Saturday, April 27, 2013

George Jones Has the Wreath Placed upon His Door

George Jones passed away at age 81 yesterday. For a quarter century, from the late 1950s until the early 1980s, George was one of the biggest stars in country music. Jones specialized in songs that ripped your heart out like He Stopped Loving Her Today - here's a recording from The Ronnie Prophet Show in July, 1980:

He was country before country was cool. In truth, George Jones was never cool, but his great specialty were duets with a lot of cool country women. Here George Jones has I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool sung to him by Barbara Mandrell at the 1981 Country Awards (I remember circling the drive-in, pulling up and turning down George Jones):

For a while, 1969 to 1975, George Jones was married to country queen Tammy Wynette, and they performed a number of beautiful duets together, such as We're Gonna Hold On (something in real life they were unable to do):

Tammy should have seen it coming in her 1968 hit Stand By Your Man:

My favorite George Jones and Tammy Wynette duet is Jet Set from 1974 (No we're not the jet set, we're the old Chevrolet set. Our steak and martinis is draft beer with weenies ... But ain't we got love?):

His first big hit was White Lightning in 1959:

The original White Lightning was by the Big Bopper, Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr., who died plowing corn in Iowa with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in February 1959. Here's the Big Bopper version of White Lightning:

As you can see by comparison, George Jones had his own square style. He personified the Nashville country sound, love it, hate it, or love to hate it. The legend, though, developed a reputation for unreliability, with too much white lighting leading to missed concert dates and the moniker No Show Jones, which of course became a a country song, performed here at Farm Aid in 1985 (the man could make fun of himself):

The George Jones Show appeared briefly on television in 1998. Here's an episode with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Vern Gosdin:

If George Jones was the king of Nashville, his daughter with then-wife Tammy Wynette, Tamala Georgette Jones is his princess, all summed up in the tear-jerker Daddy Come Home:

The absent father also showed up some years later for a bittersweet You and Me and Time duet with Georgette:

You can see a real affection in that video. That's the nicest tribute of all. Meanwhile, I imagine the old possum is up there in heaven, trying to strike up a duet with Patsy Cline.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy Belated Earth Global Climate Change Day

In honor of Monday being Earth Day, this is going to be a cynical report on a recent student protest at Harvard Diversity.

I was walking up Massachusetts Avenue and turning onto Church Street when I first heard the protest chants behind me. I wondered briefly what it might be all about as I met a fellow pedestrian coming the other direction. He hit me quick with his cynical wit:
"What are they protesting, higher taxes?"
Well, Harvard students weren't likely to be protesting higher taxes, so what pressing issue were they protesting?
(1) Impending wars with North Korea and Iran.
(2) Failure of assault weapons ban in Congress.
(3) High tuition costs and impossible loan burdens.
(4) Unfair federal budget cuts under the sequester.
(5) Unequal distribution of income and wealth to the Harvard top 1%.
Harvard locked the gates on the students during the last big protests, the occupy movement in the fall of 2011. I turned around to see if the gates were still open and, seeing that they were, I wandered over to see what was going on. Here's the speech I heard:

If it's still not clear, the protest was about climate change and the students want Harvard to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. That means they want Harvard to sell the stock it owns in those 200 companies and use the money to buy stock in the other 14,800 companies that merely use fossil fuel. Because, let's face it, directly or indirectly we all use fossil fuel.

Divest Harvard student leader Ben Franta sees this as a profound moral issue:
"When we think about breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, the choices we make in our lifetime are going to affect the human race profoundly for thousands of years, and that's not hyperbolic. We’re faced not just with an environmental challenge, it’s not just an economic challenge, it is a moral challenge."
But don't feel guilty that it's individuals fault for using fossil fuels, that's covered in the position paper:
"There are things that all of us can do to reduce our energy consumption and we should do these things, but it is not our fault for using fossil fuels because we have no alternative. And that is the fossil fuel industries' fault."
But it's not like these Harvard students have to use fossil fuels to heat their dorm rooms, Harvard was perfectly happy to let them sleep outdoors for several months back in 2011, and they can all walk to class. I thought maybe that's where they were going with their rousing chant:
"One, we are the movement. Two, we want divestment. Three, we will not stop, we have the power!"

But, no, they only wanted to deliver a petition to Drew Faust, President of Harvard University. You see, Students for a Just and Stable Future, who are organizing the Divest Harvard campaign, do not sleep on the ground. Been there, done that, got too cold, I'm guessing.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't like to give those fossil fuel companies any more money than I absolutely have to. I left my Jeep parked for 3 months this winter. Didn't drive it a mile. OK, couldn't drive it a mile until I got the battery drain fixed. I wonder if the flashlight under the blanket effect of CO2 emissions might be causing my sleep problems.

My self-directed retirement plan had some stock in BP, and I divested the small odd lot at $44.58 per share after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I bought an even fewer number of shares in Google at $608.95 per share. BP now trades at around $41.60 and Google at $807.90 so that was a good trade. I would be happy to go over what the 199 other companies have each done wrong and consider further divestment if my retirement plan owns stock in any of them, but neither Divest Harvard nor Students for a Just and Stable Society have even so much as a list of the 200 companies they want Harvard to divest on their websites.

I did go to one of those websites that let you calculate your carbon footprint and found I use 15.24 metric tons of CO2 per year. I also found there that I could offset my carbon footprint by donating $229.51 for reforestation in Kenya or $306.01 including 20% VAT to plant tress in the United Kingdom. By all means, let's include the 20% value added tax.

Divest Harvard claims that 200 people attended their rally on April 11. You'll have trouble finding that many people in my video or in their pictures. But let's take them at their word. At the $58,000 tuition and board for next year, those 200 students represent $46.4 million to Harvard over 4 years of college. Did you notice how polite the Harvard Police in the video were? The Harvard endowment is even hiring a Vice President for Sustainable Investing.

You see, I know from their inflated crowd number that they are liars and exaggerators, their sympathizers at the Harvard Crimson only counted a still very generous 100, but here is what they want me to believe:
(1) Global warming and CO2 levels are problems that need solving now.
(2) There are cost-effective solutions that will work.
(3) The proposed solutions won't create even greater problems.
(4) Europeans didn't invent this to hamstring the American economy.
(5) It's not a trick to export industrial jobs to developing nations.
(6) Marxists aren't using this to introduce a global command economy.
(7) It's not a hedge fund scheme to scoop up energy stocks on the cheap.
(8) A better technological solution won't come along if we wait for it.
(9) It's not already too late.
Call me Ishmael, but I'm not ready to go back to hunting whales to light my evening reading. I've been watching Revolution on my HDTV. I'm a little curious what's under those polar ice caps, aren't you? The Iraq War could have been solved a few years later with two or three drone strikes. Now, if you want to replace the income tax and payroll tax with a carbon tax, we can talk.

OK, that's a bit of hyperbole but Ben Franta couldn't resist either:
We have the opportunity today, and the privilege, of fighting, not just for our future, but also for our past. For our future, we are called to fight for the great, great grandchildren that we will never meet. And for our past, we are fighting for our long history on this planet – all of the art, all of the music, all of the values and societies that we have ever created on earth, and all of our experience in 200,000 years of history on earth and everything that represents.
I can't help asking, in light of all that has happened in greater Boston in the last 10 days, is that hyperbolic rhetoric or fanaticism? I don't want to fight for all of the "all of the values and societies that we have ever created on earth." I can think of quite a few values and societies that I would like to fight against. For a just and stable future, maybe we should divest a few Harvard students. It's the dropouts like Gates and Zuckerberg that really make good.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas (not Waco)

West, Texas is a small town of 2,807 people which has been utterly devastated by an explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant that has killed 15 to 70 people and injured another 160 or more. Waco, Texas is a small city of 124,805 about 19 miles away from West.

So why all are the news media reporting an explosion in Waco?

(1) West, Texas is a confusing name because West Texas also refers to a region in a different part of Texas.

(2) The 1993 Waco siege between the FBI and the Branch Davidians took place outside of Waco.

(3) President George W. Bush appeared in a lot of news reports at his ranch near Waco (actually nearer to Crawford, Texas).

(4) New reporters are geographically impaired, and so deserve our sympathy not our contempt.

Waco may make a better story but the actual tragedy occurred in West. My heart goes out to the people of West.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is David Sirota

According to Wikipedia, David J. Sirota (born November 2, 1975) is an American liberal political commentator and radio host based in Denver. Earlier today, before the vanadalization of his Wikipedia page was reverted, he was "an American self hating guilt-mongering beta."

David is catching flak from two blog articles he posted on, the first titled Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American and the second titled I still hope the bomber is a white American. Since David Sirota himself is a white American, that's as close as we have come yet to a claim of responsibility for the attack.

The reasoning in his original post managed to be simultaneously convoluted and highly insulting to the dead and injured:
If recent history is any guide, if the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. Put another way, white privilege will work to not only insulate whites from collective blame, but also to insulate the political debate from any fallout from the attack.

It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.
In his followup, he walked that back only a bit:
"The reason to hope that the bomber is a white American is because in a country where white privilege and double standards so obviously affect our national security reactions, that outcome will better guarantee that the reaction to Boston is a bit more measured."
I would posit that the straight line from Lee Harvey Oswald to the escalation of the Vietnam War entirely negates his point. But let's accept the premise, it is certainly possible that the bomber is a white American, and could very well be a specific white American, David Sirota. And that would have certain advantages:

(1) It's easier to impose the death penalty on a white males like Timothy McVeigh and David Sirota than on a white female such as Kathy Boudin or Judith Alice Clark, or a nonwhite male such as Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. True, there's no death penalty in Massachusetts, unless we make a federal case out of it.

(2) But for fellow white male Rand Paul extracting a promise not to do this from the Obama administration, David Sirota would be the perfect opportunity to test the use of armed drones for domestic law enforcement. I note that the administration can always claim the promise was given under duress.

(3) David Sirota used to work for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and that connection would be a lot of fodder for the Presidents of Iran, Egypt, Alex Jones, and all the other conspiracy nuts out there. OK, maybe that's not an advantage.

(4) We know what David Sirota looks like and the FBI could probably find and arrest him fairly quickly.

That last one is the most important, because as someone living in Metro Boston, my first hope is that we catch whoever did this before they set off any more bombs. While I have as much curiosity as anyone in whether the attacker is domestic or foreign and is acting alone or in concert with others, I can't say I really have any "hopes" in that regard.

Meanwhile, it does appear they have arrested the ricin letter writer in Mississippi. The man taken into custody has been identified as Paul Kevin Curtis, which is consistent with the "I am KC and I approve this message" signoff on the letters that tested positive with the poison ricin that were sent to the White House and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi. I was ready to implement the anthrax mail attack protocol from 2001, which is to place the recycle bin directly under the mailbox so that junk or suspicious mail never gets through the front door.

In any case, maybe Paul Kevin Curtis will satisfy David Sirota's hopes for a white American perpetrator.

Update: The FBI now has two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, and two makes it a conspiracy.

All of David Sirota's hopes appear to have been answered at least as to Suspect No. 2, but it remains to be seen whether these guys were McVeighites or Occupyistas or some new strain of conspiracy we have not before seen or just innocent pedestrians with backpacks.

Update 4/23/2013: The FBI has released Paul Kevin Curtis and dropped the charges against him in the Ricin case - it looks like the dots connected a little too well because he was framed. I suspect David Sirota.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Bloody Marathon Patriots' Day in Boston

I've always wondered what it's like to live in a place like Israel, Iraq, or Afghanistan where bombings are a regular occurrence. How do you get through the day, after your city has been hit? Sure, I lived through 9/11, from a distance, but that was different. After today, with the two bomb blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I no longer have to wonder.

While Patriots' Day is a legal holiday for state offices in Massachusetts, and the start of a school holiday week for a lot of public school kids, it's a regular work day at our office and a lot of others.

Before heading into work this morning, I read a quick report online about the reenactments at Lexington and Concord. One of these years I'm going to get out there to watch. A lot of the spectators arrive before dawn, just like those first minutemen back in 1775. I walked past a few uniformed service men and women on Cambridge Common milling around the review stand getting ready for the start of the observance at the Washington Monument, where George Washington took command of the militiamen encircling Boston a few months after Lexington and Concord.

Today was also Tax Day, when state and federal income tax returns are due. I stopped by the Post Office this morning to return a Netflix movie, and there was a long line of people waiting to get their tax returns postmarked and mailed. There was a Red Sox game at Fenway, which started in the late morning. A lot going on in and around the city, including the Boston Marathon.

I was at work when the bombings happened. One of my coworkers asked me if I had heard, and said was down with the heavy traffic. It was mid-afternoon, a couple of hours after the lead runners had finished. The Boston Marathon starts out in the western suburb of Framingham and ends on the normally busy Boylston Street in the Back Bay, about 4 miles and across the river from our offices in Cambridge. I understand that runners and spectators just a few blocks from the bombings didn't hear the blasts. We didn't see or hear anything.

I've only been down by the Boston Marathon finish line on race day once. It's a crowded scene. People stake out the bleachers and streets near the finish line to watch the lead runners finish. You have to get there early or know someone to get good seats or even standing room. But then the early birds and VIPs leave and the situation at the finish line gets very fluid. Runners are dispatched from Framingham in three waves and come in all afternoon and into the evening. Family members and friends come down to the finish around the time they expect their runner to finish, collect their runner, and leave. Imagine finishing a 26.2 mile marathon, and then having to run for your life.

So what did I do? I considered calling people, but figured the circuits and cell towers would be busy. I went back to my desk and wrote an email to family members saying I was safe. I checked online. The first reports sounded like maybe a couple of dozen people injured, now we're at 144 and counting. There were reports of subway station closings. I checked in with one of my coworkers who commutes by Red Line from Quincy. He was getting MBTA text alerts indicating that the Red Line would be bypassing Green Line and Orange Line stations. That was good for him if that meant he was an getting express train home, bad if that meant they were putting people in buses to go around those stations.

There was nothing left to be done but get back to work. I won't say I didn't check the internet a few times or that I got a whole lot done. Then I walked home, about a mile, and watched television with the rest of America.

I hate to say this, but I can see how people who have to live with the possibility of attacks every day could get used to it. You develop a routine. Where was the attack, who do you need to check with, how does it affect you. I hope these attacks don't become routine in the United States of America. Maybe I just don't want to admit that they already have. I'm up too late and tomorrow morning I'm expecting the electrician I scheduled last week.

Do I feel terrorized? No. Do I feel angry? Some. Do I feel sad? Yes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Timeless Advice on Paying Your Income Taxes

The actor and comedian Jonathan Winters passed away last week, but his advice on paying your income taxes, delivered 50 years ago in the 1963 movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, should live forever. Or at least as long as there is an income tax.

"What do you mean tax-free? ... Sure, if we find the money we still have to pay taxes. Otherwise, it's like stealing from the government. ... Everybody has to pay taxes. Even businessmen who rob and cheat and steal from people every day - even they have to pay taxes!"
A lot has changed in the last 50 years, but not death and taxes. The U.S. income tax has moved away from the self-assessment system that was its hallmark. Nowadays more and more third-party reporting is required with each passing year so that everything than can be is verified.

Golf, the last sport where you keep your own score is having it's own identity crisis with the controversy concerning Tiger Woods's scorecard at this year's Masters tournament. One can only look back wistfully at the days when signing your own scorecard was good enough.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Sandy Hook Mother's Wisdom on Guns

"They haven't yet passed any bills to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
Francine Wheeler stood in for President Obama in his weekly YouTube address. Her six-year-old son Ben was murdered last December. I don't ordinarily expect a grieving family to be articulate or even rational, but Francine has cut to the heart of the problem facing legislators.

How to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people is the legitimate object of new legislation. Doing so without infringing on the right to keep and bear arms is the constitutional limitation. Background checks, getting dangerous people into the background check system earlier, and getting treatment for those people who can be helped is essential.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My 1993 Jeep Cherokee Survives Another Winter

My 1993 Jeep Cherokee has been on the fritz since roughly Hurricane Sandy at the end of last October. I drove around a bit in the storm, which admittedly was not quite a Hurricane by the time it got up to Massachusetts, to help a friend whose car got whacked by a tree, totaled as we found out later. By the next weekend, my Jeep battery was stone cold dead.

I got the Jeep jumped and charged up, but it died again a week later. So I had the 5-year-old battery replaced, and it was dead again a week after that. All this hassle was getting to be very draining. Since I don't drive a lot in the winter, with only 47,200 total miles in 20 years, I left the Jeep parked on the street for a few months (yes, I am that guy).

The AAA guys ran the diagnostics says more alternator has a flutter, Anyway, the Jeep spent last week in the shop, where for the low, low price of $175, it was determined that the battery drain was being caused by the glove compartment light. I desperately need that light to find the flashlight I keep in there. Now I'm back on the road.

I had cleaned out most of my stuff, as I am operating these days on the principle that any trip the shop is potentially a one-way trip. So, in putting back, I decided to do an inventory:

(1) Spade
(2) Long-handled ice scraper with brush
(3) Small ice scraper
(4) Window washer and squeegee
(5) Quarter gallon of anti-freeze
(6) Water bottle
(7) Funnel
(8) Jumper cables
(9) 9 ft, 24 ft, and 33 ft tie ropes
(10) Work gloves
(11) 2 towels
(12) 4 rolls of toilet paper
(13) Plastic milk crate
(14) Flashlight
(15) Emergency survival blanket
(16) Deck of playing cards
(17) Clip-on sunglasses
(18) AAA bail bond certificate
(19) Registration certificate
(20) Insurance certificate
(21) Office parking permit placard
(22) Mass. Audubon, MFA, and ACE rewards membership cards
(23) Sony Walkman CD player
(24) Cigarette lighter power adapters for cell phone and CD player
(25) Cassette adapter
(26) Lens wipes
(27) Pocket comb
(28) Pen
(29) $10 in quarters
(30) Token for the Somerville car wash

I have the token because I vacuumed the Jeep out, which claimed one of the 2 pens I usually have. Aside from that, I think I'm ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.