Short pieces that reflect my thoughts and opinions. The most recent entries are at the top of the page. I don't call this a blog because that implies dated and frequent additions. Perhaps one day I'll update it frequently enough call it a blog and date the entries. If you want to comment, send e-mail to email@example.com.
Last updated: 2013-04-08
Where will America find her Margaret Thatcher?
"Conservative" pundits and "reporters," even some liberal ones, questioned President Obama's statement about shooting a gun and his intent. The thrust of the questions is that he is trying to ingratiate himself with opponents of gun control. Oh, come on! The man answered a direct question in an interview. Sure, he's a consummate politician and even an answer to a direct question may be used to advance his position. But not in this case. I hate the direction that news "reporting" has taken in America. It's not reporting anymore, it's opining. It's analyzing every word, both in and out of context, and then speculating on meaning, usually with a twist to advance the "reporter's" own view.
The New York Times article that reported this said that in answer to the direct question, the President said, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.” That "all the time" has drawn a lot of fire. The Times also said that Fox News quoted an unnamed person saying Mr. Obama had participated once during a Marine competition at Camp David but not “all the time.” See the twist. That's what passes for reporting today.
While we're on the subject of reporting, take a look at the headline of the NY Times article linked above. Within the text of the story, that assertion about Obama having a new hobby is repeated. Note that nowhere in his answer did President Obama even hint that skeet shooting was a hobby.
For the record, I am not an Obama supporter. On gun control, I favor strong background checks to buy a gun, but I do not favor banning guns. Those who want guns for malicious purposes will always find them, control or no control. The only thing control would accomplish is to deny guns to citizens who need them to protect themselves. I am also a conservative. I do not, however, like the direction organizations and people who identify themselves as conservative are going. If that label becomes associated with the people like Rand Paul, for example, then I want to be called something else.
Did you hear about this involving guns at a Tennessee high school? My question is, why not? As far as I can tell by a quick search on Google, no national news outlet—including the New York Times, whose motto is "All the News Fit to Print"—picked this up off the wire.
Hope I Am Wrong
Well, Obama won. I hope my belief expressed in the post below turns out to be wrong.
Next Tuesday is election day. I believe it is the most important presidential election in my lifetime. This column expresses my thoughts exactly. I hope everyone will read this and think about it. I truly believe that four more years of Obama puts America on a path that she will never recover from.
The Next Thing You Know . . .
We'll be putting weathermen in jail because our picnic got rained out. Scary.
"A Charade of Truth Telling"
A good summary of my views. Now if someone can just tell us how we can weather the storm of my generation's retirement and what sailing will look like afterward.
Can We Predict Well Enough to Make Decisions?
Our economy has gotten so complex that I sometimes wonder if all our models are capable of correctly predicting the result of any significant change. The Congressional Budget Office has projected what will happen if Congress allows the current tax rates to return to their 2005 levels and the current spending reductions on the books to take place. It will be interesting to revisit this projection in 18 months and see if the CBO was anywhere close to right.
When is our nation going to wake up to the fact that this cannot continue?
Why hasn't this news been prominent in the media?
Depressing Article with Ring of Truth
Why American companies are having their products made in China. A story about Apple and the iPhone that tallies with what Steve Jobs told Obama about manufacturing in America.
Definition of Capitalism
An amazing story from China.
Adam Davidson writes for NPR, but is putting out some of the most common-sense, logical, coherent columns out there about our country's budget and spending issues. You have to read this one if you care about the future of the U.S. and plan to vote next November.
Can Anyone Create Jobs?
One of the most coherent, logical newspaper articles I've read in some time. Recommended reading.
The Battle Lines Are Finally Clear
The excerpt below is from Jerry Pournelle:
The President of the United States in essence declared war on the traditional understanding of America today. He has put it all in very stark terms: there are people with money. The rest of us need it, for food, clothing, medical expenses, Christmas presents for the children, shelter from the storms of life. We do not have those things. Others have far more than they need. Therefore we shall take what we need from them.
Now of course he did not put this in quite such stark terms, but what he did say is that the rich must pay their fair share; if they do not, then we will not be able to have drug research, Medicare, education, and all those things which we need so much. And therefore we must make them pay their fair share.
There was no discussion of the Constitution or where in that document the Federal government derives either the obligation or the power to collect taxes and distribute largess; and indeed the original Framers of the document would have been horrified at the notion. The Constitution was intended to insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Of course it can be said that the President desires nothing more than to promote the general welfare, and the general welfare requires a reduction in the vast disparity between the very wealthy and the rest of us. Perhaps so: but note that the President does not offer the alternative of giving up some of the regulations and rules and the swarms of officers who harass the people and eat out their substance. It is not “raise taxes or we’ll have to fire bunny inspectors,” or “raise taxes or we won’t have all those education experts on the Federal payroll telling all the schools how to be great” (look how well the Federal government does with the DC schools over which it has absolute control)! It is not “raise taxes or the EPA will have to go out of business and leave all that environment and pollution stuff to the states and the local communities”. No. It is raise taxes or you will not get the goodies from the Obama Stash.
This is a fairly stark declaration.
The distinction between what you will get with a Democrat or a Republican has now been made crystal clear. Come next November, it's your turn.
Who Will You Vote For?
The U.S. immediately began to "borrow" money as soon as Obama signed the debt ceiling increase into law. This was the result. We must get the spending under control. In 2012, you should decide who to vote for based on their position regarding cutting spending. I mean cutting, as in actually spending less in the future than we are spending now, not simply a reduction from a future projection (aka the baseline). I recommend that you vote only for those candidates who make such cuts their major platform issue.
The Only Thing the Debt Ceiling Increase Accomplished
Great charts and clear explanation of what is likely to happen to US in this article.
The Real Problem
OK, so the U.S. is not going to default and there will be a little less money spent during the next year. That's good. But the deal does not even begin to address the problem.
Spend It All
Has there ever been a graph that more clearly showed that government will spend all it can, whether under Democrat or Republican administrations? (Note: scroll down to end of the linked article to see the graph.) And how about that rate of slope increase on the debt ceiling?
It's Really Pretty Simple
The title is talking about defining the problem, not the solution, to our national debt. The solution is tied up with political maneuvering by the same politicians that have ignored the clearly-approaching problem for 30 years. This article summarizes it well. For the past 60 years, the government has averaged receipts of 18 to 19 percent of GDP. Therefore, we cannot average more than that in spending or we add to the already unacceptably large deficit. In 2010, we spent 25% of GDP. Continue that and the defaults that are being talked about as possibilities come next Wednesday become the norm and the U.S. is on its way to becoming a second-rate nation.
Do You Think We Need to Cut Government Spending?
If you don't, please tell me how you can believe that in light of this data. This chart accompanies this Wall Street Journal article, which every American—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—should read.
Does Government Matter?
Good article from Bloomberg.
Getting Ready for the Pain
We'll probably begin seeing a lot more articles like this one talking about the unrealistic assumptions that have been made in projecting future deficits and how the necessary cuts will be need to be deeper than most are saying even now. Too many years of our representatives in Congress not facing the facts and putting their own re-election prospects ahead of the difficult decisions that we all knew would eventually be required. When we finally accept that government spending is going to have to be drastically curtailed, there will be potential for a backlash such as our country has never seen.
I like Orson Scott Card's books and his web site. He also says things that I consider eminently quotable, such as:
"… you can't go broke underestimating the taste of the American people."
—Orson Scott Card, here
"After all, we rarely understand our own motivations, and so, even when we write down what we honestly believe to be our reasons for making the choices we make, our explanation is likely to be wrong or partly wrong or at least incomplete."
—Orson Scott Card, Shadow of the Hegemon
Effect of the Stimulus Spending
Lawrence Lindsey looks at what we need to do regarding the federal budget. As part of it, he talks about the effect of the stimulus on job creation:
"Everyone except flacks for the White House knows that the 2009 stimulus package failed miserably to produce the promised results. But even if you buy the White House’s argument that the $800 billion package created 3 million jobs, that works out to $266,000 per job. Taxing or borrowing $266,000 from the private sector to create a single job is simply not a cost effective way of putting America back to work. The long-term debt burden of that $266,000 swamps any benefit that the single job created might provide."
Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 8 on 6/1. Why can't they leave us alone for a few more years? :-)
The Smoke Begins to Clear
Sooner of later, the swirling smoke screen created by the spin doctors on both sides of the aisle begins to clear and the facts emerge. It's becoming clearer day by day.
What is Valid?
When I think of all the resources that have been squandered based on "new scientific findings" it makes my stomach ache. Don't get me wrong, science and technology have been the very foundation of this wonderful life that we now enjoy. But when you study something as complex as human health or the environment, you can gather such a small part of the data that influences the systems, it is easy, too easy, to draw the wrong conclusion. Then we're spending resources on the wrong thing. This post from Stephen Bainbridge talks about a recent "correction" of past conclusions. Here is his concluding paragraph:
"The point is not that we should ignore environmental concerns. The point is that we should be wary about claims that massive social and economic changes are necessary simply because the scientific consensus of the moment claims they're desirable. Like the medical claims about salt I mentioned in my earlier post, and like this latest news, the consensus of the moment can turn out to be seriously flawed."
I second that motion.
I spent almost 30 years in environmental affairs and remediation work for a corporation. Many times I railed at the money industry had to spend based on a model that some agency or consultant had constructed, many times without needed data and with questionable assumptions and inputs. Now, in retirement, I'm worried about this country's future given the fiscal mess we're in. So I was transported back in time when I read this article about models used to assess the impact of cuts in spending or increases in taxes. Deja vu all over again. I have no idea if the author of this article knows what she's talking about. But there's enough questions in there to make you wonder if anyone really understands what we can do and what the consequences will be when we do it. Go read it.
The post is entitled 5 Ugly Truths About the Debt-Ceiling Battle, but it is really about what must be done to address the deficit going forward. Recommended.
Can You Eliminate the Deficit?
Every American should go to this site and play with the numbers to understand just what we have to do to get out of the financial mess we're in. Sure, you could probably dig into the assumptions behind those curves and pick at them. But you won't change the overall slope and shape.
The Problem with Social Security
Other than the fact that it was originally passed to be an emergency measure to keep people from starving and has had significant payment and tax increases over the years, the basic problem is life expectancy. In 1935 when it was passed the average life expectancy at birth of males (who constituted most of the workforce at that time) was 60 years. In other words, the Congressmen who passed it did not expect most workers to live to collect a dime since the qualification age was 65 years. Now life expectancy at birth is about 78 years. So we went from few collecting to most receiving benefits for 13 years at increased payouts. No wonder it's sopping up more and more of our country's revenue every year! Time for a change!
What the Post Below Means
The U.S. government is headed for trouble. 2011 receipts account for only fifty-seven percent of expected spending. Think about that. Think what your finances would look like if you spent almost twice your salary in any given year. Think about doing it year after year. That's the road we're on. The people have voted themselves 'bread and circuses.' In this case, built-in retirement benefits and medical insurance. But, wait, you say, there are other things besides Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Yes, there are. So you want to cut funding for police and firefighters and soldiers? I don't.
But, you say, the people didn't vote themselves this, the politicians did. Really? Who did you vote for and what was the basis for your vote in the last ever how many elections you voted in? Was it what was best for the country or what was best for you. In other words, for your own version of 'bread and circuses.' How hard did you work to find out what was being promised and what should have been promised for the good of the country? Well, friend, you had better start now! Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are mandatory spending set by law. Only Congress can change that. And no Congress to date, whether Democrat or Republican controlled, has been willing to do it. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 43% of total spending over the next 9 years will be for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. CBO is historically optimistic about higher receipts and lower spending in future years, so this is probably the best of all cases.
We have to change future spending for these programs or our grandchildren will never enjoy the standard of living we in the U.S. have been used to for the past 50 years. So be careful of who you vote for during the next few years. Do not vote for any politician for any office—federal, state, or local—unless he or she specifically promises to cut spending. If they win, hold them to the promises or vote them out at the next opportunity. It started with us, the people. We are the only ones who can fix it.
Where the USA is Headed
Robert saw it long ago:
"The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’
‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebes discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome."
—Robert A. Heinlein
What's Wrong with the World?
There are thousands of folks struggling because of the economic downturn. The Japanese are facing a catastrophe of monumental proportions. The situation in Libya echoes Iraq much too closely. People are suffering, people are dying. And the 10 most "influential" (the NY Times' word, not mine) people on Twitter are who??? Conan O'Brien? Kim Kardashian? Snoop Dog? Give me a break! At least the President is on there and maybe his influence is more beneficial than Kardashian's. Maybe.
Making a Presentation
I spent 40 years in a corporate environment. Early on I realized that making an effective presentation to a group was key to my ability to do a good job. By communicating clearly, I could provide co-workers with the information they needed to do a good job, especially on my projects, and managers with recommendations they needed to support their job, and perhaps my advancement. So I worked hard at it.
In the late 1960s, when I began my career, using transparencies with overhead projectors became the way to make your points. At first, you used the transparency interactively — you wrote on it during the presentation with a wax pencil. This "evolved" to preparing bullet lists before the presentation that would be shown on the screen. Then, in the early 1980s, PCs came in and the production of bullet lists became "beautified." You made your lists in a word processor and printed the transparencies, all in black and white. As PCs progressed, clip art, color, different fonts, different viewpoints became possible and the transparencies got fancier and fancier. Then the overhead projectors were replaced by computer-driven projectors and computer applications to make the slides took over, allowing you to produce animated slides with color, thousands of fonts, and even sound. So the presentations began to be the focus and they got even fancier and fancier. It took a while to realize that they were also getting muddier and muddier, with the message being further subordinated to the exoticness of the presentation. Today, and for the last 20 years, PowerPoint is the ruler of the slide-making software. You can now download complex templates to help you make any point you want in as fancy and complex manner as you want. The question is, should you want?
I came to understand late in my career that PowerPoint hurts more than it helps in making an effective presentation that your audience will remember. No less an authority than Edward Tufte makes a damning case against the way PowerPoint is usually used. So now I teach a SeniorNet workshop in PowerPoint. Ironic, isn't it? I teach students the mechanics of using PowerPoint to make slides for presentations. I also try to teach them how to use PowerPoint effectively. Over a 40-year career, I learned a lot about making effective presentations. I set out here to talk about some of the things I learned. In searching the Internet for information when I was writing my workshop materials, I turned up Dave Siegel's Casbah, a web site that I began to read many years ago, but had gotten away from. It so happened that one of Siegel's current topics is Rules for Sharp Presentations. And he said everything I was going to say and said it a lot better than I could. So go read his.
A Simple Life
If you've stumbled upon this site and read the TOC, you may be wondering: what is SeniorNet? SeniorNet is a national organization dedicated to educating seniors, defined as anyone older than 50, about technology. SeniorNet has Learning Centers all over the nation, mostly staffed by volunteers. I volunteer at the McGrath SeniorNet Learning Center at the University of South Carolina, Aiken Campus, Aiken, SC. The link in the TOC leads you to a bulletin board I use to communicate with my students in the several courses I teach. You can find out if there is a SeniorNet center near you to take computer courses or to volunteer your services by going to the list of Learning Centers on the national organization's web site.