Monday, December 31, 2012

The Tranquility Calendar

As I type this, it has now just become the year 2013 in Hong Kong two hours ago, has just become 2013 in New Zealand, and is about to become 2013 in India one hour from now. It will become 2013 in Riadh, Saudi Arabia in three hours.

Actually, it could be considered the year 4710 in China, becoming 4711 on January 23, and the year of Nandana in the Hindu calendar, not becoming the year of Vijaya until February 18. And in the Islamic calendar the year is now 1434, with the new year having already arrived back in November of 2012. Of course, the Mayan calendar ended back on December 21, with no ill effects to any of us.

My point in citing these cultural differences in calendar measurement is not to belittle the Gregorian calendar, which we use. In fact, all the nations cited above have adopted the Western calendar as the worldwide standard, mostly because their traditional calendars are subdivided into many other dozens of sub-variants which are a headache to reconcile. China calls their traditional agrarian calendar Yin, while calling the Gregorian calendar Yang. India uses the Western calendar almost exclusively, and the Arab world uses the Gregorian calendar alongside their Islamic one, relying on the Islamic version for the proper times to celebrate things like Ramadan or conduct the Haj around the city of Mecca. But there are different ways of reckoning our calendar systems, and I'd like to outline a few.

Introducing the Tranquility calendar, so named because it marks New Year's Day, Year One, as the day humans first set foot upon an extra-terrestrial world, our moon. That would be July 20, 1969. It's a calendar which makes a tremendous amount of sense, both mathematically and culturally. Here's how it works:

There are thirteen months of four weeks each, providing for exactly 364 days, plus one extra day which is New Year's Day. (Think of it as a second Sunday.) It was proposed by a man named Jeff Siggins, and published as a proposal in Omni magazine, July 1989. It has a leap year, where one extra day is added to New Year's Day, (a third Sunday), after which the weeks begin normally again.

There are some key advantages to such a calendar. First, it marks the most significant event in human history as the starting point. That makes this year - right now, that is - year 44, A.T. (after-Tranquility). This makes far more sense than marking the starting point at the birth of a man who 1.) turned out not to be the Son of God after all 2.) might not even have existed 3.) whose birthday we don't know anyway 4.) whose New Testament descriptions as to the time and date of his birth are contradictory 5.) whose birth is marked by a celestial star whose existence has never been definitively proven 6.) whose likeliest birth date is actually 4 B.C.E. instead of year zero, 7.) who can't have been born in year zero anyway, because year zero does not exist, 8.) who represents a waning and dying religion, etc. etc. Nearly all businesses use a 13 period system of 13 weeks per quarter to keep track of their financial reporting already, so it makes for a seamless transition in that sense. Every several years or so, the final quarter has 14 weeks, as the annual day lost catches up to the accounting system, but otherwise, it works fairly seamlessly. Were our culture to adopt such a structure, we would no longer have certain months that were longer than others, nor would we have calendars which vary year by year. Each calendar would be identical to the previous year's calendar, and we would no longer have to give up our favorite pin-up art come the year's end.

On the other hand, the publishing industry would lose out on its calendar printing business. Nor is that the only problem. The system proposed by Siggins uses different calendar names from the ones we are used to. So, for example, December is, more or less, the month of Faraday. January is the month of Galileo. February is the month of Hippocrates, and so forth. That would take some getting used to. Also, adding one extra day before resuming the seven-day traditional week throws off all cultural and religious calendars by one day every year, and two every four. That means that their religious celebrations would either have to adjust, or else be in conflict for alternating periods of six and fourteen years, which can be a problem for employees who want to worship on their Sunday when their workplace calendar dictates that it's actually Tuesday and they're supposed to be clocked in. Also, thirteen months is not something we're generally used to. Some people are superstitious about the number 13, and besides, there's a tendency to want to keep the New Year's celebration right where it feels natural, which is near the Winter solstice. July 20 makes for an excellent summer solstice celebration, but people just aren't used to having a big celebration at that time, other than the fourth of July celebration. And how would the new calendar affect such celebrations? If we retained such landmark dates for July 4th, or Labor Day, or Christmas, we would largely have no problems, except for Halloween since All Hallows' Eve falls on October 31, and the new calendar would not have any dates greater than the number 28. That's a problem. Finally, with the entire world using the Gregorian calendar system, and asking everyone to suddenly adapt a new system would be highly disruptive.

Yet not having a calendar which marks year one seems criminal! Especially now, with China, India and Europe on the verge of landing men on the moon themselves, and with major breakthroughs having been made in 2012, including stem cell regression, the discovery of the Higgs boson, advancements in nano-technology, micro-surgery... the list goes on and on. How can we insist upon keeping a calendar system which revolves around a slowly suffocating creed and points to a non-existent event, assuming the man in question even lived?

As such, I propose a slightly revised Tranquility calendar. We keep all the traditional names for our months, but add a new month after what would be the old July 20th. That month will be called Selene, the most ancient name for Luna, our moon. We then only have to get used to one funky new month instead of thirteen. What used to be July 20th under the old calendar will be Selene the first, and under the new calendar, July 19th will end up being July 28th anyway. January will be the only month to have 29 days, as will February on leap years. We will have a slightly different calendar each year in terms of what day of the week each new year begins on, but we have that problem anyway, and that won't be much of an adjustment.

To make the adjustment perfectly seamless, there are two methods: One, wait until a year comes along in which December 31st would happen to fall on a Sunday, thus making January 1st of the new year a seamless transition. Ideal years for that would be 2011, which is an opportunity lost, or (how about this) the year 2016. That, or we could have the year be one in which July 20th falls on exactly the same day, Sunday, as it did back in 1969, and make it a seamless transition from there. That would be July 20th, 2014. Either way, there are two great opportunities coming up in the future. I argue, let's do it!

In the meantime, Happy New Year! It is, as of midnight tonight, the year 2013 Gregorian, the Year of the Dragon, 4710, in China, the Year Nandana in India, the Year 1434, Hijri...

...and the year 44, Post-Tranquility!



Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Predict 2013/14

Okay, it's time to face facts. It's now Saturday, December 22nd, and the world has NOT ended according to the Mayan Calendar. On behalf of all rational people, TOLD YOU SO!

But we might still gaze into our crystal balls (currently looking between my legs) to see what the future might hold for us. Two years ago, I did this very thing, on this very blog, and got exactly nothing right. But it was still fun. As such, here are my predictions for 2013 and 2014. Read them at your own risk.

1.) As John Kerry assumes his role as the new Secretary of State, the special election held to decide who will take over his vacated Senate seat will be won by one of Massachusetts’ newest residents – Ambassador Susan Rice!  Scott Brown will again be the loser.

2.) Hillary Rodham Clinton decides that she will run for president in 2016. Her pick for vice president? Sandra Fluke! Rush Limbaugh calls them both sluts.

3.) Obama’s next big reform bill will again go before the Supreme Court, who will again uphold the law with a 5 to 4 vote. The press will initially report it overturned.

4.) Mitt Romney, his political career now over, decides, “What the hell?” and marries his second wife – without divorcing Ann first.

5.) Someone in the Republican Party will remember that Sarah Palin exists.

6.) Grover Norquist makes all Republicans in congress sign a pledge to hold their breath until they turn blue in the face so they can get whatever they want.

7.) John McCain reveals himself to be a vampire that sparkles in sunlight. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is a werewolf.

8.) A large band of U.S. ambassadors storms an Al-Quaeda training compound in the Middle East, killing four terrorists.

9.) Clint Eastwood wins the Oscar for best director. His award is presented to an empty chair.

10.) A gunman armed to the teeth enters the national headquarters of the NRA and shoots 50 people.  (Well, we can hope, can’t we?)



Friday, December 21, 2012

Tanks! No, Really, Tanks!

The M1 A3 Abrams tank is one of the best tanks in the world, and is the workhorse of the U.S. Army. It is comparable to the European Leopard 2 and the South Korean Black Panther. It’s armor is capable of shrugging off multiple rocket-propelled grenades and most high-powered shells.  It’s barrel can pinpoint and destroy a target 3.5 miles away. It’s targeting system can detect an incoming missile and shoot it out of the sky before it even reaches the tank itself. It can also fire white-hot burning phosphorous to destroy infantry at close range, multiple plechette rounds to take out huge swaths of personnel at a moderate distance, and high-explosive rounds which can easily take out very large or heavily armored targets. It has three, sometimes four, machine guns: a .50 caliber, and two 7.62 mm guns with an optional 12.7 mm just above the main cannon. Any one of these can reduce a charging infantryman to hamburger within seconds. An Abrams tank is one scary machine!

And here’s my point to all this: People who say, "assault rifles are needed to defend oneself against an oppressive government" are essentially saying the equivalent of, "slingshots are needed to defend oneself against a charging M1 Abrams tank!"

Seriously, we’re talking about defending oneself against a government that not only has Abrams tanks, but also elite special forces with night vision, aircraft carriers with harrier jets and their surrounding flotillas of ships and submarines, cruise missiles, super-surveillance with dime-sized cameras which could be anywhere, satellites which could tell you what brand of hat you’re wearing, napalm, agent orange, nuclear weapons and any number of other unknown chemical, biological or radiological weapons… well, you get my point.

If you really think your puny, little assault rifle is going to make any difference against all that, you’re nuts. NUTS, I say! And you’re free to pelt that Abrams tank with your slingshot all you like, but don’t expect me to think that’s either intelligent or something the founding fathers intended.

All a ban on assault weapons does is say that if you’re crazy enough to assault an Abrams tank with a slingshot, you'll get a slightly smaller slingshot. That’s it. Not much difference, is there? All the bitching, whining, moaning and shit-kicking is over nothing more than that.

So what do we do about the potential of an oppressive government? How can we defend ourselves from Uncle Sam when even having assault rifles is like fighting gladiators with cardboard swords? The answer is, VOTE! And get involved in your government! If you want to prevent oppression, you have to do it from within! Our military technology has already taken us past the point of no return to do anything else.

Remember “Tank Man?” He’s the lone man who stood up to a charging line of Chinese tanks during the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square back in 1989. Armed only with a shopping bag, he stood right in front of those tanks, and they stopped! They tried to go around him, but he kept blocking their way! He shouted, “Why are you attacking us?! Why are you attacking us?!” And the befuddled soldiers didn't know what to do about him. No one ever learned who he was. He had every expectation that he would die. Perhaps the Chinese government killed him later. But he proved one thing: It IS possible to be unarmed and yet stand up to an oppressive government! Soldiers, you see, don't want to kill civilians, they want to kill other soldiers! China will almost certainly become a democracy someday, and when it does, it will be, in part, due to the legacy of this unnamed hero who once stood up to a column of tanks without fear.

So do the right thing! Ban assault weapons! And if the time ever comes when the need arises, stand up to oppression like Tank Man!



Thursday, December 20, 2012

Miss Universe

I recently wrote to the newly crowned Miss Universe. My letter to her is reprinted below, as I thought you all might find it interesting.

Dear Olivia Culpo,
    Congratulations on winning the Miss Universe Pageant. I must say that I find no fault with the judges decision, and I'm quite sure that I speak for a large majority of men out there.
    Since you are from Rhode Island, you have a unique opportunity to speak up regarding the recent tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School in a way no one else can. I'm a resident of the Milwaukee, WI area, and the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek happened right near my cousins' house, so the issue is very close to me. I think that it goes without saying that defensive, rather than offensive, weapons could prevent or greatly reduce such tragedies. I am speaking of Tasers, of course.
    Did you know that Rhode Island is the only state in the union where one can purchase an assault rifle and not a Taser? I find this to be a remarkable injustice in a nation where, presumably, we have the right to bear arms. When I think of how many more little angels there would be on earth rather than in heaven if just one security guard or teacher had a Taser, it makes my heart sink. Unfortunately, in Connecticut, Tasers are legal only in one's private home.
    The cliche among those in your particular profession is that you all want "world peace." Isn't advocating weapons which stun, but don't kill, an excellent place to start? I hope you'll consider my humble suggestion. Thank you.

Eric J. Hildeman
Milwaukee, WI

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Have A Solution!

With all the talk in the nation that’s been going around regarding the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and how to prevent it, it would seem remarkably arrogant of me to step up and imply that I know better than all of them by saying that I have a solution to the problem.

Well, I have a solution to the problem.

In my earlier not-so-serious blog post, I pointed out that more people having non-lethal defensive weapons would prevent any shooter from getting very far before being stopped. Yes, such defensive weapons may be abused, but so might any other weapon. Well, on a more serious note, I do believe I may have been on to something. The Taser may just be the workable solution.

Tasers are sensibly legal in 44 out of our 50 states. But in a few, more backward members of our union (at least in this regard) such defensive weapons are actually prohibited.

Connecticut is one of those states!

Yes, in the state of Connecticut, a Taser may only be kept in the home. Schools such as Sandy Hook cannot even have a security guard which is armed with one.

Okay, cue the Dragnet theme song as you sing this next line:

Dumb…… Dumb, Dumb…Dumb…… DUMMMMMMB!

The other states which prohibit Tasers are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Tasers are permitted only with a firearm registration in the District of Columbia, and only certain kinds of Tasers are legal in the state of Florida. But in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, it is possible to buy a GUN, but NOT (*head slap!*) a Taser!

Dumb…… Dumb, Dumb…Dumb…… DUMMMMMMB!

And in the state of Rhode Island, it is possible to buy an assault rifle, but not a Taser!

Dumb…… Dumb, Dumb…Dumb……  No, wait, stop the music! That’s just holy FUCK bat-shit stupid insanity!

At least in Hawaii, Tasers can be carried by cops, and guns are banned.

Imagine a world where every school security guard has a Taser. Imagine teachers having a coded lock box underneath each desk with a Taser inside. If some insane kid enters a school and starts shooting, any teacher can go under the desk, type in the code, and have some means of defending his or her students. Yes, this would be a weak defense, but it is much, much, MUCH better than nothing, and will work splendidly at slowing down any assailant to a crawl, allowing law enforcement enough time to speed their way to the school and send in the S.W.A.T. team!

If even one teacher or security guard at Sandy Hooke had this, there would be a lot fewer little angels in heaven, and more here on earth.

By the way, where is the National Taser Association? There isn't one, unfortunately. The National Rifle Association - excuse me, I mean the National Assault Rifle Association, because that's closer to the truth - simply does not defend a citizen's right to defense with a non-deadly weapon. No, they would rather people kill other people. I suppose that might come from an inward desire to see people who hold up businesses or commit muggings killed on sight, but if defense is the whole point (and they say that it is), isn't defending the Taser the highest priority? Is there ANY excuse for prohibiting a Taser anywhere? I strongly argue no! The National Rifle Association is an utterly pointless organization, unless it defends Tasers first!

To this, I need to add one more thing: My friend Angie Olson, an amazingly intelligent woman whom I increasingly admire, recently posted to Facebook about the importance of emphasizing mental health efforts if we are to avoid such future tragedies as the one in Sandy Hook. Boy, did she hit the nail right on the head! If we have a lot fewer crazy people out there, then by extension we're going to have a lot fewer crazy people shooting off guns! And, I might add, if we focus this attention upon young males, we're putting the effort right where it's needed the most. The one constant with mass shootings is that the shooter is always young and male. There's nothing wrong with people being young and male per se, but we can no longer allow young males to be perpetually pissed off at the world. From now on, excessive teenage male anger must be classified as a mental illness.

So there it is. Tasers, along with gun licensing, the banning of semi-automatic assault rifles, the outlawing of certain kinds of ultra-deadly ammunition, prohibiting large-capacity bullet clips, and a HUGE emphasis on the mental health of our young people, especially teenage males, is my overall solution. Agree with it or disagree with it, I challenge anyone to test it in debate. I think I can defend it without having to resort to firing on anybody.

In the meantime, I plan on someday buying a Taser for home defense. And they can have it when they take it from my cold, dead hands!



Monday, December 17, 2012

Domestic vs. International Terror

On "Meet The Press" this past Sunday, David Gregory cited one post he'd seen on Twitter which pointed out how, when one shoe-bomber fails on board one plane, we all must remove our footwear forever, but when gunmen repeatedly open fire in crowded places, nothing happens in response.

How very interesting! I can see why that particular post caught Gregory's eye. But I'd like to take this a step further by highlighting not only how there's a disconnect between our attitudes toward organized vs. random acts of terror, but also the disconnect between domestic vs. international terrorism.

When a government tries to take away a citizens' assault rifle, it is argued that the rifle is needed to defend himself against a government becoming overly oppressive. Yet when the DHS wire-taps that same person just because it's Tuesday and they feel like the next Al Quaeda cell happens to have a phone number ending in "7," no argument about overly oppressive government is made. When sales are made at gun shows, it is argued that criminal background checks are unnecessary, yet if one wants to board an airplane, not only do our backgrounds get checked but all our luggage is x-rayed and some total stranger gets to see what we look like in our skivvies. When someone suggests a database be kept of gun-owners, as well as people who should not own a gun, privacy rights are argued, yet nobody whines about the NSA's no-fly list, nor did many of the same people object to Joseph McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover compiling lists of suspected communists two generations ago. When gun registration and licensing is argued, gun-rights advocates scream "Big Brother," yet keep totally silent about things like criminal databases, driver license databases, the social security system which reduces each of us down to a number, or even social media outlets like Facebook, where nobody seems to care if Big Brother is watching or not.

Why the fuck is there this disconnect?

I think the ultimate answer to this can be discerned with the question of who is directly threatened. A domestic crackpot who enters a mall and starts firing a gun, that's one thing. But a terrorist who flies a plane into the Pentagon? That's not tolerable! People toting guns can get as far into the seat of the government as the White House fence, but will be shot on sight if seen trying to hop that fence, whether armed or not. So the gun-toters end up nowhere near government, and everywhere among the general populace. Unless, that is, that crazy person boards a plane and is able to fly it into a government building! Then, suddenly, the government gets a taste of what inner city black people have to put up with every day! And so, every airplane passenger is carefully screened, prodded, poked, and processed, just to make certain that the government doesn't ever get threatened.

There's also a religious bias, here. When domestic terrorists struck, nobody talked of throwing away our rights so that the government could "protect us." When Timothy McVeigh blew up a truck full of explosives in front of a federal building, people didn't seriously talk about having federal agents creating a massive database to hunt such people down in advance. When David Koresh led a religious movement into stockpiling weapons for an outright war against the United States itself, few people had their calls for stricter gun laws taken seriously. Yet when some Muslims flew planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, people suddenly were willing to sacrifice freedom for security. Part of that is due to the mass carnage of 9/11, but part of it is also the fact that we, as a nation, are simply more comfortable with a Christian terrorist over a Muslim one. Maybe he's a bat-shit crazy asshole, but he's OUR bat-shit crazy asshole!

I'm not arguing that we need security checks in every walk of life, nor am I arguing that citizens shouldn't be armed or have their privacy rights protected. I'm certainly not saying that I have all the answers. But if we're willing to accept the occasional mass shooting as the kind of collateral damage necessary to maintain our individual liberties when it comes to owning firearms...

...shouldn't we at least be able to finally do away with having to remove our shoes before boarding the airplane?



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Phasers On Stun

I am on record as clearly promoting two major ideas when it comes to guns: 1.) that we, the people have an absolute right to own and carry defensive weapons, and 2.) that it is beyond obvious that we need a system of registration and licensing for firearms. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School certainly underscores the dire need which we have for a greater effort at keeping guns out of the hands of bat-shit crazy people, that much is certain. But the guns used in that tragedy were legally bought by the perpetrator's mother, and none of them were military-caliber offensive assault rifles. So I'm forced, reluctantly, to admit that the drums I've been beating for so long about gun ownership and control would simply not have prevented this tragedy. So, as the subject of this blog, I'm going to tackle the question of just what would have prevented this, and I'll simply dump everything out there in a stream of unfiltered consciousness. Please understand, this is all sheer brainstorming, and I do not necessarily espouse anything below as a certain solution.

First, I have to say this: We could stop all of this nonsense if only we could just keep guns out of the hands of any males between the age of 16 and 25. If there's one predicting factor which is consistent in every mass-shooting tragedy over the past several years, it's simply that only young men pop off and shoot people. I have yet to see any young woman grab a gun and open fire in a school, theater, or other crowded place. So, here's a thought: How about we arm all the women and disarm all the men? At least this would be an off-setting factor for the biological fact that men are physically stronger. But, of course, a strong man can wrestle the gun out of the hands of most women. So how about this (and this is a completely sci-fi geek nonsense thought): Every woman could have a gun built into the bone structure of her left arm, which will pop out and shoot muggers and rapists a la Wolverine's claws. Maybe not practical, but it would make the world a more peaceful place, and more men would take their cunnilingus seriously.

Or how about this: Isn't it interesting that all these mass-shooters usually kill themselves at the end? I wonder if it's possible to implant a hypnotic suggestion, maybe using subliminal techniques embedded in the very same heavy metal music and violent video games which purportedly encourage this behavior in the first place, to simply kill themselves first? It would save a lot of innocent lives if that could be pulled off.

But really what we need is a very effective, readily available defensive weapon which stuns but does not kill. We have some such things already, such as tasers, but these are bulky, tricky to aim, and do not always stop an assailant, particularly one hyped up on methamphetamine.  Other weapons, such as plastic bullet rifles and  glue-balls, are simply too bulky and act too slowly. The ideal weapon should be small, easily concealable, and be able to drop an assailant cold in an instant without killing him. Then we use them to arm every school teacher, movie theater employee, and mall cashier. Such a device hasn't been invented yet, but if it were, it would be the phaser.

That's right, phasers on stun! The small, pocket-sized device is easy to aim, easy to use, and can stop a Klingon dead in his tracks! With stunning phasers everywhere, the handgun almost becomes obsolete. True, such defensive weapons would inevitably be misused by the very muggers and rapists we're trying to stop, but at least the victim wouldn't be dead afterward, and there's more than a sporting chance that the perp would be the one shot first. With computerized and automated systems, a phaser defense grid could be set up as part of the surveillance system of any public location where large numbers of people gather. Any gun-toting freak would be lucky to get off one shot before the sound of gunfire would cause the automated system to home in on the source and stun that crazy fucker down before he manages to kill anybody!

Okay, maybe that's all just facetious crap on my part. But in all seriousness, shouldn't we finally have cheap, defensive ray-guns by now? It's 2012 for Pete's sake! We've been to the moon, put cool robots on Mars, and landed probes on Titan! How the hell can we not have a lightsabre or a cool Buck Rogers style blaster yet?

On the other hand, maybe I'm just talking crazy talk.

I guess they'd better not let me have a gun.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Higher Taxes, Lower Unemployment?

I recently received a letter from my congressman, Mr. Jim Sensenbrenner. It was a response to the e-mail I sent him, begging him to cooperate with Our Trophy President and let tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% expire. His reply cited a very interesting paper. He writes:

“The independent firm Ernst & Young has stated that allowing tax rates to expire for the top two income brackets will cost our economy 700,000 jobs.”

He then goes on to argue that closing loopholes is the better approach. But just how is closing loopholes not raising taxes on the rich using a different method? That question has been bugging me all during this past election. But the more pressing point he’d made was in regard to this Ernst & Young study. I was intrigued.

So I downloaded a copy and read it.

It’s not a very comprehensive report. It leaves off the exact formulae used in the calculation. This is perhaps understandable, as they don’t want their proprietary model stolen by competing interests. But even then, it is not very quantitative in any respect. In other words, they just don’t give any solid, damned numbers! Here’s the key paragraph from the actual report:

"This report finds that the increase in the top tax rates would reduce long-run output by 1.3% when the resulting revenue is used to finance additional government spending. Employment is found to fall by 0.5%. In today’s economy, these results would translate into a reduction of gross domestic product (GDP) of $200 billion and employment by 710,000 jobs. Investment and the capital stock (net worth) would fall in the long-run by 2.4% and 1.4%, respectively. Real (non-inflationary) after-tax wages would fall by 1.8%, indicative of the decline in living standards relative to what would have occurred otherwise.”

Sounds dire. But how did they get these numbers? Ernst & Young gives us one, and only one, piece of information. They used the “Ernst & Young General Equilibrium Model of the US Economy.” Just what is that, exactly?

Well, General Equilibrium economic models have been around since the late 70’s. They have been quite cumbersome at times, but advancements in computer technology have made them much easier to use. As such, many Chicago-school and neo-conservative economists love using them, because they think that the fancy mathematical formulae makes them irrefutable.

That having been said, they have a history of failure.

Not only Ernst & Young’s General Equilibrium model, but everybody else’s as well, failed to predict and respond to the housing bubble which led to the crisis in 2008. In fact, part of the very reason that professional economists failed to sound the alarm was because their General Equilibrium models kept indicating that there was no problem! You see, such models have to assume that businesses and consumers will behave perfectly rationally – or else their behavior would be impossible to compute with accurate numbers. Fine in theory, but in practice, people do not behave rationally with money! Hence, General Equilibrium models do not work, and their record proves it.

These General Equilibrium models have such a spotty track record that neo-Keynsian economists find them laughable. I’m forced to agree. When such economic models failed us so spectacularly in 2008, should we really give them any credence in 2012, four years later? Even if they say they’ve worked out all the bugs, would you trust their product?

Let’s face it: General Equilibrium models might work someday. But for now, they are the Yugo of economics, and the Sylvia Browne of economic prediction.

The report repeatedly states that the impact is “long term.” But just what is meant by that? Five years? Ten years? Fifteen? The report fails to say, and that’s so unforgivably sloppy that it should tell any critical reader how jokingly unreliable the conclusion must be.  After all, $710,000 jobs over 20 years is about 2,960 jobs each month. Since job growth has been taking place at an average of 140,000 jobs each month over the last three years, that means that this “dire consequence” would be a mere 137,000 additional jobs each month. Big deal! If the model predicted a loss of 710,000 jobs out of four million potential jobs added, that’s a 3.29 million job gain. It would therefore be irresponsible to report the 710,000 “job loss” number by itself. A slight decrease in future job growth is not a loss! Is that what this report did? Again, they failed to specify. I wonder why that is?

A criticism of this report by the White House and the Huffington Post points out that it assumes that the additional tax revenue would be used for additional spending. Not so, says the Obama administration, because that money instead will be used to pay down the deficit, lower interest rates, and create economic growth over the long run that way. Fine, but conservative economists do not take this gripe seriously, and neither do I. The neocons argue that the additional spending will be there because it all goes into the same federal reserve where there is no specific account labeled “deficit reduction.” I, on the other hand, argue that the additional spending could be on bullet trains, roads and infrastructure, thus providing more than enough jobs to offset the proposed job losses. It’s all a matter of where that money gets spent.  The Post also criticizes those who paid to develop their report, arguing vested interest. This is rightly rejected as an ad hominem argument, but I also add that such an argument is not even necessary.

The Ernst & Young report fails on its own lack of merit.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Defense of Susan Rice

Some of you gen-X’ers out there might be too young to know about this, but the Colgate Co. once had an ad campaign back in the 1970’s which told TV viewers that Dawn dish-washing soap got dishes “so clean, they squeak.” To emphasize the point, the middle aged actress who was pitching the product would, with sincerity radiating from her smiling eyes, hold her freshly-washed plate in her hands and run her wet finger across the surface.  It would make a squeaking noise as the plate, now completely grease-free, would make the kind of noise based on the same principle that resonates a glass harmonica. Several other Dawn dish-soap commercials talked about dishes being “squeaky clean” and “passing the squeak-test,” and the phrases entered the popular lexicon, leaving most 20-somethings to be potentially confused as to the meaning 35 years later.

So when I make the following statement, I want there to be no confusion as to my exact meaning.

Susan Rice is so clean she squeaks.

I mean, seriously! There is nothing about this woman that is not five-star, grade-A, 4.0 excellence! Valedictorian, Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, flawless ambassadorship in the U.N., a solid 9.5 on the attractiveness scale and probably even looks perfect in a bikini.  Is there anything about this woman that isn't over-qualified for the job of Secretary of State?

Why, oh why then, are Republicans so up in arms over this woman?

Um, guys? You’re persecuting the wrong babe. The one who slept with David Petraeus is over there.

I used to think that this all might be a peremptory strike against the possibility that this woman might become a political candidate someday. After Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice is probably the next likely female to be able to win the presidency someday, followed closely by Condoleeza Rice and Elizabeth Warren.  But the opposition is simply too uniform and coordinated for something like that. There must be something else going on, here.

There is. Should John Kerry be named Secretary of State instead of Susan Rice, a special election would have to be held in Massachusetts to fill Kerry’s vacated seat, and that would give Republicans an excellent chance to get their beloved Scott Brown back into the Senate. After all, Scott Brown is a potential future presidential or vice-presidential candidate as well, and they have no intention of allowing their best golden-boy to be yanked off the stage! So, the game for Republicans is, force Obama to name John Kerry, and then their potential Messiah gets back into the spotlight. To accomplish this, they must sling mud at Susan Rice.

One problem: They’re fresh out of mud! Dirt too! So, to get by, they’re pointing at her spotless jerkin, insisting they see a stain there.

Let’s analyze this alleged stain.

It basically comes in two parts: First, that Susan Rice is too abrasive and/or blunt. Second, that she mislead the public regarding the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Regarding part one, that she’s too abrasive, what they mean to say is that she’s too abrasive for a woman. If she were male, she would be regarded as forceful, confident, bold, and possibly even a natural leader. But because she’s a woman, all these are considered negative traits. Really? Bullshit, I say!

So much for that.

And part two, that she misled the public regarding a matter of public interest, let’s take a good look at the track record of Susan’s critics.

The entire Republican party has mislead people about deregulation aiding the economy. Some part of it might have stopped inflation in the 80’s under Reagan, but other than that, everything else they've sold us about absolutism being applied to free markets has amounted to getting ill on too much of a good thing. Shadow banking was deregulated, and we got a Savings and Loan crisis. Credit lending was deregulated, and we got a credit-card crisis. Housing loans were deregulated, and we got a housing-bubble crisis, and its hideous aftermath. We’re learning the hard way that those banking and lending regulations are in place for damned good reasons, and removing them does not stimulate economic growth – or if it does, that the growth is short-lived, and collapses into recession. And this is just one economic area where Republicans have mislead the American public for 40 straight years.

On the talk radio circuit, whether it be Rush Limbaugh calling Sarah Fluke a “slut,” Glenn Beck calling Obama the Antichrist, or any number of other whoppers, the over-paid propagandists have been out there misleading everyone on everything from taxation to foreign trade. As long as they defend the rich executives who ultimately pay them, they’ll go on spin-doctoring things to mislead voters into voting for fat-cats who pretend at piety.

In short, even if the allegations against Susan Rice are true (which they are not), they are accusing her of doing just once what they, themselves have been doing consistently for an entire lifetime!

This isn't just the pot calling the kettle black, it's the entire cookware set! Every clown in the circus is daring to call her silly!

Well, so much for that, too! Susan Rice should be immediately confirmed as Secretary of State. If the Republicans who criticize her are successful in getting her removed from consideration, then they should all also be removed from consideration for re-election by the same standard. In a perfect world, that would happen.

If so, Scott Brown might be the only elected Republican left.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Founding Father Mythos

The battle for the future is sometimes strangely fought in the past.  Like time-traveling soldiers vs. terminator robots, our culture warriors seem to travel back in time to the dawn of our nation in order to do battle with each other, each one trying to stake claim to America’s foundation as its territory.  The notion seems to be that if our nation was intended as either Christian or secular by the Founding Fathers, that this means that’s the way the nation should be today.

Of course, the whole notion is daft.  It's as absurd as saying that if the original rule book was intended a certain way, then that’s the way the rule book should remain now.  Let the NFL do away with instant replay while Major League Baseball segregates a separate league for black people, and you get an application of this same, silly principle.  But this doesn't keep the religious Right from trying the tactic anyway.  If the Founding Fathers were Christian, it is preached, then we should be Christian too, because that means it’s the American Way.  It is somehow absurdly believed that the authors of the Constitution were somehow Constitutional themselves, and that therefore their personal beliefs, or even foibles, are somehow applicable to policy making today.

Let's have a reality check: The founding fathers were, for all their virtues, for all their vices, merely human beings.  They made brilliant decisions along with some colossal blunders.  They achieved great things under the cloud of unforgivable failure, and blazed an important trail while leaving a hideous mess in its wake.  In the end, we must see them as the belching, farting, shitting, slave-fucking and halitosis-ridden homo sapiens that they truly were.  And we should no more follow their example than a modern-day physician should return to bloodletting.

The bottom line behind the founding principles of our nation is simply this: they were a good start.  Not perfect, but a good start.  And ever since then it has been up to succeeding generations to keep improving upon the idea, eliminating the mistakes in the original version where they are found, revising the outdated areas when technology and cultural progress dictate that they need to be, and adding new ones as novel situations dictate.  Sometimes we might get it right, as with public education and investing in the infrastructures of transportation, power and water.  Other times, we might get it wrong, as we did during prohibition.  But always, hopefully, we gradually ratchet things forward to an improvement upon what we inherited when we were younger.  As such, looking back upon the starting point, and those who helped start it, as some sort of "ideal," is nothing more than flipping the middle-finger at our modern-day world, and advocating a return to the "good old days" when life was nasty, brutish and short. What rubbish!

It is our turn to improve upon the original. We may make mistakes, but if we do things right, we will produce more progress than setback. So how about, instead of looking backward for guidance, we look forward?

I’m sure the founding fathers would have wanted it that way, in any case.