Saturday, April 30, 2011

Two Links Of The Day

... both from our Missionary to the Frozen, Northern Wastelands.

Fire ants using the forces of water surface tension in their effort to slay us all.

Why the Royal Family is a good financial deal for England.

So Is It 1211 Or 2011?

From Portiuncula, a Franciscan blog:
When the people heard them preach, they said: "Who are these men, and why do they speak like this?" They made this comment because at that time the fear and love of God had died out in the country and no one spoke of penance which indeed was considered as folly. This attitude was caused by the temptations of the flesh, the cupidity of the world, and the pride of life; the whole of mankind seemed engulfed in these three evil forces.
Times of faith come and go and the self-indulgences of men are ever the same. If you think the world is doomed to go to Hades in a handbasket, there's a book coming out that might surprise you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

Madam Defarge's War On Poverty

We're hearing a lot about how our taxes and social compacts need to help the "less fortunate" among us. Just who are these people? Well, here's the Census data on poverty. Assuming, perhaps rashly, that unencumbered adults can take care of themselves, let's look at families below the poverty line.

Married parents: 5.8% of all married families live in poverty
Single moms: 29.9% of all single mother families live in poverty
Single dads: 16.9% of all single father families live in poverty

How about total numbers of such families?
Married parents: 3.4M
Single moms: 4.4M
Single dads: 0.9M

Single moms make up more than half of all families living in poverty. So, by percentages and total numbers, it's reasonable to say that the "less fortunate" can be characterized as single moms. If our overall poverty rate was 5-6%, I'd think we'd be pretty happy with that.

So what's the plan here? As far as I can tell from the rhetoric, there's no longer any talk of a War on Poverty or any grand strategy, there's only financial envy and a desire to redistribute income. It's like we've given up on the whole "help the poor escape poverty" thing and have settled for making them our national housepets, paid for by "the rich". There's certainly no indication that our social programs have done anything at all to prevent the condition that leads to poverty more than any other. In fact, we can't even speak of it in polite company for fear of being labeled a prude.

Solving a problem you can't even discuss seems like a fool's errand to me.

Perhaps we should nominate Madam Defarge for director of Health and Human Services since we seem more interested in revenge than solving the problem. Assuming we can even bring ourselves to admit the real problem in the first place.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Yes, Lent is over, but this is such a fun topic, I thought I'd keep going and post once in a while.

I love to come out the door in the morning and finding our Maximum Leader lounging in the sun on the front porch.

Cheezburger of the Day

Greece Is Now Paying 22% On 2-Year Bonds

Final score: Mathematics 1, Marching and Chanting 0.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I Used To Be A Royalist

... until I found out that Kate and William were living together.


I thought the modern price for being noble was noble behavior or at least the facade of noble behavior. Living up to ancient codes of conduct and all that rot. Carrying on in the Victorian tradition and leading by example, what?

Other than their fancy clothes and legions of adoring fans, Kate and William can't be distinguished from a modern unmarried British couple playing house so they can shag more conveniently. That makes them ... what? Elton John without the talent? Mascots in ascots?

Forget it. Dump the lot of them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

funny pictures history - CAPS LOCK
see more Historic LOL

What If There Were No Polls?

Just a quick thought as I have to go to work early today. This one's been bouncing around my head for the last few days.

Way back when, in 1850, just to pick a year at random, there were no daily tracking polls, no policy polls and no way for congressmen and the president to be told which way the wind was blowing at that particular moment.

Do you suppose the lack of instantaneous feedback allowed them to be a bit more strategic in their thinking?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When Michael Kinsley Starts To Get It

... you know mathematics is winning the argument.

Mr. Kinsley is a lefty pundit with whom I have almost never agreed. Today, however, he's got a "read the whole thing" column with this tibit.
The question remains: If the deficit doesn't matter, why have any taxes at all? And if there is some point at which the deficit does start to matter, and become dangerous, when is that point if $1.6 trillion isn't it?
Seriously, read the whole thing. It's nothing new on this blog, but when it comes from an old hand on the left like Michael Kinsley, it means something.

Betting On People Over Rocks

... and grains and fluids and other commodities.

Ford did well this last quarter.
DETROIT—Ford Motor Co. reported its largest first-quarter profit in 13 years on a recovery in the global economy, a larger portfolio of fuel-efficient vehicles and consumers buying a mix of pickup trucks and cars ...

In fact, Ford boosted its second quarter global production forecast saying it now expects to build 1.5 million new cars and trucks, up by about 12,000 vehicles from the year earlier period.

"We expect our annual volumes to continue to grow substantially, driven primarily by our growing product strength, a gradually strengthening global economy and an unrelenting focus on improving the competitiveness of all of our operations," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said in a statement.
Sitting with friends around the dinner table at Easter, there was a general agreement that Ford was making good cars. Several of us had rented Ford Focuses (Foci?) in the past year and had loved them. Yahoo had a front-page story recently giving the ten worst cars of the year and the only American car company without one on the list was Ford. Ford seems to be doing well by doing things right.

When you invest in commodities, you're investing in objects. Gold is a rock, oil a fluid and wheat a grain. There's been a big run up in commodity prices in the past year as the effects of Ben Bernanke's crazy printing press at the Fed has led to commodity inflation. There was (and is?) money to be made investing in objects.

When you choose forgo commodities to buy stock in a company like Ford, you're betting on human beings over objects. You're gambling that the folks at Ford can take those commodities and make something of even greater value out of them. Everyone knows what's happened with gold and oil lately. The things are going crazy and hitting new highs all the time. How can human beings like those at Ford compete with that?

Pretty well, actually.

Over the past 2 years, commodity funds based on oil (OIL) and gold (GLD) have risen 50%. That's a terrific rate of return. Ford has risen 200%.

Human ingenuity and human resilience is the component most overlooked by the doomsayers. Just like the folks in Portugal who are putting two and two together and figuring out that borrowing vast sums of money to fund their social safety net was not "compassionate" after all, the people at Ford have taken a moribund American auto giant and made something dynamic out of it.

Personally, I'll bet on people over rocks every day of the week.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Firefox Better Than IE For

I was just watching the replay of Tottenham v. West Brom on on my aged HP nc8230 laptop. In IE, the thing was pegging the processor at 100% regularly, with an average load of about 95%. In Firefox, it hit 100% once in a while, but avergaed about 82% processor load. In IE, the video was jerky and unwatchable, in Firefox, it stalled only once in a while. Nothing else was running.

The Elders

Words fail me.

Unfortunately, words don't fail them.
“We’re extremely careful not to claim that we’re going to take a problem and solve it. What we’re saying is that from time to time, in certain situations, a problem needs a little push.” - Lakhdar Brahimi.
Words seem to be all they've got.

A quick set of clicks around the Interweb Tubes show that old Lakhdar was critical of the Iraqi provisional government following the fall of Saddam. No doubt he was critical of the US Marines as well. It's hard to say just where he stood on Saddam's agents feeding people into shredding machines in the years prior to the invasion. Probably well outside the splatter zone, talking, talking, talking, his voice drowned out by the sounds of the machinery and the screams.

Oh well. It's not like he and the rest of The Elders are around to solve problems. So if you've got a problem that doesn't need to be solved, but needs someone to talk at it, give Lakhdar and Jimmy Carter a call. They'll be on the job in no time.

You can tell they're global deep thinkers because they sit around a big table with a map on it.

Pre-posting Update: Mary Robinson, the Elder, adds this bit of genius: “Part of the wisdom of the Elders is to remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented.” Good effort, Mary. Why don't you sit down and have a nice, cool drink? Apparently the heat from Global Warming has you a bit disoriented and you've forgotten about the not-quite-so-filled-with-universal-values atheist regimes of Pol Pot and Chairman Mao.

Hugh Hefner and Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, was all in favor of freedom and liberty. One of his more famous quotes was, "All we ask is to be left alone." He was a staunch supporter of the rights of people to make their own decisions and not have moral codes thrust upon them by hypocritical, outside forces. Jefferson Davis sought freedom for the citizens of the South.

Hugh Hefner seeks freedom for Americans. He has spent his life fighting battles for personal liberty. He has fought the benighted forces of intolerance that would jam their moral codes down your throats.

Yes, indeed, Hugh Hefner and Jefferson Davis are brothers in the cause of freedom. If a few people here or there ended up as slaves, sexual or agricultural, they can hardly be blamed for that. Free people pursuing their personal liberties will naturally find that some succeed and others fail to varying degrees. Whether it be a nation of 31 million or 350 million, you're bound to find extreme cases at either end of the scale and these in no way reflect upon the bounties of total moral freedom.


The fact that both men's lives signifcantly aided the cause of slavery is a bit of a problem, however. Best not to examine that too closely, whether you're an admirer of the Confederacy or a sexual libertine.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Giving Up Hate For Easter

... and trying to forever.

Jacob's been doing a series on things that make us smile as our Lenten observance. We weren't sure where it would lead, only that it seemed like a good way to try to expunge some of the anger that this blog indulges in from time to time. It turned the blog into a crazy patchwork of posts as one would be about Debt Doom and the next would be about flower photography or catnip*. We didn't like what it did to the flow of the thing at all, but we kept at it.

In my own life, I've clung to a bitter hatred of a monstrous evil done to me over a decade ago. The effects of it hound me on a daily, sometimes hourly basis in all kinds of ways. To a large extent, I allowed it to define me. Not only that, I was proud that it defined me. I saw how my hatred damaged my relationships and kept me from doing things the way I wanted to do them, but the pleasure my hatred gave me was like a sweet, succulent fruit. Not only that, I wanted others to share in my hatred as well. When people agreed with me about how horrible the act was, I secretly rejoiced.

I made several, small attempts to give it up. I'd reason with myself and work out cost-benefit analyses in my head, but nothing came close to working. None of my attempts lasted more than a few hours. I was going to my grave with this hatred, clutching it like a child holds a teddy bear.

Prior to Easter, Catholics are highly encouraged to go to Confession. Because of my recent trip to New Orleans, I missed our Penance Service and instead went to the normal Saturday Confession last weekend. I almost missed it because I was helping my daughter study, but for some reason I looked up and saw I could just make it if I jumped into the FredMobile and raced to church.

When I got to church, I had no particular plans about what I would confess. There were a few people in line, so I had some time to kill before I saw the priest. I sat there and in mental idleness looked upon the spot where, almost two years earlier, I experienced a miracle**.

I decided to give up my hate. I decided to confess it to our parish priest. I decided to quit the whole thing and be defined in ways other than as a victim of that decades-old evil, struggling to overcome its endless effects. Our priest had heard this kind of thing before and talked easily and kindly to me when I told him. None of us have particularly original ways of committing evil and there just aren't that many different ways to hurt each other.

Coming out of the confessional was an amazing experience. I felt twelve or so years of evil grime washed away from me, left behind to dissolve and blow away. I know I don't have the strength to fight the temptation to hate on my own, but I don't have to. I've already been tested several times in the last week as I continue to deal with the after-effects of that distant evil. As I have for years, I still wake up in the middle of the night working through some current problem or other brought about by what happened so long ago. The difference is that now that I have confessed my sin and I look to God for strength, I see those thoughts for what they are - temptations to fall back into the arms of hate. With strength borrowed from Him, I can solve the problems without them acting as a catalyst to do wrong.

And that, dear friends, is the practical point of Easter. God bless.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

* - Mmmmmm. Catnip.

** - It was major, it was real and it involved branches of science that I am not only familiar with, but I hold patents in. Sorry, scientific atheists, but you're not going to be able to explain it away.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Palm Sunday

A New Sport for the Olympics: Rabbit Jumping!

No, really! Rabbit jumping. You don't ride them or jump over them yourself, instead, what you do is ... oh bother. Let's have Der Spiegel explain it.
Rabbits, as most are aware, like to hop. But it turns out that they also enjoy doing so competitively. Kaninhop, a hobby from Scandinavia, involves setting up mini-jumps and other barriers for pet bunnies to clear in competitions across Europe ...

Competition is, while not exactly fierce, certainly spirited. The more jumps a bunny clears, the better its score. There is also a time element, though rules tend to vary country-by-country.

"As long as you train them, they really like to do it," Fehlen, who has several rabbits involved in Kaninhop, says. "You have to teach them to jump over the hurdles, but at some point they get it."
Can we see some of these bounding buns in action? Why, of course! YouTube to the rescue!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Handicapping 2012

... would seem to be a fool's errand. Consider these facts:
  • We're running $1.5T deficits - far higher than anything we've ever done before.

  • The Fed is printing $600B a year of unbacked dollars to cover these deficits, something they've never done before.

  • Gold and oil are hitting new highs with regularity.

  • The EU is facing an existential crisis because of debt and it looks now like both Greece and Portugal will have to restucture their debts, wiping out tens of billions of dollars of bonds held by private, European banks.

  • The full effects of the Japanese earthquake have yet to be felt as the Japanese are borrowing like never before in an environment where their total debt is higher than ever before.
If there are large, ahistoric forces at work in the world and large, important parts of the world are unstable, why would you think that historical analyses of presidential races would apply?

It's a better bet that at least one major event will occur in the next 12 months that will have a dramatic affect on our lives than it is that some pundit can use statistics from a relatively stable previous few decades to predict the next presidential election.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Questions For President Obama

Making the rounds of the right wing blogosphere is an interview of President Obama where a reporter from a local Texas station asks questions in a rather confrontational way. The questions are reasonably well-considered and given the tongue bath usually given by the media, it was kind of refreshing. Once done with the gloating at the President's surprise and discomfort, you knew nothing you didn't know when you started. It was cotton candy for the right: delicious, but empty.

What if you started with the assumptions that President Obama is not venal, not stupid, and not driven purely by politics? What if you took him at his word and tried to understand his world view? I would think you could hold a penetrating interview and still treat him with the respect he deserves. Perhaps something along these lines:

What are the mechanisms by which unemployment will fall? Perhaps he believes that low interest rates will lead businesses to borrow money to expand. Whatever his answer, you could test it's validity with real data.

How do you think the deficit will be shrunk? It might be that he thinks he can yoke the rich like oxen and they will pull along at their current rate regardless of how much money you take from them. Again, real data would show whether he was right or wrong.

Is poverty a marker of behavior? To me, this would be quite interesting and could be used for some penetrating follow-up questions. Why should the fellow who stayed in school and went all the way through residency to get his MD pay for the stoner who dropped out of high school? That line of questioning would lead to the last one:

Is fairness limited to money? That is, are we here to redistribute wealth or is there something more - the redistribution of responsible behavior as well?

The answers to those questions would give you something to ponder and would provide a set of metrics to gauge the accuracy of his world view. It might not make the Free Republic lads cavort about in joy, but it would be better than talking over the guy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleep With Dogs

... and you not only wake up with fleas, you also wake up with:
  1. the neighborhood dogs when they bark,
  2. the coyotes when they yip or howl,
  3. family members when they come home late,
  4. all manner of doggy dreams that cause the dogs to fidget and wiggle,
  5. licking spasms that cause them to need to reconnect with you by licking your face at 2AM,
  6. cars driving by,
  7. neighbors walking in or out of their houses at night and
  8. alarming events that only occur in the imaginations of your dogs.
Last night we woke up four times. That's about average.

If they weren't so cute, you'd kill them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Need Help

I've lost my kitchen scissors. Do you have any idea where I might have put them?

Things That Make Me Smile

The Dave Ramsey podcast. It's a ray of hope to people down on their luck and instruction that shows you can make your way out of your troubles. It always starts with Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street.

It's Not Compassionate To Drive Yourself To Bankruptcy

Jeremy Warner, writing in The Telegraph, has a very nice summary of what might happen should Greece have to "restructure" it's debt. "Restructure" means to let lenders know they're not getting some of their money back.
Greek banks are big holders of sovereign debt; a haircut of a third to a half would immediately trigger another banking crisis in Greece and turn an already catastrophic flight of capital into a rout. The banking system would very quickly collapse. A restructuring would also collapse the country’s pensions system, as the asset of choice among Greek pension schemes is Greek sovereign debt. Pensions too would have to be cut severely.

Yet by common agreement, Greece is already at the point of debt unsustainability; debts are so high that it’s going to prove not just difficult and painful, but virtually impossible to get them back onto a sustainable footing. The interest bill on the debt alone is just too big for the economy to be able to cope with. The point of unsustainability is generally acknowledged to be around 150pc of GDP. As you can see ... Greece is already at that point.
It's easy to write the words "collapse the country’s pensions system" it's another to see that collapse up close and personal.

I was in Russia in January of 1998, just a few years after the fall of communism. Socialism's end in Russia looked a lot like socialism's end in Greece will look like. The phrase took on it's past tense, "the country’s pensions system had collapsed." Desperate elderly were on the streets, begging for handouts. One could only imagine elderly invalids starving in their rooms, unable to get out to beg. I had a little cash and was able to give some away, but you knew it wasn't anything like what was needed.

I remember one old woman I met in the market on Arbat Street, speckled with sores and covered in ratty clothing. She begged despairingly and was clearly on the edge of giving up. I didn't want to touch her, she was so filthy. I went into my pocket and pulled out about $40 of Rubles and gave it to her, careful not to let our skin touch. She took it and I began to walk away. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her look at the money and recognize how much it was. She ran to me, grabbed my arm and fell down on her knees, kissing my hand over and over again, crying out thanks in Russian. We both had tears in her eyes and all I could say was, "God bless you, Mother."

That was the end stage of socialist compassion. That was what "collapse the country’s pensions system" looked like once it had happened. There was nothing kind or charitable about it and the only thing it's proponents had left was their smug self-assurance that they had been "compassionate."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Our Maximum Leader lounging in catnip.

We Did So Have A Plan!

Dig this.
April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Standard & Poor’s put a “negative” outlook on the U.S. AAA credit rating, citing rising budget deficits and debt...

The U.S. is the only large AAA rated country that saw its debt rise during the crisis that until recently had no plan that would reverse the trend, Steven Hess, senior credit officer at Moody’s, said last week.
That's a scurrilous lie. We certainly did have a plan. It was this:

Snarf snarf grunt chomp snarf!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm Embarrassed To Admit I'd Never Considered This

There are now several independent pieces of evidence showing that the earth responds to the warming due to extra carbon dioxide by dampening the warming. Every long-lived natural system behaves this way, counteracting any disturbance. Otherwise the system would be unstable. The climate system is no exception, and now we can prove it.
The link is on the part that made me slap my forehead.

Well, duh.

Things That Make Me Smile

Blogging friends who think of us.

Performance Must Be Irrelevant

This is, what, day 98 of the NATO intervention in Libya? The one designed to stop civilian deaths, whatever that means when the combatants are all in civilian clothing. The thing has become a slow-motion meat grinder, but no one seems to be looking at the basic math and comparing it to what we wanted to do in the first place. Here's the equation:

Total deaths = death rate * duration of conflict.

By intervening, we prevented the death rate from spiking, but stretched the duration. Consider one more equation:

Total destruction of cities = destruction rate * duration of conflict.

Since the goal on both sides was liquidation of the enemy, there was an upper limit on the destruction rate. In fact, since losing their tanks, Gaddafi's troops have resorted to shelling indiscriminately and the destruction rate now is probably higher than it would have been had we done nothing. The end result of our white-gloved intervention is likely to be at least as many deaths and a lot more destruction.

Who cares? Does it even matter? Is it all OK so long as we feel good about ourselves? Everyone is measuring success by whether or not Gaddafi will be killed or forced out. Meanwhile, the original purpose of our intervention, protecting civilians, is in shambles.

Napoleon once said, “If you start to take Vienna - take Vienna.” Don't do things in half measures. Way back when this all started, I was in favor of removing Gaddafi. What I had in mind was more of a Mafia rubout than this prissy failure. I'd have sent in sufficient forces, destroyed the Gaddafi compoud, killed or captured Gaddafi and then left leaving a note along the lines of this: "This is what happens to people what cross the US."

This fellow is not a member of the Obama foreign policy advisory team.

In the end, it's a good bet that Gaddafi will lose. The Obama Administration will claim success and his 3,000 press secretaries in the media will trumpet his brilliant strategy. In the meantime, we've failed utterly at accomplishing what we set out to do.

Red, White and Black

Our Maximum Leader relaxing right outside the kitchen yesterday.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Maybe If We Instituted Price Controls This Would Get Better

Instaglenn has an interesting post on drug shortages. Here's a tiny bit.
UPDATE: A reader who asks anonymity writes:
As a pharmacist of 25 years currently working in hospital pharmacy-I can tell you that the drug shortages are ongoing, dire, and in some cases life-threatening. Take a look at to see the extent of the problem. Many items on the list are for crash carts and critical care.

We’ve had to resort to back-up products, alternatives and work-arounds. All of which compromise quality of care and safety.
I added the hyperlink in the text above.All of the non-restructuring plans to save Medicare and Medicaid institute price controls on the pharmaceutical industry. Dittos for Obamacare. If you've got shortages now, what will they be like once it pays even less to manufacture these things?

Things That Make Me Smile

Harmony in our household.

Mississippi River Sunset

I took this photo on my trip to New Orleans earlier this week. After our meetings, we drove down to Port Sulphur and back right around sunset. At one point, we drove up to the top of the levee to take some photos. I thought this was going to be artistic, but to me it came out too cute by half.

North African Mussels and Clams

This dish, which can be found in Nick Stellino's Mediterranean Flavors, is my wife's favorite. It's easy to make, provided you set aside about an hour for the clams to soak in brine so they disgorge their sand.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cheezburger of the Day

Giving Away The Secret

Over at Yahoo!, Janelle Harris blames women for the death of chivalry. After watching a man push his girlfriend aside to get through a restaurant door first, she goes off on a rant about how women should expect more of men. She gives the whole thing away in her final paragraph.
In a way, it’s like doing my part to remind guys — or teach them if they never knew it in the first place (shame on their mamas, by the way) — that some women expect a higher standard of treatment. It’s not being bourgie or bitchy or snotty or snobby. It’s called being a lady.
Notice who was supposed to do the teaching in the family. Mama. Dad doesn't show up in the picture at all. Sorry, honey, chivalry was the first casualty of the sexual revolution. Men get what they want and aren't expected to do a darn thing. That's just the way it is.

Now stop complaining and go sit down on the couch. There's a good rerun of Sex and the City on the TV.

Waiting for something like this. girls? Good luck with that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

iBahn 2, Laptop 0

I've blogged in the past about my laptop fighting with iBahn. It happened again this trip and I never got it to work. I'm going to try scrubbing the thing down and reinstalling XP (that's all the old thing will run) and see if that clears things up.

In any case, I'm back home and have some good photos to share. Right now, though, I'm making Ratatouille and some kind of garlicy shrimp dish. More blogging tomorrow. Or maybe tonight.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taking a Mulligan

I could have sworn the president already submitted a budget. No, really! He gave a speech about it and everything.  Now he's going to give another speech about another budget, presumably for the same country and the same year. Where  the last one spent money like crazy, this one is supposed to be all grown up and stuff.

I wonder if anyone else will notice the change.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interesting Blog

And All These Things

I discovered it while noodling around on my Droid this morning while drinking my coffee.

Blogging Will Be Light

... as Jacob hinted yesterday, we have a business trip to New Orleans this week. We'll post as much as we can from there, but we have no idea what it will be.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Business trips to New Orleans.

Printing Money

I have to say that chart that I've used in the last few posts, the one that shows how the Fed is buying almost all of the new issue of Treasuries really has me spooked. That's the last phase of fiscal collapse - printing money to cover your debts. Those charts show that we're not even bothering to look for lenders right now, we're just printing hundreds of billions of dollars and handing them out. There's no step after that, just a long, long fall.

Maybe I'm overreacting.

Thank goodness for Rep. Ryan.

Two Charts

We've reached the limits of what government spending can do for us. Right now, we're simply printing money and handing it out and there's no appreciable effect.

Printing Money:


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Artifacts of light in my photos that give me unexpected bits of beauty.

What If The Recovery Isn't The Most Important Thing?

Minyanville has an awesome post on this from whence these charts come.

The Fed is monetizing our debt - printing money and handing it to the Federal Government. The chart below shows all the Treasuries bought by someone other than the Fed. The boxed section on the right shows the world after QE2 ends.

As they print money, commodity prices are shooting up.

Commodity inflation doesn't translate perfectly into consumer inflation because of this:

Price you pay in the store = Commodity costs + Labor costs + Profits.

The lower your labor costs, the higher the inflation will be from the insane commodity inflation that's going on now. That's why gasoline and food are going up like mad while computer prices are not. Commodities are a much smaller percentage of the overall price of a computer.

This is also why places like Libya and Egypt are rioting. The things they buy on a daily basis are dominated by products made with cheap labor so commodities are a significantly higher portion of the final price. The normal Egyptian or Libyan is seeing inflation to the point where they can't afford what they need.

If you boil down the rhetoric from the Obama Administration and the Fed, we're printing money to maintain the recovery and make unemployment lower. What we're doing as a consequence of this is destabilizing the world and setting ourselves up for a monstrous inflationary hangover in the near future.

High inflation will force the Fed to raise interest rates as Europe and China have already begun to do. That's going to be bad for anyone who has to borrow money. Guess who has to borrow the most money of all? What's our fiscal situation going to look like when we have to pay, say, an extra 3% on our debt? That's going to amount to $520B a year in added interest payments.

A stumbling recovery is bad, but there are things that are much, much worse.

Have The Sunday Talk Shows Always Been This Awful?

I'm sitting here in the Catican reading and blogging while one of our sons is watching the Sunday news shows. The amount of ignorance on display from everyone, participants and hosts alike, is appalling. Man, I hope their ratings are low. If you had them speak in Portugese it would answer my question posed a few days ago: How could the people of Portugal be stupid enough to think that they could endlessly spend more than they earned?

Bonus bit: Senator Schumer was holding forth on how we could maintain Medicare and Medicaid by improving efficiency. The hosts sat there and nodded their heads. Mine exploded.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Uh Oh

In our raised beds, we had flowers and big catnip plant. Today we transplanted the flowers to our garden, but left the catnip. Guess who found it.

Our Maximum Leader is an angry drunk. Her eyes are telling you that she is getting absolutely loaded, make no mistake. Have the bandages and ointment ready.

Things That Make Me Smile

The sky after a rain.


Donald Trump Is Great

Mind you, I think he'd be a lousy president, but he gets lots of free press and has sound bites like this.
Even before Gail Collins was with the New York Times, she has written nasty and derogatory articles about me. Actually, I have great respect for Ms. Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent. Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many bestsellers), is not at a very high level.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

Old movies. We watched Lillies of the Field the other night. What a wonderful movie!

A Question

Are all passport photos awful? Is there something about the type of camera they use that makes them universally hideous?

Portugal: Childhood's End

So I spent a little time this morning clikcing around the Interweb Tubes, looking for some Portugese newspapers and opinion pieces. If you haven't seen the latest, the spanking by the EU will be done with a 2x4 and not just the palm of the hand.
April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Europe’s rich countries pushed Portugal to make deeper-than-planned budget cuts in the heat of an election campaign in exchange for an emergency aid package estimated at 80 billion euros ($115 billion).

In an unprecedented intervention in national politics, euro-area finance ministers said Portugal can win relief by mid- May as long as it makes cuts that go beyond measures that failed to pass parliament in March and led to the government’s downfall.
Emphasis mine. So they marched and chanted and their political leaders embodied their opposition to voluntary cuts that would have left them (temporarily) in charge of their own destinies. Now mathematics, which doesn't acknowledge the power of marching and chanting, has made its own decisions and they will be little more than a protectorate of the ECB and the EU.
In a sign of how Portugal has surrendered control of its fate, the EU will intrude on the political campaign by trying to broker a cross-party budget-cutting deal between Socrates and the opposition party led by Pedro Passos Coelho.
So just what is their analysis of their own position? I came across the opinion section of Jornal de Noticias which Google Translate informs me has these paragraphs, albeit in Portugese. Note that this page does not have a date and time stamp, so clicking on that link tomorrow will probably give you a different result. In any case, here's one newspaper's take on the situation.
And that, to me, is the most important lessons to draw from this whirlwind of events. The inevitability of a foreign aid - and that Socrates is quite right - there is more than the assumption of the inability of politicians to deal with the problems of the country. It is true that speculators and the rating agencies acted and act like hungry jackals (just watch them froth while gazing at Spain, new potential prey), but the luck in the gutter that now is not exactly surprise anyone. To paraphrase a character in the media, "was written in the stars" we would need outside help. And the truth is that the way we started. Over time more.
Google has muddled the translation a bit, but you can see that the author gets it, despite his finger pointing that the "speculators and the rating agencies acted and act like hungry jackals." "(T)he truth is that the way we started" is a good indication that they're taking responsiblity for this:

I'd suggest that Portugese society became infantile and possessed a childish view of the world. They looked to someone else to give them treats so they could do what they liked. The editorial is the words of someone who is waking up to what they've done. It's a cause for optimism.

In other news, President Obama's proposed FY12 budget has a planned deficit of over $1T. One wonders if he takes his meals from the Presidential High Chair.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

We're Sorry, But From 20,000 Feet, You All Look The Same

"All Points Bulletin: Terminate with extreme prejudice a group of armed pickup trucks headed east from the town. They are known to carry Libyan Army units ..."
Rebel fighters claimed North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes blasted their forces Thursday, in another apparent mistake that sharply escalated anger about coordination with the military alliance in efforts to cripple Libyan forces. At least two rebels were killed and more than a dozen injured, a doctor said.

The attack, near the front lines outside the eastern oil port of Brega, would be the second accidental NATO strike against rebel forces in less than a week, and brought cries of outrage from fighters struggling against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's larger and more experienced military.

"Down, down with NATO," shouted one fighter as dozens of rebel vehicles raced eastward from the front toward the rebel-held city of Ajbadiya.
Airstrikes without spotters on the ground coordinating the attacks lead to friendly fire incidents? Who could have seen this coming?

Cheezburger of the Day

I felt sure this had to be a Photoshop and the consensus seems to be the same. Even under the most extreme circumstances, I couldn't get my head around the mechanics of a giraffe climbing a tree. Having said that, it's still funny.

Did I ruin the joke?

But They Marched! And Chanted!

... and in the end it had no effect at all. The Portugese are about to become a protectorate of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Portugal will need as much as €90 billion ($128.98 billion), including €10 billion in June, under a bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, people familiar with the situation said Thursday ...

It will take about two to three weeks to work out an austerity program to accompany a bailout for Portugal with the help of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday.
Emphasis mine. A month ago they still controlled their own lives. Instead of sucking it up and voluntarily cutting their spending, they marched and chanted and demanded an infinite extension of childhood. All of that is over now as the (relative) grown-ups at the ECB are going to come down good and hard on them.

The thing I'm marvelling at is how a relatively educated population couldn't have seen this coming. They spent way more money than they were making. Everyone knew it because the newspapers told them frequently what their debt situation was.

I don't know why this didn't work. They had everything you'd need: a bullhorn, a sign, colored hair ...

I get it that a nation can elect an Obama once in a while. But to elect one and then after he wrecks the nation's finances by borrowing unbelievably vast sums of money, how could you have any collective reaction but panic? How could a majority think that by marching and chanting and demanding that a mythical someone else pay your bills you could avoid the inevitable end of all deadbeats? The Portugese education system must be screwed up beyond all measure to produce a population that can't make the simple connection between borrowing money and paying it back.

Next up: a search for an English-language Portugese newspaper or blog.


I picked this one up from Der Spiegel.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


This is our 5,000th entry on The Scratching Post. We started on February 11, 2006 with this post.

The Scratching Post was started as an effort to make money. I was down on my luck to the point where it took me weeks to save up the $15 I needed to take a load of rubbish to the dump. Every last penny was precious.

I had free time in uneven increments, at strange hours and with a relatively unpredictable schedule. I had been reading blogs for a while, particularly IMAO, and figured I could give it a go. I posted for a while and built up links and then began hosting ads on the site.

Over about a year, I made $100 from Google and $50 or so from Pay Per Post. It worked out to something like a nickel an hour. I pulled the ads and stopped trying to make money. By then my financial situation had improved considerably and I no longer needed the money so desperately.

I kept blogging because the thing had gotten under my skin. It was a vehicle to explore and share and learn and rant. The blog became a ravenous beast, ever hungry for more information which was digested and turned into blog posts. Over the last 5 years, I've learned so much about so many different subjects all to feed the blog.

One of the most important things I've learned is how much I need you. I never felt I was writing for an empty room because you were there. You posted links to my site, you left comments or sometimes you just stopped by to look at a photo or two and wandered off silently. The hits and interactions kept me going, kept me learning, kept me looking for something new and interesting to post.

For Lent, Jacob's been doing a series of posts on things that make us smile. After five years, 5,000 posts and more than 430,000 hits, we've discovered that the biggest thing of all that makes us smile is you.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

I love all the technologies we're blessed with living in the USA in 2011. We can easily make silly driving videos like this one.

Paul Ryan Rocks

The Death Of Need

... because the fiscal troubles in Europe are really much bigger than they seem. The underlying philosophy that has governed the Western world for the last 40 years, need trumps ability to pay, is in its death throes.

Niall Ferguson recounts the EUs troubles for the 403rd time.
Equally culpable are the banks of the core. German banks, for example, have close to €500 billion of exposure to the PIGS. The dirty little secret of euro-zone finance is that if one of the periphery countries were to default, German banks—in particular the state-owned Landesbanken—would be among the biggest losers. And that, of course, is why it makes sense for the core to bail out the periphery: in truth, they are all in this banking crisis together.
Ignore the locations and the amounts for a moment and just consider the foundational facts. Banks loaned money to groups who had no ability to pay it back. They did it for decades. In part, the group borrowing and spending did so, not to create industries and future wealth, but because their citizens needed the money. The financial spasms in Greece, Ireland and Portugal are the death throes of need.

The Germans, who bankrolled this generosity, have had enough.
It is the political difficulty of selling this proposition to German voters that is set to derail the EU train. A euro-barometer poll last year revealed that only 34 percent of Germans thought the euro had mitigated the effects of the financial crisis. Germans are overwhelmingly for fiscal austerity—88 percent favor a policy of deficit reduction, much higher than for the EU as a whole. That is why the German government keeps insisting that the recipients of bailout money impose painful austerity measures on themselves.

The mood of the German voter can be summed up as follows: No More Herr Nice Guy. So the tax-dodging Greeks, the feckless Irish, and the bone-idle Portuguese expect the thrifty German worker to write them yet another check? For five decades after World War II, a penitent Germany paid up. The Federal Republic was the single biggest net contributor to the process of European integration. But the era of war guilt is now over—witness the humiliating electoral defeat inflicted on Germany’s governing parties in Baden-W├╝rttemberg at the end of last month. No matter how tough Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to the hard-pressed Greeks, to her own people she seems way too soft.
Traditional standards of lending and spending are on their way back and no amount of crying about who needs what is going to stop it. The Era of Need is over.

Monday, April 04, 2011

How To Eat An Elephant

... it's one bite at a time, don't you know.

Yesterday, my daughter had her first soccer game since we started our campaign of deliberate practice. We had been working on the accuracy and power of her kicks, particularly for balls coming from her left side and ones in front of her. In the past, she shanked about half of them. Yesterday, all such kicks were straight and true. Victory!

While watching the game, I found four more skills that need work. We'll pick them off one at a time. As I watched her play and tried not to have an aneurysm, it dawned on me that one of the benefits of deliberate practice is that it makes the impossible possible.

My daughter is trying to get into a very good high school wants to play soccer there. If they held tryouts today, there is no way on Earth she would make the team. My job is to spend the next 6 months getting her ready. If we worked on everything at once, or if we took on the skills that are actually collections of smaller skills, we'd never get anywhere. Like eating an elephant, this is going to be an unbelievably difficult task, but by breaking it into single, bite-sized bits, you can at least see the mechanism by which we might succeed.

Our deliberate practice scoreboard: two skills down, a whole bunch to go.

Things That Make Me Smile

Rock Roses.

Is Chris Van Hollen On His Own?

... because someone is going to be. Here's Representative Van Hollen's take on Paul Ryan's proposed 2012 budget which will reduce our 10-year deficit from $12B to $8B:
"All this does is shift the risk and burden of rising health-care costs to seniors on Medicare," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "You're on your own with the insurance industry."
Eventually someone will have to be on their own. All the government does with programs like Medicare is to collect a group of people, tell them they don't have to worry about paying their bills and then grab one more person and tell them, "You've got to pay for yourself and all of them. You're on your own!"

Well, either that, or the Fed can just print more money and Chris can hand it out.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


It's hard work being the Maximum Leader of the Feline Theocracy.

Determining Soil pH

Here within the luxurious Catican Compound, we have raised beds for flowers and vegetables and a wide array of potted plants, capped off, of course, by the radiant Momma Daisy. Wishing to be more scientific about our agriculture, we've recently decided to begin measuring soil chemistry and comparing the soil we provide our plants with the optimum soil characteristics recommended by experts. First up is soil pH. From comes this set of instructions (modified a bit for grammar and spelling) for measuring pH:
  1. Select soil, scoop it out and dry it under shade

  2. After sieving, take 5 grams of soil and add 100 ml distilled water

  3. Stir vigorously and filter through cotton wool or filter paper

  4. Measure the pH of this liquid with test strips or a test meter
Perusing Amazon, we found that high quality pH test meters cost around $100. Unwilling to spend that much for this project, we discovered test strips which will measure pH in 0.5 increments. We figured we could eyeball interpolate or use Photoshop's pixel analysis capabilities on test strip digital photos to get a bit more accuracy on these strips and that they would do just fine.

An order has been placed and we expect to receive our test strips forthwith. Experimentation will follow.

Update: By comparison, the Oaktron pH2 handheld meter is accurate to 0.1, but costs much more and requires calibration. After writing the post above and heading to the checkout at Amazon with the test strips, I wondered if it was silly to not spend an extra $40 to get the handheld meter. The problem with the meter is that you also need calibration solutions - liquids of known pH that allow you to make sure the meter is accurate. That adds another $20 or so to the cost.

Maybe I should have gone this way, but the cost doesn't seem to warrant it.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Momma Daisy Loves This

The Interweb Tubes are a wondrous place.

Things That Make Me Smile

Old friends from high school. Despite my best efforts at being unbearable, some of them have put up with me.

Soccer And Deliberate Practice

So I finished the book Talent is Overrated wherein the wonders of deliberate practice are described in great detail. I've begun to apply it with my daughter's soccer workouts and after only 4 sessions, we've seen great results.

I started by watching her carefully at her last game. I noticed that she frequently shanked the ball badly when it came across in front of her, left to right, perpendicular to the direction she wanted to kick it. I took 100 pennies, 3 cups and we went down to the local handball courts. There, I rolled the ball in front of her, left to right, and her goal was to kick the ball into the handball court so that it didn't hit the side walls. We used the pennies and cups to track reps, hits and misses.

On day 1 we did 76 reps and day 2 we did 58 reps. Her success rate was about the same each day, but her misses were closer on day 2. On day 3, we did 75 reps and she did significantly better. At her team practice that day, every part of her game seemed better.

Today we started a new skill - tapping the ball out in front of her with her left foot and then kicking it with her right. This is another skill she'll use over and over in her games. We did 50 reps with right footed shots and 50 reps with right footed passes and by the time we were done, her footwork was right on the money. In the past, her plant foot was all over the place and she had the tendency to pull up after she kicked instead of following through.

Tomorrow is her first game since we started deliberate practice. I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure we'll see a big improvement in her play and also be able to pick out some new, basic skills to work on next week.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Growing up, this was one of my favorite movies. It inspired me to take up sailing, snorkeling and keeping aquariums. I just watched it last night with my daughter. It holds up wonderfully well. Despite being made in the 1950s, the special effects are quite good and the scenes with the submarine are excellent. James Mason as Captain Nemo is terrific.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

I love derelict barns, houses and boats. Especially boats. I don't know why, but there's just something romantic and mysterious about a derelict structure.

It'sTime To Send In The Cops

... because the Libya thing doesn't look to be going so well.

Our allies call for a cease fire.
April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s opposition called for a cease-fire after the U.S. said it’s withdrawing aircraft used to attack Muammar Qaddafi’s forces following adverse weather that prevented strikes allowing Libyan loyalists to push back rebels.
Organization is practically non-existent.
Rebel forces lack any central command or organizational structure. They operate in small units, usually composed of groups of friends, neighbors or tribesmen who have armed themselves and deployed to the front on their own and make their own fighting decisions with little coordination with other groups ...

It is also hard for rebel commanders to control their youthful and inexperienced troops.

"I can't really give orders because they don't listen; instead, I give advice," said Mr. Khairy, the commander outside Darnah.
Chanting and slogans seem to be having their usual potent impact.
Another battlefield problem for the rebels is the scores of teenagers who have flocked to the front. They seem drawn by the idea of fighting and the spirit of revolution, but they carry no weapons ...

In Ajdabiya, eight teens from east of Benghazi said they had followed the rebels into battle for the last 17 days after hitching rides to the front. They sat gorging on food handouts, singing and mocking Kadafi with chants of "Forward to the front! No return!" — favorite phrases of the Libyan leader.
No worries, though. One of the most experienced and thoughtful leaders on the President's side has a brilliant idea to put an end to this whole mess. Arrest the dude.

Yellow On White

Dig this awesome photo from our Missionary to the Frozen, Northern Wastelands.

Sarah Palin Is A Dum-Dum Head

... and we have proof.

A Little More On Illinois Vs. Portugal

Bloomberg is reporting that Portugal had to pay 5.793% on average in their latest round of bond sales. Illinois bonds look to be yielding around 5.5%. To give a frame of reference, Portugese bonds are typically compared to 1-year German bonds which are now yielding 1.5%. Illinois bonds might be compared to US Treasury bonds which are yielding 0.3% for 1-year bonds. That means Portugal is paying a 4.3% premium over Germany and Illinois is paying a 5.2% premium over the Federal government.

Next time you want to sneer at the Euros and their ridiculous, bankrupt nanny states, consider our friends in the Land of Lincoln.

Update: A commenter pointed out that those were longer maturity Illinois bonds, so the comparison isn't quite fair.