The price is right

I apologize for getting so hung up on this. No, I don’t apologize. I am going to do this anyhow.

Recently an e-mail from my congressman, Francisco Canseco of the Texas 23rd District included this heart-warming statement:

Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008 and I am concerned about the impact it will have on family budgets already struggling to pay mortgages, health care premiums, and other expenses. As a nation we should be pursuing policies of energy independence. By removing our dependency on foreign oil we can remove the threat it poses to economic and national security, and lower prices. Simply put, we need to produce more American energy.

I welcomed this fresh bit of candor from an American politician. It’s rare you get one of those guys to come right out and make a declarative statement, an affirmative of truth. Even thought it’s not actually true.

The fact is that at the time of this statement gasoline prices were not actually rising. They were falling and had been for quite some time. So, I posted a little note on this and went on. And on. And I am still going on. Because prices are still going down.

Gasbuddy.com has the story, which will vary depending on what day you click the link:

San Antonio    USA
Today                       3.140             3.377
Yesterday                3.149             3.388
One Week Ago        3.206            3.466
One Month Ago      3.397             3.645
One Year Ago         3.438             3.570

Gasbuddy will also produce charts of historical prices for you. Here is the one for San Antonio for the past four years. That would cover the day I left California and drove back to Texas, paying the highest I ever had for gasoline, at a station on Laurel Canyon Blvd. in North Hollywood:

If you will recall, the U.S. economy hit a slight road bump about that time and went off the edge of a cliff. Gas prices followed. The following year I paid about $1.25 a gallon at my neighborhood Kroger. Later that year I drove out to California again, the the rest is history.

Gas prices shot up as the economy lurched out of its swoon, but they never again attained that peak of the summer of 2008. Congressman Canseco is right when he says, “Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008.” We have not seen those prices since. And now they are falling again.

Congressman Canseco indicates his formula for governance will keep prices down. That would be marvelous. Previous presidential candidate Michele Bachmann promised to bring back $2 gasoline. That would be more than marvelous. That would be almost magical. It would also begin to make me think she was not just an ordinary member of the House of Representatives, but an alien from outer space.

All joking aside, this is something we love to see in American politics. The “chicken in every” pot promise is an icon of American political literature. A candidate has got to promise us something, else why is he even running. If a congressional candidate gets up and says, “If elected (re-elected), I am going to keep things exactly the same,” then the voter is going to say, “So, why not take the next two years off.” They will vote for the guy who promises better telephone ring tones.

So bring them on, the humorous, the outrageous, the vacuous campaign promises. Please, however, spice your pitch with a touch of truth from time to time.

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Call of the wild

This is going to be a slow weekend, so look forward to more hummingbird stories.

So, Barbara Jean phoned on Thursday night asking what I did with the other packets of hummingbird food. I told her I had thrown the box away and stuck the last packet behind the cereal in the cupboard.

The Sweet One had already given up finding it and had mixed hummingbird food from water and granulated sugar, which many claim is better all around. And much cheaper.

But what she wanted to tell me was that the little buggers were really going for the home-made stuff, which is clear, like the sugar solution it is and not colored red, which is what you get in the packets. As she called the play by phone it became apparent there was a hummingbird riot getting at the feeder. The sun was going down, and these flightiest of little birds were getting their last drink of the day.

The birds seem to live in the woods along the creek behind the house, and they dart periodically in from the wilds to the comparative urbanity of our back yard for a drink. Hummingbirds need to do this several times an hour just to stay alive. They weigh about as much as a penny, and they burn energy at a tremendous rate for their size, which is typical of warm-blooded creatures of small size. For these birds, a strong solution of sugar water is an energy main-line, and they either get it from flowers, or they get it from feeders, such as ours. Small insects and such provide the proteins and minerals these creatures need to build meat and bone.

Anyhow, when I got home on Friday we determined to fire up an additional, larger feeder. Barbara had mixed up a jug of the good stuff and stored it in the refrigerator. Now we had two feeders going on the back porch hangers, and the summer heat quick brought the refrigerated stuff up to daytime temperatures. And the back porch became hummingbird Grand Central Station.

Hummingbirds are understandably skittish, they are barely a cat’s mouthful, and they barely tolerate our presence. However, I have found that if I am willing to sit very still, and not blink, at the back porch table, they will come. The will flit around for a moment, keeping their distance. Then they will lurch in closer to the food, like miniature helicopters, always keeping an eye on me. Finally they will lunge for the food, take a quick drink, back off for a moment for another look at me, then back for another drink. They will do this until their little bellies are full or else they have had their fill of my presence, then in a flash they are gone, back over the fence and into the trees by the creek. Or else into one of the ten-foot twigs we call live oak trees in our back yard.

After my presence has been discounted, what seems to matter most to the hummingbirds is other hummingbirds. They are very territorial, especially where food is concerned. Most likely natural selection has shaped their instincts to chase other hummingbirds from a selected food source. My reasoning is that a bird that accomplishes this most successfully will find his genes alone in the pool following year.

The presence of two feeders presents a problem to the hummingbird hoarder. He will now try to defend both feeders, sometimes wasting his chance to drink while chasing an intruder. I have been told that two is the limit. A hummingbird will not try to protect three watering holes and, I am told, this presents a situation where birds feed without interference.

I can get photos of the birds, but I have to be patient. This morning I sat out back eating my bran flakes, and the birds overcame their distaste for me enough to dart in for frequent feedings, and even to chase rivals away. That is, as long as I did not crunch too loudly when chewing. It was fairly straightforward getting pictures with the 100mm macro, but when I brought out the 200 the birds became very shy. The 200 has more the appearance of a 105mm howitzer, which must in previous history have gained the birds’ respect.

So, standing still, barefoot, watching through the viewfinder, not breathing, I was able to get some first few photos. I left the tripod out on the patio when I came inside, so the birds would get accustomed to its presence. Hopefully the result will be that the additional presence of my hulk will be less disturbing when I go back out later for some better shots. Here is one of the first. More to follow if my luck holds out.

Getting what you asked for

It’s over, except for the shouting. The Supreme Court has spoken.

President Obama is strutting. “We were right, all along,” he is saying. “We really showed those Republicans.”

Bullshit!

Mr. President, you squeaked by on less than the skin of your teeth. You were handed a present on a platter, and you should acknowledge so. Of course, the president will not do that. Politics has its requirements, and to admit any kind of weakness is akin to cutting your wrists in politics.

The fact of the matter is, Mr. President, you won by the slimmest of margins (one vote), and you did not get the vote you were hoping to get, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy voted against your health care law. The deciding vote came from completely out of left field, Chief Justice John Roberts, the guy you voted against in his confirmation hearings. The guy you tried to keep off the bench is the guy who saved your ass today.

Be careful what you ask for, Mr. President. And recall another chief justice.

Earl Warren was a noted conservative politician before his appointment, and how. He was was the prime mover behind the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. When Chief Justice Fred Vinson died in office, President Eisenhower appointed him as Chief Justice while the Senate was in recess. Later, Eisenhower was to state, “the biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made.”

In the coming years the Warren Court changed the American legal landscape by ruling such unimaginable things as that the government cannot require black kids to attend inferior schools (separate but equal?), the government cannot dictate what prayers public school students are required to recite, equal representation for all people (one man, one vote) and protected legal rights for people accused of crimes. This man once considered a conservative mainstay quickly became the target of American conservatives.  Especially the ultra right wing of our society.

The John Birch Society led drives to impeach Earl Warren, and billboards were erected with the slogan, “Impeach Earl Warren.” I am saddened to say that these advertisements were aimed where they were best received, in the southern part of the United States, where racial hatred is still dying a lingering death.

So, President Obama, be careful what you wish for, and be thankful for what you receive. As for you, Chief Justice Roberts, when can we expect to see your name on a billboard?

Watermelon roast

It’s a once a year thing in Luling, Texas. It’s the Luling Watermelon Thump. But don’t just come to thump the melons.

I will start off with some photos of Barbara, Nancy and Gary at the Luling Barbecue. Photos of, what else, some watermelons. They must grow them around there. And there are the classic cars. Almost on par with Little Anthony’s in Tucson, there was some serious street iron. And trophies went to the winners.

And it was hot. Great time for a watermelon roast.

Next: World championship watermelon seed spitting contest. With photos.

Barbara, Nancy Gary at Luling Barbecue

Watermelons, what else?

Iron on the streets of Luling

Classic cars

Some really sentimental autos

Trophies to the winners

Mountain troops

I am celebrating 70th anniversaries these days, especially because a lot of interesting things happened 70 years ago. This is about how I came to live in Leadville, Colorado.

My dad was raised on a dirt farm west of Tolar, Texas, and he dropped out of college after about one semester and went to work as a hard rock miner in a place then called Climax, Colorado. I think it was called Climax, because it was at 11,000 feet above sea level at Fremont Pass. There he worked with his college roommate ex, who had a sister, and in the depths of the depression he drove back to Texas to marry the sister.

Life at Climax was rough, and my parents’ first child was still-born, so they moved to Leadville, which was only at 10,000 feet. My oldest sister was born there.

The mines paid well, but my father developed silicosis and was forced to quit mining and move back to Texas. As the economy worsened the family (another sister by now) lived in an honest to God log cabin, a cedar log hut out on the family farm in Hood County. The family moved to Tolar, where my father worked as a school custodian, and lived across the street from the school, where I was born.

Then the war came along, and the American military became impressed by how the Finish ski patrols had fought two regular divisions to a standstill early in the Soviet invasion of their country. The Army’s 10th Infantry Division was reorganized into this country’s first mountain division, with the idea we would have ski troops to fend off an invasion of the northeast of the American Continent. They needed a place to train in the mountains, so in 1942 Camp Hale was constructed near Leadville, and my father went to work on the construction. The family came along, and that’s how I came to live in Colorado.

I recently watched a documentary on The History Channel about the 10th Division, and if I never had a lot of respect for this outfit before, I certainly did afterwards. The training was tough, and the men developed tremendous physical endurance and skill in mountaineering. Later it developed they had little use for their skis in battle, but their physical prowess and rock climbing skills on a number of occasions won the day for them.

And Bob Dole was there. The man who was later to become a distinguished Senator from Kansas was in the 10th from the beginning and ended his war during the last days in northern Italy when a German bullet nearly cost him his right arm.

The tragic tale of the 10th involved their first every military action. Men from the 10th were sent in to help evict Japanese invaders from  the island of Kiska in the American territory of Alaska. Tragically the Japanese evacuated before the Americans landed there, and members of the 10th were killed in exchanges of gunfire in the dense fog.

Italy was the high point of the division in World War II. In one instance, the mountaineers defeated a German position entrenched at the top of a shear cliff. They scaled the cliff in the dead of night, surprised and wiped out the defending Germans. In the documentary video a German who was interviewed related they could not believe anybody could come up that cliff, least of all at night and with complete surprise. In other actions the mountain troops time and again outdistanced other American units as they pushed the Germans north out of Italy.

These days the 10th Mountain Division is headquartered at Fort Drum in New York. They have more recently seen action in Afghanistan, where their special expertise is priceless. And it all started 70 years ago.

Down for the count

I’ve been writing about the political campaigns recently. Maybe more than just recently, but on average a lot more recently. I previously mentioned that my congressman is Francisco Canseco of the Texas 23rd District. This district extends from San Antonio all the way out into the Mountain Time Zone, which means Congressman Canseco has a lot of ground to cover and a diverse constituency to answer to. One way the congressman looks after his voters is to make sure they are not being jacked around by the current administration. Especially he hates they way Democrats are making all of us pay such outrageously high prices for gasoline. I receive the congressman’s weekly e-mail, and one such missive spoke of his distress:

Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008 and I am concerned about the impact it will have on family budgets already struggling to pay mortgages, health care premiums, and other expenses. As a nation we should be pursuing policies of energy independence. By removing our dependency on foreign oil we can remove the threat it poses to economic and national security, and lower prices. Simply put, we need to produce more American energy.

I put some emphasis on the part about “Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008,” because I am grateful for the congressman’s concern, and I pray nightly he will be diligent in looking out for my interests in this matter.

Of course, I could not help but notice a small bit of irony in the congressman’s message. One part of that irony was the “since 2008” part. As I recall, 2008 was when his own party occupied the seat of power, and gasoline prices did spike have the little spike to which he alludes. I was not in Texas during the early part of the year. I was out in California sticking it to a major aerospace company and paying the highest prices for gasoline I have ever paid since the last time I was in Spain. Also France, Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, but that’s another matter.

I recall that in 2008 as the month of July drew nigh the per gallon price floated breathtakingly above $4 as though hoisted by a cloud of helium balloons. As an aside, I also noted that as prices floated up, the world-famous traffic on the Los Angeles freeways thinned to tolerable levels. On the July day I filled up for the last time to head back to Texas I paid $4.47 per gallon at the Valero station on Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood. I think it was never higher than on that day. As economic reality set in for the American wage earner, the price of gasoline swooned like a drunken college student and came crashing down with the the rest of our financial world.

In recent months as prices surged again toward 2008 levels I got into the habit of logging onto gasbuddy.com and checking prices on Laurel Canyon. I think my Valero station is no longer there, but I have noticed that none of the prices in that neighborhood ever got to the level of 18 July 2008. It was a nice try, however.

Which brings us to the second irony of Congressman Canseco’s note:  “Gasoline prices are rising to levels not seen since 2008.” The odd part is that at the time the congressman wrote and delivered his message of glad tidings, gasoline prices were in fact not rising. They were falling and had been for several weeks, like a stone dropped into a quiet pool.  A quick check shows that the price I paid last Saturday at the H-E-B on Walnut Avenue in New Braunfels was higher than what I can get today. The price at the Union 76 station on Laurel Canyon (approximately where I made my last California purchase in 2008) stands today at $3.95, down about 50 cents from four years ago. Close by at Vineland Avenue and Vanowen Street it’s $3.79.

Congressman Canseco, as with romance, as with war, so with politics. Sometimes timing is everything.

Burdensome government regulation

I am watching the political campaigns this year, and candidates are talking up what will make them popular with their base. I live in Texas congressional district 23, which stretches from San Antonio to well within the Mountain Time Zone. My congressman is Francisco (Quico) Canseco, and I am on his e-mail distribution list, and I hear from him and other candidates about oppressive government regulation. The words “oppressive government regulation” are mine, but they closely interpret what is being said. Oppressive government regulation is what is crippling American industry and causing higher unemployment. That’s a bad thing.

But these candidates never spell out just what oppressive government regulations they are against. I am sure they are not against regulations that prevent a company from shipping fraudulent products in interstate commerce. Beyond that, it is not clear to me just which government regulations these candidates want to abolish. So I have given this some thought.

Forty years ago I needed a job, and the state of Texas had one for me. I needed to be a registered professional engineer, and that got me the job. I was to work for the Texas Department of Health, and I was to inspect work places for safety violations.

Congress had previously come up with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, whose job it was to make sure that the American workplace was safe for workers. I am confident the push behind OSHA was in large part a move by the labor unions as another way to harass their industrial masters, but I never figured out how that would work. Anyhow, companies and their lobbyists considered these rules to be oppressive and a hindrance to free enterprise.

In their wisdom, and lacking other recourse, the industrialists prevailed upon Congress to deal some of this oppressive power out to the individual states, where local administration of the law would be more immediate and applicable. And more friendly, besides.

Rather than slap huge fines on businesses that violated the congressionally-mandated safety standards, the task of the TDH would be to “help” the companies in violation to improve their profitability by reducing their accident rate, which would also reduce the rates they payed for government-mandated workers compensation insurance. That’s where I came in.

In the Dallas area I would visit companies that had higher claim rates (and therefore higher insurance premiums) and help them to see the error of their ways. And also (we claimed) to save money on insurance premiums.

It was an awakening experience for me. I had previously worked on an aircraft carrier, which is noted to be dangerous even when people are not shooting at you. I had also worked a summer job in a boat factory, which was not particularly dangerous, but had the potential to be so if you were careless about what you were doing. But I never had much experience in manufacturing and construction, and I had little clue how things got done in the real world.

Visiting the shops and manufacturing plants I learned how things got made and how the people there did their jobs. As I said, it was eye-opening.  In addition to a view to the real-world manufacturing process, here is what I saw:

In one plant they made air conditioning systems for cars. One component was a magnetically-controlled clutch that engaged the compressor with the engine fan belt drive whenever the controller decided some cooling was needed. A thick steel plate was pulled in by a large magnetic coil, and that engaged the clutch. The plate was round, with holes in appropriate places, and it was not flat. It had deep ridges embossed in it to give it stiffness. As I recall the plate was made in a single operation in a press.

Round, flat plates were delivered to the press operator, and he put each in turn into the press. Then he actuated the press, which drove a cutting and forming die down onto the plate, simultaneously shearing the holes and embossing the plate. The plate was maybe 3/16-inch thick, and the force required to do this was quite large. When the press came down nothing was going to stop it from cutting and forming the plate. Not even the fingers of the operator.

That’s where the rules came in. The rules mandated several safeguards to ensure the operator went home with his fingers. The factory could employ any one or mixture of various devices to protect the operator. 1) Require the operator to actuate the press with both hands, meaning both hands would be away from the closing die. 2) Place a guard around the die so the operator could not get his hands near it when it was closing. 3) Require the operator to handle the metal plate with tongs rather than with his fingers. This process had broken down somewhere, and an operator had gone home without his fingers. That’s why I was there.

The supervisor carefully explained to me why several of the available options were not suitable to this operation. I could see that at least one option remained. “Have the operator handle the plate with tongs.”

Silly me, as the supervisor explained. If the die came down on the tongs it would damage the die. What an idiot I was not to think of this. Of course the operator’s fingers would leave never a mark on the die in case of a mishap.

On another occasion I visited a construction company. They did not exactly do construction. They did excavation for foundations, and drainage and such. A trenching company. It was a family business, and I visited the owner at his office, in his home. We discussed the requirements of his operation.

The rules specified what was allowed for different depths of trenches and for different types of soil. For example if the trench was being cut through solid limestone, then the trench did not have to be shored (braced). The sides were not going to cave in. If the soil were soft or even sand, then the sides needed to be slopped at a specified angle to keep the trench from caving in when workers were in it. It was not necessary to slope the sides if the walls of the trench were shored with strong timbers (or metal frames as I often see these days). Else workers must not be allowed in the trench, and all work must be done from the surface by machinery.

The owner of the company was irked at these restrictive regulations and inquired why the TDH was picking on him. I explained that we were were visiting companies that had numerous or costly workers compensation claims. I asked him if that were the case. He had to think back, and then he remembered. Yes, there had been an accident in which a trench caved in while his son was working in it.

On my job I had to dress professionally, and I was wearing my Hart Schaffner Marx suit. I was careful on this occasion not to do anything to decrease my investment in the suit.

Was I ever wrong!

politics-trumpfinetunedmachine

Time to confess up. I have been wrong before. Saying I have been wrong before is not the same as saying I am wrong right now. Anyhow, I once got it very wrong. OK, maybe other times, as well, but very wrong this time.

It was 40 years ago. Today. Look it up on your calendar.

It was Saturday, and I was leaving my contract work in Austin, in my Dodge pickup with the radio on. The man doing the news was telling me that some men had been arrested overnight for burglary. They had been caught breaking into the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Building in Washington, DC. The implication was obvious, even to me.

“That’s it,” I proclaimed loudly and with self-assurance, only to myself. “Now he’s gone too far. There goes the election.”

Richard Nixon was running for a second term as president, and it was looking as though his second term was going to be a lot like his first. Maybe not to some, but to me it seemed that Mr. Nixon was the person always ready to take a short cut, to tweak the rules when they became inconvenient. There was a history.

Helen Gahagan Douglas was a liberal Democratic congresswoman from California in a race against Richard Nixon. Somebody else had called her The Pink Lady, “pink right down to her underwear,” and Nixon was quick to make good use of the smear. Douglas was not a communist, and Nixon knew it, but much later he justified his actions as doing something shady to accomplish a nobler goal. That noble goal presumable was to get a conservative Republican elected.

As president, Nixon gathered about him people with a similar inclination to let slip the grip of legality if the goal was noble. An example I recall was a policy advanced by Attorney General John Mitchell. It was called “preventive detention,” and the aim was to confine people to prevent them from committing crimes they had not committed yet. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution effectively prohibits such action, but Mitchell had no problem with this inconvenience. The administration of 1972 pronounced it was for “law and order.” Only later did we learn it was not so much the former but the latter.

Anyhow, I knew or thought I knew all of this on 17 June 1972, and in my mind’s eye I saw Nixon watching the January 1973 inauguration ceremonies on TV, if not on a TV in a jail cell. Boy was I ever wrong.

The drama began that day and progressed like a train wreck in slow motion for the next 26 months until finally we watched Nixon waving goodbye to a grateful nation as he boarded an Air Force helicopter. Boy, was I ever wrong! Vice President Spiro Agnew was already out of office.  He was not involved in the Watergate shenanigans, but in the intervening time he had been exposed as a politician for hire, exchanging his public responsibilities for the smallest amount of cash. And I never saw it coming. Was I ever wrong!

The drama of 1972 began when Washington Post reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein got onto the story that first day and dogged the issue until the machinery of American justice could no longer ignore the facts. The climax seemed to come when Nixon’s White House secretary Rosemary Woods “accidentally” erased 18 crucial minutes of an Oval Office tape recording. When transcripts of Oval Office recordings were finally delivered under subpoena they revealed Nixon asking the FBI directory to stop investigating the Watergate burglary. A few days later Nixon was waving goodbye from the door of a helicopter.

And all of this took 24 months longer than I originally thought it would on that spring day in 1972. Was I ever wrong!

The next time I seem to you to be a bit cocky and full of home-grown assurance,  will you please remind me of June 1972 when I was ever so wrong. If I did it once, readers, I will do it again.

It ain’t necessarily so

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was a great American writer and a master of the English language. He made a large part of his living through public speaking and one of his observations went thus: “It ain’t so much what we know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.”

This came to mind when I recalled an exchange I had with someone on the Internet a few weeks back. I forget the exact topic, but my foggy memory calls up a book by Glenn Beck: Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. This was cited this as something worthy, which I thought was really odd. My own recollection had Paine as the18th century antipode of Glenn Beck. I cautioned the person that she should not give much credence to Beck in this area, and I got back a curious response: “Isn’t it great that we live in a country where everybody has a right to his own opinion.”

While I agreed with the thought, I felt it necessary to caution: “It is OK to have your own opinions, but it also helps if these opinions are largely correct.” I noted that Beck had not been right on a lot of things for a very long time. At the time even conservative stalwarts were starting to build some distance with Beck. Beck was starting to say things that just sounded good and had no other redeeming qualities. He had become entertainment, and the truth had become a sometime thing. The people who listened to Beck wanted him to tell them what they already knew was true. Those with the ability to think were beginning to become aware of the obvious.

There is more. Recently Congressman Allen West of Florida let slip the fact that 80 Democratic congressmen are communists. I thought that was cute at the time and posted some remarks on his accounting. Apparently there is still more entertainment to be had this political season.

Since that time I learned in a conversation: “American Socialists Release Names of 70 Congressional Democrats in Their Ranks.” More specifically, the fact was that 70 (or more) Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives were members of the Socialist Party of America.

Of course, I chuckled politely and mentioned that this fact was quite outside the realm of credibility. I had never heard of the Socialist Party of America, and none of my news sources had yet come forward with this amazing fact. I mean, to be a Democratic member of the House you also have to be a member of the Democratic Party. Wild and crazy as the Democratic Party is, I did not think it has gone so far as to tolerate dual membership in another party. Besides, I had never heard of the Socialist Party of America. Then, I already said that.

“You could look it up,” I was advised.

I stopped right there. I have been offered this road before, multiple times, and each time I have turned down the opportunity. Once a creationist friend told me the startling news that people drilling a deep well had broken through to the underworld and could hear the screams of tormented souls who had been banished to Hell for their wicked ways. On that occasion I had asked for additional details and was told that since I was a skeptic (member of The North Texas Skeptics) it was my job to run down these stories and to get the details.

No it is not.

If I am playing cards with some friends and somebody pokes his head through the door and tells me that Abraham Lincoln was a transvestite and that I should drop what I am doing and investigate and get the full story, I am going to tell the intruder to take a hike. That’s because if I followed up on every outlandish story that is handed me each year I would spend a lot of my time chasing wild geese, and others would be having a good laugh at my expense.

In this most recent case I did follow a link that mentioned:

The Socialist Party of America announced in their October 2009 newsletter that 70 Congressional democrats currently belong to their caucus.

Of course, I felt a little cheated. I had hoped to be told that our congressmen were actually members of the Socialist Party of America, not just belonging to a caucus. I was in for additional disappointment. Before I could get out of the starting blocks another link was delivered to me:

Commies in the Congress Debunked – Saying It Doesn’t Make It True

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 12:20

Several stories around the internet and posted right here on Before It’s News are claiming that there exists a list of Socialists in the U.S. Congress.

Sorry to disappoint the Red Scare crowd, but it’s just a list of the members of the Progressive Caucus. There is no proof that the congress persons on this list are registered with or associated with any Socialist party.

Most of the bogus stories include this tidbit:

“The Socialist Party of America announced in their October 2009 newsletter that 70 Congressional democrats currently belong to their caucus.”

The problem with this statement is that the Socialist Party of America does not exist.

The newsletter of mentioned does not exist. Here is the DSA newsletter for the Fall of 2009 and here is the SP-USA’s newsletter which never published an October 2009 edition.

The American Socialist Party is not the Socialist Party USA and the Socialist Party of America has not existed since 1973 after it had a three way split.

Not only that, the story can’t even get it’s easily verifiable facts straight: the Democratic Socialists of America is not a party but rather a PAC, political action committee.

The list of 70 names does not belong to any socialist organization. It was quoted from the Progressive Caucus. These people might be avowed Progressives, but that doesn’t make them registered socialists or communists. Even if some people think “Progressive” is equivalent to “Communist” (a matter of opinion, to which one is entitled).

If anyone can produce the original newsletter or document where this list is supposed to have appeared, in FULL, we’d be very interested to see it.

Here are at least some of the stories on Before It’s News that are perpetuating this hoax:

THE LATEST:  beforeitsnews.com/story/148/978/Congressman_is_Member_of_Socialist_Party,_Says_Constitution_is_Silly_Stuff.html

beforeitsnews.com/story/139/903/WND_Says_At_Least_82_Socialists_in_Congress._Heres_Our_Larger_Detailed_List.html

beforeitsnews.com/story/137/518/The_Socialist_Party_of_America_Devulges_70_of_Their_Members_in_Congress._And_Theres_Plenty_More_Socialists_and_Communists_Whore_Not_on_Their_List..html

beforeitsnews.com/story/138/831/Socialists_in_the_U.S._Congress.html

beforeitsnews.com/story/137/460/Commies_in_the_Congress_Oh_Look,_A_List.html

beforeitsnews.com/story/136/510/Exposed_The_long_list_of_elected_officials_that_were_members_of_the_Democratic_Socialists_of_America_in_2009..html

beforeitsnews.com/story/139/065/Marcy_Kaptur:_Socialist.html

Notice that I lifted this entire piece from another writer, and I should be ashamed of myself, but the reality is that plagiarism is the best kind of flattery. My thanks to the person who wrote the original. I usually cite names when one is available, but if readers will please follow the link the original author will receive full benefit of his efforts.

The headline of the post includes the critical phrase: “Saying It Doesn’t Make It True.” That is the whole point of this post. Beck says it, Allen says it, Rush says it, Robertson says it. Even Democratic fellow traveler Al Sharpton says it. But Ira Gershwin said it best nearly 80 years ago. “It ain’t necessarily so.” There is a lot of crap floating around the air waves and the Internet these days, and the problem is not the purveyors of this crap. The problem is the people who digest the crap. People are being told what they already know to be true, and the true believers are not willing to poke this excrement with a stick.

Assuming you have read all of this, what next? Are you going to tell me this is some really cool stuff, and you are glad somebody finally said it. If you do, then I did not get my message across. If I just told you what you always knew to be true, then the next thing you should do is check it out for yourself. It’s only when the listener receives previously unknown information that real communication is taking place. Finding that you are always in agreement with what you read or hear is an indication you need to be reading or listening to other sources.

The Run for the Money

All right, I am late to the party with this post. I could say I have been busy, but I have been lazy. Here this is from the “I told you so” department.

I told you last January, so now is the time to crow a bit. That is if a person can swagger over mentioning the obvious.

Yes, people, it’s Mitt Romney. That got settled a few days ago, most likely in the Texas Republican primary. Everybody else has dropped out, except for Ron Paul, but then he is from Texas, and here in Texas we have this tradition of the Alamo wherein you stand your ground and let all the Mexicans in the world swarm right over you.

So, Mitt Romney was never the question, he was always the answer. The question always was, “Why did it it take so long, and what was it with all these other jokers?” Also, why did Republicans spend all that money trying to defeat Mitt Romney and all those other others? No kidding. Just take a look at The Others:

Forget about Jon Huntsman for a moment, All the others seem to have problems with some basic facts of life. For example, they consider modern atmospheric science to be a left wing conspiracy or some other kind of hoax. Here’s Michele Bachmann:

The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.
— March 15, 2008

Rick Perry:

“I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change,” the Texas governor said on the first stop of a two-day trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Herman Cain:

“Man-made global warming is poppycock. I don’t believe in it. If people look at the real data, the climate has varied ever since we have known that the planet was here.”

“We know that those scientists who tried to concoct the science to say that we had a hockey stick global warning and they were busted because they manipulated the data.”

Some principles of modern biology escape them, as well. Rick Santorum:

Former Pennsylvania Sen. and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum says the “left” and “scientific community” have monopolized the public school system’s curriculum, only permitting the teaching of evolution and leaving no room for the introduction of creation-based theories in the classroom.

“There are many on the left and in the scientific community, so to speak, who are afraid of that discussion because oh my goodness you might mention the word, God-forbid, ‘God’ in the classroom, or ‘Creator,’ that there may be some things that are inexplainable by nature where there may be, where it’s actually better explained by a Creator, and of course we can’t have that discussion,” Santorum said in an editorial interview with the Nashua Telegraph. “It’s very interesting that you have a situation where science will only allow things in the classroom that are consistent with a non-Creator idea of how we got here, as if somehow or another that’s scientific. Well maybe the science points to the fact that maybe science doesn’t explain all these things. And if it does point to that, then why don’t you pursue that? But you can’t, because it’s not science, but if science is pointing you there how can you say it’s not science? It’s worth the debate.”

Perry:

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill.

Bachmann again (leaving out the embedded references):

According to an article in the Stillwater Gazette, a local newspaper in Minnesota, Bachmann supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public school science classes. During a 2003 interview on the KKMS Christian radio program Talk The Walk, Bachmann said that evolution is a theory that has never been proven one way or the other. She co-authored a bill (that received no additional endorsement among her fellow legislators) that would require public schools to include alternative explanations for the origin of life as part of the state’s public school science curricula. In October 2006, Bachmann told a debate audience in St. Cloud, Minnesota “there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact or not…. There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”

Ron Paul:

Well, first I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter. And I think it’s a theory: The Theory of Evolution. And I don’t accept it, you know, as a theory. — Ron Paul on evolution, December 1, 2007

Readers will notice I have not mentioned New Gingrich. Perhaps the most intelligent of The Others, Gingrich never seemed to have a problem with those troublesome aspect of modern science. He should have been the Republican voters’ ideal alternative to the Mormon Mitt Romney (and Jon Huntsman), but Republicans eventually rejected Gingrich for good reasons that they have already explained, so I will not say any more about him.

Does anybody want to hear about Donald Trump? I thought not. I have close friends who are Republicans, or at least sincere conservatives, and to avoid additional friction in my personal life I will not make any further mention of The Donald.

So, after many months of in-fighting and self-immolation, it finally dawned on Republicans that the only candidate that had a remote possibility of beating Barack Obama in November is Mitt Romney. I swear to God, people, if they had only asked me last year I could have set them straight before they spent millions of dollars in contributors’ money tearing each other down (did you notice the president smiling in the background). Just think what they could have done with that money. They could have poured it into Republican campaign coffers and proceeded to carpet bomb the Democrats this summer and fall. Else they could have thrown a party that people would still be talking about two hundred years from now. I would liked to have seen that.

So, what kind of candidate did the Republicans pick? They picked the candidate that is most like Barack Obama, excepting a slight difference in skin shade. Harvard-elitists, smart, comfortable with the real facts, and genuinely interested in the welfare of the voting public.

The only problem is, from here to November Romney is going to have to unwind himself from some past policy stances. It’s not likely he will need to step back from his acceptance of biological and climate science, but we will (already have, in fact) see him papering over his role in creating socialized medicine for his Massachusetts constituents. After all of that, we have a Republican candidate that many Democrats will be comfortable with, whether or not they vote for him.

Let the games begin. I would not miss this show for anything.

Portsmouth Hardware

Slow day. I’m posting a photo left over from my Navy days.

I spent a winter aboard the USS Randolph in dry dock at the Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Hardware of all kinds they had and like you never saw before. This was the place to go for a good screw.

The nuts that go with these are something to see, as well.

The Day The Ax Fell

On the 70th anniversary I have been recapping some critical events of World War II. For some background you can refer to my previous summaries of the Doolittle Raid and and the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The deal was that the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack (no declaration of war had been delivered) on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, catching our navy completely off guard and scoring a very lopsided victory. Japan had decided that a confrontation with the United States was inevitable, given that the Japanese Empire had decided to expand into the Asian region then colonized by Western European countries, and America and other countries were blocking this move by denying trade goods the Japanese needed for this effort. Japan had hoped to knock the United States out of the war with the Pearl Harbor raid coupled with simultaneous attacks on American forces in the Philippines plus Dutch, French and British colonies in Asia.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had lived and studied in the United States, and he was sure he understood the American temperament better than his superiors, and he advised against such a move before he took it upon himself to develop the plan of attack. Yamamoto proved to be correct in his assessment. While the Americans were stunned by the enormous losses from the attack, their resolve quickly crystallized around a determination to pay the Japanese back ten times over and to crush their leadership and their military.

The Japanese had at this time developed an approach to war that had benefited themselves in internal and local conflicts, but which proved to be ill-advised in a protracted conflict with a substantial industrial and military opponent. My summary of their approach is this: They employed tactics to win with a single, fatal stroke. Again my own interpretation: There is no follow-up plan.

What followed the Pearl Harbor attack was the worst military defeat ever suffered by American forces. Our military response was, after some consideration, cold and calculating. We played the long game. American and Philippine forces on the islands were instructed to fight a delaying war and were then abandoned. Attempts made to hold off further advances by the Japanese in the region met with disaster after disaster. See again Turning The Point for a brief count of the events.

As told previously, the United States did allow itself a bit of uncalculated fury. A side effect was the Doolittle Raid was highly instrumental in setting the Japanese military up for their downfall, coming just 179 days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Following the events of 4 June 1942 the Japanese effort was effectively doomed. It would be more than three years and millions of Japanese deaths before this fact dawned on the Japanese leaders. It came about this way:

The Doolittle Raid humiliated and infuriated Japan’s leadership, and they shortly embarked on some endeavors inspired more by pride than by calculation. One of these operations was the attack on Midway Island in June.

A major problem with the Japanese plan was that 1) the Americans were expecting some kind of move like this, and 2) the Americans were reading the Japanese naval codes and learned of the attack schedule in advance. The American Navy prepared to meet the Japanese force.

Here is where pragmatism ruled over humanity. It was critical that the Japanese not know their communications had been compromised. If they learned we had broken their code, then the Japanese would take steps, and the the flow of vital intelligence would be shut off. There was still a lot of war ahead. While our military force on Midway was advised to be on the lookout for a Japanese force, complete details of the attack were withheld. If the Japanese succeeded in overrunning Midway they would possibly obtain copies of previous communications to the island.

American bombers from Midway probed the surrounding area and launched initial attacks on the Japanese fleet on 3 June, but with no effect. On the morning of 4 June Admiral Nagumo began his air attack on the island, still unaware of a large American naval fleet in the vicinity. The initial results were likely heartwarming for Nagumo. The Midway force sent up a flight that comprised F4F Wildcats and outmoded Brewster Buffalo fighters. Most of the defending fighters were downed by the attacking Japanese within a few minutes of the initial clash. Only two serviceable fighters survived.

Not by chance, movie producer John Ford was on Midway Island getting some combat footage. Here is part of his account of the attack:

By this time the attack had started in earnest. There was some dive bombing at objectives like water towers, [they] got the hangar right away. I was close to the hangar and I was lined up on it with my camera, figuring it would be one of the first things they got. It wasn’t any of the dive bombers [that got it]. A Zero flew about 50 feet over it and dropped a bomb and hit it, the whole thing went up. I was knocked unconscious. Just knocked me goofy for a bit, and I pulled myself out of it. I did manage to get the picture. You may have seen it in [the movie] “The Battle of Midway.” It’s where the plane flies over the hangar and everything goes up in smoke and debris, you can see one big chunk coming for the camera.

The battle was not one-sided. Unlike at Pearl Harbor the American gunners were ready. Ford reported that these young marines and sailors, who had never been in combat, were calm and directed. They waited until they had a good target, then opened up with good effect. Like the Japanese, they did not know of the American fleet about to pounce on the Japanese force.

Our fleet had taken a drubbing a month previous at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The carrier Lexington was lost, and the carrier Yorktown was so badly damaged it had to quickly head back to Pearl Harbor for repairs before turning around to join the fleet at Midway. It was the Yorktown’s last voyage.

Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance commanded a force that included the carriers Hornet and Enterprise, and Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s force included the Yorktown. On the same morning Japanese aircraft attacked the Midway base, the American navy went looking for the Japanese fleet. They found them.

American attackers included a mix of torpedo planes and dive bombers with fighters for escort duty. Unfortunately the fighters were not present when the American torpedo men found the Japanese fleet. Navy aircraft squadron designations start with the letter V. Various foreign words for flight (e.g., vol in French) start with v, and I am guessing that’s the background on this. The second letter in the squadron designation indicates the squadron’s mission, such as VF-704 for fighter squadron 704. VT designates a torpedo squadron.

VT-8 from Hornet found the Japanese first and attacked. All were lost with no damage inflicted on the enemy. Each torpedo plane carried a pilot and a gunner, and Ensign George Gay was the lone survivor. His story is telling.

None of VT-8 had seen combat before this day, but all drove relentlessly at the enemy ships before being shot down by defending fighters and ship’s gunfire. Ensign Gay later recounted his on experience. He was flying low and level, as was required for a torpedo attack, and had his sights on a Japanese carrier. He saw that a gunner on the carrier seemed to have his range, so this novice warrior aimed straight at the enemy gunner with his own guns blazing in an attempt to drive the gun crew to cover. Gay dropped his torpedo and skimmed over the top of the carrier. At some point in all this his gunner, sitting behind him, was killed, and a bullet lodged in his arm. He dug the bullet out with a finger and stored it in his mouth for safe keeping. He escaped his sinking plane and watched the remainder of the battle while floating among the carnage. A PBY aircraft rescued him after 30 hours in the water, and he was awarded the Navy Cross among other honors and rose to the rank of Lt. Commander. Originally from Waco, Texas, he later was a commercial airline pilot and a consultant for the movie Midway. He died in 1994.

The torpedo attack had no direct impact on the Japanese fleet, but they had the ultimate effect of deciding the Japanese defeat. Japanese fighters had dropped down to take on the torpedo planes, and they were not in position when the American dive bomber squadrons arrived a few minutes later. Worse for the Japanese, they had obtained variously conflicting reports of the presence of the American fleet and were in the midst of a badly-planned re-arming. There hanger decks were crammed with planes being armed and dismounted munitions stacked about.

Within five minutes it was all but over for Nagumo’s fleet. The dive bombers quickly scored direct and lethal hits on three of Nagumo’s carriers, putting them out of action and sinking. The fourth Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, was separated from the other three at the time and escaped detection. This proved fatal to the Yorktown, as Hiryu’s planes soon located the Yorktown and disabled it. Admiral Fletcher abandoned the Yorktown, and the following day a Japanese submarine sank it and an accompanying destroyer. In the mean time the Hiryu went the way of the other three Japanese carriers as American aircraft located it in the afternoon of the 4 June.

Historians do not consider the Battle of Midway to be the absolute death knell of the Japanese Empire, but I would characterize is this way. You are in a knife fight with an enemy, and you have just cut off his right hand. The fight is now yours to lose. The Hornet, which launched Doolittle’s raiders, was sunk later that same year, as was the carrier Wasp. However, the Japanese could not keep up with the United States in the production of ships and replacement aircrews.

In the time it took Japan to build three carriers, the U.S. Navy commissioned more than two dozen fleet and light fleet carriers, and numerous escort carriers

For what it is worth, the Americans also had the satisfaction of knowing that of the five Japanese aircraft carriers that took part in the Pearl Harbor attack, four now lay on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean less than six months later.

I was a mere infant at the time of this battle, and my only connection with it was that 19 years later I saw Admiral Spruance. I did not speak with the admiral, and I did not meet him. I only saw him from a distance. The Navy was commissioning the carrier Kittyhawk, and I was standing at the back of a huge audience assembled on the carrier’s hanger deck. Admiral Spruance was there to lend some history and some encouragement to the new ship. It had been my job earlier in the day to help set up all those folding chairs for the ceremony, so I felt essential to the entire effort. I have attached some memorabilia from that great event:

The Kittyhawk commissioning program book

My plank owner's certificate

Nearly 48 years later I was back on the Kittyhawk in Bremerton, Washington, for its decommissioning. At the time it was the oldest ship still in service in the U.S. Navy. You can imagine how old that made me feel.

The program book for the Kittyhawk decommissioning ceremony.

My last view of the Kittyhawk, Bremerton, Washington