Thursday, December 29, 2011
Cheap Trick played a short-notice charity gig last night at Atlanta's Buckhead Theater (formerly The Roxy, before a much-needed refurbishment a year or so back). My wife and I went to the show, and had a great time. The crowd ranged from people considerably older than us to young kids, and included everything from Buckhead hipsters to grungy teens in Motorhead jackets. I think I'm safe in saying that pretty much everybody there had a blast.
Like most of the surviving 70's and 80's road warrior bands, Cheap Trick still has the chops (although original drummer Bun E. Carlos has retired from touring due to back trouble; he's replaced live by guitarist/songwriter Rick Neilsen's son Daxx) and stage savvy to pull off a solid show. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, vocalist Robin Zander could still hit every note, including a jaw-dropping cover of the Beatles' valedictory medley from side two of "Abbey Road." I'm reasonably sure Zander sings those parts far better than Paul McCartney himself could today.
So anyway (here's the "look at me!" part), for years and years during the song "Surrender," Cheap Trick used to toss Kiss albums into the crowd after a line referencing that band. Nelisen often jokes that Cheap Trick was responsible for several Kiss albums going platinum, since their roadies were always having to go to a local record store to buy up additional copies for the gag.
No doubt partly due to the end of vinyl records as easily-found items, they've knocked the Kiss part off, but Neilsen did toss an autographed cover from Cheap Trick's own latest album (cleverly titled "The Latest") into the crowd during "Surrender" last night. It careened off a light fixture on the theater's ceiling, and ricocheted basically into my hands. Which was, y'know, pretty cool.
Here it is, complete with a ton of guitar picks that had been kindly stuck into the seams:
... and here's a sample of the song itself:
Friday, December 16, 2011
Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, at the far-too-young age of 62.
Matt Labash offers up one of the first of what will surely be a tidal wave of encomiums from Hitchens' vast list of friends (and enemies). Labash recalls Hitchens leading a rag-tag band of reporters from Kuwait into Iraq during the first Gulf War:
At the first checkpoint, we were turned back by a British Air Force policeman who told us passage was unthinkable due to security reasons. Hitchens was incensed. “Security is only a word, but it’s not a reason, is it?” When we wished to talk to the head Kuwaiti in charge, our efforts to bribe him were met with cool resistance, and our yellow-bellied driver breached his contract and turned back. We made it onto a humanitarian run the next morning, rolling down the Highway of Death, while being periodically pulled over and delayed for hours as the Kuwaitis—worshippers of all things bureaucratic—kept demanding we fill out more paperwork declaring our affiliations. “Who wants to know?” barked Hitchens, castigating reporter colleagues for complying like sheep, while pointing out particularly egregious offenders: “Look at him, reading the list upside down. Do you sign anything they put in front of you? You’ve got to push back hard or you’ll get too used to being pushed around.”
Steve Green and I have had a running bet for years regarding which one of us would manage to go drinking with Hitchens first. Sadly, we--along with those of any ideology or religion who love great writing and admire the mighty of heart--both lost.
UPDATE: Speaking of Steve, he knocked it out of the park today.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
December 12, 2011:
Gallup: In U.S., Fear of Big Government at Near-Record Level
December 13, 2011:
AP: NTSB recommends ban on driver cell phone use
Yet nothing is invincible...
Friday, December 9, 2011
As you can see from the preceeding post, my mom passed away last month.
The minister at our old church in Enterprise had never met my folks before my mom's funeral. My dad, who cared for Mom throughout her long illness, hadn't been able to get out to do much of anything other than work and look after her for the last couple of years.
I though it was ridiculous that we were asking this guy to give a eulogy for somebody that he didn't know and knew nothing about (I could barely speak when we met with him), so I wrote this up the night before and emailed it to him. It is a very poor effort, but even now, it's about as much as I can manage.
* * *
My mother was born into an Alabama farming family on Sand Mountain in the Appalachian foothills. Her people were by any modern standard (or even the standards of those days, at the end of the Depression) dirt poor. But when they could leave the fields, they were musicians--the Johnsons had a bluegrass and gospel band that Mom sang with on the radio as a child--and storytellers and craftsmen beyond any level of those arts we see today.
Her uncles made fiddles and guitars from scratch, and her father, despite having only an eighth-grade education, was one of the first men hired by NASA when it was started up in the 1950s. By the time he retired, Granddaddy was on a first-name basis with Werner Von Braun, and replaced by a degreed electrical engineer. He worked two jobs for most of his life, and put his two daughters through Birmingham-Southern College. He and my grandmother were the two hardest-working people I've ever known.
Until my aunt Lauren was born in the 1950s, Mom was the only child between my grandmother Bernelle and her older sisters Connie and Ruby Jo. She was loved as intensely by those three families as anyone could imagine, and she passed on that remarkable bond of affection for home and kin to her own children and her two grandsons. I think the soft weight of those four generations of close-knit family ties is why it's so difficult for me to talk about her today.
Without exaggeration, Mom was something of a star in her hometown of Albertville. She was the drum major in the marching band, a straight-A student, and a famous beauty. Just a couple of years ago, by chance, I ran into Robert O. Johnson, Albertville's long-time photographer and unofficial historian, and the first thing he told my wife Beth upon meeting her was what a pretty woman my mother was. Robert, now in his eighties, retired and nearly blind, still says his most famous photograph out of the untold thousands he took in a long career was a shot of teenaged Lynda holding up the head of a gigantic fake snake that had been wrapped around a car as a cheerful hoax. That picture has been reprinted in Sand Mountain newspapers at least a dozen times since it was taken in the late 50s, and it always brought a light to Mom's eyes when someone dug out a copy.
My parents met in Birmingham, when my dad was in dental school at UAB and mom was about to finish college. They were a blind date, set up by mutual friends who are themselves still married and attended Mom's services last month. The details of that date--a raucous dental-school banquet--made for a seemingly-endless chain of funny stories doled out by their friends during my childhood, but it obviously went well. They were married in 1962, and Mom taught high school in Birmingham until Dad finished school. He was commissioned in the Air Force upon graduating, and the two rural Alabama natives moved together to RAF Lakenheath in England shortly afterwards.
For Mom, this was a bit like being assigned to Heaven. A Phi Beta Kappa English major, she was already an Anglophile who could (and did) go toe-to-toe with Cambridge dons discussing Shakespeare. Together they soaked up the history, survived the lousy East Anglia weather, collected antiques and a couple of English bulldogs, and tried to start a family. My older brother Charles was born and died on the same day in 1967, and Mom never really got over his loss. Two decades later we visited his grave together, in a lonely corner of the American cemetery at Lakenheath.
When Dad's term of service was over in 1968, they returned home to Alabama and settled in Enterprise, although neither of them had any family here. I arrived shortly afterwards, followed by my sister Kitty, thirteen months and one day later; which Mom always referred to as "twins the hard way." Mom rebutted the admonition of a college friend that she was moving to "a cultural wasteland" by helping found the Coffee County Arts Alliance, which has brought everything from Broadway to opera to Dizzy Gillespie to Enterprise over the years, and thrives to this day.
She was a fascinating person to have as a mother. Mom would recite snippets of classical poetry while dropping a Billy Joel tape in her car's 8-track on the way to a college football game. She encouraged every variety of hobby or interest Kitty and I might have (well, she did draw the line at my request for an ant farm), and pushed us, sometimes (but not always) subtly to expand our horizons. When I entered college as an engineering major, she cajoled me for a year to go convince Auburn's writer-in-residence to admit me into her fiction writing course (she finally did, and as a matter of course, later became a pen pal of Mom's). After reading a blurb about a new scholarship in a game program, she nudged me again to apply for a study abroad grant that would send me to London and Oxford to read literature and history. She was that kind of a mom.
She was this kind, too: when I was a little boy, we went to Atlanta's Grant Field to watch Auburn play Georgia Tech. Once in the stadium, I sat down next to a particularly obnoxious Tech fan who made a point of leaning over to bad-mouth Auburn whenever he saw my dad looking the other way. Mom put up with that for about five minutes before picking up a full cup of icy Coke and dumping it over the guy's head. He leapt up and glared at me, thinking I'd done it, and yelled at Mom, "Lady, what kind of kid are you raising here?"
Mom jumped up herself, all five-foot-nothing and 100 pounds worth, poked her finger in the soaking Tech fan's chest and replied, "My son didn't do that--I DID!" She got a standing ovation from the Auburn fans around us, and the Tech guy slunk away, never to be seen again.
Mom tried a million different things herself. She took a couple of years worth of German at Troy State, just because she wanted to learn the language. She wrote feature articles for the Southeast Sun (a local weekly paper) for a few years before getting fed up at the ham-handed editing. Mom was ahead of her time; she would have been a great blogger. She became a part-time travel agent and tour guide, leading groups of Alabamians across England and Scotland. She dabbled in court reporting. She learned to ski, she painted, she wrote, she played the piano and had a beautiful singing voice.
Kitty got the music and the social graces and the beauty; I got the writing and the take-no-bull attitude. Most days I'm convinced Kitty got the better end of the deal.
She loved her family, and she loved her friends, and their numbers are seemingly endless. I was hardly able to turn around in Enterprise the week of her funeral without being embraced by them. Everywhere I went, people I barely recognized (if that) stopped to tell me how much they loved my mother.
Most of them have told me that it's been a long time since they'd seen her. They lost her all at once; her family had been losing her one little piece at a time for nearly a decade. People have always told me that I take after her, and for myself, I can't imagine a fate more terrifying than slowly, steadily losing your mind.
When she went in to be examined for possible dementia years ago, Mom asked us not to tell her if the diagnosis was Alzheimer's. We kept that promise, so I don't really know whether she understood what was happening to her or not. I suspect she did, though. Mom was a very smart lady.
And so she suffered, for years, with just my amazing dad and a few dedicated care-givers to help her. Dad did everything anyone possibly could to help her, but simply because he is a mortal man, that could not be enough.
Finally, last month, the disease took everything she had left, with one sole but vital exception: the memories of the people she'd touched during her life.
Those are nothing to take lightly, but they are not enough. I still want my mom back.
Lynda Collier, age 71, died at her home in Enterprise, Alabama on November 11, 2011 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.
Mrs. Collier was born in Albertville, Alabama on March 9, 1940, the daughter of Brelen and Bernelle Chambers, both of whom preceded her in death. Lynda attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, and graduated with honors from Birmingham-Southern College. She was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society and her beloved Alpha Omicron Pi social sorority. She taught English at Ensley High School in Birmingham, and was later a feature writer for the Southeast Sun in Enterprise.
Lynda and her husband of 49 years, Dr. William (Bill) Baxter Collier, Jr. were married in 1962. They were stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England, where their first child, Charles Amos Collier, was born and died in 1967. They returned to Alabama in 1968, settling in Enterprise.
Lynda was a member of St. Luke United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, and a founder of the Coffee County Arts Alliance. A life-long Anglophile and lover of English literature, Lynda led tours of England and Scotland, and was a devoted patron of the Alabama Shakespeare Theater.
Lynda is survived by her husband Bill, their son William (Will) Baxter Collier, III and daughter Anne Lynn (Kitty) Collier Mingus, daughter-in-law Beth Herr Collier, son-in-law Matthew Mingus, grandsons Collier and Matthew Mingus, her sister Lauren Elizabeth and aunt Connie Dee Chambers Brown.
Services were held at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Enterprise on Tuesday, November 15. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association (alz.org).
The family wishes to send special thanks to Mary Sue Frazier, Mary Thames, Paula Catrett and Day Springs Hospice for their devotion and care, and to the community of Enterprise for the countless acts of kindness and love during Lynda's long illness.
Friday, October 7, 2011
I have a new column at Pajamas Media today, about the life and words of Steve Jobs. A preview:
Universities are always awash with bright (and, let’s be honest, not-so-bright) kids who claim they want to “change the world.” Vanishingly few of them have the abilities to do anything of the sort, and still fewer have the innate drive and relentless, adamantine will to see their personal visions through to reality. Almost none actually succeed at changing even their own immediate surroundings, much less the world.Here's the rest.
Steve Jobs was one of the infinitesimally tiny group to see that youthful ideal through. In the space of 35 years, Jobs, the on-and-off-and-on-again founder and leader of Apple, changed the way the world works, plays, communicates, listens to music, and watches movies — to say nothing of changing movies themselves, in his “spare time” job as CEO of Pixar.
Grasping the totality of Jobs’ life and accomplishments defies any short account. When Jobs started working in the tech field, as a teenaged summer hire at Hewlett-Packard (he got the job by cold-calling William Hewett, scrounging for hobby-project parts), personal computers weren’t even a blip on the horizon and the internet existed only as a crude, text-based network between defense bases and universities. Telephones were black, rotary, and run by a monolithic monopoly. Video games didn’t exist (Jobs was hired by the nascent Atari a few years later; he proceeded to design the seminal game “Breakout”), music came from vinyl records, and animation was something done laboriously by hand on endless sheets of plastic.
Not long after, Jobs founded Apple, and became the driving force in creating the personal computer, helping build out the massive industries supporting that technology and also fundamentally changing virtually every other industry on the planet. That alone would constitute one of the more impressive legacies in human history, but Jobs didn’t stop there, even after being ousted from Apple in a 1985 corporate coup.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
M.G. Siegler at TechCrunch has the scoop on the long-rumored Amazon Tablet, which they say will be announced tomorrow:
On Wednesday morning in New York City, Amazon will unveil the Kindle Fire. Yes, this is the name Amazon has settled on, to help differentiate the product from the e-ink Kindles, which will still be very much alive and for sale. And while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will show off the Fire on stage, it won’t be ready to ship until the second week of November, we’ve learned.Is it the long-sought (by anti-Apple enthusiasts) iPad Killer? Heck if I know, but Amazon did do a bang-up job on previous Kindles, and they're the only company in the world with the content muscle to hang right in there with the iTunes Store.
Everything we’ve previously reported on the hardware remains the same. It will be a 7-inch backlit display tablet that looks similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook. Gdgt’s Ryan Block was able to dig up a bit more about the connection. Apparently, the Kindle Fire looks like a PlayBook because it was designed and built by the same original design manufacturer (ODM), Quanta. Even though Amazon has their own team dedicated to Kindle design and development, Lab 126, they wanted to get the Fire out there in time for this holiday season so they outsourced most of it as a shortcut.
Block’s sources seem very wary of this shortcut move. But having played with a DVT model myself, I can assure you that it’s better than the PlayBook because the software is better and, more importantly, the content available is much better. Amazon has built their own custom version of Android (that looks nothing like Android) and it utilizes their own Android Appstore. While that store doesn’t offer all the apps found in Google’s Android Market, Amazon has been rounding up the big app makers to get them on board for the Fire launch, I’m told.
And just try and tell me this isn't the perfect background screen for one of these suckers:
Saturday, August 27, 2011
I've spent most of my life in "hurricane country," near the Florida Gulf Coast. When I was seven years old, Hurricane Eloise blasted up through the Gulf, laying waste to much of Panama City Beach and scarcely losing any steam before she wrecked most of my hometown, Enterprise, Alabama.
For a small child, watching Eloise was like having the greatest disaster movie ever made playing outside your window. My sister and I sat on her bed, watching one pine tree after another snap over and fall in our backyard. One of our bulldogs cowered in her doghouse, unwilling to cross the yard to come inside--until a gust picked up the doghouse and carried it a few yards across the ground. She set a new bulldog land-speed record getting to our back door after that.
When a tornado passed over our house, taking down our TV antenna but fortunately doing no other damage, our mom grabbed us up and huddled against the house's brick chimney. Even amidst the deafening freight train noise as it went by, I was too young to be anything other than excited. It was years before I realized how close we'd all come to being killed in that moment.
Inside the eye, at the heart of the hurricane, we all went outside to look around. The rain and winds had stopped, and most of the trees around our house had already been knocked down. Even the bulldogs came out to snuffle around in the eerie calm. The approaching back end of the eye-wall looked like the interior of a stone castle keep, dark gray, cyclopean, towering, advancing relentlessly to bring on the second round of destruction.
After the storm, we kids were convinced that Enterprise had been converted into the biggest playground in the world. Trees knocked over like dominos became massive jungle gyms, and there was seemingly no end to all the interesting things to explore amidst all the damage. Our dads got to go chop stuff up with chainsaws instead of going to work, and school, of course, was out for more than a week.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Now here's a media scandal for the summer "silly season": The Weekly Standard runs an umpteen-word cover story on vodka... but doesn't bother to interview the internationally-renowned VodkaPundit.
Victorino Matus, you got some 'splainin' to do...
Monday, August 1, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Charles Krauthammer, via NRO:
I did the math on this. If you collect the corporate jet tax every year for the next 5,000 years, you will cover one year of the debt that Obama has run up. One year.
To put it another way, if you started collecting that tax at the time of John the Baptist and you collected it every year — first in shekels and now in dollars — you wouldn’t be halfway to covering one year of the amount of debt that Obama has run up.
As for the other one, he mentions again and again, the oil depreciation tax break — if you collect that one for 700 years, you won’t cover a year of Obama deficits.
And then here’s my favorite. I worked it out in the car on the way here. If you collect the corporate jets and the oil tax together — get all the bad guys and the fat cats at once — and you collect it for 100 years, it covers the amount of debt Obama added… in February!
And he pretends that he’s the serious adult at the table.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Whenever I read something like this Dan Mitchell post on a prospective second bailout of bankrupt Greece, I'm reminded of my honeymoon.
No, not because of that. Get your mind out of the gutter.
The wife and I spent a couple of weeks bumming around the Aegean after the wedding. Our favorite stop was the village of Oia on Santorini, where we spent a few too-short days in a beautiful, tiny boutique hotel built literally into the side of the island's volcanic caldera.
The hotel's manager was an American who had made his money in software and retired young to Greece. He was sufficiently acclimated to his new home to talk about "your elections," meaning the 2004 U.S. presidential contest, and to go on at length about hormones and such in American food (a European obsession, it seems).
This was in mid-March, a couple of weeks before the tourist-season-proper would begin that year, and as our host noted, the island was gearing up for the oncoming throng of visitors. Plumbers and carpenters were busily making repairs, and untold gallons (sorry--liters) of white and blue paint being applied to every exposed surface.
"There's not much time until the cruise ships start showing up," the hotel manager said as we looked out over the indescribably-gorgeous bay in the center of what had been a circular island before an ancient volcanic eruption. "So the Greeks are all very busy fixing their places up." He paused for a moment, and then corrected himself.
"Actually, the Albanians are all very busy." He gestured down the cliff towards a couple of apparently-foreign laborers putting in a new window. "Greeks," he finally sighed, "don't work."
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Somewhat more seriously, I'd like to see more detailed info about this sucker, but if the performance is anything close to the full description, it's one hell of a design.
Assuming it, you know, works...
Austrian research company IAT21 has presented a new type of aircraft at the Paris Air Show which has the potential to become aviation's first disruptive technology since the jet engine. Neither fixed wing nor rotor craft, the D-Dalus uses four, mechanically-linked, contra-rotating, cylindrical turbines for its propulsion, and by altering the angle of the blades, it can launch vertically, hover perfectly still, move in any direction, and thrust upwards and hence "glue down" upon landing, which it can easily do on the deck of a ship, or even a moving vehicle. It's also almost silent, has the dynamic stability to enter buildings, handles rough weather with ease, flies very long distances very quickly and can lift very heavy loads. It's also so simple that it requires little maintenance and requires no more maintenance expertise than an auto mechanic. It accordingly holds immense promise as a platform for personal flight, for military usage, search and rescue, and much more.
Somewhat more seriously, I'd like to see more detailed info about this sucker, but if the performance is anything close to the full description, it's one hell of a design.
Assuming it, you know, works...
Friday, June 17, 2011
From his latest perch at the Daily Caller, Mickey Kaus opines in regards to the "greater meaning" of Weinergate,
Pre-Web, this wouldn’t have happened. Weiner could have made lewd comments to a few followers, but wouldn’t have had instant, intimate access to so many (initially) starry-eyed women at once. He couldn’t have counted on his crowd to mobilize in rapid-response style, and he wouldn’t have been able to wallow in their like-minded approbation. He’d have of necessity heard a more balanced range of opinions. And he wouldn’t have thought he could get away with it. He’d have repressed.
Mickey, if you really believe that, I've got two words for you: Ted Kennedy. Teddy didn't need no stinking web to do stuff the likes of which Tony Weiner likely only fantasized about, and his apologists didn't need no stinking web to provide cover for him.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
In the "even better because he saved me the trouble of writing it" category, Steve Green takes The Atlantic's lame slam of Ferris Bueller's Day Off out behind Chez Quis and grinds it into a sausage so delectable, Abe Froman himself would be proud to serve it with a side of pancreas.
So go read it now, before I have to get snooty.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The wife and I went to Herman Cain’s kickoff rally in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday. Among my wife's many sensible traits is a predilection to be apolitical, but she’s a became a fan of Cain's thanks to his local radio show, and I've liked Cain since he pulverized a gobsmacked Bill Clinton in that now-famous 1994 "town hall meeting."
Cain was impressive onstage Saturday, and the sizable crowd (announced at 15,000, but my admittedly-amateur guess would place the number at about half that) was an interesting mix. Lots of Tea Party and Fair Tax types, as you’d imagine, but noticeably more black folks than you normally see at Republican events around here. If you made me put a label on the common denominator, I would choose 'emphatically middle class.'
Most of the local media were there in force, including staffers from the station that carried Cain’s radio show, who arrived complete with “Here I Am—Rock You Like A Herman Cain” t-shirts (surely the best independently-offered candidate slogan since “Fred Thompson: Because The Russians Don’t Take A Dump Without A Plan”).
Cain's candidacy has plenty of drawbacks: no money, no experience in government (although many, including Cain himself, view that as a feature), no foreign policy background, considered “fringe” by even heart-in-the-right-place establishment types like Hugh Hewitt, but I have to say, the moment of the announcement itself was surprisingly moving.
Even though I like the guy, and voted for him in the 2002 senate primary, I was still surprised to find myself getting choked up at that point. Where else in the world would the son of a chauffeur and a maid rise to the top of the business world and then push himself, basically by sheer force of personality, into position to have even a marginal shot at the Presidency? Add to that Cain being a black man from the South running as a Republican, and the sheer unlikely-ness of it is at once breathtaking and quite heartening.
It's hard to imagine Cain returning to Centennial Park eighteen-odd months from now to greet a much-larger crowd from a more-elaborate stage, but stranger things have certainly happened. I don’t know how well Cain do from here on out, or even whether his candidacy is a good idea, but a half-hour after noon last Saturday was still a very fine moment.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Via the Blogfaddah, this long account in Time of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's long history of bad behavior:
Strauss-Kahn may have been abetted by the fact that most of his so-called conquests involved ideological fellow travelers — as was reflected by the Banon case. Says the French lawyer who asked not to be named: "My clients and other women I've been contacted by with reports of sexual aggression by Strauss-Kahn were all either Socialist Party members, supporters, or involved in wider leftist political activity that eventually brought them into contact with Strauss-Kahn. He has said he loves women, but it seems more accurate to say he loves Socialist women. I suppose he viewed that milieu as providing his supply of new women, and as one where women who caught his eye would either be compliant, or keep quiet about having to fight off his advances. Either way, there are a lot more women — and men — in Socialists circles who know about his activity than have ever said so."
The next sentence of the Time piece has a French "diversity" expert saying,
"If I try transposing the situation in New York on Sunday to France, I just can't do it," says Diallo. "Not only because the woman is black and apparently an immigrant. But also because she's a housekeeper. Perhaps even more than her race, her station in society would probably prevent authorities [in France] from taking her accusations against a rich and powerful man seriously. Racism is on the rise here again, but class discrimination has never gone away."
Well. I won't presume to opine on the state of French social mores, but here's a thought experiment for you: In the first paragraph quoted above, replace the words "Strauss-Kahn" with "Ted Kennedy," and the word "Socialist" with "Democrat."
Now it isn't so hard to imagine such things happening in New York... or Chappaquidick... or Washington, D.C., is it?
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg kindly quotes the above in his syndicated column today.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Ugly news from Ireland:
The Irish government plans to institute a tax on private pensions to drive jobs growth, according to its jobs program strategy, delivered today.
Without the ability sell debt due to soaring interest rates, and with severe spending rules in place due to its EU-IMF bailout, Ireland has few ways of spending to stimulate the economy. Today's jobs program includes specific tax increases, including the tax on pensions, aimed at keeping government jobs spending from adding to the national debt.
The tax on private pensions will be 0.6%, and last for four years, according to the report.
Lovely. Raiding citizens' savings to pay for a "jobs program." That's not just robbing Peter to pay Paul, that's ripping off Peter's grandma to give Paul a bar of genuine iron pyrite.
Worse news, at least from an American's viewpoint: Barack Obama is visiting Ireland this month.
Further investment advice: boost your holdings in tar and feathers manufacturers while you're at it...
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
From today's AJC:
Public safety advocates are condemning Atlanta Police Chief George Turner's ouster of an officer they credit with restoring confidence in the police in their neighborhoods.
Turner booted Major Khirus Williams as top cop in the zone that includes Midtown last week after Williams told neighborhood leaders about a proposal to eliminate foot and cycle patrols and to instead put the officers in squad cars. The proposal had not been made public when Williams alerted neighborhood leaders.
Those same leaders are now questioning if Turner is more concerned about keeping subordinates in line than he is about having quality commanders. They also question Turner's commitment to community policing, a strategy in which cops work closely with the community. They credit it for last year's 16-percent drop in crime in Zone 5, which stretches from downtown to Atlantic Station.
Leaders from Midtown, Home Park, the Old Fourth Ward and other neighborhoods plan to converge on the Atlanta City Council's public-safety committee Tuesday afternoon to protest Turner's decision to remove Williams as major in command of Zone 5 and demote him to lieutenant. Williams said he is retiring Wednesday rather than accept the re-assignment.
Commissioner Burrell, Major Colvin, please call dispatch...
Nice piece here about the centennial of blues godfather Robert Johnson, who would have turned 100 last Sunday. According to legend, Johnson got his licks thanks to a deal with the devil, but in reality, his teacher was a man from tiny Grady, Alabama, which is also my dad's hometown:
LaVere credits Johnson's talent not to a soul-selling crossroads deal, but to a self-imposed apprenticeship under another little-known musician, Ike Zimmerman.
"Ike showed him how to play and Ike was a studied musician. They used to spend all night knees to knees, and Ike would teach him how to sing and present himself," LaVere said. "He left the blues early on and became a sanctified preacher and died in Los Angeles in 1965."
Johnny Shines, a contemporary and friend of Johnson's is quoted in the article. Shines, who passed away in 1992, had a much longer life than Johnson, and performed well into his seventies. He often played on Sundays at the War Eagle Supper Club when I was in college. If you never got to see him, you really missed something; he was one of the last living links to the origins of the blues.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I have a new column up at Pajamas Media... here's a preview:
Obama and his minions have been chasing the green jobs chimera for so long that it’s an instinct. They pompously suggest that Americans ought to trade in their current vehicles for pricey, government-approved matchbox cars, asserting still that there’s “no quick fix” for high energy prices. History, and very recent history at that, indicates that they are mistaken.
Take a look at this chart compiled by metalprices.com. It’s the price of a barrel of crude oil over the past 5 years.
See that big peak in the middle? That was the last oil spike, in the summer of 2008. Notice how the price hit a high point, then fell off a cliff afterwards?
The day corresponding to that peak, an all-time high of $145.16/barrel, was July 14, 2008. By some strange coincidence, that was the very same day then-President George W. Bush lifted, by executive order, a federal ban on offshore oil drilling.
Bush’s order was, of course, immediately dismissed by the “experts.” Reuters waved away the action as “a largely symbolic move unlikely to have any short-term impact on high gasoline costs.” Barack Obama’s campaign lectured that if “offshore drilling would provide short-term relief at the pump or a long-term strategy for energy independence, it would be worthy of our consideration, regardless of the risks. But most experts, even within the Bush administration, concede it would do neither.”
The movement left was even more dismissive. ClimateProgress.org blasted The Washington Post for failing to headline their story about the order “Offshore Drilling Raises Oil Prices.” In response to Bush’s assertion that additional offshore extraction could equal current U.S. production in 10 years, they editorialized: “Yes, and monkeys could fly out of my butt” (emphasis in original).
There was just one problem: reality. Even though, as critcs were eager to point out, any additional American drilling was years in the future, oil prices immediately went into free-fall. By Friday, July 18, the price of a barrel of crude had dropped to $128.94, a 12% decrease. A month later, on August 14, the price had fallen to $115.05. In spectacular fashion, Bush’s academic and media critics were proven seriously wrong.
Here's the rest.
Monday, April 25, 2011
When I read this one-liner at Instapundit today...
HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Will The Khan Academy Knock Out The University Degree?
... I immediately got a mental image of university presidents from coast to coast doing this.
Monday, April 4, 2011
From today's WaPo (H/T to Jim Geraghty):
On May 10, President Obama ordered his Nobel Prize-winning secretary of energy, Steven Chu, to dive into the response. Two days later, Chu showed up at BP headquarters with a hand-picked team of advisers, most of whom had limited experience with petroleum engineering. (Chu, a physicist, had won his Nobel for figuring out how to freeze atoms with lasers.)
BP executives were not thrilled to see the scientists march through the door. It looked to the company as though the administration had said, “Where are our experts?” and then rounded up anyone who did not flinch at the sight of a differential equation. Science, engineering, it was all the same. The Obama folks were obviously in love with the idea of Chu — this notion of having an in-house Nobel Prize winner who could be dispatched, superhero-like, to solve intractable problems with the power of his giant brain.
It says quite a lot about the Obama Administration--and Barack Obama in particular--that nobody in the White House understood the difference between a scientist and an engineer. It's not at all surprising that these guys (and gals) think they can solve any problem by waving credentials at it ('Guy's got a Nobel Prize! So what if it's in a completely unrelated field?'), but even so, it's disheartening.
Learning what you don't know is one of the most important lessons of adulthood (to say nothing of engineering). Shame that all these allegedly-brilliant lawyers still haven't figured that out.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
J-Pod, on Newt Gingrich:
I’d spend some time parsing this, seeking to show how he simultaneously takes responsibility and doesn’t take responsibility and how he actually praises himself when he’s supposedly criticizing himself. But what’s the point? He’s a fascinating, and occasionally brilliant, political thinker, but one thing the merciful and forgiving God who has so blessed him did not bestow upon Newt Gingrich was a sense of when to stop talking.
Podhoretz's headline, and eminently good advice: "Memo to Newt Gingrich: Seriously, Don’t Even Bother Running."
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Disclaimer: I don't have a dog in the seemingly-endless Boeing/EADS tanker battle. I am very happy to report that I don't work for any of the various companies that have been competing for that next-generation tanker contract for what seems like decades now. That said, I did want to pass along this true story from the relatively-early days of KC-X.
Several years back, before the original Air Force tanker contract winner was announced (EADS, with the senior partner being France's Airbus), an exceptionally senior Air Force official made the following observations--paraphrased from memory here--one afternoon in a squadron bar:
"Here's what's gonna happen: Airbus is gonna win. Boeing's bid is way out of bed. They think it's a slam-dunk, and they got greedy, and what's worse, they were lucky they were even allowed to bid after Darleen Druyun. So they're gonna lose . And then everybody will freak out because the prime isn't an American company, so there'll be a s**t-storm in Congress, and there'll be a challenge, and the contract will get tossed out. Then we'll start over, and go through all this again, and it'll be set up for Boeing this time, and they'll win.
"And then it'll be six or seven years later, and we still won't have any tankers, and the ones we do finally buy will cost twice as much."
Those long-ago predictions have been correct all the way down the line. The latest: Boeing officially won the re-compete today.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Robert Samuelson absolutely demolishes the alleged case for "high speed rail" today. Here's a sample, but read the whole thing:
Rail buffs argue that subsidies for passenger service simply offset the huge government support of highways and airways. The subsidies "level the playing field." Wrong. In 2004, the Department of Transportation evaluated federal transportation subsidies for the period 1990-2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending. Subsidies for airline passengers were about $5 per thousand miles traveled. (All figures are in inflation-adjusted year 2000 dollars.)
Governing ought to be about making wise choices. What's disheartening about the Obama administration's embrace of high-speed rail is that it ignores history, evidence and logic. The case against it is overwhelming. The case in favor rests on fashionable platitudes. High-speed rail is not an "investment in the future"; it's mostly a waste of money. Good government can't solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.
"Because Joe Biden likes taking the train" is not a good reason to spend billions. Forget new expenditures for mythical "high-speed" trains for imaginary passengers who don't want to ride in them; Amtrak's outrageous subsidies need to be redirected to the path of the dodo.
Nostalgia is not a budget priority in the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Passenger rail's day had long since come and gone. It's long past time to send the passenger cars that can't pay for themselves--meaning just about all of them--to the scrapyard.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Over last weekend, the indefatigable Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit and The Blogfaddah) ran a number of posts related in part to the growth of electronic publishing for fiction writers. In particular, Glenn interviewed author Sarah Hoyt for PJTV, and Hoyt later expanded on her e-publishing experience on her own blog and at Classical Values. You can also click here for an archive of Hoyt's posts at CV, the more recent of which are mostly dedicated to writing and e-publishing.
It all made for interesting reading, and got me to asking myself, "Self, what have you got to lose? Why don't you give this a try?" So a few minutes later, I was on Amazon's upload site for Kindle books, checking out how it all works.
The Amazon e-publishing site is straightforward: if you have a regular old Amazon customer account, you can publish. That's a bit of a simplification; you need to have something to publish, and you really need to convert that something to HTML format before uploading (which can be a bit tricky in terms of page formatting), but it's not unbearably convoluted. My biggest complaint is that any change to a book's sales page (say, if you want to raise or drop the price) entails a 24-hour wait while the changes are "published" to Amazon's massive database. That's annoying, especially when you think you're done and have pushed the "publish" button, but then notice one little thing you forgot to tweak.
But at any rate, I've now got a Kindle "book"--actually a 33-page short story--titled "Comandante Eternal" up for sale at the low, low price of 99 cents. I'm still trying to get some artwork nailed down and posted on the ad (inevitably, that will add another 24 hours or "publishing"), but as far as I can tell "Comandante" is available for the Kindle right now. You don't have to have a physical Kindle device to read it; Amazon has free PC/Mac Kindle reader software, and free Kindle apps are available for smartphones as well.
So what's "Comandante Eternal"? Little thing I put together a couple of years ago, involving a certain bearded, dying island dictator and his rather nasty plan to gain eternal life. There's just one catch: if it works, he'll only be able to, er, dictate at night.
Hope you enjoy it.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Outstanding Atlantic piece here by Tim Kane about the self-defeating nature of the U.S. military's promotion and personnel management systems:
65 percent of the [West Point] graduates agreed that the exit rate of the best officers leads to a less competent general-officer corps. Seventy-eight percent agreed that it harms national security.
The shame of this loss of talent is that the U.S. military does such a good job attracting and training great leaders. The men and women who volunteer as military officers learn to remain calm and think quickly under intense pressure. They are comfortable making command decisions, working in teams, and motivating people. Such skills translate powerfully to the private sector, particularly business: male military officers are almost three times as likely as other American men to become CEOs, according to a 2006 Korn/Ferry International study. Examples abound of senior executives who attribute their leadership skills to their time in uniform: Ross Perot, Bill Coleman, Fred Smith, and Bob McDonald, the new CEO of Procter & Gamble, to name a few. The business guru Warren Bennis reflected in his recent memoirs, “I never heard anything at MIT or Harvard that topped the best lectures I heard at [Fort] Benning.”
Why is the military so bad at retaining these people? It’s convenient to believe that top officers simply have more- lucrative opportunities in the private sector, and that their departures are inevitable. But the reason overwhelmingly cited by veterans and active-duty officers alike is that the military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day— regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.
Having worked for and around the Air Force since the early 90's, my experience indicates that Kane's analysis is dead on. It is standard for, say, a bright young lieutenant/captain to spend three years learning his job as an engineer, only to be shipped across the country and assigned to push paper in an acquisition office, or for a pilot with thousands of flight hours to leave the service before retirement for an airline job, rather than be reassigned as a staff toad in the Pentagon. Surely there's a smarter way to run a railroad than this, and Kane has some excellent suggestions.
Read the whole thing. H/T: The Blogfaddah.