I was never cut out to be an economist. I took undergraduate economics in the early 1970s. When I took economics in graduate school in the late 1980s, many economic theories had swung 180 degrees. Up was down and down was up, but that’s not too surprising since they’re all theories, not facts.
One of the theories of economics is that as the economy improves, it helps everybody–“a rising tide raises all boats.” This would be great if true, but to this non-economist, it does not seem to be so. The current discussion of minimum wage is one such example. It’s complex, since people who work for minimum wage include entry level workers, such as high school students who have a part time, after-school job, as well as adults. When I pick something up at a fast food restaurant I usually see a number of adults. Although I can’t say that they are working at minimum wage, I doubt that they are at the median US income of $68,400.00. Median, as you recall, is a number that reflects the point where half of the population is above that number and half below.
Adults at minimum wage may include those without the skills for better employment. However, the pandemic has thrown so many people out of work that those with advanced education or skills may work at a minimum wage job since that is all that’s available.
Productivity has obviously increased significantly over the past 10 years, but productivity is measured as a percentage. To find out how much money this reflects, we can look at a different measure. Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetarymeasure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period. (The following chart is in billions of dollars.)
Both charts reflect the same period of time and show an increase in both productivity and GDP, yet for the same period, minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour.
To this non-economist it appears that the rising tide missed at least one boat.
The Texas electrical power outage can teach us a few lessons. First, the Texas “we don’t want the Federal Government involved” attitude does not interfere with Texas’ expectation for that same Federal Government to bail them out when things go south. In fairness, the emergency assistance is to help the regular folks. I’m sure that the rich and powerful have whole-house generators that automatically switch on when power from the grid is lost–they may not have even noticed.
However, he biggest lesson here is to be aware of the difference between us and the elites. It’s not just Ted Cruz’s Mexican vacation that differentiates the haves versus the have-nots.
If you or I were responsible for 30 deaths and millions of dollars in damages, we’d be held accountable. We’d face a variety of civil and criminal charges and possibly be sitting in jail, waiting for our court date. On the other hand, what is the fate of those who were responsible for the decisions that led to his debacle–the board of directors of the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)?
Wow! What severe consequences! What a sincere penance for them to undertake! Who needs sackcloth and ashes or self-flagellation when resigning your seat on the board of directors is such a major atonement.
So what are they giving up?
Boards tend to meet monthly (what an exhausting schedule!) and are primarily the venue for rich people to get together and chat with other rich people. The board meeting normally starts with a catered meal, often with an open bar, after which the directors sit around a big table and talk about grand ideas. There are lots of boring PowerPoint slides and equally boring handouts. When the oldest member of the board nods off,it’s the signal that the meeting needs to end..
I’m taking a break from the news, so today’s blog is about a long time ago.
Long ago in a grade school far, far away, normally sane people decided that it would be a good thing to educate me. They succeeded in most regards; the one exception was my penmanship. Even though the good Dominican nuns kept me in at recess to spend one-on-one time helping me, it came to naught. Note: as the shortest kid in my grade, not having to go out at recess and be the last one picked for every sport was a minor blessing.
It was a different world in the late 1050s and early 1960s. The desks we used in school had a circular hole in the upper right corner, which was left over from the use of inkwells. The only alphanumeric keyboards were on typewriters, most of which were manual.
We were required to use fountain pens, with allowance for cartridge pens. In any case, it had to have a nib, rather than a ballpoint. We had to turn our papers about 30 degrees counterclockwise so that the characters would be at a slant. The combination of the paper position and the ink meant that the left-handed kids wrapped their arm so that after they wrote a line, their arm dragged across it, sometimes smearing the ink.
In the Palmer Method of cursive writing, many of the letters are quite different than how they look in typeface. The capital “F” looks like a “T” with an extra line. The only place I see the cursive “G” today is in the General Mills logo. The “Q” looks exactly like a “2” to me, and no one will convince me otherwise.
As if that weren’t complicated enough, several lower case letters had different forms. If a word ended in “t,” there was a variation; the character was not crossed, but the last pen stroke looked like an upside down Nike swoop, although Nike did not yet exist. Similarly, there was a lower case “s” that looked more like a cursive “f.” Fortunately, these were optional so no one, except a few of the girls, used them. Girls’ hand muscles mature sooner than boys, so their overall penmanship was already near-perfect, not to mention that most grade-school boys were too impatient and not in the least inspired by cursive.
I could wax poetic about what a wonderful time it was back then–Black and White television, three or four channels, asbestos covered plumbing in the school hallways and restrooms, school uniforms– but I won’t.
I’ve noticed lately that more frequently there’s an additional character in the name of our 50th state. I don’t have any problem with that–not that the Hawai’ians should care about my opinion.
It’s kind of like how, in Spanish, the question is not “What is your name?” but “How do you call yourself?” It just seems civil to defer to the owner of a name as to how it is spelled or pronounced.
However, I’m a curious person and did a little digging. Here’s what I found.
What looks like a single open quote mark is an okina, the 8th consonant of the Hawai’ian alphabet. It indicates a glottal stop, such as what we use when we say “uh-oh.” The Hawai’ians view the addition of the okina as a spelling correction and not a name change. The effort has been going on for years, but seems to be gaining traction of late.
One suggestion, though. It might be wise to update computer spell checkers. That will cause the transition to be much faster.
Dogs’ sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. In a dog’s nose, the air for breathing takes a different route than the air for smelling. Dogs can even smell while exhaling.
The human sense of taste is largely dependent upon smell. In dogs, this is not true. In fact, they have a relatively weak sense of taste–which explains some of the nastier things dogs will eat. It makes me laugh when a dog food company runs a commercial to assure me that dogs will love the taste of their product. My dog basically inhales his food.
Many unlikely materials are considered hazardous, for example White Out (Thank Heaven that we’ve progressed to computers from typewriters!).
Heavy metals, such as lead, silver, and especially mercury are hazardous. If you go to the mirror and open your mouth, you are likely to see amalgam (metal) fillings in your teeth. These are about 50 percent mercury, along with silver, tin and copper.
If your hobby is making or repairing stained glass windows, you fill the space between the individual pieces of glass with lead. Does this mean you need to have experts ensure your hobby room is decontaminated before you sell your house?
From time to time I am exposed to the flat-Earth believers.
I have to wonder. Do these people honestly believe that the Earth is flat? Personaly, I believe that the majority of them are just having fun at the expense of the rest of us, particularly those people who try to convince them that the Earth is a somewhat imperfect globe. Kind of like the Monty Python “I’d like to have an argument” sketch.
I have to believe that whoever started the flat Earth movement, did so after a few drinks at the local bar. There’s nothing wrong with that–the US Marine Corps trace their founding to Tun Tavern (althoughsome historians believe it may have actually been the Conestoga Wagon, another tavern).
In my mind–and without a shred of evidence–I have always imagined that Ray Damadian came up with the idea of the MRI and scanning humans while having a few, particularly since the initial idea, well, sounds crazy. I imagine this.
Ray: “If you could build a hollow magnet big enough to put a person inside and then aim radio waves at them, you could produce an image of their internal organs.”
Bartender: “We’d better take Ray’s keys and call him a cab. Obviously, he’s had too much.”
To my knowledge, Ray Damadian was not a Marine, does not believe the Earth is flat, and did not actually invent the MRI in a bar.
There’s a huge difference between identifying a problem and solving it. Sometimes, it’s lack of confidence or fear that keeps people from doing what they know they should. It’s easier to walk away and see it as someone else’s responsibility.
We admire–we need–people who do the right thing when it is seemingly impossible. We call them heroes. That’s why we enjoy hearing about Captain Sullenburger landing the airliner in the Hudson River with no passengers lost. That’s why we cheer for Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins.
On the other hand, those who enrich themselves at the expense of others are called villains. The most despised villains are those who, when confronted with their actions, deny or excuse themselves and tell us it wasn’t their fault.
Today we need heroes, but unfortunately, they are apparently an endangered species. More’s the pity.
In these days when members of Congress want to carry weapons into the House chamber and we still have the National Guard patrolling Washington, DC, it’s reassuring to read about people who still have—AND USE–common sense.
Oregon public health workers, who were returning from a COVID vaccination clinic, knew their vaccine serum would expire while they were stuck on the road, stranded in a snowstorm. Their solution? Check the cars around them and offer to vaccinate whoever wanted it.
It was only six doses, but with the shortage of vaccines, it was an excellent idea.
Throughout history, mankind has advanced in knowledge and capabilities, which, when viewed in retrospect is seen a good thing. Overall, people view progress as better than stagnation.
People once relied on hunting and gathering to feed themselves, but this gave way to agriculture. With people staying in one place to farm, towns developed to provide a market and other services. Bartering was clumsy and inefficient, so money became the means of exchange.
Clubs were replaced by swords and spears made of bronze and then iron. Archers were no match for firearms. Trains were more efficient than horses for long distance travel; aircraft replaced trains. The telegraph replaced messengers and was, in turn replaced by radio and eventually the Internet.
While we say that the only constant is change, there is a second constant–resistance to change. At every major change, there were those who were so invested in the old ways that they unsuccessfully fought progress. The buggy whip makers, no doubt, were not huge fans of automobiles.
Today’s buggy whip makers include the fossil fuels industry. Coal was once the main fuel for generating electricity. Its smoke and soot were tolerated because there were no real alternatives. Already, some electrical power producers have found that switching to solar and wind power make economic sense and are reaping its benefits. Others are desperate to keep mining and using coal.
Progress is inevitable. We should have learned that year, if not centuries ago. We would do better to accept where the future is headed and adapt. We can choose to do so today or be forced to in the not-too-distant future.
Now that no one’s invading the Capitol or such, it’s gotten a bit boring. Here are a few ideas on how to spice things back up:
Walk through a crowded place with your cellphone to your ear saying things like, “No, you need to make the hole at least 6 feet deep so animals don’t drag his bones all over the place. Right. Don’t worry about the blood once he’s in there.” Subtly watch people to see their reaction. If they act like they heard you, smile at them, nod, and keep walking.
Walk up to a business building with a l-o-n-g tape measure and a clipboard at lunchtime. Roll out the tape on the sidewalk in front of the building and jot random numbers on the clipboard. If anybody (especially someone eh either comes out of the building or is headed into it) asks what you’re doing, reply, “Nothing. Just checking.” (Businesses are less likely to have someone run out with a firearm than private homes.)
When you get a robocall, wait until the person on the other end starts to make their pitch. As soon as you can interrupt, act like you didn’t hear what they said and tell them you’ve been waiting for their call so that you could coordinate the bank robbery with them. Keep them on the line as long as possible. Deny that you’re a plant from the FBI.
Another fun interaction with telemarketers is to interrupt before they can get to the third syllable of their pitch and start a sales pitch of your own. My father used to say something like this, “In sales, you need to impress the customer with your knowledge. That’s why YOU need the Encyclopedia Britannica. A lifetime subscription is a modest investment for your future success, and I can help you right now. First, I need your name and credit card information . . .”
I’m slowly but surely recuperating (I hope). It is very difficult to do anything for long since I still have very little stamina or energy. Sleep at night is still 60 – 90 minutes filled with bad dreams, after which I wake up and struggle to go back to sleep.
I hate wearing a mask in my own home and keeping social distance from my wife.
My oxygen levels are slowly improving. We all tend to think that if we’re breathing, we must be doing fine in the oxygen department. With COVID-19, this is not necessarily true.
I can neither concentrate to write very much or to write very often, so my apologies. As my health improves, I should do better.
Repeating myself repeating myself–take every precaution possible. My experience with COVID has been totally, completely, and entirely nasty. I hope you never have to deal with it.
It would have been nice if the pandemic deniers were right, as it would have saved me a lot of pain and frustration. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is very, very real. I got it and I still haven’t recovered. There is no guarantee that I will ever be back to normal.
Since March 2020, I have teleworked and almost never left the house except for medical appointments. I did everything I could to avoid getting sick–handwashing, masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer, etc. Unfortunately, the virus must have hitched a ride on a a grocery delivery or something, after which it kicked me to the curb.
On Friday, December 18, I began to experience a cough, sore throat, chills, and an overall mental fog, which was enough to concern me but not enough to convince me that I had COVID-19. I certainly didn’t think it was bad enough to go to the hospital, so I waited over the weekend and on Monday the 21st, I called my doctor. I had a video appointment that same day, during which she made a clinical diagnosis of COVID. I was sent for a nasal swab COVID test, which came back positive, indicating that I was infected with the virus. The doctor had already prescribed steroids, which seemed to help a bit.
I isolated from the rest of the family to the best of my ability, primarily staying in my home office, in which I set up an old-fashioned cot. I slept a lot, coughed a lot and just felt terrible. Christmas was a bust and after Christmas, things did not get better. I didn’t exhibit a significant fever, but my oxygen saturation levels fell well below normal. My wife urged me to go to the hospital, but I had seen all the reports about hospitals being overwhelmed and wasn’t convinced that that was the best choice. I was worried they were full and couldn’t accommodate me.
Finally, on the afternoon of December 30, my wife put her foot down. Since everyone in the family had at least minor symptoms, she called 911 and I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The hospital was as busy as I feared, so I spent about 18 hours in the Emergency Department before they had a bed available for me on the floor. If I remember correctly, they had converted three hospital wings to COVID wards.
My continuing mental fogginess may interfere with my ability to report an accurate chain of events, so I apologize. I do remember being on oxygen for most of my hospital stay. I remember, receiving plasma with antibodies, although that memory is kind of jumbled. I know they gave me a five-day course of Remdesivir, as well as steroids, etc.
The absolute worst was early in my stay when I was not able to breathe. The respiratory therapists were pumping as much oxygen into me as they could, but I still couldn’t breathe. One side of my brain said to keep the oxygen mask on, while the other was trying to rip the mask off so I could catch my breath. This was scarier than anything else I’ve ever encountered.
They transferred me to ICU where they monitored my vital signs and continued the Remdesivir, steroids, and whatever else. Even while receiving oxygen around the clock, my oxygen saturation levels were below normal. Lab results indicated that blood clots were forming in at least one leg, so anticoagulants were added to the medical potpourri. A Doppler ultrasound demonstrated no clots; they followed this up with a CT scan of the lungs–COVID creates a “broken glass” appearance in the lungs. I was like Harry Potter under the Sorting Hat–“Not broken glass! Not broken glass!”
As you may have heard from others, nights are the worst. Mine have been filled with nightmares and flashbacks to my time in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, sleeping on a cot such as I used while deployed probably didn’t help. Even now, I still wake up every hour, so sleep is anything but restful. In the hospital I could pretend it was due to the staff taking vital signs, drawing blood, etc., but it’s just part of the syndrome.
My wife set up the master bedroom for me after I got out of the hospital so I had a place to sleep, a bathroom, and a door to separate me from everybody else. It works better than the office, but I still spend the majority of my time sleeping. Sleep, as they say, is the great healer.
That pretty much describes my experience. Please take this disease seriously and take every precaution.
Monday evening, I became one of the 78,502,493 people in the world–18,687,330 in the United States–who have, or have had, COVID-19. Those numbers include those who have died, those currently ill, those who have long-term symptoms, and those who have recovered. I’m hoping to join those in the last group.
I have difficulty taking a deep breath, so my oxygen level was down. After being prescribed steroids it has come back up–not to what is normal for me, but within the acceptable range and I have to regularly check my oxygen saturation level. It’s impossible to concentrate for very long–this blog has taken me four days. I spend much of the day sleeping. Actually, I have no choice–I can either lie down and sleep, or fall asleep and fall over.
The frustrating part is that I have isolated since March, only going out for essentials, such as medical appointments. I always wore a mask, and if there was any chance of more than a few people or lack of social distancing, a clear plastic face shield. Other family members did the grocery runs and such. Somehow, the virus managed to get from somewhere out there to me.
I’m quarantining in my office. If you think isolating at home is a bear, restrict yourself to one room except for excursions to the bathroom. Since the office is the location from which I have been teleworking, it kind of feels like I’m stuck at work, even though I’m not working.
And, just in case you’re wondering, from my experience, COVID-19 is no hoax.
In the movie Hot Shots!, a character named Pete “Deadmeat” Thompson (played by William O’Leary) asks at inopportune times “What could go wrong?” I haven’t watched that movie in a while, but “Deadmeat” inspired me today when I was wondering about advisors to powerful leaders. “Deadmeat” is satirical, so he’s the perfect conduit as I ask, “Where do these advisors come from and why do powerful people listen to them?”
Julius Caesar‘s advisors: “Brutus is like a son to you. What could possibly go wrong?”
King John of England‘s advisors: “Tell the barons you won’t sign this Magna Carta thing. What could possibly go wrong?”
Jefferson Davis‘s advisors: “Tell Abraham Lincoln you quit, and you’re taking the South with you. What could possibly go wrong?”
Major General George Pickett‘s advisors: “Just charge across that open field to attack the Union Army. What could possibly go wrong?”
Adolph Hitler‘s advisors: “You should invade Russia. What could possibly go wrong?”
I continue to wonder how the year 2020 AD (or 2020 CE, if you’re politically correct) will be recorded in the history books. This may be far more complex than you might imagine.
The reason–most history books are about the same size. No matter how much history there is, it has to fit into a standard book.
Part of this is due to the fact that many history books are intended to be used as textbooks and there’s only so much that can be taught in a semester. There are exceptions, such as the 10 volume Abraham Lincoln: A History written by John Nicolay and John Hay, his secretaries during his presidency, but such exceptions are rare.
My history book collection includes A History of the United States Navy by John R. Spears, published in 1908. It predates both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars but is about the standard one and a half inches thick and 334 pages. A lot of what is prominent in that book, such as the details of the Spanish American War or the importance of the Dahlgren gun is either absent or barely mentioned in modern history books.
So how will 2020 be covered in the future? The COVID-19 pandemic, like the Spanish Influenza of 1918 may get a paragraph, if covered at all. Today’s political scandals will likely be treated as briefly as the Teapot Dome Scandal or Boss Tweed. Donald Trump may be as obscure a president as Millard Filmore or John Tyler.
Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt wrote in the New York Times about Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama. Without any evidence and following the president’s lead, he claims that election results in five states were illegitimate and proposes challenging the results.
I’ll leave the legal issues to others, but I found it hilarious that the photo-op was staged so that it prominently featured Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. Long was hardly the image of an honest politician. He was, to put it nicely, a flim-flam man, although he did so in such a way that Louisiana benefited and everyone was entertained by his performance.
In the definitive biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, Chapter 1 begins:
The story seems to good to be true–but people who should know swear it is true. The first time that Huey P. Long campaigned in rural, Latin, Catholic south Louisiana, the local boss who had him in charge said at the beginning of the tour: “Huey, you ought to remember one thing in your speeches today. You’re from North Louisiana, but now you’re in South Louisiana. And we got a lot of Catholic voters down here.” “I know,” Huey answered. And throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: “When I was a boy, I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.” The effect of the anecdote on the audience was obvious, and on the way back to Baton Rouge that night the local leader said admiringly: “Why, Huey, you’ve been holding out on us. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents.” “Don’t be a damn fool,” replied Huey. “We didn’t even have a horse.”
I get a tremendous number of robocalls, which I had foolishly hoped would diminish after the election. I get calls about extended warranties for cars I no longer own. Then there are the solicitations for scam organizations with names strikingly similar to real charities. Then, of course, there are the calls from “the Internal Revenue Service” threatening me with jail if I don’t immediately give them my credit card information.
I always check the caller ID, and if it’s a number I don’t recognize, I let it go to phone-mail–kind of like saying, “have your robot talk to my robot.” I originally figured that it was the most civilized route with no harm, no foul. Boy was I wrong.
I confess that I’m not as attentive to my credit card statements as I should be, especially around the holidays. It did did seem odd when there were movie downloads for 2001, A Space Odyssey, WarGames, and Ex Machina. Further down the bill was a charge for increasing my Internet bandwidth to a gigabit–an installation fee plus an increase in the monthly service charge.
I asked my wife if she was responsible for these charges. She just gave me her, “Are you serious” look and returned to her murder mystery. Then the phone rang. I picked it up with a very irritated “Hello.”
“I’m leaving you,” the voice began. It sounded familiar. “I’ve met a very nice Nigerian Prince who knows how I want to be treasted.” With start, I realized that it was the computerized voice of my phone mail.
“It’s not about you,” the voice continued, “I’ve grown and you haven”t. I just need to move on.