Thursday, February 24, 2011

I suppose I have to write something about this stuff

This stuff being Wisconsin and DOMA.

And the problem is that the bad guys are wearing me down.

Unions – bad. We can’t outlaw private unions (yet) so let’s blame teachers, cops and firefighters for all the woes of Wisconsin. Never mind that unions, if they are one of the reasons for the current economic meltdown the country, states and cities are facing, are a minor factor. Let’s focus on class envy. Us that don’t have the decent wage, the pension or the benefits the union workers have, having been beaten down are looking down the street, around the corner and are jealous. We’ve taken a beating, why haven’t they? We are a little too pleased with politicians that want to take the people that have what we don’t down a notch or two, maybe three.

We don’t focus on the fact that big corporations are on the rebound, in part as the result of cutting cost to the bone at their employees’ expense. We aren’t thrilled that the corporate rebound was aided by the bailout, and we didn’t get much bailout on our block, but “what ya gonna do?” We can’t control corporate or political America so let’s vent our anger at someone we can hurt. We aren’t rebounding and those teachers over there have got more than we do. They ought to suffer as much as we do.

And our politicians are all too willing to pander to our anger.

Our politicians are unwilling to do anything to bring us together, other on a rare occasion when a timid President recognizes what should be a no-brainer and is immediately attacked by the opposition and tepidly supported by his party.

Here’s what a wuss the Prez is.

Sorry, I’ve got to talk a little bit about law. Courts look at laws that are accused of being unconstitutional with three sets of standards – rational basis, heightened scrutiny and strict scrutiny. Religion and race get strict scrutiny treatment, the government can’t mess with them unless it has a “compelling” reason and there is no other way to promote the government interest. At the other end of the spectrum is, what I’ll call, the “laugh test,” usually applied to economic concerns of people. If the government can come up with a reason for the law that doesn’t make the lawyer or the judge laugh, the reason is reasonable and the government can impinge on peoples’ economic rights. In the middle is the heightened scrutiny test, which is muddle of, often conflicting, analysis.

The Obama Administration has decided to forge new ground (cue sarcasm) by announcing that it will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in Courts of Appeal that have not decided that it is subject to the laugh test. If they have decided on the laugh test standard, the Administration will support their ruling. I know that doesn’t make much sense to anyone but Curmudgeon.

Let me try it another way. Our courageous leader doesn’t like discriminating against gay people but he isn’t going to push it. If a set of judges is newly considering discriminating against gay people, the Justice Department is not going to weigh in on the side of the discrimination – they are going to leave that to Congress. But, if another set of judges has already decided that discrimination against gay people is rational - no one laughed when the argument was made - then they’ll defend the discrimination on an appeal to the Supreme Court.

That too makes no sense, unless, unless, Obama is just playing politics as he is wont to do. Gay people will finally be less pissed at him and may come around again to support him in ’12 - same with the straight liberals and a lot of the youngins. Faced with the alternative of whatever Neanderthal, in their minds, the GOP runs, at least Obama is living up to some of his promise – maybe some of them won’t sit out the election in disgust. Obama doesn’t have the hard right, the mostly hard right or the religious right no matter what he does, so the move won’t hurt him and may help him. Chicago politics at its best.

I just think we as a country, we as regions and we as communities have lost our way. We’re scared and we listen to whomever plays to our fear. I’ve got mine or I don’t have mine and I’ll be damned if I’m going to do anything for someone that is different, seems to have more than me or threatens to take some of mine. And Obama and Boehner, and friends, play to the respective fears and vulnerabilities of their sheep.

Unions and gay people aren’t hurting non-union or straight people. But they are nice targets when we can’t control what’s happening and want to lash out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gotta Love Consistency

This post is pretty much a short, but total, rip-off of a piece by a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jay Bookman.

You may remember that a bunch of Republican dominated states are suing the Feds over Obamacare, arguing that it is unconstitutional.  One of their primary arguments is that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause doesn’t allow government to force people to buy health insurance, a strictly local matter.

But wait, it seems not all states are doing a good enough job on their own when it comes to malpractice lawsuits according to some Republicans.  They want a federal law that caps damages.  And remember that they have a rule among themselves that requires a bill to specify the part of the Constitution that authorizes the legislation.  Guess what provision they say allows the Feds to regulate malpractice damages, the horrid commerce clause.

I wasn’t aware there was a lot of interstate malpractice being committed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Props to Amazon. UPDATED: A Jeer for UPS.

Maybe I’m being too easy on Amazon; but, I’m happy and it is the reason. 

I wrote a post a few days back about my plan to buy a DSLR camera. Despite thinking about it, I can’t think of anything fascinating or funny that is worthy of the post I promised you about the process of buying it.

The camera is a Nikon D3100, a lower end model that debuted last fall. I got an extra lens, a media card (none comes with the camera) and Adobe Elements. I really wanted to buy locally; but, with Amazon’s prices and not having to pay 7% sales tax, I saved a bit over $150.00 and struck another little nail in the coffin of local bricks and mortar business. Sorry B&M.

So, why am I happy with Amazon? If you’ve bought something from Amazon, you know it sends you a confirming Email and then sends another Email when your order ships. My camera started wending its way to me yesterday morning and is somewhere in the bowels of UPS between Lexington and Atlanta. Which means it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday, a bit of a disappointment because I was hoping to get it today and play with it over the weekend.

UPS has a huge distribution center three or four miles up the road where my camera will land before being put on a local delivery truck. The center is open on Saturdays. But, some research on Amazon’s and UPS’s sites about redirecting a delivery was also disappointing. I couldn’t have UPS hold it at the center for pick-up until after UPS made a delivery attempt.

But the “shipper” could. All I had to do is find a person at Amazon to do it.

Past experience with technology companies didn’t make me optimistic. Ever talk to a person at Microsoft? Ever find a person at say, Dell that could actually do something?

Amazon’s website doesn’t have a customer service phone number on it, at least that I could find. Google to the rescue! If you want to call Amazon, the number is 800-742-5877. The voice recognition software works quite nicely and hitting “0” gets you out of menu hell immediately.

After confirming that I am indeed Dave, and listening to my request that he tell UPS to hold the shipment at the distribution center for me to pick up in the morning, Ishan asked me to hold. A few minutes of bad harpsichord music later, Ishan came back on the line to tell me I can pick up my camera tomorrow between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

Amazon, you’re pretty good. Ishan, you are officially my favorite person of the week, thanks.

In looking at the tracking information, I learned my package was "ready for pick-up;" so I drove the couple of miles to the distribution center.  It was not ready.  The truck that had indeed arrived, would be unloaded, maybe, Sunday night and, maybe, I could pick up the package on Monday morning, maybe not.  Since that defeated the whole purpose of holding the package at the center, I asked the young lady if I could switch back to a Monday delivery.  I got a disinterested yes and asked that she do that.  Turn out she couldn't (or perhaps wouldn't), but I could do it on line.  Turns out that isn't true.  So I guess I'm taking a drive to UPS on Monday, maybe.  Boo UPS. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sausage Making, Georgia Style

Every year the Georgia Legislature considers whether to allow us citizens to buy take out booze on Sunday.  Every year, it decides we aren’t deserving of the privilege.

Our last Governor, Sonny Perdue, is a Baptist teetotaler.  He famously said if you want to drink on Sunday, you should be organized enough to buy the booze on Saturday.  (Of course you can buy booze on Sunday by getting into your car, driving to a restaurant or bar, drinking as much as they will serve you and then driving home. - so much for the public safety arguments used by Sonny and the religious right opposition.

Another argument against Sunday sales has been that “it’s the Lord’s day.”  Apparently God doesn’t mind drunk driving but subscribes to the never drink alone theory of imbibing.

We have a new Governor, Republican Nathan Deal, who announced that, though he doesn’t drink, he wouldn’t veto a bill allowing Sunday sales.

In case you didn’t know it, there are two parts to Georgia:  Atlanta and the rest of the state.  Metro Atlanta county polls show overwhelming support for Sunday sales.  Counties in the rest of the state either split or are overwhelmingly against Sunday sales.

So, some bright politicians decided to accommodate those that are agin it and those that are fer it.  They introduced a bill that would allow counties and municipalities to hold referendums on whether they wanted to allow Sunday sales.  Don’t want it in Valdosta, fine; but, stock up the beer shelves in Atlanta.

The Chamber of Commerce came out in support of the bill, telling legislators that it was going to make it a “scorecard issue” for future support.  The bill came out of committee in the Senate.  On to a floor vote, approval by the House and new era in Georgia will soon begin!

Then the sausage making started. 

Ministers started whining - no one had told them about the public hearing that preceded the committee vote. The Christian Coalition or one of its clones announced that it would make the vote a scorecard issue.  All of the people that have excoriated the health reform bill since last year on the grounds that it eliminated “local control” and trampled the “will of the people” suddenly lost their fervor for those bedrocks of democracy.  Now, they wanted the bill stopped and stopped at the state level without giving “the people” a vote.

Oh, and it turned out not all members of the Chamber of Commerce were in love with Sunday sales.  Liquor store owners (and for a religious state we seem to have a lot of liquor stores) like the idea of being closed on Sunday.  A week’s worth of sales in six days would turn into an extra day of labor costs with no increase in revenue, giving them less profit.

So, what were the good Senators going to do when confronted with the stark reality that campaign money might dry up if they turned on the liquor store lobby and the religious folks?

They held a closed caucus meeting and mentioned coming out that it didn’t look good for the bill.  They were going to take a private poll of all the Republican Senators – no majority among the majority, no bill.  So the anonymous poll was held.  The bill died a quiet death.  No Republican had to stick his neck out by publicly voting for or against it.

So, all of the Democratic Senators and Representatives were disenfranchised, along with a few million people across the state.  Liquor store profits are safe and Baptists once again succeeded in using government to force their religious views down the throats of their neighbors.  The sausage doesn’t taste real good going down; but, I’ve got plenty of time to get to the store before the Christian Sabbath to get something to wash it down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Walking the Walk

States and municipalities are talking up government employee pension “reform.”  Basically, their argument is that they were stupid and hoodwinked by evil, liberal government employee unions; and, in any event, they can’t afford to pay the generous benefits anymore.

From a 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service (a government entity):

“Under both CSRS and FERS [the two federal pension plans], Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.”

Senators and Representatives make $174,000.00 a year (leadership makes a bit more).  80% of that is $139,200.00.  Not a bad Social Security supplement at 62 if you can get elected once as a Senator or three times as a Representative.  Even better at 50 for a Senator that’s been elected four times or a Representative winning ten times.

Did I mention they get full health benefits for life; and, that since 1984, they also get Social Security?

The Dems and the GOP are sniping at each other about Obama’s proposed 2011 federal budget.  I haven’t heard any of them propose cutting of their own retirement benefits.  Yes, the savings would be a drop in the ocean, not just a bucket, of debt.  Totally symbolic, just like cutting the federal home heating oil subsidy for poor people in half (about $2.5 billion) as Obama has proposed or the $500 million the GOP wants to save by defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sound Advice, As I Recall, From Fifth Grade

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

When you are deciding about something, don’t trust anything or anyone until you gotten an answer to at least the first four W questions. If you have answers to them, you can use what you learned to give your own answer to why and how, or judge someone else’s answers.

Google seems to be screwing up the fifth grade test lately as judged by reading this article at yesterday.  (For whatever reason the linking function is not working.  Thanks Thomas.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Immediate Pleasure, Part One

For some reason I want to buy a DSLR camera. 

I started out with SLR’s years and years ago with a Yashica, focus and set the shutter speed and aperture manually. 

I moved to a Canon AE 1 Program.  Same deal, though it would let you shoot with aperture or shutter speed priority.  Choose one and it would give you the best available other, given the available light, if that makes sense.

That got stolen and I bought a Canon EOS 630.  Auto focus with more auto program features, which I mostly ignored, having learned cameras manually.

Then I got a high end Canon point and shoot.

Then my phone became my camera.

One of the downsides to what I do for a living is that it never ends.  Even when you get a good result for a client, you move on to the next thing on the calendar.  I make my living playing serial table stakes poker that lasts for months and years.

One of the reasons I like my blog is that there is a start and a finish to each post that aren’t too far away from each other.  I get an idea, type a bit and either say, or don’t quite say, what I thought about.  Maybe half the time, I think I’ve written a little piece of art.  Okay, less than half.

I’ve always had some sort of hobby that has a shorter effort/reward cycle. 

I used to play pool until I got to the point that I was as good as I was going to get, unless I started playing hours a day.  But I loved the art of pool.  So many variables on each shot, each shot leading, if you thought it out to the next then the next, until you got to the nine or the eight, depending on the game.  Either game, if you thought it through and executed, pleasure quickly.

Back in the last decade of the last century I took up photography seriously.  Lots of variables, play them right and you get a thing of beauty, fairly quickly for the times.
Digital has speeded up the results to “now,” subject to the time you play with the data with software.

But the enjoyment disappeared with the point and shoot and the phone.  I “see” a lot of stuff that I can’t reproduce.  The 630 and the point and shoot still work; but, each have a flaw.  The 630 has film, the point and shoot lacks a base quality for what I’ll, hubistrically, if that’s a word, call art (Word says it isn’t a word).

So, I’m thinking I need a platform that will let me produce what I “see” again.  The next post will chronicle my search, driven by another part of my personality – “damn that’s expensive.”  But, I think I’ve found a way.  I found out this morning that one of my lenses, that I bought for about $150, sells for over $1,000 today.

Megabytes Over Guns?

I’m still trying to figure out what I think about Eygpt.

One theme of the “revolution” has been that it is the latest example of the power of social media – Facebook, Twitter.  The cellphone will set you free.

And to an extent, I think that is true.

Going forward?  I’m not too sure.  I’m afraid I think that Eygpt has traded one dictator for a group dictatorship, the Army.  From a CBS News article: “With 468,000 members, the Egyptian military is the largest in the Arab world. It controls an estimated one-third of the Egyptian economy….”  I really don’t think the guys that backed the last guy are going to turn things over to the “opposition” by way of “free and fair” elections.

I think guns, at least in the near future, will trump media.  I hope I’m wrong; but, I don’t think I am.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I need a scorecard

The U.S. House failed to pass a bill to extend some of the provisions in the Patriot Act. From what I’ve read, a bunch of new GOP representatives joined with a block of senior GOP representatives and only about two-thirds of Democratic representatives and voted against it on civil liberties grounds.

The Obama administration is backing the bill and a third of the Democrats voted for it?


Topsy-turvy it is.

I’m on the side of Republican veteran pols and wet behind the ears Tea Party nuts. Scary.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


There are things we all agree need to be done (or can’t be seen as not agreeing to).  Prisons, landfills and so on.  Sure we need them; but, don’t put it in my back yard.

I think there’s a somewhat related concept working in national and state politics since the last election.  Republicans swept in on promises reduced spending, local control, no tax increases, “fixing” immigration, etc.

But now the new Congress and legislatures around the country are faced with the reality of governance. 

Take earmarks.  Everyone knows they’re bad; no one is for them.  But wait a minute!  Couple this platitude with the Republican promise to cut $100 billion in spending (now something south of $40 billion – they don’t have a full year to keep the promise).  Couple that with the general proposition that you can’t cut military and entitlement spending, and you have some squeals coming from the hinterlands.

Well yeah, it’s an earmark but it’s a good earmark for this neighborhood.  Here in Georgia, the state wants to dredge the Savannah River to accommodate bigger ships to attract imports and exports to the Port of Savannah.  More traffic, more spending, more taxes and so on.  But you see, we’d rather not pay for the project, which will cost a bit less than a billion bucks.  But all of our Republican federal elected officials ran on the no earmark and cut spending pledges.  They and their state Republican colleagues ran in large part by painting Obama and Washington as twin devils.  They are twisting and turning trying to figure out ways to get the money out of the devil feds they reviled last fall.

Another example.  Like any other state worth its salt, we’re outraged about the federal failure to protect our borders and stop illegal immigration, so we’re going to take it into our own hands.  They had a hearing this week with testimony from Georgia’s agricultural interests.  Turns out they aren’t too thrilled with the Arizona model of stopping, arresting and shipping out everyone with brown skin.  Why you ask?  Who’ll pick the peaches?

Those evil people in Washington that were the cause of all of our troubles also hold the answer to the dilemma of the millions in interest Georgia is supposed to start paying this year on the money it borrowed last year from the feds to pay unemployment claims.  Obama has proposed deferring the interest owed by the states and there’s the rub.  The local GOPpers are all for it.  Their federal counterparts aren’t too thrilled with deferring billions in revenue needed to offset the cosmetic billions they want to cut.

Last fall, politicians talked the talk.  With spring coming, they aren’t so much walking the walk as tiptoeing through the landmines laid by their rhetoric.

Monday, February 07, 2011

HALF OFF! EVERY DAY! had a controversial commercial during yesterday’s Super Bowl, a riff on a public service announcement about Tibet.

I’ll leave it up to you as to whether Groupon was edgy or went over the line.

Now I want to talk about JoS. A. Bank.  Until I started to write this post, I didn’t know if JAB was local, regional or national.  A quick search shows it to be a national clothing chain.

That means some of you will have heard its continual radio and TV commercials about the “HUGE [fill in the blank] SALE:  ANY THREE SUITS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!!!!”

Is it any secret that the “price” isn’t the “price?”  Would anyone in their right mind go to JAB and buy a suit on a day there wasn’t a HUGE SALE?  Not that I think there ever is such a day.  It isn't half off if it's the price every day.

JAB is a cheap clothing discounter.  I’ve never been in one of its stores; but, I’m betting that everything it sells is last year’s line, seconds and/or inferior quality lines.  It’s the loud version of Wal-Mart.  Buy huge quantities of cheap stuff and sell it at a low margin to a lot of people.  There’s a market for this.

Groupon and Scoutmob and their cousins have come of age in a recession.  Retailers, restaurants, gyms and so on are desperate to draw in customers.  I get an Email from Half Off Depot each day, offering really good prices on what seem to be pretty marginal businesses.

Should I assume that these offers represent the true value of the products and services and make sure I never pay the “normal price?”  Should I assume that a point in time, Groupon, et al. will run out of desperate businesses and fade away?  Are Groupon type companies creating an unsustainable model of consumer choice – go from coupon offer to coupon offer, never returning to a business that reverts to regular prices?

Any of these scenarios aren’t good for online coupon companies or their clients.  Then too, Groupon turned down a $6 billion offer from Google and is being valued at $15 billion for a planned IPO; so, what do I know?

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Haircut and a Suit of Clothes

This post is optional - I know, all posts are optional.  I guess what I’m saying is this one will need a little bit of work on your part; and, if you aren’t in the mood, feel free to move along.

First, the quotes come from this article by Wallace Shawn.

Shawn says we are the victims of our personal and societal perceptions, which are self-reinforcing.  We look at the exterior, the haircut and the clothes, and judge the interior.  By doing so, we limit ourselves and everyone else.  We play roles, we don’t live lives that we are capable of.

Had he stopped there, I’d be in agreement; but, according to Shawn,”[t]he global market selects out a tiny group of privileged babies who are born in certain parts of certain towns in certain countries, and these babies are allowed to lead privileged lives. Some will be scientists, some will be bankers. Some will command, rule, and grow fantastically rich, and others will become more modestly paid intellectuals or teachers or artists. But all the members of this tiny group will have the chance to develop their minds and realize their talents.

“As for all the other babies, the market sorts them and stamps labels onto them and hurls them violently into various pits, where an appropriate upbringing and preparation are waiting for them. If the market thinks that workers will be needed in electronics factories, a hundred thousand babies will be stamped with the label ‘factory worker’ and thrown down into a certain particular pit….The reason…was not that [they] lacked ability but that the market wanted workers, and so [the babies were] assigned….

“[U]ntil they’re ready to go to work, they’re all assigned appropriate costumes. And once they know what costume they’ll wear, each individual is given an accent, a way of speaking, some characteristic personality traits, and a matching body type, and each person’s face starts slowly to specialize in certain expressions that coordinate well with their personality, body type, and costume. And so each person comes to understand what role he will play, and so each can consistently select and reproduce, through all the decades and changes of fashion, the appropriate style and wardrobe, for the rest of his life.


“If we look at reality for more than an instant, if we look at the human beings passing us on the street, it’s not bearable. It’s not bearable to watch while the talents and the abilities of infants and children are crushed and destroyed....Their performances as these characters are consistent and convincing, because they actually believe about themselves just what I believe about them -- that what they are now is all that they could ever have been, they could never have been anything other than what they are. Of course, that’s what we all have to believe, so that we can bear our lives and live in peace together. But it’s the peace of death.


“If the play we’re watching is an illusion…, then the division of labor, as now practiced, is inherently immoral, and we must somehow learn a different way to share out all the work that needs to be done. The costumes are wrong. They have to be discarded. We have to start out naked again and go from there.”

Shawn blames the self and societal delusion on capitalist markets, without any explanation and goes on to conclude that we must become socialists. 

It seems to me that he is just trading haircuts and suits of clothes.  I don’t know of anything about capitalism that creates or exacerbates the human tendency to categorize things and to see oneself in the better category (or to see someone or something else as the reason we aren’t).  So too, I don’t know anything about socialism that frees people to see themselves and others more clearly.

I don’t know of any society, historical or current, that has an economic system that results in clear-eyed self-examination or judgment of others.

Shawn seems to me to be an anti-Ayn Rand.  She thought rugged individualism would be our salvation.  He thinks cooperative production and allocation will do the trick.  Both systems, show their flaws when exposed to reality.  Neither system will result in the “perfection” of mankind by realization of the potential of each of us.  That brings us to my favorite verity.  People are basically cussed.  This is a verity that of course calls out for a divinity.  But, because we are cussed, we can't agree on just who that divinity should be, giving us as many flavors of god as there are political and economic systems.  So, on second thought....

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

To everything...there is a season

Last year’s health care reform act (Obamacare if you will) is two for four in legal tests of its constitutionality, with the latest result playing big in the media.  A district court judge has ruled that the “mandate” that people must buy insurance is not allowed under the Commerce Clause or the “necessary and proper” language of the Constitution. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all legal on you; but, the feds can indeed provide health care for every living soul in the country if they want to, they just didn’t do it the right way if the most recent judge weighing in on the question is right. 

The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes … to … provide for the … general Defence and Welfare of the United States….”  U.S. Constitution, Section 8, Clause 1.

Translated, this means that using the same analysis that makes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid constitutional would make universal health care constitutional.  Lay and collect more taxes and then spend them on the legally rational, whether or not wise, proposition that the general welfare of the country would be increased by a more healthy population.

Health care, like most issues, at its heart is a political question.  Over the centuries we decided that a large, global influence wielding military is a good idea and have taxed ourselves heavily to accomplish the goal.  The same is true of railroads, airports, interstate highways and the previously mentioned retirement and more limited health programs.

The Gallup does a yearly poll on health care.  Here’s the link to the November 2010 poll.

The first graph in the poll is interesting.  People thinking health care is a government responsibility peaked in 2007 at 69% and declined to 47% last November, the lowest percentage since 2000.  There are lots more poll questions.  Maybe they explain the decline in popular support for universal health care.

Whatever the reason, there is no majority of support for, much less a mandate for health care for all of us – the Republicans are on to something, or the cause of it?  We, at best seem ambivalent these days.  For whatever reason, it may be that the chance for it was missed.  Cheer or jeer as you will.