Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time for the spring musicals!

where the wind comes sweepin'
down the plain....

Where the wavin' wheat
it sure smells sweet....................

I''m just sayin''

Tom King


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There's Polarization and There's Polarization...

The nation needs to move from polarization to healthy debate that includes a live-and-let-live spirit, Hodding Carter III told an audience at Southeastern Louisiana University last fall. Carter, the former assistant secretary of state during the administration of President Jimmy Carter complained that consensus building has “fallen out of fashion”. Carter sings the same song as the choirs of Obama supporters have been singing for the past 100 days. They decry the rock solid opposition to Obama's policies by conservative commentators, politicians and tea party guests, dismissing the loyal opposition as merely 'polarization' in the same sneering tones they reserve for bass fishing, deer hunting and head lice.

By healthy debate, they seem to mean 'we talk, you listen and then vote the way we tell you to. Here at the end of Obama's "historic" first 100 days, under the leadership of the 'Great Consensus Builder', the country faces a future so far in debt that our great grandchildren will be paying it off after we've moldered away to potting soil. He leads a nations so divided that we've got governors talking about secession. AND, there's been a run on ammunition in the heartland that has so frightened homeland security that Christians, hunters, veterans and NASCAR fans are being considered potential terrorists.

It was a conversation with the owner of a local gun shop on the subject of ammunition that jerked me up short today. The man has a contract with a sport shooting club to supply ammunition to its members. In February, he ordered $100,000 worth of 38, 45, .223 and .308 caliber and 357 magnum shells. One day before May, he still hasn't received his ammunition. The ammunition is already sold. He's losing money and his ammo suppliers are telling him the factories are operating round the clock. In checking with East Texas guns shops (and even Wal-mart), it appears there just isn't any ammunition being shipped. Even the sales people can't tell us why, only that the factories are making it as fast as they can.

I'm not paranoid by nature, but after the post election rush on ammunition in 2008, you'd have thought ammunition suppliers would gear up to meet the demand. American manufacturers are pretty good at that sort of thing. So what's the holdup?

Part of it is that in the first quarter of this year, gun shops sold the equivalent of a year's worth of ammo to gun owners who fear new taxes and restrictions on gun ownership. Some ammo factories are running 24 hours a day. In addition, US troops are firing something like a billion rounds a year which also cuts into the supply back home.

Man! I should have invested in ammo instead of silver and gold. I could make a fortune if I were sitting on a thousand bucks worth of 45 and 38 shells right now. The shortages are beginning to drive prices up! I'm betting that there will soon be a huge black market for ammunition in this country and the folks running it won't just be unsavory guys from Morroco with French accents. Some of them will be wearing bib overalls and driving 20 year old pickups.

What nobody is saying out loud is that this country appears to be arming for a war. We haven't seen this level of polarization since before the Civil War and those of us who paid attention in history class instead of lying face down on our desktops in a puddle of drool, have a proper horror of what that could mean.

And, if either side of the political spectrum thinks that if things fall apart they'll get absolute control of the whole military, they should remember that Robert E. Lee was invited to command the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln himself.

Turned him down too!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating secession, armed revolt or even a Ghandi-style civil disobedience, even though those last two paragraphs I wrote will likely get me placed on Secretary Napolitano's terrorist watch list. I'll find out when I try to fly up to visit my sister-in-law in Seattle. If I get pulled into an interview room by the FBI, my Sweet Baboo is going to be very unhappy with me.

As Marcellus told Hamlet, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

But they're putting up this nice picture in Union Square in New York to commemorate the end of the first 100 days of this historic administration. This painting was done by a guy that really likes Obama. Now, this ought to unite everybody real quick-like! Ya' think?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spaghetti Sauce, Ranch Dressing and the Myth of the Ultimate Banjo!

The Non-Paradox of Choice

I like my music eclectic. I like to choose what I listen to and there's really not a good radio station out there that plays what I want to hear. I like talk radio and Pandora on the Internet that lets me listen to what I want to hear. Imagine to my surprise to discover that all this ability to choose what I want, whether it's radio or spaghetti sauce is making me miserable. Who'd a thunk it?

I watched a couple of TED speeches this morning on the subject of choice. Now, you would assume that choice is a good thing. In fact, if you support “choice”, you apparently are a good solid liberal.

Well, not necessarily.

Choice is "not necessarily" a good thing according to Barry Schwarz, author of “The Paradox of Choice”. Barry, an avuncular commentator, who gave his talk wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers, disagrees with the great Western belief that the way to maximize happiness is to maximize freedom and that the way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.

Now already, Barry has got on my wrong side by giving a speech in the same clothes he wears to mow the yard. I hate avuncular, possibly because I’m avuncular myself and other avuncular pundits steal my thunder! How can I be a loveable oddball if everyone else is going to be a loveable oddball!

Next Barry gets further on my bad side by telling me that too much choice makes me unhappy.

What old man? Have you been drinking? I love choice. Choice makes me deliriously happy. Give me 10 varieties of everything and I get this contented goofy smile that makes my wife wonder what I’m up to. When I was a kid, for instance, there were just two kinds of salad dressing. Miracle whip and that orange French stuff. I remember when Thousand Island first appeared. They didn't want to stray too far, though. They called it Thousand Island French so we wouldn't be confused. Then Bleu Cheese came along and that was interesting. Then, finally the king of all salad dressings hit the shelf---- RANCH! We thought we had died and gone to salad heaven!!! But according to Barry Schwartz, all those 176 varieties of salad dressing make me unhappy because no matter which one I pick it will never come up to my expectations.

I’m sorry, Barry, but if I pick up a bottle of Kraft Buttermilk Ranch or Ken’s Ranch, either one, then I’m gonna be very happy. Now, if the only Ranch dressing out there were Hidden Valley, I’d be much less happy - too much pepper, I think. But, the wonderful thing is that there are also people out there who like Hidden Valley or some other brand of Ranch (or one of the 20 brands of vinaigrette, 7 brands of French and dozens of other interesting choices).

Barry takes us next to the electronic store and complains that there are over one million possible combinations of components you can buy to create your home stereo system. Poor Barry says he’s going to regret his choice whatever he chooses because his expectations for perfection in sound are just way too high. He figures we'd all be much happier with just one choice like in the good old days when you bought one of those clunky console radios or you didn't buy any radio at all. Apparently we were happier in those days.

Well I lived back then and nope! Wasn't happier. It actually hacked me off that the corporate radio makers had so little imagination. I saved my nickels and bought the first transistor radio that hit the Woolworth Store. When the Gibson's Discount center came to town, I became a devotee of their electronics section. When Wal-Mart went up, I thought I'd died and gone to home stereo heaven. I don't know if I assembled the best stereo ever, but my mother kept making me turn it down, so I figured I'd done well enough! Only a sociology professor from Swarthmore College could be such an obsessive naval gazer that he couldn’t pick out a stereo he likes because there were too many components to choose from.

Then, of course, there's the moral of this sad tale. Barry ends by pointing out that the truly happy are those whose choices are so limited, that anything new will make them ecstatically happy. From there he draws the (leftist) conclusion that since most of the world is poor and has limited choice and we have too many choices in the wealthy West (and by his definition - therefore incapable of being happy), we should (surprise) redistribute our wealth to the world's poor countries thereby making them happy and us happier too now that we’re rid of all that pesky money that gave us all those choices.

Schwartz’s assumption that making us poorer will result in our being content is just plain goofy. I suggest, that instead, we reduce the salaries of Swarthmore sociology professors so they instantly have fewer choices. It ought to make them happier, huh? Then when Barry goes to the store, he doesn’t have so many choices – the Value Time brands offer far fewer varieties of salad dressings and since he wouldn't be able to afford the expensive stuff – voila! His expectations for satisfaction would thus be lowered. I do believe that Barry will be happier because some of the Value Time products are quite better than you would expect. So Barry would have every chance of happiness and we wouldn't have to wreck our economy to improve his outlook!

If it doesn't work, Barry, you might try anti-depressants. Wal-Mart has some really good ones for $4.

The other lecture I listened to was by Malcolm Gladwell who talked about Howard Moskowitz’s experience with consumer choice and spaghetti sauce. Gladwell to my surprise disagreed with Doc Schwartz. Gladwell talked about how Dr. Moskowitz did market research for food companies and discovered the principle that there is no universal best choice for anything. Marketers had for years been asking the wrong question.

Instead of which spaghetti sauce was best, the question they needed to ask was “Which spaghetti sauces were best.” Note the plural. Turns out people didn’t like just one type of sauce. When Moskowitz finally asked the right questions he found that consumer preferences actually fell into 3 to 6 clusters (like thin old world, cheesy and chunky).


People like different varieties of things! Who would have guessed? Variety makes us happy? Wonder why that is? Have you ever looked around at the world? There are oceans, deserts, plains, mountains, rolling hills and rivers. Look at just the flowers - the infinite variety of them. Animals, plants and minerals abound in spectacular array. If we are truly made in our creator’s image, then it’s little wonder that variety makes us happy.

Schwartz is wrong. Variety does not make us unhappy. We make ourselves unhappy. The lust to have the most, the best, the greatest is what makes us unhappy. Schwartz and his ilk are constantly looking for the perfect answer, the best system, the ultimate government that will make everyone be content with their lot in life.

Barry gave it away the problem, though, when he talked about how no matter what we choose, it’s never enough because we expected to have the absolute best and didn’t get it. There is no absolute best, Barry! It’s a false premise! Is there a best flower in the world? No, only millions of wondrously beautiful flowers. Is there a best vacation? Nope, only trips to the mountains, to the sea, to historic sites that are wonderful and fun each in its own way. Maybe you love going to Vegas. I didn't much care for it.

If in your life you must have the most, the best, the absolute greatest, whether it be things or prestige or power, then you WILL be miserable whether you have many choices or no choices at all. If in your quest to have it all, you’ve realized you never will, then it makes perfect sense that you would then want to spoil it for everyone else. Those who have more than you must have less or you cannot be happy! At least if you can get people to accept this redistribution of all the wealth thing, then everyone will be ‘equal’ and then you can stop worrying that you didn’t get as much as someone else.

My grandmother who was raised in a racist culture once told me she didn’t mind if black people were equal to her, it only bothered her if they thought they were better. The truth was, it bothered her if they were richer than she was too. I didn’t understand that then, but I have come to see that those who long for power, prestige and place are always discontented if they imagine that anyone else has got a better deal than they did. They can never be happy unless they have a sufficient number of folks they can look down on.

If they can’t have that, at least no one should be better than they.

On my banjo hangout website, unfortunately Dr. Schwartz's theory seems to play out.  All the wondrous variety of banjos and banjo styles seems to cause some folks a lot of dissatisfaction and downright unhappiness. Guys are always fighting over which banjo is best or which style is correct. Why? I think I have an answer.  I think it's about why we choose.

There are two kinds of people in the world I believe.  Givers and takers.  Givers believe they are here to serve others.  Takers believe they are here to get as much as possible while they are here.  They expect to have the best of everything - the best stuff, the highest position, the most power.  They are unhappy when they do not get the best of whatever it is.  They feel like they have failed.

So for them it is true.  They are happier when there are fewer choices.  That way they can make sure they get the best.  Then they are happy because they have manufactured evidence that they are better than others.

It explains why socialists claim to want everyone to be happy and content and yet persist in creating monochromatic societies where everyone is equally miserable. They talk about choice and then give us only one party to vote for and one leader. Think how happy we'll be to actually get a pair of shoes after waiting an hour and a half in line - no matter that they are all one color, style and not available in your size. After all, you have a pair of shoes when before you didn't. Be happy!  Of course, then they exempt themselves from being like everyone else and build a dacha in the country and sip champagne and nibble caviar while they congratulate themselves that everyone else is not equal except, of course, themselves.

For those of us who follow Christ, capitalism doesn’t cause us distress when we have too many choices. We're happy if others do well (or even better than we). We believe if we do well, we should share with others. It doesn’t bother us if there are those who don’t share their wealth. That's between them and God. They are not our responsibility. It is only important that we are kind and share with others. It’s why in cultures that have a significant proportion of practicing Christians, you find they literally pour money and aid into poorer countries. In the United States, everyone, rich, poor or middling gives more foreign aid to the world than the US government does.

A majority of Americans are NOT unhappy socialists. So why should we turn our government over to people who believe that they are unhappy because they have too much choice and can’t be sure they have the best of everything and want to make us all equally poor and restrict our choices so we’ll be grateful for what little we have. Henry Ford once said that his customers could have any color Model T they wanted as long as it was black. That worked so long as Ford Motor Company was the only game in town. Once he got a little competition, people started getting new colors for their cars. Ford was a progressive socialist pioneer. Of course Old Henry only liked socialism as it applied to the masses. He'd really have squawked if you'd tried to apply the same principles to the great man's own lifestyle, but then the folks who advocate universal misery expect the masses to give them extra stuff, a higher position and more power as a reward for their outstanding leadership.

I'm thinking we're better off with capitalists like Moskowitz and Gladwell who are out there busily trying to figure out what kinds of things make us happy so they can make it available to us in more abundance? I have no interest in governance by people who want us to have only one or two TV stations. I like that we have 157 channels and I don't care if Bruce Springsteen thinks there's "nothin' on".  I always find something because I don't have to watch the best show, just something I like.

For me it’s like choosing between an all you can eat $5.95 buffet with tons of choices versus one of those little places where you pay $100 a plate and the chef tells you what to eat and shrieks at you if you ask for some ketchup!  For me, it's a no-brainer, but then I don’t need the ego boost you get from being able to afford to pay a couple hundred bucks to be told what I like to eat.

Don't like socialism for the same reason!

Me, I'm glad there are banjos I can't afford and styles of banjo I can't play yet.  How cool is that?  And when I stand at the Baskin Robbins counter, I know that whichever of the 31 flavors I get, my mouth is going to be very happy.  So, don't be telling me there's only one best banjo and one best playing style and that having fewer choices would make us happier.

It would be like God only making one kind of flower.

How boring would that be?

Just one man’s opinion…..
Tom King

Friday, April 17, 2009

I, Polluter!

Today I am a polluter. To paraphrase Voltaire, "I breathe, therefore I pollute."

Today the Environmental Protection Agency in its infinite wisdom, has declared that Carbon Dioxide, good old CO2 is a pollutant and a health hazard for all Americans. As a result of this ruling, the EPA has given itself the power to regulate anything that produces carbon dioxide no matter whether the Congress approves anti-CO2 legislation or not.

Wait a minute. Didn't I read in my 8th grade science book that plants need CO2 to live?

So is the EPA going to get rid of CO2? Are the plants going to die? Are they afraid that excess CO2 will make the plants grow faster? Are we in danger of being overwhelmed by angry masses of carbon dioxide sucking vines? Are intoxicated trees going to uproot themselves and come after us, drunk on all this extra CO2 we're generating.

"Wait a minute!"

Didn't I read in my 9th grade Biology book that people breathe out carbon dioxide whenever we breathe? So, I AM A SOURCE OF POLLUTION WHEN I BREATHE?

Does this mean that now the EPA is going to regulate me? What's next?

Are we going to ration exhaling? I know, we'll do it like they did during the Carter Administration. If you have an odd numbered social security card you can only exhale on odd numbered dates. If you have an even numbered social security card you only get to exhale on even numbered dates.
If you're an illegal alien, you get to breathe whenever you want since your social security card is a fake anyway!
That ought to clear out the riff raff!
I'm just sayin'...
Tom "Breath of Death" King

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Inexpensive Anti-Piracy Policy That Will Work!

Okay, how 'bout this for dealing with the problem of piracy against US ships. It's cheap, easy to set up and doesn't require a lot of resources.

1. Place two ships in the Somali corridor, one at each end.

2. Put a bunch of heavily armed seals on board both ships.

3. US flagged merchant ships swing by one of the ships as they enter the Somali corridor and pick up one heavily armed Navy Seal.

4. The Seal travels aboard the cargo ship for a small fee paid to the US Navy.

5. Somali pirates approach the ship, the Seal unlimbers a 50 caliber sniper rifle and picks off pirates as they approach and finishes by putting a few rounds through the bottom of the boat. If the pirates are more heavily armed, the Seal unlimbers an anti-ship rocket and blows up all of the attacking vessels.

6. The US Flagged ship continues on its merry way and drops the Seal off at the other Navy vessel at the other end of the Somali corridor. Ships going the other way pick Seals up and take them back up the corridor back to the first ship. No weapons go into foreign ports aboard American ships, so no problem with local authorities. Seals take their weapons with them.

7. Somali pirates go out, nobody comes back. After losing a hundred or so pirate ships, the Somalis begin to put two and two together and decide another line of work might be more lucrative.

How expensive would that be? One Seal would be all you'd need to take out one of those little boats. If they were attacking they wouldn't have hostages yet, so instead of needing 3 Seals to shoot 3 at once, you'd only need one to shoot 'em one at a time.

Sounds cold, but these aren't nice people and they do kill hostages. If you wanted to discourage them, you could shoot out the bottom of their little boats and let 'em swim home, but that might give them experience they could share to develop new tactics, which would endanger our Seals.

It's a tough call, but I think it would work. One Seal would be all I would need if I were a ship's captain and I'd certainly feed him well!

I'm just sayin'



Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bravo, Mr. President, Now How About Some Follow Through?

Usually I'm pretty critical of this president. Today I would like to applaud him. His action in authorizing the US Navy to use lethal force to rescue Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, resulted in the rescue of a very brave man at the risk of the president being criticized by his supporters for committing an act of inexcusable violence against the poor Somalis who were simply trying to make a living.

Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to articulate the "Big Stick" policy. Since Teddy's time the idea of speaking softly while making sure you have a Louisville Slugger (a well known weapon of "ash" destruction") in your fist, worked quite effectively for a long time to protect Americans on the high seas - that is, until the modern tendency to political correctness overwhelmed our foreign policy good sense.

Already liberal American newspapers are setting up to criticize the Naval officer who, in a split second, made a life and death decision (for the pirates). Articles claiming that the pirates were out of ammunition cite relatives in Somalian pirate villages. A couple of pieces have been documenting the poverty in Somalia that has "driven" the pirates to piracy. The pirates even have a press secretary now and we can expect for him to declare the American actions an over-reaction. You can bet they'll claim the pirates were trying to surrender before it's all over and that the Navy didn't have to shoot them.

Am I suggesting that such claims will be lies?

In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, "Uh, pirate!"

It's time for the United States to remember "...the shores of Tripoli". It's time to put an end to piracy. We have the technology. We have the firepower. We have the moral high ground.

Want to show some real world leadership, Mr. President. If the U.S. threatened to go after the pirate strongholds as they did with the Barbary pirates, I think you'd see the dozen ships and 200 crewmen being held by Somalis released. Paying them off has only made it worse. Their 'spokesman' stood before microphones and asked "Why don't they just pay the ransom?" as though he were talking about a customer that hadn't paid his electric bill.

The result of chicken-livered corporations and countries paying off these thugs is that they've created a burgeoning new industry in Somalia. It's become a game with the pirates. We catch you, you pay us.

Mr. President, please do something about this. I have little hope that you will, but ever once in a while you guys do surprise us.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Friday, April 10, 2009

When Will They Lose Walter?

They're using words like triumphant, spectacular, rapturous and brilliant. Not the President's press secretaries, but crusty old journalists with CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. This is not the first time in history that the Democrats have enjoyed mainstream media support. I remember the 60's and the way the press swooned over JFK; covering up his sexual indiscretions and glossing over his problems with his cabinet, the Congress and the Soviet Union. A massive blunder like the Bay of Pigs that would have consumed a Republican in a vicious media feeding frenzy, was allowed to slide with out the "thundering from Olympus" that might have followed - surely would have followed in today's press had a Republican stumbled as JFK did.

Johnson knew he had a honeymoon with the press after Kennedy's death and played it for all he was worth with speeches meant to stir the popular imagination with high blown rhetoric about a "Great Society" and a "War on Poverty" and "Civil Rights". All the while he was running a disastrous war in Vietnam, so terrified of the media that was covering it more closely than any war in history, that he wound up micro-managing the fiasco from the oval office. The military couldn't conduct effective warfare because the President and Secretary of Defense were afraid to do anything really effective.

As a result a lot of American soldiers died. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress stonewalled him on Civil Rights, though they were quite willing to throw money at their constituents to buy votes. That was something they knew about. Most, however, didn't see the point in overturning a whole way of life so that some black people could vote and drink from water fountains. It wound up taking solid Republican support for Johnson to push through any sort of decent Civil Rights legislation.

He ran the War on Poverty pretty much as effectively as he ran the war in Vietnam, only not so many people died. One night, he watched in horror as Walter Cronkite, an old war correspondent himself, raked the government over the coals over how they were handling the Vietnam war.

Johnson turned to his wife, Ladybird, and lamented, "We've lost Walter." Shortly after that, he dropped out of the race for reelection. Cagey old politician that he was, Johnson knew what was going to happen at the Chicago Convention and it certainly did.

So far, Barak Obama still holds the media in thrall. The only discordent note is a strident opposition to his policies from the new conservative media, led by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Fox News and a conservative press that is growing rapidly even as traditional old conservative newspapers like the Boston Globe and Rocky Mountain News face bankruptcy.

This is not Lyndon Johnson's America. A diverse press means opinions are being heard on our televisions, radios and in the print media that went unexpressed in the 60's until that stodgy old liberal, Cronkite, finally got fed up with it and turned on the Democrats. After that, the gloves were off as Nixon, Agnew and Ford later discovered. It's been bare-knuckles ever since.

Until the rather recent rise of the right wing news commentator, it was pretty much a leftist gang bang. Ronald Reagan had a rough time of it, but being an old newsman himself, he successfully created his own White House news bureau that went 'round the mainstream press and straight to the people. It worked magnificently to the discomfiture of the cast of crusty old liberals that read us our evening news. Reagan's conservative populism pointed the way for folks like Limbaugh and Fox to achieve success against an apparent irresistable media tide.

I read yesterday that Barak Obama's presidency, far from unifying the country as he promised he would, has more sharply divided America than it has been since the late 1850's. Obama likes to compare his presidency to that of Abraham Lincoln - ironically, the first Republican president in our nation's history and a president who saw states begin seceding from the Union in anticipation of his taking the oath of office.

But Lincoln only inherited a divided nation. Inept presidents like James Buchanan before him had been playing games of political brinksmanship for decades before Lincoln was elected. Whether Obama is a Buchanan or a Lincoln remains to be seen. So far, I haven't seen much of honest Abe in our new commander-in-chief.

But, the Europeans and the Muslims love him Mainly, that seems to be because he keeps smiling while they tell him "no" to virtually everything he asks for. They haven't seen that for 8 years and I think it's a relief to them all.

An America whose teeth are all capped and pretty and not fanged and dangerous is what they want to see. It's also, apparently, an America that 44% of Americans absolutely do NOT want to see.

And that number is rising.......