Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Death on the Highway

The title isn't referring to the short film that every drivers ed student is forced to suffer through. (Aside: Given that most drivers ed students today own the entire Saw series on DVD, I'm pretty sure it has even less of an affect than it had back when I had to watch it. (Aside to the aside: Do they even use Death on the Highway any more, or is it considered too graphic for the little kiddies who own the entire Saw series on DVD?)) Instead, I'm referring to the Interstate of Death, otherwise known as I-4, which claimed another victim early this morning. I had a crazy bike ride this morning with lines of cars everywhere and a three-car pile-up just down the street from our apartment. I had to make a big loop just trying to get across a two-lane residential street that looked more like I-4 at rush hour. Then Debbie, fortunately as it turns out, tried to go into work early only to end up stuck in traffic for half an hour (her work is only five miles from our apartment). Just another day in Sunny Central Florida.

I seem to have hit a wall with the whole bicycle thing. It feels like I've got a boat anchor dragging along behind me all the time and my average speeds seem to indicate that as well. I can barely keep above 12mph average on the best of days; any wind and I'm down in the 11's. I've checked tire pressure, adjusted the brake pads, looked for any indication of some moving part rubbing on some other moving part, etc. I certainly hope that it isn't a bearing problem; there are nowhere near enough miles on this bike for something like that. Maybe it's just the insane heat and humidity and things will get better in a couple months. Or maybe I'm just old.

More "good" news on the human spaceflight front. Since we no longer have the ability to launch humans into space and are instead hitch-hiking rides on the only other spacecraft capable of taking humans to the International Space Station, there is a single point of failure. Which of course, failed. If the investigation into the failure and whatever modifications need to be made take too long, the current crew of the ISS will have to return before their replacements show up, meaning that the ISS will be empty for the first time in in a decade. Coming this close to the end of the Shuttle program, that could be bad news for Americans in space. The only bright spot is that the Russians don't waste a lot of time with competing panels of inquiry pointing fingers; they find the problem, they fix the problem, they get the thing flying again. Let's all hope they can pull off a quick turn-around on this issue. And thank the gods this was a cargo flight and not a crewed mission.

In local news, there is a planthopper from Texas that kills palm trees by puking on the fronds (you can't make this stuff up). There is no cure once a tree is infected and the planthoppers are spreading slowly east from the Tampa area. It's not a big problem, but no one has a workable solution so that's temporary. Yeehaa.

This just in: The sun causes climate. I know! Who knew! Ok, ok; seriously, cosmic rays create clouds, and variation in the sun's magnetic fields alter the number of cosmic rays that hit the atmosphere which affects the amount of cloud cover which affects climate. This would be just another data point, another factor in the climate models. Except:

The hypothesis that cosmic rays and the sun hold the key to the global warming debate has been Enemy No. 1 to the global warming establishment ever since it was first proposed by two scientists from the Danish Space Research Institute, at a 1996 scientific conference in the U.K. Within one day, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bert Bolin, denounced the theory, saying, “I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naive and irresponsible.” He then set about discrediting the theory, any journalist that gave the theory credence, and most of all the Danes presenting the theory — they soon found themselves vilified, marginalized and starved of funding, despite their impeccable scientific credentials.

Of course, because nothing says science like good ol' fashioned politics.

Dr. Pournelle has a good what-if:

Suppose that the Global Warming/Climate Change fears are all well grounded. Increases in CO2 will doom civilization and threatens the stability of global climate, and the ability of the Earth to sustain civilization. What is it that we – by we I mean the people of the United States – should do, and what is the meaning for the rest of the world? 

The short answer is, "Nothing good." But you already knew that.

Irene was a bit of a bust in New York City, but that doesn't mean that it just disappeared when the news industry lost interest and went back to discussing what color Lady Gaga dyed her pubes this week. Our old stomping grounds in Swanzey, NH seem to be doing Ok, but Vermont got seriously clobbered. Brattleboro, where I worked the 2010 tax season is a lake. It's going to be a long process to put things back together.

First we had to suffer through Bush's Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and his looney-toons Christian Reconstruction crap. Now we have the New Apostolic Reformation being all cozy with front-runners in the Republican primary race. I know fear makes people do stupid things; lets just hope this isn't one of those times:

Tabachnick says the movement currently works with a variety of politicians and has a presence in all 50 states. It also has very strong opinions about the direction it wants the country to take. For the past several years, she says, the NAR has run a campaign to reclaim what it calls the "seven mountains of culture" from demonic influence. The "mountains" are arts and entertainment; business; family; government; media; religion; and education.

"They teach quite literally that these 'mountains' have fallen under the control of demonic influences in society," says Tabachnick. "And therefore, they must reclaim them for God in order to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth."

Wow. That is so not what we need right now.

Every so often, there is a story about some kid who gets his lemonade stand shut down for not having a business license or violating the homeowners association covenant. Initially, this story looks like yet another one of them, only serving green tea instead of lemonade. But was this really a kid selling drinks on the front lawn? It sounds more like it was Dad's green tea stand that was some distance from home in a public place. Dad leaves his 12-year-old in charge while he runs back to the house and returns to find the operation had been shut down. That's a lot different than a kid selling glasses of lemonade in the front yard. Public spaces have rules and unfortunately, most of those rules came about because of grifters and scam artists making it impossible for the public space to be used as intended. Now certainly, in a nation where less than half of all murder investigations result in even an arrest, I would think whatever version of cop took the time to hassle a kid selling green tea needs to think about his priorities, but there is more to this story than we're getting.

More serious is that Gibson has been raided by the feds for the second time in two years because the feds suspect their wood is improperly sourced. I would think a couple of suits could check on that without the military raid tactics and seizure of Gibson property. The name of the case from the first raid, United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms, demonstrates just how idiotic our "justice" system has become. The federal government is borrowing money from the Chinese to put a stack of wood on trial. At least the prosecutor and the stack of wood are evenly matched in the wits department.

If you want to get a PhD without doing much, head on up to our neighbor to the north and enroll in the University of Manitoba:

The University of Manitoba said it is reviewing its policy on how to accommodate students with disabilities despite winning a victory in court this week over a controversial decision to grant a PhD to a student who failed his courses due to “extreme exam anxiety.”

...The university had defended its decision, saying it was legally required to accommodate a student’s disability, in this case, exam anxiety.

It's nice to know we'll have company as we're swept into history's dustbin.

And Micky's big hand says it's time for bed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

All Eyes on Irene

Looks like all we'll be getting from Irene is rain and a bit of wind. I'm skipping my morning bike ride because it looks like a line of severe storms will be passing over us just about when I would be farthest from the apartment. [Later: Four hours gone by and it still hasn't rained a drop. There are large storm bands being thrown off by Irene, but they fall apart before they get this far inland.] But it looks like the weekend will be interesting for everyone around the Imperial City and NYC. The current predicted track looks pretty solid; NOAA hasn't made significant changes to it in a couple days.

I scheduled my first of three Enrolled Agent tests yesterday. I'm still not entirely comfortable in a couple areas, but I have a bit over a week to keep reviewing tax code before I have to head over to the IRS office. Got all my fingers and toes crossed, especially since the test costs a hundred bucks whether I pass or not.

And just because the gods enjoy screwing with us, I have an outside chance at a job at the library I volunteer at. I'm not really expecting to get it, but just because we have already spent money we can never get back on this whole Tax Geek thing, it will come through.

Anyway, today will probably be a day of catching up on everything that I've been ignoring while I've been buried in tax code. I still have pictures sitting on the camera from our trip to the beach, and the apartment needs some serious attention. The dust on the TV stand has piled up high enough to block the bottom of the screen. Yesterday, I saw a spider the size of my palm patrolling the living room. Not that I mind having spiders around to keep the cockroach population in check, but my arachnophobia starts kicking in when they get to be the size of Aragog. Time to hit all the dark corners with the vacuum.

Speaking of giant bugs, I've had a rash of recent encounters with some of the Florida's larger six-legged residents: Six-inch metallic grasshoppers, two giant (4-5") beetles in our apartment that the Googles say don't exist, and three-inch cicadas in addition to our eight-legged house guest. Along with my daily encounter with Sandhill cranes that are as tall as I am when I'm on my bicycle and have a prehistoric-sounding call, I feel like I'm living in Jurassic Park.

While wandering around the internets in a tax-induced fog earlier this week, I ran across an interesting critique of the Four Spiritual Laws (in five parts; I, II, III, IV and V). This was something frequently debated when I was in high school and was still being debated during my last year of college in 2009. My opinion on that particular religious issue has always been the same: if God is such a fussbudget about how one goes about avoiding an eternity of torment, then He should have made his intentions clearer, or picked better spokespersons. That's not to say Infamous Brad doesn't make a good argument against a particular form of evangelicalism, but rather that if its popularity has truly "condemned tens of millions of people to eternal damnation in the fires of Hell", then God cannot be said to exert much authority over his creation, and maybe we're all better off just finding out own way after all.

Speaking of gods and their messages to humanity, we had some wind blowing from Jackson's Hole in the form of a speech by Ben Bernanke. Expecting to hear the economic equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount, markets cratered when Uncle Ben revealed that the secret ingredient is that there is no secret ingredient. Then the markets shot up after Helicopter Ben shut up because, what the hell? If the apocalypse is coming, we may as well party like it's 1999.

The Rolling Stone has Matt Taibbi's latest revelations of massive market fraud and manipulation by Wall Street and the government agencies tasked with keeping them in check. If anyone can read that and still believe the average retail investor has a snowball's chance in hell of coming out ahead, you may want to check your meds. Oh, and someone just dug up another $1.2 trillion handed out to multi-national banks. Given the amount of money dumped into the banking industry, I'm not sure it wouldn't have been cheaper to just pay off every mortgage in the US, personal and business. Instead, trillions to the banks, trillions more over the next decade(s) for Fanny and Freddie, and we still have a collapsing housing market and 9%+ unemployment.

Meanwhile, politics gets crazier by the day. The SEIU has been plastering anti-Republican ads all over the TV and cheering for left-coast politicians who think dialog means screaming "the Tea Party can go straight to hell" during a speech. (Everyone remembers the conduct of those gentle SEIU folks at the last election, right?) Meanwhile, on the Republican side of things we have Snow White and the Seven Dwarves being stalked by the Wicked Witch of the West, who refuses to either shut up and let the adults talk, or put up and run for office. A serious candidate could give Obama the race of his life, but it seems the opportunity will be squandered in favor of continuing the destruction of the very notion of "conservative".

In local news, we may be getting a train station and routine commuter train service. We've been hearing talk of this since we moved here, but this looks a bit more concrete. The construction jobs will all be taken up by illegal Mexicans and the permanent jobs will be filled by people shipped in from other parts of the country, but at least people using their car as an apartment will be able to get to Disney easier.

In cheerier news, we have more photos from Opportunity. The rover is in good shape all things considered and we should be seeing some data on its first target soon. Meanwhile, the dolphins in Shark Bay have been observed using conch shells to catch fish. Only a few are currently doing it, but it seems to be catching on. Maybe dolphins have fads; anybody seen one sporting a mullet?

Off to be productive-ish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Duct Tape

Because even duct tape is more fun than tax code:

Dog and Otter

Because it beats reading tax code:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jetman at the Grand Canyon

You will definitely want to watch this at 720p and full-screen:

Brain Bender

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I'm not sure who West Asset Management is (probably these twats), but they call our land line twice a day and never leave a message. I guess they've never heard of the Do Not Call Registry. I filed a complaint today (not that it does any good) after getting at least one call a day for the last several months. Normally, telemarketing morons figure out after a few failed tries that we're ignoring them and stop calling, but these jerks seem to be a special kind of stupid.

Speaking of ignoring things, I just tried to contact the Sanford Ghetto Pharmacy to see why I don't have my next batch of Lantus. Of course, like any taxpayer-funded "service" intended for poors, there is no way to talk to a human being. In fact, calling the pharmacy number gives you no option other than to give your name, phone number, birthday, and prescription refill number. No "Press # to speak with a pharmacist" or any other options. Luckily I had a prescription number so I could get past that bit of wonderful customer service only to get dumped into the Sanford Ghetto Clinic phone tree which fortunately had an option to dump me back into the Sanford Ghetto Pharmacy phone tree where I was "allowed" to leave a message with the promise that someone checks messages every 30 minutes. Not that they'll return the call in 30 minutes, or ever; just that they promise to listen to my message. Thanks. [Update: I did receive a call back from a human and was informed that what I was sent in the mail was wrong, and how I should go about getting my Lantus in the future. The human also informed me that everyone hates the phone system and whenever management asks what can be done to make the "patient experience" better, they're told the first priority should be to fix the damn phone system. Which management ignores, of course.]

Then I tried to refill my Pulmicort, which thank the gods I don't get through the Sanford Ghetto Pharmacy, and noticed that my Ghetto Doctor at the Sanford Ghetto Clinic didn't give me any refills when he wrote the script. This is not a new med for me; I've been on the same dosage of this stuff for ten years. Luckily, my Greedy Bastard For-Profit Pharmacy has a way for me to talk to an actual human who offered to call my Ghetto Doctor and get some fracking refills.

And then people wonder why poors go nuts and set shit on fire.

School started this week which means every driver on the road instantly became stupid and blind at 7am Monday morning. There is a new school that just opened up along my bike route and I swear everyone is determined to christen the new blacktop with some little kid's guts. I seem to have turned completely invisible to the I've-got-the-Justice-League-on-my-cell douche-nozzles; I've been brushed by SUV mirrors twice in two days. That normally only happens once every week or so. I guess if you ignore something, it doesn't matter if you run it over with your Hummer.

The mainstream media seems absolutely determined to ignore Ron Paul in spite of a statistical tie for 1st place in the Iowa Corn-holer's Buy-A-Vote Jamboree, and in a solid second place (at least according to the latest numbers I could find in 30 seconds on Google) in the far more important fund-raising race. And yet the entire television news industry is trying to pretend he doesn't exist:

Nice work, MSM. Way to completely de-legitimize yourself. Again. (And don't worry if you get some message that ads won't load; just wait the 30-second time-out and the video will start. Someday, Hulu will figure out all this complicated internet stuff.)

The first PC I ever used turned 30 years old last week. IBM's 5150 was so heavy, it could anchor a building in a hurricane. The ones I used had dual 5 1/4 floppy drives that sounded like a blender trying to grind up a peach pit. Combined with the fan noise, they probably exceeded OSHA noise regulations. I know the dot matrix printers attached to them did. Ah the good ol'd days.

Opportunity made it to Endeavour Crater. This is a chance to sample some bits unlike any of the bits that have been sampled before. Let's hope the old girl can keep chugging along for a few more months. I never thought she would make it without getting stuck like Spirit, or having one or more wheels lock up for good.

By now, everyone has heard about Warren Buffett's little diatribe about how it isn't right that rich people like himself pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than his office staff does. My response to him is the same response I give to anyone who thinks they're not paying enough in taxes: Nothing is stopping you from paying more right now. The IRS will gladly accept any amount of extra money you would like to chip in without any need to involve Congress, the President or other US citizens who feel they are better at allocating their funds than the Imperial City. There is one point he makes that I agree with completely: Capital gains and all other investment income should be taxed at the taxpayer's marginal tax rate. Furthermore, the separate and highly-regressive Social Security/Medicare tax should be rolled into the regular income tax rates. None of which eliminates the need to make real cuts in spending, not just reductions in already-planned increases, but it's a start.

With all the yappy little dogs in the media, it's hard to get a feel for just what the London riots have been about. Simon Marcus works with what we in the US would call "at-risk kids" in the neighborhoods where the riots started:

A while ago two of my students said they were going to 'turn over' a large house in a wealthy area near them. I asked why? They said they had it tough, they wanted a new TV, and it was something to do.

...Outside our Tottenham branch, drug dealers operate openly as if they were selling fruit, while PCSOs hand out parking tickets a few hundred yards away. We used to sit in the café opposite their strip and watch them. They would get up late, usually after lunch and trade would begin. Sometimes you would be in a random café and one of the dealers would come in and hand over a wad of money to his mum behind the till.

...We are a strange lot, the human race. We learn in funny ways. Once you break a taboo it is gone, once you break a boundary it is gone, if you get away with something and you enjoy it, you do it again. When kids attack teachers, (and it happens thousands of times a year) being sent to the cooling off room is pretty much a reward, a fixed term exclusion often makes no odds either. If a social worker tells a teenage mum the word ‘no’ emotionally damages a child, a message goes out. If an adult admonishes a gang of children for littering and gets a police caution a message goes out. If a father is reported to the police for smacking a child a message goes out. If an adult is arrested for grabbing a child who is stealing, or assaulting another child, a message goes out. If knife criminals receive community sentences, a message goes out. If people tell you about your rights as a child, and never about your responsibilities, a message goes out. If teenage girls are given flats for having babies a message goes out. If the police arrest you fifty times and nothing happens a message goes out.

...In a political world obsessed with sending out messages we have sent out some bloody stupid ones in the last few decades, and haven't listened to the ones that have come back. But they have come back, whether in studies that show we have the most miserable children in the world or the anarchy of the last few days. Our fatherless, ghettoized children have told us: I have no love and no hope, so I can say what I like and do what I like. I know adults are scared of me and are scared of doing what is right. I am entitled to what I want, to take what is not mine and I will not be punished. If you defy me I will fall on you with an insane fury you cannot imagine or understand. The work is nearly complete; the British child as manufactured psychopath.

...Our strange, hybrid liberal establishment has placed us in this position. Some of them read ‘Lord of the Flies’ and thought it was a guide-book. We have set up a bureaucratic, unfair, unjust, target and equality driven centralizing system or ‘poverty industry’, that perpetuates itself, has no incentive to achieve its aims, bullies and [paralyzes] decent people trying to help and now allows anarchy to flourish.

...Our children are showing us all we need to know. We have betrayed them, they are in agony, the liberal experiment is over. We need a moral counter-revolution. Our children have told us and we were old enough to know better.

And from a slightly different perspective:

"A man of 21 with learning disabilities has been granted taxpayers' money to fly to Amsterdam and have sex with a prostitute."

...Why do they need a Dutch hooker? Just another hardworking foreigner doing the jobs Britons won't do? Given the reputation of English womanhood, you'd have thought this would be the one gig that wouldn't have to be outsourced overseas.

While the British Treasury is busy writing checks to Amsterdam prostitutes, one-fifth of children are raised in homes in which no adult works – in which the weekday ritual of rising, dressing and leaving for gainful employment is entirely unknown. One-tenth of the adult population has done not a day's work since Tony Blair took office on May 1, 1997.

...Her Majesty's cowed and craven politically correct constabulary stand around with their riot shields and Robocop gear as young rioters lob concrete through store windows to steal the electronic toys which provide their only non-narcotic or alcoholic amusement.

...Yet a police force all but entirely useless when it comes to preventing crime or maintaining public order has time to police everything else. When Sam Brown observed en passant to a mounted policeman on Cornmarket Street in Oxford, "Do you know your horse is gay?", he was surrounded within minutes by six officers and a fleet of patrol cars, handcuffed, tossed in the slammer overnight, and fined 80 pounds. Mr. Brown's "homophobic comments," explained a spokesmoron for Thames Valley Police, were "not only offensive to the policeman and his horse, but any members of the general public in the area." The zealous crackdown on Sam Brown's hippohomophobia has not been replicated in the present disturbances. Anyone who has so much as glanced at British policing policy over the past two decades would be hard pressed to argue which party on the streets of London, the thugs or the cops, is more irredeemably stupid.

...This is the logical dead end of the Nanny State. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the "abolition of want" to be accomplished by "co-operation between the State and the individual." In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life's vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As I write in my book: "Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity." The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers, the highest abortion rate. Marriage is all but defunct, except for William and Kate, fellow toffs, upscale gays and Muslims. From page 204: "For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what LBJ's Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population."

That last sentence leads nicely into what the mayor of Philadelphia has to say to his fellow blacks:

“Take those God-darn hoodies down, especially in the summer,” Mr. Nutter, the city’s third black mayor, said in an angry lecture aimed at black teens. “Pull your pants up and buy a belt ‘cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”

“If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ‘cause you look like you’re crazy,” the mayor said. “You have damaged your own race.”

No white person in the United States would ever dare say anything even close to that. Thank God we have people like the mayor and Bill Cosby to say what needs to be said.

Well, break time is over; back to taxes. I should be scheduling my test this week if all goes well.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Budget Cuts

Excuse me while I lecture a bit on the so-called budget cuts.

First, no one is cutting anything. Not the Tea Party or the Republicans, and certainly not the Democrats or our illustrious president. No one. Is cutting. Anything.

Explaining that requires a bit of a digression. The first joke I ever learned was, "How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving." Politicians lie. I don't mean they occasionally stretch the truth or omit an inconvenient fact. I mean they outright lie. All the time. Everything a politician says is a carefully crafted, focus-grouped lie. Every. Single. Word.

Most people reading this are smirking and nodding their heads in agreement. Allow me to wipe the smile from your face. Nearly every organization in this county has become political. Which means every word they say is also a carefully crafted, focus-grouped lie. Your union? Every word is a lie. AARP? Every word is a lie. The whole cadre of 24-hour news programs? Every word is a lie. Whatever non-profit group you pay dues to? Sorry. All lies. Every. Single. Word.

I know this sounds like tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory nonsense. But all you need to do is consider our political incentive structure. Whether we are talking about a member of Congress, a talking head on CNN, or an AARP newsletter, what happens when someone is caught lying? Nothing. There is zero down-side to lying. Telling the truth, however, is a guaranteed short drop and a sudden stop. (Metaphorically. At least here in the United States. At least for now.) What would the odds of re-election be for any member of Congress who stood up at a town hall meeting and told his constituents not to bother sending their children to college because they will never make back the money spent on a degree in an economy in permanent decline? How many seniors would continue to pay dues to AARP if their newsletter began advocating the roll-back of Medicare or means-testing Social Security benefits? How long do you think a UAW president would have his cushy unlimited-free-donuts-and-coffee job if he told his membership that none of them would ever make as much as their fathers and grandfathers, or that the once-in-human-history confluence of events after World War II that made pensions possible are gone, and with them any hope of working for 30 years, then being paid to sit on their asses for the next 40? So instead of stating the provable truth, they all run screaming in the other direction. No conspiracy necessary; lying is self-preservation. That careful selection of what they chose to lie about also increases their political clout is just frosting on the cake.

Lying takes many forms. Given the illiteracy, innumeracy and general ignorance of Americans, thanks to our world-class public education system, simply stating something as fact that is easily proven to be untrue works passably well. But a better way is to use familiar terminology to mean something, as in our present case, the exact opposite. If I say Debbie and I are cutting our budget for next year, you would assume that we meant for every dollar we spent in 2011, we would, on average, spend some fraction of a dollar in 2012. If our rent in 2011 is $625/month, you would be safe in assuming that we were figuring on doing whatever was necessary to pay some amount less than $625/month in 2012. That's what a budget cut means to the average person on the street. It's is the exact opposite of what a politician, whether elected or not, means when he uses the term. (Because I don't want to get carpel tunnel syndrome typing zeros, I'll stick with household-budget-scale numbers. Feel free to multiply by whatever power of ten suits you.) What they mean by budget cuts is that if the government is paying $625/month for X in 2011 with an already-planned increase to $650/month in 2012, reducing that increase to $645/month is a $5/month budget cut. Which is a lie.

Part of the resolution to the manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling was just this sort of "budget cutting". Congress is supposed to "cut" $2 trillion dollars over the next ten years from a ten-year budget that, under existing legislation, has already-planned increases of (very conservatively) $9.5 trillion built into it. This is budget cutting so severe that there will be the dead bodies of our elderly and poor piled in the streets. This is budget cutting so severe that the lefty talking heads and politicians are labeling its proponents "terrorists". This is the government "austerity" that is causing the stock market to crash and sending us into a double-dip recession.

But the lying doesn't stop there. Nothing happens until 2013, meaning all the "budget cuts" come after the 2012 game of musical chairs in Congress and the White House is over. Constitutionally, no session of Congress can require a future Congress to do anything, which is why we have one of these god-awful ten-year plans at least once a year. After the lying political talking heads on CNN and Fox News whip everyone up into a lather over these "draconian cuts", whoever ends up in the Imperial City after the 2012 elections will kick this budget deal to the curb faster than a bucket of week-old dirty diapers, and the United States debt will continue its asymptotic climb. At least until the Chinese, Germans, Swiss, et al. cut us off like so many trust fund babies who just crashed their fifth Ferrari. Then we will see what real budget cuts and austerity measures look like.

End lecture.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

More Dogs

Gus wants his swimming pool inside the house:

Which makes perfect sense to me. Why would anyone want to be out in full sun when a nice, cool, shady, house is sitting right there?

Debbie's cranking out cruises like crazy. More people have quit/got fired while the business keeps pouring in. At every other place she's worked, this time of year is dead, but this place seems to work by different rules. Which is good, considering the alternative. I'm still neck-deep in tax code; at some point next week, I should be ready to sign up for the first test.

And I'm still doing the bicycle thing, running the same 10.4-mile route in gradually shorter times. I managed to keep my average speed above 12mph for the last two weeks except one day that I fell below that. In my defense, the humidity was so high, I had problems seeing because my glasses kept fogging over even though the temperature was over 80 degrees. I'll probably stick with my current route until August is over and the temps and humidity start to back off a bit, then switch my focus from increasing my average speed to increasing distance while maintaining average speed. I'd like to be doing 15 miles in an hour or less by the end of the year. I'd also like to win the lottery. We'll see which of those happen in the next five months.

Standard and Poor's followed through on its threats and down-graded US debt. I'm sort of on the fence on this. It's certainly true that the US, like many of the recipients of liar loans during the housing bubble, has neither the ability nor intention of ever repaying its debt. (Or repaying it in currency so debased that it may as well default.) On the other hand, this smells political. S&P, along with other ratings agencies, have been taking a beating from politicians for slapping AAA on complete junk during the last bubble, making this seem like petty revenge rather than a carefully considered decision. Lending support to the political angle is the countries that S&P still considers AAA, like Britain and France, whose economic and political situations are even more buggered than ours is. After last week's drop in stock markets all over the world, it will be interesting to see what next week will bring. We can hope that having a couple days to mull this over will mute the reaction somewhat. We can hope.

Meanwhile, it looks like a few people are finding paying jobs, even though manufacturing is slowing and consumer spending is down. It's pretty simple: we spent more than we made at every level from households to the federal government, for decades. It will likely take just as long to work out the consequences of all those accumulated bad decisions, both large and small. Part of that will be a deep restructuring of our economy that is currently based on borrowing money from the Chinese to buy useless crap from Vietnam. You cannot solve a debt problem by going further into debt; you have to fundamentally change how things are done. Until that restructuring happens, we will continue tumbling down the staircase like ol' Aunt Bessy after she's had a few too many at the family New Years Eve party.

The Post Office is threatening to default on money it owes to the federal government. I know that many people who use the internet think that the USPS needs to just dry up and blow away. I mean, we have this cool internet thing that we can use to send all those letters and cards that we used to send by snail mail, so who would miss it, other than the banks, who send us no fewer than a dozen credit card applications a week, and other junk mail purveyors? My opinion is that of all the stuff the federal government does with my money, the postal service is one of the few that it is constitutionally required to do. (Which is why I'm not clear on why the USPS is being treated as if it were separate from the rest of the federal government in the first place, and how the federal government can default on a payment to the federal government in the second.) Sure it can use a major overhaul, but how does that make it any different from the Parks Service or any other part of the federal government? And then we have the question of just how long will our shiny new internet toy will be around. The postal service was seen by our nation's founders as an essential part of keeping the republic intact. If we give that up in favor of some high-tech toy that proves to be unsustainable, what then?

Oh, and Fanny Mae needs another $5.1 billion. Obama needs to ring up the Chinese. Or not.

For anyone wondering what a sustained economic contraction looks like, we have a couple examples. The first is life in Greece. The riots may have abated for now, but that doesn't mean everything is fixed. A second example is Detroit. Unlike the rest of the country, Detroit (and its mini me, Flint) never fully recovered from the late-1970's and early-1980's recession(s). For anyone bothering to pay attention, they are showing us our future.

One way for the federal government to save money:

Which would also be a way for it to save American lives.

Twenty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee put up the first ever web page. Contrary to popular belief, the internet existed before the web; they are not one-and-the-same. But Berners-Lee laid the groundwork that made the internet "useful" (to the extent that things like Facebook and this blog can be considered useful). Unfortunately, the web has had some undesirable side effects:

Way too many people in that last category, which is bad enough, but nothing compared to your neighbors being able to disable your alarm system through the power lines (which is one reason why the best home security system is still a good deadbolt and a chihuahua), or even shutting the power off completely with 14 bytes of code.

In health-related news, anti-oxidants don't actually work as advertised and may cause harm. Not that such a minor quibble means much when we seem bent on bringing back whooping cough. We have also had yet-another reminder that raw ground meat must be cooked before being eaten. It doesn't matter what kind of meat it is. All ground meat must be thoroughly cooked before being consumed. I do love the solution being pushed by the author: more authority given to the federal government. Or people could, ya know,  just use some common sense and take a bit of personal responsibility. Ha! Just kidding. More federal government on the way!

And that little thing that happened over in Japan earlier this year? Something about an earthquake and a lot of water where it wasn't supposed to be and something about a nuclear reactor? Still a problem. Nothing earth-shaking (heh) like the incoherent ramblings of brainless sluts, but still somewhat important.

Another flash-mob robbery; this time a Victoria's Secret. First beer and chips, now lacy undies. Next up: Jewelery store? Bank? Maybe the whole ubiquitous cell phone thing wasn't such a great idea after all.

Add dolphins to the growing list of tool-using animals:

It was in 1984 that researchers first observed the dolphins fitting basket sponges over their beaks, then scraping through seafloor mud to disturb hidden fish. Research subsequently showed this behavior to be full-blown tool use, taught by mothers to their daughters and representing a profound difference in lifestyle between them and Shark Bay’s other bottlenoses.

Yes, but have they invented collateralized debt obligations? Didn't think so. Humans still Rock!!

We also have the possibility of liquid water on Mars. Not at some distant time in the past, but now. Today. That certainly raises some intriguing questions. Maybe we can get some answers before NASA is completely de-funded.

I haven't posted much lately about the whole global warming/climate change/climate weirding debate because for a long time, it was just more of the same: the original data is suspect, the data is intentionally being manipulated by those with political agendas or economic interest in creating warming, the models don't work, the IPCC is a political organization rather than a scientific one, the consensus is not nearly as complete as we are lead to believe, blah, blah, blah. So up pops this article with the typical inflammatory title we've come to expect from our "news" organizations. The article itself doesn't live up to the hype, as expected, but instead reveals yet-another real-world data point that indicates we don't really understand how energy flows through the system and that the models are once again shown to be inadequate because we really don't understand how energy flows through the system. The response from the IPCC politicians was also predictable, complaining about a paper being published that shows real-world data in disagreement with their precious climate models. What's troubling is that the paper in question points the way to more-accurate models. While the map is never the territory, it would be nice to have climate models that can at least land in reality's general neighborhood.

Oh, speaking of maps and territories, Tropical Storm Emily was a complete bust. It stalled well south of Florida on Thursday, then fell apart sometime early Friday. We are closing in on our first anniversary of living in Florida without having any major cyclonic activity anywhere in the state. It will happen sooner or later; I'm just hoping we get something small as a warm-up before a big one comes grinding in. But for now, all is quiet in the Atlantic.

Well, off to do a bit of running around, then spending the rest of the day cleaning up the apartment and rearranging our stuff.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dog Days

We finally made it to the beach on the Atlantic side of Florida after living a mere 45 minute drive from it for nearly a year. We of course got broiled to well-done; either our sunscreen is too old, or it isn't water-proof, but in any case we are both sporting some rather unusual pink and red blotches right now. The beach was nice; a county park on the Ponce de Leon inlet with access to the ocean and the inlet all within a couple minutes walk of the parking area. There are bathrooms, a place to hose off the salt water, several small pavilions with grills, boardwalks, etc. Clean, well-maintained and best of all, not all that crowded. We got there early and nearly had the place to ourselves for the first few hours, but even when the parking lot filled up, the beaches were never the shoulder-to-shoulder crowded like some of the more well-known beaches. It's only five bucks for a day pass or we can get an annual pass if we find we're going over there frequently. As usual, we have photos, but they are still on the camera. They may migrate to our Flickr page at some point, but I don't know when I'll have the time to do it.

The main beach on the ocean side didn't allow dogs, but the smaller beach on the inlet side did. Naturally that's where we spent most of our time so we could play with other people's dogs. The people next to us had a young boxer and some sort of puppy. (It was still a fuzzy, yellow butterball; too young to look like any kind of breed yet, but may have been a golden retriever given how well it did in the water.) The next group of people down the beach had an older dog that looked like a blond lab gone nearly white. He came over to play with the other two in the water. People and dogs all got tired and came back on shore and flopped out for a nap. The puppy got bored with all the laying around and found an empty water bottle that made a really cool sound when he chewed it. The boxer decided he wanted to play with it, took it away from the puppy, and held it just out of reach while crunching it in his mouth. Those of you with children know exactly what was going on. The lab came over to intervene on behalf of the puppy and the boxer took off down the beach with the water bottle looking over his shoulder with the classic "Nya nya! You can't catch me!" expression. The lab stood watching him for a second, then casually strolled over to the open cooler that had the boxer's water in it, unloaded about a gallon of piss right into the cooler, then sauntered back over to his people and laid down. We nearly died laughing.

After a weekend of fun-in-the-sun, it's back to the grind with Debbie selling cruises and me plowing through the tax code. If I can keep on task (rather than spending time doing stuff like this), I should be ready for part one of the test by the end of the week. Then I get to do it all over again. And again. I'm planning to have this all wrapped up by the end of October.

Meanwhile, our Congress has taken another giant step towards turning the US into one of the PIIGS. Not that the debt ceiling means, or has ever meant, anything. The original idea was it would prevent Congress from doing exactly what it has done for the last four decades; spend like a drunken sailor with someone else's American Express Black Card. But constitutionally, no session of Congress can impose anything on a future session of Congress, so the whole thing was a majestic fraud from day one, just like Social Security. At least with this particular bit of Kabuki theater out of the way, our "leaders" can get on with the next act where they pretend that lowering the annual increase in federal spending from 8% to 6% is somehow cutting the budget. I, like millions of other Americans, can only dream of struggling with those kinds of "cuts" in our family budgets. And yet we keep sending in the clowns. (Or would that be kuroko?)

Of more immediate interest to us is our newest friend, Emily. She doesn't look to be anything more than a tropical storm and is expected to stay off-shore, but we could get some substantial rain over the weekend if the forecast holds up. Whoo hoo! Our first tropical storm!

And I need to get to work. First topic for today: Sale of principal residence.