Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shrinking Coinage

No, this isn't what you think it's about. Now and then I drop in over at the Bad Astronomy blog, on the Discover site, just because it's cool. Today I dropped by and found a post called Coin Deflation, about a group of techies who "strap a scary big capacitor onto a U.S. quarter and zap it with 15,000 Joules." If you are into techno gadgetry, you should follow the links and look at the slow-mo videos they posted of this process, because they're fascinating - and for the bang-and-flash addicts, there's even a video section entitled "gratuitous explosions."

The point is what happens to the quarter when you do this: it shrinks in size. Quite a lot. It doesn't become lighter, I'm interested to read; so it must become denser.

These guys are evidently total lab rats, because of all the comments (9) on the original site, and on the Bad Astronomy post (20 when I looked), not one single person made the obvious (to me) joke about the value of the quarter decreasing! One guy asked if it was still worth 25 cents (nobody answered); and one guy admitted sheepishly to have "plunked down good money for bad" by buying a shrunken quarter because it was "awesome." No currency deflation references.
No bad economy jokes at all. We're in the worst economic mess in living memory, and these folks shrink a quarter to half its normal size, and the connection doesn't even occur to them.

I love the human race. I just hope it can keep from killing itself with those gadgets.

Supporting a Friend

Here we go again. The Republican Party has no shame and no sense of how things look to the man on the street. Or woman, in my case.

I'm sure you've all heard the latest Repub sex scandal: Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is now under investigation for allegedly having an affair with one of his campaign aides. A married campaign aide. Whose husband worked in Ensign's Senate office. I say, "allegedly," but I'm not sure I have to - Ensign copped to the affair last week, amidst many crocodile tears. There's an ethics committee investigation going into whether either the aide or her husband, or both, were fired because of the affair; but that isn't what fried my tomatoes today.

The Associated Press report, printed in today's San Francisco Chronicle, has a section at the end describing Ensign's return to the Senate floor:

On the Senate floor during a vote on a tourism bill, several lawmakers took time to speak with Ensign.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., talked with Ensign for several minutes, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave him a quick embrace. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama patted Ensign's hand. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, shook Ensign's hand, and the two stood side-by-side for about a minute in silence as the vote continued.

Isn't that touching? His friends surround him with hugs of support and murmured words of sympathy - the randy hypocrite! He should have a scarlet A embroidered on the lapel of every suit he owns. All these yoyos claim to stand up for Family Values, and the sanctity of the hearth, and all that jazz. And they wonder why their approval ratings are heading for Antarctica.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Democracy in Iran

I keep reading articles suggesting that President Obama isn't being forceful enough about Iran's election mess. Frankly, I think he's doing about as much as is reasonable. When it comes right down to it:
  • It's not our election. It's all Iranian, all the time.
  • We don't have any skin in the game. We don't even have formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
  • If he did want to act, what could he do? We can't send in the Marines - they're busy in Afghanistan.
The situation there is volatile enough without giving the theocrats any excuse to accuse Mir Hossein Mousavi of being backed by the CIA. There's plenty of history of CIA skullduggery in Iran - ask anybody in Teheran about Mohammed Mossadegh, who really was overthrown in a CIA coup in the early 1950s (after trying to nationalize the oil industry; some things never change).

We've all suffered in the last few years from the Bush administration's insistence on "exporting democracy." Democracy isn't something you can "export," like a crate of ball bearings. It's a delicately balanced series of agreements among the citizens of a country, and the version that exists in the U.S. and Britain now took centuries to develop. But while the English were fighting the Civil War, in the 17th century, asserting the right of the people over the monarchy, the Persians were ruled by the Safavid dynasty of Shiite shahs (some things really never change - details of Persian history taken from the timeline at From Ancient Persia to Contemporary Iran).

If democracy isn't exportable, though, it seems to be contagious; and I think the Iranians may have caught it. Not only have they just had an election, they're now furious because the election was obviously rigged. And that anger really is a democratic urge.

I wonder if the people in charge of those election results really thought anyone would accept them, when they're statistically so extremely unlikely. And I really wonder what the results of a fair count would have been. You never know - Ahmedinajad might have won. He might even have won by a wide margin. But we'll never know, because they decided to fake a result.

I wish the Iranians all the best; my heart aches for them, because the democracy in Iran right now is a paper label over a theocratic tyranny, and if they really want a democracy, they'll have to fight for it. But if they're willing to fight, they may just end up with a truly democratic Iran. Reuel Marc Gerecht, in a N.Y. Times op-ed piece (The Koran and the Ballot Box), thinks we may be seeing the start of "the final countdown on the Islamic Republic." I hope he's right.

Working for the Man

Pardon me while I indulge my inner curmudgeon. San Francisco Chronicle writer C. W. Nevius wrote a column the other day on the inability of a local clothing shop owner to get anyone to work for him on his terms - except illegal immigrants. The (presumably) solid American citizens only want to work for him on their terms: wanted to be paid under the table; unwilling to fold things, or dust things, as needed; unwilling to work on Saturday morning, or Friday night ("I go out on Friday nights"). The only people willing to come when he needed them, work until the end of the shift, and do whatever jobs came along, were the illegal immigrants.

I wouldn't take the column so seriously if this were the first time I'd heard this refrain; but it isn't. I heard a virtually identical lament a few years ago, when I was recovering from my second knee surgery. Home all day doing rehab exercises, I took a break to go outside and gab with the contractor who was remodeling my neighbor's house. (Did a nice job, too.) He said the same thing: he's tried to hire Americans and they won't work. They don't show up, or they don't stay, or they don't do the job the way he wants it. The workers who show up, work all day, and do what they're told to do as it's explained to them - are the people whose papers are, um, not in order.

The anti-illegal folks rant loudly about the way illegal immigrants are going to ruin this country. If Americans lose the will to do a day's work for a day's pay, we'll ruin the country all by ourselves. The illegal immigrants won't have to do a thing.

The whirring sound you hear is my dad, spinning in his grave. Dad worked from the time he was I think about fourteen; he didn't graduate from high school until he was 21 because he was working. He took any job he could get; on every job, he worked his hours, and did whatever they told him to do: sell shoes, make ice cream, chip paint, drive a forklift, supervise a crew, move furniture. After he retired from Federal civil service (he had a civilian support job for the Navy), he got another job doing cleanup at an auto body shop, just to get his Social Security quarters in; and by the time he was ready to retire again, they begged him to stay, because he did more work in a day than anyone else.

That work ethic is what built America; it's what won 2 wars and pulled the country through the Great Depression. It's what makes the international commentators say that Americans are the workingest fools on the planet, taking less vacation than anyone and working crazy overtime. I wonder. I realize I sound like a bunch of people I actually have very little in common with; but I was raised to believe that a regular paycheck was a contract, and my side of the contract was a solid 40 hours of work a week, in exchange. It sounds to me as if we may be losing that attitude. If we do, we'll regret it. And we may try to blame the resulting trouble on the Mexican immigrants; but it won't be their fault.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Touring the East

Having ranted (see last post), I want to share some of the oddities I noticed while traveling. We did an urban vacation this year - New York City and Philadelphia, separated by a few days in Cape May, NJ.

Given that it's almost impossible these days to get rare meat from a restaurant (they're all terrified of being sued for salmonella), why do the restaurants in the Atlantic coast states turn their air conditioning down so far you could hang meat in the dining room? They can't be afraid of it going bad, they've cooked it through. The weather was very muggy while we were there, mostly too warm to carry a jacket; and I'm still surprised I didn't catch a chill from the air in those restaurants.

This being the first time I've ever driven through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I had my first experience with Wawa. If you've been there, you know. It seems like a perfectly competent convenience store chain; but the name floored me. If you go to their web site and look at the Milestones section, you'll see the history and it actually makes sense: wawa is a Native American word for a Canada goose in flight. I foolishly assumed that Wawa, Pennsylvania was named after the firm, but I was wrong.

I was also startled to find that a dominant provider of gasoline in New Jersey is: Lukoil. When we drove down the Garden State Turnpike from New York to Cape May, Lukoil had the concession at practically every turnpike rest stop. With all the noise we hear about the U.S. energy companies, how did a Russian firm get to be so wide-spread in New Jersey? Wikipedia tells me that Lukoil bought Getty Oil in 2000 and rebranded some of the stations. I kept looking for Pikov Andropov.

WHAT is Going On?

I can't take a vacation these days without everything going to hell. I go out of town for a couple of weeks, and:
  • A whack job with a gun takes out the only 3rd trimester abortion provider in Kansas.
  • Another whack job with a gun goes to the Holocaust Museum and starts shooting, killing a guard who did him no more harm than to open the door for him.
  • Kim Jong Il tests another [deleted expletive] nuclear weapon, and fires off a couple of medium range missiles for good measure.
Listen, people, I want peace and quiet on my vacations! Can't I leave you alone for a minute?

On the murder of Dr. Tiller, I don't really have much to add to what others have said. The revolting hypocrisy of the Operation Rescue position is self-evident. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that they are paying for the defense; just a suggestion for investigating journalists, if there are any left. I'm disturbed but not surprised by Cristina Page's analysis (on HuffPo) suggesting that violence against abortion clinics and providers increases in inverse relationship to the president's position on the subject. No abortion providers were killed during the Bush administration.

On the guy at the Holocaust Museum (I really think it's dignifying these people too much to refer to them by name) - if we're going to allow every idiot to buy a gun, then we have to expect that once in a while, one of the idiots will shoot somebody. Frankly, it's the price of the Second Amendment. All you NRA types, are you happy now? This one was from left field - the perp had no criminal record. He falls in the same class as the jihadi suicide bombers; unstoppable.

And there isn't much you can say about Kim Jong Il.

OK, I'm back home now; you can all stop this. (I wish...)