The Worm Returns

Here we go again:

Dennis, let’s talk some more …
By Chris Cuomo, CNN
updated 7:27 AM EST, Fri January 31, 2014

(CNN) — It may be more important to tell you what is not motivating my trip to see Dennis Rodman.

I am not looking to spar about his “friend,” the much-maligned ruler of North Korea, or to debate the merits of basketball diplomacy in that country when I sit down to talk with him live Friday morning.

Dennis can speak to an issue that is a bigger threat to our country than Kim Jong Un: addiction.

Rodman may be in the fight of and for his life, and it is a battle all too familiar these days.

I want to talk to him about that, his recent bottom, what has kept him from sobriety. And hopefully he is willing to talk about the challenges and the benefits of rehab, as readily as he discusses the virtues of his despot “friend.”

I covered this a few weeks ago:

Rodman has now returned, for which some are not grateful. He has somewhat gathered his wits, and he has apologized for his bizarre interview with Cuomo. He has explained that he was drunk at the time.

Really? I couldn’t tell.

Kissing Kim's ass (photo from Wikipedia)

Rodman says he was drunk at the time. At the time he was kissing Kim Jong-un’s ass. If that’s the case, then we have to ask: What’s the excuse now. Today you say you’re sober. Is that your lipstick we see on Kim’s ass? Dennis, say it ain’t so.

Kissing Hank’s Ass

I am told… OK, I heard it once, that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. I sure hope that is true, because that’s what I am about to do. I didn’t contribute anything to this. This is entirely somebody else’s work. I am reposting here in it’s entirety. Please enjoy.

This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:

John: “Hi! I’m John, and this is Mary.”

Mary: “Hi! We’re here to invite you to come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

Me: “Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who’s Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?”

John: “If you kiss Hank’s ass, He’ll give you a million dollars; and if you don’t, He’ll kick the shit out of you.”

Me: “What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?”

John: “Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can’t until you kiss His ass.”

Me: “That doesn’t make any sense. Why…”

Mary: “Who are you to question Hank’s gift? Don’t you want a million dollars? Isn’t it worth a little kiss on the ass?”

Me: “Well maybe, if it’s legit, but…”

John: “Then come kiss Hank’s ass with us.”

Me: “Do you kiss Hank’s ass often?”

Mary: “Oh yes, all the time…”

Me: “And has He given you a million dollars?”

John: “Well no. You don’t actually get the money until you leave town.”

Me: “So why don’t you just leave town now?”

Mary: “You can’t leave until Hank tells you to, or you don’t get the money, and He kicks the shit out of you.”

Me: “Do you know anyone who kissed Hank’s ass, left town, and got the million dollars?”

John: “My mother kissed Hank’s ass for years. She left town last year, and I’m sure she got the money.”

Me: “Haven’t you talked to her since then?”

John: “Of course not, Hank doesn’t allow it.”

Me: “So what makes you think He’ll actually give you the money if you’ve never talked to anyone who got the money?”

Mary: “Well, He gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you’ll get a raise, maybe you’ll win a small lotto, maybe you’ll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street.”

Me: “What’s that got to do with Hank?”

John: “Hank has certain ‘connections.'”

Me: “I’m sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game.”

John: “But it’s a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don’t kiss Hank’s ass He’ll kick the shit out of you.”

Me: “Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him…”

Mary: “No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank.”

Me: “Then how do you kiss His ass?”

John: “Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl’s ass, and he passes it on.”

Me: “Who’s Karl?”

Mary: “A friend of ours. He’s the one who taught us all about kissing Hank’s ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times.”

Me: “And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?”

John: “Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here’s a copy; see for yourself.”

From the Desk of Karl
Kiss Hank’s ass and He’ll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
Use alcohol in moderation.
Kick the shit out of people who aren’t like you.
Eat right.
Hank dictated this list Himself.
The moon is made of green cheese.
Everything Hank says is right.
Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
Don’t use alcohol.
Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
Kiss Hank’s ass or He’ll kick the shit out of you.

Me: “This appears to be written on Karl’s letterhead.”

Mary: “Hank didn’t have any paper.”

Me: “I have a hunch that if we checked we’d find this is Karl’s handwriting.”

John: “Of course, Hank dictated it.”

Me: “I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?”

Mary: “Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people.”

Me: “I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the shit out of people just because they’re different?”

Mary: “It’s what Hank wants, and Hank’s always right.”

Me: “How do you figure that?”

Mary: “Item 7 says ‘Everything Hank says is right.’ That’s good enough for me!”

Me: “Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up.”

John: “No way! Item 5 says ‘Hank dictated this list himself.’ Besides, item 2 says ‘Use alcohol in moderation,’ Item 4 says ‘Eat right,’ and item 8 says ‘Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.’ Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too.”

Me: “But 9 says ‘Don’t use alcohol.’ which doesn’t quite go with item 2, and 6 says ‘The moon is made of green cheese,’ which is just plain wrong.”

John: “There’s no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you’ve never been to the moon, so you can’t say for sure.”

Me: “Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock…”

Mary: “But they don’t know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese.”

Me: “I’m not really an expert, but I think the theory that the Moon was somehow ‘captured’ by the Earth has been discounted*. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn’t make it cheese.”

John: “Ha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!”

Me: “We do?”

Mary: “Of course we do, Item 7 says so.”

Me: “You’re saying Hank’s always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That’s circular logic, no different than saying ‘Hank’s right because He says He’s right.'”

John: “Now you’re getting it! It’s so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank’s way of thinking.”

Me: “But…oh, never mind. What’s the deal with wieners?”

Mary: She blushes.

John: “Wieners, in buns, no condiments. It’s Hank’s way. Anything else is wrong.”

Me: “What if I don’t have a bun?”

John: “No bun, no wiener. A wiener without a bun is wrong.”

Me: “No relish? No Mustard?”

Mary: She looks positively stricken.

John: He’s shouting. “There’s no need for such language! Condiments of any kind are wrong!”

Me: “So a big pile of sauerkraut with some wieners chopped up in it would be out of the question?”

Mary: Sticks her fingers in her ears.”I am not listening to this. La la la, la la, la la la.”

John: “That’s disgusting. Only some sort of evil deviant would eat that…”

Me: “It’s good! I eat it all the time.”

Mary: She faints.

John: He catches Mary. “Well, if I’d known you were one of those I wouldn’t have wasted my time. When Hank kicks the shit out of you I’ll be there, counting my money and laughing. I’ll kiss Hank’s ass for you, you bunless cut-wienered kraut-eater.”

With this, John dragged Mary to their waiting car, and sped off.

Tough Love

Not a typical school lunch, but that's all I had on file.

Here’s an interesting story. But first:

I lived in Salt Lake City for the better part of one year, and in this time I never met anybody but nice, friendly people. This incident is definitely not indicative of the city’s culture:

At Utah school, there really was no such thing as a free lunch
By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 9:47 AM EST, Fri January 31, 2014

(CNN) — Dozens of children at a Utah elementary school had their lunch trays snatched away from them before they could take a bite this week.

Salt Lake City School District officials say the trays were taken away at Uintah Elementary School Tuesday because some students had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches. But they admit the situation should have been handled differently.

Instead of regular lunches, the students were given fruit and milk.

“We don’t ever let kids go without any food entirely,” Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen told CNN affiliate KSL.

Let me see if I’m getting this picture straight. School lunches are supposed to be paid forward. Parents put money in an account, and the account is drawn whenever a student gets a lunch at the cafeteria. Some person, who was feeling very much in charge, decided that some students were getting a free lunch because their accounts were overdrawn. This person decided to introduce students to the real world. No tickee-no washee. Even in the 21st century nobody rides for free.

So this in-charge person sent a message to the parents, through their children: “You are a deadbeat, and your spawn is a sponge. And now everybody knows, including all the other kids whose parents are not deadbeats.”

OK, that is tough love.

Moment of truth: Some students do get a free lunch. This country is supposedly set up so that when your parents are down and out, flat broke, you still get to go to school, and you still get a lunch. Some people may call me a left-wing liberal, but I think it’s a good investment in tomorrow to make sure everybody goes to school, and every school child gets lunch. Note, in this instance we are talking about 5th graders, not teenagers, who might be expected to know more about real-world economics.

I’m not sure just who reads these posts, but for any ultra-conservatives listening in, listen up. If you have heartburn with somebody else’s kid (not yours) getting a free lunch, you need to have a talk with that imaginary person in the sky that you bang me with daily on your Facebook posts.

The Genius of Syracuse

This was way back in my college days. I was an engineering student, and I knew I needed to be taking some more courses, so I looked through the catalog and found one that seemed interesting. Vector and tensor analysis. That was it. I would take vector and tensor analysis.

The teacher (I took two courses) was Homer V. Craig. He wrote the book. But he was a deadly dull instructor. I dozed through most of his lectures. My grades indicate this. However one day he was showing something. This is what it was:

Gauss’s Theorem (Divergence Theorem):
Let D be a bounded solid region in R3 whose boundary δD consists of  finitely many piecewise smooth, closed orientable surfaces, each of which is oriented by the unit outward
normal. If F is a C1 vector field whose domain contains S, then

For the first few seconds I didn’t realize what I was looking at. Then it hit me. “Holy shit! He just proved Archimedes’ Principle.”

Archimedes’ principle indicates that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. Archimedes’ principle is a law of physics fundamental to fluid mechanics. Archimedes of Syracuse[1] formulated this principle, which bears his name.

I had learned Archimedes’ Principle in high school, and it always seemed to me to be one of those “It should be obvious to any fool” things, and it was just true from basic physical principles. Here was a mathematical justification for Archimedes’ Principle.

Once I attempted to explain this to some people while sitting around over lunch, and the exercise was an total failure. I needed additional time to work up an explanation. I have more time these days, and here is the explanation.

See the image below. I have taken a general object, in this case a rock from Google images. The rock is supposedly submersed in a body of fluid. The arrow points to a volume cut out of the rock. On the right is the section removed from the rock:

Now look at the next image:

This is an analysis of the section removed from the rock. On the left is a side view of the section. The upper and lower surfaces are arbitrary, and I have drawn them as planes that approximate the surfaces at the top and bottom of the section. On the right is an equivalent prism. The prism has the same volume as the section removed from the rock, and it has the same forces acting on it.

p1 is the pressure of the fluid at the bottom of the section,, and p2 is the pressure of the fluid at the top. h is the vertical length of the section.

f1 is the force on the bottom of the section, and f2 is the force on the top of the section. It should not be difficult to see that f1 = p1 x a, where a is the cross-sectional area of the section. Likewise for f2.

Also it should be obvious that f1 – f2 is simply the weight of the fluid that would fit within the section. The weight is (p1 – p2) x h x a x ρ, where ρ is the density of the fluid.

But the rock is just the summation of all such sections, and the net force acting on the rock is just the volume of the rock times the density of the fluid. No matter what the shape of the rock.

Obviously this simplification works only for fluids of constant density. Gases do not have constant density. For example, the density of the atmosphere at 18,000 feet above sea level is 1/2 the density at sea level. However, for objects the size of a blimp or smaller, the calculation gives usable results. Gauss’s divergence theorem works for all cases.

It’s interesting to take limiting cases. Consider first a flat sheet of aluminum foil horizontal in the water. The foil is buoyed up by the water exactly as its surface area multiplied the the difference in water pressure on the bottom surface and the top surface. Place the foil vertically, and the result is the same. Crumple it up, and it doesn’t make any difference. The buoyancy is still the same.

Back when I was in the Navy another sailor and I got to talking about the carrier Lexington (CV-2). It had been abandoned after receiving fatal damage in battle and was sunk by American torpedoes. It sank slowly, and ever since sailors conjectured that maybe it sank until it reached an equilibrium point and then sank no further. I assure my buddy that, Archimedes’ Principle aside, when a ship sinks the air inside the compartments compresses and occupies a smaller volume. That volume is filled with more dense water, and the ship becomes less buoyant the deeper it goes. It’s positive feedback. The deeper it goes, the faster it sinks. It soon hits the bottom.

And Archimedes figured this out 2200 years ago. A Roman soldier killed Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse, illustrating one of the many benefits we derive from armed conflict.

Ace

I’m big on anniversaries, and this is another 70th. I should have posted this earlier in the month, but other things came up.

Greg Boyington was born in Idaho, and attended the University of Washington. Prior to World War 2 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and became a fighter pilot. His reckless ways destroyed his marriage and gained him a burden of gambling debt.

He resigned from the Marines before the United States entered the war and flew with the Flying Tigers, an organization of mercenaries headed by Claire Lee Chennault. Their job was to oppose the Japanese air forces in western China. There, Boyington honed his skills as an air ace, being credited with more than four enemy aircraft destroyed, but his reputation as a trouble maker also grew. He was often in conflict with his boss, Chennault.

Boyington left the Flying Tigers, and in September 1942 rejoined the Marine Corps as a major. The following year, in air operations around the Solomon Islands, he headed Marine fighter squadron VMF-214, famous as “The Black Sheep Squadron.” It was here he earned the title of fighter ace.

Flying F4U Corsairs, Boyington brought his record of victories to 26, including 14 in a 32-day period. His last victory was over Rabaul on 3 January 1944, just 70 years ago. Ever aggressive, he attacked a group of Japanese fighters later in the action, and he was shot down over the water. His wingman, Captain George Ashmun, was killed. A Japanese submarine picked up Boyington before American rescue forces could reach the site, and Boyington remained a prisoner of war until August 1945.

A book, that I no longer have, tells more about his captivity. Aboard a Japanese ship as a prisoner, he had a conversation with one of the officers. The Japanese officer attempted to justify Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. He cited the cruelty (my phrase) of America’s embargo of strategic materials that Japan needed to pursue it’s aggression against China. Historians agree that the American embargo was a critical factor in Japan’s decision to go to war with the Allied forces (United States, the British Empire and the Netherlands). It also exposes the emptiness of their thinking. We were wrong to oppose their killing of Chinese civilians.

As a prisoner on the Japanese mainland, Boyington worked at hard labor on a ration of 900 calories a day. A nutritionist will tell you this is a starvation diet. A grown person can subsist on such a diet by avoiding physical activity. At hard labor the body will eventually succumb. To stay alive Boyington once stole some bread, an act that would have earned him a death sentence if he had been caught.

In August 1945 two American bombers dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities, and the Japanese Empire capitulated. American aircraft roamed freely over Japanese territory, and prisoners at his camp put a big sign on the roof of one of the buildings: “BOYINGTON HERE.” It was the first indication in 20 months that Boyington was alive.

Back in the United States, President Truman awarded Boyington the Medal of Honor. He also received the Navy Cross. His book Baa Baa Black Sheep, was the inspiration for a TV series of the same name. Boyington died at the age of 75 from cancer.

Another fighter ace in the Solomon Islands campaign was Army Major Richard Bong, who went home as America’s highest scoring ace, with 40 victories. Unlike Boyington, Bong did not survive the war. He was testing a Lockheed P-80 when the plane lost power and crashed in North Hollywood, California, after taking off at what is now Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. The day was 6 August, 1945, the day a B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in the action that would set Boyington free.

Bye bye, Bachmann

It’s the nightmare of all editorial cartoonists.

Readers, I wish I could report that this is just a bad joke. In truth, it is not. Michele Bachmann will not run for re-election this year. The world weeps.

But wait. There’s still joy in Mudville. And there’s still Wolfe Blitzer. On Monday I had the joy of watching Blitzer interview Bachmann and Senator Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (I-VT). I could just reprint the transcript, but you can read that for yourself. Here’s the link.

Call me a left-wing radical liberal if you want, but I am the first to declare that during the interview Congresswoman Bachmann did make a number of statements reflecting a modicum of sanity. The fun is in the remainder. Here are some of the choice quotes that gave me such pleasure:

Well, we need to grow the middle class and what the middle class needs are jobs. That’s really the problem that the president has to explain. It’s tough to blame President Bush for the current economic woes. We have five years of Obama policies and what do we have? We have people who are really suffering because people made more money. If you look at the median income level, people actually made more money seven years ago than they’re making now.

I’m going to blow right past the part about “We have people who are really suffering because people made more money.” If any of my readers can make sense of that, will they please let me know.

Here’s the interesting part:  “If you look at the median income level, people actually made more money seven years ago than they’re making now.” Without running the numbers I’m going to spot Bachmann this one. Assume it’s true. Seven years ago was before the fall of the economy that started during the previous administration. The fall continued into President Obama’s administration, but has since been recovering. Median income is likely not up to what it was seven years ago, but Bachmann gives no inkling as to how this links to “Obama policies.” If Bachmann wanted to make sense she would note that the median income of this country’s automobile workers is much better than it would otherwise be because the current administration continued the government bailouts started during the Bush administration. But, if Bachmann made sense all the time there would be no fun watching her.

Well, let’s talk a little bit about tax rates. I’m a former federal litigation tax attorney. If there’s anything that’s been proven over time, Wolf, it’s this. When you lower the tax burden, that’s a cost of doing business, you create more jobs. That’s exactly what the piece that preceded our segment said. This woman, Ann, wants a job. And so, we have people all across United States who have an ability to start companies.

Again, Bachman makes an bald statement, like many she has made before, with no substantiation. Please allow me to quote myself:

Michele Bachmann spiked on the national scene back in 2010. On 3 November she told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper:

“The president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day,” Bachmann said. “He’s taking 2,000 people with him.

He will be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending. It’s a very small example, Anderson.

“And I think this is an example of the massive overspending that we have seen, not only just in the last two years, really in the last four. That’s what we saw at the ballot box last evening.”

As I noted then, these “facts,” pulled apparently from thin air, are typical Bachmann.

This was obviously an outlandish assertion, and it was outrageously false. It was not an original thought by Bachmann, but she picked it up, and in true presidential form she threw it out for public consumption without first verifying its reliability. This incident set the pattern for Bachman as she drifted toward and into a presidential candidacy last year.

The interview continued:

BACHMANN: No. Let me say something. It’s not only that. It’s also the fact that government is spending too much. The share that government has been spending — the question is, will people like Ann have money in her pocket to spend or will it be government’s big pocket that will be gulping our money? That’s a big problem.

SANDERS: The fact of the matter is that those countries around the world, which have virtually eliminated childhood poverty are those countries that have invested heavily in education.

BACHMANN: Now, where is that?

SANDERS: Excuse me.

BACHMANN: Which country has eliminated childhood poverty?

SANDERS: — Denmark virtually eliminated. We are at 22 percent. They are less than five percent. Those countries guarantee health care to all people as a right — and you know what, let me finish, please. And you know what, they spend about 50 percent per capita on health care than what we do. So, those countries that have strong — that’s not socialism.

(CROSSTALK)

BACHMANN: — like Norway, let me add. The reason why Norway has so much wealth is because they tap into the natural resource called energy. We could be energy independent in this country. Create millions of high-paying jobs if we only open up and legalize American energy production.

(CROSSTALK) BACHMANN: It totally matters. We’ve got huge natural resources. In fact, we’re the number one country in the world in energy resources and we say no to it.

SANDERS: Yes. But the fact of the matter is —

(CROSSTALK)

BACHMANN: People like Ann could have good, high paying jobs.

This is what I cherish about Bachmann. She has this uncanny ability to set her mouth in motion without engaging her brain. Note this:

Bachmann says we have poverty because the government is “gulping our money.” Sanders cites a counter example—Denmark, with five percent poverty while the U.S. is at 22 percent. The Denmark government spends 50 percent more to ensure health care than the United States does. Rather than address whether Sanders’ statement is factual, Bachmann switches the topic to Norway. Norway may or may not have a lower poverty rate, and it may or may not spend more on government funded health care, but Norway has oil. Suddenly the talk is not about poverty, it’s about exploiting America’s oil resources.

Viewers will also note Bachmann’s insatiable love for her own voice, as she continually interrupts Senator Sanders. I have pasted on a portion of the interview. You are invited to watch the video, which is here. If this ever disappears from the Internet, then you can get it from me. I made a disk.

As you can see, the world will be a dimmer and more silent place after Bachmann leaves office in about a year. We have to look forward to eleven more months of merriment, and then the light will go out forever. Could somebody, would something possibly persuade Bachmann to relent and run for office again this year? If not, then there is scant hope. Except that she might consider signing on as a commentator on CNN. Or even Fox News.

There still is a small problem with the continuing congressional investigation into Bachmann’s use of her campaign funds from the 2012 election.

In the complaint, Waldron alleges that the Bachmann campaign funneled money to C&M Strategies, a firm owned by Bachmann’s longtime direct-mail consultant, Guy Short, to pay Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson an illicit six-figure salary. According to the complaint, “The apparent reasons for the sleight of hand payments were possibly to avoid a violation of IA Senate Rule 6 that prohibits State Senators from working for Presidential Campaigns in Iowa and/or to avoid creditors, [including] the IRS, owed money by Senator Sorenson.” Waldron also accuses Short, who held the title of national political director in the Bachmann campaign, of violating Federal Election Commission rules by receiving money from the Minnesota congresswoman’s political action committee while serving as full-time staff on her campaign.

These are obviously outrageous and unfounded charges cooked up by left-leaning bureaucrats, and it is my fondest hope that Congresswoman Bachmann will be spared from the slammer and will continue to regale us with her imaginary facts and delightful fairy tales for years to come.

Fail Safe

It was twenty years ago today!

No, that’s not the right song. It’s going to be a bit hard for me to get this post on track. Here’s for starters:

Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

C’est moi. Never on the first ride of the roller coaster. Always a bit late to pick up the hottest trend. That’s the way it was with this story.

I was living at the Campus Guild in Austin and sometimes studying at the University of Texas. I saw the story serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, but I could never get into it, and I let it slide. Then the book came out, and they were going to make a movie, and the chatter picked up. So I bought the book and read it through in lieu of doing any classwork. It was Fail-Safe.

But Hollywood, always quick on its feet, saw another story. Almost a parody on Fail-Safe. It was Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. And it was fifty years ago today.

This is from Wikipedia:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 British-American black comedy film which satirizes the nuclear scare. It was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and features Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. The film is loosely based on Peter George’s Cold War thriller novel Red Alert (also known as Two Hours to Doom).

At the time the tension between Fale-Safe and Dr. Strangelove was in the news:

`Fail-safe’ Vs. `Dr. Strangelove’
Similarities In The Two Stories Brought A Showdown Between Stanley Kubrick And The Makers Of Fail-safe.
April 9, 2000|By Crosby Day of The Sentinel Staff

Sidney Lumet’s nightmarish 1964 film Fail-Safe was the straight-faced flip side to Stanley Kubrick’s irreverent black comedy Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Although Fail-Safe was a melodrama, to many it was similar to Dr. Strangelove in premise, conflict and resolution – the ultimate theme of both being a nuclear holocaust

And it was these similarities that forced a showdown between Kubrick and Fail-Safe’s filmmakers.

Dr. Strangelove was in the works in early 1963, when Kubrick learned that the new film company Entertainment Corporation of America had purchased the screen rights to Fail-Safe and planned to get the film to theaters before Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick was furious and threatened the company with a plagiarism lawsuit.

The film is notable for the triple roles played by comic actor Peter Sellers. He is first off Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, the guileless British liaison officer who initially discovers the hoax behind the pending nuclear war. Then he is President Merkin Muffley, the self-righteous president who mistakenly thinks he is in charge of his armed forces. Finally, in the closing scenes, he is the eponymous Dr. Strangelove, the “reformed” Nazi scientist, one of those scooped up at the end of World War 2 in Operation Paperclip to aid in combating the communist menace.

I’m not going to detail the plot. See the movie. And bathe in Sterling Hayden’s portrayal of the archetypical Bircher. Fluoridation is a communist conspiracy. His failing sexual prowess has induced him into a program to protect his purity of essence. Purity Of Essence turns out to be the code phrase discovered too late to avert the war.

Slim Pickens is the cowboy turned B-52 pilot who goes into war perusing the Playboy centerfold and ultimately wearing a western hat. He has some great lines:

Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

It was originally “weekend in Dallas,” but after the president was murdered in Dallas the voiced was dubbed to say “Vegas.”

My favorite line and one that I go back to (often) when I come across some outlandish story is this:

Well, I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones.

The classic scene is Pickens riding the hydrogen bomb to destruction, waving his cowboy hat in the air and whooping like a bull rider.

A lot has happened in fifty years. The Soviet Union is no more, but we have since suffered more damage from enemy agents armed only with box cutters.

Can you “see” me now?

Here is an item from the North Texas Skeptics Paranormal Challenge. It first appeared in the March 2008 issue of The North Texas Skeptic:

by Prasad Golla
The story of how we kept our money

Let me say this upfront. For a person who claims to be brain damaged, Shirley is very articulate. Her piercing blue eyes give indication of an intelligent person. A little bit of conversing with her paint a picture of a woman proud of herself, her family, and her life. There is nothing amiss about her. She seems smarter than an otherwise “normal” person.

That is, until we hear her claims. Maybe her claims set her apart. Remember thus far, she hasn’t done all that good for herself; her claim to be brain damaged doesn’t seem to hold water. (She mentioned that she has had MRIs taken in VA hospitals but they couldn’t locate anything abnormal.) As with her other “mundane” claims, such as her exposure to nuclear waste in Hawaii while on US Military duty as a journalist – which are somewhat of relevance to skeptics – her paranormal ones are likely to do more than raise eyebrows.

Prasad and Shirley Potter discussing the effects
of caffeine on human brains in a local coffee shop
(Greg Aicklen, another underwriter of the challenge, is
behind the camera.)

John Blanton noted previously in his article, Challenge Activity,1 the spate of paranormal challenges we have been receiving recently. In that article he mentioned Shirley Potter from Nachadoges, Texas. Shirley claims she has the ability to see “energies” around people and that she can tell their past (as opposed to their future) accurately.

Shirley Potter next to the kitchen door which has the
spots marked, A, B, C, and D on both sides.

Since then I’ve mentioned to Shirley that her claim that she sees auras or energies is a much better paranormal proposition than merely reading people’s past. (Our own past experience as paranormal challengers has revealed to us the quagmire we can drag ourselves into when we base our selves on opinions rather than hard facts. ‘Readings’ are baseless. )

Shirley was enthusiastic to give us a demonstration of her ability to see energies around people from day one. After weeks and months of discussion on-line which centered on the Sun’s coronas and thickness of barriers, Shirley finally came to Dallas on January 27th to talk to us face to face and demonstrate her abilities. Our meeting would have been sooner had it not been for those “wrenches,” such as her claim that she can see energies around both animate and inanimate objects. Aren’t the “energy signatures” different between living beings and non-living things? That made us doubt that she has some physiological problems with her eyes.

Prior to coming over, Shirley tested herself to see if she could tell where another person’s hand is positioned when placed behind a barrier (such as a door), when she can’t actually see any part of the person. (According to Shirley, the person cannot be behind the door – only the hand – or the energies overlap. She says this ensures that the person’s energy doesn’t mesh with the hand’s energy.) To make it a probability game, I told her to designate only a few spots the subject can place her/his hand on. Shirley message came back with an affirmative that she indeed can.

The trials

So this is what we did. We designated 4 spots on the door on either side: A, B, C, and D (see photo). We did 2 sets of tests, with 5 trials each. Here are the results:

Set 1

Trial Actual Shirley’s Observation
1 B C
2 C A
3 D D
4 A A
5 A B

Set 2

Trial Actual Shirley’s Observation
1 C B
2 B A
3 D D
4 A B
5 C C

As you can see, Shirley got only 2 out of 5 correct both times. One would expect a 100% success rate, given that she had already assured us that she could see the “energy of the hand” through the barrier just before we began the trials.

Greg Aicklen, one of the other underwriters, joined us. Together over some coffee and drinks, we took Shirley on a journey down our memory lane. We described how some of our past paranormal claimants came, and went home empty handed. It was a bit awkward for us to explain it to her. But despite that, we managed to keep the conversation pleasant enough, mainly because Shirley was such a good sport.. (And then, however, Shirley mentioned a spate of her other claims, such as her ability to “see” malign organs and how she can cure them by touching the diseased energies.)

Let me bid you farewell with this – Shirley showed her Military training when she arrived early before the appointed time for the tests. I was only 10 minutes early. She was playing Sudoku on her PDA when I arrived. I bet you wouldn’t suspect many “brain damaged” people playing Sudoku, would you?

Prasad Golla is a member of the North Texas Skeptics Board of Directors.
References

1 http://ntskeptics.org/2007/2007december/december2007.htm#challenge

Asset Depletion

I’m going to post this now, because I have another post that will need to link back to it several times. This is a bit of economics, a subject I have never studied, but when did that ever stop me from writing about something?

Industrial site on the outskirst of Salt Lake City

Students probably get this stuff the first year studying economics, but the subject is not taught so much in the public school system, and some of the concepts are hazy to most of us. This is apparent from conversations I have observed and also from many postings on Facebook and elsewhere. Here it is:

In the United States, suppose you are a wage earner, and let’s say you make $100,000 a year. Good for you. You have to pay the federal government taxes on all of that on a percentage basis. Not quite. They government will allow you to whack off a piece of that before you apply the percentage factor. How much you get to whack off depends. Depends on whether you have dependents. And medical expenses. And non-refunded employee expenses. Then you apply the percentage, and pay that amount.

Now suppose you are not a human being, but you are instead a company doing business. You, the company, take in $500,000 in a year. You do not have to apply the percentage to the full amount. You only apply the percentage to the business profit. How do you compute business profit? Glad you asked:

  • $500,000 gross revenues
  • – salaries and other employee expenses
  • – the electric bill for the entire year
  • –  cost of goods used in the business
  • – all other costs of doing business

If all the minuses are equal to the gross revenues, you pay nothing. If you were a human being your breakdown would be something like this:

  • $100,000 gross income
  • – food
  • – clothing
  • – rent
  • – cash dropped at the strip club

If your minuses equal your gross income (less the allowed deductions) you still owe the government money. There’s a benefit in operating like a business. In its wisdom the government does allow individuals to operate as businesses.

In its magnificent spirit of fairness, the government gives companies some slack. Some years their balance sheet will show red. They get to apply business losses in bad years against profits in other years.

So, you want to go into business. You need a store. You build a store. It costs money. You tell the government you didn’t make a profit, because you spent all your revenues building the store.

The government responds with a nice letter reminding you that you spent all that money (a minus) to build a store, but you now have the store (a plus) that offsets your minus for building it. You cannot deduct the cost of the building in the first year of business.

What the government will do is allow you to amortize the cost of the store over a period of years. You know about this if you are a home owner who has a house to rent out. You can amortize the cost of the house over 30 years and deduct 1/30 the cost of the house each year you have it rented. There’s more to this story, but this is all that’s important.

Let’s take the curious case of the depletion allowance used by oil companies:

Percentage depletion To figure percentage depletion, you multiply a certain percentage, specified for each mineral, by your gross income from the property during the tax year. The rates to be used and other conditions and qualifications for oil and gas wells are discussed later under Independent Producers and Royalty Owners and under Natural Gas Wells. Rates and other rules for percentage depletion of other specific minerals are found later in Mines and Geothermal Deposits.

Cost depletion Cost depletion is an accounting method by which costs of natural resources are allocated to depletion over the period that make up the life of the asset. Cost depletion is computed by (1) estimating the total quantity of mineral or other resources acquired and (2) assigning a proportionate amount of the total resource cost to the quantity extracted in the period. For example, Big Texas Oil, Co. discovers a large reserve of oil. The company has estimated the oil well will produce 200,000 barrels of oil. The company invests $100,000 to extract the oil, and they extract 10,000 barrels the first year. Therefore, the depletion deduction is $5,000 ($100,000 X 10,000/200,000).

Cost depletions sounds reasonable enough. A company invests $100,000 to set up a business (oil extraction from a field). It gets to amortize the costs over several years, as it recoups the cost by extracting and selling oil. Of course, the company also gets to deduct all other costs, such as operation of the wells, royalties paid to owners of the mineral rights, local taxes paid and also the cost of exploring barren fields, which have ended up producing no oil.

Pumping oil along side Interstate 20 in West Texas

Percentage depletion is another matter. Here is additional clarification:

The percentage, or statutory, method does not employ recovery of cost in the computation of the deduction. A percentage of annual income, rather than cost, is deductible each year, even if the owner has recovered all cost or discovery value of the depletable asset. The federal tax laws vary from year to year in regard to the percentage depletion allowable for oil and some other deposits, and the categories of producers entitled to such allowances.
[emphasis added]

This is the curious part. Even after an oil company has recouped all it’s development cost, it can continue to take a tax deduction for every barrel of oil it extracts. That is so neat. How wonderful it would be if I had cancer, and I had to pay $100,000 out of pocket expenses for the cure, and I got to deduct all the $100,000 from my earnings when filing my income tax return. Then if I were still not feeling so good, I would be able to deduct money year after year, because the cure was not complete. That does not make much sense, and neither does the oil depletion deduction described above.

This is from a story a few years back on CNN:

The percentage depletion allowance: This lets oil companies deduct about 15% of the money generated from a well from its taxes. Eliminating it would save about $1 billion a year.

The deduction essentially lets oil companies treat oil in the ground as capital equipment. For any industry, the value of that equipment can be written down each year.

But critics say oil in the ground is not capital equipment, but a national resource that the oil companies are simply using for their own profit.

The foreign tax credit: This provision gives companies a credit for any taxes they pay to other countries. Altering this tax credit would save about $850 million a year.

Foreign governments can collect money from oil companies through royalties — fees for depleting their national resources — and income taxes.

A royalty would be deducted as a cost of doing business, and would likely shave about 30% off a company’s tax bill. Categorized as income tax, it is 100% deductible.

Foreign governments long ago grew wise to the U.S. tax code. To reduce costs for everyone involved and attract business, they agreed to call some royalties income taxes, allowing oil companies to take the 100% deduction on a bigger slice of their bill.

Intangible drilling costs: This lets the industry write off about $780 million a year for things like wages, fuel, repairs and hauling costs.

All industries get to write off the costs of doing business, but they must take it over the life of an investment. The oil industry gets to take the drilling credit in the first year.

And that’s the story. Make sure you understand all of this, because I’m going to link back to it when I post a recent interview with my favorite congresswoman, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Making Everybody Unhappy

This is the fourth of a continuing series. I previously set out (was not difficult) to piss off the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians. Hindus, you’re up next. Enjoy.

Since I know nothing about Hinduism, I asked somebody raised in a Hindu family to write this for me. Prasad Golla is originally from India, but he came to Texas about 20 years ago and wound up getting a Ph.D. in computer engineering, at a Christian college. Here’s his take on Hinduism:

Religious nonsense stems out of ignorance and superstition. The claims made are fantastic, which are by their nature, against nature. Although it may be difficult, and at times impossible, to put down each and every claim we rely on science to provide us some of the answers. Even as we do that we should not forget that the proof of the validity of a claim lies with the claimant and that we cannot prove a negative. A lot of believers assume the validity of a claim without any critical evaluation.

Let me explain here a couple of claims from one of the major religions today, Hinduism. I was born into a Hindu family so what I say has added relevance to me.

I grew up in this region which is semi-arid. All over the place you could see these huge granite boulders and rocks strewn haphazardly. Some of those boulders stood the size of a five story building. One solid piece, like giant behemoths. Some of those would be sitting precariously on a mound of solid granite or on another boulder which sat on other boulders below. I used to imagine them moved there by legendary gods as I was told. But I was also concerned with the small stones which used to stick out of the solid earth and, well, stick through the sandals on my feet. Nature didn’t seem planned.

No one told me these rocks, stones and soil were millions of years old that formed naturally from slow geological processes. But I had an inkling.

The gods were remote. As remote as they can possible be in India. They sat on tops of the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas. Figuratively, Himalayas form the crown of India. Because of the elevation they are cold and inaccessible. Most of the peaks in the Himalayas cannot be climbed without the aid of supplemental oxygen. So, for eternity we couldn’t meet our gods readily.

For example, Shiva resides on mount Kailash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kailash), one of the tallest peaks in the world, in eternal meditation.

Eternal is a long time indeed. It means ‘forever.’ Over the last couple of centuries we learned a lot about earth’s geology. Especially, in the last half century. For example, we learned about the tectonic plates. “The land under us moveth.” The Indian plate which is like a thin crust pizza, half the thickness of the typical tectonic plate, floated about in what we currently call the Indian ocean for about 100 million years, slowly moving north east.

Just about 10 million years ago the Indian plate made landfall with the Eurasian plate, and continues to push at it even today. The 2004 tsunami in south east Asia and earthquakes that kill thousands of people every few years in the foothills of the Himalayas are evidence of this ongoing collision.

10 million years seems like a large number but not when we consider that the earth is about 4,700 millions years old and the universe 14,000 million years old. That’s why tops of the tallest peaks of the world are limestone crusted and have sea shells on their surface. It’s because they were under the sea just 10 million years ago. The collision produced the mountain ranges we call the Himalayas.

Dinosaurs roamed the earth until 64 million years ago. There is something wrong when the gods have ‘always’ lived on the Himalayas when they are less than 10 million years old.

Of course, humans are less than 10 million years old. In fact, those we would recognize as someone living down the street are less than a million years old. The Indian subcontinent has been occupied by these new, intelligent animals less than 70,000 years. These animals weren’t native as the Indian creation legends proclaim but migrated into it originating from Africa. There is evidence that between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago some of these animals migrated though India probably on ice bridges to Australia and are called the aborigines today.

So, any religion that talks about eternal existence or native origin is outright wrong. And talking of religion, the major religion of India, Hinduism, isn’t even a religion. That might come as a surprise to some. When someone talks of a religion, they mean a book, a prophet and a dogma. In addition, a strict start date; a year or a century in which the religion was formed.

Hinduism has none of those. As prophets, gurus and reformers came and went, what they started as sects or schools were assimilated back into the overarching culture. No particular book or a belief or a faith in a deity or a religious teacher (prophet) has ever been a commonality for all Hindus. That’s because it is not a single religion. It’s what the Westerners called the thousands and millions of philosophies, sects and beliefs; combining them into one convenient name that they can wrap their heads around. Where it is difficult to define and characterize, it is difficult to deconstruct.

So, even atheism – the belief that there aren’t any deities –, which was a huge movement since the 6th century B.C. in India, is also part of Hinduism. That movement has heavily influenced Buddhism and Jainism, among others. For 70,000 years the denizens evolved culture and beliefs which influenced others in the known world. Over the last few millennia there has been a steady exchange of these ideas – some that were likely exported are the acceptance of women into the sects in the form of nuns, non-violence as a way of life, the transmigration of the soul (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmigration_of_the_soul), sin & karma, and the development of a proto-monotheistic belief.

However, the commonality that I’ve noticed has to do with a bunch of superstitions, the beliefs in which are overwhelmingly defined as the religion itself. For example, belief in supernatural entities that have direct influence on humans (like ghosts, gods and spirits), astrology, numerology, feng shui (vaastu), local Voodoo. As of this writing, there isn’t any scientific evidence for all these. In fact, lot of what we know discounts beliefs of this nature.

From Google images

In the context of these beliefs, I am reminded of this popular verse from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

asatoma sat gamaya
tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
mrityoma amritam gamaya

This is the translation:

[O’ Lord!]
Lead us from the unreal to the real.
Lead us from the darkness to the light.
Lead us from death to immortality.

Well, said. Do we still need this prayer if it is real?

Hindu mythology, which has quite a few parallels with the Greek one, since they most likely influenced each other at some level, also elicits a huge following to this day. The supernatural and superhuman nature of these tales is beyond the realm of normal, ordinary experience of us mere mortals and falls squarely in the lap of belief.

Vedic from Google images

As once a small subculture of Vedic Hinduism, at least 3 millennia old, has taken over and assimilated the other subcultures in India it managed to become the de facto face of Hinduism itself. Village deities were supplanted, redefined and, quite literally, re-casted in the likeness of the Vedic gods. The social structure that attached itself to the Vedic Hinduism sect at a much later stage (2 millennia ago) formed the basis for the rest of the society. This culminated in the tragic consequence of leaving the vast majority marginalized in their own land. The harsh characterization and class segmentation of people according to their birth is probably one of the most systematic, dehumanizing oppression in human history that continues to this day.

However, the silver line isn’t difficult to find. A population which has that long of continual existence in relative abundance would have likely left a sustaining mark on the rest of the human civilizations. And it had. The contributions to astronomy, mathematics, science and arts have had tremendous benefits for all of us. So significant has been the influence that we assume they are always been ours, whoever you are. The next time you use the decimal numerals, for example, you know who you should thank.