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Bits & Pieces

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Democratic Socialism in practice: Amtrak. Amtrak is an entity that was created out of thin air by The Gubmint in 1970. Amtrak has managed to lose money, every year, without exception, ever since. The tab so far? $16,000,000,000 billion bucks. Can you guess who's paying the tab?

According to Wikipedia, Amtrak is, "...a partially government-funded American passenger railroad service. It is operated and managed as a for-profit corporation... ," -- that has never turned a profit. Who built this Frankenstein? Well...

When Amtrak was created, the privately operated passenger rail business was in the process of going the way of the buggy whip industry. Why? The overwhelming success of The Gubmint subsidized interstate highway system and aviation industry. However, in 1967, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was created to try and prevent this from happening. They lobbied to create the partially government-funded (i.e. subsidized) for-profit railroad that's never turned a profit, mentioned above.

They succeeded. They're a non-profit, still around by the way, and happy to take your donations. Several of the firms that make and sell stuff to Amtrak, as well as the labor unions that staff it, are proud, apparently unembarrassed members.


I love my toaster. I love bread. I love toasted bread more than untoasted bread. This is a brief book review about a book I haven't read, and never will.

The book is entitled "The Toaster Project: Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance From Scratch." The author, Thomas Thwaites, spent nine months and $1,837.36 to accomplish this, and failed. He wound up with a device that looks like something recovered from Hiroshima and now is on display in a traveling exhibition entitled "Aftermath: The Bomb," which, according to the author, "... kind of toasts bread."

The idea was to not only make his own toaster but also to manufacture all of its components as well, even the plastic outer shell. When I first heard about the project and the resulting book I hoped that the point was that we shouldn't take for granted the 1,001 inexpensive, "simple" devices and innovations that exist in the background of our lives. Products and services that the 1% (and everyone else) would have regarded as jaw-dropping magic not all that long ago.

Nope, I was wrong again, as I am, unfortunately, with disturbing regularity. It took about two minutes to discover that multiple detours were taken around many insurmountable walls in this quest to make a homemade toaster, which I expected. However, apparently the last 25% or so of the book, what I would call the what have you learned Dorothy? section, is an environmentalist rant attacking the various industries and processes that result in a cheap toaster.

Mr. Thwaites, no doubt, would probably be displeased to discover that I've attacked his book without having actually read it. However, I would hope that as he sits in his cozy hut, eyes streaming and lungs wheezing, toasting homemade bread made of wheat he grew himself over an open fire, that he would find it in his heart to forgive me.

Economics: As I've written before, economics is one of the many subjects that I find interesting and that I study in a dilettantish, superficial sort of way...

[Marie-Louise just whispered in my ear that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. She says that I should explain to my gentlereaders that I'm just trying to be a big picture person in an age of specialists. That I try to serve them by surfing the ocean of information we're all trying to avoid drowning in while we try to make it back to the beach. That sounds kind of pompous though, so I'm not going to bring it up.]

But a couple of professional scholars (which I guess makes them the opposite of a dilettante like myself), Anthony Randazzo and Jonathan Haidt have done a study of professional scholars that specialize in economics, that is, economists. They concluded that these social "scientists" look at the facts they collect (the studies that they did, the source of the statistics they love to quote) then interpret them based on what they think is moral and ethical. Which ain't science.

Which is why when you hear the phrase, or some version of it, "Most economists agree...", if your bonkercockie detector doesn't immediately go off you should have it recalibrated.

The Donald v. the Billary: Yes, the Billary. You get two for the price of one. As you're no doubt aware, or can easily confirm if you're not, those two have been a beast with two backs for decades. Of course, it's a matter of speculation as to whether... nevermind. I don't support either the Donald or the Billary. Let me rephrase, I don't support the Donald or the Hilliam. Hilliam just popped into my head, and it sounds funnier I think.Yes, definitely, the Hilliam it is.

My lack of support is not based on their political positions, which seem to be quite flexible anyway. It's based on what kind of people they seem to be.

The Donald. The Donald is on his third trophy wife and while it's not for me to judge, him or anyone else, I personally find that creepy. I'm a dude, dude. I get it. All men are pigs, we're wired that way. I'm also an old dude, and though I risk being tossed out the Old Dudes club for being a traitor, trust me on this. While (in most cases) the raging forest fire of passion is now a relatively easily managed, well-maintained blaze in a nice fireplace, we're as aware of attractive, young women as we were when we were young. Perhaps even more so since for most of us they are out of reach. DNA never stops trying to replicate itself.

However, that doesn't mean you have to surrender to biology just because you can. Particularly when you'll be pooping on other people's lives, like your kids for example. As I say, I try not to judge. Marriage is hard, and complicated, and private. The wife might be as anxious to flee as the husband. But then you do it again? And the third wife is 24 years younger than you, and only seven years older than your oldest son? It could be love I guess, it's still creepy.

As to the Hilliam, well, books have been written about how they somehow keep just missing being dragged off to the guillotine, so I'll limit myself to the subject of Bill the documented horndog.

Ladies, suppose you had spent years helping to cover up for a man who thought nothing of cheating on you as you both clawed your way up the political ladder (if confused google the phrase, "bimbo eruptions"). Suppose you made it all the way to the White House anyway and he got caught, once again, and this time, everyone on Earth was aware of it, along with some of the gory details.

Suppose he went on TV and looked the world in the eye, and sincerely lied his ass off. Would you not only stick with him, would you tell the world it was all just a vast right wing conspiracy? Should someone who wants power that badly even be allowed to run the PTA?

©Mark Mehlmauer 2016

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