Movies for Memorial Day

This is a bit late but here’s a viewing list of movies suitable for Memorial Day.

The Red Badge of Courage
The Big Parade
The Best Years of Our Lives
Saving Private Ryan
Memorial Day

TV usually fills up their schedules with war movies on Memorial Day but I don’t think that really gets the point.

That last picture is a little gem that’s streamable on NetFlix. Take a look at it. You’ll be glad you did.


The Sum of All Fears

The New York Times has a summary of Illinois’s and Chicago’s public pension woes. It’s too depressing to quote and if you’re a regular reader here there’s nothing in it you haven’t already heard from me. If you’re not a regular reader, it might be eye-opening.

The only alternative solutions they provide are increasing taxes and amending the state’s constitution. I’m skeptical that Illinois can solve its fiscal problems solely by raising taxes. That might work in California but Illinois already leads the country in net out-migration. Do you really think that present Illinoisans will just sit still and pay more taxes? And who do you think is the most likely to boogie out?


The Only President

To the best of my ability to determine the only president to have sent his children to a public high school was Gerald Ford. It was a pretty nice high school in Alexandria, Virginia but it was a public high school.

I honestly don’t know how politicians get away with preaching equality on the one hand while practicing elitism on the other. In a less docile and gullible society politicians who preach the virtues of the public schools while sending their own kids to private ones would, at the very least, be booed off the stage. Or, preferably, tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Once upon a time we had two great social levelers: public education and universal male military service. Now too frequently both are thought of as welfare, just for the poor.


I stand corrected (in comments). George W. Bush’s daughters also attended public high school. I appreciate the correction. That actually makes my point even better.


Confusing China With the CCP

I think that Robert Samuelson is unduly worried about China:

On any list of calamities threatening the world economy, a China crash ranks at or near the top. Just what would constitute a “crash” is murky. Already, China’s sizzling rate of economic growth has declined from 10 percent annually — the average from the late 1970s until 2011 — to 7 percent, which is still high by historical standards. The question is whether the deceleration continues and growth goes much lower.

A faltering China could tip the world back into recession. Because China is a huge customer for raw materials (grains, metals, fuels), their prices would remain depressed. China’s surplus capacity of basic industrial goods, such as steel, would be increasingly exported, also depressing prices. This would dampen any recovery in global business investment. Confidence would suffer.


Housing looms as the largest drag on China’s growth because it amounts to about 25 percent of the country’s GDP, including major supply industries such as steel, cement and glass, Prasad says. With housing supply exceeding demand, building is already slowing. Housing prices are down roughly 6 percent from their recent peak. The decline will go to 10 percent, says economist Yukon Huang of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Compounding this weakness is a slackening of local government spending on infrastructure projects (roads, airports, hospitals). To finance these projects, local government debt surged from about 6 percent of GDP in 2008 to 33 percent of GDP in mid-2013, according to the global bank UBS. The central government is now trying to slow the growth of this debt.

for a simple reason. I think he’s confusing China with the Chinese Communist Party. I don’t think there’s any doubt that a hard landing for the Chinese economy would be a disaster for the CCP. Their strategy has been to encourage local governments to engage in frivolous and frequently corrupt infrastructure spending and then to hide the non-productive loans within China’s opaque banking system which has retained that quality despite the obligations the country assumed when it gained membership in the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, well-heeled Chinese, frequently party members, have used their corrupt earnings to purchase real estate abroad, particularly in the U. S. and Canada. These purchases by non-resident Chinese nationals amounted to $22 billion in 2014 alone and they’ve been increasing every year. It’s pretty obvious these purchases are a “golden parachute”.

Meanwhile, half of China’s people are subsistence farmers and 13% of the population are still among the world’s poorest, living on a dollar a day. That’s 200 million people, a number the size of the entire U. S. population in 1970.

China needs a lot of things. It needs an economy less dependent on exports and ill-conceived infrastructure spending. It needs to import more, particularly more food. It needs a more transparent banking system. It needs an exchangeable currency. It needs a robust system of civil law, something without which enforcing China’s environmental laws (in theory more stringent than ours; in practice non-existent) will be impossible. It needs to stop polluting its earth, water, and air. It needs to spend less on prestige projects and its military. It needs a more equitable distribution of the national income (however bad our problem of income inequality is, China’s is that much worse). It needs political freedom. It needs liberal democracy. It will have none of those things as long as the CCP is in charge.

If a hard landing for the Chinese economy results in the ouster of the CCP, it would be a blessing for China.

Economic turmoil in China would be hard on some countries, particularly Australia, Brazil, and South Africa. It would be hard on some U. S. companies, e.g. Apple which has put a lot of its eggs in the Chinese basket. How exposed are we really to a severe Chinese downturn?

Not really, I think. Chinese real estate purchases account for less than 1% of total U. S. real estate sales. U. S. exports to China account for less than 1% of GDP. Imports from China would quickly be replaced by imports from elsewhere in the developing world or even from increased domestic production. It is possible that economic downturn in China could be a boon to the U. S. That’s the nature of a balance of payments as lopsided as ours is with China. China isn’t alone in that. It’s true of many other countries and in particular Japan. The Chinese and Japanese need us a lot more than we need them.

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They Wrote What They Saw, Memorial Day, 2015

As I remind my readers every year on this day, the holiday we celebrate today used to be called “Decoration Day” and it began as a commemoration of the Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War, our greatest national tragedy. That is our greatest national tragedy because every man who died in the war, every woman widowed, and every child orphaned was our countryman. 150 years later we still have not fully recovered from that war.

The impulse that informs Memorial Day is not sorrow, horror, shame, or loss but gratitude, one of the oldest documented human reactions. It is everywhere in ancient art, at every time, among every nation. Keep that in mind as you read the balance of this post.

I’ve mentioned before that I prefer primary sources or, at the very least, authoritative secondary sources who relied on primary sources. Since the American Civil War we have had men and women of extraordinary courage, dedication, and skill, war correspondents who actually witnessed the events they chronicled, who knew and interviewed the soldiers who fought in those wars. It’s a crying shame we don’t turn more frequently to those correspondents to learn about our wars but in this post I’ll remedy that a bit.

Sam Wilkeson was a prominent war correspondent of the American Civil War. His most famous dispatch was from the battlefield of Gettysburg. The dispatch was later re-printed as a pamphlet titled “Samuel Wilkeson’s Thrilling Word Picture Of Gettysburgh”. Here’s a snippet from that dispatch:

Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly important interest – the dead body of an oldest born, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay?

The battle of Gettysburgh. I am told that it commenced on the 1st of July, a mile north of the town, between two weak brigades of infantry and some doomed artillery and the whole force of the rebel army. Among other costs of this error was the death of Reynolds. Its value was priceless, however, though priceless was the young and the old blood with which it was bought . . . the marvelous outspread upon the board of death of dead soldiers and dead animals – of dead soldiers in blue, and dead soldiers in grey – more marvelous to me than anything I have ever seen in war – are a ghastly and shocking testimony to the terrible fight . . .

Oh, you dead, who at Gettysburgh have baptized with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied! I rise from a grave whose wet clay I have passionately kissed, and I look up and see Christ spanning this battlefield with his feet and reaching fraternally and lovingly up to heaven. His right hand opens the gates of Paradise – with his left he beckons to these mutilated, bloody, swollen forms to ascend.

He drafted that literally sitting beside the corpse of his son, Bayard Wilkeson, a very young Union officer killed in the battle. It received great notice, came to Lincoln’s attention, and was one of the things that moved him to deliver his famous address, in which echoes of Wilkeson’s account are clearly evident.

One of the great American war correspondents to emerge from the First World War was Floyd Gibbons. He witnessed Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s, the commander of the the American Expeditionary Forces’s, arrival in Paris in 1918 and wrote:

General Pershing looked down upon the sea of faces turned up toward him, and then it seemed that nature desired to play a part in the ceremony of that great day. A soft breeze from the Champs Elysées touched the cluster of flags on the General’s right and from all the Allied emblems fastened there it selected one flag.

The breeze tenderly caught the folds of this flag and wafted them across the balcony on which the General bowed. He saw and recognised that flag. He extended his hand, caught the flag in his fingers and pressed it to his lips. All France and all America represented in that vast throng that day cheered to the mighty echo when Pershing kissed the tri-colour of France.

It was a tremendous, unforgettable incident. It was exceeded by no other incident during those days of receptions and ceremonies, except one. That was an incident which occurred not in the presence of thousands, but in a lonely old burial ground on the outskirts of Paris. This happened several days after the demonstration in the Place de la Concorde.

On that day of bright sunshine, General Pershing and a small party of officers, French and American, walked through the gravel paths of Picpus Cemetery in the suburbs of Paris, where the bodies of hundreds of those who made the history of France are buried.

Several French women in deep mourning courtesied as General Pershing passed. His party stopped in front of two marble slabs that lay side by side at the foot of a granite monument. From the General’s party a Frenchman stepped forward and, removing his high silk hat, he addressed the small group in quiet, simple tones and well-chosen English words. He was the Marquis de Chambrun. He said:

“On this spot one can say that the historic ties between our nations are not the result of the able schemes of skilful diplomacy. No, the principles of liberty, justice and independence are the glorious links between our nations.

“These principles have enlisted the hearts of our democracies. They have made the strength of their union and have brought about the triumph of their efforts.

“To-day, when, after nearly a century and a half, America and France are engaged in a conflict for the same cause upon which their early friendship was based, we are filled with hope and confidence.

“We know that our great nations are together with our Allies invincible, and we rejoice to think that the United States and France are reunited in the fight for liberty, and will reconsecrate, in a new victory, their everlasting friendship of which your presence to-day at this grave is an exquisite and touching token.”

General Pershing advanced to the tomb and placed upon the marble slab an enormous wreath of pink and white roses. Then he stepped back. He removed his cap and held it in both hands in front of him. The bright sunlight shone down on his silvery grey hair. Looking down at the grave, he spoke in a quiet, impressive tone four simple, all-meaning words:

“Lafayette, we are here.”

Gibbons later came under machine-gun fire during the Battle of Belleau Wood and lost an eye. Still later he become one of the earliest notable radio journalists.

No one ever said it better than Ernie Pyle, the scribe of the common soldier during the Second World War:

This is our war and we will carry it with us as we go from one battleground to another until it is all over, leaving some of us behind on every beach, in every field. We are just beginning with the ones who lie back of us here in Tunisia. I don’t know if it was their good fortune or misfortune to get out of it so early in the game. I guess it doesn’t make any difference once a man is gone. Medals and speeches and victory are nothing anymore. They died and the other lived and no one knows why it is so. When we leave here for the next shore, there is nothing we can do for the ones underneath the wooden crosses here, except perhaps pause and murmur, “Thanks, pal.”

Sometime tomorrow between the hot dogs and the beer and the baseball games (or nowadays, I guess, the soccer games), give a thought or two to the hundreds of thousands of Americans buried in the graveyards or in unmarked graves in battlefields all over the world, pause, and murmur “Thanks, pal.” And hope it is enough.

The image above is a photo of a Civil War cemetery in Chelsea, Maine.


Where the Paleocons Are

I watched The McLaughlin Group last night for the first time in years. John McLaughlin looks awful but I guess that’s not surprising given that he’s in his mid-80s for goodness sake. I don’t think I agreed with any of the positions that anybody was articulating. The subjects they discussed were the situation in Iraq, PTSD, and the crash on Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 last week.

As should be obvious from what I’ve written over the last decade, I think that our policy in Iraq is deeply flawed. DAESH is an existential threat to many countries in the Middle East, a danger to European countries, and a nuisance to us. It would be very difficult, expensive, and possibly bloody for the Middle Eastern countries threatened by the Islamic State to mitigate the risks it poses to them (I expect many of them to attempt to arrive at a modus vivendi, an ultimately doomed strategy). It will be expensive and politically difficult for the countries of Europe to mitigate the risks. I expect them to defer, delay, and otherwise avoid doing anything, sticking with their core competency. While it would be politically painful for us to mitigate the risks, it would be much less difficult for us than for, say, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Germany.

I’m concerned we’re being drawn willy nilly into fighting the KSA’s and Europe’s wars for them. Last week I heard an NPR interview with retired Gen. Gregory Newbold, formerly an advisor to the Obama campaign, in which he urged exactly that. He recommended a Desert Storm-style build-up and re-invasion of Iraq and Syria to make good on the president’s promise to “degrade and destroy” DAESH. The Republican presidential candidates are vying with each other on how hawkish they can sound. President Obama is continuing to insist that his strategy is succeeding. Time will tell just how that sounds in a year. We have yoked our reputations to the feckless Iraqi government. Every day that goes by without destroying DAESH damages our reputation the more.

PTSD? I don’t disagree we have a debt of honor to those in the military who have suffered wounds on our behalf, whether physical or psychological. However, I think that we need to re-think our “give war a chance” knee-jerk policy. Doing that would avoid untold thousands (or millions) of future cases. Drone pilots suffer from PTSD, too.

With respect to the train crash, I’m afraid that the panelists have forgotten the reason Amtrak runs that route at all. It’s because of the bankruptcy of the Penn Central. This is yet another example of a middle (or upper middle) class subsidy. If the voters of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania wish to subsize commuter rail, that’s up to them. The federal government should be out of the choo choo business entirely. I’m in favor of rail as a mode of transport but I think it needs to stand on its own two feet. As do air and automobile transport.


WiFi vs. Wired

Here’s an analysis you might want to take a look at comparing wireless and wired networks:

Wi-Fi is still useful. Wi-Fi allows you to get a smartphone, tablet, or laptop on your network from anywhere, moving around — that’s obvious. But Wi-Fi also allows you to connect devices to your network without running an Ethernet cable, so it can just be useful even when you don’t want to bother running an Ethernet cable from your router to a device in another room in your house.

That’s the real reason to use Wi-Fi: convenience. If a device needs to move around or you just don’t want to run a cable to it, Wi-Fi is the right choice.

On the other hand, if you have a desktop PC or server that sits in a single place, or if you have a game console or set-top box that stays by your TV, Ethernet is still a good option. Assuming it’s easy enough to plug the devices in with an Ethernet cable, you’ll get a more consistently solid connection. Yes, Ethernet is better.

But it’s not necessarily that much better, and most people may be happy staying with Wi-Fi and forgetting about running Ethernet cables. It’s up to you — testing your connection speeds and latency with the speed test and ping tools above can help you make a more informed decision.

Back when we did our major home renovation a few years back I had CAT6 run throughout the new part of the house. I just did a quick Internet speed comparison two PCs in the house. A PC with a wired connection clocked in at 30 Mbps while a PC with a wireless connection (it’s in the old section of the house) got 20 Mbps. That’s actually better than I expected for wireless. Of course, if multiple devices were accessing the Internet wirelessly at the same time it would probably be less than that due to the nature of wireless. Fortunately, all of my Internet-connected televisions use my wired network.

I probably should check my routers and switches, though. I don’t know that I have gigabit Ethernet throughout.


I just finished installing a new Roku 3 where my Roku 2 used to be, moving the Roku 2 to where I used to have a first generation Roku. Since I was still using a first generation Roku, Roku made me an offer I could not refuse to get a current technology device.

Now the old Roku was using my wireless network to connect. It’s located in the old part of the house and I had found powerline networking was too darned slow. I retried it with the Roku 2. Still too slow. At this point I’d say the problems I’d been having were about 50-50 connecting wirelessly and the old Roku itself. Meanwhile, the Roku three is blindingly fast (at least by comparison) and even provides a slightly clearer picture which I did not expect. Setting it up was incredibly easy. It identified the channels I’d set up on the Roku 2 (presumably from Roku’s site) and installed them automatically on the Roku 3. I then cycled through the channels I use most frequently (NetFlix, Amazon, Hulu+, Acorn, PBS, Tubit, and WeatherUnderground) and went through their individual set up routines. The whole process of installing, checking, and reconfiguring both devices took me less than a half hour.


Equality Is a Bitch

Remember the unforeseen secondary effects I mentioned in my posts about Los Angeles’s great experiment in improving income inequality by raising its city minimum wage from $9.60 to $15 (and indexing it to CPI)? Here’s one of them I didn’t think of:

The higher minimum wage in the city of Los Angeles may harm the very poor families it is intended to help, according to members of the child care planning committee that advises the county.

The L.A. City Council voted Tuesday to raise the minimum wage from the current $9 an hour to $10.50 on July 1, 2016 and then in annual steps up to $15 on July 1, 2020.

City leaders proposed the increase to address California’s income inequality and its high cost of living. But there may be unintended consequences for both child care providers and the low-income earners many of them serve.

Most people in the child care field agree that preschool teachers and child care workers, among the lowest paid professions, need the higher pay. However, administrators of child care centers say they don’t receive enough money per child to cover the scheduled wage increases.

Richard Cohen, who chairs the Los Angeles County Childcare Planning Committee, said child care providers citywide don’t have many options in covering the additional costs, particularly if they receive state payments to provide subsidized care for low-income families.

None of that means that movie stars or professionals, say a pathologist and a lawyer who’s a partner in a top law firm, won’t be able to afford child care. It means that a single mom who earns $25 an hour ($50,000 a year) won’t be able to afford child care. It will no longer make financial sense for a couple, one of whom earns $50,000 and the other $30,000 a year, to keep that lower income coming in. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it just that it won’t make financial sense.

I’m not predicting any of this will happen. Just pointing out that it might.


The State of the U. S. Economy

I sampled the graphic above from a post by David Stockman that started out with why the present stock market boom is a bubble that’s about to deflate and veered into an explanation of the “financialization” of the U. S. economy, i.e. that the relationship between the financial sector and U. S. GDP is wildly unrealistic.

The graph above illustrates the growth of jobs over the last fifteen years in the “breadwinner” sectors of construction, manufacturing, white collar, finance and real estate, transportation, information, and trade. What’s left out? Food service, hospitality, retail and the two government handmaiden industries, education and healthcare. There are two million fewer jobs in breadwinner sectors today than there were in 2000 and the U. S. population is 10% bigger than it was then. Additional jobs since the end of the recession have been in the non-“breadwinner” categories.

If you believe that the future of the U. S. economy lies in growth in the food service, hospitality, and retail sectors, you necessarily believe that the wages of future Americans will be lower than they have been in the post-war period. If you believe that the future of the U. S. economy lies in growth in the education and healthcare sectors, you believe in perpetual motion.


I Don’t Know Nothin’ But What I Saw on Television

Americans drastically overestimate the number of homosexuals among their fellow citizens:

PRINCETON, N.J. — The American public estimates on average that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian, little changed from Americans’ 25% estimate in 2011, and only slightly higher than separate 2002 estimates of the gay and lesbian population. These estimates are many times higher than the 3.8% of the adult population who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Gallup Daily tracking in the first four months of this year.

It isn’t just the percentage of homosexuals that Americans overestimate. They overestimate the percentages of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and Moslems, too.

I think they can be excused for their misconceptions. They’re seeing the world as it’s portrayed on television. In that world nearly everybody is under 40 (and attractive) and there are many more blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and Muslims than there actually are in the country. In that world sexuality is infinitely malleable as well, which presents an odd paradox. Which are we to believe, that sexuality and sexual orientation is something with which you are born and is not merely behavioral or that it is something that changes at will?

I think that most of these television-engendered mistakes are benign but it concerns me that people are also deriving their notions of right conduct from television.

Deconstructing the nature, structure, and values of the world according to television would be an interesting exercise, one I hope that my small cadre of readers will assist me with. Please leave your ideas on what that world is like in the comments.