Friday, November 28, 2008

The New Frugality

We are told that there is an emergent phenomenon coming out of the economic trainwreck that some folks are calling The New Frugality.  

It is said that this new generation of Born Again Tightwads are going to avoid Saks and Nordstroms and sidle into Gordman's and T.J. Maxx for their fashions, and they're going to drink Paul Masson in the jug instead of thirty or forty bucks a bottle for the good stuff. 

Some say this is more than a passing fancy, but I am unconvinced.  In fact, Time Magazine ran a story back in 1973 on the same subject and a cruise through the blogosphere reveals similar straws in what turned out to be a nasty wind. 

The percipient observer could be forgiven for asking "What the heck was wrong with the frugality we used to have?" 

The difference is that people have not learned self reliance because no limits were placed on their excesses until the whole creaking, stinking, malodorous edifice collapsed under the weight of the  Mastercard and Visa "Why wait?" mentality. They sound for all the world like a bunch of reformed drunks at their first AA meeting, for heaven's sake.

We live simply, because that's the kind of people we are. I repair things because that's the kind of person I am. Good serviceable things simply do not get shitcanned because they're out of fashion. We buy at auctions and never ever pay retail for anything. Ever. Nothing gets charged-if we can't write a check it doesn't get bought. Simple. 

When you grow up lower middle class like we did you learn to make do and save for the important things. Having dug our butts out of credit card hell last year, we're not going down that road again. Once was plenty.

Fact is, I mentioned this phenomenon to a teller at the credit union this morning and I said I was going to put the New Frugality into practice. "How?" she asked. "Well", says I, "Im not going to give anyone any Christmas presents this year, and I'm going to tell them that it's going to help them develop Moral Character." 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's Wrong With General Motors

Lately we've been hearing a lot of palaver about this subject. 

Sales are down all across the automotive sector,  between the General, Ford, and what's left of Chrysler, and these last three have been caught with a severe case of the shorts, as my old man used to call being between paydays.

To us here in the Dougloid Towers, a few general observations on the subject seem to be in order.

In the automotive context there's a lot of mythology at work in the field of perception-and, as my friend John the used car salesman says on occasion "For most people perception is reality." 

It's also true that what is common knowledge generally is conventional wisdom-something that everyone knows that is unfortunately uninformed and erroneous. As Edwin Armstrong once observed, what people know isn't dangerous-it's what they know that ain't so that is.

One aspect of that conventional knowledge is that GM, Ford and Chrysler cannot build a quality motor vehicle. 

Let me give you an example. The Dragon Lady has been enamored of the Scion XB ever since she saw one. I once asked her if she would buy the same exact car from the same exact factory if it said Chevrolet on it. She said "Oh no-it'd be no good."

J.D. Power, the noted quality benchmarking firm, tells us that the best quality midsize and full size cars for the 2008 model year are made by General Motors and FordIn the truck and van line, five of the top quality SUVs and vans are made by General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford. 

They have by and large, learned the quality lesson that they've been getting spanked with since the seventies-when the General and its accomplices built some really awful cars and had a pretty cavalier, "Let 'em eat cake!" attitude. That cost them, because it allowed the Asian Big Three to establish a bridgehead that they've expanded into the General's turf.

"B-b-but Sparky!" you say, "I-i-isn't the Tundra made in Texas? and Nissan?"

Well, yes, they are, and we're thankful for the jobs that have been provided, even if they are scab jobs with no future that a working man is bound to respect.  

But although they're assembled here, they're no more American companies than Daimler Benz is, because they've got no stake in the future of this country where you and I live. 

To the people at Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and all the others, this country is a profit center,  and the day it stops being a profit center is the day that the machinery will be crated up and sent somewhere else-which is exactly what happened to the Volkswagen plant in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania.

GM, Ford, and Chrysler are North American owned companies, and they source their parts primarily from other North American companies. That means that their products support a large number of subcontractors all across the country and a lot of workers in small companies, and truckers, and waitresses in the cafes across the street from the plant.  One of the features of the aviation business in years past was small operators who specialized in hotshot deliveries to the auto plants.  I used to see a couple Turbo Commanders with the interiors ripped out that would haul seat covers from a small company in southwestern Michigan to any number of auto plants across the midwest and Canada at night.  

The effect of an industrywide shutdown would be catastrophic for a lot of people, most of whom only dimly realize that their fortunes are linked to those of the (not so big anymore) Big Three.

Also, it's worth remembering that GM, Ford, and Chrysler and the infrastructure they support has also been critical to the national defense-their expertise in developing and producing products for our military and their contributions in wartime have been unparalleled. They put rifles in the hands of the GIs and the tanks and jeeps under their asses, the engines in the bombers that smashed Japan and Germany, the DUKWs that carried GIs ashore, and a helluva lot of B-24 Liberators right there at Willow Run. Dismantle that capacity and you cannot fight your wars.

Perhaps the main reason GM, Ford and Chrysler have got the shorts right now is legacy costs. That's right, folks, the contracts they signed and the undertakings they made to support in their old age the people who'd given the best years of their working lives to the company back in the glory days have come back to haunt them in this brave new world of globalization.

The New Yorker did a piece last year on the subject that's well worth a read. It refers back to an earlier piece from 2006 by Malcolm Gladwell that's even more trenchant.

Legacy costs are those obligations to provide retirees with health care benefits and generous pensions, and contract provisions that required generous severance and maintenance benefits to workers who lost their jobs in layoffs like the infamous 'job bank'. 

The approach of the offshore auto makers has been pretty simple. No retirees? No benefits. No unions? No contracts. No follow on costs. Honda considers what legacy cost they have as insignificant.

And it's worked well. Estimates are that legacy costs for the General are on the order of $2,000 per vehicle. I think that's a conservative estimate. Although I'm not generally a fan of the National Review, they also did a piece on the subject that's grim but informative reading.

By comparison, in 2005, Toyota had only 258 retirees from its North American operations spread across 30,000 employees.  General Motors has over 400,000 retirees. The cost for that is folded into the price of every vehicle they make and it is a small block tied around the neck of everything they try to do.

"B-b-but Sparky!" you say, "What's the takehome?"

GM, Ford and Chrysler are going to have to shed their legacy costs and soon. If they do not, they won't be able to compete and if they can't compete they won't survive in their present form. I would suspect that they know this, and as they go to the Obama administration with their hands out, they will have to show how they can do this or go away empty handed.

The offshore builders, on the other hand, will never have these costs, and if by chance it gets a little too expensive for them they'll go back where they came from and cut the rest of us loose.

And we did all this to ourselves, by trying to be decent and having a care for people who worked their asses off in the automobile plants by providing a modest retirement for them free of the care and worries that old age brings. 

That, it seems, is a positive disadvantage in this day and age of free trade.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Another Night In November

Seventy years ago, a violent pogrom against Jewish residents of Germany erupted on the night of November 9, 1938. 

In a well orchestrated response to the assassination of diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Jew, a fury of destruction and murder broke over the heads of the Jews of Germany. About a hundred were killed, uncounted thousands were beaten by Nazi thugs, more were arrested and sent to prison camps, and hundreds of Jewish stores, homes, businesses and temples were smashed, looted and torched.

Ordinary Germans who maybe didn't pick up a brick and toss it through a window, or smash a Jew with a clenched fist, turned their heads and looked away-to their eternal dishonor. 

To add insult to injury, the Jews of Germany were saddled with paying the Nazis to clean up the mess they'd made as part of a coordinated policy of extracting every last pfennig from the Jews before they were unceremoniously disposed of even unto the teeth in their heads and the hair on them. 

If you'd like to understand how a subject people were made to pay for their own executions, read "Hitler's Beneficiaries" by Gotz Aly. It's grim but informative reading.

Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass, marked the start of a tectonic shift in German thinking from ad hoc expulsion and abuse to state sponsored and funded, systematic eradication of an entire group of people. 

In this season of hope with so much riding on the election we've just witnessed, it is well to remember and light a candle for the people of a different November evening seventy years ago and what that signified for a world that figured what happened in Germany wasn't their problem.

Photo credit Yad Vashem.

Further Adventures From the Tonal Fringe

Here's a chunk of vintage solid state gear that followed me home the other day for a rather modest fifty bucks. 

It was crusted with the remains of a million Marlboros and Camels, and it stank up the cab of the pickup all the way back home. A couple hours scrubbing, a bottle of 409, and a roll of paper towels later this is what was revealed. 

It's a Baldwin D-1 Professional guitar amplifier with-a drum roll, Maestro-Supersound, which consists of five different voicing selections that can be used singly or combined with the standard voicing. 

It's an interesting piece of gear, and it dates from the early days of solid state amplifiers. It was hand wired on perforated phenolic boards, which seems to suggest that the production was pretty low. I've never seen another like it.

It was made by the folks who make Baldwin organs when they took a brief flyer in the amplifier field in the heyday of sixties guitar mania.

Tonally, it's smooth and mellow, and getting clear tone requires something with single coil pickups like a Telecaster. No humbuckers need apply. The nonoriginal speaker's nothing to write home to mother about but a Weber Chicago has been obtained from Gregg Levy and will arrive soon. That alone ought to provide a quantum improvement in tone.

The vibrato is lush, but the reverb is a bit of a disappointment. It's adequate, but that's all. Overdriving the preamp with a Tubescreamer is better forgotten about  and yields little improvement of the kind that can be gotten with similarly smooth sounding tube guitar amps.

It is said that Willie is enamored of a Baldwin that he is known to use, and I can see why. It's easy to love and makes no great psychic demands. 

Output? Allegedly 75w peak, which really means 25 or 30 on a good day when all the planets are in alignment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

They Just Don't Get It.

CNN tells us this day that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council told them that conservatives need to take back control of the GOP if the party wants to return to its winning ways. "Moderates never beat conservatives. We've seen that in past elections." Pointing to measures in three states that erected bans against same sex marriage, Perkins said that there was no mandate to shift to the left on social issues.....(people wanted change) and that was a rejection of a moderate view." This seems to be the emergent line from the right wing of the GOP. I've speculated about how they would account for getting what amounted to an old fashioned ass whuppin' with all the fancy trimmings and no cost extras, but this seems to be how the whacko wing of the GOP is going to account for it-it was a failure of Faith. As in all millenarian faiths, when you Go Up To The Mountain to Await the End of the World and the Rapture does not arrive on schedule, it can only be a failure of faith-either because the Faithful were slackers in their beliefs, or sometimes the Prophet messed up his calculations when he figured out when the End of Days should arrive. I mean, it would be too much for them to comprehend that they got their butts handed to them because they are busted, tapped out, no tengo, empty pocket losers without a message that speaks to what people need.

One More Crack In the Glass Ceiling?

From what we read in the press there's a fair amount of kiss and tell from now unemployed McCain staffers and now underemployed journalist types going on about Sarah Palin and her....ahem...relative naivete in matters geographical and other divers things which I will not bother reciting here. 

These toxic waste dumps are being busily picked over by the schadenfreude crowd. 

Suffice it to say that they range from the moderately catty to the downright nasty. One questions why this is all coming from anonymous sources in the campaign formerly known as McCain Palin.

"B-b-but Sparky!" you say,  "aren't we supposed to do a victory dance after the touchdown?"

Yes. A certain amount of celebration is appropriate. 

But this game is over.

In her own way, Sarah Palin has made historic change possible for a great number of women who now know that having a child in arms and being a housewife from a small town is no bar to being present and accountable when and where history is being made.

Margret Kopala over at Canwest has this to say.

"For those many women who want fulfilling work as well as the very children who will save us from a demographic winter, there's Sarah Palin. Arriving on the Republican ticket as the vice presidential candidate, she held her brood in one arm and, with the other, reached for the brass ring.

In one gesture, she signalled to women everywhere that denying motherhood in order to penetrate glass ceilings is itself now history."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Memo to Steve King: We Doin' The Boogaloo

Representative Steve King of Iowa had a lot to say about how Al Qaeda would be dancing in the streets if Obama got elected. Here's what it looked like more or less. Give a listen.

Steve, we're having a dance party here. Eat your heart out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I'm Sober Now: Rewriting History

We didn't have to wait too long for the Monday morning quarterbacking to begin and neither did you. The GOP circular firing squad seems to be up and running quite nicely, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

This should prove a very interesting day, and I'm waiting to see what Herr Limbaugh comes up with this afternoon-it ought to be a rare treat.

The following theories are being floated in mesne places  as an explanation for the old fashioned ass whuppin' with all the fancy trimmings the GOP took last night. 

The list is not comprehensive, and it seems to be growing like three month old coleslaw in the back of the refrigerator.So, without further ado, the list. I'm not making this stuff up, folks. 

Choosing Sarah Palin did it.

Media bias did it. 

Dick Armey on NPR: "When we're like us we win-when we're like them we lose."

The mortgage crisis did it.

The Wall Street market crash did it.

Sarah Palin did it.

Newt Gingrich: "The first fact of the 2008 election is the failure of the Republican Congress and the Republican president."

The negroes did it. This theme has several variations, to wit: Obama is an Arab. Obama is the antichrist. Obama was really born in __________ (Cuba and Venezuela are popular). Obama is a baby killer. 

George Bush was responsible.

McCain and Palin actually won the election.

Cleta Mitchell: "The damage the Bush administration has done to the conservative movement by signing McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations is immeasurable."

Michael Gaynor gives ten reasons why McCain lost, to wit:

  • the predominantly liberal mainstream media abandoned McCain. The coverage by ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC was biased in favor of Obama.
  • Obama broke his promise concerning campaign funding
  • most voters believed that the country was on the wrong track
  • the country was eager to elect a black man while white opposition was universally cast as racist. Black folks voted for Obama out of racial pride.
  • Obama looked a lot better than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton
  • Only Fox News checked Obama out. People ignored them.
  • McCain expected to win because he was better prepared to be president but forgot to show that Obama was unqualified.
  • Obama's radical allies had secretly prepared the way for him to win
  • the mainstream media led by Charles Gibson, Katie Couric and Tina Fey made it seem as if Sarah Palin was unfit to be president
  • the mainstream media kept a lid on the ugly truth about ACORN. 

And although it wasn't on Gaynor's top ten, there was a bonus, to wit: McCain played in to the hands of the liberal Left, especially the New York Times.

Mike Bates of the National Ledger says:

  • John McCain wasn't conservative enough and carried too much liberal baggage-legislative liasons with Teddy Kennedy and Russ Feingold are the proof.
  • McCain's conversion to tax cuts was lukewarm.
  • McCain did not use Jeremiah Wright to smear Obama.
  • Palin was a positive bonus. People who weren't going to support her would never have voted for the ticket anyway.
  • McCain's estrangement from the rank and file never healed.
  • When the GOP strays from conservatism it falters (read: McCain wasn't true to the faith.)
  • The economy wasn't as bad as it looks.
  • Mainstream media bias against the McCain ticket was toxic and fatal.
  • Fraud. Obama didn't account for the money that was donated.
  • ACORN and voter fraud.
  • Widespread civil disorder would have erupted if McCain won. (read: The negroes would have rioted if Obama lost.)

That's enough for now. Don't be surprised if the list grows longer.


It occurs to us (I'm reaching now) that one of the hallmarks of a revealed faith is its absolute requirement of adherence to the core dogma. Thus, when the Faithful go up to the Mountain to await the End Of The World and it doesn't happen, it would of course be unthinkable that the prophet is wrong. What it means is that the back room boys with the adding machines goofed up the data inputs or the janitor mixed up the paper on the Prophet's desk.

Likewise, there's a misconstruing of cause and effect based on imperfect knowledge and rigid adherence to the faith that produces phenomena in primitive societies like cargo cults and the perpetual warfare of the Yanomamoe.

That's what seems to be at the heart of the matter on this day. People are busy cranking out all sorts of explanations for why the Cause failed, the Holy Book was full of wormholes, the Sacred Relics were nothing more than a stinking pile of half eaten chicken wings, and none of the apologists seem to be able to say "Our message was wrong and people finally realized we've been selling wolf cookies for years.We've got to do a better job and that means rethinking our dogma. We've got no clothes and we aren't emperor any more either. "  

I did listen to Rush Limbaugh today and it reminded me why I gave that up in 1993-it's the same tired schtick that produces migraines in functioning cerebral cortexes the world over, and it's as good as ever for that purpose.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

These Men Died For Nothing: When Artists Rewrite History And Peddle It

We're reliably informed by the National Post that an artist and writer named David Coupland did up this masterpiece as a reminder that Canada maybe won the war of 1812. It is said that this edifice, made of styrofoam, resin and rebar, cost $500,000 and was commissioned by something called Malibu Investments as part of its public art contribution to a condominium project.

The sculpture depicts a toy British grenadier standing over a fallen toy soldier that is presumably an American soldier.

Hizzoner the Deppity Mayor of York, Mr. Pantaleone, said it was a general statement about the nature of war and presumably not meant as an offense. 

However, Mr. Coupland said "I wanted to come up with an elegant and simple way of saying, no, the British won." Apparently this is taught to kiddies in primary schools all across our neighbor to the North.

People laughed out loud as the sculpture was unveiled.

Seeing as Mr. Coupland is pretty well thought of as far as his literary efforts we took a look and found that he's not above appropriating titles for books that he publishes, that have already been used, to wit, City of Glass which was published by Paul Auster back in 1985, or it could have been Stan Kenton's album "City of Glass" which was released in 1951. I presume that both are still copyrighted-but nevermind.

How's his history?

The US improvidently declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The British took Detroit. The British blockaded the United States. The U.S. Navy did better, acquitting itself passably well against a more substantial opponent. The British burned public buildings in Washington, D.C.  The British invaded northern New York but retreated after the British fleet on Lake Champlain was destroyed. 

A peace treaty was signed. 

After the treaty was signed but before the news got around, a ragtag American army made up of equal parts negro freemen, French outlaws, mountaineers from Appalachia and regular army soldiers proceeded to administer an old fashioned ass whuppin' with all the trimmings to Pakenham's British regulars at New Orleans. 

The British lost 2000 killed and wounded plus several hundred were taken prisoner, for the loss of 8 Americans killed and 13 wounded.

And what about the battle at York? The Americans took the town, the British regulars abandoned the local militia, fires were set, people behaved themselves badly all around and the Americans took things that did not belong to them.

Does any of this sound like a win to you?

And was it worth $500,000?  

In the interests of historical accuracy, the cause of international amity, friendship and peace might have been better served by a simple monument with the names of the war dead and a large sign that says in letters of fire:


These brave men who died in the service of a lousy cause were not toy soldiers. 

They were real people who bleed and puke and soil themselves because they're scared. 

Depicting them as toy soldiers does a disservice to their names, regardless of who "won".

Photo credit National Post.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Rump GOP

There's an interesting idea floating around these days that the GOP may well become something of a 'rump' party when the dust settles from the latest quadrennial fracas here.  Paul Krugman's got an interesting op-ed piece in the Times that's food for thought. It got me thinking.

No, no Sparky-not that kind of rump party. We're in mixed company here, little feller.

The term was first used in describing the Long Parliament of Britain, but in its contemporary usage it has come to describe a fragment of a larger political entity that is or has become an irrelevant and vestigial political body-the Doenitz government of 1945 Germany comes to mind, as do things like South Ossetia, Kosovo, the Quisling government in Norway and the fascist government of Croatia in the war years.

Unlike those places, however, the fragmentation that is already taking place in the Republican party is largely self inflicted and it is being torn asunder by the Father Coughlins and George Lincoln Rockwells that infest talk radio.  It feeds on conspiracy theories, hints of dark plots of jews and nigruhs conniving with homosexuals and 'eastern financial interests' to grab people's guns, sleep with their daughters and kill their fetuses.

What's worse is that the presidential campaign of John McCain thought it had to appeal to such prurient interests of that group in order to gain any traction at all in this election. 

It's just plain dishonorable, and I hope that he can yet do some good to repair the fragmentation that he accelerated and the rage he and his odious consort have legitimized, encouraged, and given voice to.  

When the dust settles tomorrow night, we're likely to see that a large number of moderate Republicans, traditional conservatives, and independents have struck their colors and crossed the aisle. I think the numbers will be more than significant.

As what's left of the GOP thus moves farther and farther into the hinterlands of 'real America' it moves farther and farther away from the centers of power, the electorate, the moderates, the genral thinking of most people and consequently relevance in national affairs.  

And in doing so, it has served unequivocal notice on moderate Republicans that there's no place for them at the table. 

The remaining Republican moderates  therefore face an uncertain future and a choice of unpalatable alternatives: go over to the opposition, wage war for control of the GOP, or form a third party. None of that promises a return to political power anytime soon, and any rebuilding they care to essay will take generations.

The GOP has thus told its moderates in no uncertain terms, just as Cromwell told the Rump Parliament to get lost, get stuffed, pack your bags and get out of town. 

Of course, Cromwell said it better.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Julius Streichers of Talk Radio

Folks, we recently tuned into Media Matters, a website devoted to exposing the feces of partisan attacks on both sides of the aisle-that is, as long as there's an aisle. We found this today and I was stunned by the audacity of this fellow. I quote:

During the October 30 broadcast of his Cincinnati-based radio show,Bill Cunningham asked "Randy Furman," a fictional Jewish character voiced by fellow WLW-AM host Scott Sloan: "Did you hear about this [Columbia University professor of Middle East studies Rashid] Khalidi tape where [Sen. Barack] Obama is toasting a guy who wants to gas and fry Jews? ... This Obama guy loves the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization]. Can't you figure that out?" Cunningham later added, "Jews for [Sen. John] McCain because Obama wants to gas the Jews, like the PLO wants to gas the Jews, like the Nazis gassed the Jews. You got Obama introducing Arab terrorists, and the L.A. Times won't release the story.

From Jerome Corsi, discredited professor at a small left wing college and judgment debtor:

In an October interview with Gentleman's Quarterly magazine, responding to the question, "What's been the most interesting reaction to your book?" Jerome Corsi, author of the debunked anddiscredited book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, asserted: "This whole cult of personality is a miscalculation. We should have learned in the last century that a cult of personality was very dangerous -- left or right, Hitler or Stalin. It didn't work out very well."

From Ann Coulter:

On the October 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Coulter asserted: "With one association after another that is beyond the pale with Barack Obama, I feel like we are talking to the Germans after Hitler comes to power saying, 'Oh, well, I didn't know. I had no idea he was going to be like this.' " As Media Matters for America has documented, Coulter has repeatedly likened Obama to Hitler.

From the Mark Levin show.

On the October 29 edition of ABC Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show, Levin asserted that Obama is "really into these big German-like events that he creates in this country, isn't he? Have you noticed that?" Curtis Sliwa, WABC radio host and CEO and founder of the community activist organization Guardian Angels, responded: "I am telling you, and he comes out and it's almost as if the crowd stands in unison, and I'm saying to myself, 'Oh my God, the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, 1938,' " to which Levin replied: "Yeah, we've seen this. It's scary." Sliwa then asserted: "And the only thing missing is he's not standing up in an open car."

From Bill Cunningham:

On the October 28 edition of Clear Channel's The Big Show with Bill Cunningham, referring to Sen. John McCain, Cunningham asserted: "Maybe it's his age, or maybe it's his lack of eloquence. Whatever it is, the guy just doesn't have the same verbal skills of someone like a Barack Hussein Obama. Of course, Adolf Hitler had great verbal skills, too, and he led the country of his country to disaster."

It goes on, folks.  This is filthy.