Thursday, January 31, 2013

Education And Ignorance

I took a first crack yesterday at Governor McRory's attack on higher education in North Carolina. Make no mistake - that is what it was.

Concealed in his remarks about "butts in seats" was an apparent contempt for liberal arts education. Also embedded in his remarks is an erroneous thought that has been given wide credence: namely, that our present level of unemployment is the result of a mismatch between jobs available and personal skills of job applicants. This view seems to be widely shared across party lines. To correct unemployment, some contend,  we need only train more persons in the skills that are so desperately needed.

Unfortunately for the theory, there is no evidence to support it. Unemployment is uniformly high across all fields of endeavor. The problem is lack of aggregate demand, not a jobs-skills mismatch.

Of equal significance, CEOs uniformly complain, not about inability to find qualified employees, but that they can't find employees who can analyze a problem and write persuasively about it.

They are looking in the wrong place for skills like that. They should be seeking graduates of liberal arts colleges.

Brian Rosenberg explains in today's Huffington Post.

Elections And Democracy

Something to think about.

You can't have democracy without elections.

You can certainly have elections without democracy.

There are several schemes afoot to do just that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Battle Of Rennell Island, Phase II

Dawn on January 30, 1942, found Admiral Giffen's Task Force 18 on its way back to Espiritu Santo. Their mission had not been completed. They did not rendezvous with the destroyer division from Tulagi, as had been planned. The resupply ships unloaded their supplies on Guadalcanal without the protection of TF 18.

Apparently Giffen lifted radio silence, because the previous night's disaster was reported to Adm Halsey in Noumea. At Halsey's direction, the two escort carriers kept a combat air patrol (CAP) on station over Chicago and Louisville all night long. He also ordered Rear Admiral Frederick Sherman's Enterprise carrier group to dd more CAP aircraft from dawn to dusk.

Halsey dispatched the tug Navajo and the destroyer transport Sands to go to Chicago's assistance. That afternoon, Halsey directed Giffen to return to Efate with the remaining battle worthy ships, turn the towing duties over to Navajo and rely on CAP to defend Chicago. Giffen took with him on Wichita the force's only trained fighter direction officer (FDO). Chicago had no practical way to control the CAP sent to their defense.

Four Grumman F4F's from Enterprise spotted a Japanes scout bomber and chased it for 40 miles, leaving Chicago unprotected. Eleven Japanese Bettys appeared over the horizon.

USS Enterprise, now only 40 miles south of Chicago, directed a flight of six F4F's to intercept the bombers, which appeared headed for Enterprise. The Japanese bombers immediately reversed course and headed for Chicago, which they believed to be a battleship. They identified the destroyer La Vallette, still standing by the cruiser and tug as a "Honolulu-class" cruiser. About 4:20 pm, nine Japanese bombers appeared out of the clouds and made their final approach in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire.

At 4:24 one torpedo hit the starboard side forward, followed almost immediately with three torpedoes right where the ship had been hit the previous day. The captain ordered "abandon ship." At 4:43 pm the ship rolled to starboard and sank with her colors flying.

Navajo, Waller, Edwards and Sands picked up 1,069 survivors. La Vallette took one torpedo hit and survived.

Admiral Nimitz was irate when he learned that Chicago had been lost. He blamed Admiral Giffen. Giffens career survived, however, and he retired after the war as a Vice Admiral.

Chicago lost six officers and 55 enlisted men when the ship went down.

Chicago was the last ship lost in the struggle for Guadalcanal. By February 9, Japan had evacuated their last soldiers from the island.

This may have been the final "turning point" of the war. After this, Japan was fighting a rear guard action. The United States was busy replacing their lost ships, planes and sailors. Japan was not able to.

The cost of victory was high. For 2500 square miles of jungle, tall grass and sluggish rivers, the Allies had lost two fleet carriers, eight cruisers, 14 destroyers, numerous smaller vessels and aircraft, and over 6,000 lives: nearly 1600 Marines and soldiers, the rest - three times as many - Navy officers and men.

The cost of defeat was higher. Japan lost two battleships, a small carrier, four cruisers, 11 destroyers, and more than 23,000 men.

But they also lost any hope of victory.

Pat McRory: "Philosophy Is Bunk"

OK, that isn't exactly what Governor McRory said to a national audience yesterday, but it isn't far off. Gender Studies (one might say that is a subdivision of history with an admixture of other disciplines) is also, apparently bunk.

What is education for, anyhow? Governor McRory has a simple answer. It is about getting a job. So if a graduate doesn't find a job, education has failed, right? So we must revamp our system of higher education to make it into an elaborate vocational school.


The purpose of education in all places and all times has been to transmit our best understanding of the universe and how it works to the next generation. It is how society perpetuates itself. And how we expand our understanding of the cosmos, bit by bit and generation by generation.

Not everything we learn must lead to a job. Some knowledge is not primarily utilitarian. For example, all of our great universities began as places to study theology. Not directly utilitarian except for those seeking positions as clerics.

Take philosophy, which apparently arouses the governor's contempt. I took a look at UNC's description of the graduate curriculum in philosophy. It turns out that there are a number of sub disciplines. But all students must take courses in symbolic logic.

What is that good for?

Pretty much everything. Symbolic logic occupies the boundary between mathematics, science and computer technology.

How many jobs are there in the field? No one knows.

But great universities are research centers exploring and expanding the boundaries of knowledge.

Another way to think about universities is to think of them as agglomerations of knowledge and agglomerations of people who can expand our frontiers of knowledge.

North Carolina once was led by visionaries who saw the benefits of such an agglomeration as the Research Triangle.

That's a better foundation for economic growth and the future of our citizens than building a new factory.

Seventy Years Ago: Battle Of Rennell Island

The first six months of the war in the Pacific were fought mostly with ships, planes and men already in the Pacific when Pearl Harbor was attacked. They had been worked up to a high state of combat readiness by their fleet commander, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. Even after Kimmel was relieved of duty following the attack, the surviving forces acquitted themselves well.

The Pacific Fleet was hard pressed. They had lost four of their six large aircraft carriers in combat, and the remaining two, USS Saratoga and USS Enterprise,  were just returning from extensive repair.

Some Pacific Fleet assets had been diverted to the Atlantic for the invasion of North Africa. That invasion now over, ships were moving through the Panama Canal to reinforce the Pacific.


That was the good news. The bad news is that the ships, their officers and their admirals weren't accustomed to operating in the Pacific. Not only was the tactical challenge different from the Atlantic, there was a less tangible difference of attitude.

The Atlantic Fleet was a "spit and polish" outfit. The Pacific Fleet was more a "get the job done" operation. That was especially true of the aviators and submariners.

RADM Giffen's Formation

RADM Robert C. "Ike" Giffen, a favorite of Atlantic Fleet Commander Admiral King, had just arrived in the Southwest Pacific with heavy cruiser USS Wichita and escort carriers Chenango and Suwanee, all having just completed the invasion of North Africa.

Giffen had experience against German submarines, but none against Japanese naval air forces. He also had very limited experience operating aircraft carriers. The two escort carriers were slow. Converted oilers, they could make no more than 18 knots. Worse than that, the wind was from the southeast, opposite from the direction Giffen needed to go.

Giffen had no concept of Japanese naval skills at operating both warships and aircraft at night.

Giffen's task force of three heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, eight destroyers and two escort carriers left Efate January 29. Destination: Guadalcanal by way of Rennell Island. Mission: Support a four-ship resupply mission for the marines, then sweep up through the "slot" to find and destroy Japanese ships.

Giffen ordered radio silence. Japanese submarines and aircraft tracked the force from the time it left Efate.

Louisville Towing Chicago

Under the circumstances, strict radio silence made little sense. The ships used their air and surface search radars, which the Japanese could detect at about the same range as the UHF radios used for line of sight communications. Most importantly, this order prevented the cruisers from communicating with the aircraft launched by the carriers.

Early the afternoon of January 29, Giffen worried that he wouldn't be at his rendezvous point on time. He ordered the two carriers, along with two destroyers, to continue at best speed, while the remainder of his force increased speed to 24 knots, remaining in a formation designed to protect against submarines rather than aircraft attack. Steaming at that speed increased the force's self noise so greatly as to render the sonar used to detect submarines nearly useless. It also announced the presence of the task force out to almost as great a distance as UHF radios would have.

Shortly after increasing speed, radar operators on the cruisers began picking up radar blips of unidentified aircraft ("bogies"). The US radars were equipped with an IFF feature to electronically distinguish friend from foe, but operators deemed it unreliable. To find out whether the radar blips were friendly or hostile aircraft would have required fighter-director personnel to send aircraft from the carriers to visually identify the aircraft. But they couldn't do so because of radio silence.

Radio silence made no sense.

At sunset, Giffen ceased zigzagging his force and proceeded on a set course to his rendezvous. The bogies were about sixty miles to the west, approaching fast. They were in fact hostile, Japanese twin-engine land-based bombers, armed with torpedoes. The Bettys maneuvered around Giffen's force and attacked from the east, where they sky was dark, but with Giffen's ships silhouetted against the evening twilight.

Giffen's ships put up a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, and the first wave of bombers did not damage any of the ships. USS Louisville was struck by a dud torpedo, but there was no damage. Giffen issued no orders, and the force continued as before.

A second Japanese air group dropped flares alongside Giffen's cruisers in the moonless night. At 7:38 pm, the lead Betty crashed in flames off USS Chicago's port bow, brightly silhouetting the ship for the following aircraft.

One air launched torpedo hit Chicago in the starboard side, flooding the after fire room. Two minutes later, another torpedo hit at number three fireroom. Three of the ship's four shafts stopped turning, the rudder jammed, and soon the ship was dead in the water. Another torpedo hit the flagship Wichita but did not explode.

Chicago's crew managed to control flooding with the list at 11 degrees. At first, they had only electrical power from the emergency diesel generator. Soon they were able to relight one boiler and generate more electricity to use more powerful pumps.

Giffen ordered USS Louisville to take Chicago in tow. By midnight, The tow was underway at three knots, headed for Espiritu Santo.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Problems With Outsourcing

Boeing's vaunted new Dreamliner aircraft have all been grounded, with no prospects for flying again until its battery problems are solved.

Just an unforeseeable problem? Not according to New Yorker's James Surowiecky.

In a recent article, Surowiecky lays the problem at the feet of Boeing's bean counters.

This sort of thing has happened before in American industry. When General Motors was taken over by accountants instead of engineers, this started a long decline in quality which eventually drove the company to bankruptcy.

W. Edwards Deming, whose management techniques were adopted by Japanese auto manufacturers in the 1950's, had no problem with outsourcing. But he did have a problem with outsourcing based price. He especially did not like short term contracts with multiple suppliers, a particularly favorite of bean counters.

We have outsourced government functions, prisons, military operations, etc. all under the illusion that this will save money.

In Boeing's case, it demonstrably cost money. And reduced quality.

The whole approach needs another look at all levels of government and industry.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Should We Worry About Wind Farms And The Marines?

Today's County Compass reports a brouhaha resulting from a request by representatives of Cherry Point MCAS to appear before a joint session of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners to discuss wind farms. Commissioner Delamar, who has supported wind farms in Pamlico County, voted against the meeting. His was the only vote against it.

I plan to attend the meeting. I hope to hear from the Cherry Point representatives an informative discussion examining potential problems, including a technical explanation, along with proposed solutions. I want to see some empirical data backed by research. I would hope that an expert from NRL might appear. If the proposed solution is not to have wind farms in Pamlico County, I will be very disappointed.

One commissioner is quoted as saying "the Marine Corps deserve our respect just based on who they are." I share that commissioner's high regard for the marines. At the same time, I would hope that our marines are bending every effort to insure that we can share the land, sea and air space of Eastern North Carolina without precluding other future economic development in the region.

By the way, we should all recognize that effective alternate energy sources to replace the burning of fossil fuels is an urgent national security priority. In fact, the Department of the Navy (including the marines) has taken the lead in DOD in fostering alternate energy development.

I gather that the marines share a concern of a number of government agencies that wind farms present a particular challenge to radars, including air search and air control radars, including doppler radars for meteorology. The fundamental concern is radar clutter.

Clutter has been a major challenge for radar designers from the earliest days. Dealing with clutter has generated an alphabet soup of anti-clutter measures: STC, AGC, FTC, IAGC, MTI, frequency agility, circular polarization, Moving Target Detector, Pulse-Doppler Systems, and on and on. Clutter presents some of the same challenges as are presented by electronic and mechanical jamming.

Solving particular problems of clutter from wind farms may not be trivial, but is certainly surmountable.

The following is an executive summary of a 2008 report by The MITRE Corporation, one of our premier defense contractors with experience in this area.

Wind Farms And Radar

January 2008

The MITRE Corporation


"Wind farms interfere with radar. This interference has led the FAA,
the DHS, and the DOD to contest many proposed wind turbines in the line
of sight of radar, stalling development of several thousands of MW of wind
energy. A large number of such denials is a serious impediment to the nation’s
mandated growth of sustainable energy

"There is no fundamental physical constraint that prohibits the accu-
rate detection of aircraft and weather patterns around wind farms
. On the
other hand, the nation’s aging long range radar infrastructure significantly
increases the challenge of distinguishing wind farm signatures from airplanes
or weather

"Progress forward requires the development of mitigation measures, and
quantitative evaluation tools and metrics to determine when a wind farm
poses a sufficient threat to a radar installation for corrective action to be
taken. Mitigation measures may include modifications to wind farms (such
as methods to reduce radar cross section; and telemetry from wind farms to
radar), as well as modifications to radar
(such as improvements in processing;
radar design modifications; radar replacement; and the use of gap fillers in
radar coverage).

"There is great potential for the mitigation procedures, though there
is currently no source of funding to test how proposed mitigations work in
practice. In general, the government and industry should cooperate to find
methods for funding studies of technical mitigations. NOAA has an excellent
research plan, but no adequate funding to carry it out

"Once the potential for different mitigations are understood, we see no
scientific hurdle for constructing regulations that are technically based and
simple to understand and implement
, with a single government entity tak-
ing responsibility for overseeing the process. In individual cases, the best
solution might be to replace the aging radar station with modern and flexi-
ble equipment that is more able to separate wind farm clutter from aircraft.
This is a win-win situation for national security, both improving our radar
infrastructure and promoting the growth of sustainable energy

"Regulatory changes for air traffic could make considerable impact on
the problem. For example, the government could consider mandating that
the air space up to some reasonable altitude above an air-security radar
with potential turbine interference be a controlled space, with transponders
required for all aircraft flying in that space. This would both solve the
problem of radar interference over critical wind farms and would provide a
direct way to identify bad actors, flying without transponders.

"Current circumstances provide an interesting opportunity for improving
the aging radar infrastructure of the United States, by replacing radar that
inhibits the growth of wind farms with new, more flexible and more capable
systems, especially digital radar hardware and modern computing power.
Such improvements could significantly increase the security of U.S. airspace."

For what it's worth, in my opinion the Marine Corps needs to take the lead in getting this project budgeted. FAA, DHS, Air Force, Navy, DOD and perhaps some other agencies should chip in.

This is not an optional program. We urgently need more renewable energy sources. The cost of failure to control global warming and allowing the sea level to rise is incalculable. It is already threatening Norfolk, VA. Projected sea level rise of one meter later in this century will make my home unlivable - and those of many other Pamlico County residents as well. One meter this century may well be an underestimate.

There is no single silver bullet. We need to explore every avenue.

Not just for the residents of Eastern North Carolina, but for the marines as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Senate Reforms

The good news is that the United States senate adopted some reformed procedures to tackle grid lock.

The bad news is that the changes were pretty weak and unlikely to do the job.

I could be wrong.

But I don't think so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Specter Of Greed

There is a specter haunting America. Like many apparitions, it is also sometimes an object of religious devotion.

It is the specter of greed.

This specter is said by some to be in our own self interest. The reason why we are in the best of all possible worlds. It is why, we are told, we must exalt the "makers" (and facilitate their greed) and demean the "takers."

More than a century ago, the wealthy justified their greed by the authority of Darwinian evolution - the survival of the fittest. Now it is often justified by the revelations of Ayn Rand and her acolytes. But always there is a genuflection in the direction of Adam Smith and the "invisible hand," where "self interest" results in the greatest good for the greatest number.

What could be better than that?

But that isn't what Smith means, at all. What he really means is that the bargains that put dinner on the table, clothes on our backs and roofs over our heads, must be in the interest of everyone involved. Not a one-way bargain, "red in tooth and claw," but mutual bargains. Smith explains: “Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer, and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of” (WN I.ii.2: p 26)

Gavin Kennedy provides a fuller explanation here.

Bottom line: cooperation works better than compulsion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Eleanor Roosevelt's Diary

January 22, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt travels from Washington to Christen the new USS Yorktown. She christened the first one in 1936 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock. As Mrs. Roosevelt explained, Yorktown (CV-5) gave a good account of herself in the war, but was lost at the battle of Midway. Now she was to christen the second one, USS Yorktown (CV-10), the second new large aircraft carrier of the Essex class, also built at Newport News. Here are Mrs. Roosevelt's thoughts on that occasion about the US shipbuilders.

The second Yorktown  had a distinguished record in World War II, Korea, Viet Nam and in the Apollo program. She is still afloat, having been decommissioned in 1970 and in 1975 becoming a museum ship at Patriot's Point, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She is a National Historic Landmark.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: New Guinea

January 19, 1942, the Charlotte (NC) News reports news from New Guinea that MacArthur's forces have captured the Japanese stronghold of Sanananda on the north coast of Papua.

The report was only slightly premature. It was to take the Allied armies of the United States and Australia two more days to finally capture Sanananda, Buna and Gona. This effectively ended any imminent Japanese threat to Port Moresby, where the 27th Air Depot Group was hacking out a major aircraft repair facility from the jungle.

Casualties were more than twice as high as for American forces on Guadalcanal. One in eleven troops fighting in New Guinea died, compared to one in 37 on Guadalcanal.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gnomes Of Frankfurt

The Deutsche Bundesbank wants its gold back. At least they want back half of their gold reserves presently held by the New York Fed.

Will we soon be talking about the "gnomes of Frankfurt" instead of the "gnomes of Zurich?"

Do I hear echos of The Hobbit? "My precioussss!"

What is the Bundesbank up to? Economist Antonio Fatas wonders.

"I am really curious," Fatas writes,  "about what (doomsday) scenarios [Bundesbank Board member Thiele]...has in mind"  when he explains:"to hold gold as a central bank creates confidence. We build trust at home and have the possibility to exchange gold at short notice into foreign currency abroad."  Fatas asks what circumstances the Germans fear "where the gold reserves of the Bundesbank would become crucial to restore confidence. By the way, the gold reserves of the Bundesbank which at 130 Billion Euros are large compared to other central banks seem small compared to many other magnitudes that matter in financial markets, more so during crisis time. And I am assuming that these scenarios are catastrophic, otherwise why would gold be needed to buy foreign currency. And given that they are thinking that those scenarios are likely, is there anything that they are planning to deal with them?"

John Maynard Keynes is supposed to have observed ninety or so years ago, that "gold is a barbarous relic."

The "gold bugs" of his day and of our own have never forgiven him.

The Washington Post offers one possible explanation for the Bundesbank's action. The Post article also explains why such a move is quite rare. It turns out to be much easier to move some gold bars from one nation's cage to another cage to keep track of transactions than to ship the bars across oceans.

So the actual gold bars are used much like poker chips or other tokens.

The natives of Yap figured out a similar scheme long ago:

File:Yap Stone Money.jpg 

It turns out that stone tokens work just as well as gold bars.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How To Return To Full Employment (And Why It Matters)

I've been blogging on the subject of austerity and why it is a bad idea right now for a long time. It's hard to explain in ten words or less.

Now economist Robert Pollin has provided a pretty digestible explanation. Complete with illuminating graphs.

Worth a read.

Everyone in the political class, both US and European, should read it.

And act on it.

Now, now, now!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Debt Ceiling: Economic Experts View

What do economic experts say about the debt ceiling? IGM recently polled a panel of economists.

The question:  "Because all federal spending and taxes must be approved by both houses of Congress and the executive branch, a separate debt ceiling that has to be increased periodically creates unneeded uncertainty and can potentially lead to worse fiscal outcomes."

Eighty-four percent of the panel either agreed or strongly agreed. When the responses were weighted by economists' confidence in their responses, the outcome was ninety-seven percent.

In other words, economists overwhelmingly believe the debt ceiling makes no sense.

I agree.

Do We Want Outsiders Running The Town?

The question comes up because last Tuesday, with no advance notice and without including the change on the published agenda, Oriental's Town Board amended the Parks and Rec ordinance to allow non-residents to serve on the advisory committee. The amended ordinance also provided that the Town Board's liaison to the Parks and Rec Committee could vote in case of a tie. Previously, only the Tourism Board allowed non residents to serve.

You can read about the entire meeting here. Town Dock reported the Parks and Rec issue: "Parks & Rec Board and Residency
The Town Board approved appointing Pat Stockwell to the Town’s Parks and Recreation Board after changing that Board’s rules so that those who live out of Town can serve on the panel. The rules before this were that board members had to be residents or business owners in Oriental. Three of the five members will still have to be Oriental residents. Commissioner Barbara Venturi, the Board’s liaison to the Parks and Rec Board also asked that the rules change so that the liaison can cast a tie-breaking vote at Parks and Rec meetings. The Town Board approved that change as well."

I bring this up, because I have problems with the Town relying on advice of people who don't actually live here. I have heard rumblings in some quarters that we should not allow non-residents to serve on the Tourism Board. This change appears to go in the opposite direction and caught local citizens unprepared to consider and address the implications.

I know it is hard to recruit citizens to serve on advisory boards. We might want to make an effort to find out why this is so hard and what we can do about it before going outside the Town to find recruits.

I have reviewed North Carolina General Statutes and learned that we have the right to appoint non residents. Still, I think it is not good public policy.

I would prefer requiring appointees to all of our boards be qualified voters in municipal elections. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Panama Canal Expansion

During a senate debate on the Panama Canal Treaty in 1978, United States Senator S. I. Hayakawa of California argued, "We should keep the Panama Canal. After all, we stole it fair and square."

One argument opponents of the treaty used was the claim that Panama would never be able to manage the canal effectively.

That was then. Now, under the auspices of Panama, a massive project to triple the cargo capacity of the original canal is halfway completed. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

The project is truly international. "The 16 lock gates," The Washington Post reports,  "some weighing 4,000 tons, were designed by the Dutch and built by Italians. Beginning next month, they will be lifted onto a barge by Belgians and shipped by South Koreans to Panama in a project managed by the French."

The United States is almost nowhere to be seen. Which doesn't mean we will be unaffected. Ports on the US East Coast, including New York City, Baltimore, Norfolk and possibly Savannah and Miami are being modernized to handle the larger ship sizes allowed by the expansion.

The modernization may even improve mobility of the U.S. Navy. Since completion of the USS Essex class of aircraft carriers at the end of WWII, aircraft carriers have been too wide to transit the canal. This will no longer be a problem after adding new channels 180 feet wide.

The expanded canal is expected to open in April 2015, The original canal opened in 1914, a bit more than a century earlier. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ways To Learn

"There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

Will Rogers

I put the climate change deniers in the third category. And also the sea level rise deniers. 

Scratch The Platinum Coin Idea

“Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” a spokesman for the US Treasury said today.

No detailed explanation was provided.

Economist Tim Duy explains, in essence, that the reason is not that the scheme wouldn't work - the reason not to do it is that it would.

Duy explains: "Bottom Line: The platinum coin idea was ultimately doomed to failure because neither the Federal Reserve nor the Treasury could allow for even the remote possibility it might be successful. Its success would not just alter the political dynamic by removing the the debt ceiling as a threat. The success of a platinum coin would fundamentally alter the conventional wisdom about the proper separation of fiscal and monetary policy and the need to control the debt immediately."

The explanation is a little complicated, but Duy spells it out here. In essence, when interest rates are at zero and the monetary authority can't make them any lower and the economy persistently stagnates, there is NO DIFFERENCE between money and debt. And there is no reason to feel any urgency about reducing debt right NOW, NOW, NOW.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Long Live The Hogettes!

The Hogettes have retired! Long Live the Hogettes.


It has been three decades. Thirty years ago the Washington Redskins' front line was christened "The Hogs," in honor of their blue-collar dedication to effective blocking, getting their snouts down in the mud if necessary.

ESPN's web site reports, "The group of male fans who have cheered on the Washington Redskins for three decades while wearing dresses, floppy hats and pig snouts announced Friday that the group is retiring."

The whole story is here on the Hogettes' web site. 

To put the story in perspective, when the Hogettes were organized, there was no web and no web sites.

For that matter, hardly a fan is now alive who remembers that famous day and year.

Mile 181: Fourth Anniversary

I just noticed that today, January 11, 2013, is the fourth anniversary of my first post on Mile 181.

In January, 2009, I was beginning my second year as a Town commissioner.

I had by then been accused of conspiring in secret with other commissioners to modify town ordinances, most notably the noise ordinance. In fact, I had been scrupulous in discussing any public issue with other commissioners one at a time, rather than with two or more. The open meetings act plainly precluded negotiating with enough other commissioners to constitute a majority. So I didn't do that.

It occurred to me that nothing in the Open Meetings Act prevented me from making my positions on issues known to the public at large. I decided that a blog might be a good way to do that.

I started my blog in January, 2009. Here is my first post, explaining my take on the noise problem and my approach to solving it.

In the end, the Board of Commissioners passed a noise ordinance containing a measurable, objective standard. I would have liked it to be a bit more stringent, but when doing the people's business, you have to persuade a majority of the governing body to vote your way. Sometimes that requires more trimming of sails than one might prefer, but compromise is the price of success and the greatest challenge.

I make no apologies for the ordinance.

The ordinance is probably the main reason I wasn't reelected.

I note that subsequent Boards of Commissioners haven't repealed the ordinance.

I also note that I now have occasional readers on every continent. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Campaign Expenses - Nothing New

Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.

Will Rogers

Debt Ceiling Blather

We got by the "fiscal cliff" without too much damage, though I think the agreement between the administration and the Republicans is damaging enough under the circumstances. The recovery is not yet self sustaining and any reduction in aggregate demand will not help. Right now we need more, not less government spending.

But cheer up - things could be worse. (As the old joke says, "so I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse!") Some Republicans are gearing up for another drive toward the cliff of default, the debt limit.

Let's be clear. The debt limit has nothing to do with controlling spending. That is done by Congressional action on taxes and appropriations. When the Treasury borrows, it only does so to pay the nation's bills already authorized by Congress. The debt limit makes no sense, and should be abolished.

Here are some thoughts by eminent economists the last time this reached crisis proportions. I share those thoughts.

But there is a new idea: the platinum coin. The Treasury would mint one or more platinum coins in very large denominations and deposit them with the Fed. It would then draw on those deposits to pay its bills. Paul Krugman explains the scheme.

Sound crazy? No more crazy than Congress telling the administration how much money to spend and what to spend it on; how much tax to raise and how to raise it, and then erect a barrier to actually paying the resulting bills. Now THAT's crazy!

It also violates a key provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, included with the precise reason of preventing Congressmen representing states of the former Confederacy from preventing the federal government from repaying loans that financed the Civil War. Now it is mainly the descendants of those former Confederates who are pushing the debt ceiling ploy.

I prefer the Constitutional route of telling these economic terrorists to go fly a kite. End this debt ceiling nonsense forever. My second choice is the platinum coin route.  The problem I see with that is, the Treasury's authority to strike platinum coins can be removed by legislative action.

Constitutional amendments are harder.

Just do it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hottest Year On Record: Inhofe

NOAA says 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States.

"The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that hasn’t occurred since the government began keeping such records in 1895"

While the hottest year was underway, Senator James Inhofe of my home state of Oklahoma and home town of Tulsa, published his new book:

The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future [Hardcover]

Senator James Inhofe (Author)

I think Inhofe should simply introduce legislation limiting temperature rise. That might hold off the drought in Oklahoma. How about a "sense of the Senate" resolution?

Perhaps he can collaborate with the North Carolina General Assembly who legislated limits to sea level rise.

If worse comes to worse for the environment, we can always retrain polar bears to hunt land animals. Just think how great it will be to have a year-round, permanent Northwest Passage.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Another Look At Fiscal Cliff

Several sources have taken a closer look at the "fiscal cliff" deal. It sure looks like it included a few "bridges to nowhere."

Here's a good rundown by Jim Hightower of Texas.

My own assessment of the "American Taxpayer Relief Act" is that it could easily have been worse. But what we really need to worry about is jobs, not the deficit.

Unemployment caused the deficit, not the other way round. The deficit increase is mostly a result of unemployment, and the resulting activation of safety net programs, otherwise known as "counter cyclical" measures.

In other words, at the present time, the deficits are a feature, not a bug.

Here are some links to other articles:

"From NASCAR to rum, the 10 weirdest parts of the 'fiscal cliff' bill,", January 2, 2013.
"Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR,", January 2, 2013.
"Fiscal Cliff Deal Extends Measure Making It Easy For Wall Street To Avoid Taxes,", January 3, 2013.

150 Years Ago: Yes, The Civil War Was About Slavery

Nearly sixty years ago, my American History professor lectured on all the other things besides slavery that might have contributed to the Civil War.

I was never persuaded that Americans went to war over protective tariffs.

I was persuaded, though, that northern Republicans fought for the Union, not to free the slaves, until perhaps after the Battle of Gettysburg.

No longer.

The New York Times' series "Disunion" has documented the centrality of slavery to the Civil War from the outset.

In a recent post in that series, Professor James Oakes of CUNY thoroughly lays that issue to rest. Not only did influential Republican voices clamor for the end of slavery, most of the incidents used to demonstrate Lincoln's purported reluctance to free slaves turn out to reflect quite the opposite - his determination to end slavery.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: VT Projectiles Shoot Down Japanese Dive Bomber

January 5, 1943. Task Group 67.2 (Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth) bombards a Japanese airfield and installations at Munda, New Georgia, Solomons Islands. After the rest of Task Force 67 joins TG 67.2, Japanese planes attack the force, just missing light cruiser Honolulu (CL 48) and damaging New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles, 18 miles south of Cape Hunter, Guadalcanal. In the action, light cruiser Helena (CL 50) becomes the first U.S. Navy ship to use 5 inch/38 caliber Mk. 32 proximity-fuzed projectiles in combat, downing a Japanese Aichi Type 99 carrier bomber (VAL) with her second salvo

This was a major technological triumph. These 5-inch projectiles contained a tiny radio proximity device, essentially a miniature radar, which caused the projectile to explode if it came close enough to the airplane to do damage. This system, under development since mid-1940, was a vast improvement over the mechanical time fuze previously used against aircraft. It also replaced contact fuzes that had to actually hit the aircraft to explode.

To conceal the purpose of the projectiles, they were designated as "VT-Fuzed projectiles" (Variable-Time fuze).

The story of development of the proximity fuze is detailed here in an article on the Naval Historical Center web site.

The greatest challenge was to ruggedize the miniature electronic tubes used in the circuitry back in the day before transistors.

Mark 53 Proximity Fuze

Friday, January 4, 2013

On Cabals

Some years ago, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton asserted that a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" had targeted her husband, President Bill Clinton.

In today's New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan stimulated a better word: "Cabal." I like "cabal" for the purpose. Cabals don't have to be vast in order to be effective.

Wikipedia explains: "A cabal is a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests in a church, state, or other community, often by intrigue." Wikipedia elaborates: "The term can also be used to refer to the designs of such persons or to the practical consequences of their emergent behavior, and also holds a general meaning of intrigue and conspiracy. The use of this term usually carries strong connotations of shadowy corners, back rooms and insidious influence; a cabal is more evil and selective than, say, a faction, which is simply selfish; because of this negative connotation, few organizations use the term to refer to themselves or their internal subdivisions."

Egan didn't use the word "cabal" in his column. Instead, he referred to "a knot of Tea Party extremists who will never consider a fresh idea and a House Speaker whose notion of compromise is to tell his Democratic counterpart in the Senate to commit an unprintable act. For John Boehner, his profane shout-out to Harry Reid passed for a New Year’s toast." It was one of Egan's readers who suggested that "cabal" is a better word than "knot" for the phenomenon.

I agree with the reader. For many years now, a small group of extremely wealthy individuals, most of whom got their money the old-fashioned way  (they inherited it) and who don't actually make anything but deals, have put their extreme wealth on the scales to change the rules that served the country well until the early seventies.

These are people who show nothing but disdain for Americans who actually work for a living. And they have proven adept at using intrigue to take resources from workers to line their own pockets.

That's the real story behind the "giant sucking sound" candidate Ross Perot talked about twenty years ago. Not the giant sucking sound of jobs fleeing to Mexico but of capital and jobs fleeing to China and India.

How can American workers (of all different-colored collars) counter  this trend?

Get smart! Vote for jobs.

When everyone is back to work, get control over the banks and other financial institutions.

Uncloak the cabal.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Who Benefits

Income Gains

Rising Tide Used To Lift All Boats - Now It Lifts All Yachts

Who Pays?

Nice Chart From Ezra Klein's WonkBlog. I think there is an error in the legend: "20-60 percentile" should be "20-40 percentile."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cui Bono?

I may yet comment on the good news/bad news about the "fiscal cliff."

Sometimes a Latin phrase delivered with a lifted eyebrow can suffice:

"Cui Bono"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reflections On The New Year

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”  

 William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

“For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Others  

Reflections on the past and on the future.  What are the chances of a clean break with the past?

Not high. Mark Twain put the matter in perspective:

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."