Wednesday, September 28, 2005



I can attest to this proverb from my own experience. After earning a PhD in physics from a first-class state university, I worked for two universities and two aerospace firms. In one of my jobs for an aerospace firm, I recall writing about reported paranormal occurrences. Some of these were reported in Russian literature, which I and others in our group at the firm read in translation. In my report, I invented my own idiosyncratic transliteration of Russian names. The company editors who prepared and published the report were apparently so impressed by my credentials (i.e., my degree) that they took at face value my transliterations.

On another occasion, I was writing about “Project Vela.” This was a project that involved the development of equipment to detect incoming ballistic missiles from some foreign enemy. All the Spanish I knew was “Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro, Cinco, …, Diez.” I puzzled over the meaning of “vela,” the name of the program. Rather than consult a Spanish-English dictionary as any sensible writer would, I used my imagination to create a meaning for “vela.” I imagined that it was the Spanish cognate of the French phrase “voila,” which I knew meant “see there.” I wrote that “see there” was the meaning of the Spanish name of the project. Actually, thinking about it, that wouldn’t have been a bad name. The equipment to be developed was to “see” the incoming ballistic missiles and show where they were.

Some years later I learned that “vela” is Spanish for “vigil,” or “watch.” The equipment was supposed to “watch” for incoming missiles.

These little mistakes of mine didn’t cause any harm. Not very many people bothered to read my reports. Those who did realized that “vela” meant “vigil” and not “voila,” and dismissed me as an arrogant fraud. My point is that the people who edited the reports were in such awe of my PhD degree that they didn’t bother to check a Spanish dictionary for the meaning of “vela” or a Russian dictionary for the correct transliteration of Russian names. If my inventions had had serious sociological consequences, they could have been harmful. I am thinking of Shockley, a physicist who knew all about the solid state, transistors, and things like that. He was imaginative and inventive when he thought about the presumed relation between skin color and intelligence. His espousal of such a relationship and the prestige that he gave to the notion did result, I believe, in delaying progress toward racial harmony in this country. Like me, Shockley had a little knowledge and a big imagination.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


What's Wrong with a National Sales Tax

Recently on the Tavis Smiley show on television, I saw and heard Neal Boortz having his fifteen minutes of fame. He made his pitch in favor of abolishing the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Service. The funding of the federal government would be made by a national sales tax. About twenty-five percent of the cost of products purchased would be this sales or “value added” tax.

Neal Boortz and John Linder have written a book called “The Fair Tax Book.” Mr. Boortz is an author and nationally syndicated libertarian talk-show host.

Mr. Boortz made the following arguments in favor of a national sales tax:

1. The revenue to the federal government would be the same as at present.
2. The average individual would pay approximately the same effective tax as at present. Instead of the money being deducted from his paycheck, it would be taken in the form of a higher price for goods purchased.
3. To counter the argument that a sales tax is a special burden to the poor, Mr. Boortz advocated vouchers that would be issued to persons of low income to offset the sales taxes they would pay.
4. By getting rid of the IRS, power would be shifted from the politicians to the people.

I can’t argue against his first point.

His second point ignores the sales taxes that states now impose. Here in California I pay an 8 percent sales tax on all items except food. Mr. Boortz would add an additional 25 percent sales tax, so that on non-food items I would be paying 33 percent of the money I spend on purchases in taxes. That’s a bit more than I pay now in combined sales and income taxes.

I don’t know how the voucher scheme in point 3 could be implemented. Absent the IRS, how could the federal government determine who is poor enough to qualify for vouchers? If not the IRS, some other inquisitive bureau would have to be created to keep track of the actual incomes of all residents, particularly those who might qualify for vouchers.

My big argument is with point 4. Power would be shifted all right, but not from politicians to the people but from poor and middle-class people to the rich. I mean economic power. Consider my situation and that of Bill Gates. I am a middle-class person living in retirement. I own my house and I have enough savings to provide the income for an adequate life style. Bill Gates, the richest man in the country, has a net worth that is about fifty thousand times greater than mine. Unless he is even dumber than I am about investing, his income must be at least fifty thousand times my income. At the present time I pay about 20 to 25 percent of my gross income in federal and state income tax. Now Bill Gates may be 50,000 times as rich as I am, but he doesn’t eat 50,000 times as much, he doesn’t have a house that’s 50,000 times as expensive as mine, and his expenses for entertainment, clothing, haircuts, etc., aren’t 50,000 times as great as mine. Under Mr. Boortz’s sales tax system he would pay considerably less toward the expense of running the government than he does now. Economic power would be shifted from people like me to people like Bill Gates.

Pardon my French, but I think Mr. Boortz is full of merde.

Monday, September 12, 2005


More Advice for the Democrats

A writer of a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times recently complained that the Democratic Party has forgotten that it is the party that advocates for the poor. Instead, the party has taken up such issues as gay marriage and unlimited right to an abortion. The writer commented that he wished the party would get back to its true goal.

My own answer is that the Democratic Party must advocate for the rights of poor people as well as for their economic conditions. Who is it that depends on government to guarantee that a woman can have a safe abortion? Certainly not a rich woman. She can travel abroad. She can find a doctor who provides safe abortions in secret for a price. It is poor women who need a guaranteed right to safe abortions. It is reproductive health clinics that provide services to poor women who need protection against anti-abortion activist groups and State legislatures dominated by conservative fundamentalists.

Who needs the privileges normally accorded to married heterosexual couples? It’s not rich gays, it’s the poor and middle-class ones. As with other rich folks, a rich gay couple can enjoy their lives together as well as heterosexual couples. It’s the not-so-rich ones who need the benefits normally granted to married couples.

My Democratic Party has been and continues to be the advocate for the poor and the relatively poor in our society. It advocates not only for their economic improvement but also for rights that are either taken for granted or not needed by the rich.

Any successful political party in our system of “winner take all” elections must be a coalition of many different but cooperating interest groups. It is the genius of political leaders to persuade these groups to stick together and cooperate in spite of some serious differences among them. Poor people by themselves are not numerous or influential enough to win elections without allies. The Democratic Party must provide them those allies by building coalitions. That’s the way our system works.

Three Options for Iraq

To say the least, the present Republican administration has gotten us into a sticky situation in Iraq. We have invaded the country and overthrown its government with a small army. It was argued beforehand and shown by experience that our small army was sufficient to defeat a much larger Iraqi army. However, our small army isn’t large enough to keep the peace. Insurgents attack us and those Iraqis who cooperate with us. We can clear the insurgents from a city or a region, but we don’t have the troops to hold the city or region. The same troops have to be sent to another city or region to defeat the insurgents there.

Three options have been proposed and are being debated for our future policy toward Iraq. The President and his administration argue for continuing the present practice, making do with the troops we have committed to Iraq and hoping that eventually things will work out. Some members of Congress of both parties argue that we can not hope to control the country unless we send enough additional manpower to occupy and control the entire country. Their policy would require the imposition of a draft. Peace activists advocate a third policy: withdraw now and let the Iraqis sort things out for themselves.

Supporters of the administration’s option, “staying the course,” have the following justifications:

  1. If we leave, we signal to our enemies that we are weak.
  2. Sending more troops would require a draft. That would be politically dangerous to the administration and the Republican Party.
  3. There is some good news from Iraq. We are making progress in parts of the country.
  4. There is reason to hope that the people of Iraq will elect a representative government and that the government will be able to raise its own army to put down the insurgency.
  5. We must stay in Iraq to make sure that the new government is one that is favorable to American interests, particularly the American interest in a continuing supply of crude oil.

The argument against this option is that it doesn’t seem to be working, at least not very fast, and even if successful will require US troops to remain in Iraq for a very long time.

Supporters of the second option, increasing our troop strength so that we can pacify the entire country simultaneously, have the following justifications:

  1. The present policy is not working, at least not very fast. The American public is becoming impatient and wants to see an end to this war.
  2. Our army at present is staffed by volunteers. Volunteers come mostly from the poorest parts of society, consisting of people who are not active politically and therefore not a threat to either political party. A draft would impose the burden of conducting the war across all segments of society, poor and rich alike.
  3. We agree with the administration’s goal of a friendly, democratic government in Iraq. Leaving now or being forced out later would likely result in a civil war in Iraq, with unpredictable but probably bad consequences for American interests.

Finally, the Peace Advocates argue in favor of withdrawing now, with the following justifications:

  1. The present policy of “staying the course” is not working. It is simply using up American lives to no purpose.
  2. We are not wise enough to determine the kind of government that is suitable for Iraq. The people of Iraq will in the end make that determination.
  3. Whatever kind of government emerges in Iraq after the American army leaves, it will have petroleum that it must sell. We will be able to buy the petroleum.

Personally, I don’t think much of the administration’s option. I am torn between the other two, leaning toward the third. What are your opinions?

Thursday, September 08, 2005


We're Being Unfair to Bush

I mean, of course, unfair to Mr. George W. Bush the person, not the President. We have to learn to be kind to Mr. Bush, who labors under a tremendous handicap. He's mentally challenged. The family knows (according to what I once read somewhere) that brother Jeb is the smart one.

George has struggled all his life to overcome or at least to make the best of his handicap. He's had lots of help from his family and friends. They've bailed out his business ventures when they were failing. In addition, he had a few addiction problems in his younger days. I've read that his wife got him on the wagon and off the juice and other stuff by persuading him to get religion. The religion helped him get rid of his addictions. Of course, no amount of religion can do anything about a mental handicap.

What I've written so far is based on things I've read about the man. Now I am going to speculate, so be warned. Speculation is not truth nor fact. It may in fact be true, it may not be. I imagine George Bush the younger as one who realized that his father thought more highly of his brothers' intellects than of his. I imagine George as struggling to prove to his father that he is indeed a clever and capable person. With help he got himself elected to various offices in Texas, most recently to be the governor. Fortunately, Texas has a weak governor system, so the governor doesn't have to do much or be very smart. He doesn't have to make decisions about serious matters. These are all taken care of by various commissions. There are clever people around him to tell him when to sign a bill, when to veto a bill, when to commute a death sentence, and other important decisions that a governor makes.

Somehow he has managed to get himself elected as President of the United States. Now he is in position to show papa that he can even be a successful President. He's already done better that Papa Bush by getting elected to a second term. He has gotten rid of that nasty old Saddam Hussein who gave Papa so much heartburn. He has shown Papa that he can cut taxes and make the cuts stick; no one has to read his lips on that subject.

In spite of all of his successes, his intellect is no match for his father's. Papa Bush had sense enough to fool the religious wing of the Republican Party occasionally. Not so with the son. The father named both Clarence Thomas and David Souter to the Supreme Court. He realized that, in the long run, the Supreme Court would lose the respect of the American People if it became too strongly identified with the right wing ideology. He achieved a certain balance in his court appointments. He was a clever man.

We can not expect as much from the son.

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