Sunday, February 27, 2011

#1 Again

Last pay period I was the top selling agent in the office. That makes it 2 times this year so far, 1 time I was #2, the 3rd time I was #3. Woo hoo.

We just had another new hire training class get done. They will start on the floor Monday. I believe there are 7 in this class. Some have travel agent experience, some don't. We will see how many last of this group. The last group - has 2 left (one is off site still) and from my class we have 3 left. With that many more people, I don't see me getting close to 50 cabins in a pay period, but you never know. (This pay period that will end next Friday -- I should be close again -- I already have 30+ from last week!)

HOT here -- in the low/mid 80's. Saturday was murder in our office -- the air conditioning was not on and no air moving around. My small fan did not seem to help me at all. I hope they have it fixed by Monday since today and Monday are suppose to be hotter than it got on Sat.

If anyone is driving to visit Florida from Michigan -- bring me some pickled bologna. I"m have CRAVINGS!!!! One of my nephews may be driving down the end of March and I already called to see if he will have room to bring me 2-3 jars! The other CRAVING is for Koegel hot dogs/viennas. Those I have to make sure who brings them down has space for a cooler and will keep them iced down for the whole trip so they don't spoil. Too bad we probably will have to fly home in June instead of driving because I would have brought home a cooler full of Koegel products.

Will try to blow the sun and heat up to youse guys in Michigan and the northeast coast! :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Almost Half-Way Done

We're only a few days away from the half-way point of tax season. I don't have to worry about filing any more fraudulent tax returns because we're not filing any tax returns. Period. The two busiest weeks of tax season were a complete bust and it has only gone downhill from there. I filed less than five returns all last week and exactly one return so far this week. Good thing I'm paid by the hour. At least I have lots of time to read random stuff on the internet that I can use to annoy anyone who still reads this thing.

I've used some of the slack time to get myself set up to do taxes on my own next year. I've already filed a couple returns under my own EFIN number; I'm hoping to find a half-dozen or so people with simple returns that haven't filed yet just to make sure everything is set up correctly in the software, etc. I should be able to find that many right here in the apartment complex. Maybe. I also need to set up a separate bank account and get set up to take credit cards. I probably won't do bank products (ERC's and RAL's) mostly because I don't want to do taxes for the kind of people who make use of those. I have moral objections to RAL's anyway (124% interest is usury by any meaningful definition of the word), and if I use a bank that offers both, I have to offer both. Easier to not mess with either and keep fees low enough that clients won't need to mortgage their house to pay them.

As Debbie already mentioned, we finally made it down to Uncle Walt's place to visit the animals and see the shows at Animal Kingdom. The one thing we both noticed was that if the grounds people don't get control of the bamboo, there won't be any room left for the people. In a couple places, it has gone seriously crazy. But we had fun if for no other reason than we got out of the ghetto for a few hours. The weather was perfect; warm and breezy with a skim of clouds to keep the sun off. In all, a good day. And now that we have our Florida Resident annual passes, we can skip down there anytime and hit any of the four main parks (no water parks) for nothing other than the cost of gas.

February 22, 2011: New Zealand's darkest day.

Nothing really to say. Maybe Atlas really did shrug....

Oil is dancing around in the high $90's while North Africa falls further into chaos. Gaddafi has decided to not go gently into that good night and is calling for the destruction of Libya's oil infrastructure while his Janissaries fire into the crowds and the military goes to war with itself. Mubarak is in exile and seems to be having medical problems. Whether those are the result of outside agency or the combination of stress and old age isn't clear. Given regional politics, we may never know. Not that it makes a big difference now; the military is in charge with the usual constitutional suspensions and dissolution of various political bodies. Only time will tell if the new boss will be just like the old boss, or if the military will play the same role it has played in Turkey. The former is the usual way of things. And don't forget about Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, Iran, House of Saud. We do live in interesting times.

The federal deficit for the current fiscal year is now expected to hit $1.65 Trillion. I can't imagine, from an economic perspective, why anyone would lend that kind of money to us; it's not like we will ever pay it back. Of course there are other reasons to loan money to people:

Leaked diplomatic cables vividly show China's willingness to translate its massive holdings of US debt into political influence on issues ranging from Taiwan's sovereignty to Washington's financial policy.

So China is James Spader and the United States is Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero. Do the Chinese have us giving blow jobs yet?

Madoff is now claiming that banks and hedge funds were "complicit" in his Ponzi scheme. Well, duh. Everyone knew Madoff was up to something, but only a few suspected an old school pyramid scam. Most simply assumed he was getting information ahead of the market from inside sources. Few considered a Ponzi because no one thought it was possible to run one that big for that long. All were willing to take the returns he offered and not ask too many questions. Again, why is Madoff the only one in a prison cell?

Wal-Mart was on a tear when the financial world took a dump in 2008 and shoppers abandoned the malls and went in search of cheaper prices. Now they don't look so good:

The retailer reported its seventh consecutive quarterly decline in sales at U.S. stores open at least a year, posting a 1.8 percent drop that was much bigger than its worst forecast and showing how hard it is for a merchant that accounts for 10 percent of U.S. retail sales to overcome its own mistakes.

Seems like people are now moving even further down the retail food chain in search of cheaper prices. Too bad we can't buy stock in Goodwill Industries.

Home prices are still dropping. Federal regulators are still closing banks. Yale techno-weenies are shocked that expectations of a stock crash are rising even as the market does. The Yale Ivory Tower must not have windows.

Well, Debbie should be home soon and I have to dream up something for dinner. Later.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where Are the Criminal Charges? Part II

From the Rolling Stone's article Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

Being the Rolling Stone there are a lot more swears, and Mr. Former Senate Investigator is right; the rest of the article is six pages of example after example of how "everything's fucked up and nobody goes to jail." But take a few minutes and read the entire thing. The list of people exempt from the rule of law is getting rather long.

Where Are the Criminal Charges?

If a bunch of whites started kicking and punching a black reporter and camera operator, people would be led off in handcuffs. When it's the other way around? "Authorities are looking at the video to determine if any charges need to be filed." Doesn't seem to be any question to me, but I may not be sufficiently sensitive:

And yes, reporters can be a real pain in the ass, but understand this was not a funeral; just an impromptu gathering on a public sidewalk. The punks may think they own everything, but they don't.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good News/good news

1) Bob Seger's tour is getting closer to us --- this weekend he announced a few more dates and he will be in Atlanta Georgia. Hopefully next set of dates/places will include Orlando Florida!

2) Today we will become the proud owners of two Florida resident annual passholder Disney World tickets. We are going down to Disney's Animal Kingdom today.

Annual passholders can come and go as we please to all 4 theme parks -- no black out dates, free parking, and park hopping capability. So...anyone that is heading to DisneyWorld -- let us know, maybe we can head down to meet you. Ric would love to ride the coasters with anybody. I get too sick after a coaster now, that it is not worth it for me and I hate that Ric can't go on them. (He won't go by himself and leave me alone -- even tho I've urged him to)

I"m sure Ric will have pictures to post after today's visit --- keep an eye out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inquiring Minds

People who wind up here after typing random phrases into Google Search seem to be an inquisitive lot this past few weeks. As a public service, I will try to answer your deep and searching questions:

Has anyone slept with Ric Savage?

Absolutely not. Like all rockers, Rick Savage took the mandatory Artist Vow of Celibacy required by all record labels. Besides, have you seen that dude, like, up close? Talk about a serious beating with an ugly stick....

What does the word "Arcosanti" mean?

First, congratulations on being one of the few Google Search users in several months to land on this blog using a search phrase that has anything to do with anything that has ever been posted here. To answer the question, that depends on who you ask and/or what part of their dementia cycle they happen to be in. The most popular answer: A portmanteau of "arcology" and "cosanti". Given that both arcology and cosanti are themselves portmanteaus, Arcosanti is likely the first ever recursive portmanteau.

Is Stampin' Up doing well in this present economy?

I'm sure that sales are in the toilet, but equally sure executive bonuses and stock options are at all-new highs. That's why America is on top! You should immediately invest every penny you have in Stampin' Up stock. Because everyone knows bloggers are an endless fountain of impeccable investment advise.

Paolo Soleri sketches?

First, same congrats as above. To answer with the same brevity as my questioner: Yes. Whether he sketches well seems to be a matter of some debate. As someone who is unable to draw a decent smiley face, I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. But you didn't, so again, good job on landing somewhere in the internet at least marginally related to what you are looking for.

The money brought people don't mess up with south sudan you will reach sky if you will?

Only if you sky reach the money mess of brought people that don't south sudan you first.

You have been enlightened. Go forth, be fruitful and multiply.

PS: To the seemingly-endless hordes out there deeply concerned with the spectral nature of unicorn flatulence: You scare me. Get help. Get drugs. Get hit by a bus. Whatever. Just stay away from me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Well, that was the most boring week of "work" in my life. In five days, I did exactly 4 returns, all of them on Saturday. The only break in the tedium was when the IRS finally fixed its computer system and unleashed several weeks of refunds all on the same day. When I came in on Friday, I had a two-foot stack of files to sort through, call clients, hand out checks, etc. But the rest of the week was phttttt. Next week is the so-called Fifth Week, allegedly the busiest week of the tax season. It wasn't last year and I don't expect it to be all that busy this year either. With more and more companies making W-2's available on the internet, people don't have to wait to the second week in February to do their taxes. And when you buy fake W-2's, make up imaginary Schedule C businesses and claim random strangers' children as dependents in order to maximize your EIC "refund" of taxes you never paid in, you can file in the second week of January. Why wait? (Someday, one of these little rambles will be my If-I-Were-Emperor-For-A-Day tax reform plan.)

Summer went away. Everyone is looking for it under bushes and behind trees, but so far, no luck. The ten-day forecast hasn't changed in a week; cold (for Florida, meaning high in the 60's) and cloudy today, then sunny and 70's or 80's as far as the eye can see. It looks like the clouds have finally gone away as of this morning, so maybe.....? I realize our more-northerly readers will laugh at the idea that high's in the 60's and lows in the 40's is cold, but when you live in a poorly insulated, drafty building with single-pane windows and electric heat, it ain't much fun.

We had some technical difficulties this week. When we were both off work on Tuesday for dentist appointments, we finally ventured out into the worst part of the ghetto to trade our regular cable box for a high-def cable box. We brought it home, plugged it into the HDMI port on our TV and BEHOLD. High def TV. It's pretty underwhelming, actually; if we had paid extra for it, I'd have been royally pissed. Not much programming is in high def, so even when you're watching a high def channel, it really ain't all that spectacular. But the box looks all high tech and cool instead of the original ghetto cable box that looked like it had literally fallen off a truck. And the actual high def programs on actual high def channels do look very pretty (mostly 24-hour local weather channels, which I've discussed before). Then a couple days ago, we turn on the TV and nothing. Wiggle the cables. Nothing. Call the cable company and suffer through the script reader from Jamaica-man that has never operated a TV manufactured in the current millennium. (The TV/Video button? Seriously? I have eleven inputs on my cheap-tastic four-year-old Best-Buy-special TV controlled by four separate buttons plus a fifth that pops up a menu of all eleven. Any TV old enough to only have a TV/Video button on the remote doesn't even have an HDMI port to hook a high def cable box to.) Still nothing. Earliest appointment is Sunday morning. We had plans, which we canceled so we could be here when the cable guy showed up.

So. I get home last night and a thought occurred to me when I turned on the TV and hopped on the internet; I was using the VGA port for the computer because I had lost audio over the HDMI connection. Port problem? Luckily the TV has three HDMI ports, so it was a ten-second job to switch to the second port. Voila! On a whim, I dug out the HDMI cable for the computer and plugged it into the third HDMI port. Voila! (OK, this is a Windows machine, so it was more like curse, reboot, niggle around in control panel, curse some more, reboot, reboot, curse, reboot, then Voila! Or more like, "Holy crap could that have been any more painful?") So all the problems starting months ago, were caused by a flaky port on the TV. I just wonder how long before the other two go south as well. With any luck, they will last long enough for 42" LED screens to become more reasonably priced. The super-thin ones they have right as you walk in the door at our Sam's Club cause some serious gadget-lust.

So anyway, the dentist. We both take a day off work to go in for our initial appointments and a cleaning. No big, right? Well, it is when you live in the ghetto. Every piece of furniture and equipment looked like it had been purchased in a rummage sale in 1978. Everything was clean, and the people working there seemed competent and were doing the best with what they had. Sort of like the doctors on the TV show Off the Map. But my x-rays were nearly unusable because the machine was long over-due for maintenance and adjustment. (Side note to any dental technicians out there; that is a very scary thing to say to a patient whom you just zapped two dozen times with hard x-rays with said machine. Just sayin'....) The tools on the dental tray had all seen better days; I'm not sure how a dental mirror that pitted and scratched is even usable. But the show-stopper was the constant chaos. We were there over three hours and both had to make follow-up appointments because all they managed to do in that time were the x-rays and our "probing". I've had root canals that have taken less time. We paid our part of the office visit, which I'm sure we will be paying again when we go back to finish what should have been done in one visit. And I'm equally sure they will bill the hell out of our dental insurance (the only kind we have at the moment) for both visits as well. I pray to the gods we never need serious medical attention while we live here.

There is a great deal of noise about the recent "plunge" in unemployment, but a bit of perspective is in order. In order to make things look a little brighter back in the 1970's the government created a new category for people who have stopped wasting their time looking for non-existent jobs. That means there are two ways for unemployment to go down; unemployed workers getting jobs, and unemployed workers giving up ever finding work. One of those is a good thing; the other is Detroit. So which was it in January?

Their conclusion–that a recovery in the US labor force is now underway–is not warranted, and not supported by the data. Why? Because not only did the US economy lose at least 8 million jobs in the crisis, but, in the three calendar years of 2008, 2009, and 2010 barely a million net jobs have been created. During that time the US economy instead needed 4.5 million new jobs just to maintain equilibrium. Last month’s payroll data is simply more noise, therefore, that takes place around a horrid, terrible bottom in the US job market.

The full article has more bad news along with some pretty pictures to hammer it home. The bottom line is that a larger and larger fraction of the US population is not working. This has been true for 40 years and no amount of cooking-the-books government statistics can hide that. The official labor force participation rate is 64.2%, a 26-year low, but even that understates the problem. Only around 60% of the population is considered part of the labor force (those between 16 and 64). What that all boils down to is out of every 100 people in the US, fewer than 40 are working. And there will be even fewer working as the population continues to age. At least until all the pension scams and Social Security finish their on-going implosion. What comes after that will be, um, interesting.

Speaking of imploding pension scams, the Post Office is in financial trouble. Again.

Excluding costs related to retiree benefits and adjustments to workers' compensation liability, the Postal Service said it had net income was $226 million in the first quarter, which ended Dec. 31.

...The agency said it will be forced to default on some of its financial obligations this year unless Congress changes a 2006 law requiring it to pay between $5.4 and $5.8 billion into its prepaid retiree health benefits each year.

"The Postal Service continues to seek changes in the law to enable a more flexible and sustainable business model," Patrick Donahoe, the Postmaster General, said in a statement. "We are eager to work with Congress and the administration to resolve these issues prior to the end of the fiscal year."

Whenever a bean-counter starts talking about changing the law to "enable a more flexible and sustainable business model", everyone needs to keep a close eye on their wallets; in this case, USPS retirees. And if the USPS does manage to get what it wants (the legal authority to screw over their retirees), expect every state to want the same "flexibility" when it comes to their trillion-dollar-in-the-hole pension plans.

More economic green shoots: Gas prices are up; food prices are up; foreclosures are up. And of course, the stock market is up, because that's a perfectly logical thing for it to do. Does anyone remember when we had a real economy? This is now 2011; even in the worse-case scenario, we were supposed to be back where we were in 2007. Other than the stock market, we haven't even managed to get the numbers going in the right direction. The hard question is, will they ever?

And related to that question (and our adventures at the dentist office; connecting the dots is left as an exercise for the reader), we have another serious natural gas explosion. Is it just me, or are these happening more and more frequently? Isn't this the sort of thing that only happens in screwed up African or South American countries?

The GOP is mercilessly wielding the budget ax, hacking away at the nation's $1.5 trillion budget deficit, reducing it by an unprecedented 5%. Well, really only 2%; the rest are reductions in increases, which only in the wacky world of federal budgets can be considered "cuts." For this courageous and history-making effort, in what will surprise exactly no one, they are labeled heartless pricks who want to starve old people, slap infants and kick puppies. We are so doomed.

Egypt continues to simmer. The military continues to tacitly support the protesters and have even protected them from the Mubarak counter-protesters in some cases. Mubarak has agreed to leave immediately rather than finish out his term, after some nasty words to the US on the side. He has learned the hard lesson that so many US allies have learned in the past; it is dangerous to be considered a friend of the United States. So now what? If we are lucky, the Egyptian military will follow the example of Turkey, allowing "democracy" only as long as the people choose their leaders wisely (meaning "not Islamic"). More likely, we will get the usual Middle East "democracy" we've seen in Gaza, Lebanon, Iran; one man, one vote, once, to elect a radical Islamic government that will establish Shariah. Personally, I'm glad we got to see the pyramids when we did; it may be a while before it is safe for Westerners to do so again.

Well, we need to get off our collective butt and get ready for some major shopping. We're down to nothing but Cap'n Crunch, Hamburger Helper, and ramen.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Summer is Here!

Two 80-degree days have brought the hordes of fence lizards and brown anoles out of their two-month "winter" hibernation. They're still a bit groggy; I nearly squished a couple that didn't scurry quite fast enough. But they're out and about! Some places know that winter is over at the appearance of certain flowers or birds; here it's three-inch long lizards running under your feet and trying to get into your apartment.

Tax season lumbers on; I only wish that 80% of the returns I complete were something other than complete frauds. I wouldn't care so much except my personal PTIN is on every return. This has to be my last big-box tax season. I don't know for sure what I'll be doing next year, but I won't be doing this again.

Egypt is on fire. I know there is a significant percentage of this country that are expecting Egypt to emerge from this as a liberal Western democracy. Sorry. I've visited there. Ain't gonna happen. Radical Islam will finish doing to Egypt what is has already done to Lebanon and will soon be doing to Turkey: create yet-another festering boil on the planet. Thank the gods that so far the Egyptian military seems to be taking a neutral position. I don't know which would be more disgusting; the carnage what would result from a modern military opening fire on civilians, or that they would be using hardware we gave to them.

Seger is touring in 2011!!! Woohoo!!!

Volkswagen is playing with a plug-in hybrid that gets 261 miles per gallon. Of course I'm betting that the price will be well into six figures. VW only plans on building 100 of them; sort of half-way between a concept car and a production vehicle. I do note that it sports a diesel engine; if we would get even semi-smart we could put a huge dent in our oil consumption by getting over our fear-and-loathing of diesel passenger vehicles.

And VW scores another advertising win:

Either that kid is the world's best actor, or the producer/director never told him the car was going to actually start. Somehow, the second option makes it even funnier.

I was only two when the Apollo 1 fire killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, so I don't remember it first-hand. (For anyone interested in the Apollo program, I recommend the HBO series From Earth to the Moon.) I was at a client's office doing a field audit when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, and was driving home from work when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry. In all three cases, the crew knew what was happening, knew they were helpless to do anything about it. Knew they were going to die.

Lyrics are here.

I while back, I expressed some mild hope that at least some airports' survival instinct would kick in and they would replace the TSA with private screeners. It wouldn't have been a big improvement, but at least the Iron Law's kung foo grip on air travel would be slightly lessened. A few days ago, I received my reward for allowing myself a moment of guarded optimism:

A program that allows airports to replace government screeners with private screeners is being brought to a standstill, just a month after the Transportation Security Administration said it was "neutral" on the program.

The number one reason to be a pessimist: You are never disappointed. I'm sure someday, people will look back fondly to a time when we had a functioning air travel system. Sort of like they do now with trains.

In economic news, we have oil over $90/barrel and steadily creeping upwards. Other juicy bits from the week:

Maryland is dimming the lights on highways.
New-home sales hit 47-year low.
Federal deficit will be 1.5 trillion this year.
Rand Paul proposes to cut the deficit to a mere trillion (cue peals of laughter from the rest of Congress and the mainstream media; that Rand is such a gas!).
Medicare official breaks ranks and states the blindingly obvious; health care reform will not save money.
The US Senate considers allowing states to officially go bankrupt (as opposed to the de facto bankruptcy all of them are in now).
Metal prices are back up to levels that encourage metal thefts.

Meanwhile, the stock market, continuing to demonstrate a complete lack of connection with reality, has doubled its value since it hit bottom with the Dow closing over 12,000 yesterday.

Speaking of Obamacare, a federal judge has ruled key parts of the legislation unconstitutional. Not that something so quaint as the US Constitution will actually stop its implementation. Meanwhile, several states have started muttering about nullification, a polite way of telling the US Congress to fold its health care bill until it's all points, then shove it up their collective ass. (I believe the bill was large enough for a two-page-per-Congresscritter minimum.) Meanwhile meanwhile, HHS continues to hand out waivers to the politically-favored like candy on Halloween. Ya know, it's kinda fun watching Obama's legacy turn to ash.

We are all insane. At least, that's what the creators of the latest version of the DSM want us to believe. I probably should buy stock in the drug companies now that doctors will be able to put every person in the US on Prozac, Wellbutrin et al. Think of how great it will be! America will be one giant Disney Land from sea to shining sea! Nothing but happy faces while we slide down Hubbert's peak!

Well, I'm off to read some happy-clappy predictions about how all 7 billion people on the earth will be able to live like middle class Americans. At least National Geographic has really cool pictures to distract you from the gruesome reality. Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bob Seger is touring again!

Two dates/places announced so far. One is Saginaw Michigan and one in Ohio.

The one in Saginaw is on a Tuesday in March -- no way I can manage that one. Hopefully he will have an extended tour and make it down to Florida. Otherwise I will definitely be watching for when he ends in Michigan and those dates.