Class Warfare Blog

May 5, 2017

Negotiating 101: Big Budget Victory? Hah!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:06 pm
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Scientific American magazine crowed with an article title “Science Wins Reprieve in U.S. Budget Deal.” They, of course, used the word “win” more than once, e.g. “The biggest winner is the National Institutes of Health (NIH)….”

Winners, right …

It is a standard negotiating ploy to threaten to take something away and then elicit concessions to be allowed to keep that thing. This is a no cost ploy as nothing needs to be traded for those concessions, only threats need be made (and, boy, are they cheap).

Was any progress made? Was any action taken against Climate Change, or the infant mortality rate, or any action taken for any scientific effort?

No.

Not a victory, folks.

For you science-types out there, it is called Round 1.

 

 

Egad, Economic Uncertainty is Real!

During the recent Democratic administration, Republicans often ranted about “uncertainty” with regard to investment. You see, the economy tanked in 2008 and the recovery was feeble (still is). Banks were given huge amounts of money at zero interest with the hope they would loan that money, cheaply but profitably, to businesses looking to expand. The key word was “hope” in that the government attached no strings to those zero interest loans. Consequently the banks bought securities with the money, causing the stock market to “recover” rapidly but no one else. When upbraided about this anti-social behavior, the Republicans countered with there was “too much uncertainty” in the market for business to expand. They rather should have stated there is too much bullshit in politics; that would have been closer to the truth.

The real reason businesses did not expand with all that cheap money around, is that they possessed even cheaper money (U.S. businesses had $2+ trillion dollars in cash reserves at one point.) and they weren’t spending that either. The reason? Simple: no demand. This is shockingly self-evident for people who know nothing about economics other than “supply and demand.” If there is no demand, supply is irrelevant (even though some economists tried to claim the opposite—see Say’s law). There was no demand because those business’s customers were broke, still are.

So, when Mr. Trump was elected and the GOP captured both houses of Congress, well … “Happy days are here again, the skies …” uh, no? No. Even though gasoline is quite cheap now, no one is buying much. Retail business are offering lower and lower pricing and still no surge in buying.

People are sitting on the sidelines economically because, well, they are uncertain about the future. When a person’s future is potentially very bad, they hunker down, save their money, and prepare for the worst the best they can.

Mr. Trump’s policies have never been particularly coherent, which was by design. When Mr. Trump claimed he was going to deport 11 million “illegals” from the country, many people translated that into “I will have more job opportunities.” (Right, by picking crops and doing day labor out of the local Wal-Mart?) When Mr. Trump claimed that he was going to transform Obamacare into something better, people applied their own definitions of what “better” meant. But healthcare is a complicated subject (“Who knew?”) and Mr. Trump’s party’s first effort at it was horrifically negative. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then there was the “tax reform” promised. People thought “my taxes will go down” and “I could use the money.” What they didn’t think of was that rich people’s taxes would go down much more, thus reducing government tax receipts, causing many government programs to be terminated, government programs that ordinary citizens are dependent upon, of course, not the rich. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then the current administration launches missiles in Syria and threatens nuclear war in North Korea. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) and….

The economic uncertainty of businesses as a reason for why they weren’t investing in their own businesses was pure political spin. They were anything but uncertain, in fact they were absolutely sure there was no demand, so no expansions. But the economic uncertainty of individual citizens is palpably real. We are not spending much money right now because we don’t know whether we will have affordable healthcare available, whether Social Security will still exist, or Medicare … all of these have been threatened by the GOP.

All of these threats are coming home to roost. We are in line for another recession, possibly as early as this summer. The ordinary tools used to combat recessions are not available (cut interest rates … why? … how?) and the GOP is dead set against deficit spending (the tool that really works) unless it enriches the rich or the military industrial complex.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. If you think things are uncertain right now, well, winter is coming.

Stop with the Throw Away Lines

Too often now I am seeing lazy writing (too often my own which then needs to be corrected, but that’s another story) in the form of “throw away lines:” President Trump is “good at real estate,” Bill Gates “knows computers,” etc. In truth, Mr. Trump, for example, is involved in real estate deals of a magnitude none of us will ever touch but so what? If you had been given as much startup money as he was, would you have done as well or better? How successful has he been? (You’ll have to consult someone other than Mr. Trump on that; maybe if you could see his tax returns….) What brought this to mind was a line in an article regarding the rage to extract profits from the K-12 education “market.” (Why For-Profit Education Fails by Jonathan A. Knee in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine). This was the line.

“Advocates of for-profit education often understandably emphasize the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency.”

Understandably? Market forces improve quality and efficiency? This is a bit generous. Mr. Gates is famous because he captured a rapidly expanding new market. His big idea? That you should pay substantial amounts for the software needed to make the software that you actually want to run on your computer work. (Reasonably, we should have expected that to be free with the price of a computer and upgraded for free). Then he made marginal improvements in his product and charged more and more for every “upgrade.” Some of these “improvements” actually made his product worse. Through hardball business tactics, though, he extracted billions of dollars from a captive market (it is very hard for the average computer user to pick up his marbles and go home; if one decides to scrap one’s “operating system,” one incurs a great deal of expense and no little commitment of time, so this is not something to be undertaken lightly … I know I have done it several times).

“The role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency,” uh, maybe.

Also, there is no acknowledgement of how those “market forces” accomplish those “improvements” when they do occur. Generally they are accomplished by the crushing of opposing companies, costing their investors money and their workers jobs. Currently Amazon.com is “improving the quality and efficiency” of bookstores (and more). Ask any bookstore owner or worker how that is going.

Also, do any of these people consider whether it is appropriate to apply “market forces” to an endeavor in which we desire there to be no failures? Does anyone interview the parents and school kids involved when a charter school shuts down in mid year and those kids need to be placed into another school (with the money to educate them gone in the disaster)?

Has anyone suggested that the military be run this way? Or the education of doctors? (It is so expensive to educate doctors that great efforts are extended to select students who will succeed and then great efforts are made to help them do so.) Should we be applying the same standards to volunteer soldiers that we are recommending for teachers? (Wash 10% out every year and replace them with better ones!)

Stop with the “the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency” throw away statements, especially when they are not even close to being true.

Democracy? Naw, Can’t Have That

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:55 am
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For a recent article in The Guardian, a blurb writer came up with the teaser “Theresa May’s Brexit Britain can no longer be considered a serious country.” WTF? Apparently the criticism is being directed at the U.K.’s political leaders, for not having properly husbanded the Brexit voters in the first place and then not adopting enough of a “woe is me” attitude in preparing for the coming event. Those leaders should be preparing the Brits for all of the nasty consequences of the exit of the U.K. from the European union, they say.

Of course, these very same people were ones who believed the best thing European governments could do in the face of the greatest recession since the Great Depression was (is!) to cut government spending and go full austerity, against everything that has worked in the past (primarily government deficit spending to get the economy up and running again). You always need to “consider the audience” if you are the speaker and “consider the speaker” if you are the audience.

Apparently, also, democracy is déclassé. The people should just shut up and let the experts decide things. Populism is now a dirty word. Voters are seen as “politics consumers” who need to be moved to do the “right thing” by modern marketing, big data, and propaganda efforts. Consequently, I believe that even if the U.K. voter’s decision was wrong, I think they were right to bitch slap their political class, if only to show them who is in charge. Politicians should be scurrying around looking for the best way to execute their master’s wishes, not decrying their lack of good sense.

If only the people in this country would do something similar.

I admit to some trepidation that, in our current state of powerlessness, we elected Mr. Trump as our Brexit vote. I guess time will tell. I do not see the election of Mr. Trump having any effect on the normal politics of Washington, D.C. Maybe the midterm elections will tell.

May 3, 2017

Getting Sharp with Razor Blades

Filed under: Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 2:35 pm
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I am getting very tired of things invented just to be able to make money and which actually do not create any value. (tag line Capitalism Amok!)

What got me thinking about this was razor blades, of all things. I had blanched at the last time I went to buy razor blades. They were thirty dollars for six “cartridges.” And I was in a discount store! So, I had my eyes open for an alternative and I found “Harry’s” (A good shave at a good price!) and they had a special offer on a handle and a set of blades, so I took a chance. The handle was quite nice (plastic but not flimsy) and the blades, er, cartridges were similar looking to many of the others. When I tried shaving with one, I discovered that there was a bit more drag than with a new Gillette cartridge, but they seemed to retain their sharpness for longer. The Gillette blades grew more dull faster. And they were a small fraction of the cost, so I was good to go.

Then I needed to reorder blades and I received a different cartridge, one “new” and “improved.” Nothing can be both new and improved, I assumed this one was new and better than the old one. Why change the design if it isn’t to improve the quality? Well, these new cartridges had much more drag than the old ones. They were still using (supposedly) German steel (not surprising as they have stopped making steel in the U.S.) so what was the problem? I looked at the new design and noticed that now there are five blades when before there were four.

I was disgusted. I then ran across an article extolling the virtues of old safety razors, like our fathers used, especially since you didn’t have to track down an old one; they were still making them. I hadn’t used one of these in over 50 years but the article was convincing. I bought an inexpensive razor and, at the recommendation of the article razor blades from Amazon: 100 blades for $10! Now we are talking! My cheap core soared like a bird.

The really interesting thing I learned when I took my first shave was that I got the best shave I had had in my memory. Not recent memory, all of it! I also got a bit of a nick, being out of practice with that instrument.

Why did this single edge razor perform so much better than these high tech modern ones. It was all very puzzling. The old razor took much less pressure and seemed to do a better job without needing a lot more strokes to get the job done. Then it occurred to me.

Can you see the gaps between the blades? They are there but really small.

Do you know how a knife cuts? Most people think that a knife cuts like a saw but really a knife is a pressure generating tool. The entire weight of a kitchen knife plus whatever force you add to that (usually not much is needed) gets distributed on a surface of very little area: the knife’s edge. Pressure is “force per unit area” and is calculated by taking the weight involved (weight is a force) and dividing it by the area it is spread over. How much area do you thing a knife’s edge has? (Hint: damned little.) And, of course, the only part of the edge that counts is the part in contact with the carrot or whatever, the rest doesn’t matter. A weight of just a few pounds (combined weight of knife and simulated weight added by your skillful manipulation of the knife) divided by a very tiny area and you get enormous pressures. This pressure basically pushes the carrot apart. (This is also why dull knives are so dangerous. The pressure created over a dull edge is much less which leads us to press harder and harder which leads to slips and … ouch!)

What is true for a knife is also true for a razor blade. When one blade was replaced by two you increase the area of edge by 2X. Now if what you were cutting was two times wider, that would have averaged out, but those blades are not cutting the same hairs. So, two blades, three, four, five…! We now have five times the blade area, so we have to use five times the push to get them to cut the same as the old razors.

So, thinking like “two blades ought to be twice as efficient/good/etc. than one” lead us down the garden path to $6 shaving cartridges (Each!) which do no better than the old one-bladed ones. We did not check our thinking; we just accepted their marketing as true and forgot about it. (Remember the frog in the pot of water with the temperature slowly rising?)

Does a two-bladed razor require half of the strokes to do the job? I didn’t notice any effort saving all the way up the ladder to five-blade “cartridges.” I did notice fewer nicks, though, even though I was pressing harder and harder all the time. The reason there are fewer nicks is plain to the naked eye. If you look at one of these cartridges, you will see than none of the blades is exposed much at all. This is where the safety razor had its fault. It exposed a lot of blade and that blade mowed down facial hair like a scythe; it also could nick you if you didn’t pay attention. To help with this, new safety razors have different amounts of blade exposure built in and there are various blade designs, etc. to enable a best set up for your face and skin.

It is a whole new … old … world. Old and Improved!

The Ann Coulter Brouhaha

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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I don’t get it. Ann Coulter is taking umbrage at being denied a speaker’s platform at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus. Commentators are going some what berserk over this as being part of a trend in which well-known conservatives are being shut out of liberal bastions, the universities. Issues of free speech are being bandied about.

In the case of Ms. Coulter I must ask:

  • Has she ever inventing something?
    • Has she ever discovered something?
    • Has she created ideas that are new?
    • Has she ever done anything important?
    • Does she have anything to offer but her own opinions?

Our universities are places in which we educate people, should not these invited speakers have done something, created something, or discovered something that would enable them to pass on their wisdom to newer generations? Is our only criterion an “invitation” from a campus club?

Is having provocative opinions now “enough” in the way of societal credentials to have a platform at a major university?

This Is Ridiculous!

Filed under: Education,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:23 am
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The University of Alabama has just given its football coach a three-year extension on his current contract with a price tag of $65,000,000 additional in salary. This is ridiculous.

If said coach worked as many hours as an average worker, this means he would be making $11,500 per hour, that’s right per hour.

This means that said coach would make more than the average worker in the U.S. makes in a year in one afternoon.

This is madness. This is not for some life-saving surgeon or freedom-ensuring lawyer, this is for an effing football coach, a coach of amateur football.

Do we need any more evidence that capitalism is broken?

May 2, 2017

Please Stop with the “Trump This …” and the Trump That …”

Recent articles have crowed about the GOP cave-in on the budget by talking down Mr. Trump’s vaunted “negotiation skills,” as if the President actually negotiated budget agreements (none do). These headlines are part of a long series of headlines claiming the source of this or that activity by “Trump …” when clearly they are not Mr. Trump’s ideas or initiatives.

To wit: can you name one idea that is Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Trump’s alone? The Wall? Remember John McCain’s campaign stop in Arizona at “the Wall?” Heck, it was being built before Mr. Trump even mentioned it. How about tax reform? (Please, this is as common as there are people with tax axes to grind.) Money for the military? Get tough on NATO … the Chinese (currency manipulators?) … the Russians? All pre-existing ideas.

Can you name one initiative of the GOP that Mr. Trump has tried to husband through? (Hint: There is only one.) The GOP health care initiative? (Got it in one! Good job!). Mr. Trump actually picked up the phone and called some fence-sitting legislators about this one, but clearly this was not Mr. Trump’s plan, it was a mishmash of whatever the GOP thought it could get away with and call it “health insurance reform” or rather “The Repeal of Obamacare!” Mr. Trump did blurt out that he was releasing a tax reform plan within a week, which resulted in that bizarre one page memo that was anything but. Where is the vaunted organizational skills of the GOP on display. Can’t they enroll their usual allies in the Think Tank World to crank out some of these plans, on topics they know they want to address? How could they not come up with a decent tax reform plan? (I can understand the health care miasma (It’s complicated; who knew?), but tax reform is low hanging political fruit.)

I know it is traditional to put the president’s name on all initiatives of his administration, but this is giving our president too much of what he clearly craves: attention. If he deserves it, fire away. Otherwise direct your comments where they belong, at the people leading the charge.

I can’t wait for some foreign leader, when asked to respond to one of Mr. Trump’s tweets or one page memos, to say: “Mr. Trump says many things. We will wait until he actually does something to comment.”

What he has done so far can be described as “a number of things done in the last administration have been undone.”

April 28, 2017

Evangelical Logic

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:17 am
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My friend, John Zande, has subscribed to a doctrine: “I am a creationist; I believe man created the gods.”

I agree with almost all Zandeisms but that one started me thinking. Evangelicals are often selling a “life in Christ” or “living a Christ-led life.” The goal, of course, is to be “saved.” And I wondered, as just a thought experiment mind you, what evangelicals would respond with if someone actually lead a life just like Jesus Christ, would then they be saved? I suspect that some of the hardcore might dogmatically say, well, you would still have to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, no matter how you lived. Then I also suspect that many would be afraid that to adopt the life of Jesus and then be refused salvation by a bunch of punk ass religionists might not go down well with the crew in the pew. So, for them, salvation could come, should come, by living your life as Christ did.

Evangelicals, of course, also believe that Jesus is god, so … I decided this is what I am doing. I create my own universe and live by my own rules. I do not feel I have to be consistent in my actions or ideas. No matter what I have said before, what I am saying now is correct.

If I was created in God’s image, then God clearly wanted me to behave like Him, like Jesus, like me. Zande was right!

Again.

(Stick with me Zande, I’m gonna make you famous!)

American Mythology (Con’t.)

Filed under: History — Steve Ruis @ 9:48 am
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As a school child I was told the tale of “Johnny Appleseed” who wandered around early America planting apple seeds, bringing apples to much land that didn’t have any before. He was characterized as a kind of goofy guy, an eighteenth century hippie environmentalist, who ended up giving away apple orchards. (Modern conservatives would now brand him as a socialist.)

What my teachers didn’t tell me was that apples planted from seed are small and sour, basically inedible. (One nickname for such apples was “spitters” because as soon as you bit into one, you spat it out.)

Right

So, what were such apples actually good for? They were good for making hard cider, alcoholic cider (roughly 20 proof, half the proof of whiskey, twice the proof of beer). Such ciders are a tad sweet to the taste from the enzymes of the yeast breaking down the starch into sugars which are then fermented, but only up to a point. When the alcohol content rises up to a point that it deactivates the yeast, there is still sugar left over. In colonial days, sugar was very expensive and honey was rare, so cider was one of a few tastes that would provide any sweetness in one’s diet at all. And after a couple of tankards of “cider” you kinda didn’t care.

One of the other things that our school teachers didn’t share was that early Americans had an almost constant buzz on. Workers were granted “cider breaks” and were provided with a substantial amount to drink. Work just buzzed along!

Since barley was a crop hard to grow in the colonies, almost all of the beer was made from imported barley (the ingredients for beer are: water, barley, and yeast). Other grains were tried, not at all successfully and so whiskey became the most common alcoholic beverage. But it was unseemly for women and children to drink whiskey, so there was still a wide market for hard cider.

Also, some enterprising “upeaster” found that if you left apple cider exposed to very cold air in the winter, ice formed in it. That ice was almost entirely water, with almost no alcohol in it, so if you plucked out the ice and tossed it, you were left with a far more alcoholic beverage, called applejack. (Whee!) Much easier than setting up a still.

It is not unusual to “simplify” stories for children in school, but it is disingenuous to not tell then “the rest of the story” later in school. Alas, too much of the America we now “know” consists of these doctored, sanitized stories; just ask any American Congressman (it is all they know). Does fake history lead to a taste for fake news; it seems to.

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