Day by Day

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What War Economy?

Welcome, Wizbangers!

Please poke around and look at some of my other posts, especially the ones on global warming. And please leave comments, one way or the other. Pretty please hit the "News Commentary" label on the bottom. I've had some fun with CBS News, The New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle recently.

Major Mike

The editor of our local weekly newspaper, The Independent Coast Observer, like most Democrats finds a way to blame anything happening in the world that they term "bad" on President Bush. In a recent editorial titled "War Economy" he blamed "skyrocketing" interest rates and our slumping economy on the Iraq war. I wrote the following to try to give him a little Economics 101.

At 4 percent of GDP, defense spending is 1.5 percentage points of GDP below its 45-year historical average. It is less than half of the rate during the Vietnam War and only two-thirds of the rate prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Discretionary spending, the portion of the budget subject to annual review, has risen 152 percent since 1965. Mandatory spending, consisting mostly of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which run on autopilot, has risen 759 percent since 1965.

Mandatory spending as a percent of GDP has risen to twice the size of Defense spending. In absolute dollar terms, in 2007 entitlement or mandatory spending was $1.45 trillion, or $400 billion higher than the total for all discretionary spending (which includes defense).
The total inflation adjusted government spending burden on American households has grown over $21,000 per household or 129 percent since 1965. State and local spending per household has increased 156 percent, while federal spending has increased 115 percent.

Blaming the war for current problems exposes a gaping hole in economic knowledge. So called “skyrocketing” interest rates went from 5.85% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in January 2003 to 6.07% in January 2008. The subprime mortgage boom since 1995 fueled prosperity and a surge in home ownership to record levels. However, when home value increases slowed in 2006, some mortgages based on the assumption that increases were perpetual went into default. The write-downs of mortgage portfolios removed liquidity from the market, not government borrowing.

To put the war costs in perspective, annual Medicare and Medicaid fraud costs about as much as the war, and are increasing rapidly along with the accelerating increases in these already insolvent programs.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Veteran Suicides - When Will They Learn? Updated!

“More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week,” according to veterans advocates, began a San Francisco Chronicle front-page story: VA stalls on care while 18 veterans a day commit suicide, judge is told, by Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer, Tuesday, April 22, 2008.

The San Francisco Chronicle is trying to be as incompetent reporting veteran issues as CBS News and Perky Katie Couric.

Veteran suicides are terrible. The journalism in reporting them is even worse. The rate of 18 veterans a day committing suicide is for all veterans, not just veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For comparison purposes, the acknowledged VA veteran suicide rate is 19 per 100,000 per year, which is about the same or lower than the suicide rates for both sexes in entire countries: Japan, Belgium, Finland, Cuba, France, Austria, Korea, and Switzerland. In a US male veteran to all males comparison, which is the closest I could get to “apples to apples,” the entire male populations of over forty nations have higher or similar suicide rates than our veterans, including all American males.

Our active duty military suicide rate is 11 per 100,000 per year, about half our civilian rate for same-age males. From an analysis of suicide statistics, it actually shows it is safer from a suicide perspective to be a veteran or serving on active duty.

True, but you’ll never see that in a Chronicle headline on the front page.

FIVE-STAR UPDATE!

The Chronicle finally buried a correction to the error on April 25, saying that their article "mischaracterized" the report. It reminded me of Hillary saying she "misspoke" about ducking sniper fire in Bosnia. Apparently the new way the Left avoids admitting a lie is to use the mis- prefix.

This is the Chronicle correction:
-- An article on Tuesday about the trial of a lawsuit by veterans' groups over health treatment mischaracterized a government report that 18 veterans a day commit suicide. The report referred to veterans of all wars, not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lest we forget, the original Chronicle article ran a direct quote: “More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week,” by Gordon Erspamer, the lawyer for the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit against the Veterans Administration. Does that sound like someone mischaracterized a government report?

It sounds to me like a lawyer lying through his teeth, not only to a mere reporter for a Left-wing newspaper, but to the judge trying the case.

To confirm his lie, he later gave an interview to one of my favorite columnists for the Chronicle, C. W. Nevius, and amplified the lie he told the judge. This is what CW reported from his interview of Mr. Erspamer:

"If you add up the veterans' suicides among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and compare it to the total combat deaths, the veteran suicides are higher," says Erspamer, who introduced a VA e-mail at the trial that showed an average of 18 vets a day are committing suicide. "The VA doesn't want that out."


CW noted that Mr. Erspamer is not being paid for this (it looks like you get what you pay for), and is doing it as a personal crusade. That explains his total lack of objectivity, I suppose.

This ran in CW's column the day before the correction, and a day after I had urgently emailed the Chronicle letters editor and Readers Representative about Mr. Erspamer's lie. It is hard for me to believe that highly paid and experienced journalism professionals would have given an OK to CW's article while they had information in hand that led to issuing their misleading correction the following day (there's that mis- word again).

It's the old story of the journalism of the Left: Tell the lies with headlines, bury the truth.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Irrational Islamophobia

UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian defined Islamophobia as "unfounded hostility toward Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." (Looking at people's phobia of Muslims, by Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer, Saturday, April 26, 2008)

I’m sure that since the first academic conference focused on Islamophobia is being held at Berkeley, the finding will be that fear of Muslims is totally irrational.

It’s certain that Bali tourists, London and Madrid commuters, Danish cartoonists, Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh and Aayan Hirsi Ali, Hindus in Kashmir, former Muslims who convert, Israelis living anywhere, but particularly near Gaza and the West Bank, the children of Beslan, the Moscow theater hostages, and many others, would all agree that fear of Muslims is totally irrational. Those still alive would, anyway.

Unlike Nicholas Berg, the three Christian girls in Indonesia, Daniel Pearl, Jack Hensley, Eugene Armstrong, Paul Johnson, some Turks, an Egyptian, a Korean, some Bulgarians, a British businessman, a Nepalese, and countless others, we shouldn’t lose our heads and give in to irrational fear.

Personally, I lived “on the economy” in Turkey with my late first wife and infant son for a year in 1964, and felt no fear. However, I can’t say the same for Armenians half a century before.

Although fear of Islam is irrational, American newspapers that had no qualms about publishing such things as photos of Serrano’s “Piss Christ” will not print the Danish “Mohammad” cartoons. It’s safe to criticize Islam, if you are ready to go into protective custody the rest of your life.

Everything I Know I Learned While Fishing

It’s a good thing I did a lot of fishing when I was young, and learned everything then, because sad to say I haven’t done much fishing for many years now.

When I was a school boy in Point Arena, 1949-1960, I never thought about going fishing, I just went. Unlike modern-day anglers, or even many during my boyhood, fishing only required a minimum of equipment (meaning it only required a minimum of cash), and a lot of time. Time I had, money I didn’t, so fishing was a perfect choice.

As a pre-teen, fishing consisted of catching trout in Point Arena Creek (also known as Shit Creek, because the waste water from the sewer ponds went into it, or Sweetwater Creek, again because the waste water from the sewer ponds went into it), which flowed along the southern edge of town.

Sweetwater Creek was small. You could step across it in most places. Its banks were well protected with stinging nettles growing amongst the thick willows. About two-thirds of the way up Mill Street the creek went over a small falls, only about a three-foot drop, but that was enough to stop the trout from going further upstream.

We soon stopped fishing further upstream and just concentrated on a half-mile stretch from the falls to where Soldani’s cattle made a crossing about a hundred yards from the sewer ponds. At that point there was still over a half mile of creek between the sewer ponds and the ocean, but we never fished down there.

I guess the thought of catching fish swimming amongst sewer pond overflow put us off.

We never talked about it, we just never went there.

The trout fishing was pretty good without expanding our territory.

We outfitted ourselves with wrapping string for fish line that we begged from whoever was working the counter at Gilmore and Stornetta’s General Merchandise Store. In the 1950s, many of the things we bought at the store were wrapped in paper and tied with string. We would tie the string to a four to five-foot willow pole, tie a leader with hook to the string, and as soon as we dug a couple of dozen worms we were ready to fish.

A note for the historical record.

Usually it was Jackie Gilmore or his wife, Sue, or my buddy Bob Seymour’s mother, Floe, working the cash register. For several years, Taylor and Doris York, the parents of my fishing buddy, Chuck York, worked in the store before they took over running Titus’ Sweet Shop. Doris was one of Jackie’s older sisters. Her sister Merle, and Merle’s husband Wendy May, also worked in the store. Now and then we would be waited on by one of Jackie’s parents, Orin or Leona Gilmore, although they owned the store and spent most of their time in the raised office area a third of the way in on the right-hand side.

In those days, in the little town of Point Arena, this small general merchandise store provided the total financial support for four or five families. Then there was the McMillen General Store just down the street, and it supported another four families. As times passed, and their competition became the national retailers in Santa Rosa seventy-five miles away (almost a two-hour drive), profit margins were squeezed and eventually the two stores barely supported one family each as owner/operators. Finally the out-of-area big stores like Costco, then the added competition of the Internet, only left a market big enough for one store to survive, and Jackie and Sue closed Gilmore’s, then later sold it and the building was converted into the Coast Community Library.

Back to fishing.

Most of the good fishing spots on Sweetwater Creek were easy to reach, particularly when we were careful not to brush the stinging nettles. We approached each fishing hole quietly. Most of them weren’t much bigger than a large bathtub. We put a worm on the hook, and then tossed it into the water. Usually something happened immediately.

Often our worm would be swarmed by sticklebacks, minnow-sized fish with three needle-sharp spines on their backs that would nibble and worry the worm until it was torn from the hook. When it looked like stickleback were hitting the worm, we would pull it out of the water, usually with a stickleback or two hanging on, and let the sticklebacks fall off on the ground, and eventually die.

We would toss the worm back in, or rebait our hook if necessary, and hope that a trout would get to it first instead of the sticklebacks. As soon as a trout struck the bait, we would bring the tip of our willow pole fishing rod up to set the hook, because the trout would spit the worm out immediately otherwise.

If we were successful hooking the trout, a short battle would ensue. Our main concern was keeping the trout from wrapping the line around underwater roots, while also keeping it from catching in the branches above. If we could prevent entanglements, the trout was quickly ours.

As much as we learned stalking the wily trout, our real education began with ocean fishing, usually from the Point Arena Wharf or the rocks north of the wharf. We usually caught perch or greenling (sea trout) from the wharf, and perch, greenling, and cabazone or the occasional ling cod from the rocks.

Our fishing gear was very inexpensive because of the continuing chronic cash shortages. Our biggest investment was a 100-yard ball of braided cotton line (90¢), and a dozen leaderless 6/0 black hooks (25¢). Bait was abalone guts and trimmings preserved with rock salt we collected and stored in a large crock, and took fishing in a coffee can. For sinkers we went to the local gas service stations. The mechanic at Pelascio’s Union 76 station, the late Jimmy Morrison, would toss old spark plugs replaced during engine tune-ups into a box in the garage, and we took what we needed for sinkers. Our tackle boxes were gunny sacks, and the only additional gear we needed we found on the rocks, pieces of drift wood to wrap our lines.

Casting our lines was simple. We would unwind line from the stick, being careful not to tangle or catch in on the rocks or around our feet, then swing the line with hook, bait, and sinker over our heads, then release it hopefully to fly out and land where we intended. We tried to hit deeper holes between patches of seaweed, and if we were successful we would take in the slack and hold the line in our hand and wait.

As soon as we felt a couple of sharp tugs, we would yank the line back to set the hook, then pull it in hand over hand, dragging the fish over and through the seaweed. If all went well we would pull in a flopping fish. After we took it off the hook, which sometimes was quite a chore if the fish swallowed the bait and was hooked deeply, we put the fish in a small tide pool to keep it fresh while we continued fishing.

It was on these fishing trips on the rocks where we gained the wisdom that has guided our lives so well. Our first lesson was that whatever we needed for a successful fishing trip we had to plan and bring with us. We didn’t have a car in those days, and anything we forgot or didn’t think of was at least a round-trip hour’s walk away. The other side of the issue, of course, was that anything we brought with us we had to carry in our gunny sacks on our long walk to and from the rocks. If we had a good day fishing, the weight of the fish would be added to the weight in our sacks, so in packing to go fishing we had to make allowances for possible success and the weight of fish in our sacks.

We realized that for an overall satisfying fishing experience, we didn’t want to take everything with us, just the right things.

This then led us to the learning process we soon labeled, “If, maybe, and next time.” While we were fishing, killing time listening to the Giants on my transistor radio, or eating our lunches/snacks, while waiting for a bite, we would often remark about something: for instance, “If we carried some water with us, we sure wouldn’t be so thirsty right now.”

“Maybe we can find some bottles to fill with water.”

“Next time we’ll have water with us when we feel thirsty.”

One time we caught our late friend, Jimmy Hedden, eating our frozen bait shrimp raw.

“If we always brought a tin of kippered herring with us, maybe next time Jimmy will leave the bait shrimp alone.”

Our assumption was that we would remember to bring water in bottles, or kipper snacks, or whatever, the next time. The reality was that we would often forget what we planned, and when we were thirsty again, or run out of bait, then we would remember.

“If we would bring a piece of paper and a pencil every time, and write stuff down, then maybe we would remember it the next time.”

What this did, of course, was give us the opportunity to add a pencil and paper to the growing list of things to forget the next time.

However, as our youth passed slowly and unhurriedly, and we joked about “if, maybe, and next time,” I think we learned a lot about other people and ourselves out of the independence and challenges of our fishing experiences.

But I can hear protests from those who read this far: “My husband/significant other/boyfriend, Gavin, has started going fishing with his friends, and he isn’t acting any wiser. In fact, he seems dumber.”

I can see the problems already. Anyone named Gavin is from a generation or two after mine. Gavin and his friends were never allowed to just go fishing by themselves. They didn’t have an opportunity to scrape together a buck or two and rig a fishing outfit, then walk a mile or two to the ocean by themselves.

Gavin and his friends were organized, supervised, and authorized to go fishing. They didn’t have the exertion of walking a mile or two carrying their fishing gear, then the frustration of finding they had forgotten something, then the satisfaction of figuring how to work around whatever was forgot, the elation of doing it all themselves, and increased confidence from being at the ocean on their own.

I’ve seen fishermen who have started fishing later in life. They buy expensive, very powerful boats, outfitted with every convenience known to man, and space age fishing gear. Fishing just becomes another competition: bigger, faster, costlier – more fish are caught quicker, trophy fish are sought – and a day fishing is anything but cheap relaxation.

If the fish aren’t biting, the day’s fishing is a failure.

When we went fishing, if the fish weren’t biting we spent the time chatting and philosophizing, and still had a great time. We didn’t rush anywhere, because there was nowhere else we had to be, and we weren’t late for anything.

We would run over the rocks because it was fun, not because we had to hurry somewhere.

Our parents trusted us not to do anything dumb enough to get ourselves killed or badly injured, and knew we would be home by suppertime.

Maybe even with some fish to add to the family food supply.

Friday, April 25, 2008

When PG&E Came to Town

Not long after we moved into the old abandoned high school building, in early 1950 Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E, aka Pacific Graft & Extortion) came to Point Arena in a big way. Up to that point in time the generating plant on Windy Hollow Road on the north side of Point Arena stood by itself to provide power to Point Arena only.

That all changed with the building and opening of the Point Arena Radar Station. PG&E sent in large construction crews with heavy equipment. They used the large open space on the west side of the old high school building as a parking area for the equipment. The space had been graveled at one time, but neglected, and now with the heavy equipment parked and moving over it, it soon became primarily mud and mud puddles. After a period when it went from bad to worse, PG&E brought in gravel and spread it generously on the mud and in the mud puddles. It helped. Now when we walked we crunched over gravel, instead of splashing through mud.

Our main purpose for the large, open, flat area, when it wasn’t covered with PG&E equipment, had been as a playground. In dry weather it wasn’t too bad before they put the gravel down. After the gravel, it was a worthless playground the year around. However, that didn’t stop us from trying to make it work. It was so big, so open, so flat, it was hard to give up on it.

It was good for baseball until the batter hit the ball. If it was a grounder, it would never take a straight, predictable hop. If it was a fly ball, trying to keep your eyes on the ball while running over gravel was an accident in progress. Usually a few fast running steps was all it took to lose your balance and fall onto the jagged rocks. When you took your eyes off the ball to save yourself from falling, the ball usually found you. Either way, a thoughtful friend like Bob Seymour would shout, “Way to go, Grace!” as you picked yourself up and inspected the torn knee of your pants, and the blood seeping from the cuts.

I can still see a semi-circular scar on the heel of my right palm where a sharp rock peeled the skin back when I tried to break a fall with my hand.

It didn’t take long until we gave up playing baseball on the gravel, and used the baseball diamond on the Elementary School grounds. It was actually a fair baseball field, with an ancient wooden backstop, and fragmented pieces of chicken wire occasionally stopping foul balls, wild pitches, or errant throws before they landed in the cypress trees beyond.

The faults of the school baseball field really didn’t bother us except during the rainy season. The field had been in heavy use for so long that the pitcher’s mound was a hole, the batter’s box was a hole, and the first, second, and third bases, and the basepaths, were in holes. The holes weren’t very noticeable, and weren’t problems until it rained and water accumulated. The flooding field didn’t stop our games, but we did have to improvise. The pitcher and batter would move to adjacent areas of higher ground, and if the puddles weren’t too big, the bases would move to the closest almost dry ground.

Trying to field ground balls in the mud, and chasing down fly balls was still challenging, but when you inevitably slipped and fell, landing in soft mud was much nicer than on sharp gravel.

My brother Ronald and I still played in our graveled yard when it was just the two of us. Sometimes we would disagree about whether a pitch was a strike, or how many strikes we had, or if we had struck out. Not very often, but every now and then, a disagreement would lead to a fight. Since I was much bigger than Ronald then, I would win our fights even though he was tough and scrappy.

One day I pushed him down, and started to walk away towards our house. The next thing I remember was lying face down on the ground, and the back of my head hurting quite painfully. I put my hand where it hurt, and when I brought my hand back it was covered with blood.

Even at his young age, Brother Ronald had excellent hand/eye coordination, and a good throwing arm. He invariably precisely hit whatever he was throwing at. In this case he was throwing a rock he picked up out of the gravel, and his target was my head.

When I saw the blood on my hand I let out loud cries, which brought Pop running from our room in the old high school building and to my rescue, I thought. However, he ran right past me and started spanking my brother. As I moaned and cried louder, Pop spanked Ronald harder.

About then I heard Mom call from the doorway, “Stop spanking that one and get the other one to the Medical Center before he bleeds to death.”

Pop reluctantly stopped spanking Ronald and stood me up to look at the back of my head. Mom brought a wet towel, and cleaned the blood away to uncover a shallow two-inch gash.

“It’s going to need stitches,” was Mom’s verdict, which inspired me to resume crying even more loudly, more from the thought of getting stitches than from the pain, which was already subsiding.

Pop drove me downtown to the Medical Center. We still didn’t have a doctor, but the School Nurse, Helen Greco, was on duty. She cleaned and shaved around my wound, applied a generous amount of stinging disinfectant, closed it with three stitches, and bandaged it firmly.

Pop looked me over and said, “I think you’ll live.”

I thought it would be a good time to start crying again to see if Pop would resume spanking Ronald, but Pop and Mrs. Greco were chatting with each other, and with me, and I felt the time for crying had passed.

Even if it would get Pop to spank my brother some more.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Politically Incorrect Songs Mom Taught Me

The news the other day featured the huge, million-dollar mansion his parishioners were building Reverend Jeremiah Wright in Chicago, and it reminded my of a song my late mother wrote sixty years ago. It was a rousing pseudo-Negro spiritual she titled: “Sho’ Do Pay.” (Translation: It sure does pay).

The following is my best effort to reconstruct it from my memories of sixty years ago. I’m sure that somewhere in our boxes of family memorabilia I’ll find a copy of the words and music, but until then, this will have to do.


Sho’ Do Pay
(To be sung in dialect with religious
fervor)

I got myself religion
The other day
Went down to the church house
And learned to pray
But there’s just one thing about it
I’d like to say
Oh Brothers and Sisters
Does it pay?

You can talk about your Moses
And you can talk about your Josephs
You can learn all the
Good Book has to say
Then you start in a cryin’
Lordy there’s no denying
That old time religion sho’ do pay.

We’ll roll mostly sevens
Way up thar in the Heavens
And we won’t have to work a single day
There’ll be ham and fried chicken
There’ll be no more pot lickin’
And Saint Pete will double all our pay.

So I’ll get me a Bible
And I’ll get me a hymn book
And I’ll learn all the Good Book has to say
Then I’ll start in a preachin’
And I’ll have a camp meetin’
‘Cause that old time religion sho’ do pay.

God you know I’m a sinner
But I’d sure like to enter
Them beautiful Pearly Gates someday.
(This is a fragment, and I don’t know where it goes in the sequence, or what comes before or after it.)

Mom’s allusions to Negro gambling, laziness, and religious cynicism would not play well in our politically correct world today, but were accepted as stereotypical humor then. You can mentally substitute Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, or other get-rich-quick televangelists, and get the same effect. Without worrying about political correctness either, because white Christians are always fair game.

Just don’t mess with New Agers like Tony Robbins.

Mom was ahead of her time in commemorating in song the sordid wealth that would be showered on slick religious hypocrites. At the time she wrote this song, she may have read Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry,” and probably read about Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, but most probably she had heard of and observed things associated with religious revival meetings, and noted their similarities to the carnival sideshows and Snake Oil salesmen of her time.

And had she lived longer, to the Rev. Jeremiah Wrights of our time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Honey, You Just Became a Lumberjack

The summer of 1949 we were living in a trailer park in Newhall, north of Los Angeles near Santa Clarita. I had no idea where the town of Newhall was in relation to our trailer park. We were surrounded by a combination of scrubby brush in what was probably a desert, or a close imitation of one. Scattered around the trailer park were drilling rigs and oil well pumps.

We arrived with less than a month of school before the summer break, and although Mom took me to the school the day after we arrived, I guess it was too close to being the end of the school year, and I wasn’t admitted. I liked school, and meeting kids and playing, so I was actually sad about not going to school in Newhall.

About half a mile from the trailer park, maybe nearer, was a railroad track which crossed a trestle bridge over a shallow stream that later in the year would probably be dry. Ronald and I, and new friends in the trailer park, rode our bikes to the stream, and competed to see who could peddle all the way across without stopping. Whether we made it all the way, or stopped, or fell off into the water, either way we got completely soaked.

Our parents didn’t mind that we got our pants or shirts wet, but getting our shoes wet was a different matter. Children’s shoes were the most relatively expensive clothing items our families owned, so most of us had only one pair. Getting our shoes soaking wet didn’t help their longevity. We usually thought about taking them off before they got wet right after we got them thoroughly wet.

On most of our trips to the stream we would see several tramps, or hoboes, camped under the trestle, usually cooking something on a small fire. We never went close to their camp, and never talked to any of them. For their part, they just ignored us as we sat on our bikes and watched them. If any of them had ever moved our way, I’m sure we would have all been off in a flash pedaling furiously back to the trailer park.

In retrospect, they probably didn’t want anything to do with us, because we would have told our parents, and they would tell the police, and the police would have made them move on. Homeless people were not a protected group in those days.

Mom listened to the radio as she worked, usually to variety shows like Hoagy Carmichael. She wrote many songs, and was always trying to get one to the attention of a famous singer to record and make her rich and famous. I still remember several of them.

There’s a moon shining down on the chaparral,
Moonlight casts its spell,
On the old ranch well.
And the quaint pepper trees
By the big corral,
Lacey shadows weave
Like a wedding veil.

Although I’m alone
In this moonlit wonderland
I still feel your kiss
And the touch of your hand.

So I’ll hold you again
As the shadows fall
And the moonbeams dance
On the chaparral.

(59 years have passed, but the song memory in my head tells me I got every word right. Who knows, Mom? Maybe through the wonder of the Internet hundreds or thousands of years from now someone will see this and sing your song again. I wonder if people then will be capable of feeling wistful loneliness, or if everyone will be in instant communication with whomever they want whenever they want. I hope not. Loneliness is too precious an emotion to lose. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." )

Mom had a good singing voice, and more than once she went to Hollywood on the bus and appeared on the Hoagy Carmichael Show. I'm sure “Moon Shining Down on the Chaparral” was one of the songs she sang on his show, and I think she got $20 and an orchid. Mom kept the orchid in our refrigerator for a long time.

In August we got a letter from Uncle Walter, the second oldest of my thirteen Combs uncles and aunts. Pop was youngest of Grandma and Grandpa’s seven sons, and next to the youngest of fourteen siblings.

Uncle Walter had moved to Gualala, on the coast in northern California, a couple of years earlier. His letter was probably very chatty about his wife Ruth and their five daughters. Even though Pop’s family was huge – I was the 42nd grandchild, brother Ronald born eleven months and four days later was the 44th – the family had concentrated around Bakersfield, and everyone stayed in touch.

Pop was very interested in his relatives, and what they were doing, and had a remarkable memory for names, dates, and events. He wrote many letters, and more than any other family member, kept family members up to date on what the rest of the family was doing.

Taking all that in, out of that particular letter, one part was memorable and became part of our family legend. Near the end of the letter, Uncle Walter wrote: “You ought to come up here. The sawmills are hiring.”

When Mom read that, she turned to Pop and said: “Honey, you just became a lumberjack.”

Mom was weary from the moving every few months, chasing oil wells from one dusty southern California town to the next. She said, “I’m tired of planting flower gardens for someone else to enjoy.” I remember her planting flower seeds at the trailer parks, the seeds sprouting and flowers blooming, then Pop hooking up the trailer to our old Buick and heading off to the next trailer park.

Mom was ready to settle down.

Pop hooked up the trailer for what turned out to be its last long journey. It’s about five hundred miles from Newhall to Point Arena, which Uncle Walter said was about fifteen miles north of Gualala, and would be better for us than Gualala where he lived, because Point Arena had the schools. Five hundred miles is a long day’s journey today, but in those days, and pulling a trailer, it was an odyssey. I think the trip took us four or five days, and several tires – I remember Pop saying that even with the war over for four years, you still couldn’t get decent tires.

When we got to the Jenner Grade north of the Russian River, where Highway 1 was (and is) a narrow winding road tentatively clinging to the steep hillsides above the crashing waves of the Pacific far below, Mom was overcome by looking at the narrow road, the steep cliffs, and Pop working the car and trailer around the sharp turns. Mom told Pop to stop and let her and Ron and me out, then she took Ron and me firmly by the hand, and for the next hour or two we walked over the worst parts of Jenner Grade.

Pop and the trailer were waiting for us where the road finally got better, and we got back in the Buick and completed our journey to our new life. When we got to Point Arena, Pop arranged with the property owner, old Jack Pelascio, for us to park our trailer on a former tennis court next to the old abandoned high school building, where we could easily hook up to electricity, water, and the sewer.

Mom liked the location because we were only a hundred yards from the four-room Point Arena Elementary School.

We arrived on a Saturday, September 10, 1949. The following Monday Ronald and I were in school, with about 28 other students in the combined 1st and 2nd grade class taught by Mrs. Mae Phillips.

While we were in school, Pop visited Uncle Walter, who lived in the Old Milano Hotel (since burned down) on the north side of Gualala, and owned and operated a small general store (since burned down too) on the bluff above the Gualala River just south of today’s Oceansong Restaurant.

Uncle Walter introduced Pop to the manager of the Empire Lumber Company which was located less than a mile further up the Gualala River, and the following day Pop had a job working in the woods setting chokers near the Wheatfield Forks on the south fork of the Gualala.

We were home.

There Goes Nutty Jimmy Carter Again

Jimmy Carter continues to demonstrate the lack of abilities he displayed so prominently when he was president. In his latest foray into ineptitude, he honored Hamas while believing their transparent lies that they would recognize Israel's right to exist if such a deal was approved by a Palestinian vote.

Carter, naïve and gullible as ever, trumpeted to the world he had the framework of a peace agreement between Hamas and Israel, while at the same moment Meshaal, the Hamas leader in exile in Syria, told a press conference in Damascus that Hamas would not recognize the Jewish state and would insist on the right of return for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees.

Further analysis of the details showed that Hamas had placed an impossible condition on conducting a Palestinian vote that Carter should have recognized immediately, that the voting include all Palestinian refugees worldwide.

Apparently Jimmy Carter has difficulties in understanding discussions he is a party to. He denies that the State Department told him that the United States would not deal with Hamas and, as Secretary of State Rice commented, "we certainly told president Carter that we didn't think meeting with Hamas was going to help the Palestinians who (are) actually devoted to peace."

Aside from the fact that it is the long standing and clearly stated policy of the United States, since at least 1999 during the Clinton administration, that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and that the United States won’t deal with terrorist organizations, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We stand by (Secretary Rice’s statements) as statements of fact."

So there he goes again. Jimmy Carter reports one thing, just as Hamas denies it. Jimmy Carter says no one cautioned him about meeting with Hamas, when that has been United States policy concerning Hamas for at least a decade, whether a Democrat or a Republican was president.

Jimmy, those goobers aren’t the only nuts on your Georgia farm.

Unintended Environmental Consequences of Liberalism

The world is filled with solutions to human suffering that Liberals won’t allow. In fact, many of Liberals' pet programs add immeasurably to human suffering.

Examples abound. The most recent is rampant world hunger. What have Liberals done to make it worse?

Liberals vain fight against global warming is the prime self-inflicted wound on the poor people of the world. The quest for alternative fuels is literally taking food out of the mouths of babes, while at the same time causing a net increase in greenhouse gases that will take a century or more to overcome. Biofuels are a horrible idea whose time should never come.

The only reason that Liberals are so hot to find alterative energy sources is because they are totally focused in opposition to the only viable, nonpolluting, environmentally friendly answer to world energy needs, nuclear power. Solar, wind, wave, hydroelectric, biomass – most of these generation methods require huge government subsidies, and even then are only marginally economical when the price of oil is at record highs.

(UPDATE: Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore agrees we must develop nuclear energy, and that alternative power generating systems can't satisfy world energy needs.)

Beside high costs, the alternative energy sources are also incredibly polluting to the environment. I laughed when I read of environmentalists protesting fencing along the United States/Mexico border, and not the plans for huge solar and wind power installations in pristine desert and mountain habitats. The only nonpolluting power source that is economical without massive subsidies is hydroelectric, and it causes unbelievable damage to fisheries and loss of natural rivers and habitat.

Besides diverting government resources from better uses and increasing environmental pollution, the environmentalists’ opposition to nuclear energy has had an enormous unintended consequence: an enormous increase in burning coal, oil, and natural gas to meet the phenomenal growth in world energy needs. If nuclear energy was given the political and economic support it deserves, there would have already been great progress in design improvement and the construction of nuclear power plants. In the absence of support for nuclear energy, the only feasible option for meeting world power requirements has been the wholesale addition of coal, oil, and natural gas generating plants.

Liberals have shown the same genius for fouling things up with food itself, the shortage of which is now causing hunger and death daily at an ever increasing rate. Their opposition to genetically modified foods is a marvel of ignorance and shortsightedness. Plants have already been modified for greatly increased yields per acre, using less water, less fertilizer, and less pesticides, while also providing essential nutrients that eliminate serious health problems like child blindness.

European Liberals, exercising their misguided elitism, call them “Franken foods” and ban them from both production and consumption. How does that protect the environment? Liberals say it prevents the genetically modified plants from crossing with native or natural species, as if species purity was sufficient justification for the ban.

However, besides worsening world hunger, their ban continues the pressure on burgeoning water shortages, causes more air pollution from using natural gas to make fertilizer, requires the use of pesticides and chemicals because natural plants are not as insect and disease resistant as genetically modified ones, and increases water pollution from the pesticide and chemical runoff from farms into streams.

Liberal efforts to combat global warming provides material for a large book to chronicle the messes it is creating for current and future generations. Laying aside the fact that global warming is natural, not caused by man, the solutions that Liberals propose all arrive at the same end: enormous amounts of resources are expended in a doomed, vain attempt to reverse natural climate change. The bottom line on such efforts is very clear. The climate will change, just as it has hundreds of times before for hundreds of thousands of years. Along the way, the economic progress of billions of poor people will be slowed or reversed, and they will be constrained to living short, brutish lives of poverty and deprivation. In turn, this will create more social and political unrest, with resulting wars of revolution fueled by inequality and discontent.

If those same resources were consumed in increasing economic activity, and resultant prosperity and accumulation of wealth, the formerly poor of the world would be able to adapt readily to warming, cooling (very likely, and much more damaging), or any thing else that nature throws their way.

With prosperity, and abundant energy from nuclear power, the formerly poor can do what the citizens of the developed world already do: modify their environment to fit their needs and desires, just as Americans have been doing for decades.

Why are the populations of the southern parts of the United States increasing faster than the more northerly? Because Americans have been voting with their feet for “warmer” ever since air conditioning made comfortable living further south possible. At the same time, better heating, insulation, and air conditioning have also made living and working in the more extremely variable northern climates more bearable.

These are just a few of the many ways Liberal policies create enormous unintended negative consequences, and the ways that economic progress and resulting prosperity would solve even the messes Liberalism causes.

Even as Liberals work their butts off to try and really foul things up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Doctor in Town

One of our favorite family activities when we lived in the old abandoned high school was playing board games. Among other children we preferred “Monopoly”, but with Mom and Pop our favorite game was “Clue.” We all became adept at stratagems, such as calling out items in our own hands to determine the murder, murder weapon, and murder room, without tipping off the others.

“Miss Scarlett with a knife in the Billiard Room.”

One evening while the four of us were playing Clue on our dinner table in the center of the room that was kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedrooms, Mom fainted and fell from her chair.

A doctor had just moved into town, and lived in Ed McMillen’s old house. After his wife, Myrtle died of cancer, Ed moved into an attic room and rented the rest of his house to the new doctor. Pop sent me to hurry and bring back the doctor.

I ran as fast as I could and banged on his door. It was about seven in the evening, and he answered the door immediately. I told him to come quickly, my mother was unconscious.

The doctor told me to contact our family doctor, and have him take care of Mom.

We didn’t have a family doctor. The only doctor in the area was old Doc Huntley, and he lived in the country on Mountain View Road towards Manchester, over five miles away, and had been retired for years.

I ran back home to tell Pop the doctor wouldn’t come.

Without a word, he stood up, and walked quickly out the door and down the street to the doctor’s house, with me running behind. When he reached the house, Pop banged on the door, and then threw it open. The doctor was standing just inside, and Pop barked out, “My wife needs a doctor.”

“I’m not her doctor.”

“Get your bag.”

The doctor didn’t move, so Pop looked around and spotted a black bag on the table. “Is that your bag?”

“Yes.”

Pop grabbed the bag with one hand, and the doctor’s arm with the other, and pulled him out the door and up the street to our home without saying another word. Pop walked fast, holding the shorter, slightly built doctor under the doctor's arm, and it seemed to lift and propel him forward as they went. I could barely keep up.

Pop pulled the doctor into our one-room home, and finally let him loose when they reached Mom, still lying on the floor. The doctor checked Mom’s pulse, and her eyes, and her chest with his stethoscope, and said: “She’s OK. She should come around soon.”

He propped her legs up, and made her comfortable, and soon her eyes opened, and Mom started to sit up.

The doctor told her not to sit up yet, to just stay down and relax, and then told Pop that she didn’t seem to be sick, that she must have fainted.

Pop asked what to do next, and the doctor said probably nothing, just let Mom take things easy for a couple of days, and see how it went.

Pop asked the doctor what he owed him, and the doctor shrugged his shoulders, so Pop pulled out a five dollar bill. The doctor still didn’t do or say anything, so Pop put it in his bag, and handed the bag to the doctor.

Without another word the doctor left.

A couple of weeks later Pop was in McMillen’s General Store, where the widower Ed, Ralph and his wife Sadie, and Lloyd McMillen all worked. Pop asked Ed how the new doctor was doing, and Ed said that he had moved out and left the area. Apparently he never had any time to himself, day or night, when he wouldn’t be interrupted to make a house call or take care of some emergency. Being the only active doctor within forty miles was too much of a strain, so he had decided to go back to the city and work in a hospital.

Pop asked if Ed had found a new tenant, and when Ed said he hadn’t, Pop negotiated a lease for us on the spot. Within a week we had packed all our meager belongings and moved them into the Ed McMillen house, and parked our trailer nearby next to the clothes line.

Being in a real house again was nice, and quite a change after living a year and a half in the trailer in Lawndale, Carpentaria, Newhall, and Fosters Park, going to two schools in the First grade, and then living in the abandoned high school for three years.

All in all though, my brother Ron and I had enjoyed our travels and the adventure of living in a large abandoned high school. I think Mom was the most appreciative of moving into a real house. We now had a kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, instead of areas within a large room. We had a normal hot water heater, instead of water lines running through the firebox of the old wood burning cook stove. Mom had an electric stove, and an oil-fired heater instead of using the wood cook stove for cooking and heat too.

Civilization had overtaken the Combs family.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

John McCain’s Taxes - New York Times Still Can’t Get It Right

This is the sort of story that even The Times couldn’t mess up, especially when they assign it to a veteran reporter supported by an army of experienced, highly paid editors. All it involves is John McCain – more probably his tax accountant – giving The New York Times copies of McCain’s 2006 and 2007 tax returns, and then the veteran reporter and supporting army of editors turns out the story.

What could be simpler?

This is the story. McCain releases tax returns - Papers for wealthy wife, who files separately, aren't made public, Barry Meier, New York Times, Saturday, April 19, 2008.

Apparently nothing is simple enough for The New York Times. Although The Times reports that John McCain released his 2006 and 2007 income tax returns, The Times chose to report totals for the two years instead of the individual amounts for each tax year. Fair enough. I can handle that, although it did make me scratch my head a bit when McCain’s Navy pension was reported as $114,854.

Whoa, I said. I knew Navy Captain McCain had served about a year longer than the 21.5 years I served in the Air Force, and that he retired as a Captain (O-6) whereas I retired as a Major (O-4), but that wouldn’t make his retired pay triple mine. I checked another source and found it was only $58,358 in 2007, substantially but reasonably higher than mine.

Why did The Times choose to lump two tax years together? It makes no sense to me.

But then I read the clinker in The New York Times report. To quote The Times, “He had additional untaxed income, including $114,854 from his Navy pension.” (Italics and bold print courtesy of me)

(UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times finally showed a hint of a nose for news by investigating and disclosing the nature of John McCain's tax-free Navy pension, and that it was determined based on the injuries and torture he suffered at the hands of the barbaric North Vietnamese - wasn't there a Geneva Convention issue invoved in their treatment of POWs? Or does that only apply to the United States and unlawful combatants? The New York Times, meanwhile, amply demonstrated profound ignorance of military matters to go with its shocking lack of news sense.)

(Please read the comments following this post to see the correction to my statement a reader provided. John McCain did report that his Navy pension was tax free. However, The Times did not follow up to find out and explain why normally taxed income was tax free. The commenter suggests it has something to do with McCain's injured and/or POW status, and he has been proven correct. In any case, there is a story here that The Times missed because of their ignorance of military issues. Their reporting of this issue still leaves its readers with more questions than answers.)

No wonder civilians think we retired military have it soft. Ignorant reporters and editors give their overwhelmingly civilian readership the impression that military retirement income is untaxed, when it is taxed just like any other income. The only untaxed income some military retirees will receive is Social Security, and even that is taxed if we dare to have other earned income before reaching full Social Security entitlement age.

The Times reporter and editors are not the only egregiously military-ignorant people in influential places. A few years ago California had a cadaverous Senator named Alan Cranston. One slow news day Senator Cranston decided he should grab a headline, so at a news conference he loudly bemoaned and protested military “double dippers.” According to Senator Cranston, it was almost criminal that military members would serve to retirement, retire, draw retirement pay, get a civilian job and finally pay into Social Security, and then retire from that job and draw both Social Security and military retirement; ergo the label “double dipper.”

What Senator Cranston did not know, secure in his cocoon of ignorance of the military, was that the military members paid into Social Security their entire careers, and that it was the Federal civilian employees who didn’t. Federal civilian employees would earn a civil service retirement, all the while not paying into Social Security, then get a civilian job, pay Social Security, retire from it, and then draw both a government pension and Social Security.

Dumb Democrat Cranston, sanctimoniously trying to point criticism at the Liberal-despised military, was actually casting stones at one of the most loyal Democrat constituencies, public service employees. Today, 29 percent of state and local government employees, and most Federal civilian workers hired before 1984, are still not in Social Security. All the military, going back to 1957, paid into Social Security.

Congress finally woke up long enough to throw Federal employees hired after 1984 into Social Security. Those Federal employees hired before 1984 knew a bad deal when they saw it, and most wanted no part of Social Security, even though it is a Federal government program, and they were Federal government employees.

Given this vast trove of Liberal ignorance of the military, it’s no surprise that The Times messed up a simple report about John McCain’s taxes. Just like they messed up on military murder rates, and CBS News messed up on reporting veteran suicides.

To Liberals, ignorance of the military is bliss, and they are nothing if not blissful.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Invisible Wounds of War - Self-Inflicted

“Maybe you'll believe Rand Corp. The lifetime incidence for Major Depression is 20% in the general population. 20% in the Vet population is certainly an anomaly.”

So e-mailed a reader of Strong as an Ox etc.

Apparently he was reacting to something I wrote, possibly to my post debunking CBS’s fallacious report on an epidemic of military suicides, when I found that United States military members have a lower suicide rate than that of entire nations, and lower than the same sex, same age group of Americans.

Then there was the equally fraudulent study by the New York Times of a supposedly high veteran murder rate, which turned out to be far lower than the rates for most major United States cities.

I probably annoyed the reader with my smug certainty about how poorly these studies were constructed and supported. Drawing my attention to this Rand study of military depression is probably his way of rubbing my nose in the damages wrought by our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study the reader draws my attention to, Invisible Wounds of War, was produced by the Rand Corporation, and publicized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Since I’m not a mental health professional, and since I’m not an actor and have never played a mental health expert (and therefore won’t be called to testify about mental health before a fawning Congress), I’m at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing the work of the highly credentialed preparers of this report.

Except I can draw on old adages, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Also, “The certitude of the summary usually doesn’t reflect the ambiguities of the details.”

I just made up that last old adage.

As I look at this RAND study I am struck that it raises more questions than answers. For example, from its sample of 1,965 service members from 24 communities across the country, RAND concluded that 300,000 of the 1.6 million who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Is reporting symptoms the same as having it?

Apparently NAMI thinks so.

Are the members in the 24 communities across the country representative of the 1.6 million that served in the war zone?

Did the millions who served during World War II, who experienced more dying, deprivation, suffering, and separation than our troops today, exhibit the same levels of depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? If they did, where did they find the strength of character to become “The Greatest Generation”?

First, I need to put the findings in some sort of context. When I debunked the military suicides and murders studies, it was very easy and straightforward to establish their contexts: I was able to find many tables of suicide statistics by gender, age, and nationality, and murder rates by gender, age, and American city or locality. In both studies these provided objective and easily demonstrated proofs that the veteran suicide and murder rates were not only normal and expected for predominantly young American males, but were lower than their civilian counterparts and, for suicides, much lower than the rates for all sexes and all ages of entire countries – Japan, to name one of several.

What causes depression? Do we know? According to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, we don’t know specifically.

Causes
It's not known specifically what causes depression. As with many mental illnesses, it's thought that a variety of biochemical, genetic and environmental factors may cause depression:
Biochemical. Some evidence from high-tech imaging studies indicates that people with depression have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes. The naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are linked to mood, also may play a role in depression. Hormonal imbalances also could be a culprit.
Genes. Some studies show that depression is more common in people whose biological family members also have the condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.
Environment. Environment is also thought to play a causal role in some way. Environmental causes are situations in your life that are difficult to cope with, such as the loss of a loved one, financial problems and high stress.

Although the precise cause of depression isn't known, researchers have identified certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression, including:
Having other biological relatives with depression
Having family members who have taken their own life
Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one
Having a depressed mood as a youngster
Illness, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's or HIV/AIDS
Long-term use of certain medications, such as some drugs used to control high blood pressure, sleeping pills or, occasionally, birth control pills
Certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
Alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse
Having recently given birth
Being in a lower socioeconomic group

What can depression be related to? Occupation, for one.

Among the 21 major occupational categories, the highest rates of experiencing a major depressive episode (MDE) among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 were found in the personal care and service occupations (10.8 percent) and the food preparation and serving related occupations (10.3 percent). The occupational categories with the lowest rates of past year MDE were engineering, architecture, and surveying (4.3 percent); life, physical, and social science (4.4 percent); and installation, maintenance, and repair (4.4 percent).

However, being unemployed was most depressing, and being fully employed least depressing.

Combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicate that the prevalence of past year MDE among adults aged 18 to 64 was higher among the unemployed and those of "Other" employment status than among persons employed part time or full time. Among adults aged 18 to 64, an estimated 12.7 percent of those who were unemployed and 12.7 percent of those in the "Other" group experienced an MDE in the past year compared with 9.3 percent of those employed part time and 7.0 percent of those employed full time.

Do all of these studies diagnose depression the same way?

The study cited above uses the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV), which specifies a period of 2 weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, including problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.

Does depression persist when factors change, such as leaving a stressful environment like a war zone?

I’ve looked at expert information about depression, and have come away with the impression that there are many factors causing and involved in it, and of course there are varying degrees of depression.

The Rand Corporation appears to be breaking new ground with this study. To me that means it should be taken with a grain of salt.

In the first analysis of its kind, researchers estimate that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among returning service members will cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment — an amount that includes both direct medical care and costs for lost productivity and suicide. Investing in more high-quality treatment could save close to $2 billion within two years by substantially reducing those indirect costs, the 500-page study concludes.

The RAND study contains estimates that state the high end of expected costs, and the high end of expected benefits. I think there is probably a big difference between “could save close to $2 billion in two years” and what it “would save in two years.”

The RAND study estimates the societal costs of PTSD and major depression for two years after deployment range from about $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case. Depending whether the economic cost of suicide is included, the RAND study estimates the total society costs of the conditions for two years range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion.

Apparently the cost of suicides is about $1.1 billion per year for the Iraqi and Afghanistan veteran group (using the RAND numbers above gives $6.2 billion minus $4 billion divided by two years equals $1.1 billion).

According to CBS News, the veteran suicide rate is 19 per 100,000 per year, while the active military suicide rate is 11 per 100,000 per year. Instead of an “epidemic of veteran suicides” as reported by CBS News and Perky Katie Couric, veterans match the rate for same-age males; the suicide rate among active military is about half of the general population rate; forty nations have higher male suicide rates than our veterans; and the overall veterans’ rate of 19 is the same or lower than the rate for BOTH SEXES in Japan (24.0), Belgium (21.1), Finland (20.3), Cuba (18.3), and France, Austria, Korea, and Switzerland.

The question then becomes, so where is the $2 billion in savings coming from? If exposure is causing depression in veterans of war, resulting in increased suicides, then why doesn’t the veteran suicide rate show that? If such exposure is causing suicides in the active military, why is their suicide rate half that of same-age civilian males?

According to the numbers, there would be about 240 suicides per year from amongst the 1.6 million veterans exposed to war. If the 1.6 million were predominantly young males who had never served in the military, there would be about 304 suicides, or 64 more per year. If we made a comparison to 1.6 million Frenchmen of all ages (including children), there would be 440 suicides, or 200 more per year.

At this point I’m left wondering what was the point of this study? War is traumatic. Many terrible things happen. Our diagnoses and treatments of mental problems among military members is not perfect. However, based on the numbers I have seen, it is probably better than the mental health services that most Americans, and from the suicide statistics, most foreign citizens receive.

I question the methods and conclusions, particularly if the bottom line is, as it appears to be, that reporting symptoms of depression resulted in the military member being classified as if diagnosed with depression. From that point projections of mental health care costs and indirect costs from lower productivity and suicides were calculated, and from the same spurious information savings were projected.

And above and beyond all else, there are ample statistics from over five years of fighting that would indicate whether or not the expected problems were appearing and being identified.

I’m not denying that our military members have suffered, and some have problems. Combat fatigue has been noted in many wars in many places. When we invaded Iwo Jima, over 21,000 Japanese and 6,800 Americans – more than in five years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan - died in a month in 1945. A few months before, 135,000 Germans perished in the firestorms resulting from three days of fierce Allied aerial bombardment. After all that, and a lot more, America, Germany, Japan, and Britain gave the world half a century of the high achievement and progress.

Now we have RAND going where more and more are going.

Imagined problems, imagined solutions, imagined costs, imagined savings.

It’s a virtual study in a virtual world.

The Idiot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I titled a previous post,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Fool or Fraud.” Since then I’ve refined my labeling, and it’s clear Ferlinghetti is a mere idiot, too educated to be a fool, too ignorant to be a fraud.

Harkening back to my post of yesteryear, in a San Francisco Chronicle article, concerning the atomic bombing of Japan Mr. Ferlinghetti observed that "It was a monstrous, racist act, the worst the U.S. ever committed," he says. "Had the Japanese been white-skinned, those bombs would not have dropped."

I proceeded to document that we had bombed the white-skinned Germans much more intensely, causing the Germans far greater suffering, loss of life, and destruction of property, than we had the Japanese, and further that the atom bombs dropped on Japan unquestioningly saved millions of Japanese civilians, and hundreds of thousands of American military.

If anything, dropping the atom bombs on Japan was an act of mercy. Even an idiot like Ferlinghetti must realize that the Japanese would have been fierce in defense of their homeland. If Ferlinghetti needs further convincing, he need only look at Japanese losses on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, preludes to the invasion of the Japanese mainland.

On Peleliu, which Alice and I recently visited, less than fifty of 11,000 Japanese survived, and almost 2,000 Americans were killed.

The Japanese on Iwo Jima fought ferociously, and when defeat was inevitable, committed suicide. Only about 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima survived. US losses were 6,821, more deaths in one month than we suffered in five years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

However, as horrific as the fighting on Iwo Jima was, it was just a prelude to the slaughter on Okinawa. Twice as many were killed (approximately a quarter of a million) during the Battle of Okinawa than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Estimates of civilian deaths go as high as one-third of Okinawa’s population, who when faced with defeat joined the Japanese military in committing mass suicides.

All of this came during the last year of war in the Pacific. What about Germany?

I’ve been reading the campaign diary of the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command, and it exposed Mr. Ferlinghetti’s infinite ignorance of how badly we treated the white-skinned Germans. I was born July 18, 1942, fairly early in the war by American standards, but the British had already been fighting for two years, and had won the Battle of Britain over a year before.

When I was born the British had been bombing German cities for over a year. I was just over a week old when Hamburg was hit by the first of many terrifying night attacks (the British Royal Air Force bombed Germany by night, the United States bombed by day).

This is an excerpt of the bomber diary entry for 26/27 July 1942:



Hamburg
403 aircraft - 181 Wellingtons, 77 Lancasters, 73 Halifaxes, 39 Stirlings, 33 Hampdens dispatched in what was probably a full 'maximum effort' for the regular Bomber Command squadrons. 29 aircraft - 15 Wellingtons, 8 Halifaxes, 2 Hampdens, 2 Lancasters, and 2 Stirlings - were lost, 7.2 per cent of the force.
Crews encountered a mixture of cloud and icing at some places on the route but clear weather at the target. Good bombing results were claimed. Hamburg reports show that severe and widespread damage was caused, mostly in housing and semi-commercial districts rather than in the docks and industrial areas. At least 800 fires were dealt with, 523 being classed as large. 823 houses were destroyed and more than 5,000 damaged. More than 14,000 people were bombed out. 337 people were killed and 1,027 injured.

That was one night in one German city. One year and one day later, Hamburg was hit harder:



27/28 July 1943
787 aircraft - 353 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 116 Stirlings, and 74 Wellingtons - returned to Hamburg. Brigadier-General Anderson again flew in a Lancaster and watched this raid. The centre of the Pathfinder marking - all carried out by H2S on this night - was about 2 miles east of the planned aiming point in the centre of the city, but the marking was particularly well concentrated and the Main Force bombing 'crept back' only slightly.
This was the night of the firestorm, which started through an unusual and unexpected chain of events. The temperature was particularly high (30° centigrade at 6 o'clock in the evening) and the humidity was only 30 per cent, compared with an average of 40-50 per cent for this time of the year. There had been no rain for some time and everything was very dry .The concentrated bombing caused a large number of fires in the densely built-up working-class districts of Hammerbrook, Hamm and Borgfeld. Most of Hamburg's fire vehicles had been in the western parts of the city, damping down the fires still smoldering there from the raid of 3 nights earlier, and only a few units were able to pass through roads which were blocked by the rubble of buildings destroyed by high-explosive bombs early in this raid. About half-way through the raid, the fires in Hammerbrook started joining together and competing with each other for the oxygen in the surrounding air. Suddenly, the whole area became one big fire with air being drawn into it with the force of a storm. The bombing continued for another half hour, spreading the firestorm area gradually eastwards. It is estimated that 550-600 bomb loads fell into an area measuring only 2 miles by 1 mile. The firestorm raged for about 3 hours and only subsided when all burnable material was consumed. The burnt-out area was almost entirely residential. Approximately 16,000 multi-storied apartment buildings were destroyed. There were few survivors from the firestorm area and approximately 40,000 people died, most of them by carbon monoxide poisoning when all the air was drawn out of their basement shelters. In the period immediately following this raid, approximately 1,200,000 people - two thirds of Hamburg's population - fled the city in fear of further raids.

During the next two years over a million German military were pinned down by the need to protect against Allied bombing around the clock. Before the war ended, Germany was forced to send barely trained pilots into combat, and pilots had to fly both day and night missions.

After the Hamburg firestorm, many other German cities, including Berlin, were heavily bombed by day and night.

In March, 1944, the diary of the city of Frankfurt has this entry:

The three air raids of 18th, 22nd and 24th March were carried out by a combined plan of the British and American air forces and their combined effect was to deal the worst and most fateful blow of the war to Frankfurt, a blow which simply ended the existence of the Frankfurt which had been built up since the Middle Ages.


A great historical city gone, centuries of living and building obliterated in a few Hellish nights.

Then in February 1945, the Allies plastered Dresden for three days.

Temperatures reached 1000 degrees, and the air caught on fire, creating a "firestorm” that burned for four days. 1600 acres were destroyed and 135,000 were killed (some reports say the number killed cannot be determined, but that it was certainly over 50,000), including many refugees fleeing the Soviet advance on the Eastern Front.

Some historians estimate more civilians were killed in the firebombing of Dresden than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The Germans' white skin didn't seem to save them, did it Mr. Ferlinghetti?

According to The War in the Air over Europe: "Tactics developed in Europe were employed with devastating effect in the Pacific. 20th Air Force commanding General Curtis LeMay abandoned precision bombing for area bombing with incendiaries, causing cataclysmic firestorms."

From The Strategic Bombing of Japan:

On June 15, 1944, the first B-29 raid flew from China to strike at a factory in Japan. This was the precision target bombing that the United State Army Air Forces (USAAF) had practiced for years. This policy would be abandoned shortly for area bombing of civilian targets. It would represent a major shift from the doctrine practiced in Europe and the policy that had cost so many American lives over German cities.


When Curtiss LeMay arrived and took command in January 1945, he ordered a switch from high altitude high explosive precision daylight attacks to night area bombing with a mixture of incendiaries and antipersonnel weapons. This prevented the firefighters from putting out the fires, which spread wildly.


From March 1945 through the end of the war, many Japanese cities were subjected to area bombing with incendiaries. Tokyo, Osaka, and many other cities were burned out by firestorms that reached over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The bombings may have killed as many as 500,000 people.

So there you have it, Mr. Ferlinghetti. The tactics used to annihilate Japanese late in the war had been developed over the preceding three-year period of area bombing German cities. Americans had come late into the practice of area bombing cities by night, and had paid for adhering to precision daylight bombing by losing aircraft and aircrews at twice the British rate.

Bomb civilians or sacrifice aircrews and aircraft? The decision makes itself. The duty of a commanding officer is to win the war quickly with the least cost to his forces. The decision was made even easier because the Germans and Japanese committed atrocities and terror attacks on civilians and cities from the start of hostilities.

I’m sure Mr. Ferlinghetti would take the opposite approach and spare the enemy’s cities and civilian populations, with the result that millions more would die, devastation would be far greater, and your own forces and armaments would suffer much heavier losses.

Your way, Mr. Ferlinghetti, would be the worst choice for friend and foe alike.

If what we did to Japan was racist, Mr. Ferlinghetti, what do you call what we did to Germany?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Land of the Free - Not You, Frenchie!

I often think of how wonderful life is in America. This immediately makes me an object of scorn and ridicule by Liberals.

“How can you say life is wonderful, when there is (insert a Liberal lament about something that doesn’t meet that particular Liberal’s idea of perfection).”

Please believe me, I don’t think life is perfect. For one thing, at some point each of us dies. That’s the ultimate bummer.

Liberals lament that the government isn’t taking care of everyone. I think that’s wonderful. It is my unshakable opinion that no government can take as good care of a person as that person can of himself.

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If Brigitte still looked like this, she wouldn't be on trial for what she said, but maybe for what she did. Vive La France!

Today I found another reason to be thankful that I’m living my life at this time as an American. I read that Brigitte Bardot is being tried by the French government for controversial remarks she made about Islam, apparently concerned with its religious practice of slaughtering a sheep or another animal to commemorate the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's orders.

As a practicing carnivore, I don’t have any problem with Muslims sacrificing sheep, goats, or chickens. I don’t care for their practice of cutting themselves and bleeding profusely, and I’m thoroughly disgusted by Muslim suicide bombers, who predominantly kill other Muslims, thinking that puts them on a fast track to Heaven and 72 virgins.

In fact, among many lamentable Muslim practices, I consider that by far the most barbarous.

If I were a Frenchman, by now what I’ve written in this blog post would probably be enough to get me to a trial and earn me heavy fines. Of course, I’ve already written many posts much more critical and derogatory of Islam than this mild criticism. Again, if I were a Frenchman, I probably now would be blogging from a jail cell, if blogging were permitted in a French prison.

Certainly my criticism of the French government and their defense of France 2 television filming the hoax of Mohammad al-Dura being “shot” by Israelis would qualify me for trial, as well as my post about France 2 being deceived by “Pallywood.”

In France there is no freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is like pregnancy. You can’t be pregnant by degrees – you either are, or you’re not, pregnant. Free speech is just the same – if criticizing ideas or beliefs is not allowed, then you can speak only in government sanctioned terms.

But I’m an American, one of the freest of the free. Even though I’ve posted fifty-one articles under the label “Islamofascism,” I have not a legal care in the world.

My only care is that one of the Islamic nut cases, which seem a natural state for a Muslim who believes that the silliness of the Quran was inspired by God, will try to find Gualala and its most Islam-critical resident. However, I don’t lose any sleep, because even locals have a hard time finding our house, so I doubt an illiterate Muslim fanatic whose only education was memorizing the Quran would be able to understand the maps and directions to get here.

If he does I’ll take a page from Abraham and roast his camel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Elitist John McCain

On a radio talk show this morning I overheard remarks that Hillary, Obama, and McCain are all members of the “elite.” Hillary, undergrad at Wellesley, then Yale Law School – yep, she qualifies as an elite. Obama, prep school at prestigious Punahou School in Hawaii, graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law – no question, an elite. John McCain, Episcopal High School, Naval Academy, and over five years of postgraduate training at the prestigious Hanoi Hilton Academy – you can’t get more elite than that.

The talk show presenters never mentioned the part about the Hanoi Hilton, and apparently considered John McCain’s time at the Naval Academy the same as being at Harvard or Yale.

I’m not a military academy graduate, so my knowledge of the Naval Academy is limited. I was commissioned after three months of Air Force Officers Training School, so I could be considered a “Ninety-day Wonder” (although with six years enlisted service before commissioning, I wasn’t exactly “Lt. Fuzz”). But my limited knowledge of Harvard, Yale, and the Naval Academy leads me to believe that Hillary and Obama are elites in a way different from John McCain.

Among many differentiating items, there’s the matter of volunteering to fly in combat, being shot down over Hanoi on his 23rd mission, breaking two legs and one arm, having a shoulder crushed with a rifle butt and being bayoneted, being left to die with no medical care, surviving to spend two years in solitary confinement, and finally being released after over five years of confinement.

I’m sure Hillary will remember something similar happened to her, and Obama will feel that the Hanoi Hilton experience was like an exceptionally long summer camp, but I don’t think that John McCain deserves being place in the elite and privileged class of Hillary and Obama.

I have to laugh when Hillary says Obama is out of touch with the common man. She’s right, of course, but she’s even further out of touch.

John McCain has been, and remains, in touch with a man who is not one of the pampered elite, but is never common, the American military man. In that proud company, he was required to endure far more than most of the rest of us veterans.

He may be living the good life now, but he hasn’t forgotten.

Apparently at least two radio talk show hosts have, and I wonder how they continue to be employed while displaying such ignorance. I guess they say what their employer and audience want to hear, the truth be damned.

I feel pity for them and their audience.

Democrats are Bitter Whiners

Barack Obama came to the Liberal elitist center of the world, San Francisco, and confided that he has trouble winning over working-class voters:

"It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Translating Obama’s remarks, I would say he called a bunch of Democrats clinging whiney bigoted protectionist gun-loving provincial wimps.

I., of course, agree with Obama. It’s refreshing to hear him call a spade a spade.

Damage control time.

“There has been a small "political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter," he said, then added: "They are angry. They feel like they have been left behind. They feel like nobody is paying attention to what they're going through.

"So I said, well you know, when you're bitter you turn to what you can count on. So people, they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community. And they get mad about illegal immigrants who are coming over to this country."

After acknowledging his previous remarks in California could have been better phrased, he added:

"The truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important. That's what sustains us. But what is absolutely true is that people don't feel like they are being listened to."

From the reaction so far, Obama is one of the ones not listening.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Last Words about Global Warming

An article about a forecast of increased activity during the coming hurricane season (June 1 through November 30) follows forecasts of increased activity for the preceding two years that fell far short. Is the third time the charm?

Since Katrina, forecasts of increased hurricane activity because of man-caused global warming have been staples of Al Gore and his Acolytes. However, as CO2 continues its climb, global temperatures have stayed below the 1998 level, which was the second warmest year after 1934, and hurricane activity has been normal this decade, even while including the 2005 season with Katrina.

The really significant information came in the last two sentences. After once again predicting increased activity, and providing fuel for global warming alarmists, the article concluded:

Gray said the Atlantic basin is in the midst of a natural active hurricane cycle that will likely last another 15 to 20 years.

"So we don't attribute this to anything humans are doing. These are natural circulations," Gray said.

Do you hear that, Al?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Pre-publication Comments on My Newspaper Interview

I was interviewed by a reporter for our local weekly newspaper, the Independent Coast Observer, of Gualala, California. I don’t know the reason for the interview, and I didn’t ask. I just answered every question as completely and spontaneously as possible.

Early in the interview there were questions about my early years, particularly about our family moving here in 1949, and I told the reporter about having the most wonderful childhood of anyone ever. That probably alerted the reporter to watch out for other over-the-top declarations on life and my living of it.

I know I didn’t disappoint her, but it will be interesting to see how she translates my verbal tsunami into a coherent newspaper article, bearing in mind that I still have no idea of the reason or purpose of the interview.

I could tell the reporter had preconceptions of my positions and beliefs, because I surprised her early in the interview by declaring that California’s Proposition 13, the so-called “taxpayers’ revolt,” was a horrible mistake because it took away local control of taxes and expenditures and passed it all to Sacramento. Then in short order, Sacramento tied strings to and loaded up the funding for education with requirements that caused an explosion of administrative and other overhead costs.

Obviously the reporter thought I would be all in favor of the taxpayer revolt led by Gann and other so-called conservatives, but to me all they were doing was creating a mechanism to make California’s state government more powerful than ever by centralizing control over both taxation and spending.

Time and events have proven me right, and California was, is, and will continue to be one of the highest taxation states in the United States. Would anyone care to point out what great victory we won with the passage of Proposition 13?

But I digress.

Global warming was mentioned, and I proceeded at great length to illustrate that climate change is natural, and that it always has been and always will be.

Then the reporter asked, even if climate change is natural, isn’t the world’s population too large and concentrated in at-risk areas for mankind to be able to cope with the changes? Don’t we have to do something about it?

I told her that I had the solution. We don’t need regulations or laws to control population growth, all we need are for the poor people of the world to live in freedom so they can achieve prosperity. Prosperity lowers the population growth rate everywhere it’s tried.

With prosperity comes the means to cope with change; the resources to build dikes, improve water systems, generate more power, and to recover after disasters.

Then I mentioned that concerned environmentalists, if they were truly concerned about reducing carbon dioxide “pollution,” are fighting against the only source of energy, nuclear power, which has the ability to meet the energy needs of both the developed and developing world while reducing the combustion of carbon-based fuels.

“What about nuclear waste?” she asked.

I answered that nuclear waste is only transitory, since we are still in the baby steps phase of nuclear power production, and that as we progress we will soon be using today’s waste for tomorrow’s fuel.

Then I launched into a rapid discourse about how I thought that looking for a great leader, a great idea, or an “ism” – communism, socialism, Islamism, even capitalism – was a total waste of time and effort. There can never be a leader, idea, or governing system that can meet the needs of mankind better than the sum of the unfettered strivings of each individual to achieve their own enlightened self interests. No leader or governing body possesses, or ever will possess, sufficient knowledge and power to do better than we will for ourselves.

The only thing the “isms” do is limit people and their abilities and accomplishments. For example, socialism is not a system to improve the individual, but a system to homogenize individuals at about the same level of comfort or misery as the rest of their society.

At this point the reporter challenged me, “Don’t you think you're being Pollyannaish?”

“Not at all,” I replied, “I think it’s Pollyannaish to think that a leader or government will be the answer, when it’s obvious to me that they could never have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to solve mankind’s problems.”

In fact, although in fairness to the reporter I only thought but did not say that our leaders, governments, and systems are the sources and/or add to our problems.

However, I did mention that when the pessimist sees the glass half empty, and the optimist sees it half full, then I see it overflowing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Nancy Pelosi and Democrats Launch Preemptive Strike on General Petraeus

“Congressional Democrats are warning U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, not to attempt to minimize the seriousness of the situation in Iraq when they testify to Congress next week. VOA's (Voice of America) Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.”

Nancy Pelosi issued a warning to General Petraeus to not report anything Democrats don’t want to hear. “We’ve been consistent in telling the American people that we’ve lost the war in Iraq, so don’t you go telling them anything different,” Nancy Pelosi would have said if truthfulness was a Democrat option.

Since truthfulness is not in the Democrat’s best interest, what Nancy actually said was "We have to know the real ground truths of what is happening there, not put a shine on events because of a resolution [of the situation in Basra] that looks less violent when it has in fact been dictated by someone [Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada] al-Sadr who can grant or withhold that call for violence or not."

“In other words, if things are less violent, don’t say they are less violent. If things in Iraq improve, our Democrat image will suffer, since our position all along is that it’s hopeless,” I hear Nancy Pelosi saying as I read between the lines of her protestations against the report from General Petraeus she hasn’t heard yet.

For those who protest me reporting what Pelosi and the Democrats haven’t said, let me remind you that Pelosi and the Democrats have already protested against what General Petraeus hasn’t said.

I’m just trying to catch up. It’s obvious that if anyone waits to find out what General Petraeus actually says, they’ll miss an entire news cycle. As soon as the General finishes his report, the Democrats will start telling us what he really meant or should have said, and the Democrat’s preemptive strike against truth telling would have gone unnoticed.

Except I noticed, and now you have too.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Al Gore's Useful Idiot - Ted Turner

Al Gore has a new idiot on his side, Ted Turner. Actually, Ted Turner is an old idiot, and he’s been on Al Gore’s side a long time. Two birds of a feather flocking together.

Ted’s latest brain storm is about the not-yet (and probably never) demonstrated horrors of "man caused" global warming. “We'll be eight degrees hotter in ten, not ten but 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals.”

I wondered why Ted has been cozying up to Teddy Kennedy. He's planning future dinners.

Ted, I hate to tell you this, but Teddy Kennedy is old crackled fat, with a pickled liver. He won’t provide much nutritional value, and you'll have to keep him in the freezer for decades because he's living on borrowed time right now. You would be better off buddying up to Michael Moore. He’s younger and fatter, and you won’t have as much worry about where his parts have been. Moore would be best with an apple stuffed in his mouth.

Always a good choice for having Michael Moore, whether for a discussion or for dinner.

Ted Turner is to Al Gore as Rev. Jeremiah Wright is to Obama. He’s someone you agree with – right Al and Barack? – but you wish he would keep his mouth shut. As Obama said, his pastor, Rev. Wright is like his uncle, and he has to be nice to him even when he’s being nutty. Al feels the same about Ted Turner, because he gets large contributions from the world’s wealthiest nuts.

Well, Al and Barack, as another writer recently pointed out, you can’t pick your uncles, but you can your pastors or supporters. And when they say really dumb and outrageous things, you should publicly declare how dumb and outrageous you think they are. If you don’t, everyone will naturally think you agree with them, because of past and present association.

When you choose to associate with nuts like Ted Turner and Rev. Wright, guilt by association is still guilt.