Thursday, August 25, 2016

Corn is as high as an elephant's eye....

Drove down to Nashua (NH) Monday afternoon.  A good deal of backroad driving mixed with a bit of I91.  On the back roads, stands of fresh green corn, 6 or 7 feet tall, looking very good indeed.  Caught my eye they did.  These corn patches looked as good as ones I saw in Nebraska many years ago. 
  So this morning National Progressive Radio was wailing about the drought up here, claiming that all crops in NH and MA had been ruined, how farmers were switching to "sustainable" crops, and in general lamenting the ruination of New England farming.  They didn't come right out and blame it on global warming, but they wanted to. 
   How come the corn crops looked so good when all else is going to rack and ruin?  NPR never bothered to furnish us listeners with numbers, like average rainfall (inches) and this summer's rainfall (inches).  Numbers repel newsies. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I might say to kids going off to school

My three children all made in thru college in one piece, so I don't have to make these points to them anymore.  But I thought I might share some of them with my blogoverse.

1.  Don't get falling down drunk at parties.  You go to parties to meet people, to chat, maybe dance, to show yourself off, to have a good time.  None of this works if you pass out on the floor, drunk.  Plus it makes a negative impression upon everyone there.  Plus girls are likely to get raped after they get drunk.  If you just have to drink til you are wasted, do it on dorm, with some trusty friends around.

2.  Know that everything you post on line, email, facebook, twitter, blogs, what ever, never goes away.  And everybody can read it, friends, enemies, future employers,  the FBI should you go for a security clearance, robo callers, everybody.  So don't post things that might be embarrassing after you graduate.  No racy pictures, no ethnic jokes,  stories of sexual encounters, nothing that you wouldn't feel good about showing to your parents, and posting on the down town bulletin board.

3.  Do your homework, do it the afternoon or evening it is assigned.  Start with the first day of class.  Classwork is mostly a discussion of how to solve the homework problems.  If you haven't at least tried the homework, the entire class discussion won't mean diddly to you.

4.  Think hard about how you will make your living after graduation.  Pick a major that makes you more employable in your chosen field.  There is little to zero demand for art history majors, sociology majors, gender studies majors, anthropology majors, or ethnic studies majors.  And a bunch of other majors.  Talk your major over with someone you trust.  DO NOT trust a college advisor, they know little, and try to steer you into their favorite major.  

5. Go out for a sport, everyone needs the exercise.

6.  Guys need to be super careful in relationships with girls.  The girl can turn on you, accuse you of rape, haul you in front of a campus kangaroo court, and get you expelled, with a rape charge on your record.  The careful guy gets to know the chick before having sex with her.

Good luck.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

MacBeth the 2015 version with Michael Fassbender

It turned up on Netflix and I rented it this weekend.  They obvious spent a lot of money on it, but the curse of the sound man ruined it for me.  I simply could not understand the dialog.  The actors mumbled or whispered, the mikes were poorly placed and the soundman mixed the score and the sound effects over the dialog.  It was so bad I gave up and turned the DVD player off before it finished.  
   Hollywood is hurting if they cannot even do Shakespeare. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nightmare on Main St.

Title of an Economist editorial.  The Economist thinks America has too much home owner ship, and that the $26 trillion dollars of US mortgages outstanding are at risk of default.  $26 trillion in losses will shake the soundest bank.  They admit that real estate prices have perked up.  Used to be 25% of mortgages were underwater and now that is down to 10%. 
    The real problem in the US mortgage market is all the special favors the real estate industry (realtors, home builders, municipal boosters, appliance makers) are getting from long suffering taxpayers.  It's pressure from this widespread special interest that caused Uncle to create Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to run the secondary mortgage market.  And FHA to guarantee home mortgages.  And the mortgage interest deduction on federal income tax.  And federal flood insurance.  And a bunch of other expensive things. 
   A good mortgage is a very sound investment.  Good means a borrower who earns enough income to carry the mortgage payments and a property with a market value greater than the amount of the mortgage.  Preferably a borrower who is married, which gives him that much more incentive to avoid foreclosure.  It's hard to explain to the spouse why the family is out in the street.
   A bad mortgage is a default waiting the happen.  The borrower doesn't earn enough to make the payments, he isn't married, he is a house flipper.  The value of the property is way less than the mortgage. It's a sucker's mortgage with an escalator clause that jacks up the payments after a few months.
   Only the officer who originates the loan can tell good from bad.  He needs to interview the borrower, he needs to contact the borrower's employer to verify income, he needs to inspect the property to ascertain it's market value.  He has to know the real estate market in his area to form a valid estimate of value.  He has to be local to do all this.  The officer will be deligent in his duties, if and only if, he has some skin in the game, like his bank is going to hold this mortgage to maturity.  If the bank plans to dump the mortgage on the secondary mortgage market (Fannie Mae), then the officer doesn't care.  In fact, he wants to process as many mortgages as he can to rake in the fees he gets from doing a mortgage.  Dump it on Fannie before it defaults and all is well. 
  A broker on Wall St, or a banker in Germany have no idea how credit worthy any borrower is or what the value of a single family home in Kansas might be.   So the secondary mortgage buyers don't really know what they are buying.  Which caused Great Depression 2.0 in 2007.  The sucker investors wised up to the crud they were being asked to finance and refused to buy any more of it.
   The real answer to the problem is to shut down the secondary mortgage market.  We could do this with a simple law that declares a mortgage non transferable.  The borrower is only obligated to make payments to the guy who originated his mortgage.  He can stop payments, and keep his house, if the mortgage is sold to anyone.        

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Small Town Democracy at work

It all started with metal roofs and solar collectors.  They have been getting more and more popular up here in Franconia.  The fire department calls them dangerous.  Both are so slippery, especially when wet, that firemen cannot walk on them with out slipping and falling to the ground.  So the fire department has wanted to buy a ladder truck to furnish a solid footing when firemen need to go up on slippery roofs to fight the fire.
   And so, a deal turned up.  A nice big used ladder truck, in good shape, even painted yellow, Franconia's departmental color, for only $70K.  New ones go for ten times that.  The fire department wants to buy it.
   Buying takes money.  Franconia has some trust funds, in which the town salts money away over the years to replace various pieces of equipment, police cars, firetrucks and the like when they finally wear out.  We have  fund to buy a tanker truck for the fire department with $140K in it and a newly established fund to buy a ladder truck with only $37K in it.   The fire department wanted to take some money out of the tanker truck fund to buy this marvelous ladder truck.  Their thinking was a fire truck is a fire truck and it's OK to spend fire truck money on fire trucks.  I tend to agree, but that's not the way it works.
   We summoned a special town meeting for August to vote on the matter.  It was a lovely evening, warm and clear of sky.  Turnout was light, maybe 60 people out of a town with 900 registered voters.  All the old Franconia people turned up. All the fire department turned up.  Everybody knew everybody.  Lots of questions were asked, most of them about process and procedure, rather than do we really need another  fire truck.  And a vote was taken, written ballots just to be sure, and the ladder truck buy passed 43 to 14.  And a good time way had by all. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bill O'Reilly on Gitmo

Last night, on his TV show, O'Reilly said he was in favor of closing Gitmo because, he said, the prisoners at Gitmo had not received trials. 
   Sorry about that Bill.  Those prisoners are in Gitmo because they were bearing arms against US forces.  They were captured on a foreign battlefield.  We are holding them in Gitmo to prevent them from continuing to fight against us.  They are prisoners of war, not convicted criminals.  No American court, court-martial, or special commission is going to convict them of crimes when all they did was fight against us.  Back right after 9/11 we took prisoners alive.  They are clearly enemy, clearly hostile, and  unless we snuff 'em, we gotta put 'em somewhere.  They are not criminals, they are enemy soldiers  (enemy combatants the politically correct jargon used today).
   The only reason we don't call them prisoners of war, is that the Geneva Conventions give prisoners of war a fair number of protections that we don't want to grant these guys.  Geneva Conventions prohibit grilling POW's for intelligence.  We grilled everyone sent to Gitmo until they were medium rare. 
   Obama (and O'Reilly) want to close Gitmo for who knows what reason[s].  The result is we don't take prisoners much anymore.  We kill them with Predator drone strikes, or we shoot 'em right in the lips, like we did to Osama Bin Laden. 
   Which was a mistake.  Bin Laden knew a lotta things that we need to know, and a nice long interrogation session at Gitmo would have given us a lot of good intel. Plus we could have run off a nice show trial.  Bin Laden in an orange jumpsuit and shiny handcuffs, a long parade of tearful victims testifying against him, would go a long way to convincing the world that Bin Laden really was a nogoodnick rather than a martyr.  .

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New missiles for USAF

The Air Force has released two Requests for Proposals (RFP) at the end of last month.  One is for a new ICBM to replace the aging Minuteman III missiles and the other for a new Long Range Stand Off  Cruise Missile.  Timing is a little odd, for two massively expensive programs just before election day.  Clearly the incoming administration will have it's own ideas. 
   They used to assign snappy names to missile programs.  Atlas, Titan, Thor, Skybolt, and the like.  Now they just go with acronyms.  The ICBM is dubbed "Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Ballistic Missile" or GBSD for short.  The cruise missile is called "Long-Range Standoff Missile"  (LRSO). 
   GBSD is long term and slow going.  USAF budgets $3 billion  over the next five years for studies.  First production missiles are not expected until 2028.  That's a long long time away, many profitable years of contractor paperwork.  Production of 642 missiles will cost $62 billion spread over thirty years.  That's $1 billion per missile in round numbers.  Pricey, very pricey.  It wouldn't cost so much if it didn't take so long.  I remember the original Minuteman program put 1054 missiles into silos inside of five years from start of contract.  And built the necessary 1054 silos at the same time. 
   The LRSO is really a penetration aid missile.  Bombers (B52, B1,B2, B21) carry them to soften up air defenses.  The missiles can reach out 1000 miles ahead of the bomber and vaporize enemy radar sites, fighter bases and SAM sites.  With enough missiles, and good intel about where to shoot them, the bombers are pretty much unstoppable, at least in an all out war where nukes are used.  The program schedule is just as slow as GBSD.  They budget $2.2 billion and 4 1/2 years  for studies.  Then another $10 billion to actually build the missiles.