Welcome to Thrustblog

Welcome to Thrustblog. This blog is new as of February, 2011. New posts will be added as they are completed. Our main author is Tom Rossi, but we will sometimes have guest posts and eventually maybe even another regular poster.

Comments will be moderated, mostly to prevent spam and threats of violence or anything just completely whacked-out. However, I will publish comments that strongly disagree with my posts. I believe in free speech and open discussion. Debate lies at the heart of civilization.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gas Prices Set Off Record Levels of Whining.

I'm about to puke from all the whining about gasoline prices and oil company "price gouging".

America is apparently saying (in a most annoying voice) "Oh, mister oil company. Why, why are you giving us exactly what we asked for? Why are you giving us exactly what we voted for? Why?"

Well I'm here to tell all you whiners to shut up. You have voted, again and again, for "free enterprise"... for "market self regulation." That one always makes me laugh through my tears. Self regulation... good God. "Listen, all you bank robbers out there, could you just agree not to rob any banks or that, if you do rob one, you won't take too much money and won't hurt anyone? Thanks. We really appreciate your being reasonable about this."

So, here it is. This is the result of your (voters and people who COULD vote but don't) choices – or lack of will to make a choice at all. You want the government "off our backs?" You want "smaller government?" You want so-called "freedom?" You got it! Congratulations. Here's your prize: $4.00 per gallon OR MORE.

Meanwhile, the oil companies are raking in Billions with a capital B, and receiving billions more in subsidies from our tax dollars. That's freedom. God bless America.

Oh, and nice head-fake, too. For a while, I was almost convinced that the American people had sprouted brains where their giant egos once sat. After the last big gas-price hike, people started buying much more efficient cars and parking or selling their giant Tonka toys. But then, when prices started to settle a little and people got used to them, the SUVs started to re-appear.

Every time I see one of these I want to say to the driver, "Hey! Thanks! Thanks for using up twice as much gas as you need to and driving up the price for everybody. I hope you have room in there for your massive ego." It's interesting that driving one of these giant cinder-blocks is supposed to be a sign of success and supposed to make people look up to you. If someone in our house takes really long showers, leaving little hot water for anyone else, we call that person a self-centered prick.

What's most hilarious and depressing about this price situation is that now people are looking to the government, blaming Bush and now Obama, and asking why something isn't done. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: What's happening is NOT price gouging. The price is set by "free market" forces – the forces YOU have said (through your votes) that you trust to take care of everything. So now you want the government to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction? 

Go drown yourselves in your tears... they're cheaper than a gallon of gas. 

-Tom Rossi

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Google Personalization, the News Media, and Politics

What will search-engine “personalization” do to journalism and the information that people receive?

Almost every day, I hear and see more evidence that we will soon be free of the burden of receiving news we don't really want to hear. You can now choose media sources based on their ideological slant. If you're a so-called conservative, it's Fox “news”, Rush Limbaugh, and an endless stream of conservative websites. If you're a so-called liberal, it's MSNBC, and an equal supply of web sites.

But the big smoking gun is Google. Google is now offering ever-improving personalization in your searches. Google says it will now use your web browsing history in order to refine your searches and present you with the options for which you have shown a preference. In other words, you will be shown more of what you already think.

For example, a person who frequents Fox “News” on the web and/or conservative blog sites will likely see this page: Limbaugh: 'Obama has yet to prove he's a citizen' at the top of his search and not this one on Snopes.com: Birth Certificate . Sure, the other result will probably still be in the search results, but it's well known that people don't typically go too far down the list – most take what's near the top.

So now you won't have to worry about information contradicting your own opinions. You can think whatever you thought yesterday, and probably find some information source to back you up. Of course, it's long been known that the internet is a place (in cyberspace) where you could do exactly this – look only at the sources that you prefer. But now Google is making it that much easier. Google's personalization mechanisms have actually been in place for some quite some time, but the system takes a while to “learn” whether you're a redneck or a longhair (or whatever delineation you like) so the effects are probably seeping into society slowly.

What will be the psychological effects of search-engine personalization (that is, beside the creepy sensation that you are being watched – you are!)? It seems to me that if what you already expect shows up in all the highest-ranked results of a search, you might start to feel like there simply is no reasonable, intelligent alternative to your version of the truth. Because you have seen lots of “hard evidence” backing up your views, people who think otherwise must be stupid or crazy or both, right? They obviously haven't done any real “research”.

So what about the “mainstream media”? How do they please those who like to be pleased and, at the same time, anger those who like to be angered? Well, the major networks' news departments seem to have adopted a teeter-totter approach, with a story that sounds liberal (like that people die in wars) followed by a story that sounds conservative (like that people are angry at the government over unemployment).

It now appears that the profession formerly known as journalism has been infiltrated by politics. When I watch the news, my neck gets sore from watching the ping-pong ball go back and forth: “Since we just offended the half of our viewers who think that facts are partisan, we will now offend the other half with this story about a senator, an underage girl, and a member of different species.” I'm offended, all right. I'm offended by the game itself.

Welcome to the new America – where the cows run free (at least some of them) but the people have their feet stuck in partisan cement.

-Tom Rossi

 Copyright 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Muammar Gaddafi (Qaddafi) and his toys.

Short Note:

Where did Muammar Gaddafi get the weapons he has used against his own people? From the U.S. and its allies in Europe, that's where.

In 2008, the Bush administration approved $46 million in arms sales to Libya and in 2009, Obama approved $77 million, but a large part of that deal did not go through, cutting it down to $17 million. Meanwhile, also in 2009, several European nations exports of weaponry to Libya added up to $470 million.

The U.S. leads the world (Russia is a close second) in arms sales at over $71 billion per year.

-Tom Rossi

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tsunami of Nuclear Propaganda Expected to Hit Soon!

Oh boy! I can't wait! I can hardly sit still in anticipation of the tsunami of PR baloney we'll all be subjected to soon!

It won't be long until we get hit with a wave of messages, some obvious and some hidden, that nuclear power is perfectly safe, and it's what America really needs. From ending our dependence on foreign oil, to providing power when oil supplies dwindle, to increasing efficiency, to decreasing carbon dioxide emissions, and on and on, the reasons that we should ignore what's happening in Japan will be everywhere.

People who pay attention to these things have long pointed out that nuclear power is very costly if you actually do some honest accounting and include mining the nuclear material, transporting it, and the big one – transporting and storing the waste properly (new technology will eventually reduce this problem, at great cost, but not eliminate it). But now, we have a tragedy in Japan. Of course, we'll also soon hear that the Japanese were incompetent, sloppy, lazy, covering up weaknesses in their systems, etc. ad nauseum. And it won't matter that none of this is true.

The fact is that nuclear power is not, now or in the near future, really safe. It's not safe from natural disasters, and it's not safe from acts of war or terrorism. If you disagree, tell me one thing – would you want a nuclear reactor or nuclear waste site in your neighborhood?

Keep an eye on the news. The “experts” they interview will be employees of the nuclear industry, with the occasional sandal-wearing, shouting activist to keep up appearances of balance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Does George Will have Glen Beck Envy?

George Will must think he's losing readership share to Glen Beck. He has evidently decided that he needs to go deeper into conspiracy-theory-land to try to win his readers back. In his column in the March 7, 2011 issue of Newsweek entitled, “High Speed to Insolvency: Why Liberals Love Trains”, (http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/27/high-speed-to-insolvency.html) George says, “...progressivism's aim is the modification of other people's behavior.” and “the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Wow.

Part of me wants to say, “Oh my gosh! George Will has found us out! We progressives will have to look up from our evil plans and think of a way to go deeper undercover while pretending to care about the future of the human race as a cover up!” But of course, sarcasm lands like a belly-flop on the ears of someone who uses “word-of-the-day” toilet paper.

So, George (aka Pokey), let me see if I can help you out with a couple of things while keeping this on a level that you and your pal Gumby can understand. There are two types of individualism in America – real and fake. Progressives want real freedom and real individualism, while laissez-faire capitalists want fake. Real individualism is in thought, expression, love, and other high-falutin' concepts like these. Fake individualism is whether you drive a Chevy or a Volkswagen, whether you like the Steelers or the Packers, or whether you watch Friends or Desperate Housewives on T.V. These are individual choices, it's true, but they represent individuality only at the most superficial level.

The freedom your kind wants is the freedom to dominate: the freedom to take full advantage of the fact that your great grandfather bought stock in Standard Oil way back when or maybe the Union Pacific Railroad, whereas my grandfather came over from Italy, just before World War I, without a dollar in his pocket.

Progressives want the next generation and those that follow to have the luxury of individualism as well – not to be chained to a desk for sixty hours a week nor to be afraid to go outside because the air could kill a person. You see, George, individualism is closely related to freedom, and real freedom can be curtailed by fake freedom. Your freedom to make selfish, childish decisions like driving a giant SUV to the video store that's 1/8 of a mile away on a sunny but pleasantly cool day interferes with your own grandchildren's freedom to breath outside without coughing.

All that being said, I actually don't like the high-speed rail plan either – but for sensible reasons - no conspiracies necessary. High-speed rail is not an urgent need in our society as it does not solve any current problems. What's needed is a lot more and a lot better LOCAL public transportation. And, contrary to George Will's Beckish rantings, this will mean MORE choices open to individuals, not less. George, like-minded pseudo-intellectuals, and overgrown children in general will still be free to pay 4, 5, or maybe even 10 dollars per gallon for gasoline, but those who would choose otherwise and would choose to try to provide a livable (and enjoyable) world for their grandkids will be able to do so.

Every day, individuals make choices between short-term and long-term preferences. Those of us who are blessed with common sense (most of America, I hope) make sacrifices today so that we may live longer, provide for our children, have some hope of future financial security. For example, most fathers might really like to buy a brand new Corvette but realize that, if they do so, their kids may not get to go to college or might not even have shoes to wear next month.

As a society, we would do well to follow a similar program. Invest in things like public transportation now - suffer less from high gas prices, deteriorating roads, productivity-killing traffic, and the effects of pollution later. Trains get MORE efficient the more people use them. Can the same be said of cars? So maybe George is right. Progressives do want to change other people's behavior - we want them to act like responsible adults who can see further ahead than their next purchase at the department store.

You see, George, it's like this: Your freedom to spit on someone is in direct conflict with that person's freedom and right not to be spat upon. I conclude from this that freedoms should be prioritized. For example, I fully support, without hesitation, your freedom to write ridiculous nonsense and to publish it as you are able. As is often said, in America, you have the right to be wrong.

I believe this because I realize that my individual preference not to hear the blather of a mentally and morally deficient snob pales in comparison to my preference to live in a society that values and protects free speech. Likewise, I prefer to live in a world where my tiny nieces and nephews have a good chance at a healthy, secure future over a world where my own generation indulges consumptive gluttony.

-Tom Rossi

 Copyright 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Letter to Wilson Quarterly re: Robert J. Samuelson article

The following is a letter I wrote in response to an article by Robert J. Samuelson, "Rethinking the Great Recession," which appears in the Winter, 2011 issue of the Wilson Quarterly:

Essentially, Robert J. Samuelson's article boils down to one simple idea: that this recession, like others, was caused by a somewhat cyclic period of unbridled enthusiasm. Samuelson presents two sides to the debate, those of the left and the right, and refutes each. However, Samuelson's rebuttal of the position of the left is contradicted by his own words.

While regulations did exist, without adequate enforcement, essentially there was no effective regulation. This is more than just an issue of semantics. If I suddenly decide that it's no longer permissible for people to wear a baseball cap with the brim turned to the side, so what? With little or no enforcement, it would be meaningless. It's also unimportant whether the failure of regulation is caused by regulators' lack of sufficient intelligence or foresight, or if it's caused by the weakness of the regulations themselves. The outcome is the same.

One needn't have a better grasp of recent history than the author to realize that the regulation of much of the financial industry was a mere phantom. Samuelson says it himself: “...many mortgage brokers were on loose leashes.” And “regulators should have spotted...” (emphasis added). But they didn't spot, they didn't stop, they didn't really even slow down much of the rampant orgy of risk-taking at all.

What this means is that Samuelson's conclusions are not supported by his rebuttal. We, as a country, have fallen down in the effective regulation of financial institutions and this falling down corresponds to the “instability” (as the author puts it) we are now experiencing. The last time that effective regulation was at levels comparable to say, 2007, was in the time leading up to the great depression.

Isn't the purpose of regulation to prevent not only acts of deliberate criminality but the unbridled enthusiasm Samuelson alludes to? Samuelson is correct in pointing out that economic cycles are inevitable and only misguided arrogance can lead us to believe that our government or free-market systems truly have control of them. But history has shown that, when regulation weakens, instability worsens.

-Tom Rossi

Copyright Thrustblog, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oscar Grant - Overkill

The shooting of Oscar Grant was the result of the de-facto policy of many police officers: the practice of using so-called non-lethal force as a form of punishment. If you believe that officer Mehserle did in fact pull his firearm by mistake, then that is an admission that he intended to taser a suspect that had already been subdued and was clearly complying.

Grant may not have been in compliance all along (although he was certainly not violent), but the minute the other officer put his knee on his neck, Grant put his arms and legs back into a submissive position. His body language said, "OK, you're really hurting my neck, so I'm going to cooperate." It was only then that officer Mehserle pulled his weapon. This was all clearly visible in one of the videos taken by bystanders. This can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OJTa9F2O14, or at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46IQfVIAl8Y. Contrary to Cenk Uygur's assertion (in the second link) Grant was not in handcuffs, but he was in compliance.

We have seen this repeated, although with lesser consequences, many times, thanks to citizen videos. Many police officers seem to have a non-chalant attitude when it comes to their tasers. But what would have been Mehserle's sentence if he had actually tasered Grant, who then died of a heart attack? Under the law, this is an outcome that could be foreseen by a reasonable person - tasers cause a strong physiological reaction. Therefore, using a taser is an action that requires strong justification.

So, the issue would not have been whether or not the gun was used by accident, but WHY did Mehserle decide to use his taser under these conditions?

The job of a police officer is certainly one of the most difficult in modern society. Each day, an officer walks a thin, jagged line between levels of enforcment that are either too lax or overzealous. However, the function of the police is never to punish offenders, but to apprehend them using the least amount of force necessary.

The issue of the inappropriate use of force, whether lethal or non-lethal, has been overshadowed by the accident question and the race issue. But the more important question should be: Under what circumstances should the police use even potentially lethal force at all?
-Tom Rossi

Copyright Thrustblog, 2011