Monday, January 31, 2011

Number of Hits

Thank you, blogger audience!  In the month of January Fletche's Castoria received 1668 hits.  I think this is called "going parabolic."  That is over three times the number of hits that this blog received in December (see chart above ... click to enlarge.)  The average was over 55 hits per day and there was even a five day period where this blog received over 100 hits each day.  And these hits were from around the world: the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, France, Poland, China, Latvia, Slovenia, India and many, many others  And Google just started publishing these stats in July of this year.  Before that, who knows? Although Fletcher's Castoria is not nearly yet as popular as Powerline or Daily Kos or The Huffington Post or Michelle Maklin, it's a good start.  Thanks again!

George W. Potts
Massachusetts, USA

(Please feel free to comment on any post that affects you one way or another ... and become a Follower if you come back again and again.)

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The Nobel "Peace" Prize winning Mohammed ElBaradei has just joined with the radical (and outlawed) Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to form a new government to run Egypt (see: Muslim Brotherhood). If you recall, this Egyptian, ElBaradei, was in charge of the UN’s nuclear watchpuppy agency, IAEI, when it repeatedly threw cold water on allegations that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. Now ElBaradei has chosen this opportune time of civil unrest to shed his moderate disguise and attempt to take over Egypt. God help us if he allows the thugs in the Muslim Brotherhood to run things there. And, the more interesting point is: Why has our government’s response to the Middle East crisis been so tepid? Perhaps we don’t find this as upsetting as we should?  (Kind of like Jimmy Carter frittering away Iran and the Panama Canal ... and we can't resist placing our loser stamp on the current crisis, see: More Meddling).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blowin’ in the Wind

Do you sometimes feel that the U.S. foreign policy is at loose ends? Do you get the impression that world events are happening without any prescience on the part of the pundits in Foggy Bottom or the White House? Has the U.S. accomplished anything on the international stage recently? It’s like watching a play where the actors are wandering around not knowing their lines or reading off of different scripts. Our "reset" foreign policy appears to have been stage-managed by Samuel Beckett. Viz:

- The high-priority Israeli peace talks have spun down to nothingness.
- North Korea is flexing its belligerence with silly and dangerous abandon.
- China has just completed its victory lap with White House catering.
- WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of State Dept. cables ... embarrassing many world leaders.
- Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan are on the brink of civil war.
- Iran has successfully stifled the democracy-inspired riots of last year.
- Syria has annexed Lebanon … and, as a reward, the U.S. just reestablished diplomatic relations with them.
- Iraq seems to have deteriorated back into a Hatfield/McCoy shootout between the Sunnis and the Shiites.
- The European Union is holding its currency, the Euro, together with chewing gum.
- The President has made many gaffs and breaches of protocol in direct dealings with U.S. allies.
- Afghanistan, the “necessary war,” is grinding on with little real hope of success.
- Venezuela is rapidly becoming the North Korea of Latin America.
- Mexico (at least the northern part) seems to be run by the drug lords and the coyotes.

But, to me, the much more hair-raising thought is: what if all this is not just bumbling incompetence on our part … but rather crafty competence? Nah! … ?

Saturday, January 29, 2011


In his recent State of the Union Address, Obama mocked the fact that "the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater."  I can see it coming ... can't you?

  A Salmon Czar!!

Juxtaposition XIII

They surely must be pulling our collective leg ...  (And even though both Presidents were/are 6' 1", TIME, in its Photoshop-wisdom, has to make Obama the taller of the two.)

Sputnik Moment

Barack Obama, in his recent State of the Union Address trotted out the analogy of the USSR’s placing the Sputnik satellite in orbit in 1957 … and the U.S.’s response where JFK eventually called for placing a man on the moon before 1970. In another annoying bit of wrapping himself in the mantel of other presidential successes, Obama called our current national malaise our “Sputnik moment.” He asked that we, once again, come together as a nation and “invest” in "a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the space race" particularly in information technology, biomedicine, and clean-energy technology.

Now, by the word “invest” Obama is clearly talking about more massive government spending … something for which the American public (and China) has shown that it has little stomach. But more chalk-on-the-blackboard upsetting is that Obama had previously cancelled NASA’s Constellation program on which we had already spent nine billion dollars (see Constellation cancelled). This program, initiated by President Bush, was meant to be the follow-on to our space shuttle and place astronauts back on the moon and then on Mars. What is the difference, you ask? Well, placing a man on Mars is a program so huge that only governments can tackle it. Performing research in information technology, biomedicine, and clean-energy technology are all endeavors well within the capabilities of the U.S. private sector.

I suppose a man who believes that it is the government’s role to do almost everything can not make this logical distinction. Just like Jimmy Carter who spent multi-billions of taxpayer dollars on alternative fuels (more money down a rat hole), Obama believes that Washington bureaucrats will be able to take time-out from stacking and stapling papers to solve these “Sputnik moment” issues. Either that or he envisions a government take-over these private-sector industries too … just like he has done with the auto industry, the student loan industry, the home mortgage industry, and his planned take-over of the medical insurance industry.

Can we rather call this bit of rhetorical grandstanding, President Obama’s “sputtering moment?”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Last night Obama gave his State of the Union Address (see: State of the Union Address).  Although I have only heard a few excerpts, I did notice the following quote this morning, "We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy." 

Unfortunately, he then didn't then call for the consolidation of these federal agencies into just three or four.  How about it House member, Paul Ryan ... can you propose this in your new government cost-cutting measures?  I don't think, given what he just said, President Obama can seriously object.

Where’s Waldo?

Ralph Waldo Emerson has been generously lauded for his philosophical writings and teachings. One of his most famous treatises is his essay on self-reliance (see: Self-Reliance). In a nutshell, Emerson’s transcendental message there had been previously stated by Shakespeare in Hamlet, “To thy own self be true.” Emerson expounds it (a little more clumsily) thusly, “To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius” … and “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide”. But Robert Pirsig stated it most succinctly in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with his praising of “gumption” as the noble virtue.

In a real sense Emerson wove himself into the DNA of the United States with his writings and his many lectures. During the coming of age of America Emerson stood tall and called for nonconformity with a megaphone. And his message has been reprised over and over again in this country … by the nihilists of the early 1900’s, by the bohemians of the 1920’s, by the beatniks of the 1950’s, by the Woodstock love-children of the 1960’s, and the current anarchists that disrupt the financial summits. The major issue I have with Emerson’s message (and with that of many who followed him) is that, all too often, the tearing–down of societal constructs is done without a thought-through notion of what is to replace them. So the destruction caused by such militant nonconformity often takes another generation to rebuild. Sometimes things are better … sometimes, not.

However, my own life has often been “marching to the beat of [that] different drummer.” So when Emerson says: “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist”, I must so comply and, as a result, question the universal wisdom of his teachings. That, after all is the irony of the man. How can he preach nonconformity and expect people to conform to what he says? Besides, take a look at Emerson’s above picture, does he look very much like a bohemian wingnut?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Finger on the Scale

I have earlier written on how the accounting profession bears much of the blame for our many financial crisis's (see: Off Balance)  Now our august Federal Reserve Bank is sneaking a finger on the scale by changing an accounting methodology so that its balance sheet will no longer be truly reflective of its financial condition (see: Accounting Tweak)  This change is, to me, not just a "tweak."  It is a very dangerous action on the part of this trusted institution.  It is not just moving potential liabilities off its balance sheet.  It is moving them to the income statements of its regional banks (if, in fact, they even show up there) where they will not be so obvious.

I know that Ron Paul is now the incoming Chairman of the House's Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee (see: Here) and has sworn to hold hearings on many of the Fed's actions of late.  I would hope that he makes this accounting "tweak" his first order of business.

More Mendacity?

Does anyone truly believe this chart?  (Click on it to enlarge.) Or is this more of the type of global-warming data-fudging that we saw out of East Anglia University in England ... remember "hide the decline"?  This data is released by a division of NOAA (in Boulder, CO -- the Tea Party capital of the nation -- NOT!) which, in the past, has show a biased political bent.  God save the polar bears!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The $800 Billion Solution

The Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, is in this country for a state visit hosted by the Obamas.  Now the United States owes China around $800 billion as a result of our on-going trade deficit with them. This presents us thorny diplomatic and financial problems.  However, I think I have a solution,  President Hu is to attend a lavish state dinner at the White House on Wednesday night at which I think we will go all out to cater to Hu's every culinary desire (see state dinner). 

So here's what I think should happen at this repast.  Before each course, a liveried waiter should ask Hu something like, "Would you like the peacock tongues in aspic President Hu?"; "Can I pour you some Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1959, Sir?"; "Would you like the wagyu veal cheeks with white truffles, President Hu?"; "Can I offer you some Dom Perignon 1949 Mr. President?"; "Would you like the cloud berry triffle with whipped blue-whale cream, President Hu?";  "Would you enjoy a pre-Castro hecho a mano cigar, Mr. President?"; "Sir, can I offer you a snifter of Camus cognac 1892?"; "Another?"; etc.

Now, assuming he nods "yes" to all these queries (I don't know how he could say "no"), at the end of this extravagant and well-oiled feast, this waiter would hand President Hu an ornate vellum envelope with the White House seal and a short Barack Obama greeting urging him not to open it until he is ensconced in the Lincoln bedroom.  And when he finally does, he would find an itemized invoice for all these meal courses which, amazingly enough, would total $800 billion ... plus tax and gratuity.  And at the bottom it would say, "We don't accept credit cards."

My Brief Acting Career

Many, many years ago I was chosen to be in a TV commercial ... for possibly All Bran cereal, as I recall.  I was given a box of the stuff and asked to eat it every morning for a week before the ad shoot (a term I have to be careful using these days lest I am accused of encouraging violence.)  It was suggested that I find the cereal to be nutty, crunchy, toasty, and yummy.  Unfortunately, I barely could down the stuff (see the picture) even after I covered it with milk and lots of sugar.  To me it tasted like chopped-up, very-stale old rye bread (covered with milk and sugar.)

The day of the taping came and I was told what to wear (a blue turtleneck, I think) and given fifteen minutes of make-up pampering.  And then I was sat in front of the camera and a bowl of that horse-feed.  I was then supposed to taste it and spontaneously regurgitate (good one) the lines I had been pre-fed (another good one.) I did my very best without totally compromising myself.  But I discovered that day that acting consists primarily of compromising oneself ... because I lasted only only about three takes before they had hustled me out the studio door and into the cold light of now my un-glittzy life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Bully

Although he presented himself as an upstanding student, he was, in fact, a terrible bare-knuckled bully. And he had assembled around himself a number of like-minded aggressive poltroons … so many, in fact, that they once outnumbered their schoolyard victims. They would confiscate from the meek their lunch money or sift through any unhidden lunch bags for the more luscious items. They forced many of the smarter students to do their homework and to keep their quizzes and test uncovered so that they were easily copied. They brewed up numerous hazing rituals whose only purpose was the humiliation of their victims. Yet, the bully and most of his cronies regularly attended Sunday school, dressed fairly well, went through the motions of community outreach (volunteering at food pantries, taking their pets to senior centers, etc.) and appeared to most adults to be perfect teenagers. They were even elected, generally out of fear or naïveté, to most of the student government offices.

Even the school administration and the local constabulary were not really clued into the severity of the trouble-making by this group of bad actors. Yes, there were occasional complaints, but they were mostly ignored by higher-ups as being sour grapes. Didn’t these kids get good grades, often run things, and volunteer in the community? Finally, like in the movie, A Christmas Story, one of their perennial victims couldn’t take it any more and snapped. When the number-one bully threw a snowball hitting him right in the face, he went wild, attacking the bully with arms flailing and spittle spewing from his bleeding lip. He wailed on the bully. He quickly had him pinned down and mewling for help. Even this bully’s compatriots seemed reluctant to aid him because this one act of rebellion had quickly spread to the rest of their erstwhile victims. They had been transformed into a posse standing up to this outlaw gang. They even shouted down the bullies and dared them to act to help their leader.

And the next day, this very same bully went to the school principal and unashamedly ask that the school start a program to stop such violence as he was subjected to the previous day. He also suggested, with his halo shining brightly if a bit askew, that yesterday’s posse be castigated for their ganging up on his pals and that they be punished for their hate speech. That afternoon the principal called an assembly of the entire student body and the now angelic bully gave a very moving talk about how everyone should be less hostile to one another and now sit together in classes and school assemblies. Most of the unclued-in students cheered and did the wave

If you haven’t already guessed it, the above vignette is an allegory for something much bigger that is happening today on the U.S. political scene. Can you guess what it is?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Enter the Dragon

I am very far from being an expert on China. This usually doesn’t stop me from leaping in with my thoughts though. So, I will here offer a few naive views on this country … mainly because the rhetoric is beginning to climb elsewhere. Many believe that, because of its geographic size, massive population, exploding economy, high repository of native intelligence augmented by a good educational system, and apparent national energy, China is destined to dominate the world (economically) in a matter of only ten to twenty years (see the CNBC article ). This may be so but, according to many pundits in the 1980’s, wasn’t Japan also going to dominate things … remember "Japan Inc." Like Japan, China may also suffer a few hiccups on its way to world domination.

Let’s look at a few statistics. China’s land area is 3,696,100 square miles versus 1,656,425 for the United States. China’s population is over 1.6 billion people versus the U.S.’s only around 309 million. However, the U.S.’s GNP is close to $13.8 trillion, currently growing at about 1% per annum. China’s somewhat suspicious GNP numbers are $4.2 trillion, growing at around 10% per year. More interestingly the GNP per capita in China is about $870 whereas, in the U.S. it is over $33 thousand … quite a gap. But just imagine what China’s GNP would be if the per capita number was even $10,000.

There are a number of things that worry me about this Dragon of the East. They are:

1 - The possibility of another Cold War. China has, for a number of years been building up it military capabilities (see the Guardian article) including the recent boast that it will be able to take out (U.S.) aircraft carriers. It will not be too long before U.S. military strategists will need to respond to these threats with significantly increased defense spending on our part … probably post-Obama. This Cold War will (does) include China’s causing mischief with surrogate states like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela,

2 - At some point in the not too distant future, I would expect China to annex some additional territory (as they once did with Tibet) like parts of Mongolia or even Taiwan. I’m not sure that the United States (or Russia) knows exactly what we (it) will do when this circumstance presents itself.

3 - China’s one-baby-per-couple policy has caused the birth rate in China to be reduced. However, the ratio of male to female babies is now about 6 to 4. This presents a dangerous demographic situation when all these males reach maturity. Certainly domestic crime rates or even military adventures seem far more likely under such a situation (see my tongue-in-the-cheek blog on this subject, Another Modest Proposal).

4 - Walmart has greatly helped China keep its economy and employment growing. However, it won’t be too long before we in the United States stop stuffing our house with goods made in China. Here, I am not criticizing the quality of Chinese products. I am more criticizing the penchant of the American consumer to purchase things that they truly don’t need. I kid my wife that the next time she returns from the Christmas Tree Store with a bunch of discretionary stuff, our house is going to explode. When this U.S. consumer buying mania abates, China will have more difficulty (unless it has its own explosion of consumerism) keeping its population employed. This is a situation that will auger (poorly) for increased citizen unrest.

5 - To me, China’s fatal flaw is its lack of democracy and political freedom. I know that we, in this country, feel superior to China because of this national defect on its part. However, what will happen if they decide to shuck these chains? I would both feel good but then know that the days of U.S.’s world dominance are surely numbered.

And when was the last time you saw a bald eagle flying off with a dragon in its talons?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin Paradox

Sarah Palin was ridiculed when she was on the John McCain ticket as his V.P. candidate for failing a Katie Couric question about what newspapers she regularly read.  Perhaps a better word was "castigated." The opinion makers painted her as a boob ... if you'll excuse the expression ... for fumbling this one question.  Obviously she was a rube, a hick of the first order, and didn't deserve to be one heartbeat away from being President.

That was then and now, two years later, she is again being taken to the woodshed by these same media darlings for being a primary cause of the Tuscon (alleged) shooting spree by Jared Loughner that killed six and wounded more than a dozen including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  This was because Palin had "targeted" Representative Giffords seat in the recent elections as being one that the Tea Party should focus on winning.

Now additional poison darts are being directed at Ms. Palin for using the term "blood libel" Tuesday on her Facebook page, decrying the treatment she was receiving. Apparently, this term has an historic connotation in that it was once (falsely) used to condemn Jews for using the blood of Christian children in their rituals (see blood libel).  Also, more apparently the Wall Street Journal had used this same term on Monday to describe this same media kerfuffle (see WSJ use) over the Tuscon-shootings aftermath.  Now here is the paradox -- if Sarah Palin is so stupid and buffoonish, how does she know the historic "blood libel" reference when this author, whose been around the block more than a few times, knew not of it?  And, if she picked this reference out of Monday's Wall Street Journal, at least we know she learned something from the Couric interview.

One last thought ... why isn't the Wall Street Journal also being excoriated for this term's usage by these same prancing princes of the privileged pedantic press?  Perhaps because it buys ink by the barrel?

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Slave to Convention

Both Jesse Jackson Jr. and the New York Times (among others) have accused the Republicans of being racists because they did not include Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 in the reading of the Constitution at the opening of the House of Representatives yesterday. This part of the original Constitution, which was repealed by the 13th amendment (1865 -- two years after the Emancipation Proclamation) and therefore removed from the Constitution, states that slaves (read blacks) were to be counted as 3/5ths of a person when determining a state’s representation in Congress and tax distribution.

Now this part of the Constitution has been portrayed by many as being racist when it was, in fact, exactly the opposite. The Southern states wanted slaves to be counted in full to determine each state’s representation in Congress (which would have given them more Representatives and more power). The Northern states objected and claimed that, since slaves were chattel and couldn’t vote that they shouldn’t be counted at all … claiming that, if this was permitted, the Northern states should be able to include their chattel (horses, cows, tables, chairs, etc.) as counting toward the number of Representatives that they could send to Congress. The abolitionists went even further saying that slaves could be counted only if they had been freed by their masters (see three-fifths compromise).

So, in order to get the Constitution ratified, a compromise was reached at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, wherein slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person to determine the population of a state to enumerate how many Congressmen they could elect … meaning Southern states would have fewer Representatives and thus less power. One might understand that Jesse Jackson Jr. might not know the details of this 3/5ths Compromise, but the New York Times, with all its august egg-head scholars, should know better. I guess one might use this arm-waving pontification by the NY Times as a perfect example of demagoging (see demogogy).

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Constitution

The U.S. House of Representatives will commence its 112th session tomorrow by reading the U.S. Constitution. This act has been called a “dog-and-pony show” (Alan Colmes on his blog), “meaningless political theater” (the National Examiner), a “gimmick” (Ezra Klein, on MSNBC ), a “stunt … arrogant” (the Fort Lauderdale SunSentinel), an “empty, pompous, self-righteous act … racist” (the New York Times), “ritualistic … total nonsense … propaganda” (Jerry Nadler, congressman from New York City), a “tea-party fetish” (Rachael Maddow on her blog), a “symbolic sop to the tea party” (LA Times), “a total waste of time” (Time Magazine), an “air-kiss to the tea party” (Barney Frank), and “a bit of pageantry” (The Daily Kos). And I found these numerous brick bats in only about 20 minutes of searching on Google.

Does the majority of the Democrat party hate the Constitution? I certainly hope not. But, if in fact many of them do, may I suggest that they refuse to take their oaths of office when they are sworn into federal office. After all they then do swear (right hand raised and left hand on the Bible) “to preserve, defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States.” And, if they do refuse this oath, then they should not be allowed to take their elected offices. So there! … simple enough?

Addendum: Speaker Boehner did a brilliant thing yesterday. He made all the members of the House reswear their oath of office. See: HERE. I wonder how many Democrats actually followed his direction ... or had their fingers crossed?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Rapture

There are a number of Christians who believe in “The Rapture” … effectively Judgment Day … when the world will end and all saintly people will immediately rise unto heaven. And now a number of these Christians are convinced that this fateful day will commence May 21st of this year (see Judgment Day). This event may indeed happen, but color me skeptical.

A while back I entered a New Yorker magazine cartoon competition in which you were asked to supply a caption for a captionless cartoon. I didn’t win, but I thought my submission (for the above cartoon) was clearly of the New Yorker genre and should have at least gotten an honorable mention. My entry was: “Somehow I thought that The Rapture would be a little more selective.”

$330 Million

Tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot is estimated at $330 million (I suspect it will be bigger). The odds of winning on a single $1 ticket are 176 million to one. Thus, according to a game-theory construct, buying a ticket in this lottery is worthwhile since the expected return is almost $2 for a $1 bet (330/176). So today I bought $20 worth of tickets which makes my odds of winning 8.8 million to one (176/20) … still pretty long odds but a bit of an improvement. In fact, one might compare the odds of winning on the purchase of one ticket to the chance of you trying to contact an old friend (who you know lives in the U.S. but not where) by picking up the phone and punching in 10 random numbers after hitting “1.” If, when this phone call is answered, it is your old friend, then you have won the equivalent of the Mega Millions lottery.

It actually would make more sense to buy 176 million tickets since winning $330 million (more or less) would be almost assured. (However, I doubt if you could find a convenience store that would accommodate such a request.) Although not exactly the same analogy, Michael Graham on local talk radio makes the salient point that, if you had bought every Mega Millions ticket sold over the last 15 picks, you still wouldn’t have won since this is the number of consecutive no-winner drawings.  He adds that he never buys lottery tickets since the lottery is effectively a tax on the stupid.  I guess I have now moved with both feet into this category.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Predictions for 2011

Every New Year's Eve a group of friends get together to feast, imbibe, tell stories, Yankee swap, and make predictions for the coming year.  Here are some of the more interesting predictions for 2011:

• Facebook takes second place to a glossier social networking site

• The Euro will decline by at least 20%

• Serious civil unrest in Venezuela

• North Korea will suffer an economic collapse

• Oprah decides to run for public office

• Kate Middleton will be 2 months pregnant at her royal wedding

• Gracie Mansion (NYC) will be held by terrorists for 12 hours: 5 killed, 7 wounded

True Grit will win Best Movie Oscar

• Prominent Wall St. firm will collapse amidst political scandal

• Suze Orman will file for bankruptcy

• Patriots win League championship and then Superbowl by 14+

• Obama proves he was born in the U.S.A.

• Glenn Beck retires after scandals hound him

• Bottled water co. has massive recall -- contaminated by plastic bottles

• Supreme Court Justice is caught in illegal activities, steps down

• Two major religions talk merger

• A plot to disrupt the power gird is foiled, but only after 1/4 of the country goes dark

• Tiger Woods declares he is gay

• Randy Moss begs to come back to Patriots and is welcomed home

• Unemployment will fall below 8%

• Gold prices will stall but silver prices will go up by 20%+

• More global warming data found to be fudged

• Massive student-loan meltdown -- Uncle Sam foots the bill

• One state will declare bankruptcy

• Colin Firth wins Best Actor Oscar for The King’s Speech