Sunday, November 30, 2008

Over the river and through the woods... Grandmother's house we go. This is our third Thanksgiving gathering dinner, but no turkey today. Just us turkeys. :D

It is also my last day off before returning to work. I am reasonably happy with my home improvement tasks (there is always more to get done) and I might even be ready to take up the keyboard again at work without going nuts. I am not going to think about what might have been piled onto my ToDo list while I was gone.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Fortuitous

Our Panasonic TV died this evening after about 15 years of service. If it was going to happen, let it be on the biggest sale weekend of the year. The newspapers are filled with Wide Screen TV loss leader sales. Those are likely sold out, but there are still plenty of deals left. So tomorrow we go looking for the small models of the new HDTV technology. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving to you. I am thankful for all who read and/or comment here.

I thought about putting up a YouTube video I saw recently in which Sarah Palin is doing an interview oblivious to the turkeys being rendered in the background. However, I am sure you can find it if you are curious.

Instead I will refer you to our post about Alice's restaurant from last year. That is a much funner tradition than delving into the realities of turkey production and political ineptitude.

UPDATE: If you want to listen to studio version of Alice's Restaurant, Tennessee Guerilla Women blog has a link to the MP3.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mending Fences and Shelves

It is a complicated story, but I am enjoying my second week of vacation in 2 months and I freaking deserve it. Today was sunny, cool, and breezy, so I did a bit of outdoor work. We have a cedar fence that was ancient when we bought the house, but it is definitely getting more rickety now. The gate in particular was falling apart, so I went after it with a bunch of wood screws, a drill (with a screwdriver bit), a Sawz-All, a shovel, and some Love. After several adjustments, we have a gate that is stronger, though it definitely has a more patched look to it.

For those that remember Fort Bean, I installed a door but I never installed the strike plate, so the door would fly open whenever the temperature reached 70 degrees F or so. Today, I finally fixed that. There is actually a lock on the door knob, but the plexiglass in front is so thin that a lock is a bit of a joke.

Ladybug has been limping along for quite some time with a set of broken drawers in the kitchen. Well, they are shelves that are supposed to roll out but the rails would twist and drop the shelf. At least that is what I thought. Also, the bottom shelf was improperly glued and would stick against the bottom lip causing another headache.

In preparation to buy a new set of rails, I started to measure the various widths and diameters of things when I noticed some improper installation (previous owner, not me, I am perfect, mostly) I had missed before. It wasn't the twisting that caused the problem, but the rails were not secured in back. The weight of the drawer pushed the back of the rails out dumping them out. I rummaged my parts drawer and used a few wood screws and the problem was solved.

The bottom drawer bottom was separated from the sides, so I used some Pergo glue from an earlier floor installation to reseat the wood into the grooves provided. For the uninitiated, Pergo is a laminate wood floor material where they take a plywood-like surface and put a photographic image of wood grain on it. The Pergo glue looks, smells, and bonds like Elmer's wood glue. It worked great on the kitchen drawer. Our entire house has Pergo floors (in a medium oak style), so don't go telling me about how we are poisoning ourselves with McWood or creepy composite resins or I shall become very cross. In any case, Ladybug is pleased to have easy access to her evil kitchen tools again.

To satisfy my geek side, I attempted to resurrect an old laptop PC which has a tendency to give a Blue Screen of Death every 1 to 10 minutes. I originally suspected the hard drive and bought a new one, but it didn't help. So I removed everything except the original memory and the CD drive. After some trial and error, I discovered 2 culprits: the battery and the "newer" memory module. The battery was causing the catastrophic failures and the bad memory module would make things act weird in between.

So they are gone. The laptop is wholly dependent on wall power and has only 256 MB of RAM, but it has a 120GB hard drive and I was able to install Ubuntu Linux 8.10 on there. Ubuntu runs well, 8.10 is MUCH better with the Wi-Fi awareness, and it seems to handle all the new cool stuff without getting too crazy on the memory. THe PC is an old PIII Pentium 500 MHz, so it isn't too swift to begin with. I am going to use it for my alternative programming experiments...mainly learning languages I've been curious about but not able to explore for this reason or that. Yay! Another PC saved through rubber bands and chewing gum.

But I Keep Talking About It

Okay, I know I know. I am not an economist but I keep blabbing about it. I am just speaking my piece (peace?) because:

a. I actually have time to do it
b. Because the whole thing pisses me off at a deep level

So, enough about the Money Heist 2008.

Chicken Feed Follow Up

In the previous topics, Dave mentioned the following in the comments:

The Federal reserve is loaning seven trillion dollars to the US Government.

The US Government then turns around and buys stock in failing banks, and now motor companies.

When the government owns stock in business it has a vote in how that business is run. They can set terms for executive salaries and bonuses for instance.

And that is how America turns into a socialist nation.

Actually Dave, I agree with you (please don't faint). Although it is not socialism in the strict sense, it is definitely socialistic for the government to become a major stakeholder in the American economy.

I also agree that it was planned in advance to the extent that the credit bubble perpetrated by the banks and hedge fund operators had the same predictable outcome as any historical form of speculation.

However, it wasn't the MoveOn or Code Pink or International ANSWER types that perpetrated this. It was perpetrated by free market capitalists who saw an opportunity to get filthy rich, manipulated the government into going along with it and then stuck the rest of us with the bill when they knew it was over.

The only recourse left to avoid another depression was...wait for it...government spending to "save capitalism." We are so far from the producing-goods-and-services type capitalism that everyone expects that it isn't funny. Not funny at all.

Almost every reader here knows about the Savings & Loan scams, so this isn't anything new. The main difference here is an exponential increase in the amount of money involved and the fact that it seems as if nobody will be going to jail or get censured in Congress this time around.

It is a bit ironic that the people who brought quasi-socialism to America were the ones who railed most strongly against it, against regulation, and convincing so many to hate any kind government spending or involvement. For nearly 30 years, we've paved the way for mega-mergers, loosening of bank regulations, by thinking we were aiding a free market. It wasn't as free as the liars led us to believe.

Now there is no choice: the money is overflowing from the pockets of the perps as their prearranged deal with the government unfolds and makes us all poorer. We are shocked into compliance just as we were on September 11, 2001. Their assets are safe and ours are at risk and we must just lump it with no expectation of justice or true reform.

Dave is also correct when he says that government will get a bigger say in business. It will be interesting to see what choices government agencies responsible for investing make. There are a number of scenarios and, as with 9/11, the rapid changing of events along with the discretion granted by the concept of emergency means that we are prone to large instances of misconduct just as we've experienced in the post 9/11 wars (torture, extraordinary rendition, etc.). After the corporate infusion of money into the government by lobbyists decreased the interests of individuals in favor of corporations, so the infusion of money into business by the government will probably do the same. Business and government are creating a marriage made in Hell and the majority of people are the abused children of that marriage.

This is truly a learning moment. However, learning depends on seeing outside the left-right, Christian-secular, industry-intellectual box. People are kind of getting it at times, but not in large enough number or as angrily as they should. I suspect we will all muddle through blaming it on the boogie men dreamed up on our favorite political websites.

As an afternote, I found a breakdown at Talking Points Memo of how much money is going towards which programs in order to stave off financial collapse. Calling it all one thing is a bit of a misnomer since there are a number of programs going on to deal with it all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not an Economist

I don't know much about no economy...

I am just finding the whole thing as interesting and disconcerting as you do.

$700B is Chicken Feed

Try $7.76 trillion. This is according to Bloomberg and most of it will be controlled by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve and inheritor of Alan Greenspan's ultimate betrayal of Ayn Rand*.

The article outlines what is going on beyond the publicized bailout. Here are a few excerpts:

The U.S. government is prepared to provide more than $7.76 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers after guaranteeing $306 billion of Citigroup Inc. debt yesterday. The pledges, amounting to half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

Remember the saturation coverage 15 months ago about this? Me neither. I guess it was a matter private between our government and the banks.

Congressman Darrell Issa, a California Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said risk is lurking in the programs that Poole thinks are safe.

“The thing that people don’t understand is it’s not how likely that the exposure becomes a reality, but what if it does?” Issa said. “There’s no transparency to it so who’s to say they’re right?”

The money that’s been pledged is equivalent to $24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It’s nine times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office figures. It could pay off more than half the country’s mortgages.

$24,000 for each member of your family including you and there is no transparency. We fought in a revolution for much, much less and now we wait and see. That'll screw us for a generation or more.

“Some have asked us to reveal the names of the banks that are borrowing, how much they are borrowing, what collateral they are posting,” Bernanke said Nov. 18 to the House Financial Services Committee. “We think that’s counterproductive.”

$24,000 of your money and you don't get to know where it is going. At least they aren't using the Al Qaeda excuse (yet).

Bernanke’s Fed is responsible for $4.74 trillion of pledges, or 61 percent of the total commitment of $7.76 trillion, based on data compiled by Bloomberg concerning U.S. bailout steps started a year ago.

You better get used to being poor if this crap doesn't work.

* I know many like to crack jokes about Ayn Rand and her misguided Objectivist philosophy, but we won't be if turning our currency into a speculative enterprise only bought us a few more decades and a much larger fall. I am obviously hoping it won't, but this bailout is orders of magnitude larger than the 90s S & L bailout and nobody is sounding cheerful about it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Few Presidential Notes

Wow! I get a few days off. I took 5 business days which, thanks to the short Thanksgiving week, adds up to 11 days off in a row. There is a fairly major customer install right in the middle, so it is not without risk of interruption.

As such, I have a bit of time to

a. think
b. write

These are good things! I've heard this, so it must be true.

In the big picture, there is plenty to write about. A new President of the USA is forthcoming, the economy decided to flush itself down the toilet, and we are now presented with an opportunity to learn a great deal about how things work at the levers of power.

And what an interesting education it has been. We've seen free market conservatives lobby for corporate socialism on the grounds that companies are "too large to fail." We've seen pro-labor liberals lecture the auto industry, one of our last large industrial employers, on how they need a plan for profitability or they won't see a red cent of the big giveaway. We've seen an electorate placated into giving thousands of dollars per person for all of these programs with no discrete plan, no transparency, no trust in the recipients, and no expected outcome that the measures will work; all while the stock market dives like an osprey into the water because of those same reasons. What is one to make of this? Quite a lot really, and not much of it is good.

A fire was kindled on November 4th when Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. Unlike many who read my posts here, I am highly suspicious of the candidate who threw so many good people under the bus to be elected. However, I was near tears of happiness watching the American people reject the failed leadership that has damaged our Republic with unnecessary war, unnecessary division, and unnecessary damage to our Constitution. It was indeed a historic night and, as Moody Minstrel said earlier on this blog, the weight reverberated beyond race and to a point beyond. It was difficult to deny the shear human force that propelled Obama past voter purges, racial hatred, and the media cult of contrarian xenophobic "conservatism" (see American Conservative magazine for REAL conservatism).

We have a new president that says all of the right things, but can he DO the right things? At first glance, it doesn't look good. His cabinet choices thus far could have been chosen by Bill Clinton for their adherence to principles of corporatism and globalization. Unfortunately, it was just those principles in conjunction with W-style Reaganomics that have led us to this precipice. On the other hand, the people themselves are capable and could be led by the right person to do smart things to preserve the American middle class and stabilize the economy to some degree.

Even if they succeed, there are two challenges that remain in the wilderness of serious consideration. We are at a long-term degradation of cheap energy and a long-term boundary on our own ecological sustainability.

Some are looking at the gas pump prices and thinking we are somehow "in the clear" but think about this...the Dow Jones is more than 40% lower than it was 8 years ago and these supposedly "lower" gas prices are up 30% (approximate values of course). It won't take much of a recovery for the prices to recover as well. Things run out. The Gold Rush didn't last forever because the recoverable gold didn't last forever. And yet we still mine gold even without that rush. The same is true with oil. We will get all the easy stuff, but we won't run out. It will just get harder to extract. Unlike gold, however, we need oil for every phase of modern society from fuel to plastics to fertilizer to vitamins. The hairspray cable jockeys or the emotion-poking radio squawkers say little to nothing about this. They are such idiots that maybe it is for the best. Nonetheless, enjoy your cheap Ecuador bananas and Australian wine now because the price will be going up.

Since the Great Depression, the population of the United States has multiplied roughly 2.5 times. A great deal of arable land has been paved over, built on, and even preserved as wildlife refuges since that time. While technological innovation has allowed us to grow more food with less land, much of that growth was derived from cheap fuel, cheap fertilizer, etc. If our current recession deepens into a new depression and the domestic oil gushers of the 30s are gone, how are we going to feed our 300 million people? Just about every aspect of the marine food supply is stretched to the maximum. We have crops that terminate their seeds and can't grow another year. How will our increasingly urban population eat?

The consensus among climatologists is that our planet is warming and that the climate changes will cause disruptive changes to cultures and economies. The problem is that nobody knows exactly what changes will happen or how severe they will be. Also, it should escape nobody's notice that the time frame for change exceeds not only our attention spans but that of entire nations and that there is no consensus on what constitutes a proper change or the impact of such a program.

President-elect Obama has given only the slightest public attention to these challenges. As with previous administrations, the strategy (if there is one) to cheap energy and sustainable ecology (if know) will take place behind closed doors while rhetorical pabulum keeps We the People occupied with other matters and out of "their" business.

These are difficult challenges and the easy answer of making a bigger, more intrusive government to handle it could lead us more quickly to a bad end. Bigger, more intrusive corporations could do the same. However, a resilient and well-tempered approach that encourages small and large scale innovation along with positive leadership helping us into accepting a more efficient lifestyle would make a huge difference.

Reality can be a harsh, but patient teacher. It can give us plenty of rope, but eventually it runs out and it pull us forward on its own terms. The trick is to move along with that rope before it pulls you. I hope Obama can learn that skill before austerity and efficiency are imposed on us quickly by cold, hard reality.

For some folks I know, it is already too late for the soft fall.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Answering the Challenge (My Own Way)

1. Five names you go by:

a. Kevin
b. Kebin-sensei
c. The Moody Minstrel
d. Moody
e. ano gaijin

2. Three things you are wearing right now:

a. Black jacket by "Comme Ça Ism" (a gift from the wife...but I've heard that when I wear it at the school it makes me look like a "fushinsha" [lit. a "suspicious person"]). 
b. Bright blue Dunhill necktie (bought for a steal at a famous duty-free shop in Sydney).
c. Glasses.  (Gucci, believe it or not!)

3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:

a. A real weekend...or even one full day off.
b. A studio with a grand piano, recording gear, and a splendid view of the ocean.

4. Three people who will probably fill this out:

Doubtful, but I'd like to see Seymour, Kami, and Olivia do this.

5. Two things you did last night:

a. Got carried away writing on the Impasse blogventure.
b. Tried and failed to go to bed early for a change and get some sleep.

6. Two things you ate today:

a. Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Raisins & Spice.
b. Calorie Mate nutrition bars

7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:

a. Mr. Ogawa.
b. Mr. Yamazaki (director of the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival last Saturday).

8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:

a. Teach four classes and endure at least two meetings.
b. Try not to lose either my lunch or my mind.

9. Two longest single-day car (not bus, etc.) rides:

a. Milwaukie, OR to Boise, ID (10 hours/distance uncertain)
b. Milwaukie, OR to Nyssa, CA (8 hrs/distance uncertain)

10. Two of your favorite beverages:

a. Coke & Myers Rum
b. Tully's French Roast

Now let me add my own extra meme for all of you (with a tip of the powdered wig to Kami):

If you saw me in the back of a police car, what would you think I was there for?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Arkonbey Challenge

Arkonbey challenged me to divulge a little about myself. I tag Moody Minstrel, DewKid, and Hypatia...

Here goes:

1. Five names you go by:

a. Don
b. Donald
c. Zeke
d. Snabby
e. Captain Zarquon

2. Three things you are wearing right now:

a. loud green shirt from the Oktoberfest festival in Mt. Angel, OR
b. LL Bean olive drab short pants (endless summer)
c. A smile

3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:

a. financial independence
b. an IT and QA presence at work

4. Three people who will probably fill this out:

Not saying

5. Two things you did last night:

a. Watched Firefly episodes with Ladybug
b. Removed viruses from a PC

6. Two things you ate today:

a. A wonderful quinoa and squash dressing
b. taters, egg whites, and sausage

7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:

a. Ladybug
b. My Dad.

8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:

a. Cook breakfast
b. Take MiniSnab to a babysitting gig

9. Two longest car rides:

a. Milwaukie, OR to Elko, NV (12 hours/700 miles)
b. Hillsboro, OR to Clear Lake, CA (10 hrs/about 550 miles)

10. Two of your favorite beverages:

a. Water
b. La Yunta Torrontes wine from Argentina

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Post-Election Reflection

I remember well that day when I was 11 years old.
My best friend's house was up for sale.
People were always coming and going whenever I was there.
I'd already gotten used to it, but then that one family came.
I remember they were cheerful. 
They were friendly, warm, polite.
I would've liked to meet them.
But, with narrowed eyes and sour voice, my friend quickly ordered us to his backyard.
His manner said it all long before he asked that question:
"What are they doing here?"

Then, as we played, I heard a happy, "Hello!"
I turned to see a girl, maybe a year or two younger than me, standing in the door.
I remember she had bright eyes and a sunny smile.
They looked so pretty on her colored face.
"Hello!" I said in cheerful reply.
"Um, come on," said my friend impatiently.  Grabbing my arm, he dragged me away.
I asked him what his problem was, and I got an annoyed sigh.
"Don't look at her," he said in my ear.  "Just ignore her."
I asked him why, and he used THAT WORD.

Yes, I'd heard plenty of jokes using that word.  I admit I repeated many.
But I'd always thought it meant a type of person, like "redneck" or "greaser".
That family and that girl certainly didn't fit the image I'd always carried in my mind!
Apparently I'd been mistaken.
In my friend's eyes, the color alone brought the damning title.
And the world suddenly seemed like a smaller place.

I remember, though not so well, that day when I was 14 years old.
A school dance had just ended, and we were going home.
Behind me on the bus, a boy was loudly guffawing as he told his friend what had happened.
A girl had asked him to dance.
I didn't really know the girl, but I'd met her before, and I knew about her.
A year below me, she was mostly quiet, but was smart and friendly.
She seemed to get along with her classmates well enough.
She had a nice smile, but her eyes always looked so sad.
I often saw her walking alone and wondered if she was lonely, but always from afar.
I'd never heard anyone speak ill of her till then.
Had it been one of the other 99.2% of the girls at our school, the ones who were white, yellow, or red, the boy would probably have said yes.
But she and one other were of the 00.8% that were black.
And the boy used THAT WORD.

Self-righteously, I said to myself that I wished she had asked me.
I would have danced with her quite happily.
But then I felt the pangs of self-doubt and cowardice wrenching my gut.
I knew that dancing with her would probably make me a target.
I'd be laughed at, possibly even attacked, for "loving" someone who was THAT WORD.
My spirit failed me, and I looked the other way.

A year later, the other colored girl from my junior high days was in one of my high school classes.
The teacher happened to be my own father.
The girl and I had gotten along well when we'd shared a class at the junior high.
But now she looked at me with fire in her eyes and a jutting lip.
Then she demanded, "Is your father prejudiced?"
I told her that, in all honesty, I didn't know, but insisted that I was not.
She then demanded to know if my father used THAT WORD.
I said I'd never heard him say it, but she wouldn't be soothed.
She hated me clear till she moved away and left the school.

Fast forward several years, and I was wandering the benighted streets of Portland.
Certain friends thought themselves wise in their ways.
We wound up chatting with a most interesting group.
They said some of the wittiest and cleverest things.
I thought I would like to get better acquainted.  
At least until they robbed me.

That was far less serious than what happened the next time.
A similar-looking group suddenly converged on us on a darkened street.
They were clearly much less friendly.
The threats and oaths poured from their mouths as we bolted away through a construction site.
Escaping to the light, we were told to be careful.  
A group of THAT WORD were looking for "whiteys" to "roll".
We stopped going to Portland at night.
We started using THAT WORD much more often.

In my university days I worked for a while at a pizza restaurant.
One of my coworkers made me nervous and edgy.
There was no real reason for me to feel that way.
Indeed, he was probably the most dependable person there.
He was always the coolest to me.
I did my best to be just as cool to him in return.
But I always tensed up when he came in and said hi.
The memory of those Portland nights always came screaming into the back of my mind.
I never referred to him as THAT WORD.  I would never dream of it.
But I'm shamed to admit my heart probably did.

At the same time I noticed something very odd.
I knew a singer called "Roo", had a housemate named "Veggie".
Though their color was that of my coworker, neither of them made me nervous at all.
I counted them both among my friends.
It was clear that my fear was selective, and I wasn't sure why.
Perhaps it was because they were in my cozy worlds of "music" and "home".
There was no reason to think they were different.
It was natural to forget the Portland memories.
THAT WORD simply didn't enter the picture.

Now I've spent almost twenty years in Japan.
I've met folks from Kenya, Egypt, and Iran,
Plus India, Bangladesh, Tanzania,
Pakistan, Singapore, and Latvia,
Chile, Peru, Lebanon, and Malaysia,
Austria, Germany, Italy, Russia,
The Philippines, Sri Lanka, France, and Thailand,
Australia, Holland, China, and New Zealand,
And many others I've naught room to name,
But one thing I have noticed is that they're the same.

If a man twice my size from Niger isn't scary,
Then why should someone from back home make me wary?
MLK said it best:  character, not the skin,
Is what we should judge, if the dream can begin.
THAT WORD is a mask, an excuse to divide,
But it really has little of substance inside.
But can we all change?  I say, "YES WE CAN!"
We proved it when my land elected this man.
Character, not skin, decided the game.
Let history judge him on merit, not name.

We have taken a bold step, and yet I still know
That, as a culture, we've still far to go:
Blue-leaning states voting Rep, not Dem,
Because they can't stand voting for "one of THEM",
Business refused to those bearing his name,
Stereotypes oozing out of blogs and op-ed pages,
Evil words spoken in mikes or on stages.
Some people, it seems, can't let go of THAT WORD.
They don't want to see their reality blurred.

But if we all simply learn to ignore 
These divisions, they won't trouble us anymore.
Then a little girl's "Hi" won't set off an alarm.
A request for a dance won't be a cause of harm.
A violent gang will be judged only by
What it does, not by color of face, hair, or eye.
Don't call me a "whitey", and I won't use THAT WORD.
Neither is needed; let's not let them be heard.

No matter who you voted for, let's look at the age.
Indeed, change has come, and we've helped set the stage.
But where it will go, none can say as of yet.
I hope we learn what we should and should not forget.