November 16, 2015

As Seen on Facebook

Posted in Foolishness tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:37 pm by Doug Brockway


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Charles Lindberg
with Father Charles Coughlin and 2 others at Branson, Mo
December 8 at 10:00 PM


Franklin Roosevelt is the worst president ever!  At last we’re finally in it!  How could he NOT see Pearl Harbor coming?  Mein Kampf has been in print for years. The Reichstag was burnt, the Germans started making weapons, they took the Sudetenland, they took Poland, half of France and are bombing the hell out of London.  Why wouldn’t FDR lead like a real American?

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Jefferson DavisJefferson Davis and one other in Richmond, VA
June 30, 1863

It is SO wonderful to be sitting here, gazing over the James River, contemplating the upcoming victory for General Lee in Southern Pennsylvania.  He’s so measured, sure to win, never one to make a mad dash against an enemy secured in an advantageous position.  Besides, suppose he makes a mistake?  He’s human after all.  Who’s going to stop him?  Some pointy-headed academic from Maine?

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Facebook HeaderNeyMarshall Ney and 12,000 others
8:00 AM, Monday, June 19, 1815

Y’know, after Quatre Bras and Ligny The Emperor, “Nappy,” thought we had it sussed.  He thought the Brits and the Prussians were a buncha’ losers!  We were going to be drinking Burgundy in Berlin and eating Camembert in London! Well we all knew differently.  The last time he listened to ME was when he asked about the fastest route to Moscow.  How was I to know we needed to take a LEFT at Smolensk!


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JeffreysHarold Jeffreys, Charles Schuchert and countless others
Just about any time before 1965

What IS it with this guy Wegener?  Doesn’t he understand that the continents have always been fixed in place?  They don’t drift and move like so many dumplings in your soup?  The man should go back meteorology and work on predicting whether it’s going to rain on the picnic next Saturday….

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al-BaghdadiAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi and 15,000 others
May, 2016

Well, I certainly didn’t see THAT coming!  After all, the West is a nest of weak and shuffling infidels.  They can’t agree on anything except how to turn and run.  They even hide behind their drones, too cowardly to face us in battle… or so I thought… before we tried to make a run for Ramadi…

The 101st Airborne certainly is treating me well enough, for now.  They are impressive guys and I can’t get over how easily they made friends with the Spetznaz.  Hell, I thought the Spetzies would be on OUR side.  As it is I’m now only master of my own domain…Facebook Footer

December 10, 2014

Atul Guwande’s 12 Tweets on the post-9/11 Torture

Posted in Cognitive Dissonance tagged , , , at 10:22 pm by Doug Brockway

Twelve tweets from the great Atul Guwande on the medical ethics behind the post-9/11 Torture Offenses

December 10, 2014

1- The Senate CIA Torture Report reveals savage, immoral, utterly despicable practices by our govt. 

2- But the worst for me is to see the details of how doctors, psychologists, and others sworn to aid human beings made the torture possible.

3- The torture could not proceed w/o medical supervision. The medical profession was deeply embedded in this inhumanity.

4- It was doctors who devised the rectal infusions “as a means of behavior control.” (p100)

5- Doctors suggested the water temperature for waterboarding and use of saline instead of free water to avoid water intoxication. (p86, 419)

6- Doctors watched as stress positions inflicted pain, lacerations, and only stopped them when producing, e.g., shoulder dislocation (70)

7- Psychologists, who were supposed to stop damaging interrogation, actually served as interrogators. (72)

8- The Office of Medical Services provided consultation on when fractures and wounds were healed enough to resume torture. (p113)

9- The Office of Medical Services wrote guidelines approving up to 3 waterboard sessions in 24 hours per prisoner. (p87)

10- When torture caused Abu Zubaydah’s eyes to deteriorate, MDs only intervened to insure ability to see was saved to aid interrogation.(112)

11- Doctors found prisoners with broken feet and still approved putting them into standing positions for up to 52 hours (p112)

12- Doctors were long the medical conscience of the military. The worst occurred because gov’t medical leaders abdicated that role. (p87)

May 1, 2013

Still Just a Wedding Singer

Posted in Foolishness, Social Commentary, Useful day-to-day tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:44 pm by Doug Brockway

I’m on the road, alone in King of Prussia, PA.

This presents some dining challenges. Last night, on a recommendation, I went to a nearby “higher end” Mexican restaurant. Plaza Azteca was fine, not high end. The Dos Equis on tap made the meal.

Tonight, my GPS having not found the Chinese restaurant I aimed for I ended up here, at Seasons 52, a VERY busy very nice restaurant indeed. The wait for a table being 90 minutes I end up eating at the bar.

The upside includes my neighbors who know the place inside out, helpful with ordering…, but there’s this piano player…

He’s actually very good, for what he does but he can’t help overacting. St. George and the Dragonet (Thank you Stan Freberg) would take him in on a 412. Right now he’s singing Billy Joel’s Scenes song about Brenda-and-Eddie and he hasn’t pronounced the final syllable in a single verse, “in our Italian restauran'”….

Still, its not helpful to be truly good at something truly awful. A new neighbor, who it turns out also likes Furthur, and I got to talking. Imagine this very professional, passionate, lyrical, always on key Wedding Singer offering up his rendition of Jack Straw (Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy dow’…) or Uncle John’s Band (Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any mo’).

Right now out troubadour is singing about ju-ju eyeballs and toe-jam football and “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train…”


November 7, 2012

The Return of the Oracle of Delphi

Posted in Social Commentary tagged , , , , at 11:00 am by Doug Brockway

In Ancient Greece, well through the Roman Empire, leaders from around the Mediterranean World would travel to Delphi for a private session with the Oracle who would predict their futures.

In 21st Century America the oracle is shadowed by the pollsters and none bears a stronger social import than Nate Silver, he of the 538 Blog.  I happen to think the world of his work and his predictive skills.  That said, it seems to me the public has a very shallow understanding of what he does and what it means.

On the Monday before the election I listened to Ron Insana of CNBC dismiss Silver as “averaging” polls.  He doesn’t.  He uses poll data , along with other data about past elections, their polls by day, and the history of those polls as predictors by year, as input to a model that does calculations and runs scenarios showing how the competing candidates can reach the needed 270 electoral college votes.  That Insana, or Hannity or any number of other people confuse a weighted, historical model with an average suggests they are incompetent.

Silver never once says that any given scenario is the one we’ll experience when we actually votes.  He merely says how many scenarios there are, of what historical relevance, that suggest one candidate or another will succeed.  He’s suggesting the odds that one person or the other will win.  He’s also clear, the actual vote is all.

There’s a lot of mis-understanding and, by default mis-reporting of statistical information in campaign coverage.  During the return coverage I saw a report that said since the democrats had won senate seats in ME and CT that “makes it harder for the republicans to win an East Coast senate seat.”  If you’re going to use stats, take a stats class…. 1st, there is no causality one state to another in the same way a coin flip is 50/50 each time regardless of past flips.  2nd, some states report earlier than others, which does not cause the later REPORTING states to have voted one way or the other.  The analysts and reporters are confusing the fact that they had conclusive return data from CT and ME before VA’s returns were in with a causal relationship from one state to another.

But, people believe that because the Oracle Speaks the Oracle drives events.  This morning, on Facebook, I saw the following comments re: Silver. “If Obama wins, i’m buying Nate Silver’s book (not just taking it out of the library. THAT guy’s my hero.”  Fair enough.  Buy the book.  He didn’t CAUSE Obama to win.  He merely indicated how likely it was based on what the polls were saying.  Along the same lines in the same stream I saw, ” He deserves a Nobel, Pulitzer and Barrington Library Teen Room prize.”  Maybe the Pulitzer.  I dunno’ from the Barrington Library.  There’s no Nobel for statistical analysis.

There’s other nuttiness.  The president was shown by one set of analysts to have certain advantages regarding the voting trends for women, for women of a certain age, for women who are unmarried.  I saw nothing about for women who prefer Pinochle over Cribbage.  But, the reporting is of the “women are telling us” ilk.  They aren’t, any more than corporations are people with feelings who like to dance on Saturday night.  The aggregation of the actions of women have an impact and represent a trend.  Inside that aggregation are many points of view almost none of which, individually, match up to political analysts pigeon holes.

I happen to be happy that Obama won and that some real clowns did not win senate seats for the Tea Party.  But the Oracle didn’t make it happen.  Voters with ballots did.

May 14, 2012

On Mitt Romney and Greg Marmalard

Posted in Social Commentary tagged , , at 2:07 pm by Doug Brockway

The attack of the posse on John Lauber did happen so long ago, one hopes this isn’t the most telling thing we learn about Mitt Romney this year. It did happen, for good or ill towards Romney’s prospects, when he was 17. AND, it was “only a prank.”

That said, think of the prank in terms of the two models of the movie Animal House. A prank the Delta’s would pull would be self-destructive, if at all, a deliberate and likely riotous thumbing of their noses at those in power (is “power elite” a term that’s too loaded to use?). Romney’s prank is not of this type. His is the type of prank the members of Omega would pull. They ARE the power elite and their pranks reinforce that, creating failing grades for the Delta’s (however deserved) and demeaning the kid who cleaned out the horse’s stable.

Romney’s character may not have been as vicious as Neidermeyer, the ROTC bully destined to be shot by his own troops in Vietnam. No, his “prank” is more the style of Gregory Marmalard, Omega house president, student body president, rich kid, without an actual moral compass. He ended up in jail as a result of his future role as a part of Watergate.

Like all of the movie Animal House, Marmalard’s character is an exaggeration. Still, when I think of the prank and I think of Romney I think I know the type.

October 29, 2011

Parking Lot Science Comes to Analysis of the EuroZone Crisis

Posted in Economics, Financial Markets, Social Commentary at 9:56 am by Doug Brockway

There’s a joke about a drunk who drops and loses his car keys in a parking lot.  He then goes and looks for the keys under a street lamp not because it’s near the where he lost them but because that’s where the light is.  The point being that one should look for keys, or data and answers, where the keys are likely to be not just where you can easily look… or easily frame an issue.

This story came to mind while I was examining a decision tree developed by STRATFOR, a private intelligence company that was distributed by the renowned investor and analyst John Mauldin‘s weekly e-mail letter.  The decision tree examines what are the real likely outcomes that the Eurozone, and the rest of us, will experience as they wrestle with the sovereign debt crisis currently centered on Greece and its debt.

This is a chilly, scary, and as far as I can tell accurate representation of what’s to come.  I truly wish I knew what, if anything, I can practically do about it as an individual for my own account.  But, in addition to that, it occurs to me that this image is but one side of the coin and could easily have been laid out from an entirely different perspective.  Instead of asking “What to do about Greece?” the creditor, what if we asked “What to do about Sovereign Debt Lenders?”  That image might look like this:

Take it as a given that the standard story line about feckless Greek legislators making unwise deals with lazy workers and outdated unions is true and the individual Greeks have been behaving badly as Michael Lewis’ Boomerang might suggest.  My personal guess is that the image is overwritten.  My deeper point is that the lenders are not the naïfs here.  It is the lenders who have the years and years of financial experience, deep data, analysis skills and resources, …. and lawyers.

The negotiations in Europe have been slowed by how much of a haircut the lenders will take on the debt.  50% was the target this time and deemed too much by the lending community.  Think it through. If the lender’s bets are not written off the tax payers must come up with the difference.  Whether you look askance at bailouts as the Tea Party does or at the riches of the 1% as Occupy Wall Street does you have to wonder why Step 1 isn’t to wipe out the feckless lenders.  Of anyone, they knew what they were doing.

February 19, 2011

‘Splain Yourself on Taxes

Posted in Economics, Financial Markets, Social Commentary tagged , , at 11:14 am by Doug Brockway

Inspired by some snarky-serious commentary by Paul Begala about the Conservatives’ positions on taxes I recently challenged a friend from Louisville to “’splain Kentucky and its ‘leaders.’”  As Begala pointed out some of the leaders in the US Senate and Congress on the Republicans’ side of the aisle who are most vocal about the wasteful spending in Congress hail from a state that, “according to the Conservative Tax Foundation ….received $1.51 back from Washington for every dollar it paid in federal taxes.”  Begala suggests we start by aligning tax payments with tax benefits.

My friend’s less than on-the-point response about Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Paul Rogers (head of the House Appropriations Committee) was that “they are bringing home the bacon and taking advantage of a broken system.  Nevertheless, we would all be better off with lower taxes and less pork.”

Well, as a tacit observation, the Republican leadership on the issue of spending and taxes is not nearly, not remotely as principled as it claims… and that, of course, puts it in the same boat as what the Democratic leadership does on the same issues most days.

So far most of the debate about how to reduce the deficit has the air of a farce.  I happened to catch a bit of Real Time With Bill Maher last night (that’s a strange show…).  Strangeness aside he had a fantastic visual aid: a plate of fried chicken (thigh and breast), mashed potatoes, and a very little bit of vegetables.  The pieces of chicken were labeled Social Security and either Medicare or Healthcare, I forget, but you get the idea.  The potatoes were labeled Defense.  The small bit that was vegetables was everything else.  He said that the plate is the budget and we’re trying to reduce it then, picking up one of those mini-cocktail corn cobs and said, “but we’re spending all our time arguing about this.”

We can’t seem to get to sensible conversations.  My father, who was a published economist and, like me, had the more proper, left-leaning politics….  wrote years ago, late ’80’s/early ’90’s, that Social Security should be means-tested and the retirement age of 65 was too fixed and too young.  There are plenty of people on the Left who understand and agree with this.  Similarly, there are likely many otherwise politically forlorn and twisted people, you know, Conservatives…. who understand that the US spending as much on Defense as the next 20 or so countries combined is nuts.  Secretary Gates seems to see that.

Instead we’re grousing about funds for NPR and protecting the US Army’s program to advertise by supporting NASCAR.

It’s like a business executive bringing rampant spending under control by working through the priorities in an obscure corner of the corporation that consumes less than 5% of the budget.

What’s going on in Wisconsin is a related and classic example of some good ideas and some reaching too far.  Most people I know think that public pensions are too rich, earned too early, and too burdensome for their benefits or for the public good.  Get a little deeper into it and you can see that unless something like bankruptcy can be engineered for US States they’re in a very hard place.  Its fairly clear to me that public workers of all stripes will have to accept significant adjustments simply to bring them closer into alignment with the general public (though reports are that the unions in Wisconsin that supported the new governor are exempted from his laws…).

Why any of that means that individuals shouldn’t be allowed to get together for their common good is beyond me.  I understand the argument about an implicit labor monopoly and it’s not too convincing in the face of the right to free assembly and the right to congress.  Does that make for dicey discussions and grey areas?  Sure.  But I don’t understand the move to restricting individual rights as appears to be the aim.

I wonder how long the new governor in Wisconsin actually thought about not reducing taxes, which he just did on February 1, in the face of his budget calamity or actually trying to recover from Wall St. the billions stolen via the sale of fraudulently designed CDO’s, based on clearly flawed sub-prime mortgages that were sold to his state pensions thus accelerating their default status.  OK, I understand the second idea has its practical challenges (even though it’s morally sound…) but it’s quite a bit myopic to grind so hard on state workers as if they are the sole cause or sole solution to his woes.

As a former colleague often said, “no fools, no fun.”

January 12, 2011

Is “the new normal” about dim sum?

Posted in Economics, Social Commentary tagged , , , , , at 8:51 am by Doug Brockway

In a recent posting on the NY Times’ Economix Blog, Catherine Rampell wrote about “the new normal.”   Her post, “The New Normal is Actually Pretty Old” is about whether what is happening now is, in fact, as new as people say or just another, to-be-expected turn of economic cycles.

What I found interesting was two graphs she included in her post.  The first showed a Google Ngram of the use of the term “new normal” over the past 100 years.

What I saw was a rough alignment of the first major spike in the use of the term with the ascendancy of the US on the world stage.  Certainly the US was a dynamic and important economic power since soon after the end of the Civil War but US global impact in diplomatic and military influence began with Theodore Roosevelt and the Russo-Japanese War and our establishment as the world’s most dominant economy occurred through the first quarter of the 20th Century.

Look at the right hand side of that chart and think about Asia.  Think about China in specifics.

Its not clear to me that the 21st Century will be the Chinese Century though if you’re going to pick one new candidate they’d be a good choice.  What may have more legs is the 21st Century as the GLOBAL Century.  The chart above aligns not only with China emerging onto the global stage but with a widely discussed sense that we are more entwined, region by region than ever before.  If you do an nGram of China it peaks in the middle of the 20th Century.  Here’s the graph for “Global”:

Of course, it could all be piffle.  The right hand side of the chart is rather short.  Who knows what the future holds?

October 22, 2010

“Creativity Comes from Limits”

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:44 pm by Doug Brockway

I was pleased and surprised while listening to an interview of Jon Stewart of The Daily Show aired today on NPR’s Fresh Air.  While describing the day for the Daily Show staff, the creative process, Stewart said:

we have a very kind of strict day that we have to adhere to. And by doing that, that allows us to process everything and gives us the freedom to sort of improvise.

I’m a real believer in that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom, I think you don’t know what to do with yourself, but when you have a structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.”

I have long thought the same thing.  Its surprising how much resistance you can get from people who, for instance, design computer programs.  The less than insightful of them will complain of the constraints of standards and processes imposed by others.  I used to occasionally hear that from young artists (but the one’s I know are older now).

My reply has usually been to ask if Mozart or Beethoven was creative?  One might not like their music but few would argue that these were un-creative people.  Look at their symphonies as an example.  All symphonies have four movements:  Sonata, Rondo, Minuet and Trio, Sonata (OK, OK… not Beethoven’s 9th… The exception proves the rule).  Each of these types of music has a specific mathematical form.  You could follow it in a dull fashion (think Salieri) or with incredible imagination, as did Mozart and Beethoven and Brahms, etc.  By not having to invent the structure they were able to focus on the creativity of the theme, the pace, the counterpoint, the music.

Its easy to think of examples of creativity that have to do with throwing off the shackles of convention, form, process.  Always doing what we did before would prevent much of jazz music or contemporary art.  But limits, themselves, do not restrict creativity.  Quite often, most times, they’re the best thing for it.

October 16, 2010

Everybody’s Talkin’ [Past] Me…

Posted in Cognitive Dissonance, Foolishness, Social Commentary at 12:13 pm by Doug Brockway

It may be the political season, it may be the broader transition to “the new normal,” it may be that I’m increasingly a crusty som’ bitch, but it seems that I’m both watching and experiencing more and more conversations that aren’t.

Its a version of the classic Monty Python skit where Michael Palin pays for five minutes of an Argument but all he gets from John Cleese is contradiction.  Palin complains “an argument is more than simple contradiction!”  “No it isn’t” replies Cleese.  “Yes it is.”  “No it isn’t!”

In our house we recently finally upgraded to an HDTV and with that came access to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher.  Last night a Wall Street Journal reporter and the founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party had a similar “discussion” about how much money was involved in the “bailout” and whether it was larger or smaller than the money spent on the war in Iraq.  I happen to trust the Wall Street Journal on this arithmetic (Iraq War is MUCH larger) but what fascinates, or annoys, is how otherwise intelligent people went on for quite some time without remotely acknowledging anything the other had said.  No it isn’t.  Yes it is….

I know of a company just starting up that is having very emotional internal arguments about owner compensation.  All the management knows that early revenue is key.  Because of this one wants to pay owners commissions on sales to encourage early sales.  The problem is that the basic nature of capitalist business is that owners take risks of profits and loss.  They distribute the net, after tax profits that are left over at the end of the day.  It may be a small number.  It may be big.  THAT’S the owner’s incentive.   If you pay an owner commission on the way to net profits you’ve paid that person twice.  No you haven’t.  Yes you have.  No you haven’t!….

Here’s a less important example.  You can pull data from the web that shows that after 1918, after Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, and before The Great Comeback of 2004, even though the Yankees won WAY more World Series than their share the Red Sox still got to the World Series as often as the average team.  Boston fans say they hate the Yankees even though data shows its not the Yankees keeping the Sox from having a world championship in that stretch.  Yes it is.  No it isn’t….

I find myself wishing for discourse.  For the ability to actually explore an idea with someone or someones without it being an argument.  Barring that, an argument, “a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition” would be nice.

Unfortunately, too often you hear or find yourself thinking the equivalent of “Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous, pervert!!!”

And that’s just Abuse.  Arguments are down the hall in 12A…

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