Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pastrami on rye

A recent posting on my personal blog is concerned with how best to serve Pastrami on rye. If anybody reading here has strong views on the matter, I would be delighted to hear from them.


HMS Sausage returns to port for the last time

Wait for it

To stop the video, click the bottom left-hand corner


Cumberland sausage is well known in Britain -- hence the nickname of the ship


Are the good times really over for good?

An excerpt below from a book review in which both the author and the reviewer express optimism about America's economic future. Rather surprisingly, both overlook the role of an ever-expanding government. They acknowledge that the average American stopped getting richer decades ago but really have no explanation for it.

That all the gains from technological progress and innovation have been swallowed up by an ever-expanding bureaucracy they do not consider. You can't take more and more people out of the productive workforce and expect the supply of goods and services to grow. Sure, the bureaucracy does provide "services" of a kind but not ones most people value or would willingly pay for.

And the destruction of savings held in American dollars brought about by Obama's money-printing binge is mostly still to be felt. It is hard to see how the Obama legacy of a greatly expanded government and people with destroyed savings is going to allow for much bounce-back any time soon.

Unless of course America gets a President who abolishes all federal departments that cover matters already covered by the States. Abolishing the Federal Depts. of Health and Education would hurt no-one and the DEA, OSHA, EPA (etc.) also overlap and could readily go too

Cowen, a George Mason University economist, argues that since colonial times the American economy has benefited from "low-hanging fruit"—i.e., bountiful opportunities for growth. He singles out three in particular: free land, technological breakthroughs, and "smart but uneducated kids."

"Yet during the last forty years," Cowen writes, "that low-hanging fruit started disappearing, and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are more bare than we would like to think. That's it. That is what has gone wrong." Cowen identifies the exhaustion of that low-hanging fruit as the main culprit behind the slowdown in growth during recent decades, rising inequality, the nastiness of present-day politics, and even the recent global financial meltdown. Looking forward, he admits the possibility that innovation and growth will pick up again, perhaps catalyzed by the rise of China and India. Cultural change would help, he argues. Specifically, his chief prescription is that we somehow raise the social status of scientists.

Cowen is hardly the first boy to cry wolf. In previous periods of deep economic distress, other prognosticators have grabbed attention by claiming that innovation and growth are at long last winding down. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the "secular stagnationists," led by Keynesian economist Alvin Hansen, argued that falling population growth and dwindling prospects for technological progress meant that "mature" economies could combat chronic underinvestment and unemployment only through massive government spending. And during the stagflation of the 1970s, the Club of Rome and many others warned that ecological constraints were finally imposing "limits to growth." So here we are: another macroeconomic crisis, another gloomy prophet.

We should remember, however, that at the end of this story the wolf actually does come. So could Cowen be right this time?

He certainly is correct in identifying a poorly understood phenomenon of fundamental importance: Innovation and economic growth are getting harder. During the last few decades, rapid growth in the number of scientists, engineers, and researchers has not resulted in a corresponding acceleration of economic growth or new inventions. Indeed, the number of patents per researcher has been falling steadily. "In each industry the most obvious ideas are discovered first," explained Paul Segerstrom of the Stockholm School of Economics in a 1998 American Economic Review article, "making it harder to find new ideas subsequently."

Cowen is also right that a big source of relatively easy growth during the 20th century—investment in education—has been exhausted. In 1900 only 6 percent of American kids graduated high school, and only 0.25 percent went to college. The high school graduation rate peaked at roughly 80 percent in the late 1960s and has slipped a bit since, while some 40 percent of college-age kids are now in college. Moving these numbers upward without cutting standards further may be possible, but it certainly won't be easy, and in any event the biggest gains in improving educational attainment are likely behind us.

But there is another side of the coin. Yes, pursuing any particular avenue of scientific research or technological development yields diminishing returns. But it is often the case that advances in one area open up entirely new avenues of progress in others. To put it another way, we keep discovering previously hidden orchards of low-hanging fruit. The microelectronics revolution of the last half-century is a spectacular case in point: Continuing exponential growth in information processing capacity has made possible sweeping innovations in a host of industries unrelated to silicon chips. Looking ahead, exciting developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence promise future waves of revolutionary innovation.

Furthermore, even as growth gets harder, our institutions of wealth creation have improved. The number of scientists and researchers has grown, and their tools keep getting better. American corporations have undergone wrenching restructuring in recent decades to make them more innovative and responsive to change. On the whole, government policies today are much more favorable to entrepreneurship and innovation than they were a half-century ago. And continued progress on all these fronts remains possible.

How do these countervailing forces balance out? My reading of the evidence doesn't support Cowen's sweeping historical narrative that centuries of easy progress are now behind us. Much of the force of his argument comes from contrasting America's glittering economic performance in the decades following World War II with the decidedly less impressive record in recent decades. But if you zoom out and look at the larger historical record, Cowen's "Great Stagnation" more or less disappears. And if you zoom in and examine recent trends in detail, the numbers likewise belie the claim that we have hit a "technological plateau."

Cowen correctly points out that median family income rose smartly after World War II, only to fall off sharply in the 1970s. Per capita GDP figures reveal the same trend, albeit a little less dramatically (because of the rise in income inequality, which means most of the income gains have come among higher earners). Between 1950 and 1973, the average annual growth rate of real GDP per capita was 2.5 percent; for the period between 1973 and 2007, the corresponding figure was only 1.9 percent.



Leftist haters don't know what "depleted" means

Read the bit of paranoia below and you can see how hatred of the world you live in can anaesthetize your powers of thought. "Depeleted" uranium is of course uranium from which the radioactive component has been removed. But the sad souls below still refer to it as "radioactive"

By most accounts, the U.S. has embarked on another humanitarian war, and its fifth one, using depleted uranium. In this compelling 2004 study, geoscientist and radiation expert Leuren Moret paints a bold picture of the pervasive and devastating effects of this "silent killer that will not go away". However, beyond its much-touted military advantages, Moret suggests that depleted uranium serves as a deadly instrument for furthering Washington’s unavowed geo-strategic agenda, as in Libya today.

The use of depleted uranium weaponry by the United States, defying all international treaties, will slowly annihilate all species on earth including the human species, and yet this country continues to do so with full knowledge of its destructive potential.

Since 1991, the United States has staged four wars using depleted uranium weaponry, illegal under all international treaties, conventions and agreements, as well as under the US military law. The continued use of this illegal radioactive weaponry, which has already contaminated vast regions with low level radiation and will contaminate other parts of the world over time, is indeed a world affair and an international issue. The deeper purpose is revealed by comparing regions now contaminated with depleted uranium — from Egypt, the Middle East, Central Asia and the northern half of India — to the US geostrategic imperatives described in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s 1997 book The Grand Chessboard.

The fact is that the United States and its military partners have staged four nuclear wars, "slipping nukes under the wire" by using dirty bombs and dirty weapons in countries the US needs to control. Depleted uranium aerosols will permanently contaminate vast regions and slowly destroy the genetic future of populations living in those regions, where there are resources which the US must control, in order to establish and maintain American primacy


There is a tiny element of radioactivity left in DU but there is is a tiny element of radioactivity in lots of things -- granite, for instance. If the nutters above were in the real world they might perhaps have pointed to the fact that U-238 is a heavy metal and heavy metals have some health concerns surrounding them. But even the WHO (a UN body) has said that there is no evidence of adverse health effects from DU -- JR


Obama's dismal assumptions

President Obama’s speech on the fiscal crisis was not merely political. It was also highly ideological. Despite how counterintuitive it may seem to pursue an expansion of government spending while a good bit of the world is seeking a government “downsizing” (including much of Europe), President Obama’s proposals fit with what we know about him.

The governing philosophy that leads our President to these sorts of proposals has been identified by many different names. Statism, Marxism, Socialism – the Obama agenda arguably contains elements of all of these philosophies, and more.

But rather than trying to connect President Barack Obama to somebody else’s pre-established political philosophy, it’s useful to examine what appear to be the philosophical assumptions with which the President operates. Here are just a couple of the assumptions that currently seem to have engulfed the President:

“Government always know best” – President Barack Obama seems to have very little confidence in the abilities of private individuals and groups to solve problems, and seems to view individual liberty as a problem to be “managed.” Thus, no matter what the dilemma – the rising cost of healthcare, the collapse of American automobile companies, or a proliferation of “bullying” on school campuses – the President’s instinctive responses are almost always the same.

Form a commission. Convene a summit. Appoint a Czar. Set-up a new “department.” The President seems to assume that with more oversight and control, government will always act benevolently and in the “collective interests” of all, whereas private individuals and organizations are almost always suspected of acting selfishly and destructively.

This philosophical assumption was absolutely entailed in the President’s remarks about our fiscal crisis. While Congressman Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman proposed to expand competition in the healthcare markets as a means of reducing Medicare costs, an indignant President Obama would have nothing to do with the idea (as the Wall Street Journal pointed out the President stopped short of calling this idea “murderous”).

The only means by which entitlement spending on Medicare can be controlled, so far as President Obama is concerned, is to have all Medicare coverage decisions routed through an un-elected commission in Washington so as to eliminate “unnecessary” Medicare payments (this approach also re-affirms his previously stated belief that greedy medical doctors have a proclivity to bill Medicare for unnecessary procedures, simply because they want the money).

“Private resources ultimately belong to the government” – President Obama is well known for his “spread- the-wealth-around inclinations, given his now famous run-in with the “Joe the Plummer” character during the 2008 presidential campaign. What often goes unnoticed, however, is that he frequently speaks not merely of government’s “right” to re-distribute private wealth, but of government’s ultimate ownership of it.

This philosophical assumption was apparent in the President’s fiscal crisis speech as well. When discussing the taxation rates imposed upon America’s top income earners, President Obama insisted that America “can’t afford” to leave these rates in place. Both explicitly, and implicitly, the President was saying that our government incurs a cost, when it does NOT take money away from private individuals.

How can this be? The government “loses” money, when it does not take money away from private citizens? President Obama has been using this line of reasoning for nearly all of the twenty-eight months of his presidency. It ultimately points towards a belief that your money, at the end of the day, belongs to the government, and it’s up to agents of government to determine how much you’re permitted to “keep.”

The President’s philosophical assumptions are not merely a matter of politics. They are a part of who he is. Can America withstand this?



Krauthammer on the budget

The most serious charge against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget is not the risible claim, made most prominently by President Obama in his George Washington University address, that it would "sacrifice the America we believe in." The serious charge is that the Ryan plan fails by its own standards: Because it only cuts spending without raising taxes, it accumulates trillions of debt and doesn't balance the budget until the 2030s. If the debt is such a national emergency, they say, Ryan never really gets you there from here.

But the critics miss the point. You can't get there from here without Ryan's plan. It's the essential element. Of course Ryan is not going to propose tax increases. You don't need Republicans for that. That's what Democrats do. The president's speech was a prose poem to higher taxes – with every allusion to spending cuts guarded by a phalanx of impenetrable caveats.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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