2016

Have a cigar.

“When hundreds of thousands of people risk death to escape your country, your country is probably doing something wrong.” –Yours Truly, “The Fidel, The.”

Now that Fidel has finally become a good communist, the internet is awash with far wittier criticisms of him and his supporters than I can muster. I will, however, add a few comments to the… dyslogy? mallogy? anti-eulogy? Dyslogy.

Say what you will about his predecessor, Batista, but at least that guy had the common courtesy to step back from power every once in a while. That, and he didn’t kill or exile nearly as many as Castro did. And he didn’t ruin the country’s economy. And he didn’t ask Khrushchev to launch a first strike against the US. (Did you know Fidel actually asked Nikita to nuke the US? I didn’t. Scroll down in the letter paragraph beginning “In your cable of October 27…” I’ll wait. Back? OK, good.)

If a socialist revolution results in economic depression, a low-end estimate of ten thousand political executions, and a low-end estimate of a million people fleeing the country or exiled, then shouldn’t the leader of said revolution at least have the decency to not become a billionaire in the process? Or at least to resign after, say, twenty or thirty years of things not really turning around?

I hope Obama’s opening to Cuba was the right move, and I hope Trump (or whoever ends up being President) will further the process of bringing democracy, freedom, liberty, and yes, capitalism to the long-suffering people of Cuba. One tyrant down; I hereby jubilate.

Seriously, though, I thought for sure that someday we’d see that guy’s head on a pike on the road to Havana. Oh well. There’s always Raúl.

On turning 40.

MQ made an excellent birthday cake from scratch. A buttery organic white cake with vanilla creme frosting and star-shaped sprinkle things. I ate only two pieces because they were perfect enough. A less perfect cake, I’d probably need three to five pieces to be sated. Not this cake. Two three-by-two-inch pieces were just right. For lunchtime, I mean. I’ll have more in a couple hours.

Took her to a nice steakhouse, the Tree on San Jose, for dinner. Had the room to ourselves, aside from extremely pleasant and helpful waiters. Ribeye, lobster bisque, risotto, and a Malbec. After careful consideration, it was the best steak I’ve ever had in a restaurant (third best overall). Just enough blackening and caramelization on the outside, red and tender inside, consistent marbling that melted in my mouth. Good stuff.

Then we went for a short walk in a small evergreen forest. It was lovely. I might get a real tree this year.

As I said long ago, there’ll be no Jack Benny nonsense. Some odd synapse or malfunction in my brain has me thinking that the early 40s seem younger than the late 30s. Hopefully it’ll feel that way. There’s no hill to get over.

On that abomination of an election.

The good news is that Hillary Clinton will not be President. The bad news is that Donald Trump will be President.

Actually, I take that back. Not the good news/bad news part, but the “will not be” and “will be” parts. I have no business making prognostications anymore. To wit:

I thought Trump would flame out after the first debate, when novelty would yield to common sense. Then I thought he’d lose his lead in the polls as other Republicans dropped out because he was nobody’s second choice and the dropouts’ supporters would flock to a non-Trump. Then I thought Cruz’s victory in Iowa was the beginning of the end for Trump, and people would come to their senses. Then I thought there’d be some behind-the-scenes pow-wow to close ranks behind a single non-Trump, likely Rubio, and the other non-Trumps would drop out faster. Then I thought there’d be more desperation to support Cruz, especially after Rubio dropped out. Then I thought there’d be a contested convention.

At this point, I thought Trump could win, but he’d definitely have to stop acting like Trump, and he’d have to spend more money. After all, there’s no way he’d get billions of dollars worth of free media like he did in the Republican primaries, right? And there’s no way there was actually anything like a “silent majority” that planned to vote for him despite telling the pollsters otherwise, or not responding to the pollsters at all, right? And you need a traditional GOTV operation to actually get people out to vote, right? And for Christ’s sake, he’d have to stop being “a colossal @*#&$^%”, as I put it back in September, right?

And then election night came, and then I thought he wouldn’t win if he were trailing in so many national polls, and that even if he caught up he was trailing too badly in the electoral count and there’s no way he’d win in Wisconsin. Or Michigan. Or Pennsylvania. And then I thought that campaigning there was the same old Republican pipe dream: waste time campaigning in those states, then get blown away when the results come late in from Milwaukee and Detroit and Philly. And he spent too much time going after white voters, but it wasn’t going to be enough to offset losses among other ethnic/racial groups. Gains among men would be more than offset by losses among women. And I told my students to watch all night, because the whole thing would probably be called for Hillary by 11 or so.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. I think I counted that right. So, yeah, I’m done prognosticating for a while. The electors don’t meet until December 19th, and technically (and Constitutionally, which is the best kind of technically), they can elect any 35-plus-year-old natural-born citizen with 14 years residency they want, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen? Because I won’t pretend I do anymore.

There was no suspense whatsoever on the Democratic side. It wasn’t even worth considering the possibility that Comrade Uncle Bernie might win, so I never prognosticated nuthin’ about it.

I told the kids to wait for more data to come in before making snap judgements about why the results fell the way they did. The data’s been coming in for two weeks now. Compared to Romney, Trump won a higher percentage of blacks (by 2 percentage points), Asians (by 3), Hispanics (by 2), and men (by 1), and a lower percentage of whites (by 1) and women (by 2). Granted, “percentage won” is not the same as or as important as turnout, but given everything we know about how he conducted himself and how racist and sexist he and his supporters supposedly are, should any of that have happened? He only did two points worse among women than Romney? He actually lost ground percentage-wise among whites? And he gained points among any (not every) non-white ethnic/racial group?

How?

I ask that only rhetorically; there’s plenty of analysis out there explaining exactly how. I just wish the people crying “racist” and “sexist” would take a moment to think about other explanations, such as the fact that the election wasn’t a referendum solely on Trump, but an actual choice between Trump and an actual other human being with an actual track record of her own.

I also predicted that given the bizarro comeback motif in 2016 (Cavaliers, Cubs, Trump), that the Bears would turn around their then 2-6 record when Cutler came back, finish in a wildcard slot at 10-6 and win the Super Bowl. Wrong.

Dr. Hmnahmna opines that “the Cubs were [traditionally] a giant sink for all the bad karma in the US. With the Cubs actually being good, all the bad karma went somewhere else. Lots of prominent deaths, Trump, etc.” I tend to concur, and think the Cubs winning was worth it. Hopefully Hillary does, too.

Cubs win!!!

BPM is probably back down under 100 now.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but I’m a fan of Chicago and of my family’s history there, and so I’m a fan of the Cubs. Too many warm-and-fuzzies are rushing in to form coherent thought, so let me just ramble.

I think of:

…the taunting promise of last year’s 90-something-win team.
…watching the White Sox win and thinking the Cubs were due.
…watching the Red Sox win and thinking the Cubs were due.
…Bartman and watching the Cubs lose to the Marlins.
…Harry Caray passing away.
…watching Sosa and McGwire in the late 90s.
Back to the Future, and Ferris Bueller, and Jake Elwood’s fake address: 1060 West Addison. “Somebody with a record this bad is bound to make a mistake,” or some such.
…watching the Cubs lose to the Giants.
…watching the Cubs lose to the Padres.
…my mom, who lived close enough to Wrigley to hear the loudspeakers.
…learning about the billy goat and the black cat.
…my mom’s mom, who bought us some truck-stop-quality Cubs and Sox caps from BK or McDonald’s when we were little.
…my dad’s mom, who never saw them win once in her 95 years.
…my dad’s dad, who saw Babe Ruth point his home run in ’32, and saw the Cubs win the Series twice when he was a boy, and then never again.

And I get a little misty because I just can’t believe they won. They didn’t do what the Cubs always do, which is fail, no matter how good their record is in May or June. They didn’t choke. They actually won.

And next time they win, even if it’s not for another hundred years, I’ll think of this incredible series and tonight’s incredible game. My God.

On Wal-Mart’s higher wages.

From the mailbag:

(Blonde) directed my attention to a Gray Lady article that asks “How Did Walmart Get Cleaner Stores and Higher Sales?” and then answers “It Paid Its People More” and then asks “Can the answer to what ails the global economy be found in the people in blue vests at your neighborhood Walmart?” Click here to read it yourself.

Long story short: in 2015, Wal-Mart’s revenues dropped for the first time since God was a child, customer satisfaction was down, and so they decided to pay their employees more. Their revenues went back up while the rest of the retail market was down, and customer satisfaction improved. However, the stock price underperformed and profits dropped a bit.

So is attracting better workers via higher wages the “answer to what ails the global economy”? As any well-trained economist proficient in hedging his bets would tell you, it depends. I suppose that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

Maybe Wal-Mart’s experience validates the concept of the efficiency wage. Or, since their profits are down, I should say “may soon validate” the concept. Maybe higher profits are right around the corner. Maybe profits will continue to lag and then there’ll be a hiring freeze, or a wage freeze until inflation eats away the value of the wage. After all, the stockholders are trying to make money, too– maybe for raw profit, maybe for retirement, maybe for a health savings account, who knows why?

I’m not surprised that offering a higher wage brought in better workers, though I would like more elaboration on this little nugget:

But at the store level, managers describe a big shift in the kind of workers they can bring in by offering $10 an hour with a solid path to $15 an hour. “We’re attracting a different type of associate,” said Tina Budnaitis, the manager of Walmart No. 5260 in Rogers. “We get more people coming in who want a career instead of a job.”

If I were a cosmic justice warrior, I might take that bit about “a different type of associate” and play the “what’s that supposed to mean?” game. But I’m not, so instead I’m going to play the “what happens to the original, ‘pre-different’ type of associate?” game. Here I go:

What happens to the original, “pre-different” type of associate? If that person’s out of a job, then all else being equal might there be no net gain in employment? And if profits are still down, or stay down after hiring the “different type,” then what was gained on net by hiring the “different type”?

Anyway. Maybe it’ll work, maybe not. It makes perfect sense that if you want more productive workers, maybe you should up the bid for those workers by offering higher wages. Those workers can increase profits, but it’s also possible that the revenue gains won’t offset the higher labor costs.

Those’re just a couple of ramblings, I haven’t done much blogging in a while. Just been feeling kind of off, and I guess I’m not as– wait. Wait a minute. I just noticed some minimum wage stuff in this article. Hold on.

Forgive me for being presumptuous, forgive me for impugning your motives, maybe I’m wrong, but is this story supposed to boost support for a higher minimum wage? To chip away at my opposition to minimum wage laws and living wage laws? Is that why you sent it? “Pay people more; we’ll finally have cleaner Wal-Marts that actually have more than two lines open?”

Well, first, we already have cleaner Wal-Marts that actually have more than two lines open. They’re called Targets.

Second, as I’ve said before, minimum wage is a restriction on the worker as much as it is a restriction on the employer. Say we raise the minimum wage to whatever New, Improved Wal-Mart is paying. Remember the original workers? Not the new “different type,” I mean the original workers they had before their profits started dropping off? Some of them just got put out of work, or didn’t get hired, because they’re not the right type of different. And as I’ve said in past posts, you’ve made it harder for them to get hired, to gain experience, to make contacts, and so on.

Third, minimum wage isn’t just an economic issue. It’s a matter of rights, specifically the freedom to make contracts. This often invites a comeback along the lines of “yeah, the right to get exploited” or “yeah, the right to get paid less,” to which I respond “I’d prefer to be exploited for not-enough-money than not exploited for zero money.” And I prefer it because I’ve been there.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this’ll work out as hoped for Wal-Mart: higher revenues, more customer satisfaction, cleaner stores, shorter lines, higher profits. If paying higher wages works out for Wal-Mart, does that justify forcing other businesses to pay higher wages, too?

So, again, if it works out for Wal-Mart, great. Let others voluntarily follow their path. If it doesn’t, oh well. Hopefully others learn from it.

I need to get back to blogging more.

On this abomination of an election.

A few months back, at ’06’s ten-year reunion, to which I was graciously invited, and which I happily attended, though it was a little bit awkward being the oldest person in the room by a decent margin, though come to think of it I wasn’t the oldest because the other teachers who showed up were a bit older than me, but either way I didn’t stick around too long because those reunions are about kids reconnecting with kids, and I’d prefer that they remember me as existing only within the confines of the school because it helps maintain a mystique conducive to discipline in the classroom and a good reputation outside it, a kid asked me a question.

The question was, “So have you bought your tickets to Canada?”

No, I’m not moving to Canada or anywhere else for that matter. The presidential candidates are the screw-ups; why should I have to leave?

This election is bizarre and horrifying. The fact that Hillary and Trump are the worst candidates in my life depresses me enough that I don’t want to think about this election. The fact that the best argument for Major Party Candidate X is that X is not Other Major Party Candidate Y has depressed me enough that I haven’t felt like writing about it for some time. And the fact that the internets are saturated with election-related data, analysis, memes, commentary, etc., to a degree heretofore unknown makes me feel like I have little to contribute to any conversation, even a conversation that on average is followed by under six people per day. But I’ll say these few things, for the record:

1. You’ll often hear folks say they’re sick of the same old partisan politics (I am not one of said people), and that they’d love to see a candidate who speaks his mind, who is unbeholden to anyone, who is willing to work with both sides. Well, that’s Trump, except that he’s a colossal @*#&$^%. If Trump were less of a jerk, not only would he have won the GOP nomination a lot earlier, this election would already be over.

2. I don’t like Hillary. I think she’s the most corrupt major party nominee for President since Nixon and LBJ (though she might be worse than either, and no, I’m not kidding). It has worried me from the get-go that her campaign has hidden her from the public and the press as much as possible, and that the press has largely played along. Hopefully the “pneumonia” is a minor non-issue and she is in good health, because she’s likely to win the White House and her judgement is poor enough without additional health problems.

3. Given their age and how much everybody hates them, I think both candidates would benefit from announcing that they’ll serve just one term and not seek re-election. “I promise that I will not waste one second seeking another term; that I will spend every second doing the best job I can,” etc.

4. I think a Trump presidency would have one huge and important advantage for over a Hillary presidency: Congress would check and balance him more than they have any President in several decades (i.e., they’d actually bother to do their jobs). No way Congress would fight President Hillary as hard as they’d fight President Trump.

More later.

Fourth of July, 2016.

Happy 240th birthday to the United States of America!

…and happy 144th to President Coolidge.

If I had to articulate the foremost principle of the Founding as succinctly as possible, I think it’d be hard to beat “live and let live.” It works better than “live free” (which is Gary Johnson’s campaign slogan– and it’s a good slogan, don’t get me wrong; it’s borrowed from the motto of the great state of New Hampshire, my birthplace– but I digress) because it reminds us to also let others live as they see fit, instead of leaving it at “do whatever you want.” It’s about swinging your fist freely but without punching anyone in the nose.

Granted, there were and are too many examples of the Founders and their posterity (i.e., “us”) ignoring this principle, but let that diminish them (and us) and not the idea itself. That idea makes this country different from and better than everyplace else on Earth combined times seven.

I attended the ’06 reunion a month or so ago. A former student asked if I had bought my ticket to Canada, given our apparent choices this November. My response was something along the lines of, “Why should I leave? They’re the ones who suck.” Election stuff next time.

Happy 116th!

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Here he is, wondering what you’re looking at:

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I have no context whatsoever for this photo. No idea where he is, why he’s there, or what happened next. Just my grandfather– a stern-looking man, a man not to be trifled with– standing in a grove.

Grampa would’ve turned 116 today if he hadn’t died restoring the Earth’s orbit and rotational period.