffering of its people suggests that it is not a legitimate government, but rather a tyranny of usurpers.

The Chinese Communist government, though no more elected than the Burmese government, is highly motivated and is eager to do everything it can, and is eager to be SEEN to do everything it can to succor its people. The Chinese government is not elected and cannot be said to rule through the will of the people. But their eagerness to help and to be seen to help suggests that they rule with the consent of the people. It is an example of how a government can be legitimate though unelected.

The government of China is legitimate. The government of Myanmar are a bunch of bastards.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Fighting in Khartoum

Rebel forces about 3,000 strong, entered Khartoum, the capital of Sudan yesterday. They were repulsed after fierce fighting with better-armed government forces. There were heavy casualties on both sides. The Sudanese government broke relations with Chad, claiming the Chadian government had sheltered the rebel forces on its territory. There were rumors of the arrests of many mid-ranking officers in the Sudanese army on suspicion of their supporting the rebels.

To Western eyes it is an inexplicable outbreak of horrifying violence among primitives over issues to us both obscure and trivial. Why did it happen?

There are the immediate causes that each side had in mind. Government brutality toward Darfuris, government brutality generally, opportunism, clan and regional rivalry, corruption, and a list of specifics of no interest to anyone outside Sudan. In a larger sense it is caused by Islam's preaching of violence. (Those who claim Islam does not preach violence have not read the Koran and are unaware of Muslim history, or they are pulling your leg.) In a larger sense it is caused by poverty. It is not the poor who are fighting, certainly not on the government side. Poor people in places like Sudan are concerned about getting enough to eat, today, right now, to invest much effort in politics. But poverty is the precondition for the fighting.

Switzerland is German and Catholic in the east, French and Calvinist in the west, Italian and pagan in the south. The Swiss federal government has little power. Even the cantons haven't much power over their citizens. Yet with so much to fight about and so little to restrain them, the Swiss don't even consider fighting among themselves. But it isn't just Swiss prosperity versus Sudanese poverty. There is something deeper.

I suspect that poverty, as important as it is, is only one large symptom of population growth. Population growth leads to social misery and instability directly. Even extreme poverty doesn't necessarily lead to instability. Population growth leads to social instability and to poverty separately. The poverty exacerbates the social instability but doesn't cause it. It seems like a fine distinction, but it is one that is useful to make where we find poverty and instability not matching exactly.

I haven't done it yet, but I think that birthrate and per capita income would line up with a pretty strong negative correlation. Rich countries like Japan and Finland have low birth rates and high incomes. Even more strikingly, countries that reduce their birth rates, like China and India, find their incomes rising and their societies more stable. High birth rate, expansionist, militarist, 1930's Japan was not especially poor. It has become peaceful, low birth rate, modern Japan. The correlation is really between stability and birth rate, not just wealth.

Growing 18th and 19th Century European society experienced prolonged wars and revolutions, and relieved its population pressure with mass immigration to the empires its instability and aggression had won, and to the United States. The high birth rate 19th century United States exported its growing population across a vast continent.

A low birth rate does not necessarily cause wealth, but it does cause stability. The most dramatic example is the Soviet Union and its successor states. The European parts of the Soviet Union had among the lowest birthrates in Europe. Here an enormous country of more than 300 million people, had its government collapse. It satellites spun off from it. It was then partitioned into 16 smaller countries. Its entire social system was revamped and changed from a parody of socialism to a parody of capitalism in a few short years. There were well-known abuses and large-scale corruption in the process. Then the new capitalist economy collapsed and the ruble lost almost all its value. Living standards fell sharply and have only lately begun to recover. With all those gut-wrenching changes, there has been very little violence anywhere in the European successor republics, Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, and so on, the ones with low birth rates. Imagine if those changes had happened in, say, Pakistan. Or Sudan.

The countries in the world with the highest birthrates are often the ones with the highest population growth rates but not necessarily. Sadly in many African countries, the infant and child mortality rates are so high that there is not much population growth in spite of extraordinarily high birth rates. As infant and child mortality has been brought in check in many of these countries, population growth has led to growing instability. One has only to think of the endless civil war in Angola, the fighting in what is again called the Congo, in Uganda, Rwanda, the civil wars in Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, now in Sudan, and so on.

Much to no one's surprise, the highest birth rate outside Africa is in Afghanistan, then Gaza, then the West Bank. Before the war with the Russians for the Afghans, and the Intifadas for the Palestinians, neither were notably poorer than other less developed countries. Indeed, the Palestinians, with access to Israeli social and economic assets, were among the more prosperous.

One of the many lies and libels the Palestinians have invented against Israel was the charge of genocide. The Israelis pointed out that Palestinian numbers had quadrupled and joked that "This is what happens when you put Jews in charge of a genocide." The Jewish secret weapon, laughter, silenced that particular Palestinian canard.

Applying the same logic to the world at large, we can expect that the current four or five centuries of population growth and corresponding instability should begin to abate as world population reaches a predicted peak around 2050. There will continue to be regions of continued growth and instability for a long time afterward. But even those shoud eventually abate. The problem one forsees is that the areas of growth and instability will expand into the shrinking areas of wealth and stability. This is already evident in the Muslim settlement of Europe.

If my theory is correct the world will continue to change rapidly and in unexpected ways. So what else is new?

Friday, May 09, 2008

How Dishonest Is The Press?

We learn from this morning's Times that Senator Obama's trove of super-delegates has just risen to equal Senator Clinton's.    Wait, hasn't Mrs. Clinton been fatally far behind in delegates and just been stubbornly hanging on out of sheer nastiness?  Or has the press been lying to us?  

The fact is that there is a known future and hints of it have slipped out a drib and a drab at a time.  It is this - Mr.  Obama and Mrs. Clinton will hotly contest each and every primary election until the last of them is over on June 3 when New Mexico, Montana, and the Dakotas have their say. There will then be a pre-convention of super-delegates.  

According to Wikipedia there are 3253 popularly elected (pledged) delegates and 793 unpledged super-delegates, about 4/5 and 1/5 respectively.    The custom at nominating conventions is that once the nomination has been decided upon, each delegation asks for, and gets, permission to change its votes.  It then changes its votes to vote unanimously for the nominee.   There is then a brief demonstration in which the delegates run around with signs and funny hats and make fools of themselves on national television.   There is every reason to believe that an essentially identical process will take place during the pre-convention of the super-delegates.   (Except the demonstrations with the signs and funny hats.)

The pre-convention may not even physically meet.   It may be done through a rump of the most influential meeting in a posh hotel somewhere or it may be done electronically.   But in all likelihood, after the deal-making and the threats and promises have all worked out to agreement on one or other of the candidates, the vote will then be unanimous.   The final vote among the super-delegates will be 793 to 0.  

Which will easily swamp whatever tiny lead in pledged elected delegates either candidate went into the pre-convention with.   As intended by the designers of the system, the super-delegates will pick the nominee.   

And Mrs.  Clinton until today was ahead in super-delegates.  Which means that until today she, and not Mr. Obama, was ahead in the nomination race.  Which the press has forgotten to mention so much as once until they could report that Mr. Obama had pulled even.   

It is no longer any secret that the contest for the nomination has long since become a class struggle.  Blue and white collar white workers generally support Mrs. Clinton.  A coalition of black people and prosperous college-educated whites support Mr. Obama.   A moment's thought shows the truth of Mrs. Clinton's remark that Mr. Obama would not be where he is now were it not for his being black.  If Mr. Obama were white, black voters would be voting their class rather than their race and Mrs. Clinton would already have the nomination.  Of course, if he were white the prosperous white liberals wouldn't be supporting him either and he would be one among the six candidates already eliminated, and we wouldn't be having this discussion.  The manipulativeness and hypocrisy of the Obama campaign in objecting to any mention of race, when his campaign is based on little but race and rhetoric, is so grating that I would readily oppose him if I did not despise the other two candidates so much.

But returning to the super-delegate question, why would the press have omitted from its voluminous-unto-obsessive coverage of the nomination race any mention of who was actually ahead in it?   Mrs. Clinton is the candidate of the workers.  Mr. Obama is the candidate of the middle class professionals.  Which class does the press fall in?


Thursday, May 08, 2008

And I Can Prove It!

Come Onna My House, Come On, Come On

Permit me to be the rude bastard who points out the turd in the punchbowl. The wonderful "entrepreneurs", "businesspeople", "investors", and other such euphemisms, are the speculators and profiteers who have brought our economy to its knees.

During boom times they buy up endless amounts of residential real estate and force prices to artificially inflated levels. Speculators buy from speculators and sell to other speculators. Prices spiral ever-higher. The speculators harvest money while producing nothing. Families who want housing for such unimaginative purposes as living in it, are priced out. That is what the complaint was in the housing market during most of the past few years, was it not?

The crash that follows is inevitable because housing prices are supported by neither value nor utility. When the turndown comes, the speculators, having no reason to keep the property they bought solely for appreciation, all run for the doors at the same time to unload their now-declining-in-price properties. There is an immediate glut on the market and prices plummet. Real homeowners now get stuck with houses worth less than what they owe on them. They are faced with either being unable to sell or taking a huge loss if they do.

These disastrous fluctuations achieve exactly the opposite of what a free market governed by supply-and-demand is supposed to achieve. Instead of supplying a life necessity at a price corresponding to people's demand for housing and industry's ability to supply it, it penalizes and endangers home buyers and home sellers, precisely those whom it is supposed to serve.

Speculation so distorts the market that we find economic waste and absurdity such as one-fourth of the housing in Phoenix standing empty.

The reason for the distortion and instability is not hard to find. The government has given favored tax treatment to homeowners and made our mortgage interest deductible. Congress did that because it is a generally shared view that home ownership is to be encouraged. That a large number of Americans should own their own homes is generally agreed to be in the public interest.

However the homeowners interest deduction has been extended to speculators. What public interest is served by encouraging speculation and speculators? Speculation in housing is about as much in the public interest as selling cigarettes in schools.

If the government can intervene in the housing market with a tax policy to encourage home ownership, it can intervene with a tax policy to make speculation unprofitable.

It would be as simple as eliminating deductibility of mortgage interest for more than one residence. Which is what the law actually was until a few years ago when the speculators bribed the Republicans under Reagan to change it. (Campaign contributions aren't bribes? Dream on.)

It isn't just the president who is up for election this fall. Every congressman and every third senator is up for election as well. McCain has already said that the Republican policy will be more of the same. It is time to turn the rascals out.

In the meantime, if you meet one of Francine's "investors", spit on his shoes.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

More Product-ery

[The Sage of Chico]

Once again the Sage of Chico has straightened out my view of reality. If everybody wants to rip off DVD movies, they must already have devised a way of doing it, he said. Look for software that will do that, he counselled. He was right. Not only is there a whole genre of software that will convert DVD movie files to files copyable and transferable on your pc or Mac, but they are relatively cheap. Such softwares are, appropriately, called 'rippers'. Ostensibly because they rip the tracks out of the album or video. As though we believed that.

I downloaded a trial version for free, tested that it worked satisfactorily, then paid $29 for a version that did not print "trial version" on every frame.

The ripped files can be played on one's pc or Mac or transferred to a device that will play MP-4's such as one's iPod. If I had been willing to spring for $45 I could have gotten a ripper that would convert to any file format one wanted.

To quote an old friend, "Copyright licenses? We don't got to show you no stinking copyright licenses!"

The caveat here is that not all pirates are honest. According to a review I read, many rippers are not only home-made and work badly, but also contain suites of spywares. Price does not correlate with quality. Google on 'DVD converters' for reviews.

The absurdly too-large iPod is now merely larger than I could ever have time to fill with movies. It loads about 4 times real time so a 2 hour movie is converted in 30 minutes. But there is still the opportunity to transfer photos to it. I wonder if it accepts RAW files?

...time passes while he googles...

It will store RAW files but won't display them. As to them it is thus a storage device rather than a display device. Good enough. For a long bicycle trip in which there will be lots of pictures but few opportunities to store them to external hard drive or DVD, more than good enough.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Nucking Futs!

Jack in Consumerland
I bought an iPod classic on which to store audiobooks. My intention is to listen to them while bicycling in the Great White North. I expect/hope to be gone the whole summer so I figured that I would want a lot of them, and correspondingly, would want as large a storage device as possible. So I got the bigger of the 2 iPod Classics, the one with 160 GB. I have been looting first the North Berkeley Public Library, and now the Berkeley Main Library, of their books on CD. I have been just pouring these things into the iPod night and day for several days now.

I have saved 171 discs so far, almost all of them just over an hour long. Each disc contains about 700 MB, so one would think I had used up 171 x 700 MB, roughly 120 GB. On the one hand, because of formatting losses, there are only 146 GB usable on the iPod. On the other, in the process of loading and transferring the files, iTunes apparently compresses them. So I still have 142 GB free.

Which means that the amount of audiobooks I can store on the thing is boggling and way beyond any possible use.

If I can transfer the files back to the computer's iTunes library, I wouldn't have to load them again if I were to get a different device and want them on that instead. Which means I could return the iPod Classic, i.e. Old, and get an iPod New. The newer ones have all sorts of features - a wi-fi browser, applications, maybe a telephone, a camera, a slot machine, a steam iron, whatever. I had dismissed iPod New when I was deciding what to get because it holds no more than 8 GB. Now I realize that 8 GB would hold every audiobook in every library in the Bay Area.

So I may greed out and get a bunch of functions I neither need nor want. Calm yourself, Jack. The pictures of the iPod New are nice, but what is the point?

The one thing one that would really suck up vast amounts of storage, movies on DVD, won't load. So there really is no reason for this thing at all. Or, I guess I could use it as a backup storage device for the pictures I presumably will take during the summer. That is actually a reasonable use to make of it. But at least I will check if any of the bells and whistles on the iPod New call to me. More shoppping online....enough already.

The View from the Hills Revisited

The Four Horsemen

Guidelines were announced today by a committee charged with deciding in case of pandemic whom to save and whom to abandon so as to conserve medical resources. The people on the committee were from the AMA, from Homeland Security, and so on.

Those selected for death are people over 85, those with serious mental impairment, burn victims over 60, severe trauma victims, those with severe chronic diseases, the poor, and anyone without good medical insurance.

Well, okay, they didn't actually admit to the last two, but whom is kidding whom here? The reason given for making the policy now is to condition the public to expect triage when it happens. The article closes with a reference to SARS having been unexpected. SARS is also known as bird flu, and is thought to be a strain of the Spanish influenza that killed 20 million people in 1918.

They are planning for it now, right now.

How can there be such possibilities when today is a sunny day in May and all the world is smiliing? Life is so various and hard to encompass.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Reverend Wright's America

Everybody who is going on about the Reverend Wright and Senator Obama seems to be missing the fact that the problem is inherent in Mr. Obama's candidacy. He is running on a coalition of blacks and of prosperous middle class whites. There are inherent contradictions in such a coalition. The Reverend Wright has just graphically illustrated what some of them are.

If you read the responses, black people did not object to anything Reverend Wright had to say.  Contrary to what people of both colors would have us believe, blacks often are not particularly fond of whites.  Prosperous white people for the most part did not feel challenged by his remarks. They are in a position to patronize blacks and they do.  Working class whites are not in a position to condescend to blacks and they resented Wright's remarks.  They see black hostility as irrational ingratitude for what feels to them a painful policy of affirmative action, which they see as being largely at their and their children's expense.

I think we are seeing replay of the gulf of perceptions during the OJ trial. Every white person I talked to thought it was obvious that he was guilty. Every black person found it obvious that he was not. Even though everyone heard the same evidence in crushing detail.

My impression is that Wright's remarks also showed the same gulf of perception. He seems not to have heard that slavery has been gone for 145 years and Jim Crow for 40 years. That slavery was destroyed at a cost of a million young white men's lives during the Civil War seems unknown to him. But then again I am white and I thought OJ was guilty.

My theory is that Wright unconsciously DOES want to throw Obama under the bus. This man has spent his entire adult life condemning American society for its racism and unfairness. If Obama is elected president, what happens to Wright's cherished sense of grievance?  If the nation elects Obama, Wright's whole reality and self-justification would crumble.  It would be hard indeed to continue to rail against how racist white America is when it had just elected a black president.  It would be harder still to denounce the racist government when it was headed by a black.  Where would he turn for excuses?