YET STILL AGAIN SOME MORE SHORT RANTS ON ALL SUBJECTS

THE TRENT LOTT APOLOGY TOUR

Trent Lott said at the Old Fart's hundredth birthday party, "If you had been elected president, maybe we wouldn't have some of the problems we have today." The media got lots of mileage out of that one. They portrayed this off-the-cuff remark as an endorsement of every reactionary position held by the Old Fart as far back as the 1930's.

He was just trying to say something nice to the Old Fart on the occasion of his birthday in hopes of sending him to the graveyard feeling appreciated. When Ross Perot and Ralph Nader have their hundredth birthday parties, some insincere nitwit who didn't go to much trouble to prepare a speech will probably come up with the same tired quip. It's just a standard thing to say to an aging guy who once lost a bid for public office.

The shameful part is that Trent Lott now finds himself unable to get off the apology-go-round. The intensity and frequency and urgency of his apologies only serves to legitimize the interpretations of his critics.

- - - - -

Gee, Toto, people come and go so quickly here.

Since I wrote that comment on the Lott affair, he's resigned and Frist is suddenly whisked into his place.

When there was trouble, Clinton fought like a tiger. Lott scurried like a cockroach.

When I consider the trivial nature of the offense and and the rapidity of Lott's fall and how quickly he was abandoned by his "friends" and the sudden appearance and the universal approval of this perfect successor, I have to conclude that this was worked out ahead of time by the Republican Party leadership. Frist is apparently being moved to the fore in preparation for a 2008 run for the White House. He's charming, attractive, and his resume makes him look benevolent. An effective mask for the RP's true nature.

I can only guess at their long-term motives, but loyal Republicans should take note: THEY EAT THEIR OWN!

PETE ROSE'S REINSTATEMENT

I hope Pete Rose says, "Take your plea bargain and go piss up a rope."

Pete Rose has always claimed that he did not bet on baseball. Thirteen years of baseball commissioners have upheld the ban that kept him out of his calling during what should have been the prime years of one of the best managers in baseball history.

Now that his best years have been wasted, Baseball says we'll let you back in if you grovel and confess to a crime you have denied for thirteen years.

Take your plea bargain and go piss up a rope. You can't give back those prime years. Your Hall of Fame won't accept a man that maintains his innocence, but will accept a man who claims to have been a cheat. What's the point of being in such a hall of fame?

The facts should decide whether Rose is in or out. All this plea bargain stuff is just a bunch of baloney engineered to bring the accused to heel and to excuse the ill-considered and premature judgements of former commissioners.

MORE STAR TREK COMPLAINTS

I've got a problem with the passages of technical jargon I hear in DS9 and TNG. It's too neat and prim.

Real scientists don't talk that way. "Activate the neural flux network stimulator?" No. Real scientists would say something like, "Crank up the spine zapper."

In my lab nobody ever said, "Generate a set of Arochlor calibrations on instrument F." Somebody would say instead, "Run a set of PCB curves on Fred." Real working scientists abbreviate, trivialize and personalize their speech. Somebody named the instrument Fred probably because they once knew a guy named Fred who worked about half the time.

You guys with the Star Trek universe, please take note.

12/22/02

BIG LOTTERY JACKPOTS

The night before a big jackpot lottery drawing you'll see a lot of news stories featuring footage of ticketbuyers lined up at convenience stores and liquor stores. The newsbabe asks them how they would spend their winnings. You'll see a montage of hopeful players compiling impromptu Christmas lists.

Next time that happens notice something. That block long line of ticketbuyers is disproportionately immigrant and minority. The day after the drawing you'll see the winner is a white guy.

I'm not suggesting that any given lottery is rigged. If white people buy 3/4ths of the lottery tickets, you might expect most of the big jackpots to be won by whites. However, the pre-drawing news story is in effect a sales tool; and it seems to be aimed at people who do not much resemble those who eventually win.

12/26/02

CLONAID AND THE RAELIANS

There's not a chance in hell that these guys cloned somebody. My bet is that some unscrupulous con man took their money and went through the motions, implanting an embryo in a surrogate mother.

They're being presented as delusional kooks on TV, but the essential elements of their beliefs are familiar to any Christian, Jew, Hindu or Moslem. Instead of angels from heaven they've got aliens from space. God makes Eve from Adam's rib. That's a crude description of cloning. Their leader, Rael, is the one guy that the aliens contact, and he hands out info to his followers. So how different is that from Jesus or Mohammed or Moses? And how about that funny outfit he wears? Rael. Not your priest.

It's the same old thing with a new coat of paint. Like the plot of a Hollywood movie, if somebody's buying it, they don't change a successful formula.

DOUBLE TAXATION ON DIVIDENDS

I get taxed when I earn money and I get taxed again when I spend it and if I spend it on durable goods I get taxed on it every year after that. How come nobody thinks of that as multiple taxation?

Theoretically the government takes a cut on the occasion of money changing hands. What's different about dividends? Well, rich people get big money from dividends, and if they can rig it so they don't have to pay taxes on it, then that's what they'll do. What about the hole in the budget left by all those dividend taxes? It'll have to come from somewhere, probably from you.

If this thing passes, huge amounts of capital is going to run away from growth stocks and into high-yeld stocks. That means that growing companies, small companies and startups that would like to compete with established companies are going to have a harder time raising capital. That's one more way of keeping the little guy little. That's one more obstacle he has to overcome that the established companies didn't have to face while they were growing. Everybody who reaches the top wants to burn the ladder.

This measure is such a wrench-in-the-works, and it involves so much money that there's no way to guess all the effects it's likely to have, but I'm betting that overall it will be stifling and disruptive.

The way that trickle down theory is supposed to work goes like this: Give more money to the rich and they'll put it to work, investing in businesses which will make more products and hire more workers. But, if Widget company can't sell all the product it makes, giving the owner money to buy new machines to double his output is only going to drive down the price of widgets and precipitate layoffs.

PROACTIVELY GOING FORWARD TO THE NEXT LEVEL

"Proactive" and "going forward" and "to the next level" are some of this year's buzzwords. You can remove them from any sentence without changing the sense of the sentence. If somebody is using buzzwords, they're either ignorant or they're trying to buffalo you.

RTJ--1/15/03

BUILT BROKEN

I was staring at the tile on the floor of my bathroom the other day. Never mind what led up to that, but I noticed that every segment on the floor contained at least one tile that is cracked, chipped or otherwise imperfect. The tiles are arranged in repeating patterns of eight pieces, which are preassembled at the factory to save time when laying the tile at the job site. So I went into the other bathroom and found the same thing there. About a third of the bricks in the fireplace have chips and corners knocked out. I assume that those imperfections would have been laid out of sight, had there not been worse flaws that had to be concealed.

I started taking a critical look at every thing in the house and I found lots and lots of stuff like that. Every house in this development was built using two basic floor plans, each a mirror image of the other. Original purchasers of these houses could chose from two or three tile patterns, two or three brick colors and so on.

It occurs to me that this house was made from materials damaged in shipping, mistaken orders, unclaimed freight and factory seconds. All the rejected materials in this development were put into this house and palmed off on my dad so that more discriminating home buyers could be satisfied. He was always proud of the price he paid for this house. I now know why the seller dropped the price.

RTJ--1/18/03

BUSH WHITE HOUSE BRIEF ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Bush is against giving preference to less qualified black applicants at the University of Michigan.

A week later Bush proposed increasing federal money for black colleges by 5%.

Separate but equal, eh? It's not that he doesn't want blacks going to college, it's just that he wants them in their colleges and us in ours.

Can we agree that affirmative action might be appropriate some places and not others? If you want your college campus to look like the bridge of the Enterprise, you're going to have to make some concessions concerning your admissions requirements. The pool of applicants that shows up in any year might not conform to the census figures you want to replicate at your school. If ten years down the road you decide that's not the best way to educate America, then there's not a lot of harm done. If some white kid with good SAT's gets bumped for his lack of brownie points, big deal, he can get in at another college.

In the case of critical occupations like for example airline pilots, the hiring criteria should center on their abilities as pilots. If I hear that some airline is preferentially hiring Burmese midgets to fly their planes just because they're Burmese midgets, not only am I not flying their airline, I'm not going anywhere on their route even on the ground. If I'm boarding a plane and see a pilot of color in the cockpit, I don't want to be thinking he's in that seat for any reason other than he's the best pilot money can buy.

RTJ--1/19/03

CONFORMITY AND AFFECTATION

Where I went to college, you had until Christmas of your sophmore year to declare a major. Sophmores returning from the holidays wore the telltale academic fashion accessories of their newly declared majors. Hard science majors, biology, chemistry, math and physics all had new Rockports on their feet. Birkenstocks for soft sciences, anthro and sociology. Fine arts had the birkenstocks plus something from a Woody Allen movie. A scarf or beret maybe. Rumpled raincoat. Unorthodox spectacle frames so far out of fashion they're cool.

I wondered about that. I did it, too. I wasn't immune just because I noticed. The chemists started dressing like chemists before they knew enough to be useful in a laboratory. Looking the part comes first, the way a soldier gets his uniform before he's really a soldier. The fashion statement is just that. A statement. A declaration of commitment to a course of study, a daily reaffirmation of the declaration of major.

CYNICAL INVESTMENT ADVICE

Disclaimer: On the subject of investments I'm an ignoramus full of hot air. I'm a tiresome blowhard with no credentials. I'm completely unqualified to give anybody financial advice. The last time I made wholesale preditictions like this I proved to be less accurate than chance. If you're making investment decisions based on something I write, then you're dummmmmmmb. You deserve what you get. And so....

Mutual funds are for suckers. The vast majority of managed funds underperform a random selection of stocks. The managers can package any number of funds at little or no cost to themselves. Just by chance, one of them is bound to beat the market, and that's the one they'll advertise. Once they've got your money, they don't have any reason to maximize your earnings. They have every reason to be mediocre. The sector allocations within the funds are arbitrary divisions created to give the customer the impression that he is making decisions about his own money. He's not. Reallocating money from the income fund to the small cap growth fund is just moving money from one pocket to another. The fund manager is still buying and selling securities without asking for permission or approval from the customer.

Invest in armaments and aerospace. The War on Terror is going to require a lot of expensive airlift and is going to consume lots of expensive weapons and is going to be used to justify the development of new and expensive weapons systems. The Bush administration has declared that the war is going to continue until all of America's enemies are vanquished. We've been fighting for 225 years and we've still got enemies, so figure at least the next two to six years is going to be a big gravy train for aerospace and armaments.

Invest in drugs. Medicare is going to cover more and more things, especially drugs, since politicians buy senior citizen votes with entitlements. The medicare system allows drug companies to gouge, and since drug companies contribute heavily to political campaigns that's not likely to change any time soon. Also, doctors put you on drugs. They discontinue fewer treatments than they initiate.

Precious metals and stones, beanie babies, fine art, collectibles, all bad deals. They all have values based on human opinion, persuasion and emotion over which you have no control. A beanie baby is worth something if and only if you can persuade a buyer that it's worth something. A sack of navy beans really is worth something, no matter what the price is on any given day. If all the gem quality diamonds on earth were to vanish overnight, the world could go on functioning as usual. The Hope Diamond would be of more practical value if it were ground into powder and worked into a saw blade. Precious metals are a slightly different case, since metals have industrial applications, but you pay a big premium when you buy and another big premium when you sell, so bullion's a waste of effort. Better to have a thousand dollars worth of canned goods than a thousand dollars worth of gold. At the time of the Russian revolution, people were swapping faberge eggs for tins of potted meat, so don't believe the BS when somebody tells you that gold holds its value in times of economic crisis.

Sell your airline stocks. Sell your cruise line stocks. Sell your entertainment stocks that involve big-time travel destinations, like theme parks, resorts and casinos. People are likely to be reluctant to travel, especially by air. Every time there's an air accident, people are going to wonder if it's actually an attack that's being hushed up. Every time there's a salmonella incident on a cruise line, the public will wonder if it's a biological attack. They'll think about the underpaid third worlders employed as maids and stewards and they'll wonder. As suspicion increases, new security measures will add expense and inconvenience. More vacations will be taken close to home until things settle down.

Insurance companies and HMO's. Judging from the news, we're headed for a health care crisis that is likely to result in some form of socialized medicine, in which case the government will be doing the paperwork now handled by the insurance companies and HMO's. They might do well in the short term, but in the next five to ten years I think health insurers and HMO's will be handling fewer, wealthier clients as the government assumes more responsibility for the health care of the underclasses.

In 25 years we'll be like Great Britain, with public health care for the masses and boutique hospitals for the pampered rich.

Sell retail. Sell fast food. When money gets tight, those sectors will suffer early.

Cheap money! You can get cash at 5% on a home mortgage? Don't do it unless you're sure you can pay it off. If you lose your job, it doesn't matter how low your payments are.

Housing starts are strong due to those same low interest rates, but if the economy hits a speed bump and buyers start to default on their loans, banks are going to end up with a lot of property that they'll have to sell at below market, if they can find a buyer at all.

Buy telecommunications. People just won't stop flapping their yaps. They wrongly believe they've got something that needs to be said (Sound like anybody we know?), and they'll skip meals before they'll do without their phones. Americans can be frugal in many diverse ways, but economy of language, no. We won't take the phones off our faces for the sake of driving our cars with two hands. Figure an investment in telecommunications is prudent, even if the habits of telecom users are not.

RTJ--1/22/03

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