Archive for August, 2011

Quantum design, by Intelligent mechanics

August 28, 2011

“He doesn’t believe in evolution,” spoken about a political candidate.

How about baseball–does he believe in baseball?

“Well, yes. I think he likes the Cowboys, er, I mean the Rangers. And he likes the Yankees. I mean…Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, ya gotta love ’em, and Yogi Berra, who said ‘the future ain’t what it used to be.'”

Probably not the Red Sox then. He probably doesn’t like the Red Sox, if he likes the Yankees? “Uh, no, he’d say anybody but the Red Sox.But maybe the White Sox. I think he likes them.”

What about apple pie? Does he believe in apple pie?

“Well, yes, probably. I mean…this is America, for God’s sake.”

The flag–does he believe in the flag?

“Absolutely.”

What about Chevrolet? Would he drive a chevy to the levee?

“Actually, he drives a Ford. Have you driven one lately? Besides, I don’t think he can afford a Volt.”

How ’bout mom? Does he believe in motherhood?

“Oh, yes. Surely he does. I mean, who doesn’t? How else would we have gotten here? Everybody has a mama.”

But not by evolution.

“No.”

What about Natural Selection?

“Oh…sure. Naturally. I’m pretty sure he believes in that. And he may even acknowledge natural selection and evolution as two of the plethora of natural processes that contribute to biological development, within creation.”

So he believes in Creation?

“Sure. How can you not? I mean, its all around us.”

So you believe in Intelligent Design?

“Oh yeah, I’ve always had a Mac. I use it for everything.”

You’re not into Windows, then?

“Nah. Any Windows-based system can’t hold a candle to a Mac. But I will say this about windows: Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. I’m thankful for that.”

Well ok then. I’m glad to hear it. Thanks for sharin’.

“Da nada, man. Its a free country.”

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

The long slide to statism

August 27, 2011

Our long, slow slide into statism is inevitable and irreversible. The best that the old-style mom&pop mainstreet entrepreneurial capitalists can hope for in today’s world is that they may be able to carve out a niche somewhere in the recesses of the behomoth state to practice their craft.

I hope we can. The rest of society should make room somewhere for the entrepreneurs. Those free-thinking innovations are an essential component of human welfare.

The labor movements and progressive governmental structures that began taking shape over a century ago have dulled the sharp edge of capitalist expansion forever.  Upton Sinclair-style whistleblowing regulations of a century ago, assisted later by Rooseveltian New Deal, Johnsonian Great Society, Medicare, and the tangled web of  governmental subsidies that have been contrived for just about everything–these statist programs have put the nails in the old freemarket capitalism that entrepreneurs, libertarians, and some conservatives still dream about. Let us hope that the wonks and bureacrats of the burgeoning socialist state will allow, or overlook, some commercial space–at least a few cubicles here and there, every block or so–somewhere! for the  true capitalist innovators to do their thing. They should. The world needs true job creators, and governments are not it.

Most of mankind hath not the energy, the stoic motivation, nor the honed intuition to practice and maintain true capitalism. This is the problem.

When I say capitalism, I’m not speaking of this modern chimeric version, which is largely devoted to speculative traders who manipulate the corporatist money-machine yoyo back and forth to generate high-frequency profits.  I’m talking about the capitalism of days gone by–the legendary enterprising spirit of our American ancestors, which was wrought, blacksmith-like, into existence by  innovative captains–Eli Whitney, Cyrus McCormick, Robert Fulton, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Watson.
Those enterprising business leaders, and their heady days of capital expansion, are gone forever. They were the sparks and pistons of a great wealth engine that had been forged and built out of raw earth and oil, and iron and corn and wheat, of a virgin continent that has since been, for the most part, depleted. What the talking heads these days call the “low-hanging fruit.”

Oh, we do have our modern-day Sam Walton whizzes and Bill Gates generators. We still have Steve Jobs genii, Mark Zuckerberg wonderkinds and Howard Schultz phenoms. But even they, in their mature stages gravitate to philanthropy and foundation-style largesse. They make peace with the all-consuming tide of ubiquitous governmental meddlings. Warren Buffett, capitalist par excellence of the early-21st-century American business stage, wants to pay more taxes, bless his heart; and he wants to ask his fellow richlings to benificently follow his lead. Its too bad Ruppert Murdoch didn’t figure this out before he got mired down in electronic muck.

What contrarian economist Moses Von Mises identified, ninety years ago, as socialist destructionism has wrecked capitalism as we know it. Capitalism’s demise has been hastened geometrically, alas, during this last decade. The horrific destruction was inflicted when a so-called perfect storm blew in from the depths of human nature. Hockey-stick-graph greed of capitalist traders contrived unwittingly with  governmental do-good fanniemae road-to-hell-paved-with-good-intentions progressive meddling. That led to the bubble meltdown that everybody bemoans and autopsifies so animatedly these days.

Those “capitalists” who were pushing the MBS and CDOs of the last great bull market blowdown were not cut from the same cloth as their imaginative progenitors. They are different animals altogether. We hope their high-freq speculative card-shark manipulations do not give capitalism a bad name forever.

Those of us who mourn the feisty capitalist thrusts of yesteryear are like the Jews of old, whose temple-tending righteous theocracy was beaten, under the iron rod of Roman hegemony, into a diasporic  Talmud-toting evolution of its former self. Think about it–what were the ancient Romans known for? Their laws and their roads. What does that really spell? Government. Statism, in its earliest mutation. Its the inevitable tide of human history, now building, millenia later, into a tidal wave of brave new world state-sanctioned determinism. To catch a glimpse of the final outcome, check out Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream back in old Babylon. That’s Bible stuff.

We might as well find our way through the detritus of passé free-enterprise glory. By the rivers of Babylon do we remember Zion. We may as well seek out new paths among the fallen stones of  our rubble-strewn toppled capitalist edifices. New paths of prosperous expression and excellence are hidden in there somewhere, like golden glints in the old prospectors’ pan.

Look out on the horizon, beyond the blue Pacific. What do you see? China, the overwhelming financiers of our present and future. Their hybrid version (a la dialectic synthesis) of communo-capitalism is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Well, maybe  the New Deal et al. Statism, micromanaged by Democrat–excuse me–mandarin, bureacrats. Better get used to it, all ye pining libertarian dreamers. Its a brave new world out there.
Its all good, or all bad. It is what it is. Make the best of it.

Good luck with your project, Rick. How’s that workin out for ya, Sarah?

Glass Chimera

The dominion theology movement

August 24, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terry Gross’ interview with Rachel Tabachnick is an educational experience for anyone who is interested in contemporary issues of the spirit. I was surprised at the accuracy with which  Ms. Tabachnick described the dominion theology movement. In other news, see Mt. 24:7.

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=3&islist=true&id=13&d=08-24-2011

There’s funny money in them thar hills

August 20, 2011

What’s funny is that, every now and then in history, gold re-establishes itself as the de facto invisiblo reserve currency, in spite of what the central bankers and talking-head journalists of the world try to do otherwise.

We know that democrats, socialists and populists do not like this trend, but the sequestered “rich”, who lurk acquisitively in the holds of their yachts and in the shadows of their McMansions, do like it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So what else is new.

All this talk about dividing folk into classes and then setting them against each other is Marxian boilerplate hot air to inflate riotous passions and fiat currencies. And although there is certainly some truth to it, all this class-identity disruptive rhetoric is no excuse for rabble ruffians to be  running roughshod over small mainstreet business establishments in Wisconsin or Philadelphia or London or wherever the discontented are roused from their couches. Nor is it defensible moral fodder for severing privately-owned, publicly-utilized fiberoptic communication lines.

Back in 1896, William Jennings Bryan pointed out to his grassroot-gathered supporters that there are two types of government:

There is the (paraphrasing) Republican trickle-down type, who legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous. Then the wealth ostensibly drips down to everybody else. You’ve heard of this; the analogy became widespread during the Reagan years.  I would point out that Marie Antoinette had, back in 18th-century France, infamously embodied the upper end caricature of this economic arrangement when she had heartlessly uttered the slogan of the Bourbonites, Let them eat cake.

But here in America, a hundred or more years later, William Jennings Bryan described his second category of government as the (paraphrasing) Democratic percolate-up type. They legislate to make the masses prosperous. The wealth then percolates up from the laboring, resource-driven productivity of the people, and thus nourishes the upper social regions as it passes through industrially.

And the esteemed Mr. Bryan said, famously, at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1896, that the rich Republican crowd were trying to nail the working folks to a cross of gold by insisting on the rigid gold standard instead of the more malleable, accessible silver standard.

Though he was a fiery orator and a charismatic leader without parallel, William Jennings Bryan lost that 1896 Presidential election to the Republican,  William McKinley.  And then they had, amazingly, an uninstant replay four years later when McKinley was re-elected in 1900.

That 1900 election was a kind of sitcom pilot for the cyclical reruns that would characterize much of 20th century American politics, especially the Bush-Gore contention that came exactly a hundred years later in 2000.

Dems and Repubs are always at each other throats, some times more than others. Just now though, the fireworks, rhetoric and bluster seem to be intensifying. The Dems see their liquidity-easing policies as justified, beginning a third of the way through the 20th century, by their anointed prophet, Maynard G. Keynes–or excuse me, that’s John Maynard Keynes. Now Krugman and Reich and that stimulus-addicted crowd want to liquify the rigid constraints of the bogeyman Corporate “rich” so that the greenbacks  will percolate, William Jennings Bryan style, up through the fissures of job-generating governmental largesse. Those fissures should be facilitated and regulated by community organizers and unionbosses and government employees instead of, say, corporate directors, “rich”  investors, and Texans.

While everybody is arguing about politics and money, as if there were a difference between them, the smartest guys in the room (or so they think themselves to be and they may be correct in their assessment)  are buying gold like crazy.

Those gold-acquirers are looking for some incorruptible way to consolidate their wealth into a specie that escapes devaluation. They are buying the precious metal now because, well…

Who you gonna call when you need some reál value?, amidst debt crisis in America, sovereign debt precipice in Euroland, and the Chinese, who are bellyaching because all their meticulously-gathered dollars are being devalued, and their renminbi is still yuaning like an adolescent who just got up at noon and stumbles onto the world monetary stage.  Who you gonna call?  Ben Bernanke? Ron Paul? Angela Merkel? Who’s the grownup in the room? Harry Reid? Pat Toomey?

So I think it inevitable that the gold standard in some form or another is probably going to re-emerge, as has happened cyclically in the histories of human commerce, in spite of all the special drawing rights and myriad currencies that float flotsam-like upon the oceans of global liquidity. And I suppose that all those day-trading smartest guys, riding high on their speculative see-saws of  keyboard frenzy, in bubblesome combo with the methish high-freq hedgehogs,  will emerge as the new kings of the western-hemisphere hill when th detritus of international wealth settles into a pile, two or ten years from now.

Or maybe all of commerce, accounting, and wealth will go electronic, and those elusive gold reserves will be soldered as conductors  into smart circuitboards that will determine every person’s caste,  class and purchasing power when they’re standing in the checkout at World Mart.

… while Horatio Alger hides in an ally somewhere near MainStreet. Or, if you’re a Brit, HighStreet.

I’m not saying we should get back to the gold standard as a means to establish predictable value in the world marketplace. God knows I don’t have any of the stuff, except for the little ring that’s been on my finger for thirty-one years (which is the true wealth in this life.) But I do know that numerous entities and persons with assets are buying gold like its goin out of style, as it has done numerous unsustainable  times before. This feverish demand for the precious yellow stuff is driving up the price up to boot, in anticipation of fiat paper descending to its authentic, incendiary value.

Somewhere, somehow, when you least expect it, the battle between real wealth and perceived wealth will be settled in a showdown, maybe at high noon in the OK corral, or maybe in your own backyard.

Got heirloom seeds?

Glass Chimera

The help in Jackson, 1963

August 14, 2011

We left Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, and went back to Louisiana. Maybe it was 1962. Mama and daddy moved me, my two sisters and my brother to Shreveport, where daddy would be starting his business. But after about six months or so, they decided we should go back to the place where we had all started out this life, Baton Rouge. I had been born there in 1951, at Our Lady of the Lake hospital. The reason I remember we moved back to Baton Rouge in ’63 is that I remember Sister Georgia, the principal of our Catholic junior high school coming in one afternoon to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot, and I remember riding my bicycle home in the rain that day. It was just a few months into my seventh grade, which had been my first school year in Baton Rouge, when Kennedy got shot in Dallas.

Mama and daddy had deep roots in Baton Rouge. For instance, my granpa on mama’s side had been assistant Sec. of State under four Louisiana governors, including Huey Long. My other granpa had come out of the piney woods of Mississippi to Baton Rouge to work at the Esso refinery, which was at that time the third largest oil refinery in the world, or so my daddy used to say. My daddy had married up, if you know what I mean, insofar as he found a Baton Rouge society girl, my soon-to-be mama, and convinced her to marry him, even though he was a Scots-Irish redneck from out in the mossy sticks somewhere out in the parish. Mama and her people were from that ole French strain  from across the River, they said Parisian, but I think mostly coonass.

When we got to back Louisiana, we were on penny-pinchin’  times, with dad trying to get a forestry-supply business started. We didn’t have a maid. But we had had one back in Jackson. Her name was Aleen.

But I’m here today to tell you about the city of  Jackson, since my childhood memories of the place have been freshly awakened by seeing The Help  movie just about an hour ago, this Sunday afternoon, August 14, 2011. I don’t usually go to movies in the daytime, but I made an exception this time since I had heard the story took place in Jackson at about  the same time that I was  growing up there, or about the time that we left there.  We moved back to Louisiana just a few months, I suppose, before Medger Evers was shot in Jackson in ’63.

We  had lived in Jackson for about nine years. Mama and daddy had moved there in 1953, or maybe it was ’54. I don’t really know which, since I was only about three years old at the time, and mama and daddy, God rest their souls, are no longer on this earth to confirm the date. It don’t matter anyway.

Mama, having been raised in Baton Rouge, had to have a maid, you know,  when she and daddy were starting a new household in Jackson, even though we lived in a rather small GI-bill house out in the suburbs of Jackson. Our maid’s name was Aleen.

Our phone number was EMerson 6-6852. Mama shopped at Jitney Jungle, where she would buy, I guess, all the foodthat she and Aleen would cook for our dinners and suppers, and for barbecues in the backyard, and for goodies that the ladies would snack on while mama was hosting bridge club.

One of my earliest memories was mama putting us kids in the car on a regular basis to take Aleen back to her house at the end of a working day. Aleen’s house was so different from our home; it was a shotgun shack on a dusty road out by the lake levee somewhere; it looked a lot like those small houses that Abilene and Minny lived in in that movie, The Help.

Now that I’ve seen the movie,  I understand a lot more about what was going on on the other side of Jackson’s tracks, in the area where Aleen and her people lived, when I was a clueless white kid in Jackson in the early 1960s. Thank you, Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor, for expanding my horizons. The amazing story you told has been helpful to me.

Glass half-Full

S&P wake-up call

August 8, 2011

Numerous talking heads have been pontificating so plentifully today and yesterday about that despicable ratings agency–the one that dropped the ball back in ’08– Standard & Poor’s.

So many opinionators were covering the wide palette of artful euphemism, expressing their studied opinions– from the subtlest nuance of implicit complaint, to damn-near explicit accusation–that poor S&P is responsible for this raveling mess we’re in.

What the wise commentators should have been saying is: Thank you, S&P for the wake-up call.

‘Tis not the despised downgrade that investors truly fear; ’tis not the dreaded double-dip. What investors are desperately trying to sidestep with their frantic sell-off is nothing so trivially symptomatic as all that statistical stuff.

They simply want to lose as little “money” as possible. Can’t blame them for that. They’re investors, for crying out loud, not talking heads.

I will utter what the President and so many others were unwilling to express today: Thank you, Standard & Poor’s, for the wake-up call. Its about time someboday called a spade a spade.

America, wake up! It’s time to get busy, and pull ourselves out of this debt hole we’ve dug ourselves into. It is obvious that Congress can’t pull us out out, and the President’s comments are helpful, but. . .

Its up to us, individually and collectively. What have YOU done today to improve this life for yourself, your family, your community, your country?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress, which begins on Tottenham Court Road in London

Shovel-ready? Hammer down

August 6, 2011

In the early 1980s, I worked with a large crew of men to construct the Linn Cove Viaduct. This massively intricate bridge project was a missing link to connect the two halves of the formerly uncompleted Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a long roadway which had begun during the Roosevelt New Deal jobs program in the 1930s; we finally finished the job in the 1980s during the Reagan years. The parkway wound through the Appalachians in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

This is funny, in an ironic way. The bridge’s construction had been initiated by the granddaddy of American Democratic Keynesian Liberal Make-work Jobs programs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt; but its completion almost fifty years later was achieved during the administration of that great uncle of American Conservative Republican Trickle-down FreeMarket productivity, Ronald Reagan. I see some common ground there.

It must have been the presence of a rugged mile-high mountain (called Grandfather) in North Carolina, and a world war, that had prevented completion of the Parkway under the New Deal. But that was ok with me and the several hundred other guys who finished the job back in ’85 or so. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to do the work, and thus provide meat and bread, homes, paid light bills and so forth for our families during those years.

After that job, boy, was I in for a long string of years learning lessons in the school of had knocks. But Pat and I, managed, by God’s grace and all that sweat equity, along with her embarkation on a nursing career, to get the three young’uns raised and off to Duke and Carolina. ‘T’weren’t easy, though.

But I was thinking, this morning, August 6, 2011, about that great public works project in which I played a part back in the day. Although I had been a student of English Literature, Political Science, and cannabis at LSU about a decade earlier, and although I had spent a few years after that selling debit insurance, newspaper classified advertising, and printing, I had drifted into the construction trades because–long story short–I was tired of using my mind instead of my hands. But of course I was yet to learn what “tired” is really all about.

All the current discussion about JobsJobsJobs! got me thinking about this. After hearing Democrats theorize these last few months about the FedFix making jobs, and shovel-ready jobs and infrastructure and why-cant-we-do-it-in-the-road projects like the WPA and like Interstate Highway constructions beginning with Eisenhower and so forth, and after hearing the Republicans wax eloquent about Main Street and balanced budgets and job-creators and free markets and efficiency and productivity and so forth, I woke up this morning thinking about that amazing work we did on Grandfather Mountain to finish the Blue Ridge Parkway, back in the day.

Believe me, it was no “shovel-ready” project. In fact, I’m wondering about this whole idea of shovel-ready, and make-work for the sake of keeping unemployment levels down.

The Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain, about twenty miles from where I live, was an astounding feat of engineering expertise. The design and calculations for that bridge had required, I am quite sure, years of preparation. As a novice steel worker–what they call a “rodbuster” who ties rebars together with steel wire–I had nothing to do with the brains part of the work. And I had nothing to do with the “shovel” part of the work either. I just did my job tieing steel, 40 hours a week, until all 53 segments of the 1/4 mile structure had been assembled and passed along to the concrete crew.

After each of those multi-ton segments had been intricately constructed in steel and concrete, with varying specifications in each segment determined according to each segment’s unique position in the 1/4 mile S-curve–after all that–the huge pieces were taken on even huger trucks out to the bridge site on the side of the rocky mountain. And since there were, in the 1/4-mile length of the bridge, only seven direct-support points, an elaborate system of high-tension cables was strewn through the entire structure as it was being built to keep the thing up in the air.

And a multi-ton crane was driven out onto the cantilevered, epoxy-glued, cable-held roadway-in-mid-air with support at only one end, until seven segments had been erected and the next support structure was reached.

Maybe you didn’t follow all that, but perhaps you will believe me when I say this: what men and women have figured out how to do on the face of this God’s green earth–and what they subsequently do–is amazing, and seems miraculous. Furthermore, as this bridge project was an example of what humans can do in massively intricate works of concrete and steel, consider this:

The nano-projects we undertake beneath the world of electron microscopes and DNA and gene-snipping, and laboring viruses, amino acids, and polymers among the electrons with quarks and neutrinos and so forth is perhaps even more amazing. But I’ll not go there, as if I could.

For general improvement of the human condition, we have a lot of work out there that needs to be done. Its good work, if you can get it. But so much of it, especially these days, is for smart people, skilled people, in this age of pioneering technology. If we can find ways–whether by FedFix make-work infrastructure projects or by MainStreet SmallBusiness, or by some combination thereof, I know not–we can make the employment happen. Perhaps we can make connections between the work that truly needs to be done and those skilled workers who are properly trained to design the work, engineer it, and then do the work, and thus keep unemployment numbers down to reasonable levels.

As for the unskilled folks, I’m not so sure how we’ll keep so many of them busy. We make wisecracks about MickeyD’s and the everybody’s-favorite-store-to-hate-even-as-we-shop-there. But I do know this. Everybody has to eat. And I’m not convinced that it is FedFix’s constitutionally-mandated responsibility to feed all these people, and pay their mortgages and light bills and flat-screen tvs and cellphones and whatnot. Such a massive undertaking is, as they say, unsustainable. Not only that, but its downright socialistic, and counterproductive in terms of inspiring the much-needed innovation and creative systemic improvements.

I suggest its time for unskilled folks to get back to the land. Grow food for yourself, your family, your community, instead of buying it all from bigbox stores that have been supplied by fleets of petroleum-spewing trucks that may be carrying suspect salmonella in their highly-processed payloads. This is advisable for skilled workers and educated people as well, if you have time. You might need to cut down on the tv time.

And while you’re tending the garden, take some time out of the hot sun to do courses at your local community college or university. Thereby, you may learn how to make this nation, and this world, a better place.

Glass Chimera

Is this not exactly what the founders had in mind?

August 1, 2011

Uncle Sam got his hundred-year check-up. The doc’s diagnosis was obesity.

Big brother Senate, being himself a little pudgy with too much of the good life, hadn’t really noticed Uncle’s steadily spreading overfed condition.  But lean-and-mean  little brother House had seen what was happening, and demanded that the old guy be taken in for the checkup.

Sure enough, the  examination revealed a debilitating sclerosis and some alarming diabetic tendencies.  The doc called for a low-fat diet and a high-exercise regimen.

It is a good thing that lean and mean little brother House was paying attention, and pressed  the issue of old Uncle Sam’s widening girth and indolent lfestyle. Is this not exactly what the founders had in mind when they prescribed one half of the Congress to arise directly from the districts of the people?

Thus does the  restlessly critical  little brother assure that big brother  and their rich Uncle do not lapse into a fattened lethargy, and ultimate demise. The process is, yes, a little messy, a little scary, but that’s a healthy democracy for you.

Glass half-Full