Monday, 31 January 2011

The Mandate Game Goes into Overtime

“I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that ‘if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.’” 

Judge Roger Vinson (a footnote at the end of his 78-page ruling)

As Judge Vinson took down the federal law on health care today...he probably embarrassed the President a fair bit.  This comment by then-Senator Obama during his campaign...came back to be a major issue.

Is the health care law done?  Well....it'll still go to the Supreme Court, but a major part of what the Supreme Court might say....is laid out by Judge Vinson.

My perception....as I wrote months ago....is that this was all anticipated and part of the eventual goal.  Once the Supreme Court knocks the law down....it becomes the number one topic of the 2012 political election.  You can't avoid that.  The deal is to get enough votes to ensure President Obama wins, and enough Democratic Senators stay on. Then you wait for a potential right-leaning Supreme Court Justice to retire from ill health.  If it doesn't happen over that four-year period.....ok, no big deal.

I realize some folks are upset about this being tossed down, but if they had good intentions....they would have done something about malpractice insurance and allowed health policies could cross state borders.  Neither is mentioned in 2,000 pages of text within the law.  Both would have likely taken the cost of healthcare down by thirty percent.

The bottom line here?   Nothing.  We simply go onto round two, then round three, and then round four.  That's the wonderful thing about America today.....we can't fix anything, and we really don't care.

2011 Pro Bowl

The NFL runs a all-star game called the Pro Bowl.  To be honest, it's almost worthless to watch because everyone tries hard to avoid major contact or injuries.  It's held at the end of the season typically, but this time around, it was held the week prior to the Super Bowl.  I suspect that the NFL was trying hard to entice and keep viewers stuck on their product.

I sat and watched about thirty minutes of it last night.  It was a curious thing.  The commentator would say that it was sold-out, then they'd scan the stadium and you could see thousands of empty seats.  After a while, I began to notice that they avoided as much as possible...showing angles of play where the empty seats could be noticed.  The camera guys were using odd angles that you'd never see in a regular NFL game....thus avoiding noting empty seats.

How many people were actually in the stadium?  I'd be guessing it was around 60 percent full.  Who bought all the extra tickets?  I'm guessing the Hawaii Tourist Bureau or the NFL.

The problem with having a game in Hawaii is that there aren't alot of folks who just drive up to watch.  This is a game traditionally held in Hawaii, and I suspect they'd do better if they held this in New Orleans.  But I doubt that the NFL wants to admit that.

Just something of an observation.

If I Were....

A couple of weeks ago....the folks in Tunisia got upset and started a downfall of their government.  This past week....Egypt.

If I were Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Libya....I'd probably start to review emergency plans and try to ensure things stayed quiet for six months.  All three in a situation where folks haven't seen much change in democracy, and this mess in Egypt and Tunisia might overflow into their countries.

And Turkey?  Well, yeah....I might just review my emergency plans there as well.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Moment on Egypt

If you watch MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News this weekend....it's about ninety percent Egypt.  Frankly, in a way....I appreciate this because I've become dang tired of political analysis and a minute-by-minute analysis of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, the President, gun control, and the economy.  We kinda need some diversion, and Egypt's little mess fits nicely.

The trigger to this?  Well....going back to the 1970s....Egypt was heading toward potential issues with various groups who had an agenda.  So folks stood up and said that they wanted stability.  The band-aid created?  Stability.....1000 percent stability.  The business arena grew.  The tourism climate grew.  The banking community grew.  Exports grew.  Hotel construction grew.

You'd think that lots of folks would be happy....but the blunt truth is that the economy grew but the little guy on the street rarely saw any of that growth come back to him.  Then you toss on the various political groups who fell into a pit and could not been seen or heard on a national level....especially if you were pro-Islamic in nature.

So a moment has occurred where all the right and wrong reasons were in a line and tossed the government into chaos.

The end result?  Mubarak's dream of getting his son in a position to assume the Presidency is now cancelled.  The Vice President installed....who ought to make the military happy....is likely facing an up-hill battle and will likely stay six months max.  The elections talked about....will bring in a pro-Islamic government.  Business in Egypt?  I would imagine a forty percent decline over the next eighteen months.

Tourism?  The biggest hit.  You might actually see a ninety percent cut on this, and it was the 'baby' that brought in foreign currency and actually put money into the middle-class who provided services related to the tourists.

Years ago, I bumped into a German who had been on a cruise of the Nile.  He'd gotten off at the right port and walked around some small shops that specialized in leather.  Then he stumbled on a place that had 4-star leather saddles.  It was the variety and style that would run around $2500 in Germany.  The Egyptian there was pricing his around $500.  The German smiled and offered a deal....ten saddles at $450 each, and the Egyptian had to pay for him and saddles to get back via taxi to the cruise boat.  The deal was made and the German ended up at the Frankfurt airport paying a customs fee of $400 each.  The funny thing is that he ended up selling the saddles and financing all of his next three trips via the profits from the saddles.

Egypt has various dynamics that entice people to make deals and spend days and weeks on vacation there.  The sad thing now is that it might all be screwed up....if people aren't careful.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Reality After Waking Up

Somewhere in 2,000 pages of healthcare law, there is piece that covers the 1099 tax form.  This requires any business that buys $600 or more from a vendor to render the 1099 form.

Folks have woken up and realized the paperwork involved....and bluntly....started addressing their anger and hostility toward their congressmen (both Republican and Democrat).

It's an interesting thing.  This 1099 requirement had nothing to do with health care.  You can go and read dozens of pages....and there is absolutely no connection to cheaper health care, better health care, or more health care.

What does the 1099 do?  Well....for several decades, the IRS has realized that America has two economies (the one folks report income about and the one that folks don't report income about).  Someone in the government got smart and figured that this 1099 form would suddenly release the floodgates and bring in the real numbers....and pump up the IRS revenue bucket.

Whats the magic amount that IRS thinks is hidden income?  350 billion.  Yes.  It is a fairly large size of money.  They did some type of analysis years ago, and they think there's around 350 billion that moves around the US in a hidden form.  My guess....if you counted illegal drug sales.....then this amount probably is very accurate.

The problem now?  Some folks now believe the best thing to do is to double up on cash purchases and forget about reporting that income entirely.  They would avoid the 1099 paperwork and just skip to a happy point where income wasn't reported....at a much higher rate.

In the last month.....some financial experts have come out and noted that they think less income reported will be the next result, and frankly.....this worries both the economic experts and politicians.  Let's say that by December of 2011....IRS says that revenue reporting is six percent less than last year.  It could accidentally trigger huge issues on Wall Street and trigger a non-existent economic problem....which would naturally worry the President and Congress at the same time.

My guess is that enough Democratic senators will now agree to this deletion and the 1099 threat will be removed by the end of March.  If they don't....then we go into a recession toward the end of 2011....over false data.....and shake our heads over why things are better but the number results just aren't there.  And Larry down at the town garage has a new speedboat, a new RV trailer, and a new mistress.....and he says that he's practically broke while smiling.

Only An Observation

Here about two miles from my place (between me and the Pentagon), is the Air Force Memorial.  It rests on a hill overlooking the Pentagon.  To be honest, it's overly obvious and you can't miss it.  The Navy folks owned the real estate there and put a argument against locating the Memorial there but the Air Force won in the end.

It's a curious Memorial.  I doubt that they get more than a hundred folks there on weekdays in the winter.  In July and August on a weekend....they might get 400 folks to stop and visit.  It's mostly all buses that stop by the side of the road...dump folks off for twenty minutes....and then take off.

Unlike almost all other Memorials in the DC region....this one has a barrier to prevent cars from entering (yes, there is a parking lot but I get the impression only arranged tours or VIPs ever get to pull into the parking lot).  This is also one of the few Memorials in the DC region with a actual guard post at the entry.  I've never been able to understand that.

If you go to the Iwo Jima Memorial....you just walk or drive right up....no barriers, full parking, and rarely a guard (if there was...it'd be a National Park Service guy, who'd be mostly talking to folks anyway).

This week, in the midst of our big snow episode....as I came around the next morning....here was an entire crew clearing snow from this VIP parking lot.  Must have been at least four guys and they were doing a 4-star job.  I sat in the bus and watched this as we passed.   This is all costs borne by some foundation (not the government) in some fashion.  The snow removal.  The parking lot with no real function.  And the guard to protect the place.

An Icelandic Tale

There's a nifty story which will never make it to the national press....which involves Iceland and constitutions.

Iceland has gone through a major mess over two years with a economic meltdown, political turmoil and public disgust with just about everything.  At some point last year, it was decided that one of the problems that they had was their constitution.  It simply didn't do enough.  So a decision was made to bring in a constitutional assembly, and rewrite the constitution.

We've talked about this option in the US.  We have the ability to do this, but there's a great fear that such a meeting would bring in so many special interest groups.....that the real goal of an American constitutional assembly would be overshadowed by a huge mess of accomplishments at the end.

The Icelandic were desperate enough to just overlook that.  Adding to this curious event in Iceland....they were going to vote for people on the constitutional assembly.  In a country of 319,000 people....this meant that a people could vote for neighbors, town drunks, or even the town slut.  Everybody had a chance.  By the end, there were roughly 500 candidates for the 25 positions on the constitutional assembly.

So they went forward and had this election to vote for their choices to head up this constitutional assembly.  This past week....after the election....the Supreme Court of Iceland got involved with the aftermath.  Basically, they weren't happy with this business at all.  You almost got the opinion that they really didn't want regular people messing with the law.

The end result was the Supreme Court voiding the entire result of the election.  Yep, cancelled.  There's debate over this voiding.  They tossed out the entire result.  First, there's this issue over the ballot slips being numbered and barcoded....which wasn't typical in Icelandic elections.  Folks were upset about this because it was possible for someone to track each ballot back to one individual....which meant secret voting was non-existent.

Then you had polling stations set up with short cardboard parititons....which allowed folks to peak over the board and watch you vote.  Curiously, they had a normal procedure which involved traditional polling booths, but these weren't used in a number of polling stations.  No one can explain why....and that's a curious thing.

Then there's this issue over folding.  If you voted....you were supposed to fold your ballot in half.  There hadn't been a rule like this before.  So the judges thought it was curious to suddenly make a fold-in-half rule.

Then came the ballot boxes.  These weren't the lockable type.  So you could get two guys transporting them to a central place for a count, and they could have rigged them up and tossed in another fifty votes.

Then the counting of the ballots had a curious issue....it was not to occur in a public setting and no candidate could watch the counting in person.

Some folks now believe it's such a mess....that an entire new election would be required (with the fixes) before anything can move forward.

Meanwhile, it's also obvious that a number of Icelandic people didn't vote.  The reason?  The driving force behind this entire constitutional assembly....is this idea of making every resource in Iceland....a resource of the state.  This means if you went fishing and caught a fish....if they had a tax on each fish, then you'd have to pay a tax for the government's fish.  The sheer idea that any government owns fish....is pretty silly, but folks started to think deeply about just how far this would go.

The water in the pond out back of your house in Iceland?  It'd be a state pond.  The water you flush down the toilet?  State water.  The rocks on the side of the road?  State rocks.

After a while, I started to ponder upon this.  Maybe the Supreme Court took an odd step here.  But if the end result came to be national ownership of everything of a natural source....it'd be a curious outcome that you probably wouldn't want.

I can't imagine living in a country where a squirrel might be a state asset.  I can't imagine living in a country where dirt might be a national asset.  I can't imagine living in a place where beavers, turtles, or rattlesnakes might be owned by the government.

Maybe the court did something in a strange way.....to prevent a massive amount of stupidity.  And maybe that's the only way to keep folks from making a bigger mess than what they already have.

Just my two cents.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Taco Bell & Beef

I'm not exactly a big fan of legal 'games'.  When some idiot comes up to sue someone....over something silly....I'm of the mind that the court ought to toss the court out or make the idiot motivated to sue.....pay a bit of fee to the state for running a circus.

This week....a Bama law firm (Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles....got a new case.  They are to sue Taco Bell.  Apparently, someone did some science stuff, and determined that Taco Bell doesn't use real meat.  Their product....which is best to describe as a mixture....is around 35 percent or less actual beef.  Course, the lawyers were very careful not to say who did the testing or what the specifics of the test were about.

Taco Bell....is fairly upset about this.  It's just not right in their mind to sue them for this kind of stupidity.  Today, Taco Bell came out fighting....saying that their "seasoned beef" actually has 88 percent USDA-inspected beef.  The rest?  Water, spices and a mixture of oats and starch.

My suspicion is that this Bama law firm will become famous for a couple of months...as the mighty lawyers who took on Taco Bell.

At some point....my other suspicion is that this sample that the lawyers got.....came from one individual Taco Bell, who might have bought a cheap mix outside of the Taco Bell chain and done some things on their own.  Some smart science guy figured this out and collected a sample which proves the point of a lesser mixture.

Why do I suggest this?  After you eat enough burgers from McDonalds, Wendys, Burger King....and enough chicken from various places....you come to realize that some franchise owners are cheating the system and using substitute and cheap ingredients.  Typically, this voids the franchise agreement and you can lose your operation real quick if the big boss figures this out.  Sometimes, even the franchise owner doesn't even realize this and his chief of operations is doing this on the side to save $40k a year and buy himself a new pontoon boat.

Just my ten cents of observations and humble opinion.

The Aftermath & Fury

After the 5-star snowstorm of Wednesday night....things started to unfold on Thursday to a massive amount of fury here in the local area of Washington and the surrounding region (Arlington, Maryland, etc).

Those PEPCO guys who provide power to DC and Maryland?  Well....they had a huge amount of criticism over the past twelve months for outages that went on for days and days.  As darkness fell last night...a full twenty-four hours after the snow started....there are over 150k homes without power.  The local news media allowed folks to focus their fury on another period of time without power.  PEPCO will have to slug it out at another consumer meeting with local political folks slamming them hard.

Then you have the METRO bus guys in the local area.  They have a standing directive that says when they call "finish" in a snowstorm....they must run the bus and train system to the end point, and dump the passengers at that point.  Well....the bus guys got the "finish" order and just stopped right where they were.  The news folks caught up with the Director of METRO and he didn't have an explanation for violating the rule.  From what I saw....buses were moving much anyway and if you left work at 6PM.....you weren't ever going to get anywhere.  The fury bucket for METRO is kinda full.

Then you have the tow truck drivers.  Apparently, at some point.....some folks started to just park their cars on the interstate, exit ramps, and just barely off a regular road....and hike to a bar or hotel or catch a ride with a guy who had four-wheel drive.  The tow guys were out in force by sun-up yesterday and made hundreds of thousands in a twelve-hour period.  If you didn't make an attempt to retrieve your vehicle quickly....you ended up with a $150 towing fee.  The fury on this issue is tremendous.  At some point, the lady at one impoundment yard told folks that they should have just stayed with their vehicle.  That didn't come across too well.

Then you have the Virginia road crews.  They were so proud around midnight of Tuesday....eighteen hours prior to the storm.  They dumped a great deal of salt and chemicals to be the prevention tool of slush.  Apparently, the rains came before the snow.....washing away all of the prevention work.  Then the Virginia crews got behind, and never caught up....on local streets or the interstate.  Folks had fury to dump on these guys.

What I tended to notice from work yesterday....most folks who live in Maryland, didn't even try to make it into work.  They called in and took leave.  They were tossing their fury on the local road crews who never came to small streets or roads that would allow them to get out.

The nifty thing by 10PM last night....a good twenty-four hours later....was this warning that in six days....another storm will make its way through the area.  The weather guys were optimistic about this, in that it might just be a two-incher.  But then this Wednesday storm wasn't supposed to be anymore than just rain/snow mix and they guessed wrong.  We are building up for another round of fury.....if you ask me.

My Doubts

The State of the Union message had one major moment....where the President brought up the topic of Sputnik, and talked for a few moments on how Sputnik and the Space Race ended up inspiring America's innovation for an entire generation.  He wanted to suggest that we needed a Sputnik-moment now.

I sat there for a few moments....pondering this suggestion and Sputnik.  There's alot that most Americans have missed over the past decades when you bring up Sputnik.  This moment of inspiration that challenged America?  Well....basically, you bring up a rocket, and toss a "cap" on the top.  This "cap" has a simple radio transmitter....dot-dash-dot-dash....nothing more, and a couple of car batteries there to power this simplified radio transmitter.

So it launches....goes into a very simple orbit, and then you get a bunch of Soviet folks all pepped up because you triggered the space race, and the Russians win on step one.

The Americans woke up the next day....and got all peppy.  The American science folks felt upset.  The media was upset.  And the political folks were upset.

So the Americans took off to put up a guy into space in the quickest fashion possible.  Then the Americans continued on this trail and eventually put a guy on the moon.

The funny side to this story...is that we are talking about an entire race built on a simple radio transmitter and a couple of car batteries attached to it.

So what the President is asking for....is a couple of dimwits to come up with some kinda transmitter and car-battery set-up.....toss them into a cone....and fire up a bunch of Americans into doing the impossible.   For some reason, I'm having doubts about this Sputnik stuff working on modern age Americans.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Vampire of Political Topics: Light Rail

Typically....about every forty-five days....someone from within the White House will drag out the topic of light rail or bullet trains.  It'll get bounced around the public for about six hours, and then fall flat.

The President mentioned light rail and faster trains in his State of the Union address.  He wanted folks to know that it would be a part of our future.  Typically, about half of whatever a President says (going all the way back to Washington himself).....never comes true.  I'm thinking that light rail is the same.

The problem with rapid rail or light rail....is that you plan a point like San Fransisco, and the destination....maybe Seattle....and then you ask how many people would use the system.  This triggers a business model.  For some odd reason, you always come back asking how you can sustain a profit or pay for the system.  The truth is that you can't outrun the airline providing service, and the cost typically would be almost as much as you'd pay Delta or SouthWest.

There are a couple of points around the US where this might work in a very limited fashion....like New York to Washington DC, Miami to Orlando, and maybe Vegas to Los Angles.  That's it though.  These folks with hopes of a Atlanta to Nashville run?  Forget it.  The folks with a Dallas to Houston run?  Forget it.

When the government finally does jump in and pay for one big run....like Chicago to New York, and discovers that it can never sustain any profit....everyone will sit down and shut up.  It'd be better to take these buckets of money and start fixing bridges and roads across America, rather than pumping them into a  non-sustainable railway.

A Bold and Refreshingly Old Idea

It is an odd story.  Between the US border patrol, US National Guard folks, and the Mexican border patrol....they came to find this catapult sitting just yards south of the US fence.  Apparently, drug smugglers would come up on the Mexican side and slang packets of marijuana over the fence to buddies of theirs.

It's mostly a shocker because no one has ever seen a drug operation operate in this manner.  Based on a dozen news items that I read on the story....no one is sure how long this has been in operation.

I'm guessing a couple of drug guys have been watching the history channel and finally began to realize that catapult idea was pretty nifty and just built it.  The last one?   I'm doubting that.  I'm thinking we just might see hundreds of these built over the next year or two.  And the bottom line?  Instead of advancing toward new and modern techniques....we actually have some folks going back two thousand years instead, for a technology that we kinda laughed over.

The Bottom Line

It's a news item that is kinda hid but appears in several stories today....the level of new home sales for 2010....was the lowest in 47 years.

The total for 2010 was 321k homes (that's almost 15 percent lower than 2009, which was already a depressed year).

Adding to most commentary....the expectation by experts that a "recovery" might be years away.  We aren't talking about something good in 2011 or 2012.  Most banks are now talking about a 30-percent down deal on really expensive houses (over $300k).  The truth is that you just won't find folks in a position to take everything they have and put it down.  Folks want to keep savings for what they consider to be retirement.

My guess is that we will see a long period now where folks look at houses over forty years old (of lesser value), buy them, and refurbish them.  The guys with Home Depot will see a jump on self-improvement type jobs involving their wares.  I would suspect that even house-trailer sales will jump because you would easily be able to buy one of those with your money....rather than look for $70k in cash for your down-payment for a regular house.

So if you have a decent place now.....you might want to keep a positive view over it.....because it just might be your residence for another decade.

It Came & Went

On Tuesday night here in DC....there was a light indicator of some rain and snow mix.  Too warm to stick. By Wednesday morning....they were forecasting a bit of snow after 3PM and it would stick.  By 1PM at the Pentagon, they were telling folks to leave two hours early.  I didn't leave until almost my normal time to leave. And then, all hell broke loose.

It was the largest flakes I'd seen in years.  It was half sticking and half slushing.  There was probably an inch on the ground by that point.  It was snowing at a rate of an inch an hour.  The curious thing was the wind involved, with snowing blowing almost horizontal at times.

I exited the Pentagon to find around 150 folks waiting for my normal bus (it only holds 65, and that includes folks standing).  I decided this would be stupid waiting and went over to subway and went to the next suburb over (Pentagon City).  There I found my "second" bus, with forty people already in line.  Two minutes later, there were 100 people behind me.  The bus came and we proceeded.

We made it around half a mile before we hit the line.  This would normally be a seven-minute ride.  In the end...it took almost two hours to travel the three miles.  I actually could have gotten out and walked this in less than forty-five minutes...if I had simply worn my boots rather than leisure shoes.  You could tell the bus driver was aggravated after an hour in this mess.

The problems were simply revolving around the slush and the inability of folks with poor tires not being able to get any traction up small hills.  I sat and watched someone in a two-seater BMW who couldn't even pull out of a drive.

Adding to this mess, as I discovered as I got home and watched local news....there were lightning strikes going on as well.  This is not a traditional thing with most snowstorms and folks were a bit shocked at thunder going on while snow fell.

The curious thing...as I was doing this....the President had landed over at Andrews.  Typically....the helicopter would have landed and taken him for a five-minute ride over to the White House.  Because of the intensity of the storm....they grounded the helicopter.  I'm even surprised that Air Force One landed because most of the commercial flights were being rerouted by that point.

So they brought in the President's car and were to drive him over.  The trip would normally take twenty minutes.  By the time you added in the slush and the traffic.....it was an hour-long trip.

I would have to classify this afternoon as one of those dozen odd events of my life that you come unprepared for and simply have to sit through.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

In My Neighborhood

Just two or three miles over from my place...is the Iwo Jima Memorial.  It's managed by the National Park Service.  To be honest....they just finished up a $2 million renovation project.  My last trip over there, around October....I came to admit it's probably one of the best and more maintained memorials around the DC area.

In the last couple of weeks....this Iwo Jima foundation has suddenly appeared on the scene....a private group that more or less appeared out of thin air....and they have an agenda to fix the Iwo Jima Memorial which has major issues (at least in their mind).  Strangely enough....most of their 'fixes' revolve mostly around adding a visitor center and bathrooms.

They had an interview with the DC chief of the National Park Service, and he was kinda peeved.  He walked the film crew around the whole place....and he could only note one possible defect on the memorial.  He didn't really want to get into the topic of the visitor center or the bathrooms.

The problem with adding more structure to the grounds there (there's ample space)....is that you start to incur cost.  A nice visitor's center would likely cost around $500k a year to keep someone there and to heat & cool the place.  That also would include the cleaning and general maintenance of the visitor center (air conditioning has to be included too).

As for the bathrooms?  It's a funny thing.  There are none there.   I stood there for about two hours and watched tour bus after tour bus pull up.  I was the only person there who'd walked (from the cemetery) over to the memorial.  All the buses had bathrooms.  It's hard for me to see a reason for the bathrooms except that bus bathrooms are so damn small in nature and most of these WW II vets probably hate using them.

You get the impression from reporting that this memorial foundation is some organization designed to take in a fair amount of money....pay some management folks at the top.....and build onto the structure of the memorial with things that are questionable.  A meeting is slated in the next day or two between the park service and this foundation.  I suspect that fix or two will be agreed upon, and maybe the bathrooms.  Currently, with decreasing national funds for the park service....I don't see this visitor center ever being built.

State Things

You can often tell when state business has slowed down enough....that state legislators get to a point where they start to discuss the topic of a state flower, a state chainsaw, a state pick-up, or a state poem.

This week, Utah got around to discussing the idea of a state gun.  You would have thought that Bama or Georgia would have been first, but Utah claims that title.

Utah has wasted time before...on a state cooking pot, and a state folk dance....if you didn't know.

The weapon suggested?  The Browning M1911.  It was a Utah guy who invented the M1911.

This topic of discussion has upset some folks.  The idea of discussing weapons in this fashion stirs up the anti-gun crowd who think it's inappropriate to think about such things.  I'm more of the mind that you need to limit the legislative crowd to a mere 60 days a year....to prevent episodes like this.

At some point, you'd start to have discussions over the state spoon, the state eraser, the state peanut butter....maybe even the state wrench.  These guys need to be sent home at a point like this....to clean the garage, landscape a bit, or to wash the dog.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Something to Imagine

It is an odd article from the New York Times.  Basically....they went back and found that the founding fathers had this vision that members in the House of Representatives were supposed to represent around 30,000 citizens.  So the jest of this article is that 435 Representatives aren't enough.  Yes, they are suggesting a House with 1,500-odd members as a minimum.

I sat and pondered upon this.  First, the Capital building would not be big enough to house this size of a group and an entirely different structure would have to be added onto the back of the building.

Then you start to take into account the sheer size and amount of money to finance 1,500-odd members.  Toss in those odd trips to Paris and the Bahamas....then toss on the staff folks for each member, and then top it off with office space in the DC area for everyone.

The driving force for this idea?  To make Representatives actually represent the folks that put them there in the first place....not the party.

This is an idea which will never go anywhere.  Just the voting situation of every two years and having 1,500 folks coming up for re-election....would make this difficult to imagine.  Toss in the fact that Bama alone...would likely have 28-odd Representatives would be an amazing thing to think about.  Or the fact that Texas would have over a hundred Representatives.

Once in a while, the Times does challenge your imagination, and I would put this in the five-star category.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The End of An Empire

There's a good article at the Wall Street Journal today over the approaching closure of 2,000 post offices across the nation.

The postal service is admitting that they've run all the numbers and they just can't keep the things at the level of today.  Which post offices are they talking about?  The list isn't out yet, but the general feeling is that when they start the closure process in March (less than 60 days away)....it's mostly all rural offices that we are talking about.

I grew up as a kid in a rural county in Bama.  I lived on a farm that was between two offices (roughly 3 and 4 miles in opposite directions).  I look back and realize now that the post office generally made each little town (of maybe 300 residents) a real town.  The post office might only have four employees but that was a major status symbol to have a post office in a rural community.

My guess is when the smoke clears...where I grew up....the nearest real post office will be eight to twelve miles away.  There's talk in the article of authorizing stores to operate with limited postal services....kinda what Germany does today.  You get a open window to mail items for a three hours in the morning, and maybe three hours toward the end of the day.  Your delivery will likely come from some central county office with some guy named Gus who has no connection to the community and might even live another county over.

It is a decline of an empire in a way.  You had to expect this because of the costs involved running a simple 5-man post office today.  Toss in the fact that most folks get important mail via their e-mail system. Then you toss in the strength of UPS and FEDEX.  It's an unsustainable system.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Clock is Ticking Away

Sadly, we are at roughly twelve months away from the 2012 primary season.  I realize that most of us are terribly tired from the 2010 political elections and ready for a rest, but the best we can hope for is six months of 2011 being semi-quiet.

By July of this year.....things will start heating up.  For the Republicans....timing, charm, and cash are the essential ingredients.  The schedule and location really spell out a difficult trail for the Republican party.  Listed below is the first ten-odd primaries and my predicted winner.

Monday, January 16, 2012: Iowa caucuses.  Winner?  Huck.

Tuesday, January 24: New Hampshire. Winner?  Mitt Romney.

Saturday, January 28: Nevada caucuses.  Winner? Palin.  South Carolina.  Winner? Huck.

Tuesday, January 31: Florida.  Winner?  Newt.

If you notice by this point, Huck is the only one leading....which will worry some of the guys who thought they had a chance.  But the Super-Tuesday thrill is coming next.

Tuesday, February 7 (Super Tuesday): Alabama.  Winner? Newt.
Arkansas.  Winner?  Huck.
California.  Winner?  Romney.
Connecticut.  Winner?  Newt.
Delaware, Winner?  Romney.
Georgia.  Winner?  Newt.
Illinois.  Winner? Mitch Daniels.
Missouri.  Winner?  Palin.
New Jersey.  Winner? Mitch Daniels.
New York.  Winner?  Mitch Daniels.
Oklahoma.  Winner?  Huck.
Tennessee.  Winner?  Newt.
Utah.  Winner?  Palin.

If these seem all over the board.....it's because there is no clear front-player.  Even Super-Tuesday settles little to nothing.  I don't think anyone can predict more than the top five candidates in the 2012 primary season.  The odds of any of them beating the President currently?  Less than twenty percent chance, in my humble opinion.

So if you were hoping for twelve months of just peace and quiet before the start-up of more politics.....I'm sorry, but you just won't get it.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Looking Past the Words

There's an interesting article out of Copenhagen, Denmark this week....concerning useless degrees.  The jest of this, by comments from the Science Minister of Denmark....is that the country is financing kids through the state-run and paid-tuition university program....only to find that a vast number of kids in the humanities field....never find adequate employment.

I thought this was a pretty heavy statement for the head of the science ministry of Denmark to make.  It's a bold challenge to toss down at the university system.

For a few minutes, I pondered upon this.  Then I kinda dug into the background of Science Minister Charlotte Sahl-Madsen of Denmark.  She attended law school but never graduated.  Her chief occupation over the decade prior to Science Minister?  She was head of research and development for LEGO (yep, the building block company).

The problem with bold statements and our quick enthusiasm....is that we rarely look past that. Maybe Charlotte has a point, but for the head of a national ministry for science to proudly note their biggest connection to science was Lego building blocks...it just doesn't help sell the message.

From My Local Neighborhood

Just a mile over from my place here in Arlington is Joint Base Myer/Henderson Hall.  Actually...historically....it's really just Fort Myer and the Marines Henderson Hall...but the Pentagon wanted to show it could save money by combining two pieces of property into one organization.  There's an unusual event underway.  The recovery of cannons.

There's a united effort from a base engineers and some history buffs.  Acting on some info from past surveys....they are at a point where a spring dig is likely, and they think they will uncover six to eight Civil War-era cannons.

The question arises....why were the cannons ever buried?  It appears to be in a unique point of the post and the only logic they can figure is that Patton is somehow involved in this.

George Patton from WW II fame was a post commander back in the 1937-1938 timeframe.  He had watched the events surrounding WW I and it was common for directives to be handed out for melting of metal for upcoming wars.  So there is speculation that Patton saw WW II approaching and knew that these prize cannons from the Civil War would have been melted.  He likely ordered a couple of junior officers to quietly come out one night, dig the hole, and then bury the cannons.

This is the kind of story that ought to appear in the national press, but I doubt anyone will care till after they are dug up and officially shown for video coverage.

Should the Media Dodge Sarah Palin

Suddenly in the past twenty-four hours....several folks have come up on national media outlets to suggest that they will simply avoid mentioning Sarah Palin's name or anything to do with her....in an effort to downsize any significance to Sarah Palin.

I sat there pondering over this.

There are several observations here.  First, should the public dodge the national media?  This would help to downsize any significance to an insignificant effort.  I doubt that it'd really work because then you'd have to turn off the TV and spend more time reading books...mowing grass....and discussing septic tanks with your neighbor.  I realize that there is an addiction here....trying to get the latest and greatest on political figures....as if they were Hollywood stars, but we might want to focus back on reality.

Then you come to this bold effort by the media.  I have to admit that there is not a single day that MSNBC does not spend at least ten minutes between 5PM and 11PM....discussing Sarah Palin.  Even if Governor didn't say anything for five days straight....they still find some reason to drag up a comment from 2008 or 2009....just to keep her name in lights.  You almost get to a point of thinking that Palin is paying MSNBC to keep bringing up her name.

As for the reasons for this effort by the media?  I suspect that they believe they've discovered that there are eight potential candidates from the Republican party and that they've missed the boat on seven of these guys for the past year.  So it's catch-up time.

Finally, I will offer this observation.  I can remember as a kid....watching the NBC nightly news in 1974....and in an entire month....you might have the President's name mentioned three times on twenty-odd news reports in a month.  The odds of having a senator mentioned on the nightly news in 1974?  Maybe once a month....some senator actually got a one-minute piece to explain something, but that was it.  National news has become a candy jar, and frankly....we are becoming a bit overdosed on that candy jar.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A New and Improved Hank Kimball

This week....an interesting article came out concerning the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Those kindly folks have decided that farmers just don't understand enough about global warming or the "carbon markets"....so they are creating a program where specialists will be hired, and told to go out and educate the American farmer.

For those who haven't followed the news over the past year....most of the 'carbon trade markets' have shut down because of a lack of business, or in the cases within Europe....the cops came around and started arresting for folks within the system for illegal use of the program (and hints that the mafia also got into the carbon business as well).  So there's this question in my mind over why you'd even talk about the 'markets' when they are mostly all shut down.

It's a odd thing....the USDA....walking around and talking of how these specialists will come to influence farmers.  I grew up in rural Bama and know first hand of how farmers tend to question anything new.  These folks aren't exactly idiots.  If you can't feel or touch something....it's non-existent in their mind.  The idea of some smart environmental guy driving up into a rural community and talking folks into some belief of carbon credits or global warming....just won't appeal to many folks.  Added to this....a number of farmers have a year or two of college....so they know statistics and have a fair understanding of science.

I sat there a while and finally pondered upon this.  The typical government agent to all farmers....is Hank Kimball (the dude from Green Acres).  Frankly, you got the impression that whatever Hank said....if you did the opposite, you were fairly successful in what you were doing.

Hank Kimball was the government's answer to dumb farmers.  Across America....the USDA put out thousands of Hank Kimballs.  Most quietly sat in their county office and would go out to speak at high school classes or arrange a demonstration of a fertilizer product for the locals.  Most felt lucky to just be employed after four years at some state university and realizing that their education was mostly worthless unless they got into a big fertilizer company or became a design engineer for John Deere.

I can imagine Hank Kimball standing there and trying to explain carbon credits and global warming.  After a while, the farmer is going to ask three tough questions which Hank can't answer.  Hank will start to grin, and the farmer will grin....and then everybody will realize that Hank is an idiot.  He'll be accepted around the area, but no one will take his fancy science talk serious from that point on.

It's interesting how we've come full circle....back to the days of Hank Kimball and his lack of influence on the American farmer.

Just An Observation Over Pensions

Imagine that you were a state employee of California for thirty years.  You've retired in the past three years, with a annual retirement pension of $125k per year.  Yes, shockingly enough....you moved up every three to five years and kept getting three percent yearly pay raises.  Added to this...are the health benefits....worth another $12k a year.

The state is covering this $137k a year in cost for you.  In fact....there are ten thousand of you folks in California who pull in $100k or more a year on your state-job pension.  Cities, counties, and the state.....are all suffering greatly because they never understood the implications of another $3k raise here, a $5k raise there, and an eventual salary of $160k for a guy who manages forty-odd folks at some county office.

This week, there was an article with the New York Times.  Apparently....folks in the administration and around Congress are quietly working on this new bankruptcy concept that states could declare, and then trim off all of this pension cost in a matter of days.  No one is quiet sure of the end product yet, but it would appear that by summer of 2011...this will be pushed through the congress with both Republican and Democratic participation.

So we shuffle back to you, the retired pension guy in California....58 years old....and collecting your total package of $137k a year.  The odds are....your pension will be cut by 35-percent (my humble guess).  The states probably would like to cut the pension by half but I'm thinking that folks are worried about more mortgage defaults if Joe the retired state worker has only half of what he planned to have in retirement.  Cutting Joe by one-third might be safe and at least ensure the state economy isn't screwed over too much.

As for your feelings as a retired state worker in this situation.  I'm guessing you will be hostile and angry.  You worked your entire life and knew precisely what you'd make at retirement.  You bought a home and make $3k a month payments on it.  You own a nice BMW.  You take vacations to Alaska each summer.  You spend $3k for Christmas presents each year.  You probably enjoy a 5-star retirement situation.  And it's sinking fast based on this upcoming change.

Two decades ago....you could have predicted all of this and warned people....but it didn't matter.  Everyone thought that it'd just keep going.

So in the months ahead....as you watch a dozen states declare bankruptcy....listen to the folks cry and weep over the interviews as they tell you of the missing $35k in pension they suffer from.  Most folks in the south will scratch their head because they don't even take home more than $18k a year from the state pension.  They can't imagine how any fool ever got $100k a year.

A School Story

Around eighteen months ago....over in central Georgia....Clay County came up with a major problem with it's school system in the county.  The folks who hand out a national accreditation to county school systems had announced a very unique situation.  The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) had come to evaluate the county's schools...and put them on a one-year warning episode.  They were actually going to remove their accreditation.

Typically....at the high school level....most folks never even think about this.  But in today's atmosphere, if you were to graduate from a school system without an accreditation....you can pretty much forget about attending any college system in the US.

Clay County's school board suddenly got tossed into a blender....and it became apparent that half of the problems that the county suffered....were direct causes from the school board.  Some folks left, and some folks were forced into a position where they had to get along....in order to get things accomplished.

The Atlanta school situation is starting to appear in the same fashion....chaos within the school board.  At the heart of the matter....is the head of the school board.... Khaatim Sherrer El.

Khaatim is kinda interesting.  This is a guy who is 29 years old and head of a public school board.  He's actually been on the board for six years....meaning he made when it was 23 years old.  His big comment on public affairs?  "Youth activism was always his thing."

Based on a number of newspaper comments out of Atlanta....Khaatim has major connections to a number of political figures in the Atlanta area.

I sat there pondering over this.  I seriously doubt there is a school board in America....other than the Atlanta district....which has a head of the board who is under the age of forty.  The odds of some guy who was 29 years old being able to keep a educational board and dozens of school administrators focused on the problems at hand?  Maybe one guy out of a hundred.

The outcome of this threat from SACS?  Clay County ended up getting awful serious in a hurry....ironing out their communication issues and stopping the bickering at the board level.  In this case....the 29-year old guy has to come to grips with leadership and authority....which I'm guessing several political friends are now suggesting to him to back out or leave the board.

And if SACS dumps the Atlanta schools?  You can imagine this massive jump of the brighter kids in the district as they bolt and parents dump their kids off in the counties next door.  You need the accreditation....otherwise, it's all a waste.

Even in Bama....you can't imagine a scenario like this....where the locals would find the wisdom of voting for 23 year old guy to the board, and then six years later putting him in charge.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

In My Neighborhood

As most of you know....I live in the Arlington area....with DC and Maryland just a stone-throw's away.  There's always a five-star moment each week....that drives home the screwed up nature of DC.

This week....the folks over in Maryland have this Dennis & Phillip Ratner Museum.  Apparently, they'd paid out $90k for these bronze statues and had them on display out in the garden area of the Museum.  Some guy came up over the weekend, and stole them.

The thief then showed up at Montgomery Scrap....and sold the bronze pieces for $150.  The more that the boss looked at the bronze pieces....the more that he thought they were unique.  So he finally called the cops.  So the cops come up....gaze over their theft records....and then admit...it was art.  Stolen art.

The Museum says this art is "damaged beyond repair".  I looked at the picture (before the theft) and kinda wonder if you couldn't take broken art, and make it twice as valuable by damaging it a bit.  So maybe it was now worth $180k as a artistic piece of broken art?  I'm guessing that being from Bama.....limits me in this area, and I'd be best not to discuss this.

I kinda looked at the picture, and eventually decided that those pieces mostly looked like bar stools....made out of bronze.  What bothers me here....is that the bronze material likely ran around $500, and the artist then pocketed around $89.5k total for this act of putting everything together.  I could walk around Bama and find a hundred guys who could have put the pieces together over a weekend and been willing to accept $1000 for the work....but they'd rather you not tell anyone that they were into artist bronze work.

We've got a problem here with too much money in our hands, and then labeling things as "art".....when any kid could make things like this.  

As for the guy who stole the items?  Well....the cops are looking for him.  I suspect he'll be caught.  If I were him....I'd challenge the artist in court...and see if the $90k amount is realistic here.

Just An Observation

Over the past two years....the National Enquirer has lost tons of money.  Because of the economy and changing times....folks have quit the subscriptions and even quit picking up a copy at the grocery.  So the guys at the National Enquirer are kinda desperate.

This week, they led off with a Governor Palin story....that her husband Todd finally got caught cheating.

After reading the entire piece twice....I came to realize that all of their information came from an e-mail source only (thepalinmorals@hotmail.com). The only piece of the story that the Enquirer has been able to confirm....is that yes, a lady was arrested in Alaska in 2010 on the charge of maintaining a house of prostitution. Her name: Shailey Tripp. That's it...they haven't confirmed much of anything else.

Oh....well....yeah, they did mention that Shailey is a massage therapist and computer technologist.  I sat there pondering ....trying to think how massage therapist work goes along with a computer technologist work.  So far, I haven't come up with a good explanation.  I'm guessing Shailey went off to some pay-for-nothing commercial college and got a certificate in computer technology....then discovered the degree was worthless for a real job and went to work as a massage therapist.

I could go along with this story if Todd had computer problems and thought that Shailey could fix his laptop, but I'm thinking Todd is smart enough to find a real technology repair shop....and not a Computer-Repair Shop/Lusty Massage Therapy shop.

I have to be honest....I'm not much of a Governor Palin fan and I'd normally be looking for more entertaining stories.  The problem in this case is that the Enquirer is drowning itself with 1-star stories without content or fact.  If I had to pick a magazine with a limited future....it's these guys.

At one point....they had fantastic weekly stories over Micheal Jackson, Anne Nichol Smith, and Bill Clinton.  Things over the past decade have kinda gone sour, and I think the team at the Enquirer is mostly looking for just about anything.  They might even be willing to accept a story or two over Senator Harry Reid.  It's sad to see how far they've fallen.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Too Much Money

There is a strong belief amongst most Americans that public servants....from federal situations all the way down to city council folks....are not competent to understand economics or the potential for misuse or abuse of their powers.

This week.....Berkeley, California, is working on a city policy to set aside $20k a year to reimburse it's city employees for sex-change surgery.

Naturally, you are kinda scratching your head and wondering the how and why to this.  The key thing to remember here is that the city has almost $252 million in deficits....for their worker's comp, disability and retirement fund.

Berkeley is a unique place.  A vast majority of residents have a minimum of a bachelor's degree.  Most serve in some capacity of supporting the university or have a business which supports the students in some fashion.  Some folks might think that the city must be better off than most California cities, but no one has ever shown numbers to prove that point.

My guess is that the $20k is probably enough to convert one guy or gal over each year.  So one of these 1,700 city employees....out of a city of 102,000 folks....will get a chance to fix their problem or improve their life.  And if you wanted to get down to numbers....everyone in the town is donating 20 cents to make this happen.  And you have to imagine that somewhere out there.....Dalton, the grounds guy in the parks department, is grinning from ear to ear.

A Short Discussion Over Gun Control

In 1776, you needed flint, black powder, and balls to fire your weapon (pistol or long-rifle).   Anyone of any age could walk into a general store and purchase any and all of these....even a 8-year old kid.  Cash or credit via the local store keeper ensured the deal.

Statistically, there were 2.5 million Americans in 1776.  We can figure, with our current statistics, that we had around ten percent of the nation that were alcoholics or mentally ill.  That comes out to around 250,000 people that were a potential threat in 1776.

Strangely enough, by the time you counted swamp fever, chorea, yellow fever, rattlesnake bites, and pneumonia victims....you didn't really have to worry about being shot.  

Over the course of 200-odd years....we didn't really care to think about or create the rules on flint, black powder, balls, or bullets.  We actually advanced into the 1950s before anyone got around to some age requirement on the purchase of weapons.

The curious thing is that we've had a system for 200 years that allowed nuts the ability to purchase flint, black powder, balls, bullets and guns.  There are no "*'s" listed in the Constitution to say that crazy folks can't buy weapons.  The same is true that we don't have rules to stop crazy people from running for President, or voting in local elections.  In fact, as long as you avoid a felony.....you retain your right to vote and could be certified as absolutely insane.

The difference in two hundred years?  Flint, black powder and balls required a good minute for someone to load and fire.  So he'd get off one good shot, and might be halfway through the loading procedure before you brought your handy Choctaw Indian hatchet up to the throwing angle and directed into the guy's body.  One shot....maybe two max.  That's it.  You could kill one guy and that was pretty much the end of your personal vendetta....and then the reaction by the guy's friend was quick and ended judgement over whether you were insane or not.  Being dead....kinda finished up the legal issue.

So what I'm suggesting here is something that came to be readily true in 1776.....the Constitution was written to give you access to rifles....single-shot rifles.  And this meant flint, black powder, and balls.  For the folks who talk excessively on the Constitution and your rights....Jefferson basically meant for you to have access to a simple weapon, with flint, black powder and balls.  He did not write it to mean a 7-round clip or a 20-round clip, or even a 50-round clip.

Simplicity here draws you back to the state of affairs in 1776.  You didn't have mass killings.  You had one guy shot, and then the guy who pulled the trigger was usually killed by an associate.  That was the extent of what they envisioned, and frankly.....it all kinda worked.  Flint, black powder, and balls.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Bama Governor

Typically, most of us folks from Bama never get too peppy about our governors.  It's safe to say out of every ten.....eight of them are idiots or folks that you'd really prefer not to mention much in public.  It usually takes six months to a year after they take office....before you start feeling this way.  With our new guy....Robert Bentley....it only took an hour or two after taking office....to get that 'not-too-peppy' feeling about the guy.

He came out quickly in a speech on Monday....announcing that while he plans to be the governor of all Alabamians....thus being totally color-blind.....he also mentioned that folks who aren't ''saved" Christians....aren't his brothers and sisters.

Course, later...he did explain that he didn't intend to insult anyone.  Nope....this was never his intention.  He just wanted folks to know up front and on day one....that they'd need to be "saved" Christians....otherwise, they weren't to be his brothers or sisters.

I sat and pondered over this.  Frankly, the best that most of us from Bama can now say....is that we've got four years to wait this out....before we can dump this guy.  Typically...we got through the first year.....and maybe into the second...before we got this feeling.  So this might take a while, and a bit of patience.

The preacher scheme to run Bama government?  Well....it'll be hard for the newspaper folks to take him serious.  They will ask how jobs will come to Bama, and he'll launch into a Moses-on-the-mount moment where 'God will bring jobs to Bama'.  You can imagine the editor to the Mobile Press-Register standing there and trying to figure out what that truly means.  Then the reporter for the Florence Times will stand up and ask how crime can be contained in Bama....and the response will be that 'God will deliver evil unto the authorities'.  After about a dozen comments like this....most reporters will look around for Miss Alabama to comment on bringing peace to Bama because it'll sound more realistic than whatever the governor says.

My fix for this?  It's time to bring out a couple of actors and finally put on the Bama governor show....an honest-to-God movie.  Let's demonstrate how a couple of newspapers pump up a guy's 'legend', then forget to ask any real questions....and then get everyone to vote for the idiot.  Yes, I'm suggesting to embarrass everyone as much as possible.  This is the only way that folks will realize how stupid they tend to vote.

As for next week in Bama?  It's 'fight-Satan' week and we need all you folks to pray hard for our governor to take on Satan across the entire state.  Naturally....this might mean making the entire state 'dry'.   I'm hoping you can all learn to live in such a good clean Christan environment.  If not....you can always move to Mississippi.  (That was only sarcasm).

The Stand-Up and Count Strategy

This week...the effort in Congress will start over the health care business.  The Republican Congress will pass the repeal in quick fashion.  My guess is that they will carry all of the Republican Congressmen, and maybe even a dozen Democrats.

As it moves to the Senate....it will face a shortage of votes.  My best guess is that it carries all 47 Republican votes and maybe even three Democratic votes....falling short of the 60.

So it never moves past that point.  The entire strategy here?  They know it will fail one way or another....but the effort is to get political figures to vote "no" and to identify them for the 2012 race.  The feeling is that they can use this 'no' vote as a political tool and take down another dozen Democratic Senators.

The potential for this strategy?  The President is being quiet about expenditures for his race but it came out over the weekend that he's preparing to spend almost $1 billion on his re-election....which ought to help the Democratic party and the Congressmen and Senators involved.  The only trouble I see with this suggestion is that 'big' money donations typically come from companies or industry......and they have been mostly negative against him over the past two years.  So the money would have come from the public sector....private citizens.  It's difficult to view this as an achievable result.

The next step after the health care law is preserved?  The Supreme Court.  And based on the increasing number of law suites each month....I'd say the odds keep increasing that bits and pieces of the law will be tossed. Statistically....it'll be difficult to preserve it intact, and without the "all citizens" part of the law.....I'm guessing it's kinda doomed for failure.

Gold Rush

Over the past two weeks...I've really gotten into this Discovery Channel show....Gold Rush.  It was a limited episode show and apparently took off big in public appeal since early December.  It's the simple story of how seven or eight guys....mostly down on their luck....have taken to team up and launch a gold expedition into Alaska.  Up until today, I kinda considered the whole thing to be true.  Well....it's not.

I started to read up on the team and the exploits of the gold expedition.  It's mostly just a storyline that the Discovery crew cooked up, and took these guys to form a crew.  The lives described by the Discovery team?  Mostly all bogus.

I sat there and pondered upon this.  It was a reality show.....advertised and designed to be factual.....but it was mostly all fictional.    I felt like I'd bought a car that was a lemon.  But then I came to realize that I valued TV mostly as entertainment, and the show is pure entertainment.

My most impressed moment?  The carpenter on the crew had come up with a project and erected a "cabin" within two or three days after he'd started it.  I admit....there was no roof, and no insulation....but it was a cabin in the purest of form.  Of course.....now we can readily view the cabin as just an image.....because there were likely three or four guys in the background for Discovery who built the shell, and the actor/carpenter just acted this out.  

I actually thought the cabin was impressive enough as a structure that I would have moved right in and made an effort to ride out a year in it.

So I stand back and mostly ponder over the show now.  It appears that any idiot could have raised his hand...as long as he had personality, and been put on the show.  The mining side to this?  I'm guessing they accidentally did find the $20k that they claim, and maybe that part is the only true segment of the show.  And yes, I will continue through to the last episode....that's how addicted I am.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Kazachstan and American Idol

I sat and found this today...American Idol being run in Kazachstan....and actually...this kid is pretty good.


"Baby Doc" Returns

In the history of dictators...none have ever returned after being kicked out....until today.

From Haiti, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has returned.

It's been over twenty years since "Baby Doc" got on the plane with his entourage and suitcases of money....and left because of pressure from western governments.  "Baby Doc" ended up in France and the cash that he brought along....was mostly gone within three or four years.  His entourage ended up breaking up and drifting off.  His wife left him.  "Baby Doc" ended up as a taxi driver for a number of years.

Haiti has a legendary connection to the Duvalier family.  "Papa Doc" was considered one of the most ruthless dictators of the past century.  His son "Baby Doc"....never really had a chance to take off and give anyone much of an impression.  He might have been a four-star dictator....he might have been some wannabe dictator with style and grace.  He might have even been a reformist dictator (we've yet to see one of them).

My guess is that Haiti has descended down to a point where anything constructive....even bringing in a dictator....would be a positive move.  A huge crowd to greet the guy?  It'll be curious.  Anybody over the age of thirty probably remembers "Baby Doc" and probably would support the guy....because of the ongoing circumstances in the country.

My fascination with this?  Here was a guy who just packed up and left his home with an entourage, cash, and a trophy wife.  He lost all three.  He became a taxi-driver on the streets of France and just survived from week to week.  You have to imagine that behind the scenes over the past year or two....a couple of political figures finally got around to the idea that bringing "Baby Doc" back....was the best situation for everyone in Haiti.  And you can only imagine "Baby Doc" sitting there in a dark French cafe....sipping French-roasted coffee and suddenly being approached by a couple of Haitian guys in suits.  It's a made-for-TV movie....if you ask me.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Soap Opera Continues

Christiane Amanpour decided that her Sunday talk-show...."This Week"....would be another Tucson-filled episode.  So the producers arranged this big forum.  Naturally, they wanted it balanced so they invited a Republican politician and a Tea Party member to be major participants.  Along with them....James Eric Fuller (63) who was one of the shooting victims from last Saturday.

Mr Fuller had been hit in some fashion but actually got up and drove himself to the local hospital afterwards.  This kinda amazed folks but he is a Navy vet.

Somewhere in the midst of this taping of the forum....the Republican and Tea Party guy....made a comment or two that rattled Mr Fuller a bit.  Mr Fuller whipped out his camera and took their picture and made some misappropriate comments (amongst them "you're dead").  Naturally, the cops were in full force at this event, and quickly took possession of Mr Fuller.  He was arrested and taken out for a psychiatric evaluation.  So far, the hospital and the cops have said mostly nothing about his mental state.

The comment that rattled Mr Fuller?  That's a curious thing.  They both went with the idea that any talk of  gun control should be delayed until all the dead were buried.

At the very least right now....Mr Fuller faces a misdemeanor disorderly conduct and probably a threat charge.

I did some reading on Mr Fuller.  He is a major political activist in the local area, and had been on Representative Gifford's team during the last election.

I have three observations over this fracas.  First, it's hard for me to see how ABC and Amanpour can use this piece on national TV on Sunday.  Everyone is going to watch it but it really hurts the argument that the Tea Party is to blame for threats.   For an entire week.....the media has tried to tell a story where the shooter was a Tea Party player and this whole event comes from talk radio's words.  For this nut to make a threat on national TV....it hurts the media's story.

Second, while only 32 percent of the public believed the story that the shooter from last weekend was heavily influenced by talk radio, Limbaugh, and Beck....this story moved along likely Democratic voters and probably influenced them to take more firm stands.....as Mr Fuller took on Saturday.  This type of comical rhetoric from the media made Mr Fuller more hostile than what he should have been.

Third and final.....my own observation here....townhall-like meetings aren't exactly a place where people can debate in a friendly fashion.  That's been known for 300-odd years.  You can go back to various arguments in towns, counties, and states....where topics inflamed the public and made townhall meetings more than just a friendly atmosphere.  I think people have kidded themselves over the past decade in thinking that people can gather and everything will be ultra-friendly.  Most of the townhall meetings that President Obama has arranged, as a candidate and President, are all neatly arranged and have selected group within the audience.  Everyone tends to believe that heavyweight arguments can be done in a friendly basis.  I would strongly disagree that this is the norm.

My humble feeling?  The soap opera merely continues on.  Sadly, folks are taking things to an extreme.

This Won't Be Difficult

I've often heard this expression, and I've learned over the years that this typically is a double-edged sword when someone says this.  They want to encourage you by hinting that effort is minimal or that this is worth all the effort.  Typically....I've come to be skeptical about things the minute this is spoken.  So this is my list of events...in my life...where this expression "this won't be difficult" came up:

1.  Swimming.  To this day, I can't swim.  Somewhere in my youth, around age thirteen....I had an entire week of introduction at the local pool to swimming.  The instructor made everything seem so easy.  By the end of five days of "this won't be difficult"....the best I could say is that I could not swim but I didn't quite have any fears (having jumped from the 6 foot board into the water and I was able swim on my back).

2.  German language.  I had two months of German in high school.  I took a class via the University of Maryland.  I took a four-month class via a German school in Kaiserslautern.  I even lived in Germany for over fifteen years.  My German ability revolves around 500 words at best and it probably won't improve much.  I think I reached a point with the last class where I realized the complexity of the language and the three 'the's', and I really began to shake my head over learning a language.  I consider myself lucky to just speak English as badly as I do.  The amusing thing?  I can list a dozen folks who've used the expression "this won't be difficult" in learning German.

3.   Learning to ski.  As a kid growing up in Bama....the last thing on my mind would have been learning to ski.  I reached a point in 1984 where I decided that it might be interesting.  I ended up in Bavaria and spent two weeks in a ski class.  The emphasis of the instructor?  This won't be difficult.  In this case, I came to actually learned to stand up, turn left and right, and stop.  Remember though....it took two weeks to get to that point.  In this case....the guy might have been right.

4.  Cooking.  I've had numerous opportunities in life to cook.  The emphasis I've always heard....'this won't be difficult'.  Frankly, to this day....I'd rather change all four tires on a car than cook a meal.  I could take a simple menu and plan....and ruin it for the most part.

5.  Offsides in soccer.  There are really only a dozen-odd rules in soccer that matter.  I could explain most of them to a guy sitting in the bar and feel like an expert.  Then we come to this one topic....offsides.  I can still remember the comment in my mind.....'this won't be difficult'.....as five or six folks have tried to explain this to me and it makes no sense.

6.  Doing my own taxes.  I remember the comment in 1978 as I got ready to do the first tax form in my life, and the guy at the legal office on base said "this won't be difficult".  I actually read through the instruction book, and it took me twelve minutes to fill out the form completely.  Over the years, I've done all my taxes myself.  I have yet to pay a guy to do my taxes.  That may change this year as I have to mess with Virginia state taxes....but for some reason.....it hasn't been difficult (thank the good folks at Turbo-Tax).

7.  Disassembling and assembling a M-16.  I remember the first time that the Air Force instructor sat there and proudly said "this won't be difficult" when taking the weapon apart and putting it back together.  As he hinted over and over....it only goes together in one fashion.  You can't screw this up.  Adding to this....there are only fifteen-odd parts that you can toss onto the table anyway.  For some reason, I can't visualize the weapon in this parts situation and this simple three minute assembly usually takes ten to fifteen minutes.

8.  Sitting in a dentist's chair.  I've heard the expression 'this won't be difficult' from a Dentist about a hundred times in my life.  Frankly, my blood pressure goes up twenty percent every time I sit in such a chair and I don't believe the words ever.  It could be a simple cleaning.....and I just don't see it as easy.

9.  An all-in-one fax/scanner/copier.  I went out and bought a cheap Canon product when I got to Arlington.  It's my first all-in-one.  Typically.....I've always bought each independent item and chained them up.  I figured 'this won't be difficult' as I dragged this out of the box.  Other than printing from the screen of the laptop....nothing has ever worked easily with this all-in-one.  Maybe it's the functionality of the machine, but I'm beginning to feel it's just me and my issues with the system.

10.  Using a different car.  I rent cars on occasion.  In the last twelve months....I've probably rented five different vehicles.  Getting into a car back in the 1980s was kinda simple.  Today, I get this anxiety of 'this won't be difficult' as I enter a new vehicle and am amazed over the various gadgets and buttons in front of me.  Typically....you will only have the rental for a weekend or a couple of days....so this becomes a huge issue when you sit there and try to figure out how to make the vehicle work.  Three years ago, I rented an Italian car and I came to the last hour where you had to refill the fuel (it was a diesel).....and I could not find the cover release to the cap.  I wasted thirty minutes circling the vehicle interior and got nowhere.  I finally turned it in and just let them fill it up.  Last year, I rented a SUV that had a dozen buttons on the steering wheel, and I wasted fifteen minutes trying to figure out what the heck they did.

So when someone comes up to me and hints....this won't be difficult....I just don't believe them anymore.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

My Ride Today

I rode METRO today.  It's a curious thing....I sat and noted this poster.  Basically...they encourage you not to drink or eat on METRO...to keep it sanitary.

This week, the local newspapers all carried highlights of the METRO subway drivers who admit (with the bus drivers too) that they pee and crap in the cab and in the tunnels.  They generally blame this on limited breaks and just no bathrooms at hand.  Even some female operators got around to admitting they did the same thing.

I looked at the poster and just kept thinking....they don't want any rats around but they practice highly unsanitary habits on a daily basis?  Something here doesn't make any sense.

Just something I noted while waiting almost thirty minutes for the train to run (they supposedly run every twelve minutes....if you were wondering).  The more time I have to stand around....the more observations I make.

Friday, 14 January 2011

1811 and 2011

There's an interesting story out of Washington state today....which will make you ponder about what has transpired in two hundred years.

There's a family that had a child born here with severe health issues....and the child died about an hour after birth.  It is a sad event, which the relatives kind of expected severe issues and had geared themselves to an expected short life.

A few weeks passed and the funeral company passed on the necessary bill. Somewhere in the midst of this....was a $50 fee.  The relatives went down and started to look over this fee.  It's a King County medical examiner death fee.

The county examiner is required to review all deaths, and they've established a fee for this.  The family sat there shaking their heads....the child lived for approximately an hour....and the county ended up with a $50 tax off that one hour.

The county folks started this with cremation situations back in 2007.  They've now gone to the next step with all deaths.  The logic?  Well...the best they can say is that they'd like to be personally involved in the death process....as much as the hospital or personal doctor is presently, and get down to the real reasons why you passed on.

I sat there and pondered over this moment.  Most hospitals that I know....always wrote up a death certificate and filed it....just like birth certificates....to explain what they thought of your cause of death.  They'd stamp it official and it was given to you and the county office that handles stuff like this.

I kinda wondered why it's such a nice round number....$50.  A guy could have six different contributing factors and died under strange or unusual conditions.....and the examiner man-hours might be a dozen hours, yet it's still just $50.  You might have died from a Pepsi delivery truck....and it's $50.  You could have died from alcohol poisoning....and it's $50.

The county noted that 13,000 folks died in 2010....it's their average number.  The medical examiner's office says that over a three year period....they've actually found the cause of death to be different from the hospital or doctor's certificate, in 347 cases.   That adds up to roughly 110 folks a year who are misclassified.  But you really have to stand up and ask if the county examiner was really right in the 110 average cases each year....since there is no third audit of death.  This might lead you to consider that someone in the future will be there to audit the audit to the death audit.

Somewhere in the middle of this news report....the county wanted everyone to know that a couple of other counties have made this a requirement...so they aren't alone.  But this came off as a dimwit explaining why they were stupid in the first place....because there's another dimwit in the room as well.  So it's ok to act stupid in this case.

I came to observe this.  In 1811, if you died....the family typically had a wake....put your body up for display for friends and neighbors to come over and morn.  They'd lead out the next morning and then perform the funeral.  The local minister would say a few words, and someone would note the passing of the relative in the family Bible.  That was it.  In two hundred years.....we've come to a point where your passing has to be observed by a local government official and officially noted.  That passing is now worth $50 to them.  I would suspect in three years...it will began to slide up and be $75.  It's a fee which will continue on.

Finally....this observation.  If you wanted to avoid the $50 fee....you merely need to load Uncle Jimmy in a station wagon and drive him across the border to Oregon, and the local doctor's certificate would be enough.  Yes, you can actually save $50 with $4 in gas....and dropping your relative off in another state to pass on.  That's the silly part of a long and magnificent life, and a $50 tax.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Red Pen

I took one of the front pages of my Washington Post today (probably from Tuesday)....and a red pen...then I began to mark through what wasn't a factual comment (either perceived or drawn from some conclusion that the writer was making).  I redded out almost sixty percent of the front page.

I didn't go past that point. What was the use?  I could have gone to the local news page and probably redded at least fifty percent of it with perceived news or news drawn from some writer's conclusion.  The fact is....if all of the Washington Post was evaluated this way....you might only find eight pages of total news (a quarter of that would be sports-related).

I am coming to the conclusion that half of every newspaper in America is simply wasted space.  You get the factual pages together, then the cartoons, and then the want ad's.  After that....it's paper with nothing much worth remembering or reading.  The Washington Post still prints the mutual funds and stocks section on weekends....which takes up almost three pages.  The blunt truth is that it's almost unreadable with the font and you are ten times better off with your Yahoo or Google finance page.

So I'm here now to suggest this radical view of America and it's news services.  Frankly, you are paying for something that is worthless.

I'd like to do the same thing with talk radio and CNN News.  I'm guessing they are mostly the same way....with half of their stories being perceived or drawn from conclusions.  It's bad enough now that you actually get some guy who tells you that he's got a PhD and sits at some Think-Tank in Connecticut.....thinking mostly about the economy and he wants to tell you his opinion.  The next night, you get Doctor Larry from a Harvard Think-Tank who wants to tell you the same opinion.

Not to put radical ideas into your head....but if you clicked over to the BRAVO channel or the History channel.....you might get Dog the Bounty Hunter, and probably be entertained at a much higher level.  I offer my apologies to you Think-Tank folks.....because you might want to find a real job that does better than just perceived news.

Cullman & Its New Era

Things are now kinda settled down in Cullman, Bama.  We can now pronounce the city....as 'wet' ( a term that some of you may not be familiar with).  I have to be honest....liquor sales haven't been turned on yet, but it's believed that by the end of February will the start date.  What occurred this week...were the city council folks approving the ordinance.

The surprising part of this announcement?  The ordinance is 55 pages.  I sat and pondered over this.  You'd think that five guys could meet and iron this processing of selling beer, wine or alcohol easily.  They might need five pages max.  But the folks around Cullman wanted various rules in effect, and 55 pages of text were necessary.

Yes, times are set for booze sales (8AM to 11PM, with an extra hour on Friday and Saturday nights).  No, you can't buy any booze on Sundays....the Baptists won on that topic.  So you gotta attack your local store by midnight to stock up for Sundays....it just makes sense to plan ahead.

You have to be somewhere between 50 to 250 feet from a church or school....to drink anything.  And you have to be at least 1500 ft (5 baseball fields) away from a church or school to sell anything.

Naturally, the business interest of Cullman and the town council are excited....more money and more revenue.  Tax revenue is always appreciated, but especially in bad economic times.

I'm guessing this Sunday....there will be several sermons around Cullman where the end-of-times will be discussed and how sin is soon to arrive in Cullman.  Several guys in the back rows will whisper that sin has been in Cullman for 100 years and there's not really much of anything new except you can buy locally instead of the next county over.

Folks will sit around and pretend that they don't drink when this first starts up.  You might show up at Uncle Jimmy's house and there still just ice tea being offered.  You might go over to Miss Elaine's and just get offered some Dr Pepper on ice still.  And you might only get an offering of tap water or coffee at Aunt Francis's house.

It'll take a while before folks feel comfortable enough or feel welling enough to smile off peer pressure....to offer up a Bud or a imported Canadian beer.  I'm guessing the local ministers might start making house calls and ask to see the refrigerator ten minutes into the visit....just to keep folks honest in church.

So a hearty welcome to Cullman, as they enter a new era.  Another wet town in Bama.

Numbers Matter

For four years....I lived in Pima county (heavily mentioned this past week because of the shooting).  I remember the area (from the 1989-period) as a fairly safe Arizona town where you could drive around at 10PM and never expect any violent threats.  House and apartment break-in's were rare.  You tended to feel very safe in the county and on the city streets.

Someone in the last couple of days pulled up the statistics and compared them against the Phoenix region.  If you live in Tucson today....you have almost three times the chance of being murdered.   If you live in Tucson today.....you are more than seven times likely to be raped.  If you live in Tucson today....you are more than six times likely to be assaulted.  And if you live in Tucson....you are more than seven times likely to have experienced a property crime such as burglary, arson or car theft.  Remember, this is compared against Phoenix which is only 120-odd miles to the north.

There is today a serious difference between the two towns.  The cops know the difference.  The newspapers know the difference.  I would imagine the politicians even know the difference.  As for the public?  I'm not quiet sure.  If I knew the statistics as a local citizen....and knew that Phoenix was this town where you were fairly safe (at least significantly safer) than Tucson.....I might be asking some stupid questions.

The causes?  The local media in Tucson will regularly publish the three most likely issues: significant drug trafficking, illegals (being closer to the border, it's a higher ratio), and a limited police force.  Do any of these stat's figure into last weekend's episode?  Well....it's come out about the significant drug usage (mostly grass presently) with the shooter.

I'm guessing that folks will start to discuss these numbers more over the next year.  You would think it'd bother folks that they are much more likely to be assaulted or robbed....yet they are only 120-odd miles from a fairly safe (or at least safer) town.  They will have to ask why, and I think you are looking at major factor in the next election or two.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

News from the Capital

There are two bills moving around the house and I suspect both will pass over the next month....which arrive because of the Tucson episode.

First, there's this bill to make it a crime to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of elected or high-ranking federal official at a publicly announced event.  That's the length of three baseball fields and I think they can probably get all the Democrats in the House and maybe a quarter of the Republicans to agree on this.  As for being practical?  Well....as long as you can catch the guy while in the act of penetrating the 1,000 ft circle....it might work.  But the question is....who exactly will be walking around to monitor folks and ensure a lack of weapons?

The one curious part to this.....is that if Senator Snuffy shows up for a townhall meeting and State Trooper Ricky stands at the door and catches someone entering with a pistol on their person....it's a federal crime and felony.  If convicted, you couldn't ever buy another weapon.  So even if you were acting innocently and just carried the weapon for self-protection.....you would be screwed for the felony conviction.

The second proposal is a bill to install a Plexiglas enclosure to protect the House floor from gallery viewers.  There's a belief that somehow....a nut could get past security with a weapon....and rein terror down onto the floor of the House.  I would give this a 50 percent of passing.  This might be another good idea but it'd have limitations.

I've come to notice over the past year that alot of Congressmen and Senators show up behind the Capital building to give quick speeches to reporters.  So they are making themselves more accessible in order to get their parties theme or word out.  Just tossing an enclosure up into Capital building will fix one threat only.....and leave another dozen totally open.