Monday, September 29, 2008

Where Am I Shot?

Soldiers in battle who may have been hit have to look for the bullet wound. You would think they could feel it, but somehow they can't -- at least not at first.

The bailout is like that. We are supposed to be severely wounded but so far we don't feel anything. It was rejected in Congress and the sky has not fallen. The market has fallen, but the sky, no. Maybe America and its economy can live without this immense looting.

The politics of it mystifies me. More Democrats supported the bailout than Republicans. Since the general impression is that it is a giant handover of government/taxpayer money to the business class and investors, most of whom are Republicans, this doesn't make sense. I have the sense that there is something fundamental going on here that I am missing. The Democrats appear to be trying to give a large amount of money to Republicans and the Republicans appear to be refusing it. The behavior of both parties is inexplicable.

The analogy would be trying to understand the Civil Rights Act of 1968 without knowing that there had been segregation. Without context it would be meaningless. I think there is some context here that I am not getting.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up


I emphasize that the following is in today's Washington Post, not the Onion. I swear. I am NOT making this up.

Democrats accused Boehner of acting on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in trying to disrupt a developing consensus. The new proposal also displeased White House officials, including Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who chased after Democrats leaving the meeting and -- half-jokingly -- dropped to one knee and pleaded with them not to "blow up" the $700 billion deal, according to people present at the meeting.

Before the meeting broke up, President Bush had issued a stark warning about the impact on the nation's economy if the measure did not pass. "If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down," Bush said, according to one person in the room.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Little Over the Top, but.....

The Joint Statement & Suspending the Campaigns

[President Gore]

Obama got rolled.   He just gave away the issue that would have swept him into the White House.  

Once again the Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.


How to Not Get Bummed-Out by the Election

The Baal Shem Tov was once asked a certain matter. He opened a volume of Zohar which was on the table, looked inside, and then told his listeners all about the incident involved. It later transpired that things had been exactly as he described them. So he was asked, "Is it by opening up the Zohar and looking inside it for a moment that you can tell what is going on at a distance?"

The Baal Shem Tov replied, "Our Sages teach us that the light with which the Almighty created the world illumined from one end of the world to the other; Adam too was able to see with this light. But when the Almighty saw that the world was not worhy of using this light, he hid away for the righteous in the World to Come.

Now," asked the Baal Shem Tov, "where did He hide it? -- In the Torah; and when a person studies the Torah for its own sake, a path is lit up for him, enabling him to understand and see from one end of the world to the other, just as things were before G_d hid the light."

A Message of Hope

Things will be different this time.
This year the candidate of hope, when elected will really do the things he promised.

Things will be different this time.
This year Lucy will not pull the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second.

And the Cubs will win the World Series.

I have realized from looking at the Rove polling maps, that while the outcome of the election in the United States is uncertain, the outcome in California is not. Since May the Golden State has varied between 12% and 21% blue. Casting a vote in an election with a foregone result is a waste of time.

My national service will be to pick up litter in a national park on election day instead. Also an excuse to have dinner in the magnificent Ahwanee Hotel dining room in early November, after the summer tourists have left but before the skiers have arrived. Patriotism doesn't get any better.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Truth from an Unlikely Source

We keep reading in the ever-reliable American press that the election is close or a dead heat because opinion polls are coming out dead even. And that would be true if the public elected the president. But we don't - the electoral college does.

Applying polling data from who is ahead where, it appears that on September 17, Senator Obama was leading in states with 215 electoral votes, and Senator McCain in states with 216 electoral votes. The sampling method used has an uncertainty or error (if it was a lens we would say a resolving power) of 3% one way or the other. So states where the candidates are within 3% of each other are shown as unresolved -- a tossup. Unresolved states collectively have 107 electoral votes. 270 votes are needed to win.

The unlikely source, as the sharp-eyed have already noticed, is Karl Rove & Co. Yes, that Karl Rove. Their website has a slider which shows the maps and tallies week by week since March 31 so one can watch the states change color and the projected totals go up and down as opinion fluctuates. Obama has been as far ahead as 296 to 188, and McCain as far ahead as 256 to 186. Some blue states like Massachusetts, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois are always blue. Some red states like Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona are always red. An astonishing number of others change color frequently. Of the four biggest states, California and New York are always blue, and Texas is always red. The fourth biggest state, and one which changes repeatedly is -- G_d help us -- Florida.

The conclusion is that the election is not so much close as it is uncertain. There is no reason at all to expect that the winner of the popular vote will take office in January, even without the Supreme Court prostituting itself again. The 2000 election proved that the integrity of the process is vastly more important than whether the winner of the most popular votes takes office. Fair and honest elections are more important than majority rule.

or click on the map.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Unity and Shared Responsibility

In this video Barack Obama simultaneously takes the high road and the low road. He denounces the selfishness and irresponsibility of the Republicans while simultaneously appealing to the selfishness of what he calls "the middle class'. He even goes so far as to say, in effect, "If you vote for me I will give you a thousand dollars."

He illustrates that the problem with democracy is the 'demos' -- the people. We aren't any better than the greedy-pig selfish rich. We vote against our own interest time after time, not because we are altruistic, but because we are too stupid, ill-informed, and easily distracted not to.

Democracy is the right to vote for the scumbag of your choice.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Politics as Unusual

Biden on McCain

click here:


Down the Crapper

My stocks - mainly VXF, a broad-based index fund - lost 4.2% today. Curiously a small flyer I have in VEU, an index fund that tracks all major markets except the US, fell 5.2%. I suppose it is reassuring to know that the US continues to lead the way.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cheap Irony

Whenever I watch television I see an ubiquitous series of commercials featuring adorable moppets who wake their parents up with financial worries about mortgages, insurance,  diversification, and financial planning.  At the end of the commercial, the child is mollified when the parents say soothingly, "It's OK, we're with AIG."   Relieved, the child then goes back to bed.  Today we learn that AIG is one of the Wall Street banks teetering on the verge of collapse.  Time for the moppets to begin waking up screaming and wetting their beds again.....

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today most of the country celebrates 9-11 as though it were a victory rather than a defeat for the United States. Congress has designated it Patriot Day.

In Berkeley and San Francisco it is "Stay in Denial or Lose Our Worldview" Day.

Movie Review

Ostensibly in honor of Fall Fashion Week, I rented the 'Devil Wears Prada'.

Stupid, predictable, and saccharine.

Anne Hathaway is the modern Robert Redford -- good-looking, likeable, can't act. This movie was a waste of Meryl Streep's time. And mine.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More Carrying On

No, I am not a vegan.  My gripe against meat is cholesterol, not the premature termination of the prior user.   I have nothing against eating domesticated animals.  In a very real sense the rancher creates them for the purpose.  We see that when the price falls.  The numbers of cattle and poultry decline because the market for them has declined.  

I grew up on a chicken ranch and I understand the process.  For that matter, knowing them intimately, I will dropkick a chicken as far as possible at every opportunity.  They are hateful little bastards.  I am glad to eat chicken because it means one of them was offed for my dining pleasure.  I knew cows too.  They are good-natured creatures but so stupid that the difference between a live cow and a dead one is considerably less than one would imagine.  With animals produced through animal husbandry, the "killing them to eat" claim is not a transparent lie, it is a reasonable market choice by the producer and a reasonable nutritional choice by the consumer.

Wild animals are quite different.  They are there for their own purposes, not because Old MacDonald bred them on his farm  (nowadays Old MacDonald Farms, Inc.).  They come into being independent of human purposes.  Their purposes in life are to eat, to enjoy what pleasures they can, to avoid predators, and to make little ones after their kind.  To pointlessly destroy them for the sheer pleasure of doing it is offensive to both one's moral and aesthetic sensibilities.  With a domesticated animal, its death is a feature of processing it for sale and  consumption.  With a wild animal, the hunter killing it is the end purpose -- it is killed for the sake of killing it.

As to our freedoms being taken away, do we have a right to deface national monuments?  To cut down trees in national parks?  Why should there be any right to kill somebody else's animals?  Forbidding vandalism and arson reduces no one's freedom because no one has a right to do those things.  Forbidding hunting is the same.  Even now, no one has a right to take deer out of season or to shoot fawns.  No one has a right to shoot polar bears.  

I have long intended to draft a private bill to require that hunting in California be done only with handmade stone knives.  Even spears and bows would be outlawed.  Then it would really be a sport.  Catching a deer would be a real trick.  I would use the license fees to fund a program to reintroduce the grizzly bear into California.  Anybody who wanted to hunt grizzly bears with a stone knife would be free to do it.  The program would include awarding a certificate suitable for framing to the hunter's widow.  If it were a particularly spectacular ending, the ears and nose might be awarded to the grizzly bear if they could be found. This would also help solve the overpopulation of hunters problem.  Since grizzly bears generally go around in deshabille, I thought it would be fitting for the hunters to have to be naked too.  But this could cause problems on the way to and from hunting areas and possibly attract a bad element to the sport.


[Sarah Palin teaching her daughter kindness and compassion. The Governor's pro-life stance apparently has some exceptions.]

I remember -- in a former life -- meeting a sheriff's deputy who was bringing a kid from a group home back to Solano Juvenile Hall. The group home had a pet deer and the messed-up little bastard had kicked it in the stomach his first day there. Which was fairly shocking behavior. So they sent him back in favor of "a more structured environment", i.e. a locked down one.

It occurred to me at the time that the affable deputy could go out and shoot a similar deer that weekend -- point a rifle at it, aim, pull the trigger, watch the jolt as the bullet crushed the animal, watch it bleed to death, then skin and dismember it -- and he would continue to be an esteemed fellow county employee. No structured environment for him. I knew the deputy. He was a good-natured reasonable guy, a family man, and not at all stupid.

The difference between the two behaviors is that one is socially approved, so much so that we are anaesthetized to what it is.
Without the social labels, it is just the wanton killing of inoffensive animals for no reason. It is an expression of the same destructive impulses as drive vandalism and arson. The comedian Chris Rock called it "killing animals on a full stomach". It is part of the culture and history of Alaska, much as slavery and lynching were a part of the history and culture of Alabama. That was a grand old tradition too.

I am not such a fool as not to realize that normalcy is socially constructed and that the deputy was not a psychopath. His behavior was normal because the society in which he lived had taught him the behavior and approved and accepted it as normal and unremarkable. Alabama slaveowners who beat their slaves were not psychopaths either, for the same reasons. My notion is that I want it to be seen as psychopathic, because without the institutional justification it would be. If either behavior is considered without the institutional interpretation and labels, then one is the pointless killing of inoffensive animals and the other is the beating of defenseless human beings.

The values and justifications for each behavior are widespread where the institution exists. It was no coincidence that abolitionist sentiment arose where the institution of slavery did not exist and had vanishingly few adherents in places where slavery did exist. Similarly, antipathy to hunting is primarily an urban attitude in our time, and is seldom heard where hunting is widespread.

I don't think antipathy to hunting is political correctness. I think of PC as the carrying a reasonable notion to absurd extremes, so much as to trivialize it. It is when one extends the idea that women should get equal pay for equal work and be free from sexual harrassment to the notion that they must also be exempt from hearing dirty jokes and that their gender should be spelled "womyn".

The right to own slaves was an expression of the institution of slavery. Similarly the right to hunt is an expression of the institution of hunting. If the institution were to become disfavored and eventually abolished, the right would be abolished with it. In any case it isn't a right. You have a right to kill your dog because it is your property, but not your neighbor's dog because it isn't.

Whose property is a wild caribou? Historically, wild animals belonged to the king. Hunting rights were given to nobles as part of their tenure as vassals. Which is why common people were not allowed to hunt without permission, which was rarely given. Poaching was severly punished. Today wild animals belong to the public generally and to the government specifically. All the more so because most wild animals are found on public lands. If you have ever had to pay to enter a national park, you already know that the government can and does set restrictions on entry and on use of public lands. Every state regulates and taxes hunting. Alaska too has elaborate and detailed hunting regulations. It follows that it is a revocable privilege.

It is not clear to me that anybody has a right to destroy an animal that doesn't belong to him. It is not the government that would be infringing rights by restricting it -- it is the hunter that is infringing on the public's property interests. Restricting and eventually abolishing hunting would simply be the end of the public's sufferance of a peculiar institution.
Every argument in defense of it, and the fact that these wheezes are so invariably trotted out shows that even the goodest of good old boys feels defensive about what he is doing, is based on a fallacy or on an outright lie.

The classic one is that hunting is about getting free meat. Like these stupid bastards spend $55,000 on a Ford F-350, buy an expensive camper for it, buy an arsenal of rifles and shotguns, take time off work, buy gas to drive hundreds of miles, because they want to save money on groceries? I don't think so. And then they trot out the idea that it is a sport. In a sport either player or team might win. Does a caribou ever shoot a hunter? Which is it -- groceries or sport? They tell you both because they're lying about both. Or population control. The beast of the field and of the air got along for millions of years without any help from the hunters but now somehow they can't. The fact is that the hunters can't justify it even to themselves.

All of which is just arguing. The real reason is that I saw the stupid bastards chasing and killing caribou. One of them was limping in pain, doomed, if she was lucky, to bleed to death on the tundra. Or the agony might go on for weeks until the wound became so fly-infested that she died of infection. The caribou were bothering nobody, hurting nobody. Every sensation of order and decency and justice cries out, "Leave them the hell alone!" But the hunters just kept coming in their pickups and ATV's and airplanes and helicopters. They are not yet permitted to shoot from aircraft, but they use them to chase the herd toward the hunters. Some sport.

And who did the caribou have to defend them from these assholes? Why Governor Palin of course. Whose grinning picture and pandering letter in the hunting regulations booklet begins, "Dear Fellow Hunters..."

Saturday, September 06, 2008


A lifelong second tier professional tennis player, Vitas Gerulaitis often got to the semis or quarter-finals, but consistently lost to first tier players. He finally beat Jimmy Connors at the 1979 Masters Tournament. After the match the interviewer asked him what had been different this time. Gerulaitis stuck out his chest and said defiantly, "Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."


A Jewish lady dining in a fine restaurant is about to bite into her meal when she turns to the man sitting alone at the table next to her.

'Pardon me, sir' she says. 'Your napkin has fallen on the floor.'

'Oy! Tanks for dat. Vitout you, I vouldn't know. I'm blindt.'

He reaches down to find his napkin. Once it's back on his lap, he asks her if he has spilled any food on his shirt.

'Hardly at all,' she answers, 'just a few cracker crumbs.'

'Tanks, again, Missus,' he replies, brushing them off 'Vitout you telling, I vouldn't know dese tings.'

A few moments later, he inquires again, 'Do you mind I should ask a poisonal qvestion?'

'Not at all,' she replies.

'I don't do vell vit de ladies. Do you tink I'm ugly?'

'You're quite presentable,' she replies. 'That shouldn't be a problem.'

Smiling now, he exults, 'Vat a relief. I vas alvays afraid to ask. Again, I got to tank you.'

A few more moments pass and the lady speaks up. 'Do you mind if I give you a bit of advice?' she asks.

'Soitenly! Listen, I'll take all de help vat you've got,' he answers.

'Lose the Yiddish accent,' she replies. 'You're a Shvartze.'