I bet it was a bumpy ride this morning around Atlanta. (Probably still is.) There was all kind of drama in the sky this morning.
December 26, 2012
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
I just noticed I haven't shared one of these with my blog readers. It's an idea I've been working on for about a month. Take a look around my Flickr page if you want to see more. (Just click on the picture and you'll be taken there.)
December 24, 2012
I know, heretics are a strange subject for Christmas Eve. And yet, here I am.
I know that This American Life is one of the most popular radio shows out there. So, of course, I've largely ignored it. I don't do popular. Well, at least not until I discover it on my own. But a friend of mine directed me to a link of the Red State Blue State episode and I was looking for a new podcast for Sunday mornings and...there you go.
No matter where you lie on the political and religious spectrum, at some point you'll probably become uncomfortable listening to this show. Keep listening. All the way to the end. I found it deeply thought provoking. (They handle podcasts differently. Just set aside some time and listen to it on line.)
And finally, I'll leave you with this clip I got from my friend and fellow controller, Todd. I'll be performing this tonight at midnight. That's after I run photograph the sunrise and ring the bell for the Salvation Army and, hopefully, photograph the sunset tonight.
Merry Christmas everyone. Peace on Earth. And good will towards men.
Christmas Eve, 2012
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Friday, December 07, 2012
Watch this segment from the Rachel Maddow Show (with Ezra Klein as substitute anchor). Take notes. Then rewrite it as an argument for healthy controllers. File it away for a rainy day.
This is how it's done. Pay attention. The job you save could be your own.
December 7, 2012
Here's today's headline: Jim DeMint leaving Senate for Heritage Foundation
I'll assume you remember The Heritage Foundation in that I've warned you about it so many times. DeMint leaving the Senate is just another sign of the Republican Party falling apart. And in the broader scheme of things, it signals that America's political pendulum has stopped swinging to the right.
I have to remind myself how difficult it is for controllers to stay engaged with the rest of the world. In case you've missed it, workers are going on strike in much of America. The strike I've chosen to highlight is the fast-food worker's strike in New York (as opposed to the shipping strike in California.) This is an important article in the New York Times. Read it if you can find the time.
Unionizing the Bottom of the Pay Scale
"Their activism, part of a flash strike of some 200 workers from fast-food restaurants around New York City, caps a string of unorthodox actions sponsored by organized labor, including worker protests outside Walmart stores, which, like most fast-food chains, are opposed to being unionized, and union drives at carwashes in New York and Los Angeles."
To splash more paint on this broad canvas, I'll return to my pundit hero, Paul Krugman. From today's column:
The Forgotten Millions
"Lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now now now — except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused."
You may think I'm wandering further and further from controllers but let's take just a moment to consider that sentence. "Lavishly funded corporate groups". Have controllers ever had to deal with similar forces? "No wonder the public is confused". How about that aspect? Has the public -- which, just happens to be your boss -- ever been confused about your profession? Outrageously expensive training? The cure for sleeping on the job is...sleeping on the job? Am I ringing any bells?
Let's get back to Krugman's column:
"Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year."
Here's the hitch -- the sticky part. How do I convince a bunch of egotistical, well-paid controllers to care about the "lowly" -- the underpaid and unemployed? Most of you will say I haven't got a prayer. Well, actually, I do. A real prayer. Prayer #30
Saturday, December 01, 2012
I went to a birthday party last night for a good friend. I believe I was the youngest person there. And I had been retired the longest. That's how it came out that I was an air traffic controller. It always comes out. Sooner or later.
Being a controller still holds a certain mystique. People always want to hear about it. I mean, there I was in a room full of people that hold doctorates and I'm the one getting all the questions. And when someone asked how long I'd been retired it hit me. Today is December 1st. I've been retired 6 years, today.
So, of course, after basking in the faded glory of having been an air traffic controller last night, I came home, went to sleep and dreamt of airplanes. I was working my favorite sector -- WILKES. North of CLT -- 10,000 feet and below. It's really nothing more than an Approach Control for Hickory, NC -- in the Center (ARTCC). And, of course, some knucklehead at 7,000 decides to make a 360º turn for no apparent reason. And that puts him with another airplane at 7,000. And they almost hit. I have to issue a couple of "immediate" altitude changes and a prayer. And the sector falls apart.
The next thing I know I've got airplanes inside of GSO, CLT and ROA without handoffs. I'm alone of course. How did it ever become the norm that controllers work alone? What a nightmare. I could feel that cold, empty spot in my gut and I knew Panic was trying to rise to the surface again.
But salvation shows up in the form of my buddy Skip. Skip loved working the WILKES sector as much as I did. Our styles were as different as night and day. I was straight by-the-book and he was as laid back as you could be. But we could work together. It was a comfort to see him again. Unfortunately, Skip didn't survive being a controller.
Anyway, pretty soon, the sector is back to normal and an AF tech comes to put some greenery (floral-type stuff) behind the sector to block out the sunlight from the newly installed windows (you could open them, let in fresh air and everything) in the control room. Don't ask me what all that means. I was a controller, not Dr. Freud.
There's no moral to this story. It's just a report on your possible future. Happy Anniversary to me. Thanks for reading.
December 1, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
It is a very risky proposition -- letting someone into your head. Most of us never carefully, deliberately consider the voices we choose to listen to. We trust to fate and friends. A random spin of the tuning knob. A casual remark from a friend, "You have got to hear this new song!". Take (for instance) my voice. Right now, as you read this, I am the voice inside your head. Whether you like it or not, I now have the ability to plant the seed of an idea in your head. Whether weed or wheat, you know not at this moment. You may never know. It may not take root. Or it may spring forth, after a longer winter of dormancy.
So, what has gotten into my head? Well, in general terms, Rachel Maddow has. I invited her in. As most of you know, I listen to the podcast of her show every morning while I'm out taking pictures. (Sidetrack: Picture, podcast, poetry, propaganda -- there are endless ways into the mind.) I was listening away the other day when I heard a story about Georgia. The clip is too long -- and the story buried too deep in it -- so I'll link you to another voice I've started listening to (reading) in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- Jay Bookman -- about the same story.
Agenda 21: The lunacy infiltrating state leaders
"So when Beck publishes a book titled “Agenda 21,” a fictional warning of a UN takeover of the United States in which the U.S. government is abolished and its citizens are allowed only two functions, “to create clean energy and to create new human life,” it’s easily dismissed as the harmless lunacy that it clearly is."
But wait, it gets better. First, yes, it's that Beck -- Glenn Beck. Secondly, the way Obama (you had to know it was Obama's fault) is accomplishing his evil plot is through mind control.
"But somewhere along the line, sifted through the minds of the paranoid, Agenda 21 becomes something much more sinister. For example, GOP senators attending the Capitol briefing were warned that those spreading the traitorous Agenda 21 have been trained in the use of a mind-control technique known as the Delphi technique."
Now, just for a moment, forget that this all is unfolding in the Georgia State Capitol building and let's go to what was going through my mind when I originally heard this from Rachel Maddow. Obama is the Deceiver! Obama is the Anti-Christ! Of course!
Now where in the world did I get that idea? Well, a few years back, I was curious as to what all the hubbub was about so I read the Left Behind novel. The first one. It's now a series of 16 books, 3 movies and a video game.
Recalling from my memory (controllers all know how dodgy that is), the evil guy rises to power as the head of the UN. In one scene he shoots a guy in a room full of people but because he has mind control over the evil, wicked and unwashed...no one remembers it. He is the Deceiver-in-Chief after all. He is the Antichrist.
2 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Are you following along here? If you write a work of fiction based on witchcraft and sorcery that winds up on the New York Times bestseller list then folks will try to get your book banned before it poisons some innocent child's soul. Write a book of fiction about Christians and some evil guy that uses mind control to take over the world via the UN...and it leads to a meeting in a State Capitol comparing the President of the Untied States to Stalin and Mao. (I don't know why Hitler didn't fit into the Power Point slide.)
Here's the thing. If you read it in the Left Behind series (movies, video game, etc.) and then you saw it on Glenn Beck's show and your Uncle Jimmy heard about it from his preacher last Sunday then it must be true. That has to be something to it, right?
Let's close this circle. It matters who you let into your head. If you listen to crazy people 24 hours a day, they soon become normal. I'm not saying to never listen to crazy people. I'm saying you need to have some balance.
You might want to choose a little more carefully who you let in. There are only so many hours in a day and space in your head is limited. When you have to search through your mind's library for an idea to solve a problem you'd do well to have some classics on the shelf. Or at least something of substance. I can't say as I've read Aristotle and Plato (well, bits and pieces) but I've got a few decent ones on the shelves. Just don't let yourself wind up with a nothing but a shelf full of Rush Limbaugh, Tosh.0 and internet porn.
By the way, thanks for letting me into your head. I'll try to leave something useful behind.
November 27, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
November 23, 2012
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I've had this thought for weeks but I have a horrible time finding the time to write these days. I miss it. I miss my readers. I'm working on it.
All my readers are aware of my fundamental faith in the ability of government to do good. We are all too willing to point out the many problems of government and its failures. But at the end of the day, we are all left with the simple and undeniable fact: every country in the world has a government. They are essential. The only thing left to fight about is how well run they will be.
To wit: there is no "business" more important than the people's business.
You can view the U.S. marginal tax rates here. The highest bracket is currently 35% for people that make $388,351 or above. The current salary of a member of U.S. House of Representatives or Senate is $174,000. The current pay of the President of the United States is $400,000.
My tax proposal is simple. If you make more than a member of Congress, you get put in the 35% bracket. If you make more than the President your tax rate should be 40%. If you make double what the President makes, your tax rate would be 50%. Triple takes you to 60%. I really don't have a problem with going all the way up to a 90% tax rate for those that
I should also say that I am all for paying members of Congress and the President salaries that are commensurate with their responsibilities.
Two other things before I go. A#1 -- Democrats won the battle but the war isn't over. Don't go to sleep politically and wait for the next Presidential election to get involved. That's why the Republicans are still in charge of the House -- they stayed engaged and won in 2010. The Democrats thought their overwhelming victory in 2008 meant the tide had turned. That the fight was over. Don't make the same mistake twice.
The second thing is, the battle is winnable. Americans can believe in government again. They can believe in themselves and their ability to govern themselves. They can even believe in taxes again. And you don't just have to take my word for it. Take a listen to this segment on Marketplace. Expect to hear more stories like it -- stories that, just a few months ago, were unthinkable. Public opinion does change. And you can help change it. Get involved. Stay engaged.
November 21, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
For the rest of my regular readers, it's the same drill as always. Just click on the picture to see it on Flickr.
Quiet Conquest, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.
You know, you guys used to write me and tell me when I misspelled something. Either I'm getting better or y'all are slacking off. Just sayin'.
November 19, 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
It's Sunday night, I just got back and I'm tired. It will take a few days to get all the pictures up and captioned.
November 18, 2012
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Monday, November 05, 2012
Friday, November 02, 2012
Here's the cold, hard fact that is worming its way into the American consciousness: Two major U.S. cities have been destroyed by storms that can be blamed on human's lack of concern for the environment. Global warming will be front and center. The altering of the Mississippi River and its delta will be in the background. I'm not talking science here. I'm talking about Americans knowing it in their gut.
Americans may have been able to shrug off Katrina in New Orleans as a backwater city full of the uneducated and poor but that isn't going to fly in New York. Instead of a Republican President playing politics with an ineffectual rescue and response -- cursed by the very ideology that Bush himself espoused -- we now have a disaster in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world being handled by a competent President that believes in the government that will be in charge of the recovery. Instead of President Bush blaming Louisiana Governor Blanco and sending her "Good Job Brownie"...we now have the partisan Republican Governor Christie of New Jersey embracing President Obama.
There is no sentiment in my statement. I have no use for Governor Christie. I don't believe he's had a change of heart. He is simply a cunning politician and he can see the writing on the wall. The Republican Party is toast. Cooked. Stick a fork in them -- they're done.
Make no mistake, they'll be back. Just as New York City will be back. New York City will be rebuilt. It is now dawning on people that much of the infrastructure that makes New York City go is underground -- and under water. Salt water. We will pump out the water. The electricity will be turned back on. But everybody knows that the saltwater is going to quickly corrode everything. Pipes, wires, rails, beams, everything.
If you're a regular reader of mine can you see all this coming together? Cue Paul Krugman. Rebuilding New York City will be the stimulus spending that he has wanted since 2008. Al Gore must be quietly relishing all this. Talk about an ITYS moment. Say hello to wind and solar. And buried power cables. Don't leave me now but take a look at this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show later.
If you click on the link above, you'll be reminded the picture came from James Fallows at The Atlantic. You'll also be reminded that the conversation started because of another massive, freakish storm (the derecho) that wiped out the power grid from Chicago to Virginia Beach. Freak summer storm. Freak winter storm. Are you noticing a pattern?
I only mention the power line thing as a touchstone. A talisman. When it all comes together, even the seemingly insignificant (my hatred of over-head power lines) comes together. We have reached a turning point. The lies and extremism of the Republican Party have been laid bare. The foundation of today's Republican Party has been washed away. Global warming is real. It's here and it's going to hurt. Government has a rightful and important place in our society. It will resume that rightful place as it rebuilds New York. It will become blindingly obvious because the simple fact is that no other entity can do the job.
And we will have to pay for it. Taxes will be levied. Wall Street will go along and its individual members will pony up. The dumb ones might fight but they will lose. The smart ones will be like Governor Christie -- they'll detect the wind change and adjust their sails. (Also, like the Republicans, they won't go away.) We'll discover that instead of hurting the economy -- as Republicans have screamed it would for 30 years -- it will improve our economy. As we spend over a trillion dollars (That's right, I said a trillion. You heard it here first.) on rebuilding New York, New Jersey, et al. we will rebuild our job base and our tax base. America will get busy being America again.
The only thing that can hold all this up is a Republican House of Representatives. The House isn't supposed to be up for grabs this election. But it will be in two years. If you can vote to change it this election -- if you can vote on a House seat that is contested -- get out and vote for the Democrat. For none of this is a etched in stone.
We will have more once-in-lifetime storms. Europe is still a mess and could melt down. And speaking of meltdowns, Fukushima isn't over. That cold, hard reality is that Fukushima will never be over. Nothing is coming up roses. There is nothing but hard work ahead. But the path we should take is clear to see -- even if it is choked with downed power lines and trees. It's time to get busy cleaning all this up instead of watching it all fall down. It will be hard but anything worth doing always is.
November 2, 2012
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Set aside an hour and watch this. The issues are worth the effort to understand. But if you don't want to think that hard, you can easily tell the humans from the weasels. Of course, the real issue is who are the people funneling the money to the weasels.
Big Sky, Big Money
It's pretty bad when a doper is more honest looking than the people influencing our politics. How long are you going to sit on the sidelines? Are you really going to let the weasels win?
November 1, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
I haven't cleared this with my friend, Chuck. So he isn't asking. I am. I don't ask for much. But I'm asking now.
Chuck Adams is a controller from Grand Forks, ND (GFK). He's served his country his entire life. He's served NATCA for as long as I can remember. He is one of the finest humans I know. And he is my friend.
He is currently recovering from surgery. He's out of leave. And then the other shoe drops. His wife was just diagnosed with cancer. She finds out today how bad it is.
If you're a NATCA member, I'm asking you to help him out. Donate some leave. Ask around, find out how it's done. You can start with this link but you have to log into the member's area of NATCA's page. Chuck is on the VLTP list. Help him out. If you don't know how to do it, ask your Facrep.
I hate asking but I'm asking so he doesn't have to. We can take care of our own. Thanks.
October 30, 2012
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Friday, October 12, 2012
For weeks, I've been trying to come up with a better title. Something that "sings". Forget getting around to the article itself -- writing about how the Republican Party has become the Party of the Confederacy, how it is falling apart and how it will leave the South politically isolated.
I've procrastinated long enough that someone else has written it for me. Never mind the few details where we differ. Gene Lyons has the big picture correct and he actually got around to writing his article (unlike me.)
Thanks to my friend Tommy for pointing it out. Yes, I noticed that The Arkansas Times misspelled "Strategy". But they'll actually let you read the column, unlike most other newspapers. By the way, if you're new to the game and haven't heard of the Southern Strategy, you can get an education here.
The end of the Southern Stategy
"Nor, however, are their fears entirely irrational. Because if the polls are right — and a disinterested observer would have to say that professional pollsters have grown increasingly accurate at predicting recent contests — the 2012 presidential election may not bring about "The Rapture," but it could definitely mark the definitive end of a political era.
Specifically, it doesn't matter how badly President Obama loses the five Deep South states won by Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1968 — along with, say, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma. Should he prevail in most of the nine "swing states" where everybody agrees that the contest will be decided, and where Obama currently appears to lead by strong majorities, the white, GOP-accented South will find itself politically marooned.
This part is only to show you this guy isn't pulling any punches.
"The temptation for Southern Republicans would be to double down on the crazy, because "conservatism," so-called, can never fail, only BE failed. Also because religious melodrama is really what an awful lot of them are really about. That, and Koch Brothers money. They're not actually conservatives at all, in the classical sense, but sentimental fanatics seeking to purge the nation of sin; adepts of "limited government" with their noses buried in women's panty drawers; apostles of a lost Utopia located in a non-existent past, most often in Sixties sitcoms like the "Andy Griffith Show.""
October 12, 2012
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
I walked up it, loaded up with my camera backpack and tripod. That's probably 20-25 pounds of gear. The trail sign said it would take 20 minutes. It took me 33. But I made it.
P.P.S I *hate* the new interface for Blogger. (Just sayin' Google.) I'm sick of trying to get it to format like I want it so I give up.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
Being retired just means the location changes. I'm still doing the same thing I do every day. I doubt if there will be any blogging for the next two days. Maybe a couple of tweets.
I'll be putting up a lot on Flickr. You might want to look around when you get there.
October 7, 2012
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Monday, October 01, 2012
Sorry, I'm writing elsewhere this morning. I came across some good words from Thomas Jefferson. Words that I don't have space for but are too good not to use.
"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the Despot abetting his abuses in return for the protection of his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them."
"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains."
Hat tip to Wikipedia. (Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson with Wikipedia?) Find and click on the banner on the right. Donate. They deserve it.
October 1, 2012
Friday, September 28, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
It's really simple (only if you keep up with politics), if you get to draw the map, you control the vote. Check out the map from Huffington Post and see how it's done. (Roll your mouse across the map to see it change from "Before" to "After".)
Michigan August Primary 2012: Map Detroit's New Districts And Biggest Elections
September 27, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I can't thank Google enough for changing (yet again) the interface for blogging. It's not like I'm busy or anything. Let me stop what I'm doing and learn something new on Google's schedule.
Oh yeah, it's "free". All errors are mine. Google and its associated programmers are busy making my life better and shall be held harmless.
Don Brown (does not like change)
September 25, 2012
Don't get carried away. I'm not talking money pay. I'm talking about knowledge. Thanks to my friend Frank (N631S blog) for saving me the time of finding the background on The West Wing cast doing the public service announcement/campaign ad. (It pays to have a famous sister with friends too.)
How Michigan judicial candidate Bridget Mary McCormack got ‘The West Wing’ cast for her campaign video
September 25, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Let's go back and visit that Frontline program about the collapse of Wall Street again, to see what we might learn about air traffic control.
Money, Power & Wall Street
(The transcript is here.)
"FRANK PARTNOY, Morgan Stanley, 1994-95: I think finance may have gotten too complicated for anyone to understand—...
FRANK PARTNOY: —and that the managers of these large financial institutions in some ways have been given an impossible task, that they won’t be able to comprehend what it is their institutions are doing. And that is really, really scary."
I've mentioned this somewhere in the distant past but let me bring it up again. The National Airspace System (NAS) is vast and complicated. Do you think that there is anyone -- anyone -- that understands even half of it? I've always mentioned this in the context of following the rule book. Your average mid-career controller doesn't have a clue what the other parts of the FAA are doing -- or how much they rely on the controller doing his job by the book so that they can do their job. That was true throughout my career. Now, toss in URET (collateralized debt obligations). And ERAM (mortgage-backed securities). And NextGen (high-frequency trading). Do you see how we've increased the complexity of a system that wasn't well understood in the first place? Do you think the very top-level FAA managers have a clue as to how complex this technological tiger that have hold of by its tail really is?
"MARTIN SMITH: In other words, some big banks simply didn’t know what they had in terms of risk.
DANIEL K. TARULLO: Certainly, they didn’t— they didn’t know some of the forms of risk that they had. That’s exactly right."
All you have to do is mention the word "risk", put it in the context of aviation, and everybody understands we're talking about something more valuable than money. So, given the complexity of the NAS, do you think everybody in the aviation business understands the level of risk present? The banking industry didn't. What makes you think the aviation industry does? It can't be because the aviation industry has better brains that the banking business. We've already established that Wall Street was willing to pay the best and brightest far more than other industries. You can bet your bottom dollar they pay more than the Federal government pays.
So, we not only have second-class managers, we have second-class quants. What? You don't think that quants have taken over ATC just like Wall Street? Who do you think designed the Conflict Probe on URET (a .pdf file)? Who do you think wrote the algorithms for Continuous Descent Arrivals? Quants. Don't delude yourself into thinking they understand air traffic control. They don't. They're smart. They're scary they're so smart. That doesn't mean they understand what you do. (And while we're here, don't think quants haven't taken over piloting too.)
Here's a twist for you. Pay close attention to this statement.
"MARK BRICKELL, JP Morgan, 1976-01: We’re thinking about how to manage risk. We were thoughtful and deliberate and careful. We had a responsibility not just to make a profit for the shareholders, but to look after the financial system as a whole."
That sounds like a conscientiousness employee doing the right thing for the right reason doesn't it? He probably was. He was on the team that created credit default swaps -- the financial instruments that blew up and brought down Wall Street.
I urge you to go back and listen to that whole program again -- Money, Power & Wall Street -- with the thought of looking for parallels between financial risk and aviation risk.
So, what does all this mean for a newly-minted controller? Let me give you just one specific instance. Imagine you're working the nastiest, most complicated inbound push you've ever worked. And the radar goes out. One second it's there, the next second it's gone. Can you get everybody on the ground safely? With just a radio and the tools at hand?
If you can't, something is terribly, terribly wrong. That's your job. If you lack the skills or the training or the tools then it is your job to fix it. Don't ever let anyone tell you it can't happen. It can. Wall Street can crash. So can your computer. So can your radar. So can your radio. That's why we had three of them. That's the reason we had redundant power. Redundant telephone lines. It is your job to make sure no one takes those away.
It is your job -- when you hear "That will never happen" -- to doubt. It is your job to plan for the worst. It is your job to never forget that 500 people can die in an instant. An instant of confusion brought on by unforeseen complexity.
Do not cede your authority because you surely cannot escape your responsibility. Your manager won't be the one sitting in front of a blank scope. The Administrator won't be talking to your airplanes. You will. The quants that wrote the algorithms will be long gone. You will be in the hot seat. Don't ever let anyone tell you it can't happen. It can. You will have to make it all work. Make sure that you can.
September 18, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
I can't put my finger on it but there's something special about this one.
There are a lot of new pictures on Flickr that I haven't put on this site. When you get there (click on the picture) you might want to browse around a little.
September 17, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
The Frontline series I mentioned before -- Money, Power & Wall Street -- really hit home in the final episode -- episode four. An important fact to remember for this blog is that my son -- a recent college graduate -- is a mathematician. I've tried to warn him of the moral pitfalls that await him in life but this documentary provides so many concrete examples (compared to my generalities) that I thought I'd use it to reinforce what I have tried to say before.
Frontline: Money, Power & Wall Street (Episode Four)
"NARRATOR: Cathy O’Neil, a mathematician, came to Wall Street in 2007 after beginning her career in academia.
CATHY O’NEIL: I went to U.C. Berkeley as an undergrad. I went to Harvard for grad school. And then I was a post-doc for five years at MIT. And I applied to work at a hedge fund, D.E. Shaw, and I got the job. And I thought this was great.
I was a quant. A quant uses statistical methods to try to predict patterns in the market."
In case you've never hear the term, a "quant" takes their high-level math skill and applies it to gambling on Wall Street (as opposed to furthering the cause of mankind). For instance, I've mentioned that all of this high-powered finance is nothing but a scheme to get at the big pools of money -- the pension funds. I never thought of this particular method (detailed below) of stealing someone's labor before...
"NARRATOR: Her work was used to predict when big pension funds would buy or sell, so the firm could jump in ahead of their trades.
CATHY O’NEIL: I just felt like I was doing something immoral. I was taking advantage of people I don’t even know whose retirements were in these funds.
We all put money into our 401(k)s. And Wall Street takes this money and just skims off, like, a certain percentage every quarter. At the very end of somebody’s career, they retire and they get some of that back. This is this person’s money, and it’s just basically going to— to Wall Street. This doesn’t seem right."
There's a lesson in this next one for controllers...or anybody.
"CAITLIN KLINE, Credit Suisse, 2004-10: Everybody kind of knows in their heart that something’s not right. But once you are making money for a while, you don’t ever want to stop making money."
Is there something in your world that you know in your "heart that something’s not right"? ERAM? URET? A 10-hour workday in a safety-critical job? Week after week of overtime? But "you don’t ever want to stop making money"? Especially "easy" overtime on the midshift?
You're being paid money for your labor -- your special skill. You are not being paid to compromise your conscience. It's not your fault that the FAA hasn't hired enough controllers, soon enough. It is your job, as a public servant, to do everything within your power to make the situation better (as opposed to worse.) That should go for everyone in the human race.
Let's get back to Ms. Kline in her interview. You can see that I'm not unique -- my thoughts about "furthering the cause of mankind" are not particularly insightful. And here's another observation for you; these observations are much easier to make in hindsight. I wasn't any better than anybody else when I was having to make the judgments in real time. Being young and not ever having been in morally confusing situations does not help.
"NARRATOR: Kline was a math major at New York University and considered becoming a teacher. But she remained on Wall Street for six years.
CAITLIN KLINE: You have the sneaking suspicion that you’re not contributing to society. But it was always really easy to say, “I know the risks. They know the risks. None of this is our money. So you know, we can kind of do these things, and it’s all fair game.”"
This is more than just a personal problem of conscience. This is a societal problem. This brilliant woman -- and the thousands like her -- went to Wall Street to gamble with other people's money instead of becoming a teacher. A doctor. An engineer. An air traffic controller. It was a "brain drain" of massive proportions.
Let me pull you back into real time for a second here. We're not even five minutes into this episode and it's a hour long. And this is one episode of four. I really want you watch and listen to every minute. I'm not the only one with insight. You can think for yourself. I'm just here to encourage you to think.
"...And if it blows up three years from now, that’s not going to affect the bonus I make today.”"
Do you want this person working on ERAM? How about a retiree with "no skin in the game"? Yet, thousands were playing on Wall Street with this attitude because that is the way the system was designed to work. Don't worry if it blows up because that won't cost you. Making money off of it (before it blows up) will make you rich beyond your (teacher/engineer/doctor) wildest dreams.
Greed has been around a lot longer than Wall Street. Banksters were not the first to figure out how to manipulate people with it.
"BERTRAND DES PALLIERES: I was— I think I was a star performer, so I probably followed the— the pay curve of the star performers, yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: So between $5 million to $10 million a year.
BERTRAND DES PALLIERES: I mean, I guess so.
MARTIN SMITH: Is that— is it a secret?
BERTRAND DES PALLIERES: Well, it— it was a secret, in fact. I mean, compensations were not public, for all the obvious reasons."
Any kind of secret should set off alarm bells in your head. I'm not naive enough to think that nothing should remain secret. But if you're hiding how much you are paid, there is probably something wrong.
"ALEXIS GOLDSTEIN: I’d really rather not say, if that’s OK, because I just don’t know if that’s publicly available information. But it’s certainly, like, more than you would get at most first-time jobs.
CAITLIN KLINE: I shouldn’t talk about that. That’s in— that’s in the contract. I can’t talk about any salaries or bonuses or anything like that. But it was a lot of money, I mean, especially for young people, you know?
NARRATOR: It wasn’t always this way. For most of the last century, bankers made the same salaries as lawyers, doctors and engineers. The last time Wall Street saw extravagant compensation was in the run-up to the crash of 1929."
And there's the crux of the matter. We forgot. Well, that's not really true is it? We knew about the Great Depression. I'm old enough to have heard the stories from my grandparents. But we thought we were smarter. We thought we understood the concepts and -- for some reason -- thought the details were unimportant. We were fools.
The problem -- my problem, my son's problem, your problem -- is how do we make people remember? Are we doomed to relearn these hard lessons every other generation? Is there an algorithm for that little piece of mental alchemy?
One last thing for when you watch this piece; look for the word "regulate" and all its derivatives.
"SIMON JOHNSON: From the 1930s, we got a period of reform and constraints placed on banks. They became much more regulated. And many of the banks were forced to do what you might call plain vanilla business— taking deposits, lend it out."
"ALEXIS GOLDSTEIN: Normally, the only people that comment on these regulations are the industries that are about to be regulated. And you can probably guess what they say, right? They say, “This is too harsh. You have to take this out. This is going to ruin our business.” They’ll say, “This’ll ruin the economy.”"
Airlines can't fly those antiquated routes. They're too inefficient. They'll ruin the airline business. Oh, wait, that the next blog.
Find some time this weekend. Watch it. Think.
Frontline: Money, Power & Wall Street
September 14, 2012
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
For the folks that follow me on Twitter, you know that I have recently found the podcasts of Frontline on PBS. Pay dirt. Bingo! OMG! Pick your exclamation. The first episode of Money, Power and Wall Street blew me away. I've already written a different blog about it because of its Georgia connection. I finished listening to episode two just before lunch today. Follow me back in time...
It's the 2008 Presidential campaign between Obama and McCain. The financial world is coming unglued right in the middle of it. Wall Street is imploding, Hank Paulson wants a 700-billion-dollar blank check from Congress and he wants it done over the weekend, before Wall Street opens on Monday morning. The world is literally falling apart and John McCain decides to "suspend" his Presidential campaign, fly back to Washington and help fix the mess.
On September 25th, President Bush calls a meeting and invited Senator McCain, Senator Obama and a bunch of others -- the leadership of Congress. This is how Frontline reports the meeting:
"Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re in a serious economic crisis in the country if we don’t pass a piece of legislation.
PETER BAKER, _The New York Times_: They sit around the Cabinet Room table, and President Bush says, “If we don’t get the money flowing, if we don’t get the credit flowing, this sucker could go down,” meaning the economy as a whole. And then he opens it up.
RON SUSKIND, Author, Confidence Men: McCain walks into the meeting with, like, a cue card with a couple things scribbled on it. Obama doesn’t even wait for McCain to start. He just moves right in.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, Obama Economic Adviser, 2008: Senator Obama has been talking to Paulson, has been talking to Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker and Larry Summers, and you know, a host of other economic advisers.
DAVID WESSEL, The Wall Street Journal: Obama is prepared and he talks about what needs to happen, and “We’ll pull together,” and he’s been— he doesn’t want to take over in a country which is in depression, so he’s extremely supportive of this whole emergency bailout thing.
Rep. NANCY PELOSI: Senator Obama said, “Well, I’d really like to hear from Senator McCain because he’s the person who called for this meeting.”
RON SUSKIND: McCain is fumbling with his cue cards. He doesn’t even barely get started. Obama kind of patronizes him, saying, “I think Senator McCain has something to say.” McCain just melts on the spot.
MATT LATIMER: Obama took charge, had authority. John McCain had no plan, no strategy. I don’t think he understood what was happening, or didn’t have a plan for what he wanted to accomplish.
JONATHAN ALTER: President Bush whispered to Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting next to him, when McCain was talking, he said, “You guys are going to miss me.” And she kind of laughed.
PETER BAKER: The meeting ends up breaking into— into a cacophony of shouting and— and screaming back and forth. And Bush stands up and says, “Well, I’ve clearly lost control of this meeting,” and he walks out.
JONATHAN ALTER: And another Republican at the table joked to the person sitting next to him, “After this, even we’re going to vote for Obama.” That was the level of Obama’s dominance in this meeting."
Pause and reflect on that a moment. Remember the venom and bile of the times. “After this, even we’re going to vote for Obama.” The stakes could not have been higher. It was a monumental moment -- probably the biggest once since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Obama -- still a junior Senator -- steps up. McCain -- a senior Senator -- fades.
And after the election, the Republicans make it their #1 goal to unseat President Obama, obstructing any and all efforts to legislate, knowing full well that we just dodged the Second Great Depression by a whisker. How's that for soulless, political calculation?
My readers recognize that Frontline has gone out and talked to a Who's Who of people that had a front-row seat to this moment in history. As I said, I'm just on episode two (of four) but this thing is awesome. Stop reading me and go watch. They're an hour long each so set aside some time. The transcript is here. The series home page is here. And here's the link to the podcast at the Apple Store (it's free) in case you want to add Frontline to your podcast list.
I can't get the player to embed so off you go to Frontline: Money, Power and Wall Street.
September 11, 2012
P.S. There will be a "moral to the story" relating all this to air traffic control at some future date. Pay attention.
Monday, September 03, 2012
It occurs to me that hardly anyone will read this Labor Day message until tomorrow. Many people -- far too many -- are working today. On the other hand, far too many don't have a job today. Life is full of things that sound like contradictions but aren't. (Imagine being a politician and trying to say too many are working today but not enough have a job.)
Life doesn't fit on a bumper sticker. The best we can hope for is to find a satisfactory balance in our society. That is what the current buzzphrase -- income inequality -- is all about. Our country is out of balance. Our system of checks and balances has failed us. This failure gave us the Economic Crisis of 2008 and it has kept us mired in this Lesser Depression for 4 long years.
If you believe Paul Krugman (and I do) we are likely to spend the next 6 years in this Lesser Depression. That's the predicted "Lost Decade". In one of life's contradictions, Krugman also offers us a way out in his new book "End This Depression Now!". (Yes, I'm still reading it. Yes, I'm a slow reader.) We have the means to provide for our own salvation, yet our human nature most likely dooms us to a painful resolution of the situation.
I'm reminded of some words from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
"And, yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty, and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply."
When this all began, I pointed to the Great Depression as a blueprint on how to get out of this economic mess. Someone warned me against whole-heartedly embracing a solution with only a single example of success. I thought that wise advice at the time. Now, with all this wasted time behind us and no other plausible model put forth, I am ready to offer a known quantity -- an example that worked. FDR got us out of the Great Depression with a "stimulus program" to end all stimulus programs.
Paul Krugman on How to Fix the Economy - and Why It's Easier Than You Think
"Whatever you call it, it worked in the late nineteen-thirties and forties, when the U.S. government started shelling out on the military in the build-up to World War II, bringing an abrupt end to years of economic misery and laying the foundation for decades of prosperity. Krugman is not calling for an increase in military spending, much less a global war! But the WWII example shows that large-scale government spending can kick-start the economy. It worked then, he says, and it will work now."
Bear in mind, no one else has an answer. No one else has found anything that has worked. The United Kingdom has fallen back into a recession. Europe (and it's euro) is on the brink. Japan's "Lost Decade" has become plural -- "Decades". China (can the West even think of using China as an example?) is slowing. Even India's economy is slowing.
Do you think I'm depressing? Do you think I'm being pessimistic? You haven't read "Dr. Doom".
Dr. Doom 2013 prediction: Economy will stall
"Roubini, best-known for calling the 2008 economic crisis, outlined five reasons the bulls have been wrong and argued that an American economic cold will lead the rest of the world to catch pneumonia in a post on the Project Syndicate website."
We are facing the Darkness. And I hope my main concern is obvious -- history tends to repeat itself. Again, words of wisdom from FDR:
”True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.“
The question remains; What to do? It's all well and good to talk about policy and history and matters beyond my or your capacity to change. No matter what you think, we are not helpless. And I have some advice to give you (besides to get out and vote, which I hope is obvious.)
My advice to you on how to end this Depression? Join a union. It's just that simple. You want a better job? Join a union. You want better pay? Better benefits? A better retirement? Join a union. All of these things are connected -- they make the U.S. of A. a better country. Being in a union hall and seeing democracy in action is the best primer on how important it is to attend your local government's meetings. You can't go to the city council meeting if you're working 12 hour days. But your boss can -- and does. And he's aware of this fact too. It's in his interest -- his and his other business buddies -- to make sure you and your buddies don't show up. If he can keep you and your spouse too tired to show up -- so much the better.
Joining a union sends a simple message to your boss -- you're willing to stand up and fight for yourself. But, believe it or not, I believe there is another message that a business owner hears that is just as important. He sees an individual that is willing to put his money where his mouth is. Think about an individual that owns a business. He's willing to put thousands of dollars -- if not millions -- on the line, betting he can make a profit. Think about how he sees a union member versus a non-union member. You know he wants the non-union one -- he thinks they'll be less expensive. But I bet you he respects the union member -- the one that is willing to put his money where his mouth is -- more.
And while we are here, I think it worth mentioning a point that should be obvious but needs to be said more often. Unions don't call for the destruction of businesses. Unions don't even agitate for the destruction of corporations. Unions only seek to limit their power. Corporations don't seek to limit the power of unions. They -- and their Republican stooges -- seek the destruction of unions. They would have no limits on their power. No regulations. No unions. No government. No limits.
You may not want a fight. You may not want a confrontation. I am here to tell you that you don't have a choice. The Darkness awaits you. It awaits us all. This Depression will not end any better than the last one if you don't stand up and fight -- if you don't stand up and confront the forces that are shaping your country into a Corporatocracy. You can stand up and fight now or you will surely stand up and fight later.
You may not need a union, but, no matter. Your country does.
Labor Day 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
What do I know? I just take 'em. Evidently, this one is more popular than yesterday's.
I've been playing in the dirt today and will again tomorrow. I'm praying for rain so I can blog again with a clear conscience.
August 30, 2012
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Sunday, August 26, 2012
My brother said something, years ago, that stuck with me: If you want a problem solved -- instead of studied -- give it to the military. That thought ran through my head as I listened to a story on Talk of the Nation -- Science Friday. You'll have to listen (sorry, no transcript) but, trust me, it's well worth it.
Believe it or not, the story is about green energy. There's a competition between military base commanders to become the first "net zero energy base". You can listen to the details about how it started but it started at Ft. Bliss, TX. That's a base of 8,500 people. And it wants to be capable of operating "off the grid". Interesting. Give it a listen. (Click on the "Listen Now" button.)
All this remind me of a blog I read from Robert Reich a couple of years ago.
America’s Biggest Jobs Program — the U.S. Military
"Yet what’s really sacrosanct is the giant jobs program that’s justified by national security. National security is a cover for job security.
This is nuts.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a jobs program that created things we really need — like light-rail trains, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and non-carbon energy sources — than things we don’t, like obsolete weapons systems?"
Oh well, at least somebody is creating "non-carbon energy sources". My point, much like the film maker's being interviewed on Science Friday, is that once you look past the labels -- tree hugger/climate-change denier -- we're really all after the same thing. It seems kind of crazy to route it through the military but okay. After all, the Interstate Highway System is actually the "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways". Whatever.
August 26, 2012