Friday, November 28, 2008

Customer Service In Tough Economic Times 

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.
--William A. Foster

A little story about paying attention to your customers - especially when money is tight and consumers have options on where to spend it:

I have all of my personal checking accounts at WaMu. Historically, while they haven't been a bank I readily recommend to my friends, they've at least been competent. They got the job done, albeit clumsily.

Earlier this week, I noticed a debit card charge to one of my accounts. It was for $7.49. I didn't recognize the company name, but in the past, I've made debit card charges and the business name did not exactly match the name on the charge. I decided to call WaMu's 800 number to see what this was all about.

Big mistake.

They had option after option, none of which obviously pertained to disputing a charge on your account. Never, in any of the options was I given the ability to speak to a human. All I got was automated response after automated response. I wasted 20 minutes or so and finally decided to call my branch directly.

The girl who answered my call caught a hell-storm of grief from me about their phone system. I explained to her that the reason for this grief was the fact that I needed a simple, straight-forward answer to a common occurrence, and WaMu could not provide that to me. I told her I was not surprised that they had to be rescued by Chase if my experience had been typical.

She appologized profusely (she appeared to have great experience in that skill) and was able to provide me with the phone number of the company that had made the charge.

I called the number twice during business hours, and got an answering machine both times. My scam alert went to Code Red, so I called back the branch to tell them to dispute the charge and credit the money back to my account.

The girl (yep, the same one) said that she could not do that over the phone. I would have to come into the branch. If I wanted to do it over the phone, I'd have to call the dreaded 800 number again. She gave me the phone key sequence that would get me into the debit card dispute area.

Suffice it to say, I was under-whelmed. I was transferred 4 times. At each transfer, I had to give my tokens again (card number, date of birth, etc.). Their supposedly advanced system could not "remember" my information from transfer to transfer.

I pissed away another 45 minutes getting the charge disputed and my card cancelled. Forty-five minutes for a $7.49 dispute. Plus the original 20 minutes spent the first day. Hardly economical for me or the bank.

I will be opening a business account in the next week or so. I had originally intended on doing it at WaMu to facilitate quickly cashing payroll checks - no need to place a hold on a check domiciled at the same bank.

Obviously, I'm re-thinking this.

I don't know if this is caused in part because of the Chase take-over or not. WaMu just announced the closure of two customer service centers here in Northern California, but that isn't supposed to take place until early next year, I believe.

Good Lord, what is their customer service going to be like after that?

It seems that too many businesses don't understand that without customers, they have no business. It seems so obvious, but it is lost on so many companies.

If you don't listen to your customers, they'll go elsewhere.

WalMart grows, WaMu dies. Toyota grows, GM dies. Apple is thriving, Dell is on its last legs.

Someone at Chase needs to stick a boot up the ass of the WaMu staff, or there won't be anything left when they change the signs on the offices...



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Bird Day 

When you look at your life the greatest happiness are family happinesses.
--Dr. Joyce Brothers

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.

We decided to just have the 4 of us, and my wife's brother Mike for T-day. Low keyed and relaxed.

I made the best bird ever roasted - regardless of how good you THINK your meal was. Brined a 20lb turkey overnight and roasted it for 3 1/2 hours at 375F. Then let it sit for 1 hour in the oven. Absolutely perfect.

Stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, homemade crescent rolls and a couple bottles of wine. A very good evening. Topped off with an apple crisp and a pumpkin pie. I need to take a couple of laps to run off all of this tonage.

I've got a story for tomorrow about why WaMu is soon to be extinct. Absolutely amazing the level of ineptitude in professional business nowadays.

Forget the bailouts. Let the business purge begin!

Anyways, best wishes to all!



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Day Gunsmithing 

My recipe for dealing with anger and frustration: set the kitchen timer for twenty minutes, cry, rant, and rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.
--Phyllis Diller

What a day.

I have spent the better part of the afternoon trying to add some grip extensions to my Glock 26.

The standard 26 has a fairly short stock. My pinkie and part of my right hand ring finger hang off the end. The guy at the gun store suggested I buy a grip extension.

Here's a Glock 26 right out of the box:

Here it is with the grip extension:

The grip extension is actually attached to the bottom of the magazine.

The guy in the shop said adding the extension was a piece of cake. Depress the little button in the middle of the bottom of the stock magazine, slide the bottom plate off, slide on the extension, and you're as good as gold.

I ought to sue him for false advertising!

I look at the package and read the instruction:
Carefully remove the original magazine bottom by depressing the button located in the magazine base and while depressing the button, compress the sides of the magazine adjacent to the side locking lugs. Then slide the base forward being careful not to lose the internal components. Reverse the above steps to install the new unit. Function test after installation is complete.
Before I started, I ran down to Dr. Frankenstein's lab to have a third arm attached to my body. Clearly, this cannot be done with two hands - depress button, compress sides, slide base.

I'm trying to understand how this thing works, and I've got a rod jammed down on the little button. I pull out the rod, and ...... no more button. Suffice it to say, I swore, just a little (I think my dogs are still cowering in a corner somewhere...).

I'm figuring, "Well, there's $28 plus tax down the drain". I study it some more, and still no luck. After a bit, I determine what they mean by "the side locking lugs". They're these little plastic tabs that are part of the magazine body. They help lock the bottom plate to the body. Somehow, I was supposed to "compress the sides of the magazine" right next to these lugs.

I think I've got it figured out, so I grab another magazine (WARNING! WARNING! WARNING WILL ROBINSON!!). I dick around with it, employing 3 or 4 poses from the Kama Sutra to hold all of the pieces. I slip and..... the little button in the middle of the magazine bottom doesn't pop up. Lord, give me strength....

Two magazines down, two to go. $56 plus tax down the drain...

To cool off, I go have a cigarette in my garage. Splayed out in front of me is my work bench. Which tool to use? The eight pound sledge? The Roto-zip? Perhaps the Sawzall. Ooooo, maybe I'll just go inch by inch on the grinder! So many choices.

I decide to see a Higher Power - I go on the Internet to find some instructions.

There's nothing to be found. Nada. Zip. Zero. Squadoosh. Even the manufacturer's web site has got nothing.

There was one single Message Board thread where some guy says he did it, in his lap, while waiting in traffic. He says you need a screw driver, and it takes only 10 minutes, tops [for the record, this guys is full of steaming, maggot-infested, Ebola-thriving crap].

I break out my little computer repair kit - the ones with the teeny tiny screw driver heads. You know, the ones that, when they slip, pierce your flesh like little mini Mikey harpoons. You get the picture.

Eventually, I wedge two harpoons screw drivers on either side of the magazine, and I'm able to slide the bottom plate off. VICTORY!! I AM GUNSMITH, HEAR ME ROAR!!

I see that, when I depressed the little button, it is actually part of a secondary plastic plate between the spring and the bottom of the magazine. I pushed it too far to one side, and the whole plastic plate slid up into the magazine. I wouldn't have been able to put more than 2 or 3 rounds into the magazine before the plate would have stopped more rounds from being loaded.

OK, I'm rolling now. I fish out the button plate and grab the new extension. I notice that the magazine spring sticks out of the bottom by a good two inches. And this is no weak-watery spring.

I recall the manufacturer's instructions:
Reverse the above steps to install the new unit.

More Kama Sutra. I have to depress the spring with one finger (no easy task considering the strength of the spring), while partially sliding the new extension into the grooves/track on the bottom of the magazine. Then, I have to slip the plastic button plate in between the spring and new extension. The button in the plate has to then seat itself into the hole in the new piece.

I nearly wept when I heard the "click" of the extension locking itself in place.

I repeated the process for the other screwed-up magazine, then tested both of them for feeding rounds. Good as gold.

I've got two more magazines to upgrade, which I'll do later this evening. If you happen to hear of a man in Northern California shooting up his house for no apparent reason while screaming epithets about Glock, you'll know it was me... ;-)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Start The Gun Propaganda Machine 

One man with a gun can control 100 without one.
--Vladimir Lenin

It's starting.

The MSM are already lining up their ducks to make things easier for the Barry Administration to grab our guns. Evil Assault Weapons, at least - or maybe I should say, "at first".

Last night, I watched most of an MSNBC program on the BATF called, "Al Roker Reporting: Armed In America". Yeah, suddenly that fat bastard weatherman from the "Today Show" is qualified to do an in-depth report on the BATF and gun violence.

Well, by MSM standards, I guess he is qualified: He can fog a mirror and read a script.

The clear purpose of this show was to make the BATF look like saviors, and for anyone that owns a gun to look like a nut.

Al trotted along like a good little lap-dog with BATF agents on a number raids. The message was the same at each segment: Guns are in the hands of bad people, and the BATF is here to make you safe.

I noted one single pro-gun statement in the entire show. It was during a segment where some whack-job eventually took over this mansion in Bowling Green, KY. One of the state troopers that was chasing him made a comment about how that area of the country loved their guns, believed in the Second Amendment, and so did he.

While they talked about how evil all guns are in general, they really focused on Evil Black Rifles. Any thinking person who owns one will start (or increase) buying everything they need for usage and repair of their AK's and AR's right now. I'd start doing Internet searches on "weapons caching" as well.

The stage is being set to get them out of the hands of all Americans. I'm guessing the secondary purpose is to increase the already God-like powers of the BATF.

This past weekend, my brother purchased a new 9mm handgun. I asked a couple of the sales guys whether they catch grief from the BATF. These guys went off.

They said that before the owner added the gun shop to the shooting range, he visited over 100 gun shops around the country to get a feel for "best practices". They've got cameras everywhere. The gun vault is a concrete reinforced steel room room approximately 8 feet wide and 20 feet long which has no outside wall (no wall touches an outside wall of the building - it's an island, so to speak). The access door is an electronic gun vault door. It's frigging Fort Knox.

On a recent BATF "visit", they were told that bad guys could easily cut a hole in the roof and steal guns. The shop had to remove ceiling tiles in the vault to show the steel plate lining, and punch an access hole in the roof so they could see the concrete lining. Seeing the contractor plans AND BUILDING INSPECTOR SIGN OFF was not enough.

WTF are these assholes thinking? Do they think someone would build a structure so that their product could be easily stolen? Or that there was a big conspiracy between the owner, the contractor and the building inspector to find ways around building a gun vault? Good Lord....

The sales guys went on and on about the harrassment they received when acting as a transfer agent for private gun sales. Rude, demanding assholes.

And they're only going to get more powerful ...

I'm waiting for Al's next MSNBC special: "Al Roker Reporting - Armed In America: Private Guns Saving Lives".

I'd like to see a segment on the reason for the Second Amendment, and how without private weapons in the hands of private citizens, we'd be speaking with a British accent while we eat our eggs with clotted cream and spotted dick for breakfast.

I'd like to see another segment discussing the 2.5 million times a year that private citizens protect themselves or others, many times by simply showing the gun - no rounds fired.

Hey, I can dream, right?

They had one segment showing him firing - for the first time - a Glock 9mm. I'm surprised he didn't have a mis-feed - it looked like his wrists were made from Jello. They did a slo-mo shot of the evil spent casing flying out of the weapon, and I swear the muzzle was damned near verticle after each shot.

He would have killed himself it he had shot a .44 Mag or a revolver with a .357 Mag.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Security Through Obscurity 

The search for static security - in the law and elsewhere - is misguided. The fact is security can only be achieved through constant change, adapting old ideas that have outlived their usefulness to current facts.
-- William Osler

I was reading a blog entry over at FerFal's Surviving In Argentina. He had a reader who sent him a question about being low-keyed when some sort of social unrest hits - when TSHTF. Keeping your head down - staying off the ridge-line so to speak - is a good security practice, regardless of the times.

In a past positions as a CIO, I have had occasion to establish computer security policy from the ground up. At the center of the policy was the mantra, Security Through Obscurity. Our belief was, if you make yourself a target, people will take a shot at you.

For instance, there is a technique that hackers use called "pinging". Think of it as a Battleship that sends out sonar pings looking for a lurking submarine. The hackers use automated programs that will send out tens of thousands of these pings to random IP addresses. They then log the addresses that respond, and go back at a later date to see if there is anything interesting at the address.

We would set our border routers and firewalls to "stealth" mode. When the ping would come in, no reply would be sent back. For all intents and purposes, we didn't exist to the hacker. You can't be attacked if they don't know you're there.

This is common practice now. In fact, most routers and firewalls now use stealth mode as the default setting. But "back in the day", you actually had to think about it!

The Ferfal post got me thinking about my own home security. Our local newspaper has a section called Siren Calls. It's a sampling of police calls in my town, and the surrounding area. There is a steady increase in violent crimes being committed.

Where the bulk used to be the flavor of, "A mailbox at 125 Main street was knocked off the post by teens playing a prank", it is now much more like "A 50 year-old woman walking down Main Street was pushed to the ground and robbed. They stomped her while she was on the ground, and she was transported to the hospital."

It's disturbing.

I flashed on something this past Halloween. We have two school-bus stops in our neighborhood, so I have a pretty good feel for the number of kids that live here. Even assuming half of the kids get rides to school from mom or dad, there are perhaps 50 kids.

This past Halloween, we had a minimum of 200 kids come to our home. During the evening, I stepped out on the street in front of our home, and it was lined with cars, indicating that people from outside of our neighborhood were bringing their kids here.

Now, I don't live in a proverbial "McMansion" - not even close - but I do have a big home in a very nice neighborhood. People of presumably lesser economic means have recognized our neighborhood as having a couple of bucks - at least more than they have in their own neighborhood.

If TSHTF in their lives and they have no job or money, where do you think they may go to play "Trick or Treat"?

So, my first rule of security - obscurity - has already been broken. Time to adapt and re-assess our security plans.

In a couple of hours, I'm leaving to go to a suburb of Sacramento where my youngest brother lives. He moved there about eight years ago. A very nice home in a very nice neighborhood.

Well, it was nice.

He has had an increasing numbers of incidents. Kids drinking and having sex literally parked in front of his home. Party-goers driving up on his lawn to cut across a corner. The police - strapped for resources - send letters to the "bad guys" instead of sending officers to the scene.

My brother now walks out to the front of his home with a camera and takes pictures of the car inhabitants (and their license plate) while they're engaged in "the act". So far, they've simply sped away. Will they become more bold because of the lack of police response?

We're installing a motion-detector digital video surveillance system for the perimeter of his home. When we've finished the installation, we're going to the gun shop and he's buying a handgun.

He's not going to become a statistic.

I need to re-think my home security. We have a home alarm system, but not a lot more. Well, we have a bunch of guns - and we all know how to use them - but you have to be home to use them.

Our valuables are in a number of "hidden in plain sight" devices. The Hidey Hole, false cans and the like. The safe in our bedroom is more of a chunk of bait than anything else.

Still, with the current economic situation, and the long-term prognosis, I don't know if it still makes sense to stay here. I don't know if it's worth it.

OT, kinda....

I've bitched and moaned about how crappily California is run. A bit under a year ago, they were projecting a $15 billion budget deficit. The powers that be all got together and finally gave us a new budget - nearly 3 months late.

Silly me, I figured that if they approved a budget, that indicated it met our state constitution, and was balanced - tax revenues equaled expenditures.

Shortly after it was announced we had a budget, The Governator told us we had an $11 billion deficit. Shit.

He proposed tax increases (temporary.... RIGHT!) and spending cuts to cover the gap. I hadn't heard much about where this stood until today.

They're now projecting the deficit to be $28 billion!
Under the plan, GOP lawmakers -- most of whom have signed anti-tax pledges -- would vote to triple the vehicle license fee that owners pay when they register their cars every year in exchange for a ballot measure that would impose rigid limits on future state spending. Motorists' annual license fees would rise from 0.65% of the value of their vehicles to 2%. For a car or truck valued at $25,000, the increase would be $336.

The higher fees would generate $6 billion annually, helping to fill a budget gap that is projected to reach nearly $28 billion over the next year and a half.
Fucking bungling idiots. Lots to think about...

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

More On Silver, Gold, Bailouts and Bullets 

Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
--Mark Twain

The disconnect between the spot prices of silver and gold, and the street price is getting a bunch of press. Yes, Fox and the NY Post look to No Nanny State for their story leads ;-).

From Fox:
Dealers and analysts are calling it an “upside down” market where physical gold, including coins and bars, are in short supply and far more expensive than the price quoted on New York Mercantile Exchange’s COMEX division.
If you haven't had a chance, read Monday's entry, Price Manipulations? Not Nanny!, to get a feel for what's going on with the gold and silver markets. In particular, read the comments from SilverMiner, a No Nanny reader in the silver industry. Lots of good information. His discussion of the huge difference (millions of ounces) between documented silver usage and documented silver production is quite disturbing.

He provided this link, The Silver Deficit, which has some statistical analysis on the issue.

If you have the stomach, take a look at this page from The Silver Institute. At the bottom of the page, they attempt to reconcile global production with global usage. It has two "interesting" parts of their balancing act: Implied Net Disinvestment and Implied Net Investment in the Supply and Demand charts, respectively.

These are nothing more than accountant-speak for "we've got no fucking idea, but need to make the tables balance". When a supply and demand balance sheet doesn't balance, they plug the number. Good Lord.

Now, to totally mess things up, these charts tend to indicate that since 2003, supply has exceeded demand. Yet they also show the steady increase in the spot price in silver, which is exactly the opposite of what should have happened. WTF? If I'm reading this chart incorrectly, someone 'splain it to me.

None of this makes any sense. Strings are being pulled from somewhere, but from where or by whom is anyone's guess.

The Congressional Theater is in full flower. Our Congress just cracks me up. These pricks are getting their panties in a wad over $25 billion (as well they should). Where was the righteous indignation when they approved the $700 billion for the bankers?

I see the Dems are requiring a plan from the auto makers.
Democratic leaders in Congress have put off a vote on bailing out the auto industry until next month, and want the top companies to present a plan showing the money will make them financially viable.
Great idea. Why didn't they do the same with Paulson? Either as a condition of the original vote, or after his last dog-and-pony show? How about adding some metrics to measure the success of the plan. Meet the goals, get more money.

They need to have venture capitalists, or anyone that has worked in the real world, hired to design the check-and-balance system. If a private company were to go to investors for a cash infusion - which is exactly what the banks and car makers are doing - they'd be bum-rushed out of the door if they showed up without a business plan.

Too bad Congress figured this out after the $700 billion was already out of the door. Or are the banker lobbyists just better paid?

One sliver of good news has to do with ammo prices, at least 9mm. Each of my online source I generally check seems to have it in stock again, and it's at decent prices. My other calibers - .38spl, .357 Mag and .223/5.56 Nato are still in short supply.

Maybe Nanny diverted stock from the strategic brass reserves..... oh never mind....


Wanna REALLY get pissed off? Here's a Congressman from Michigan chatting with Neil Cavuto of Fox News:
During the interview with the Republican from Michigan, Cavuto gave a list of industries that could come to Congress making the case for them to receive government help. "Where do you draw the line with our money?"

"It is not your money," said Knollenberg.
If I didn't see the snake's lips move, I wouldn't believe a politician could be so stupid to actually say what all American's know their Congress-critters believe. He must have had one of those, "Did I say that out loud?" moments.

Click to hear it for yourself.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Long-Term Food Preservation 

Whether one eats a cat or not is a personal choice, and I don't want to sway anyone one way or another. But if you do, there is one obvious cooking tip: Always remember to remove the bell from the cat's collar before cooking.
--Mike Royko

I've been trying different kinds of food preservation. I've been focusing on techniques that result in foods that don't need to be refrigerated after they've been prepared.

I started with canning. Jackie Clay at Backwoods Home Magazine was my inspiration with her Full Meal canning. Instead of doing a jar of peaches, you do beef stew. It's fast food, you know what's in it, and it keeps for years and years.

I've done the aforementioned beef stew, salsa verde (pork in green chile sauce - sucked!), clam chowder, BBQ pulled pork, and tons of chili con carne. You pop a lid, 1 minute in the microwave, and you have a great meal. It works well with college students in the house.

I have also canned beef - both chunks and hamburger (the burger is better, IMO) - pork stock, veggie stock and simply awesome strawberry jam.

The problem with canning - glass jarring, really - is three-fold: It takes a lot of fuel to produce, you need some specialized equipment (pressure canner, jars, lids, etc) and the product isn't very portable. You can't realistically fill your backpack up with a week's worth of canned soup, for instance.

Drying foods seemed like it might be a solution. It would address at least 1 of those three problems. Portability would be greatly enhanced. And, depending upon the technique used, the other two problems - fuel consumption and specialized equipment - could be eliminated or lessened.

I've made jerky for the past couple of years. I've always taken some sort of low-fat chunk of meat - like London broil - sliced it, marinated it, then put it in the dehydrator.

The product has been very well received. It usually only lasts a couple of days. It does have very good longevity as well.

I made a batch for my fishing trip in June. I had a package I had forgotten in some bags I was going through this past weekend. I cut it open, and it was just as good as the day I made it.

I decided to try making jerky from ground meat. I had a couple of un-cooked pieces of pork and beef left over from two other meals. I cut it up into chunks in preparation for grinding.

I broke out my Family Grain Mill and attached the meat grinding attachment. I put the meat through it once, and it was still too coarse. I ran it through again, and it was the perfect consistency. Very smooth and both meats were fully incorporated in the bowl.

I decided to break it into two different piles to try two recipes.

Both recipes had directions for drying the meat. The suggested taking a ball of the meat, and using a rolling pin to produce a thin slab of meat. Instead, I used this jerky-making gun that I picked up at Wally World for $5. You fill the tube with the mix, and it squirts out perfect strips, right on to the dehydrator trays.

My dehydrator has 6 trays. I was able to get about 3 pounds of meat mix into the whole thing. After one hour, you need to open up the dehydrator, flip each strip of meat, and dab them with a paper towel to sop up some of the oil that seeps from the meat. This is not something I've had to do with the whole-meat version.

The strip dry for another 4 hours (5 hours total), and you end up with a bunch of perfectly formed strips.

I weighed the jerky afterwords, and it had reduced in weight by two-thirds - my 3 lbs of meat mix was now 1 lb of jerky.

One batch was a "standard" mix. I'm not too crazy about it. To me, it tastes like dried meat loaf! I think it was the Worcestershire sauce in the mix. The teriyaki/hot sauce batch was excellent.

It is supposed to last for up to 2 months in a zip lock bag. I'd expect it to last longer if I put it into a vacuum bag like I did with the whole-meat jerky I mentioned earlier.

I recently bought the book, "Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional techniques using salt, oil, sugar alcohol, vinegar, drying, cold storage and lactic fermentation". It's a very good book, with one glaring exception: It's almost strictly about preserving fruits and vegetables. Only one or two techniques for fish - nothing for beef or pork.

This summer, I want to try air-drying some beef and fish. I'm going to try and make some fish jerky in the next couple of weeks. It's going to be hit-and-miss because there is not a lot of information out there on doing this. I want to produce something akin to Salt Cod where you re-hydrate it to use it.

If anyone knows of any online sources for information on this - particularly making a product similar to Salt Cod, please send me a link. Everything I've found has been more of a historical account, rather than technique.

Since I'm on a preps thread, I've found a semi-MRE in the grocery store. They're called Hormel Compl-eats. They are main courses that can be heated via the microwave or being boiled. You could eat them un-heated in a pinch.

They come with their own little bowl and have a bunch of varieties, including Chicken & Rice, Turkey & Dressing, Chicken & Dumplings, Roast Beef & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes, Pot Roast and others. They're not mom's home cookin', but they taste pretty good.

They have a decent shelf life of what looks like a year and a half, and only cost around $2. Each meal has around 260-280 calories.

I'll probably pack a few of them in our home stores and perhaps a couple in my GHB.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Price Manipulations? Not Nanny! 

Speculation is only a word covering the making of money out of the manipulation of prices, instead of supplying goods and services.
--Henry Ford

A buddy and I have been discussing the price of gold and silver. The market economics of what we're seeing doesn't make sense to either of us. Here's what we see:

Inflation is rising. Quickly. The Treasury is printing up money almost faster than they can spend it. They're doing this to pay for the bank bailout, the stimulus package(s) and the normal deficit spending, among other things. The Fed is pushing down interest rates to damned near zero - again, they do this by increasing the money supply.

All of these things should be beating the dollar to death, and making precious metals skyrocket. But what do we see?

The dollar strengthens and gold and silver plunge. WTF?

We see something very odd, though. Since early in the year, the spot price of silver has been cut in half and gold by 25-30 percent. Yet, if you try and buy "junk" silver or gold (usually priced at a very small premium over spot price), you can't find it anywhere. When you can, it's going for prices close to those early in the year. Even more shocking, dealers are paying a premium over spot to buy from you!

It seems that the Law of Supply and Demand is being messed with. Spot prices say precious metals are plentiful, the open market says they are scarce. Again, WTF?

See for yourself. Go to www.kitco.com/charts/livegold.html and check the Spot market prices. Then go to ebay.com and look for bullion coin (aka junk gold and silver) and look at the items that have bids. That tells you what people are paying right now.

Neither of us understands enough about the commodities markets to fully know what is going on, so my friend starts doing some research. He finds this:

It's from a non-profit organization called GATA (Global Anti-Trust Action) Committee.

I'm thinking, "Oh great, another conspiracy theory group. I wonder if they know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried."

They had a page with the above video, plus three others that go into much more detail. Each of the videos is from a 2005 conference, and each is about 8 minutes long.

I start getting worried, because they're making sense. I decided to snoop around their site a bit more to get some more current information. I find this piece from earlier this month by GATA's Secretary/Treasurer, Chris Powell:
A year ago it was still a struggle to persuade some people that the gold and silver markets were being manipulated by Western central banks. Now, after months of financial turmoil around the world and constant central bank intervention in the markets, to believe that the gold and silver markets are not being manipulated by central banks you have to believe that those markets are the only markets not being so manipulated.

Why are the gold and silver markets manipulated by governments and the financial houses that serve as their agents? Because gold and silver are competitive currencies and because their value greatly influences interest rates, which ordinarily governments like to keep low.

If you have an interest in our economy, read the whole thing. Does this explain what's going on? I really don't know.

But, I must say, I don't have a better answer.

OT: I saw my car-crash buddy on Saturday. It was truly one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. He looked like the kid in the Cher movie, Mask, only his head was bigger.

He has this massive Frankenstein scar running ear-to-ear over the top of his head. They had to peel his face back to do the reconstruction. Both eye sockets, both cheeks, his entire nasal cavity had to be un-collapsed, the bridge of his nose re-built, and his jaw wired shut.

His wife and brother were saying how great he looked. Good Lord, I can't imagine what he must have looked like before the surgery.

His wife told me that the airbag in his car - a Hyundai - failed to deploy. It seems as though he face-planted right into the wind shield, because the seat-belt pre-tensioner failed as well. He was not ejected from the car.

His prognosis is excellent. Nary a scratch anywhere else on his body.

I pity the poor bastard at Hyundai that is going to have to deal with my friend once he's healthy...

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The New Litmus Test 

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.
--John F. Kennedy

With prior presidential administrations, one of the litmus tests that was required for consideration to the Supreme Court was your stance on abortion. Were you pro- or con- on the Roe v. Wade decision?

It appears as though Prez-To-Be Obama has a new test for whether you are worthy to work in his administration. How do you feel about guns?
The Illinois State Rifle Association says President-elect Obama's transition team is weeding out job applicants who own firearms.

Cybercast News reports the questionnaire given to those seeking work in the Obama administration asks applicants if they or members of their family have ever owned a gun, and if so, who used it, and if it ever caused injury. The 63-question form also requires the gun registration information.
There is not yet any official line on whether gun ownership will be a plus or a minus for landing a sweet job under the new administration. Wanna take any bets?

The Illinois Rifle Association has its own hunch:
It is not clear whether gun ownership would disqualify an applicant, but the association's executive director Richard Pearson says, "The questionnaire poses a number of questions asking the applicant to reveal any unethical activities, or embarrassing Internet chats, then wraps up by asking if anyone in the applicant's family owns a firearm. Obviously, [President-elect] Obama feels that owning a firearm is akin to talking dirty in Internet chat rooms."
Wow. I figured Barry would at least wait until he was sworn in before he started The Cleansing. This is not good...

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Gun Shop Report 

If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.
--Thomas Sowell

I went to my local gun shop today. I've been looking to add another 9mm to my collection.

The stories in the news are true: Guns are selling like hot cakes since Barry became da Prez. I was in this shop about 2 weeks ago, and they had 50 or so hand guns on display. Today, there were 20, tops. Thankfully, the one I wanted - a small Glock 26 (Baby Glock) - was still in stock.

Here's a tip: If you're thinking of selling any guns, now is the time. They had 5 or 6 second-hand guns, and they were all only $50 below the price of a new gun. I'm sure the seller isn't making all of that money, but I've got to believe the amount is greater than normal.

The sales guys said they can't keep .357 mag/.38 specials and 9mm in stock. They also only had 2 shotguns left. While I was there, I saw them turn away 4 guys wanting a Mossberg for home defense. The store just can't re-stock them fast enough.

They were totally out of 9mm ammo. They did have .38 special in stock, so I picked up 4 boxes for $14 a box of 50. That's actually about what I paid before the election. Should have bought more, I guess.

One of the guys that came in wanted a handgun. It seems they were also all out of the applications for the test you have to take for your "gun card". None available until next week.

A group of 4 women nurses came in to look at the Glock 26's and 23's (.40 cal). One of them had actually purchased the 23 last week, and was bringing her girlfriends in to see what she bought. I'm guessing the shop will have a couple of new sales next week...

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Man is harder than iron, stronger than stone and more fragile than a rose.
--Turkish Proverb

I have been a bit scatter brained this week. Preoccupied.

I have a very close friend - we've been friends for 30 years now. He is my second oldest friend, right after the occasional poster here, Emmett (who's been a buddy since the 8th grade). I'm Uncle Mike to his kids, and he's my youngest son's God Father.

This friend of mine had a horrible automobile accident last week. He literally broke very bone in his face. Eye sockets, cheeks, nasal passages, jaw - everything.

He's been in neuro-ICU since the accident happened. As it looks right now, he's fine, neurologically. Eyes and ears function, he can move his extremities, no apparent spinal column damage.

On Monday of this week, they removed the breathing tube, and gave him a tracheotomy and inserted a feeding tube. On Tuesday, he went 'code blue' - the breathing tube had somehow become clogged or jammed, and he was suffocating.

Thankfully, he was in ICU, and there did not appear to be any damage.

Yesterday, he underwent 10 hours of surgery to begin the reconstruction of his face. They needed to do it now, as his crushed sinus cavities were causing some sort of infection. They also didn't want his broken face to 'set'. His wife is supposed to call me this afternoon to let me know how the surgery went. No one other than his wife and two daughters has been able to go and see him because he's in ICU, so information is scarce.

He's supposed to spend the next 3 months in the hospital, and a few more recuperating at home after that.

Say a prayer if you're so inclined.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bald-Faced Lie 

If one is to be called a liar, one may as well make an effort to deserve the name.
--A.A. Milne

Not surprisingly, yet another Bush Administration official has looked America and Congress in the eye, and lied out of their ass.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson now tells us that the $700 billion bailout - which was to be used to buy up bad loans from banks and investors - will now be primarily used to Nationalize more American banks.
The Bush administration on Wednesday largely abandoned its plan to buy up toxic mortgage assets and said it will focus its $700 billion financial bailout fund on making direct investments in financial institutions and shoring up consumer credit markets.
Well, isn't that a surprise. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together could see that $700 billion was not nearly enough money to help stabilize the US mortgage market, which is in the neighborhood of $12 trillion.

The jig was up on Paulson's plan when he held a gun to the nine largest US banks and forced them to sell chunks of themselves to Nanny. Originally, they were only going to buy up $250 billion worth of banks and financial firms. It looks like Hank is 'all-in' now.

However, that plan [to buy bad mortgage loans] never got off the ground and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told a news conference asset purchases were not the most effective use of the funds.

"This is not going to be the focus," he said. Paulson added, however, that the Treasury would continue to examine the usefulness of "targeted" purchases.

So Hank, why the sudden change of heart? Don't you know that you look like a fucking liar to, well, the whole world?

Paulson was unapologetic, saying that by the time the rescue bill was passed on October 3, it was clear the asset purchase plan would take too long and would not be sufficient to calm roiling markets.

"I will never apologize for changing a strategy or an approach if the facts change," he said.

An unapologetic Bush Administration official. Shocking!

What is true to form is the subterfuge. No facts have changed. Nothing has changed at all. There has been no explanation as to why Congress and the rest of us schmuck were told one thing, and Treasury did something totally different.

Any bets if it will ever be explained?

Quick recap on American industries that are either Nationalized or soon to be:

Health Care
Primary Education

You could probably throw in telecommunications, TV, radio, gun sales and home utilities, as none of them can fart without first asking permission.

Have a good day, Comrade.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Safe Target 

Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.
--Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

In the recent election, California had an item on the ballot, Proposition 8, which was intended to affirm that marriage is legally defined as between one man and one woman. If you were for the Proposition, you were against gay marriage, if you were against it, you were pro-gay marriage.

The Proposition passed, with a 52-48% spread. The gay rights groups are going bat-shit crazy. They are blaming the Mormons for pumping millions of dollars into the campaign.
More than a thousand gay-rights activists gathered Thursday afternoon outside the Mormon temple in Westwood to protest the role Mormons played in passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

It was the latest in an escalating campaign directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its role in marshaling millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the successful campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights.
They are quite vitriolic in voicing their displeasure with the Mormons. The gay groups are mounting campaigns to harass and discredit the Mormons for exercising their rights to support or oppose laws which are contrary to their beliefs.
"I don't think the Mormon church should be involved," he said.

Some gay-rights activists said they plan to continue to question the church's involvement.

Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, which organized the rally outside the temple, announced the launch of a new website, invalidateprop8.org, which will raise money to fight for same-sex marriage rights in California.

For every $5 donated, Jean said, a postcard will be sent to the president of the Mormon church condemning "the reprehensible role the Church of Latter-day Saints leadership played in denying all Californians equal rights under the law."

"It is a travesty that the Mormon Church bought this election and used a campaign of lies and deception to manipulate voters in the great state of California," she said.
It seems like sour-grapes to me - to continue to protest against something that has already passed. Start work on changing the law might be a better use of their time, but it's their right to continue whining, I suppose.

Oooops. Looks like their anger might be misdirected.

It seems as though it was the Black and Hispanic vote that put Proposition 8 into the 'win' category.
The record turnout of black and Hispanic voters played a key role in the victory of President-elect Barack Obama, but in California that same racial and ethnic factor also was instrumental in the passage of Proposition 8, a ballot measure that declares marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Well, slap my ass! I guess when ACORN and the other "Get out the vote" drones were doing their dirty work, they forgot to tell the blacks and Hispanics how to vote.
"Really, Hispanic and black voters in California passed Proposition 8," said Andrew Pugno, general counsel of ProtectMarriage.com, which backed the amendment.

"Inner-city black neighborhoods voted stronger for Prop. 8 than the Republican suburbs. An amazing analysis," Mr. Pugno continued.

Blacks voted 70 percent in favor of Proposition 8, and slightly more than half the Hispanic voters backed the measure, according to exit polls released by the National Election Pool.
What I want to know is, why aren't these gay protesters out in front of the NAACP headquarters and the La Raza buildings? Black and Hispanic churches were doing the exact same thing as the Mormon's - preaching to their congregations that homosexuality is a sin.
"We shouldn't do anything to jeopardize the future of our family and our children," said Frederick K.C. Rice, an elder with the Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles, which joined a thousand other black and Hispanic congregations with about 3 million followers in public support of Proposition 8.
Why aren't the Nazi epithets being directed towards these groups?

Of course, that's a rhetorical question. The Mormon's are a largely white religion. It's politically correct to attack white groups, even when black or Hispanic groups are shouting the exact same message.

They're a safe target.

It seems as though our country increasingly becomes more and more fractured. Everyone feels the need to join some special interest group, or to associate with a "protected class".

No one is just 'an American' anymore. Everyone has hyphenated titles. We have all of these little camps that everyone defends. It's almost like prison gangs - if you don't join up, you're at risk of becoming someone's bitch.

Think about it. We have blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans. We have right-wing, left-wing, middle-of-the-road. Our Congress has the Black Caucus, the Women's Caucus, Blue Dog Democrats, Log Cabin Republicans.

Every one of these groups exist to promote a specific agenda - to protect their own turf. No one is just looking out for America. Or if they are, it's a secondary consideration.

And I'm no better than any of them. As I alluded to yesterday, I will not have my hard-earned money taken without a fight. I will not feel ashamed for working and providing for my family as best as I know how. Government charity - getting something for no effort - turns my stomach. I believe in the Constitution - the original intent, not this bastardization we now live under.

I guess I'm part of the "Old-Fashioned-American" caucus - a club with declining membership...

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Cry For Me, Argentina 

I wonder what kind of a cash-flow boost it would give Nanny were our union pensions and 401(k) plans to be Nationalized... Hey, just thinkin' out loud here...

I wrote that sentence in a blog entry titled, Nationalization: It's What The Cool Kids Do. It was a post about how Argentina had recently nationalized their private retirement system. It looks like our Congress is working to make us among the hipsters.

TheOtherRyan had a post over at TSLRF about how a California Congress-critter is so worried about how the 401k plans in the US are taking a beating, it might just make sense to Nationalize them. It's for the good of The People, don't you know?

According to an article in Carolina Journal, we're apparently too stupid for our own good.
The testimony of Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, in hearings Oct. 7 drew the most attention and criticism. Testifying for the House Committee on Education and Labor, Ghilarducci proposed that the government eliminate tax breaks for 401(k) and similar retirement accounts, such as IRAs, and confiscate workers’ retirement plan accounts and convert them to universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration.
WTF? Is this part of the bail out plan that's going to save me? You want to take my money and trust it to those fucks at the SSA? You must be kidding.

Plus, these idiots are going to make me pay into the scheme, ON TOP OF my Social Security payments.
All workers would have 5 percent of their annual pay deducted from their paychecks and deposited to the GRA. They would still be paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, as would the employers. The GRA contribution would be shared equally by the worker and the employee.

In place of tax breaks workers now receive for contributions and thus a lower tax rate, workers would receive $600 annually from the government, inflation-adjusted. For low-income workers whose annual contributions are less than $600, the government would deposit whatever amount it would take to equal the minimum $600 for all participants.
Let's do some math: If I'm having 5% of my pay hijacked for this account, that means the $600 I'm getting from Nanny would equal a salary of $12,000 per year. If I make more than $12k a year - anything over $6 an hour - the rest goes into someone else's pocket.

Ahhh. Make everyone equal, regardless of effort or personal sacrifice. That's called communism, in case you haven't been paying attention.

Even more insulting, I wouldn't really own the money that's been stolen from me.
With a GRA, workers could bequeath only half of their account balances to their heirs, unlike full balances from existing 401(k) and IRA accounts. For workers who die after retiring, they could bequeath just their own contributions plus the interest but minus any benefits received and minus the employer contributions.
Good Lord, what is happening to this country? How can there even be serious consideration of a scheme like this IN AMERICA?!

If it looks like this may actually come to pass under an Obama administration, I'll cash out my 401k in whole before it takes affect. I'll pay the taxes and the penalties. Maybe I'll go all Dakin's and live out in the boonies. I don't know.

They WILL NOT take what I've worked 30 years to build. That will not happen.

The tipping point seems to be rapidly approaching...

If their intent is to push people into the underground economy, they could not be doing a better job. Anyone with any personal drive to better themselves will simply drop out of the managed economy, and go it alone. Cash or barter only.

Haven't these idiots ever read a book on communist and socialist history?

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Eggs, Coffee and Concealment Preps 

From now on it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can survive.
--Pope John Paul II

For whatever reason, we didn't go food shopping this past weekend like we usually do. Of course, we ran out of two things I needed during the week.

The first was eggs. My wife is doing some sort of high protein diet (she won't do the home-made Nutrisystem diet that has worked so well for me), so the eggs were one of the first things to go.

I needed two eggs for a batch of cornbread I was making to go with some chile we were having for dinner one night this week. It dawned on me that I had all the eggs I need - powdered eggs in my preps closet.

I believe I've written about these things before, but in case you weren't paying attention, these things are fantastic. Two tablespoons of powder, four tablespoons of water, mix them up, and you have instant eggs.

The ones I buy (from MREDepot.com) are whole eggs. No preservatives, no added flavorings - nothing but eggs.

I opened up one of my vacuum-sealed bags (I transfer them from the #10 cans when I get them), pulled out what I needed plus an extra two cups to play with. I used them in the cornbread, which came out perfectly.

When you mix them up, they are darker than fresh eggs. I don't know if it has to do with the drying process, or if they are made from eggs that have darker yokes than the eggs here in CA. Anyways, here's a picture. Powdered on the left, fresh on the right:

The texture of the powdered eggs is much runnier than the slimy fresh egg feel. It looks way too watery to end up as scrambled eggs.

After you fry them up, here's what they look like:

Again, powdered on the left, fresh on the right. The fresh appears to fluff up a little bit more than the powdered, but the taste and texture of both types are indistinguishable.

I used the extra powdered eggs for a number of other things, including a stirred-fried rice dish, and for my dog's dinner last night (raw, mixed with kibble).

I was checking out the per-egg cost difference between fresh and powdered. I watched a Food Network show last week on eggs. They showed how the fresh eggs we buy in the store are the King of the Hill. Only the best are sold in stores.

All of the rest - the cracked, the disfigured shells, the ones with blood-spots (ewww!) - all of the rejects - are either bulk cracked and packed for industrial use, or turned into powdered eggs. For some reason, these rejects are more expensive, on a per egg basis.

Fresh eggs just cost me $2.42 for 18 eggs, or about $0.13 per egg. The best powdered egg prices I could find (you need to buy the equivalent of 450+ eggs) was around $0.25 per egg - or roughly double the cost. Smaller quantities are more expensive. And that is before shipping costs, which are already included in the fresh egg prices.

I don't get it. The processing that goes into the fresh eggs seemed WAY more elaborate than that for the rejects. It was all suction cups, refrigerators and kid gloves for the fresh, and stainless steel crackers, plastic vats and dehydrators for the powdered.

Still, powdered eggs will continue to be a big part of my preps. Aside from the high protein value, there is a 'comfort food' aspect to scrambled eggs that would be reasurring during tough times.

We also ran out of coffee. A mortal sin and capital crime.

Ahhhh, we also have coffee in the prep boxes. I have both freeze-dried crystals (you get an obscene amount of coffee with very little space being taken up) plus some commercial vacuum-packed generic brand ground coffee.

I opted for the vacuum-packed coffee. I usually buy my coffee whole-bean, and grind it for each pot. I like my coffee dark and strong, so I usually buy French Roast. This stuff was already ground, and was a medium roast.

As an aside, I drown my coffee in sugar and creamer. I have coffee with my creamer, instead of the other way around. I guess that's why I need it so dark and strong...

Anyways, it sucked. Badly. I made one pot, then quickly used my home vacuum sealer to store it back away. This crap will only be used in desperation after the crystals are gone, or as barter.

It then dawned on me that I should vacuum seal up some coffee that I actually like. I made a vacuum bag, ground up the coffee in one-pot increments and sealed up each individual serving in its own pouch.

In the future, I'll make a seal, move the bag down a quarter of an inch, and seal again. In this way, I'll be able to cut between each of the individual seals to separate them from the "mother" bag without also cutting into the pouch above it.

With all of the concern with Barry becoming the Prez, and his very public dislike of defensive weapons in the hands of mere citizens, I've started making my concealment "furniture" again.

I designed this thing a few months ago, and gave one to a friend as the prototype. I went to see him to see how it's working, and to hear what suggestion he had for improvement.

It was kind of cool: Even though I had made this thing for him, I couldn't "see" it when I entered the room. He has it in the corner of his living room with a potted plant on top of it. He has it loaded with a couple thousand dollars in gold and silver coins "hidden in plain sight".

Here's an unfinished, updated version of the thing.

It uses a hidden, non-key locking system originally developed for another application. Behind the false front is ample room for a couple of handguns, stacks of coins or papers - whatever.

When it is painted and the concealment touches are added (I can't show you guys ALL of my secrets!), it is virtually impossible to look at this and see it for anything other than a plant stand or other decorative item in your home.

I've got orders for these from a half dozen friends and acquaintances! Perhaps I've got the beginnings of a new business venture....

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Same Shit, Different Logo 

Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.
--H.L. Mencken

I was thinking over my presidential election history. Hermit had a post where he mentioned he was a life-long Republican, but was questioning his party affiliation going forward. I've been a life-long Independent or Decline To State. In my own world, it was me stating, "I'll do as I please", I guess.

My family is all Republicans, and I was the "Commie Liberal" because I would not pledge allegiance to the GOP. I've been voting since the 1980 election. Not surprisingly to those that know me, I voted Independent my first time out of the chute.

I was a student at San Francisco State University, and John Anderson came to campus to speak. Anderson had attempted to get the Republican nomination, but lost it to Reagan. He went Independent, and actually did fairly well. He started strongly in the polls, right around 25%. He eventually finished the actual vote with 7%.

I then hit a long winning streak, helping to elect Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Clinton. Yes, Clinton twice.

What can I say? I believed his schtick. I can unequivocally say that he is the reason I became "politically aware". I felt hood-winked, and didn't like it. It became clear that politicians would say whatever it took to get elected, even if they had no intention of fulfilling their promises. A great fog had lifted.

That sounds so naive now, but I had grown up in a time where you trusted your elected officials to do the right thing. Clinton changed that.

I haven't voted for the eventual president ever since.

When GW first announced his candidacy, I knew he was a fraud. I'll never forget the little Hollywood-esque TV set that was built for his announcement. It was a bunch of randomly place hay bales, with straw on the floor. There was GW, with one foot on a bale, doing his folksy gig. My bullshit detector was blaring, "WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!".

His association with PNAC, and his past character issues greatly concerned me. He was a weak man, in my eyes. Not someone I wanted leading our country.

I held my nose, and voted for Gore. It was my first "lesser of two evils" vote. Over GW's first term, he did nothing to assuage my beliefs. In fact, they were strengthened. I saw a president trying to justify the desecration of our Constitution by the use of fear and intimidation.

He had no heart. He took the easy way out. Instead of working within the framework of the Constitution, he rewrote it. A little bit here, a little bit there. Where he couldn't get an inept Congress to come along for the ride, he simply side-stepped the issue via his Signing Statements.

In 2004, I again held my nose, voting for Kerry. In this case though, there was a method to my madness. My belief with him was that he would damage America - not irreparably - in a number of ways. It was my hope that the country would see the folly of someone so utterly socialist, that it would cause a backlash of fiscal conservatism in the country for the 2008 election.

Instead, GW was re-elected. His utter ineptitude resulted in obscene amounts of money being spent. He was out-spending the Democrats, but the money was just being pissed away. Few could see the benefits of the spending spree. Our federal deficit increased by more during his term than by all of the presidents that had preceded him. That is disgusting.

I came to realize that the Donkeys and the Elephants were one in the same. Bush was Clinton, Clinton was Bush.

I would never vote "the lesser of two evils" again. I would only vote for a person that supported and promoted the majority of my beliefs (I'm not so naive to think there is another person - let alone a politician - who thinks EXACTLY like I do).

Early on in this election cycle, Ron Paul was my guy. He was hitting on virtually all cylinders. The icing on the cake, was that he had been "walking the walk" his entire political career. He had lived and voted on principle for nearly 30 years.

Imaging that: A politician with principles. Of course, he got slammed and ridiculed as "out of touch", and McCain got the nod.

I could see virtually no difference between McCain and Obama. Both were working furiously to see who could give away more tax dollars to buy votes. Oh, McCain was better on a few issues like guns, but other than that, he and Obama were brothers.

Same shit, different logo.

My hope was that there would be enough people in this country that were sick and tired of what has happened that they would vote third-party. Until the Dems and Repubs feel fearful that one of them may lose power, nothing will change.

I was torn between voting for the Libertarian Bob Barr, or doing a write-in of Ron Paul. The cries of, "A vote for a third-party will be a vote FOR Obama" fell on deaf ears.

I eventually went with Barr, hoping to help raise the numbers of a third-party. All told, third party candidates received around a million votes - less than 1% of all votes cast.

Not very encouraging, and certainly not enough to make either major party worry about their place in power. After four years of Barry - maybe eight - we'll see a swing to the right, and the Repubs will be back in power. They'll spend and whore like the party in power always does, and the pendulum will swing back in favor of the Dems.

If either party can produce a candidate that believes as I do and has a history of living up to those beliefs, I'll vote for them. Realistically, I figure that I will never again cast a vote for the eventual president.

I'll vote on principle to my dying day. I may be tilting at windmills, but I don't care. I will not knowingly participate in my own downfall. Until one of the major parties comes up with someone I can believe in, I guess I'll remain that 21 year old college student voting on principle.

Back then, it was out of ignorance. Now, it's out of experience.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Change Can Happen" 

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.
--Winston Churchill

The first change of the Obama era is with his slogan. Out with, "Change You Can Believe In", and in with, "Change Can Happen".

Change is a funny thing. Some is good, some is not, depending if you're on the giving or receiving side of the equation.

It's noodle-scratching time for us all. What do you think will change, and how will it affect your life? The answer will differ for each of us.

I think it's clear that taxes will increase. Part of that can be laid at the feet of Bush. He was the proponent of the financial bailout. Sure, the Dems signed on, but so did most Repubs and Bush misplaced his veto pen. It was actually in Paulson's hand, writing up the plan.

Still, Obama has an aggressive social agenda. We're going to see some sort of Universal Health Care. We're going to see some sort of Carbon Tax. We'll certainly see an expansion in the size of government regulators in regards to financial services.

He's got to come up with a way to pay for all of this. He's promised a cut in taxes to 95% of Americans. So who's going to foot the bill?

His site says he will close corporate loopholes and reverse Bush's tax breaks for the rich. He's also going to cut inefficient government programs. He doesn't say which ones, and when pushed for an answer in one of the debates, he couldn't answer.

Remember: If corporate taxes go up, your cost to purchase the products or services of that corporation will go up as well. If wealthy people get tax increases, they'll have less money to invest, so business won't be able to have access to capital.

Both the corporations and the wealthy will simply take their capital off-shore.

On the personal income front, it was almost humorous to see the Obamites shuffling their feet when they were discussing how much income pegged you as "wealthy". It started at $250k a year, and seemed to drop by $50k every couple of days. I saw one person say it was $100k. Any bets on whether that number gets "further downward adjustments"?

They're playing with the numbers before they've even taken office.

Great plan, Barry.

What other change can we look forward to?

I've got to guess that the IRS is going to be beefed up. They will have to get more aggressive going after people either fudging their taxes or looking for ways to delay their payment. You know, people who believe they should be able to keep more of what THEY earn.

He discusses on his site how he plans on closing corporate tax loop-holes and off-shore tax havens. The bills gotta be paid. The IRS will Git 'er Done!

Same will probably be true with the BATFE. They've all got to be sportin' wood with Barry coming to town. Their current practice of harassment will become policy. If I were a gun shop owner, I'd start looking for another line of work. I'm guessing they are going to be in for a world of hurt over the next few years.

The Department of Education will likely get ramped up. No time like the present to set the indoctrination education agenda for at least the next 4 years. Socialism, One-World and my favorite, the Group Hug will all be required courses. We can just drop all of the pesky Founding Fathers (how sexist!) and Constitutional crap from the curriculum. Well, maybe it can be retained in the literature classes under "Fantasy and Science Fiction".

The Department of Homeland Security - specifically the INS - will become paper-pushers, just making sure the "Come On In" paperwork is filled out correctly. Maybe they can also teach the English lessons which Barry promotes on his site. Feel the love.

On the bright side, we should see the dismantling of the race-based quota systems we have in our federal government contract system. No need for them since we have a minority at the helm (I figured I'd give everyone a good laugh considering the gloomy tone of this post).

So what do you do?

It's all about the dollars. How many you get to keep and how many Barry gets to give to someone else. Many, MANY people are either expanding their participation in, or considering the Underground Economy.

Considering our "progressive tax structure", it is the ONLY way to keep more of the money you earn. Our current structure punishes you for being successful, and Barry has already promised to take more of what you earn when you pass certain income levels HE deems as excessive. Hell, it was the center-piece of his economic plan.

Get educated on the subject, and for God's Sake, keep your head down. Buying expensive cars and boats for cash when you clearly don't report enough income to support your lifestyle will bring the Barry-squads down on your ass.

Only discuss your specific plans and actions with unquestionably trustworthy family and associates. Be comfortable. Be low-key. Be smart.

Oh. And buy your guns and ammo while you still can. You might want to read up on caching. There have recently been a number of articles about hoarding - Obama-speak for spending your money as YOU see fit - so I wouldn't be surprised if having more than a couple boxes of shells or other supplies will paint you as some sort of lunatic. He was hoarding ammo and beans in his weapons cache.

God help us all.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008


No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

Sorry for flaking out a bit on the posts, but I've got a lot of educatin' goin' on.

One of my "irons in the fire" is a green project. It's a way to reduce electricity usage in homes and businesses. Sounds pretty decent if it lives up to the billing. We're still in the "kicking it around" stage, but I need to get up to speed on capacitors. At least enough to intelligently discuss the subject matter.

Thankfully, my youngest son is working towards becoming an electrician. He's got a full slate of electronics classes, and just happened to have one of his text books in his hand when I was doing some queries on capacitors. I now have his excellent book to glom as much info as I can for the next day or so.

I'm also refreshing my Relational Data Base Management (RDBM) skills. I'm a pretty decent designer and manager of RDBS's - well, I was at one time. It's been a couple of years since I was doing the hands-on coding and design, so I'm brushing up with Open Office's ooBase.

Just like riding a bike - you remember how, but you fall every now and then! You really need to plan out your structure and intended uses. RDBS's give you some flexibility should you leave out a critical field by simply creating a new table and relating it back to the other tables in the database. Still, getting it right the first time saves a whole lot of grief.

On the waisteline front, I just ate the best plate of corned beef hash I may have ever had in my life! We had corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and cabbage last night for dinner. We had left-overs, so I threw the meat, spuds and carrots into my Family Grain Mill (using the meat grinder attachment) to make a hash. Got a pan very got with lots of oil, and fried some of it up with a couple of eggs.

I think my heart stopped three times while I was eating it.... but it was worth it!

Remember the old Saturday Night Live skits with "Da Bears"? They had heart attacks while they were doing this fictional local-access TV show. Too damned funny. About half way through the skit, Chris Farley does a self-chest strike to re-start his heart.

For your viewing pleasure...

I need to practice that technique. I think I'll need it the first time I utter, "President Obama".

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Blinded By Greed 

All I can say is, beware of geeks...bearing formulas.
--Warren Buffett

In a very interesting Wall Street Journal article, they posed the question: Did computer Risk Models fail to prevent AIG's fall from grace? I'd have to say that they NEVER could have prevented the fall, as the most important ingredient in assessing risk was not present: Common sense.

A Yale professor had developed a computer model that would alert the user to problems with various kinds of financial instruments. In this case, it was primarily Credit Default Swaps (CDSs). These CDSs were originally designed to act as insurance - or hedges - against losses for a loan or group of loans.

For instance, your 401K administrator may have purchased a CDS to protect your investment in a group of Mortgage Backed Securities. He wanted to make sure there were not more losses than normally occur with these types of securities.

What happened is that people started buying and selling CDSs for assets in which they had no interest. You could essentially make a bet for or against certain assets making or losing money, even though you didn't own those underlying assets.

If you had believed that car loans from the North East that were bundled in a security would have greater than normal losses, you could "bet" against those loans by buying a CDS for that security. If the losses were greater than expected, you'd get a check.

CDSs evolved from an insurance policy into an unregulated gambling operation.

Companies such as AIG saw this as a great way to make money with very little risk. They wrote billions of dollars worth of these instruments. They plugged the information into their risk models, and it came up 3 Cherries every time. The models told them there was virtually no risk in these instruments.

Well, not quite. It seems that the models - designed by Yale Professor Gary Gorton - weren't designed to weigh many normal market risks, and the management of AIG knew this.
AIG relied on those models to help figure out which swap deals were safe. But AIG didn't anticipate how market forces and contract terms not weighed by the models would turn the swaps, over the short term, into huge financial liabilities. AIG didn't assign Mr. Gorton to assess those threats, and knew that his models didn't consider them.
They knowingly did not factor things like a recessionary economy, increases in unemployment claims or un-naturally appreciating real estate prices into their model. Things that happen on regular cycles.

Obviously, if these were factored into the model, they most likely would not have made the products available. If you have knowledge of a bad investment, and still make the investment, you are violating your fiduciary duty to the company, and can be held personally responsible for any resultant harm to the company. If nothing else, these guys have a keen sense of self-preservation.

If you don't have the knowledge, you at least have 'plausible deniability' when the shit hits the fan - even if you purposely designed your systems to not provide you with that information.

Common sense says that you would want as much information as possible. Clearly, there's a lack of it going around Wall Street these days.

Politics aside, I greatly admire Warren Buffet. He has an approach to investing that is painfully simple: If you don't understand it, don't buy it.

Seems like common sense to me.

He goes to great lengths to understand each and every company and industry into which he invests. He wants to understand the upside and the downside risk. In fact, he insists upon it before he'll spend a single dollar.

His common sense approach has obviously been successful. He bought Berkshire Hathaway in the early 1960's for a few dollars per share. If you'd like to invest Berkshire, as of today's market, it will cost you $117,000. Per share. And that price has taken a beating. It has been as high as $150,000 a share within the past year.

You don't have to be greedy to get wealthy. In fact, it will usually come back and bite you in the ass. You just need to pay attention to the fundamentals of your investments.

It seems as though too many of these Wall Streeter's used Gordon Gekko as a role model.

OT: I simply love seeing the lefties melting down. Imagine the number of admittances to mental health wards should McCain pull off the unlikely win tomorrow.

This little 1 minute clip is of a local radio talk show host. This guy is as commie as they make them. Listen to his little tirade over Joe The Plumber.

WARNING: Rough, not-safe-for-work language!

Nice folks, those liberals. I just love that "Big Tent" brotherhood...

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