Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Know Future found Smoke Report 

N 37° 39.810 W 090° 23.123

Knob Lick Fire Tower, St. Francois County, Missouri. Elevation about 1330 ft. This is an abandoned tower about 100 ft tall. There is an observation deck about 65 ft above ground. The top is blockaded. Built by USFS in the 1930s and staffed until about 1977. A beautiful view of the Ozarks hills of St. Francois and Madison counties.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Notes from the Social Security Spin Room 

From the Q & A section of the Social Security Administration (SSA)website (http://www.ssa.gov/qa.htm)

"If Social Security is not changed, payroll taxes will have to be increased, the benefits of today's younger workers will have to be cut, or massive transfers from general revenues will be required. Social Security's Chief Actuary states, "If benefits were reduced to meet the shortfall in revenue for the combined program, the reduction would need to be 27 percent starting with the exhaustion of the Trust Fund in 2042 and would rise to 32 percent for 2078. Alternatively, if additional revenue were provided beginning in 2042, revenue equivalent to a payroll tax rate increase of about 3.1 percentage points (from 12.4 percent under current law to about 15.5 percent) would be needed for the year. The additional revenue needed for 2043 would be equivalent to a payroll tax rate increase of about 4.5 percentage points for the year. Thereafter, the amount of additional revenue needed would gradually rise, reaching an amount equivalent to an increase in the payroll tax rate of about 5.9 percentage points for 2078 (or about 50 percent higher than today's rate)."

Okay, so funding Social Security is a problem. A big problem... but not an imminent disaster. In the media we seem to hear only two solutions, both extreme. 1) Ignore the problem and hope it goes away or is taken care of by someone in the future. 2) Trash the current system and have everyone contribute to a private retirement account.

Option 1 seems to be the Democratic position. Surely they offer more than this, but in their kneejerk opposition to anything that Bush proposes, this is the impression we get out here in the red states wasteland. If Bush had proposed the Democratic solution, would the Democrats have opposed it?

Option 2 appears to be the Bush initiative. At least its the Democratic version of the Bush plan. At this writing, of course, there isn't yet a real plan, just some guiding principles, but rest assured the Dems are opposed to it, no matter what form it takes in the end.

Between these extremes there must be an almost infinite variety of intermediate solutions. Here's an idea that is probably out there somewhere. I just haven't seen it yet, so I'll call it my idea for now.

Why not allow everyone who isn't already eligible for a private 401k plan to participate in the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)? TSP is a basic 401k-like plan that invests in equity and bond markets in the same manner as a low-cost index fund.

Participation in TSP would be voluntary. No cuts in Social Security benefits... for now. We seem to have 35-40 years to get people used to the idea of saving their own money for retirement. This would be a way to get started down that path. For incentive, TSP contributions would reduce taxable income, like 401k plans do now.

Some time in the future we could reduce Social Security benefits for young workers. This has to happen, it's just a question of when. This could be offset, however, by a system of federal matching contributions to each private account. Many 401k plans offer this incentive now.

Say, for example, the SSA contributes $0.25 to my TSP account for every dollar I save - an automatic 25% return on my investment. I could go for that. As traditional Social Security benefits are reduced, they would be offset by increased matching contributions to your TSP account. Over the next 40 years we make a complete switch to private TSP accounts.

Not a painless solution. There is no painless solution. But this would be an incremental change that protects the young worker, the baby boomer and current retirees. I would like to see discussion and refinement of this type of plan.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A Brief History of the Bezard compass (1852 – 1971) 

Bezard factory 1931
Posted by Hello

For 119 years, Instruments Scientifiques Compagnie du Bezard (Bezard) produced compasses, theodolites and other surveying instruments from their factory in the tiny Alsace-Lorraine village of Bezard. Alsace-Lorraine was an important coal-mining district that alternated between French and German control several times during this period.

The Bezard family was the Jewish patriarchs of this tiny community that bears their name. Their factory provided employment for most of the local citizens. For generations Bezard produced surveying instruments for the local mining industry.

In 1939 Germany’s Wehrmacht army occupied French Alsace-Lorraine. Though their army was considered superior at the time, the French appeased the Nazi demands and gave up this important industrial center without a fight. Hitler quickly converted all industrial activity in the district to support his upcoming war effort.

Brothers Henri and Phillipe Bezard were managing the company when the Germans moved into Alsace-Lorraine. Like most successful Jewish businessmen of that era, the Bezard brothers were secular and the Nazis were never aware of their origin. They joined the National Socialist Party in order to retain their property. Otherwise, they probably would have been sent to one of Himmler’s death camps.

The Bezard factory was retooled to manufacture bomb-targeting sights for the Luftwaffe, cannon sights for tanks and artillery and pocket compasses for the German infantry.

The Germans forced Bezard to employ slave laborers (mostly Jews) from Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Germany and other countries. At great personal risk, Henri and Phillipe strove to provide humane working and living conditions for their workforce. They provided enough food to keep their workers healthy and paid decent wages, which were deposited into secret Swiss bank accounts for each employee. They also demanded and received many additional workers – a ploy to keep as many Jews as possible out of the Nazi death camps.

During the war, Bezard sabotaged most of the instruments they made for the Nazis. They designed slightly misaligned many bomb and artillery sights, which caused them to miss their targets by hundreds of meters. Their popular “Patent Bezard” pocket compass contained an almost imperceptible error in azimuth calibration, which may have caused German soldiers to get lost and march many extra kilometers to reach their bases. These efforts may not have had much effect on the outcome of the war, but at least they tried to fight the Germans in any way they could.

After the war, the forced laborers (or their survivors) received the wages that had been saved for them in Switzerland. Most of them remained with Bezard and settled in the village. Henri and Phillipe returned to the manufacture of surveying instruments and compasses. By this time, however, most of their instruments were outdated and never regained their pre-war market.

Phillipe died in 1967. At this time, Henri, now in his 80s, retired and sold the factory to his employees for a very reasonable price. He died in 1969.

The new owners continued the operation for several years, but their market was poor and they did not have the skills or resources to compete. The last handcrafted Bezard compass with its distinctive, but outdated, design was shipped to Paris in April 1971. They factory was sold to BASF, a German chemical manufacturer, who razed the buildings to expand their own factory.
It was the end of an era: two brothers who risked their lives daily to fight the Nazis and protect their people. Because they shunned publicity, they never received much recognition for their efforts. A small brass plaque in the Bezard village square provides only the briefest account of their heroic efforts. Those who knew them say that’s how they would have wanted it.

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