Monday, November 30, 2009

The free loader problem

The biggest problem that neither anarcho-socialists (what we traditionally mean by the word "anarchists") or anarcho-capitalists (a.k.a. "Libertarians", "glibertarians", "libertards") have an answer to is the free loader problem. And without an answer to the freeloader problem, they are condemning their white pasty flabby asses to become some sociopath's bitch if they ever got their anarchist's paradise that they wish for.

So how does this happen? Well, consider the problem of sociopaths in general. There are two kinds of people -- regular people, who hesitate at the taking of life, and sociopaths, who enjoy taking lives. In a gunfight between a sociopath and a regular person, the sociopath wins, because he who hesitates loses in a gunfight. So in a no-government Libertopia, sociopaths will swiftly kill the most courageous of the regular people, those who try to take them on, and the rest of the regular people will get the message that they're the sociopath's bitches and quit trying. See: Somalia, Afghanistan, the inner city of most U.S. cities, the state prison system of most U.S. states...

Now I hear you saying, but in Libertopia we'll have private cops to take the sociopaths off and put them away! But: Who is going to pay for these private cops? If Bill Gates pays for the private cops, everybody else is freeloading off of Bill Gates! Unless *everybody* pays for getting Jeffrey Dahmer off the streets, the end result is that NOBODY pays, because Bill Gates isn't going to pay when it's just going to benefit the families of the people actually killed by Jeffrey Dahmer! Instead, he's going to retreat behind his own fences and go out with his own armed guards, and leave Jeffrey Dahmer out there to meet other Jeffrey Dahmers at which point you now have an army of Jeffrey Dahmers who are raping, pillaging, and cannibalizing at will because ordinary people who dare try to take a shot at them get killed because, well, they hesitate.

The reality is that the only way to keep this army of Jeffrey Dahmers from forming is for everybody to pay for the trained cops and prison system to keep them off the streets (or at least on the payroll so that they're going after other Jeffrey Dahmers rather than cannibalizing the people as a whole). I.e., taxes, enforced by government. Which the glibertarians and anarchists don't believe in, in their heart of hearts, chanting "taxation is theft!" and shit like that.

But for some reason the glibertarians and anarchists don't see it that way, the glibertarians claiming that ordinary people with ordinary weapons have any chance at all against sociopaths (they don't, he who hesitates loses in a gunfight and ordinary people simply do not like violence and killing and thus aren't good at it unless they get a lot of training paid for by, err, government), and the anarchists simply handwaving the problem away and claiming that their voluntary syndics will work sufficiently well for self defense and sociopaths won't be able to take them over and force the members to their bitches (hah!). It is to laugh, really, at just how divorced from reality these people are. Mao had it right: Power flows from the barrel of a gun. And sociopaths are damned good at using guns due to their complete lack of morals and scruples... giving them much more power than their numbers would indicate they should have. Without a solution to the freeloader problem, there's simply no way to pay for the large number of ordinary people needed to keep sociopaths down -- and the glibertarians and anarchists (and the rest of us, alas) end up as the sociopaths' bitches.

-- Badtux the non-freeloader Penguin

Rock bottom

Bill Callahan has a voice that is not technically perfect but has more soul in it than a million technically perfect products of the plasticine star machine. Here is Rock Bottom Riser, off of the Smog album A River Ain't Too Much To Love.

Bill is notorious as a man of few words. His responses to interview questions are famously brief, along the lines of "Yes." If he's feeling especially agreeable, he might even speak a full sentence. He takes the same minimalist approach to his music, and it works, especially with his voice, which has deepened and become smoother with age, like a fine wine. Notoriously closed-mouthed Bill and the famously ADHD motor-mouth Chan Marshall shacking up in a house together seems about as great a pairing as fire and water. What exactly were they thinking? Needless to say, it didn't work out, though they seem to have broken up on reasonably good terms, with Bill wishing Chan good luck and saying he loved her anyhow and hoped she found the right person ("Left Only With Love") and Chan basically blaming herself and her many, ah, issues ("Metal Heart" and "Good Woman"), not Bill. Interesting how breakups result in such great albums (Knock Knock for Smog and Moon Pix for Cat Power, both of which should be in your collection).

Ah, the human heart. What a strange thing it is.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Human resources

You are not a person, you are a "resource", to consume, deplete, then throw away. That is how it works here in the Corporate States of America, there are no human beings in the eyes of these venal corporate executives, only "resources" to use and consume and drain then throw away when the resource is depleted. And since these evil assholes now run our government as well as our corporations, that's what they're doing to our veterans too -- using them, consuming them, depleting them, then throwing them away to die on the streets.

Yet people will go to a corporate restaurant rather than a local restaurant, will buy corporate music rather than support local musicians, will buy corporate prepackaged food made of compressed pig offal rather than fresh food from a local farmers market or butcher shop, vote for the corporate candidate rather than the honest man who isn't in the pay of the corporate sociopaths, and so on and so forth. We are participating in our own dehumanization. Is that some sick shit, or what?

-- Badtux the Disgusted Penguin

Playing the crowd

The pentatonic scale, ladies and gents. It seems to be built in to each of us, Bobby McFerren says he's done that little exercise all over the world with the exact same results. Are we hard-wired for music? Maybe so. Maybe so.

Now for a bonus:

Shambolic murder ballad "Weighted Down" by Skip Spence off of his one and only album "Oar", written after he was released from a psychiatric hospital upon which he promptly drove to Nashville with $1,000 in his pocket, entered a studio, and used the remainder of his money to record this album. It was released in 1969 to universal boredom and almost zero sales. A musician that I respect pointed this one out to me as one of the most interesting albums by a complete lunatic street person to come out of the 60's, sort of a country blues album with way too much drugs involved.

-- Badtux the Musical Penguin

Saturday, November 28, 2009

World's biggest liar loan

By now you've probably seen headlines like "Dubai defaults on 150 billion dollar debt". One interesting thing I seem to be picking out of the news is that Dubai structured these deals so shell companies like Dubai World took out the mortgages, not the government itself, so the only option the lenders have is to foreclose on the properties in local or Dubai courts (snort!). At which point the lenders hold the keys to large empty buildings and vacant lots with half-completed skeletons, *if* Dubai even bothers actually giving them the keys. It makes you wonder WTF these lenders were thinking, because the paper they’re holding explicitly states that the mortgages are *not* backed by the income of the government of Dubai, indeed states no source of income at all for how the loans are going to be repaid. It’s like the whole liar loan fiasco here in the USA, except writ large with international banks!

– Badtux the Amazed Penguin
(but who should not be so amazed by financial institution stupidity by now, I suppose)

Saturday Morning Jazz Brunch

What, you thought pop was all I was ever going to post? Anthony Braxton does some mad sax soloing.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday, November 27, 2009


It is deer season. But for some deer hunters this year, it will be a deer hunt they will never forget. Because instead of them hunting deer... the deer will be hunting THEM! Dawn of the Zombie Deer, the new horror movie from Zack Snyder, in theaters on December 1!

-- Badtux the Tongue-in-cheek Penguin
Note: There is no such movie. In the event of such a movie, the weather forecast shall read "cloudy and overcast with a chance of exploding heads." That is all.

Friday Morning Cat Blogging

Cat Power, that is. Chan Marshall was still in her androgynous stage but imminently bangable (ask Bill Callahan about that since they'd just broken up a few months before but don't expect an answer), but it would have been like doing it with your little sister that adored you. You could do it, but the look of hurt in her eyes would have sent you into the guilts for the rest of your life.

"Metal Heart", live in a club in San Francisco in 1998, four years after she started playing gigs regularly in New York City clubs, six years after her roommate died in a car accident meaning she was losing her crib and a friend who had recently moved to New York City said "hey, I got space here, why not move to New York City?" and she moved to New York City and became an urban survivalist, 8 years after she bought that cheap Silvertone off of one of the musician customers at the pizza parlor where she worked with some vague idea of maybe learning how to play it someday, 9 1/2 years after she dropped out of high school at age 16 after the father she had idolized for much of her childhood spent away from him kicked her out of his apartment because he wanted to shack up with a new lover and told her to go figure out her own way to make a living and get by, which was why she found a room in a bad part of town and went to work at a nearby pizza parlor that happened to have a lot of musicians as customers. And that's just the highlights. She was way, WAY out of her comfort zone here and had been running on the edge without a net below her for far too much of her young life. And you can hear every bit of that in her voice here. Apparently the breakup with Bill hit her hard (this being the traditional "breakup song" of course)...

When she starts hollering as vs. whispering you can see her turn sideways and start hollering across the mike rather than into it. That's not because she's trying to avoid the audience, rather, that's a microphone technique for dealing with a cardoid (directional) microphone when you're doing the soft/loud soft/loud bit and don't want to crunch your voice too much in a compressor-- simply sing across the mike rather than into the mike when doing the loud part, and put a little more distance as needed to get the volume back down below the distortion point (if you listen closely the mike did go into distortion momentarily right before she turned sideways). Works better than expecting the mixer monkey to figure out in real time that he needs to slide your mike down in the mix during the loud parts. Today of course we have cheap compressors that can do that volume adjustment in real time. But that was 1998, and a young woman singing into a cheap cardoid microphone while playing a dimestore guitar. Different time, different era, different technology.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Talking point: "The USA has plenty of oil"

Right-wing morons are quick to say that "we don't need Saudi oil, the U.S. has plenty of oil, but the environmentalists won't let oil companies drill for it!" As usual, the right-wing morons are pulling shit out of their ass. Reality is entirely different.

Now, first a disclaimer here. I helped develop some of the techniques for directional drilling that allowed re-drilling so many old oilfields and extracting the last of the oil there. I have talked to a lot of oil industry geologists over the years either as friends or professionally. And here's the deal: 95% of the oil that was here in the year 1900 is *gone*. Kaput, finished, burned. Every single inch of the U.S. continent and continental shelf have been thoroughly thumped and mapped, and 95% of that has been thoroughly exploited. The remaining 5% would be maybe 5 years of oil for the entire USA. Period. That's it. That's what the industry professionals who've actually gone out and *measured* this shit say. That five years of oil is a big heaping load of profit for the oil industry if they were allowed to exploit it and thus they whine mightily about "the environmentalists", but behind the scenes even their own experts don't believe the bullshit their PR people are putting out about how the mean environmentalists are keeping the U.S. dependent upon Middle Eastern oil.

Okay, so that's out of the way. Five years. But then what's this I hear? "There's vast amounts of oil shale in the central part of the USA!" Uh, yeah, there is. But the problem with exploiting that shale isn't environmentalists. The problem is that we simply don't have any economical or efficient way to get that shit out of the ground. Deal is that it isn't really oil, it's *tar*. It doesn't actually flow unless you heat it up with steam. What that means is that you have to make a *lot* of steam to liquify enough of it to make pumping it out of the ground worthwhile. And that takes a lot of heat. Creating that heat takes a lot of energy -- more energy than you'd get from the oil that you got out of the ground. That's okay in some cases -- you can consider it to be a way to convert a lot of solar or nuclear energy into a smaller amount of oil energy, for example, oil still being the most effective way to store energy for transportation while neither solar nor nuclear in their ordinary form are useful for transportation (without being stored in a battery or as oil, anyhow). But then the other component of steam is *water*. And there just isn't any water where the shale is -- that's the high plains. The *DRY* high plains. There's a few rivers that run through it that could be exploited for local exploitation of the shale, but the amount of steam needed would pretty much suck them dry. Somehow I suspect St. Louis would be a bit upset that they no longer have a Missouri River flowing past them... and we're still not talking about sufficiently exploitable oil to make it worth money.

But, you say, there are these companies claiming they're going to make oodles of money off of these oil shales if the environmentalists would just let them do it. Err, can you say "stock scam"? Because that's exactly what it is, a stock scam. These companies are trying to get suckers ... err, "investors" ... to dump money into these bogus "oil drilling schemes". These are the same kinds of scam artists who are trying to bilk evangelical Christians with tales of bogus oil in Israel.

In short, the people propagating the talking point that "the USA has plenty of oil but the environmentalists won't let us drill for it" are scam artists, pure and simple. They are committing fraud, telling lies in order to personally benefit themselves. So next time someone whines that talking point, you're talking either to a victim of one of the scammers who invariably will refuse to believe he was scammed -- or to one of the scammers himself. And which one can be easily told by seeing who benefits from the lie...

-- Badtux the Oil Penguin

Thursday Dream Pop

"Asobi Seksu" is apparently Japanese for "sex play", and is a bad translation into Japanese of the original name of this band ("sportf**k"). I have absolutely no idea what this song, "Thursday", is about, Yuki's vocals are buried in the mud as ambience, if I make the mistake of popping out my lousy vocals Asobi Seksu made the opposite mistake here. All I know is that Yuki Chikudate is seriously cute and their music is gorgeous.

BTW, it is completely and totally coincidence that I am playing "Thursday" on, uhm, Thursday.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bizarro world World Nut Daily

A white man shot and killed one person and wounded two others in Colorado. Clearly this means that all white men are dangerous sociopaths and should be immediately deported to their country of origin.

-- Bizarro World Joseph Farah

Missing the boat

Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have an uncanny talent for finding unprofitable genres to practice their trade in. So shoe-gazer dream pop with Slowdive wasn't paying the bills? Let's just do some pedal steel drenched alt-country as Mojave 3 -- just as Nirvana and grunge are taking off. If there's a fad, these folks seem to find a way to run screaming the other way. "In Love with A View" is a gorgeous song, but like the rest of Mojave 3's output, has been listened to only by the faithful. And that's just fine with me.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Definition of a conservative

an american conservative is someone who believes that
  • a) the vatican ought to decide our domestic policy;
  • b) israel ought to decide our foreign policy;
  • c) communist china ought to decide our economic policy; and
  • d) osama bin ladin ought to decide who gets tried in our courts.
Go read the punch line.

Conservatives: People who believe everybody should decide for America except Americans. Alrighty, then!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Tuesday Morning Shoegazer

Slowdive, "Ballad of Sister Sue". Have no idea what it's about (something incestuous? Sex with a nun? WTF?), but a good example of the shoegazer genre -- relentlessly downbeat, dream-like, and deeply layered with reverb and delay effects. Slowdive was a master of the genre, then mutated into Mojave 3 to do a more country-tinged sound that they hoped would be more commercially successful (being dropped by your record label inbetween turning in your last album and going out on tour tends to do that -- you'd think that the record label would drop them *after* the tour to promote the album, but those assholes in the music industry have about as much sense as the Great Penguin gave a ferret, shoegazer was no longer "oh shiney!" so they dropped it like a rock). As usually happens with these things, simply changing their sound and band name wasn't enough, success never happened - Mojave 3 never hit it big either.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kindergarten dropouts

From another blogger, who I shall not link to directly because she would not appreciate it (we blog in entirely different contexts):

"I am sad every time I see some otherwise nice decent person go off on a parroted spiel about "personal responsibility" because I know what they're really saying: I'd rather society fall apart than have to share with others."
Which is an introduction to what Glibertarians truly believe: Scrooge was the good guy, and Cratchit was the villain, of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol". It's the same mentality in both cases: I got mine, and f**k you.

The reality is that 5% of the population owning 90% of the assets of the nation is not a sustainable system. The remaining 95% of the population is unable to contribute sufficiently, due to denial of necessary resources for growth as human resources and as consumers, to grow the economy at the rate it needs to grow in order to grow the assets of the top 5% or even to maintain the current economy at a sustainable level. Selfishness of that that sort used to be strictly punished in kindergarten and children were taught to share because it would result in a nicer day for *everybody*, but today's kindergartens are high-pressured academic environments where those sorts of things aren't taught anymore -- children today are supposed to learn how to read in kindergarten, not how to be good people.

So we get the current situation, where we have people who believe in actual seriousness that Scrooge was the good guy. For real. Not kidding. It boggles the mind, but you can click on the link (to a web page at the Mises Institute) and see that they're making that argument in complete seriousness, even though it's absolute bunkum that's causing our society to fall apart around us. These types would literally rather have society fall apart than have to share their toys with other children. It is both sad and pathetic -- and more than a little frightening, because these are all too often our so-called "leaders".

-- Badtux the Unscrooge Penguin

A tragedy

We've been doing a catch-and-release on a little mouse at the office, catching him in a Tin Cat, then taking him increasingly far away. Cute little guy, with cute little pink feets and brown fur. He always seemed to manage to find his way back to the office within a day or two so I kept taking him farther and farther. Friday afternoon I took him half a mile away and released him, then brought the Tin Cat back to the office and set it by the chair in the front office, not thinking about it because of course our mousy was now living the life of a free mouse in a field far away.

So this morning I came to the office and saw the tin cat sitting by the chair and thought, "better put it away." So I picked it up and... err... the mouse is back! But, alas, for the final time. He must have hotfooted it back from his field, because he had eaten every lick of peanut butter in the trap, and then quietly expired of dehydration.

R.I.P., little mousey. What a sad way to die. Siiiiigh!

-- Badtux the Humane Penguin

Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd are idiots

That is the only thing I can think of. We have 0% effective interest rates right now yet Barney Frank says this:

“I doubt very much that by a year from now Fed presidents are going to have as big a role as they now have,” Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank told reporters… He has said the presidents too often vote in favor of higher interest rates.
The only time I can think of where that has happened in historic times is when Paul Volcker drove rates up to 20% in order to get Ronald Reagan elected (and incidentally tame inflation). The reality is that excess inflation is as bad for an economy as deflation -- both drive money out of the capitalist system into non-productive places like mattress stuffing or wheelbarrow sales that do not significantly contribute to the economy (there are far better things to fill wheelbarrows with than money), both are inherently corrosive to an economy. Mild inflation (2-4%) is good for capitalism because it drives money out from under mattresses and into the banking system where it can be leveraged into future economic output. More than that is toxic to the system of contractual agreements necessary for capitalism to work, which assumes a stable or slightly declining value for money, not one that suddenly dramatically drops in value because of inflation. The 30 day net system which is common for commercial transactions simply quits working entirely if the value of a dollar drops by 5% a day!

So controlling inflation, of which manipulating interest rates is one way of doing so, is in everybody's interest, even Barney Frank's. Yet Barney and Dodd have a proposal on the board that would put low interest rates ahead of maintaining a stable money supply on the Fed's plate. I cannot see any conceivable way in which that would be a Good Thing.

Look, I can understand that some people are upset with bankers. But the Federal Reserve is the only -- the *ONLY* -- government body which has performed exactly the way it is supposed to perform during this current economic crisis. The Fed swiftly dropped interest rates to effectively 0% in order to head off deflation, then when that did not suffice, effectively started printing money via "quantitative easing" (a power which they did not have in 1932, BTW -- that was one lesson learned during the Great Depression, that the Fed had to be able to print money in a deflationary environment). This is exactly the textbook thing to do, and it worked -- while we've had some (mild) income deflation due to job losses, we've had nowhere near the plummet which drove money out of the banking system and under mattresses and thus plunged the U.S. into the Great Depression. So we've had a Great Recession, but nowhere near the economic collapse of 1932.

Unfortunately consumption has remained low and thus the Fed's monetary policy has been ineffective on the employment front, but that's where fiscal policy -- stimulus packages, social insurance, etc. -- has to come into play in order to have the U.S. government as consumer of last resort to temporarily increase consumption until consumer spending returns to normal. The Fed has nothing to do with that. Rather, Congress -- uhm, Barney, Chris, that's *YOU* -- has failed there, bank bailouts do nothing to increase consumption, tax cuts do nothing to increase consumption in a deflationary environment (they just allow mattresses to become plumper with mattress stuffing), the only thing that works is if the government spends money on actual *stuff* like bridges, roads, food for the unemployed, and so forth, and the amount spent on that has been smaller than even Herbert Hoover's stimulus.

Yes, you read that right. Herbert fucking Hoover and his Republican Congress spent more on actual stimulus than the current Democratic Congress has spent. Congress has utterly failed in its principal task -- to protect the general welfare of the American people -- and instead is engaged in attempting to destroy the one and only institution that has worked exactly as designed during this crisis. That's just plain fucked up.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Monday Morning Dream Pop

Our Broken Garden, "When Your Blackening Shows". Anna Brønsted can sing and is a looker besides. So why haven't I ever heard of these folks before?!

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guest economics blogging

Note: This is a guest blog by The Ghost of Milton Friedman

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First, let me answer the question most on your mind: What is it like to be dead? The answer may surprise you: It is quite satisfying, actually. I can speak now in ways that I could never speak while alive. It makes a free market economist lick his lips with glee, I tell you. I miss food and drink, but I was always more interested in the intellectual rewards of life anyhow.

So, back to economics. Today I was asked to talk about corruption in the Afghan government. My response to that is, what is this "corruption" that everybody is talking about? What I see is simple free market economics in action. Governance is a commodity to be bought and sold on the market, like any other commodity. We should not demonize those who purchase special consideration from government by bribing specific officials who regulate their sector, rather, we should applaud them for their understanding of and embracing of the free market principles that made America great! Similarly, those government officials who accept special consideration in order to rule in favor of a particular party should not be prosecuted for "corruption". No, they are simple entrepreneurs, and to be embraced as the exemplars of American values that they are.

In short, I view the Obama administration's attacks upon "corruption" in Afghanistan as just another branch of President Hussein Obama's socialist agenda. This wanton attack upon the very foundation of capitalism is typical of what we can expect from a President who wishes to embark upon a profound re-invention of America as a Cuba North, a socialist paradise where private property is outlawed and free speech lands one in the gulag or simply earns you a bullet between the eyes. We should be applauding the entrepreneurial spirit that has led Afghanistan to producing 90% of a valuable commodity on the world market, rather than attempting to interfere with Afghanistan's embrace of capitalism. Certainly Afghanistan's implementation of capitalism has been somewhat crude and blatant compared to the U.S. variant, but the solution is not to attack capitalism in Afghanistan, but, rather, help the Afghans learn how to properly implement legislative capitalism. The Afghans have proven quick studies, now is the time to help them refine capitalism to the smooth and transparent transfer of wealth that it is here in the USA. Let us not kneecap Afghan capitalism with misguided socialist programs!

-- Dr. Milton Friedman, Ghost

If you're so blue the blues aren't blue enough?

Jason Molina played as "Songs: Ohia" for a long time. Now he's playing as the "Magnolia Electric Company". Jason is another one of those hard working types who aren't pretty so will never get a real break in the music industry. Damn fine songwriter though, kind of reminds me of Neil Young. This one is "What comes after the blues?" I think Paul Krugman might be getting there, heh!

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Empty Dreams

In which I abuse my equipment drastically. I'm surprised I didn't have smoke coming out of it at the end of this. Was just interested in the clipping effects from overdriving analog amplifiers beyond their limits. They're... interesting. I'm using standard acoustic instruments but you wouldn't know that from this result. Now to put lyrics to it...

Update at 1:34AM: Okay, I have vocals now. And synth. And drums. Unfortunately I messed up the timing in the original recording in a few places where I flubbed a chord change while trying to hear the current chord through all the distortion, so the drums sort of skip from time to time as the guitar gets out of time. Very minimalist song, playing with getting away from VCV while retaining a hook. What, you say, I have 5 tracks mixed down into the bloody thing and it's minimalist? Well, it would work with just my guitar and voice too, but then the minimalist nature of the lyrics that I improvised this evening would be quite obvious, as would the fact that I'm circling three chords around in a circle with a circle around back through a fourth chord occasionally.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


Growing up in Ruston, Louisiana, is similar to growing up in Hell. There is nothing to do there for young people but football, hunting, fishing, and drinking prodigious amounts of beer. If you know the right people you can also get some marijuana, but that's pretty much it if you're a white trash boy growing up in Ruston in the 1970's and early 80's. If you're an artistic kid, you might as well be buried alive as live in Ruston. That was the mold that Jeff Mangum grew up in, and what created Neutral Milk Hotel.

Neutral Milk Hotel was basically Jeff Mangum and whoever he could recruit to play the instruments he heard in his head. The first album was rather amateurish. The second one, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was both wildly inventive and expertly done. Jeff had finally managed to get the music in his head onto tape. And so he stopped. Stopped dead. As in, walked off the stage after his last performance with the band, and kept walking, never to be seen by audiences or by the band again. He has been only glimpsed from time to time ever since, with no real answer to the question "Where is Jeff Mangum and what happened to Neutral Milk Hotel?"

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

(Disclaimer: Jeff is a distant relative of mine, though I know that only because I happen to have a copy of the Mangum family tree handy. I may have met him once at a Mangum family reunion, but if so, I don't remember it).

Friday, November 20, 2009


Tried an experimental version of "The Bottomlands". My compositions are generally fairly hooky verse-chorus format, which is what the original version of "The Bottomlands" (or, rather, the two verses and chorus that I have at the moment) are. But with "The Bottomlands" that format always seemed wrong because it required doing a reveal up front that I don't really want to have happen until the end for the effect I want. So I went back and started pulling apart some lyrics to songs that go for a minimalist effect, lyrics that seem almost anti-lyrics in their refusal to adhere to conventional structure. Call it anti-folk or whatever. These are songs that shouldn't work, but do, and I can't figure out why. So I'm experimenting with my own song to see if I can figure out WTF is going on here, and chose one that was giving me trouble because after all what better way to experiment?

Still waiting for this weekend for a block of time to do all this...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday Morning Youtubery

Early Sneaker Pimps, while Kelli Ali was their lead singer. Psychedelic but too rough-edged to be shoe-gazer. Sounds a bit like if you took Garbage and poured a little Portishead on top. Indeed, Portishead is why Sneaker Pimps got rid of Kelli Ali, they decided that the British trip-hop-band-with-girl-singer thing was getting a bit too... stereotyped.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Clearly the answer is more free market health care

CIGNA denies hearing implant to child who will never be able to hear if she doesn't get it within the next few months.

Isn’t it wonderful that in the right wing's wonderful free market world this child doesn’t have to worry about the evil government getting between her doctors and her health care? And the magical Free Market Fairy smiles because that's $20,000 higher bonus that CIGNA's CEO can get next year. Why do you want to make the Free Market Fairy frown by, well, saying that this girl should be receiving the health care that her parents paid insurance money for? Heresy!

So why are we bothering with protecting these bastards, again?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Still hitting the herring sauce

Negative interest rates on t-bills.

This is crazy. Money is fleeing the economy and disappearing under mattresses so fast that people are actually paying to put it under mattresses (what putting money into t-bills basically is at this point in time). That indicates deflation -- serious deflation. Deflation so severe that even if you *pay* to stash your money away in vaults, you *still* make money thanks to the value of money increasing due to fewer dollars actually circulating as vs. sitting under mattresses. Yet President Obama is lunatically talking to Fox News about how he wants to reduce the deficit -- which is a deflationary act.

I have to figure out some way to get out of this lunatic asylum...

-- Badtux the Depressed Depression Penguin

Thursday morning dream pop

Mazzy Star, "Into Dust". From back when MTV actually played music. Once again Hope Sandoval is standing motionless at attention while whispering lyrics into the microphone. The song is actually a bit slight if you look at the actual lyrics, but who cares, it's just so damned beautiful...

Yeah, been listening to a *lot* of music this week while waiting until this weekend to have an uninterrupted block of time long enough to finish arranging the new song...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And why the prior post?

It's not just Krugman who looks all hangdog nowdays. Even non-Krugman economists are now saying that all it will take is one more economic shock to push the economy completely into a new Great Depression.

Siiiiiigh. [bumbles off, looks for herring to drown troubles in.]

-- Badtux the Depression Penguin (or is that "depressed"?)

Wednesday morning hangdog economist music blogging

The Paul Krugman Blues, ladies and germs!

Loudon Wainwright III's children get a lot more attention than he does. Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright both seem to agree that Loudan and his then-wife Kate McGarrigle were pretty negligent as parents. Here's Martha Wainwright's take on her dad's parenting skills (warning, NOT for those who need fainting couches upon hearing "vulgar" language):

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Keeping the proles under control

One in seven Americans short of food.

In the late days of the 19th century, industrialist robber barons viciously resisted labor unions or any attempts at creating food security. A common sentiment was, "we must keep people hungry, otherwise they will not be sufficiently motivated to labor in our factories."

It seems the robber barons of the early 21st century share a similar sentiment. Except that there are no longer any factories for the hungry to labor in for their daily bread, but hey, there is a shortage of nannies and gardeners, if we reduce the standard of living enough maybe our elites won't even have to import Mexicans for those jobs!

-- Badtux the "Same old same old" Penguin

Tuesday Morning Youtubery

Phosphorescent, "A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise". Interesting dream pop, don't quite know what I think about it but definitely not something you'll ever hear on the public airwaves. Matthew Houck will never be a big name, because, well, he isn't pretty. And being pretty is sort of a requirement for making it big in today's music scene.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Monday, November 16, 2009


I just got a right-wing news blast saying that we're just 51 votes away from mandatory harvesting of American bodily organs for implantation into foreigners! Yes, if healthcare reform passes the Senate, say goodbye to your friends and family, because America's bodily organs will be plundered by foreigners swarming across our borders to get free organ transplants from Uncle Sam!

And let's not forget that our elders will be required to report to Soylent Green processing stations in order to be turned into kitty kibble, and then Martians will swoop down and RAPE ALL OUR NUBILE FEMALES! Hey, it could happen, right?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Monday morning Youtubery

Emmy The Great name-checks Leonard Cohen in her song "First Love". How can you hate a musician who name-checks Leonard Cohen? And isn't it ridiculous that there's so much good music out there by so many interesting singers and songwriters yet anytime you turn on the radio, all you hear are the same five songs by the same five talentless overproduced hacks rehashing the same crap that's been boring people silly for the past twenty years?

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The creative process #2

So now I have the general notion of the song down and an idea of where I want it to go. I have fragments of lyrics here and there and an idea of which verse is going to be about what part of the situation I'm imagining. Now what?

Well... now I sing "Ghost in the Mirror" all the way through, trying to fit the lyrics to the tune I'm playing. The end result is not going to be the final song, because some of the lyrics are going to be mumbled or fumbled and I'll think of some other things I want there too, but mission accomplished -- I now have a song. It's 4:30 long so obviously I have *too* much song, but that's why they invented this thing called "editing"... now I get to prune the lyrics down to a nice comfortable 3:00 or so that's easier for me to remember than that friggin' novel, not to mention making it more enigmatic and general. Then I can record the final version of the song.

And yes, we songwriters often *do* deliberately make the songs deliberately obscure, the general goal is to give people room to fit the general emotions of the song to their specific circumstances or to situations they can more easily imagine than the exact situation I was imagining when I wrote the song. It is that whole Bob Dylan vs. Phil Ochs thing again, where Bob said to Phil, "you're not songwriting, you're reporting." Bob is still around. Phil is not, and is largely forgotten outside of former tie-died hippies. There are very, very few topical songs that hold up well, and usually they're deliberately made general in order to have wider applicability, such as the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" which is about making choices and accepting consequences, not just the specific choices they made that caused a furor. I still am chuckling over the time that a drug-abuse campaign asked if they could use one of my songs. The song was not about what they thought it was about, at least not for me when I was writing it. But if that's what it's about from their perspective, well, my job is done ;).

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sorry about turning this into a music blog for a few days, music is what I've been doing for the past couple of days. So here, have some Dixie Chicks...

Sunday Music Break

I think I've already posted this once before, but so it goes. Just was browsing through the Black Cab Sessions after Friday's find, and here we go. England's minimalist indy artist Scout Niblett grimaces her way through a gritty "Nevada".

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

TEAC HD-1 HD radio / clock / iPod stereo

I picked one of these up at Costco yesterday for $99. It is a somewhat chunky block that sits on your nightstand. It has an iPod/iPhone port on the top with various adaptors for the various shapes of iPods and iPhones, and will do HD (digital) AM and FM also.

On the back there are the following ports: FM antenna, AM antenna, AUX in, AUX out, headphones, and video out. I guess the video out is if you're playing videos on your iPod, otherwise it makes no sense. Also included is a chunky remote that is ridiculously large by today's standards.

The first thing I tested was the iPod functionality. When I'm in my bedroom reading in bed I like to have some music to accompany me, and given the lackluster offerings on commercial radio today, my iPhone is the main way to get that. The problem is that I find headphones to be confining, thus the reason for this small clock radio / stereo. I plugged everything in, hung up the antennas on the wall between my bedroom and my living room, and plugged in my iPhone. When I plugged the iPhone in, it automatically switched into iPod mode. I could then use the iPhone's iPod controls to select the song to play and start playing it. The channel forward/back buttons on the remote (and on the radio itself) also served to go forward and back between songs once I had the iPod started on a playlist.

The next thing I checked out was the Internet radio functionality. I stopped the iPod on the iPhone's touchscreen, pushed the Home button, and selected Pandora. Pandora immediately started streaming out of the stereo's speakers. Cool!

Then I started testing the radio part. At first I thought the radio was incredibly insensitive. I live in a very crowded-spectrum area, the San Francisco Bay area, where pretty much any possible frequency has a radio station on it. Then I moved the radio to the other nightstand -- the one against the wall -- and strung the FM dipole antenna in the corner with one leg against the outside wall and one leg on the inside wall. SUCCESS! I could then pick up all the San Jose radio stations and many of the San Francisco radio stations.

How does the HD radio sound? Well, ordinary FM sounds somewhat muffled by comparison. The boast is that HD FM radio sounds "better than CDROM". I don't know about that, but I do know it sounds much brighter and much more detailed than regular FM radio. The HD FM stations also typically have a second HD subchannel that plays something similar to the main HD channel but with more obscure songs or a slightly different (usually "harder") format.

So what's the downsides? First, there is no number pad on the remote. The remote is gigantic -- certainly large enough for a number pad -- but you cannot directly enter a frequency or present number. The only way to select a frequency is to press the 'up' or 'down' button on the remote, or scroll the wheel on the radio, or select a preset. The FM radio has 20 presets, but the only way to cycle through them is from 1 thru 20 (i.e., forward order) by hitting the 'preset' button. Which also brings up the issue that you can only go *forward* through the presets, not *backward*. So if you want to listen to preset 9 and you're currently listening to preset 10, the only way to get to preset 9 is to press that blasted 'preset' button 20 times. In other words, navigating in radio mode is pretty limited.

Secondly, the alarm/clock function doesn't really work that well. It's an LCD, and thus is not visible at night without the backlight turned on. But the dimmest setting of the backlight is still way too bright at night, bright enough to serve as a nightlight. While the alarm is *very* loud (you can adjust the volume), the 'snooze' function only gives you 6 minutes, not the 9 minutes typical of older clock radios. 6 minutes isn't much of a 'snooze'. Still, it works well enough to not warrant keeping a second alarm clock handy.

Am I satisfied with the radio? Yes. It does what I wanted it to do -- play music from my iPod/iPhone with reasonable fidelity while I'm relaxing in bed. The HD radio stuff, despite the navigational difficulties caused by the poor user interface, are a pleasant plus. I do wish the clock had a lower backlighting setting so it wasn't so bleepin' bright at night, and that the snooze button would wait for 9 minutes rather than 6 minutes, but (shrug). It's $99. I guess to make a gadget that does so much sell for so cheap, some shortcuts are inevitable.

-- Badtux the Geeky Penguin

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pro-rape Republicans upset...

... that the public is mad at them for being pro-rape. The lesson they learned: That when they want to defend the right of male military contractors to rape female military contractors, they should hide their vote on the subject or use procedural methods to hold up the vote.

You can't make this shit up, folks. Republican lawmakers genuinely did not foresee that a pro-rape vote would be a problem! And even today, they still see nothing wrong with their pro-rape vote, other than the fact that they didn't figure out some way to hide it. Even my male moron redneck relatives back home have a problem with the notion that women are for raping (nevermind the women, they're ready to take cleavers and iron skillets to David Vitter). They might be inbred redneck white trash cretins, but they have some standards, dadburnit!

-- Badtux the "These dudes are shameless!" Penguin

Random thought for the day

There are two kinds of ships in the U.S. Navy: Submarines, and targets.

-- Badtux the Random Penguin

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Afternoon Youtubery

Bill Callahan (who also performs as the band "Smog"), in one of the Black Cab Sessions. A *lot* of good stuff in the Black Cab Sessions, you might want to browse them on YouTube.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, November 12, 2009

8 gigabytes

I just finished upgrading my MacBook Pro to 8 gigabytes of memory. That ought to allow me to run a few different VMware virtual machines at once (I use all this RAM to slice it up into virtual machines for developing software for different operating systems). In particular, I just bumped Windows 7's memory allotment to 2 gigabytes. Maybe it'll quit running like a dog...

Note, BTW, that WIndows XP runs just fine in 512 megabytes of memory.

-- Badtux the Geeky Penguin

Being moderate

Penguin: Welcome to Penguin News Network. Here at PNN we present only the finest of news, read by the most adorable of penguins. Today, our guest is Joe Mentum, Senator from SmallState, here to explain what being moderate is all about. Hi, Joe!

Joe: Hi, Penguin!

Penguin: Okay, Joe. You're well known for being an independent moderate. What does being moderate mean?

Joe: Well, Penguin, being moderate means that when there's a disagreement, you arrive at compromise solutions that nobody really likes.

Penguin: Like deciding to serve spinach souffle if your kids can't agree whether they want tuna casserole or beans and franks for dinner?

Joe: Exactly! See, that's a moderate solution, because both kids end up unhappy!

Penguin: Okay, Joe, as we all know, health care is a hot issue today. Democrats really want to create a right to health care so that no American has to die for lack of health care. Republicans have countered with their own health care plan where, if patients can't afford health care, they report to Soylent Green processing centers for conversion into cat food. What is your compromise plan between these two?

Joe: Well, the Democrat's plan makes taxpayers happy, but makes my buddies at Hartford Insurance unhappy. Someone's happy, so it's not a moderate solution! So my plan is that half of Americans get a right to health care, and the other half report to Soylent Green processing centers for conversion to cat food if they get sick. My buddies at Hartford Insurance are unhappy then because they're forced to pay for the healthcare of the half of Americans who have a right to health care rather than being able to give multi-billion dollar bonuses to their executive staff, the half of Americans who must report to Soylent Green processing centers are unhappy because they would rather have health care than a painless segue into cat fodder, so it's a moderate solution!

Penguin: Wow, Joe, you're right! It's as if Eichmann had arrived at a moderate solution to his Jew problem -- only send HALF of them to the gas chambers! Adolph Hitler would have been unhappy because half the Jews would still be alive, the Jews would be unhappy because half of them would get gassed, so clearly that's a moderate solution that should have been embraced rather than the extremist Final Solution that Eichmann eventually arrived at!

Joe: That's not funny. I'm Jewish, you know.

Penguin: But you're a moderate. So surely you would embrace that solution, since it made everybody unhappy and thus is a moderate solution to the problem, right?

Joe: This interview is over. [Rips microphone off, stomps off the set.]

Penguin: And that's it for this episode of Press the Herring. I've learned a lot about what it means to be a moderate, and I hope you have too. Remember, violation of only some of the population's fundamental human rights isn't an atrocity -- it's a moderate solution!. So until next time, this is Badtux the Snarky Penguin signing off...

[Darth Vader voice] This... is PNN.

[Woman's voice] Bothered by unsettling herring stains on your tuxedo? Try new all-temperature Reehc! Its soothing enzyme action even works in the coldest of cold water...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Windows 7

Spent some time evaluating it this week. It's purty, and it's better than Windows Vista (how's that for damning with faint praise? Talk about a low bar to exceed!), but it's still a friggin mess, just frosting and sugar on top of the same old Windows 95 user interface that was introduced over 14 years ago. My conclusion:

You can polish a turd until it's nice and shiny and spiffy looking. But in the end, it's still a turd.

'Nuff said.

-- Badtux the Technology Penguin

The right wing solution

The right wing has a solution for all of society's problems:

  1. Free Market Fairy waves her magic wand
  2. ...
  3. Ponies!

For those of you who suggest that the free market does NOT solve all problems, shame on you. You make the Free Market Fairy cry!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

What is the true unemployment rate?

The government says it's the U-3 measure, which stood at 10.2% as of November 5. Sceptics say it is the U-6 measure, which stands at 17.5%. But my suspicion is even higher, because of one piece of data contained in neither figure: labor force participation rate, which is 2.1% lower today than it was in 1999.

What that implies is that 2.1% of the U.S. population -- or roughly 3.15% of the available workforce, since children and the elderly are not counted in the available workforce statistics -- is not counted in the official U-3 measure. Now, clearly, some of these people are being counted in the U-6 measure. But how many?

Our clue is the U-4 measure, which includes "discouraged" workers -- i.e., unemployed, would like a job, but haven't sought a job in the past month. U-4 stands at 10.7%. That means that 0.5% of the U-6 measure is comprised of "discouraged" workers who are not counted in the labor participation rate but who are counted as unemployed in the U-6 measure. Thus U7 (U-6 minus "discouraged" workers) is 17%. Add in 3.15% for people who USED to be working and aren't working now, and you're at 20.15%.... uhm. Err. Bad. Last year I predicted that fireworks would start happening at 20%. Let's just hope that U-6 (what I was using then) is the correct measure for when fireworks start and that unemployment will start going down soon... because if not, cue the food riots and fascist revolution (Communism having gone out of style since 1932).

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oh my, how rude

Richard Simmons is a terrorist.

This penguin is speechless. The mighty Gay Agenda at work again, to terrorize us with well-coifed hair styles and tasteful interior decor?

-- Badtux the Head-shaking Penguin

The Birthday Ball


That is all.

-- Badtux the Brief Penguin

Today's economic news

If you are not reading Calculated Risk, go. The current news is... sobering.

-- Badtux the Unfortunately-sober Penguin

"Conventional wisdom" vs. reality

So let's talk about "conventional wisdom". What you find, looking at the data, is that "conventional wisdom" typically is nothing of the sort. It's passed-down superstitions and talking points with no basis in fact, no supporting data, no reality.

So let's look at Nathan's "conventional wisdom" from my post on unemployment below:

Instead of lasering in on unemployment as the lone bogeyman, I think we should look at the entire basket of problems.
The problem is that employment is necessary in order for people to consume, and consumption is necessary in order to employ people. Hmm, circular relationship there, right? But in any event, if we're going to wean the economy off of government intervention, clearly focusing on employment is the way to do that, because only increasing employment can increase consumption enough to remove government from the role of "consumer of last resort".
1. we need to deleverage the economy and get back to saner levels of personal and savings,
Indeed, and that is happening. That is the cause of the problems with the banks and deflation, deleveraging by definition decreases the money supply via increasing the effective reserve ratio of the banking system (see: fractional reserve banking). The problem with deflation is that past debts are unpayable with today's lower incomes caused by deflation, causing more defaults, more bank failures, more deflation, wash, rinse, repeat. In short, while deleveraging is necessary, the deflation caused by deleveraging is harmful and must be addressed via monetary expansionary efforts, which are ineffective when we are in liquidity trap territory because any printed money just goes under mattresses because it will be worth more later (as the currency in circulation further deflates). Thus the requirement for fiscal stimulus and deficit spending to draw that money out from under mattresses and put it to use, otherwise the freshly-printed money would just disappear under mattresses where it does nothing to foster employment and investment -- just as what happened in Japan during the 1990's, causing their 'lost decade'.
2. we need to own more of our debt as a nation.
As long as the debt is owed in dollars that is irrelevant. If China was so stupid as to call in their debt, we'd simply print dollars (by issuing new debt that was purchased by the Federal Reserve with freshly printed dollars) and give them to the Chinese and say "okay, here you go!". If we wanted to be *really* mean, we'd deliver it as freshly printed bales of $100 bills, and let the Chinese figure out the logistics of how to get several freighters full of cash from the wharfs in Oakland to Beijing ;).

3. the trend toward higher spending has no end in sight. Is government spending the only hammer in your tool box?
Utter nonsense. We are using government right now as consumer of last resort to provide consumption necessary for full employment. We need full employment in order to prevent the sort of human misery that results in social disorder, violence, and the breakdown of society -- people do *not* voluntarily starve to death. Once employment is on the rebound the amount of government consumption can -- and will -- be reduced because rising prices as economic activity causes a resumption of lending and thus decrease in effective reserve ratio and thus inflation will naturally shift resources away from fixed-price government contracts back into the free market (i.e., $1 of government money will no longer buy as much). We have equations on how this happens that have accurately described this behavior during past recessions. We don't need speculation, talking points, or "common wisdom" here, we have data.
4. everyone knows the phrase "no pain no gain",
Talking point and "common wisdom" borrowed from the sports world that is actually contradicted by facts. What exercise physiologists have discovered is that if you are in actual pain while training for an athletic event (as vs. mild discomfort), you are overtraining. Athletes who train to the point of pain perform more poorly in athletic events than athletes who train to the point of mild discomfort. In short, "no pain no gain" has been utterly discredited and refuted by science -- if you have pain, what that means is that you're causing muscle breakdown, and muscle breakdown is *never* good if you're trying for optimal muscle performance.

As is true for physiology, so is true for economies. Unemployment beyond the amount needed in order to keep human resources mobile is *never* good. Mild discomfort (i.e., unemployment around 5-6%) can be good for an economy because it allows the economy to shift resources around to what's most in demand, but once you pass into actual pain, you are contributing to the sort of deflationary cycle that is not solvable via pure capitalism.

Blessing like belt tightening, going back to school, providing venues for humility and charity, focusing on what in important in life, *a smaller carbon foot print!*, slowing the pace of urban sprawl, and restructuring society for future sustainable growth.
Some of these are undoubtedly good things. But people do not willingly starve to death. Real unemployment is now somewhere around 20%, and those people are starting to run out of resources as food pantries and soup kitchens become overwhelmed and run out of food and family and friends become overwhelmed and unable to provide further support to the unemployed. They will do whatever it takes -- WHATEVER it takes -- in order to avoid starving to death. We will need some sort of government intervention here because capitalism has no -- zero -- mechanisms for solving the problem other than "let them eat cake", and that works no better today than it did during the time of Marie Antoinette. The French Revolution was a disaster not only for the French aristocracy (who all lost their heads -- literally), but for the people of France, since it led to the rise of the despot Napoleon and the death of probably 25% of adult Frenchmen in Napoleon's endless wars of conquest. I think we need to avoid that example, thank you very much. If it means that I'm going to be taxed a few percent higher in order to provide food stamps to people currently not eligible for food stamps, well, so it goes. Better that than lose my head (literally).
Come on people, look at this thing holistically. I don't buy that the end of the word is nigh if we don't spend 2 more trillion. Let's start taking our lumps and quit whining.
Who's whining? I'm talking about facts here. The fact is that without serious intervention in the economy, we are going into a deflationary spiral that will result in the collapse of capitalism much as happened multiple times during the 1800's and almost happened in 1932. If capitalism collapses unemployment is likely to peak at around 50% before things start getting better, and the only reason they'll get better is because America and Americans will be so impoverished by then that we'll be living like the Mexico City garbage dump inhabitants who survive by scavenging rotting banana peels and such from the piles of reeking garbage, i.e. they'll get better because it will be impossible to get worse.

We do not live in the agrarian nation of the 1850's, and we cannot survive severe depressions and the collapse of capitalism today by hunkering down on our farms and growing our own food. In the 1850's it didn't matter if capitalism failed for a while and reduced the economy to a barter economy for a few years. But we don't live in that world anymore. For better or for worse we hitched our horse to capitalism, and if capitalism fails today, the suffering -- and outright death toll -- would be horrific. What that means is that we have to do whatever it takes to keep capitalism from collapsing, and the first thing that has to be done is prevent a deflationary spiral, which means we have to figure out some way to get that $2T of disappeared dollars back into the economy -- and circulating, NOT under mattresses, where it's useful for nothing other than mattress stuffing. Since capitalism has no mechanism to do this, we are, by default, stuck with government doing it. If you have some other mechanism in mind, tell us.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thought for the day

Republicans talking about fiscal discipline is like a street-walker preaching about chastity.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

The cost of empire

So now the newspapers are filled with triumphalist natterings about how Ronald Reagan was responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall (even though it happened during the presidency of George H.W. Bush) yada yada yada. To which I have only one word to say:


The Soviet Empire fell because the cost of empire bankrupted the Soviets and their creaky command economy was incapable of dealing with the information age, not because of anything Reagan did or didn't do. The first cracks in the Soviet economy were visible as early as the late 1960's, when Soviet attempts to build a moon rocket failed because their creaky command economy was simply incapable of building big rocket engines or the complex computer systems needed to control large clusters of smaller engines. The basic problem was the intermediaries problem -- modern technology requires thousands of intermediate steps to create the final product, and arranging for the production of those intermediate products in order to get the final product is a huge task. Capitalism's solution to the intermediaries problem is to train economies via tokens ("money") to produce the intermediaries needed for the final product, i.e., it is a neural network type solution that "trains" the economy towards the desired goals. But the Soviets never managed that, meaning that their economy by nature was inherently inefficient and could achieve complex goals only with horrific overheads. Couple that with the huge costs of maintaining an empire -- oil deliveries to Cuba alone took up massive amounts of oil that could have been sold for hard cash on the open market to buy things the Soviets needed from the open market, for example -- and the outcome was certain.

Indeed, by the end entire sectors of the Soviet economy actually had *negative* outcomes -- they consumed more resources than they produced in outputs. As a result, the Soviet infrastructure started collapsing in the early to mid 1980's. The most important collapse was of their oil and gas delivery infrastructure, which suffered multiple explosions due to leaks caused by poor construction and maintenance during those years. In fact, the most direct cause of the collapse of the East German regime was nothing that anybody in the West did: rather, the cut-off of natural gas deliveries to East Germany in the aftermath of the Ufa gas pipeline explosion resulted in much suffering and misery to the point where even the secret police had finally had enough.

In short, all that Reagan managed to do was scare the bejeezus out of everybody who was concerned that "Ronnie Ray-Gun" was going to push that red button. In that Reagan was crazy like a fox -- he had no intention of starting a nuclear war, he just wanted to bluff the Soviets into thinking that he was willing to do so if the Soviets did something stupid like mount a conventional invasion of U.S. client states, i.e., he did exactly what the Soviet leaders were doing at the time -- but this didn't cause the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc economies, and eventually the collapse of the regimes that controlled those economies, is what caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. All the Reagan triumphalism aside, this should be an excellent lesson for those who believe that America can continue absorbing the huge cost of empire and ignoring its economy. The Soviets thought they could do that because they were, after all, Communists, and thus thought they could merely command things into existence. But reality doesn't work that way, and right now it looks an awful lot like the USA is going the same way as the USSR, as the costs of empire and leaders who refuse to understand fundamental economics principles drag us down...

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Some Sunday dance music

Tracy Chapman, "Give Me One Reason". Okay, not usually what most folks would think of as dance music, but I dare you to be standing up while it's playing and your feet *not* move in time with the music...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

The employment numbers

Worst since WW2.

We need some bold action from Washington, or things are going to go to hell in a handbasket. Unfortunately today's Democrats have all the spine of a jellyfish, and President Obama appears to be in thrall to his Treasury Department, which is led by Wall Street insiders, and hasn't proposed anything bolder than milk and cookies for bankers. Siiiiigh!

-- Badtux the Economy Penguin

Cat TV is a go

The Mighty Fang and Mencken watching the Cat TV from their prime balcony seats.

-- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Friday, November 06, 2009

The war on drugs

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

So... if you already died from using recreational drugs, yet you're answering this poll, does this mean that you are... uhm.... Jesus Christ?!

Chalk up one more fail for U.S. drug warriors, who have to be the dullest tools in the workshop...

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Unemployment numbers

They are a disaster, pure and simple. According to the New York Times, real unemployment is at its highest rate since the Great Depression. I will talk more about the numbers -- especially regarding labor force participation declines (which indicate that the number of unemployed is significantly higher than the official figures, even the U-6 figures) later, because I'm out of disk space on my hard drive and thus need to upgrade to a larger hard drive, which will take all night...

-- Badtux the Geeky Penguin

Update: MacOS is installing on my hard drive right now. I'm bored and hooked up a monitor and keyboard to my Ubuntu Linux server to type this, usually my Macbook Pro is the only thing with a keyboard and monitor hooked to it.

Mouse problem

We're having a mouse problem at work and the suggestion was made to bring in the Mighty Fang and Mencken to deal with the problem. I laughed. The boys are so lazy that they'd just look up at us and say, "you want us to do what?!". Or meow angrily that we weren't catching the mouse for them.

Here's the only mice they threaten:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

The Mighty Fang has developed a new trick. He's found that if he starts to nuzzle the wires on my computer desk while he's sitting in my lap, I'll stop typing and cuddle him against me. Both annoying and adorable at the same time, heh!

-- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Free market snake oil

The right-wingers claim that they actually DO have a plan for health care: Simply remove all government regulation of healthcare altogether, and the Magic Free Market Fairy will wave her magic wand and magically provide health care for all Americans. I have just one question for these folks: Can they point to one nation, any nation, anywhere on this planet, where this in fact actually works?


Uhm, hello? (tap tap tap). Uhm, guess not.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Security snake oil

Iraqi government spends millions on bomb detectors that are nothing but sticks.

Afghan policeman kills 5 NATO soldiers.

These are our allies? Uhm... no. We should be gone. Period. Else we risk more U.S. soldiers cracking and going on shooting sprees... enough. Enough.

-- Badtux the "Enough is enough" Penguin

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"Messages" from election

The MSM is rushing to say that there's "lessons" to be learned in two Democrats winning House seats (including one who ran in a district that hasn't elected a Democrat since the founding of the United States) and two Republicans winning governorships. It's nonsense. Utter nonsense. All politics is local, and these folks won their respective elections because of local issues. Corzine was booted because of corruption, the two Democratic Congressmen won because their opponents were out-of-district Republican crazies who didn't speak to the concerns of the district, and the Democratic candidate in Virginia lost because he was a rural candidate when the majority of Virginia Democrats are urban so the Democrats voted with their seats -- they stayed home.

Of the races, only the governorship in Virginia was perhaps a statement, and that statement is that white Democrats from rural districts who run on a conservative platform don't turn out the predominantly liberal youth and minority votes needed for Democrats to win. Deeds was a horrible candidate for the governorship -- he was from a part of Virginia that hasn't voted for Democrats in state-wide elections for decades, he was a rural candidate when the majority of Democratic voters are urban, and he ran a race that was basically indistinguishable from his Republican opponent. So Democrats stayed home, independents said "why vote for a fake Republican when we can vote for the real thing?" and of course the Republicans would have voted for a red dog if the red dog had an (R) by his name.

But of course the punditry is going to spin all of this one way or another. The simple fact is that in each state, either the opposing candidate was incredibly weak (yes, Corzine was incredibly weak -- the man was as corrupt as a $3 bill) or the winner had an organizational and money advantage that was hard to overcome. The political party only vaguely entered into it, even in Virginia the urban Democrats stayed home as much from geographical reasons ("why would I bother voting for some inbred hillbilly from western Virginia?") as for party reasons.

-- Badtux the Elections Penguin

The creative process

a) Have idea for song. b) decide the basic verse-chorus structure of what you want to do. c) write fragments of lyrics. d) decide chord progressions and basic harmony. e) babble some lyrics into microphone while playing chords to see whether you can fit what you want into the basic chord progressions, then bounce a crude mix with a bit of compression and EQ to see whether the general sound is what you want.

Hmm. Not bad. The vocals seem a bit too warm, but that can be adjusted at the EQ control and it doesn't sound bad, exactly, just a bit muffled. And as usual, my guitar sounds great with just a bit of compression to even out the dynamics once I hit the chorus with its harder sound. So now I get to take all the verse fragments that I've been scribbling and actually fit them to the music. After I've played it through a few times, then comes the joy of recording. First I'll lay down the guitar track while quietly humming the melody/lyrics to myself so that I get the timing right, then record the vocals track with the monitor headphones on playing back the guitar track while I'm recording. Then I'll add tracks for whatever instruments I decide on -- harmonica makes a nice mournful sound, recorder makes a soft gentle sound, a bit of piano or organ, some electronic drums? And finally, the final mix-down... and mixdown... and mixdown... and re-recording of parts that won't mix the way I want... and mixdown...

You hear about people going into the studio for three days, and three days later there's an album. I have absolutely no idea how they do that, unless they're counting only the recording part, not the mixdown part. Getting all the parts mixed correctly is incredibly annoying and tedious...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Wednesday morning dream pop

Mazzy Star, Fade into You

Hope Sandoval looks like she's being held up by a rod stuck up her back, just standing at attention at that microphone whispering the lyrics into it. She looks like at any moment she might bolt from the stage and go curl up into a ball somewhere dark and quiet.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How do you spell "Thieu" in Pashtun?

K-A-R-Z-A-I, apparently.

But I have one quibble. Thieu's very efficient secret police kept Saigon secure and relatively violence-free up to the end. It wasn't enough to save his bacon -- a terrorized population under the thumb of a brutal dictator is hardly eager to resist invasion (just ask Saddam Hussein -- oh wait, not possible!) -- but clearly Thieu was more effective than Karzai, who can't even secure his own capital city.

In short, not only are we supporting a corrupt dictator in Afghanistan -- we're supporting a corrupt ineffective dictator. And how the fuck is that supposed to be in the best interests of the USA? Curious penguins want to know!

-- Badtux the Curious Penguin

Monday, November 02, 2009

The question of Israel

Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic asks, "One question that should always be asked of an ally: what is that ally doing for the US? Since the end of the Cold War, that question has been increasingly hard to answer with respect to Israel."

Actually that question was hard to answer even during the Cold War. No U.S. troops were ever stationed in Israel, no U.S. fighter jets were ever stationed in Israel, no U.S. ships were ever based in Israel. About all that Israel contributed to U.S. efforts in the Cold War was the occasional attack on a U.S. ship and let's not forget the U.S. jets shot down over Lebanon by Syrian SAM's during the early 80's because Israel refused to give the U.S. the information needed to jam those SAM's. Frankly, Israel has never been a supporter of the U.S. in any way, Cold War or not. Turkey was a bigger supporter of the U.S. Cold War effort than Israel.

But of course that's not why the U.S. supports Israel, and I've already alluded to those reasons in prior messages:

  1. It helps assuage U.S. guilt for U.S. participation in Hitler's "Final Solution" (hint: If gas chambers were the FINAL solution, what other solutions were tried? Hint#2: The U.S. would *NOT* take the Jews that Hitler didn't want, thus leaving Hitler with only one "final" solution left to the problem of, "what do we do with all of Europe's Jews?").
  2. If the U.S. quit supporting Israel than Israel would likely collapse, since it is one giant welfare state. Because of #1, the U.S. would feel obligated to give refuge to the Jews fleeing Israel. Thus U.S. support of Israel keeps all those Jews over there in the Middle East, instead of over here in the USA. Important voting populations really prefer the Jews to be over there rather than over here. Ever wonder why the rabid Christianists are such fervent supporters of Israel, even though they regularly preach from their pulpits that the Jews killed Christ? Guess.
In other words, U.S. support of Israel allows the majority of Americans to be anti-Semitic without *feeling* anti-Semitic, since surely they couldn't be a bunch of Jew-haters if they support Israel, right? Right?! And that's what U.S. support of Israel accomplishes. It's a small thing, but guilt and racism are powerful forces, eh?

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Where's the parents?

Just askin'. It seems way too many parents spurt'em out, but aren't willing to spend any time looking out for them afterwards. It always amused me during my teaching days that the only parents I ever saw were the parents I didn't need to see. Problem kids, the only time I saw their parents was if their parents stormed the school complaining about that mean Mr. Tux being mean to their darling little brat by sending the brat to the office for disrupting class...

And don't give me the bullshit about parents being busy, small kids at home, blah blah blah. There's aunts and uncles and neighborhood kids who can look after smaller kids, and if you can't re-arrange your schedule to have three or four evenings per school year off it's only because you don't care. And yeah, I know there are vicious employers who will fire you rather than allow you to go to a school event. But priorities, people. Priorities. If your child's education has less priority than a shift at Taco Bell, your child's education will have less quality than a taco from Taco Bell... and that's pretty damned scary, when you think about it.

-- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin

Crumbling America

Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge open again after week-long closure. Seems a piece of it fell off and smashed some cars, injuring one of the passengers.

This is the eastern span, which is in the process of being replaced by a span that has been under construction for eight years and is scheduled to be completed three years from now. Building the entire Bay Bridge took only three years back in 1933, but that was in 1933, when we were a real nation that knew how to build shit. Today... not so much.

It was a good run, America, but a nation that no longer has the capability to keep its basic infrastructure up and going is a nation that is in irreversible decline. The Roman Empire fell in part because their infrastructure collapsed, and nobody knew how to fix it anymore, or cared. So it goes.

-- Badtux the Collapse Penguin

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A ghost

I am working on a song. It is tentatively titled "ghost in the mirror", and is about ghosts (the real kinds that haunt the living), about a lost little girl, about love, about happiness, about fear. Does it have a happy ending? I suppose not, but I would say about it, paraphrasing TVZ, "it's not sad, it's hopeless." Perhaps the lost little girl finds her way home. Or perhaps she remains a ghost in a mirror seen only from the corner of your eye, only glimpses of beauty to frustrate those who have loved and lost, an occasional wailing of pain heard distantly from places that cannot be seen..

-- Badtux the Cryptic Penguin

Gosh, no racism here!

Obama's favorability-unfavorability rating in the South is 28-67, while it is 68-23 in the rest of the country.

Gosh, I wonder why that is? Hmm, here is a typical Southern town welcoming the new Sheriff Obama into town:

-- Badtux the "No racism here, nuh uh!" Penguin