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

April 2009 - Posts

Futbol, Fate, and 42

Fate isn't a popular subject these days. After all, the world has grown up. Industrialized. Science has eliminated mystery and explains the world around us. Changing our surroundings is as easy as pumping flammable hydrocarbons from the ground and using their chemical energy to dig enormous holes from which we extract raw materials to modify our environment.

 Okay, so maybe that doesn't sound so easy. But in the industrialized nations we have come to look at the world as deterministic and malleable. To fix a problem or make a change all that is needed is the necessary application of effort. Sooner or later the world will look the way we desire. (Except perhaps for the enormous slag heap, but that is generally pushed into someone else's backyard.)  I just wonder if this is actually true, or if there is but a thin veneer masking us from a reality so gray we don't want to look at it.

 My oldest son plays on a high school soccer team ranked second in the state in which we live. That was until yesterday when they had their first state-level game against a team they were predicted to defeat. And they controlled the ball at least ninety percent of the time. In over thirty years of watching and playing soccer at every level from local rec to the EPL I have never seen a team so thoroughly dominate play yet fail to take away the win. There was not a player on the other side with the skill of our worst player and our teamwork was superb. But the other team, to their credit, was well coached and disciplined, and defended the net tenaciously. And the keeper had a stellar match. Full marks. But after our boys hit post or crossbar the fourth time I began to wonder if fate was on our side.

 I've seen it many times in soccer. A team that gets pounded throughout the game by a far superior opponent only to dodge the bullet time and again. It is as if there is a force field surrounding the goal. Shots that would normally find the back of the net sail inches wide, strike the woodwork, or meet with acrobatic saves. Then, as happened last night, the single offensive opportunity for the opponent finds us picking the ball out of the back of our net. Game over. Season ended. Hopes dashed. Those of us watching from the sidelines - those with experience in this frustrating, beautiful game - could sense it mid-way through the second half though it didn't come until a golden goal three minutes into the first overtime. Their single offensive opportunity of the match. None of understood it, but we had all seen it before, and there is nothing those boys or the coach could have done differently to change the result. Fate had played the decisive role.

 Control over our lives is an illusion. An illusion that persists through a combination of chance, probability, and the enormous number of people interacting on this Earth. At over six billion it is very truly a statistically significant set. Lives are snuffed out in traffic accidents. People strike it rich at the slots. One man is diagnosed with cancer. Another invests in a stock that skyrockets. One woman writes a book that turns into a runaway bestseller while another can't even get an agent to answer her letters. Nothing any of these people do has any real effect on their fate, it simply is, what it is, while the rest of us work ever more diligently with no result. Like that team.

 This is a very frightening view of the world and it is no wonder we don't want to believe it. It respects no person, bends to no will, and is utterly and completely outside our control. It is perhaps why the ancients translated this fact of life into the supernatural. And who am I to say they weren't accurate in doing so? Certainly an all-controlling God with a precocious will is no more or no less unfathomable than, say, the equation for a normal distribution. And a normal distribution does little to explain a series of statistically improbable yet unrelated outcomes such as happened at that soccer game last night. Perhaps that is why we so love sports, because only in sport do we glimpse the nature of reality in a way that doesn't reflect so powerfully on our own lives. There is after all, a primordial comfort in truth, even when it hurts.

 What is the fate of a lemming? Does it know it is being driven towards the cliff? Can it know? And even if it knows is there anything it can do about it?

 Futbol Guru,

Barney the Congressional Dinosaur

I love you, you love me, we're a happy family, with a kiss and a hug and a smile  -

Woops! Wrong Barney. I was thinking of that other purple dinosaur. The one who represents Massachusets' Fourth Congressional District. Barney Frank.

I'd like to say that nothing surprises me anymore, but everytime I reach that point something even more amazing or outlandish happens. As with this afternoon while listening to the radio. I heard, with my own ears, clips from a recent Barney Frank speech in which he actually said the mortgage crisis was caused by conservatives pushing people into houses they couldn't afford. Then he went on to say they were doing this while he, the purple dinosaur, was out campaigning for affordable RENTAL PROPERTY! It isn't really worth a blog post other than the utter contempt in which he must hold us, the fawning masses.

Under the Clinton Administration it was Barney Frank in particular who threatened mortgage companies with federal investigations under racial discrimination laws if they didn't start approving more mortgages to low income families. It was Barney Frank who championed Freddi Mae and Fanny Mac up to the day they collapsed. Since FDR at least the mantra of the liberals has been putting every family into a home that they own. And now he's lauding the merits of affordable rental housing? If it weren't so sick it would be hilarious. And that is the exact phrase he used: "AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING." And, "...conservatives pushing people into houses they couldn't afford..." is a direct quote as well, though in the interests of readability I edited out the snake-like slurring and hissing so prevalent in the dinosaur's voice. For completeness and journalistic accuracy I include the actual quote now: "... conshuvativesh pusshing people inchoo houshesh zhey couldn't affowrd."

Of course the only way mortgage companies could get the payments low enough for low income people to afford the expensive houses they were buying was to invoke things like sub-prime, variable interest rate loans. It trundled along for a while because the economy was red-hot and energy prices were low. Throw in a bad war and a spike in fuel prices and the whole thing blew up like a helicopter in a Hollywood action flick. It isn't a stretch to say that Barney Frank, more than any other single person, is responsible for the current financial crises which began as a ripple from the sub-prime mortgage disaster - which he is now trying to push off on the conservatives (aka Republicans.)

Is this FutbolGuru-worthy? Not really. It's just politics as usual. But what is FutbolGuru worthy is the generalization of this incident. Barney Frank will get away with his latest lie. There are literally millions who will seeth at the Republicans for precipitating this disaster. And while I'm no fan of the Republicans either, they didn't cause this particular mess. They were too busy invading Iraq to think this one up. Yes, Barney Frank will succeed. He'll get re-elected. He'll continue to craft legislation that reflects his mendacity and contempt for us. And why shouldn't he? He sure as hell knows he's lying. But he also knows we're a bunch of lemmings and 99% of us won't stop long enough to see where we're headed. And those of us who do will get run over. And all the while he just smiles and watches the furry little bodies hurtle themselves into the void. Because he just thinks it's damn funny. That's just the way the purple dinosaur rolls.

Futbol Guru,

The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Economy

I loved HALO. The original game. Even with XBox Live, neither HALO 2 nor HALO 3 captured the essence of the original game feel.

Not only was it a great game, but it had a great soundtrack. I still listen to the album when driving from time to time. One of the best songs on the HALO soundtrack is The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe. And it played during one of the best levels - when Master Chief was tasked with destroying the generators to keep HALO from firing and destroying the known universe.

Just when we thought the economy was about to bottom out there is a new threat to the economy. Indeed, a gun pointed at its very head. For even as President Obama is striving to revive our faltering economic engine, his other hand may well be seeking to destroy it.

The EPA is considering listing six 'heat-trapping' gases as health hazards. If they do that, they will have the legal authority to regulate those gases. An article on CNN summarizes today's events but the details can no doubt be found elsewhere. These gasses are: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Now I'm not going to delve into the details of what constitutes a 'health hazard' as defined by the EPA. It really doesn't really matter because the reason they are doing this is perfectly clear. Once it is a health hazard they will then be able to regulate it as they see fit.

Before I get into the implications of what that means, lets look at the gas they're most interested in regulating, carbon dioxide. They want to say it is a health hazard. So does this mean I won't be able to drink it anymore? After all, there is significant CO2 dissolved in every Coke I drink. It comes out of solution in my stomach and when I burp it up it makes my nose sting. If this is a health hazard Coke drinkers should be dropping like flies. (BTW, CO2 is inert, which means it doesn't readily react with anything.) Will they prevent dentists from using nitrous oxides to calm patients or, God forbid, fill cans of Redi-Whip? Please say it isn't so! And to regulate methane I suppose they'll have to start ticketing cows, which means somebody will have to monitor the cows with some kind of sniffer. Ah, no thanks on that job.

But what am I talking about? These gases aren't dangerous in levels they are found in nature. It makes as much sense to regulate water since, if improperly used, water can result in drowning and death. It must be a health hazard. Thousands die every year worldwide in floods. And air - it kills people in the form of tornadoes. I suppose we should regulate that.There are people out there convinced the sky is falling and they will do anything to save us. They are 100% convinced that rising carbon dioxide levels are going to kill us, every one. And soon. Whether they are right or wrong can't even be proven. Climate simulations are less reliable than the weather forecast, and from personal experience that puts them somewhere between 0% and 25%. Are we really going to turn this power over to someone with 12.5% accuracy at best? We did it with the mortgage industry and look where that got us. We go with this one it is going to make the current recession look like a Golden Age.

Lets have some fun and play Einstein. He used to run what he called a Gedankenversuch, or, thought experiment. He used them for testing things that can't be tested, like astronauts moving at the speed of light. Suppose the EPA decides to save us from ourselves and places some kind of cap on carbon emissions. How they would even do that is so full of technical problems as to make the entire law meaningless, but that never stopped the government. But I digress. If they do that then car sales will go from a 25% drop to more like a 50% drop. Perhaps more. Manufacturing is already on the skids. This would cut it in half again. Talk about the first time jobless claims the month after that nuke goes off. And anyone who thinks Obama's high speed rail system is going to replace those jobs probably works with that heavy, man-chick at the EPA.

This is a gun pointed at the head of our economy. Maybe we do need to cap CO2. I'm not the person to ask that question. I've only spent my adult life running high fidelity, multiple-degree-of-freedom, digital simulations of physical systems and hold a masters degree in atmospheric science. Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA does have a masters degree in Chemical Engineering but after graduation she went directly to work for the EPA and has been there ever since. Something tells me her analysis of the situation might suffer from biases picked up during her government years. And you know the problem with biases? You don't know you have them.

CO2, a health hazard? Is that because it is dangerous to the health of humans? Or is it because they fear it will cause the extinction of humanity from interpretation of their climatological simulations? Do we really want to trust our teetering economy to those odds? Master Chief... where are you when we need you?

Futbol Guru,

Cuba: Last Hot Border of the Cold War... Almost

There was a time, not that long ago, when forces of the West were arrayed against forces from the East along what was called an 'Iron Curtain.' Communist nations trapped in or controlled by the Soviet Union had cut themselves off from interaction with the 'freedom-loving' nations of the West. Their ideology, as espoused quite clearly by Kruschev, was to, bury us.

 While the West, led by the capitalist industrialists of the United States eager to open markets for their goods, was by no means innocent of inflammatory speech, it would be difficult to defend the position that we initiated the problem. Indeed, communist movements in various countries across the globe were responsible for a half-century of terror whose ravages live on across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. To defend our mutual selves from imminent invasion, troops, tanks, aircraft, and everything to respond to a surge of the red hoard were garrisoned along this curtain which stretched from the Baltic to the Mediterranean in Europe, and ran in a broken line across various nations of the east including Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and others.

 This was the world in which I grew up. A world prepared for war. The Cold War we called it, though there are plenty for whom it was sufficiently hot. Thankfully it is mostly gone now. The people behind the Iron Curtain can now at least see across the borders and in many places, it's removal has been a boon and a blessing. I can even buy clothing sewn by garment workers in Vietnam and camera lenses made in Russia. Prior to 1990 I'd have never believed goods made in those countries would ever be sold here. And the fact that they are has probably been good for everybody. Yes, American jobs are, and remain, an issue. But for the Vietnamese there is little doubt that it has improved their economy. And not being at war is always nice. From all indications, there are even people in former Warsaw Pact nations reading this blog.

 But there are two places where that old Cold War border remains, though the reason it remains is different in each. North Korea and Cuba. One is far from the US. The other is the second closest nation to the United States after Canada and Mexico which share our physical borders. In one, the United States fought a war to prevent Soviet expansion. In the other, the Soviet's based nuclear missiles which almost led to a war that might have seen them used. In one, the United States built a virtual wall to keep them contained. In the other, they built their own wall to keep themselves contained. Both are impoverished. One is still a threat. The other is not. One keeps it's wall defended for fear of a U.S. attack that will never come. We maintain the wall on the other because we still have egg on our face.

 It is interesting to consider why the Soviet Union 'fell'. Thankfully it didn't require a war. But what was it? Certainly economic pressure had a lot to do with it. The centrally controlled Soviet economy simply couldn't compete with the west. There are, however, too many reasons to go into in this short post, and books will continue to be written about it for many years to come. One of the primary factors, however, was the infusion of goods and information from the West, a result of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost. To a large degree the people trapped behind the Iron Curtain just got sick of it. And as it became impossible to keep the reality of a much better life on the other side of the wall from reaching the people on the inside, maintaining that wall became impossible as well. Pandora's Box had been opened and could not be once again shut.

 So what is the deal in Cuba? The Soviet Union fell because good and services flowed in and exposed the government for the sham it was. Even China's hard line government is slowly changing to accommodate capitalism so they can avoid what happened to their Russian counterparts. It would seem then, that the best way to eliminate the Cuban 'threat' would be to flood their nation with goods and services. Threat? There is no threat! What is the purpose of an ongoing travel and trade embargo other than to assuage the bruised egos of those who fled when Castro came to power? (Now living comfortably in their Miami mansions plotting their return.) Okay, so Castro made us, the US, look like idiots. What a coup d'etat! But that was before I was even born. With the exception of Robert Byrd, how many people in power today were in power then? The nation that sponsored them doesn't even exist anymore. An entire island held hostage by the greed and anger of the wealthy elite who bugged-out the instant things got dicey. I seriously doubt some poor bastard trying to keep his grandfather's 1958 Ford Fury running still remembers his Marx.

The hot border in North Korea is still necessary. While not crazy, North Koreas have a world view that doesn't really mesh too well with... okay, they're crazy. But in Cuba? It would make more sense to fence off New Orleans. The Big Easy, as the uncontested crime capital of the United States, or even Mexico as the home of ruthless cartels that export billions in drugs every year, present far more danger to our security than an impoverished Caribbean Island with an inefficient government. And the beaches are great. Or so I'm told.

Futbol Guru,

Pirates of the Arabian

Perhaps the most surprising thing about these pirate attacks in the Arabian Sea is that no one in the media has used the phrase, 'Pirates of the Ar-a-bian.' I guess I'll be the first. Afterall, journalists the world over are already borrowing from my insightful, common sense analysis. Guys, a little credit please.

Anyway, I came across an article this morning on the FoxNews website, Ten High-Tech Weapons to Repel Pirates. It listed ten toys that might be used by shipping companies to keep their vessels from being hijacked by pirates and their crews interned for what might be extended periods of time. All of these toys were non-lethal of course because we don't want to hurt anyone. After all, according to Capt. George Quick, vice president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, based in Linthicum, Md, "The [Somali] pirates are really just after the ransom money, so it's best to keep things as calm as possible." Ransom, apparently, is okay, even if the crew is captured and dragged off to be held in a dungeon in Mogadishu until someone comes up with the money. And, as I recall, some of the captives have never been released.

Well, to my way of thinking, WTF?! Maybe it was that one good movie and its two horrible sequels that warped everybody's perception, but pirates aren't flamboyant, romantic characters who are really just big teddy bears and want to be left alone to sail the sea in freedom. These are cold-blooded killers who prey upon the weak and defenseless and would just as soon rape your girlfriend as play Grand Theft Auto. The only way to deal with these lawless thugs is to kill them, and we don't need any expensive research projects to figure out how to do that.

Now, I'm against arming the crew. The result of that would be dead crew members. Probably accidental, but dead none the less. Merchant marine sailors aren't trained to repel boarders and they actually have a job to do while they are on ship. But I would wager that these maritime shipping companies could probably find some out of work Blackwater security men with itchy trigger fingers. Those guys know how to shoot. And out in the middle of the Arabian Sea they probably wouldn't get many opportunities to spray crowds of civilians with their bullet hoses.

Alternatively, set up Hellfire missile launchers on the stern of these vessles. Fire and forget. And dead pirates can't exact revenge or meet you the next time you pass along the coast. No return from "the Locker" for those bastards. A Phalanx-style chaingun would probably work well too. Let the crew fire the weapon remotely from a protected area in the ship. Not only would they be doing the world a favor by eliminating this troublesom pest, but it would probably be fun as well, reducing or even eliminating long hours of boredom at sea. They'd probably even fight over the chance to use they system.

Treaties prevent you from docking in an international port with an armed ship? No problem. If you're bringing free food for their starving masses, just don't set sail until they decide your protection is at least as important as the food you are giving them to feed the people they are probably intentionally starving to death. If it is actually a cruise for profit, helo your Blackwater guys out before you make berth. It would probably be a lot cheaper than paying two million in ransom.

With all due respect to Mr. Wagenseil, and in the interests of actually making sense, here are ten weapons that might actually do some good against these unprincipled, barbaric, raiding parties. Incidentally, it is the only anti-piracy method that has ever worked.

1) Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System. Pirates don't come back.

2) AGM 115 Hellfire missile  Fire and forget.

3) Gould Mk 48 anti-ship torpedo. Overkill? NOT! Have you ever been held in a Somali dungeon?

4) Mines.  They'll never see it coming.

5) Blackwater security forces.  Love 'em or hate 'em, my guess is, the pirates would hate 'em.

6) Twin-40mm cannon.  Get the whole crew involved!

7) Attack dogs.  Cheap, effective, and they make great pets for the crew.

8) Skinheads.  They don't need weapons, love their work, and can be disposed of at the end of a journey.

8) Flame throwers.  Can be used by the cook so technically not a weapon.

9) Boiling oil.  Also, not a weapon.

10) Blunderbuss.  Beats doing what they are doing now...

11) Added 4/16. Here's how they used to handle it


Futbol Guru,

Bureaucracy In Action

I was looking over my posts the other day and said to myself, "Futbol Guru, you sure have become cynical." So I've been thinking about my attitude and trying to decide if I'm being fair or if I've gotten into a rut.

Well it's always possible to focus on doom and gloom. My lovely wife often accuses me of having gotten into a habit of seeing only the negative. And there is much to what she says. In fact, I am by nature a very optimistic person. I am always hoping for the best - which is a trap because "the best" rarely happens. When I tell her that she just frowns. Maybe she's right. Maybe I do tend to focus on the negative. At the same time, when you're headed for a cliff the global negative in your future tends to outweigh any local positives. I suppose there is a school of thought that prases the lemming who turns to his running-mate and comments on the beautiful weather. Fortunately I didn't go to that school.

The Obama administration continues to surprise me and I was especially astounded this very morning. And no, I'm not being cynical. On the way in to work I heard on the radio that President Obama has directed the Attorney General to drop all charges against Senator Ted Stevens, effectively throwing out his indictment. Honestly I don't know whether the man is guilty or not. I know he's an idiot and doesn't know the difference between the internet and a series of tubes but that doesn't make him guilty of accepting bribes.

What I wonder is why the government spent millions of dollars bringing the case against him, effectively handing his senate seat to a challenger from the other party, and then decided the case was indefensible. And how many other senate and house seats were affected by the bad press as a result of the scandal that apparently never existed in the first place? I really don't care anymore what party did what to whom. The point here is that the citizenry has a very good reason for their utter lack of faith in government because there are only two possibilities here. 1) An indefensible case was successfully prosecuted against an innocent man or, 2) charges were trumped up by the opposition part to gain a Senate seat. Either way the conclusion is inescapable.

Bureaucracy. What is it? We know its effect - corruption, inefficiency, and grid lock. But we don't often think about the actual causes of bureaucracy. Consider cancer as an example. We know what cancer does, and for a long time we just treated the symptoms. The patient (sometimes) survived a little longer and was (sometimes) more comfortable, but the end result was the same with or without treatment. Only now are we beginning to understand what causes cancer: mutations in cellular DNA that lead to rapid, uncontrolled, cellular growth. And with understanding new treatments are coming.

Though very similar in effect to cancer, Bureaucracy is much easier to understand. And as can be done with many things in life, to get at the root cause we will begin at the effect and step backwards until we find it. Soof the way science works, or following the money trail.

First Step Back: Bureaucracy comes from government officials making bad decisions. E.g., Let's invade Iraq.

Second Step Back:These decisions can be bad either because the official making them is incompetent, or they can be bad because they are driven by political considerations rather than attempts to address an actual problem. E.g., Lets prosecute Ted Stevens to get his Senate seat.

Third Step Back: So the people making the decisions are either a) incompetent, or b) politicized. E.g., Let's invade Iraq.

Fourth Step Back: This is where it starts getting muddy. The point in science where there are more unknowns than equations. Or where the laundered money comes back clean. How does an incompetent person get himself elected to public office? One way is to be the son of a former President (Bush). Or Senator (Gore). Or have a butt-load of cash (Bloomberg).This used to be called dynastic succession and is one of the reasons we fought a conflict called the Revolutionary War. Regrettably Dynastic Succession seems to have come back in to fashion, maybe because we stopped teaching history in schools.

Another way to get elected if you don't happen to be royalty is to say the right things, to the right people, in the right way. Like eloquently articulating the need for substantive change (aka - politics) in a melodious baritone (Obama). Or demanding a return to family values (Bush).

Once the desire for efficient government administrated by honest public servants is supplanted by politics or heredity in the minds of the people, as has happened in America, you wind up with incompetent people in positions of power making decisions for all the wrong reasons. The results are catastrophic. Invading the wrong country. Deregulation of the banking and investment industry. Laws to limit entrepreneurship. Presidents trying to run car companies. Prosecutions aimed at gaining control over government institutions. Trillions of dollars transferred from the poor to the rich. National economies at the mercy of enviro-political activists.

Where will it end? When will it end? Will we as a nation continue to run head long over that cliff, driven forward by fear and paranoia created and exploited by those who would profit from our deaths? Or will we, as a people, come to our senses and curtail the power of the parties. We can do it. The internet has taken the power of information away from the media and given it to the people. This very blog is a manifestation of freedom in action. But will we use it? Lord knows we could all use something to give us hope. I'm tired of being cynical. But then again, maybe I'm not cynical. Maybe I'm just reporting the truth.

-Futbol Guru,