Taxes, and The Entangling Alliance; Hearing Aid Report

View 820 Tuesday, April 15, 2014

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it away from the fog of the controversy.

Nancy Pelosi. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

Referring to the Affordable Health Care Act


“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. Period.

Barrack Obama, famously.


“…the only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon



The past week I have been engaged in taxes. Then, over the weekend, there was the annual awards ceremony for the Writers of the Future winners. That starts on Friday (for me; for the winners and some of the judges like Tim Powers it starts the first of the week). Writers of the Future brings together a large group of my colleagues, the judges, so we all get to meet and have dinner, and remember those we lost during the year. I’d have been down at the WOTF affair Saturday, but Roberta and I had to go to the memorial service for Hans von Leyden, Grand Prior for the United States of the Military and Hospitaler Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, and when I got home from that one of my accounting programs was behaving strangely. I wrote that program in 1980 in Commercial Basic, and I’m very used to it, but for some reason one of the auxiliary programs that summarizes journal entries and finds references to ledger pages that don’t exist – i.e. entry errors, or quite possibly a ledger page I created during the previous year and didn’t put into the master chart – didn’t work properly, and that consumed a good bit of energy along with some panic. But I managed to get it running before I went to bed Saturday.

Sunday was the Writers of the Future Awards. They have been held in a variety of places, from the plushest of Hollywood and Beverley Hills hotels to the Hall of Nations at the UN in New York, at Cape Canaveral, at NASA Houston, at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, and at the Seattle SF Hall of Fame where they had to set up their stage in a few hours and strike that set in even less time. Then for a while in the Hollywood Roosevelt where the first Oscar ceremony was held, which was great, but it must have cost an arm and two other appendages. For the past few years they’ve been held at the Ebell Theater, an old house that was decaying until the WOTF people decided they’d use it. They’ve fixed it up and repainted and renewed gilding and the old girl looks great again. I first encountered the Ebell back before Los Angeles had an opera or an opera house; a group of volunteers hoping to found the LA Opera staged Britten’s Albert Herring there and my wife dragged me to see it. Dragged, because I generally don’t want to go to anything written after 1900 unless it was by Puccini, but I can be persuaded – by Roberta at least – to try other “modern” operas. I can’t say I was all that impressed with Albert Herring, although a few years ago the LA Opera did it again in the Dorothy Chandler, and it came off well. On the other hand I’ve been dragged to really modern stuff in which not only are there no arias, there are no tunes or themes or leitmotivs or indeed any memorable bars of music, and the most dramatic moment of the opera is sung almost sotto voce. But I digress.

Anyway the WOTF presentations Sunday were followed by a reception and party, and I got home late. Monday Morning I sat down at my desk with a feeling of dread, but strangely enough, things went swimmingly, and by dinner time I knew everything I needed to know, and after dinner I was able to finish both US and California.

I use TurboTax, which is the long time descendent of a program written for the Mac called MacInTax. Back in those days if you wanted fancy printing you were far better off with a Mac than with DOS, and as for Windows, before a Canadian company produced a Windows Accelerator graphics board you couldn’t even use Microsoft Word with Windows: do a page down and go for coffee while the screen redrew. The first Macs were painfully slow, but MacInTax was usable: it was a series of pre-programmed spread sheets along with the ability to print the IRS forms, and it was wonderful for anyone who had been struggling with 1040’s and all the schedules. Change an entry and the whole form recalculated. Get it ready and print it. Took a while – it would be painful to do that now – but in those days it was miraculously fast. Over time MacInTax got bought by various outfits, and ended up (after many sea changes of course) as TurboTax. Meanwhile Windows got better and was able to handle it, and I run TurboTax on a fast Windows 7 machine.

So by Monday evening I was pretty well set, and after dinner Monday I did the final reviews of my US and California taxes – and discovered that TurboTax has changed the way it prints forms. Apparently many people now file electronically. I am not sure why I don’t, but I have been in the habit of taking my walk with my tax returns to the local post office at 4 PM on deadline day, and I don’t see any reason to change. But I would tell TurboTax I wanted to print my forms; it would exhort me to file electronically; I’d say no, I want print; and it would trundle for a while and open Acrobat, and there would be a pdf file. It never did that before. It used to just print them when told to do it.

I don’t print a lot of pdf files. I’d tell Acrobat – I’m no longer in the TurboTax program – to print, and it would say it had done so, but nothing happened. No printed forms. I tried this a couple of times. Panic mounted. Eventually I figured it out: once you are ready to print, you have to tell Acrobat which printer. It turns out it is set to use some kind of Fax print as the default. You have to poke a rather small and obscure icon of a printer, drop down a small menu, and there, listed among options like print to disk (how this is different from SAVE I didn’t bother to find out) and the fax printer, was my HP LaserJet. I chose that, told it to print as I had done already, and LO! the printer lit up and dozens of sheets of paper poured out. All was well. So before I went to bed Monday I had my taxes printed out (along with the file copy). Acrobat had in fact sent a message about no fax device, but it was hidden by the still open TurboTax. Last year TurboTax had its own print drivers and printed from the program: now it calls in Adobe, but it wasn’t very well tested, and the default printer is a fax system.  Once I figured that out all is well.  I seem to be back to doing silly things so you don’t have to.

Today I leisurely accumulated all the 1099-MISC forms that showed someone had withheld state and federal taxes, and got all the other certificates I needed, wrote the checks – I severely underpaid my Quarterly Estimated taxes last year – prepared all the envelopes, and while I was at it put together a Priority Mail box of books, fashion pictures, and some jewelry I accumulated in world travels that would be appropriate for an attractive teenager and set that up to mail to my granddaughter (well, to one of them; I have three). And that all got done, and I came home to relax a bit.

COSTCO Hearing Aids

Which is a long way of apologizing for neglecting this place for darned near a week. I think I can catch up now. Oh. And last week I went out to COSTCO and got my hearing aids reprogrammed. Their tests show that my right ear hearing hasn’t changed since I first got the COSTCO $2000 hearing aids, but the left one had. Of course we knew that from my trips to Kaiser where they did the steroid treatments I described a few weeks ago when I learned that I had suddenly gone stone deaf in my left ear. The treatments involved both lots of tiny little pills, and injections through the eardrum – nu fun at all. The wonderful lady technician at COSTCO said she could see a small scab on my eardrum but it looked like it was healing. Next week I go out to Kaiser to the audiologists. Meanwhile I can hear SOMETHING in my left ear. Not a lot, but it’s no longer stone cold deaf. I hear gongs and crashes and cracks and sudden noises, and I think it may even be adding a bit to comprehension. We’ll see.

So my report on the COSTCO hearing aids remains: for two weeks they were so wonderful I didn’t believe it: I could hear better than I have since 1950. Then one day the left ear just plain went deaf. Was not a problem with the hearing aids, both of which continue to work as well as they ever did, consuming eight of the tiny batteries a week, generally on Tuesdays and Fridays. COSTCO sells them with a 90 day return possibility but I am not about to return them. With both in I can still hear far better than with none. And my left ear is getting better. And if you have hearing problems, go try the COSTCO hearing aids. You may love them. I sure love mine.


Entangling Alliances

We learned in 7th Grade that George Washington in his Farewell Address warned the new Republic to avoid “entangling alliances” and “not to become involved in the territorial disputes of Europe.” We have pretty well ignored that advice. We got involved in World War I, The Great War, and that prolonged that war far longer than it could have gone on, since Britain was convinced that the US could be persuaded to join Anglo-French-Italian-Russian-Japanese Entente; and Britain’s (and all the other’s) objectives were certainly territorial and Imperial. So were France’s which is why France ended up with African territories and holdings in Lebanon and Syria, and Britain ended up with Palestine and Iraq and Jordan became what amounted to British protectorates. There was also Egypt and the Sudan, and Italy in Libya, and Up The Empires.

Keynes and others regarded the Treaty of Versailles which ended The Great War as a “Carthaginian Peace”, and many have attributed the rise of the Stahlhelm, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party to the punitive actions of France and Britain following the Great War. When Hitler came to power, French and British troops still occupied parts of Germany, many years after the War, and there were serious “territorial disputes” left in Europe (including many pockets of ethnic Germans in territories that had been stripped from the German and Austrian Empires at the end of WW I and who wanted to rejoin the Fatherland). Meanwhile the Russian Empire had vanished, to be taken over by Stalin who openly wanted to convert the entire world to Communism.

This is not the place to discuss the proper role of America in the years leading up to 1938 and the outbreak of World War II. At the time it happened there wasn’t a lot we could have done – we had no real Army and while the Navy wasn’t insignificant, it wasn’t a two ocean blue water Navy either. All that changed but only after Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term on the promise that if he were elected not one American boy was going to die on foreign soil. After 1940 America mobilized, Detroit began to turn out tanks and trucks and artillery, airplane factories sprang up, Kaiser finished Hoover Dam and put in shipyards where there had been nothing but mud flats, and GM’s Knudsen showed everyone that if you could produce one of something, you could produce a million of them, and do it with workers who hadn’t been trained – this was the time of Rosie the Riveter. Hitler never really believed that Sharman tanks were being built by women, and where did we get all those bombers?

Up to then the limit to mass production was the skilled work needed to make machine tools; in the period leading up to WW II American industry learned how to make machine tools – tools to make the machinery for mass production machines – and to get past the limit that had previously been imposed by the requirement that workers had to be highly skilled to make tools to the precision – one thousandth of an inch – needed to build precision machine tools.  That opened the way to true mass production.  Incidentally, we are still learning that lesson, but it isn’t fully learned yet: that is, it takes highly skilled workers to build some of the production facilities required in modern large chip production.  That limit is being overcome, and Moore’s Law continues to be a good approximation of reality, with the inevitable consequence that fewer and fewer workers are required to produce more and more goods.  But that’s a theme for another time. But we learned all this just in time to allow us to tool up and swamp the Axis with our production. Airplanes, ships, tanks, artillery pieces, trucks – every American Infantry division was “motorized”; unlike the Germans we had no horse-drawn supply wagons. And we learned to do it fast.

The real question is why we had to go save the world from the Nazi’s? Why couldn’t Europe save itself? For that matter, how did a rabid expansionist nation exist in stable old Europe where once wars had been fought over a few square miles? Was it because we had intervened in The Great War? A case could be made for that, and in fact it was made by many intellectuals. The “Revisionists” wrote many books about how the US had been suckered into WW I, and much of what they said made very good sense. If you’re interested, Walter Millis wrote as good a book as you’re likely to want to read. But the point of the Revisionists is that The Great War would not have been so deadly had everyone realized that it was futile, and ought to be stopped, for there was nothing to gain from it.  Alas, the expectation of American aid kept the “We need to win something from this” advocates in Britain and France form succumbing to the “Kaiser’s Peace Offensives” when the war could have been stopped much earlier on by a return to Status quo ante bellum. But if America came in, Germany could be made to pay. The Empire could be preserved.

So said the Revisionists, and many American intellectuals believed that. Many still do. But none of that debate mattered after Pearl Harbor, although if Hitler had not unwisely decided to declare war on the US to honor his alliance with Japan it is not clear what would have happened even then: there was considerable opposition to having US troops pull the British chestnuts out of the fire yet one more time.

And World War II generated the Seventy Years War, the last half of which is usually called The Cold War, and the most entangling alliance of all, NATO, which had the objective of containing the Soviet Union. George Kennan proposed the Strategy of Containment, and Strausz-Hupe, Possony, and Kintner expanded the policy in detail. Possony and I wrote The Strategy of Technology which was a Cold War book although its principles are broader than the Cold War and apply now as well as then; but that’s another matter.

My point is that we needed The Entangling Alliance right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and perhaps a bit after that; but we had no need of it after that, yet we retained it and expanded it. NATO give territorial guarantees to a number of old and new nations who can not possibly contribute to American security, as well as to a few that have been of assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. NATO got us involved in territorial disputes in the Balkans after the breakup of Yugoslavia, and when we took the anti-Slav side in that morass – if you can find the Good Guys in those wars following the dissolution of Yugoslavia please inform me – we began a new Cold War with Russia, although I doubt that President Clinton understood that he had done so.

And we continued to surround Russia with NATO alliances, all given US guarantees.

The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated that American guarantees of territorial integrity are not worth much: Ukraine is not a NATO member (but was apparently being courted to join NATO as well as the European Union) but both the US and Russia guaranteed its integrity provided that it gave up all nuclear weapons. The weapons were given up, but The Crimea is a part of Russia now. I do not think that this lesson has been lost in Pyongyang. (Nor has the lesson of Khadafy been lost. He gave up his nuclear weapons and even took the blame for the Lockerbie attack although the evidence is against his actual involvement; but when his time came the US could not even send in an extraction team to take him to some kind of exile. The lesson to those contemplating building a nuke or two will be understood in many places.)

Nor is the Ukraine affair over. As I pointed out here a while ago, Putin needs Russians. He needs them badly. There are Russians in Eastern Ukraine and whether they are in danger of persecution from Ukrainians is not important: they might be, and in any event, Russia needs Russians. Much of the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin sounds suspiciously like warmed over Woodrow Wilson, what with its self determination of nations and such. Of course in Wilson’s time such notions were not dancing hard to avoid being called racist. They were avowedly racist, in that they believed there were differences between the races of man. But that too is a matter for another night.

It’s getting late, and I don’t suppose I have a major point here. There is no easy way out of the mess we have put ourselves into. We owe the Ukraine a guarantee we can’t do anything about. We have committed ourselves in Syria, but we have neglected or abandoned those commitments. It is not likely that anyone will value an American guarantee so highly as those guarantees were valued in the 20th Century and the first few years of the 21st.

It is likely that Putin will not cease his imperialist moves before he has a land bridge from Russian to the Crimean peninsula. His next move after that will probably be in Moldavia. These too are territorial disputes of Europe.

And NATO, an entangling alliance, commits American blood and treasure to territorial disputes in Europe.


Every Boy Scout (at least in the West) knows something about jackalopes, but not many know a lot.  I’m one of those who don’t know much: jackalopes weren’t part of the lore in Tennessee. I found this by accident, but it’s a rolling good story:



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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