Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bye American

We can all clearly see that things are not going well for the American nation right now, but if we are to extrapolate any wisdom from the lessons of history, the question is: what does the future hold for us? If Alfred McCoy is correct in some of his projections, it is not pretty.
All of these scenarios extrapolate existing trends into the future on the assumption that Americans, blinded by the arrogance of decades of historically unparalleled power, cannot or will not take steps to manage the unchecked erosion of their global position.
If America's decline is in fact on a 22-year trajectory from 2003 to 2025, then we have already frittered away most of the first decade of that decline with wars that distracted us from long-term problems and, like water tossed onto desert sands, wasted trillions of desperately needed dollars.
If only 15 years remain, the odds of frittering them all away still remain high.  Congress and the president are now in gridlock; the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works; and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country's role and prosperity in a changing world. 
 My hope is that we can stay this dismal demise by learning from our mistakes and changing course. Sadly, I can find absolutely no evidence anywhere that anything like that will take place. The chest-beating patriotism, outlandish political circus acts we call campaigning, and perpetuated beliefs in myths all point to problems far too great to be overcome by education. 
Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint. 
In my own field, the book biz, the top hucksters in sales and marketing, car salesman with degrees, are put in charge of publishing the national literature. Similarly, ex-Pentagon generals segue from killing brown babies in Iraq into university presidents and CEOs. Conversely, business leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld who fancy themselves as battlefield commanders and imagine their employees as troops to be "deployed," find themselves happily farting behind Pentagon desks. On the strength of having mistaken Sun Tzu's The Art of War as a business text, they get selected by equally delusional national leaders to make actual war on behalf of the rest of us.  
But the most widespread damage is done at more mundane operational levels of the American empire, by clones of the over promoted asshole in the corner office where you work. At least one study demonstrated that random selection for corporate promotions offset the effect significantly. Research again confirms what is common knowledge around every workplace water cooler in the country.
Full article: Amercia: Why R Your Peeps So Dum?, by Joe Bageant

'Tis the season for Peace on Earth and a Happy New Year. I just beg for someone to give me a reason to be positive about where this nation and world is headed. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Take Two Beers and Jump

We've all had those rare moments when we are close to telling the boss to stick it, but we somehow manage to swallow our pride, dignity, or tongue and keep our slimy jobs. Steven Slater, former Jet Blue flight attendant, should capitalize on his recent sudden slide into fame by hosting a new TV show where he could celebrate dramatic exits from jobs. People would submit their dramatic exit for consideration for one of the the three spots on the show. Actor comedians from improv companies could re-enact the scenes, and the audience could vote by applause for each week's winning candidate. Winner gets the equivalent of unemployment compensation for 6 months.

Jimmy Fallon has already written the theme song: The Ballad of Steven Slater.

Sponsors who would jump at this venue include: beer, stress relievers, career enhancing education, self-employment gigs, relaxing furniture, airlines, travel services, and who knows what else.

I even have a title for this show: Burning Bridges. Because, as I've often said, "Some bridges are worth burning."

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Speech Obama Should Have Delivered

Rachel Maddow should be the US Press Secretary, or at least on staff at the White House as a speech writer, because she delivered a far better message than Pres. Obama:
Maddow's ideas about needed adjustments to our current oil policies are dead on:
  • Recognize that the oil industry (not just BP) has lied to us about the safety of its operations.
  • Prevent putting America at the risk of national environmental disaster ever again.
  • Moratorium on oil drilling until safety has been proven.
  • Fix the regulations and the regulators.
  • Make oil companies prove that they can deal with all the possible risks before they are allowed to drill on our coasts.
  • Direct BP to fund boom and skim clean-up training and mobilize every resource to clean-up.
  • Get America off oil dependency:
    • Senate to pass Energy Bill.
    • Targets for renewable energy and alternative sources to be doubled or tripled.
    • Some other details from David Sandalow's "Freedom from Oil"
  • If you agree that "The Oil Age is Over", tell your Senator.
For over 30 years, Presidents and environmentalists have been pleading for the US to stop its addiction to oil. But that hasn't happened, Why? Because America tops the list in oil consumption (almost three times that of #2, China), and the US military is the largest consumer of oil in the world to keep its Hummers rolling, its ships afloat, and its jets flying. Our US Air Force uses 2.5 billion gallons of fuel each year and that number is rising each year. Except for nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers, almost all military vehicles and craft (including those joining the forces in the next ten years) operate on petroleum-based fuels.
Our dependence on oil might be easier to break if we were to fully burden the price of gasoline with the true cost of oil. The price of $75 for a 50-gallon barrel of oil needs to be factored in with the cost of protecting our oil imports, government subsidies to lease land to oil companies at deeply discounted rates, the costs of pollution (the BIG one today), and the overall effect on our global climate. For now, let's just ignore the cost of all the lives lost directly and indirectly to our oil addiction. Experts estimate that if our price at the pump were burdened with all the true costs, that it would be closer to $5 to $8 per gallon. 

A fill-up for $150 makes that electric car sound pretty reasonable now, huh? 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Berry Pickin'

This morning after walking  Mac and Angie, Spyke and I left the house at 8:00 am and drove up the road a couple miles to pick blueberries at Southland Farm just south of Earleton proper. 

They give you one big bucket with a handle and another little "picker" bucket on a cord that goes around your neck so you can pick with both hands (for those who are that talented). Then you head off into the rows of blueberry bushes, most of which are about 8 feet tall and select your spot to begin. Sharon likes to head for the back rows with some fantastic notion that the "really big ones" are back there. I like to pick one of the first rows available to see if they've been picked yet and use those valuable few seconds it takes to walk to the back to start picking. 

The blueberries were abundant and delicious. It took us just four bushes picking only on one side to gather 5 lbs each in less than an hour. We came home with a little over 10 lbs of blueberries for $26. In spite of it being very warm, there was a nice breeze and the sun was still low enough that it didn't start getting too bad until we were leaving. Glad to have it done now and sitting inside good ole US AC. 

On one bush, I discovered a bird nest with some hungy youngin's in it. I was tempted to drop a juicy berry in one of the chicks' gaping mouths, but I resisted. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pull My Finger

The 2010 Hurricane Season started on June 1, and the forecast for this year sounds bad. Predictions are calling for 14-23 named storms, with 8-14 hurricanes, 7 going onto land, and 3 to 7 of those to be "major" hurricanes (category 3 or higher - winds of at least 111 mph). So, even after admitting the inaccuracies in the predictions, there is still a good chance that we'll run through most of the allotted storm names before the season ends on November 30th.
Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Igor, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula. Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, Walter
For those of you who have been following along, Alex was also the name of the first hurricane of 2004. While Alex's eye did not make landfall, the storm was close enough to the eastern coast to wreak a lot of damage. And then Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, and Earl were also hurricanes in 1998, although Earl has already made five appearances (1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004), so he has really worn out his welcome
We can only hope that when the storms do come that they don't pick on the unprepared and that they just dump some rain where it's needed. Then, when the Jamboree rolls around at the end of November, we'll have something to celebrate and give thanks for.
This Non Sequitur cartoon on Monday made me chuckle. Maybe it will give us something to laugh about when we are cowering in our closet:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sit Down a Spell

My mission yesterday was to finish an idea I've had for a few years: to build a bench beside our firepit. I wanted to use rustic wood and not finished lumber, so my project started at Tom's Cypress, a cypress lumberyard in Waldo. I selected a couple choice planks,  couple stump/knee pieces, and two limbs (that I ended up not using at all) for $172, and hauled them home in my pickup.

The lumber sat for two days before I could arrange some time to devote to the task, plus I was rolling over my approach in my mind and making sketches to be sure I didn't screw up. I did not want to have to buy more stock. Then on Wednesday, I gathered my material and tools to see what else I needed.

I thought I needed a couple large flat-headed lag screws, but a trip to the Melrose Ace Hardware showed me that there was no such thing. All the big lag screws had hex heads. So, I came up with an alternate plan using nails, glue, and screws that I had on hand and moved on to laying out the bench.

After positioning the pieces and deciding on a plan, I fired up the chainsaw for some cuts to the supporting posts. This went a lot better than I had imagined, so I was feeling pretty cocky as I began the assembly phase. I placed some Gorilla glue on the top of the bench supports and drove two large nails into each support. Then I mounted the back to the supporting posts with four screws. This step took a while because three of the screws broke in the process. Predrilling holes for the screws probably would have been a good idea, but I lacked a bit long enough to do that, so I blundered on.
After assembly, the angle of the back and the levelness of the bench were acceptable, so I was relieved and proud that it had happened without a major failure.

Spyke and I tried it out for a few minutes and then I recruited her to help me finish it. First we stained the bench and back, and then we let it dry for 4 hours. The stain really brought out the red color in the grain and made a big difference in the appearance.
As soon as the stain dried, we applied one coat of clear satin  polyurethane sealer to help the bench withstand the abuses of sun and weather. It is now ready for prime time. The only thing it needs now is some friends to sit on it and a flickering campfire in front of it while we watch the the lake at sunset.
So come on over and sit a spell.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Love Squirrels

My recent acquisition of the Squirrelinator, an air rifle that can deliver a pellet about the size of a peppercorn to a precision target 30 yards away at speeds up to 1000 fps has caused some of you to call me a squirrel hater. I just want to set the record straight.

The grey squirrels that live in our area are cute little critters with grey-brown fur, long beautiful tails, and a personality that seems at times adventurous, playful, brave, and pesky. To say that they're cute understates the image of one of these small animals perched in a standing position, large black eyes wide open, nibbling on a seed held in their human-like hands while occasionally flicking that huge bushy tail. There is something artful about the rhythmic ripple that their body and tail make when they hop about.

We've all seen the videos of their cunning (Mission Impossible), flying skills (Squirrel Launcher, Squirrel Catapult), or even their water sports (Twiggy, The Water Skiiing Squirrel). But the fact is: squirrels are notorious thieves. They are so clever at thwarting obstacles, that an entire industry exists to provide ingenious squirrel baffles for birdfeeders. Last year, nearly the entire crop of figs from our single fig tree were eaten by squirrels just a couple days before each fruit was ripe enough to pick (I guess they like 'em a little tart).

My father was a successful hunter and trapper of many types of animals in southwestern Iowa, so I'll confess, I have eaten squirrel, and may do so again some day, but their meat is not particularly tasty; it resembles rabbit except it is a little tougher, and there isn't a whole lot of it to begin with. Kind of like quail - it takes many to make a family meal.

In our neighborhood, there many berry bushes, oak, magnolia, and fruit trees, so the squirrel's plate is quite full. Perfect place to raise a family - and so many do. Many, many do! But there are also foxes, owls, hawks, snakes, coyotes, and who knows what critters, who all love to dine on squirrels. I'm happy to provide them with a little assistance.

I do love squirrels and hope they enjoy their spot in Nature's grand scheme. I just love Spyke's Habitat Fig Preserves much, much more.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Squirrelinator

Yesterday, I bought a solution to my problem of stolen figs:
Genesis Remingeon Air Rifle 1000x
My new Remington Genesis 1000x .177 cal air rifle with Crosman 3-9 x 40 scope will be providing fresh-killed squirrels to the local wildlife for a while. It weighs 7.8 lbs and spits out pellets at almost 1000 fps with the pointed lead Crosman pellets I'm using.
It took me about 10 shots to get the scope zeroed in - it was way out of whack when I first mounted it. I had to turn the vertical 3 complete rounds and the horizontal 2 complete rounds to get it close enough to fine tune. Once I did that, I took a couple shots at my rubber target and got it on second try. Then I packed it up and put it away to await an opportunity.
About two hours later a squirrel ventured out into the open in our back yard. I loaded the rifle and took two extra pellets, in case I got an extra opportunity. I crept out the side door, but the squirrel had scampered away. I wandered around a bit and then saw him at the base of a tree about 30 yards away. I took aim and POP - got him on the first shot!
I really wanted to get a rifle with a wood stock only because I liked the look better, but they were typically about 2-3 lbs heavier. The gun guy at the Gander Mountain store was only slightly helpful and said that a few of his customers had said they were quite happy with the Remington Genesis. In reading reviews, a couple gun critics said that the Gamo Shadow is a more accurate rifle (not sure which model they were talking about), so if you are looking for something similar, you might consider comparing these two. Based on some magazine ads that I'd seen in the past couple months during my initial search, I paid about $100 more than I had expected to get the rifle and a few accessories, but that first kill was so satisfying that it was worth every penny. And, this is a rifle that will provide me many years of service with proper maintenance, so the 250 bucks are now just a passing memory. A small price to pay for decent fig crops in the future. If all goes well, you can expect to taste some of Spyke's Habitat Fig Preserves at the Jamboree.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's What I've Been Saying for Over 20 Years

When I worked at TSI (later called Mercator) back in the 90's, there was a young man there, Eric, who was a big fan of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestial Intelligence) project. At that time there was a free application (called SETI@home) that you could download to your PC, and it would only run in the background when your computer was doing nothing else. Its purpose was to help sift through massive amounts of the data collected by radio receivers at SETI to sort an intelligent signal from static noise. Eric was encouraging everyone to download the program to add more PCs to the effort to find intelligent life out there in the universe. I refused.

I explained to Eric that while the concept of cloud computing appeals to me, the thought of making an alien race aware of our existence does not. In fact, it scares me to death. "If there are aliens out there, making them aware of us would only add us to their menu."

And now the genius Stephen Hawking has finally come around to see the value of my reasoning. In a recent article, Hawking warns of the dangers in contacting aliens.
I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains. - Stephen Hawking
What he didn't say is that any alien who is reaching out to find other aliens (like earthlings, for instance) would likely not be doing it to finish their college doctoral thesis. Although the desire to satisfy curiosity drives much of the knowledge that we have gained over our brief history, the true motivators to get someone to travel for long periods through space would be far more visceral. Chief among these reasons would be the need to satisfy hunger. Any planet that had limited resources would be looking elsewhere for replenishment. Finding aliens willing to communicate and discuss exactly what resources existed on their planet would simply be phase one of a plan to come and plunder us.

And let's not rule out the age old plot in many science fiction movies where the aliens come to make us slaves, or worse - food! Consider our own record in that regard (Columbus' discovery of America, or Cortez's discovery of the Aztecs, or any number of examples through history), and you can see that even creatures with our lofty ideals can wreak devasting havoc upon the unsuspecting "aliens".

President Obama's announcement to go to Mars has its good side. We will inevitably develop new technology and devise new methods that will have their applications outside of the space module. Going to a new environment helps to lose the tired old approaches to overcoming obstacles. Nothing like floating around a tin can thousands of miles into empty space to provide you with a new perspective to solving problems.

So, I agree with Mr Hawking: go ahead and look for signs of intelligent life outside of earth, but do not speak to them, and especially do not let them know that we have so much water on the planet that we do things like pollute and defecate in it or make Coors Light beer out of it. And absolutely don't let them know we have wet-t-shirt contests or they'll be sure to come to conquer us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hang 'Em High

The Federal watchdogs saw all the misleading activity and illegal behavior and yet did nothing to bring those responsible to justice. Instead, they all got on board a giant cash giveaway to keep these miscreants in power - USING OUR MONEY! 

I'll admit that I supported the bailout program. All the experts were saying that we needed to do this to avoid a huge and catastrophic global economic collapse. Now these experts' opinions are becoming suspect in light of what they knew at the time. 

Here’s how Repo 105 worked in simple terms: At the end of each quarter, to reduce its all-important leverage levels, Lehman would “sell” assets (typically highly liquid government securities) to another firm in exchange for cash, which it would use to pay down its debt. The assets were typically worth 105 percent of the cash Lehman received. Several days later, after reporting its earnings, it would buy the assets back. Normally, this would be considered a loan, or repurchase agreement, but instead it was booked as a sale.
Huge piles of cash were moving in and out. According to the examiner’s report, “Lehman reduced its net balance sheet at quarter-end through its Repo 105 practice by approximately $38.6 billion in fourth quarter 2007, $49.1 billion in first quarter 2008, and $50.38 billion in second quarter 2008.”
Before this, Harry Markolos was waving large red flags about Bernie Madoff's creative accounting for over 8 years, but no one would listen - explained in his recent book titled, ironically enough: NO ONE WOULD LISTEN.  

Our SEC and Federal regulators are not doing their jobs. Your money is not protected, and if you are not one of the big fat cats stealing citizens' money, then you are probably one of the poor citizens suffering from the fallout of this fiasco. It's really difficult for me to put into words how disgusted I am with this whole scene. If our capitalist system is to work, there is no such thing as a company that is too big to fail. And certainly there should be no one above the law. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Healthcare Problem Solved

I've said this before, many times, and I'll say it once more: the key to the problem of healthcare is that our current American system of healthcare is profit-based and it should be HEALTH-based.

Drug companies make money by providing chemicals that alleviate or cure disease. The cynic within me says that they are more focused on alleviating symptoms than finding cures, because the profit is higher for treating a symptom than it is for curing a disease. After all, some diseases can last for years before you croak. But that is not likely the case, so I'm comfortable with thinking that they are diligently researching the cure side of disease. Still, a drug company who comes up with a new cure (or relief) can pretty much set the price for that magic pill.

The concept of hospitals is a bit ironic to me. If someone were to suggest today that we gather all the sick people into a single building, you might hesitate to think that is a good idea. But that is the system we have, and there are some benefits at having all that expensive equipment and highly trained medical specialists in one spot to deal with our myriad maladies. But let's assume that hospitals are a good idea and look at a different aspect. Hospitals make money when you are ill. If you are healthy, you never enter their doors. In fact, some surgeries are "optional" and are "sold" to patients who might be better served by not having them performed. One example is installing stents for heart patients (a case I'm too familiar with). Turns out that the chances of surviving a heart attack are improved very little by the installation of a stent. What's worse, some patients suffer damage from the operation itself, even though it is considered a very minor surgery.

Medical specialists also have a vested interest in applying their expertise in resolving disease rather than keeping a patient healthy. A cardiologist will get paid several thousands of dollars if you get a bypass surgery, while he will get paid nothing if you watch your diet, keep your stress levels low, and exercise wisely enough to keep your arteries flowing like they should.

Cancer is a big killer, now that we've sucessfully tackled some of the other older threats. Researchers are working around the world on curing and preventing this wide category of disease. But some of what we know is that cancer results from ingesting and inhaling oddball chemicals - chemicals that occur in our industrial nation and in our highly processed foods. Why are natural foods so much more expensive (and hard to obtain) than chemical-laden snack foods?

Obesity is a peculiarly American health problem. If weight loss wasn't such a huge industry, do you think we would be seeing more or less fat people? When I watch commercial television (something I try to avoid as much as possible), I notice how many commercials are focused on junk food and weight loss. I am not blind to the connection.

If someone asked you to bet a large amount of money that you would get ill before they thought you would, you might think they were slightly crazy. But that is exactly the concept of health insurance. You "bet" that your expenses for medical care will exceed your payments at some point in your life. How about a bet that I can remain healthier by making wise life-style choices? I would be willing to put some money on that one - and do every day.

If doctors, hospitals, HMOs, and medical insurance companies were rewarded for us being healthier, the problems would almost disappear. To reward higher profits to the medical industry and health insurance companies for our illnesses is a sure way to bury us all poor.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Today's News

Reading the paper each morning keeps me amused and informed. I'm not sure which it does better, but I'm leaning toward entertained. Today's Gainesville Sun was just chock full of interesting things to kick around the bar stool. Here's a quick tour of the highlights:

The blizzard that socked most of the East Coast inside last week and again this week continues to get top billing. Most newspapers want to point out that: "Hey! We were able to get to work and publish this damned paper, and deliver it to your frozen ass. What about that, huh?"

As most any college student can tell you, adding caffeine to your buzz will only make you feel less tired, not less buzzed.

Turns out that, sure enough, being bored CAN kill you! Who knew?

An article about a playground in London designed for geezers.

You know, the rough-spoken Captain of the Cornelia Marie crab boat, who chain-smoked through the whole episode? Died of a massive stroke at the age of 53. I liked him.

A window-shaker in Illinois gets very little press. Of course, being a 3.8 and occurring at 4:00 am helped everyone to sleep through it without much incident.

Someone posted a link for me to this parody video that amused me greatly. Lady Gaga's original song, Bad Romance, is one that I'll admit I kinda like. Her vocals are decent, and her imaginative fashion and set designs are off the chart. It all appeals to me because she also has a great sense of humor. Anyway, this parody: Shit My Pants by Sherry Vine is very well done - toilet tranny humor at its finest.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


My recent fundraising campaign with Partners In Health is up and running, and I appreciate all of you who have already given donations through this special website. This disaster in Haiti is many times worse than the post-Katrina disaster in New Orleans for a number of reasons, but the bottom line is that it will take thousands of volunteers, medical staff, and troops, and thousands of tons of food and water, and tons of money to keep more people from dying and getting Haiti back to its previous state, which was one of the poorest countries to begin with.

Giving to charities is a noble gesture, but there are so many charities. How do you choose where to send your gift? There are a couple websites that do a great job of sorting this information:
Some of the top charities listed on Google for providing relief to Haiti for this particular disaster are listed here along with their Charity Navigator rating, a numerical value based on the organization's effectiveness:
I noticed that only two of these top organizations (William J Clinton Foundation and Feed the Children) have ratings higher than Partners In Health. Regardless of which organization you pick to receive your gift, please, give soon, and be as generous as you can afford. Every donation helps, even if it is only $10 or $20.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Khoomei - ooh-aahhh-eee-ooo-uuuu-iiii

Ok, I do make fun of the Mongolian art of throat singing, but I will readily admit that I am amazed and envious of this weird, fantastic skill. Unlike, say yodeling, throat singing is not something that just anyone can learn to do with a little practice. It is an incredible talent that only a very few out of hundreds can physically accomplish. After the initial giggles over its unusualness subside, I find this stuff absolutely beautful. Here are a few of the best samples I could find on YouTube this morning.
Kinda shows you what kinds of talent you can develop while living alone out on the desolate wintry tundra of the Asian steppes.

Oh, and just two more, in case you think it is only old men who do this:
But the best sample is Ondar's rap video: (scroll down a bit)