Archive for May 2008

Stupid Democrat Tricks

I came out of work this evening and found that someone had written the word “sucks” in permanent marker over my McCain bumper sticker. Since I’m a Red man living in a Blue state, I doubt it was a frustrated evangelical; it had to be a Democrat. After all, they aren’t known for their respect of private property.

I drove home, pulled out a can of acetone and a paper towel, and wiped the not-so-permanent-after-all marker off the sticker.

I fully expect this to not be the end of the matter. I already have a second McCain sticker in reserve and will order a third one as soon as the current one gets ripped off. Silly Democrat doesn’t realize that I don’t mind sending McCain’s campaign money; every sticker that he destroys only means more $$$ to McCain.

The Council Has Spoken: May 30, 2008

Watcher of Weasels has announced this week’s results. Kudos to Bookworm Room for the post Why Jews Are Right to Suspect Obama’s Advisors, and Kaboom! A Soldier’s Journal for my favorite non-council post Deep Thoughts with Biggie Smalls. Biggie is the soldiers’ Iraqi interpreter who shows humor betrays his deep humanity. Congratulations to both of this week’s winners.

American Streamline Nightmares

In March 1992 I arrived in Japan to catch up with my Wife who flew there the prior month. I soon found a job teaching English at Nova Intercultural Institute (Nova ICI) - at the time one of the largest English Conversation schools in the country with hundreds of schools throughout Japan. To teach English all I needed to show was proof of my bachelors degree, and after a quick trip to Korea to change to a work visa I returned and taught English. I taught to students of all ages and abilities: office ladies and salarymen who wanted a touch of the exotic in their lives, bored housewives, and children forced to attend by their parents. All Japanese study English junior high through high school. But they learn English the same way we learn Latin: they might know the grammar but for the most part they can’t ask or answer rudimentary questions even after 6 years of formal education. Add to this being the product of a naturally isolationist culture, and the result is that most Japanese have an “English Complex” – which has led to a thriving English Conversation school industry in Japan employing tens of thousands of native speakers as “English teachers”.

There wasn’t much training for the job. The lessons were straight from the textbook American Streamline, a text that spoon fed teachers the lessons. There was an icebreaker to help the students relax, followed by a reading of a short text. After that we went over the text again, having the student listen and repeat it. After that there were a few exercises – again all straight from the teacher’s copy of the text followed by an extension phase to encourage the students to use what they learned. The lesson was completely structured by Streamline from start to finish, and there wasn’t much need for thinking or creativity from the teachers. After a few weeks of teaching the same lessons over and over again the mindless repetition dulled the job and burnout set in. At the time the 6 month attrition rate for teachers was 50% due to the mind-numbing nature of the job along with the stress of living in Japan – one of the truly unique cultures on the planet. 75% of teachers were gone from the job within their first year, with most leaving Japan completely. After two years there was hardly anyone with 2 or more years of experience left.

From April 1992 until June 1994 I taught seven 50 minute lessons a day + 1 lesson of “voice” – 50 minutes of unstructured conversation. Being somewhat of a workaholic, I often worked overtime – especially when the Wife returned to the states to visit her family.

After living in Africa from June 1994 to July 1995, I returned to Japan and picked right up where I left off teaching American Streamline at Nova. I finally quit in March 1997, and we returned to the United States where I began my illustrious career in Information Technology (woohoo!).

At one point I calculated that I taught close to 5,000 lessons in American Streamline. I wasn’t the best teacher; I had trouble with culture shock, and teaching English wasn’t want I wanted to do. I drank too much, smoked too much and wasn’t mature enough to handle being often the first foreigner a Japanese person ever met. American Streamline was a big part of the reason for that. Still I learned a lot from the Japanese, and I hope that I gave something back to them during my stint there. But I don’t want to ever teach English in my life again.

So why can’t I stop teaching American Streamline to 7c’s in my dreams 11 years later? Since leaving Japan I have dreamed about teaching English on average once every week or two. In order to understand this you have to consider that the most basic Japanese students – 7c’s – were allotted 10 lessons of American Streamline. The next level, 7B, had 30 lessons – and I remember one of them – Lesson 25 – even today:

“Pete’s standing outside the movie theater. He’s waiting for his friend Betsy. He’s looking at his watch because she’s late. An old man is coming out of the theater. A young woman is going into the theater. A boy is running up the steps. Some people are standing line outside the movie theater.”

The purpose of the lesson was to teach prepositions of location – not to instill post traumatic stress disorder in the teacher that he can’t escape 11 years later. The teachers used to joke that they would be teaching lessons in their sleep long after they had quit and left Japan, but for me that isn’t just a joke.

These dreams always involve returning to Nova in Japan, and walking into an unfamiliar school usually late then scrambling to find my student files for the next lesson. Inevitably I’m scheduled a full slate of 7c’s and 7B’s – beginners. Often I don’t find the school at all; since overtime often involved being on-call throughout the region on your days-off, travelling to an unfamiliar school at the last minute to teach complete strangers was quite common. I’m usually mercifully spared the discomfort of sitting down with the students and beginning the lesson – two strangers from completely different cultures thrown together at 2,700 Yen a lesson in a tiny room with four chairs around a circular table.

The odd thing is that for about 2 years after my return to the United States I had reverse culture shock; I had gotten so used to living in Japan that I had to adjust to speaking English 100% of the time instead of a mix of English and “Gaijin-ese”. The most difficult change was adjusting my mental concept of space – myself in relation to the world around me. In Japan I had gotten used to moving around in tight areas – narrow streets packed with people, small grocery stores with thin ribbons for aisles, and a whole apartment that would fit completely in my current living room.

The dreams are invariably unpleasant, and I usually awaken happy to find myself on the other side of the planet in a completely different and more lucrative career. I’m left wondering what it would take to end these dreams. Nova went bankrupt last year so I can’t return to Japan and visit the schools that I taught at in Kyoto and Osaka. Perhaps I’m stuck with them the way even old people dream of being late to a high school or college exam.

Retreat-Now Activists Fail Again

Ralph Peters writing in the NY Post:

What don’t the critics like? Democracy? The defeat of al Qaeda? Muslims turning to the US military for help? Troop cuts? The dramatically improved human-rights situation? What’s the problem here?

The answer’s simple: Admitting that they’ve been mistaken about Iraq guts the left’s argument for political entitlement. If the otherwise deplorable Bush administration somehow got this one right, it means the left got another big one wrong.

So be prepared for frequent time-machine trips until November. The encouraging reality of today’s Iraq will go ignored in favor of an endless mantra of “Al Qaeda wasn’t there in 2003 . . .”

The bottom line? Al Qaeda let the war’s opponents down.

The Decline of the Local – Rise of the Neighborhood – Newspaper

My sisters taught me to read before I reached kindergarten, and I was soon reading the local newspapers – the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Globe Democrat. When I was in college in Chicago I picked up the Sun-Times and the Trib daily. In San Diego I read the Union Tribune and the San Diego edition of the LA Times.  I was an information junky, and mainlined front pages all the way down to the classifieds.

I still am an information freak, but I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in 10 years, and hadn’t read one from cover to cover since early this decade. Until recently.

Much of the problem with newspapers is that I have changed but the newspapers have not. While I have grown more conservative and interested in local happenings, the newspapers seem populated by frustrated J-school kids who dream of speaking truth to power. The would rather opine about the evils of the Bush administration or Republicans in general than report on local events.

Worse, the newspaper itself would rather run wire copy than pay even the pathetic salaries of j-school graduate. For example, here’s the “local” section of the Wilmington News Journal. Note how national and international wire stories are mixed in with the local. In fairness, that’s the website version, but that also speaks volumes: the site is a mess and looks like it was put together using a Microsoft FrontPage tutorial. The newspaper hasn’t figured out how to maintain an online presence.

A few weeks back a headline of that free neighborhood paper caught my eye while I was out walking the pups. Once again Delaware public schools are in a financial mess – even though we voted them a tax increase last year. As some of my recent writing has shown, I’m losing my patience with them, and don’t plan to suffer with them much longer – but I digress. The neighborhood paper had an article about school consolidation, and I picked it up.

I ended up reading the thing cover to cover – just like the old days. It was filled with ads (no surprise) but the writing was original and the stories all local. There were stories on local crimes that I wasn’t aware had occurred. There were local property transfers – to see how the local housing market was holding up. A section on the high school area sports. There was even an op-ed section which printed letters on topics of interest to the neighborhood – with one or two slamming Republicans but this after all is a blue state and Delaware Democrats just love credit companies and bankruptcy “reform” that they demand.

If I want to read about the happenings in Washington or overseas, there are plenty of sources out there to inform me. I’ll know what’s happening in Burma 12000 miles away yet remain uninformed about what is happening a mile or two down the road. But thanks to the neighborhood newspaper, that’s starting to change.

Supply-Demand Laws Still Apply in Chavez’s Venezuela

Bloomberg reports:

Petrodollar billions can buy a lot of things. As Chavez has found, well-stocked grocery shelves aren’t always among them.

Philadelphia Won’t Charge Criminals…

... with the gun laws currently on the books. At least not the three behind the killing of Philly’s finest Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski according to Sabastian at Snowflakes in Hell. So its solution? Pass more gun laws.

The rap sheets of the three ex-cons totaled a combined 26 pages, and Sabastian has graciously uploaded them. Howard Cain’s here (original). Levon Warner’s here (original). Eric Floyd’s here (original).

Snowflake writes:

I think it’s time we had a serious discussion here in Pennsylvania about how absolutely and utterly broken the City of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system is, and talk frankly about things we can do to fix it. Gun control obviously is not a solution, since the system is currently not using the laws already in the books in prosecutions. The Philadelphia media must not continue to give the politicians a free pass on deflecting blame onto others, and shame on them that it takes bloggers to bring the criminals records of these scumbags into the public light.

I pointed out here that the issue wasn’t the Chinese SKS used by Cane to shoot Liczbinski; Cane, a convicted felon, couldn’t legally own a .22 to shoot squirrels let alone a carbine firing 7.62×39mm cartridges. But it was easier to blame the gun in a city that has been run by Democrats so long that the Republicans long ago gave up and fled to the suburbs.

So the City and it’s liberal media will pass yet more laws that won’t stop maniacs like Cane from killing cops – or unarmed law-abiding citizens. They’ll feel good about themselves – until the next cop is gunned down.

Memorial Day 2008

Several years ago I received a folder with photocopies of one man’s experience as a waist-gunner in a B-17 over Germany during World War 2. The man’s name was Arden Yoder, and I started putting together a web site in honor of his memory. However like many of my “projects”, it fell by the wayside. All that I have are a few scans that have sat on the server untouched – until now.

Arden lived a relatively long life, passing away at the age of 76 in August 2001. His memoir deserves better than a single post in a blog, but it’s the best I can do for now.

Here’s his gunnery school certification:
Gunner School Certification Kingma

Here’s a picture of Arden’s plane, the Nine O Nine:
B-17 - the Nine o Nine

Mr. Yoder’s hometown newspaper announced his return. It’s hard to imagine a newspaper doing this today.
Arden Yoder's announcement in newspaper

According to his obituary, he was married to his wife Beryl for 52 years, had three daughters, Beth, Teri and Linda – who died in 1988. He worked as a UPS delivery driver until 1969 then at a Photomat until he retired in 1989.

One by one the Greatest Generation passes into history. All the while a new Greatest Generation – those currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, are taking their place. While we must work to celebrate the lives of World War 2 veterans, we shouldn’t forget those who sacrificed in other conflicts including Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Panama, Persian Gulf and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s a day of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in the service of Freedom.

Thanks Dad: US Infantry Holding Japanese Flags in Philippines 1945

The Commodities Bubble

I’ve been watching commodities for awhile now. It’s hard not to when the price of gas ticks up daily and the government stimulus check I received covers 3 weeks of fill-ups in our household (the Wife commutes 110 miles roundtrip each day thanks to matching at a Residency Program that was the furthest away from home; I drive 20 miles or so). In January 2007 oil was at $50 barrel; in May 2007 it was at $60. Today, May 21, it traded at $134. So in a period of 1 year it the price of oil has more than doubled. In 16 months it has nearly tripled.

When prices rise quickly in a very short time you are in a bubble. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about commodities, internet stocks, or tulips. When you have the feeling that you are on a rocket and the only way to go is up, then you are actually standing on the surface of a bubble. And bubbles always burst.

I learned this the hard way back in 1980 when I spent money I received from my dad’s insurance on gold and silver – at $750 and $40 an ounce respectively. In Sept. 2005 I predicted that the housing bubble would burst. Predicted is the wrong word. It’s like predicting that a ball hit by Barry Bonds will land on the ground; it always will but you may not know exactly where.

Similarly the price of oil and other commodities will fall but instead of where we have to ask when?

I’ve always wondered if my experience with precious metals gave me a shortseller’s instinct. Unfortunately I lack the shortseller’s nerve – necessary to fall asleep at night, and one needs both to do it well. I’ve also had moral prohibitions against gambling and profiting from another’s misfortune. However this morality issue evaporates when you consider that traders are profiting off those who can least afford $4-$9/gallon gasoline (the price of gas is higher outside of the USA). I want to shortsell oil desperately and get revenge on the oil investors so badly that it almost hurts.

Painful or not, rest assured the time for revenge will come. The bubble will burst. When I searched a few months ago on the term “commodities bubble” in Google, I came up with a few thousand hits. Tonight the term returned 54,000.

But when? When will it burst? Shortselling is almost an art, but I would expect that since gasoline prices historically peak soon after Memorial Day, by mid-summer supplies should begin to reflect decreased demand caused by an unsustainable price. I’d be a fool to set a date, but why not: It’s my blog. I’ll pick last week of July.

It will be interesting to see whether I’m right or wrong then. Since I can’t afford to set up a short selling account, this will be an academic exercise.

Success in Iraq: A Media Blackout

Bias? What media bias? Ralph Peters writes in the New York Post:

Our troops deserve better. The Iraqis deserve better. You deserve better. The forces of freedom are winning.

Here in the Land of the Free, of course, freedom of the press means the freedom to boycott good news from Iraq. But the truth does have a way of coming out.

The surge worked. Incontestably. Iraqis grew disenchanted with extremism. Our military performed magnificently. More and more Iraqis have stepped up to fight for their own country. The Iraqi economy’s taking off. And, for all its faults, the Iraqi legislature has accomplished far more than our own lobbyist-run Congress over the last 18 months.

When Iraq seemed destined to become a huge American embarrassment, our media couldn’t get enough of it. Now that Iraq looks like a success in the making, there’s a virtual news blackout.

Of course, the front pages need copy. So you can read all you want about the heroic efforts of the Chinese People’s Army in the wake of the earthquake.

Tells you all you really need to know about our media: American soldiers bad, Red Chinese troops good.

Is Jane Fonda on her way to the earthquake zone yet?

Biofuels Pro & Con

Pro: Robert Zubin:

And thus we see the ethic of envirostasis revealed for what it really is: rank Malthusian ideology. Conservatives should oppose it for its deeply degrading anti-humanism. And liberals, too, should be wary of making common cause with it for the sake of its concern about the environment, because all of the proudest accomplishments of both modern and historical liberalism—child labor laws, minimum wage laws, public schools, libraries, urban sanitation, childhood vaccinations, public health services, rural electrification, transportation infrastructure, social security, clean air and water laws, civil rights laws, and even emancipation, popular enfranchisement, representative government, and independence from colonial rule—all indirectly contribute to carbon emissions, and thus must be rejected by the cult of envirostasis.

Con: Rachel Smolker:
We are faced with an enormous and expanding human population to feed, using dwindling freshwater resources, increasingly degraded soils, and expensive fertilizer and chemicals. On top of that, deforestation has proceeded to the point where forests are unable to provide their essential climate-regulating functions: If biofuels are manufactured from wood, the demand for wood products, already unsustainable, will skyrocket. The world’s forests cannot feed biofuel refineries as well as supply increasing demand for heat and electricity generation, pulp, paper, and other wood products. Forests, and therefore the climate, will suffer.

Saving this for future reference.

Evolution and Zeno’s Paradox

I ran across this letter at New Scientist and thought that it called out an interested aspect of an argument used by ID and creationists against Evolution.

Charles Young’s call for photographs of the most complete progression from one species to another to illustrate evolution (5 April, p 21) highlights two interesting issues when considering the evolution/creationism controversy.

In his online battle with creationists who demand evidence for the existence of transitional evolutionary forms, Young seems to have fallen foul of their variation on Zeno’s paradox. In its original form, this appears to demonstrate that walking from one side of a room to the other is impossible if one tries to do it “mathematically”. By walking half the distance, then half the remaining distance, then half that remaining distance and so on, you will never reach the other side.

When creationists demand not just the broad sequence of transitional forms that led, for example, from land-based mammals to whales, but also every conceivable “in-between” form, they know they are asking the impossible. That’s not because evolution of the whale didn’t happen as described, but because of the statistical impossibility that each and every stage would be fossilised and then found – fossilisation is, after all, a rare event – and a simplistic view of evolutionary change as only ever taking place in small, incremental steps in each and every species. Adding transitional forms simply increases demands from creationists. They will claim that instead of filling a gap, the new fossil actually creates new gaps before it and after it, thereby increasing the problem for the evolutionist. If we then “fail” to fill these new “gaps”, they cry victory.

Nevertheless, Young’s call for better, more robust examples to be made more available is a valid one. Sadly, textbook writers are somewhat lazy in simply using the old favourites of the horse and peppered moth. Your feature by Donald Prothero (“Evolution: What missing link?” 23 February, p 35) nicely illustrated the range of well-evidenced transitional forms. These are the examples that should adorn our textbooks.

Being a breeder of African cichlids, I’d recommend them as the “poster fish” of Evolution.

John Bolton on Iran

Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton has this to say about negotiations with Iran:

When the U.S. negotiates with “terrorists and radicals,” it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders. Meeting with leaders of state sponsors of terrorism such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il is also a mistake. State sponsors use others as surrogates, but they are just as much terrorists as those who actually carry out the dastardly acts. Legitimacy and international acceptability are qualities terrorists crave, and should therefore not be conferred casually, if at all.

Moreover, negotiations – especially those “without precondition” as Mr. Obama has specifically advocated – consume time, another precious asset that terrorists and rogue leaders prize. Here, President Bush’s reference to Hitler was particularly apt: While the diplomats of European democracies played with their umbrellas, the Nazis were rearming and expanding their industrial power.

Freedom of Expression? Not Really…

Here are some designs that Cafepress has refused to allow me to sell due to copyright/trademark issues. I don’t blame Cafepress: I blame our whacked out IP laws here in the US, which are still better than those in the UK or EU.

Che Gueverra - List of those Killed by Him

This is one of the my personal favorites. The list displays those killed personally by Che or on his direct orders. There’s even a second image where the list continues that is meant for the back of the shirt. The copyright was won in 2000 by the photographer who took the picture used as part of my design, Alberto Diaz Gutierrez. Gutierrez said “...I am categorically against the exploitation of Che’s image for the promotion of products such as alcohol, or for any purpose that denigrates the reputation of Che.” Listing those killed by Che would definitely fall into the latter category, since Gutierrez is a big fan of the mass-murderer.

2008 Olympic Mascots

No surprise that this design didn’t pass Cafepress muster. The five cuddly figures are copyrighted. Too bad because I thought their names weren’t so cuddly.

Kim Jong Il - Off to Disney

I guess the Mickey ears scared off CP. I’m not even responsible for the original photograph; I pulled it off Free Republic back when I used to hang out there prior to 9-11.

Republican Angst

There’s a lot of angst out there among Republicans. Many it seems are tired of being in power - in the few places they still have it like the Executive branch, and haven’t really gotten fired up to snatch it back from the Democrats in the places they’ve lost it – like most of the governorships and the Legislative branch. Some of the ideas that get the rank and file fired up – like gun rights – have been avoided like a political 3rd Rail by the Democrats. Other ideas like free trade and a strong defense have been taken for granted so long that they’ve lost their ability to fire up the base. Worst of all the issues that do fire up the rank and file – like lower taxes and smaller government – have been stomped on over the past 8 years by the Republican leadership and the Bush administration.

Republicans have a right to be questioning their leaders and the status quo right now; the Party has failed them. The question becomes: will this failure kill their chances in November?

6 months is an eternity in politics, and the real fight between the two parties hasn’t even started. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will continue to lose their stomach for a fight while the Democrats begin to seriously wail on them this Summer, and especially after Labor Day. We’ll get a good sense by then whether they have, or if the Democrats have forced them to get off their asses and fight back.