Thursday, January 31, 2008

So Long, January '08. Not Gonna Miss Ya!

It's no secret that I'm not fond of winter.... at all. One thing that drives me nuts though is how long we have to wait for something resembling a pleasant day. I can even handle temps in the 20s and 30s quite easily as long as it's not cloudy, blizzard conditions, raining, whatever.

But this shit needs to cease.

It would have been quite a nice day today with sunny skies and temps in the high 50s. A quick trip to the grocery store was miserable with the howling winds blowing my long hippie hair all in my face, and chilling me to the bone.

I said to txrad, "imagine this if the temperature was a tad below freezing."

Not a pleasant thought.

February should be the end of the worst for us. We can have extremes. It can bring some of the coldest and worst weather of the season as well as some of the best. I'm ready for some of the best. What's going on in your world tonight, besides Hillary and Barack going one-on-one?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nuclear Isn't Green

John McCain had me breathing a sigh of relief tonight in the debates as he dwelled on the greening of America, weaning ourselves from foreign oil, and investing in green technologies. Aside from all his other faults, I thought at least he's a guy who has some common sense and would not send me scrambling for the nearest national border if he were elected.

And then he brought up the nuclear energy issue.

I have never seen a more blind and politically inept lineup of Republican politicians more worthy of landslide defeat than those on the rather precarious stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library tonight.

Question of the Day:

Which Republican candidate, if elected, would have you seriously considering an exodus from the United States?

This is a tricky question because few of us have the ways and means to leave and still be able to support ourselves financially. And I'm not one of them. But I swear I'd find a way if Mitt Romney were elected.

And given the insane bullshit spewing from the mouths of these so-called "less government" conservatives (Huckabee) who still harp on the traditional marriage issue, I would suggest there are several who would send me packing.

Given all that is going on with the Democrats right now, this is seriously going to be an interesting election year.

Republicans are more than welcome to answer this question by substituting "Democrat" with "Republican" in my question. I'm just curious to know where people's heads are at.

And I know sentences shouldn't end with "at" but fuck it. I'm annoyed right now. Nancy's red dress has me all agitated.

And who would ever have guessed that the "surge" in Iraq had bragging rights.


What a stupid debate. Who would Ronald Reagan indorse? Who gives a fuck and the question is absurd. The man is DEAD. Leave him be.

Light Posting Today

I didn't get much blogging done today. Despite the fact that I haven't yet started applying for any jobs after being unemployed for over a month, I had several leads coming my way today that required some investigation and one of them resulted in a rushed meeting this afternoon which might very well pan out to some extent.

Things are getting interesting.

Oh well, evening is upon us and we have yet another Republican debate to provide some distractions and excuses to quaff tequila.

The Real State of the Union

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain Wins Florida

And he's broke. Where do we go from here?

And then Mitt Romney blathered:
Our jobs are being sought by new competitors. Countries like Asia and India.

What? What ain't no country I ever heard of.

A Message To Clinton Or Obama

Please give John Edwards some consideration for a running mate, or at the very least an influential cabinet-level position. Please!. Do it for konagod.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards canceled campaign events in Alabama and North Dakota to make a "major policy address on poverty" Wednesday in New Orleans, where he launched his presidential bid 13 months ago.


In a news release, the Edwards campaign called poverty "the great moral issue of our time." In recent days, it said, "national discussion of important issues like ending poverty has given way to sniping and personal attacks between the two front-runner candidates. Ending poverty and fighting for the middle class is the cause of John Edwards' life — and he will urge the nation to refocus on this important issue."


Some people close to the campaign said Edwards was disappointed that poverty got little mention in Democratic reactions to President Bush's State of the Union address Monday, and he sees the New Orleans speech as a chance to refocus attention on the problem.

The reason it got little mention is because nobody gives a fuck about the downtrodden.

Ah, So This Explains It

I was wondering.
Middle age is truly miserable, according to a study using data from 80 countries showing that depression is most common among men and women in their forties.

And here I was thinking it had something to do with being unemployed and facing tremendous uncertainty, the state of the union and the world, my personal finances, not having a chicken coop, and the fact that another cold front is headed our way.
But the good news is that if people make it to aged 70 and are still physically fit, they are on average as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old.

Physically fit -- does that include having the ass of a 20-year old? If so, bring it on.

Album Meme

I've always been fascinated with album art and at one point I really wanted to design album covers so this meme is right up my alley. Via teh Portly Dyke.

Make your own album cover! Here’s what you do: The article you get when you click this link is your band title.

The last four words of the last quote on this page is your album title (you will probably need to reload the page if you do more than one, if you’re like me.)

And the third picture, the upper right hand, will be your cover photo.

And there's probably a WAY easier method to copy and paste the links intact from another blog, but that didn't work for me. kona had to do it the LONG, old-fashioned way. I figured out a way.

Yahoo Porn! No, Naked Mole Rat

While we are on the subject of seeing just what you want to see in a picture as opposed to what might actually be there, here's a classic example.

At first glance, I swear I thought this was an uncircumsized penis being tugged with a latex glove. (Granted, a rather gnarly one!) Alas, my mind is thoroughly in the gutter this morning.

'Tis nothing more than a naked mole rat.

As vulnerable as naked mole rats seem, researchers now find the hairless, bucktoothed rodents are invulnerable to the pain of acid and the sting of chili peppers.

A better understanding of pain resistance in these sausage-like creatures could lead to new drugs for people with chronic pain, scientists added.

Since investigative journalism is in my blood, I dug around and located a sample of the chili peppers from which the capsaicin was retrieved to conduct the tests.

Stop tugging your mole rat or you'll go blind.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Missing the Target

Amy Jussel, founder of a blog called with a focus on the impact of marketing on children, complained about the new ad campaign which features this picture.

“Targeting crotches with a bull’s-eye is not the message we should be putting out there,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Target offered an e-mail response:

“Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets,” a public relations person wrote to ShapingYouth.

Oh. Well pardon the hell out of us.

Ms. Jussel, who described herself as a faithful Target shopper, was not impressed. “Any customer deserves a response to a concern, so I found this to be a shortsighted, ill-conceived judgment call,” she said.

Target does not plan to change its ads.

Aside from the offensive condescending tone of the Target response, I've seen some outrageous ad campaigns in terms of sending the wrong message and being demeaning. And knowing what I know about marketing and the anal attention to minute details, there are very few accidental coincidences. This could be one of them. I do not get the usual sexually exploitive vibes and it confirms my belief that somebody somewhere will be offended by something however trivial. Correct me if I'm wrong.

When I was growing up I recall vividly a billboard for a nearby motel which featured a very shapely young woman in a one-piece bathing suit promoting the motel's swimming pool. As I was only about 5 years old, I was unaware that women's bodies (as well as men's) were actually used to sell shit.

What did catch my attention about that particular billboard was that someone had blown a hole in her crotch with a shotgun. Now that is some disturbing shit worthy of getting your knickers in a twist.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For He Is Risen

Praise Jesus, I may never be able to turn on a light again without having an uplifting religious experience.

Come closer children, and ye shall see the light.

The one-liner potential is truly endless, not to mention tasteless. Whoever decided to market this product really should have involved a focus group for feedback.

From Jeff Fecke at Shakesville, and others. And I'm sure the list is growing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Our Misguided Marijuana Laws

I can go to the liquor store and legally buy enough liquor to kill myself or at the very least make myself so sick I need two days to recover or end up hospitalized. I could legally buy a case of vodka and proceed to drink until I pass out, and the government has no problem with that, as long as I do it at home and not on the road.

On the other hand, if I smoke marijuana my body tells me when I've had enough and I honestly don't want more than enough. And unlike alcohol, when I have smoked marijuana I wake up the next morning feeling fine and dandy. (Notice my past-tense usage here, for the benefit of any Federales who might want to come bang in my door, I'm out of the stuff -- smoked it all up.) I've never in my life called in sick on a Monday from excessive consumption of pot on Sunday night. But I have definitely gone to work on a Monday with a horrendous hangover which has impaired my ability to work.

And that's apparently OK I suppose. We just don't want people going to work on Monday (or any other day) after having a toke on Saturday or Sunday night (or any other night), for whatever reason, even for health/medicinal reasons.
Employers can fire workers who use medical marijuana even if it was legally recommended by a doctor, the California Supreme Court ruled this week, dealing the state another setback in its standoff with federal law enforcement.


The high court [no pun intended, I'm sure] upheld a small Sacramento telecommunications company's firing of a man who flunked a company-ordered drug test. Gary Ross held a medical marijuana card authorizing him to use the drug to treat a back injury sustained while serving in the Air Force.

I really hope the next president of the United States will do something to remedy this absurdity. But I'm not (inhaling and) holding my breath.

Honestly, this pisses me off as much as any injustice.

The American Medical Association advocates keeping marijuana classified as a tightly controlled and dangerous drug that should not be legalized until more research is done.

Yeah, right. Because a plant which grows easily represents a HUGE threat to Big Pharma. Fuck the AMA. Plenty of research has been done.

Smell the Politics Brewing

Put on your favorite kinky leather garment and get those whips out. It's going to be a fun night. The polls are open in South Carolina.

Polls showed Obama favored to win the state in large part due to his strong support among black voters, who are expected to comprise more than 50 percent of the electorate.

Damn the vote! Let's see how many super-delegates Clinton can rack up.

A CBS News survey of Democratic superdelegates revealed that 184 of them are supporting or leaning toward the New York senator and former first lady. By a more than two-to-one margin, she tops Barack Obama, who is supported by 71.5 superdelegates.

Ahhh, the sweet smell of victory. "Securing America's future" indeed.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Friday, January 25, 2008

My Amy Winehouse Moment

Remember back in the 60s and 70s when people would put tissues around a beer bottle to keep your wands hands warm and dry?

Why did they do that? What did they plan to touch?

And then the DJ said "Amy Winehouse. Well, she's had a rough week."

Haven't we all.

Marijuana: It Stinks and It Gets Everyone Wound Up

And that's about all it does.

Blog about the black man on the keyboard in the 1920s banging on the black and whites smoking a joint, and the daughter saying something like, "put that out dad, it's not like it's medicine or nuthin." And the mother rounding up her unruly daughter to pacify the times.

Shoot this shit in black and white.

You've got to admit, this shit does excite you.

Does Your Vote Count?

Don't be so sure. Let's not forget the "Super Delegates" as Keith Olbermann so rightly pointed out tonight.
It’s called the Democratic Party, but one aspect of the party’s nominating process is at odds with grass-roots democracy.

Voters don’t choose the 842 unpledged “super-delegates” who comprise nearly 40 percent of the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination


The Republicans do not have a similar super-delegate system.

These super-delegates don’t have superhuman powers, but unlike rank-and-file Democrats, they do automatically get to cast a vote at the convention to decide who the party’s nominee will be.

Although dubbed “unpledged” in Democratic Party lingo, the super-delegates are free to come out before their state’s primary and pledge to support one of the presidential contenders.

So much for any hope I ever had for a Kucinich nomination, as if I ever really had such a hope. It would have been nipped in the bud in short order.
Sen. George McGovern, the leading anti-Vietnam war liberal, won the 1972 nomination. McGovern turned out to be a disaster as a presidential candidate, winning only one state and the District of Columbia.

So without reverting to the days of party bosses like Buckley, the Democrats decided to guarantee that elected officials would have a bigger voice in the nomination.

And for those of you keeping score, despite the fact that Obama and Clinton are virtually tied, when you factor in the whims of the super-delegates, Clinton is far ahead.

And you thought your vote might make a difference. As if.

It's like the electoral college. Only worse. Your vote doesn't really count. Case closed. THEY will pick for you.

You may now resume your normal everyday lives.

Friday Pussy Blog: The Multi-City Pussy Edition

Rebecca in Dallas (with whom I had an opportunity to visit this week -- even briefly -- and couldn't bring myself to drive into Dallas because I was so eager to get home to see my own kitties!) sent me this shot of Gidget and Gadget playing "Cat Cricket Soccer." (I really should stop and meet those kitties on the next trip.)

Elizabeth's wee little Lily kitty in Little Rock earlier this week. She's such a cute little squeaker.

And Georgie having a comfortable sprawl.

This was my first chance to meet my mother's cat and this was my only sighting. I think he was scared of me from the moment I started carrying my luggage into the house. He looks so much like our Sweet Pea, only a tad smaller and younger.

And the obligatory Tot shot. He was trying to get in my face.

Happy Friday!

Yea! Free Money!

All this hoopla over the bipartisan stimulus package is almost comical were it not so sad.
President Bush hailed "the kind of cooperation that some predicted was not possible here in Washington." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used the words "bipartisan" and "bipartisanship" 10 times in a brief appearance. "Many Americans believe that Washington is broken," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "But I think this agreement, and I hope that this agreement, will show the American people that we can fix it."

Print that $150 billion quickly because I can hardly wait to get my hands on my $600. Certainly, this will help millions of people temporarily who have been struggling to make ends meet day in and day out for years. For those in or near poverty, and others living paycheck to paycheck, this money is guaranteed to be spent, and hopefully spent wisely. Because it is a one shot deal.

And while the politicians are all gloating and patting each other on the back for their bipartisan success, I sincerely hope they are planning ahead for the day when the honeymoon is over. Once the money is spent, and the lucky retailers on the receiving end of this windfall have tallied up their profits, I have a fear we'll quickly return to face the music of a dismal economy.
Few economists thought the stimulus plan alone would be adequate to keep the economy clear of a recession. Yet many portrayed the package as a significant psychological boost for anxious markets around the world, a sign that the Washington overseers of the American economy are seriously engaged in finding a fix.

“It is a much needed and very constructive step,” said Lawrence H. Summers, the Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration who has recently called for specific and temporary tax cuts. “It will provide some confidence. But policy-making will need to be on standby, because more may be needed.”

Indeed, this is nothing more than a "psychological boost" and more is definitely needed. And what is most irksome is how the Democrats caved in to the misguided notions of the Bush Administration yet again, and minority groups are most likely to be battered hardest should the recession intensify.
Democrats had sought the extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in food stamps. Research shows these measures deliver the largest increases in spending, because poor people are prone to buy what they need when given the chance. Wealthy people, by contrast, tend to save more when taxes are cut.

The Bush administration insisted on rebates alone, and House Democrats relented in exchange for adding payments to people who do not pay income taxes.

“They gave up pieces of the package that were more effective,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute in Washington, who blamed the Bush administration for blocking the expansion of benefits. “It’s a political choice, and a bad one. It’s an ideology that says, ‘I can get a lot more credit for tax cuts than I can for expanding unemployment insurance.’ ”

Unemployment among blacks and Hispanics has been rising at triple the rate for whites, while the time it takes for people to find new jobs has been lengthening, according to government data. Some experts argue that by failing to expand unemployment benefits, the plan leaves minority groups most vulnerable to a recession.

Paul Krugman's op-ed piece in the New York Times today echoes these concerns.
Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus plan effective.


That’s why many of the stimulus proposals we were hearing just a few days ago focused in the first place on expanding programs that specifically help people who have fallen on hard times, especially unemployment insurance and food stamps. And these were the stimulus ideas that received the highest grades in a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

There was also some talk among Democrats about providing temporary aid to state and local governments, whose finances are being pummeled by the weakening economy. Like help for the unemployed, this would have done double duty, averting hardship and heading off spending cuts that could worsen the downturn.

But the Bush administration has apparently succeeded in killing all of these ideas, in favor of a plan that mainly gives money to those least likely to spend it.

In any event, let's not get too excited. It appears unlikely these funds will be in the hands of consumers before June due to the IRS being unable to begin processing these payments until the bulk of tax filings for 2007 have been completed -- usually at the end of May.

Speaking only for myself, I'm not sure what I will do with my $600 but the odds are it will not be spent at Wal-Mart, Target or Circuit City, nor is it likely to be spent at my local supermarket unless my current unemployment status is extended into the summer. Although I am jobless, I am still among the lucky ones whose receipt of these funds is unlikely to stimulate the economy. In fact, I think I might simply tack it on to that month's mortgage payment. A step closer to having a mortgage-free life is my own personal definition of security.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stop Talking, While You Still Have Your Dignity

The Republicans are debating.

A nation of ignornance deserves what it gets.

Let the (s)elections begin.

Reason #32,856 To Hate Wal-Mart

Peaches. What's not to love? Someone gave my mother a case of these and she sent several containers home with me. And yes, that is a plastic container. And yes, that stamp at the top reads: "Peaches from China."

And I know peaches are native to China, but do we not grow enough here to satisfy our own demand? Or are they rotting on the trees due to a shortage of immigrant labor to pick them?

This bothers me.

Riding the Radiowaves

I managed to embark on my trip without forgetting anything. Almost. Less than a mile from home I realized I forgot to bring along several CDs for those long stretches of highway where the airwaves are filled with religion, top 40 country and top 40 rock. Being a Taurus with a stern mindset, I was not about to turn around to go fetch something so inconsequential. I would just have to deal with it.

Things were not so bad in Waco with a station referred to as "the Bear" at 102.5 on the dial. It was listenable and at times enjoyable. And once that signal faded, I was in range of most Dallas stations. Dallas has not been one of my top radio markets for at least two--maybe three--decades. Media consolidation has basically destroyed any decent variety and diversity from the airwaves in all but a few cities. It's about the almighty dollar, not the music.

That being said, I did find a rather pleasant surprise in Dallas with "Lone Star 92.5" which seems to be trying to carve a niche with a playlist that sounds like Texas -- whatever Texas is supposed to sound like, even though many of the artists played were not Texans. For at least 100 miles coming into and leaving Dallas I listened to this station on Sunday and I did not recall hearing one commercial other than their own station promos. This is a technique used by some new stations --- or stations with major format changes --- to lure in listeners and establish some decent ratings prior to selling ad time.

I thoroughly enjoyed their format which is hard to categorize. It was definitely rock. It was definitely not your typical "adult album alternative" which is my favorite category. I think I would call it early 70s progressive (in the Texas sense) album rock for old accidental hippies who faintly smell of motor oil and still pop the occasional qualude. I'm not sure if that is going to be a successful niche even in a metro area of more than 5 million people, but it certainly entertained me.

And while their playlist is diverse and features artists like Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Susan Tedeschi, the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and even Melissa Etheridge, they seem to frequently select less-played songs from the bands, all of which have a common gritty feel like a west Texas dust storm. I found it refreshing despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of bands like Molly Hatchet and Grand Funk Railroad which obviously don't get much airplay these days.

Unfortunately, this station is owned by Clear Channel. While they are based in Texas, we'll see just how fond they are of this sounds-like-Texas format if the station doesn't meet their expectations.

By the way, as I was returning through Dallas on Wednesday, there were a few commercial interruptions and more DJ involvement than I recalled on Sunday, but it was far less abrasive than the norm and I did notice that much off the advertising was read by the DJ and seamlessly incorporated into the schtick rather than the typical 2 or 3 minute breakaway into annoying jingleland crap. I really hope they successfully make this work.

Little Rock is in a lackluster phase at the moment without any clear standouts on the radio dial. I found myself preferring silence over the all-too-common top 40, oldies and worn-out classic rock formats featuring songs which have literally been played to death. Honestly, who really wants to Stairway to Heaven or Kashmir just one more time?

Faced with those format choices and an alternative rock format I'll typically go with the latter. In Little Rock that happens to be 100.3 the Edge. It has an edge and boy, does it tend to grate after awhile! Granted, it is an improvement over the format which was found at that frequency back in the 70s when my dad considered it his favorite station. And while I do actually enjoy alternative rock as long as it is good, I found the playlist to be so narrowly focused on bands which all sound similar it quickly lost my interest.

Either I am getting old or my ear hasn't kept up to date on the subtle nuances of today's thrashing grunge. There's more to alternative than the sinister bass-laden sounds of dark metal. And while they do have some songs and artists I enjoy on their playlist, it wasn't worth the effort for the few and far between appearances of them.

And there's something rather distasteful about a station whose web site features a tab called "Red Light District" with photo galleries featuring "dirty chix," a "Babe of the Day," a "Thong of the Day," and "Wet on the Net."

Hmmm, music used to be about... music. What happened? It didn't take me long to figure out their demographic and thankfully I don't fit it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'm Back in Black

I left southeast Arkansas about 7:35 this morning after sleeping until about 6:50 which was at least an hour later than I had planned to sleep. Nevertheless, my estimated arrival at home of 5:00 was almost nailed. I pulled in at 4:57. Not bad after 9 1/2 hours of variables largely outside my realm of control. (Driving 80+ mph between Dallas and Austin didn't hurt either.)

Regular blogging will resume with a vengeance on Thursday. Thank you all for checking in and and sticking by me through what is always an incredibly hectic pace. Some "vacation" eh?

FYI, my allergy situation hasn't completely subsided but I'm much better than I was two days ago.

I'm GLAD to be home!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RIP Heath Ledger

I can't believe I'm doing two obits in the span of a week for actors in their 20s. Heath Ledger has died -- probably a drug overdose -- at the age of 28.

The National Review Isn't Biased

A tv ad for the National Review struck me as funny.

Bad Democrats are liberal and they like to tax and spend.

Bad Republicans (if there are any) are simply "misguided."

And apparently I need to read National Review to keep it all straight.


(My mother's favorite cable channel is Fox News. Why am I not surprised?)

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Walking Dead

I feel like shit. What a waste this trip has been thus far. Within an hour of walking in the door at my friend's house in Little Rock I began to feel a bit worn down -- more so than usual after such a drive. I felt like I was getting slammed hard and fast with some kind of allergy. I woke up shortly after midnight feeling as if I'd been running a fever, having weird dreams, and the remainder of the night was not a comfortable sleep.

And today simply deteriorated hour-by-hour but I did make the drive to my mother's house this afternoon. She prepared a divine meal of purple hull peas, collard greens, corn, mac & cheese, slaw, chow chow and cornbread. That should (hopefully) put me on the road to recovery tomorrow.

I may never again travel during the winter. My lips feel like dried up beef jerky despite the fact that I'm drinking plenty water. Anyhow, no more blogging from me today, I'm about to curl up under a blanket and watch the Dems debate in SC.

And I'm sure, with any luck at all, I'll be passed out before that one's over. Can we fast-forward to late Wednesday afternoon? I'm ready to be home.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On The Road Again

Expect lighter than usual blogging this week as I'm off to Arkansas to visit my mother. I'll post as I can from the laptop. I'll probably put any personal stuff and some pictures up at Black Soap. I would have to pick the coldest morning of the winter thus far to start a trip. It's 18 degrees and will probably be a bit colder by the time I leave.

This is my roundtrip travel time and miles. Whew! Kilometers tick by faster, but there's more of 'em.

Yes, avoid tolls. Please.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

South Carolina

Awhile back over at Shakesville, I was confident that Huckabee would win the South Carolina primary. I was right with all my predictions up until tonight, but unless some shit changes hands pretty quickly, it appears McCain has won in South Carolina.

I love politics. Dirty as it is.

Try.... Just a Little Bit Harder

She would have been, and should have been, 65 today.

For more, check out blueberry and her history.

The Other Looming Oil Shortage and Consequences

It happens to be cooking oil and if this continues we can chalk up another in a long line of crises which are underway.
Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

And much of this problem can be directly linked to the insatiable thirst for alternative fuel as biofuel production cuts into food production including crops which provide us with cooking oils.
A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.

A growing middle class in the developing world is demanding more protein, from pork and hamburgers to chicken and ice cream. And all this is happening even as global climate change may be starting to make it harder to grow food in some of the places best equipped to do so, like Australia.

In the last few years, world demand for crops and meat has been rising sharply. It remains an open question how and when the supply will catch up. For the foreseeable future, that probably means higher prices at the grocery store and fatter paychecks for farmers of major crops like corn, wheat and soybeans.

And you know those inevitable idiotic injuries that occur on Friday after Thanksgiving as shoppers fight their way into Wal-Marts and Targets? That may become more common.
No category of food prices has risen as quickly this winter as so-called edible oils — with sometimes tragic results. When a Carrefour store in Chongqing, China, announced a limited-time cooking oil promotion in November, a stampede of would-be buyers left 3 people dead and 31 injured.

Perhaps we should have given more thought to our fuel needs sooner than we have. Biofuels sound like a grand idea to wean us away from oil imports, but apparently many didn't consider the trade-offs.
Biofuels accounted for almost half the increase in worldwide demand for vegetable oils last year, and represented 7 percent of total consumption of the oils, according to Oil World, a forecasting service in Hamburg, Germany.

The growth of biodiesel, which can be mixed with regular diesel, has been controversial, not only because it competes with food uses of oil but also because of environmental concerns. European conservation groups have been warning that tropical forests are being leveled to make way for oil palm plantations, destroying habitat for orangutans and Sumatran rhinoceroses while also releasing greenhouse gases.

And don't think for a second this situation is or will be limited to third-world nations. Christina dropped this link from the Dallas Morning News in one of my comment threads this morning.
The sharp rise in food prices seen in 2007 is expected to be followed by another higher-than-normal jump next year, the USDA said Monday. And 2008's punch will be to the bread basket.

Items made with wheat (breads and crackers) and soybean oil (cooking oil and fried foods) are expected to rise so much next year that they'll boost the cost of cooking at home by up to 4.5 percent – half a percentage point more than predicted just a month ago.


Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration forecasts a 17.7 percent jump in crude oil prices next year, with a corresponding 10.7 percent boost in the price of a gallon of regular gasoline.

So just driving to the grocery store will cost more.

It is becoming quite obvious this decade is going out with a bang.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

The US: A Dirt Cheap Bargain

Foreign investment in the US is soaring with the top three sources of foreign money being Canada, Britain and Australia. Incidentally, all three have Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch. (Who won the American Revolutionary War again?)
For much of the world, the United States is now on sale at discount prices. With credit tight, unemployment growing and worries mounting about a potential recession, American business and government leaders are courting foreign money to keep the economy growing. Foreign investors are buying aggressively, taking advantage of American duress and a weak dollar to snap up what many see as bargains, while making inroads to the world’s largest market.

Last year, foreign investors poured a record $414 billion into securing stakes in American companies, factories and other properties through private deals and purchases of publicly traded stock, according to Thomson Financial, a research firm. That was up 90 percent from the previous year and more than double the average for the last decade. It amounted to more than one-fourth of all announced deals for the year, Thomson said.

While there are benefits from this trend with Toyota currently building a large manufacturing plant near Tupelo, Mississippi and a German company investing $3.7 billion on a stainless steel plant in Alabama, not everyone hails this development as the best thing for America.
Some labor unions see the acceleration of foreign takeovers as the latest indignity wrought by globalization.

“It’s the culmination of a series of fool’s errands,” said Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers. “We’ve hollowed out our industrial base and run up this massive trade deficit, and now the countries that have built the deficits are coming back to buy up our assets. It’s like spitting in your face.”

So, can we expect Americans to start plastering their SUVs with Thank God for Canada stickers?
Debate is swirling in Washington about the best way to stimulate a flagging economy. Despite divided opinion about the merits, foreign investment may be preventing deeper troubles by infusing hard-luck companies with cash and keeping some in business.

The most conspicuous beneficiaries are Wall Street banks like Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, which have sold stakes to government-controlled funds in Asia and the Middle East to compensate for calamitous losses on mortgage markets. Beneath the headlines, a more profound shift is under way: Foreign entities last year captured stakes in American companies in businesses as diverse as real estate, steel-making, energy and baby food.


“The forces sucking in this capital are much bigger than the political forces,” said Mr. Garten, the Yale trade expert. “If there is a big controversy, it will be between Washington on the one hand and corporate America on the other. In that contest, the financiers and the businessmen are going to win, as they always do.”

That is a fact and may well be the quote of the day.

Our Disturbing Economic Future

More warning signs in the news today, and I do apologize if some here think I am off on a doom-and-gloom tirade. However, I tend to prick up my ears when so many of the stories in the news seem interconnected. In the end, all things are, but these are particularly worth noting because the long-range implications seem dire.

I have been standing on my soapbox frequently in the last several weeks and a simple search of the word economy will display some recent ones. It was only a week ago that I posted about the dismal economic situation in California, and this morning I read similar news coming from Pennsylvania.
Within two years, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority wants to convert a 311-mile stretch of I-80 into a toll road.

The new tolls, a particularly controversial part of Pennsylvania’s plans to meet its growing transportation needs, are an unpopular idea among users of I-80, long a free alternative to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for truckers, tourists and residents alike. But with Pennsylvania’s budgets stretched, like those of many other states, the legislature approved the proposal last July.

The tolls — which still face hurdles, notably a need for approval from the federal government — would provide a substantial share of the hundreds of millions of dollars a year that the state says it needs to repair and expand its roads and bridges and so keep up with traffic growth.

“The wish list is extensive,” said Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Gov. Edward G. Rendell. “We have the highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the country, miles and miles of highway that need repair and public transit systems that need support.”

The transportation squeeze is hardly unique to Pennsylvania.

Indeed it is not. Even here in Texas, toll roads are being built around Austin and moves are afoot to convert some existing freeways into revenue generators. This amounts to a tremendous burden for drivers -- particularly those with longer commutes to jobs. Without a doubt, we are facing higher gasoline prices in the future and coupled with the fees to drive on the fastest routes from point A to point B, this will take a chunk out of the average paycheck. Read on, it gets better more interesting.

“There is a perfect storm,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “States have had a hard time facing up to their shortfalls in their transportation programs, gas taxes haven’t kept up with inflation, and there’s all these bridges and roads that haven’t been maintained.”

The push to charge tolls along I-80 followed legislators’ rejection of Mr. Rendell’s proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors, an approach taken in Illinois, Indiana and Virginia. Lawmakers were wary that the investors might raise tolls too quickly.


As in other states, Pennsylvania lawmakers have been reluctant to raise their gasoline tax, the fourth-highest in the country, because fuel prices are so high. The tax would need to rise by 13 cents a gallon to meet the state’s transportation needs, the turnpike commission estimates. (In neighboring New Jersey, where the gas tax is the third-lowest in the country, Gov. Jon S. Corzine introduced a proposal last week to raise tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway as much as 700 percent by 2022.)

Under Pennsylvania’s plan, drivers on I-80 would pay the same as on the turnpike. Cars crossing the entire state would be charged $25, trucks $93.

I'm not sure what the ideal solution is to this critical situation but I'm not a supporter of tolls. It is obviously not just the interstate highway system needing maintenance but many secondary roads as well. And with such hefty tolls in place on the main thoroughfares, thousands of drivers will flood those secondary roads in order to avoid tolls, thus increasing wear and tear --and traffic -- on those roads, not to mention the obvious fact that fuel economy will also suffer under that scenario.

I believe the 13-cent per gallon tax increase to deal with the transportation needs would make far more sense as this would eliminate the search by drivers for toll-alternate routes. Granted, a gas tax hurts middle and lower income drivers the most, but the concept of an expressway for the privileged while the under-class is relegated to a second-class highway is repugnant.

In addition, higher gasoline prices absolutely will result in more conservation. As prices reach $4 or $5 a gallon, people will begin to think more about their driving habits and many unnecessary trips will be eliminated. And many of those who can will switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles or public transportation which definitely needs more funding for expansion.

The state wants to spend $2.1 billion in toll revenue over 10 years to improve I-80. Contrary to the claims of some critics, none of that money could be used to pay for mass transit in Philadelphia and other cities.

And lastly, the very idea of leasing the toll roads to private investors to manage is infuriating to me. Unfortunately, as with the trend in selling the lottery, I expect to see an increase in efforts to sell our toll roads to private entities as well. And that, my friends, is the only incentive I need to not buy a lottery ticket and refuse to travel on roads with tolls.

While the focus of this post thus far has been the states' problems with funding highway improvements, that is by no means the sole problem. I predict we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. And this problem is not going to be solved in 2008, or 2009.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Click that picture if you want to read some sobering projections. During the next two years, half our states will be facing some severe budget shortfalls. More importantly, notice the states which are affected. They represent some of the highest concentrations of our overall population. And interestingly, Pennsylvania, the state which is unable to meet current transportation needs, isn't even listed as one of the states facing an overall budget gap. That's enough to make me wonder what might be going on internally with the other 50% of the states, whether it's in the area of health care, housing, employment, or road improvement funding. I doubt there are very many rosy scenarios and I see a lot of personal sacrifice on the horizon.

On a personal note, when txrad and I moved to Austin from Los Angeles ten years ago, I specifically wanted a house reasonably close to our place of employment, and that was back in 1997 when our world was quite different from the one we face today. We settled on the one in which we currently live. It was 10 miles from our office which doesn't sound close to some of you, but it was much better than the 23-mile commute each way in Los Angeles traffic, and with our Austin home and office being outside the city limits, we had a quick and easy trip in a rural environment.

Even with my recent job requiring me to travel downtown, that was still less than 13 miles each way. Despite having to deal with the much heavier traffic, I had to count my blessings that I wasn't one of the people who faced a commute of 25-30 miles, or more. Such commutes are obviously going to become more nightmarish in the near future thanks to a combination of toll roads, gasoline prices, and increased traffic. And I have no guarantees that my next best job offer won't be in the burgeoning northern area of metro Austin such as Round Rock or Georgetown, which happens to be 40 miles from my current residence.

As I stand at yet another crossroads in my life, I feel a certain paralysis in trying to determine the right steps to take to improve my own quality of life in the next few years -- a time in which it is likely to decrease for most. One luxury of my chosen profession is that it is an ideal work-at-home job, assuming the employers are open to it, and many are in my industry. I've done it for 7 of the past 8 years. It gives me the freedom to choose where I live and therefore have far greater control over my standard of living.

The idea of purchasing an inexpensive house on a lot large enough to maintain a large garden plot has much allure for me. By staying flexible in where I am willing to live, I am in a position where I could pay cash for such a house and therefore be rid of our current $1,300 monthly mortgage and $4,500 annual property tax. For many people, that is a dream for the retirement years, at best. The sale of this house, which has a significant amount of equity, could then be invested either for retirement or to provide supplemental income.

On the flip side, barring a full-blown economic depression (which I wouldn't say is completely insane to believe), this house is far more likely to increase in value than proposed El Cheapo Casa. And when up against a wall, there are at least more possibilities for out-of-home employment if and when that is necessary. Whether it pays enough to cover the higher cost of living here remains to be seen. At least with El Cheapo Casa, we would have a roof over our heads, and could put food in our mouths from a couple of minimum wage gigs.

Yes, this is what consumes my thoughts these days, and with each additional indicator of tough economic times ahead, I feel I am on the right track in analyzing my options. However, actually making a decision is extremely difficult. Being in the enviable position of having options is quite often a curse.

I have no idea who coined the term "Life's a bitch and then you die" but I am quite sure they were not a member of the well-heeled who purchase vacation homes in Jackson Hole with the same forethought some of us devote to purchasing a 10-pound bag of potatoes.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Best Investment Ever

The Bush Doubloon.
Ten-Gallon Barb. Yeah.

Better than gold, even.

Because Every Sorrow Deserves a Good Drowning

And I aim to take down a few sorrows this evening.

Sweet nectar of the agave. Tis Friday!


Friday Pussy Blog: Supersized Tater Tot Edition

The big Tot is on the prowl.

The competition for demonstrating who is most hungry has begun.

Notice the empty bowl. He will stare me down until I fill it.

Or prance around between my legs.

One big heaping armload of Tot love.

Supersize me!

Jesus Kristofferson! It's Cold in Texas!

Who Benefits Most From An Economic Stimulus Package?

The more I think about the sudden urgency to offer up an economic stimulus package, the most I question the motivation.

Is it truly to help those in poverty as well as those in the middle class who are struggling?
President Bush plans to outline the basic principles of a proposed package of emergency economic measures just before noon on Friday, in an effort to restore the eroding confidence of investors and consumers. The package is expected to include more than $100 billion in one-time tax rebates for individuals and an opportunity for businesses to rapidly write off their capital investments.

We've had issues with poverty in this country for decades during which time we could have done far more to alleviate it. We've also had families with jobs who still struggle to make ends meet. Neither of these are new phenomenons. But only recently has the economy been addressed as a political issue in the upcoming presidential elections. To be sure, the housing crisis raised a lot of red flags and is causing many people financial distress who were relatively stable before the shit hit the fan.

But only when the stock market starts taking a beating and consumer confidence shows a downturn do we start hearing the politicians yelping about how something needs to be done, and quickly.

Pardon me for questioning the true motivation and what proportion of the incentives will ultimately benefit the corporate elite.

The homeless vets living under a bridge, or the family of four living on two minimum wage jobs are probably not giving a rat's ass about the Nasdaq. All this talk about helping those who are struggling seems like a thinly veiled disguise for keeping portfolios healthy.

Anything we can do to stimulate discretionary spending will certainly help to keep some CEOs earning a healthy salary. Because we sure don't want those folks being shown the door. How on earth would they survive on those meager severance packages?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World is..

Mike Huckabee. And it couldn't have happened to a more deserving fella.

Because, for starters, I don't want to marry my cat. I just enjoy sliding my fingers through the luscious pussy fur.

The Ununited States: Divided We Shall Fall

After reading the New York Times this morning I'm starting to seriously wonder if the US isn't destined to deal with a cultural divide for decades to come. And the situation seems to be deteriorating during what is perhaps the most important presidential election year in decades.

We have squabbled over race and gender, over pulling out vs. staying in (a reference to Iraq; nothing sexual here), and religion as a political issue and tool has reached new heights.

If we continue on our current trend of playing musical chairs with the primaries and the outcome being a different winner in each one, reflecting the vastly differing perceptions of what's most important with the electorate in each state, then we are in for one long bumpy ride to November and beyond.

Let's start with Shaker Heights, Ohio and work our way out to the broader picture. Six black teenagers beat a white lawyer to near death and it has rocked this small integrated suburb of Cleveland which has been a relatively peaceful model of integration for decades.
“The concept that something like that could happen here literally never crossed my mind,” said the Rev. Diane Ford Jones, an African-American resident of Ludlow.

Petty thefts are rising near the edges of Shaker Heights, so two years ago the city increased its police budget by $50,000 annually to pay for more patrols along the border, said Mayor Earl M. Leiken. Since the attack, unmarked police cars circle the Shaker Heights streets of Ludlow every five minutes. There is no increased police presence on the Cleveland side, residents say.


What has surprised Ludlow residents most since the attack is the reaction of people around the region. Cleveland has grown steadily poorer over the last five decades. Many people in the surrounding area believe that Shaker Heights will eventually be overwhelmed by Cleveland residents, many of them African-Americans, trying to escape the city’s high crime rate and struggling schools. They wonder why residents of Shaker Heights have not moved to more distant — and safer — suburbs.

Scenarios such as this are are likely to rise as the gulf between those who have and those who have not continues to widen. It's not so different from what is happening in other parts of the world where the conflicts between races, tribes, religious affiliations and class have people on the move seeking safety and security.

And in Montana, a small town has become divided over the issue of climate change which resulted in the cancellation of a speech at the high school by a Nobel laureate climate researcher. While this did not involve violence, it is no less abhorrent to see divisions erupting where we should be uniting. Unfortunately, the right-wing conservatives who are so hellbent on rejecting the mere discussion of the issue prefer to not only bury their own heads, but also prevent more open-minded folks the benefit of education.
The scholar, Steven W. Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana, was scheduled to speak to about 130 students here last Thursday about his career and the global changes occurring because of the earth’s warming.

Dr. Running was a lead author of a global warming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 400-member United Nations body that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. But when some residents complained that his presentation here would be one-sided because no opposing view would be offered, the superintendent of Choteau School District No. 1, Kevin St. John, canceled it.


Those who complained misunderstood the content of the talk, Mr. St. John said, but there was no time to explain to all of them that Dr. Running was a leading scientist rather than an agenda-driven ideologue.

“It was my failure to articulate who he is and what he was here for,” the superintendent said. “He’s a Nobel scientist, highly distinguished, but people thought he was something else. Academic freedom is very important here, and science education is very important here.”

Still, as in much of the West, Choteau is home to a deep-seated mistrust of environmentalism, which many here see as a threat to their agricultural way of life. The town has also been largely on the pro-development side of a long and sometimes bitter battle over whether to exploit oil and gas reserves along the wild Rocky Mountain front or to preserve it primarily for wilderness and wildlife.

Finally, there is the raw politics of the matter. Dr. Running specializes in an issue associated with Mr. Gore, not a popular figure among many in this predominantly Republican town.

One has to wonder about our fate as a nation when adversity to Al Gore is so strong as to disrupt and cancel important dialogue. And one school board member didn't even have the backbone to explain his opposition to the event.
Kirk Moore, the owner of a farm and ranch store, is a school board member who favored canceling the talk. But he declined to say why. “No comment,” Mr. Moore said. “Go talk to the superintendent.”

People of this mindset are spread far and wide in the US and they will stop at nothing to exert influence and control, not only over speeches and the contents of science textbooks, but also over elections. There is widespread evidence of their filthy tactics in South Carolina as they make a brazen attempt to impact the outcome of the all-important presidential primary.
Mudslinging in South Carolina began even before Christmas. Nearly 4,000 South Carolinians received bogus Christmas cards purporting to be from Mitt Romney that endorsed polygamy and talked about the “exceedingly fair and white” Virgin Mary.


At the moment, e-mail is flooding into South Carolina — after having appeared in Iowa and New Hampshire — alleging that Senator Barack Obama is Muslim, which he is not, and questioning his patriotism, based on a photograph in which he does not have his hand over his heart as the national anthem is being played.

The outrageous ignorance, bigotry and prejudice of the people orchestrating these smear campaigns would be laughable were it not for the fact that there are so many ignorant and prejudiced bigots on the receiving end.

What exactly is the value or the accuracy in calling our process "democratic" when it can be so easily manipulated at the primary level, before we even reach the ever-controversial November general election?
On the Democratic side, the most spirited defensive effort is being waged by the Obama campaign after an increase in e-mail falsely stating that Mr. Obama attended a radical Islamic school as a child in Indonesia, and that his parents raised him as a Muslim so he could run for president and subvert the government.


B. J. Welborn, a volunteer for Mr. Obama, said that she had recently noticed more comments about Mr. Obama’s supposed Muslim ties when making phone calls on his behalf.

“We don’t know where it is coming from,” Ms. Welborn said. “We have a lot of fact sheets, and we direct people to the Obama Web site. But some people just don’t want to listen.”

I'm noticing a common thread here with the earlier Montana climate change story. One of the biggest threats facing our nation today is not Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, outsourcing of jobs or the economy in general. It really boils down to an unwillingness of so many people to fucking listen. They would rather drape themselves in the flag and drown out any reasonable opportunity to learn and discuss with a loud and proud pledge of allegiance, and a steadfast belief that God is on their side.

This shit is seriously undermining and discrediting our election process and it must be stopped. If such activity isn't a felony, it should be. This is not free speech. If their claims were truthful, then it's a fair part of a political campaign. But outright lies being disseminated in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election should be prosecuted as a felony, and the ringleaders of these smear campaigns are worthy of prison time.
By Tuesday afternoon, a group calling itself Vietnam Veterans Against McCain had sent out a crude flier accusing the candidate of selling out fellow P.O.W.’s to save himself.

By Tuesday evening, a group called Common Sense Issues, which supports Mike Huckabee, had begun making what it said were a million automated calls to households in South Carolina telling voters, according to one of the calls, that Mr. McCain “has voted to use unborn babies in medical research.” (The campaign of Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said it had no connection to the group and had asked it to stop the calls.)

If we cannot have fair and square debates and untainted primary elections for both parties, and if early leaders in these races are selected based upon false accusations and smear campaigns, then our entire process is marred and essentially meaningless. We become a nation with a political process essentially controlled by thugs, bigots, racists, and religious zealots with suppression as their desired outcome. And that makes us not so much different from other countries in the world whose elections and governments are a laughingstock.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It Was An Improvement, Before It Wasn't One

This is not the least bit surprising, really. As it turns out, the Iraqi government has not been increasing spending for reconstruction as reported earlier.
Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.


By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.

Oops. Not so fast. Make that 4.4 percent.

But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.


The reason for the difference, said Joseph A. Christoff, the G.A.O.’s director of international affairs and trade, was that few official Iraqi figures for 2007 were available when General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker went to Congress.

So, in the absence of actual figures, we just make shit up? Who would imagine such a thing.
So the administration, with the help of the Finance Ministry in Baghdad, appears to have relied on a combination of indicators, including real expenditures, ministries’ suggestions of projects they intended to carry out, and contracts that were still under negotiation, Mr. Christoff said. But actual spending does not seem to have lived up to those estimates for spending on reconstruction, a budget item sometimes called capital or investment expenditures, he added.

“So it looked like an improvement, but it wasn’t an improvement,” he said.

Actually, it never looked like an improvement. It looked like a potential for improvement assuming a best case scenario. Big difference.
A spokeswoman for the United States Embassy in Baghdad said Tuesday that she could not comment. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Of course not.

RIP Brad Renfro

Brad Renfro is dead at 25.

Brad Renfro, the former child star who played a witness to a mob lawyer’s
suicide in the 1994 legal thriller “The Client” and a suburban youth tutored in
evil by an elderly Nazi war criminal in the 1998 film “Apt Pupil,” was found
dead Tuesday morning in his Los Angeles home. He was 25.


Mr. Renfro was an admitted heroin and methadone user who was photographed being arrested by Los Angeles police officers during a Christmas 2005 sweep of that city’s Skid Row. He was sentenced to three years’ probation for attempted possession of heroin and entered a drug rehabilitation program.

How sad, unnecessary, and completely avoidable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Michigan Primary and a Nevada Debate

For Your Inner Geek

One of the things I enjoy doing when I'm not blogging or reading blogs is checking out real estate on the net. Today I stumbled across and the heat maps in particular give me yet another excuse to squander away hours which could be better spent doing something productive. Sigh.

Green areas represent lowest average listing prices and orange areas represent the highest average listing prices. Cool, huh.

A Vacation From Employment

This Friday will mark four weeks since I was laid off. When I learned in late November that I was being laid off on December 21, I was ready to get on with it. I had endured four months of stress and was ready for some much-needed time off.

My plan was pretty simple. Because I'd suspected the worst starting in August, I was able to save a decent nest-egg which actually could sustain me for up to 6 months. My goal was to sit back, relax, do some household duties, finish up a few projects, and wrap up some unfinished personal business. The bulk of that I expected to get done in the first two weeks and then I wanted to take a trip to Arkansas for a few days to visit my mother. That was on my agenda before January 10th and I was going to relax for the remainder of the month before looking for employment in early February.

Wow. And wrong.

I don't know what it is about unemployment but the days and weeks are flying by and only this week have I made any significant progress in one of my projects -- cleaning up the unfinished business related to my old company, catching up on some accounting needs and getting the financials all squared away before going to an attorney to deal with uncollected debt from clients and a heavy debt burden I carry on a personal level related to that business.

As far as the relaxation and "vacation" aspect of my plans, I can safely say that hasn't begun yet. The holidays really disrupted my plans to some degree and I am certain the shock of being unemployed really hit me and kept me in a daze for two weeks. I haven't even taken the box of personal belongings from work out of the car yet. On a subconscious level perhaps I was hoping I'd get called back to work fairly quickly. Now, a month down the road, that seems less likely.

There has also been a significant amount of stress, depression, anxiety and uncertainty coupled with a lack of focus and direction during this time. It doesn't sound like I've had much fun, does it?

The annual pilgrimage back to Arkansas always creates a peculiar level of stress and anxiety on its own, aside from the other current factors contributing to a feeling of incapacitation. It's an 8-hour drive for one thing.

I think I'll leave on Sunday the 20th for the trip and make a sincere effort to leave my troubles behind for those few days. And when I return, I'll have that major contributor of stress behind me and I can get myself firmly grounded and focused again. And there will only be a week of January remaining.

It's starting to appear that I may need February off as well. Meanwhile, anything I can accomplish this week in my project list will be a bonus. The dark cloud of anxiety will gradually ease away with each completed chore and sunny days are ahead.

When A Month Seems Like An Eternity

Unfortunately, Iraq and Afghanistan (and as Bush keeps insisting, Iran) are not our only problems in that fragile region. Keep a close eye on events in Pakistan during the upcoming month leading to the February 18 elections, assuming that date holds firm. I would assume nothing.
Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.


The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

Pay particular attention to that last sentence. The New York Times story to which I linked is long but worth reading to fully comprehend the complexity and instability of our "ally" against terrorism.

Alternate link.

It's About Iraq The Economy Iraq AND The Economy

Pity the presidential candidates who must constantly multi-task by seizing the political issue du jour. While Condi is busy praising progress in Iraq, the Iraqi defense minister is indicating that country will be unable to defend its borders without (our) help until 2018 -- at least.

Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.


Mr. Qadir’s comments are likely to become a factor in political debate over the war. All of the Democratic presidential candidates have promised a swift American withdrawal, while the leading Republican candidates have generally supported President Bush’s plan. Now that rough dates have been attached to his formula, they will certainly come under scrutiny from both sides.

I've been concerned that focus on Iraq as a political issue had been dwindling too much in recent weeks, and while the economy is certainly a major issue -- and should be -- we can't take pressure off the candidates to declare their positions on our withdrawal from that quagmire.

If we are already having economic issues worthy of being the focus of attention right now in 2008, imagine the impact another 10-12 years of major US military occupation of Iraq will have on our economy, sucking away hundreds of billions more.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What's Up With The Poor Reception

Growing up in southeast Arkansas I had a particular affection for the transmission tower of the ABC affiliate KATV in Little Rock. At 2,000 feet it was the 2nd tallest TV tower in the world when I was growing up, and it guaranteed us clear reception even though we lived 85 miles from it. So I'm a little sad to learn the tower collapsed while maintenance was being done on it.
The once 2nd tallest structure in the world now lays in piles of steel. Remarkably, no one was seriously injured, but crews working to strengthen the tower had been just minutes away from climbing it to replace cable.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My 80's Guy

Via Jacq.

Your 80s Hunk Is

Scott Baio

What's so funny about this is that txrad told me about the quiz and he told me who his hunk was. So I had to take the quiz.

We have the same hunk! Isn't he HOTT? He almost has that Kristy McNichol thing goin' on.

My Cultural Life Meme

Tagged by Seventh Sister for this one.

1. What am I reading at the moment?

Mostly blogs and Facebook pages. However, I did spend a bit of time organizing my book collection today, and got many reference books grouped together for easy access, as well as language books on another shelf, and a few books I'd like to read.

My goal is to start on last year's resolution (yes, the one for 2007 which I made in 2006) and start studying Spanish. But as far as books go, I pulled out The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light - Mythology, Sexuality & the Origins of Culture but William Irwin Thompson.

This was a required textbook for a class I took back in the 80s and from the position of the bookmark, it appears I got about 33 pages into it. I don't think I was ready for it then.

2. What am I listening to at the moment?

Aside from a retro burst of metal on Friday night, I'm still absorbing the KGSR Broadcasts Volume 15 set of two CDs which contains live in-studio performances by quite a few artists who passed through our town in the past year. I'm also listening to Ruthie Foster's new CD (and she's on the KGSR set as well).

3. What am I watching at the moment?

I usually start off the evening with either Food TV (especially if Alton Brown has a show I haven't seen) or politics. Then we segue into whatever movie yanks my chain. Last night it was The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

I will tag: Pidomon, Sir Robin, Petulant, Cunning Runt (who is recovering from a wee bit of surgery and therefore must have time to read, listen and watch), and Burning Prairie.

Computer Networking for Dummies

I was organizing my collection of books today and found this guide to Alternative London which I purchased while living there in 1983-1984.

I was about to toss it since it's outdated. However, I flipped it open to a section on computers, specifically networking, an you have to read this. Obviously, books are like fine wine. A reference book in one decade can transform itself into a humor book with a new life in another decade or two.

There's another equally humorous entry entitled "Bigger Micros."
£4,000-£7,000* will buy a more powerful general purpose micro capable of handling an integrated accounting system for a business, or some other task of similar complexity.


Usually they use 8" floppy disks as standard, and hard disks can be added at extra cost.

*£4,000-£7,000 = about $8,000-$14,000 at current exchange rates.

Thank God for the 21st century!

Our Economy Needs Fixin' But Let's Start Another War Instead

I'm sorry to interrupt your relaxing weekend with news. Global security will never ever be achieved. So let's get that idea out of our heads.
President Bush said Sunday that Iran is threatening the security of the world, and that the United States and Arab allies must join together to confront the danger ''before it's too late.''

Read the rest of the article if you have the stomach for it. The level of hypocrisy being spewed by this deranged leader of the free world is both remarkable and mind-boggling.
Bush spoke at the Emirates Palace, at an opulent, gold-trimmed hotel where a suite goes for $2,450 a night. Built at a cost of $3 billion, the hotel is a kilometer long from end to end and has a 1.3 kilometer white sand beach -- every grain of it imported from Algeria, according to Steven Pike, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy here.


In renewing his ''Freedom Agenda'' -- Bush's grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe -- the president declared: ''We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability.''

Yet he was speaking about democracy in a deeply undemocratic country, the Emirates, where an elite of royal rulers makes virtually all the decisions. Large numbers of foreign resident workers have few legal or human rights, including no right to citizenship and no right to protest working conditions.

Some human rights groups have accused the Emirates of tolerating virtual indentured servitude, where workers from poor countries like Sri Lanka are forced to work to pay off debts to employers, and have their passports seized so they can't leave.

You may now resume your normal everyday lives. Pardon the surreal intrusion.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


WHOOOOOOOO! That's what I say when I drink tequila. txrad says I sound like Ric Flair. And while he does a few here, I've surely got him beat. But since he mentions a few hometowns of some blog pals, I'll give him a link.


I Did Have Something Important To Say

But Facebook got in the way.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Pussy Blog: The Sibling Edition

Sissy was named for the Sissy Hankshaw character from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues thanks to her extra large thumbs. Actually, she's a polydactyl with extra digits on her front paws.

She lives the life of luxury in the house.

She is trained to make very ugly faces on cue. She was in mid-yawn when I snapped this. I woke the poor girl up for a photo session!

Sweet Pea looks nothing like his indoor sister although his behavior and temperament is very similar to hers.

Notice the empty food bowl below. He is ready to be fed. Like his sister, he always responds vocally to his name.

Happy Friday! Oh, bonus puppy blogging over at Black Soap!

As California Goes, So Goes the Nation

I meant to tie this story in with my economic post below, but this one might deserve it's own post. California is in some deep economic caca.
Faced with billions of dollars in deficits, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a stark state budget on Thursday, including 10 percent cuts in most departments, early release for thousands of inmates and the closing of dozens of state parks.

The governor also declared a fiscal state of emergency, sending the Legislature into a special session for 45 days to find a way to make up the current deficit of $3.3 billion.

As you might expect, the housing turmoil is playing a big role in this crisis. And if a $3.3 billion deficit sounds dire, get ready for a bumpier ride.
The worst fiscal news may yet come. State projections show that the deficit will increase to $14.5 billion by summer 2009.

Few departments are spared in the governor’s budget. Forty-five parks would be completely or partly closed, including those with redwoods, waterfronts and historical sites. Officials expect layoffs in some agencies. Among those losing their jobs are lifeguards on state beaches.

Education, which generally counts for 40 percent of the budget, would lose $4 billion. The state’s well-regarded university system would receive $109 million less than last year.

Perhaps the most controversial plan would reduce the crowded prisons by 22,000, a move that would involve early release and relaxed parole requirements to take effect as soon as this summer.

State prison officials said those releases, which would require approval by the Legislature, would not include anyone convicted of serious, violent or sex crimes or anyone who had been violent in prison.

Echoing the concerns of many lawmakers, Speaker Fabian Núñez of the Assembly said releasing prisoners could “put the public at risk.”

Reducing crowded prisons is a smart move, even if the state wasn't bogged down in a financial mess. And it's doubtful that it puts the public at risk if these inmates were not convicted of serious or violent crimes. Just take a wild guess at why the bulk of those non-violent inmates are serving time. I'm guessing a chunk of them are serving time for marijuana-related convictions and they never should have been sent to prison in the first place.
By the year 2000, there were 458,131 drug offenders incarcerated in America's prisons and jails – approximately the size of the entire US prison and jail population of 1980. This means that nearly one in four (23.7%) prisoners in America is incarcerated for a non-violent drug offense. Contrary to the public perception that the incarceration of violent offenders has driven America's prison growth the major group responsible for the overcrowding of California's prisons is non-violent drug offenders.

It's clear this problem is not limited to California. This is a national disgrace.

How About Not Borrowing and Saving More

There are a wide range of opinions about whether or not the US is in a recession, about to enter a recession, or whether the housing crisis is simply a blip on the road to further economic expansion and growth. But the warning signs are clear and evident.

With an interest rate cut seeming certain, and soon, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke had this to say.
“The outlook for real activity in 2008 has worsened,” Mr. Bernanke said after describing all the forces dragging down the economy. “We stand ready to take substantive additional actions as needed to support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks.”

The interest rate, currently at 4.25%, could be cut to 3% or lower by summer. I'm not an economist, nor am I well-educated about the pros and cons and ramifications, but the rationale triggers a few alarms in my head.
The goal would be to get people to borrow and spend more.

I don't know. There is something very troubling about that. It reeks of more waving of the magic wand and I fear the wand has lost its charge.

In reading the comments linked to the article, it seems I am not alone in my concern.
Fed rate cuts will have little effect on slowing the descent into recession. They may spur some increase in capital spending, but this will be relatively small compared to the decline in consumer spending that's occurring because of increased unemployment and a more pessimistic public mood.

Another suck-up to Wall Street and a blow to Main Street. the cause of the recession is the price of oil, which will be driven still higher by this move, which clearly undermines the greenback. A stagflationary move indeed!

Boy, this is great. It will allow the geniuses of Wall Street to grow the federal debt, while lending ordinary citizens the low interest shovels they need to dig themselves so deeply into debt that the Masters of the Universe can award themselves their fifty gazillion dollar bonuses this year.

Many Americans are facing a challenge with expenses for basic necessities with little, if any, remaining for discretionary spending. I happen to be one of those with little desire to embark upon an unnecessary spending spree, draining my pockets in order to improve the bottom line of big-box retailers and allowing overpaid CEOs to save a little face and avoid having their assholes ripped by disgruntled stockholders.

Screw that. My current inclination is to play it conservatively, be frugal, and look out for my own economic best interests first. Buying things I don't need on borrowed money is reckless. Having to borrow money for things I do need is a big red flag.

Pedestrians in India: Beware

As much as I used to complain about my stop-and-go 30 minute commute to downtown Austin, I'm thankful I don't have to deal with traffic in New Delhi.

Photo credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Aside from the obvious problems such as increased congestion on already crowded roads, there are the minor details such as driver education and training, and perhaps trying to implement some organization to the chaos. Oh, and law enforcement. That might be helpful.

Never mind that none of the six adult members of the household knew how to drive. No sooner had the car arrived than Mr. Sharma, 34, took it for a spin and knocked over a friend. His brother slammed into a motorcyclist, injuring no one but damaging the bumper. The brother was so scared that he no longer gets behind the wheel, except on Sundays, when the roads are empty.

“We bought it first, and then we thought about driving,” Mr. Sharma confessed.

This situation will undoubtedly get worse now that Tata Motors has introduced a $2,500 car -- the world's cheapest -- which will pave the road to first-time car ownership for countless new Indian families.
Indians are rushing headlong to get behind the wheel, as incomes rise, car loans proliferate, and the auto industry churns out low-cost cars to nudge them off their motorcycles. They bought 1.5 million cars last year. By some estimates India is expected to soar past China this year as the fastest-growing car market.


In his first driving lesson, Mr. Sharma had more immediate worries in mind. Sharing the road with him were a bicyclist with three cooking-gas cylinders strapped to the back of his bike, a pushcart vendor plying guavas, a cycle rickshaw loaded with a photocopy machine (rickshaws often being the preferred mode of delivery for modern appliances).

There were also a great many pedestrians, either leaping into traffic in the absence of crosswalks or marching in thick rows on the sides of the road in the absence of sidewalks. At one point, a car careered down the wrong side of the road. Then a three-wheeled scooter-rickshaw came straight at Mr. Sharma, only to duck swiftly down a side street. At least this morning there was no elephant chewing bamboo in the fast lane, as there sometimes is.

Somehow the idea of a "fast lane" in the midst of all this chaos is amusing. And this situation has nowhere to go but from bad to worse.
With a population of nearly 16.5 million, New Delhi now adds 650 vehicles to its roads each day. At last count, there were 5.4 million vehicles in all, a more than fivefold increase in 20 years; scooters and motorbikes still outnumber cars two to one.

Not surprisingly, pedestrians aren't faring so well in the mayhem.
Pity the walker in the city. Half of all fatal road accident victims are pedestrians, according to the police. Every now and then, a homeless person sleeping on the street is run over. Last week, a speeding car banged into a policeman standing at a traffic checkpoint and didn’t bother to stop; the officer was critically injured.

New Delhi issued more than 300,000 driver’s licenses last year, which could be seen as either a feat of bureaucratic efficiency or Indian ingenuity. At one city licensing office this week, the test, which took about a minute, consisted of turning on the ignition and driving in a wide circle.

Also, it's relatively easy to get a license on the black market, which is convenient for people who can't read, as the article goes on to cite one such example.

I guess they'll figure it out eventually. Meanwhile I'm happy to be watching it from afar.