Monday, December 29, 2008

Another Critique of the Media

Remember August, 2005? Remember what was on the front page of every American newspaper and a mainstay of every national news broadcast? Good, then I don't have to tell you that it was Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Crawford, Texas; her bizarre attempt to have a face to face discussion about the Iraq war with President Bush. The mastodon media and the drooling left couldn't exploit this poor, pathetic individual enough in an attempt make the president look evil. But the attention span of the media eventually fades, especially in a place as difficult to get an arugula salad or a poached salmon as Crawford, Texas. We all move on.

As did Cindy Sheehan. She became so dissatisfied with Nancy Pelosi's failure to attempt an impeachment of President Bush that she decided to move to Speaker Pelosi's 8th congressional district in San Francisco and run against her as an independent. Don't remember that? How could you? The media ignored it. In this last election, Pelosi, of course, retained her seat in the most reliably Democratic district in the U.S. with over 70% of the vote. Yet Sheehan, with modest funds, a miniscule organization and no media coverage managed to get 17% of the City to select her over Pelosi to represent them in Washington. But I'm the one that has to bring this to your attention.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Big 3 Auto Crisis

If you attempt to solve a problem without determining the actual nature of the problem, the chances of solving it are not good. That's the situation with the Big 3 so-called crisis. Astonishingly, immediately after there's general agreement that the U.S. financial industry would require almost a trillion dollar "bailout", there's a concerted effort to paint the UAW contract as the cause of the American auto maker's cash flow problems. Let's look at that for a moment.

The figures vary but UAW manufacturers pay significantly more, per hour, for assembly labor, than the foreign manufacturers with plants in this country. Moreover, they are forced to pay most of these costs even if plants are not in production. However, the figure most often seen as representing the cost of assembly labor as a percentage of cost of production is 10% for both groups. In other words, if American manufacturers cut their assembly labor costs in half, their cost of production would drop 5%. Make of that what you will.

The reason that this issue has become headline news is not that the UAW contract has suddenly made U.S. manufacturers totally uncompetitive. After all, they've been operating under similar contracts for years. The immediate cause of the problem is a dramatic drop in sales, almost 41% for GM, but over 30% for Honda and slightly less for Toyota. Nobody is able to move new cars right now, regardless of what their labor costs are.

So, GM goes to the government and explains that they need money. Well, don't we all. If only the UAW would re-negotiate their contract everything would be much better. But would that sell more cars? Probably not. But it might be a first step toward getting rid of the UAW. And, why should the UAW re-negotiate? What would they have to gain? GM, at least, for reasons of their own, does not wish to go into bankruptcy, which is exactly what they have to do. In a capitalist system, companies that can't pay their bills are either restructured or liquidated. Not bailed out by the government.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Doping & ?

There's been a lot of talk about dope the last few decades, both in the moral failure aspect of recreational drugs and the moral rejection aspect of performance enhancement. I don't care about fun drugs. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em. But the use of pharmaceutical performance enhancements in many arenas is something that can't be ignored, if for no other reason than it's not being ignored. Dope in race horses, olympic runners, bike racers, football and baseball players, etc. make big headlines, generate legal action and shrivel up the flow of corporate promotions dollars. I don't know where the line is drawn or where it should be drawn. Aspirin O.K.? Human growth hormone not? It really requires the wisdom of Solomon. But, if you think about it, there's a further issue in the scientific alliance of sport and medicine. Surgical procedures.

Some Minnesota Twins players have recently undergone eye surgery in order to improve their hitting prowess. Thoroughbred race horse are routinely operated on to straighten their legs as adolecents and later after suffering injuries. Baseball pitchers undergo the movement of various ligaments and tendons from one part of their body to the other, as in the famous "Tommy John" surgery that rebuilt its namesake's arm to a capability that may have been better than the original. Is this "right"?

If it's wrong to receive some of your own blood that's been stored for awhile, or pop some kind of an amphetamine, how is it right to have a surgeon put all manner of pins and plates in your skeleton? To rewire nerves and reroute blood vessels? And still compete with surgery-free opponents? This question will be coming up pretty soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What this is all about

Pulverized Concepts is an affirmation of belief in the wonders of the free market economy, bicycle transportation, horse racing, history, good food, and whatever else seems pertinent at the moment.

Today, we'd like to dwell for a moment on two primary sources of information for historical analysis and recommend them for several reasons. The first is "Of Men & Manners in America" by Thomas Hamilton. Hamilton was Scots writer that made a sea voyage to the U.S. during the Andrew Jackson administration, traveling from NYC to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and to New Orleans and back. If you're near a decent library, you might be able to get this well-written and very informative picture of life in the U.S. during a very interesting time in American history. Like De Toqueville, Hamilton is an outsider with the observational skills to enlighten his readers on subjects that Americans themselves might not notice. While we can recognize some American traits that endure to this day, on the other hand there are aspects of U.S. life and culture that have, thankfully, disappeared. For instance, like many Europeans, Hamilton was aghast at the tobacco chewing of most American men. It had to have been disgusting. But little items like that aren't the gist of the book. He made the acquaintance of the leading political figures of the day and gives his opinion of Jackson, Van Buren, Webster, Clay and others.

A similar work of the same era is Harriet Martineau's "Retrospect of Western Travel", published in 1838. Martineau herself was a unique figure and would have been in any era. A Unitarian, feminist, abolitionist, she sailed to the U.S. in 1834 to see for herself American society and, in particular, the operation of slavery. While she explains the philosophical arguments against the "peculiar institution", her description of ordinary life in southern society and slavery's part in it is most valuable. Like Hamilton, she describes the day to day vicissitudes of life and travel in a country much larger and less developed than her own. She also met the individuals we might refer to as statesmen today. She first wrote "Society in America", which was so popular that "Retrospect" followed soon after. If you can find it, it's worth the read.