Never run with the crowd. They're probably headed over a cliff.

January 2009 - Posts

A Truly Great Day

Today is a great day to be an American. For the first time in the history of the United States, a black man will become the President of this land. Today a black man becomes the most powerful individual in the world.


It would be easy to become a lemming and join the herds of fuzzy brown creatures hurtling in opposite directions towards the cliffs. In one direction are the nay-sayers, not only horrified of the thought of a black President, but once again facing the prospect of a liberal leader. In the other direction are those convinced that no matter what happens it will be better. Both are wrong for so many reasons I’m not even going to talk about it.


Today isn’t a great day because Barak Obama ascends to the Oval Office. Today is a great day because his inauguration proves, once again, that the United States is the finest, most progressive nation on Earth, and her citizens have no parallel.


A mere forty years ago, within my shockingly inconsequential lifetime, black people were, by virtue of their skin color, denied access to colleges and universities. The very idea seems absurd to us today but here we are, barely a generation removed, and a black man is President. The sea change in attitudes is very nearly impossible to quantify or even express. Civil Rights was a long hard struggle and black people have every reason to be proud of their achievements. And I am proud of the achievement as well, for it highlights that We are still the melting pot. That We still hold these Truths to be self-evident: That All Men Are Created Equal. No where else in the world is this the case.


Sixty years ago Nazis were murdering Jews but you won’t see a Jewish Chancellor in Germany any time soon. What are the odds of an ethnic Khazak being elected to the Russian presidency? Or an immigrant from India becoming the Prime Minister of England. Does anybody really think there will ever be a non-Arab leader of Saudi Arabia? Or a non-Italian leader of Italy? What about an Inuit PM in Canada?


People talk about racism in America. Yes, at one time it was as bad here as anywhere. A black man could be lynched for nothing. A Native American could be murdered and there would be no investigation. That’s gone, now. Gone. America is no longer a racist nation. In fact, we are the ONLY non-racist nation on the planet. If you want to see racism, go to China where Mandarin Chinese oppress all other ethnicities, like Han, Mongol, Tibetan, etc. Did you even know that China had more ethnicities than the United States and if you’re not Mandarin you’re pretty much screwed? But they all look the same to us. And Africa. Every atrocity there is race based. Rwandan Hutu’s murdered as many as one million Rwandan Tutsis during the genocide of 1994. Do you even want to talk about Sudan? And yes, there are people who dislike Iranians even more than Americans do. They are called Iraqis. Or didn’t you know they are different races? Iranians consider themselves Persians while Iraqis are Arabic. And naturally, both feel superior to the other so of course they hate each other and try to kill one another whenever they get the chance.


But America is special. It is different, and that is a good thing. It is different because it wasn’t founded based on race. It was founded based on the idea of freedom, liberty, and equality. It took a while even for us to realize what that meant and there were injustices along the way, but even then it was at the core of what we are. And in time that idea has finally erased the most widespread vice of humankind – racism.


To be called an American, to call oneself an American, is a thing of tremendous power and pride. Nowhere in history, nowhere in the world, has there ever been a place like this, where a race can go from slavery to leading the entire nation in a few generations. For the past sixty years our victory in World War II has defined us as a nation. What we were able to accomplish in a few short years said more about us as a people than any other event in our history. I believe that milestone has now been exceeded. We, as a nation, have now beaten an even greater enemy. The enemy at the heart of World War II and every war ever fought. An enemy that no other nation on Earth has ever defeated. And that enemy is racism.


There are still racists, and there always be racists, but institutionalized racism in America can now be officially laid to rest. And whether you are on the left, or on the right, Republican or Democrat, man or woman, that is a thing you can be proud of. For the nation to which you’ve sworn allegiance, a Nation of the People, for the People, and by the People, has achieved what is perhaps the greatest victory of all time.


It is a great day to be an American.

-Futbol Guru,

The Best Example Yet ...

... of lemming-like behavior among humans.

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No exposition necessary.

-Futbol Guru

The Legacy of a Lemming

"The most important job I have had - and the most important job the next president is going to have - is to protect the American people from another attack." - President George Bush, January 13, 2009


There has been much talk in the past few weeks, and especially this week, about the legacy of President George Bush the 2nd. For starters, it is far to early to start talking about legacies, one point on which I agree with the often embattled president. A legacy is defined by the future that follows. Who knows, Mr. Bush could someday be viewed as the visionary leader responsible for bringing lasting democracy to the Middle East. He could just as easily be remembered as a foolish, bumbling, schoolboy who viewed himself as God’s answer to the Muslim hoard. Either is possible, neither is probable, and my guess is that history will be kinder to the man than the present.


Either way he has presided over momentous times and that, more than anything else, can not be ignored when evaluating his ‘likely’ legacy. And if not viewed in the light of 911, it is impossible to even talk about his legacy, much less make accusations about his character or performance.


I talked about my Grandmother a few posts back. She was born and raised in Mississippi during the Great Depression. That was a seminal event in the history of America and, like Pearl Harbor, we have spent much collective effort since then to avoid similar disasters. The impact on lives from each of these events was incalculable and horrific, and while the economy recovered and we won the war, my grandmother never did. To the day she died in the late 90’s she remained in depression mode, basically missing out on the unprecedented economic boom during the second half of the 20th Century. And she wasn’t alone. Millions of Americans from that generation saved cash obsessively, lived much more frugally than necessary, abhorred debt, cultivated self-sufficiency, distrusted banks, gave food as Christmas gifts, and hated the Japanese. Though her persimmon cookies were excellent and her husband (my Grandfather), who actually fought in the war, wound up selling Toyotas later in life.


Cataclysmic events have this kind of effect on people. I have a friend who’s husband suddenly died. Another friend who suddenly lost a child. They are fundamentally different people now. Think back now to that fateful day when Islamic terrorists struck not at a U.S. Naval base on a far-flung island territory, but at civilians at the very heart of Americana. Remember the footage of President Bush spending time with school children – probably one of the more enjoyable parts of being President – when he was told by a Secret Service man that the United States had been attacked. At that time we didn’t know who, or if, there was more to come. President Bush spent the majority of the day airborne and no one knew where he was. As details began to emerge, an act far more dastardly, heinous, and yes, evil, than Pearl Harbor was revealed. In fact, IMHO, it makes Pearl Harbor look rather tame by contrast. Indeed, it compares more with Nazi atrocities or the rape of Nanking than a sneak attack – something we are proud of our own troops for successfully pulling off. It is a black mark that Islam will forever live with, and that fundamentally changed George Bush. It might even be fair to say that it made him, dare I say the word, crazy?


One minute he is reading to school children. The next he is contemplating the fate of 3,000 murdered Americans in a smoking pile of rubble. He went to Ground Zero when it still stank. Remember what it did to us? Imagine what it did to him! The responsibility was his. I believe that since that day he has lived in constant dread of another such attack. Lurking fear has colored every decision, every waking minute, every emotion, since that day. And I can’t say I would be any different. Can you?


Legacies? Having them is good, getting them is not. Legacies are earned through sacrifice and, more often than not, death. President Clinton had a far more hospitable climate during his reign and much was said about his legacy, too. But his enemies were domestic and the wars he fought were either lost or little more than U.N. peacekeeping missions. Whether or not he did a good job or a bad is left for each of us to decide, but there can be little doubt that he inherited a strong economy and was in office during a time of relative peace. Whatever legacy he is ultimately assigned should reflect the relatively unchallenging events of his time.


Did Mr. Bush do a good job? Have you been in his shoes? Were you sitting in that chair enjoying yourself when the worst news imaginable arrived? Not the relatively minor horror of the sudden passing of a loved one, but the astonishment that pure evil has vaporized thousands, and everyone is asking you what to do. And you are responsible. And must try to sooth the grieving, comfort the frightened, and rally the survivors. All while appearing brave and stouthearted when you’d probably rather disappear. Don’t forget, Mr. Bush is a very compassionate, sympathetic man by nature. And do you think it might have just ruined his dream of being the President of the greatest nation ever to arise on this planet? Have you ever gotten something of incredible personal value and have a thug bust it the same day?


The country is worse off today than eight years ago. Mr. Bush made major mistakes. But legacy? The man is still president for God’s sake. And the job has nearly killed him. He leaves office, I would say, a little crazy. And not the good kind. So those of you crucifying him with ‘boiling anger’ while you labor as a shoe store clerk, or an accountant, or an auto worker, or any of a million other jobs with no real responsibility or ambition, where a mistake means sending home a size 7 ½ in a size 8 box, get in line with the other lemmings. Please. I’ve heard they’re headed somewhere fun.

-Futbol Guru,

AMC and the Dodo

AMC. American Motors Corporation. Does anybody remember that one?


They actually made some pretty cool cars. The Javelin and AMX come to mind. Forward thinking for the time, the AMX was a two-seat sports car with a 401 C.I.D. engine. Fast, good-handling. It actually competed well with GTOs, Camaros, Mustangs, Firebirds, Chargers, and other stallions from the muscle car era. Look it up. There’s a following.


Of course there was also the Pacer, the Matador, and who can forget the Gremlin – aka, the Garthmobile. I still can’t decide if it was the ugliest car ever made, or something that could be turned into the ultimate sleeper. But with declining sales in the seventies and AMC’s ill-fated merger with French manufacturer Renault, the company was doomed. In 1987 they were acquired by Chrysler, primarily to get their hands on Jeep, and that was the end of AMC.


I bought one of those Jeeps. It was a 1989 Grand Wagoneer. The one with the wood-grain. Jeep was owned by Chrysler then but the Grand Wagoneers were still manufactured in the same Kenosha facility formerly run by AMC and staffed by former AMC employees and using AMC parts. Still, the Grand Wagoneer was a pretty amazing vehicle. Designed in the early ‘60s, it was powerful, strong, and safe. My wife and two young sons walked away from being T-boned by a semi in one. After pounding the rear fender off the wheel I drove it home.


But the Wagoneer had its flaws. The design was post-World War II so didn’t take advantage of more modern manufacturing techniques. It was never upgraded and once while working on it, I found mounts for the original headlight configuration buried deep beneath the grill. Quality control was poor – always AMC’s Achilles heel. Aerodynamics weren’t part of the equation when it was designed so fuel efficiency was poor. Extremely poor. And it used an older engine design. Much older in fact.


The V8 family engine block used by AMC was originally a World War II-era Packard design. It had a high nickel content that minimized cylinder wear, which was good, but used antiquated casting techniques, which was bad. And it far pre-dated the concept of emissions controls. I don’t even think the original Wagoneer had a PCV valve. So as laws began to change in the late 60’s, placing ever tighter restrictions on automobile exhaust, AMC/Jeep attempted to comply by hanging ever more crap on their V8s to meet them.


By the time I bought my Wagoneer there was a veritable spaghetti explosion of vacuum lines, solenoids, EGR ports, and sensors under the hood. Troubleshooting even minor problems was nearly impossible given the labyrinthine maze of rubber, copper, and metal tubes. AMC, strapped for cash, had never invested in updating either the engine, or the control systems, simply patching and re-patching what was hanging on an already obsolete engine design. The result was disaster, and even pulling off every bit of smog control hardware resulted in a poorly performing vehicle. I know from painful experience that this is true.


Anyone who drove cars during the 70’s remembers that all four American car manufacturers had problems like this, hence the market penetration of better designed foreign automobiles during this period. Fortunately the advent of computer controlled engine management systems and redesigned engines allowed the other American manufacturers to begin competing again. AMC couldn’t make the capitol investment and the rest is history, along with the Grand Wagoneer.


So what’s the point? The point is, the American economy is that Grand Wagoneer. The economy itself is a World War II-era design. It depends on massive consumption by a rapidly expanding, export-based economy. And for many years, like AMC, it was functional and even profitable. But the world in which it formed no longer exists. And the US is no longer an export economy. So over the years, as our economic growth has sputtered, our government and corporate leaders have levied continually more restrictions, regulations, and stimulus plans in order to keep the pistons firing. And now, quite literally, in perhaps the most poignant part of the analogy, economies themselves have been levied with emissions controls. Instead of changing, our economy has become that Packard-based, AMC V8 hidden beneath layers of vacuum lines and marginally functional pollution-control hardware. The result is an economy that runs like crap, can’t be diagnosed, and is unresponsive to repair. Sure there are times when it seems to perform. Through vigorous maintenance and upgrades I kept my Wagoneer running for years. I replaced engines, transmission, carburetors, manifolds. I once redesigned the entire air conditioning system. You name it. But oh, the time I wasted lying on my back in the driveway. And the money I threw away. And the gas mileage was always crap. Life has been much better since I deep-sixed that puppy and went with something more modern. I have a life again.


How long will out politicians call for stimulus plans to revive the economy? How many trillions will we waste on vacuum lines, feedback carburetors, and exhaust gas recirculation before we retool the engine for modern times and redesign the control system from the ground up? AMC paid the ultimate corporate price for their refusal to upgrade. A refusal that turned into an impassable barrier. Has our refusal to fundamentally change our economic engine gone too far? Have we wasted so much capitol on upgrading an obsolete system that we lack the resources and will to build a new one? Have we passed the point of no return? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know the answer to this one: Every day that passes without fundamental change is one day closer to the impossibility of change. And nature has shown without exception that when systems lose the ability to adapt they become extinct.

-Futbol Guru

I'm Not One of Those

It has become unfashionable in some circles to speak out against the rich. Of course it is a hobby on the left, and it is not at all uncommon for a wealthy congressman or actor to rail against excess, such as former South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings’, famous statement that, “There’s too much consumin’ goin’ on.” Whether he’s right or wrong, his statement smacks of pandering, and for the most part middle-class Americans have been conditioned against openly criticizing the rich. We are free in this country and part of being free is the freedom to make tons of money and live the way we want. Who’s business is it to question how much money another person makes, even if it rises into the billions betting against our own economy and helping raise oil prices? In fact, speaking out against the rich is generally considered a sign of envy or jealousy and the speaker is often cast as less ambitious/intelligent/or otherwise lucky as the one he’s attacking. Across a large segment of society it has become un-American to speak out against wealth. It is even labeled as communist or socialist.

But it is exactly what I’ve been doing on Not-a-Lemming. Especially in my previous post. And I’m no communist or socialist. Most people who know me would call me a conservative. So how can I claim to be a conservative while at the same time bashing the rich in the land of rugged individualism? Can a conservative do that? And please don’t confuse the term ‘Conservative’ with the party ‘Republican’ or the orientation, ‘Right’. They are not now, nor have they ever been congruent even if their intersection is not the empty set. I can do it because I’m not bashing the rich. I am a staunch capitalist and am strongly in favor of innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.

I got an iPod shuffle for Christmas. Actually I bought it for myself when I was shopping for my kids. It is one of the most amazing little devices I’ve ever seen. I’m no technophobe and have been aware of, and owned, iPods since their inception. But I remember a world before iPods. A world of transistor radios that rarely worked and clunky cassette and CD Walkmans that chewed through batteries like a teenage druggy burning through an inheritance. I now have a tiny device just a little larger than a postage stamp that can deliver hours of crystal clear music. That is innovation! That is legitimate wealth. Kudos to you Mr. Jobs. Live however you like. You’ve earned it, sir. And you’ve given back.

On the other hand, I live in a town supported primarily by government money. If our spigot ever dries up, this place with shrivel like lettuce in Palm Springs. A lot of people in this town start businesses, grow them, sell them, and get rich. Then they walk around with their heads in the air, literally, and puff about their innovation, sacrifice, and entrepreneurial skill. Except they built their businesses entirely on government money. Sure there were some long days writing proposals for government contracts, but for the most part their was no real personal investment, and the seed product of the business was almost always taken (some say stolen) from a competing company when the new business owner quit and took it with him. And these business owners invariably feel they earned it entirely through their own hard work and rarely give any of it back. Choosing rather to spend their windfall of fancy cars, second homes, and glitzy vacations.

Now Mr. Jobs has a pretty nice home, and I’ll wager that he’s got some nice cars too. And maybe even vacations from time to time, but there is a fundamental difference between what he does, and what these tax-suckers do. And now we’ve taken it to an entirely different level. A level which makes government contractors look like Mother Teresa. I’ll say it again as I’ve said it before, $750,000,000,000. And who acted like we were obligated to give it to them? Banks! Banks that took trillions (that’s $1e12 for you geeks out there) of investor money and evaporated it on bad loans in get-rich-quick schemes. They literally held the international monetary system hostage when they adopted an attitude that said, “Okay, don’t give it to us and see what happens.” How dare those bastards! And after losing our money!

This isn’t capitalism. It’s bad socialism. Perhaps even closer to Hitler’s fascism where the government propped up major industries to keep the war going. Yes, it is banks getting the money, but what about the executives that got them into that position? The failed executives. Did they give back their six-figure+ bonuses? Did they lose their mansions and second homes and personal bank accounts? Did their children have to drop out of the Ivy League schools they are attending? Will they be going on vacation this summer? Are their garages still filled with Mercedes and BMWs? Are their pension plans empty?

These people remained rich, and that is wrong. It is wrong because I’m NOT a communist. It is wrong because I’m NOT a socialist. In Soviet Russia party members became fabulously wealthy by diverting public rubles to their own accounts. All it required was a law. In socialist nations, the upper-class administrates public concerns which pay their salary out of the till. The same people who happen to run the government. And now that is America, too. I'm not saying they aren't entitled to it if they have worked for it. I'm just saying they aren't entitled to 14% of the GNP if they haven't worked for it. Especially after it was their poor management and lack of fiscal responsibility that got us into this mess in the first place.

Furthermore, I can think of no greater depressing effect on innovation and entrepreneurship than the bank bailout and the likely auto bailout. It has gazed straight into the eyes of the middle class and said, “fuck you.” I don’t apologize for the expletive. Expletives have their place, and this is it. This isn’t railing against the rich. This is railing against thievery. This is railing against communism and socialism at its worst. What incentive do I have to continue working night after night on actual products I hope to one day sell to actual people, when those who have figured out how to put their hand in the public till and pull out a dollar seem to have such a higher success rate? America was the land of innovation because innovation was rewarded. But how much longer will that be true in this climate? Especially when it is noted that those who actually earned money are far more willing to capitalize others than those who stole it. As the ratio of earners to thieves tips ever more in favor of the thieves, who for some reason feel they deserve their privileged lifestyle, actual seed money will become less, and less available. Innovators will leave for other places with fewer regulation and more favorable populations, and America’s monopoly on innovation will wither.

It is already happening. Europe, as it emerges from the effects of two world wars is gaining momentum. China, momentarily set back by the economic downturn, will regain her feet. And America, with capitol tied up in the hands of thieves, will seem increasingly less attractive to the talented and ambitious. It’s happened before.

So I reject any and all assertions that I am un-American, or communist, or socialist, or even jealous. I am a capitalist American who believes in fair play, equality of opportunity, and reward for innovation. You want to find a communist, go to an investment bank. He’ll be hiding in the closet under a pile of taxpayer money.

Next: Partners in Crime

-Futbol Guru,

Protection At Any Cost

We forget things. We forget because we are people, and people are lemmings. For a moment, recall the basis for my analysis – the myth of the lemming. Lemmings DO NOT rush into the sea and commit mass suicide. Lemmings can, however, be frightened, especially by those who seek to benefit from their panicky mob behavior, whether they be unscrupulous film makers or former chairmen of major financial institutions. That is the lemming, those who fall prey to the machinations of others and join the crowd in running whatever direction without first checking where that direction leads. Lemmings, little, furry morons.


One of the things I seek to do on Not-A-Lemming is state the obvious. I do it because nobody else seems to want to. I do it because it is so often the obvious that is overlooked. Sort of like asking the furry, little hoard, "Why is everybody running this way when there's a cliff over there?" And that is the case today.


Seven hundred and fifty billion dollars. Also written $750,000,000,000. At my engineer’s salary I’d have to work for eight million years to make that much money. Actually 8.3 million years. (Or 8.3 million engineers could work for a year.) I’m going to keep harping on the $750,000,000,000 and writing it as $750,000,000,000, and not $750billion, or even 750 Gigabucks, because we should never forget that fourteen percent of our GNP was handed over to banks by a republican president backed by a democrat congress. Both parties are equally culpable in selling the middle class.


So why did they do it? No oversight. No accountability. That is enough money to give every person in New York City, all 8.7 million of them, my yearly salary, earned with 17 years of experience and a Masters Degree in stuff that’s just frankly, damn hard. Why? As always, history holds the answer.


I work hard for the living I bring home – which doesn’t go far on a family of five. Eighty hours a week, forty-nine weeks a year. I get three weeks of vacation but no sick leave. My 401K is a joke; it stank before the stock market tanked. I’ve got a few thousand dollars in the bank. And I do mean, a few. Realistically I’m looking at a second mortgage to get my kids through college and retirement isn’t really an option. I don’t really like my job. I tried for a Ph.D., didn’t have the cash to finish it, and wound up doing this. In a nutshell, my version of the American dream is kind of disappointing. If it weren’t for my utterly fantastic wife and exemplary kids it would completely suck. After my nine-hour day I write just about every evening working on novels I hope to someday publish, but it’s a long shot and I know it. I can’t even get anyone in New York to reply to my query letters. But my story isn’t unique. I’m a law-abiding, tax-paying, hard-working American. The backbone of our nation. I am Atlas. Something to be proud of. I’m not complaining. I’m connecting. With you. Because your American dream is pretty sweaty, too.


Now imagine a different life. Basically enough money to not worry about money. What you would do with it is your business. A lot of people buy cars, boats, fancy homes, etc. And it can be a trap. I’ve seen more than a few sucked in and ground up. Success can definitely be a trap. But it doesn’t have to be. Just imagine that life where you don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about how you’re going to put your kids through college. Or how you’re going to fix the roof you know is leaking in that downpour. A life where you’re not anxious about retiring someday, before you’re too old to use it. A life where you can live in the way of your choosing whether it be working a job you love, doing art, contributing to society. Or just sitting around wasting time at a beach on Manihi. (Look it up on Google Earth.) To each his own.


This isn’t reality for most of us. But it is for some. People who can, do. And history has shown that those who live this privileged life immediately begin to feel it is their right, and will do anything to protect it. Anything. Lie, kill, steal, even commit genocide if necessary. No affluent culture has escaped this doom; an entitlement class, just as dependent as the welfare poor, who will go to any length to not worry, to not work, to live their life of ease. Am I stating the obvious? That’s what I do. That’s all I do. Those of means will do anything to protect their privileged life. Never forget that.


$750,000,000,000. Why? How did our leadership come to the conclusion that it should be simply handed over without any strings attached? Maybe we should look at who these leaders are. Senators and representatives have a pretty sweet deal. Reps make $145,000 a year, senators make $165,200 a year. With expenses. And a staff. And an office. And influence for life. That adds up to far more than $145,000 a year. And they don’t really have to work. They don’t even have to show up. And many of them started out wealthy. And they get elected with money. Money elects people. Not votes, not speeches, not even good looks or great legs. Just ask Mr. Obama who raised more than ever before. As the global financial system teetered on the brink – or so the lemmings thought – they sensed that their gravy train was in jeopardy. The wealthy are heavily invested. They lose enough money and they might not be able to take a European vacation next year, much less contribute to the party of their choice. The answer, take 14% of the US Gross National Product and use it to shore up their financial base. Works every time.


And don’t forget, one reason the stock market has tanked is because investors, aka, those with money, are pulling it out. The middle class has shrugged and left it in. They have no choice. They know their only chance is for the market to go back up. And it will. But the wealthy, who can pull their money, have, and it’s driving the market down, down, down. And then they went to congress with their hands out. And congress made sure they didn’t go away empty handed. Congress was in essence, giving the money to themselves.


So I guess understanding why congress would just hand over 8.3 million years of my salary is pretty simple. They were protecting their privileged life. And they didn’t even have to kill anyone to do it. I guess we should thank them.

NEXT: I'm Not One Of Those

-Futbol Guru,