Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Hate Days Like This 

When you have a number of disagreeable duties to perform, always do the most disagreeable first.
--Josiah Quincy
We're in the process of selling our credit card portfolio. We just hired an auditing firm to do a review of our department to let us know if there are any skeletons in the closet. We want to know about them first, and not have them brought to our attention by the bank buying the cards.

It was brought to my attention yesterday by one of the auditors that we had a credit card account that looked a little suspicious. We had discussed earlier in the day that our bank does not allow any automatic overages on our business cards. The Over Limit increases have to be formally requested and approved by one of us Executive VPs, as it is an additional extension of credit.

So here we have an over limit card. The name on the card is an employee. The employee is the manager of the credit card department.


I go and talk with the manager's boss, and she knows nothing of it. This employee is sweet as can be and has been with the bank forever (the third employee hired way back when). She used to work for me 4 years ago, so I know her very well.

So me and her manager are trying to come up with explanations for what we see. None of them make any sense. We both know the answer, but don't want to admit it.

Late this morning, I go down and show her this listing of her account. I ask her what has happened here. Her face goes limp, then she shakes it off and acts very nonchalantly and says it's a personal account (as opposed to her business card) that was opened when she first started with the bank. No big deal.

I tell her I need the history for that account and one other printed out. I'll wait while they print.

She starts with the other account. It prints out a bunch of pages which she starts going through. Her hands and the paper are visibly shaking. Fuck fuck fuck. This is not good.

She finishes printing out her account, and I ask her, "Do you want to tell me about this?" Her eyes well up with tears, and she asks if we can go up to her boss's office so she won't have to repeat herself.

It was the age-old story: She found a crack in the system and started out slowly, increasing her card limit, always planning on paying it off "when I get the money", and lowering the card back to where it should be.

Of course that never happens. She then had a catastrophic event, plus a new man entered her life, and she piled the debt up even higher. She played with the system and was able to keep it off of the "red flag" reports.

It's not horrible - financially. She'll have to liquidate a good sized chunk of her 401(k) or some other assets if she doesn't want to be prosecuted. A Suspicious Activity Report will be filed with our regulators. She'll never be able to work in the financial industry again because she will not be bondable.

Her life has been radically changed because of a bit of greed. She is not a young or overly educated woman, so rebuilding a retirement plan will not be easy, especially when trying to get a job when there is now a 12-year gap in your resume.

We fired her, and I felt so bad. A guard and I escorted her to her car. It was like a death walk.

I know she made the decision to steal from us all on her own, but I still feel like shit. I always do. It's like when your kids lie to you or steal from you. They did it and they have to pay the piper, but you feel like you didn't train them well enough, or put up enough road blocks to take away temptation or something. I know it's all bullshit, but I still hate it.

PS: Something happened that has only happened once before when I fired someone. She thanked me. I'm guessing the pressure of the guilt finally being lifted was a blessing. The other time, an employee played with the GL to pilfer some money to bury a relative.

In both cases, I told the employee that if they had just come and talked to us, we would have found a way to get them the money - I've done it a dozen times. Ugh.



Monday, January 28, 2008

100K Idiots, and Going Strong 

A man profits more by the sight of an idiot than by the orations of the learned.
--Anonymous Arabian Proverb
I have so little hope for mankind when I read stories such as this. It's a blog entry from my buddies at TerraPass.com:
TerraPass is celebrating another milestone: we have just sold our 100,000th TerraPass.
You may remember, I've had a couple of run-ins with these pinheads in the past. They are one of those outfits that will take your money, give you a bumper-sticker and certificate, and a slap on the ass and tell you that you've done something to quell Man Made Global Warming.

They have actually convinced 100,000 suckers customers to fork over their money to purchase "carbon offsets". What has got me simply bat-shit crazy is that Terra Pass STILL cannot/will not explain what they do with the money that they've pilfered received from their marks customers.

Here is a company whose primary product is carbon offsets, yet they are unable to explain the concept.
Carbon Offsets can be difficult things to explain: we hear this from TerraPass members, telling us of their experiences explaining offsets to their friends; we know it ourselves when we try to write for this blog or our website explaining how small amounts of money can make real differences to the environment.
They send you to a link to some NPR recording that attempts to do the explaining. This is simply stunning to me: People continue to send them money for something that they are unable to explain. No one would ever buy from any store if the sales person could not explain what the benefit would be for making the purchase.

If you dig deeper onto their site, you will see the list of projects in which they participated during 2006. They give information about how much CO2 was reduced. What they DON'T say is how the money from their customers accomplished this reduction.

Go read the responses in the above-linked past posts, that I got from one of the co-founders, Adam. He NEVER directly answers my questions.

So, Adam, or any of the other TerraPass honchos that want to take a whack at this, there really is only one question:
  1. Explain how purchasing credits or offsets from an existing project does anything to further reduce the amount of CO2 going into the environment. Pick any of the projects listed on your site and explain what happened to the money your customer gave you, and how that money reduced CO2 production.

We won't get a response. They realize they have a house of cards, and even the eco-freaks will become wise to their exploits once enough time has passed.

Or maybe not. What Adam and TerraPass are really selling is the idea of absolution. Of giving you a way to say, "I'm doing my part", even if that means being taken for a couple of bucks.

Remember our 100K Club Winner? Why did he buy a TerraPass?
I worry about the environment, but I still wanted to visit my family. I wanted to do something about the carbon emissions that causes: the only option is flying in airplanes and that wastes a lot of fuel.
Obviously, seeing his family was more important to him than saving the planet. For a couple of bucks, he was able to purchase absolution from the Church of Carbon Offsets.

Amen, brother! Step right up and feel the carbon ooooooozz right out of your sinning soul! Gimme some tithing to keep the spirit alive! Yessir, yessir!!

One hundred thousand people have dropped some change into the collection plate. And that's just for TerraPass. There are dozens, if not hundreds of other "churches" just like them, selling the snake oil and the promise of salvation.

PT Barnum was right, if not a bit conservative in his estimates...

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Passed! 

Patience and fortitude conquer all things.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I took the Utah non-resident Concealed Carry Weapon test today, and I passed! Sweet!

This permit will be valid in 29 of these United States, of course not including my current state of the People's Republic of California. Unreal.

Anyway, I just need to send in the money and the application, wait 60 days, and I'm In Like Flint.

We're doing a western states tour this March to scout out some states and communities to move to in the next couple of years. Hopefully, the permit will be here before we leave so I can have a defensive weapon on my person and not have to worry about being thrown in the can.

Here's a close up of the target. The test involved taking 24 shots (6 groups of 4 shots) at varying distances. I started to drift a bit as the range was extended, but everything still hit, "center of mass". You only needed to hit 70%.

Little by little, I'm setting up my ducks to abandon this sinking ship of a state. It gives me hope!

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Friday, January 25, 2008

You Too, Shall Pay 

Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.
--Bertrand Russell
Russell's quote is a little cynical, even for me, but it sure doesn't seem to make sense to play by the rules.

I've mentioned in the past that my job involves assessing different risk scenarios and offering options to our Board to either minimize losses or maximize income. For instance, our bank has dodged problems with the sub-prime mess by making the conscious decision to stay out of the home mortgage market.

When we ran the numbers, we didn't like the risk/reward calculation. Instead, we've made our money by investing in triple-A securities, cutting back on expenses and generally hunkering down while this mess evolves.

Even though we only invested in government securities or highly-rated corporate offerings, we still insured each and every one of our bonds against loss. Plus, with most of our muni-bonds, the local government has the ability (and obligation) to increase taxes in the event their expected cash-flows were to decline.

All except one bond. While it is insured, the entity - a local, California school district - does not have the power to unilaterally increase taxes should payments from the state decrease... as is quite likely in the next fiscal year because of California's projected $14 billion deficit.

We did an update review of the insurer. It is triple-A rated. For now. It seems that the rating services have a bit of concern because this company has insured a number of bond issues whose underlying assets were.... sub-prime loans. It is expected that they will have a number of very large insurance claim pay-outs in the coming months. This could place the financial stability of the insurer in question. If they don't have any cash, they certainly could not pay our claim in the event of a loss.

Doh! Snapped in the ass by the sub-prime mess, even though we deliberately stayed out of the market.

Here's where it gets interesting, though. YOU are going to help protect my bank from loss.

We can't sell the bond, even though we're still getting paid, because the market value of the bond has decreased due to everything I've discussed here. We've put aside reserves for this expected loss.

We may rethink this, though.

You see, when we buy investments, we are obsessive about diversification. We do not allow any "purchase concentration" to equal more than 1% of our assets. For instance, if we're in bonds issued by Entity "A", each purchase equal to 1% or more of our assets must be insured by a different company. We also have limits by industry, geography, type of government entity, etc.

In short, we manage our risk.

Sometimes, though, despite all of our precautions, shit happens, and we take a loss. It happens very rarely, but it's a part of doing business.

This morning, I'm reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about this French guy that works for Societe Generale that somehow bypassed their internal controls and made massive, unauthorized trades. His trading positions started to tank near the end of December, he panicked, made some moves that set off bells-and-whistles, and he was uncovered. But not until Societe had incurred losses of $7 billion on his trades. Ouch.

At the very bottom of the article, they were talking about how the losses could have been so much higher and had a bigger impact on the value of their stock, but something happened to softened the blow.
Late Wednesday afternoon in the U.S., news broke that insurance regulators had met with banks to discuss a plan to provide financial support to bond insurers that back billions of dollars in debt. That news caused financial-company stocks in the U.S. to rise. This rise carried over to European trading yesterday morning and limited the fall in Société Générale's stock.
This was all fairly hush-hush, at least with the main stream press. I spoke with our CFO this morning, and he hadn't heard anything about this.

The initial plan was for banks to invest cash in these insurers. The very same banks that have already taken billions of dollars in losses and have had to go to "sovereign investors" for cash to bolster their own finances. They're not really itching to dump a pile of cash into an entity that may be going tits-up in the near future.

The insurance companies are a bit leery as well, as this sudden infusion of cash would either dilute the value of the current shareholders, or make them a lower class of share holder by making the new money "preferred stock".

The only "logical" solution will be a government cash infusion or, more likely, a guarantee.

That means that you and I get to pay the piper should the losses of these insurers exceed their financial capacity. These insurers that are supposedly professional risk managers. Experts in the various lines in which they participate. The true Amazing Kreskin's of the financial markets.

And we're gonna bail their asses out.

So, instead of these crappy companies being driven out of business and being replaced by companies that have proven themselves to being good money managers, Nanny is going to prop them up. Once again going from Regulator to Operator.

Unrestrained greed is what got us into this problem. Greedy lenders, greedy borrowers, greedy investors, greedy insurers. If the risk/reward model is not allowed to follow its natural course, these "mistakes" will happen again and again.

It truly does not pay to manage risk. You've got to maximize income at all cost. A bail-out is always around the corner if you mess up.

We're all going to pay for this, and the cost will not only be financial.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paying For Our Own Downfall 

One of the consequences of such notions as "entitlements" is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence.
--Thomas Sowell
I hear stories like this, and I literally shake my head in disgust.
Forty students from Creekside High and Bear Creek Middle schools in Fairburn will be the first to try the "Learn & Earn" program, where students will get paid to attend after-school tutoring programs.
The good news is, this is being paid for by a non-profit organization. The bad news is, it WILL catch on, and will cost us a bundle.

When will these idiots realize that people will always live up to the lowest expectations we set? We give kids their schooling FOR FREE. They get 13 years of school, and not one dime comes out of their pocket.

Some kids and their families understand the value of this gift, and take full advantage of it. They study, work hard, build good habits regarding attendance, and go off to higher education. They have a much higher likelihood of being a contributing member of society.

Some kids and families piss it away. They don't set expectations for their children. They have become so used to getting whatever they need to survive FOR FREE that nothing in their lives has any value. They have no incentive to work hard because everything is given to them. They have a higher likelihood of becoming a dependent member of society.

So someone thinks that by giving them money to show up after school will make things better? You really want to pay them to get something for free? ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE??? The concept itself hurts my brain.

This is just like what has happened with the sub-prime mortgage problem. People and banks got in over their heads, tossed the dice and lost.

The banks and their investors are getting their asses beaten. Huge losses, people being fired, market values plummeting. It's as it should be.

But the poor, defenseless buyers who were doing the same thing the banks were doing - trying to get something for nothing - have got to be rescued. Give them a break. Cut them some slack. Reinforce the idea that there are no consequences for their actions!

You are a sucker if you play by the rules.

Don't study and get good grades? We'll toss some money your way if you stay after school. Can't afford the payment that is clearly disclosed when you sign your loan papers? No problemo! We'll just force the banks to take it further up the ass so you don't have to feel any pain.

Why do our "leaders" continue to think this is good public policy? Is it really all about getting the votes at any cost? My God, that is discouraging.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dis and Dat 

If we would only give, just once, the same amount of reflection to what we want to get out of life that we give to the question of what to do with a two weeks' vacation, we would be startled at our false standards and the aimless procession of our busy days.
--Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Not a lot is getting me crazy right now. I'm probably numb.

Nothing I can do about the stock market dropping like a stone, so I can't get too worked up. The presidential hopefuls are all stabbing each other in the backs. Nothing new there. Another Hollywood actor croaked on drugs. Shocking.

Random thoughts:

Two great sayings I recently heard on the radio:
Monica Lewinsky's Ex-boyfriend's Wife For President.
Something tells me someone with this bumper sticker doesn't really have their heart behind Mrs. Clinton. It's just a gut feeling.
Government Paid Universal Health Care: The Compassion of the IRS, the Efficiency of the Post Office, combined with the Cost-consciousness of the Defense Department.
So true, so true....

Lately, I've had this obsession with making knives. More correctly, an obsession about learning how to make knives.

When I was updating my home emergency supply boxes, I saw that I had a glaring omission - no stout survival-style knife. In fact, if we had grabbed our supply boxes to get out of Dodge, there would have been no knife at all! I started doing research on what type would be best for the stash, and it struck me that there are a ton of different knife styles.

I started seeing a bunch of sites about people making their own knives, and it has blossomed into a 5-book library on knife making techniques and styles. What's cool, is I have most of the tools needed to make a decent, functional, great looking knife.

If I want to "kick it up a notch", I'll need an oxy-acetylene rig for brazing finger guards and butt-plates to the tangs. We'll see.

Sunday, I'm going to head out to a local junk yard to look for some scrap steel. It's amazing what types of things can be recycled into knives. Leaf springs, industrial band saws, massive circular saws. For most knives, anything that is around 1/8 inch thick, which is A LOT of tool steel.

Some guy actually takes steel cable, cleans it up and forges his own Damascus steel. This stuff is really beautiful when used for knives. It is actually not that difficult to make (well, it doesn't look like it is) and really adds a level of uniqueness to the blade.

Making a mini-forge is not that difficult or expensive. I need to think this through because one of the heat-treating stages of the knife-making process requires getting temperatures in the 1500 F range, and I'd want to do a number of knives at once. To do the Damascus requires somewhat higher temps, but it's been done without much fuss. Where to put it is another issue....

Hmm. I just turned 49 the middle of this month. One step away from The Great Beyond... 50. I've mentioned before that a couple of years ago, I put on 40 or so pounds when I quit smoking. And that was on top of the 20 pounds I had put on since college. It had shifted a bit as well!

I started smoking again about a year ago, and dropped 25 of the 40 pounds. Still, that puts me at least 35 pounds over where I'd like to be when I include the post-college tonnage.

Getting down to my college weight by my 50th would be a very cool thing. Only 3 lbs. a month for a year. I know I'd feel better (although I don't feel bad now... I don't think!), I'd clearly be healthier with all of that weight off my gut, and it would be a nice present to myself.

My biggest problem tends to be staying consistent. I have actually done pretty well in reducing the amount of food I eat. For instance, when we buy pizza, I eat 2 or 3 slices, and not a whole medium pizza.

It is the exercise part that screws me up. I'll stay with it for 3 or even 4 months, then will get off track because of (usually) a work trip or a vacation. I never get back into my routine.

I think that if I tell my boys what I'm doing, they'll provide the kick in the butt when I need it. It's not often when they get to ride my ass, and they'll relish the opportunity!

Game on!

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Backdoor to Your PC? 

Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.
--John Perry Barlow
In my last post, I was discussing a government plan that would grant unlimited access to all Internet traffic - foreign AND domestic - to the feds. Well, the hits just keep on coming...

A month or so ago, I ran across this article. As part of my work duties, I have to keep up to speed on ways to protect the non-public information of our customers, as well as proprietary information about the bank. The article concerns itself with random number generators. These are needed for all programs used to encrypt information.

Two snippets from the article (which is a bit technical):
But one of those generators -- the one based on elliptic curves -- is not like the others. Called Dual_EC_DRBG, not only is it a mouthful to say, it's also three orders of magnitude slower than its peers. It's in the standard only because it's been championed by the NSA, which first proposed it years ago in a related standardization project at the American National Standards Institute.
As the article notes, it's not strange - in fact it's to be expected - that the NSA would be involved with all parts of encryption standards for the US. What IS odd is how the NSA pushed to have this generator included in the standards, plus it is significantly slower than the other generators.

Oh. And then there was this:
But today there's an even bigger stink brewing around Dual_EC_DRBG. In an informal presentation (.pdf) at the CRYPTO 2007 conference in August, Dan Shumow and Niels Ferguson showed that the algorithm contains a weakness that can only be described as a backdoor.
What's a backdoor? In this case, it's a way to break into the contents of something that's encrypted without needing to know the secret decryption key. Anything encrypted with this random number generator, by anyone that uses it, can be decrypted.

As the article (back in November 2007) notes:
I don't understand why the NSA was so insistent about including Dual_EC_DRBG in the standard. It makes no sense as a trap door: It's public, and rather obvious. It makes no sense from an engineering perspective: It's too slow for anyone to willingly use it. And it makes no sense from a backwards-compatibility perspective: Swapping one random-number generator for another is easy.
It makes sense if the world's largest producer of computer software includes it with its newest operating system release (Vista):
The Dual Elliptical Curve (Dual EC) PRNG from SP 800-90 is also available for customers who prefer to use it.
Now, it is not yet the default encryption program, but it's been inserted into the software. When or if that will happen, who knows? Until then, if you use Vista (which is crap), then be very sure you don't change any of the encryption defaults.

Unless you don't like your privacy, that is.



Fourth Amendment? See ya later! 

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
--Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
While I don't agree with Abbey's political positions, I agree, very strongly, with his sentiments.

I think most people would agree that the primary job of the federal government is to protect the people of the United States. We have all agreed to create this institution for our mutual defense.

But that power to protect is bridled. The US Constitution lays out the limits within which the feds must operate. The belief of the founders - one with which I am in full agreement - was that if you don't restrain the government, it will evolve into a tyranny.

To ensure there was no ambiguity on the intent to limit federal powers, the Constitution contains the Tenth Amendment which clearly states that if a power is not specifically granted to the feds or restricted by the states, it is automatically the purview of the states or of individuals.

Yet, over the past one hundred years or so, we've seen a slow but steady shift in power from the states and the citizenry, to the federal government. Almost without exception, infringements upon our personal rights have been made in the name of safety for the masses.

I've state before that I believe the scales tipped with the passage and "ratification" by the SCOTUS of the Harrison Narcotics Tax act of 1914. Essentially, this act allowed the feds to control the consumption and sale of narcotics by individuals. Instead of people being imprisoned for an act which harmed another person or somehow deprived them of their rights, the federal government could now punish people for doing something to themselves.

Nanny Knows Best.

The concept of personal responsibility died a little bit. Instead of society shunning people that made the choice to become drug addicts, we now imprisoned them. More importantly, it started the notion that the feds knew what was best for us, and only had our best interests at heart. The federal government granted itself unconstitutional powers.

We've seen this continue at an alarming pace. The Second Amendment has been shredded beyond recognition. You used to be able to buy any gun, from any source (like the Sears catalog) and carry it for personal protection without having to ask permission.

The Fifth Amendment is largely intact - with the glaring exception that now the government can seize your private property simply because its sale to another private party will increase the tax base of the local government.

The Ninth is ignored. The Tenth, as stated earlier is not even considered any more.

Perhaps the most egregious damage has been done to the Fourth Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Seems pretty clear: Unless there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime, and that suspicion is acknowledged by a judge, the government cannot look at nor take your personal property.

Again, this has been chipped away, little by little, to where we now willingly allow government employees to invade our privacy.

Think about one of my biggest pet peeves, DUI checkpoints. You are driving along, minding your own business, not displaying any signs of intoxication. There is no probable cause.

Still, a government employee funnels your car, and every other car on that road, into a checkpoint. That government employee is then allowed to ask you if you've been drinking. Without probable cause, let alone the review of a judge, how in Gods name could this have been upheld?

It was upheld because people were scared shitless by well meaning but misguided organizations, and public pressure got these unconstitutional laws passed. This happens all of the time. The law was challenged and the Supreme Court then utterly failed in its duties, and upheld the laws.

In the name of your safety.

This abhorrent intrusion into our lives will look like child's play when compared to this:
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is proposing a plan that would give the government complete access to the content of any international or domestic email, file transfer, or web search, without probable cause or any warrants — in direct opposition to the Fourth Amendment.
Complete, unmonitored, unrestricted access to your Internet traffic. What site did you visit? What words did you type? What message did you send? What words did you read?

The premise of, "Innocent until proven guilty", has been replaced with, "We're watching your every move".
McConnell said that privacy will have to take a back seat in the name of security. He insists that he simply must have the ability to read all information crisscrossing the United States on the Internet in order to "protect" the United States from "abuse."
I can hear it now: Come on, you un-American swine! We're fighting terrorists here! We're crushing your rights so we can save your life! Would you rather be dead and righteous, or alive and obedient?

I'll take the former, because the latter would be death as well. Just a lot slower and without any dignity or honor.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Fight the Good Fight 

There are two levers to set a man in motion, fear and self-interest.
--Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821
I am heartened to see that slowly but surely, the people of the world are recognizing Radical Islam for what it really is, and are standing up against its political correctness.

Europe, particularly France and Great Britain have been turned on their ear by their lax immigration laws that have resulted in millions of Muslims setting up residence in their countries. We've all seen the riots, and the calls for sharia law in their Muslim enclaves within the cities.

Countries, including the US, seem to be trying to bend over backwards to please and appease these groups that call for the destruction of our way of life. Speak out against Islam - even with facts - and risk losing your job.

It seems, though, that individuals are saying, "Enough is enough" and are fighting back.

I think it disgusted most people the way the Muslims started making overt threats that directly threatened freedom of speech. The Mohammad cartoon deal in Denmark was one of the first times there seemed to be a collective, "WTF?". Even though the newspaper caved-in, regular people started seeing that there was a difference between being sensitive to other beliefs and to someone clubbing you over the head with their message.

A lot of people have heard about Michael Savage's lawsuit against the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). In what started as a lawsuit about copyright infringement has blossomed into a RICO suit.

CAIR tried to put Savage out of business by pressuring his advertisers into dropping him. Instead of sitting there and taking it, Savage struck back, and filed his suit.

In a similar vein up in Canada, a man named Ezra Levant was brought up before a Human Rights commission for speaking out against Islam. His crime: He re-published the Danish cartoons in his web-based magazine. Some imam brought the charges.

Mr. Levant was not pleased:
I am here at this government interrogation under protest. It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights.
Of course they have no standing or authority, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Islam is not slighted, right?
For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights. This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values.
He then makes a great point: Because it is a supposed civil rights issue, the government automatically sides with the presumed "aggrieved" party and prosecutes the "aggressor".
It is also deeply procedurally one-sided and unjust. The complainant – in this case, a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, and who has called for sharia law to govern Canada – doesn’t have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment.
The message: Speak out against us, and we'll ruin you in your pitifully PC courts.

I wish Savage and Levant the best of luck in their fights. I might even send Savage a couple of bucks for his defense fund.

Whether this apparent change in attitude is from a position of fear or self-interest is really irrelevant to me. If more Americans are able to see what these Radical Islamics are up to, and are continually unafraid to say it out loud, perhaps we can keep from becoming Islamisized ourselves.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nanny Versus The Market 

Our forbears worked hard this difficult land, and their reward was the freedom and independence of self-sufficiency.
--James H. Douglas
I recently had a little run-in with a reader named James. We were having a pretty heated discussion about slavery and the government. In the end, I painted him as a socialist/communist for his beliefs that Government Knows Best. He bridled at the label, and tried to play it off by saying most of America thought the way he does. The discussion was quickly going nowhere, so I cut it off.

But his mindset troubles me. And if his perception that most Americans think as he does is accurate, we're in for a world of hurt.

Where have our leaders and educators gone wrong? Why do so many people think this way? Why do people think that the government is all-knowing, all-wise and this big benevolent entity?

If you take half of a second, you'll realize that there are very few things our government does right. Understand what I'm saying here: Our form of government is unmatched for excellence in the world. But the boneheads running the joint are screwing it up horribly.

Our military is the best in the world. Protecting our form of government and our way of life is - in my opinion - the single most important job of the feds. Yet we shrink the military and hamstring our soldiers when we send them into harms way.

On the other hand, the feds meddle in areas in which they have no constitutional authority. Education. Subsidized housing. Forced charity. Managed healthcare. They step on their collective dicks every time they attempt to fix something.

Alternative fuels is the latest. All of the eco-freaks are running around, waiving their arms saying we need alternatives to fossil fuels. I can get behind that. They want it because they think the alternative will be cleaner (which it may be). I want it because it will reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. Independence is a good thing.

The feds should state that we have a national goal of energy independence. Set a time-frame. Set goals. Pump up the people.

Then get out of the way and let private markets figure out the best ways.

Instead, the feds pull out the checkbook and start subsidizing what, at that instant, seems to be the best bet. Almost without exception, this screws things up. The Rule of Unintended Consequences raises its ugly mug and bites us in the ass.

Look what has happened with ethanol. Nanny starts subsidizing corn for ethanol production. Why? Because it takes more energy (and thus money) to make a gallon of corn-based ethanol than the producer can then sell the gallon of ethanol for on the market.

Farmers don't give a shit. They see that they can now significantly increase their profits because Nanny will send them an extra little check for growing corn.

But look what has happened: The price of corn for food has gone through the roof. The law of supply and demand. Supplies for food use drop, demand remains constant so prices increase. In Mexico (who gets most of their corn from the US), the price of corn for tortillas rose by 400%. There were riots because people were going hungry.

The price of beer is going to increase this year because acreage formerly used to grow barley (the primary grain for beer) is being converted to corn acreage in massive numbers. Because of the subsidies.

Look what happens, though, when we actually do some research before acting. Point, Aim and Shoot as opposed to the fed's normal Shoot, Point and Aim:
In the biggest such study to date, scientists led by Kenneth Vogel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln performed long-term, large-scale field studies on raising switchgrass as an energy crop. Farmers in 10 fields of 15 to 20 acres each in Nebraska and North and South Dakota grew switchgrass over five years, and kept track of how much fuel and fertilizer they used during the trials. Vogel and his colleagues showed that switchgrass yielded 540% more energy as a biofuel than the amount of energy used to grow, harvest and process it. (Corn ethanol yields just 25% more energy.) Greenhouse gas emissions from switchgrass fuel would be 94% lower than emissions from petroleum fuel — almost carbon neutral. Previous studies had come up with similar numbers in small-scale trials, but this was the first study on the level of a working farm. "The idea is that we won't be replacing food with fuel on prime land," says Vogel. "This study shows you can use switchgrass as an energy crop on marginal land and get the same environmental benefit."
Using marginal land. Not displacing food crops. More bang for the buck. What a fucking concept: Efficiency.

The federal government's job is to protect and to regulate. Not to operate businesses or attempt to shape process (gawd, I feel like a broken record). Set the standards (say, for miles-per-gallon or CO2 content or whatever) and let the private sector figure it out. As long as certain industries or special interest aren't given an exemption, we'll "git 'er done".
"We're doing serious technological innovation on this," Khosla told TIME recently. "Oil is a big market, and there will be breakthroughs."
There will be if Nanny gets out of the way.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nanny and Your Electric Bill 

A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.
--Bertrand de Jouvenel
I often call my home state, The People's Republic of California. This once great state has taken a steady, unwaivering slide towards socialism, Nannyism, communism. Any "-ism" other than individualism.

But even this is beyond the pale. Nanny can now reach into your home and adjust the temperature. Really.
What should be controversial in the proposed revisions to Title 24 is the requirement for what is called a "programmable communicating thermostat" or PCT. Every new home and every change to existing homes' central heating and air conditioning systems will required to be fitted with a PCT beginning next year following the issuance of the revision. Each PCT will be fitted with a "non-removable " FM receiver that will allow the power authorities to increase your air conditioning temperature setpoint or decrease your heater temperature setpoint to any value they chose.
How frightening is that? The government can take control of the heating and cooling systems of your personal residence whenever they feel it is appropriate.

Are the control of your lights next? "Hey, you don't need lights on after 11pm. You should be asleep. We'll turn them off for you. We'll get the TV for you while we're at it. It's for your own good, ya know. "

As the article points out, the eco-freaks say this is needed because we have occasional energy shortages and rolling brown-outs. Shortages, ironically, brought to us by the same bureaucrats that will now be in charge of our thermostats.

The thought of allowing holes to be punched into our precious off-shore waters for fuel oil, or building new nuclear energy plants isn't part of the discussion. In fact, this process will actually make it more difficult to justify modernizing and enlarging our energy infrastructure:
If the state "shaves" peak loads by adjusting your thermostat during "price events," generators will not receive the higher prices. This effect will reinforce electrical shortages much like rent control discourages apartment building.
The premise, of course, is that this is all for our own good, so it is therefore justified. The masterminds behind this plan - The California Energy Commission - have even set up a site that talks about the economic benefits of DR (that's short for Demand Response).

Again, these are the idiots that got us into this mess. Why are they now able to make the right decision over how we run our lives?

Government is supposed to regulate, not operate. Here in The People's Republic, the exact opposite is the rule. Most citizens have come to expect to be told what to do, how to do it and when to get it done.

The concept of personal responsibility and competency is a foreign one. The idea that the free market could better and more efficiently respond to any type of crisis is greeted with laughter.

Nanny Knows Best.

This place is too far gone to be saved. The inmates are truly running the asylum.
There must be no worse punishment to a totalitarian nation than the withdrawal of capital.
--Jerzy Kosinski
The checks to the California Politburo will stop in the near future. My family and I will be in a neighboring state watching with a sort of satisfying horror as the socialist infrastructure implodes.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

We're getting hammered 

The skies have opened up here in Northern California.

We're getting sustained winds of 50-60 mph, with gust of 80 mph - hurricane level.

I'm working from home today, and just assessed the overnight damage. I've got a 20 foot chunk of fence that's down, but it's easily repaired. I'm a bit worried about a water diversion system I've set up that does not seem to be taking the water away from my house fast enough.

There have been lots of stories of power outages and flash flooding.

Tahoe is supposed to get anywhere from 5 to 10 feet of show from today to Sunday.

It's gonna be a bumpy ride for the next few days....



Thursday, January 03, 2008

Laws and The Lawless 

Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes.
--Abraham Lincoln
Each year, the legislators here in The People's Republic of California pass buckets o' laws, most of which are crap. This year, they passed 964 bills, and RINO Schwarzenegger signed 750 of them into law.

Two new laws each and every day of the year.

Clearly, they pass these laws because we simple dolts do not have the mental capacity to run our own lives, and we need their direction in how to thrive. God bless them one and all. [/sarcasm]

I'm waiting for the bill requiring everyone to wear helmets when outside, and a state appropriation to cover every sharp edge in the state in foam rubber.

After all, it's for the children.

Anyways, here are a couple of doozies that went into effect on January first:
Consumers will also get a break from a new law that allows redemption of gift cards for cash if the balance is less than $10. The bill, from Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was prompted by her own frustration with gift cards piling up that had only a few dollars left on them and couldn't be used.
So, Ms. Corbett got her panties in a wad over her Macy's gift card, so she passes a law that instructs companies how they must conduct business. I thought government was in place to regulate, not operate. Sorry, my bad.
New rebates will be available for homeowners and businesses that install solar water heaters. The bill, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, sets aside $250 million for the program with the goal of installing 200,000 solar-powered water heaters by 2017.
Great. Our government has come up with a way to spend a quarter of a billion dollars when we are $14 billion in the hole. We will not even be able to pay the interest portion of our public debt if some restructuring is not made, yet we see it as acceptable to subsidize the plumbing in someone's private home.

Did I mention I'm leaving this insane asylum? I did? Just checking...
The bill, by state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, makes it an infraction punishable by a $100 fine to smoke with a child under 18 in the car - whether the vehicle is in motion or not. Traffic officers would not be able to stop a driver for the smoking violation alone but could tack it on to another infraction such as speeding.

While some have complained that the law is an example of "nanny government," Oropeza, a cancer survivor, said that "kids are basically held hostage in cars and they don't have the control that the adults have. We felt that it's important that we protect them from adult smokers."
Held hostage. Good Lord. It's laws like this that cause me the most grief. It's just common sense - to most people, at least - not to smoke around kids. But, it's not the government's place to tell people how to raise their kids. If Nanny feels the child is being abused and can support that assertion in court, the kid MUST be remanded to the state. Otherwise, stay the hell out of my life.

This is just like the motorcycle helmet, seat belt, trans fats and all of the other, "It's for the children/your best interest" laws.

These laws, little by little, erode our belief that we are in charge of our own lives. That we are responsible for our actions. That what we do as individuals matters a damn. That government is here to serve us, and not vice versa.

We have truly gotten to the point where we almost cannot help breaking the law. I was talking about this yesterday with a friend: I recently took a rock in my windshield from a semi-trailer. The impact point "spidered" to be nearly 2 feet long. It's off to the side and does not impede my ability to see the road in any way.

But California law makes it a crime to drive a car with a cracked windshield.

If I were to be pulled over, say for speeding, and got the dreaded question, ("For our protection and yours, would you mind if we searched your car and trunk?") and I said, "No", they could impound my car because of the cracked windshield!

We're being legislated into irrelevance.
One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.
--Thomas Brackett Reed

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Gravy Train Just Keeps On Chuggin' 

It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
--P.G. Wodehouse, The Man Upstairs
Crap like this just saps the strength out of me.
New Jersey could become the first Northern state to apologize for slavery under a measure due for a legislative committee hearing this week.

"This is not too much to ask of the state of New Jersey," said Assemblyman William Payne, sponsor of the proposal. "All that is being requested of New Jersey is to say three simple words: 'We are sorry.'"

Wow. Who woulda thunk it? A Democrat proposing that New Jersey participate in some hollow, race-tinged self-flagellation. Oh look! He just happens to be black, as well.


Isn't there enough going on in New Jersey to keep pinheads like this busy? Don't they have some Mafia murders or a chemical plant spill that can keep him focused on something that actually matters?
According to the proposal, New Jersey had one of the largest slave populations in the Northern colonies and was the last state in the Northeast to formally abolish slavery, not doing so until 1846. The state didn't ratify the constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery until January 1866, weeks after it became law, having rejected ratification in 1865.
Hmm. A hundred and sixty-plus years have passed since they did away with slavery. Why would this idiot think this is appropriate now?
Payne said an apology would comfort black residents, who make up 14.5 percent of New Jersey's 8.7 million residents.
The state is now in the 'comfort' business? Is anyone buying that bullshit? This is another piece of the puzzle to get paid sometime down the line - either through reparations or increased government assistance, or some other scam.

I guarantee you that if this is passed, Payne or others like him will use the fact that the state admitted to wrong-doing, to get a bigger chunk of money in the future. It will go something like this:
"Well, everyone knows blacks have been pissed on their entire lives. Jersey even admitted as much. While doubling the amount of money going into [insert favorite special interest group here] may provide some comfort to disadvantaged blacks, it is only the first step in a long road to racial equality."
Excuse me. I just threw up a little in my mouth. At least there is a glimmer of sanity up there in the cold Northeast:
"Who living today is guilty of slave holding and thus capable of apologizing for the offense?" asked Assemblyman Richard Merkt [an evil white male -ed.]. "And who living today is a former slave and thus capable of accepting the apology? So how is a real apology even remotely possible, much less meaningful, given the long absence of both oppressor and victim?"
Wake up and smell the Payola, Mr. Merkt. This isn't about an apology. This is about continuing the gravy train.

Choo Choo......

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Boy Scout 101 

A man with a surplus can control circumstances, but a man without a surplus is controlled by them, and often has no opportunity to exercise judgment.
--Harvey S. Firestone, Founder, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company
Hermit recently had a post concerning the distinct possibility of The Hildebeast becoming our next president. He thinks that if The Soul-less One becomes our next POTUS, we might see our supply of guns, parts and ammo quickly dry up.

I think he's most likely right.

His bigger point, though, was about preparedness.

I've mentioned a number of times before that I have this bad gut feeling about what is going on in our society. I can't put my finger on it - maybe there's no single "it" - but I've learned to trust my gut. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when I've followed my gut, I've been on the right track.

My gut is telling me to prepare for some bad times. So that's what I've been doing.

I've always had a disaster cache at home. I live in the SF Bay Area, and earthquakes are a way of life. It's been at varying levels of preparedness over the years. For the Y2K roll-over, we beefed things up even though I absolutely, positively knew nothing would happen. Better safe than sorry.

I had neglected to rotate my stock for a couple of years and much had gone bad. We would have only had a day or two of consumable food and water. Our new stores will feed and water us (What? Are we cattle?!) for a minimum of 30 days. Include food in cupboards, fridge and freezers, and it would not be unreasonable to say we have 60 days for 4 adults. Each of our cars also has a 3-day supply of food and water for 2 adults in a back pack that also has other survival supplies. A regular rotation plan is now in place.

I have started buying ammo a couple of times a month. I'm hesitant to buy in bulk, as that has just got to set off alarms here in The People's Republic of California. I buy 4 boxes or so each time, always from a different store, always for cash. When I go to the range, on my way out, I'll buy twice as much as I shot.

It's all under lock-and-key, but it's all in or around our home. I need to come up with some ideas for spreading around some of this. Benson's Modern Weapons Caching has some great ideas, but they are more easily considered than implemented!

My youngest son (age 18) recently asked my wife, "What's up with dad and all of his disaster stuff? Does he think something is going to happen?"

I sat down and told him that it just made sense, considering where we live, but I really didn't go into the "gut feeling" stuff. At this point, I think it's enough that we're covered. I want my boys to be focused on their schooling and careers. I'll do the worrying for all of us!

I hope I'm wrong. I hope that if The Soul-less One (or any of the other clones) becomes POTUS she won't further shred the Constitution. I hope that our problem with unassimilated nationalities won't end up just like the the French and their Muslim problems. I hope that our policy of giving incentives to our poor to stay on the government teat won't bankrupt our country.

I hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

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