Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good News On This Last Day of April

Hard to believe tomorrow is May.

Last night we tapped into a delicious bottle of white wine. While it was only $11.69 with a discount for buying six assorted bottles awhile back, it was exquisite which is to be expected for a nice Italian wine. We've had the red Italian Masi Campofiorin which is one of my favorites, so when I saw the white I had to give it a shot. Rather tart but refreshing on a warm evening, and the hint of sweet in the aftertaste makes it memorable.

So little did I know that we were actually celebrating something last night. Yes I knew the new roof was going to be installed on Thursday, but I didn't think about the fact that the materials would be delivered today, on Wednesday.

As if that wasn't enough cause for excitement, I had an email which I read last evening from my ex-boss at the agency informing me that one of my colleagues had resigned and there was an immediate opening for which I am extremely qualified.

Right at the moment when I'm spending every last cent of our savings on home improvements, there's a chance at least I will soon be employed again. In familiar territory, amid friendly folk.

Cheers! Here's to a happy May Day.

If the sun refused to shine, I don't mind.

Bootsy kinda has a Grace Jones vibe goin' on, doesn't he?

Can We Please Have An Energy Policy? Is That Asking Too Much?

As a follow-up to my last post regarding the federal gasoline tax, take a look at what Thomas Friedman had to say in his New York Times Op-Ed piece today.
It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away.


Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

And then there's President Bush and his head-in-the-sand approach.
Bush declined to take a position on the concept of a gas tax holiday, saying he was "open to any ideas" to deal with rising fuel prices. But in a news conference in the Rose Garden, he focused on controversial, longer-term proposals aimed at loosening environmental or regulatory restrictions on domestic oil exploration and production, and he also advocated building additional nuclear plants.

"If there was a magic wand to wave," Bush said, "I'd be waving it, of course. . . . But there is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix."

Needless to say, the video was far more entertaining than reading an excerpt. How sad and pathetic. After more than 7 years in office, the leader of our nation is "open to any ideas" because he clearly has none of his own.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's Official: Summer is Here

We had our first firefly sighting of the season this evening. That's a sure sign summer is here.

I love those things. There is not much more heartwarming than watching them light up in the twilight. I hardly ever saw them while growing up on the farm. But when we'd go visit my grandfather in Mississippi I'd see tons of them and I'd catch them and put them in jars. (I hope I eventually let them out.)

It had to have something to do with all the pesticides we used on our farm. And of course when I moved away to Los Angeles I never saw them. I'd almost forgotten about them until we moved to Austin.

Between the fireflies and the cardinals, I'm in heaven.

Keep the Gas Tax

There are some strange political bedfellows this week on the issue of whether to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline during the summer travel season. Finally, we have a sharp and concise issue difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

On this issue I must agree with Senator Obama.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.


President Bush’s spokeswoman essentially sided with Mr. Obama in saying that tax holidays and new levies on oil companies would not address the long-term problems of dependence on foreign oil.*

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said gasoline prices were “entirely too high, but I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix.”

*Our problem, which Bush doesn't seem to understand, is not just our dependence on foreign oil; the problem is our dependence on oil, as well as our excessive level of usage. Period.

As I've said before, at least half the states are already having serious issues with funding for highway improvements. The excise tax is a crucial component in the funds available for highway and bridge maintenance.

There's a lot we can do to help overcome this problem in the long-run. And frankly, we should have already had a head start on this 5, 10, even 20 years ago. Perhaps we'll learn a lesson from this: plan ahead.

Yes, it sucks. I bristle each time I have to pump $60 into my fuel tank. And I do it far less than the average American. And it's easy for me to sit here and preach conservation as a short-term solution until we can address the longer-term fixes. But honestly, there are very few of us actually minimizing our trips, combining errands, eliminating unnecessary travel, and perhaps most importantly, driving efficiently when we must.

It's as if people don't understand a vehicle consumes far more fuel during acceleration than while cruising or coasting. Yes, day after day, I witness drivers (most in pickup trucks and SUVs since those account for the majority of vehicles on the road in Texas) speeding up to pass me when I've removed my foot from the pedal because I see a red light several hundred yards ahead.

So while I'm coasting and achieving well in excess of 50 MPG, the impatient ones are slurping the fuel and getting perhaps 5 to 7 MPG, if that. Since my car is equipped with a miles per gallon calculator, I know what my average is when I conserve vs. when I don't. If I drive as most others do -- completely oblivious to the reality of conserving vs. spending -- I'll easily get 3 to 4 miles per gallon less than when I drive with some awareness that I'm saving money by coasting to the traffic light.

On the low end that difference can amount to 25 miles per tank of gas. At 25 miles per gallon that's a savings of one gallon per tank. It might not sound like much, but over the course of three summer months, if you fill up once a week, it's in excess of $43.00. And honestly, I'm saving more than that with my driving habits, and I'm certainly not a "granny" driver. I just use common sense.

That $43 over a summer is, incidentally, more than what we'd be saving if the federal excise tax is suspended.
At a meeting with voters in North Carolina on Monday, Mr. Obama said lifting the gas tax for three months would save the average consumer no more than $30, a figure confirmed by Congressional analysts.

Suspending the tax is really a bad idea. And Americans seem to need an excuse to even think about how to conserve. And higher gas prices will keep the issue at the top of the list of voter issues which ultimately, with any friggin' luck, might influence Congress to stop sucking up to the petroleum industry and actually implement some short- and long-term progressive measures to get us out of this deepening hole.

Monday, April 28, 2008

When Green Turns Shit Brown

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm getting a little tired of hearing green this and green that these days.

Hey, I'm all for trying to promote green living, energy savings and whatnot. It's the whatnot I suppose that's getting on my nerves.

Last night we were watching HGTV showcasing new "green" products, and their "green home giveaway" If you really want to live in Hilton Head, South Carolina, then knock yourself out. Don't come complaining to me when your shit is under the sea.

But the icing on the cake during this program was seeing some of the sponsors. GMC Yukon for one, and you'll win one with your beautiful new home. Well? Their green hybrids get maybe 22 mpg! (But not the way I see most people driving them.)

Yeah, green. All the way, baby!

The Price of Nuts Is Nuts I Tell Ya!

There are interesting developments economically. Two of the largest owners of America's Main Street (i.e. shopping malls) are going to report quarterly results this week. That should be worthy of some attention and analysis.
Faced with soaring gasoline and food prices, and concerns about losing their homes or their jobs, the U.S. consumer may be in no hurry for trips to the mall.

U.S. consumer confidence fell for a third straight month in April to its weakest in 26 years, according to a Reuters/University of Michigan survey released on Friday.

I can assure you I'm in no hurry for a trip to the mall. Aside from my new glasses, I haven't bought anything at a mall in months that I can recall. I rarely go to the mall even when gainfully employed.

Simon Property Group Inc , the largest U.S. owner of malls and shopping centers, and second-ranked General Growth Properties Inc , are set to report first-quarter results on Tuesday.

Simon Proper Group and General Growth are the two mall operators set to report this this.
Simon Property Group Inc , the largest U.S. owner of malls and shopping centers, and second-ranked General Growth Properties Inc , are set to report first-quarter results on Tuesday.

Simon owns, has an interest, or manages 380 malls, outlet centers, and shopping centers totaling 258 million square feet of property in North American, Europe and Asia.

Chicago-based General Growth owns, has an interest or manages more than 200 malls in 45 U.S. states, as well as shopping centers in Brazil and Turkey. The company's portfolio includes more than 24,000 retail stores.

Yesterday the New York Times ran an interesting article about the creative ways Americans are tightening their belts.
Spending data and interviews around the country show that middle- and working-class consumers are starting to switch from name brands to cheaper alternatives, to eat in instead of dining out and to fly at unusual hours to shave dollars off airfares.


Burt Flickinger, a longtime retail consultant, said the last time he saw such significant changes in consumer buying patterns was the late 1970s, when runaway inflation prompted Americans to “switch from red meat to pork to poultry to pasta — then to peanut butter and jelly.”

“It hasn’t gotten to human food mixed with pet food yet,” he said, “but it is certainly headed in that direction.”


Wal-Mart Stores reports stronger-than-usual sales of peanut butter and spaghetti, while restaurants like Domino’s Pizza and Ruby Tuesday have suffered a falloff in orders, suggesting that many Americans are sticking to low-cost home-cooked meals.

Hey, we haven't ordered pizza in probably 3 or 4 years. It's not that hard to make. And we get two meals from ours. And I've never even have the urge to serve it in a Domino's Box just to pretend! So this next snippet really has me wondering what kind of relationship this woman has with her husband:
Holly Levitsky, a 56-year-old supermarket cashier in Cleveland, buys a brand of steak sauce called Briargate for 85 cents and surreptitiously pours it into an A1 steak sauce bottle she keeps at home.

“My husband can’t even tell the difference,” she said.

Seriously, is she just being funny or would he pop her across the mouth if he knew she didn't buy A-1 sauce? I'm a little suspicious about why someone would go to the trouble to pour one bottle into another.

Today I made my own small sacrifice at the supermarket. I've been buying 12-ounce cans of mixed nuts that sell for $3.99 and contain an assortment of nuts -- but none of the cheaper peanuts. My treat is to snack on just 5 or 6 before dinner.

Today I was searching for the can and couldn't find it. I stared at the shelves at least 45 seconds to a minute before realizing they had changed the packaging. Instead of being in a can, they were in a short clear plastic container. Whereas the weight in the can had been 12-ounces, the new weight is 9-ounces.

And the price? Oh, they're still $3.99. If my math is correct, that's 25% fewer nuts for the same price. Instead of those, I bought a 16-ounce container of just peanuts for $2.39.

Let's make this a Question of the Day. Have you started trimming back on any purchases due to the economy, or buying lower cost brands?

Last year I started eliminating organic cheese because the price was about $6.00 for what was probably an 8-ounce package. I was very disappointed in some of the non-organic cheeses I purchased -- the flavor simply wasn't nearly as good. However, we did finally try the store-brand aged cheddar which was surprisingly delicious and only $3.29 for a 10-ounce package. Considering the amount of cheese we eat, that's a significant savings.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

When No-Knock Search Warrants Go Awry

We have serious problems in the US right now which should rightly give us cause for alarm and anxiety. The worry that a SWAT team could theoretically and legally enter your home and blow you to smithereens ought not be one of our worries, but it is.

Last Thursday's issue of the weekly Arkansas Times had an article about Tracy Ingle of North Little Rock who had, shall we say, a rather nasty encounter.
No matter what Ingle or those he gave a temporary home to may have done, however, it's hard to imagine he deserved what he got Jan. 7. That night, the North Little Rock SWAT team stormed Ingle's house on a high-risk, “no-knock” search warrant. By the time all was said and done, Ingle had been shot five times — including one bullet that pulverized his femur and left his leg dangling from his body, connected only by a bloody mess of meat, skin and tendon.

According to an evidence list left at Ingle's house after the shooting, no suspected drugs or drug residue were recovered from the residence — only a digital scale, a notebook and a few plastic baggies, all of which Ingle's family members have identified as part of the junk they had collectively stored at the house.

This is why the "war on drugs" is a bad idea. And the no-knock warrant needs to go the way of Nixon: dead and fucking buried.
Conceived during the Nixon administration, the no-knock warrant — and the use of militarized Special Weapons and Tactics teams to execute them — came of age during the drug wars of the 1980s. The rationale behind no-knocks and using SWAT to serve them was simple: As the criminals became more savvy and well-armed, serving drug warrants demanded the element of surprise, and a more well-armed show of force.

The no-knock warrant is a recipe for disaster, particular in a state such as Arkansas, for an interesting reason.
Arkansas is one of many states that has enshrined some version of the Defense of Premises Doctrine in its laws. It is, simply put, the right to defend your home without fear of prosecution, up to and including killing an intruder who has made forcible entry.

It's an idea that is dangerously at odds with the concept of no-knock search warrants, says Radley Balko, senior editor of Reason magazine. A former fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., libertarian think tank, Balko did some of the early research into the use of no-knock warrants and militarized police units. Over and over again, Balko said, he sees cases where a SWAT team breaches a house, the homeowner exercises his right to defend his home, and either an officer or the homeowner is killed or injured. The only difference is that when it's a cop who gets shot, the private citizen nearly always winds up in jail.

This entire article is gut-wrenching and fills me with anger. And yet, Ingle doesn't hold a grudge against the two police officers who shot him, according to the article. If that's true, it's pretty amazing considering how pissed off I am after reading the article.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kona's Saturday Night Austin Tour

Ten years I have lived here and never have I gone downtown to watch the bats in flight.

Honestly, just between you and me, I could care less. I'd rather sit at home and watch the birds in my yard. Especially since there are so many videos of the Austin bats on YouTube.

It is rather spectacular. I had no idea there were so many! This video is over 9 minutes long. Unless you just want to sit and watch the whole thing for lack of anything better to do on a Saturday night (you could pretend you are overlooking Lady Bird Lake), then skip forward about 2:30 into the clip.


Worse Than a Nightmare

Imagine falling 33,300 feet in frigid temperatures and surviving. Read the story of Vesna Vulovic; it is quite simply amazing.
Ms. Vulovic, then 22 years old, crashed into a wooded, snow-capped hill in Srbska Kamenice, Czechoslovakia. Miraculously, she survived, the only one among the 28 people aboard that day to live. Now she says she fears it is the political situation in her native Serbia that will kill her.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Marathon Oil Has Balls

And hairy ones at that.

While watching Keith Olbermann I saw an ad for Marathon Oil promising 7.5 million gallons of "clean" oil by 2010.


That's supposed to make us feel better how, exactly, in the era of prices clawing at the $4.00 per gallon level? Considering we currently consume over 20 million barrels per day. Do the math: 7.5 million gallons would hardly satisfy the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. And define "clean." Inquiring minds want to know.

That smell you smell? It's marketing bullshit.

Friday Pussy Blog: Blurry Furry Attack Cat Edition

It's getting pretty easy to predict when a feline ruckus is about to erupt. It usually involves some improper activity, such as sniffing the tail of another feline.

This was the moment just before a blurry furry chaos.

Sissy, sensing some trouble, is on her way out of the room. Dinner interrupted. Tater Tot is about to be in pursuit.

This is the usual routine. Tot has chased Sissy to a chair in the adjoining den (pardon the unfinished floor) and scratches at it while Sissy is perched on the back of the chair.

When confronted, the Tot assumes a stance which is meant to convey to me that he is unaware of what might have just been happening, despite that fact that I caught it with my camera.

Sissy is not amused with his boyish antics.

The excessive excitement and exertion usually takes a toll on the Tot. He has left behind what I call "Tot Treasure" for txrad to clean up.

Happy Friday!

We Still Make Pinball Machines in the US

Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times
Just not very many.
...Stern Pinball Inc., is the last of its kind in the world. A range of companies once mass produced pinball machines, especially in the Chicago area, the one-time capital of the business. Now there is only Stern. And even the dinging and flipping here has slowed: Stern, which used to crank out 27,000 pinball machines each year, is down to around 10,000.

I always loved pinball machines and I still do. What's interesting is that most of the ones now are being sold for use in private homes. If I had an extra $5,000 sitting around here, I'd love to have one.
Though pinball has roots in the 1800s game of bagatelle, these are by no means simple machines. Each one contains a half-mile of wire and 3,500 tiny components, and takes 32 hours to build — as the company’s president, Gary Stern, likes to say, longer than a Ford Taurus.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ahhhhh Chooooo!

I just heard a woman sneeze while I was out on the patio. And she really let it all out because she thought no one was listening.

You know, there's something wonderful about the human sneeze. It's the point at which we all become equal, we all die for a split second, and we can see the humanity in one another.

My advice to the grand ole' USA it to start sneezing more.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Real Estate: What You Get For.... $17,000

I've always joked that one way to distinguish the haves from the have nots is to determine whether someone seriously shops for real estate in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

New York Times dot com also has a "Great Homes and Destinations" article which currently features "What You Can Get For... $700,000."

If I had $700,000 to spend on a house, it's unlikely I'd spend that amount unless I HAD to live in either New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Since I don't (yet), it's not going to happen.

One of the houses in the NY Times article is a house here in Austin for $715,000.
...this house is about a 10-minute drive from the music night life on Sixth Street and the surrounding area in downtown Austin.

Does that 10-minute drive include rush-hour, and does it include time spent parking or is that more of a drop someone off at 6th Street and I-35 and let them walk? Hell, my house is 12-minutes from 6th Street in light traffic on a good day, and it won't cost you $700,000. In fact, I'd sell it to you for half that price, even after we put on the new roof and install new windows. (And I'd still have a big grin on my face all the way to the bank.) If the music scene is that important to you, my house is even a better deal. We've got aspiring musicians right behind us. No driving! Just walk over there and enjoy the show, or even enjoy it from the garden patio right here! What a deal!

Granted, the $700,000 house is a 2,901-square-foot four-bedroom three-and-a-half-bath contemporary. Mine is a bit less on the square-footage, with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Who the fuck wants to clean and maintain three-and-a-half bathrooms? I'd want them to knock about $300,000 off the asking price on that point alone.
...the garden has rock-scapes, palms, cactus and mature trees

Same here, minus the palms. Those aren't even native to this area. But we've got mature trees, more rock-scapes than you can count, and cacti out the ying-yang. And maybe even a larger lot.

Another reason I'd never pay $700,000 for a house in Texas. TAXES: $11,377 a year.
Christ, after five years of that you could have a pretty hot and sporty Mercedes-Benz fully loaded.

Or after about 18 months, you could plunk down cash on a house that many folks in this country might be thankful to have.

What You Get For...$17,000

$17,900 - 2 Bed 1 Bath in San Antonio.

OK, that's bit over budget but hell, I'm sure they'd negotiate. Not much space but comparable to many apartments. And you'd own it!

$17,900 - 3 Bed 1 Bath in Atlanta on 1/2 acre!

Plenty of room for gardening! And yes, the home does have a "sewer connected."

Prefer a life up north with snowy winters? Minnesota might be for you.

$15,000 - 3 Bed 1 Bath in Minneapolis.

This 1,123 square-foot home is a story and a half, and has a basement which I'm sure would function as a dandy wine cellar. This home is located just minutes from Nordstrom and other fine downtown shopping. Imagine the shopping spree you could have there with what you'd save on this real estate buy!

There you have it; some reasonable alternatives to the featured homes in the New York Times at a price you can probably afford.

Some Debt Collections Outsourced to India

A few weeks back I posted about the proliferation of jobs in the Buffalo area related to debt collections. That may prove to be a short-lived phenomenon as many such jobs are now being outsourced to India.

If we aren't able to pay our debts for whatever reason, why reward us with jobs in which our function is to collect unpaid debt?
Americans are used to receiving calls from India for insurance claims and credit card sales. But debt collection represents a growing business for outsourcing companies, especially as the American economy slows and its consumers struggle to pay for their purchases.

Armed with a sophisticated automated system that dials tens of thousands of Americans every hour, and puts confidential information like Social Security numbers, addresses and credit history at operators’ fingertips, this new breed of collectors is chasing down late car payments, overdue credit card debt and lapsed installment loans. Debt collectors in India often cost about one-quarter the price of their American counterparts, and are often better at the job, debt collection company executives say.

I suppose I have to look on the bright side. I'll have a legitimate excuse to hang up on them when they catch me answering my phone. Because I've shut off my land lines I only have a mobile phone. Even when I had a land line, if I was getting technical help or other assistance from someone in an Indian call center it often sounded to me as if they were talking while under water. On the few occasions when I've dealt with anyone in India while on my mobile phone it was far worse.
“Are you sure that’s all you can afford?” one operator in a row of cubicles asks politely. “Well, how do you take care of your everyday expenses?” presses another.

Hello? Hello?? I'm so sorry, but I can't hear you. I must hang up now. Please try your call again later.

FYI, if you are struggling with credit card debt and are unemployed, they have their eye on your upcoming stimulus check, on the off-chance that you might not need it for anything else.

“One hundred thirty million U.S. families will get a tax rebate this season” as part of the new economic stimulus package, Manu Sharma, the team leader, explained to a roomful of top-earning collection agents, most in their 20s.


Start bringing up the rebate during calls, he told them. “This gives you an advantage so you can increase your wallet share,” he went on. “Get them set up on minimum balance arrangements” based around their tax rebates.

I'm so glad I have spent much of my life in multi-cultural cities. I realize that not everyone in the world is named Julie, Richard, Justin and Danielle. I'm not sure why these call centers based in India require their employees to change their names.
Manju Muddanna, 27, who uses the name Michelle Green when she is on the phone, is one of Encore’s best collectors.

Is a debtor more likely to pay if the person on the phone is named Michelle rather than Manju? Or do they think debtors are less likely to pay if they suspect the collection agency is based in India and represents just another in a long line of lost jobs in the US?

Blister in the Sun

True change begins when we can reshape the horrendous attitudes possessed by some of our youth, and of course that's a direct reflection of the parents in most cases.

I caught a few minutes of Bridge to Terabithia tonight and I can honestly say it reminded me of the attitudes of many Americans, especially voters.

In other words, one particular kid in the classroom annoyed the hell out of me.
Leslie Burke: What if you don't have a TV?

All: [laughing]

Leslie Burke: My dad says that TV destroys brain cells.

Scott Hoager: Your dad doesn't know anything. We watch TV like every day!

Leslie Burke: I rest my case.

Mrs. Myers: Well then Leslie, you could write a report on something else.

Scott Hoager: Yeah, like how to live in a cave!
Some people just never grow up after adolescence. That was but one example. There was another annoying little red-headed brat that needed a good thumping.

txrad and I started talking about school and he mentioned that study hall in his school was a reward you had to earn. Wow. What a contrast to the pathetic little all-white Christian academy I attended.

Study Hall: It's what you do to the kids when you don't have time or resources to teach them.

Then I brought up university life. Not all colleges are equal; that's for certain. I spent a bit of time bouncing back and forth between the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and Little Rock trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with myself. College was a bit of a jolt for me. With each campus having well over 10,000 students, life was different. The adolescent behavior which was present throughout high school did not exist here. (Well, not in the classroom; dorm life and frat houses were another matter!) Suddenly I bore responsibility for my life. Everyone, including myself, had to make new friends.

What I really wanted was to experience some life outside of Arkansas for a change. So one semester I had applied and was accepted at the University of Denver. What a colossal mistake. I'm not saying it's a bad school but dorm life was a big contrast to my previous experience. My roommate was this New Yorker, the son of a cop if I recall, and he had a bad-ass attitude. And he smoked pot.

If you are wondering why I'm complaining about that, keep in mind that I was still emerging from a very conservative upbringing and I was still trying to make of myself what I thought other people expected of me. I had no clear directives and felt adrift. I realize now what I was looking for was less responsibility; I wanted to be guided and I wanted a strict environment that would not allow me to deviate. I had also dragged along some conservative emotional baggage from home and I wrongly assumed that since the University of Denver was affiliated with the Methodist Church, it would be a place far from home yet familiar.

Not only was I unpleasantly surprised by my first impression of the students I met upon my arrival, but the cafeteria food sucked. And that was the last straw. I called my parents and told them I had to leave, and I painted a rather unflattering portrait of the school in an effort to diminish any resistance I might face from my parents. I can't imagine how many thousands of dollars they had to scrape together to get me enrolled.

I packed my stuff, got in the car and headed back to southeast Arkansas. I will never forget the sense of relief I felt as the Denver skyline faded from my rear view mirror, and later, the front range of the Rockies would fade, leaving me in the barren rolling plains of eastern Colorado and a whole lot of Kansas ahead of me.

When I arrived back at home with my parents I felt lost and faced a lot of uncertainty. It was late in the first week of January and the prospect of a wasted semester fueled my anxiety. As luck would have it, and I use the word luck very loosely here, the University of Arkansas at Monticello wasn't starting their spring semester until the following week and getting admitted there was pretty easy. Best of all, the campus was only 30 miles from where I lived with my parents, so I could commute each day and save money on housing costs.

I was not thrilled with this outcome because this was not a large school -- probably about 2,000 students -- and the majors offered were very limited. But since I was still a sophomore and taking only basic required classes, it didn't matter.

My first week of classes was an eye-opener. Talk about a contrast! If what I wanted to find was the familiarity of high school, I hit the jackpot. The students here all seemed to know each other and many of them didn't seem that serious about college. The professors were also noticeably more like the high school teachers I'd known.

It became clear to me that one semester of this was going to be quite enough, and in the summer or fall I'd return to either Little Rock or Fayetteville and try to get serious again. I don't remember which campus I went to first, but as before, I bounced between the two of them before finally getting the easiest possible degree in Liberal Arts, with the least amount of effort, and after nine years of being in and out of colleges. My parents must have been proud of me after squandering so much money on a degree which was worth about as much as the parchment on which it was printed. (It's in a drawer around here somewhere.)

To cut a long story short, all of this was flashing through my brain last night after catching a few minutes of the aforementioned film which, ironically, we shut off in order to watch another high-school themed film, Rocket Science.

It was just last week that I mentioned having seen The History Boys and loved it. In the comments, Minstrel Boy recommended Rocket Science.

There's nothing like the feeling of seeing a film and immediately looking forward to a 2nd viewing. As one who was definitely an outsider in both high school and college, I could relate to this film on so many levels.

It's also just quirky and offbeat enough to score valuable bonus points which will rank it pretty high in my list of memorable independent films. And the use of music was brilliant. If you have seen the film, I'm sure you'll understand why I selected the title of this post, even if it took me a while to get to the point.

RIP Joe Feeney

Joe Feeney died in Los Angeles on April 16. He was 76.

Joe Feeney has come up in conversation several times recently. And I mentioned him in a recent blog post and in comments elsewhere. Lawrence Welk and his orchestra came through Little Rock when I was a child about 7 and my parents hauled me off to seem them perform.

I got his autograph either at the show or at a restaurant after the show -- I can't remember exactly. But a number of the band members were at the restaurant where we had dinner and Joe was one of them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why Can't Obama Close?

Hmmm. Good question.

We have two historic candidates without much to really draw distinctions between them on most issues. I'm actually not surprised either candidate has pulled enough delegates to clinch this yet. I would love to have a black president. I'd also love to have a president younger than me for the first time ever. I would love to have a woman president. I would love to have a woman president and a black vice-president together. Or a black president and a woman vice-president. Gee, I'd even love to have a black woman president -- but that's not in the cards this election cycle.

So I am not alone apparently. Lots of voters I'm sure are drawn to one candidate or the other for breaking an historic barrier this year. And we continue to have a close race. Voters in the final primary states will actually have an impact this year!

But getting back to the question: Why can't Obama close? Well, it's not time yet. And in an AP story, there are some suggestions why he hasn't closed. And yes, I know this is 2008, but racism just might be one issue.
About one in five Pennsylvania voters said the race of the candidates was among the top factors in deciding how to vote, according to exit polls, and white voters who cited race supported Clinton over Obama by a 3-to-1 margin.

Results from all the primaries suggest that whites who said race was important in picking their candidate have been about twice as likely to back Clinton as Obama.

An AP-Yahoo News poll found that about 8 percent of whites would be uncomfortable voting for a black president. The actual percentage is probably higher because voters are shy about admitting a racial prejudice to pollsters.

Sheesh. So if 8% admitted it, what are we dealing with in reality? 12%, 15%, higher? And we're talking about DEMOCRATS who will switch over and vote for McCain if Obama is the nominee. So what does that say about Republicans?
If Obama wins the nomination, he risks losing those voters to Republican John McCain. While 68 percent of Obama voters in Pennsylvania said they would vote for Clinton should she run against McCain, just 53 percent of Clinton voters said they would vote for Obama.

This does not bode well for our country, for civil rights, or for human rights, when so many voters allow their racism to guide them in the voting booth. It means all the other issues take 2nd place to skin color. And it means we as a society still have a long way to go.

Hey, I have an idea. If race is that important to you, why not stay the fuck at home in November. Don't vote. Just don't spoil the outcome for the majority of us who actually would like a few years ahead of in which positive things happen for a change.

Just an idea.

US Prison Fanaticism

As if we needed another reminder of things needin' fixin' in this country, the NY Times ran a lengthy piece on one of my many issues today. The USA may not lead the way in the world on very much these days but we can certainly blow the rest of the world out of the game when it comes to the lock 'em up mentality.

The article begins with a sobering statistic: Our nation accounts for almost a quarter of the world's prisoners despite having only 5% of the world's population.
...the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

China, not exactly a bastion of human rights and progressive ideology, is a distant second to the US. And this is not simply because we have an extraordinarily higher crime rate than the rest of the world. We do have a high murder rate, helped along by easy access to firearms. But the biggest problem with our exploding prison growth is the propensity to lock up non-violent criminals for much longer periods of time than the rest of the world, and... (drum roll please)... drugs.
Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. “The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism,” said Ms. Stern of King’s College.

One could argue the same motivation is in play with the war in Iraq. But yes, Ms. Stern is correct. And notice the blatant disparity between those in state prisons vs. those in federal prisons:

Another appalling fact that contributes to our numero uno prison status is the conviction of young teens who have been tried as adults -- often being sentenced to life.
In December [2006], the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

Why this absurd situation isn't at least in the top 7 or 8 issues in the presidential primaries is baffling to me. But I must applaud the New York Times for keeping it front-page material. In fact, today's article is one in a series.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Touching the Keystone

After watching an acceptance speech and hearing the same campaign theme over and over, I have decided politics is a spectator sport. Not that I don't like Hillary; I do. It's her audience I detest.

I have no interest in sports. Stop it with the sign waving, and the hooping and hollering and the chanting. Fuck that shit.

txrad asked me tonight while we were watching an infinitely preferable show on Don Rickles, "Should I switch over and see what the vote is?"

I said, "sure." We got Hillary mid-stream.

I said, "it doesn't matter; it's like tuning into a basketball game half-way through it. Nothing matters until the final score. That's when I'll tune in."

Hillary was fucking amazing.... but still. Think about it. Was the confetti really necessary?

Can we just fucking vote in a civilized manner?

Obama v. Clinton: I'm Starting to Understand

All this time I've thought it was just me. I waffle back and forth in my analysis of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and wonder who really will be the best person to lead the nation.

As I've said before, I was for Kucinich before I was for Edwards, and I was for Edwards, before I was for Clinton, etc.etc.

While waiting on long-anticipated results to start trickling in from Pennsylvania I was doing a bit of research and found this list of superdelegates at the New York Times.

I've noticed a lot of LGBTQ folks are solidly on the Clinton wagon and a lot of LGBTQ-friendly folks are on the Obama wagon. Now don't get me wrong; I love my LGBTQ-friendly buddies with all my heart but it's just possible they have issues higher on the priority list than LGBTQ rights. And that's OK. Even I will admit I'm a bit more concerned about Iraq and the economy right now than I am about my right to marriage equality. (My preference would be to get the government out of the marriage business.)

Honestly, I'm kind of glad the gay rights thing has kept a relatively low profile this cycle. It gets tiring hearing the same wedge hammered over and over. I'd rather have a candidate who stays wishy-washy or silent on the issue while running for office and then comes out strongly for gay rights legislation once elected than a candidate who stakes out a strong gay-rights position and then loses the election amid of flurry of gay-bashing from the religious right.

Let's face it. I would love to live in a society where a candidate could say exactly how they feel about an issue and have that issue NOT be the defining issue in the race. We don't live in such a society. Between the toxic media and the religious right and those easily swayed by both, honesty and openness in a campaign is quite a wish.

Despite the fact it's 2008, if the Democratic nominee were to say, "I am in favor of marriage equality," we'd have another shitstorm in the general election.

And this presents a problem for me because now I have to try and understand what a candidate is thinking vs. what they are saying or not saying. That's not easy and it involves having a level of trust in a candidate. So rather than travel that risky road I thought I'd check out the list of superdelegates. Maybe they know these candidates far better than I do. I started looking for openly LGBTQ superdelegates in each column.

Clinton has Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank. Impressive. Unfortunately most of these delegates I don't know so there could be LGBTQ people in there and I'd have no idea.

However, one thing caught my eye. Loretta Sanchez of California is a Clinton superdelegate. She is listed in Wikipedia as a fiscal conservative and "fairly liberal" on social issues. Her sister, Linda Sanchez of California is in the Obama camp. She has a 100% HRC approval rating (that would be the Human Rights Campaign, not Hillary Rodham Clinton).

No wonder I'm having such a difficult time with this. It's 8:13 EDT. Time to go see what's going on in the Keystone State.

Chris Matthews just referred to Hillary Clinton as a "girl." Here we go!

48 Candles On The Konacake Today

And it's Earth Day. And it's Pennsylvania Primary Day. Who could ask for more?

I found some random Flickr photos with a theme of...

48th Avenue

48 Panes

48 Floors Above Dubai


Those dice might be loaded.

On this day when I was born, this song was #1 on the charts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Garden Blog

It's been many months since I've done the garden blog so I think it's time for a resurrection.

When I downloaded some photos from my camera I noticed txrad had been out photographing some things in the garden. His tomatoes already have blossoms.

We have a lot of these yellow primrose. They are native and each year more of them appear.

I just went out to check on my strawberries and I found a few. This is one of the plants.

And this is my harvest for the day. This picture is enlarged so they are not quite as large as you might think. In fact the smaller ones are actually tiny -- about the size of my pinky fingernail.

Still, this is the first time I've harvested more than one berry and it's not bad considering it's only been a few weeks since I transplanted them from a pot.

By the time you read this post, those lovelies will all be in my belly. Ooooh, I am evil!

Owl Cam

If you have nothing better to do, you can always watch the Great Horned Owls.

“Harold” and “Maude" live in Boulder, Colorado with their two owlets. The images are live, and update every six seconds.

h/t Elizabeth

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I Thought Black Sabbath Was Loud

Symphony violates European noise ordinance.
They had rehearsed the piece only once, but already the musicians at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra were suffering. Their ears were ringing. Heads throbbed.

Tests showed that the average noise level in the orchestra during the piece, “State of Siege,” by the composer Dror Feiler, was 97.4 decibels, just below the level of a pneumatic drill and a violation of new European noise-at-work limits.

The world premiere of the piece was canceled. Lest you think this is extreme, check out another music piece featuring Dror Feiler with Drum Ecstasy:

Take two aspirins and call Dr. Kona in the morning.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Austin, We Have a Disdain for Stupidity

Yep, I am proud to live in a "stinking hellhole of putrification." And here are a few choice words from one who has "overcome" the intellectualism which has apparently destroyed this lovely city. That and the old "hippie stuff."

I think I'm going to make this a regular Saturday evening fixture on this blog -- sharing some stuff related to Austin. You like?

And what a great start!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grating On The Nerves, But Fascinating

txrad found this via Crave: The Singing Tesla Coils!

Yes siree, and from right here in weird Austin, Texas...

Crank it up for maximum effect. Kind of makes me feel all sizzly inside.

(Credit: ArcAttack)

Friday Pussy Blog: The Orange Tub of Lard Edition

What the hell is it? An orange blob!

My desk is a cat grooming salon.

Licking.... then pausing to make sure the noise he hears is me photographing him for the blog, then...

More licking....

Still MORE licking...


OK. Done grooming. Time for a nap.

Yahoo Job Stress Tips

I have one way of reducing job stress: lose the job.

9,000 employees of Citigroup are about to have their job stress eliminated.
Citigroup, caught in the midst of the housing slowdown and tight credit market, reported a $5.1 billion loss on Friday and announced that it would cut 9,000 more jobs in the next 12 months.

The layoffs are in addition to the 4,200 cuts announced in January, the bank said during its conference call.

This was apparently considered good news on Wall Street. When a $5.1 billion loss is not a surprise, it's time to pop the cork on a bottle. Now we know!
Citigroup, the nation's biggest bank, encouraged investors after posting results that didn't contain any big surprises.


In midday trading, the Dow jumped 264.61, or 2.10 percent...

Another 4,600 employees of AT&T are on course for some involuntary workplace stress reduction techniques as well.

And for many people who have jobs and may get to keep them, there's still a financial hardship when you are working fewer hours.
Not long ago, overtime was a regular feature at the Ludowici Roof Tile factory in eastern Ohio. Not anymore. With orders scarce and crates of unsold tiles piling up across the yard, the company has slowed production and cut working hours, sowing worry and thrift among its workers.

“We don’t just hop in the car and go shopping or get something to eat,” said Kim Baker, whose take-home pay at the plant has recently dropped to $450 a week, from more than $600. “You’ve got to watch everything. If we go to town now, it’s for a reason.”

So, as Bush might say, party on! Things are looking brighter!

Did Obama Flip The Finger?

I must confess, when I saw the video clip on one of the talk shows last night I said to myself, "uh-oh, that wasn't too subtle."

Yes, we've all seen people who scratch an itch with the middle finger occasionally. He scratched an itch earlier in the video using his index finger. The middle finger came out just as he was making references to Hillary being "in her element" in the Wednesday night debate.


Speaking just for myself, I have flipped off politicians for most of my life. Doing it in public on camera is far riskier. It requires a certain amount of subtlety, something Obama has been able to pull off on a number of occasions during this camapaign, always with room for some doubt. But if the earlier incidents are any indication, there won't be much doubt among those with an opinion. It will have either been a blatant move on his part or a complete distortion by people looking for a shred of any impropriety.

If only he had done this a few times during the ABC debate -- directed at Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. That would have been a delight.

Be sure to read some of the comments in the LA Times Blog piece.
How dumb. It is time to require an IQ test to get to register to vote or to post a blog.
Wow, the comments here really show how deranged Obama supporters become when someone dares to question their Messiah.
It's a clear flip off. Obama is the left-wing Bush.
You're reading too much into it. Get a life!!

What the hell is a left-wing Bush anyway?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hello, Dolly!

I need some humor...


Note To Self

Change profile pic asap.

My new bifocals are making me sick enough without seeing a blurry photo of myself each time I look at my blog.

Update: OK, fun and games are over. For those who missed it, this was the replacement photo I had for my profile pic. About 4 hours was as long as I could stand.

Within seconds of posting it txrad said, "I HATE that."

The Pain in Spain: Too Pink

Recently elected Italian prime minster Silvio Berlusconi is already working wonders with his popularity in Spain, which apparently is too pink.
Mr. Berlusconi told an Italian radio show that he had jokingly scolded the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, for forming “a government that in my opinion is too pink.” Mr. Zapatero’s new cabinet has eight men and nine women. Mr. Berlusconi plans to have four women in his 12-member cabinet.

And that's just because of women. Gays & lesbians have been legally marrying there since 2005! That's REALLY pink!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Echo and the Bunnymen

We seem to be on a roll this week with premium flicks.

The History Boys.

History is one fucking thing after another. Put this in your queue.

Mrs. Lintott: Can you, for a moment, imagine how depressing it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude?

Mid-Week Garden Blog (and some other internal conflicts)

Light blogging today (well, here at least) due to gardening. txrad took a picture of a blackberry blossom which turned out really blurry so I had to reduce the photo to 10% of original size to minimize the blurring.

Click the picture for a full rundown over at Black Soap....

...and speaking of Black Soap, I have a question:

When I started that blog it was intended to be a strictly personal and primarily a photography blog. I wanted to keep this blog primarily as a political blog or focus on other subject matter. It came to my attention from Bitty that she didn't know the blog was even there until last week. Not that I want to call attention to it for the world to see; I really do want it to be just a place to post about things txrad and I are doing in our routine lives. And it can also be a "secret garden" which is how I think Bitty characterized it.

But in looking at my Technorati cloud of post labels, this blog is indeed political for the most part, but followed very closely by personal and humor labels. Some music and cat blogging. And of course some bullshit.

The konagod blog is not a high-volume blog by any means so it's not like I'm stashing away a chunk of my private life away from the prying eyes of 800 visitors a day. And even if I were, there's a prominent link at the top of my blogroll, just in case anybody isn't aware!

So I often wonder what I'm doing and why. Should I keep Black Soap there as-is? I do like the black background for photography, plus it's like the alter-ego of this blog. And I don't really want a black or darker background on this blog.

Is it annoying to those of you who read both, to remember to check two blogs? (Is it annoying to me to maintain two blogs?)

I suppose I'm questioning all this because next week marks the 1st anniversary (more or less) of me starting the blog (even though I didn't start posting to it for 6 or 7 months later).

Tell me what you think, because...

I Get Sleepy Every Afternoon

I was checking out the weather forecast and took this poll. I attribute it to the boredom of unemployment. I got in the habit of taking a nap in the afternoon. If I stay busy enough I won't think about it.

Back when I started my job last year, the first few weeks were very slow. I remember in the afternoons I'd get so sleepy I was tempted to go take a nap in the car. Once I crawled under my desk with the hope of being able to sleep just a few minutes. Unfortunately my desk faced the cubicle opening and the panel on the front of the desk didn't reach all the way to the floor. Once I got under there I realized anyone walking by could have seen me so I abandoned the idea.

Question of the Day: Have you ever caught a quick nap at work? What's the most creative way you managed to snag a few minutes of rest?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Are Talking To The King Of Uncomfort

txrad selected a film tonight.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell is the Owen Wilson of The Darjeeling Limited in this film. The Bill Murray of Lost in Translation.

It is Will's opus. And the story of my recent life. I am amazed.

Those voices in my head need to stop though.

Grow Your Own

Nothing pisses me off quite as much as a serious problem with an easy solution which no one, least of all politicians, will take seriously thanks to government propaganda and irrational public opinion.

This particular problem involves at least 124 incidents of lead poisoning in Leipzig, Germany after it was determined the victims all had one thing in common: they smoked marijuana. This marijuana had lead added -- presumably to increase the weight and therefore increase the profits of the sellers. Clever.

Unfortunately, marijuana is illegal and there is no regulation (aside from simply being illegal) and testing of the product for contaminants prior to sale, and of course it's illegal to avoid the pitfalls altogether by simply growing it yourself.
The patients are recovering and taking medicines called chelating agents to help remove the lead from their bodies. But it could take years to clear it completely, particularly from bones. And some were quite disillusioned to learn that poison was added to what they thought was a pure, all-natural product, said their doctor, Prof. Michael Stumvoll of University Hospital in Leipzig, who commented, “How naïve!”

Naïve?? Did he say that because they were buying from an unknown source or that it's naïve to believe that marijuana is a pure, all-natural product?

Whatever. The solution is to legalize the growing of marijuana for personal consumption (or even as an ornamental shrub or privacy hedge, if we so desire). We would then know where the product came from, that it had not been tampered with, it would cut out the black market dealers charging exorbitant prices for a product which, in a legal framework, should cost no more than a bundle of parsley.

People who do smoke marijuana, or bake with it, should be able to grow their own, or get it from someone they know and trust who grows it, rather than playing Russian roulette with a supplier who cares more about making a few extra hundred dollars per pound than whether the customers are poisoned.

Oh, you don't approve of marijuana? Hey, that's OK. Don't use it. There are people out there who choose to avoid onions and garlic because of the aphrodisiac properties. Abstain from it. That just leaves more for me, and frankly, I have no problem with feeling horny.

Just don't try to regulate or outlaw a plant which plenty of others enjoy. That strikes me as a tad hypocritical in a country where almost 50% of our citizens are using at least one prescription drug. And in a country where prescription drug deaths rose 68% over five years.
Poisoning from prescription drugs has risen to become the second-largest cause of unintentional deaths in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hell, even the DEA recognizes there's a problem. (Bold emphasis mine)
Nearly 7 million Americans are abusing prescription drugs*—more than the number who are abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy, and inhalants, combined. That 7 million was just 3.8 million in 2000, an 80 percent increase in just 6 years.

* Prescription drugs refers to abuseable pharmaceuticals controlled under federal law enforced by the DEA.

Prescription pain relievers are new drug users’ drug of choice, vs. marijuana or cocaine.

Yes, and I'd like to point out that marijuana is the only "drug" here which does not require being "manufactured" in some capacity aside from simply growing, putting out blossoms which are then dried. Contrast that with cocaine for instance.

This is why I have a real issue with marijuana being lumped in with cocaine and other drugs.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog

Nasty Fractions

I wish I'd never learned about rounding up fractions to obtain a whole number. It just bothers me. My digital thermometers report the temperature to 1/10th of a degree. It makes me sound geeky when I tell someone our low yesterday morning was 34.5° instead of just saying 35. Sometimes I round down just for added emphasis. After all, 34° sounds so much more threatening to our tomato plants than 35°.

An infatuation with fractions has always caused me to play silly games with my age. Each year on October 22, I usually tell myself I'm x.5 years old. Last October 22 I was 47.5 and of course I start rounding up at that point. I'm so used to thinking of myself as 48 that when my birthday rolls around next Tuesday, I have to pinch myself to remember than I'm not turning 49 -- that this is the real 48, not the 47.5 version. And in a way, it becomes a relief. "Oh, I'm still only 48. Whew!"

I remember when I turned 20 I told myself I was one-quarter of the way to being 80. At 25 I was a quarter of a century old, and halfway to 50. It sounded detestable. In retrospect, things weren't so bad. At 45 I was halfway to 90. Or looked at another way, I'm probably more than halfway to being dead. At this point it's time stop with the fraction games, or maybe throw them into reverse: next week I'll only be twice as old as I was at 24. Now, doesn't that sound better?

There's something about mid- to late-40s that causes introspection and reflecting back on a life which could have been different. And making a lot of mistakes in my 40s certainly hasn't helped. I often remark that I wish I was 18 again and starting college. Or even being 30 again and going back to college. But honestly, I don't really want to go back. I'm just battering myself unnecessarily for the fact that I've been unemployed for almost four months and have been employed at seven different advertising agencies in the past 11 years. I was fired or laid off from three of them. Four, if you want to count me having to lay myself off from my own failed agency. That's a 57.1% fired and/or laid off rate.

Four of the agencies are no longer in business. Five, if you want to count my own agency which is technically functional but in no way able to sustain me, for a failure rate of 71.4%. That leaves two agencies from my history which are still fully functional: the one which laid me off in December, and one where I worked at the beginning of this decade and then quit to take a better deal.

Realizing that the latter was the only agency in my history which had never shut down, laid me off, or both, I decided perhaps I should consider applying for a job there. This was going through my mind last week. And then on Friday I got an email from one of my former co-workers there saying he had some news for me. This came out of the blue, unsolicited, so my first thought was that he was perhaps contacting me to see if I wanted to work there. The universe does work that way sometimes; it's a strange and fluid flow of thoughts, energies, and coincidences.

Unfortunately the news was that my friend had been laid off on Friday, along with 12 others. Hmmm. Not good. So I was a little bummed out and feeling back at square one again.

Then yesterday I received an email from another friend at an agency where I've never worked (imagine that!) asking me if I was still looking for employment. Yes indeed. He has given his two weeks' notice and, although the agency isn't planning to fill the position right away, he asked me to send my resume. It's amazing how these little glimmers of hope can perk us up. And unlike many of the other options I have, this one would be a good match. Not only would there be no relocation required (if the position is exactly what I've been doing for the past 8 years), but I'd be able to work from my home office. No rush hour commute; no weekly pumping of $60 into the gas tank.

Things are starting to come together and gel, if only slightly. While I often wish I'd applied myself in college and perhaps gotten an MBA, there are still no guarantees in life, particularly now in 2008 and beyond. And who am I kidding anyway? An MBA? Like I'd been happy putting on a white shirt and a tie every day for the past 25 years to go crunch numbers in an office?

The fact is, I enjoy crunching numbers -- to the fraction. I'm good at it. And I'm able to do it in my current line of work. No uniforms required. I am actually fortunate to have landed in a field of work where friendships and made and endure. It's a tight-knit group of people and we all seem to enjoy helping each other out when we can. This is not an industry in which burning bridges is a good idea.

2008 has taken a heavy toll on me though. I didn't plan to even look for work during the first 6 weeks of the year; I wanted to focus on finishing up a few projects around the house. I did not accomplish that. Each passing week got me into a bluer funk until March arrived with a bang -- when txrad spent 2 days in the hospital after a nasty fall, I wrecked my car, and spiraled into a state of depression so severe that the entire month is mostly a blur now.

Positive things are starting to happen again. Spring-like things. New growth, new opportunities. Getting the yard mowed after two years of neglect has had a wonderful impact on my outlook. Getting the garden ready for planting veggies gives me optimism. And within a week I'll be scheduling a contractor to have a new roof and new windows put on the house, both necessary and long overdue. And both very expensive.

Those two projects have had me feeling a lot of anxiety. It will require me tapping into every dime I socked away -- money I have been relying on to get me through prolonged unemployment if necessary. However, these improvements must not be viewed as squandering money, but investing in our house. Should the worst-case scenario prevail and we need to sell and move for whatever reason, that money could be recouped by a higher sales price on a home that is move-in ready with no pending repairs needed.

Finally, the time feels right and I am moving ahead with a feeling of certainty and confidence. And by unblocking myself and my environment to allow some movement and energy flow, I believe the employment picture will soon brighten as well. I welcome the stability. Being in a state of limbo and uncertainly is fun, but only for awhile; 28.8% of my year is quite enough.

Coming to a Mall Near You: Vacancies

Last year a new open-air shopping area opened in the south Austin community of Sunset Valley in an area already filled with strip malls. One of the new stores was Bombay, the furniture seller. They barely had time to train the new staff before "Going Out Of Business" signs were plastered in the windows. That was quite odd and I just assumed it was that one store. The whole chain shut down, and there are more on the way out.
Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains — as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image — have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117, and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers.


The International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, estimates there will be 5,770 store closings in 2008, up 25 percent from 2007, when there were 4,603

Adding to the gloomy economic uncertainty is the news that a oil today set a new record by surpassing $113 a barrel.

When Airlines Copulate

Mr. Pessimism here again to express a few words about the merger of Northwest and Delta. I'll be watching the news of this one with a very close eye -- wondering when the announcement of layoffs and closing of hubs will come.

As if this isn't enough, expect United and Continental to start engaging in foreplay in anticipation of consummating their marriage while the merger pimp-in-chief is still around to bestow his blessing.
Other airlines may rush to merge. One reason for the urgency is that airlines want to get their deals approved by the Justice Department under the Bush administration, rather than risk seeing them stall until a new president takes office.

As for expected job losses, do the math:
At the end of 2007, Delta and Northwest employed a combined 89,000 workers. American Airlines, currently the largest carrier, had 85,500. Delta said the combined airline would employ 75,000 people. That number excludes 6,000 people who work at Delta’s regional airline and Delta said earlier that it would reduce employment by 2,000.

Although Delta said no hubs would be closed, that is by no means a statement that there will not be reductions, or eventual closing of hubs. They are going to do what it takes to streamline. The end result might not be very favorable to travelers or employees in the potentially redundant hubs.
Pardus Capital Management, an investment firm, estimated in November that a combination of Delta and Northwest could reduce costs by about $1.5 billion a year, in large part by combining hubs. Delta’s hub in Cincinnati is close to Northwest’s in Detroit. And Northwest’s hub in Memphis is close to Delta’s in Atlanta.

In other words, if I were en employee in Detroit or Memphis, I'd start having trouble sleeping right about now.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Shot and a Beer

That's what I'm having and with the Pennsylvania primary being just a week away I don't expect much to change between now and then.

It's unfortunate.

Al Gore hasn't endorsed anybody yet and now I'm starting to understand why. All this sniping back and forth between Obama and Clinton has got to stop. I sometimes feel like I'm watching high school kids engaged in a run for class president. Meanwhile, we have a large country needing help here. We have severe problems, worsening everyday, and these problems need to be addressed.

Can we have a little more of that please, and a little less emphasis on who went duck hunting and who thinks sexuality is sacred?

Really. We have bigger problems. Although you wouldn't necessarily know it from the Dow and Nasdaq today, there are bigger issues ahead of us. I'd really like to hear more positive ideas instead of the negative backstabbing. And from the media, how about a similar focus instead of the "news" of Hillary doing a shot of Crown Royal with a beer chaser.

But that's just me. I'm unrealistic.

Hmmm. Pour me another.

A YouTube Feline Gem

This morning I had an email from Miss Cellania with a link to this:

Tater Tot is a prime candidate for cat yodeling. I am definitely going to give it a try.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

God Is Not Male

I hate to break the news to you. But this is one of my biggest pet peeves. God has no gender.

He is not male.
She is not female.

Can we at least get over that fine point?

God (no pun intended), how I'd love to hear this debate between Kucinich and Nader. And maybe Ron Paul just for extra fun.

April Is National Poetry Month

by Sylvia Plath

I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Before You Knew You Owned It by Alice Walker

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tasting Austin Again

This one from Spoon, an Austin band, is getting quite a bit of airplay on the radio here. I haven't heard much of their music and never have seen them live. They have one song that txrad and I don't care for, and I don't even know the name of it.

Vote: Yea or Nay. It don't matter to me.

More God, More Guns

I'll never understand why the two go hand-in-hand. But that's politics in America.

Meanwhile, this back-and-forth pissing contest between Obama and Clinton is affording me a nice break to do yard work and various other essential things (job hunting) instead of blogging.

I've decided when my blog post label includes politics it must also by default include bullshit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Pussy Blog

Wheeee! The riding mower is running great and I've been mowing the yard today.

The Tot was admiring my lovely work this afternoon.

Sissy was on the prowl while I was trying to get her picture. She was being chatty.

When the Tot hears Sissy chatting he had to come check out the goings on in case he's missing anything.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Zen and the Art of Lawn Mower Maintenance

Machines have always been my nemesis. It would help of course if I'd ever had one shred of interest in learning about how they work, what makes them run, as well as various and sundry other dos and do nots.

I just spend $162 on getting two lawn mowers "repaired." $75 was just for the guy to show up, and the remainder was for services rendered. There was nothing seriously wrong. But the steps I took -- replacing the spark plug, charging the battery (well that was a step in the right direction), and cleaning the air filter -- were not enough.

Basically what it took was a few squirts of fuel into the carburetor of both mowers which apparently is like an adrenalin shot to the heart. And for some odd reason I had put almost a gallon of oil in the riding mower. I seem to recall the last time I used it I thought I had burned all the oil and I added 2 quarts. I guess that wasn't the case. Duh.

As I explained to the repair guy, my problem historically has been NOT checking or adding oil. I once burned up the engine in a 1969 Mercedes 280S because I never checked the oil while on a road trip.

What's odd is that my dad and my brother were both available when I was growing up and both were quite adept at working on motors. I had ample opportunity to learn and I preferred to sit on my ass watching television while they fixed whatever might have been wrong with my vehicle as a teen. I have paid the price ever since.

Oh well, problem now solved. Both mowers are running and I can now mow a yard that is about 2 years past due.

And some tips for those of you who might be as clueless about mowers as I am.

Check the oil before and after each use. And at the end of the mowing season be careful about adding too much fuel. You want to leave as little fuel in there as possible -- preferably none at all -- prior to storage for the winter. Disconnect the battery at the end of the season, otherwise you will probably be dealing with a shitload of corrosion on the posts and clamps come spring. Not fun either. And check the air filter often. Lots of dust can get in there and clog it up. Easy to clean. High pressure air works best, but tapping it can clear out some.

OK, that's about all I have to report today.... more tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this clip....

I'm in a good mood tonight. I'll give you two.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My New Look

The specs arrived today, as well as a few other things. Click the pic for more.

Fashion Victim

Updated profile photo with new specs at right, which txrad calls "extremely gay."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Feeling The Sting Yet?

I come from a long line of pessimists. My mother has been predicting the economic downfall of the United States since the 1970s. "I don't care what anybody says, it's coming," was her mantra. And she still says it. And while we don't agree on very much politically, I have to say I agree with her on this one.

The Dow Jones and Nasdaq are pretty worthless to me as indicators. I've decided those reflect societal and economic reality about as much as CEO compensation reflects average American income. In fact, it has begun to get on my nerves a bit when I see bad news everywhere and yet the market surges because some financial firm got a multi-billion bailout. Phooey. Instead, I try to focus on reality rather than the giant Monopoly game with plastic hotels on Boardwalk & Park Place and funny money.

I prefer in-your-face facts over nebulous interpretations of filthy rich investors. And here's one: You know all those cheap goods we get primarily from China, but also from other Asian nations like India, and Vietnam? They are about to become more expensive thanks to inflation in Asia and a US dollar in the dumps.
The free ride for American consumers is ending.


First, developing countries now produce nearly half of all American imports. Second, inflation in these countries is coming at the same time that many of their currencies are rising against the dollar.

That puts American consumers in a double bind, paying at least some of producers’ higher costs for making their goods, and higher prices on top of that because the dollar buys less in those countries.

Just take a look at Vietnam....
Over all, in Vietnam, one of the fastest-growing destinations for manufacturing investments and one of the fastest-growing sources of American imports, prices rose 19.4 percent from March 2007 to March 2008.

I guess this is the price we pay for being a slave to fossil fuels. And overpopulating the planet. We haven't even begun to see the ugly horrors of the impact of rising food prices on the poorer nations, but we are getting a taste (no pun intended) in places like Haiti:
U.N. peacekeepers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd that gathered outside the presidential palace Tuesday during the second consecutive day of protests over soaring food prices.


Haitians are particularly affected by food prices that are rising worldwide. Eighty percent of the population lives on less than US$2 (euro1.27) a day. The cost of staples such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk has gone up 50 percent in the past year, while the cost of pasta has doubled.

And in Mexico, the 3rd largest supplier of oil to the United States, there's trouble brewing with Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly.
The government has neglected the public company for 20 years, siphoning off its profits. Now production is dropping, reserves are dwindling, and Pemex lacks the technology to go after undersea oil, the administration says.


About 40 percent of the federal budget comes from the oil company.

I know this sounds dire but relax. Bush says everything is going to be just fine. And he certainly knows what he's talking about, right?
President Bush urged Congress on Monday to resist efforts by Democrats to pass a second economic stimulus package, saying that while the economy is “in a rough time right now,” he is confident it will begin to rebound by the end of the year.

Whenever Bush is confident about something, our internal warning bells should be going off simultaneously.

But seriously, all of that is just today's news, and not even all of it. But it's enough to make me realize we're probably in for a long unpleasant ride. As for the markets, I have a hard time understanding why they're not in a tailspin. If we get through the month of April without a major "correction," I'll be amazed.

Doom & Gloom