Monday, March 29, 2010

Same as it ever was

"We question, we ask, Are there, indeed, men here worthy the name? Are there athletes? Are there perfect women, to match the generous material luxuriance? Is there a pervading atmosphere of beautiful manners? Are there crops of fine youths, and majestic old persons? Are there arts worthy freedom and a rich people? Is there a great moral and religious civilization — the only justification of a great material one? Confess that to severe eyes, using the moral microscope upon humanity, a sort of dry and flat Sahara appears, these cities, crowded with petty grotesques, malformations, phantoms, playing meaningless antics. Confess that everywhere, in shop, street, church, theatre, bar-room, official chair, are pervading flippancy and vulgarity, low cunning, infidelity — everywhere the youth puny, impudent, foppish, prematurely ripe — everywhere an abnormal libidinousness, unhealthy forms, male, female, painted, padded, dyed, chignon’d, muddy complexions, bad blood, the capacity for good motherhood deceasing or deceas’d, shallow notions of beauty, with a range of manners, or rather lack of manners, (considering the advantages enjoy’d,) probably the meanest to be seen in the world."

"Democratics Vistas"
Walt Whitman. 1871

I don't know whether to he saddened or heartened by this. Elders have been lamenting the weaknesses of the younger generation since ancient times. But, in my every day life, I almost daily run into young servicemen that seem to "bitterly cling" to the principles of out Founding Fathers. Every single one of them is more valuable that 25 Lohans, Gagas, Baldwins, or Olhbermans. (sp?)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Uneasy lies the head..."

"... that wears the crown."

So, the DHS and Janet Napolitano are afraid that vets might become homegrown terrorists.

This has outraged  many veterans groups.

You know what I think?

I think dear Janet is right.

Before you put on the uniform, you swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The very same document that prevents the government from, say, for example, taking over private businesses, or seizing property from one citizen to give to another in the name of "fairness." Or "spreading the wealth."

The Powers That Be know this, and know there are millions of patriotic folks trained in the art of doing violence that are not so enthusiastic about the current administration's  prescriptions for Hope and Change.

If, Heaven forbid, it comes time to press the reset button on this country, I garan-damn-tee it'll be a vet with his finger on the button.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Incumbent Monkees, Public Footballs

So, the new and improved version of the bailout bill is even bigger than the first, over $100 billion bigger. I am by no means sophisticated in economic matters, and I don't know if we are truly facing an economic meltdown without this bill or not. I don't know if we, meaning the people, should support this bill or not.

But I do know a few things.

One, if someone is trying to stampede you into a decision, it is rarely in your best interests.

Two, the real physical wealth of the US isn't going anywhere. I don't care if the Chinese have bought the Golden Gate bridge, they aren't making off with it. The workers, the plants, the computers, the machine tools are going anywhere either.

Three, the rest of the world is voting with their feet, and running to the dollar. What do they know that we don't?

Fourth, I question that the financial geniuses that created this mess have suddenly become the best guys to get us out of it.

My final take - I will not support any bailout/rescue/Wall St/Main St/whatever bill that does not include provisions to severely punish, and I mean run out of office and jail punish, those that brought this crisis upon us. By this I mean those who promoted legislation to force lenders to make loans that they would otherwise not have chosen to make, and blocked legislation that would have created tools to control the GCEs that caused this mess. I'm talking you Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Maxine Waters, Franklin Raines, and all the other operators that sought financial and political gain by enabling this dysfunctional betrayal of the American people.

And if that means I suffer through a depression, have to sell apples on the street corner, and live without credit for the next decade, well, that which does not kill me makes me stronger.

Update: The Senate has passed the bill, and I'm wrapping duct tape around my head to keep it from exploding. Not so much at the bill, though that's bad enough, but at the press conference they're having. They're patting themselves on the back so hard you'd think they were asphyxiating on a chunk of steak, telling us what great bipartisan statesmen they were to get this bill done. Hey fellas, great statesmen never would have gotten us in the mess.

More fitting would have been a rash of resignation speeches.

Less chest-beating, more brow-beating, please.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailing on the Bailout - Follow the Money?

Dog Bites Man - Speaker Pelosi blames the Republicans for the defeat of the bail-out bill, despite the fact that 95 of her Democratic colleagues voted it down, a number that would have easily ensured passage of the bill had they sided with her. Unable to leave partisan politics aside, she could not resist making a speech thought to have driven away Republicans likely to vote for passage.

Some are claiming that she did so intentionally in order to give political advantage to Obama in the coming election. I have an additional hypothesis.

The Dow dropped over 700 points on the news. Wouldn't it be interesting to see who among those associated with Democratic bigwigs were selling the market short lately? It was widely considered a done deal until the Pelosi speech

Insult to Injury Dept. - Barney Frank also blames the Republicans, and once again studiously avoids mention of his role in the legislation that created this mess, and his obstruction of efforts to reform Fannie and Freddie championed by both the White House and John McCain in recent years.

Republican Minority Leader Boehner stated "These are the votes that separate the men from the boys, and the girls from the women."

I guess that made it difficult to see where Frank would stand on the bill.

"Shale Wars"

Well, it seems as though our Dear Leaderstm are ready to put us on the hook for $700 billion to get us out of the mess they got us into. This was $700 billion we could ill afford, what with the budget already looking like a disaster with the entitlement programs, (SS, Medicare, Medicaid) and interest on the national debt preventing politicians from being able to make any significant cuts in spending. Whacking earmarks is fine, and a good start, but the reality of the situation is that if every single earmark disappeared today, we'd still be in a fiscal crisis.

We could whack items such as most foreign aid, (every single buck we send to Africa is a waste, to include the $ 65+ billion we've dumped on Egypt over the years), and agricultural subsidies to include ethanol, but still the only effective long term solution is to increase revenue.

That means taxes. I am no economist, but it seems to me that we should be able to locate the sweet spot on the Laffer Curve, and set the rates accordingly. There are a host of other tax issues to be addressed, but they are fodder for another day.

No, what we need are brand new sources of revenue. Allow me to propose one. There are others, but this would seem to be both the most lucrative, and simplest to implement.

Drill like hell, mine domestic oil shale, and tax it. I call it a tax, though it will most likely be referred to as a "royalty." I recommend that the royalty rate be a fixed amount per barrel, not a percentage, as it will remove uncertainty on the producers' part, and I do not want to see the government having an interest in raising the price of oil to increase revenues. The rate can be adjusted for inflation if needed.

Known oil shale deposits in the U.S. are thought to amount to over 1.5 trillion barrels of oil. That is as great as the known global reserves of crude oil, and about five times what the Saudis have.

Let's say the Feds tax it at only $20/bbl. That is $30 trillion dollars. Collect those revenues over 30 years, just to make the math easy, and we're looking at a cool trillion a year. Last year the Federal government spent roughly $2.7 trillion. More than a third of our current expenses could be brand new, previously uncollected, revenue.

The only problem with this dream scenario is that we don't use nearly that much oil annually. We currently use only about 8 billion bbls. annually, so at current rates of consumption, we wouldn't suck up all that oil shale (and gather that tax revenue) for 187 years! What oil crisis? Sell a bunch of it to China and India, and we've still got 50 years to transition to a nuclear power based economy.

This is why T. Boone Pickens is completely full of it when he starts touting wind with this "we've only got 3% of the global oil reserve" sleight-of-hand. Sure we may only have that much oil, but we've got all the fossil fuel we need for a good long time.

Oilmen believe that after getting up the learning curve a bit, oil shale could be produced profitably at $40/bbl. to include the expense of land reclamation. If the Powers That Be decide that the economy can live with $75 oil, we can tax it at $35/bbl., and the numbers start looking crazy good.

There are two further benefits to shale oil production. First, it is typically found alongside significant, marketable quantities of natural gas, the cleanest, most eco-friendly fossil fuel. Second, the oil derived from shale is best suited to the production of diesel and aviation fuel. This will have the benefit of encouraging passenger diesel in the US, an area in which we lag.

Fewer than 3 percent of passenger vehicles in the United States are diesel, one-tenth of the European ratio. Last year, that percentage increased to half. Performance conscious BMW sold 70% diesels in England last year.

Offshore oil reserves are conservatively estimated at about 85 billion, but this is almost certainly low, as the bans on drilling have prevented even exploration. Let's call it 90 (again, to make the math easy, assume a 30 year extraction) we're looking at $60 billion a year from offshore.

Toss in a few spare billions from natural gas, clean coal, and ANWR just for giggles, and we are talking an incredible amount of wealth.

There are so many beneficial synergistic effects, it's hard to imagine, much less list, them all. The Middle East can go hang, and Russia will find it's power severely curtailed. The Straits of Hormuz don't matter anymore. The trade deficit goes away, and King Dollar rules once again. The resurgent fossil fuel industry here will generate tens of thousands of quality jobs, jobs that cannot be outsourced.

If, humongous if here, we can keep the politicians from going absolutely insane with this new revenue stream, we can generate budget surpluses, pay down the almost ten trillion dollar national debt, and quit robbing Social Security. And guess where we'd get the capital to build all those nuke plants, and upgrade our electrical transmission infrastructure to support all those electric cars?

We could even do things like adequately fund X-Prizes for space exploration, nanotech, medical research, robotics, materials science, and other tech endeavors that will lead to future productivity increases.

There are issues to be addressed. Oil shale extraction requires some pretty heroic efforts to prevent environmental damage, but solutions exist. Furthermore, this policy would require a tariff on imported oil. The Saudis have some oil that can be pumped at about $5/bbl. The laws of supply and demand still stand, and you best believe they'll drop the price in an effort to keep market share, and thus prevent the investment required for oil shale extraction. So, we'd need to set the tariff on foreign oil at a level to keep the domestic supplies competitive. I am not normally a protectionist, but I could make an exception in this case.

I expect more challenging will be dealing with the politics of the effort, that I am now officially naming The Shale Wars. There will be battalions, regiments, divisions, of mercenaries in the fray. OPEC will be throwing supertankers of cash at every politician for sale in Washington, and forming and funding environmental groups opposed to domestic fossil fuels. Kids will be able to pay for college with part time jobs astroturfing blogs. One need only look at Bill Clinton's executive order to prevent the mining of the clean coal in the Kaiparowits Plateau to see how easy it is, with a well-placed donation, to place the needs of a special interest ahead of those of the people.

We, in what might be one of the most striking examples of American Exceptionalism, have the good fortune to be sitting on the largest concentration of an increasingly scarce global resource. If we are prudent, we will not simply squander this fortune. Chance, Providence, The Man Upstairs, whichever term you prefer, has gifted us with this easy to use energy source that will allow us to bootstrap to the next level of technological development. Vast as it is, though, it is still finite, and we must invest that finite wealth for our long term benefit, and not for short term political largesse.

Further Reading:

"Oil From A Stone" - Money Magazine
Oil Shale: Toward a Strategic Unconventional Fuels Supply Policy
Oil Shale: History, Incentives, and Policy

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Funny Story, and A Not So Funny One.

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." -- Cicero --

When I first got in the nightclub business, I was a bouncer at a Tejano bar. It was pretty wild and woolly. (As luck would have it, at 5'8" and not quite 170, I was by far the smallest bouncer, so I was always the one some drunk Texican would get froggy with, but that's another story. :-) Besides, I was still in the Active Reserves of the Corps, so I considered it all just Good Training)

Anyway, the manager was this, this, no other word serves as well as, maniac. He carried a Browning Hi-Power. (9mm automatic, to any of you non-gun lovers that are still reading) His idea of the proper way to carry it was one round up the spout, safety off, and on *half-cock*!!!!

Well, every Sunday night was Drink & Drown. (They were still legal then. No longer) Five bucks to get in, all the well whiskey, wine and beer you could suck down from eight until midnight.

The club held about three hundred people, and every single fucking Sunday night a brawl would commence with about two hundred of them. You could just about set a clock to it- the festivities would get underway two minutes either side of 12:15, when all the happy campers finished chugging their last free drinks.

Typically, some dude would get mad when he saw an ex-GF dancing with some other dude, and start some crap, shoving and shouting, a wild haymaker or two, yatta-yatta-yatta. We'd charge in, with overwhelming force, (there were about three of us, plus two managers, two off-duty cops, about half the bartenders (i.e.the male ones,) and the barbacks), break everything up, and toss the malefactors out of the club.

Since most guys don't really know how to fight, most especially when they're wasted, in most cases, no real harm was done. Simple, eh?

No. That place had an unbelievably regular customer base, and Tejanos tend to got out partying in groups of friends and relations. It wasn't uncommon to be breaking up a quarrel between Dad and son-in-law. Just about everybody knew everybody else, (yes, to include the biblical sense), and a lot of the patrons were loosely aligned in coalitions.

Think Afghanistan.

So you'd be running this guy outta the bar with his elbow up between his shoulder blades, in control, dog's in his heaven and all's right with the world, have him halfway to the front door, when all of the sudden some drunk boyfriend of his sister's best friend from junior high would come flying out of the woodwork to try and take you down. Then his friends would pile on, people that didn't like the pile-oners would pile on them, and all the sudden you have a world class fracas going down - to include regulars that we were friendly with, doing their besotted best to help us.

Of course, in nearly all the cases, we couldn't have told the players even if we had a program, so that lent itself to, what would, under other circumstances, have been comic relief, both the Good Guys and Bad fighting each other, etc. ("Goddammit, Rusty, that's my arm you're yanking on. Lemme go, you dumbfuck!")

So, whattya do when there's a riot goin' on in Cell Block #9? Like all riot police, you break out the chemical weapons. This one bouncer Rusty was the Mace-usin-est mo-fo on the planet.

If/When the brawl would reach critical mass, say 10-12 folks, Rusty would wade in with his Mace, spraying loddy-doddy-everbody. Of course, that was not his aim, but his aim was usually hindered by all the Crown and Michelob he'd drank. He would usually manage to get most of it on the primary perps. That would usually get things broken up purty quick, as it gave all the macho men an excuse to disengage with honor intact, perhaps bloody, but unbowed. We'd toss out whoever we could figure out was a quarreler and not a queller, then run to the bathroom to wash off the Mace.

The Macing of the Place pretty well served to clean out the rest of the club, too, as it wasn't that big, so just about everyone packed up and left when the gentle aroma of the gas circulated through the club. The show was over, anyway, and everybody'd gotten to enjoy Sunday Night at the Fights. We didn't care that much, as we didn't sell much whiskey between midnight and closing anyway, so as the number of patrons dropped down from the hundreds to fifty or so, most of the staff could officially get off-duty, get on the outside of some whiskey ourselves, and get down to the serious bidniss of figuring out who was gonna zoom who that night.

Life was purty interesting at that place. One of the owners was a little bitty guy known all over Houston as Fast Eddy. He was one of the guys that started the Crystal Pistol, one of the first and most legendary topless bars in Houston. Anyway, he knew lotsa shady Characters, and several nights a week these characters would show up after-hours, and there'd be a dozen or more dancers, bookies, pimps, dealers, etc., sitting around the bar, along with the staff and whomever we'd harvested from the customer crop to join in the party.

One of these characters was a bookie named Frank, who owned a topless club called the 5757. I used to go there on my night off, as I was sweet on this one dancer of his named Sherri. An absolute showpony, intelligent, funny, sexy, sweet as can be. She was a marvelous dancer, with a boodle of athletic moves, like doing back flips on the stage.

I took her out a few times, but never could seem to break through her shell. She had a drug problem, coke, I think. She eventually quit working at the 5757, and I lost touch with her.

In the course of my life then, I somehow, for some undoubtedly moronic reason, had mentioned that I went to the 5757 to my mom. I don't recall why on earth I would or should have, but I did.

A year or so later I was living in Florida, talking to her on the phone, when she asked me about the place, didn't you used to hang out there? Yea, I did. Well, there's this big story on the front page of the Sunday paper about that place. Really? UmmHmm, it was raided, the police describe it as a notorious den of drugs and prostitution, and claim to have broken up a gambling ring that operated out of there. Well, gee, Mom, I didn't see any of that.

They say it was a topless place. Didja see any of that? Well, uhhh, uhh, mostly I went just on Tuesday afternoons, 'cause they have a free steak buffet, and the staff there, they're good customers at my bar, so it's sorta like PR, and uhhh...

UmmHmm, she says.

I'm afraid she knows me all too well.

But I digress, as I am wont to do. Back to the story.

One night, there was this guy that gave us hell. He wasn't much to look at, just a raggedy wetback looking guy, not much English. I forget why we were tossing him out, but he was giving three of us fits, as we generally tried not to use excessive force, wrestling guys instead of punching, etc. He was strong like a bull. We finally get him out the front door, but a few minutes later he tries to come back into the club. He's standing there trying to tell me why he needs to come back in, to get a friend or something, not really doing much else, when Rusty gets frustrated and just whips out the Mace and gives him a good three second burst right smack dab in the kisser, enough to take down *anybody*.

He was completely unaffected. The guy just stands there, wipes it off his face and onto his shirt, and says something like, "You shouldn't a done that."

Then he proceeds to try and kill Rusty. I jump on him and try to pull him off, while the cavalry comes in person of Don the Hi-Power Maniac and a coupla barbacks. The guy is chokin' Rusty to death, I'm trying to pry his hands free so I can get him is a wristlock or something, to absolutely no avail. The other guys join me, with little more success. So Don pulls out his loaded, unlocked, half-cocked Hi-Power and starts beating the guy over the head with it. It glances off his skull and hits me on the elbow.

That hurt.

My arm goes about half-numb, and the Mace rubbing off the guy has already been killin' me, and the light bulb goes off in my head about the safety concerns involved with pistol-whipping somebody with Don's gun. Time to disengage. So I say fuckit, you want him, you got him, let go of the guy, roll out of the dogpile, and head for the restroom, cussing Don the entire way.

They finally managed to get the guy outta there, I'm sure not in very good shape. When I see them later, Don, Rusty and the other guys involved are all splattered with blood, not theirs. We're sitting around about an hour after the bar closed, drinking and rehashing the day's events, when I start ragging Don about carrying his weapon as he did.

Actually, I called him a fucking idiot. He is pulling it out of his shoulder holster to show me something in an attempt to defend himself, when he stops and says, "Goddamit, look what that motherfucker did to my pistol!" He turned it around to show me. The rear sight was broken. He had actually busted it on that guys head.

That guy was probably the toughest guy I ever ran into in the course of my bouncing career.

A few months later, Sherri was at a party at someone's house. Don was there, and ended up passing out on the couch. Several other people crashed there, to include Sherri. He sat his pistol down on the coffee table as he fell asleep.

He awoke early that morning to the sound of a gunshot coming from the bathroom. Sherri, feeling bad, no doubt crashing from who knows what sort of high, had shot herself in the stomach with that Browning. She died in his arms while they waited for the ambulance.

I sometimes wonder why might have happened if I had ever gotten through her shell. I never knew what flavor of demon she wrestled with in her life, that made her resort so heavily to drugs - she wouldn't talk about it.

Chalk it up as another episode in what has been an interesting, if not always enjoyable, life. It bothers me that a woman that sweet was so tortured, and that by now, she's not even much of a memory, just another Forgotten One.

So far as the world is concerned, she left no more of a hole than your hand does when you pull it out of a bucket of water. No child, not any family that she ever mentioned, no lover to mourn her passing or put a flower on her grave, maybe just a few lonely guys that used to like to watch her dance.

Well, here's to ya, Sherri lass. I hope you found the peace that eluded you in this life. Wish I'd have been better at being your friend.

The Mess II

A bit more on The Mess, with clips from the involved parties...