Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Glories Of Deregulation

You would think that the all the industrial disasters would make it clear to America that trusting private industry to police themselves is not a good idea.  We've had a financial meltdown on Wall Street that nearly destroyed the entire economy, a coal mining disaster that left 28 men dead in West Virgina, a cave-in in Kentucky that killed two more, and now an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11, injured 17, and is going to destroy much of the coastal ecosystems of Louisiana.

How many more explosions, cave-ins, fires, or frauds do we need to go through to catch on that human beings are fallible?  Greed makes us forget about long-term issues like safety and security over short-term gains.  It is inherent in our structure, and expecting a profit-making entity to police itself properly and reliably is crazy.  An external arbiter with no vested interest is needed to keep everyone honest.  That is the role of the government regulator.

Reaganomics was wrong on so many levels it makes my head hurt.  I was screaming about how it was foolishness  and its proponents were being deliberately dishonest back in 1980.  I take no pleasure in being able to say "I told you so."  Another unfortunate aspect of human nature is that we will selectively listen only to those things that we want to hear.  Reagan promised that deregulation and cutting taxes would lead to financial paradise.  The slightest bit of analysis showed it to be complete nonsense, but everyone wanted to believe it was true, and willingly bought the lie.

The most frustrating part is that too many people still haven't figured out it was all a big lie, and still support this idiocy.  Even if we do get it straightened out, once we're all gone there will me more demagogues to sell this snake oil to the public again.  Human nature is not about to change any time soon.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The TAMI Show

Just saw this last night - "The Greatest Concert Video No One Ever Saw."

Filmed in 1964, the ownership of the video rights apparently bounced around for decades without anyone exercising them.  It's just come out on DVD this year, and holy cow, what a show.  A must see for anyone who remembers or is even curious about the music of the time.  James Brown, particularly, really tears the place up.

Fun bits of trivia:  actress Terri Garr was a go-go dancer in the show.  She's wearing the shirt with a big target design on front and back.  I spotted her right away, but only as a face I recognized.  I had to do some research to figure out it was her.  Singer/choreographer Toni Basil ("Hey Mickey") was also a go-go dancer - I'm not sure which one was her, but the brunette in the bikini is a pretty close match.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sports Roundup

Although I have lived in Tennessee for nearly 25 years, I was raised in Michigan and still retain my childhood professional sports allegiances with Detroit.  On that note:

The Lions:  Cliff Avril says, “Ndamukong Suh looks like a beast.”  After the emergence of Matt Stafford last year followed by the drafting of Suh this year, being a Lions fan may be something other than depressing for the next few years.  Given that it's the Lions, though, "not depressing" will probably mean as many as four wins a year.  Whoopee!

The Red Wings:  Very exciting Game 7 last night against the Coyotes.  They really meant business and tore up the second period something fierce.  Here's to more Stanley Cup success in the near future.  Detroit needs something to cheer them up, and the Red Wings can do that very nicely this year.

The Tigers:  Started out 6-1, are now 11-10.  Sigh.  Looks like a long summer of mediocrity.  I don't see them in the post-season.

The Pistons:  I haven't followed pro basketball in 35 years, so I have no idea what they're up to.

And as I am an alumnus of the University of Michigan, I have a deep abiding love for them, as well:  Denard Robinson is coming on fast at quarterback.  Tate's going to have his hands full keeping the starting spot.  Everything I'm seeing so far looks like a vast improvement from last year, so if the defense is good enough, Rodriguez will keep his job.  That's good, as I like the guy and think he's a great coach.  Sometimes things fall apart despite talent and good intentions, though, so I hope things are on an upslope from here.

That's enough for now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tennessee's State Motto

"Thank God For Mississippi Arizona Oklahoma"


I love it.  The World Championships are being broadcast on the web via numerous sources, and I have become addicted to it.  I played a lot of pool with my Dad as a kid, and Snooker is absolutely the highest form pool-related gaming I have ever seen.  I don't need to prattle on about it, as if anyone reads this they either know about it, or don't - and this is no place to try to explain it.

Anyway, I know I would be really bad at it, but it's an awesome game.  Just thought I would let anyone who stumbles across this know.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Immigration Reform, Part The Last

OK, I want to draw this series of posts to a close and move on to other things.  My basic premise, said in too many words and with far too much bloviation, is that the majority of opponents to sensible, realistic immigration reform maintain their opposition for essentially the same reasons that Southerners opposed desegregation 50 years ago.  They wish to maintain a static, caste-based society with a permanent semi-slave underclass.

Surprisingly, I'm not alone in this.  I found this column over at HuffPo today, where Robert Creamer is comparing Arizona in 2010 to Alabama in 1963.  He recognizes that this is going to go down like the civil rights struggles of the past.  I fear this is going to get very ugly before it's over, but will simultaneously serve to put the troglodytes back into their caves for another couple generations.

Anyway, I've been dancing around this topic for the better part of a week, and I guess I should close with what I think is a reasonable approach to immigration reform, from my perspective as a pragmatic bleeding-heart liberal.  I'm not much of a policy wonk on this at the moment, so it's a good thing no one reads this - I'm going to let myself look quite silly and naive.

First of all, we have to acknowledge the illegal immigrants that are here, and recognize that they're not going anywhere.  The only thing we can really do with them is get them out of the darkness and provide them with amnesty and a reasonable path to citizenship.  The people who migrated here legally pitch a fit over this, and legitimately so, but there is no completely fair solution to anything here, and the greater good seems to be in moving the currently illegal to legal status.

Second, we need to change our border policies.  There are millions of people seeking to get into this country, and few that are allowed in legally.  Thus, we have so many crossing in illegally.  Since it is obvious we cannot stop them, let's go the other way and remove nearly all limits to immigration, and make entering the country legally a simple task.  No one is going to take a risk on a sprint through the Arizona desert at night if they can help it.

However, we do have a right to know who is entering our country, and keep certain people (known criminals, or with highly communicable diseases, for example) out.  Thus I would propose a registration system at border crossings, where people can apply to enter, and within a week can be approved to cross.  Those who are coming to find a job will have a chance to do so without fear or significant cost.  Work visas could be initially granted on a 6-month basis, with a continual rollover allowed for reasonable lax reasons.  Non-citizens would have access to limited social services, but not be eligible for unemployment benefits, social security, medicare, or welfare.  If they're here to find a job and can't find one, they should head on back home, unless they have friends and relatives who will support them. 

Application for citizenship ought to be contingent on a credible work record, though.  I do have a problem with someone coming here, laying around sponging off relatives for five years, then becoming a citizen and living off welfare.  I don't think that's actually a very common problem, but I wouldn't have an issue with a work history requirement for someone who arrived via the lax immigration quotas.  Someone who is deported for criminal offenses would go on the list of "persona non grata", and not be allowed back in.

Coupled with this would be stringent enforcement of laws against employers hiring undocumented workers.  Once the amnesty is available and the borders are opened up, there is no reason whatever to employ someone who has entered the country illegally, except to exploit them.  No hiring of illegal immigrants, plus relatively easy legal border crossing, would dry up the market for these near-slave laborers in a hurry.

I'm sure there are plenty of problems with this basic scenario, as I am not conversant enough in the details of immigration policy to know what I'm overlooking.  It is something of a "free market" approach to immigration - if people think living here without social benefits is better than living in their home country, then come on down.  We just want to know who you are and where you're hanging out.  Get a job, pay your taxes, behave yourself, and you're welcome to join the party as a citizen.

And with that, I will leave this subject for a while.  It's been good to get all this out of my head, as it's made room for other stuff.  I'm glad I have no readers, as this whole series will be long buried in archives before anyone discovers this place.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Immigration Reform, Part The Third

OK.  So in the last two posts I developed the notion that there is a fraction of the population that wants social stasis, out of fear of backsliding from their own current position.  Prior to desegregation, these people liked the idea of blacks occupying the bottom rung of the social ladder, because it made a backstop for them and gave them a level of comfort about how fall they might fall.  While there was and continues to be plenty of overt racism due to nothing more than pigmentation, a fair amount of institutional racism is more about preventing social mobility, than specifically discriminating against a class of people.

Anyway, one of the results of the Civil Rights struggle was that these people have spent 40 years or more trying to reconstitute their caste-based social safety net via economics.  It's not anywhere near as efficient as the Jim Crow laws were in keeping people in their place, however.  They've been looking for a new bottom class to focus on, where laws already exist to help keep them at the bottom of the barrel.

These people are the illegal immigrants. They have become the new bottom social class, semi-slaves due to their status. They are exactly what the neo-feudalists need.

Looking at the illegal immigration problem from their standpoint changes the whole debate.  These people aren't interested in "solving" the problem.  They want it perpetuated forever.  Their solution is to relegate the illegals to a permanent lower class, and keep them from ever having a chance to become legal or move upward in society.

They propose "send them back where they came from" as a solution.  Why?  Because it will never happen.  Demanding that the illegals voluntarily return to their home country and reapply for legal status is deliberate obfuscation.  12 million people are not going to voluntarily go anywhere.  Somehow I don't think the notion of police moving in and rounding up people by the millions, sorting out the illegals, and shipping them off somewhere isn't going to happen, either.  When pressed about the impracticality of their solution, their response is inevitably, "Well, it's what they ought to do!" and refuse to engage on the reality.

Their attempts to fortify the border in Texas and elsewhere have nothing to do with actually controlling the border.  It's again simply not practical to attempt to close a border that long through that much wild territory.  It may make it harder to cross, but it will not stop it and they know it.  Fortifying the border is instead more akin to a "spite fence" - a fence a homeowner builds to show a neighbor how much he is disliked.  The border-sealing schemes are all about showing the illegals how much they are hated, so that they will "stay in their place" and not get uppity.

Consequently, the neo-feudalists will fight tooth and nail to prevent any sort of real solution to illegal immigration.  Their goal is the subjugation and humiliation of illegals, to keep them in the bottom social caste.  They do not want the status quo to change.  This is fundamental to understanding the fight to come over illegal immigration.  It is a fight between those who want to treat illegal immigrants as human beings, and those who want to keep them as indentured servants.

The coming fight over immigration reform is going to look suspiciously similar to the civil rights battles of half a century ago.  The motives of each side are quite similar to the protagonists of that battle, and the arguments both sides will use will end up being quite similar as well.  In other words, it's going to get very ugly - and doing the right thing is going to be outrageously difficult. 

I hope Obama and the Congressional Democrats have the stomach for a primal fight, one that's going to go down to the gutter in a hurry.  It will be a defining moment for the country if they can pull it off.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Immigration Reform, Part The Second

OK, yesterday I blathered about a class of people who don't believe that hard work and talent are what get you ahead in this country.  I'm going to forgo a complicated analysis of what got them into that state, as there are lots of reasons they may end up that way.  That may be a topic for another post at some point.

In any event, the people I'm describing have become fearful of social change.  Since they don't believe they can move themselves forward, their primary concern becomes holding on to what they have.  Their desire for stasis comes from a fear of backsliding - if they can't move upward in society, they at least don't want to move downward.  Politically, their main goal is to make sure no one moves past them on their way up the social ladder.

Old Southern society was built on social stasis.  Everyone had a place in the hierarchy, and was expected to behave and live in ways suiting their standing.  The greatest sin anyone (of any race) could commit was being "uppity" - acting in a manner that befitted a higher social rank than they possessed.  Southern racism wasn't so much antipathy to people based on their skin color, it was that blacks had been forced into the lowest social caste and were expected to behave accordingly.    White Southerners could look on their own social position and always feel assured that no matter how badly their own life was going, there was always a limit to how far they could fall.

The great opposition to the Civil Rights movement was mainly driven by this fear.  Desegregation, freeing the blacks from their bottom social caste, meant upending the entire social structure of the South.  Ironically, desegregation freed more whites than blacks in the South.  By destroying the caste system of the Old South, poor whites were released from their own subjugation and allowed to move upward, as well.  The only real losers were the landed aristocracy, greater in power and influence than numbers by a long way.  Their response was to turn to economics.  Conservative economic policy over the last 40 years has been designed to stop social mobility and concentrate political and economic power in the wealthiest citizens - but that is another digression, and another topic for another post.

Today, the desire to freeze social classes out of fear of falling lower is scattered nationwide.  It is not isolated to any particular geographic region.  The economic crisis of the last couple years has exacerbated the feeling that the American Dream is slipping away from them, due to arbitrary forces beyond individual control.

Like the poor whites of the Old South, they need a social caste to feel superior to.  No matter how bad their own situation gets, they want someone guaranteed to be below them.  This is the role that is being filled by the illegal immigrants.

Tomorrow, I'll try to show how this desire for a static caste system out of fear of social backsliding finally relates to immigration reform - and draw this sequence of posts to a close.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Immigration Reform, Part The First

Disclaimer:  This is going to be rather long and rambling, as it is a rather long and rambling topic.  Furthermore, there's going to be some things that I get completely wrong, and other stuff that may not make a lot of sense.  This is probably going to have to be something I come back and revisit several times to get my thoughts sorted out.  There is value to getting this stuff out of my head and on paper (real or virtual), so perhaps I can make better sense out of all this over time.

Now to the subject at hand:

We are a nation of immigrants.  Only 1.5% of the population identify as Native American or Alaskan Native (according to the 2000 Census), which means 98.5% of us trace our ancestry to somewhere else. Emigration from elsewhere is something that binds our majority culture together - yet it remains a controversial topic.

In musing on this, it seems to relate to a common problem throughout our society.  Namely, a significant fraction of the population do not believe in the American dream - of a meritocratic society, of raising one's station in life through industry and thrift.  They want instead a caste-based system of American aristocracy, something closer to feudalism, where everyone has a place in society and one's station in life is defined by one's birth. 

These neo-feudalists seem to fall into two broad categories.  They've both been around as long as the country has.  The hereditary wealthy have always seen themselves as a superior caste, and very visibly so.  While there is some movement into and out of this class, it is a long tradition in America to pit political struggles as the wealthy versus the middle class.  This is not something that needs to be belabored, as it is part of everyone's consciousness.

There's another group of neo-feudalists, though - one which doesn't get as much play.  These are the people who don't want to compete in life.  It doesn't seem to be because they simply don't like to compete - those people are the laid back surfer dudes and stoners who are content to let everyone do their own thing and have made their own choice to be content with what they have, opting out of the whole competition scene. 

No, the largest group of middle-class neo-feudalists are people who perceive themselves as losers in the competition in life.  From an objective viewpoint, many of these people seem to be doing just fine - college educated, good jobs, happy families.  In their own minds, however, they seem to perceive only their own limitations.  Regardless of what they have actually accomplished, they feel they should have achieved so much more - and thus their accomplishments in life are merely a reminder of their shortcomings.  When you're convinced that you're CEO material,  a career as a middle manager is failure.  Their life is a half-empty glass.

So in a very real sense, they're victims of the Great American Myth - that anyone can rise to whatever level they want to in life, if they're willing to work hard.  They've worked extremely hard all their lives, and haven't gotten anywhere near where they wanted to be - and now they're feeling used and bitter.  The reality is that extraordinary success in any field requires a fair amount of luck - simply being smart and working hard only takes you so far.  There are an enormous number of talented actors and musicians waiting tables and driving taxicabs for a living, for example.

That's probably enough bloviation for today.  I'll pick up with this thread tomorrow and try to make more sense out of it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Rain

It's raining today.  That may not mean much to some people, but here in Chattanooga in the Spring, it's a blessing from Heaven.  Not simply because we need the rain, but Spring in Chattanooga means pollen - tree pollen, specifically, by the boatload.

For the last week or so, everything has been coated with a fine chartreuse powder.  It's everywhere, like dust from the Icelandic volcano I refuse to try to spell or pronounce.  You can smell it when you breathe.  Your mouth gets gritty from it getting captured by your saliva as you inhale.  On the TV weather, a pollen count over 50 is defined as "high".  Spring in Chattanooga generates pollen counts over 1500 regularly, and we set a record the other week with one over 7000.  They said it was visible from space - a faint haze of pollen hovering over the entire Southeast.

I had only minor problems with allergies as a kid (mowing the lawn always stuffed my head up), but it wasn't until we moved down here that I appreciated what serious allergy sufferers go through.  Every Spring, for years, I would get what I thought was a low-level cold that would never go away.  Itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, sniffling, stuffed up sinuses - I was miserable and didn't really know why.  Colds go away in a few days or a week; this stuff just hung on, making me feel lousy for a couple months without a break.

One day I made the connection - "This is allergies!" - and I started a steady diet of antihistamines every Spring.  Unfortunately, I seem to develop a tolerance to them after a while, and I can't take them for too long before they lose their effectiveness.  So it's been about two weeks on, a week off, every Spring for more than a decade.  The last few days have been "off", and I've been pretty miserable.

But today we had rain.  Not a lot, but it washed a lot of this junk out of the air and off the ground into the storm sewers.  There's little chartreuse sand bars all over where the running rivulets were overstuffed with pollen-laden silt.  We could use a good thunderstorm or two to really clear everything up.

And once pollen season ends, we get 4 or 5 months of blistering heat and high humidity.  The joys of Southern living.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Foolish, Ignorant Foreigners

I like coffee.  That trait makes me a bit odd in my family, as I seem to be the only one who does.  I like checking out exotic beans now and then, as they do indeed have subtly different flavors and tend to be much smoother than the standard Maxwell House (despite how certain people claim they can't tell any difference).  I don't care enough to drink gourmet coffees with any regularity, however.

One of the weirder coffees around is kopi luwak, or civet-poop coffee.  Civets eat the coffee beans, then the hard, indigestible cores pass on out, and are retrieved by the intrepid poop-hunters of Indonesia.  The beans are washed, roasted, and ground into coffee.  I've never had any desire to try it, as it seemed rather unappetizing, all in all.

The New York Times ran an article about it today, and a couple things stood out.  One, the local Indonesians don't consider this stuff to be particularly good.  Second, they are clever entrepreneurs who know how to take advantage of stupid foreigners:
Alberto Pat-og, 60, a retired school principal, said he did not understand why foreigners were willing to pay so much for a cup of the stuff.
“We are a bit surprised,” he said. “A bit perplexed.”
His son, Lambert, 20, added, with a big grin, “We are ignorant.”
 I love the irony.  The pseudo-colonialists think they're taking advantage of the Indonesians because they clearly don't know just what it is they've got.  Trouble is, the Indonesians know exactly what they've got - it's civet poop, and if the foolish, ignorant foreigners are dumb enough to want to buy it, they're more than willing to sell it to them.

There are times when I absolutely love this world.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

AMD Turns A Profit

AMD's Q1 is in the black

The vagaries of the semiconductor business are not a particular strong point of mine, but this was nice to see.  I have an inherent bias toward underdogs, so the increasing Intel hegemony in the x86 processor space was a minor concern to me.  It's better for everyone involved for there to be good competition.  AMD seems to have some good stuff in the pipeline, so them turning a profit and remaining in business is likely to be a Good Thing™.

Having been a computer freak for decades, it's funny to think back on all the sturm and drang over these devices that do nothing more than push around electronic signals.  Not just Macintosh versus Windows, but Linux versus Unix, command lines versus GUI's, open source versus proprietary, AMD versus Intel, Nvidia versus ATI.

In every case, there was simply a problem to be solved, with multiple ways to solve it.  People chose the solution that best fit their needs.  A computer is a tool, and the best tool is the one that fits your hand and lets you be the most productive.  Nothing else really matters.  And yet, people nearly came to blows repeatedly simply because their own particular choice of tools wasn't universally admired and adopted. 

I was as guilty as anyone else at times, and yet I can look back and see how foolish it all was.  We get so personally invested in our choices, as if it is a reflection of our very worth as a human being.  I guess it's evidence that deep down, we're all insecure idiots who desperately seek some sort of assurance that we're not quite as stupid and worthless as we fear we really are.

This moves me to ponder just how much tribalism seems to be inherent in our basic genes.  "My X is better than your X" would appear to be built right into our DNA.  It doesn't seem to matter what the issue is, we automatically want to assert that anything associated with our own self is better than an almost identical thing associated with someone else.

My computer is better than your computer.   My car is better than your car.  My kids are better than your kids.  My ancestors were better than your ancestors.  My political ideology is better than your political ideology.  My God is better than your God.

The problem is, sometimes my computer really is better than your computer.  Or your computer really may be better than mine.  I'm perfectly capable of making bad decisions and wasting my money on junk - and so are you.  Knowing when a value judgment is appropriate, and when to accept that different people simply have different needs is the basis of wisdom, I guess.

All this from noting that AMD is finally back in the black, and has a better chance of remaining a competitor to Intel for the foreseeable future.  I guess I really am turning into a pretentious git.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fly Me To The Moon, Continued

After hearing Obama's speech at Cape Canaveral yesterday and reviewing the highlights of the proposals, I'm cautiously optimistic.  The Constellation project was never anything more than a bullet-point on a Powerpoint presentation for Bush - it was woefully underfunded, way behind in its progress, and ultimately a dead end.

It looks like Obama plans to vault past the whole Ares system for heavy lifting and is going directly to the next generation vehicle, in preparation for some serious manned space exploration.  Going back to the Moon remains a sidelight possibility with this arrangement, if it's something we feel like doing, but the main thrust is going to be toward a Mars-capable program.

It's always somewhat unnerving when a program is going to take so long to start producing results - there's going to be a lot more fingers in the pie and who knows what the world will be like by 2025.  I feel like it's going in the right direction, though, so any fiddling with it will be more in the mode of fine tuning than a reversal of direction.  My hope is that NASA is sufficiently invigorated that they get ahead of schedule and we start seeing results sooner than later, making it difficult to shut the thing down capriciously.

This feels a lot like the transition between Apollo and the Shuttle programs.  I never like the Shuttle particularly, though, so I'm more comfortable with this one because I have a better opinion of the destination.

To Infinity, And Beyond!

Who'd A Thunk It?

I really don't intend to focus on the Tennessee state government all the time, but the hits just keep coming:
Bredesen defends attorney general
NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday defended State Attorney General Bob Cooper, saying he thinks Mr. Cooper “made the right call” in deciding that state legislation seeking to overturn the federal health care reform law is unconstitutional.
The Tennessee Health Freedom Act also sought to compel Mr. Cooper to file suit in federal court.
“I don’t think we ever ought to be in a position where the Legislature or the governor is telling the attorney general what their position ought to be on these things,” Gov. Bredesen told reporters. “Bob is a very competent lawyer. He has looked at it and come to the conclusion it is not a winnable case.”
Mr. Cooper said in a recent legal opinion that the U.S. Constitution’s “supremacy clause” trumps the states’ rights under the 10th Amendment.
Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, also said the issue is “being politicized across the country, and I think he (Mr. Cooper) made the right call.”
Every now and then the grown-ups have to step in and take the toys away from the kids so they don't hurt anybody.  The Tennessee Republican party's stolid defiance of reality is truly impressive, but is rapidly getting old.

We pay these guys to run the state and enact laws that affect us all.  It would be nice if they showed some comprehension of how American government actually works.  I'm tired of arguing grade-school level civics with supposedly educated adults.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Your Tax Dollars At Work

An article in the Times-Free Press caught my eye: 

Bredesen floats sales tax hike on luxuries
Gov. Phil Bredesen on Wednesday asked legislative leaders to consider eliminating the local sales-tax cap on the purchase of single big-ticket items in order to raise $85 million to plug the latest state’s budget shortfall.
The plan would apply to major purchases with a value exceeding $3,200. But it specifically exempts sales of vehicles, boats and manufactured homes, administration officials said.
“We’re floating this idea to fix the budget hole — what amounts to an additional $105 million shortfall,” Bredesen press secretary Lydia Lenker said, confirming lawmakers’ accounts of the governor’s proposal. “We feel it’s a better option than what the next round of budget cuts would look like.”
The governor’s 2010-2011 budget already provides for 9 percent cuts affecting many functions of government.
Among those present at Democrat Bredesen’s weekly breakfast meeting with legislative leaders was Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate speaker, who later said, “I just don’t think it would get the votes in the state Senate.
“There’s no way in the world I could support it,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said. “It’s the worst time in the world to be raising taxes.”
Let me get this straight.  The conversation is:

Phil:  "Hey Ron - what should we do?  Ask a guy already shelling out $30k for a backhoe to cough up another couple hundred bucks in taxes, or ask 10-year-olds to sell magazines door-to-door so their school can afford a Xerox machine?"

Ron:  "Gee, Phil, I don't know.  That's a tough one.  It sure wouldn't be right to ask the guys with all the money to pay for babysitting a bunch of whiny kids."

Actually, the answer is pretty easy.  A guy who can afford a backhoe obviously a voter to be swayed who could be tapped for some campaign contributions, to boot.  And who are we to deny those 10-year-olds such a valuable educational experience in free market economics?  We need to boost their entrepreneurial spirit!  It's what made America great!

 That this is even a "debate" is the whole problem.  Our tax structure in this state is already ridiculously regressive, slanted to the advantage of the privileged at the burden of the unprivileged.  It just underscores our state motto, "Thank God for Mississippi" - otherwise we'd be last in everything.

Edit:  Note in clarification
Bredesen's alternative is cutting all state employees' pay by 5%, not directly cutting school budgets.  My comment is geared more toward budget cutting in general versus tax increases.  We've already had kids in our neighborhood selling magazines and garbage bags door-to-door to raise money for a Xerox machine in their school.  Schools, and all other social services in this state, are in a world of hurt as it is.  The discussion should be about restoring funding to education and social services, not seeking ways to cut back even further.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fly Me To The Moon

I grew up with the space program.  Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the lunar landing and everything associated with it form a huge part of my childhood memories.  Thus the Moon holds a lot of romance and nostalgia for me.

I'm torn on the Constellation project.  Obama has canceled it, the Apollo astronauts are excoriating him for it.   I'm not enough of an expert to know whether a return to the Moon is really worthwhile or not.  I can see how setting up a lunar colony, with an observatory and scientific station and what-all would be scientifically and technologically valuable.  Long term habitation of the Moon would be a proving ground for technologies that would be useful for flights to Mars and elsewhere.  The technological prowess that would develop from having regular flights to and from the Moon would be impressive.

The downside is that in a lot of ways, the Moon is a dead end.  It's not useful as a launching platform for missions elsewhere.  There really isn't that much more science to be gained from the surface of the Moon itself that couldn't be gotten in Earth orbit.  Rockets to go to the Moon and back wouldn't be powerful enough for interplanetary voyages, and crew protection needs would be completely different.  An entirely new class of launch vehicles would have to be developed anyway, as lunar technology wouldn't be all that different from Apollo - and we've already been there and done that.  You can make a pretty good case that however romantic and impressive a new lunar program might be, it's not really a good use of scarce capital.

My own feelings are that the incremental approach of NASA back in the '60s was the right one.  Let's master trans-lunar flight, then build on that technology for a trip to Mars.  We needed to invent a new booster to get to the Moon in the first place with the Saturn project, but we still used other stuff for Mercury and Gemini as we figured the rest of it out.  The Constellation technology could gradually be upgraded with better and better stuff, as well as a testing platform for Mars caliber designs.  As a starry-eyed layman, than seems to make sense to me.  But I'm a starry-eyed layman, so what do I know?

Anyway, I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the whole space exploration issue at the moment.  What I want more than anything else is to see some commitment to do something with manned space exploration.  It's something that we as a culture need to do.  We need goals.  We need audacity.  We need technological challenges to keep us from getting bored and complacent.  NASA is a hugely important part of our cultural legacy, something that helps to define who Americans are.  The Shuttle program was largely a waste of time and opportunity, a dead end technology in its own right.  I hope President Obama can reignite that noble cause I knew as a child.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Southern Pride

Miss. county schools ordered to comply with desegregation order
A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county's only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
The order, issued by Senior Judge Tom S. Lee of the U.S. District Court of Southern Mississippi, came after Justice Department civil rights division lawyers moved to enforce a 1970 desegregation case against the state and Walthall County.

I'm so glad that Haley Barbour said that slavery "didn't mean diddly" to Confederate History Month.  Mississippi is clearly leading the charge in bringing our nation to the ideal of racial equality.

It's just enormously saddening to see this kind of idiocy still going on.  This fight was decided more than 50 years ago, and the hate-mongers lost.  That this stuff is being passed on to yet another generation is perhaps not surprising, but it sure is depressing.

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a fantastic post today at the Atlantic:
The Ghost of Bobby Lee
 What undergirds all of this alleged honoring of the Confederacy, is a kind of ancestor-worship that isn't. The Lost Cause is necromancy--it summons the dead and enslaves them to the need of their vainglorious, self-styled descendants. Its greatest crime is how it denies, even in death, the humanity of the very people it claims to venerate. This isn't about "honoring" the past--it's about an inability to cope with the present.
This is about a lancing shame, about that gaping wound in the soul that comes when confronted with the appalling deeds of our forebears. Lost Causers worship their ancestors, in the manner of the abandoned child who brags that his dead-beat father is actually an astronaut, away on a mission of cosmic importance.

The Confederacy was about treason to force militarily the continuation of slavery.  There is no pride in that, only shame.  Southerners have a lot to be proud of, but the Confederacy is not one of them - it is something they have to live down.  It's pretty tough to admit that one's forebears were scumbags, but the South will never grow up as a society until they finally confront that ugly past.

And I dearly hope this is a topic I never have to deal with again - but I suspect I will.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In (Faint) Praise of Bob Corker

Bob Corker used to be my Mayor.  I thought I kind of knew him.  As mayor, he did a pretty good job.  Despite being Republican, he was generally open-minded and cooperative with everyone.  He was far from the rigidly dogmatic Republicans that are all too common these days.  Even though I didn't vote for him for the Senate (I have refused to vote for anyone with an R next to their name on principle for a decade or so now), I had hopes that he would do a decent job.

I was thus quite disappointed to see him immediately fall into the dissembling, talking-point-spouting, mindless drone that he became in his first couple years in office.  I guess it is inevitable that a new guy is going to try to please his bosses, but it was still painful to see him perform the way he did.  It seemed painful to him, too, as he didn't wear the Republiclone costume well at all.

Consequently, his changing attitude and behavior in the last month or so has been a breath of fresh air.  He lashed out at the Republican leadership for botching the financial reform bill (by refusing to add any amendments at all in committee), then was one of the first to acknowledge that repealing health care reform was a stupid idea that simply wasn't going to happen.  The Republican party got a collective case of the vapors from all that honesty, and it was very nice to see.  This is more of the version of Bob I was used to seeing, and I hope I get to see a lot more of him.

I'm not sure what to make of his comments in this interview from WPLN, though:
Despite the looming threat, Senator Bob Corker says the government does not need to prop up commercial lending. Because when the government steps in, business owners don’t know whether to expect a bail out or more regulation.
“I think most people realize we’re not going to be doing anything – or at least I hope we’re not – as it relates to commercial real estate. This is something the private sector can work out themselves.”
Corker says he does expect the troubled commercial real estate industry to further stress the entire banking industry.
While I'm not going to argue whether or not commercial lending needs to be propped up (that level of detail is beyond my level of competence at the moment), I do have a problem with Bob's logic here.  It's not a binary choice - either the government bails out business owners or more regulation is enacted.  The proper answer would be both.

If the government has to step in to bail out the commercial lending market, it is direct evidence that the market was not capable of policing itself and more regulation is needed.  If the market does not ultimately need to be bailed out, we can conclude that the painful correction amounted to sufficient self-regulation - perhaps only a bit of tweaking on the edges of the regulations to lessen the likelihood of this happening again would be appropriate.

I'm hoping Bob made his comments as a sop to his party's leadership.  The Bob Corker I knew as mayor would be far more pragmatic in his assessment of the situation.  I do hope that the commercial lending market fails slowly enough that the overall economy can absorb the losses without significant damage - but if not, I have no objection to some sort of bailout that will keep the economy growing.  We're not dealing with mere numbers and theories - these are real people, with families, hopes, and dreams, who didn't cause the problems and shouldn't have to pay for other peoples' screw-ups.  Discretion is the better part of valor.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Little River Canyon

The wife is on Spring Break this week, so we took a day for some outdoor fun.  We went down to Fort Payne, Alabama, to check out the Little River canyon, at the southwestern edge of Lookout Mountain.  Had a great time - very beautiful place.  One of the great but little-known places of natural beauty around here.

Fort Payne, Alabama is a great town.  The central part has a lot of its original buildings from when it was a steel boom-town, and their spacing and street frontage is quite different from what is usually seen these days.  A paved road looked out of place - it was designed for horses and wagons, and a black-topped road with a bright yellow stripe seemed like an anachronism.  We had a late lunch at the Main Street Deli.  Very good sandwiches and service, with a stage for live bands that perform there regularly.  For a town of 13,000, Fort Payne has a very vibrant live music scene.  A place I'll want to get back to some day.

First Post

Well, here I go with this "blogging" stuff.  We'll see how it works out.  I feel rather pretentious in thinking that anybody is going to care about my thoughts on anything, but it will be a good creative outlet for me.  I hope to use this as a glorified diary, essentially.  If anybody reads it or comments on it I will consider it a bonus.