Any sort of weather can take me back to our time in Ireland.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

An apology to the world

For my friends living outside of the U.S. who might be wondering what Americans could possibly be thinking.

First of all, I want to say I voted early and not for Trump.  So, this is not an attempt to explain myself. It's an attempt to explain that part of the population that is going to vote for him.  Please understand, while there are some genuinely crazy, xenophobic, rotten people in that camp (and odds are good those are the ones you're seeing, because their craziness is sort of entertaining), the VAST majority of Republicans are actually good people.  They are neither stupid nor (totally) crazy.  They don't approve of what Trump has done or is doing, and they certainly don't want to do it themselves.  Why, then, are they going to vote for him?

Nobody is really supporting Trump.  In the past, Republicans have been able to truly get behind whatever candidate their party foisted upon them.  Often, the more faults the candidate had to forgive, the more the party faithful would embrace him.  (Think George W. Bush).  4 years ago, they were able to disregard the fact that their nominee wasn't even Christian.  Even Sarah Palin is still active in Republican politics.  It used to be fun watching them perform amazing feats of mental gymnastics, and I've been studying the mechanics of their memetic programming for years.  This time, however, they're not embracing their candidate.  They're not accepting or excusing his flaws.  They're not making up stories to share with each other about how God has blessed them with such a perfect candidate.

We all know what he is.  He is a grotesque, narcissistic con artist.  There's no doubt about that.  He is crude, greedy, foul-mouthed - he's a disaster.  We know this.  And while one might think that this should be enough to at least convince people not to vote for the man (if not disqualify him outright), I contend that this smelly package is precisely why he won their nomination and why they're happy to vote for him.

It is a protest vote.  He is the anti-candidate.  Republicans are so fed up with our government that they would prefer simply to tear it all down.  Trump won their nomination by ridiculing the other Republican candidates, all of whom had government experience, some currently.  (I'm not counting Ben Carson, who would have been a similar anti-candidate).  He ridiculed them BECAUSE of their experience.

Honestly, all the negative publicity that comes out about Trump only serves to strengthen their resolve about their decision.  The worse he smells, the stronger the message they will be sending to the establishment.

So, this might be that part of them that is a little bit crazy.  I had to go back and add that "totally" part in the first paragraph because it does require a certain level of insanity to want to sink the ship you're riding in.  But that is what many of them want.  They are going to vote for Trump to send a message to Washington.  If he loses, they will have still rattled their cages a lot.  If he wins, he will probably be the train wreck we all fear.  Either way, their message will have been sent.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Remembering Patrick Bourassa

I interviewed Patrick in French over the phone for  Server Tech position at Dell.  I was in Dublin while Patrick was in Geneva.  We hired him and I became his mentor,  of sorts, while he was there.  Patrick had his MCSE, was very good technically, and really cared about his customers.

After about a year there, Patrick told me he was taking leave to go to Moscow to get certified in some Russian martial art.  While that part might have been true, he was also apparently going there to pick up (or pick out) a Russian bride; he came back to Ireland with a pretty blond Russian girl.  Then, a few months into her first pregnancy, they suddenly disappeared.

Patrick was living in a small town south of Dublin (think Ballykissangle) and was getting rides to work with a French-speaking TAM from South Africa, who lived even further south.  Colin kept going by, but no one was ever there and nothing ever changed in the view through the window.  It was only months later that we started getting emails from Patrick saying something about his wife, pregnancy, embassy, emergency medical evac back to the states.  The details of it all really were that sketchy.

A few months later, Patrick showed back up in Dublin, hoping to find a job in Ireland.  I saw him for the last time in front of the Dell office and lent him some money.  Obviously, Dell wasn't going to hire him back, but he was hoping to be able to find something.  He was switching between staying with Colin and Nic R., both of whom lived about an hour south of Dublin.  It was then that we found out that Patrick was a raging alcoholic.  He was drinking everything he could get his hands on.  And apparently, he wasn't a fun, happy drunk.  He was paranoid and scary.  He had also gotten some powerful anti-depressants while in the states, but couldn't get the prescription renewed in Ireland.

A not so quick Google search by concerned hosts revealed, among other things, an article in German, complete with an unflattering picture, describing the warrant for his arrest.  We called the police station in Germany to find out if the warrant was still in effect.  It turns out that he had just skipped out on rent and his landlady had pressed charges.  The misdemeanor was of much less concern than the description of the female companion who was also listed on the warrant.  The tall dark-haired Austrian was quite unlike the petite blond Russian we knew about.

There were a lot of theories about Patrick's past.  Personally, I think he may have worked for agency (that must not be named) and had done things that injured his conscience.  I think he had memories that were haunting him and his drinking was an attempt to quiet the voices in his head.  He was smart enough (or well trained enough) to construct completely new identities, which worked for a while until the skeletons in his closet started rattling again.  Then he would have to try to escape them.

In any case, since his reluctant hosts both had families, and since Patrick was becoming increasingly unhinged, they had to kick him out.  Colin packed up his belongings and took them to the nearest Garda station, where he told Patrick to go.  We had to piece together what happened next from various sources.  Ireland does have homeless shelters, but there are rules.  On one particular night Patrick was too drunk to be allowed into the last shelter he tried to go to. January in Ireland is not a fun, snowey Winterland; it's very cold and very wet.  Patrick died of exposure, drunk and homeless, on the streets of Dublin that night, January 29, 2007.

When the police found his body, he had no identification on him.  They were going to bury him in an unmarked grave, but Dennis Muldoon (an Irishman who lived in France and was good friends with Patrick) claimed the body at the morgue.  He had it cremated and arranged with the U.S. embassy to have the remains flown the Patrick's family in Pennsylvania.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Back from the future

From “Lindbergh on the Federal Reserve”, published in 1923.  In this excerpt, Lindbergh quotes from an article published in 1892 in a banker's magazine.  The quote is long enough that I didn't want to use the offset.

"Remedy has been attempted by alternately shifting from one to the other of the old political parties.  It has been done so many times without substantial benefit that it has become a farce.  Voters must realize that the old party leaders shout the ideals the people had in the original formation of the parties.  Party leaders do that for propaganda purposes only.  They proclaim good, and do evil.  They invent all sorts of words and phrases and adopt platforms, all of which are not so bad in themselves, so far as they go, but are simply used as propaganda to fool the voters.  In practice, not only are the ideals deserted but they are flagrantly violated.

The frequent panics forced upon the people are created by manipulation for the benefit of profiteers.  Between panics we have what in comparison are called “good times.”  But times are never as good as they would be if business were done in the easiest and most proper way.

When a panic seems to be ended the people start in the build up again, thinking to profit by what they learned in the squeeze.  But most of us learn nothing by panics except that we are hit severely.  Just how and by whom we are hit, comparatively few of us know.

Before reviewing certain acts, it is well to observe the plan of the capitalists as stated in an article of thirty years ago.  It was not intended for the public, but was propaganda to hold the big bankers together.  The article was as follows:

“We (meaning the bankers) must proceed with caution and guard every move made, for the lower order of the people are already showing signs of restless commotion.  Prudence will therefore show a policy of apparently yielding to the popular will until our plans are so far consummated that we can declare our designs without fear of any organized resistance. 

“The Farmers’ Alliance and Knights of Labor organization in the United States should be carefully watched by our trusted men, and we must take immediate e steps to control these organizations in our interest or disrupt them.

“at the coming Omaha convention to be held July 4 (1892), our men must attend and direct its movement, or else there will be set on foot such antagonism to our designs as may require force to overcome.  This at the present time would be premature.  We are not yet ready for such a crisis.  Capital must protect itself in every possible manner through combination and legislation. 

“The courts must be called to our aid, debts must be collected, bonds and mortgages foreclosed as rapidly as possible.

“When through the process of law the common people have lost their homes, they will be more tractable and easily governed through the influence of the strong arm of the government applied by a central power of imperial wealth under the control of the leading financiers.  People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders.

“History repeats itself in regular cycles.  This truth is well known among our principal men who are engaged in forming an imperialism of the world.  While they are doing this, the people must be kept in a state of political antagonism. 

“The question of tariff reform must be urged through the organization known as the Democratic Party, and the question of protection of reciprocity must be forced to view through the Republican Party.

“By thus dividing the voters, we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us, except as teachers of the common herd.  Thus, by discrete action, we can secure all that has been so generously planned and successfully accomplished.”

The facts stated in the foregoing article are only too true.  We have a tremendous responsibility to overcome the imposition of imperial wealth.  For more than sixty years the odds have been tremendously against us.  While we have been fighting questions of no importance to the wealthy, electing men to Congress because they claimed to belong to a political party which we happened to favor, irrespective of party these Congressmen have passed numerous bills for the benefit of profiteers, giving them the opportunity to exploit us through such measures as the Federal Reserve Bank Act and the Esch-Cummins Railway Act. 

Even before the acts named became law, the profiteers were protected by legislation and combination of trusts.  But wealth demanded even more than the strong arm the government had previously given.  Through Congressmen whom the voters elected and through other public officials, the wealth group got possession of natural resources like water-powers, minerals, forests, etc.  But the greatest of all public gifts were the new bank act and the new railway act."
 Background on the Esch-Cummins Act (from Wikipedia)

The United States had entered World War I in April 1917, and the government found that the nation's railroads were not prepared to serve the war effort. On December 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had ordered that U.S. railroads be nationalized in the public interest. The Esch–Cummins Act of 1920, or Railroad Transportation Act, returned railroads to private operation after World War I.  It authorized the government to make settlements with railroad carriers for matters caused by nationalization, such as compensation and other expenses.  It also officially encouraged private consolidation of railroads and mandated that the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ensure their profitability.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

A peek at the old playbook

“Like the nation itself as the Depression-laden 1930s unfolded, labor was divided.  Like its enemies on the extreme Right, though for different reasons, it felt alienated from the Republic. 

Trade unionism was still bitterly fought by the employers and scarcely encouraged by the government, even when the government was radical and supported by the Socialists.  And the unions weakened themselves by splitting into two hostile groups. 

The collapse of the general strike in May 1920 had almost destroyed the trade-union movement in France.  Ruthlessly put down by the government of the former Socialist Millerand, with troops, police, and strikebreakers, the work stoppage ended with hundreds of labor leaders in jail, the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) outlawed y the courts, and thousands of workers deprived of the their jobs for having walked out.  In despair, workingmen left their unions in droves.  For 16 years, 90 percent of French workers remained unorganized.  They sank into a deep apathy, convinced that there was no hope for them – from the unions, from a hostile government, from a rural-dominated Parliament that had no comprehension of a city laborer’s lot, or from the employers, who, encouraged by the collapse of the strike, were now determined to eliminate the unions completely, deal with their employees on an individual basis and on their own terms, and even to sabotage the eight-hour day, which Parliament had voted in 1919, and the mild social-insurance legislation which the two chambers were threatening to enact, and finally at the end of the twenties did.

Without collective-bargaining power the French worker found himself deprived of a fair share of the economic gains that came as prosperity returned to France after the first war.  Real wages lagged behind the increase in profits and production.  After the Depression hit, total wages fell by one third and unemployment rose sharply.  But for a decade and a half labor submitted almost meekly to this diminution.  There were few strikes.  Employers welcomed what they called an era of “social stability” and “labor peace.”  Few among the prosperous middle and upper classes were aware that beneath the economic misery of the French workers was a moral one, which was perhaps even more degrading.  A sense of humiliation, of oppression, of helplessness, came over them.  It is not surprising that many of them became quite indifferent to the fate of the Republic whose Parliament and government seemed to them to have combined with the employers and the moneyed classes to shut them out of the French community.  They were doing its labor but they were receiving few of its benefits or privileges and had little voice in it."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Same song, second verse

The financial crisis of the mid-twenties had another profound effect on French public opinion which would further divide the citizenry and weaken the Republic.  The bankers, industrialists, and businessmen, and even the more thriving peasants and shopkeepers, came to believe, with a certainty that brooked no compromise, that the political “Left” was incapable of governing the country.  They believed that unless the conservatives dominated Parliament and government, France was lost.  Of couse, they could not see their own shortcomings, above all their selfishness, their reluctance to make a fair share of the sacrifices needed, and their blindness to the need in a modern industrial society of some measure of social security and a more equitable distribution of both wealth and the increasing tax burden.  In social welfare France in this period lagged behind all other nations in the West, and in wages and conditions of labor it was the worst of all. 

A few visionaries urged Poincare to take advantage of the vastly improved situation after 1926 to overhaul the old-fashioned, nineteenth-century structure of French society, modernizing the government and the economy, building new housing so urgently needed, rescuing agriculture from its unmechanized stagnation, encouraging responsible trade unionism and responsible collective bargaining of labor disputes, and instituting a bold program of social security.  In a country where the workers and peasants were just able to exist and a considerable section of the lower and middle bourgeoisie was being proletarianized by inflation and the devaluation of the franc, this would have strengthened the nation for the unseen but inevitable ordeals that lay ahead.

Poincare responded – but only feebly.  The Parliament was not ready for such a far-reaching regeneration.  Finally, on April 5, 1928, just in time for the elections, the Chamber and Senate approved a modest program of social insurance, limited mostly to the sick and the aged, with wage and salary earners contributing 5 percent of their pay, the employers an equal amount, and the state defraying the cost of the operation.  Characteristically, the Parliament provided a delay of twenty-two months in the implementation of the law.  Characteristically, too, the various employers’ associations, having lost their fight to prevent Parliament from enacting the modest social-security legislation, continued their well-financed campaign in the press and on billboards to render it ineffective and to get it repealed.

The Left had its blind spots too in these troubled years of the 1920s.  … like those on the Right they failed to recognize their own shortcomings.  They did not seem to comprehend their own responsibility for the financial mess of the government, which lay primarily in their indecision, in their inability to agree on – let alone enforce – any policy which might have put the government in the black and stopped the financial panic, the flight of capital abroad, and the disastrous fall of the franc. 

In this time the gulf between the Right and Left, between the possessors and the masses, between popular press and its readers, was further enlarged.  More and more, as the 1920s came to an end and the clouds threatening a world-wide depression appeared over New York, Frenchmen faced one another across widening chasm that made hearing over it more difficult and mutual understanding almost impossible.  Each side hardened in its belief that the other was unfit to govern the Republic.

Friday, December 14, 2012

History doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme.

In the context of current "discussions" in DC, I found this startling passage from “The Collapse of the Third Republic – An Inquiry intothe Fall of France in 1940

Chapter II “Decline – Political and financial chaos, and the Poincaré recovery 1924-1930”

Year after year during the 1920s, whether the cabinet was conservative or radical, the borrowing and the advances continued until there came a time – several times – when the short-term loans could not be repaid when they fell due and the advances from the Bank of France were halted and the Treasury was literally empty.

It seemed obvious that taxes would have to be raised and some financial sacrifices made by those best able to afford them.  But this did not seem obvious to Parliament.  For five years after the war it declined to vote any substantial increase in taxes.  When the Finance Minister of the conservative Bloc National government in 1923 asked for six billion francs in new taxes, he was turned down.  At the beginning of 1924, the Treasury could not meet its short-term obligations and Parliament finally approved Poincaré’s demand for a rise of 20 percent in all taxes, direct and indirect.  This fell hardest on the poor, since indirect taxes on consumption account for nearly half the state revenues, and the income tax – full of glaring loopholes and scandalously evaded by all who could get by with it, the rich above all – for less than a quarter.  The selfishness of the moneyed class in avoiding any financial sacrifice to help put the country back on its feet later struck many French historians as shocking.  The possessors and the manipulators of most of the country’s wealth simply contrived to escape shouldering a fair share of the burden for the war and the reconstruction. 

They stubbornly and successfully opposed all efforts of Parliament and government to increase income taxes adequately and fairly or even to clean up the rotten tax structure which weighed so much more heavily on the poor than on the rich.  And in their fanatical regard for their capital and profits, which was matched only by their disregard for the salvation of the country, they spirited their capital abroad to such a massive extent as to make inevitable a fall of the currency, the bankruptcy of the Treasury, and a lack of capital at home to finance badly needed reconstruction and in particular to enable the farmers, the little businessmen, and the shopkeepers to get a new start in the difficult postwar world.  When in the spring of 1925 the Herriot government asked Parliament for a law to control the headlong flight of French capital abroad the measure was bitterly attacked in the capital’s leading afternoon newspaper, Le Temps, organ of the steel trust, Le Comité des Forges, as “rank socialism” which would destroy the capitalist system.  Parliament refused to approve the law, the massive movement of capital abroad continued without hindrance, and though the Treasury was again emptied and the franc fell further France was saved from this sort of “rank socialism”.

But the government was not saved from the necessity of finding money to carry on the affairs of state.  When the debate in the Chamber of Deputies on where to find it began in November 1924, a Socialist leader, Pierre Renaudel, made a suggestion that raised a howl of protest from conservatives in Parliament and the Press.  “You have to take the money from where it is,” he argued.  Indeed, one might ask, from where else?”  But the very idea of asking those who had the money to shoulder the main burden of increased taxation frightened them to death and there was a new exodus of capital to safer foreign havens.  “Above all else,” cried the influential Journal des Finances, “there must be a stop to this worrying of the possessors.”  Perhaps so, though the possessors seemed easily prone to worry.  The worries of the dispossessed were not mentioned, nor was the worrying of the government by hostile acts of the financial community, led by the Bank of France, which in the spring of 1925 launched an offensive against the “leftish” Herriot cabinet with the object of bringing it down and terminating the threat against its moneybags.

The flight of capital itself, in which the great financial houses took the lead, was, aside from the damage it did to the country, a form of blackmail against the government not to raise taxes and especially not to consider a tax on capital.  The banks resorted to other forms of blackmail.  They offered to lend the Treasury money for twenty-four hours in order to cover up the advances of the Bank of France above the legal limit in return for the government overlooking evasions of income tax and refraining from clamping on a control of the export of capital.  Suddenly, at the beginning of April 1925, as the final assault on the Herriot government began, the banks refused further loans, even for a day, so that the surpassing of the legal limit of advances from the Bank of France had to be published.  As a result the franc fell and further panic ensued.

Actually, during the conservative Poincaré regime prior to 1924 the Bank of France had often advanced to the Treasury more than the law allowed.  Moreover it had put at Poincaré’s disposal certain “secret funds” of the Bank, which were considerable.  Now, in April 1925, it denied to the Cartel government what it had been pleased to accord the more moderate Poincaré cabinet.  On April 1 and again on April 6 the Bank of France warned the government that the legal limit of its advances to the state – 41 billion francs – was about to be reached, that it would be illegal to advance more, and that the government would find itself without means to meet its obligations, even the payroll of its employees.  Secretly the Bank leaked the news to the press, most of which, including the large-circulation daily newspapers, had vociferously supported the financial powers in the offensive to bring down the Cartel government.  The influence of the French press, dominated by large business and financial interests, in undermining not only a popularly elected government but – more important – the Third Republic itself in these declining years was growing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

International 20 point grading scale for wine

This is my first attempt at this online database application.  I'm curious to see how or if the results appear.

Online wine scoresheet

Later on, I'll add a search feature to query submitted scores.