Thursday, April 24, 2008

This 'N' That

It's dangerous to scan Drudge when feeling at all snarky these days:

Prepare Ye, Lest Ye Be Consumed
Brett Arends, writing for the Wall Street Journal, opens his column with this line:
I don't want to alarm anybody [Ed.: Oh, you most certainly DO, sir.], but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food.
Nice opening. Kind of thing that makes a fella feel warm all over. Reminds me a little of the scene in Monsters, Inc:
"In my professional opinion, now would be the perfect time to panic!"

[TV crashes to floor as if to underscore the need for panic.]
Nothing like a little dire warning to get the blood flowing. Latter-day Saints, however, take these warnings with a huge grain of salt. It's not that we don't understand that inflationary pressures will drive the cost of food through the roof. It's simply that we've been counselling our members for decades to store up against calamity. No need to specify; you can take your choice: earthquake, famine, floods, fires, hurricanes, sickness, loss of job, Democrats in the White House. The prudent need not fear. Much.

Oh, Bother
So a "report" says that oil prices will more or less double within the next four years. Q'uel surprise. I suppose we'd better start stockpiling oil, too.

Oh. Wait.

Hot on the heels of that report comes word that Patrick Moore, founder of Greenpeace, has decided that, yeah, fossil fuels need to be eliminated, but, y'know... nuclear power may not be so bad after all. He said this to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

His remarks were interrupted by the appearance of a pig flying low over the pulpit.

I will state for the record that we at Hacienda Woody are doing our part. Grudgingly, but we're doing our part. We have decided that gas prices have finally forced us to have a non-travel vacation this year. We'll spend our time working around the Hacienda (heaven knows, it needs our attention), and taking a couple of day trips around the immediate area. May have to include Disneyland in our plans. I'll just pull the fam behind my bicycle.

Jenna Said WHAT??

Finally, we have word that young Jenna Bush, heiress to the fabulous Bush empire, has indicated she "may not" support Sen. McCain for President this November. Now, while this statement may have been reported by the same newswires that have completely ignored the Obama-Ayers connection, and while it has caused ripples of fear through every Republican as far away as the Rose Garden, most of us Republicans (and I count myself in that number) are not losing any sleep over it. Jenna is a young twenty-something girl who still has a lot to learn about the political world around her. She's at just the right age to have those liberal leanings that say, hey, life isn't at all fair and we need to do something about that. At some point, she'll find out that doing something about it and actually solving it are two completely different things. Time and experience will teach her those lessons.

For me? The whole "Jenna-gate" controversy is a non-entity. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Huge Quake in Next 30 Years

Okay, so where have we heard this one before?

Every so often the seismic scientific community crawls out of its cave deep under Cal Poly, blinks up at the sun, and pronounces that California is in Big Trouble. The "Big One" is gonna hit. Soon. Next thirty years, tops.

We've been hearing this for at least the last thirty years.

I'm not mocking the seismologists, you understand. No one knows better than Woody that we live in a hot quake zone. It also has not eluded Woody that the ability to accurately predict quakes in any region of the world is still a lot more guess work than actual scientific ability. Predictions of this nature are like self-fulfilling prophecies. It's easy to say that California will have a huge earthquake because California has had them before. The seismologists look for patterns that are verifiable. They point to the recent swarm of quakes off the coast of Oregon and note that this is "unusual" activity. "Something" must be happening, but they can't pinpoint just what that something may be. Couple of plates getting a little too snug, I guess, and need to release some energy. Instant swarm.

The highly unpredictable nature of tectonic activity puts the seismologists in a bad spot, really. People have this unreasonable need for predictions. We want plenty of warning if a hurricane is going to hit our house so we have time to put up the shutters, buy plywood to cover our doors, buy water at the store before it runs out. Anything but actually MOVE OUT OF A HURRICANE ZONE. Likewise earthquakes. We seem to want warning, even though we have never, in thousands of years of trying, been able to figure out how to get warning. People who watch their animals for unusual activity seem to have the best record so far, but animals only give you a few minutes' worth of warning. Barely enough to get out of the house in most cases.

So we pound on scientists when they fail to warn us adequately. When those tsunamis hit several years ago (has it been that long already??) the scientific community was ridden out of town on a virtual rail. How could they have failed to give fair warning that such an event was about to strike? Only after long, hard debriefs did we discover that there were multiple errors along every step of that process. Warning was given, but the ability to disseminate that warning was seriously lacking. Then there were those who willingly chose to ignore what warning they were given, especially if that warning came from a local shaman who'd been reading the signs and knew they were in trouble. Those who listened to the shaman lived to grieve over those who didn't.

In response to our unreasoning need, the scientists in turn stick their fingers in their mouths, hold them up in the air, then predict that a quake will hit "with 99% probability" in the next thirty years. A big one, mind you. At least 6.7 on the scale. If you want a bigger one — say, 7.5 or more — we have to lower the probability to only about 46%. Sorry.

About all this accomplishes is giving the Talking News Heads something to justify their Frowny Faces. They will gleefully regurgitate this particular Dire Warning over and over for the next several days, all the while hiding their glee with a masterful combination of acting school and enough makeup to make their faces permanently stiff. "Look concerned," they say in acting school, "but don't forget that little ironic half-smile at the end of your report."

Look, let's get real. We live in California. There are (and always have been) earthquakes in California. We have tremendous things going for us in this state. We have miles of beaches. We have fabulous weather most of the time. It doesn't rain much, generally, and we occasionally get those Santa Ana winds that make us wonder if St. Anne had digestive trouble. Enough to cause 75 MPH wind, at any rate. Still, it's a beautiful state. Unless you don't like desert. If you don't like desert, stay north of, say, Monterey.

California also has its dangerous side. We have lots of gangs here. Freeway shootings ebb and wane, and seem to be ebbing at the moment. We have Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, not to mention Berkeley. We also have numerous tectonic faults (as opposed to our political ones). They run up, down, and across the state in nearly every valley or plain. The San Andreas is the best known of these, and seems to be a contributor to most of the others. (Andrew, it must be noted, was a fisherman. No idea how he came to be associated with an earthquake fault.)

People driving into California should be presented with this sign at our borders:
Welcome to California

We have earthquakes. Be prepared.

There will be no warning.
The point is, if you live in California, be prepared for a quake. If you really want to be prepared, prepare for the Big One. The one that will finally allow the scientists to say "toldja so!" The one that will finally convert San Bernardino into beach-front property. Otherwise, don't act surprised and get all bent out of shape when the next quake hits and you want to whine about never having been warned.

Consider this your warning. Sometime in the next thirty years.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cheap at Twice the Price (H/T: Drudge) posts this nugget about Billy-Bob Clinton's post-presidential perquisites. Reportedly he pulls down a budget of around $8 million annually, which is fairly hefty when stacked up against $5.5 million for Bush 41 and $4 million for Carter. I'm not at all certain what the fuss is, though:

[Camera pans through various shots of a Manhattan highrise, Staples store, and stock footage of Clinton sitting on a runway getting his now infamous haircut.]

VOICEOVER: Highrise office space in Manhattan... $3.2 million

VOICEOVER: Other services, supplies, and "equipment"... $1.2 million

VOICEOVER: Post-presidential health care option... $10,000.

VOICEOVER: Keeping Bill Clinton out of public office...

VOICEOVER: Priceless.
In our federal budget, this business of millions of dollars for any one item is strictly peanuts. Especially when compared to certain pet projects Congress keeps trying to foist on us.
VOICEOVER: Bridge to nowhere... $320 million
So the idea of keeping a former president fat and happy in his supposedly reclining years doesn't raise my hackles, really. I mean, compared to what it cost us as a country to have him physically in office in terms of domestic spending and one very costly impeachment, a cool $8 million a year is probably cheap.

The article points out that all former presidents — Clinton included — have refused parts of their retirement packages at various times. In the last years of Reagan's life he reportedly eschewed the proffered health care benefit altogether. The article fails to say what Carter uses his benefits for; rabbit culls in the bayou, perhaps. Or maybe he needs the money to "encourage" publishers to accept his manuscripts.

I'm sure there are bigger — and costlier — fish to fry. I think needs a hobby. Maybe they could track the election for awhile?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Out of the Mold

At some point in my past I joined the Woundup with a "ring" of LDS blogs as a way of participating in the broader discussion of all things Mormon. Since then the Woundup has become my political arm; a collection of essays with broader socio-political undertones that don't really fit with the doctrinal discussions found on what has now become the "Bloggernacle." My writings on The Inner Dad are much better suited to the Bloggernacle overall, but I have no idea how to effect a change. Who's in charge? Who decides who gets to be a member at large? It's probably more trouble than it's worth to find out and have them switch over.

On the other hand, the Woundup makes for an amusing juxtaposition of worldly snark on top of otherwise sincere attempts to find some spiritual common ground among the more active Bloggernaclers. One will see on any given day posts related to anything from fasting to gay Mormon issues to what Brigham Young really did to foment the whole Mountain Meadows thing. Suddenly, in jumps ol' Woody calling liberals something out of a Faustian nightmare and barking about how the United Nations is just a cover for the Illuminati (no, I didn't actually write that, but I've thought it many times). Not what you'd call "standard Bloggernacle fare," by any means. I chuckle a lot whenever I bother to look at the two or three LDS aggregators out there and see just how out of place the Woundup really is.

It was, in fact, a blog calling itself "Mormon Shadow" (seemingly defunct now) that called me "pretty much a dyed-in-the-wool upright, uptight Mormon who has little use for those who don't swallow either the mormon dogma or the republican party line." I laughed then, and I'm still laughing now. Mostly because it's true. I am a fairly dyed-in-the-wool kind of Latter-day Saint. I will say, however, that it's not so much that I have "little use" for those who disagree with me. I may lack patience, I suppose, but it's just because whatever else I am, I am also a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon. It's also a studied personality quirk of mine. I am an actor by nature, and a character actor by birth and breeding. I don't play leading men or heroes of any kind; I portray the weasels and snarks of society. I do it well. So if I appear brusque on occasion, it's only because I have rehearsed it long and hard over the past forty or so years.

This by way of stating that the Woundup is a lousy barometer of my spirituality. A tad over three years ago I started The Inner Dad as a family-oriented (and, by extension, a more spiritual) blog. It is there that I post my inner-most thoughts and feelings, as well as no small amount of bluster in regards to my oh-so-put-upon status as a father.

I am a little surprised, however, that the Bloggernacle at large seems to have overlooked something very significant that happened in this just-completed General Conference. The Sunday sessions were wonderful. Every talk seemed to resonate with me on a spiritual level, and I found myself wondering whether the next talk could possibly measure up to the one just ended. When President Monson stood up to speak at the end of the morning session, however, I found myself completely mesmerized. About midway through his talk I looked at Mrs. Woody and said something about just having witnessed the prophetic mantle on President Monson's shoulders. She agreed with me, and we watched the remainder of his talk in quiet awe.

We of course got busy between sessions with lunch and wiggle time for the Woodyettes (who, it must be noted, sat through all four sessions this time!). So we didn't get much time to discuss what we'd witnessed before the next session began. When Elder Holland stood and immediately voiced what we ourselves had felt during President Monson's talk, I knew we'd had a significant experience on par with any other spiritual manifestation of the restoration.

So I've been somewhat dismayed tonight to surf around the Bloggernacle a bit and find (so far) only one reference to the "prophetic mantle" by way of a summary of Elder Holland's remarks.

Did no one outside of Hacienda Woody feel what we felt? Or was I just first out of the box with my comments? Perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough.

I had assumed (here's my original post) that others must have felt it as well. Perhaps the very nature of the experience was personal enough that no one wants to post it on the Bloggernacle for all the world to see. I hope that's the case.

It may be possible that it's more an indicator of where my own spiritual journey has taken me over the past few years. I've always had a firm testimony of the gospel, even though I've been through my own ups and downs. Yet this entire conference was very easy for me to experience. In times past I may have harbored some small resistance to, say, President Packer talking about music in the Church, or anyone who reminds me — for the 329th time — that my family history is seriously lacking. But not this conference. There wasn't a single talk that made me at all uncomfortable. Most, in fact, lifted my soul in ways I'd forgotten were even possible. I appreciated the fact that several of the Twelve attempted to put a more human face on these Priesthood leaders. (Contrary to several Bloggernaclers out there, I loved Elder Ballard's talk about sitting with his kids in Sacrament meeting. Been there, done that!)

Whatever the case, I was spiritually fed, and fed well. If the Spirit were measured in calories, I'd be in serious need of some fiber along about now. But this kind of food needs to be digested over a long period of time. This is a time of examining my initial impressions and seeing where they take me.

I'm looking forward to the ride.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Another Homeschool Justification

As if we needed another one:

Third graders in a Georgia elementary school are caught in a plot to kill their teacher. They even bring assorted tools, including a knife and toy handcuffs, with them to school.

Yeah, I want my daughters socializing with kids like that.

I just hope there are extreme attitude adjustments in these kids' futures.

Oh, Fer Cryin' Out Loud! Again!

For better or worse, there is a caste system in the United States. Or, better said, there are multiple caste systems in this country. The obvious one is the economic caste system, wherein everyone in the country makes more money than I do, so I can be a victim for the rest of my life and appear on Oprah and whine about how underprivileged I am and maybe she'll build me a luxury home and give me three or four luxury cars because she feels so sorry for me.

Or not.

Anyway, there is also an intelligence caste system in this nation, wherein the people with the least intelligence are placed in the positions of highest power. Think of it as a re-statement of the Dilbert Principle (probably ®) that says something like "management" is just nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow. In my example of the intelligence caste system, people with higher IQ's would tend to work hard in their occupations and make sure the economy of the country continues to grow apace. Lower on the IQ scale are those empowered to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. Recent decisions proffered by our 2nd District Court of Appeals would tend to bear out this hypothesis by demonstrating that the average appellate court justice suffers from a nearly 30% decrease in intelligence compared with normal folks.

Thus it stands to reason that the true morons are not to be found in executive boardrooms (although they hardly shine by comparison), but rather are elected and sent to Washington, D. C. to serve as legislators.

Congress has a set of rituals that they perform depending on circumstance. No matter what the problem may be (or, more accurately, is perceived to be), they see their job in terms of forming a committee whose express purpose is to FIND SOMEONE TO BLAME. It is a behavior that I have never understood. Why, for example, should Congress get involved if baseball players are getting tanked up on steroids and billion-dollar contracts? Does anyone in this country care enough about steroids in baseball that our gut reaction would be, "Hey, major league stars are injecting themselves with substances that most of us with functioning brain stems instinctively avoid, so let's get Congress to form a committee so we can get to the bottom of this!" I sure don't. So a guy that won multiple awards in an otherwise distinguished career got poked with a needle or two (or fifty). The shame is his to bear. The worst form of punishment this person could possibly receive would be the disdain with which his former fans may now regard him. (Anyone remember Pete Rose? How's he doing these days after that gambling disgrace?) How does Congress holding endless "hearings" on this topic solve anything? Awareness? Hardly... most of us change the channel the minute we see some legislator begin droning on about how shameful a thing it is to have this hero of young people turn out to be a tarnished idol, while simultaneously figuring out how to avoid being prosecuted himself for some snarky little ethics charge stemming from some spurious campaign finance "misinterpretation."

Hence it should not come as a surprise to anyone that our heroes in Congress, in the face of tremendous economic pressure on their constituents (who must decide whether to reelect this same set of morons this year) have (for what feels like the 27th time this century) put Big Oil executives in the hot seat to complain about their "obscene" profits.

Quick, answer this question: Has this maneuver ever, even once, produced any results other than having Big Oil execs walk away chuckling to themselves while Congress sits helplessly by, powerless to do anything to reduce their profits in any way, shape, or form?

Time's up.

The answer is: of course not. This line of attack has NEVER worked. It never will. There is nothing (repeat: nothing) illegal about making a profit. In fact, the way this market works, the more profit a company makes, the better the chances its stockholders will get a return on their investments. It's not an absolute guarantee, you understand, but their chances improve with each percentage point of profit made by the company.

Congress can hem and haw and threaten to raise Big Oil taxes, but it's an empty threat. They've tried that, in fact, and Big Oil taxes are among the highest in private industry. Yet they seem to keep making money. This in spite of the fact that OPEC and other oil producers keep raising their own prices for crude. Wow. A perpetual money-making machine.

The claim here is "obscene profit." Well, if anyone can define "obscene," it's Congress. In the dictionary, the picture next the word "obscene" is the Capitol dome. Hey, William Jefferson may well be called in as an expert in obscene profits himself. Stashing an extra $90K in the freezer may well make him one of the more ethical representatives these days. Duke Cunningham would likely decline an invitation to testify. So Congress calling anyone's profits "obscene" is laughable at best. Particularly when compared with the pork projects these people continually pump into our national budgets.

In this report from, Amy Menefee points out that of all the entities that profit from Big Oil, the United States Government is the largest beneficiary. Written in November 2005 and using July 2005 figures, Menefee reports that there had only been three years between 1980 and 1982 where Big Oil made more money on their revenues than the Government did. In other words, whatever profits the oil industries claim, Uncle Sam takes an even bigger cut. We may live in a "free market" society, but this actually points out what happens when you overregulate that market. Or, really, just plain steal from it. Menefee also points out that as of July 2005, Exxon's actual profit (as a percentage of revenue) was just under 10%. Now, there's obscenity for you. She states, however, that in the same period, Johnson & Johnson was reporting profits of nearly 18%. Why weren't they sitting in Congress's Hot Seat?

(I notice, by the way, that Congress has so far been careful to tiptoe around the issue of obscene executive compensation. Are they actually worried about their self-image? One wonders.)

Now, I'm all for trying to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. I think it can only be good if we manage to do so. But from my perspective as a lowly consumer, things have got to get a whole bunch cheaper before I start switching to alternatives myself. You want me to drive a hydrogen-powered car? Great. Happy to oblige. Just make that car affordable and the fuel, too. Otherwise, I'll have to stick with sniffing my carbon monoxide.

Ultimately, this whole exercise is really about Congress appearing to be doing something about this "crisis." They have to do this so that their constituents will see how tirelessly they work in an election year so they can get reelected. They really don't have a prayer of reducing Big Oil profits. Besides which, they're too busy trying to ban prayer in all public forums.

In the meantime, Congress, the next time you want to put someone in one of your Committee Hot Seats, stick with putting a few of your own on the stand. Everyone else is making you guys look stupid.