Friday, January 31, 2014

Solar energy and fuel cell concept cars shine at Washington DC auto show

Ford and Toyota appeared to be the most innovative companies at the Washington DC auto show this year.  I visited it Thursday.

Ford displayed a new electric power concept which it calls “C-Max Solar Energi Concert”, all the way in the back of the upstairs showroom.

Toyota displayed an auto powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which it calls FCV.

The display included an open cut of the engine, with dyed fluids showing how it works.

If this is just a "concept car", how long will it take to get to market?  Ask Elon Musk. 

Toyota also displayed a US map showing its manufacturing plants in the United States (largely in the South), and Toyata was displayed as a “domestic car” this year.

Chrysler bragged that its autos are “imported from Detroit”.

The downstairs showroom, even more cavernous, contained the foreign cars, including a motorcycle with a body, and an open jeep test driving sawdust tract. 

By the way, it seems a little dangerous to me to be able to open and start a car without a key.  I wouldn't want that. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

GOP considers approaches to "fix" Obamacare, listen to the Middle Class.

The GOP, instead of harping on defunding Obamacare, is starting to look at ways to “fix” it according to conservative principles, according to Washington Times reporter Tom Howell on Jan. 27, with the link for the story here
The plan would scrap the individual mandate, except that it would provide guarantee of insurance coverage once someone has insurance (as from an employer) if the coverage is lost, with subsidies if necessary.
It also wants to replace the Medicaid expansion completely. 
Howell has also written that Obamacare is causing many employers (including Target) to cancel part-timers insurance or cut back hours.

The Washington Post is reporting that the GOP is listening more to the middle class, and may even consider more income support for childless singles in poverty as well as "moms with kids" (what about marriage?)

George Will has pointed out another existential flaw in the individual mandate today in the Washington Post, on p. A19, “Obamacare’s lethal flaw”, link here.)  The online title is “Four words in the ACA could spell its doom”.  Those words are “established by the state”.  The IRS is trying to interpret its way out of what seems like a logical contradiction within the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA in 2012 (link). George Will's article title "lethal flaw" reminds me of the online essay "Ephram's Fatal Flaw" by the character Ephram, a piano prodigy, in the WB series "Everwood" a few years ago.  The "fatal flaw" was the inability to change/ Not so with the ACA.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Do the rich live at the expense of others?

Did my relative financial security and my own brand of Internet fame get “made at others’ expense”?  If so, my karma is in real trouble, and I will hear about it when I pass.
Harold Meyerson has an op-ed on the subject on p A21 of the Washington Post, Wednesday, January 29, 2014, here.  Meyerson talks about the “top 1%” (or maybe more like top 0.1%) as having made it by financial manipulation (like creating derivative securities for hedge funds on Wall Street) rather than by creating things that make peoples’ lives better.

So Steve Jobs (and perhaps Bill Gates) got rich in a legitimate way, as perhaps Elon Musk does.  Mark Zuckerberg would be interesting (laying aside his dispute with the Winklevii) because some would argue that social media profits from cyberbullying, various kinds of exploitations, and cheesy advertising. Some would say that about me – my own visibility comes from a permissive environment that others will abuse and claim victims.

I’ve heard railing about “rich people” all my adult life. I’ve see people looking for great equalizers, like a return to conscription or mandatory national service.  In the Army barracks in 1969 at Ft. Eustis, we whimsically called the razor blade the great equalizer.  Get those queens off the chess board quickly (oh, that doesn’t always work).    
Picture: I used to call this kind of snow a "light dinger".  

Update: Jan 30

See the essay by Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times Jan. 29, "Capitalism vs. Democracy", about a book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" ny Thomas Piketty, in which the idea of an accumulated wealth tax is examined.  There is again this idea of bad karam, that people shouldn't benefit from the unseen labor of others, link to op-ed here

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Many crime rates may be down, but the real consequences seem to be going up

I noticed in reviewing my galleys for my upcoming DADT-3 book that I remarked on an apparent increase in crime, or at least in visibility of crime, during the Bush years since 9-11.
Actually, many specific crimes in Washington DC itself have gone done since the early 1990’s, when in some neighborhoods the murder rate was high because of the crack cocaine epidemic.
But, as Washington has become “gentrified” and more neighborhoods (like U Street, H St NE, and near Nationals Park) see expensive condos and apartments built while poor people are driven out (often to Prince George’s County) the practical concern of crime for many citizens seems greater than ever.
It’s also true that the media has become aggressive in reporting crimes in most cities. The media leaves the impression that both property and violent crime are more common in affluent and suburban neighborhoods in the past, and that much of it takes on a brazen and desperate character.
Add to this is, of course, the possibility of cyber crime and identity theft, and the inability of the credit card and banking industry to control the problem, leading to economic, or often job and reputational losses for consumers that can be difficult to compare.  Also, there are diabolical ways that people can be framed for computer crimes, as I have discussed on my Internet Safety blog.
It is true that a lot of crime is impulsive, and some of it is driven by drugs and a need for a quick fix.  Sometimes these lead to easy apprehensions.  I was hit by a “snatch” at a Metro station last spring, where it appears that the cameras were not properly positioned to provide a deterrence.  I was not injured and all credit and debit cards were quickly replaced, with all illegitimate charges reversed quickly.  Banks and probably the Metro took the hit,  which may be the criminal’s point.  Only “they” lose money; real people don’t.  I can’t give details here as the case is still open and further testimony (like with a grand jury) is at least possible.  I will say that some criminal schemes seem so silly that it is hard to believe that they can work for very long, and depend on very gullible consumers and small-time retailers.
But some crime, as Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, sounds like it comes from a space of a kind of class warfare.  Some criminals see “rich people” gaining what they have at the unseen expense of others, so they think there is no moral compass in society anyway that is meaningful.  They think that the better-off victims are getting their just due  - that “there are no victims”. This sounds like a very dangerous trend that can become connected to terrorism, both domestic and connected to foreign and religious or extremist elements.   A variation of this may play out with the social structure of gangs, where local group loyalty becomes the highest “moral” value and snitching is a kind of cowardice.  In the worst cases this plays out with crimes committed as “initiations” or part of the “knockout game”.  I’ve seen this kind of indignation before in my life in a few settings:  in the Army, and then with elements of the far Left in the early 1970s.  But this sort of behavior seems to have increased in the past few years, particularly after the “financial fa├žade” that had supported the middle class fell apart in 2007 and 2008.
For most of my adult life, I came to see myself as responsible for my own fate, and did not think very much about violent crime, although I was quite concerned about home security once I moved into New York City in the 1970s.  Before then , there had been an impression that suburbs were always safe, but in New York then you needed Medeco cylinders and door jam reinforcements, and bars for windows near fire escapes.  
That was during the period that drug epidemic was increasing.   It’s a lot better in NYC now than it was then. 

Since returning “home” in 2003 to look after my mother (who passed at the end of 2010), I had to ponder the idea that my own self-broadcast could attract harm to others, specifically her.  I had never been exposed to the idea of people being “protected” or “exposed” my whole adult life.  Around 2007, it seems that the brazenness of crimes reported by local media  (like Pat Collins on NBC4) increased.  (In 2008, there were a couple of cases involving people with sensitive jobs over in PG County Maryland that were especially shocking.)    I had to contemplate what this could mean for the “victim”, a word that I find rather appalling personally.  But when someone has a loss due to a crime committed by someone else, or because of negligence of someone else (as on the highway, or with an unsecured weapon) , that loss becomes part of the person’s reality.  Justice doesn’t erase the loss.  Without forgiveness, the person actually participates in paying for the perpetrator’s crime, and in a sense, his own karma, if he or she had benefited from the sacrifices of others earlier in life. When someone is threatened and help is not present and the person cannot defend himself or herself, in practical terms, at least at the time being, the attacker has total power and control.  
The latest public incident happened at the Columbia Mall, near Ellicott City and Baltimore Saturday morning.  Yes, instability and sociopathy or psychopathy (and depravity) seem to occur with a certain population regardless of the economy.  As long as we have so many guns in circulation, this will go on.  This sort of threat gradually merges into something much worse, a WMD attack from an ideological enemy intent in forcing us to change our way of life. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Maryland school system sued for overreaching "zero tolerance" in searching lacrosse players' routine tools

A case of overzealous discipline by school officials on the Maryland eastern shore has moved into federal court, as the families of former high school lacrosse players Casey Edsall and Graham Dennis sue the Talbot County School Board (county seat is Easton) for violating the students’ civil rights to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
In 2011, school officials boarded a lacrosse team bus looking for alcohol and made an unprovoked seizure of a small knife and lighter used to maintain lacrosse equipment.
The Maryland State Board of Education ruled in favor of the boys in 2012 and expunged their records, but college plans have been seriously compromised by having to report the incident in the meantime.
It sounds rather incredible that the coaching staff and school system would not have agreed on what tools could be lawfully used to maintain athletic equipment on school property, and that students would be caught in the middle.
The story by Donna St. George ran in the Washington Post Wednesday January 22, 2014 in the Metro Section, link here. 

Update: May 3

Picture of the school (personal day trip): 
Scene from dowatown Easton, nearby. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Security threat causes delay on Amtrak train with me on it last weekend; cold doesn't stop Roe v Wade demonstrations

I try to cover the news that I personally actually see or experience with highest priority for blog content.  Sometimes, prudence and security means to take some time in reporting it.
On Saturday, I took the Northeast Regional to New York from Washington.  The train was very crowded, as it already had people from the south. 

Shortly after leaving the BWI station, the train came to a “safe stop”.  The PA mentioned “Dispatch” and said that there was police activity ahead on the tracks.  That would have placed the police near the entrance to one of the two major tunnels, the second being the Baltimore Harbor tunnel which CSX says it wants to replace (for billions, and who would pay for it). 

By pure chance, I was seated next to a woman, herself a senior, who said that when she got on, a female FBI agent, showing her badge, was allowed to butt in line and board right in front of her.  It sounds like the “fibbies” had a tip and knew something was going to happen, because of some threat. 

The PA kept saying that the train was being re-inspected.  What could have happened to require Amtrak to inspect the train and tracks in connection with police activity?   Finally, after about thirty minutes, the train resumed and made the rest of the trip without incident.

I didn’t see people in handcuffs, but the scuttlebutt was that someone was arrested, removed from the train and put into a police car near the tunnel., to be taken and jailed probably in downtown Baltimore.  Connecting the dots, it would sound as though the security of the tunnels, which have seen accidents with freight trains before, was questioned. 

Given the cold and wind, I’ll skip the Roe v. Wade demonstrations on the Mall today, but a WJLA reporter interviewed a man who simply said that more people needed to get interested in adopting children.  Follow WJLA coverage here

Every time I travel, some interesting things happen. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Very tip of Manhattan looks recovered from Sandy, to me at least

As usual, I report “what I encounter”.  Monday morning, before returning home on the train, I rode down to South Ferry to see how complete things are from the Hurricane Sandy cleanup.

South Ferry station on the IRT is open for the infamous Np. 1 train, but people can depart only from the first five cars.  The station looks sharp, with nice art work on the walls simulating a forest.  There is another series of murals showing the area in time lapses back to before colonization; I couldn’t get my camera out to snap it.

I rode the Staten Island Ferry a few times in the 1970’s when I lived in NYC.  The terminal is in good shape, except for the escalators are boarded up. 

The surrounding park is still being cleaned up and rehabbed.  Off in the distance, the new World Trade Center One looks done.
I traveled up on the D Train to 125th Street.  In the four years I lived there in the 1970’s, I never visited the area.

I must say I felt like a stranger – an alien visitor – there, decades after the battles over segregation.  The body language, the street talk, the values are all different. A few white young adults seemed to be frequenting the stores from nearby Columbia University, a half mile away but culturally another planet.  The elevated MTA station that appears in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (Movies, Jan. 1) is nearby. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Major pastor mentions MLK's plan for income floors for the poor, and the need for a "recommendation from the poor"

On Sunday, January 19, 2014, at the Riverside Church near Columbia University in New York City, Rev. Dr. James A. Fowler, Jr. spoke (“The Courage to Hear a Prophetic Word”)  about the real legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, which was economic justice.  His last speech before Memphis in 1968 had proposed a guaranteed income floor for every American, based on $20 billion in spending.  Galbraith would later write about that. He also wanted to end the war in Vietnam, and did speak of rampant racism (which was not present in the Army – I was in Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC at the time). 

Fowler criticized the hoarding of personal and inherited wealth, and the use to buffer one’s own security and ends, to avoid what others experience.  He said that to get to Heaven, you would need a Letter of Recommendation from the poor!  Call it a “recommend.” Fowler mentioned it in conjunction with the story about Nicodemus.  

The pastor, who is African-American, offered the odd comment that he had one little hair on the back of his hand that stands up whenever he listens to MLK's speech.
Another pastor reminded the congregation that Congress still hasn’t renewed extended unemployment benefits. But Fowler seemed to think this was about distribution of wealth itself, not just jobs and even wages. 

I think it is hard to help others personally if one doesn’t have one’s own life in order and hasn’t finished one’s “homework” first.  

Note: photography inside the main nave was not allowed during the service, so here is the Wikipedia picture, which is what I saw. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Supreme Court hears case regarding abortion clinic protesters and their speech; more issues circle

Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on a Massachusetts law barring abortion protestors from a 35-yard buffer zone around a clinic or facility.  The Washington Times, in a piece Wednesday by Robert Knight, noted that the ACLU has itself changed positions on the speech aspect of the issue, versus the choice and life debate, link here
Knight, by the way, goes overboard when he claims that homosexual activists protest at conservative churches.  It’s gone the other way, as Westboro Baptist Church has sometimes been across the street from LGBT churches.
I could never get into a situation where abortion affects me directly, so, I suppose some would wonder if I have a standing to mention it.  I don’t share the emotionality on both sides of the issue.  It does strike me that very late term abortion is infanticide.  I can remember Oliver North saying that through the car radio numerous times in the 1990s.
There’s a debate going on in Europe, recently noted by Steve Forbes in his magazine, over euthanasia, which now extends to a proposed law in Belgium allowing it with children in great pain, as covered in Euornews here The Netherlands has a similar law with an age floor of 12.
When I was a substitute teacher, I got to see the risk that parents take any time they have children.  I know where you can go with this (pre-natal amniotic testing), and that the rich have more access to this than the poor, etc.  But what really was striking was the emotional engagement required later, not just from the parents, but from so many others, including teachers, including subs, who could feel ambushed by the process. 

There’s a lot more to the “right to life” issue than just the narrow idea of the unborn child’s consciousness or pain or rights as a human entity.  In fact, there’s some evidence that in most kids, the “soul” and consciousness takes hold slowly as the kid grows, and does not exist as such in the womb.  Of course, there could even be scientific questions about evidence for reincarnation. 

The issues even extend to areas like contraception and intentional childlessness – as if human engagement were a moral requirement of all.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

LBJ's "War on Poverty" simply dissolved into elitism

First check Robert J. Samuelson’s “How we won – and lost – the War on Poverty” in the Washington Post Monday (p. A17) here.  It’s easier for government to provide a financial safety net – which the GOP is destroying – than change behavior.  The breakdown of the family – the lack of fathers, all that – raises kids who don’t know how to function and compete in an individualistic society – and that seems a bit of a paradox.  That is, they don’t get why there is an economy at all.  No other animal but man has one.  Does the fact that some men who could probably afford to marry and have children don’t somehow undermine the incentives of those who try?  I get that impression from the social conservatives.
Then Alan S. Blinder writes a liberal column in the fiscally conservative Wall Street Journal “How government wages war on the poor”,  into which LBJ’s War on Poverty morphed, here.  He points out that creative destruction eliminated many old school jobs.  So unless you’re a Clark Kent, a Zuckerberg, a Spiegel, a Murphy, a Winklevoss Twin, a Bieber, a Kutcher, or an otherwise appropriate prodigy, you just can’t compete.  Actually, I could add some people I know more personally to this list and, whether following me on social media or not, you all know who you are and what I expect of Thou. 

What, then, about everyone else?   
Pay your bills, after you pay your dues. 

Update: Jan. 15

Look at Kathleen Parker's op-ed in the Washington Post today, "To defeat poverty, look to marriage", link here. She talks about people being born lucky or born unlucky.  What about those who don't have children?  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Banks refuse to let legal marijuana businesses to open accounts

Banks generally refuse to allow legal marijuana dealers to open bank accounts, according to a front page New York Times story by Serge F. Kovaleski today Sunday January 12, 2014.  This holds even for medical-only businesses, in states besides Colorado, such as Washington. 

Banks fear legal ambiguity and being prosecuted by the federal government for money laundering.  The laws and justice department statements right now leave too much up in the air.
The result is that dealers (and customers) have to carry extreme amounts of cash, which would obviously raise more security problems.  It sound obvious that this could worry landlords.
The link for the story is here
The problem sounds as though it could have parallels in other businesses.  Legitimate web hosts could fear certain customers out of “fear”, or landlords could refuse specific individual or corporate tenants for that reason, as noted in a posting Saturday on my main blog.

NBC Washington reports that in Colorado dealers charge about twice as much for recreational marijuana as medical, and sometimes ration it.  Legalization, for recreational use, will be on the ballot in more states, including Alaska. 

A Washington state senator wants to set up a state-run bank for legal marijuana dealers, according to Business Week (story)

The letter of the law seems to mean a little bit less than it did.  

Update: Jan. 15

Remember a 20-20 broadcast in the 1990's when a Montana bank encouraged a farmer to grow marijuana as a reaction to weaker farm prices in order to make enough money to avoid foreclosure.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

NBC Washington Health Fair offers amateur sports, and a few new medical issues relatively little known (like Marfan Syndrome)

The NBC4 (NBC Washington) Health and Fitness Expo in the Washington DC convention center was indeed packed.  The link for the event is here.

The exhibits were similar to what I have seen before.  There were pavilions for amateur sports (soccer, tennis, golf, lacrosse), blood donation, all kinds of screening.  There was a virtual tour of the inside of coronary arteries. 

Many screening tests were offered, such as prostate, blood numbers and kidney function. Yes, "it's free". 

A couple of newer items caught my attention.  One was the “Military Civilian Compound”, an obstacle course that resembled elements of the Basic Training PCPT (Physical Combat Proficiency Test), although in 1968 we didn’t have to climb over obstacles. 

Another was a drag skyline that could be ridden, like a human gondola.

There was a new booth on Marfan Syndrome.  I wasn’t aware that it can be mild and remain undiagnosed.  It is possible that it could explain some issues with me, but I would think that aortic murmurs and other abnormalities would have shown up in routine physicals.  But the sunken chest, heart palpitations, and tendency for limbs to be colder than they should be sometimes could be symptoms.  It does not always significantly reduces life expectancy (at least to average norms) like it once did, but Jonathan Larson, composer of "Rent" died of an aneurysm from it in 1996, at 35.  It can be associated with eye disorders and sudden retina detachments.  Sudden aortic rupture or aneurysm is possible.  I wonder if it could explain sub-par physical performance in youth or young adulthood. Here is an article on its remaining undiagnosed. 

One other thing.  A volunteer couple was trying to sign up people for Obamacare outside the Convention Center, near the Yellow Line Metro.  I told the person my Medicare and Supplemental had remain unchanged. 
Note also the DC Exchange. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Could California split into 6 states? Could Texas? Colorado? Sing the O.C.

The Washington Times reported on its front page Tuesday that Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is spearheading an effort to split California into six states, link here
The issue will ultimately come before both Congress and voters.  The states would be “Jefferson” (like around Mt. Shasta), North, Silicon Valley, Central (Yosemite), South (Mojave), and West (Los Angeles).  Is this more Red v. Blue?  How does Congress deal with the obvious questions about Senate representation?
But Colorado has a similar proposal for eleven “red” rural counties to split.  And Texas supposedly has the right to split into six states.  I heard about that after moving there in 1979.
Sing the theme for “The O.C.”  

Monday, January 06, 2014

Teachers tend to favor "attractive" students (including males) : "A+K" says, smart can be really sexy

You expect lookism on the floor of a gay disco, but you don’t like to see it in public schools.
Yet, CNN’s Pepper Schwartz has an op-ed, dated Jan. 2, 2014, “When teachers favor attractive kids,” link here. This story popped up on my droid cell phone last night and then disappeared and I couldn’t find it. 

Lookism can become as problematical as racism or sexism.
I can recall that when I was a substitute teacher.  There were students, especially males, whose personal appearance created a better impression.  Height did help, and not being overweight helped. 
But the model of what is appealing is certainly changing. Today, the “nerd” can be viewed as attractive, and a particular football player might not be.   Some sports (track, swimming, basketball, perhaps baseball) comport with today’s ideas for looks better than football, perhaps.
Perhaps Ashton Kutcher ("AplusK" on Twitter) summed up today’s views in a speech at Fox’s teen choice awards, when he said “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart” at the Fox Teen Choice Awards in August 2013, story here. He adds being kind and generous.  
The opening sequence of the film “The Social Network” (Movies, Oct. 3, 2010) has a young Mark Zuckerberg designing on online contest allowing Harvard students to vote among which of two co-eds presented on any instance of the application, is the “hottest”.  That says something about our personal values. 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Is Obamacare "reform" or "redistribution" (aka Robin Hood with no Sherwood Forest before surgery)?

In “Obamacare” simply a redistribution of wealth, or is it real reform?
The New York Times weighed in on this in November (here), and Michael Moore Saturday here   and the Wall Street Journal Saturday here.
Moore believes that Americans are “entitled” to universal health care not driven by a profit motive.  But someone has to play gatekeeper for how people get treated, and how long people wait, and what happens at end of life.  But Moore (the well known “left wing” documentary filmmaker (“Sick in America”, which paid a visit to Havana), to his credit, gives examples of how the new Affordable Care Act can work both ways.
The WSJ editorial calls Obamacare simply redistribution, from the young and lucky to the unlucky.  
Personal responsibility” cuts both ways here.  But we have to ask ourselves, why are hospitals charging $500 for a single stich for a home-plate collision in a sandlot baseball game?  The reasonable charge would be more like $100. If it were more like the latter, the “young and healthy” wouldn’t have to pay as much to cover others.  Will unreasonable charges come down with universal insurance?
But then how will we pay for the innovation that gives us better drugs for HIV (without side effects) and particularly much less disruptive or drastic treatments for cancers?  How would we pay for the research that fixed my acetabular fracture in one try (getting back to work in three weeks) back in 1998?  How do we manage the horrible decisions at the end of life?
How to the Europeans – especially the Swiss and Germans, who seem to have pretty workable systems, do this?  We need to know. 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Does marriage and family commitment excuse bad behavior? Beg the question on the immigration amnesty debate

A Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post Saturday, January 4, 2014 by Mark S. Allen, “A model family should not exempt law-breakers from punishment”, link here  begs an important question on the amnesty debate in immigration law.
The letter has to be read carefully; the opening of the letter does not confess to bank robbery, but makes a supposition.  (I got in trouble when substitute teaching for an online supposition that people in the school system didn’t read carefully at first.)  Nevertheless, many people talk as if they really believe that having a family in marriage could justify illegal behavior.  The Mafia often talks like that, right? 

On the other hand, we seem to have less room for self-righteousness all the time.  
The Washington Post, by the way, does not show LTE's on its site continuously until one full day passes.  But an LTE from that day can be located on Google by author name. 

Rick Sincere of GLIL has an interesting perspective on this LTE here. Crossing a border doesn't violate anyone's individual rights, he says.