Drive-By  Shootings

Selected exerpts from the Doctor's notebooks
 


 

One of Forte's better-known and more disconcerting speculations was that we might be property.  But it could be worse   we might be beer.
 


 

Advertisements are lies (“the truth is not in them”) and, since advertisers are ipso facto  professional liars, traditional moral distinctions should certainly obtain — as, for example, we tend to regard one who commits murder in a fit of passion as less reprehensible than a hired assassin.
 


 

According to data released by the U.S. Census, states spend an average of $9,600.00  per year  per child on public education; and, in most states, school funding amounts to almost half the annual budget. This being the case, why do governments allow tax deductions  for children?
 


 

Dean Swift undoubtedly had a moment of cogent inspiration when he wrote his well-known “Modest Proposal.”  Although more broadly relevant today than at the time of its composition, as social policy it simply cannot be implemented: there is just something about cannibalism that sticks in the craw.  People won't stand for it; and, in most Christian countries there are laws against it — laws that are passed by decent, God-fearing men and women, who go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion at Easter.
 


 

A great deal is said about lobbyist money influencing Washington, usually without any figures attached; so, for the record, the industry spent 3.3  billion last year [2011] advocating on behalf of their clients, including – by way of the American League of Lobbyists – themselves.  Of course that only takes into account expenditures by legally registered  lobbyists who — at least according to most experts — account for only a small minority of those engaged in the profession.
 


 

I suspect that the world-wide economic crisis really began when we stopped being “citizens ” and became “consumers ”.[]
 


 

We need  air, water and food (in that order); our secondary needs are clothing and a place to live (also in that order).  Everything  else is "want " — and wants are either tools, hooks or indulgences.

Tools are things necessary to accomplish a given task (in addition, tools require training and practice to use effectively: tools are needful but not much fun);  indulgences are toys;  and everything else is a hook. When you think you "need" something that isn't absolutely necessary to sustain physical life, it's a hook; and, since most hooks are set by advertisers, the more ads you block, the more control over your own spending you'll have.
 


 

The issue of gay marriage has been arousing a certain amount of contention, at least among those who consider themselves interested parties. Amidst all the hollering and hair-pulling, the economy is an important factor that has been largely ignored — specifically, the Dinks (Dual income, no kids). Quite aside from debates about equal treatment under law (allowing gays the social advantages of divorce, alimony, separate maintenance, child support, etc.), gay couples generally represent one of the few economic groups who still have disposable income to spend.  It may well be that — after spokesmen for all the various gods, prophets, demons, ifrits, djinn, Forces and Powers have had their say — the last word will come from the Almighty Dollar.  In the meantime, since over half of all marriages end in divorce, advocates may console themselves with the thought that the procedure doesn't seem to be working all that well for their heterosexual brethren either.[]
 


 

As overpopulation and suburban sprawl have encroached on their native habitat, there has been an alarming decline in the number of misanthropes. Once commonly found on the outskirts of small towns and villages, these reclusive creatures are now rarely encountered, although their distant cousins, the social misfits, have successfully adapted to commensal life.  [Note: the True Misanthrope is often mistaken for the Atypical Eccentric (or Common Dingbat); but, despite a superficial resemblance, the species are not related.]
 


 

THE CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL DICTIONARY
(a handy compendium of common phrases translated from Politics to English)
WORD OR PHRASE MEANING USAGE
we need... I want... In advocating legislation; usually (but not always) requiring funding or tax increases
our children my children In advocating legislation; usually (but not always) requiring funding or tax increases
elitist (1) containing ideas beyond the grasp of 7-year olds; hence, (2) thoughtful, logical As a generic rhetorical pejorative
alt: (1) emotionally mature; hence, (2) having artistic merit As a generic critical pejorative
family values The moral code espoused by my local/personal religious leader In advocating legislation or running for office; by implication, deploring the moral code espoused by someone else — and never supported with statistical evidence
to protect [meaningless] An expression of fear; usually (but not always) employed with "our children"  or  "family values" (above) in advocating legislation
safe [meaningless]

A sort of verbal wild card: it may be used as an expression of hope (this should keep us safe ), an expression of fear (we are no longer safe ), an expression of aspiration (we all want to be safe ), an expression of remorse (I knew we weren't safe ), in advocating legislation (this bill will insure our safety ), in running for office (if my opponent is elected, we will not be safe ), etc.


Health Care Reform
(offered as a public service)
Position Meaning
We don't want government bureaucrats making decisions about health care. We're accustomed to insurance adjustors making decisions about health care.
We don't want the government rationing our health care. We're accustomed to health care rationing based on ability to pay.
We don't want government interference in the traditional doctor–patient relationship. We're accustomed to health insurers' interference in the traditional doctor–patient relationship.
We can't afford to reform the health care system — especially now. Somebody's ox will be gored — probably mine.
We have the best health care system in the world. I have insurance.
(Obama-isms)
“The pharmaceutical industry has joined in the effort to reform health care.” You're not going to be able to buy drugs from Canada.
“Insurance companies have signed onto health care reform and promised to reduce costs by billions of dollars.”
 
You're not going to get a single-payer system, either.
(For the benefit of the ideologically nervous:)  The United States already has  government-sponsored health care. In fact, it has two  systems of government-sponsored care: MediCare for seniors and the disabled, and the veterans health care system for members of the armed services.
  • If you have Medicare, your health care is based on the Canadian model.
     
  • If you receive your health care from the Veterans Administration, your health care is based on the model used in Great Britain.
In both instances, patients and providers find the care and payment systems acceptable. But – unlike the system of hospitals and doctors maintained by the Veterans Administration – MediCare provides payments directly to service providers; and, because Congress has routinely raided the Social Security trust fund to reduce annual (Federal) budget deficits, that system has been shown to be unaffordable in the long run.
(For the benefit of confused voters:)  The debate can be reduced to two basic questions —
  1. Should health care be run as a business?
    This question includes issues of cost-containment by price-determined rationing and creating incentives to greater efficiency (to make greater profits you must be more efficient than your competitors), removing insurers' anti-monopoly exemptions, and allowing insurance companies to sell their products nationally.
     
  2. Whom do you trust less  — government regulators or insurance company adjustors?
    This question includes issues of access to treatment (pre-existing conditions and HMO/insurance denial of treatment), cost-containment by regulated rates and outcome-determined rationing, and whether government regulation is (on the whole) effective or ineffective.
 [In 2008 health care costs amounted to 17% of U.S. GDP.] 

Discussions of health care policy issues made possible by a generous grant from the Skoal Foundation, “To your health!”
 


 

Despite the number of highly articulate people involved in its creation, the 'Net has not been an unmitigated boon to the fine art of letters: it has spawned some horribly deformed terminology, including (but alas, not limited to)

On the other hand (or – if you must – OTOH), there are those who understand that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” — as, for example

 


 

The wonderful thing about chronic illness is that it's good for a lifetime, and so few things are these days.
 


 

Google announced they will be collating user profile information from all their platforms and services for use in selling targeted ads, and Facebook's IPO (the largest in U.S. history) means they will have a legal obligation to generate enough ad revenue to provide shareholders a maximized return on over five billion dollars in stock.

When the lion and the tiger dispute a kill, it doesn't matter who wins — either way the jackals feed.  (Or, as one cash cow remarked to another, “Sometimes I feel milked.”)
 


 

The theologically inclined should take heart that there is incontrovertible evidence for the existence of Someone who, though knowing your all-too-human flaws, still loves you.

It's your dog.
 


 

A Post-Halloween Special   (to help you be more efficiently scared all year long )  ®

And, from our Bad-Hollywood-Disaster-Flick-as-Reality-Department:
An outbreak of TDR (Totally Drug Resistant) TB has been found in India. Only a handful of cases have been identified so far, but WHO officials don't think it can be contained.  (The White Death is back. And coming to a location near you altogether too soon.)
 


 

A CHILD'S GARDEN OF RECESSION ECONOMICS
Dedicated to the kiddies who, after all, will have to pay for it.

The Doctor provides a brief examination of some basic economic terms, concepts, and common statistics.

WORD OR PHRASE DEFINITION EXAMPLE / DISCUSSION
The law of supply and demand Often called "the invisible hand," this term goes back to Adam Smith. The idea is quite straightforward: when more people want to buy something than there are somethings to buy, the price goes up; and, if fewer people want to buy something when there a lot more somethings available, the price goes down. The first digital television sets were expensive, usually triple the price of a comparable unit. Since consumers in droves declined to buy them, Congress passed a law requiring all television signals change from analog to digital on a specific date, so the prices remained unchanged (see also ‘free markets ’).
(Your tax dollars at work building a better tomorrow.)
free markets Markets that are free from regulation in the public interest (see also ‘deregulation ’). This flexible term is used both in advocating deregulation and in advocating regulatory legislation beneficial to specific market sectors or individual business entities (e.g., oil-depletion allowances, the DMCA, and the Price-Anderson Act).
(Like ‘communism’ in the 1950's, the phrase has acquired force as an expression of faith, and is no longer used in an economic sense.)
deregulation Removing restrictive government regulations, allowing the law of supply and demand to function freely. This encourages market competition leading to greater efficiency, and delivers goods and services at the lowest prices.
(At least, in theory.)
The Federal government deregulated the savings and loan industry, leading to its collapse (and Federal bailout). The Federal government also deregulated the airlines, leading to a tripling of fares, the collapse of the airline industry (twice), and a Federal bailout (twice). Deregulation of electrical utilities led to the Enron scandal, power blackouts, and a doubling of the average person's electrical bill. And, most recently, deregulation of the banks led to the collapse of several major banking and brokerage houses in the U.S., a global crisis in Capitalism, and ongoing worldwide government bailouts.()
(I'm not sure this is working correctly.)
inflation The change, expressed as a percentage, in what one dollar will buy. This statistic is usually expressed as the ‘core rate of inflation.’

[ See also  (1) ]
When the price of goods or services goes up, a dollar will buy less. For example, when the price of diesel tripled, it cost more to deliver food to markets, and the price of food also went up. Since gasoline and food went up sharply, the average consumer had effectively less money to spend;()  so, markets responded by advertising heavily and raising prices.[]
(See  Dr. DB's consumer tips.)
core rate of inflation The rate of inflation excluding “the volatile food and energy sectors.”

[ See also  (1) ]
Since this measures the rate of inflation affecting those living off-grid who don't drive or eat, its utility escapes me.
(This useful statistic received one of Dr. DB's awards in 2004.)
unfunded mandate(s) A legislative body passes a law binding on subordinate parties, but declines to provide funding to pay for expenses incurred in compliance. The best example of this is mandatory automobile insurance; and, at this time, mandatory health insurance is also under discussion.[]
(So we'll all have an insurance policy, no matter how much it costs us.)
cost-shifting Part of the price of goods or services is transferred from the immediate recipient to someone else, who can (presumably) better afford it. Another, more sophisticated way of end-running the law of supply and demand. The traditional example is health care, where doctors and hospitals charge private insurers more to compensate for lower payments by MediCare and MedicAid, but other examples abound.(1)
level playing field A metaphor drawn from sport: if the playing field is not level, one competitor has an advantage. This phrase is typically used in a negative sense, often when advocating deregulation; however, since one team always  has the advantage — if only in skill — the metaphor is somewhat misleading.
(Basically, it means ‘someone is successfully competing with ME.’ )
leverage debt (at compound interest) Many corporations are highly leveraged, whereas many consumers are deeply in debt.(2)
(A thin, fine line employed in quarterly reports.)
troubled assets
    or
toxic assets
derivatives
    or
worthless paper
A mortgage is a piece of paper whose value is secured by real property; and, a derivative is a piece of paper whose value is secured by a bunch of mortgages, i.e. by other pieces of paper.(3)
(Used paper is not a widely traded market commodity.)
durable goods "Big ticket" items that are intended to last at least  10  7  5  3 years.
[More . . .] 

Expensive items like cars and refrigerators are now designed to last at least three years.
The mind boggles. 
(Another statistic that has been appreciably downgraded.)

Dow-Jones average A group of 30 stocks representing various economic sectors, whose value is considered indicative of overall market performance. Dow stocks are selected on the basis of performance,(4)  and 30 is not a statistically valid sample.
(This is another number I have trouble with.)
LIBOR (rate) (Officially:) London Inter-Bank Offered Rate
(In practice:) Lying International Banker's Organized Ripoff
A statistical metric used to fix interest rates on over 300 trillion dollars worth of financial "instruments," including pension fund investments, adjustable rate mortgages, credit cards, savings accounts, and consumer loans.[]
(The key word here is  fix.)
bubble An unsupported, very rapid increase in stock prices; usually justified as caused by a change in fundamental market conditions.(5, 6)
(See also ‘troubled assets ’ and ‘leverage.’)
The dotCom Bubble is a classic example: investors initially bought stock in companies that had no real assets, had never made a profit, and were losing money because, if the company lost less  money in a given quarter, the price of its stock would go up.  Fortunes were made — temporarily.
(An example of what may best be termed ‘faith-based market value.’ )
recession A severe, extended economic downturn; not to be confused with a Depression, Crash, or Panic (except, of course, by those most affected).
[More . . .] 
The "bust" side of the regular boom-and-bust cycle of unregulated capital markets.(6)
(The Doctor generally uses the more precise technical description “ The economy is in the toilet.” )

The Doctor's Golden Rule for Tough Times
 If you can't afford to pay cash for it, you can't afford to buy it. 


(1)  As one example, suburban overdevelopment in much of the Southwest resulted in overcrowded roads. To pay for road improvements, all citizen-residents of the jurisdiction — not just the developers or subdivision residents — are taxed. This way, developers don't have to raise prices on homes.
(God forbid you should actually have a lower profit margin.)
Deregulation of public utilities (supposedly allowing greater competition[]) is another example of cost-shifting: the deregulated utilities no longer had to provide assistance to low-income residents; so, the costs of assistance programs were transferred from the utility to either governmental bodies (i.e., taxpayers), or (usually) to private charities, often as a check-off/donation on utility bills.

(2)  Consumer purchases account for two-thirds of the U.S. GDP; and, over half of all consumers carry a revolving balance on their credit cards. A statisical way of expressing this is the national savings rate: in 2008 (just prior to the Crash), the U.S. savings rate was  5%.  In other words, the average American household spent five percent more than it earned. This means that more than one-third of all economic activity in the U.S. depends on people who spend more money than they make, and who are willing to pay usurious interest rates to continue doing so.[1 ff.; 2]
(But ‘leverage’ does sound much more  dynamic than ‘debt.’ )

(3)  ‘Paper trades’ in the commodities market have also been responsible for the spike in oil prices.
(Another traditional method of enhancing the value of paper is counterfeiting. )

(4)  For example: when foreign competition caused the price of steel to fall, Those Who Decide These Things elected to remove steel from the Dow listing and substitute Disney, presumably on the assumption that steel is economically less important than entertainment.
(We can always import the steel we need for buildings and bridges, but Mickey Mouse is a national cultural icon. Or something like that.)
In a more recent adjustment, the Dow average had a splendid bounce after ‘troubled’ A.I.G. and bankrupt G.M. were removed and replaced by more profitable businesses.

(5)  Curiously, an examination of most modern texts on economics shows no entry for "bubble" in the index, although Adam Smith made a cogent analysis of what happens when markets invest capital profits in capital instruments and ignore “cultivation”()  which, with suitable modernization of terminology, would have fit smoothly into one of Ronald Reagan's speeches.   [More . . .]
(Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, another fact which fails to comfort me.)

(6)  Capital markets have been crashing since the 1600's, when there was a bubble in the tulip-bulb market; and, (so far) no one has managed to fix the problem, either.   [More . . .]
(Which, at this point, is not too reassuring.)

If not worthy of comment, it should at least be noted that — over four years into the Great Recession, with tragically high rates of worldwide unemployment and entire first-world national economies destabilized — none of the primary instigators have gone to jail or even been charged with a crime in a court of law.()

 


 

Context is everything: if it's important, learn the details.
 


 

“Theology does not thrive in the world of action and reaction, change: it grows on calm, like the scum on a stagnant pool. And it flourishes, it prospers, on decline. Only in a world where everything is patently being lost can a priest stir men's hearts as poet would by maintaining that nothing is in vain.”
  John Gardner
 


 

The best thing about pessimism is that one is sometimes pleasantly surprised.
 


 

Most of what you think you know is arbitrary.
 


 

People with a gift for synthesis are called “geniuses” and usually revered after they are safely dead.

People with a gift for analysis are called “heretics” and frequently persecuted until they are safely dead.
 


 

We do as we can or as we must, and only rarely as we will.
 


 

Like dry wine, black coffee and straight whiskey, truth is an acquired taste.
 


 

Bhumpur-stickers©

Cop out now and avoid the rush

You can't idiot-proof the universe

The grass is always greener where the septic tank leaks

Congress — a farce to be reckoned with

Warning: this vehicle brakes for intersections

I know my turn signal is on — it's keeping me awake

Maniac on board. . .(driving)
 


 

Anyone who thinks that old-fashioned, cut-throat Capitalism is dead should study the Emerald Triangle pot market.
 


 

Tofu obviously exists as God's punishment for the sin of vegetarianism: in its natural state it lacks both the pleasing texture and intriguing taste of library paste. I am, by nature, uninclined to suffer gustatory penance, and have never been convinced that a philosophically contrived diet will prolong one's stay in this vale of tears; but for those inclined to such exercises, it may well seem so.
 


 

Who controls your personal information matters : the difference between targeted marketing and targeted persecution is merely a matter of chosen end use — and the choice is not yours.  [1], [2]
 


 

[The following is not my idea, but it wound up in my notebooks because I find it a splendid example of creative thinking.]
Restarting the Palestinian/Israeli 'Peace Process' 
Both the Palestinians and Israelis would receive equal amounts of world support (i.e., administered by the U.N.): currently, this amounts to an aggregate of nearly 8 billion dollars annually coming from various donor countries. For each new Jewish settler in disputed regions (Gaza, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem) there would be a $50 million dollar deduction from Israeli aid; and, likewise, for each rocket landing on the territory of Israel, there would be a $50 million dollar deduction from the aid given to the Palestinians.
 


 

It's not too hard to make an argument for NASA funding®
 


 

You are getting older if you remember when

 


 

A man with a dirty mind is never bored.
 


 

The Doctor's prediction for the new millennium:  people who know how to spell will be getting a lot of laughs.
 


 

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The Doctor discusses the newsspacer

 

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