Oi....

Oct. 24th, 2012 11:37 pm
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Fingering on bagpipes is horrid. The top half of the octave is bizzare. I'll figure it out, but cross-fingering to get up past the fifth note?
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I have a practice chanter. I can now do something I've wanted to do for ages, learn the bagpipes.

:)
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Or perhaps a new icon, so that posts about new posts on my wordpress blog are distinct.

Suffice it to say, I have one. You have to own your deeds about gawker/reddit and what accountability (or the lack thereof) means to community.
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I've created a wordpress blog. It's been a long time coming, and I'll be linking entries to here (as I do on my with twitter and G+).

Lj has been semi-moribund for me for a bit, and I want some of the greater control I have at wordpress.

It's with mixed feelings this platform becomes secondary to me.

http://pecunium.wordpress.com/
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In my rambling on how charity works, and what its failings are as a model for the social safety net, I pointed out that the US has imbued a moral aspect to it... those who need help are somehow less worthy as people.

Woman humiliated when using SNAP

Cindy Nerger of Warner Robins, Ga., said she and her husband aren't proud when they use their food stamp debit card to buy groceries....

But Nerger said she never expected to be deliberately humiliated. That's what she said happened last week after she argued with a manager over her bill at a Kroger grocery store. The cashier told her she owed $10, which Nerger said could not be possible because she knew food stamps covered the items in her cart. A manager eventually let her go, but not before giving Nerger a piece of his mind.

"He finally just said, 'Okay, just give it to her.' I said, 'See, I told you it was covered by food stamps,' and he said, 'Excuse me for working for a living and not relying on food stamps!'"


It shouldn't be shameful to have a need. It shouldn't be shameful to get help.

People who think so, should be ashamed.
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It's not that I think "moocher" is just about color, it's not; it's more subtle than that.

It's about, "other". The Tea Party has been all about, "other". It's really effective (and terribly devisive). Very few people think of themselves as getting a free ride; just look at Romney. His father was able to lend him money... enough to buy a house. If he had been making that loan in the past decade, it would have been $500,000 (the median home price in Boston).

But Mitt, and Ann, see that, not as a huge leg up (recall they sold the house for about twice what they paid for it... so they made a cool half a million dollars on the deal), but just as the "normal" sort of help a parent gives a kid when they are starting out.

America is a terribly class-ridden society. We hide it, but we have those divisions. Worse, we attach a moralistic value to them, not a social one. The idea that, "the Lord helps those who help themselves" is a canker in the American Dream. It lets the wealthy (no matter how they got it) pretend they deserve it. The flip side of that is even worse.

It says those who aren't rich aren't as deserving. It justifies exploiting people. Getting rich is proof of moral worth, and there isn't any such thing as being too moral. It kills a shared sense of purpose.

If the wealthy are moral, and the poor suffer from their personal failings, then trying to level the playing field isn't as important. All the poor need to do is stop "mooching" off the rich. Having a strong social safety net is, actually, somewhat suspect. It makes charity, not community, the driving force in aid to the people on the margins.

And that's a recipe for disaster. In the first place, it's not enough. In the second, it's cruel. Charity makes the giver feel better. It makes the needy feel worse. It builds resentment, because it's an inherently unequal system.

Romney tithes. He can honestly say he's being charitable. But he's not actually helping everyone. He's helping the people whom the Mormon Church deems worthy of aid. It's not a given that the money he donates actually goes to helping poor people. It might be going to missions; it might be spent on political campaigns.

It's not evenly distributed. Charity means the poor have to beg.

Getting gov't aid is no picnic. It's got it's own levels of demeaning crap, and it's not a given that one will qualify. But the qualifications, no matter how arcane, aren't based on what the gov't thinks of your life choices; not at root, though asshole politicians; encouraged by asshole voters do manage to insert some of that. If you meet the threshold of need, you get the aid.

Romney's, "freeloaders" is a moral statement. He's couching it in moral terms. He's implying the, "47 percent" are stealing from the other half of the country. It's an appeal the Republicans have been trying to sell for a long time. It's clever, and I'm afraid it has longer legs than it looks right now. Because it's amorphous. This country has damned little int he way of "free money". I was stone broke, no job, looking for work, waiting for the GI Bill to get itself sorted out (it took two months from when I was told I qualified for the first check to arrive). I was enrolled in school.

Once the GI Bill started to send me the money I was entitled to, I was going to be able to manage (not great, but I had friends, and with the GI Bill's stipend I knew I could squeak it out until I got a job). In the meantime I needed to eat.

So I applied for food stamps. I was denied. To get food stamps I either needed to quit school (and lose the 1,100 a month I would get while I was in classes... When summer came I was on my own, including my book allowance I was getting $10,500 a year, out of which I had to pay 1/3rd my tution, and whatever the $600 didn't cover for books/fees, but I digress) or have a job.

That's right, I needed to have a job, if I was going to collect food stamps, and be a student. If I wasn't a student, I'd have been fine. $300 a month in free food. But as a student I wasn't eligible; because I wasn't available to work a 40 hour a week job.

That's the poverty trap. That's what makes people dependent on the gov't. The rules make it impossible to get out from under.

Romney's rhetoric about, "The 47 percent who don't contribute", makes it harder for them to get out from under. We've had lots of people try to remind us of this, John Donne "No man is an island, entire of itself, and Hillel, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"

Those, "gov't handouts" the Republicans are raging against are the means of priming the pump.

If you want a more rollicking version of the idea, that we are all in this together, and that we need to treat the least among us with the same respect as we treat the wealthy, that we need to give, to get, and that we can't wait on the tide to lift us, but that we have to reach out our hands to each other (because that's what they're there for) here ya' go.



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What is the, “moocher” bullshit really all about?

My honest opinion? Brown people.

It’s the latest, “welfare queen” attack. Used to be you could say nigger, then you had to say blacks, then you couldn’t say blacks... but each time the term was changed, each time the racist shit was made a less acceptable (at least in public) some new term came in.

The fact of the matter is most people who are some form of, “the dole”, don’t see themselves as “mooching”. They are taking advantage of the social safety net, in legitimate ways. Just ask them. The private, who has a family and whose wife can’t get a decent job because she’s a high school graduate, and they just moved 2,000 miles because that’s where his first duty station is... he’s on food stamps, because they have a kid and he’s making 1,491 a month, i.e. 17,892 a year (call it S. Carolina; he’s stationed at Ft. Bragg, and they have on post housing).

That gets him/them a whopping $300 a month.

Do they think Mitt Romney is talking about them? No. They aren’t mooching. They don’t pay any federal income taxes (but he is paying payroll taxes, so he’s coughing up more of his income than Mitt Romeny is, but I digress). His net, after payroll taxes is about 15,000, add in the food stamps and he’s got about 18,600 to play with (though 3,600 of that is illiquid, as it’s vouchers only good for food).

They are a lot better off than someone on a minimum wage job. They have medical (though his dependents aren’t covered for free, the premium for TriCare isn’t a huge hit... about $375 a year). They have housing. His food is paid for.

Minuum wage in SC pays, if you are working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, $15,000: gross. After payroll taxes (again, more than Mitt Romney pays; in part because he doesn’t pay payroll taxes); that’s 12,700 a year. Some estimates gives that same family a whopping $449 a month in food stamps.

They don’t think they are moochers either.

So who are these, “47 percent” people Romney, and the other Right Wing Talking Heads have been going on about for the past year?

Blacks and Hispanics.

Ask people what percentage of the US population are black, and a lot will answer, “25-30 percent” The perception of a large number of hispanics (esp. with the estimates of undocumented workers running as high as 11 million, and the common perception ignoring the Irish nannies, and making them all “job stealing Mexicans”) and the message of, “takers” could have failed to gain any traction. That the media, esp. the Republican, and Beltway pundits, took it as seriously as they did is surprising.

That, I think, more than anything else is why the Romney campaign is presently in a state of discombobulation, bordering on free-fall. They didn’t expect it to matter if/when a record of his comments at things like the Leder fundraiser came out. There would have been some careful parsing of what he was saying (that he was talking about not caring how they voted; and expanding that he really does care about them, and, “wants to see those Americans who have fallen out of the ranks of those earning enough money to pay taxes”) and some pounding on the “need to reform the tax code so everyone pays a fair share” and the base would get the message that “those people” vote for Obama, but “real Americans are Republicans”.

But it doesn’t mean the folks who are presently planning to vote for Romney will see him as calling them moochers, because the ability to partition oneself as being separate from, “those lazy bums on welfare,” is something the way the USA handles its social safety net makes people think. Look at Romney, his family was a beneficiary of “welfare” when they moved back to the US from Mexico (and no one wants to speculate as to why they were in Mexico in the first place; mostly because it’s interesting, but not relevant). Look at where the highest percentages of federal assistance live

So I’m glad to see this being hit, hard and long. I’m even happier the Peggy Noonans, and the David Brooks, are hitting it, because it makes it possible for some of the people who aren’t already dedicated in their votes (the “swing” voters”) to hear voices from, “Romney’s side” who are saying he’s out of touch.

But it’s not going to make a huge swing in the polls. The hope is it will make a difference in places like Florida, Ohio, Wi
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Mitt Romney calls me a slave to dependency, because I get a check every month to compensate for the 80 percent disability rating I’ve got from the VA, from health problems acquired in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I also have a job. I don’t make enough at it to pay income tax, but I do pay more on the money I earn in a year than he does on the money he just collects. I also pay a lot more of my income getting to and from work than he would; if he had a job.

So how did Mitt Romney get to the place he’s in now, the place that lets him spend years working up to running for president. The place he stands in when he tells me I’m a lazy bum, dependent on the gov’t, and that he’s not even going to try to convince me to vote for him, because I am too in love with being a slacker who sucks on the gov’t teat?

According to him, and his wife, he earned every penny of it.

"I could have stayed in Detroit like him and gotten pulled up in a car company. I went off on my own. I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way."


He says he earned it. He did, sort of.

“They were not easy years. You have to understand, I was raised in a lovely neighborhood, as was Mitt, and at BYU, we moved into a $62-a-month basement apartment with a cement floor and lived there two years as students with no income.
“It was tiny. And I didn’t have money to carpet the floor. But you can get remnants, samples, so I glued them together, all different colors. It looked awful, but it was carpeting.
“We were happy, studying hard. Neither one of us had a job.”


That’s Ann Romney, from interview she did when Mitt was running for Governor of Mass.

They were paying $62 a month in rent. Adjusted for inflation they were doing pretty well. If it were today they’d be paying about $425. That wasn’t their only expense, of course. They were going to BYU, and they had a couple of kids. They had to eat, and pay the bills, and buy clothes, and see to it the kids were healthy.

They did all this without working, “neither one of us had a job.” They did it for five years.

How?

Daddy Romney. He’d socked some money away in American Motors stocks, and it had done pretty well. It’s not clear just how much they had, but it was, converted to present day buying power, somewhere between $300,000-$500,000. They weren’t able to meet their expenses purely on the dividends, so they had to sell some of the shares, every now and again, to make ends meet.

The stock came from Mitt’s father. When he took over American Motors, the stock was worth nothing. But he invested Mitt’s birthday money year to year — it wasn’t much, a few thousand, but he put it into American Motors because he believed in himself. Five years later, stock that had been $6 a share was $96 and Mitt cashed it so we could live and pay for education.

The Elder Romneys would come to visit, and chuckle at how Mitt and Ann were living, ”“The funny thing is that I never expected help. My father had become wealthy through hard work, as did Mitt’s father, but I never expected our parents to take care of us. They’d visit, laugh and say, `We can’t believe you guys are living like this.’ They’d take us out to dinner, have a good time, then leave.”

They didn’t need to live like that. A house cost, on average, $25,000. It seems they didn’t buy one because they weren’t planning to stay in Utah. Tuition wasn’t a problem; a semester at BYU would have set them back about three shares. Mitt got himself into Harvard, for a double-degree program, Business and Law. He was strongly recruited out of Harvard.

When they got to Boston/Cambridge they discovered the rents there were a fair bit more than they were in Provo, “Remember, we’d been paying $62 a month rent, but here, rents were $400, and for a dump. This is when we took the now-famous loan that Mitt talks about from his father and bought a $42,000 home in Belmont, and you know? The mortgage payment was less than rent. Mitt saw that the Boston market was behind Chicago, LA and New York. We stayed there seven years and sold it for $90,000, so we not only stayed for free, we made money. As I said, Mitt’s very bright.

Got that... a $42,000 loan from his dad; terms unspecified, and they got to sell the house and walk away; when the median home price in the US was about 24,000: interest on a mortgage was about 7.5 percent. Must be nice to be able to tap the folks for that kind of change.

I don’t know quite what she means when she says, “we go to stay for free.” I am assuming she means that the profit they made offset the investment, and so she is discounting it. On the flip side, it’s possible the “loan” was more fictive than not. In any case I can’t say that slow-flipping a house in Boston in the middle-seventies was a sign of all that much in the way of bright. I think she’d better have served them by boasting of how well he did at Harvard Law/Business School.

So how did he make his millions? He extorted them from the federal gov’t.

Skip ahead 15 years. Mitt’s been making a decent living, working for Bain & Co., but Bain has a problem; Bain and Capital, it was losing money. According to Romney’s campaign,

In 1990, Mitt Romney's former firm, Bain & Company, was in a dire situation. It was on the brink of collapse. The leaders of Bain & Co. asked Romney to come back to the firm to lead it out of the precipitous fall it was experiencing. His return to the company provided an instantaneous morale boost for the employees that recognized Romney's leadership capabilities and his strong record of turning around companies. He reined in spending, made executives more financially accountable, and put the focus back on customer service.

Bain & Co.'s turnaround was an incredible success: In just a year, a company on the brink had returned to profitability.


It seems Mitt Romney is lying (again)

Rolling Stone filed a Freedom of Information Act request for papers detailing the recovery of the from, ” the precipitous fall it was experiencing.

Federal records obtained by Rolling Stone through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Bain & Company lost money in both 1991 and 1992 — with Romney at the helm.
This December 22, 1992 analysis for the FDIC lays out the truth about Bain & Company's mounting losses (both "operating" and "net") in a section called "Historical Operating Performance." (FDIC was owed more than $30 million by Bain & Company after the 1991 failure of the Bank of New England.)
.

So how did he get it out from under? Out from under a mess he’d been one of the people responsible for causing?

The trouble began in 1984, when Bain & Company spun off Bain Capital to engage in leveraged buyouts and put Romney in charge of the new operation. To free up money to invest in the new business, founder Bill Bain and his partners cashed out much of their stock in the consulting firm – leaving it saddled with about $200 million in debt. (Romney, though not a founder, reportedly profited from the deal.) "People will tell you that Bill raped the place clean, was greedy, didn't know when to stop," a former Bain consultant later conceded. "Did they take too much out of the firm? You bet."

... According to the government records obtained by Rolling Stone, Bain & Company "defaulted on its debt obligations" at nearly the same time that "W. Mitt Romney . . . stepped in as managing director (and later chief executive) in 1990 and led the financial restructuring intended to get the firm back on track."

... Bain had inserted a poison pill in its loan agreement with the banks: Instead of being required to use its cash to pay back the firm's creditors, the money could be pocketed by Bain executives in the form of fat bonuses – starting with VPs making $200,000 and up. "The company can deplete its cash balances by making officer-bonus payments," the FDIC lamented, "and still be in compliance with the loan documents."

What's more, the bonus loophole gave Romney a perverse form of leverage: If the banks and the FDIC didn't give in to his demands and forgive much of Bain's debts, Romney would raid the firm's coffers, pushing it into the very bankruptcy that the loan agreement had been intended to avert.

... The next month, when the banks balked at the deal, Romney decided to prove he wasn't bluffing. "As the bank group did not accept the proposal from Bain," the records show, "Bain's senior management has decided to go forth with the distribution of bonuses." (Bain's lawyers redacted the amount of the executive payouts, and the Romney campaign refused to comment on whether Romney himself received a bonus.)

Romney's decision to place executive compensation over fiscal responsibility immediately put Bain on the ropes. By that July, FDIC analysts reported, Bain had so little money left that "the company will actually run out of cash and default on the existing debt structure" as early as 1995. If that happened, Bain employees and American consumers would take the hit – an alternative that analysts considered "catastrophic."

... In the end, the government surrendered. At the time, The Boston Globe cited bankers dismissing the bailout as "relatively routine" – but the federal documents reveal it was anything but. The FDIC agreed to accept nearly $5 million in cash to retire $15 million in Bain's debt – an immediate government bailout of $10 million. All told, the FDIC estimated it would recoup just $14 million of the $30 million that Romney's firm owed the government.


This is the guy who is saying I’m leeching off the gov’t, not earning my keep, “shirking responsibility. This is the guy who wants me to believe he knows how to run things.

So how did he do at Bain? The deals he managed, were money-makers about half the time. Credit where it’s due, the money-makers offset the money-losers more than enough to make the people who could afford to let Mitt Romney gamble with their money happy, but flipping a coin on the offerings he was pitching would have given the same sorts of results that his touted business acumen provided.

Rolling Stone has more on the subject, Greed and Debt, the true story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital

Romney has spent decades doing the sorts of deals that made Wall Street rich, and that were being praised (until 2008, when there was a "market correction"). Which is no surprise, he came from Harvard Business School, just as so many of them did.

And he’s not modest about it.

They'll probably be looking at what the polls are saying. If it looks like I'm going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president's going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy. It depends of course which markets you're talking about, which types of commodities and so forth, but my own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We'll see capital come back and we'll see—without actually doing anything—we'll actually get a boost in the economy.


In the very next breath he suddenly loses that crystal ball, If the president gets reelected, I don't know what will happen. I can—I can never predict what the markets will do. Sometimes it does the exact opposite of what I would have expected. But my own view is that if we get a "Taxageddon," as they call it, January 1st, with this president, and with a Congress that can't work together, it's—it really is frightening.

I can show you what the markets have been doing for the past four years, since Obama took office. The short form... more than doubling the Dow Jones.

Status

Sep. 15th, 2012 04:34 pm
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Phone insurance has always irked me. Back when Maia and I were sharing a Sprint line we had it: $7.99 per month, per phone, with a 35 fee to get a replacement. After she dropped her phone in a bucket we realised it wasn’t all that good a deal. She’d had the phone for more than a year, and with the $35 it was a total outlay of about 150, to replace a phone which wouldn’t have cost more than that to buy outright.

We tried, (and tried, and tried: it took splitting our lines) to get the insurance cancelled. My LG flip-phone, which finally died about a month ago, was insured for five years: total outlay, about 450, which would still have had a $35 fee on the top of. So I had to decide, when getting an iPhone 4S, if I wanted to spend $8.18 a month to insure it.

I did, but with reservations. 8.18 * 12 = 98. The fee to get a replacement is $169, which means a total outlay of $267, if I have to use it. At the end of 24 months it would be $365. The full cost replacement would be, if we assume the price of the 4S doesn’t drop any more, $550. That means I would save $185.

Which looks, on paper, to be a decent savings. But it makes me wonder at the profit margins on the phone insurance business. They aren’t sending you a new phone, rather they refurbish the other phones which are sent in, and send them back out. Even if they were sending out new phones, they’d be buying them wholesale. Let’s assume they can get a decent price, on case lots. Perhaps not as good as a carrier gets, but better than you or I. The list price, from AT&T is $550. Let’s be generous, and say they are only marking it up 20 percent. That means it’s $440 per phone.

Ok. In that case I’m a net loss, if I break a phone in two years (which assumes no one keeps the insurance past two years, because they can usually upgrade for the subsidised price of a newer model phone after that. If one drops the insurance, one just gets a new phone from one’s carrier, so keeping the insurance becomes a loss).

But how many people actually use the insurance? Let’s assume it’s one in ten, per annum (and if you make a second claim, that’s it, no more coverage).

(8.18*12)*10 =981.60+169=1150.60 If we take out the estimated $440 for the phone, we get an income, after product cost of $710.60 If it’s one in twenty, income is $1692.20. Assurion, the actual provider for a significant number of carriers (Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, among others), says it’s actually one in four. On the flip side, if they are backing all those companies, I’ll wager the cost per phone; when they have to ship a new one; as opposed one they’ve had refurbished, isn’t as high as I guesstimated.

Consumer Reports, and Business Week don’t think they are worth it. The Business week article puts the profits of Assurion somewhere between 98 million, and .5 billion dollars. Assurion says that one in four cellphone users have some problem with their phones each year: I note they don’t say they have a claims ratio of 1:4,merely that of all users of cell phones, 1:4 has a problem. But even at the most conservative, they are clearing 98 million a year, which means, IMO, the amount they are charging isn’t really insurance, it’s a way to take advantage of distributed loss to overcharge people for what looks like a valuable service.

So I’m probably going to keep it for a few months; sock some money away, and then drop it. Odds are I won’t need to touch the money... my last phone was about seven years old when I finally managed to break it.

Status

Sep. 13th, 2012 11:52 pm
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For anyone who cares, I have a twitter feed: @pecunium
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There are break-points in your life. Moments which divide it into periods of “before” and “after”

Tuesday I went to work. It was a day like any other, until I got off the train at WTC. When I came out into the light there were protesters, of some sort; but that’s not unknown. There were, however, tons of cops. Not just the regular flatfeet, but the Sergeants and Lieutenants, in their white shirts. As I walked up Broadway I saw more, and motorcycles and scooters, in NYPD colors.

There were firefighters in their dress blues. And I was reminded it was 11 years go the World Trade Center was buried in rubble. This Tuesday was, as I am told That Tuesday was, a beautiful day. But I’m not thinking of that anniversary. I am rather remembering what I was doing a year later.

In Sept. of 2002 I was teaching a class of soldiers how to be interrogators, and counter-intelligence agents. I’d done it lots of times before; this one was probably my tenth; so something between 300-400 students, mostly interrogators, had been subject to my lectures; and suffered through my sessions, one on one, in “the booth”. MSG Jorgensen, with whom I’d been doing this training since 1994, had done about half again that many. Tom, and Glenn, and Russ, and Sal, and Jose-Luis, and couple of others ,and I had been knocking about the country, teaching on one schoolhouse or another for eight years. We’d probably spent something close to a year together; taking in baseball games, or cooking in our hotel rooms, whalewatching off Nantucket, and trying to pass along our experience.

Because Interrogation has little in the way of institutional knowledge; it’s all tucked inside the heads of the people who do it.

But this class was different. For these “kids” it wasn’t theoretical. They were, in theory, going to be shipped out to Afghanistan. We all knew, however, that the ostensible reason was a lie. This class was almost all going to be sent to Iraq. It lent a certain poignant intensity to things. In “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long” Heinlein has his protagonist say that he was too young the first time he was a drill sergeant; that he probably got some of those kids killed.

We weren’t so much worried about that, as we were that they would get other people killed; because being a bad interrogator isn’t a direct threat to the person doing the job. Yeah, we were aware that some of them might get killed; but we knew that about everyone in the Army. It goes with the job (in the 16 years I was in I was, personally, acquainted with 6 people who died. One of my students was wounded on his tour in Iraq, and I have some other friends who were injured in some way. That’s without counting the soldiers I was responsible for when I was in hospitals, or a squad leader in a medical holding company, of those six, three died in theater, the others in training).

And none of us, even the vets from Vietnam, or the guy who had been running covert agents in the Near East for seven years, had ever done the job for ourselves. We had feedback (Chris Mackie, who set up the interrogation facilities in Afghanistan, before the Regular Army took it over, had been an instructor in the past, so was one of the NCOs who built Camp Delta, at GitMo. They told us it worked, “just like it does in the schoolhouse”), so we knew the doctrine was sound.

But one still has doubts. And we knew, because it was an open secret, that the mission wasn’t Afghanistan. That was just to get the funding. Iraq was going to happen.

That colored everything. It made things more intense. It made it harder to keep a distance from the students. It made us less forgiving, “in the booth”. These guys were going to be taken from the schoolhouse, and get tossed right into the fire. They wouldn’t have time to work out the kinks, or play with the toolset, before they were looking at someone who wasn’t playing along to make the training better.

And it felt like the last days of summer. In some brief chunk of time all the theoretical aspects of the job, which most of us had been doing for about a decade, were going to be actual. It was an Indian Summer, the last days of, for want of a better word, innocence.

Walking from downtown, to Soho brought it all back, the sense of purpose, the angst, the frustration, the fears, and the questions. A vague wonder; what would life be like if I’d not been deployed? What would the world be like if we’d not invaded Iraq? There’s a situational pride too. Our students did the job, and they did it well. No one has ever complained they weren’t competent.


They didn’t get sent to Iraq, not exactly. We did. Not all of us, some were; as we expected all to be, kept stateside to train others, but that group was reassigned, and about 1/3rd of them were sent, with my unit, to be attached to the 525 MI Bn, and deployed to Iraq, five months later.

Ten years have come and gone. I’ve probably lived two different lifetimes in there, maybe three. But that slice of time, that’s the one that; for me, divides “the past” from the present
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Aesthetics are strange things.

Take photography. It’s changed a lot in the 30 years or so since I first started being serious with a camera. Even in the 27 years, or so, since I got into the nuts and bolts of the making of pictures it’s changed, a lot. When I started I was looking at film stocks, and grain, and how to manipulate them; when I couldn’t see them (did I push the film, and use a fine-grain developer; at a lower temp, or was I going to shoot it straight, but rush the time in the soup by increasing the temperature, etc.).

But the “look” was limited by the film, and the paper. Color prints had a wider range than slides. Slide film set the standards for “good” color, because magazines used “chromes” to illustrate. That meant five stops of range. That was often narrowed some, because saturation increased if you underexposed some, but at the cost of compressing the spectrum from black to white.

Digital has range closer to that wider range of color print. And in the past 10 years or so that color palette (as well as things like stacking several exposure to create “High Dynamic Range) has expanded. Along come plug-ins for editing software, and apps like instagram, to make it possible to recreate the lost look of days of yore.

Then, because some people think those are overdone, there is an apps to remove the instagram sort of effect. Normalise says it restores pictures which have been, “overdone” back to the way they were. Which is well and good, but the folks at Buzzfeed went and applied the app to scans of actual photos from the ‘60s.

Which is fine, but what got me was this sentence, And it follows that, since Instagram's filters are based in on an aesthetic defined by actual old camera hardware and film, it should work near as well on real old photographs. It kind of does! Here's Andy Warhol sneezing, for example:

Which they followed with some other photos and then this, But this old (Kodachrome?) portrait of John Lennon looks a bit more real.

Real? Not to my eye. The originals look as I recall such photos looking. I actually found the Lennon shot to be much more fake looking. Not that it doesn’t look like Lennon, but rather that it looks like Lennon if you took his picture with a cheap digital camera.

But cheap digital cameras have become the new norm.

Our aesthetic has changed.
pecunium: (Loch Icon)
I debated locking this because it is likely to be a bit of a mes since it’s touching on a lot of things, and the subjects are both difficult, and painful. I’m being bullied. I’m being bullied in a place which I’d not really expected it, and in ways which are hard on my self-image.

It's also about things happening elsewhere on the web. But, all things being equal, I'm not much for hiding things, even when they feel vaguely shameful.

I take part in the discussion community of Manboobz which is a blog dedicated to mocking misogyny. It’s not a “safe space”, because the targets of the blog are allowed to come and speak their minds, since they are being attacked for being idiots, and often assholes.

The community is feminist, and has a significant number of queer folk, as well as any number of people who feel strongly about the subject matter; given the larger public discussions of women/feminism going on, and the particular obsessions of the, “Men’s Rights Movement”, as well as the run of the mill misogyny which pervades the culture, there are any number of topics which recur (“false rape” being one of the most common).

I’ve been a commenter there since... I don’t know, somewhat more than 2 ½ years. I am, as is my nature when I am in a community, pretty active. There happen to be a number of atheists in the mix. There are also some theists, some more, some less. It is, oddly enough, in this aspect of things the bullying started, about a year ago. Shortly after I moved to New Jersey someone said something about things, “Christianity has always believed” which weren’t true. I said so, and the discussion got ugly.

It’s not that I said Christianity has never been that way, just that there is nothing inherent in it which requires hatred of homosexuals; and that the present interpretations of that were based on poor translation; and a lack of understanding of the way in which homosexuality was seen in Rome, and to a lesser extent, Greece.

There were a couple of people who took this very amiss. They took it, in fact, as me being an apologist for homophobia, not least because they are not merely atheist, but anti-theist. When the conversation got to a pointless (by virtue of both the vitriol, and one person saying that while they couldn’t read Koine, didn’t follow scholarly research on the early writings of the church and weren’t all that conversant with Roman/Greek culture; they damned well knew what The Truth was about those writings) , I gave it up. I also stopped being all that responsive to the comments of either of those people .

Skip ahead to last May, or so. The person who didn’t care about context made a mistatement about DADT, and what the effects of a discharge under it were. I told them they were wrong. Things got really ugly. My personal experience with the actual policy was declared not only irrelevant, but actually detrimental. I was accused of being an active apologist for anti-homosexual policies, and of being personally homophobic. Not merely of saying something homophobic; something of which I am capable, much as I might not want to do it, just as anyone is capable of saying something racist.

Because DADT is both touchy, and complex, it got really ugly; not least because the effects of DADT are worse, in their way, than the previous policy, but the sanctions are less. From there I stopped dealing with the one person altogether, and the other got even less credit from me. It’s not a help that both of them have a style of interaction which is not merely aggressive, but rude, and hostile. If they disagree, the language is often foul, and scurrilous motives are ascribed to the person with whom they disagree.

Last week someone said, without qualifier, ,“I hate catholics”. They put no qualifiers on it. I asked if they really meant, “all” since there are a lot of Catholics, and some are assholes, and some aren’t.

Things got heated, even a bit ugly. Then came the person I’ve been speaking of, who hadn’t been following the discussion; but rather had someone tell them they needed to see the discussion, to do their usual slagging of theists, with extra-special fulminating on how horridly homophobic I am.

Which is a problem. It’s sort of like being called an alcoholic. This isn’t a face to face relationship I have with the commentariat there. It’s based on what they recall of what I’ve said. To say, “no, I’m not,” isn’t any help. To point out any of the things I’ve done, the people I know, the things I’ve written, immaterial.

And having people say hateful things about one, even (or perhaps more) when one is certain they aren’t true, hurts. It makes one want to withdraw; because vitriol is nasty. And when one knows there is no active defense one can make for oneself; that other people stepping up to the defense is the only thing which can stop it... that also hurts.

What I’ve learned is that making any mention of anything which relates to queer-folk, is to risk having a couple of people come in, waving their situational credibility, to heap scorn; and hatred on me. I have no way to know who might be being swayed by it. But if I want to avoid it, I have to refrain from some subjects; right now those are religion, queer issues. I am pretty sure that at least two of the people who are doing this would be happiest if I were to leave the blog altogether.

What it’s done, for me, and what make it worse, is cause me to doubt myself.

“Sadly, the effect of these comments does not end with the reaction of the target. The Centre’s research also details the phenomenon of ‘stereotype threat’.

While the perpetrators might not believe that they are being sexist, and will often respond that they are “just joking” when challenged, the effects for women are insidious because they create a reaction referred to as ‘stereotype threat’ in which the targeted individuals will often ruminate on the implications and be distracted from the task at hand.

The effects are not limited to the women who are targeted – other women who hear the remarks can also experience stereotype threat as a member of the group whose status is challenged.
.

But the perpetrators aren’t violating the rules of the blog. The rules aren’t, “don’t be cruel to people.” They aren’t, “don’t be incivil.” They are, “don’t make threats,”. It’s a bit more complex, but absent more overt evidence of actions in malice, or bad faith, I don’t think the blog owner is going to see it for the bullying I see it to be.

Ferment

Sep. 12th, 2012 05:55 pm
pecunium: (Loch Icon)
The yeast has moved out of the lag phase, and is reproducing like mad. I gave it some shaking, last night, and this morning, to keep the aerobic phase going a little longer, but from here on out they are on their own.

The water-lock is bubbling at about 1cc per second (guesstimated) and there is a pleasant tang to the smell carried in the outgassing. When I gave it a shake there was a fair bit of CO2 released from solution, and I can see bubbles rising all over the surface.

So there will be mead.

I suppose I ought to make a brewing icon, so people will know if they want to skip discussions of fungus.
pecunium: (Loch Icon)
And the experiment was tolerably successful. There is mead, and no one who has tried it has said, “What the hell did you just give me?”

More to the point, part of this is that [personal profile] ladymondegreen can’t drink wine, and for Passover she needs something she can drink and mead is acceptable. So having kosher for passover mead is important. We have kept the meadery in just such a state (which means either getting doubling the brewing vessels and keeping the vaporlocks separated, or doing a lot of kashering, should we start to make beers/braggots).

So I did more reading. The last batch was a very “heavy” must, with a very strong yeast. It suffers from my not letting the mead rest long enough before bottling; that or the yeast stalled from the sheer amount of honey in the mix; honey being not the best of sugars for yeasts.

I wanted a lighter flavor, and I thought I wanted something to balance out the sweetness of the honey. A lager yeast might do it, but the it’s an amazing list of possible flavors, ester profiles, alcohol tolerance, need for nutrients, fermenting temperatures, etc. Then I saw something which might fill the bill. Berliner-Weisse

It’s a bright beer, brewed without hops. The yeast flavor is mild, and a sympathetic lactobaccillus gives it a pleasantly sour note; not quite as sharp as the beers described as, “sour”, which have a tart aftertaste, and all sorts of variety.

Wyeast has seasonal yeast which is just the ticket.

Yeast
So, about a month ago, I bought that Smack-pack (the name is because the yeast is packed in distilled water, and a plastic bag full of nutrients is added. Three hours, or so, before you want to “pitch” you break the packet. It’s deceptively hard to find, and surprising resilient.

It’s been that long because arranging to have two weeks when I could monitor the fermentation turned out to be trickier than I expected. Today was the day. I’d rinsed the carboys when I was done with the last batch. I made up some Star-san, last night, and sloshed the heck out of the fermentor. When I get ready to rack, I’ll do it to that carboy. Left it to drain/dry overnight.

Brought it upstairs, and added about eight lbs. of mesquite honey.

Mesquite Honey
Then I added about a gallon of warm water (about 110°F, just enough to be warm to the touch) and sloshed it like mad. Not only did I want to dissolve the honey, I wanted to oxygenate the water, which the yeast needs in the first stages of fermentation.

Honey, and water
Then I added 5tsp of Fermax (a yeast nutrient, so they can build healthy bodies before they start the exponential reproduction needed to convert a lot of sugar into alcohol and CO2), and some more water, and sloshed like mad. Then I added some more water, and sloshed like mad.

Then I took some out (with a pipette) and checked the Specific Gravity.

The Reading
I got a reading of 13.8° Brix, which is 1.056, which is about perfect for this strain of yeast, and teh flavor profile I’m aiming for(It was a rough measurement. I was a bit warmer than 20°C, so the gravity is probably a bit higher, which is fine, because I want some residual honey at the end).

So I let it rest, and sloshed it, and rest some more, and sloshed it, and when the three hours were up, I sanitized the yeast packaging, and the stopper, and the airlock, and the scissors, and opened the packet. It smelled good. Yeasty and a bit sour. I pitched, and took it downstairs to a nicely cool (and stably so) area, near my specimen cabinet.
Proto Mead
Where it will (I hope and trust), begin, in about 24-36 hours, show some signs of life (were it a different yeast, the lag-time would be a bit less, but this one, no matter that it’s billions and billions of yeasties, is a slower starter, so the Lactobaccillus Brettanomyces, can get established). I’ll probably pull the airlock when I mid-day Weds., and give it a good sloshing so it will have some more time for aerobic fermenting since I know I can’t have gotten the O2 up to the 10ppm the yeast really wants, and so it will need some refreshing. When it’s bubbling away, I’ll post another photo.
pecunium: (Pixel Stained)
Not in the usual sort of way people call politicians liars... the shading of truths to make it seem all the facts are with them, the inability to face the idea that there might be some merit to the other side's plan (whatever side it happens to be, and regardless of the plan).

No, Mitt Romney tells blatant falsehoods. Steve Benen has been chronicling them. The count 616 lies, in 33 weeks.

Verified lies. Lies with cited refutations. That's 19 whoppers a week.

Things like, ". In an ad, the Romney campaign argued that Obama "has managed to pile on nearly as much debt as all the previous presidents combined."

That's not even close to the truth.

3. In the same ad, Team Romney claimed, "President Barack Obama named himself one of the country's four best presidents."

That's blatantly untrue, and the campaign knows it's blatantly untrue because it's been told the truth several times.
Mitt's Mendacity Vol XII

If we skip back to Vol. VII we get things like these:

6. Romney also argued, "Syria is Iran's source of access to the Mediterranean."

Iran doesn't share a border with Syria.

7. Romney said of the American auto industry, "I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back."



And the press doesn't care. It really doesn't.

Look at what CNN did after Ryan's RNC speech: CNN doesn't care that Paul Ryan is a liar

Blitzer begins by calling it “a powerful speech,” then notes, in the same breath, that “I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will.”

Burnett agrees that Ryan’s speech was so dishonest, she, too, was scribbling down lies in real time, but then concludes, “He’s a man who says I care deeply about every single word. I want to do a good job. And he delivered on that. Precise, clear, and passionate.”

...Just seconds after the speech, both Blitzer and Burnett already know, without even checking, that Ryan’s speech was completely full of shit, but their takeaway is that he “delivered,” and that he was “precise” and “clear.”


Romney is telling whoppers like the one's I cited at the rate of 17 a week. The Press doesn't care. They were all over the things Al Gore was purported to have said. They called him a "serial liar", but the Mittster? He's just engaging in "post-truth politics"

How does he get away with it? The press is failing. They pretend that the lies are "just one sides opinion". They have done away with looking for what is objectively true, in exchange for the myth of, "objectivity".

They have decided to embrace the words of Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


That's bad enough, but the rest seems far more prophetic than it did when I learned the poem. Then the first verse seemed a warning, now the rest seems to be a knelling.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
pecunium: (Loch Icon)
DADT has been dead for a year, and the military is doing just fine.

No fucking surprise

A study done on the effect the repeal of DADT had on the military found no harm to the ability to perform the mission, no detriments to unit cohesion and puts the lie, one hopes for good, to the stupidity in this statement, “Repeal… would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.”

That was the considered opinion of more than 1,100 flag officers who ought to have known better. I say that because, according to Randy Shilts, in “Conduct Unbecoming” , the hypocritical defense of the exclusion has been going on for ages.


Ten years ago, a two-star general, whose glittering name Shilts does supply as his punch line, made a strong defense of gay exclusion for the court record in a gay-rights case.


But off the record, to a lawyer on the case later interviewed by Shilts, the general "unofficially admitted he expected that the regulations would fall within a few years. He added that would be fine with him, because he knew many fine gay soldiers." That general was Norman Schwarzkopf.


Sadly Swarzkopf was wrong, and it took more another 20 years... an entire career for the ban to fall. Anyone who was in the service, in the past ten years would have told you the ban was doomed. The Army can’t ignore the broader culture and the ways in which they dealt with homosexuals in service just made it worse. In the Gulf War they ignored people who were gay, delaying discharge until after the war was over.

That undercut the “can’t have them at the front, because their buddies won’t trust them”. I can tell you, when people are shooting at me, who my battle-buddy likes to sleep with is not on my mind.

The study
One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness
(PDF) seems to be broadly done.

We sought to maximize the likelihood of identifying evidence of damage caused by repeal by pursuing ten separate research strategies, each of which was designed to uncover data indicating that repeal has undermined the military. Our research strategies included outreach to 553 generals and admirals who predicted that repeal would undermine the military, to all major activists and expert opponents of DADT repeal and to 18 watchdog organizations, including opponents and advocates of repeal, who are known for their ability to monitor Pentagon operations. In addition, we conducted in-depth interviews with 18 scholars and practitioners and 62 active-duty heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual troops from every service branch, as well as on-site field observations of four military units. We analyzed relevant media articles published during the research period, administered two surveys and conducted secondary source analysis of surveys independently administered by outside organizations. Our vigorous effort to collect data from opponents of DADT repeal, including anti-repeal generals and admirals, activists, academic experts, service members and watchdog organizations, should sustain confidence in the validity and impartiality of our findings.

Our study team includes distinguished scholars from the US Military Academy‡, US Air Force Academy, US Naval Academy and US Marine Corps War College, as well as scholars with internationally recognized expertise on the issue of gays in the military. Several members advised the Pentagon’s 2010 DADT working group, and one member led the team that drafted the Defense Department’s plan for implementing DADT repeal.



The conclusion... the Services are better off now than they were a year ago.



3. Even in those units that included openly LGB service members, and that consequently should have been the most likely to experience a drop in cohesion as a result of repeal, cohesion did not decline after the new policy of open service was put into place. In fact, greater openness and honesty resulting from repeal seem to have promoted increased understanding, respect and acceptance.


6. DADT repeal has not been responsible for any new wave of violence or physical abuse among service members. The policy change appears to have enabled some LGB service members to resolve disputes around harassment and bias in ways that were not possible prior to repeal.


11. The findings of this study are consistent with the extensive literature on foreign militaries, which shows uniformly that readiness did not decline after foreign armed forces allowed LGB troops to serve openly.



There are, of course, those who refuse to see the truth.



12. As positive reports about DADT repeal emerged in the media, repeal opponents who predicted that open service would compromise readiness have adjusted their forecasts by emphasizing the possibility of long-term damage that will only become apparent in the future rather than identifiable consequences in the short-term.



The only thing I can say about that is those people have a poor opinion of Americans, or at least of American Servicemembers, because I’ve served with armies which don’t discriminate (Canadian and British, and Swedish), and they managed it. Why, one wonders, do these people think the US Army will, in the future, suddenly fall apart? Hint, it’s not fact based.

Why? Because people who join the military are pragmatists. We have a mission. We follow orders. This is to our credit, and our detriment. We live with some paradoxical things. First and foremost, we don’t want to die. Secondarily, we don’t want our friends to die. In front of all that, we have”The Mission”, and no matter what/where/when a specific mission is, the potential for one of those two things happening is ever-present. I don’t know anyone, even if they did nothing but peacetime service, in the USA, who did more than one tour who doesn’t know someone who died in training.


This argument, that “It’s all well and good now, but it will come back to bite us in the ass” was said about blacks, and about women. It didn’t happen. Why not?


Even heterosexual service members who oppose DADT repeal acknowledged to us that the new policy has not undermined readiness. According to one currently deployed Army National Guard sergeant who opposes open service, there “was not much of a transition, it’s not like people come in with rainbow flags or anything... the funny thing about the military is, people come in and do a job. That’s all there is to it.” A Navy SEAL who opposes repeal was nonetheless adamant that the military is a professional force, and that even those who do not agree with particular policies will follow them because that is what they are trained to do: “We’re professional; we do what we’ve done in the past, make the work environment professional.”



That’s why. And it’s why Obama was being a chicken to put off making his Executive Order. It’s why Clinton was worse than that in creating DADT (which was better, in one way, and worse in all the rest, than what preceded it; but that’s a whole can of worms which almost never goes well to talk about).


We could have done this 20 years ago. We could have had the benefits of twenty year’s worth of people who wanted to serve, and couldn’t; or who tried and were kicked out (I know three of those, 2 were Russian Linguists, 1 was Arabic), or who decided they couldn’t stay. I know commanders who didn’t care, and went out of their way to avoid anyone being able to make them aware of non-straights in their units. I had one who told us, when I was at DLI, that flat out he was certain he had homosexual troops, there were too many people in the Company (280+) for it to be otherwise, and that he 1: didn’t care, and 2: didn’t want to know. No one was to tell him.

When I was an NCO I never let conversations get past hypotheticals. I didn’t want anyone to tell; because that would put me in a bind. That was the greatest crime of DADT; it put everyone in the position of peril; and for no good reason, as this report makes plain.


Discipline: A Navy pilot told us about two gay service members who broke a shipboard rule before DADT repeal. Commanders were not comfortable bringing charges for that low-level transgression because doing so would have required outing the service members as gay. The infraction of which they were guilty was minor and had a very slight penalty associated with it, but the penalty for their being labeled as gay was separation from the military. Because the commanders did not believe that the lower infraction was significant enough to warrant discharge, they declined to charge the pair with the lesser infraction. “This put the leadership in an awkward position,” explained the pilot, “and the repeal just takes away that extra hurdle and allows commanders to lead better.”


Command: Another Naval officer told us that prior to repeal, commanders could not assist their sailors in the ways they would like because they could be obligated to discharge them if they knew too much. DADT repeal allowed this officer to better understand the sailors under her command so that she could counsel them and address and resolve their issues. She described a sailor who was having personal issues. “He was a very good sailor, but started having problems” including anxiety and sleeplessness. “Over time it became clear that the problem was possibly with a relationship, but because [the leadership] believed the relationship was with another man, they couldn’t talk with him about it.” She said that not being able to deal with the issue directly hindered her
ability to help the sailor under her command. With the change in policy, “everyone, from leadership down, were relieved that at least the sailor could come talk to them, whether or not they supported [homosexuality] themselves... There were too many service members who fit in the [LGB] category, which caused additional stress in already stressful situations. That is totally unacceptable. This was a very important change.”




Been there, done that.



David Levy, an Air Force Academy professor, said that, “I knew this was not going to be an issue… but I was somewhat amazed about just how much of a non-issue it was. There was virtually no talk about it whatsoever.” He said it was “almost eerie” how little attention the change had garnered.



No shit Sherlock. I could have told you that ten years ago when I was going to Iraq. No one cared. We had bigger fish to fry, and the sense of shared identity that being a soldier, among soldiers, meant that we wouldn’t have cared if the people who had to stay in the closet had been able to come out.

A heterosexual Army sergeant said that DADT repeal has allowed straight troops to strengthen their relationships with LGB colleagues, in that it “finally allowed people to have the freedom to be who they are. They still don’t have the same rights available to everyone, but the freedom [is now] there.” He added that post-repeal, “People are more open with their previous experiences” and more likely to introduce LGB peers to same-sex partners. A heterosexual lieutenant commander in Naval meteorology believes the repeal will bring about positive changes in the overall military culture. “It removed a barrier that was neither necessary nor practical,” he said. “It will help facilitate the slow cultural change towards greater acceptance.”


A gay Naval Academy midshipman reported that, after repeal, discussing his sexual orientation was no longer a career-ending offense, and in fact brought out the protective instincts of other midshipmen. The midshipman said that, “Pretty much everybody in my company knows now” about his sexual orientation and “they actually stand up for me” if they hear anti-gay comments.


That’s what I expected, and in that quotation is the real reason the bigots have been fighting this one so hard; and why Clinton’s moral cowardice was so egregious. “. “It removed a barrier that was neither necessary nor practical,” he said. “It will help facilitate the slow cultural change towards greater acceptance.”


That’s what they wanted to prevent. That’s what Clinton let them get away with. It’s what has been shown to be wrong.


LA Times, Mar, 1993

‡My Favorite of these is Professor Morten Ender, Ph.D, US Military Academy. Take that Mr. Card.

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