Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Old gods, almost dead

In a Guardian Unlimited piece, Helena Smith ("in Athens", as if there were a more appropriate place, one surmises) tells us that in the benighted land of Hellas, worship of the ancient deities is once more to be allowed.

Greek gods prepare for comeback

Helena Smith in Athens
Friday May 5, 2006
The Guardian

It has taken almost 2,000 years, but those who worship the 12 gods of ancient Greece have finally triumphed. An Athens court has ordered that the adulation of Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Athena and co is to be unbanned, paving the way for a comeback of pagans on Mount Olympus.

The followers, who say they "defend the genuine traditions, religion and ethos" of the ancients by adhering to a pre-Christian polytheistic culture, are poised to take their battle to the temples of Greece.

"What we want, now, is for the government to fully recognise our religion," Vasillis Tsantilas told the Guardian. "We will petition the Greek parliament, and the EU if that fails, for access to worship in places like the Acropolis, for permission to have our own cemeteries and, where necessary, to re-bury the [ancient] bones of the dead.

About 98% of Greeks are Orthodox Christian, and all other religions except Judaism and Islam had been banned.

Yet the pagans say as many as 2,000 Greeks have signed up to their movement. Mr Tsantilas, 42, a computer scientist who came to paganism after toying with Buddhism, Taoism and Islam, said worshippers perceived the ancient gods as the "personification of the divine".

But Greece's powerful Orthodox Church takes a less charitable view, accusing the worshippers of idolatry and "poisonous New Age practices".

Father Eustathios Kollas, who presides over the community of Greek priests, said: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past."

Think about this, American yupster. First off, you mean to tell me that the government allows or doesn't allow what you can worship? And, that 98% of all Greeks are, well, Greek Orthodox? You mean, no Mormons, no Jehovahs Witnesses, no Assemblies of God, no-anything- but Greek Orthodox?

Yes. And what's more, Greeks by and large like it that way.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fix the disease, not the symptoms.

Immigration is probably the single biggest problem we face today in America, and everyone knows it. The politicos and their corporate sponsors who benefit from it are well aware of who it hurts, and how much, but since Joe Sixpack seems to not care very much, they see no reason not to simply pretend otherwise.

Mexico is being stripped of its rural agrarian population and their supporting businesspeople, who are being encouraged and subsidized to sneak into El Norte by any means possible, and crank out little mestizitos on US soil while undermining wages, stubbornly retaining their own culture, and ignoring American ways studiously. (Like flushing the toilet paper instead of putting on the floor, meaning men's as well as women's stalls must now have sanitary disposal cans in company office bathrooms.) Yet, we might ask, why now all of a sudden are these rurales pouring in like gangbusters? Why not in the seventies and eighties?

Well, not only lax but deliberately nonfeasant border patrolling and immigration enforcement are certainly one reason. But another: NAFTA, which has actually undercut farm goods prices in Mexico by making much cheaper American grown staple crops, grown by subsidized megafarmers with subsidized petrochemicals. The peasants are being, to an extent, forced out.

Tom Philpott has this interesting view:

An environmentalism that challenges this fundamental status quo has real potential to bolster sustainability. By developing and promoting local production for local consumption on both sides of the border, the U.S. economy can wean itself from its schizophrenic addiction to disenfranchised Mexican labor. And the Mexican economy can begin to work for its own citizens, not for the global investor class.

To do so means forging cross-border coalitions to challenge the assumption that state power exists to promote long-distance trade. One place to start: the 2007 Farm Bill, which Congress will soon take up. The bill will govern how the government subsidizes agriculture. Since the 1970s, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars rewarding bulk production of environmentally ruinous commodities like corn, which also threaten rural livelihoods in Mexico.

Let's work to rewire federal farm policy to promote organic agriculture destined for nearby consumption. Ending the commodity-corn subsidy alone will instantly provide relief to beleaguered rural Mexicans now contemplating a hazardous trip north to a nation that both relies on and scorns them.

Securing the borders, deporting illegals, and punishing employers who knowingly or without due diligence hire illegals, while necessary, are not enough. NAFTA must be made contingent on Mexican self-investment in agriculture and our farm subsidy practices must be reviewed (to say the very least.) Better yet, NAFTA should be chucked in the trash can as the bad idea it really is.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Americans? WHAT Americans??

In a bizarre example of Senate showboating, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Cuba, er, Florida) exposits:

In a moment heavy with symbolism, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who fled Cuba at age 15 and was a prime broker of the agreement with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., stood in the Senate press gallery to repeat the deal in Spanish.

“Now that everyone has had a chance to hear this in English, I think an awful lot of Americans that only speak Spanish would like to hear what we’re talking about,” Martinez said. Martinez worked closely on the deal with the administration, where he formerly served as a cabinet secretary.

Un momento, por favor.

With all due respect to a very few people who may have recently (or very late in life) come over as genuinely legitimate refugees from political persecution or from the clandestine world, in general, Americans speak American English. By definition.

Any adult who has been here for more than a few years that cannot speak English, is not an American at all. They are foreigners who choose to live here. In some cases that may be well and fine, but let's not pretend they have any serious "dog in the fight" that is the American nation.

Nations are defined by language and by culture, and usually by geneaology-or to use the word in its proper context, race-as well. Iraq is a nation on a map, but it is not a nation in any real sense, which is why the current American effort is as apparently doomed as it is. Canada is two nations-Quebec and the ROC, in this case, the Rest of Canada.

For years, we have heard "the exception proves the rule". No, it doesn't: the exception tests the rule. Switzerland is one nation, with four languages. How can that be? Because Switzerland is actually, formally, the Helvetic Confederation, a grouping of cantons who have established a federal governance and appear to the outside world as one body. But within each canton, one language is spoken on an official basis, and only one. Students are taught in that language. Ballots are printed in that language. Occasionally-rarely, really, as the Swiss are smart-a person becomes a Swiss citizen who was not born so. When that happens, on qualifying, the matter is put to a cantonal election. That's right: the people of your canton, in which you are applying to become a citizen of, vote on you. You, personally. If accepted, you first become a citizen of that canton, and through the canton, a Swiss. If male, and between 18 and 55, you then go to boot camp, since you are now also in the Swiss army.

Mexico understands nationhood, ironically, a lot better than does the United States. Maybe hecause so many wealthy Mexicans spend so much time in Switzerland.

A Man and His Maytag

It's come to my attention that my earlier comments on dryers may be misinterpreted to lead people to think the washer is not worth fixing if left out for pickup. It well may be. Indeed, the advantage to fixing up an old washer may sometimes be greater than the advantage to refurbishing older dryers, since washers tend to have been cheapened and lowered in quality more than dryers.

Here, in an obscure corner of his website I discovered only by accident, is one knowledgeable Maytag buff's defense of the classic Maytag toploader. I have to say I have always had a healthy respect for Maytag, although I was trained primarily on Kenmore/Whirlpool equipment. Back then it was widely conceded a Maytag washer would run without repair longer than a Kenpool, but the differential cost as well as parts prices favored the Kenpools-at least the old belt drive type, if you weren't averse to changing the belt, a job relatively simple on Maytags but a major pisser on Kenpools. I worked there at the very time the beltdrives, mechanically largely identical to ones sold when Eisenhower was president, were phased out in favor of the direct drive Kenpools. They were thought of as throwaway machines by more experienced techs then, and I don't know what fifteen-plus years of experience has provided since I've been away from appliances that long.

That aside, Maytag made an impression on me growing up two ways. One was in the really well done exhibit in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, with it's "world's largest washing machine" (it wasn't, of course: it was not really a washing machine but a museum exhibit, and besides, linen and diaper services used bigger machines, though not of the agitator style, routinely). The other, was allied in my mind: the ancient (to me: in reality it was probably not older than me, and certainly not made before the late fifties) Maytag wringer washer my grandfather posessed, which we usually wound up running a load or two in if we were visiting for very long, also in Chicago. Both are now long gone, I'm sure.

As to his comments on frontloaders vs. toploaders, I have to admit I go both ways-on washing machines, that is. Frontloaders ARE more efficient, and get clothes cleaner. It's as simple as that. But they are more expensive to buy, more expensive to maintain (as he says, front seals are a recurring necessary expense) and have a statistically higher rate of water retention failure-in short, likelihod of flooding the laundry area- than toploaders. And for European preferences, I'll defer to my friend Gwen, a female laundry and sewing machine tech whose mother is a lay midwife, who says that "routine hospitalization for childbirth, nonreligious circumcision for baby boys, and top loading washers are the defining moments of American idiocy". (Besides, Renaults may suck, but Citroens were pretty cool-at least the few which could get out of their own way.)

Immigrants Boost Wages-but whose?

In a recent MSNBC .com article, Martin Wolk attempts to argue that immigration actually boosts wages here in the United States. Like most of these efforts, his fails to explain the key issues involved while handwaving away the concisely stated argument of the other side. And as usual, a lot of people will believe it, because they don't know the details.

Immigrants do indeed boost wages-or, more properly, earnings- for some Americans, at the overall expense of others. As is usual in these cases, immigration policy is being driven by a variant of the Garrett Hardin tragedy of the commons, where policies detrimental to the overall group but beneficial to an influential, determined subgroup are implenented because the small subgroup benefits a great deal, while the society at large suffers less on an individual basis-though perhaps, in sum, a great deal more-are enacted. (There's a phrase for this, but I have forgotten it.)

Who benefits, and who suffers, among Americans when immigration is allowed to run wild? Employers-specifically, the employers who can and do hire illegals-benefit. Employees tend to suffer. Employees directly displaced tend to suffer the most, but because of the cascade effect, in the long run almost all hourly and salaried employees suffer. The only exceptions are those with occupations directly serving immigrants or their employers, and management employees with specialized skills, such as foreign language skills and an ability to manage a workforce that is often very "differently abled" than the people they replaced.

One way in which American employees suffer which is rarely mentioned is the effect the availability of unskilled, uneducated, and often plain-not-very-bright immigrant workers have on the allocation of capital within the country. An employer-investor is going to allocate his limited resources where they will give him what he percieves to be his best rate of return, and availability of immigrant labor makes it attractive to invest in the kind of businesses where he knows he can use that resource-namely, stinky low-wage retail and service businesses, fast-food chain franchises, big box stores, lawn mowing services, and the like. Not good-job providing businesses like manufacturing or skilled services.

Another issue is how the social cost of immigration-unskilled, poor, uneducated, immigration-is going to be accounted for. How do you compensate the parents of a small child who dies because emergency rooms are vanishing in immigrant-laden areas? How do you even address the issue of longtime residents of working-class areas (and middle class subdivisions in some places) whose house is now unsaleable because it is now solidly in the barrio, who don't feel safe now walking the streets where they grew up? What do you say to a worker who applies for a job she is qualified for and finds out her application was thrown in the trash by a company whose name she has known all her life, whose local office is now staffed entirely by people who speak a foreign language and want no truck with "outsiders"?

My derriere is my visa, says Dorismar

For years, American observers in the know have considered US immigration policy to be asinine. Butt now, a rumptious-rumped Spanish-speaking strumpet from Argentina has taken the lead in bottom-level audacity.

Dorismar-a singer, actress, model, and all-around sex bomb who goes by one name, like Charo, Xuxa, Cher and Madonna-has applied for and been granted a "O" visa to work in the United States.

Unlike the far commoner and more commonly abused H-1B visa, which is routinely granted to wage-busting fresh engineering graduates with no real work experience or skills not common here, the O visa is generally reserved for genuinely "exceptional foreign talent". Examples would include Nobel Prize level scientists, top-level opera singers, and the like. Not what amount to bottom-rung (no pun intended) performers whose only substantial appeal is to foreign nationals in the first place.

To what did Dorismar point when applying for this exceptional recognition from the immigration authorities? Well, to cut to the bottom line....her ass. You see, Dorismar, (through her attorney, Michael Feldenkrais) says she has extraordinary abilities to show what men like in magazines such as Playboy, including (but not limited to) her 'curvaceous posterior'.

A look on her official web site proved unsuccessful at comfirming her opinion of her derriere, perhaps because its excessive reliance on slow-downloading and bloated active content made visiting it a slothlike experience. However, the opening page-once it finally downloads-adds a backhanded credence, since from the forwardly-presented evidence, it certainly can't be her droopy and splayed higher features that provoke such an upstanding reaction from her legions of male fans.

In the end, Dorismar's presence in the US makes little difference. It's doubtful whether she is going to take work away from American actresses or singers, and in all likelihood she will probably wind up a permanent resident here and cause few problems. More disturbing, though, is the precedent her backdoor access to the very highest level of US exceptional immigrant provisions causes. (The only higher level of access a foreign national can have is to have a private immigration bill passed or to be granted citizenship by direct act of Congress.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Job Seekers in a World of Secrecy

The last few Johnson County jobs I have held, have all been accompanied at time of employment with a signed agreement that employees were not to discuss their salaries, inside or outside of the office, with each other or anyone else. And at the last interview I had, for a position covered by a temp agency agreement, I was told after the fact that I was considerd a less than ideal candidate becuase I had the ill manners and poor tact to ask of the interviewer what the salary range for the position was.

How incredibly stupid. Not of me, with all due disrespect, but of them.

How can a prospective employee evaluate whether to accept a job, and how can any current employee rationally decide whether to accept or decline offers of employment elsewhere, without a reasonable basis of salary information?

Of course, smarter employees will figure it out by indirect means even if fellow employees strictly adhere to the code, which they don't. But by making such a demand, not only is a ridiculous and offensive precedent set, but more importantly a differential is created between smarter (or more observant) employees and those less smart or observant, where the smarter have more incentive to book a cruise when salararily disadvantaged than the more obtuse, who are more inclined to stay put. Of course, if you want a dumber workforce-and it could be argued that even if the company would be less well served overall, it's in the interest of certain decisionmakers within the company to have a workforce of dumbbells and gullibards-that's just the ticket.

But the same principle applies not only within a given company but to the national workforce as a whole. How can young people rationally decide on a career path, or older ones decide on possible retraining avenues, without some good reliable data?

A vdare.com reader, Doug Cannon, points out that without a national, and reasonably accurate, database open to all concerning job availability and compensation, rational decisions regarding career choices are greatly impaired. I would add to that, in addition, in cases where there really is a legitimate case for issuing skilled-worker visas (H-1B) or allowing selected immigration, it's tough to honestly demonstrate.

Ed Romney was a friend of mine

Actually, I never physically met Ed Romney, although I did have several wonderful telephone conversations with him and, in later times, corresponded with him via email quite extensively on any number of fascinating subjects.

Ed was an old man. Not chronologically: he was in his early seventies when he died, circa 2003, and I first encountered his work when he probably had just turned fifty or so. But he was like a very old person, a living dinosaur from an earlier era. His thoughts and knowledge were those of two or three generations earlier, of working-class New Englanders who were toolmakers and millwrights and patternmakers and skilled tradesmen, and he knew that he was the last of a breed not dying but extinct. I think he felt a great kinship to the last passenger pigeon, which lived on in a zoo after its kind had been exterminated in the wild in a lurid example of Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons.

Despite this, Ed was an innovator who selectively adapted technology to suit his goals and needs and honestly earned a decent living being himself. His one big innovation, twenty years before Don Lancaster's howling over "book on demand printing", was-book on demand printing. He wrote do-it-yourself books on several topics, but mostly, and most successfully, on repairing cameras. Romney, upset at the ridiculous offers made him by traditional tech publishers like G/L-TAB, simply laid out his books two-column up with a garage sale typewriter, pasted up photos shot mostly with old view cameras he'd rigged up, and copied them on a good quality Xerox copier and GBC bound them.

It had its disadvantages, of course. Anyone with weekend access to a company Xerox and a GBC punch could make pirate copies, and many did. And the content of some of his books varied over time, while the title didn't. Finally, libraries in particular eschewed his books, not for their content so much as the fact that GBC-bound materials simply aren't circworthy. Occasionally a library would have them professionally library-bound, but ususlly they just refused to replace them. Ed earned a tiny place in Johnson County history, in fact, when a Johnson County Library libararian mentioned Ed in the same sentence as Madonna in a newspaper interview on why the library was withdrawing Madonna's aluminum-and-wire bound missive, Sex. Both authors' works just couldn't be put on the shelf, she averred, as they would fall apart.

Ed later wrote a book for Paladin Press-the survivalist house- on "How To Live On Practically Nothing". It proved ballast for the beleagured gun-nut press and gave Ed a stream of income that he didn't have to run his Xerox all day to achieve.

Ed said what he thought and believed what he said. Consequently, he was demonized by numerous groups, including the camera-dealers his DIY camera books infuriated, photography magazine editors (he had a long-running contretemps with Bob Shell, that ended only when Romney was dead and Shell in jail-but not over each other) and Usenet idiots who were just apopletic that anyone not sharing their politics would pollute their sacred hobby. Romney was far better received among antique radio buffs, who tended to be more conservative apparently, and his DIY antique radio book is regarded as the best out there despite some pretty serious gaps in its coverage of radio theory.

Ed posted to Usenet in his later years and received quite a bit of vicious feedback over it. In fact, I learned of his death via Usenet, but it was a fair amount of time before I found out he really had died, because for years people had been posting notices that he had died-some having a great ring of versimilitude-and most of us just ignored them by then. Because Ed wrote, printed, and sold his books directly out of his house, it was widely believed these were attempts to crimp his business by deterring casual readers from ordering. Ed did die, relatively young, and his widow maintains his website and sells his books as though nothing had happened. However, I think the best outcome would be if some publishing house were to put out a properly hardbound, acid-free archival edition of Ed's major works, making them libraryworthy and suited to long-term preservation. (Since Ed's Xerox books are toner rather than ink based, they are unlikely to survive decades of shelf life even if they don't fall apart.)

Chocolate Salty Balls Six Ways

Isaac "Chef" Hayes' Scientology-fuelled departure from the animated show, "South Park", and the recent Rock Hall induction of New York rock band Blondie have reminded me of one of the most underrated and instructional mob movies to have been made, ever.

"Six Ways to Sunday" is a late-1990s effort starring Adrien Brody, Norman Reedus, and the aforementioned Harry and Hayes. It's a disturbing and violent film, as all good mobster films are. (Those that aren't do society a horrible disservice: organized crime is basically the credible threat of violence, credible because they are sufficiently brutal just frequently enough to make the threat serious.)

Several things make "Six Ways" unusual and valuable. For one thing, the mob is ethnic all right, but they aren't Italians, shanty Irish, or black gangbangers. They are Jews, mostly unobservant but culturally very Jewish Jews.

When the movie came out, then-former Blondie guitarist Chris Stein commented that the author-a black actor and writer named Charles Perry-of the novel on which the screenplay is based ("Portrait of a Young Man Drowning") was obviously engaged in an act of transference in making the protagonists Jews instead of blacks. Stein, despite the obvious, is aparently ignorant (and in his case, I think honestly so: but only because I suspect he's unusually ignorant of Judaism and Jewish history, despite being a Brooklyn Jew himself, he apparently had an unusual, artsy-beatnik childhood) of things Jewish.

Athletics and organized crime are not, today, part of what most people think of when they think of Jews. But at one time, Jews excelled at both. Most people are dimly aware of Sandy Koufax, still arguably the greatest baseball pitcher alive, and that he is Jewish: they may even know that he once refused to pitch in a World Series game on Yom Kippur. Baseball had several great Jewish players, and the sport of basketball was once entirely dominated by Jews, as hard to believe today as it may seem.

Organized crime was even more Jewish than athletics at one time. That the Jews were the most successful, the most ruthless, and the most vicious group in organized crime at that time is not something well publicized today, but based soley on Jewish sources themseves, as well as in any comprehensive scholarly study of American organized crime, it's inescapable.

Names like Bugsy Siegel, Moe Dalitz, Meyer Lansky, Longy Zwillman stand out as the most successful and smartest people in the history of organized crime. Joey the Hitman, the mob enforcer and executioner who co-wrote several particularly riveting paperbacks in the early 1970s chronicling his grisly endeavors (well before the current total disregard of "omerta" in the popular press, with Bill Bonnano writing novels and various former mobsters cranking out everything from movie scripts to Christian evangelical press dives for Jesus and respectability) and, as revealed in the posthumous editions' preface, a Jew himself) made it clear that the Jews were the most violent and cunning of mobsters, when they existed in numbers. Sidney Zion, a New York author, professional Jew, and Sinatra pally, expounded on the theme at length: he wrote of a Jewish gangster whose philanthropy included sending a promising but poor kid to medical school. Owning that doctor as he did, he ordered the man to surgically sever the spinal cord of an informer so as to leave him a bed-ridden quadriplegic. New initiates would then be brought to the bedside of the paralyzed rat as a living, terror-throwing example of what would befall traitors to the organization. It was an expensive form of terror education as the rat had to have full-time medical care for several decades, to keep him fed and tend to the output of his bowel and bladder, and to keep him from managing suicide. But one, Zion wrote with some satisfaction, that paid off in sufficiently terrorizing new initiates to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Jewish organized crime, per se, is history for the most part: "Six Ways" is set in roughly the present, and in the early 1990s, a Jewish mob presence in Youngstown, Ohio would have merely made sense as an oddity peculiar to Youngstown's status as a devastated industrial town whose good-paying union jobs have vanished and whose factories deteriorated in the Ohio winters. But that not only establishes the place setting, but serves as a visceral reminder of what was to today's spoiled young filmgoers who are incapable of understanding any concept unless it is set firmly in the present.

But if the film were specifically and peculiarly about Jewish gangsters, it would not be terrifically interesting except to students of Judaica, crime, professional Jews, and professional anti-Jews, the people like David Duke, William Pierce and Revilo Oliver with whom they are co-dependent for each other's income and support. It's terrifically interesting and gruesome because of the universal themes of mob conflict and support within the organization, the methods used to vet new initiates (Hayes is actually very good in his role as a corrupt detective), and above all the mother-son relationship between Reedus and Harry. (In an ironic and helpful coincidence, as in the novel written decades earlier, Reedus' character is named Harry, and Harry's, Kate.)

An added attraction is Harry's classic monologue on the sex act itself, which creeps out Reedus' character completely, and stands as a defining moment not only in the film, but in Harry's film career. Unbeknownst to all but hardened indie film fans, she is on her way to becoming the Thelma Ritter of her generation.

Friday, March 31, 2006


According to George Bush, apparently the reason for the general lack of business success in France is they have no word for "entrepreneur" over there. But in fact, the French seem to do okay without it.

"Entrepreneur' is simply a fancy French word for 'promoter' or 'huckster'. Promoters are a natural and necessary part of the business world, and without them the workers would have far fewer jobs in the first place. Someone has to think up new ideas, bring together the various talents needed to prototype and develop and produce them in the form of services or manufactured goods, and establish channels for their sale. And those people do need to have the opportunity to profit-to make, in the event they are successful, a living that's better enough than average that bright, hard-working people will forego the steady income of being a worker on hourly or salaried wages to take the risk involved.

The problem today is that entrepreneurs are politically protected and are collecting the lion's share of the profits, and are isolated from the full penalties of their failures. Seeing this, everyone has decided that he wants to be an entrepreneur.

Balzac famously opined that behind every fortune could be found a crime. While that isn't strictly true, what is more true today than ever before is that the surest and most common way to make a lot more money than most people do is to sell something, commonize the costs incurred, and privatize the profits.

Commonizing costs and privatizing profits leads, soon enough, to what Garrett Hardin famously called the tragedy of the commons. In the old days, a farmer would have a sheep, which he owned, and he would take it to graze on the village green- an area owned by the entire village, which was to say, by no one in particular. Now there could be just so many sheep out there, eating the grass and weeds, and pooping on the ground, enriching it, but only slowly in comparison to the amount the sheep ate. The village green, or commons, could support a certain number of sheep with no net loss of grass, as rain and sunlight and sheep poop made the grass slowly grow to replace that eaten by the sheep.

Once the population got high enough and enough people had enough sheep, the grass starting thinning out and vanishing in spots. People realized that the grass was a limited resource. Some people reacted by grazing fewer sheep, but others realized that since they were not proscribed from keeping more sheep, and in fact would have to in order to maintain their current income-never mind making more-they bought or bred even more sheep, figuring they would eventually eat themselves (and everyone else's) out of grass, but until then would have more wool and more sheep than their neighbors, and when the grass was all gone would then slaughter, or sell their sheep. The commons would be destroyed, but that was not their problem as long as they had their profits put away by then.

Today's entrepreneurs are doing much the same by designing products in the high-wage West, having them built in Western-designed plants in China with incredibly cheap labor and avoiding environmental and worker safety costs, and importing them at a high profit to Western consumers. Companies make a lot of profit, the Chinese Communist Party and its minions collect billions in skim for doing nothing except not shooting the workers (and billing their families for the bullet), and consumers, as consumers, get stuff cheaper.

This is known as arbitrage. Global labor and manufacturing regulatory arbitrage tend, of course, to equalize costs and profit margins, all things being equal. However, the conditions for the Chinese are improving, but not very much, because the Chinese Communist Party (which is not communist, socialist or fascist today-it is merely an outfit of looters and brigands with nuclear weapons and an enormous standing army) won't permit the necessary organization of labor to increase its income. The conditions for Americans in manufacturing, on the other hand, have plummeted. Worse: an America stripped of manufacturing is, contrary to idiotic notions promoted by idiotic economists like Milton Friedman, incapable of long term survival as a soverign nation. Dependency on Asia for all manufactured goods is a situation the Asians will, sooner or later, turn to their advantage: when they can as a group cut us off unless we do what they want, they will, and we will have little choice but to follow.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yael Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star Numbnut

Old Yael never misses a chance to promote anything that will cost the poor saps in KCMO money, extend the power of government over their existence, or enrich the already wealthy and connected at the expense of the general populace. In fact, most of his notions manage to do all three.

His latest piece, "Are You Still Undecided?", is little more than a thinly veiled threat to the voters there that they will really be sorry if they turn down the current proposal to finance a ridiculous, sliding Conestoga-wagon-like roof which perambulates so as to cover either the Arrowhead or Royals Stadium, as desired.

Of course, if Arrowhead Stadium really needed covering, one could easily determine who ought to pay for the job: Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. He could write a check for the job without flinching, and he would if it were really necessary-necessary, that is, to his ego as a team owner.

Abouhalkah's scare piece consists of three boogeymen: the idea that taxpayers will pay more later if they don't pay now, the idea that per-user fees already are higher at other tax financed attractions than for the sports complex, and the big threat itself: that the teams could leave if the proposal is defeated.

Let's take that last one seriously. In fact, I believe Abouhalkah is half right on this one. One of the pro teams at the Sports Complex is going to leave sooner or later, and we all know which one. The Royals.

The differential economics of football and baseball mean that in a small market like Kansas City-and Kansas City is small not only in population but consistently punches far below its weight, it really is Wichita East in more ways than one-a town has to be rabid about baseball to justify having Major League Baseball there. Unlike Cincinnati and St. Louis, smaller markets (but both bigger, and more sophisticated, than KC) with very solid support for Reds and Cardinals baseball, KC has always been a fair-weather baseball town, with support peaking during the Royals-Yankees rivalry in the mid-80s, culminating in Kansas City's World Series run. Unless baseball decides to change its revenue sharing plans, either out of the goodness of George Steinbrenner's heart or (more possible but equally unlikely) a serious congressional bid to smack MLB right in the antitrust exemption if they don't, Kansas City major league baseball is doomed. And with the relative success of the independent league KCK T-Bones, it's likely Kansas City might not even get a triple-A team.

Football, however, is secure. KC is a solid pro football town, and even if Lamar Hunt decided to move, Kansas City would be a prime spot for another owner to move to, and the first spot to be considered in any expansion scheme. Hunt is not abouit to move, however.

The other objections, in this perspective, are bogus. Zoo and memorial visitors are just not in the same league with sports fans, and if we aren't going over on this one OR the other one, then we just aren't going over.

Sorry Yael, you're wrong this time. Just like always.

Unions-Fer' Em or Agin' Em

Seems like most everyone is either for unions or against them. Period. Not much middle ground, and not for any particularly cogent reason they can explain. Starting, joining, leaving, backing up, or going against a union is always a Big Deal. People you thought of as friends are going to turn on you, family members will avoid you, and you are going to have unpleasant things happen. Count on it.

In Johnson County, of course, most people are firmly on the "agin" side. Except for teachers and Post Office workers, we have very few unionized jobs, although we have a few UAW and ALPA members who live here and the sports team people, of course. News of GM worker buyout offers, seen-rightly-with suspicion and some dread by most in other areas generally is discussed with contempt by Yupsonites, convinced as they are those GM workers are lazy, fat, stupid, and grossly overpaid. Why, they ought to do those jobs for a lot less. Since they don't even have college degrees, about ten bucks an hour is what they should get paid.

It's always amusing to ask, then, what doctors and lawyers would get paid if they weren't union. But, you say, doctors and lawyers aren't unionized. They earn their money because they have invested in their education, not like those fat union thugs at car plants.

Well, you might not say that, but you probably don't live in South Overland Park, either.

Doctors and lawyers earn their professional incomes partly because of their genuinely high level of training (not education, training) and experience, but mostly because they have a legal monopoly vested on them-almost always in rubber-stamp fashion by cowed or corrupt state legislatures-by the state Medical Board (often known by various names in different states) and Bar Association (there, almost always, straightforwardly, the Bar Association), respectively. In both cases they are in turn rubber-stamps for the AMA and ABA, respectively.

Unions, pure and simple.

To be sure, the Medical Boards and Bar Associations are a little smarter than, say, UAW locals, who are notorious for being perfectly willing to shut down a car plant (profitable or otherwise) to protect a brother worker busted with $5000 of air tools-the company's, and highly specialized and therefore unfenceable anyway-in his car trunk or who is observed dropping a used Tampax in a torque converter housing but who shy away from defending even the most legitimate grievance of a worker considered not really well liked by the shop stewards. But make no mistake: they are first and foremost unions.

We saw this in Kansas with the issue of a group in Wichita who decided they would start a law school. Kansas does already have two law schools, KU and Washburn, and according to the accreditation bodies that are extensions of the American Bar Association, based on the population of Kansas, that's more than adequate.

The problem for Wichita residents was, and is, that both these schools are located sufficiently far from Wichita that commuting is effectively impossible: Topeka and Lawrence, where these schools are, are a long way from Wichita. Wichita residents, particularly adults employed by Boeing, Koch Industries, Coleman, Bombardier, and the lesser aircraft companies, were denied the opportunity Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City Metro residents had to attend law school while working and/or living at home.

So, a Wichita lawyer founded a law school, the President's College School of Law. A charming little institution located on the first floors of a modest Wichita office building, in between the Century II coliseum and the Commodore Hotel where L. Ron Hubbard concocted Scientology whilst on the lam, it endeavored to provide an opportunity for accountants and aeronautical engineers and rivet pounders (assuming they already had a bachelor's degree in something, which many did) alike to enter the exalted world of esquiredom, all while continuing their regular occupations uninterrupted.

Except that despite carefully meeting every single requirement arbitrarily set by the American Bar Association's accreditation outfit, the accreditors refused to grant the school the required accreditaiton. Simply because, according to their set formula, the State already had sufficient legal school capacity in existing institutions.

Being lawyers, themselves, the School's backers filed suit against the State Bar, and after a lot of hooey a compromise was reached: the State would accredit the school. For purposes of the State of Kansas, and in those few states admitting nonaccredited school graduates (or, as in California, "readers of the law"), graduates of the school could take the Bar Exam and be admitted. But in other states President's College grads would never be bar eligible, and faced with this, the school folded shortly thereafter.

The same dilemma put the kibosh on proposals in Wyoming to open a medical school, after the AMA's pegboy minions made it clear that despite the desperate doctor shortage in Wyoming, no new medical school in that state would be accredited, under any circumstances. State legislators briefly considered a similar show of defiance against the almighty doctor union, but that petered out when they realized that no prospective doctor would pay for an medical education/journeyman card enabling him only to practice in Wyoming- a state whose doctor shortage is caused primarily by the difficulty of earning a doctor's income while doctoring there.

So when admiring the palatial Leawood homes (usually tackily constructed by illegal immigrant carpenters who use just a few too few nails, space studs just far enough off to use one less, and use the remaining lumber to tack up their own ladders and boxes to defecate in on the job) and leased large Benzes affected by your tax lawyer or allergist, remember: there go their union dues at work.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why Engineering Enrollment Is Down

Engineering schools are experiencing a downturn in enrollment, and the reason why is actually pretty simple.

Engineers are smart.

People attracted to engineering are smart.

They know when the fix is in, and the fix is indeed in. It's called "indentured servitude". More specifically it's called the H-1B visa program. Employers can hire Chinese and Indian engineering school graduates for a small amount of money, even-especially,even!-in such unbelievably expensive places to live as Silicon Valley. They can work cheaply because they are willing to live ten-up, in three level bunk beds, in two bedroom apartments. They _will_ work cheaply because, to put it bluntly, it's their shot at moving here.

What people in Kansas and Indiana and Ohio and South Carolina and Idaho think about this is that it doesn't particularly affect them. Or at least, that's the common perception. This could not be more wrong.

It's the reason there are no electronic or computer businesses left in those areas. None to speak of, above the level of whitebox PC vendors and consulting agencies for old-line EBCDIC IBM dino heads and Vaginal Basic coders. Why should a company consider locating an office away from expensive Silicon Valley, when aside from office rents, Silicon Valley isn't that expensive-for them?

Of course, voters in Kansas aren't very smart. Unlike even Iowa, which is politically astute in terms of getting some influence on the national sphere despite its paucity of electoral votes, Kansas is the Stupid State politically. So Senator Sam can pocket the colossal contributions from corporate special interests intent on maintaining the status quo with no fear the populace will realize it is voting itself out of good jobs.

Training for Nonexistent Jobs

While working on some bank stuff at a local wireless-equipped hot spot, I wound up seeing a commercial for a local vo-tech educational facility on the Big Flat Screen so ubiquitous today in every public place. Of course, it extolled the virtues of that school, with some video of students at some place resembling in no way whatever the local facilities of the august institution itself.

I know exactly what the place looks like, because I was a student there myself. It looks exactly the same as when I was a student, because I was over there not two weeks ago and dropped by to scope the place out just to see if it had somehow changed into the clean, bright, high-tech facility on the TV ads. Of course it hadn't changed. If anything, it was even dumpier.

But the students, presumably, don't go there because of the airy decor and bright, welcoming atmosphere, but to get a job when they get out. It is, after all, a vo-tech school. They confer no degree, just the opportunity to qualify for the magic paper needed in the bright career field and the assurance that employers will consider their graduates favorably in the field. They teach, they claim, the basic skills needed for success in the students' chosen field.

The only problem is that there are no such jobs available locally, and while they do exist nationwide, it's much better than even money few of the bright-eyed prospects brought to the school's Career Counselor (a former used car salesman weighing at least a quarter ton) by these ad blitzes have no idea just how scarce those slots are or the conditions they will encounter in field as entry level practitioners.

This school, and the others nationwide in its particular field, are not the only offenders in this practice. Lots of vo-tech schools set completely unrealistic expectations for career prospects, and always have, even in the days when people besides doctors and lawyers and accountants and MBAs (or, as a friend calls them, Style Guys) had a shot at something besides dismal telemarketing or retail jobs. But few of these schools charge what these guys charge.

In my case, I can't complain. I knew job prospects were not great (although not quite as bad as they actually are now, with the one local opportunity having been the victim of business failure) when I signed up. I'd been around these contraptions since I was a kid and I knew what a rotten industry it could be. I did it for completely atypical-although no less foolish-reasons, and I knew I'd be paying it off forever with a good possibility of the only reward being an obscure piece of paper making for a good story in watering holes. (Even fewer people care than I thought, adding injury to insult.) But boy, are those scruffy kids piling in with hopes of improving their career prospects in for a good screwing.

Big Item Trash Day in OP

Well, it's big item trash day in Overland Park, and it's time for some sightseeing that's both entertaining and sad. It's entertaining to see the sheer variety of stuff that is going into the trash system, and sad as well, because so much of it is going to simply take up landfill space and take resources out of circulation that are disappearing at a shocking rate.

Our trash systems make only the most trivial effort to separate out and sell the most obvious recyclables. Most of the raw materials and energy that have gone into these products is simply going into a landfill, including steel, iron, aluminum, copper, and the trace materials used in all manner of electronics and household appliances.

More bothersome is the loss of capital costs in the scrapping of so much of this stuff. Not only the capital of the machinery used to build it but the human capital expended to buy the stuff in the first place. Someone paid money, good money, for it and that money is gone. It's as if they had used the cash for toilet paper.

To be sure, a lot of this stuff is of no use to anyone. However, more and more in recent years, what is being thrown out is not only fixable: it's better than the stuff you can buy new in the stores.

Among the piles of disembowelled sofas, rusted refrigerators, crumpled pressboard bookcases and whatnot, I saw a surprising number of laundry appliances-washers and dryers-this last trash day. Usually, they are obviously a set-ranging in age from the turquoise and pink JFK/MM era units with their fluorescent-lit control centers to the nineties direct-drive top load Whirlpool Kenmore junkers with plastic tubs.

Having worked on appliances for awhile, this always amazes me. Junking a washer is certainly justified sometimes. However, unless it's had an internal fire or is seriously rusted, dryers live forever. About any Kenmore/Whirlpool, Maytag, GE, or Westinghouse dryer made since the mid to late 1960s uses the same internal parts, and a $25 kit replaces all of those that typically ever wear out. Electric heating elements are only a few dollars. Motors and timers are more serious, but Johnstone and other trade suppliers have excellent prices on these too.

The other sad thing about trashing dryers when their spouse washer dies-the suburban equivalent of suttee-is that having two dryers and one washer is about the right ratio anyway. Unless you care to spring for (and have the space ) a big industrial or laundromat Cissell or Huebsch dryer, you can wash a load in most washers in about half the time drying takes.

So if you see a classic old Maytag on Driveway Death Row, perhaps you could find a spot in your laundry room for it. It will thank you.


A Nerd in Yupson County

Ever been in a locale that seems to have a very, very different gestalt than any ideas you ever had about the way you wanted life to be? That's me in Johnson County. For now, I'm a technically oriented, back-to-basics, manufacturing-minded, and of late VERY politically incorrect middle aged American blue collar type male in the very heart of American militant yuppity- South Overland Park, Kansas.

I may live here, and the daily experiences I have cannot help but shape my worldview on a daily basis. My goal here is not to simply bemoan the local situation, but to provide some input on some of the things I see, and what we need to do-in our cities and counties, our country, and in the world generally-to get back to where we once belonged. I hope that even if you don't agree with me 100% on any issue-and I don't ask you to-you enjoy a few of the things nearly a quarter century out here has taught me. And I want to explore some of the subjects I am fascinated by as well. If what I think offends or bothers you, do what I did-start your own blog.