Archive - 2013

January 15th

News of the day

Comments on recent news items:

•Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide rather than face possible incarceration. Was the prosecution over-zealous? Probably. Are they to blame for his suicide? No. The only person to blame for a suicide is the person committing it. Yes, we should fight bullying, even by those with the full prosecutorial powers of the federal government. But in the end, we are all responsible for maintaining our existence on this earth. 

•President Obama's press conference yesterday was pitch perfect. Raising the debt limit is a formality required to pay bills already incurred by Congress. It is not negotiable. His stance is admirable and correct, and I hope he maintains it. 

•Frontline on PBS has a documentary which I hope to see soon. I details how prominent Republicans decided to oppose President Obama on everything he put forth, no matter what the good of the country–– even if that meant opposing measures they used to support. If it came from President Obama, they opposed it. That was their fundamentally treasonous position. They put the good of party ahead of the good of country. And they're still doing it!

•Gun nuts are looking pretty stupid as they attempt to defend the right of everybody to own assault weapons in the wake of recent gun violence. The extremism of the National Rifle Association and the craven capitulation of Congress to their wishes has never been more evident. Let's hope that we can at least go back to the common sense of the assault rifle ban. It is clear that people who get their undies in a bundle over this, such as the talk show host Alex Jones, are just plain unstable. 

Do you know that there was a time that the NRA strongly advocated stricter gun control laws? It was in the late-1960s when Black Panthers were defending their right to bear arms. That gives you an idea what the organization is all about. 

•For some reason, I think the tide has turned recently in the policy debate between belief and science, a debate which never should have happened. Science needs to win if we are to survive. People who deny basic scientific evidence in favor of silly religious dogmas should not be reputable. There is plenty of room in the more rational branches of religion to admit the most recent scientific evidence, yet we continue to see people denying climate change, denying evolution, opposing stem cell research, denying anything, generally speaking, that might result in them leading a less piggish lifestyle. Ironically, they see continuance of their piggish and consumptive lifestyles as their right as so-called Christians! Drill, baby, drill! Jesus demands it!



Relatively cold

The cold snap down here is killing stuff, namely citrus and other plants. The plants around the house here in Gold Canyon are looking awful. The frost doesn't leave the patio, which is on the north side, even in the late afternoon. The crust on the puddles around the golf course doesn't thaw during the day. 

It is all relative; Minnesotans would be gleeful at the prospect of hitting 50 degrees during the day back home. When I saw that number on my car thermometer today in Gold Canyon, however, I shivered. The girl running the till closest to the automatic door at the grocery store was freezing.

The sun still shines, however. And I can tell in the evening that the days are starting to get a little longer. 

The dogs who barked all weekend and inspired this past week's column welcomed home their owners about two hours after I completed the column. They have been well behaved since. I think I will go over and offer to take care of the dogs the next time the couple is gone. I would love to give them walks, especially if it kept them quiet. Better than throwing doggie treats over the fence every fifteen minutes. 

In other news, I talked with Aunt Olive on the phone this week. She absorbed another "punch to the brain" as she called it this week. Olive is under the perpetual impression that she had a stroke yesterday and that she fell recently. It is clear that the left side of her head feels strange, and it is only natural that she would attribute it to a recent event. 

Sister Tracie is tending to Olive while I am gone. They bought head phones with a microphone for visiting, which I think will be sufficient. They also looked to see if there is insurance on the hearing aid which was so quickly lost after it was purchased. I just worry that if Olive gets another hearing aid, she will get annoyed, throw it out and then forget she threw it out. 

One of her favorite nurses, who she calls Truman, has, according to Olive, "really laid down the law." She told me that several times before I left. Truman, she said, is really bringing order to the place. He's shaping everybody up and nobody dares differ with him. This has been a theme in our phone calls as well. Truman is laying down the law!

Well, my sister finally had a visit with Truman. His "laying down the law" consists of telling Olive that she's darn lucky she's over 100 years old, because if you're under 100 years old, you have to wash dishes. Knowing Truman, he says this with the utmost seriousness, and Olive has taken him seriously. She forgets the specifics, but remembers the general concept: Truman is cracking down. Those who are 99 years old and younger have to wash dishes!

It is also time for a haircut. This is a touchy deal, as Olive has systematically decided that everybody who cuts hair has developed a drinking problem. "It's so sad about Ella," she says of one of the ladies who cuts hair. "She's taken to liquor."

This must be news to Ella, who doesn't even know her name is Ella. 

So, best wishes to sister as she sets out to solve the haircut dilemma, which is usually only solved by a trip to Twin Valley.  


January 12th

Apache Trail


Went east of Apache Junction about 10 miles tonight to a canyon that I find absolutely beautiful. Lance had a new time-lapse camera to play with as the sun set, while I tried to capture the magma, sage and lichen.  


January 11th

More Miserables, cont.

 If you can bear this without losing your lunch, you may be ready to endure Les Miserables!

January 10th

Hall of Fame

The steroids suspects, namely Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero and Roger Clemens, were shut out of the Hall of Fame in voting this week, despite possessing statistics which outpace the usual standards for induction. The reason for the rejection, of course, is that the writers who vote don't think cheaters should be rewarded for cheating, at least beyond the tens of millions they earned after they juiced up.

Trouble is, nobody knows who cheated and who didn't. The guilty are admitting nothing. Was Ken Griffey, Jr. doping? You don't hear much about it, but for a while there, he hit home runs at an unheard of pace. There are many others I suspect. I am convinced that one very prominent Twins player was juicing early on. 

Here is a story which claimes the sportswriters are hypocrites. The writer makes the good point that the steriods era probably saved baseball, as it renewed fan interest after the ridiculous labor disputes of the mid-1990s. As I can barely recall, the 1994 post-season was cancelled due to a strike. I can barely recall it because I was so disillusioned with baseball at the time that I quit following. It didn't hurt that the Twins were putrid at the time. 

When they came back from the strike, the players juiced. When one player saw the millions earned by a player juicing, he was pushed to keep up as well. Suddenly, singles hitters became sluggers--and millionaires. 

I had a steroid shot for allergies last summer. Wow! I felt like a million bucks. So, I can imagine the temptation. Man, if I could hit like Barry Bonds by taking injections--I might!

As far as the Hall of Fame goes, I think it will all shake out in the end. If our descendants feel Bonds, Clemens and the others were unjustly omitted, they can have a special vote. Maybe they can put them in "Steroids Corner."

Meanwhile, fans should remember that Roger Maris and Babe Ruth hit many of their 61 and 60 home runs during their most memorable seasons into the 340-foot short porch at the old, old Yankee Stadium (pre-1973 remodel), a right-center field fence built shallow specifically for Ruth, and built shallower than any other in the major leagues at the time. You could debate whether Maris' 61st home run would even have made it out of any other ballpark. 

Another fact: Amphetamines were used in baseball for decades and decades. They were handed out like candy. They allowed players to play in pain and forget about their injuries. After their ban, I think we've seen a lot more players sitting down for injuries--which is proper, in one sense. 

My way of coping with all this non-sense, and the additional non-sense of players all moving to high budget teams after they have a few good years, is to concentrate upon the game on the field. Joe Mauer's beautiful swing. Bryce Harper's panache. R. A. Dickey's knuckler. Jim Thome's moon shots. I concentrate upon the beauty of each game, the 1-0 complete game shutout, the double plays, the strategy. The defenses have never been better. Fielders are more acrobatic than ever before. 

So, there is much yet to enjoy. 

You just have to block out the baloney. For me, that baloney includes the Hall of Fame. 



January 8th

Texas Capitol


Spent the past four days in Austin, TX attending a funeral––four days, including two travel days. Yesterday, I had time to go see the Texas Capitol in downtown Austin. Above is a drum circle, the noise from which resounded through the massive building. 


Just as with many capitol buildings, the staircases are meant to impose. 


Even the hinges on the massive oak doors let there be no mystery where you are. 


This plaque was on display in a prominent location near the rotunda. In response to the second paragraph, it is always interesting to ask people who hold to this creed, and they still exist in large numbers, just why the Civil War was fought. 

They usually just sputter. 

January 3rd

Fiscal cliff non-sense

Now we're supposed to congratulated Congress for doing what they should have done long ago. All they did was avert a disaster of their own making. 

The tax increases agreed to are so very minor they barely make a difference. Even so, the House Republicans were ready to scotch the deal and let taxes go up on everybody rather than allow tax increases on those who clear over $250,000 per year. In the end, they settled reluctantly at $400,000 per year. Sorry folks, but we need a lot more revenue than that. We need a full return to the Clinton era tax rates, which were perfectly reasonable. I think the economy did fine those years, as I recall. 

I am a firm believer in steeply progressive marginal tax rates. That is, as you make more, you pay a higher percentage. Far from decreasing business activity, a steeply progressive rate encourages reinvestment rather than savings. I have said it here in this space very often: High marginal tax rates (we had up to 91% rates on the highest incomes in the 1950s, when we prospered and built the interstate highway system, funded the Marshall Plan, and paid off World War II debts) encourage businesses to re-invest in their business rather than squirrel the money away. If you save 50% on what you spend, you're more likely to do it!

Of course, it is stupid to buy a new pickup just for the deduction if you don't need one. A lot of people were buying machinery and cars and other toys at the end of last year to avoid taxes. Foolishness. But if it is an authentic investment in building your business, it is wise. 

We had a good year at the nursery this year. Did we squirrel the money away? No, I didn't want to pay the tax. Instead, we dumped $47,000 into tarring our yard, and improvement in our business which will last for decades. Why was I so happy to spend that money? Because the tax on that money would have been about $20,000, so that brought the cost of the tar down to $27,000. No bargain, but you can understand how the higher tax rate on the last money I earned in profit encouraged me to reinvest and keep the tar guys busy. They spend that money again--in fact, a lot of the guys who helped tar the yard have already ordered trees for next year!

A high tax rate on higher incomes keeps the money going around as people avoid that tax. 

A flat tax is insane, and a recipe for economic stagnation. If you lower Joe Mauer's tax rate so he has an extra $2 million per year to take home, what will he do with it? Build another house? Hire a new maid?  I doubt it. He has all he can do to spend the $12 million or more he takes home already out of his $20 million salary. 

Our existing tax policy is not all that bad. All we need to do is revert to a few years back. What is really crazy are some of the ideas, particularly the ideas which are accepted as dogma by the House Republican caucus. 

I wish I could say it is fun to watch the Republican party implode. However, they seem intent upon bringing down the country in the process, which nobody should wish for.




January 1st

Frost in Gold Canyon