Friday, May 25, 2012

Where Did the Economic Productivity Go?

This is Paul Krugman answering the question:

Larry Mishel has a systematic breakdown of the reasons for worker income stagnation since 1973. He starts with the familiar divergence: productivity up 80 percent, the compensation (including benefits) of the median worker up only 11 percent. Where did the productivity go?

The answer is, it’s two-thirds the inequality, stupid. One third of the difference is due to a technical issue involving price indexes. The rest, however, reflects a shift of income from labor to capital and, within that, a shift of labor income to the top and away from the middle.

What this says is that widening inequality makes a huge difference. Income stagnation does not reflect overall economic stagnation; the incomes of typical workers would be 30 or 40 percent higher than they are if inequality hadn’t soared.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wanker in Chief

This highly entertaining piece lists the top ten wankers of the past decade in the field of punditry. It's a crowded field, and the competition was stiff (if you will pardon the expression). It's the product of the blogger Atrios, who plies his trade at Eschaton. He's a blessing among bloggers. Short-winded as well as smart on economics and politics. 

I know you're wondering who bears the laurels for Top Wanker of the Decade. I shall not keep you in suspense. It's Tom Friedman of the New York Times. I stopped reading him years ago because I figured out he was full of crap. But he's still there and still churning out his nonsense. 
Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false "centrism" which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

Truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any
responsibility for anything. The important thing about an issue is whether it proves Tom Friedman fucking right, but if it doesn't we can just move on to the next big thing that will prove Tom Friedman fucking right. If you advocate for wars that go a bit bad, well, it's not your fault. If only Tom Friedman had been in charge everything would have been great.

Such wankers are impervious to criticism because they're always doing battle with
straw critics. They never remember what they said last week, and assume you won't either.
 Source of quote: here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Deluded Americans

What are some of the most interesting or shocking things Americans believe about themselves or their country? An intriguing question, don't you think? It was to me too when I ran across it at this site. How would you answer it? Well, I discovered that I would respond pretty much the way thoughtful people who answered the question did. I've just pasted responses from various people in verbatim and commented where I felt moved to. As you will see, the quality of the observations vary, but they all have this in common. They are true.

  1. American exceptionalism: that some magical combination of Anglo-Saxon liberties, Protestantism and capitalism made the US new, unique, better, and outside the normal rules. [Number one. As well it should be.]
  2. That now or ever, there was a mass public in foreign countries praying for United States Armed Forces intervention.
  3. That the quality of life in the US is better than in Europe.
  4. That Detroit cars are as good or better than Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda.
  5. That women from the US need to worry more about their safety in Europe.
  6. A large fraction of Americans believe that humans have only been on Earth for about 6000 years, and that evolutionary biology is false.
  7. That a public healthcare program would be socialistic [well, actually it is socialistic, but that doesn't make it bad.]
  8. That President Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, and was foreign-born.
  9. That all Americans have an equal chance to become wealthy. [how people actually believe this has been a mystery to me for decades]
  10. That the UN is a dangerous concept.
  11. That American society is truly "classless."
  12. That there is no need for labor unions.
  13. That corporations are people [according to the law. A bizarre 19th century construction that has wreaked untold havoc on our political system]
  14. That there is nothing of significance that the US could possibly ever  learn from other countries
  15. That no matter where Americans are in the world, they will never be more than a few feet away from someone who speaks English [Something I observed over and over when I lived abroad.]
  16. That the corporate-owned mainstream media is liberal. [Another completely counter-intuitive belief]
  17. That our national government is less corrupt than most other nations. [Everything floats of a sea of falsehood in government, not to mention business, and just about any other field of endeavor you care to mention.]
  18. That everyone carrying arms somehow makes our society safer and deters crime. 
  19. That the military is the most honorable, truthful, and virtuous constituency in American life, and the corollary that U.S. military intervention anywhere is be definition necessary, well-intentioned, and desired by the people of other countries. 
This last one is mine. There were were many more, and you can probably come up with a list of your own. The bottom line is as a people we probably rank at the top in self-delusion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One Minute Physics

Well, it's not really a minute, but it goes by really fast--a little too fast, actually--and the learning part doesn't even take up the whole video. But this is pretty cool.

I found this right here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Good God! (Again)

So where was I? Oh, yeah, I was going off about the Catholic Church's new push to restore indulgences, and I was in the midst of trying to explain the concept to those who may not be spun up on this sort of arcane stuff.

To recap: you're walking around toting all these sins. God will forgive them, of course, but the Church says the way you're positive this happens is you go to a priest and make a confession. He--always a "he"--then pronounces absolution and "poof!" all your sins are forgiven by God. You would think that would be it, but there's a catch . . .what about that punishment you would have gotten if you had not gone to confession and all those little bitty sins you didn't confess? What, you say? I thought we were done. Is there more? Well, there is, says the Church, something called "residual punishment" for sin. This is purgatory. Purgatory is reserved for those whose sins have already been forgiven, but who need to be further chastised. So what we're talking about here is the construction of a deity who is so crabby and vindictive that S/He will not let forgiveness be forgiveness. Will not let go at least some kind of "punishment" for one's having the temerity to transgress in the first place.

(Just as an aside: What the hell kind of God is that? It sounds like a God who is a lot like some human beings . . . some human beings cannot forgive, even when they say they forgive. In their hearts they always want the transgressor to pay, except in the human's case, he many times withholds forgiveness until the proper penance has been paid.)

But not to worry, dude. The Church has things covered for you. It's got a whole raft of these things called indulgences. You can get them for set period of time a day, week or weeks, year or years. And then there are blockbusters called "plenary" indulgences that wipe out every last second of residual punishment. So you're saying: well, gimme some of this, right? Right.

I guess you've already guessed that they don't just hand these things out for nuthin'. Oh, no. Acts of charity or piousness or performance of a religious function, like a retreat or pilgrimage, or prayer, or a combination of these things is required. Then HMC (Holy Mother Church) will bestow the indulgence.* Got it? We're talking about get-out-jail-free cards . . . and these things, these indulgences, are what the Church wants to restore to its regular practice. In the 21st century.

Good God! Are you kidding me?

*Back in Martin Luther's time, the Church sold indulgences for hard cash. Can you understand why that might have upset somebody who was trying to take God seriously?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Good God!

I have been saving this one ever since I stumbled across it a while back. Good God! is the unbelieving astonishment being expressed. It's also subtle theological statement about what I consider to be the nature of the deity. S/He is good, i.e., has nothing to do with the chastisement of the creatures S/He called into existence out of . . . purportedly (as I've been taught and learned) . . . love. This sort of background is required for you to truly grasp my disbelief when I read in the NY Times that the Catholic Church is on a campaign to revive indulgences. Indulgences! What are they going to reinstate next? Burning heretics at the stake? Going to hell for fried chicken on Friday? What? You don't know what indulgences are? Really? (Actually, I'm flattered if you have never heard of indulgences . . . that proves that this nearly 70-year-old blogger has readers under 50. So happy you're aboard!)

So indulgences. You can read the article, but I'll give you a more colloquial read on it. Okay. So you have these after-death places: heaven above and you have flaming hell below. And in between . . . it's not clear where . . . you have purgatory.  Imagine this place like a dingy Greyhound terminal waiting room. It's ugly, has a water cooler that's unsanitary-looking even if it works, and has nothing but grungy, uncomfortable benches to sit on. We're talking about a way-station here. A temporary stop on your way to a better place. That's purgatory. And why are you in this damned (sorry, force of habit) awful place? Because, dude, you were bad when you were alive. And God demands that you pay price if you have gone though the proper procedures to get forgiven for these bad things, sins, to put it in the argot. For more on this, see below.

The price you pay God if it were a really bad thing is hell, baby. You will burn in unquenchable torturing fires forever, as in longer than when every star in every galaxy in the universe burns out. In fact, beyond the time when every star in every galaxy in all the alternate universes to this one burn out. Forever is one long frigging time.

But even if you didn't do anything really bad, you still have to pay. The God who called you into existence out of love is not satisfied till S/He sits you in the Greyhound terminal till S/He's ready to see you. That, brothers and sisters, could be a day, a week, or a year, or several thousand or conceivably, million, years, depending on what bad things you did.

And here I have to remind you of something the Catholic Church doesn't want you to forget: you don't even make it to the Greyhound terminal unless God forgives you your sins. And how is that effected? Why, via one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of penance, commonly called "confession." That's where you go and recount your sins to a priest, who as a representative of Jesus (i.e., God), bestows God's forgiveness upon you in a proxy operation.

[Enough! Geez. I didn't realize this theological disquisition was going to be so long-winded, so I'm going to have to ask your indulgence (har, har!) for taking a break. I'll continue this tomorrow.]

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What? . . . You Can Read ? . . . You're Hired!

Stumbled across this little piece a bit ago. The bottom line is employers think a person's ability to communicate is pretty important when they are looking to hire somebody. In fact, it's number one on their list. Not surprisingly, graduates in the liberal arts who are steeped in reading and writing fill the bill quite nicely. And my guess is, they will continue to and become even more important as the general population continues its slide into helpless illiteracy, drooling stupidity, and terminal cluelessness.

Here's a snippet of the good words:
Thirty percent of surveyed employers said they were recruiting liberal arts types, second only to the 34 percent who said they were going after engineering and computer information systems majors. Trailing were finance and accounting majors, as only 18 percent of employers said they were recruiting targets.

"The No. 1 skill that employers are looking for are communication skills and liberal arts students who take classes in writing and speaking," said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and an expert on Generation Y. "They need to become good communicators in order to graduate with a liberal arts degree. Companies are looking for soft skills over hard skills now because hard skills can be learned, while soft skills need to be developed."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Icky Pick

I have Walmart-Comcast in finals. How about you? You can find a lot more information here, such as consumer complaints against these companies as well as clear explanations as to how they merit inclusion into this distasteful tournament.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just Cool as Hell

I thought this was just too cool for words. Don't ask me why. Some things just grab you. I found it at this website.

Chilling . . .

. . . and I don't mean cooling your heels.

This is one of the Mother's Day themed communiques received at Post Secret. My daughter's been reading it regularly for years. Every time I go there, I'm reminded of just how damn ordinary my life is.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

Well, despite all the best intentions about adding a few blog entries while I was in Florida, I didn't do it. And despite the fact that I've got four blog entries already in some state of completion, and I had these while I was away, too. Did not watch much news while we were with the boys. Some, but we watched a lot more baseball, including a game at Tropicana Field on Sunday the 6th (Rays lost to the A's). The visits with our old friends in Tampa were limited to shared meals plus. Tampa metro area--which has about 5.5 million people--is a huge place. Where we were staying, with Stu, our oldest, in Palm Harbor is far, far from where we used to live. So everybody to visit was by definition a long way off.

As I told my sons, I get nostalgic for Florida whenever I visit. Everything's green. I love all the birds in their profuse variety. Spanish moss is beautiful. And any place without Oklahoma's stupid liquor laws--buy wine in a grocery store, what a concept!--is at the very least refreshing. But the politics in the state are crazed, as crazed as they are in Oklahoma. Some right wingnut named Scott is the governor. That such a guy could be governor of such a populous state tells you a lot about the general population.

Tampa is hosting the GOP convention in August. Obscene amounts of money have been spent in preparation, some $50 million for security. But the powers that be were unable to get the state's concealed carry law suspended for the area around the convention. However, fake weapons of any sort will be banned from the convention area. Can't have any of these distinguished thousands with their fat wallets upset now, can we? As surely they would be by the sight of anything that looked like a real gun pointed at them. But here's the story that sums up the madness of our times. Real guns in the area will be perfectly legal. Toting a water pistol will get you arrested.

I wonder, too, what the city is going to do about protestors. How far from the convention will they force them to exercise their first amendment rights?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

In Tampa

On the road again. I'm in Tampa visiting my boys. I intend to blog several times while I'm here, but I have to wait for my son Ben to get here from wedding in Mexico so I ve password to open his laptop. Way too tedious to blog on an iPad.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I have been a professional historian my entire working life . . . correction, it's what I am, not what I do, and I suppose I've been a historian since the days of my early youth when the American Civil War captured me for life. As a kid, born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I was fortunate to have spent hours in the sprawling national military park there even before I was a teenager. For my money, Vicksburg is still the best Civil War park, but now, having spent a careful couple of days at the Gettysburg park, I can tell you that this one is a close second.

There's no learning about a battle like the learning you get from actually seeing the ground. I can attest that the mental pictures I had of the battlefield, drawn from reading and photographs only slightly resembled the reality I confronted on those two days. What have I told people since? Well, that I learned a ton.

But one of the thousands of Gettysburg dead
And part of what I learned, or more accurately, recalled was the old lesson that has been on my heart ever since I first grasped what war is all about a long time ago. War is not about ideals. It's not about freedom. It's not about any of the worthy causes and aims we cloak it with to somehow justify its horror in our minds. War is first and foremost about killing. Killing young people. Killing innocent people. Killing whoever is in the way. It's about cruelty and destruction. It's about death and tears. And it is the grossest of all obscenities. War, any war, solves nothing. They all serve the same purpose. They serve as but introductions to the next war.

I can tell you that from another source, we know that the poor pitiful remnants of what used to be a young man pictured above was likely a Georgian in Semmes Brigade. He died on July 2, 1863 in a field adjoining the Rose Woods. He was photographed on July 5. An artillery shell has ripped him nearly in half and blown off his left arm. The photographer has staged some items into the picture: the canteen, rifle, and artillery shell doubtless to increase (quite unnecessarily) the drama of the shot. The body has already bloated in the July heat. One can only imagine the stench, the vast swarm of flies . . . This is the glory of war.

How many people were killed at Gettysburg? A horrendous number. The "official" tally puts the total death around 8,000. Historians since have revised the number upward to the neighborhood of 12,000. Total casualties at the battle were over 51,000 killed, wounded, and missing (almost surely dead)/captured.

The museum, the cyclorama, the film and etc. in the Visitors' Center did not do much for me. I know all that stuff already. I walked around for two days with the dead, suffering, and tragedy constantly on my mind. They are still.