Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Moon

The first full moon on Christmas since 1977; the next one won't be until 2038. We thought we weren't going to be able to see it. It was supposed to be cloudy and raining. But that never happened and instead we had sunny skies and highs in the upper 80's for Christmas.

Tomorrow, vacation is over and it's back to the grind.

Merry Christmas!!

Because nothing says Christmas like boring repitit... er... Tradition:

A new one for this year we heard Wednesday while we were at Busch Gardens. This recording doesn't capture the seriously amped-up bass. I'd be surprised if there isn't some sort of structural damage being done to the building.

I've had no luck trying to find out who performed this. My first thought was Trans Siberian Orchestra. They have a version of Carol of the Bells, but this isn't it. Not often the googles comes up completely empty.

Well, today is a full day, so I need to get at it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Yo Saturnalia or whatever holiday greeting floats your boat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fundraising Update

Our lodge's final Toys for Tots fundraising event was on Saturday, December 12. I don't think that many (or more likely, any) of our members read my mini-sermon I posted. We certainly didn't come anywhere near my $40K-plus-toys challenge. We did, however, raise more than we have ever raised in the past: over $17,000 in cash plus another $6,000 (very conservative estimate) in toys. Given how badly the Marines were freaking out, it's probably a good thing we didn't raise any more than that. In any case, a bunch of East Pasco kids who would have nothing Christmas morning now will. And yes, it was all we could do to not tear into the boxes and play with some of the toys ourselves. Not to sound like a bitter old fart, but Holy Crap Do Kids Have Cool Stuff These Days!!!!

On the home front, Debbie is gearing up for her busy season at work with some days crazy busy, while other days she may as well have stayed in bed. I'm getting deeply into a new point-of-sale system the lodge purchased. I had hoped to have it all up and running by now, but it appears that my ten-year hiatus from the computer industry has not improved the ethics of computer software salesmen. (Salespeople? Salespersons? Anyway, "salesman" is an accurate description of our particular liar.) It's partially my fault for us getting strung along for so long. The second I saw the default inventory app, I knew there was no possible way it could do what we were told it could do. I've written enough inventory/purchase order systems that I should have immediately twigged to the fact that we had been had by Clover. Not that the system is useless; for small businesses, it is plenty capable. And there is a third-part app that adds the functionality we were promised, but it costs an additional $20/month over the cost of the system. I realize $20 a month may not sound like a big deal to, say, a software salesman pulling down six figures a year, but to a small non-profit it's not nothing. Add in the fact that either my boss or myself have to go back to the board and explain that we were suckered and to make the system do what we thought it would do for us, we have to spend more money.

The other option is that I roll something in-house, but being out of the game as long as I have will make that a challenge. Certainly not impossible, but not easy. I'm not even sure what sort of data we can get out of the system. I know there are reports that can be exported as Excel spreadsheets, but until I have some data to work with, I have no idea what those look like. There is supposedly an API built into Clover, but you have to be a developer to learn anything about it other than that it exists. I should know more by the end of the week. (Meaning the end of my work week, not the end of the calendar week.) One other thing we were promised was that all our data would be loaded into the system for us. I don't know how long that normally takes, but I sent some of the data off last Friday and hadn't heard anything by Tuesday morning. So I decided screw that, and loaded it myself in about four hours. Not sure why I need Pakistani child labor, or whatever Clover uses, to type in a couple dozen categories and less than a hundred items. Anyway, I'm rollin' now and look to have the system ready for training and installation probably this weekend.

I had to giggle earlier today while reading an article linked to by The Automatic Earth. It seems that all those pushy, self-righteous lefty vegans who claim meat-eaters are destroying the planet are full of crap. Growing vegetables takes more energy, water, etc. than "growing" the equivalent number of calories in the form of meat. The trick that has been used to hide this little fact is to compare the weight of vegetables vs. an equivalent weight of meat rather than the number of calories from each. Granted, Americans consume too many calories, regardless of what form they come in, and it is certainly easier to over-eat meat than it is vegetables. However, simply reducing caloric intake would be more beneficial to the environment (and the person) than switching to plants instead of animals. Of course, my take-away is that this is an indictment of how we produce food in the good ol' USA rather than what a person is eating. A salad or chicken dinner that I grow in my backyard has far less environmental impact that a 3,000-mile Caesar Salad or KFC made from Chinese chicken. But that conversation is not allowed.

Well, gotta go make the donuts. (Actually, pork chops, but WhatEvar...)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Least of These

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? 38When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? 39Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? 40And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.

41Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and you visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Matthew 25:31-46 KJV

I generally don't start out my posts with long quotes from the Bible (or any other book, for that matter), but there is a specific reason in this case. The Moose Lodge that Debbie and I belong to just had our big kick-off event for the East Pasco Toys for Tots on Saturday. The event was successful beyond anything we could have possibly imagined. We're not entirely sure how many people came through the lodge during the 12-hour event, but we started with 350 wrist bands, then had to send someone on an emergency run for 500 more. Monday morning when the administrator and myself were sorting through the debris, we found a couple dozen wrist bands left over. We thought the original 350 bands would be more than enough. Shows what we know.

In any case, the event was a band marathon running from noon to midnight. We ended up with 18 bands participating. Half were rock bands that we ran on the social quarters side of the lodge, and the other half were country-western and/or oldies acts that we put on the hall side. Both sides were filled to capacity for most of the day. The event was open to the public with admission being either an unwrapped new toy, or a minimum $5 donation. Once you were inside, we had several 50/50 raffles every hour and an entire banquet table of stuff that people had donated that was also being raffled off. In short, the money was really flowing in, and so were the toys.

This is the first of five fundraising events that our lodge is hosting for Toys for Tots between last Saturday and our big, grand finale Christmas Ball on December 12. Our goal was to collect $20,000 in toys and cash. At Saturday's band marathon, we came close to half our goal. Everyone is really stoked about that, as am I.

But I'm also not. Allow me to explain. Yes, it's great we set an ambitious goal, a goal that is much higher than anything we've raised in the past for Toys for Tots. It's fantastic that we look to easily beat that goal. However, before we dislocate our collective shoulders patting ourselves on the back, lets do a little basic arithmetic. Our lodge and chapter have well over 3,000 members between them. I realize that number includes people who are not active and will likely allow their dues to expire next time they come due. And that some of those members are physically or mentally incapacitated and can't realistically be expected to participate in lodge activities. But I think I'm on fairly solid ground when I say that at least 2,000 of them do not fall into either of those categories. (If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will quickly set me straight. There are people in the lodge who love nothing better than to correct everyone else, and as a natural-born people-pleaser, I try to make everyone happy.) So we'll use 2,000 as the number of active members. A mere $20 per member is not $20,000. It's $40,000.

No matter how you slice it, if you are an active member of a fraternity, $20 is chump change. It's the loose change in your car's ashtray. It's less than you spend every Saturday at Steak Nite. It's the $20 that you just stuck in the pull tab machine or used to buy another round of drinks. I'm not asking for $20 every week, or even every month. All I'm asking for is $20 once a year.

So here it is: I'm issuing a challenge to the members of the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge 2276 and Women of the Moose Chapter 1682 to raise $40,000 in cash plus toys for the East Pasco Toys for Tots for Christmas 2015.

Now lets take a minute to back up and explain the relevance of that long quote at the start of the post. At the beginning of every men's meeting in every Moose lodge, there's this little bit where a guy opens a Bible and declares, "This is the Holy Bible; our inspiration and our guide." Well, that quote is certainly part of the Bible and therefore, is to be considered an inspiration and guide to anyone who is a member. (I'm assuming that the women's meetings have something similar. Never having been to one of their meetings, I can't say for sure. Again, if my assumption is wrong, I'm certain that I shall be set aright.) The writer of the Gospel of Matthew is pretty clear about what we are to do, whom we are to do it for, and what the consequences are if we fail to do so.

[Side note: Yes, I am aware that certain factions of Christianity have a real problem with this passage. As someone who spent the first forty years of his life in one of those factions, I've heard all the overly-intellectualized meanderings I care to listen to as to why this passage isn't saying what it obviously is. So please... just... ya know, don't.]

I know that it is popular just now in these united States to blame the poor for their plight. Anyone with several hours to spare can ask me what I think about that particular bit of neo-liberal bullshit. Regardless, we are not talking about adults; we are discussing children. No child has ever asked to be hungry, naked or homeless. However much we may choose to blame their parents, I see no rational way the parents' "sins" can be imputed to the children, and I'm quite sure I don't want to be associated with anyone who would even dare make the attempt.

And because this is the internet, I need to include the following:

Dear Dick from the Internet,

Nothing in this post should be construed as a criticism of what our lodge has done for Toys for Tots (or any other charity) in prior years. If my wife and I were not impressed with how much the lodge has done and is doing in East Pasco, we wouldn't be members. All I'm saying is that it is not just possible, but falling-off-a-log simple to do so much more.

And yes I understand how poor you are and how dare I ask for money so some poors can have a better Christmas than your own kids. All I can say to that is you have a computer and internet access. If your kids have a crappy Christmas, you need to rethink your priorities.


And before this turns into a book, I'll wrap up with this:

C'mon Zephyrhills Lodge! Lets Loose the Moose!!

Friday, November 13, 2015


Friday the 13th was on a Friday this month. The day we had at the lodge seemed to fit pretty well with the date. It started out bad, then went to worse, then proceeded to horrible. But we survived; and I get to go back tomorrow and do it again. Wee.

Debbie and I have been traveling, though not together. I flew up to Michigan to drive my parents down here for the winter, while Debbie and her mom enjoyed a free 2-day cruise. I got back here around midnight Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, and Debbie and her mom rolled in Wednesday evening. We both were back at work on Thursday. I played catch-up at my work while Debbie won another free cruise on the Carnival Vista. We have from January 2, 2016 to December 30, 2017 to take whatever 7-day cruise we want that leaves out of the Vista's regular port. Usually, these freebees are for an inside cabin, but this one is for a balcony! Woohoo!!

I was going to write up one of my diatribes about the nonsense at the "University" of Missouri, but my usual procrastination paid off and Fred Reed beat me to it:

How many of the black athletes, or black radicals at Missouri, or anywhere, have any business being at a university? How many have IQs below ninety? How many are way below? How many are studying real subjects, such as chemistry, languages, philosophy, literature, or history—as distinct from subjects for the enfeebled, Black Studies, Sociology, Education, and Breathing for Credit?

How many of the jocks can read? In many universities the black athletes are kept in special dorms and get high grades for courses they never attend and can’t spell. Is that happening in Missouri? Can we see their SATs? No one, I promise, will want to check.

Stray thought: If universities accepted only those with intelligence and interest, the noise level would drop appreciably. I am for it.

I know I keep saying it, but I'll say it again: Anyone who insists their child go into debt for life for the "privilege" of participate in this stupidity is guilty of child abuse. Get 'em a library card instead and apprentice them to a local tradesman.

And I'm off to bed so I can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Following Up

I know I said I was going to try to post more than once a month, but life keeps getting in the way. Namely, this whole job thing. Not that I'm unhappy with being a productive member of society once again (whatever that means); it's just that I only found time to write a post once a month or so when I was working part-time, seasonal jobs. Working full time year-'round hasn't really improved the situation. Anyway. I'll be doing some rearranging of what I spend time on over the next couple months which will hopefully get me back on track here.

I know y'all are excited. Try to stay calm.

One thing that I've pretty much given up on (again) is Facecrack. I know this makes something like the third time I've sworn off the thing, but this time feels different. There wasn't any conscious decision that "I'm never logging onto Facebook again!" I didn't even "delete" my account. I just stopped taking the time to look at it. And guess what? The world didn't end. Who knew?!?!

I've also gotten rid of a couple blogs. One hadn't been updated in nearly a year and the second had been idle even longer than that, so it wasn't like either of them were taking up significant amounts of time. But having them sitting there staring accusingly at me just added to the whole inertia thing. So they're gone forever (-ish; nothing on the internet ever really goes away, but it would take some effort to find them). I'm keeping the Uncle Charlie blog, because there is some family history there that isn't readily available from other sources, and I still intend to make some additions when I get the time. (It always comes back to that...) Besides, that particular project doesn't seem as urgent. The information is static; what exists I pretty much have in my possession and Uncle Charlie certainly isn't doing much writing these days, so I don't feel the need to post more than once or twice a year. Which means that the information should probably be on something other than a blog, but hey; Blogger is what I know and I'm not interesting in wrestling with something new. That would give me another reason to procrastinate, which I'm already pretty good at, thank you very much.

The new job: As I mentioned last month, I'm back where I started doing bookkeeping and spreadsheets, along with some other internal stuff specific to the Moose Lodge like processing memberships, etc. None of it is rocket science, but Moose International has certain ways that they want to see things done. Some of them are common sense once you understand the nuances of IRC 501(c)(8). Others are... um... more subtle in their logic. In any case, I'm feeling pretty settled in at this point. Of course yesterday the lodge administrator signed the paperwork committing to installing a brand new shiny point-of-sale system covering the bar and kitchen portion of the operation. The lodge has never had anything even remotely like this before, so this is one of those standing-broad-jump-type installs. In some ways, that makes things easier; in others, not so much. But it will get done and it will be an over-all positive for the lodge. And the lodge administrator and I will be busier than a couple one-armed paperhangers for the next few months.

A couple posts ago, I wrote a long rant on Cecil the Lion. In that, I talked about how the revenue from trophy hunting supported local villages and also incentivised the locals to not kill lions and other nuisance "Disney animals", like elephants. Unintended consequences being what they are... well, best to hear it from a local:

“Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them,” said Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema, a villager in his 60s. “Now we don’t benefit at all from the animals. The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our plowing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals.”

Once again, Americans decide what is best for people living on another continent with no knowledge, or even any interest in knowing, the real-world effects of our actions. We are far too busy patting ourselves on the back for being so morally superior to those poor, dumb nige... um... Africans of Color.

I haven't posted much on the anthropogenic climate change jihad lately because not much has changed, other than how outrageous the lies are getting:

There are two stories floating around about the state of the earth’s atmosphere. Both are believed true by government-funded scientists and the environmentally minded. The situation is curious because the stories don’t mesh. Yet, as I said, both are believed. Worse, neither is true.

Story number one is that this year will be the hottest ever. And number two is that the reason it is not hot is because “natural variation” has masked or stalled man-caused global warming.

Which is it? Either it’s hotter than ever or it isn’t. If it is, then (it is implied) man-caused global warming has not “paused.” If it isn’t, if man-caused global warming has “paused,” then it is not growing hotter.

And just to be clear on where I stand: Yes the climate is changing. At no point in the 4 billion-year history of the earth has it not been changing. Sometimes those changes happen over such long periods of time that they would seem like stasis at human timescales. Other times the changes have been very rapid. Both have happened numerous times long before humans began burning fossil fuels. Yes, we are messing with the chemical make-up of the only breathable atmosphere we have access to, which probably counts as some level of stupid. Yes, fossil fuel extraction causes enormous damage to the biosphere. If you don't believe that, Google up images of the aftermath of tar sands extraction or mountaintop removal. Or even conventional oil extraction in countries with dysfunctional governments like Nigeria that allow oil companies to take every possible short-cut. None of which justifies so-called scientists changing data in order to make it fit some politically-correct result, or engaging in literal witch-hunts aimed at anyone who refuses to toe the line.

It would also help if everyone who proclaims that fossil fuels are the ultimate evil would stop using them!

It really is that simple. If, as we are repeatedly told by the mass media, renewables are now as cheap or cheaper than fossil fuels, then by all means, lead the way! Slap some solar panels on the roof of that McMansion of yours and go off-grid! Drive nothing but your electric car that you also charge from those same solar panels! Never fly on an airplane, ride a train, sail on a cruise ship or use any other fossil-fueled means of conveyance ever again!! Do that, and I swear I will become one of you!

Note that I'm letting you off incredibly easy. I didn't say that your solar panels had to be built entirely from raw materials mined and refined with renewable energy and built in a solar-powered factory. I didn't insist that your electric car likewise be built in a renewable-powered car factory. I didn't even tell you that you have to give up the massive energy-hog called the internet. All I'm asking you to do is give up your personal, end-user fossil fuel consumption for powering, heating and/or cooling your own home, and stop using fossil fuels to haul your ass around. That's it. Now get to it and leave me a note in the comments when you've accomplish that incredibly modest goal.

Oh, and as one of the .0001% of North Americans who have actually tried to live off-grid, let me just say, "Good luck with that."

And that should be enough for now.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Full Circle

Well, I'm back doing essentially what I was doing as a job back in 1984. Our Moose Lodge administrator came to me a couple weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in working in the office full time. I'd sub'ed a couple times when he was off at conferences, so I had a pretty good idea of what would be required. Given that they are willing to pay me more than I've made in most of a decade and the job is literally right around the corner, the answer was pretty easy.

So no more tax seasons sitting in Walmart Hell. I'll still do some returns on the side, but not the hundreds I've done over the last few years. That by itself makes the change worthwhile; forget about the higher pay, better hours and year-'round work. I do have to work every Saturday and Sunday, but I have Wednesday's and Thursday's off. Debbie gets Thursday off whenever she works a Saturday, so she'll just work more Saturday's so we have a day off together. It's not like what day of the week it is really makes a difference to us anyway.

So other than all that, not much else going on. Other than the obvious Florida summer stuff like it's frackin' HOT and RAINS EVERY DAY. Except today; it's just HOT with bright white hot sun and not a cloud in the sky. Not sure that's really an improvement. [Before I was able to post this, a thunderstorm blew in and is currently dumping a couple inches of rain on us. Remember the old joke about how if you didn't like the weather in Michigan, just hang around for a minute and it will change? Florida has Michigan beat six ways to Sunday on that score.] Of course in a few months I'll be whining because it's so cold that I have to wear a shirt and enclosed shoes. Maybe even socks. We'll just have to tough it out somehow....

I stopped watching, listening and reading (and quite frankly caring in any way about) anything from the mainstream media around 15 years ago or so, and last walked into a voting booth in 2004. So you know things must be completely crazy if I'm hearing about it. As far as I understand, some significant portion of the US population over the age of 35 is running for the GOP nomination. I was at work and some 24-hour news station was playing over the bar showing pictures of everyone running. There were, like, three screens of postage-stamp-sized photos. Other than Trump and three or four other people, I had no idea who any of these people even were. Have the GOP party hacks lost complete control of their party? Can we go back to the good ol' days when parties decided who their candidates were going to be in some smoke-filled room? Oh, right. This is supposed to be more democratic. Which just proves that there is such a thing as too much democracy.

But even a recluse like me can see that there is a shift occurring, and not just in the United States. John Michael Greer took a break from his series of posts to comment on the upset in Britain's Labor Party:

...a sign I’ve been awaiting for quite some time has appeared on the horizon—the first rumble of a tectonic shift that will leave few things unchanged. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen in the United States, but I was somewhat startled to see where it did happen. That would be in Britain, where Jeremy Corbyn has just been elected head of Britain’s Labour Party.


Logically speaking, if the policies you propose don’t yield the results you expect, you change the policies. That’s not what’s happened so far in this case, though.  Quite the contrary, the accelerating failures of neoliberalism have been met across the board by an increasingly angry insistence from the corridors of power that neoliberal policies are the only options there are.

What Jeremy Corbyn’s election shows is that that insistence has just passed its pull date. Corbyn’s an old-fashioned Labourite of the pre-Blair variety, and he’s made it clear for decades that he supports the opposite of the neoliberal consensus: more regulation of finance and industry, higher tax rates and fewer handouts to the rich, more benefits for the poor, and a less aggressive foreign policy.

As JMG points out elsewhere in his essay (and has been repeating endlessly since the start of his blog in 2006), different should never be confused with better. And even if a proposed change seems to be better, the follow-up question ought to be for whom. We do seem to be living in interesting times.

Speaking of interesting times, is everyone enjoying the crazy and completely illogical swings in the stock market? Now that we're pretty much fully in greenbacks, I know I've been enjoying the high-pitched squeals and puckered-sphincter looks from all the talking heads every time markets take another plunge. Oh, and anybody remember all the Saudi America crap that was being ladled out so generously a while back? Wonder why you haven't heard anything about that lately? Lessee if I understand what all the excitement was about: Borrow billions, use the money to over-produce a fungible commodity thus crashing its market price, then produce even more of it in a (mostly-vain) attempt to service those borrowed billions. Rinse and repeat. What could possibly go wrong? We should all be stinkin' rich in no time!

And this is from what are supposed to be the smartest people in the room? No wonder Trump is leading in the polls.

Anyway, I need to get things cleaned up and go to bed early so I can get up for another exciting day in the office!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cecil the Lion

The internet was set aflame by the story of Cecil; a lion supposedly beloved of locals in Zimbabwe killed by a dentist from Minnesota. As usual in these cases, facts are hard to come by. There are no longer any sources you can trust for information. Every media outlet, internet or otherwise, reports unsubstantiated rumors as unvarnished Truth. The hunt was illegal, the guide a well-known local poacher. The lion suffered in agony for 40 hours. Dr. Palmer is a pedophile. Zimbabwe is looking to extradite Dr. Palmer. Zimbabwean locals have no idea who this "Cecil" was. The hunt was perfectly legal, conducted by a licensed guide.

I could go on for pages, but anyone who has tried to get to the bottom of any news story in the last ten years or so already knows the drill. True journalists, people who bother to fact check and at least try to get to the truth of a story, are like unicorns or honest politicians. They simply don't exist.

Meanwhile, for the safety of himself and his patients, Dr. Palmer has closed his dental practice, as he, his family, and anyone who has ever been a patient are now considered fair game. Literally. The local police have lost count of the thousands of death threats. Personal details of not just Palmer's life, but every member of his family are being shared on the internet. But it's all good; Palmer, the internet assures us, is filthy rich and can move himself and his family off to some foreign country to live incommunicado, safe from death threats and/or legal repercussions of his hunting trip.

This is the new "animal rights" movement in all its glory: Demonstrate your love of animals by dehumanizing people, destroying their lives and the lives of anyone close to them, or anyone who makes any attempt to defend them. Carriage horse owners in New York City. Elephant trainers in circuses. Owners of ponies who give rides to children at fairs. Hunters. Small-scale farmers. (Factory farms are kept safe behind a wall of bought-and-paid-for politicians.) Trainers who work with animals used in movies or TV. All these groups have been and/or are being subjected to the tender ministrations of these so-called animal rights activists. The tactics used are predictable. The person or group are horrible people, beneath contempt, outcasts, drunkards, racists. Their actions are indefensible to all right-thinking people. Inevitably, the person or group being demonized is labeled (always without even a shred of evidence) pedophiles or rapists. Which probably says more about the accusers mental state than the accused, but does little to mitigate the damage such accusations cause.

The favorite tool of the modern "activist" is, of course, social media. Anyone remember when the internet was supposed to eliminate arbitrary barriers and brings us all together in peace and harmony, singing Kumbaya? Instead, it became a place for international mobs to form over random news stories (even if it happens to be completely fake, like the UofV rape case), demonizing random individuals or groups and completely destroying their lives, then just as quickly moving on to the next outrage. The mainstream media, so focused on being "relevant" and eager to fill up all those 24-hour news channels, jumps on board without so much as the most cursory of investigations, never bothering to retract even blatant lies.

Left behind is the wreckage that was once some human being's life. And no one even had to leave the comfort of their living room couch or work cubicle to make it happen.

I'm a hunter and unrepentant meat-eater. I'm comfortable with killing game for food. I see no difference in killing, gutting, skinning, cooking and eating a rabbit, squirrel or deer, and going to Walmart and picking up a package of chicken, beef or pork. Other than in the later instance, I've paid someone else to do the dirty work for me. However, I will say that I'm uncomfortable with pure trophy hunting; killing an animal only for the purpose of displaying some part of it on your den wall. Note that I'm not talking about getting the head of a deer mounted that was killed primarily for the dinner table. I'm referring to what Dr. Palmer's hunt appears to have been; the killing of an animal purely for the sake of displaying some part of it on a floor or wall.

Note that I said, "uncomfortable with" rather than "violently opposed to". I fully understand that trophy hunting (as well as the less-lethal version, the photo safari) provides much needed income for countries like Zimbabwe. That it is much easier to convince locals to accept the loss of some cattle to predators from the neighboring preserve if they receive some benefit from them being there. That safari income is what pays the salaries of staff who go after commercial poachers. That some "Disney animals" like lions, tigers and elephants are over-populating certain areas, meaning some must be culled for the benefit of the remaining animals. That large predators can go rogue by hunting humans and need to be killed. I fully appreciate all of it. That doesn't mean that I would ever participate in such a hunt. However, should someone else choose to, I'm certainly not going to label him a murderer and try to destroy him and everyone around him.

In this instance, the part of the story that I do find disturbing is the length of time from the first shot to the lion being killed. If the forty-hour figure flying around the internet is even close to being true, something went terribly wrong out in the field. Someone, either Dr. Palmer or the guide (or both), at a minimum displayed bad judgement and more likely, incompetence. "Never take a shot unless you know it will be lethal" was pounded into my head at a very young age. Know your weapon, know its limitations, know your limitations, were simply givens. Leaving an animal wounded by a bad shot to suffer and die slowly was considered the worst sort of slob hunting. Because we are not living in some Utopia, things go bad from time to time. But you take every possible precaution to reduce the likelihood of things going sideways. Most importantly, if there is any doubt of a clean kill, if anything feels off in any way, don't take the shot. That something so basic seems to have been ignored is certainly troubling to me. Assuming there is any more truth to the forty-hour pursuit "fact" than there is in the accusations that Dr. Palmer is some sort of sexual predator.

Now I'm seeing Facebook petitions calling for the elimination of all trophy hunting. First of all, is there anyone over the age of twelve that believes "signing" any sort of online petition or sharing a post on Facebook has any impact whatsoever, other than making you feel good about yourself for "doing something" while not actually doing anything? Secondly, definitions matter. What, exactly, is a trophy hunt? If I take home a pound of giraffe meat along with the head and hide, is it still a trophy hunt? How about two pounds? Three? Thirty? If the goal is to ban all killing of "Disney animals", what do we do about over-population or rogues? How many local children killed and eaten do you think it will take before locals start killing animals? How much dead livestock or destroyed food crops? Third, given the success of the ban on sales of ivory and rhino horn in turning poaching into a multinational cartel, does anyone think a ban on trophy hunting would have the intended effect?

And once again, I've probably pissed off enough people and should head off to bed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Events

July so far has been Family Event Month. On Sunday, July 5, Debbie's niece got married:

Jerrica and Mike

Jerrica doing her "I'm shy" bit

I wasn't able to attend due to prior commitments at the Moose Lodge, so Debbie flew up on Saturday, attended the wedding on Sunday, then flew back on Monday.

Then on July 11, we had another of Debbie's niece's graduation open house. When we checked on airfare, the prices completely sucked, as in over $300 each. Why airfare was reasonable on a major holiday weekend, then completely out of sight the weekend after a major holiday weekend is something only the Gods of the Airline Computers can really answer. So we decided to drive up and back to save on money. We left Thursday night after Debbie got off work, drove all night and landed at Debbie's mom's place Friday afternoon. We slept there a bit, jumped up early Saturday to drive the rest of the way to Alpena for the open house. We couch-surfed there, then up Sunday morning to drive straight through all the way to Zephyrhills. We managed it, but it took a toll on our aging bodies. I remember being able to do silly things like this when we were in our 20's like it was nothing. Not anymore.

In any case, a couple pictures:


Polacks doing what polacks always do in groups: eating, drinking, and BSing.

Today is a rain day, which is why I'm doing this instead of working outside. Before we left, I got a fresh coat of stain on the porch which is finally dry enough to move all the porch furniture out of my shed and back on the porch. If it ever stops raining. It will be a joy to finally be able to get into my shed again.

John Oliver hits another one out of the park, so to speak. This segment is on the insanity of taxpayer-funded sports stadiums:

Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeon, but I find myself caring less and less about professional sports. Not that I've ever cared that much in the first place, but I would at least watch a game or two and have some vague notion whether the home team was doing well or not. Now I can't even muster that little bit of interest. Most of the players and all the team owners act and talk like narcissistic sociopaths rather than someone that ought to be looked up to or celebrated in any way. The massive amounts of money sloshing around, not just in professional sports, but college and even high school sports as well, has corrupted everything and everyone involved to the very core. Players suffering permanent brain injuries seem to be the rule rather than the exception, no matter how much padding you wrap the them in. And all so some lard-ass who can't walk ten feet without running out of breath can live vicariously through "his" team, and spend weekends screaming such uplifting sentiments as, "Rip his head off, Kowalski!!" while spraying everyone in a ten-foot radius with half-chewed nachos.

And that's probably enough on that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

All Done with F*&King IRS (and some other stuff)

I'm officially done with the IRS. I'm tired of the constant bullshit and expense with this whole Enrolled Agent thing and it turns out that it's been all for nothing anyway. All done. Kiss my ass.

In other news, we went to Alaska and tramped around a bit:

Anchorage, Alaska

Denali from Mt. McKinley Lodge


View from our room at the Denali lodge

Denali from inside the park

Margaret Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Ketchikan Lumberjack Show

The weather was completely unbelievable. We went packed for 50's and rain and instead got 80's and sunny skies. We were able to see all of Denali the entire five days we were there. Normally, there is only a clear view of Denali for something like eight days a year. We managed to dodge the wildfire as well, although our train from Denali to the cruise ship did get held up for a couple hours because the fire was burning near the tracks. We finally got through and they held the ship for us (advantage of using the cruise line's transfers), so it worked out, but we were getting a little nervous. These are from the train:

Since we've been back, I've done a whole lot of nothing. I need to get outside and get things in shape. The jungle took over a bit while we were away and I need to get things back under control, get a coat of stain on the porch, get some painting and caulking done, etc. Lots to do, just not a lot of motivation to do it.

Over at John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report, he's had a series of posts on the five phases of the decline and fall of a civilization. He calls the phases the Eras of Pretense, Impact, Response, Breakdown, and Dissolution. Our current western industrial civilization is firmly in the Era of Pretense, but as John Michael repeatedly points out in his books and on his blog, the process isn't linear or coherent. Different places will run through these phases at different times and rates and on different scales. For example, right at the moment, Michigan is in a later phase than the rest of the US:
One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself -- all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

I knew it was bad, but not living there anymore, I hadn't realized just how far gone things really were. I'd put Michigan as a whole in Greer's Era of Response; frantic attempts to prop up the status quo by any means necessary; fair, foul, unconstitutional, etc., while failing to realize that the status quo is the root cause of the state's problems.

But, in keeping with Greer's idea of the fractal nature of decline, most of the state is still a blooming paradise when compared with Detroit:
Highland Park is a tiny 3-square-mile municipality located within Detroit. Extremely dangerous, blighted, and 94% black, Highland Park is a concentrated example of the conditions in Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods—what some call the “Detroit of Detroit.”

In late 2011, the impoverished little municipality was so deep in debt to its public electric company, DTE Energy, that the local government was forced to decommission all streetlights on its residential streets. Not only did DTE cut the power to street lights in Highland Park, it sent out workers to physically dig up and remove nearly 1,000 light-poles from the neighborhood. Highland Parkers now live in permanent, debt-induced darkness.

Six miles away, in Detroit’s rapidly gentrifying downtown area, DTE Energy runs a very different public policy. The same company that repossessed 1,000 streetlights from Highland Park, condemning its residents to permanent darkness, has recently launched a pro-bono security program in the increasingly white area.

And here we see the fractal pattern being repeated at the level of individual neighborhoods, with different parts of the Detroit Metro area in different eras of collapse.

So what about where you live? Is everyone still gliding along with their head in the sand pretending all is well, or are things a bit further along? It's a fun little game the whole family can play!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Before May is Gone...

Not sure where the month of May went to, but I thought I'd post something here before we slip into June.

The primary reason it's been quiet on the blog is that we've busier than one-armed paper hangers for some reason. I seems like every time we think we have some spare time, something comes up that we have to head out on some errand or take care of some emergency or another. Even when we do get a day to ourselves, we're so far behind on the normal household crap that our "day off" winds up being consumed with dishes, laundry and other such fun tasks.

Most of the busy has involved the Moose Lodge. As I mentioned last post, I went and got myself elected Treasurer, so now I'm working in the office for a few hours in the morning one or two days a week, plus meetings, meetings and more meetings. As well, there are various expectations made of all elected officers to show up at certain events, volunteer for this, that and the other, etc. On top of that, we've had a pretty significant dry spell this month. Other than a couple sprinkles that didn't even get through the leaves on the trees, it didn't rain from April 29 (the day I headed out for Michigan with my parents, natch) until Tuesday evening. That means that for the first time since I've been on the Moose landscape crew, we've been able to get out into a large, overgrown area between the lodge and the highway. So lots of fun stuff there cutting neck-high grass and pulling out scrub and trees that have been growing since the last time anyone bothered to cut out there. It doesn't help that in Florida, any area with tall grass is assumed to be a public landfill; we've pulled truck-loads of garbage, broken concrete, chunks of asphalt, steel posts, you name it. We are making some serious progress, but I'm also spending about twice the usual time on the job. The hope is that with all the vegetation cut back, the sun will dry things out between rains instead of the water just piling up all summer. We're also working on drainage issues, like a blocked culvert, so all the runoff from two miles of highway will go down the ditch instead of flooding the front yard. We'll see if any of it does any good once the rainy season finally gets here.

One thing I did get to do was play with the new mobile hotspot while I was in Michigan. I did all the driving, so other than an hour or so during our stop in Alabama, I didn't get a chance to mess with it until we were in Kalkaska. After we stopped at G's for lunch, I let my dad drive out to the house and I crawled into the back seat and jumped online. I wasn't sure what sort of coverage I would have in northern Michigan, but it worked great all the way out of town, was still going good on the two-lane county road, even kept working on the dirt road. Then about halfway up my parents' driveway, "BEEP!" No signal. It's like my parents' place is a little cellular back hole. But at least I had something to do while I was sitting at the Traverse City airport waiting for the flight home, then sitting in Detroit waiting three hours for my connection to Tampa. I've also been using it on-and-off here at the trailer. The data is use-it-or-lose-it after 60 days, so I may as well burn it up. Besides, Brighthouse is trying to say that the reason that Debbie's work phone (an IP phone) works like crap is because I'm sucking up all the bandwidth reading blogs on my Kindle. Of course the real problem is that IP phones SUCK!! Businesses get talked into the things because they are so much cheaper than traditional phones. As with nearly everything in this universe, "cheap" and "works" rarely go together. So I get to listen to Debbie spend an hour asking some poor sot how to spell their last name over and over and over and over because their voice keeps cutting out or there is so much line noise she can't hear what they are saying. It doesn't help that the person she is talking to is usually on one of the New and Improved smart phones, which are neither smart, nor are they intended to ever be used as a phone. Our ten-year-old flip phone has ten times better voice quality than any "smart" "phone" on the market. Add in that the moron she's talking to is invariably driving down the expressway while trying to book a cruise. With the radio on full blast. And kids in the backseat watching a movie with the volume cranked even louder so they can hear over the radio.

Yea, I spend a lot of time at home with my headphones on trying to drown out the endless stupid with something soothing like System of a Down's Chop Suey so I don't go postal.

One of these days, I need to do a post on our attempts to grow small bits of food here in the Land of Poisoned Soil, but that will have to wait for next time. Right now, it's time to start getting things ready for tonight's stir fry chicken.

Friday, April 24, 2015


I'm still recovering from one of the busiest tax seasons I've seen in a while. Our numbers at the Walmart location were completely off the charts this year. But it's finally over, and, like I say every year, over the next nine months, I'll forget the hell of the 2015 tax season and eagerly sign up for 2016.

In the meantime, we're trying to dig out of the accumulated chores that we've both neglected since January. It mostly involves sweeping, raking, mowing, trimming, weeding, planting, etc. Our dry season this year really wasn't all that dry, then summer showed up a month early and everything went kind of crazy on us. But we're slowly getting everything beat back into shape. Today should be the final push, then we can return to maintenance mode.

And because there isn't enough going on already, I'm now the Treasurer of the Zephyrhills Moose Lodge. There's some sort of installation thingy tomorrow, then another meeting on Monday. There's also the regular meeting on Tuesday, but I'll be missing that as I will be in a car with my 'rents somewhere between Florida and Michigan. With some luck, I should be back here by Saturday evening. We decided that it's OK for my dad to drive around locally, but the snowbird thing just ain't gonna happen no more. I'll drive them up in the spring and fly back, then fly up in the fall and drive them down. The male parental unit is gripin' about it, but it's happening anyway.

So yea, don't expect a flood of updates here. Or maybe there will be. I bit the bullet yesterday and ordered a mobile hotspot to cart around with me. It's all part of The Plan to allow me more flexibility doing taxes under my own EFIN, along with now being able to process credit card transactions, offering over-priced "bank products", and all the rest. At some point over the summer, there may be a laptop/tablet acquired and a digital signature pad. (Any recommendations appreciated for the laptop/tablet; keep in mind this will be used for data entry, so a good keyboard with ten-key is a must.) Printing is still a bit of a stumper. I understand that with all the other stuff, it shouldn't be necessary, but I know I wouldn't want my tax information being sent to my e-mail account as a PDF file, so I doubt many of my clients will either, even if the PDF is password-protected. I guess a wi-fi ink-jet running off an inverter plugged into the car is a possibility. Still thinking on that part. Anyway, if the hotspot shows up before Tuesday, I can at least use my Kindle on the trip up to Michigan to post updates here as well as keep up with my famous witty Facebook repartee. I fully expect that it will be delivered about two hours after we pull out of the park, along with the books I ordered so I would have something to read on the trip.

Well, need to get off my butt and go get stuff done.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Missing Everything

I missed that Friday the 13th was on a Friday in February.

I also missed that Friday the 13th was on a Friday in March.

And I missed that yesterday was π Day out to four decimals places, something that only happens once a century.

(Not sure what font this thing is using, but that's the crappiest looking letter pi I've ever seen.)

But I filed a lot of tax returns!!!

I've gone from crazy-insane-holy-crap-why-don't-they-stop-coming-in busy to just being steady at Ye Ol' Tax Booth. I think we've already beat the number of tax returns we did all last tax season and we're only about halfway through. Because "only" four or five people a day are sitting down to have their taxes done, I've been focusing on our "mail-in" clients; people who do contract work all over the country (mostly welders, pipe fitters and IT guys) and can't come into the office. I crank out half dozen or so of those on a typical day between walk-ins. Things will likely stay "slow" until the end of March or first week of April, then all the procrastinators will come flooding through the door in a full-blown panic because Holy Crap!!! April 15th is on April 15th this year!! WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME!!! And they will of course be missing some vital piece of paperwork that will prevent us from getting their taxes done on time. And it will be all my fault. Or the IRS's fault. Or Obama's fault. 'Cause ya know, we NEVER had to file taxes before that Filthy Muslim became president!


Yea, it's been one of those tax seasons.

Debbie is still kickin' it to the curb in the cruise business. And dealing with lunatics. The other day, she spent 20 minutes repeating to some lady, "Ma'am, if you didn't purchase the travel protection insurance, you can't make a claim under the travel protection insurance." I kid you not, she must have said the exact same thing to this crazy person 50 times. I finally had to snap on my headphones and crank some Sleeveless Meeks and the Right to Bare Arms so I wouldn't grab Debbie's head set and start screaming at Crazy Lady to go do something anatomically impossible to herself.

In between all the work craziness, I've made a couple big steps in my personal tax preparation abilities. As of yesterday afternoon, I can now accept credit cards. I had bought a Kindle Fire a while back and Amazon now has one of those cool swipey thingies that plugs into the headphone jack. It's all set up and ready to go as soon as the physical swipey thingy shows up today or tomorrow. I'm also now set up with a bank so I can take my tax prep fee out of the clients refund, just like the big kids. That won't be "live" until Monday as I had to fax them some signatures yesterday. But it's getting there. I've already done twice the returns I did last year and may actually make money at it. What a concept.

[Update: Before I could hit the Publish button, I received notification that my signature form has been received and I am as of now live for banking products. Woot!]

[Update to the Update: My cool swipey thingy just arrived and I was able to charge myself $1.00!! Woot!! Woot!!]

And that is pretty much our life at this point.

Over the last month, I had accumulated all sorts of political and economic articles that I was going to post comments on, but I got tired of having 20 tabs open in Chrome reminding me that I hadn't posted anything here is weeks, and closed them all down. And it turns out that Wolf Richter pretty much summed it all up earlier this month:

The price of oil did today what it has been doing for a while: it waits for a trigger and plunges. As I’m writing this, West Texas Intermediate is down 4.4%, trading at $44.99 a barrel, less than a measly buck away from this oil bust’s January low. It’s down over 20% from the peak of the most recent sucker rally.

US oil drillers have been responding by slashing capital expenditures, including drilling, in a deceptively brutal manner. In the latest week, drillers idled 56 rigs that were classified as drilling for oil, according to Baker Hughes. Only 866 rigs were still active, down 46.2% from October, when they’d peaked at 1,609. In the 22 weeks since, drillers have taken out 743 rigs, the most dizzying cliff dive in the data series, and probably in history....

You’d think this sort of plunge in drilling activity would curtail production. Eventually it might. But for now, the industry has focused on efficiencies, improved drilling technologies, and the most productive plays. Drillers are trying to raise production but with less money so that they can meet their debt payments. Thousands of wells have been drilled recently but haven’t been completed and aren’t yet producing. This is the “fracklog,” a phenomenon that has been dogging natural gas for years.

So US oil production hit another record of 9.366 million barrels per day for the week ended March 6, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest estimate.

In other words, expect low gas prices to continue for a while. If you work in fracking or anything related to it, expect a pink slip. And then we have all that fracking debt and derivatives piled up in everyone's pension funds....

Enjoy the Ides of March.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fingers Crossed...

...that the worst of tax season is over. We got our butts royally kicked for nearly four weeks straight. At this point, we've got to be a hundred returns past where we were last year. Even now that things have slacked off a bit, I'm still cranking out ten returns every shift. By this time last year, I was spending most of the day reading books, doing blog posts, checking up on Facebook, etc. If this keeps up, we'll be sittin' pretty come season-end bonus time, but getting there has been fairly grueling so far.

Not that corporate is making our jobs any easier with their Advances, Walmart gift cards, and every other gimmick you can think of to extract money from the clients for anything other than doing their taxes. Without all the "banking products" (every one of which is pitched to us as a way to "enhance" revenues), we could easily shave 20% off our fees. Worse yet, the code monkeys at HQ completely screwed the pooch implementing the stupid gift card thing so about one out of every ten people never get one. But the $50 is still being subtracted from our revenue by corporate. And we usually end up writing a $50 check to shut the customer up, who will likely never darken our door again. When you call the help desk, all they tell you is to talk to the local rep. Who has not one iota more control over the thing than we do, which is absolutely none.

In other news, there ain't much other news. Debbie is still cranking away for her busy season, which just got a little busier because one of the few remaining agents is "no longer with the company." For the entire five-and-a-half years she's been working there, the number of agents has steadily dwindled from 13 or 14 to six, with no plans by management to get anyone new anytime soon. And by the time they do, given their past history, another agent or two will become "no longer with the company."

In spite of all that, we did manage to sneak away for an evening to go see Bob Seger at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. As usual, trying to get anywhere in Tampa while an event is going on was a bad joke, aided by the fact that the Tampa police were a complete no-show. The concert was on a Thursday evening, meaning we had the twin joys of dealing with daily commuter traffic, which by itself completely gridlocks the mess the city "planners" have made of downtown, combined with an extra 20,000 or so people trying to get to the Amalie.  But the concert was well worth all the grief of getting there, and, for a few hours at least, we were able to forget all about taxes and cruises and old-people park drama and the Carefree RV Resorts corporation and its ass-hat CEO, Nancy No-Nuts. It was a very pleasant few hours. The trip home was easier than the drive in (no thanks to the still-non-existent Tampa police) because by then, the commuter traffic was gone and everyone was more-or-less going the same way.

And then it was back to the same-ol' same-ol'.

Speaking of which, I see that ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh released a video of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were in Libya, which, thanks to the tender ministrations of the US military, is now a part of the Caliphate. As they were Egyptian, the Egyptian military responded with air strikes inside Libya with which is shares a long border. This is an entirely logical response. I'm sure the US will be equally logical and will strongly condemn the killings, offer condolences to the families of the victims, and let Egypt handle its own affairs.

Heh. Yea. Right.

I'm sure it's just a matter of time before, as the Joker said, "everyone loses their minds," and we stage another of our ISIS recruiting events. The Forever War must be perpetuated.

Meanwhile, our "leaders" have been so lost without the Cold War that they seem desperate to start a hot war with Russia. I can't for the life of me figure out what we hope to accomplish by getting into a shooting war with a major, nuclear-armed military power, over who gets to claim the complete basket case of a country that goes by the name "Ukraine". This won't be like any of our recent wars with such military non-entities as Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. Not that we've been exactly decisive in all of those, but they were a cake-walk compared to what going head-to-head with Russia will be. Unless the goal is to eliminate a sizable fraction of the US's 20-something population, I can't see what we hope to gain. (Other than the obvious benefit to the military-industrial complex, of course. But that goes without saying.) Why would NATO or Europe want a corrupt, bankrupt country without much in the way of oil or gas? It currently serves as a pipeline route for Russian natural gas being sent to Europe, but how is destroying that infrastructure while simultaneously pissing off the Russians going to benefit Europe? Are our heads of state beginning to believe their own bullshit? That the US can supply all of Europe's natural gas from our non-existent surplus (The US is still a net importer of natural gas) converted to LNG in non-existent facilities, and shipped aboard a fleet of non-existent LNG-capable ships?

Have we gone stark raving mad?

OK, that sort of answers itself.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It Begins

I'm three days into another tax season sitting in Walmart, and I'm ready to start punching people. Things did not get off to a good start; on my very first day, as I'm walking into Walmart, I get smashed into by a People of Walmart type going out the entrance. She looked drunk, stoned, or possibly both, sporting some serious bed-head, and was dressed in pajamas, a bath robe and bunny slippers.

As I walked in the door. On the very first day. Not good.

Our tax booth is located in the same prime real estate: across from the bathrooms. That's good, because bored men waiting for their women to emerge from the restroom are easy sales targets. It's bad because it seems every woman in Pasco county turns into a screaming harpy every time Walmart tries to clean the bathroom. Understand that, thanks to the lawyers, they have to close everything down anytime they mop until the floor is completely dry. Do the screaming harpies care? Nah. So the entire time (we're talking 15 to 20 minutes), they stand outside the restroom, sometimes alone, sometimes in a giant harpy chorus, screaming profanity three feet from where I'm trying to do people's taxes.

FYI, ladies; when you act like that, this is what every man around you is seeing.
Lovely. Simply lovely.

I also fully expect, sometime before the end of tax season, to have my lifeless body pulled from the rubble that was once our tax cubicle. I can't go five minutes without some blind old dude smashing one of those electric shopping cart things into the walls, or a texting hipster walking into the side of the thing. Listen up, people; it's a temporary structure and ain't exactly what I'd call sturdy.

[As a side note, a little tip for purse and/or baby snatchers: outside your local Walmart's women's restroom is a target-rich environment. And Walmart even helpfully provides comfy benches for you to sit on that have been placed in the most advantageous spots for you to ply your trade. Better yet, they don't seem to mind if you camp on one of them all day. You can even bring drinks and snacks if you wish.]

As far as actual tax preparation, we got off to a bit of a slow start, but yesterday things seemed to pick up. I managed to complete a half dozen returns over my eight-hour shift in spite of constant glitches. That whole "we can download your W-2's" thing is an even bigger fiasco than in prior years. For example, the only way to download a Walmart W-2 is to type in a special code. That is only printed on the employees W-2. So we still have to have the physical W-2 to download the electronic W-2. So what is the point, exactly? It doesn't save me any time. After I go through all the crap to download the electronic W-2, then type in all the numbers to confirm that the W-2 downloaded correctly (which means I also need the physical W-2 to do that step), I've spent more time than it would take me to type in everything manually from a physical W-2. It doesn't mean that clients can file their taxes earlier. In order for electronic W-2's to be available for download, the employer has already done all the necessary year-end work and has likely printed the physical W-2's. Which I need in order to download your electronic W-2 anyway. The whole mess sounds like yet-another rent-extraction scam by outfits like W2Express that "facilitate" (for a fee, I'm sure) all this unnecessary "work".

Sort of like the tax preparation "industry".


Speaking of beginnings, I'm going to call it. The fracking bubble has popped:

Layoffs are cascading through the oil and gas sector. On Tuesday, the Dallas Fed projected that in Texas alone, 140,000 jobs could be eliminated. Halliburton... axing an undisclosed number of people in Houston. Suncor Energy... will dump 1,000 workers.... Slumberger... will cut 9,000 jobs.
Larger drillers outspent their cash flows from production by 112% and smaller to midsize drillers by a breathtaking 157%....
California Resources... watched [shares] drop to $4.33 by today....

Its junk bonds... were trading at 79 cents on the dollar today....
Samson Resources... junk bonds... traded at 26.5 cents on the dollar today....

Halcón Resources... saw its shares plunge 10% today to $1.20.... Its junk bonds slid... to 72 cents on the dollar.

Hercules Offshore... [is] trading for $0.82 a share.... In mid-October, its 8.75% notes due 2022 traded at 66 cent on the dollar. Yesterday they traded at 45.
Today, Paragon’s shares trade for $2.18.... Its junk bonds are now down to 58 cents on the dollar.

Swift Energy... stock, now at $2.37... saw its junk bonds shrivel another eight points over the week to 36 cents on the dollar.

Now you're probably saying to yourself, "Self, it's OK. I don't own any of that stuff." Don't be so sure. For example, it's a safe bet that your pension fund has some of this crap, or derivatives based on it, just like it had bunches of derivatives based on crap mortgages back in 2008.

And although you would never know it from the media, this isn't just about oil:

On Thursday, the Swiss franc rose a staggering 30 percent against the euro, and the Swiss stock market plunged by 10 percent.... Meanwhile, the euro is in greater danger than ever.... With this move by Switzerland set off a European financial crisis?
And one of these days, another extremely important currency peg is going to end.  Right now, the Chinese have tied their currency very tightly to the U.S. dollar.  This has helped to artificially inflate the value of the dollar.  Unfortunately, as Robert Wenzel has noted, someday the Chinese could suddenly pull the rug out from under our currency, and that would be really bad news for us…
So keep a close eye on what happens in Europe next.

It is going to be a preview of what is eventually coming to America.

Hong Kong is also pegged to the dollar and they may become impatient with us more quickly than China.

Are we having fun yet?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Welcome to 2015!!

OK; so I'm a few days late. Sue me.

We managed to make it through 2014 without becoming homeless nor did we kill our moron neighbor and bury her body in the woods. Yet. It was a close call on both of those, but we somehow snuck through by the skin of our teeth. Those two items were our only goals for 2014 and given our present situation, will likely remain our only achievable goals for 2015. We'd like to be able to set other goals for ourselves like eating healthier, exercising more, saving money, but heh; who are we kiddin' here?

We have made modest progress towards getting our trailer a bit more livable with the new closet and shelves in the Florida room. We'll probably make a bit more progress over tax season assuming I can fit it in time-wise. It seems like it's taking us forever to get anything done, but all we can do is keep picking away at all the projects we have around here. We figure by the time we finally get everything the way we want it, we'll sell the place and move.

One thing we finally did get done this year is planting something edible outside. People keep giving us ornamental plants which seem to do OK, but every attempt we've made at growing food has not really done well, other than the rosemary bushes that are trying to bury our porch. This time, we used a bunch of containers with real dirt in them instead of trying to grow anything in the sterile sand around our place. We are having modest success. We have some lettuce that seems to be doing well, and a few tomato plants that are beginning to put on, along with a couple different kinds of basil, sage and parsley. So far, thyme and oregano have been no shows, but I'll just keep trying and see if I can make anything happen. At least down here, we can plant pretty much anytime we want so if something fails to germinate, we just keep replanting until something grows.

Politically, 2015 is off to a surreal start, with the New York police on what amounts to a work stoppage following the assassination of two police officers while the mayor was perceived to be siding with the anti-police protests:

Furious at embattled mayor Bill de Blasio, and at what Police Benevolent Association chief Patrick Lynch calls a "hostile anti-police environment in the city," the local officers are simply refusing to arrest or ticket people for minor offenses – such arrests have dropped off a staggering 94 percent, with overall arrests plunging 66 percent.

If you're wondering exactly what that means, the Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests "only when they have to." (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds).

So either two-thirds of what the police in New York City do every day is a waste of time, or the city will quickly plunge into utter chaos. I don't follow the news very closely these days, but I've not heard of much in the way of chaos yet.

And we have the now-infamous hack of Sony by North Korea. Except it now appears that the FBI was working backwards from the Whitehouse-ordained conclusion that the perpetrator was North Korea rather than the disgruntled ex-Sony employee(s) who actually did the hacking. But never mind; as we learned from W. and Iraqi WMD's, modern presidents never change course no matter what the facts show:

US foreign policy just jumped the shark: a few days after both the FBI and the US State department were humiliated when it was revealed that it wasn't North Korea but a disgruntled, laid off Sony employee that was responsible for the "hack", and when the best possible course of action would have been to simply let this latest embarrassing incident fade from memory, moments ago Obama - currently not working out next to a rainbow or flashing his support of "Shaka" -  just signed his first executive order of 2015, imposing even more sanctions against North Korea.

Ye gods and little fishes.

As for the economy, the fracking bubble may have not yet popped, but it's certainly leaking air faster than a week-old birthday balloon. Like the housing bubble, there is a great deal riding on it other than the fortunes of a few drilling companies. Pension funds, in an attempt to win back the loses from 2009, are up to their eyeballs in fracking-related junk bonds and derivatives. So are the banks, although we already know that the taxpayers will once again bail them out and guarantee Jamie Dimon and Loyd Blankfein will be paid their multi-million dollar bonuses. But anyone on a pension can expect to once again get the shaft. By any honest measure (meaning statistics generated by pretty much anyone other than our government), the working and middle class continued to get hammered in 2014 by any and every means possible, while the one-percenters piled up more wealth than they and the next dozen generations of their descendants will ever need. I don't expect that to change in 2015, although our government will continue to produce all sorts of numbers and graphs trying to convince you that what is happening to you isn't.

Happy New Year!