Friday, December 28, 2012

Vladimir Putin in translation

Here's how to analyze the recent law just passed in Russia against Americans adopting Russian orphans; in response to a U.S. law cracking down on Russian human rights violations, Russia responds by passing a law violating the human right of their many orphans to have a family.

Shake your head, yes, and then get down on your knees and pray for the plight of these innocent ones.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yet another reason my family is homeschooling....

Apparently, the United States Department of "Education" is behind a move to require that half of reading in English class--and 70% for high school seniors--needs to be "informational texts" like Federal Reserve documents, IRS forms, and Executive Order 13423.  No, I am NOT KIDDING, and apparently many states are already behind this.

Now, I'll agree that informational reading is important, and I'll even confess that as an engineer who has done a lot of work on military contracting, I'm pretty good at it, too.  However, it apparently has escaped the notice of the bureaucrats at the D.o.Ed. (so to speak) that schools are filled with "informational reading"--that being of course the other five or six classes that students take each day.  So if a child is actually learning in that 85% of his school day, he is going to be learning the art of informational reading.

Worse yet, can you imagine the despair in English class when asked to read and appreciate the instructions for IRS form 8812 or Executive order 13423?  We're talking suicides here, folks.  Doesn't the 8th Amendment prohibit this sort of thing? 

(well, I guess I've had to read IRS forms, so clearly the courts do not adhere to my common sense interpretation of the Eighth Amendment!  Might as well inflict 'em on the kiddos!)

But even that isn't the worst of it; can you imagine what will happen to the quality of American thinking and writing when Mr. Clemens is replaced with the EPA statement on carbon emissions and global climate change?  The despair will not be confined to English class, but will go throughout society. 

The one bright thing I can think of from teaching students from the IRS Manual of Style is that a quorum of want-to-be writers of romance novels might bring the delights of the Instructions for Schedule B to that genre and kill it off in the same way Don Quixote killed off the genre of the tales of knights-errant.

That said, if people at the Department of "Education" can't figure out that this is a colossally bad idea, I'd suggest that they're not exactly adding much to the process, and our nation can safely cut well over $68 billion from the federal budget (plus "mandatory" spending in the same department) without any harm being done.

But please, don't read it.  Just pick up something by Mr. Clemens, or Shakespeare, or Homer, or Tolstoy, or Goethe instead.  It's the rebuke Arne Duncan, architect of a sixth grade reading level among Chicago Public graduates (and 40% don't graduate at all--guess how Obama gets elected!), desperately needs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hilarity, I mean sadness, on the radio

While running some errands this afternoon, the guys on WCCO noted that two hot "apps" for cell phones are intended for the singles crowd.  One would allow a person to "bump" another, and their cell phones (if both had the app) would detail their latest "list of diseases" they'd had "down there."   The other would allow a quick credit check of a potential paramour.

Apparently, many in our culture are of the opinion that when you're in a fairly dangerous area called "hunting grounds for casual sex," you can trust the information on our paramour's cell phone to protect you.  And we wonder why so many adults come down with those icky diseases.

Or, rather, I don't wonder if this kind of thinking is widespread.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Help for gun control enthusiasts

Obviously the atrocity in Connecticut has led to calls for gun control, specifically a lot of calls for stricter screening and even registration of guns, as well as outright bans on firearms with large "clips."  So in the interest of kindness, here are some tips for you.

First of all, the thing on the bottom of the firearm is called a "magazine," not a "clip", and it holds "cartridges," not bullets.  A cartridge consists of a brass or steel casing, a primer, powder, and the bullet.  Moreover, military-style semi-autos are not in general "high powered."  If they were, emptying a 30 round magazine quickly would send you to the doctor.   Ask anyone who has hunted elk or moose; the recoil on a large caliber hunting rifle dwarfs that of most "assault rifles." 

If you believe that gun control prevents crime, please explain the District of Columbia and Chicago to me. A University of Pennsylvania study found that the 1994 "assault weapons ban" had no measurable effect on crime.

Percentage of mass killings in the United States in zones ruled "gun-free" by law or property owner:  100%.

Percentage of 20th century genocides where gun control was used to disarm civilians prior to the genocide:  100%.

Partial list of mass shootings averted by a law-abiding private citizen, courtesy Mitch.

Partial list of mass shooting incidents where antidepressants and mental illness were involved.

Roving gangs of armed men on the streets which might make a large magazine firearm quite useful: Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Nortenos, Pagans, Gambinos, Columbos ......

Reasons why gun owners get very testy when the media simply "blames the gun," despite the fact that our guns have in general killed fewer people than Ted Kennedy's Oldsmobile:  see above.  Recent tragedies are much more complicated than a lack of gun control, and it's arguable that more gun control would, by making more gun-free zones and reducing the ability of people to defend themselves, make the problem worse.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If this were a just world,

columns like this one from Amitai Etzioni would result not only in the perpetrator of said writing losing tenure, but also would lose his doctorate, any other college level degrees, his high school diploma, his kindergarten graduation certificate, and his drivers' license.  His idiocy? 

To suggest that sensible people ought to not only disarm--an idea that any survivor of the Nazis like Etzioni ought to spurn--but also that they ought to make it public knowledge that they are defenseless. 

Yeah, that'll keep the criminals of the world at bay.  Maybe take the bars off your doors and windows if you live in a rough neighborhood while you're at it, too.  

Facepalm/hat tip to Mitch at Shot in the Dark.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Maybe I'm wrong here.....

....about GM and Chrysler necessarily going through bankruptcy again.  Why?

Because Michigan will no longer allow the UAW to insist that all hourly workers be UAW members.  With a bit of luck, the Detroit Three will be able to shed the UAW tax and start to be competitive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Heard on the radio.....

.....on the way home from work  (WORK!!!!!) was our President arguing against "right to work" laws in Michigan on the basis that the future did not lie in low skill, low wage jobs.  Of course, by defending the UAW in this, he apparently is of the belief that the future does lie in low skill, high wage jobs, as if UAW members have no competition in Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and for that matter, Thailand and China.

Thankfully, it appears that Governor Snyder is poised to sign it, and it'll be very, very interesting to see how many UAW members drop the UAW like a bad habit when it goes into effect--and what things the UAW does, legally or illegally, to prevent them from doing this.  If the UAW tries what I think it will try, it'll be interesting to see Mr. Obama try to avoid the DOJ invoking RICO against one of his prime sources for campaign funds.  Moreover, if Obama surprises me and does what's right in response, it'll be interesting to see how much of the UAW bailout money goes to former members suing for illegal intimidation.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The school lunch and the UAW lunch

First of all, in a hit article Gino has already pounded (quite well BTW), it appears that the USDA is "allowing" school lunch programs to have a bit more grain and meat in the school lunch.  As the son of someone who worked in the school lunch for years, I have to say that I've learned that the degree of control exercised by the government in this area has to be seen to be believed, and it still doesn't get rid of "real Italian pizza."  (no insult intended to real--or fake--Italians who know what real pizza is; it's the school district's ethnic slur, not mine!)

For that matter, does the government's "one size fits all" recommendation for eating in general fit any of us?  The 6'10" guy and the little gal at 4'8"? The thirtieth generation of grain farmers (that is, most caucasians), and those descended from hunter-gatherers?  Really?

And in other inspiring news, the Chrysler workers caught drinking their lunch have apparently been, at the demand of the UAW, been reinstated in their jobs.   Because it's not like UAW workers work around heavy equipment that could kill a man, and it's not like doing their job incorrectly could cause a catastrophic failure in their product, after all.

When Chrysler and GM go bankrupt again, I hope we have an adult in the White House who understands the consequences of bailing out the UAW.  Chrysler's poor quality record is not all the UAW's fault, but this kind of nonsense certainly doesn't help.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Pretty close.....

David Limbaugh writes something that needs to be heard.  Given the obvious fact that President Obama is not negotiating in good faith with GOP Congressmen--pretending that $1.6 trillion in tax hikes and $400 billion in spending cuts (none to take effect in 2013 to speak of) is balanced, for example--it's time for Speaker Boehner to end the charade and present the GOP plans directly to the public.  No more secrecy, and no tax hikes until President Obama comes up with some serious spending cuts that take effect this year.

We can start with the Department of Energy and cut funding for everything but basic research--there's nearly $30 billion to start with, annually.  After 40 years, they have yet to develop a single source of alternative energy. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Seriously cool!

Italian researchers have figured out that a simple breath test can accurately detect at least some forms of colon cancer 75% of the time.  Now I don't know how expensive this would be--I'm sure the capital investment could be high--but as the son of someone who died from this disease, I'd be willing to make a trip to Rochester (or hey, even Italy) to help them figure out what the rate of false positives would be.

And I have to admit that I wondered whether the test could be even more effective if you fed the tool with flatulence. (and would a good bowl of chili the day before throw it off?)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Your legal system at work

H/T Elspeth @ Breathing Grace.  Apparently, a soldier in Utah has seen his daughter adopted without his consent, and those involved in the adoption have misrepresented the law as stating that a married father must show interest in his child, have misrepresented the father as having abandoned his wife, have lied about the father's whereabouts, and more.  Despite the adoption agency's insistence on the adoption going through, they apparently always knew

Perhaps this is the "J" part of my "INTJ" personality, but my personal take here is that the ex-wife needs to be sent to jail for perjury, and the lawyers for the adoption agency and the adoptive family need to be disciplined--misrepresenting the clear meaning of the law to this family is putting two families through Hell.  If the misrepresentation is particularly egregious, I would favor disbarring the lawyers.

And the adoption agency?  Well, for starters, their part in the matter justifies a large compensation to the father, and if I were the state agency governing adoptions, I'd be asking for a look into their records to see how many other fathers have been wrongly deprived of their children.

Seriously cool......

Bombino, the Jimi Hendrix of the Tuareg of Africa.  Take a listen.


If you want to know what is wrong with Wah'habi Islam and Al-Qaida, they stand against this kind of music.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Why bother working?

No, I'm still going to start my new job next Monday, but this article here does have me asking why I bother--except for the fact that God says that if a man shall not work, neither shall he eat.  Here's a graph from Pennsylvania demonstrating a very scary reality.

In a nutshell, the single parent earning nothing actually has more disposable income than the same person with an annual paycheck of $50,000.  The single parent earning $29,000 (a decent factory or clerical job) has more resources than the same person earning $69,000--the wage of an engineer with a few years' experience.

Now of course, not all states are the same, but I'd hazard a guess is that, apart from the absolute numbers, the same principle will apply.  Someone working at "Chez Mac," or not working at all, gets pretty close to the same goods and services (at least the government's cost for those goods and services) enjoyed by someone who busted their rear to get into a well paying profession, and people in DC are wondering why it's hard to persuade people to bust their tails to get into a profession.

Or, for that matter, into any job that offers the hope of advancement.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Some thoughts on patriarchy.....

...inspired by some other thoughts on the topic by "soon to retire blogger" Elspeth.  Now our sister at Breathing Grace is absolutely correct that the prevailing mood of our culture is to henpeck men, and that it is offensive.

In short, it's a lot like our culture's attitude towards those of us who love their wives enough to provide them with the opportunity to have more than one or two children.  I've heard "You know, they've learned what causes those things" far more than once.

One blessed day, I figured out the proper response:  "Yes, and my wife and I enjoy it very much."--implicitly suggesting, of course, that the less fertile may be there because would-be-Dad wasn't taking "Husbands, love your wives" very seriously, if you catch my drift.

So is the key to defending patriarchy a bit of humor about the situation?  Imagine you hear this:

You know, I've learned that the most important words a man can say are "yes, dear."

One thing I've learned over the years is that the wife is the boss.

So now let's illustrate the absurdity with a touch of humor.


Wow, you've got it bad--even feminists agree it should be a 50-50 proposition!

With that attitude, you're going to make her a great wife!

You do know that there are few things more attractive to a woman than leadership, right?

Life is like dancing; if the guy doesn't lead, he ends up stepping on her toes.

Egalitarianism; because what orchestra needs a director?


Any other thoughts?  Or, for that matter, catcalls?

And the bubble begins to pop?

America's worst loan sharks are now suffering a default rate of 11%, higher than that for credit cards, as more and more college graduates (and non-graduates) are finding they cannot make their student loan payments.  But thanks to Obamacare, there is even less chance of a banker asking little questions like this:

How do you propose to pay back the quarter million bucks you want to borrow to get your PhD in gender and ethnic studies?

Graduation rates for people with your SAT scores are below 30%.  Why are you a better credit risk than the other hundred people with SAT scores like yours I've denied this month?

Well, thanks to our desire to avoid hurting young peoples' feelings by asking them questions like this, we've now prevented many of them from getting good paying jobs and skilled trades, and by saddling them with billions in debt they can't hope to pay back, our student loan program is preventing them from getting a good paying job now by trashing their credit rating.

Maybe it's time to bring back the green eyeshades guys.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Random things in the news

A group of women in the military are seeking to overturn the military's ban on women in infantry combat--noting correctly that this ban prevents many female officers from attaining higher rank.  Fine, but if we're going to do this, let's go to a single set of physical fitness standards for both sexes.  If a gal can carry a 200 lb colleague and do at least ten pull-ups, she can go to combat.

Oh, and another thing; let's make sure we start quantifying the problems that result when you send young, fit people of both sexes out on deployments together.  Let's make the informed decision we've been delaying for 30 or so years, OK?

In other news involving women, a study has come out alleging that female porn stars are not "damaged goods",  based apparently on self-reported self-esteem and other factors.  Now apart from the fact that self-reporting is a basic methodological problem--many will even lie when the questionaire is anonymous--there is the issue of using "self-esteem" as if it is an unalloyed good.  The fact of the matter is that some reports have found that high self-esteem correlates well to low achievement and high crime rates--exactly what those who oppose porn would tell you.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Say what?

Our President has apparently called a number of small businessmen to the White House in order to "strike a deal" with small business, evidently unaware that you can't really cut a deal with hundreds of thousands of small businessmen.  It would be like herding cats.

At least "Dear Leader" heard the truth about how small business cannot afford his programs, but five will get you ten that he's not listening too much.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Who would have believed this in 1989?

A column in Pravda mocking the Americans for embracing Communism by re-electing Obama, and pointing out the atrocities of the Soviet mistake.  OK, obligatory nod to Putin, who seems to have some Stalinist tendencies himself, but very interesting nonetheless. 

So now the only true Communism to be found in the world is not only in Cuba, Madison, Cambridge, Boulder, Berkeley, and Palo Alto, but also Washington, DC?

Sigh.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Want to understand our country today?

Read the study referenced by this article, and then read "Dreams of My Father."  It will all make sense to you. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

A scary thought.....

One of my favorite magazines, World Magazine, has an interesting perspective; that the re-election of Mr. Obama to the Presidency really seems to be a a clear sign that the political power of evangelicals is on the wane.  Now for better or worse, I believe this to be true to a point, but I saw something else that is, quite frankly, just as frightening.

According to Time Magazine, the technological edge enjoyed by the Obama campaign was huge, and an interesting characteristic of that technological program was the concept that getting out the vote could be as simple as a well timed Facebook post.  Reach the mailboxes of those on Facebook, Twitter, and such on election day, and you're going to pull a lot of their votes.

This scares me hugely; what it means is that large portions of the electorate, faced with a decision impacting the freedom of nations and tens of trillions of dollars in income and wealth, cannot be bothered to schedule some time to cast a ballot unless they are reminded personally the day of the election.

In other words, the work of Captain Video has been achieved; the destruction of the American attention span.  Time will tell what the corollary damage is, but I suspect that it has something to do both with elected officials ignoring the significance of a sixteen trillion dollar national debt (over $100 trillion by GAAP standards) and businessmen dropping long term planning in favor of achieving monthly accounting numbers.  It just might have something to do with our nation's attitude towards debt as well. 

Not entirely new, as I believe Isaiah wrote about similar things, but the degree to which we cannot be bothered is yet not a good sign.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The future of gun control....

...is now, as a human rights group has endorsed a global ban on autonomous, weapon-wielding robots. Because obviously, if we ban something, nobody will ever have one.  Who has ever heard of a criminal using a handgun in Chicago, New York City, or Washington, DC?  The bans have removed the problem, just like our bans on mind-altering drugs have made it impossible to find marijuana, cocaine, and heroin in those same cities.

No? 

In other news, Cinderella apparently needs to warn some of her modern-day stepsisters about ravens, as many women are apparently getting their toes removed to get their big ugly feet into Prince Charming's glass slipper get their feet into modern high heels.  Apparently, choosing shoes that fit is entirely out of the question, and the price of fashion is now, more than ever, measured in flesh and blood.

Mrs. Bike Bubba is ever more glad that her husband has never been fond of high heels, needless to say, and retains all ten of her toes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving thoughts

It's amazing how one can "live of the fat of the land" here in this country--in my "time off," we've had people bring their unused packaged foods, produce, and even the game from the bottom of our freezer to us, along with clothes and more.   (Wild turkey has an amazing taste not duplicated by the domestic variety, that's for sure!)

It's amazing how one can cut expenses when one knows how to cook and sew.  I am currently wearing a pair of slacks that were repaired years ago--and nobody but my wife and I know.

It's amazing how God can put together a job offer from a company I'd not thought of working for, with a position I'd never thought I could do, with a pay package I'd never have dared to ask for. 

So count me thankful!  13 grains of Pilgrim corn have never tasted so good!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Because the return on Social Security just can't be beat!

At least one senior citizens' group is suggesting that the Obama administration is going to push for a system that would allow all retirement accounts to be handled by the government(not privatize; my mistake!) Because, of course, the 0% return on the money we put into Social Security (and going negative for my generation!) beats the 7-10% average return of the stock market since the Great Depression any day.

Worse yet--or in a more basic way--the (theoretical) plan ignores the fact that for an economy to grow, it needs capital, and standing against the 401K and IRA "because it benefits the rich," as an Obama staffer is said to have said, only serves to impoverish us all by depriving companies of working capital.

Hopefully this is either false or a trial balloon going over like a Led Zeppelin.  If it's not, the Tea Parties this time around will make those of the last time around look like an ice cream social.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why don't kids learn science at school?

Well, if this article is any indication, it's because too many teachers don't understand it, either.  When a Monterrey teacher asked for a private place in which to pump milk for her newborn, she allegedly was told to train her breasts not to make milk between the hours of 7am and 1pm.  Apparently the school manager never learned in health class that you really can't turn off any part of your body for the convenience of school administrators. 

Also of interest is the fact that the school has a "manager."  I personally don't remember ever having school "managers," but rather a principal in elementary school, a principal and an assistant principal in middle school, and a principal and three or so assistant principals in high school.  Can I suggest that if the school needs "managers" as well, they ought to simply hire a principal and assistant principals who know how to, you know, manage things?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vote Democrat?

If so, this is what you've voted for.  The GAO estimated about 800,000 jobs would be lost due to Obamacare, and the news just gets better--one "must have" for President Obama is higher taxes on prosperous Americans that are likely to cost 700,000 more jobs. 

But hey, why would you want people like Bill Gates to have money to invest when you can give it to President Obama, who will give it to his buddies at Solyndra.  Who cares that 35% of his loans go bust?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

More thoughts on the election fallout

All of the stock indexes worldwide appear to be pricing in four more years of Barack Obama and Harry Reid; down 2% at lunchtime. Corresponds pretty well with the 1.5 million Americans who stand to lose their jobs as Obamacare is implemented and Obama works to tax job creators more.

If Walter Cronkite's post-retirement biography is any indication, the media have been in the bag for the left since at least the 1960s, if not the 1930s or before. 

Given that the media being in the bag for the left isn't exactly a new phenomenon, it's about time for those of us who believe in limited government to put on their big boy pants and do what it takes to get the message out on their own.

Given that the message of the left this election cycle was essentially the same emotional appeal "soak the rich" that Huey Long and FDR used, Doug Wilson's point about getting Christian kids out of the government's schools is very well taken.  

A number of Republicans lost winnable races because of clearly avoidable gaffes and personal issues.  It's time for the GOP to start hiring detectives to help their candidates avoid this kind of thing.  Far better to learn early than for the media and Democrats to be the ones hiring the detectives.

Results nationwide show that the GOP needs to do a far better job developing prospects in the minor leagues.

Madonna, please don't honor your promise.


Post election thoughts.....

The book of Jeremiah seems very appropriate these days.  As does, as my gracious guest WB Picklesworth notes, 1984.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A prayer for election day....

Lord, give us the government we need, not the government we deserve!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Mr. Obama, her name is Rebecca Blank

President Obama proposes a new Secretary of Business, forgetting that the Cabinet has had a Secretary of Commerce since 1913.  I guess it's understandable coming from a guy who skips most of his national security briefings, and who went on "The View" instead of meeting with Israel's Prime Minister.  And it's probably understandable given that no fewer than four people have filled this position since Mr. Obama moved to the White House.  It would seem that continuity in this theoretically vital position has not been a priority for this administration.

Maybe we need someone in the White House who views this kind of thing as a priority.

An interesting parallel to John Gatto's work

I have written quite a bit about the work of John Taylor Gatto, the former Teacher of the Year who discovered, upon finding that his "Teacher of the Year" award was his ticket to being pushed out of the New York City schools, that a great part of the model for American public (or "government") schools is the schools of old Prussia.  Instead of (or perhaps in addition to?) generating the greatest soldiers known, our schools aimed to produce the consumers and factory workers needed by the "robber barons" of the late 19th century. 

Judging by the state of our garages and storage spaces, it seems they succeeded at least in creating great consumers, if not factory workers.

An interesting, and unexpected, parallel to Gatto's work is The Transformation of Corporate Control, by Neil Fligstein.  A textbook of my brother's when at this second rate school, I picked it up yesterday hoping to get some hints and "feel" for how companies think, and boy, did I ever.

Fligstein's thesis, more or less, is that federal railroad, canal, and other subsidies and protections created the great industrialists of the late 1800s as a product not of business acumen, but rather of political patronage.  As a result, they did well at accumulating capital (look at any 1800s era railroad station for proof), but struggled mightily to actually run a business profitably.  The history of big business management, then, is explained by Fligstein as the responses of big business to the implementation of regulations like the Sherman Antitrust Act--overt monopolies giving way to secret trusts giving way to strategies of holding companies, vertical and horizontal integration, conglomerates, and the management trends of leadership by production, leadership by sales and marketing, and leadership by finance.  As any reader of "Dilbert" would guess, the dominant trend today is leadership by the finance and accounting guys.  Fligstein uses Alfred Sloan as a picture of the sales and marketing leader, and Henry Ford as an archetype of the manufacturing leader.

The implications?  Central to Fligstein's thesis is the idea that there are precious few leaders who can unite manufacturing, marketing and sales, and finance, and that government action--specifically Sherman and other antitrust laws--has often been the prime mover to shift the mode of leadership.

Implications for the guy who will never attain the big corner office and company paid BMW 7 series?   Well, if you really want to change the world, Fligstein notes that you'll generally do well to avoid the big companies that are run by the finance guys.   Accounting schemes that require instant response don't do well with that. 

More importantly, if you've got a good idea and have a good basic grasp of sales, accounting, and product, you might be in for a fun ride if you go into business for yourself.  Fligstein's writing is not easy, but it is worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Reformation Day!

While Wally is Alice, and vice versa, you can remember with joy (except perhaps for Gino and Mark) that today is the day Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, kicking the Reformation into high gear.  (I would argue that the seeds of Reformation were planted much earlier by Hus, Wytcliffe, Gutenberg, and others--not the least of whom was Pope Leo X)

Here's a commentary on the results (Semper Reformanda!) from Gene Veith, an explanation of their significance from Wiki, the actual text in English (translated from the Latin, link to Latin exists), and a link to two versions of the "Reformation Polka," sung of course to Supercalafragilistic-expealidotious.  (sp?)

Make sure you greet trick-or-treaters with the proper greeting of "Happy Reformation Day", "Sola Scriptura", "Sola gratia", "Solus Christus", "Sola fide", or "Soli Deo Gloria".   If you're like me, you'll groan as the kids in your heavily Lutheran town just don't get it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Update on the debate about redefining marriage

I've noted before that it did not take long before France and Brazil applied doctrines allowing same-sex marriage to allow polygamy and allow the distinction between man and woman in childbearing.  This is simply the outgrowth of the most basic argument against redefining marriage; that if you define marriage in terms simply of a romantic relationship instead of in terms of the traditional bedrock of family law--weaker vessels called mothers and children--you will automatically tend to neglect the traditional bedrock of family law and thus hurt mothers and children.

From Canada come some more examples of this principle.  Again, when you ignore the basic premiss upon which family law is established, you will in turn erode the protections that are crucial to family law, and those who should be protected by family law are instead injured by it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Benghazi debacle

According to this column's sources, apparently the attack on our diplomatic compound in Libya was more or less watched in real time for no less than seven hours by top State Department officials.

This raises all sorts of questions, starting with whether anyone can believe that the Obama administration wasn't flat out lying when they blamed, repeatedly, the attack on a "riot" caused by a rogue video about Islam. 

Worse yet, however, are some additional security questions, like whether things might have been "decidedly different" if the two SEALS and another agent had been adequately armed, and why nobody bothered to try and send a rescue team from U.S. bases a few hundred miles away in Sicily. 

What is certain, however, is that this leak (most likely from some very ticked off State Department staffers not willing to take the fall for this) indicates that we need a new Secretary of State and a new President.  Someone who, as the Fraters crew writes, understands a basic of sound government:

1. Don’t blow up our buildings or kill members of our military or civilians here or overseas. If you do, we will find you and kill you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts on the presidential debate

It's worth noting that the United States (as well as Great Britain and Japan) had aircraft carriers by 1916, and that the United States is using both horses and bayonets in military actions even today.

As anyone who has watched the President try to identify shoe polish would have told you, of course.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some random thoughts....

Interview went reasonably well; no absolute results yet.  Pray.

I don't know if it's a couple of days of "normal" food (vs. my ordinary "made from scratch" menu) or the fact that I missed a day of my blood pressure medication, but the combination of the two was worth a quick three pounds.

Could not avoid seeing a little bit of television on the plane flying back, and it's striking how quickly the scenes change now.  Is modern entertainment a shrine to ADD?

When kids pick up when Dad is out of the house, then you know that there is some fruit to your parenting.

Lots of companies are using some sort of behavioral testing these days.  As it becomes more popular, I have to wonder (a) what does it correlate with in one's genetics and nurture and (b) what happens to those who are not in the top percentiles of the test?  One would think that ambitious parents would be very keen to do what they could to develop "go-getter" children who would be able to take care of them when Social Security and Medicare collapse, and those not currently doing well on the tests would like to figure out how to even the scales a bit.

To no one's surprise, the UCI has stripped Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France and other titles,and is rightly (given that 20 of 21 placers since 1999 are implicated in doping) leaving the titles vacant.  Hopefully the UCI and USADA keep looking into other cyclists' records and ban some more.  I might have a chance of winning the tour yet, at least if my nasal steroids are allowed.  :^)

Thought on the tragedy/atrocity in Libya; wouldn't a real leader simply note that all diplomatic posts will henceforth be protected by the Marines as well as natives, and that their guns will be loaded?  What does our country gain from refusing to protect our diplomats?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Obama's real position on guns

As quoted by the Washington Examiner:

"What I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence. Because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there's an awful lot of violence and they're not using AK-47s. They're using cheap handguns."

Now Obama is 100% correct that in Chicago, where handguns are prohibited to all but favored politicians and other criminals, handgun crime is sky-high.  And apparently, he wants to restrict them more--apparently not having read the Heller or MacDonald decisions, and apparently not having learned that there is no correlation of gun control to gun violence.

Except, of course, to a nearly perfect correlation of gun confiscation to 20th century genocide, and a great correlation of gun confiscation to the crime rates in places like Chicago, New York City, and Washington DC.

Vote accordingly.  And remember, a vote for someone who caucuses with Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid eventually becomes a vote for this program, even if they claim to support the 2nd Amendment.  The law will simply be snuck in as a rider on a bill that "needs to be passed."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Michelin Stars, coming right up!

Yes, this may be the first weblog awarded a Michelin star by our good friend "Bibendum."  How do we know?

Well, I've heard that really great cooks don't use a microwave, and our family microwave just died.  So either we get a new microwave, or we're going to get a Michelin star.  If my Scots heritage holds out, we're listed.  :^)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Everything that's wrong about DC

Right here.  How so?

Well, apart from the fact that it's insane to burn your food, and that doing so is creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and that corn likker isn't a terribly good fuel to begin with, let's walk through the troubles with the first linked news.

First, the President is apparently entitled to decide which laws shall, and shall not, be enforced--as the Founding Fathers roll over in their graves at this news, of course.  Worse yet, he's doing so in a way to cause the maximum economic confusion possible, by delaying the decision as long as possible, even as it's clear that the corn crop has been decimated, and food prices are on their way up.

In short, it's a decision almost designed to cause economic uncertainty, and in my work search, I can vouch for the results; at least two companies I've been interviewing with have reorganized positions out of existence during the interview and selection process.  In other words, the level of economic uncertainty is such that companies are unable to plan ahead even on the scale of months.

Ouch!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Update on the Lance Armstrong debacle

H/T to the Bayly Brothers.  USA Today links the USADA report, and more details can be found from the USADA. 

Now a layman's explanation.  The main drugs taken appear to be EPO, which enhances red blood cell formation, blood doping (re-infusion of one's own red blood) to achieve a higher hematocrit, cortisone and testosterone.  The steroids are helpful in building and repairing muscle.

I'll illustrate the significance with a personal story.  In college, I walked on to the track team as a distance runner, and found after a spring of 70-90 miles per week, accompanied by a generally unappealing variety of iron-rich foods at the dorm cafeteria, the local Red Cross blood center refused me.  Why?  My hematocrit was too low to give blood--below 40, if I remember correctly.  The nurse informed me that the combination of endurance sport and low iron diets was linked to this.  This corrected, my hematocrit returned to a "high normal" range of 45-47, and I started running faster, too.

Now look at the report; Armstrong, with a far rougher training regimen than mine, was concerned when his hematocrit got down to 41.  The cycling federation limits cyclists to a hematocrit of 50--just like the FDA for blood donors, for what it's worth.  So what's going on with EPO is that the athlete gets the chance to train much harder, followed by higher capacity to transfer oxygen to the muscles during competition--translating to a 10-20% advantage, or more, in terms of the energy that an athlete can expend without "going anaerobic", which is a 5-8% advantage in peak speed.  Blood doping will do much the same thing, except without helping the athlete in training as much--the body only makes so many red blood cells, after all.

Now there are of course limits to what can be done--the body can only process so much sugar and recover muscles so quickly, so it's not quite as big as that.  That said, the data presented indicate that Armstrong did indeed have a fairly significant advantage over non-doping participants.  How many there were is uncertain, as the cycling federation notes that 20 of 21 podium participants in the Tour de France since 1999 are implicated in doping.  Finding a non-doping cyclist could be like finding a Mr. Olympia participant not taking steroids, or a Miss America participant who doesn't know any plastic surgeons.

So the data do indeed bear out the cycling federation.  What's to be done?  Again, I have to suggest that cycling needs to police itself if it wants to be taken seriously.  I'll be waiting for that announcement.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Waiting for the phone to ring....

Pyromaniacs has a great post up today about the pastoral call--and how we ought not wait for one before we begin ministering, but rather ought to simply heed what the Scripture actually says--that if a man desires the office (which means "duty" in Latin, by the way) of elder/pastor, he desires a noble work, and that he ought to joyfully conform with certain moral requirements.

The problem with "the call," besides the fact that it's really given to apostles and prophets, not pastors, is that (a) it substitutes a private experience for the authority of Scripture of whether one is qualified for that duty, and  (b) it allows the lazy to avoid their duties by making it an issue not of Biblical commands, but rather of a subjective "call."

Monday, October 08, 2012

Some random economic thoughts

First of all, it was fascinating that the stock markets hardly budged last Friday when theoretically stellar jobs numbers--a drop of .3% in the unemployment rate--came out.  Here is my friend Jim's note on the matter;  evidently about 2/3 of the jobs coming out are Christmas temporary, and the Labor Department has overestimated them by about 60-100,000 the last two years.  Actual workforce participation and U6 (the real unemployment/underemployment rate) remains at 14.7% unemployment for U6 and a workforce participation of about 133 million--essentially unchanged since the start of 2009, and well behind population growth.

It's that last two words that really make me think.  We define a recession as negative GDP growth, and a recovery as positive GDP growth, but when you get down to it, the average Joe feels the sting when GDP growth is less than population growth, at least when adjusted for inflation.  In the same way, shouldn't we index jobs numbers to reflect population growth as well?

As such, we'd end up with an interesting new reality; 2% or less (approximately) GDP growth would qualify as a recession, as would jobs growth of 150,000 jobs/month or less.  It would certainly put the heat on politicians. 

Side note; pray for a trip to Kalamazoo late this week or early next week.

Friday, October 05, 2012

My take on Romney's position about PBS

Yup, it's about time for dinner.  PBS funding should have been ended back about the same time cable TV came out, or at least when satellite radio became popular.  Update: hold the gravyWell, I guess it would have been pretty gamy anyways.










Thursday, October 04, 2012

Why are research papers retracted?

According to a study out of Yeshiva University, it's usually because of fraud.  Now to be fair, the study is not linked, and the article does not suggest what percentage of papers are retracted overall, but they do suggest that the number, as a percentage of papers published, has grown by an order of magnitude since 1975.  The study is also published by the NAS, which I would assume would usually be respectably peer reviewed.

Love to hear from Brian on this if he reads this site.  My take is that if the methodology of the study can be defended, it is intuitive that we'd see a fair amount of fraud.  After all, nobody gets tenure because they do work that defends the null hypothesis.  There is a very real pressure to "show something new."

I have to wonder if it has a lot to do with requiring a Ph.D. to teach in most colleges (even freshman level courses that a high school teacher could lead), and a general "publish or perish" mood.  If the study holds, I would not be surprised. 

Another possibility is the strong push for full acceptance of evolution in bioscience; I do not have numbers, but I would have to believe the vast majority accept the hypothesis without reservation, and that a large portion of these have followed that with Richard Dawkins to atheism, or at least agnosticism.

At which point John Paul Sartre's comment about the nature of French existentialism comes to mind:

If there is no God, everything is permitted.

(in reference to Ivan Karamazov of the Brothers Karamazov)

And if you think that I'm enjoying quoting Sartre, as cited by "infidels.org", about the importance of Exodus 20:16 as it related to the scientific process, you would be entirely correct.  It is absolutely delicious irony!

Thoughts on the debate....

....and or course, I didn't actually WATCH it.  If I want to soak in the smell of manure for an hour or so, all I need to do is to go to one of the local feedlots, or downwind of the sweet corn processing plant, or downwind of our town's under-designed sewage treatment plant.  It's one of the, um, "benefits" of living outstate.

However, some commentary on the debate amused me, specifically the part about Obama being at a disadvantage because he hadn't debated in four years.  Now really?

Are we to really assume that trying to make the case for his programs does not qualify as debate?  Are we really to assume that the day to day interactions with political rivals and foreign leaders do not qualify as debate?  Seriously?

And yes, seriously. It seems that we have created a system where a so-called "leader" can really be a creation, as is joked elsewhere and here, of TOTUS, the Teleprompter Of The United States.  And then we wonder why our "leaders" don't do well when they're called upon to make decisions day to day, and to understand the real motivations of foreign leaders.  Well, they get four years between times of thinking on their feet.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Let's be unbiased

In the heated political season, it's worth noting that there are a lot of calls for news sources to simply reveal their bias, and then readers could make their decisions accordingly.   Now apart from the reality that thousands of journalists would have to reveal their politics just to the left of Gus Hall--and good luck on that one--I would argue that this will not work for a very simple reason.

Many in the media have gone beyond simple bias (what do we report) to actively re-write the facts in a case.  To wit, here's Mitch's comment on a recent "Politifact" article about charges that President Obama has allowed states to gut welfare work requirements.  Since the Obama executive order illegally modifying the work requirements allows states to count non-work-related activities as work for the purposes of the 1996 law, it would seem to be an open and shut case, right?

Nope.  Instead of looking at the executive order, Politifact simply takes the President's spin as the truth. 

So what is going on here is that influential media sources--see Shot in the Dark for details--are more or less fudging the data, ignoring Thomas Sowell's dictum that we're all entitled to our own opinion, but not our own set of facts. 

A great picture of this is the debate--of course it's still going on--about President Lincoln.  Thomas DiLorenzo and Carl Sandburg have/had widely differing views on the man, but what came through--having read both--is that they are truly going from the same set of facts.  It's simply the opinion--Sandburg views some things as a regrettable necessity, DiLorenzo as an atrocity--about the facts that differs.

So when someone suggests that all will be well if all simply note their biases, think about this.  One can see through someone's bias, but if the very factual basis is assaulted, those labels do us no good.  So it's not time for us to simply reveal our biases, but to come back to basic principles of honesty.

Exactly

A candidate for state senate from Illinois has pointed out some very interesting things about the Health Insurance Deform Act:

We are going to be gifted with a health care plan that we are forced to purchase, and fined if we don’t,” Bellar continues, “signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese, and financed by a country that’s broke.
More or less, Professor Bellar points out what Dr. Kenneth Cooper has been pointing out for decades; that if people would simply eschew tobacco, get a bit of exercise, and have a basically decent diet (fellow Wal-Mart shoppers, I'm talking to you!  And me!), we could cut medical spending by about half with no change in the current system.

Think of this absurdity this fall when you vote.  Please, or else we may well end up like Greece.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

If Barack Obama were a Republican,

...these are some things that the media would NEVER have let go.  H/T Gino

1.  The deaths of over 300 Mexicans and at least one border patrol agent due to his horribly flawed "Fast and Furious" gunrunning program.  (honestly, why are the Mexicans so quiet about this?  It's almost an act of war!)

2.  The fact that in Fast and Furious, he's claiming executive privilege.  The media would have rightly pointed out that this must implicate the President or a member of his Cabinet as one of the wrongdoers.

3.  Holding the economy hostage with a $500 billion tax hike in order to tax one group more.

4.  The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is more or less taking over Egypt, and threatens other Middle Eastern nations.

5.  Unconstitutionally offering defense contractors money for fines if they willfully fail to abide by WARN Act requirements.

6.  Standing by his tax plan and Obamacare, despite the fact that the GAO estimates that each will cost about 700,000 jobs.

7.  Going on "The View" and David Letterman while the leader of an important ally would like to talk with him about nuclear proliferation.

8.  Bribes to pass Obamacare.

9.  Failure to prosecute a racially charged voter intimidation case.  (the Black Panthers case)

10.  Trillion dollar deficits with no serious plans to cut spending.

11.  Holding the defense budget hostage for the sake of his pet social programs.

12.  Numerous provocations to our longest term allies.

13.  Forcing religious groups to violate their consciences.  (yes, imagine it had been United Methodists and Episcopalians forced to violate their consciences instead of evangelicals, and all **** would have broken loose)

......and there is a long list beyond.  If anyone doubts that the media are in the bag for the left, take a look at that list and ask yourself; would things be so quiet if a Republican had done this?  Of course not, but at this point, a liberal Democrat is the culprit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Best referee slam ever.....

....at least since the eye exam one where the zebra is told "Well, actually, that's an E, but we'll let you work."






Speaking as a quality engineer, the troubles that the NFL has been having with their replacement referees demonstrate a clear principle; there are a limited number of people capable of making football play calls reasonably accurately, and if they want to preserve some plausible integrity in their sport (that hasn't already been trashed by steroids, player arrests, and such), they seriously need to talk with the umpires' union.

This'll work well in the coming Shari'a state!

Madonna has apparently (a) called President Obama a black Muslim and (b) said that she'll strip onstage if he wins a second term.  OK, if the beer-drinking pork-eater-in-Chief is indeed Muslim (call me skeptical), even of the "Black Muslim" variety, what exactly does Ms. Ciccione expect to happen if (God forbid) she gets a chance to do what she promises to do?

My hunch is that her awareness of Islam and Shari'a law is right up there with her awareness that she's 54.  That said, this is yet another great reason to vote for Romney.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This didn't take as long as I thought it would

The UK Telegraph reports that, as part of a proposed law changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples, the nation of France is proposing to eliminate all references to "mother" or "father" in official documents.

Now note that in an earlier post, I commented that re-defining marriage to include homosexual couples would tend to obscure the very premiss upon which family law is based; that the ordinary processes of heterosexual love (or lust in many cases, I guess) tend to produce the vulnerable classes called "mothers" and "children."  Now if this law goes through in France, French law will no longer recognize the biological fact that mothers are uniquely vulnerable in a way that the fathers of their children are not, and that's not good news for either mothers or their children.


Now of course I'm not hoping for disaster here, in France, or anywhere else, but it does demonstrate the reality that when you forget what a tool is for, you will tend to act as if you've forgotten what the tool is for.

The U.N. in action

Mahmoud Achmadinutjob, on Yom Kippur no less, channeling his inner Austrian corporal at the U.N.  And somehow many people think we should trust his word and negotiate "peace in our time."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bad news on electronic medical records

According to experts in the field cited by Powerline, they are not yet at a point where they are intuitive to doctors to the point where they can be relied upon.  So for starters, let's repeat what we should have known already; you, and those who care for you, are the best patient advocates you've got.  Not your medical provider's records.

Moreover, as someone who has used databases like those they're trying to develop for a while, suffice it to say that it's just plain hard to get good data out of a database for a simple thing like a build of parts.  Now imagine that the database needs to cover the family medicine doctor, the cardiologist, an oncologist or two, and half a dozen other doctors.

How to remedy the situation?  Well, one would start with a little bit of what's called poka-yoke, or "error proofing".  You swipe the patient's card before weighing the patient to make sure the wrong weight isn't entered.  You put the blood pressure monitor into a USB port to automatically download that, and so on.

But even so, a toe can slip onto the scale, a cuff can malfunction, and a drug name can be misspelled.  And so we are left with a difficult fact; it's hard to do better than to keep your medical records for yourself, or have someone you love who is able to speak for you.  Speaking from experience, speaking up can result in getting rid of a couple of intestinal polyps, and that in a healthcare system whose founder basically invented the modern medical chart.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Keep your head down"

It is almost a proverb in sinking companies, that the way to survive is to quietly do one's job and "keep one's head down."  That said, is it wise?  If you keep your head down, you end up possibly keeping your job with a sinking company (yay for pathetically small raises!), but your resume shows nothing for it.  At worst, you lose your job anyways--which is the likely outcome for a business with the "siege mentality" to begin with.

If, on the other hand, you "keep your head up," you do risk losing your job as managers look for people to blame, but you also--to use the analogy--have the opportunity to find and destroy those business "machine gun nests" that are plaguing your company, and whether or not you succeed, it looks good on your resume.

Plus, in most countries, the worst thing that can happen is to lose one's job, as running actual machine gun nests to remove problematic employees is not quite legal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the embassy attacks.....

Apart from the fact that Libyan sources do agree that attacks on our embassy and personnel there were premeditated, it occurs to me that the attackers knew that the facility was relatively unguarded, might have been aware that the ambassador was clearly on the side of political reformers in Libya, and they just happened to come together on September 11 in force, including bombs.

Yup, sounds like random rioting to me. Don't we all happen to get enraged at the same time that has political and cultural significance, find several hundred others who are simultaneously angry about the exact same thing and bringing guns and bombs, and we all have the idea to attack and kill someone who opposes our ideology but has nothing to do with the supposed provocation?

It would seem that no one in Foggy Bottom appears to understand the use of logic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Insane trade policies

Apparently, President Obama is suing in the World Trade Court because the People's Republic of China is said to be subsidizing auto parts sold in the United States--to the tune of about one billion dollars annually.  Now, I'm guessing here that the subsidies aren't simple payments to parts makers "here, sell it in Iowa and we'll chip in a hundred grand", but are rather fairly complicated tax provisions that took a few good accountants fluent in Mandarin a few months to decipher.

Whether that's true or not, let's take a look at the numbers.  Given that hundreds of billions of dollars worth of automobiles are sold each year in this country, and that the over hundred million vehicles on the road need a lot of parts to keep them going, I'm guessing that the 10% market share held by Chinese vendors is tens of billions of dollars. The subsidy is really less than 5% of the wholesale value, more or less, and we're risking a trade war because the Chinese government apparently wishes to help us pay for our auto parts.

Now if we had a sane tax and trade policy, we would realize that no government, no matter how stupid or generous to us, can go on subsidizing exports indefinitely, and therefore our best course of action is simply to tax trade according to what it costs us to keep sea lanes open (Navy, Coast Guard, and border control costs) while dropping income taxes accordingly.  Good luck getting anywhere with either party with what the Founding Fathers would have told us, though.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Real men wear pink....

Earlier this summer, I noticed that (a) I did not have very many short sleeved shirts for a hot summer and (b) that in the past, shirts and coats for summer use were of linen--that material being apparently just as cool or cooler than cotton.  At the same time, my wife and I agreed that most of the shirts I was wearing tended to have a lump form in the fabric behind my neck (my shoulders are squarer than most men's) and come untucked when I lift up my arms.

And so it was tempting to try the classic art of draping--more or less starting with a "yoke" of cloth, fitting it to the shoulders and marking the highest point thereof, and then proceeding to build the rest of the shirt around that yoke.  It took a while, and quite a bit of "rework," but the below is our first completed product.  It's not perfect--we need to refine the collar a bit--but it doesn't have the hump behind the neck, and it doesn't come untucked when I raise my arms. 

If you, or someone you love, is hard to fit and you've got a knack for sewing (or would like to develop one), we can heartily recommend this book by David Coffin.  Oh, and here's the picture:


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Let's be fair to the Volt

A study finds that GM loses an estimated $49,000 per Volt, almost enough to buy a new Suburban for each Volt purchaser.  GM's response is only that the study doesn't allocate the development cost--an estimated $1.2 billion--over the full life of the design.  Let's figure out what the real costs will be.

OK, let's amortize the costs over, say, five years--a typical time between model updates.  We have a development cost of $1.2 billion, sales of about 15,000 annually (26,000 have been sold so far), and GM is currently paying about 6.5% on long term bonds needed to pay for this. Right? Right.  Each year, to pay off R&D costs, GM's first $300 million in revenues from the Volt must be devoted to this, or we will say it is a subsidy from....let's be fair, the taxpayer.

OK, year one, about 12,000 sold, so the R&D cost per vehicle would be about $25,000.  This year, maybe 20,000 will be sold, so the R&D cost per vehicle is about $15,000.  Overall, the company would need to recover $600 million in R&D and interest costs, so for about 32,000 vehicles, the R&D loss would be around $18,000 per vehicle.  Increase sales to the suggested 50,000 units per year, and the R&D cost lost is about $6000 per vehicle--count me skeptical on this one.

Next up is the BOM loss, and I don't think we'll be getting any precise information on this.  Suffice it to say that the estimated cost to replace the batteries with a Prius is getting into four figures, and then you've got a motor for a few thousand dollars as well.  I would have to guess that the BOM and assembly cost for the "Cobalt priced like a Bimmer" is about, or is somewhat higher than, the $40,000 sticker price.

Which is a long way of noting that my best guess about the loss GM the taxpayer is taking on this boondoggle is not quite $49,000, but is rather more in the range of about $25,000--the R&D cost not recovered plus the $7500 federal tax credit.  So in order to get a Volt in the hands of a driver, the taxpayer pays the equivalent amount for a well equipped Malibu.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Another great success of the federal student loan program

H/T Mr. D.   According to the New York Times, one in six people with a federal student loan to pay off is in default, meaning that they are at least a year behind on their payments.  It's exactly what you would expect if you were handing out student loans to students with no regard to whether they're qualified for the college of their choice, and with no regard to whether their proposed course of study gives them a reasonable chance at paying off the loans.

Which, of course, is exactly the case.  And in doing this, the federal government is doing exactly what any other loan shark would do--keep the record of the loan until death, ruin their credit, and so on.  It's a good business for the debt collectors, and a near violation of the 13th Amendment, but if we want to help students, maybe it's time to terminate the federal student loan program and let students face a real banker who will ask the relevant question:

Bob, your SAT scores are 150 below the average for the college you'd like to attend, and you're wanting to spend about $200,000 to get a degree in gender and ethnic studies.  What makes you think that you will be able to repay this loan?  

It sounds cold, but it's hardly as cold as allowing the federal loan sharks to have their way with vulnerable young people.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Best Thing to come out of Minnesota!

Yes, it's the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota.  Some neat things about the area;

1.  The SPAM Museum is only about a mile from the Hormel Institute for medical research.  I resisted the urge to go in and ask whether it was intended to deal with the effects of eating too much fatty pork!

2.  It's actually a fairly interesting summary of the history of the Hormel company as it changed from a small butcher of hogs into one of the world's largest meatpackers.

3.  My favorite advertisement is where the man of the house notes that a bowl of "Dinty Moore Beef Stew" was the best meal he'd had in ages.  If I said that to my wife, she'd still be crying, and I'd be learning how to make Tima let me use her doghouse.

4.  I was actually pretty sad to see the change of Hormel from maker of exquisite sausages and bacons to mass market purveyor of potted meat.

5.  The current product offerings pay some homage to the past, but the plethora of flavors of "SPAM" suggest that more and more, people don't know how to use a cookbook or spices.

6.  The videos of the plant in action are thoroughly depressing--the world has scarcely seen that much gray since Lee marched into Pennsylvania.

All in all, worth a visit (admission is free), but depressing in a way as it also shows some thoroughly depressing changes in our diets and lifestyles since 1937.  At least it's depressing until the last exhibit, which is a mock-up of the Viking cafe from Monty Python.



Wait, one thing was sadly missing.  Here we go:



Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Why government bailouts go wrong

Michelle Malkin has a great piece today regarding the failure of the Obama bailout of General Motors and Chrysler the UAW.   Profits are falling, stock prices are falling, U.S. and European market share is plunging, and Forbes is arguing ( H/T ColdFusionGuy) that the upcoming Chevrolet Malibu is evidence that "The General" is losing its touch.  Along the same lines, it's worth noting that the government's loss on the bailout--about $20-25 billion currently--is about the same amount as the UAW received from the bailout arrangement.

Now, President Obama's stated goal here was to "stand on the side of the American worker," but if signs are right, what he's administered is not a hand up to hourly workers, but rather a kick to their collective crotch.  How so?

The reasons are basically twofold. First, paying off the UAW keeps the $2000/vehicle "UAW Tax" of pensions, wages, and benefits in place.  For a comparable vehicle, GM's profits will be $2000/vehicle leaner than those of Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen.  Not a good situation, especially when you remember that product development funds come out of those same gross profits!

Worse yet, paying off the UAW tells every salaried employee and investor--engineers, stockholders, managers, bondholders, and so on--that they will play second fiddle to the UAW as long as they work for GM or Chrysler.  If you thought "That'll get some of 'em to Marysville and Georgetown!", go to the head of the class. 

In short, paying off the UAW ensures a lower quality effort in product development--lower quality for which the UAW will pay dearly in the not too distant future.

The problem gets worse, however, when we consider how keen the minority stockholder--our government--is to spend billions on niche vehicles like the $40,000 Cobalt, known otherwise as the "Volt."  If you thought "Hmmmm....wonder if that money could have been well used for a state of the art DOHC 4 cylinder for the Malibu?", again, go to the head of the class.

In a nutshell, Obama fails to grasp the fact that job security for hourly workers starts with having a first class product to manufacture, and that therefore you cannot pick "hourly workers" as the winner over "salaried workers and capitalist pigs" without simultaneously endangering the livelihoods of those very hourly workers you've just tried to help.

Or, put differently, government bailouts go wrong because they are an application of Marx's theories of class warfare.  23 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, can't we put Marx's theories to rest?

Monday, September 03, 2012

Let's be Pollyanna

Dear sister Elspeth's earlier post on this got me to thinking, and now--having just read the book--I've finally got some thoughts to add.  The term "Pollyanna" is used, regrettably, to describe someone whose optimism goes beyond all bounds into the territory of self-deception, much like listening to politicians talk about the results of their policies.

However, the book does not venture into such depths of self-deception, but rather presents Pollyanna as a little girl whose troubles are very real, to the point of tears, but who takes Romans 8:28 seriously.  She knows that, even as an orphan in the house of an aunt that knows duty but not love, all things truly do work out for good for those who love Him.  Should we not be like Pollyanna?

Pollyanna also wonders about many things, like how people can avoid a person they love for decades, and how the Ladies' Aid can care about boys in India, but not about little Jimmy Bean.  She realizes--scathingly--that too much of the action in social and church clubs of the time is not about real charity, but rather about looking good. 

It's worth noting here that part of the undercurrent is the transition between orthodox Christian theology--what today would be called "fundamentalism", "conservative evangelicalism", or possibly "conservative Lutheranism"--and the liberal theology that characterizes most mainline churches of today.  So Rev. Ford is caught, more or less, in the tension between the statements of faith he learned as a child and the higher criticism he learned in seminary and in letters from his bishops.

The end result is a dying, loveless church, and the solution is Pollyanna's reminder to the pastor that Scripture calls us to gladness and rejoicing.  It is a worthy reminder to the church of today, where all too often, we have our own standing that can interfere with what should be a Pollyanna-ish application of the Gospel.

Let's rejoice and be glad, for our Father's sake. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Democratic "logic"

Or, to be fair, liberal logic or "Chris Matthews logic."   The gem in question?  Apparently it's now racist to refer to political corruption in the Windy City.  So if you point out ballot box stuffing by Richard Daley's cronies, Rod Blagojevich's attempt to sell a Senate seat, or Rahm Emanuel's bizaare claim that he was a Chicago resident despite maintaining no residence in the city, you are a racist, despite the fact that the people you just criticized happen to be white.

Seems to me that if Mr. Obama really wants to bring about racial healing, he'll call out Mr. Matthews on such absurdity.  I'll be waiting, but not holding my breath.

H/T Mr. D.

Farmer's market victory!

Well, sort of.  We took six loaves of bread, brownies, and cookies to the farmers' market, and sold out all the bread and some of the cookies.  The brownies--perhaps the best bit of the whole lot--not so much.  But don't worry; they won't go to waste, though they will go to waist. Or, already have.  Monetary damages: about $9 in supplies, $16 in revenue, and then we spent about $20 on other cool things at the market.

If you'd like to try your hand at raising vegetables, making baked goods, and making garments (doll clothes, little kids' clothes, etc..), and don't have the capital to open up a storefront, I highly recommend going to the farmers' market and trying your hand.  You probably won't get rich, but you'll get an idea of whether people think as much of your product as you do, and you'll get valuable small business experience.  So go, bring a folding chair and sunscreen, get some funds to make change for those who will be paying with a $20 for your $1.50 baguette, and be sure to greet those who glance your way.  It will be a good time!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another position on the Lance Armstrong debacle

Is here, courtesy of a commenter on Gene Veith's site, which I heartily recommend. 

In the linked article, it's noted that about five years ago, scientists realized (a la Walter Shewhart) that if you tracked the patterns in blood tests, you will start to notice some anomalies that are statistically significant.  To use the quality engineer's way of describing things, you put the results on a control chart and watch for violations of the Western Electric rules.  When you see violations, you ask the doctors if the violation is consistent with doping--usually adding extra red blood cells or EPO to the rider--and make your decision.  It's a pretty neat technique, and one that I've discussed (when applied to another topic) recently in an interview.  It's used to prevent trouble in car parts and medical devices.

The article suggests that it's likely Armstrong did dope, a conclusion with which I tend to agree, but there are still a number of questions out there.  First of all, if the tests are consistent with doping, why bother with getting eyewitnesses, a number of whom are dopers themselves? 

More importantly, if it's all about the sanctity of the sport, shouldn't USADA be checking the results for all athletes tested before going to the press?   Shouldn't they be looking at ways to get these analyses done in a shorter period of time?  Shouldn't they be working to quantify the danger of the drugs and the advantage gained?  To put it mildly, if the USADA's PR department was told to make the group look like jerks, they did a great job--or possibly Armstrong did it for them.

Quick note on the science: both EPO and blood doping (adding red blood cells) work by increasing the amount of oxygen the lungs can get to the muscles.  Above a certain limit, it's a health hazard--I'm fairly close to the upper limit without EPO or doping, but it doesn't make me much faster.  So what we have here is dopers using their own blood to "optimize" their oxygen intake--it's not quite the same thing as the East German swim team, Ben Johnson, or Lyle Alzado taking all the horse steroids as they could get away with.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Doping alert!

Those who think it's a very important thing that former friends of Lance Armstrong have accused him of taking performance enhancing drugs need to take a look in their grocer's poultry aisle.  I recently purchased chicken breasts and found that they weighed about 1.3 pounds apiece, and when cooked, the ~7.5 lbs of chicken gave off about 1.5 lbs of liquid--fat and water.

Although steroids are not legal for use in raising chickens, I've got suspicions.  For starters, what kind of mutant chicken devotes 2.6 pounds of its live weight of six to eight pounds to this one area?  Second, one of the symptoms of steroid use is increased water retention, AHA!  

OK, since I didn't find implants, it's pretty obvious that chicken farmers are feeding steroids to their birds.  Either that, or the new meat breeds are designed to have a lot of valuable breast meat, and the carcasses soak up about 10% of their weight in the cooling tank after slaughter. 

I don't know what is grosser; that chicken carcasses contain up to 10% of cooling tank water (which typically includes a fair amount of chicken waste), or that some people are possibly using steroids to grow their birds.  But either way, wouldn't you agree that it's the seriousness of the allegations, not whether they're presented in a fair trial within a reasonable length of time, that matters?

Well, that's what you think if you're a bureaucrat with the cycling federation!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Contract job bait and switch....

One interesting thing I've noticed on this job search is that I'm getting a fair number of calls for contract jobs, and in general, most recruiters simply double the hourly wage and claim "well, this looks like a very good wage."  They then seem rather surprised when I note that when one counts the cost of medical and dental insurance and the FICA match, that hourly wage doesn't sound so good after all.  It is as if many of my fellow engineers are not doing the math to calculate these costs.


It's surprising that employers and recruiters think that they can get away with this, and shocking that apparently many of my fellow engineers are failing to do the math and are letting them do exactly that.  Aren't we supposed to be a group of people  who can do basic arithmetic?

If you happen to be looking for work, and the possibility of contract work comes up, a good rule of thumb is that the contract wage should be about 30% higher to cover both insurance and FICA, and about 20% higher to cover insurance alone if the employer covers the FICA match.  If you've got a family and typical base salary in your field is less than $60,000, those numbers go to 40% and 30%.

If you happen to hear someone complain about there not being enough engineers, ask them what they're offering to pay.  Five will get you ten that what they're offering is not comparable with what engineers in the field are usually paid.  There has always been a shortage of engineers willing to work for 40% less than the going rate, after all.

A couple of recent examples; one company requesting an IE with eight years of experience offered a contract rate lower than that generally obtained by new college graduates in the field.  Another looking for a QE offered a rate as low as assemblers in that same company--unskilled labor really--were getting. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Never thought I'd see these bumper stickers together!

I saw this one at the park about a week ago; the one on the left has emblems of all religions forming the word "coexist," the one on the right spells out "tolerance," and the one in the middle says "It's God's job to judge the terrorists; it's our job to arrange the meeting."

OK, help me out here.....

Lance Armstrong has apparently been, according to the U.S. cycling federation, doping throughout his career without ever being caught in 500 tests, approximately one per week of his cycling career. 

Now, one thing I remember from my childhood cortisone injections (Kenalog)  for poison ivy and allergies is that the wonderful effects of this steroid last for about a month or more.  In the same way, if Armstrong was adding extra blood cells, those also live for about two months--trust a soon to be 14 gallon donor to know this.

So if Armstrong was being tested weekly, or even monthly, and it was not detected, then we have only a few possibilities:

1.  The tests aren't worth beans.

2.  The tests work, but Armstrong's doping level was below the critical thresholds.  (keep in mind here that the synthetic drugs Armstrong is accused of taking have extremely low thresholds)  Would this really be an issue?

3.  The cycling federation doesn't really care about doping, but pretends to just to preserve a modicum of credibility.

Whatever the facts may be, Lance Armstrong is not the key problem  It's the anti-doping committee of the cycling federation.

H/T Mr. Dilettante

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where we're headed?

This link reports--and cites laws--indicating that at least in Oregon, implementation of the Obamacare "Health Insurance Deform" law is going to pave the way for 15 year olds to be surgically sterilized--with no provision for parental consent or even notification.  It is as if legislators and regulators in Oregon are blissfully unaware of the foolish things teenagers will do in order to have sex, and how parental involvement might help young people avoid a life-altering decision to satisfy their hormones.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yes, this is offensive

Witness the purchase of 174,000 hollowpoint rounds in .357 magnum by the Social Security administration.  Now, I know that, in our age of each agency having its own police instead of using the GSA, rounds will be purchased.  However, I have serious doubts that the 350 or so armed workers for Social Security are going to be needing 500 rounds of hollow point ammunition apiece annually. 

I can see about a tenth of this amount for final qualification with their service revolvers and occasional use, but for routine practice, ammunition companies manufacture a product called "full metal jacket" that is for cheaper and--given that the .357 mag is usually a snubnosed and fairly inaccurate pistol to begin with--will give every bit of accuracy these agents need.

The same goes for the half billion or so rounds of hollowpoint .40 S&W purchased by DHS.  Typically, FMJ rounds go for a quarter or less apiece, and hollowpoint rounds for at least twice that--often four times that.  We don't need our government agents to be using these all the time at the range.

An accomplishment for Obama?

My local newspaper reports that, due to the ongoing recession and the introduction of fracking to release new natural gas deposits--the latter of which the Democrats tend to oppose--carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are as low as they were in 1992.  So by failing to revive the economy and by failing in his attempt to prevent oil and gas companies from fracking, President Obama has complied, apparently, with the Kyoto protocol.

Added note; the latest gasoline usage numbers indicate that gasoline usage in May 2012 is lower than it was in 2001.  The peak was, of course, just before Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid began to head the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Looks like someone has failed in his goal to get people commuting again!  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Creative accounting at the NHTSA

Which is claiming that the near-doubling of corporate average fuel economy to an average of will "cost automakers only $157 billion." while saving consumers about ten times that amount.  Let's do the math on that one.  We'll start with the premiss; that automakers will pay the cost, while consumers will reap the benefits-- as if automakers do not pass the costs of government mandates on to the consumer as a matter of survival.  The NHTSA isn't starting off well in the credibility department, to put it mildly.

Going further, the most fuel efficient car in mass production today is the Toyota Prius, which tops out (as really a four seater) at about 51mpg.   So we can safely assume that for automakers to achieve the federal mandate, their technology will need to exceed that of the Prius--which costs over $6000 more per vehicle than the comparable Corolla.  No, contrary to some opinions, it's not equivalent to a Camry, which is why Toyota makes a hybrid Camry, too.

We might assume that we could get some cost reductions as these go into higher volumes, but reality is that we've been making these batteries and motors for a while now--the latter really for a century--and hence it's unlikely that we're going to get huge decreases in the cost. 

So let's assume that in each year, an additional 10% market share will need to go to hybrid or comparable vehicles--with the last two years' cost indicating that all vehicles will need to go beyond current hybrid technology.  What is our cost? 

Approximately 100 million hybrid vehicles, or the vehicles purchased over about eight years, will need to be sold with an average additional cost of somewhere around $5000/vehicle.  In short, the actual cost for implementing this is about three to five times what the government says it will be--no surprise there.

Now, given that we're keeping our vehicles for an average of ten years or more, what will the consumer actually save on gas?  It's hard to tell, not knowing what gasoline prices will be, but let's try a model.  First of all, the previous standard was to be about 35mpg by 2025, which is an improvement of about 2% per year.  So we will see how much an additional 2% per year improvement--average of 3.5% for light trucks and 5% for cars minus 2% planned improvement--will save.

Answer: about three hundred billion dollars over the next twelve years, or about half of what the program will cost.  So when you see government efficiency mandates and the numbers they use to justify them, distrust, then verify, then distrust some more, as Mitch notes at Shot in the Dark.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An interesting thought.....

If I am indeed correct that it is rather heartless to spend a lot of time and energy to prevent voter ID laws from being enacted, would it not follow, then, that one great way for a church or political party to really help the poor (and possibly get their seats in a pew and/or their votes) is to help them get their birth certificates and state issued IDs--with extra credit given for helping them to get a drivers' license?

Yes, I think it would.  Hmmmmm....