Sunday, May 30, 2010

This is going to sound intensely weird...

but I had an epiphany this morning.  No one squeamish should read more...


Cockroaches are repulsive creatures.  Hideous.  Dirty.  I only had one place where they were a problem...


Rats are worse.  Bugshit is less repulsive than ratshit, and it wasn't a swarm of angry roaches that devoured Willard.


Besides, roaches are the third string, if the rats screw it up.  The rats know they're next up; they're pacing the sidelines, waiting for the call, hoping we go down...

(Did Zelazny say that somewhere?)
I should say that I can respect them while loathing them, just as with Alex Ovechkin.  I killed a rat once.  It took two guys and ten minutes and a steady rain of blows just to kill the thing, and two hours prior to that to catch it in a three room apartment.  I respect rats on a very Darwinian level. There aren't very many ecological niches they can't  exploit.

But it hit me this morning...

rats and roaches aren't our competitors.  They're not clever parasites, using our primate-shit-where-you-live  filthiness against us.  They aren't  the enemy...


They're the emergency food supply.

I'd try agriculture first, of course.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Now this guy's a leader...

and without a doubt the greatest President of my lifetime so far (I remain ever hopeful).

Can you imagine George W. Bush doing this? Did Reagan ever do this?

A persistent label the Republicans have tried to pin on Obama is "weak". But he walked into a room full of his most bitter political enemies, and went eye-to-eye with them for 75 minutes.

The Republicans know perfectly well that they don't have anyone in the Congressional Party who can match Obama fact for fact. They don't have anyone who can match his charisma.

That's why there were no cameras at this event; Obama is better on camera than any of them. They got their clocks cleaned at the healthcare summit, their State of the Union responses were pitiful...

and of course, Obama has the objective truth on his side. That's a tough headwind.

I suppose it's possible to disagree with this President on policy. Inflation concerns are understandable, if misguided at this point in the business cycle. I'd be happier with a bigger budget for NASA..

But this President has killed more terrorists than Bush, inherited an uglier economy than did Reagan, convinced Pakistan to take aggressive action against the Taliban and risked the ire of an important constituency by pushing Israel on the settlement issue.

The Republicans should at least give him credit for having balls.

in reference to: Spirited Exchanges at Senate Republican Lunch With Obama - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not a word...

from Glenn Beck about the Pennsylvania 12th district.  Unless I missed it.  Instead he's reading the text of Arizona's anti-immigration bill.  I'm not sure that's going to be a ratings winner.  I suspect the text reading is a back-up plan; I'm sure he'd rather be crowing about the Republican capture of the late (corrupt) John Murtha's seat.  But things didn't work out that way...

still, it might force Limbaugh to work a little harder.  The portion of his program I heard yesterday was an almost word for word rip-off of Beck's program from two days ago.  Rush may have ratings envy.  Rush did go off the Beck script when the headline came across the wire that Germany had banned naked short selling; he immediately started screaming about European Socialists strangling efficient capital markets with their claw fingered regulations, and then attempted to explain to his listeners precisely what was meant by "naked short selling"...

only to stumble to a halt when he realized he had no idea what it meant.  After a quick commercial, he came back on with an accurate explanation of what it meant, kind of half-conceded that maybe this wasn't a catastrophe after all, and quickly got back on script.

The "conventional wisdom" has been that the country is experiencing an anti-Obama backlash.  The supporting evidence has been poorly attended tea-bagger rallies and Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts, combined with polling data gleaned from a population so disinterested that the views they "express" to a pollster will change with the first contradictory nudge....


Beck has apparently written a novel, about a 100 year old plot to destroy America.  I wonder where he got the idea?


any discussion of the "mood" of the country can be dismissed.  The country has no mood, except for economic anxiety.  We can safely dismiss any polling data involving the fall elections until September, at the earliest.  Apocalyptic claims about Republicans retaking the House may indeed turn out to be accurate, but they are equally likely to prove wrong.  The determining factor in the fall elections is going to be the health of the economy, with secondary factors like money, organization and local issues explaining the rest of the result.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from last night's results is that it might not have been a good idea for the RCCC to drop a million bucks on the PA 12th, where there's a 2 to 1 registration advantage for the Democrats.  And even that conclusion is tentative...

the same candidates are going to face off in the fall.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Anyone else notice...

that Napolitano is taking the point on this oil spill? I guess it makes sense not to highlight Salazar, his environmental record's what you'd expect from a Westerner. But I'm surprised not to have seen more of Lisa Jackson.

in reference to:

"US President Barack Obama will set up a commission to investigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, officials say."
- BBC News - US President Barack Obama to set up oil spill panel (view on Google Sidewiki)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In case I wasn't clear...

in my post on financial bubbles, let me eliminate all ambiguity.  

"Capitalism", as practiced in the United States, and most of the developed world is fundamentally corrupt at its core.  Its successful practitioners almost invariably lie, deceive, mislead, misrepresent, bully, threaten (both tacitly and explicitly), bribe and steal.

The above behaviors are carried out, over and over again, in the course of daily business.  It is done as part of routine business operations, and it takes place as part of dominance behaviors having nothing to do with business operations.  This behavior is carried out by a particular subculture to whom we may refer as "Commercial Elites".  The behavior itself is a form of coercion, in that it leverages asymmetries in power between parties in a transaction in such a way as to cause the weaker party to act in ways it would not otherwise have acted.  Such coercion may take the form of a bribe rather than a threat.

(image from

Commercial Elites are no more innately evil than any other identifiable subgroup of our species.  But they have "power", in the sense that they can impel behavior in others that would not otherwise be present.  And, like any other group of human beings with power, they use that power to influence what we are told are purely "market" transactions.  

Every elite will promulgate an ideology (often a religion) that legitimates both their greater power and the use of that power to further their own interests.  Commercial Elites promote a particular type of Capitalism that is excessively deferential to those elites, that exalts its practitioners to the status of heroes, and that defends the privileged position of Commercial Elites by predicting catastrophic economic consequences should their behavior be moderated.

(image from

It would be a mistake to conflate coercive business behavior with crime.  Lots of utterly sleazy business transactions  are perfectly legal.  They are legal because Commercial Elites invest trivial sums of money (by their standards) in the campaigns of politicians.  The fact of their legality is itself a product of the power of Commercial Elites.  But of course, there's plenty of criminal behavior, too.

It would also be a mistake to conflate every single business person with the coercive subset of that group.  I have very little experience interacting with this group, so you should ignore my estimate that no more than 40% of them are actively corrupt (in the moral rather than legal sense).  But many, many more members know about coercive business practices and stay silent. 

And of course, any subset of humanity is as corrupt as Commercial Elites.  But lacking power, their corruption lacks specific, obvious national consequence.

(image from

"Capitalism", (by  which I mean the practice of Commerce as it is carried out in the United States today) has been successfully legitimized in the minds of the American mass populace by  associating it with such potent nationalist symbols as "liberty", the "founding fathers", and "rugged individualism" despite having no relationship to any of those things.  This makes attempts to moderate the behavior of Commercial Elites through public policy processes inherently difficult.

"Capitalism" (much like Marxism) has also been legitimized by claims that its outcomes are somehow rational, or scientific, or objective.  And in fact, one can imagine a world where demand and supply are always moderated by price and price only.

(image from

It has been said so often that it is a cliché; the "market" is a purely intellectual construct, an abstraction employed because of its utility both descriptively and predictively...

and then, having covered their intellectual asses, the Capitalism Apologists promptly reify the market, citing the "efficiency" of an admitted intellectual abstraction in defending existing supply and pricing arrangements.  But those existing arrangements are not typically arrived at through the beautifully meshed operations of supply and demand mediated by price.  So-called market outcomes are primarily the result of power differences between the parties in an transaction. 

(image from

Capitalism is also cited as the primary causal variable in contemporary American prosperity.  This assertion calls for two responses...

the extent of American prosperity is massively overstated.  And Americans cannot internalize that fact beyond a vague anxiety about their personal circumstances..  We are not the 
richest country in the world.  We don't have the best healthcare in the world (if by "we" you mean most Americans).  We don't have the most leisure time in the world.  We don't have the best education system in the world.  We are a top 10 country, not number 1.  But if you can convince people that we are number 1 because of an almost religiously fundamentalist devotion to practicing economic activity in a way that defers to your personal interests....

that turns out to be an effective tactic.

American prosperity is not due to "Capitalism". (Again, as it's practiced here.)  American prosperity, such as it is, is a complex phenomenon.  Like all complex phenomena, it is multi-causal and changes over time.  But here's a striking relationship...  the public policies advocated by Capitalism apologists don't seem to have resulted in greater prosperity for the American people, despite their promises.  

It is claimed that Capitalism takes advantage of the particular expertise of private industry, but in fact, our so-called "Captains of Industry" are no more competent (just as they are no less moral) than any other subset of humanity.  There are smart business people, and there are business people that are astonishingly dumb, in about the same proportion you'd find among teachers, or cops, or government bureaucrats.  Furthermore, the relationship between competence and ultimate success is tenuous at best.

(image from  Really.)

Ideologies are programmatic.  They advocate behaviors which, it is promised, will result in certain outcomes.  But, the public policies advocated by apologists for the American practice of Capitalism don't give us the outcomes the apologists predict.  Their supply-side tax cuts don't result in economic growth beyond the anemic Keynesian effect one would expect.  Their massive deficits don't magically vanish under a "rising tide" of economic growth that always comes in weaker than they promise.  And their fanatical deregulation inevitably empowers Commercial Elites to employ ever more coercion against those with whom they transact business.

The benefits which derive from American Capitalism have been grossly exaggerated.  The economic and social costs of regulating the behavior of Commercial Elites has been exaggerated even more.

Commercial Elites will ruthlessly exploit those with whom they do business to the extent that the existing regulatory environment allows them to do so.  As it is presently constituted, the regulatory environment of the United States fails to deter coercive business practices, including practices blatantly illegal under current law.  

Increasing regulatory restraint on Corporate Management will not make us poor.  It's not anathema to the principles of the Founding Fathers.  And it's the only defense we have against our rapacious exploitation by a privileged, hypocritical elite.

It occurs to me that I still haven't watched "Capitalism, a Love Story" by Michael Moore.  I think it's on pay-per-view...

certainly, the Penguins don't have any games scheduled.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I like this guy....

I was sorry that Obama kept him on, at the time. I thought it played to the public perception that Republicans were somehow more competent on defense issues. Gates has been a terrific advocate for Obama's policies, though.

in reference to:

"Among Gates's apparent targets for major cuts are the private contractors the Pentagon has hired in large numbers over the past decade to take on administrative tasks that the military used to handle. The defense secretary estimated that this portion of the Pentagon budget has grown by as much as $23 billion, a figure that does not include the tens of billions of dollars spent on private firms supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq."
- iGoogle (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Among the many (many,many) deficiencies of my education is an almost complete lack of familiarity with Jungian psychoanalysis..  And I'm not likely to repair it anytime soon; I have a phobia about subjective assertions lacking a systematic empirical basis.  But the idea of archetypal images, being conveyed from generation to generation...

(image from

it's breath-taking.  My brother recently started reading H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stuff.  I'll be interested to see what he thinks of it; Lovecraft's prose isn't simply archaic, it's downright bad.  Worse than Poe.  But like Poe, Lovecraft's imagery positively grabs you by the throat...

(image from

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest piece of literature I know of (I'm looking up the Death of Tammuz after I'm done here), and I'm very struck by the archetypal imagery of the tale.  (Tales, really.  The "story" is a synthesis of many versions of many different stories involving Gilgamesh, in Sumerian or Babylonian or Assyrian, across 3000 years.)  And while some of the images and themes made their way into the myths and epics of later civilizations (particularly the Greeks), they also seem to recur spontaneously, in cultures completely severed from the Sumerian in time and space.

(image from

This is an image of Humbaba, the monstrous herdsman Gilgamesh had to subdue to bring timber back to Uruk.  We see the image again in Greek myths of Argus, the hundred eyed.

(image from

One wonders if there might be some deep-seated socioeconomic tension between pastoralists and the urban agriculturalists (who write stories down) at the heart of this archetype.  Perhaps the echoes of the struggle between two incompatible methods of social organization persist to the range wars of the American West, and the evil cattle baron murdering sod-busters.  But that would be a subjective assertion made with no empirical basis.

(image from David Crutchfield)

I know, he wasn't a cattle baron...

There are other archetypal images in Gilgamesh that I find really interesting...  "The Land of the Living" is Eden, and Canaan, and maybe Avalon, and Westernesse.  There's the original tale of the Deluge.  One can see how that image might continue to stick in humanity's collective memory.

(image from

There are other images that have persisted with no discernible (to me, anyway) cause.  Here's a quote by Ishtar...

"I will break in the doors of Hell, and smash the bolts; there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths.  I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living, and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.

(image from Copeland Communications)

It's a good thing you can't copyright folklore.  I don't mind if Bram Stoker's estate gets fat off "Twilight", but I'd feel badly for J.K. Rowling.