Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Lessons

Things I learned this Christmas:

Donna makes awesome pecan pie.

Spam can be used to make a delicious cracker spread.

Not all reindeer are chosen.

Driving lanes are optional.

Minnesota really values diversity.

2009 Resolutions Revisited

One of the first posts on this blog was a list of New Year's resolutions for 2009. So, how did I do?

1. Lose another 20 pounds. I took off over 20 pounds in 2008, so I know it's possible. Another 20 would put me at about 200 even.

Epic fail. I stayed pretty steady which itself is not bad. But I'm still about 220. Maybe that new Wii will get me in shape.

2. Cook something new at least twice a month. I got the 75th Anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking for Christmas from my wonderful girlfriend. If you haven't seen it, it has about twelve million recipes in it, so I should be able to pull this off.

I started off great with this one. I've made tons of new dishes over the last year, some of them keepers and some not. Let's call this one mostly complete.

3. Post to this blog at least once a day. This one could be tough, mainly because of resolution #4.

I met this one easily via a loophole. While there were days in which I didn't post anything, My total number of posts was well over 400, so my average was better than one a day.

4. Don't be the guy that posts on his blog about what he ate for dinner. You know that guy: tonight I didn't feel like cooking, so I had cornflakes. Since I didn't have milk, I used root beer. Here's a picture.

I sincerely hope I have kept this one. You be the judge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wii Wii Wii All The Way Home

While we were bravely hiding from the latest deluge of snow over Christmas, Donna and I (and her family) spent a lot of time playing with her Wii. Donna's mother bought it for her grandkids. Well, actually she bought it for herself in order to keep from strangling her grandkids when they come over. But anyway, we played the crap out of it.

Mostly we played Wii Sports, which included boxing, golf, bowling, baseball and tennis. While I am currently undefeated in boxing, it was tennis that consumed us. Ryan, Donna's brother, and I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning after Christmas playing against besprited hell harpies with tennis rackets. In the process we upped our ranking to the point that we only play against professionals when we take on the computer.

The upshot is that as of this writing I can't lift either arm above my head. Yes, it got so bad that I played the last couple of days southpaw.

Anyway, Donna and I voted, and by a tally of 2-0 we decided to buy one for ourselves. I hooked it up on Tuesday and my shoulders bitched at me the whole time. Babies. I assume I can work the controller with my foot.

The best part of the Wii is the creation of your avatars (called Miis). You can customize them in all sorts of ways including designing their faces. We spent a lot of time messing around with this feature, creating likenesses of ourselves, but also any crazy thing we can think of. I made likenesses of Shaft, Ahhhnold, Superfly, Darth Vader, a "gooback" from South Park and Abraham Lincoln. As you would expect, they are all awesome tennis players.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Macy is taking part in a program at school called Discovery. It is a special group to which one must be invited. As you can imagine, I am proud of her for being asked and she was excited as well. The group studies a special non-traditional area outside of the normal curriculum. This year, Macy is studying Scandinavian mythology. After learning about Odin and Thor, Asgard, and other staples of the genre, Macy was tasked with performing a play and teaching mythology to a group of first- and second graders. As a dry run for that, the parents were invited to a lunch-hour presentation.

Did I mention their were costumes involved?

Macy directs a student in the delicate art of ACTING!

I learned about the many creatures of Scandanavian mythology, participated in a short play, and got a tour of the home of Tulip, a troll Macy had "adopted" and taken care of as part of the program.

So... Much... Snow

Well, we made it back to Fargo on Monday and were welcomed by the site of our house and driveway covered in about 24 inches of snow, plus whatever my neighbor threw on top with his snowblower. We started to shovel but about an hour in it became obvious that we were going to use our whole vacation to clear a path to the garage. We called a guy who made short work of it.

As an added bonus, we have a mountain of snow in the back yard which we can convert into a super cool fortress of badass:

Future site of Fort Awesome

Macy will be with me all this week, so we will be busy creating a lifetime of memories, as well as a place from which to bombard passersby with chunks of ice. Man, am I a great dad.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Other News, I Won The Heisman Trophy

Here's the latest from the You Won The What For Doing What? file:

[Michael] Vick won the Ed Block Courage Award, voted on by his teammates on the Philadelphia Eagles, after the once-disgraced star quarterback returned to the league after spending 18 months in a federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring.
Not long ago it was President Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing a time machine and travelling to the future to fix all the world's problems. Now it's Vick, who courageously lied about his involvement in a dog fighting ring, selflessly got busted for pot, and fearlessly got a multimillion dollar deal to play football after he got out of prison.

Brings a tear to my eye, the courage of that man. What was his take? Let's just say the phrase "Obama-like humility" never occurred to him:

"I've overcome a lot, more than probably one single individual can handle or bear," Vick said. "You ask certain people to walk through my shoes, they probably couldn't do. Probably 95 percent of the people in this world because nobody had to endure what I've been through, situations I've been put in, situations I put myself in and decisions I have made, whether they have been good or bad."
All that's missing is references to Jesus or the civil rights movement. The Eagles were smart to release this over the Christmas holiday so as to minimize the column inches that will be spared to address it. If only they had used those smarts and given an award for courage to someone who actually deserved it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry F'n Christmas, Ya'll

Hapmerry ChristKwanzanhukkahmas, everybody. I'll be busy eating lots of food and being glad I don't have to drive in the expected blizzard. If you're trapped by snow or just annoying people, take a few minutes and reflect on the things that make this time of year so darn special:

Mash-ups of cartoon classics with pseudo-rap songs:

Soiling the memories of cherished childhood icons:

Receiving the most heartfelt gifts one can steal from a Perkins:

Terrifying your children:

And being reminded of the dangers of operating a sleigh without the protective magic of reindeer:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Snowplow Cometh

We made it to Donna's parents' house, a little southeast of Brainerd. The weather forecast is for the entire United States to get around 400 inches of snow, so we may be staying here longer than we anticipated. They're actually calling for 12-18 inches this evening into tomorrow, with some areas getting up to 22 inches. That's perfect, because there's nothing I like more at the holidays than driving 200 miles at a slow crawl on icy roads so I can get home and shovel the driveway.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Have Railroad Tracks Behind Fences

A woman in Atlanta is planning to sue CSX railroad after her son, chasing his dog, got hit by a train. Amazingly, the train only knocked the boy off his feet. He was out of the hospital and playing the next day, a scar on his forehead the only permanent injury.

Despite a police report stating the train could not possible have stopped in time and that the boy was trespassing (he's not being charged), the mother has hired a lawyer. Her aim: to get the tracks behind a fence.

This seems reasonable, until you realize that there are tens of thousands miles of track in this country. Coupled with the fact that fencing only some of it makes a lawsuit over an unfenced area that much easier, and you can understand why it normally isn't done.

The best part is this though:

"I’m so blessed. He’s so blessed,” the mom said. “We have all the presents we need.”

Except for the millions you'll no doubt be seeking from the railroad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hail To The King, Baby

The first first person shooter I ever played (not counting a two-minute go on the orignal Doom) was Duke Nukem 3D. It was awesome, because it used humor as an integral part of the gaming experience right alongside blowing things to hell. Duke admired himself in mirrors, threw out pithy one-liners whenever he killed something in an especially gruesome manner, and generally acted like a smug jackass. At one point in the game, you can wave some cash at a stripper and she'd flash you. It was that kind of game.

It was pretty obvious the writers had been big fans of the Evil Dead movies, as many of the lines were ripped off from the character of Ash.

Even though it was a huge success and made the developers rich, there was never a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. The reasons were always nebulous, but it turns out that a case of engine envy was to blame.

The decision to lock things down and "go with what you've got" is always a challenge in the software business, and it's especially true in the world of game development. There's always some fancy new game engine (the software used to render the environments and control the physics of the game world) coming out. Sometimes games get caught in between leaps in technology and a brand new game gets dinged for looking out of date. It happens.

It looks like 3D Realms couldn't abide letting that happen. And so began an endless cycle of switching game engines midstream, which essentially meant all the development work had to be thrown away. Now, almost fourteen years after ruling the gaming world, the company is out of business and Duke Nukem is dead. Too bad.

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Not Be Exposed To Turbulance On An Airplane

That's apparently the theory that two flight attendants are working under, anyway. They are suing the National Weather Service for failing to notify them that there was a pocket of turbulance between Seattle and California.

The lawsuit is being filed now because the statute of limitations runs out on Christmas Day.

This was a terrible accident that resulted in one of the plaintiffs needing several surgeries, but it was an accident nevertheless. I have no doubt that some sympathetic jury will see the poor attendants, note that the government must have millions laying around (they can't have given it all to banks and cash for clunkers, amiright!) and award it to the ladies. Which is reason number 426 why no trial lawyer in his right mind would ever allow me to sit on a jury in a case like this.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Carols

I'm not so big on the traditional Christmas songs. Too cutsey for me. But I turn these up when they come on the radio. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just For Kix Winter Show

Macy is in Just For Kix, a dance troupe that does shows throughout the year. Their first show was last Friday night. They performed two routines and Macy was awesome in each one. She was clearly having fun, which is a good thing to see.

Let's go to the video:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wake Up Dead

Last night I did something I haven't done in about twenty years: I went to see Megadeth in concert. They're touring with Slayer and (apparently) decided to use their off day to rake in a little extra cash by driving over to Fargo to play a gig. Donna and I went with a couple friends from work (both of whom in true metal fashion were in the bag when we got there).

Of course, in situations like this you have to put up with the one-off opening acts. In this case, there were three. Some would say three too many, and I would be one of those people.

First up was some band who's name I can't remember. They sucked, so it's okay. They had a late 80's Nine Inch Nails looks to them, but their music was more like that time Trent Reznor's cat got gang raped by those rabid banshees who were in turn being gang raped by Polish police sirens.

The second band was called Warbringer, and with a solid early-eighties metal name like that, I was hoping for some good metal. I got some pretty heavy riffs accompanied by this guy:

I am become death, the destroyer of comprehensible lyrics.

They could be pretty cool, but even as a teenager I wasn't into the growl-really-low-and-don't-say-anything-that-can-be-understood school of singers. Dave Mustaine ain't Pavaratti, but his vocals work for me.

The third act was a true abomination in the eyes of the Lord, Suicide Silence. Jesus Christ. This band is apparently on the forefront of the movement to replace bridges, verses and solos with breakdowns. Each song lasted about twelve minutes, and consisted entirely of a ten-second lightning riff followed by a two minute breakdown consisting of atonal screaming and the lead singer stomping in rythm to the bass drum. Kids eat this crap up apparently, but then that's why kids are morons.

The singer looks like he's on the ginko biloba and heroin diet, as he was so thin as to cease to be visible when turned sideways. I shall call him Trainspotter. Fashion tip, Trainspotter: if you're going to wear sneakers on stage, buy jeans that don't end halfway up your socks.

Suicide Silence: this band committed neither of
these things and we were all the poorer for it.

Easily the highlight of Suicide Silence for me was when Trainspotter introduced a song by saying he wrote it for his daughter. He then proceeded to screech for eight and a half minutes. Here are the lyrics, as I understood them:

Yeaaargh blaf brop brop
Zheeeyaahhh brot brot glumphhh
Neeeyahh rarrhh brop brop
Wraaaa norf nughht yearrgh

And so on.

Donna and I had quite the time holding pretend conversations between Trainspotter and his daughter: "Daddy, play that song you wrote for me!" "Of course, pumpkin. Yeaaargh blaf brop brop..." Good times.

This would be a good time to comment on the state of moshing in 2009. That is to say, it is both tamer and more annoying that I remember it. Tamer in that I saw no blood. I saw people spend large parts of concerts on the floor unconscious at a Slayer concert in the late eighties. They'd wake up ten minutes later, realize where they were, get up and start the devil signing anew. Last night was more like square dancing for short bussers.

It was more annoying though because I was constantly getting hit from behind. Blindsiding is uncool and leads to poor hygine and cancer. I simply began keeping one eye behind me and raised my elbow when appropriate. Okay, so I threw an elbow when appropriate. Which turned out to be when anyone under the age of thirty approached me. I have to admit, throwing elbows at the heads of teenagers is way more satisfying now that I'm over 200 pounds and can get some force behind it.

After that is was on to the main event. Megadeth was pretty awesome considering 1) the show got moved to a smaller venue[*], 2) the acoustics in The Venue are not conducive to heavy metal, and 3) Dave Mustaine is like 48 or something which is 116 in metal years.

I managed to shoot some video. The audio is pretty bad early on. Once the solo kick in it improves somewhat. Dave can still play.

All in all is was a good time. Megadeth can still bring it, though Dave Ellefson not being on stage with Mustaine is just plain weird. I'd love to see them in a venue with better acoustics. Oh, and play Devil's Island next time.

Dave Mustaine's dad? A roadie? Both?

[*] Another data point in support of the idea that only concerts that feature someone wearing a cowboy hat unironically can sell out a big venue in Fargo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

They Tend To Take Orders Literally In The Military

I served in the United States Air Force for six years (four on active duty and two years in the Reserves). I do not recall a single instance in which I was given an order, whether it was to assemble for a parade, get a haircut, arrive at a certain missile silo at a certain time or shine a boot, that wasn't to be taken literally.

I can assure you that if I had ever been in a position where I was given orders to design a battle plan that would "defeat the Taliban", I would have all kinds of cool maps and footnoted designs for troop placements and pincer movements and ambushes and kill zones and other cool military words. There's be all kinds of equipment plans and rules of engagement and a list of high-priority targets. All with the intent to "defeat the Taliban".

Does anyone not know that military types tend to take orders literally? Outside of the government, I mean?

"Nuance" and "intent" is the stuff of politicians. There is no such thing as a non-literal order in the United States military. Orders to a commander are not the place to try to walk a fence. That's what press releases are for.

Building The Tower

Have you ever wondered what it's like to erect a ham radio tower? Of course you have; why else would you ever read this blog? When we were down in Georgia for Thanksgiving, I got to relive a part of my youth that I had apparently buried deep down inside, as I have no memory of having done it before.

Anyway, my various brothers and sisters and cousins and random passers-by all chipped in to allow my father to talk to that one guy in Turkmenistan that he couldn't reach before.

The antenna is actually a fallen part of SkyLab we found
lying in the backyard when we moved into the house.

Who needs "cranes"? Or "hardhats". Or "OSHA".

We took a a beer break, but then the supervisors
came by and threatened to take away our bonuses.

And finally, the elusive mating ritual of antenna and tower is
completed. With luck, they'll raise a healthy litter of young
and the species will endure.

In lieu of cash, we were paid in Krystals.
Worth. Every. Injury.

See the rest of the story here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

NOW It's Winter

We had a good, late run of warmish weather well into November this year. But today Macy and I got to shovel the walk for the first time this winter. The high today is about 15. Here's a view from the deck, where light, fluffly snow is still slowly coming down:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Building The Perfect Frog

Macy received a Build-A-Bear kit for Georgia Christmas[*] this year, though the bear looks suspiciously like a frog. I told Macy to pretend she was a vet and that the frog was hurt and needed to be "fixed". She got pretty excited at getting to play veterinarian. Anyway, we documented the process for posterity. Click on the images to enlarge.

[*] Also known as Every-Other-Thanksgiving-When-I-Have-My-Daughter Day

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hard Advice (12/4/2009)

My boyfriend and I are a couple of years out of college and doing very well. Many of our friends are not as fortunate. My problem is that we have a housekeeper who comes every month, but her work is not good. Without checking with me, my boyfriend offered the job to two of our friends who have the time to clean and need the money. I think money and friends don't mix. I feel awkward trying to back out of this, but I want to do the right thing.
You think the problem lies in the potential awkwardness in having your friends clean your toilets. I, however, see the truth. The truth is that you can't figure out how you ended up with such losers as friends. You envision yourself hanging out with doctors and novelists (if not movie stars and senators) and instead you're stuck with an endless parade of losers. Hire these people to clean your toilets and scrub your floors. When they ask about your plans this weekend, tell them you don't discuss such things with servants and ask to see their green cards.

I work for a very large company, and on our floor, we all share a refrigerator in the kitchen. Over the course of several months now, many of us have had food taken, sometimes directly from our lunchboxes. The thief happens to be not only a co-worker but a very good friend whom I spend a lot of time with away from work. I don't know how to handle this.
If you like her, bake a laxative into your next batch of cookies. If not, use bleach instead.

I am not a germaphobe. I do, however, expect people to wash their hands after using the restroom, and I am amazed, in this day of swine flu hysteria, to find that there are still people who don't. How do I, as a reasonable person concerned for the health of my young family, encourage better hygiene practices from my co-workers and family members, not only after using the restroom but as a general rule?
I'm amazed that someone as seeming literate as yourself used the word "hysteria" unironically in describing the current swine flu mania. I mean, you do realize that your whole letter amounts to complaining that others don't show enough concern for what you yourself describe as an overwrought emotional reaction. In other words, you liken the swine flu uproar to a mental disorder, then complain that people don't take it seriously. Tell me honestly: does anyone ever actually try to shake your hand? They don't, do they?

My brother is schizophrenic and has a violent history. Years ago, when I was 18, my brother and I were driving around when we saw a hitchhiker. We picked him up and took him back to our house. The next day, the hitchhiker was gone. I had an uneasy feeling, like maybe my brother did or said something that creeped the guy out, but maybe something else happened. So how do I ask my brother if he murdered the hitchhiker?
You should just walk right up and ask him. Seriously. Straight out ask him. When he offers to show you where he buried the hitchiker and casually mentions bringing an axe and a shovel along on the trip, take solace in the fact that I will win $20 in my office pool with my selection of "passive-aggressive sister, in a hole in the park, with the axe."

As always, compare my advice to someone getting paid and see how I did.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

One of the most important things you can teach a child is how to read critically. That many adults I know can't do this is disheartening, but it doesn't diminish its importance as a skill. Kids are bombarded with opinions from television [1], books [2], and their parents [3].

The most insidious of these however, are news sources. Kids are taught from a young age that newspapers and news anchors are sources of fact, with opinions clearly marked as such (but backed up with supporting facts).

The world described in the above paragraph has not been my experience.

I don't know if things have really changed or if I've only slowly come to pay attention, but news articles today increasingly remind me of opinion pieces sprinkled liberally with "facts" designed to sway a reader's thinking, rather than the reporting of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

All people have biases. Reporters are people. Therefore all reporters have biases. My understanding of the job of a journalist is to present the facts by doing one's best to set aside those biases. I don't see a lot of that lately. Instead, I see "news" pieces riddled with language meant to tell the reader how to feel about the piece's subject.

This isn't exactly news, of course. But now the slippery slope of opinion journalism masquerading as news has given way to an avalanche of activist news in which the writer attempts to steer the reader around to the correct way of thinking ("correct" being equivalent to how the writer thinks) about a news story. It's all about ideology now.

Take this piece [4] in which a Pulitzer Prize winner effectively makes up a backstory in order to paint a picture. That the actual facts paint the exact opposite picture is of no consequence; there is a battle to be won! In this case, the battle is over healthcare. But that's not the only battle being fought in print.

That many readers are okay with this sort of manipulation (as evidenced by the comments section of the article, in which the defense amounts to claiming the author is creating an archehtypical case study in support of government healthcare) is sad; you'd hope that people would value truth over the lie. (Of course, it also begs the question: if the made up version of events in the story are so typical, why couldn't the author have found a story which didn't require making up facts to fit the narrative?)

The fact that the linked article is an opinion piece only reinforces my point: straight opinion backed with supporting facts is not enough any more; the reader must be swayed at all costs. If that means making things up, inventing backstory where none exists (or is the opposite of reality), so be it. Being "right" on the issue is more important than truth.

If opinion journalism has slid so far down that inventing facts is okay, how far down has straight news sunk? The answer should be "not at all", but if straight news contains more and more opinion, and opinion can use falsehoods to make its point...

I intend to teach Macy to read the news with a critical eye. The days of taking a news anchor or Pulitzer Prize winner at his word are over.

[1] "Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs are an important part of a balanced breakfast!"
[2] "Republicans are evil!"
[3] "That plaid jumper makes you look so grown up!"
[4] Yeah, I know. Extreme right-wing pundit alert. It was the best article that both sourced the original article and had first-person accounts of the investigation into the patient's actual circumstances.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, Georgia Style

One of the things I always get a kick out of when I come down to Georgia is that there is always a "plan". There are certain activities planned for each day, sprinkled in with periods of downtime where we're on our own.

These activities aren't what you think; we're not talking family pictures and dinner at a particular restaurant. Here's what I mean:

This time around we are preparing a ham radio antenna for installation. This includes preparing an 80-foot telescoping tower to receive a twenty-foot-long antenna array made up of sections that look like a TIE fighter in profile. Apparently I did this very thing when I was a child. Either the memory has faded in the intervening years or I have blocked it out somehow. If it's the latter, I wonder how many people we lost that day.

My father also wants me to write a custom computer application to control this antenna from his PC. Yep, that's why I take a week's vacation from my job writing computer code. Just kidding, Dad.

We do have some traditions, though. The Thanksgiving meal, for example. The Krystal run. The poker game. Those are the things that make it feel like coming home.

Especially when I take everyone's money.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Temperature Is Just A Number

The video of Al Gore claiming that the temperature of the core of the earth is millions of degrees reminds of just why I believe the call to fight global warming climate change is really rooted in the desire to win plaudits and make money.

If you don't know enough about the planet you're supposedly trying to save to understand things like "how hot does it get in the middle" and you're not interested enough to find out, it doesn't do much to inspire confidence. To get on television and basically talk out of your ass is funny, but not particularly inspiring.

Of course, it also makes me remember the Futurama episode where Lrrr (leader of Omicron Persei 8!) threatens to destroy the earth if an ancient television show is not rebroadcast:

Wait, I know her.

You do not, you big fat liar. You don't
know anyone. All you do is watch TV.

That's where I know her from. She's
Jenny McNeal. She was a character on
a TV show back in the 20th century,
Single Female Lawyer.

Well if they're hoping to see a TV show
that hasn't existed for a thousand years,
pfft, they are royally boned.

We will raise your planet's temperature
by one million degrees a day, for five
, unless we see McNeal at 9pm tomorrow
-- 8 central!

Al, you and Lrrr have much to discuss.

Update: The text above incorrectly identifies Lrrr as the "leader of Omicron Persei 8". His preferred title is "ruler of Omicron Persei 8". Pocket Jacks regrets the error.

Law & Order: Special Terrorist Unit

Update: More evidence that the primary purpose of this trial isn't to get a conviction?


A smoky battlefield. Gunfire can be heard in the distance. Small fires burn in piles of debris. Two U.S. Army Rangers enter a small, ruined building and find a man hiding behind the door.

1st Ranger: "We've got one. Male, unarmed. Doesn't appear injured. He's --"

2nd Ranger: "What?"

1st Ranger: "Oh my God! It's him! bin Laden!"

2nd Ranger: "Jesus, you're right! We've got to get him back to HQ! The captain will want to talk to him!"

Two men in cheap suits and trenchcoats suddenly enter the building.

Benny Liscoe: "Hold it right there, soldier. We'll take it from here."

1st Ranger: "Who are you?"

Benny Liscoe: "The name's Liscoe. NYPD."

2nd Ranger: "What? We need to interrogate this man! He could have vital information --."

Cay Rurtis: "Interrogation? Are you kidding? Have you even read this man his rights?"

2nd Ranger: "His... rights?"

Cay Rurtis: "Jesus Christ."

Benny Liscoe: "His rights! You know, Miranda? Did you at least ask him if he wanted to talk to his lawyer?? Any of this ringin' a bell G.I. Joe?"

1st Ranger: "This is a battlefield! We're fighting a war here!"

Benny Liscoe: "You want war? Try getting your palimony reduced when you gotta deal with my second ex-wife."

Cay Rurtis: (in the background) "You have the right to remain silent..."

END SCENE (cue bum-BUM sound effect)

This scene came to me after seeing this demolition of Attorney General Eric Holder by Senator Lindsey Graham over treating battlefield captures as criminal defendants. You'd think America's top lawyer would have been better prepared for some of these questions considering he was being called before Congress to talk about the criminalization policy of terrorists captured on the battlefield.

This was a big issue during the Clinton administration: the treating of the so-called War on Terror as a criminal matter, sending investigators, making arrests through foreign agencies, extradition, etc. Of course, it wasn't called the War on Terror while Clinton was in office.

It seems as though the Obama administration is trying to move back to the Clinton doctrine and away from the policies of the Bush administration. I don't see this as necessarily bad in itself, but it does raise the question of how the military of the United States is being utilized.

If we want to treat terrorists as criminals rather than enemy soldiers, why aren't we pulling out of Afghanistan? Despite the president's lack of a clear plan (add more troops? Reduce the deployment?) it doesn't sound like full withdrawal is being considered. I'm guessing this is because the president believes there's more at stake there than catching criminals. I think this because it's what he said during the campaign.

But that seems incompatible with treating people on the battlefield as if they had snatched a purse or sold a dime bag (or even murdered someone). I'm also going to guess that that isn't really the plan: enemies captured on the ground really won't be rounded up and extradited to the U.S. to stand trial.

But this means that the planned trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed represents a double standard on the part of the administration. Never mind that the president seems determined to poison the well in advance of the trial. Nothing screams "mistrial" louder than the president of the United States mentioning the outcome of the trial before it even starts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scenes From A Developer's Conference (a.k.a. Russell Brand Hates My Work)

Last week Microsoft Fargo hosted a developer's conference for our partners and other 3rd party outfits that develop products for use with Microsoft Dynamics GP, which is what I work on. It's a chance for these developers to pick the brains of Microsoft's R&D team, find out about what to expect from new releases, and lodge complaints.

It was generally a good experience. My involvement was to be available at a round table for a couple of the projects I work(ed) on and answer questions. I only got one I couldn't answer, and that involved pricing structures. I don't pretend to know how our prices are derived. All I know is that every time someone clicks the OK button on certain windows, I get .00008 cents. I plan to retire in the year 2851.

One visitor got my attention though. He introduced himself by saying, "the migration tool sucks!" Guess who worked on that[*]. Oh yeah.

This person lived in New Jersey by way of England. He looked exactly like Russell Brand, if Russell Brand was a hilarious software engineer instead of an unfunny stand-up comic. He apparently came to the New World due to the lax gun laws of New Jersey (hey, compared to the U.K., everybody's gun laws are lax). I know this because he digressed into stories of how many guns he owned, which types of guns he owned, and how he used those guns to greet people at his front door. He was great.

Anyway, the explanation for his exclamation (the one about my product sucking) was a known issue for us. Basically, some customers like to customize products with pieces they build themselves, and there is simply no way for our little utility to be able to parse the code in these things and make them work in a new platform. Russell Brand's customer had done this sort of thing extensively and the only help he got from us was of the 'too bad, so sad' variety.

Perfectly understandable anger on their part. Luckily for me though, the TSA finds time to forbid guns on planes in between searching old ladies for bottles of water and tubes of Gold Bond larger than three ounces.

[*]Long story short, I (with another developer) built a utility that would upgrade our customers to a later version of our software even though said software had changed platforms. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Trouble With Collectors

I got a call from my bank today that's put me on edge. It appears I am behind on a loan I took out from said bank about eight months ago. I talked to a kind man who was interested in listening to my excuses for not paying. Here is a partial transcript of out conversation:

Me: I intend to pay you back. I just can't right now.

Him: When do you think you'll be able to make a payment?

Me: How do I know? Who am I? Nostodamus?

Him: Of course. Can you tell me what the money was used for?

Me: Certainly. I used it for several projects. Spread it around if you will.

Him: I see. Can you give me some examples?

Me: Well, I spent some of it to build a park in Stonerville.

Him: There's no such town as Stonerville in North Dakota.

Me: I also spent a lot of money planting trees in Haiku City.

Him: Again, there's no such place.

Me: Oh, and thanks to me there's now a fountain in the town square in Chuff's Bluff.


As you can probably tell, the bank wasn't too impressed with my explanation of where the money went. This, even though I presented them with a website on which I detailed every penny. For some reason, I am not allowed to just make up numbers and present them as fact. The bank has begun the collections process on the loan and I may be going to prison.

You may not feel sympathy for me. After all, who takes someone's money, spends it like a Bahrainian teenager (look it up) and can't account for it? In fact, who does that and then makes up bullshit numbers to explain how it was used?

You know who does that.

Three questions:

Why is this okay?

If this is how the government handles accounting, why would you trust it with any more money than absolutely necessary?

Can you float me a loan for bail? I promise to pay you back after I finish paying for that statue of Ayn Rand in Boobsen Butte.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hard Advice (11/13/2009)

How do I find out whether I am attractive? [My friends] tell me that I am attractive, but they are either lying or trying to make me feel better. How do I find out? And does it matter whether I am objectively attractive?

Look in a mirror. Ask a stranger. Yes.

My husband and I have always attended Thanksgiving at his sister's house since we married seven years ago. We eat at 2 p.m. sharp, and my sister-in-law is right behind the last one in line, packing up stuff and putting it away. She won't accept any help, and when I bring food, it gets handed back to me when I leave. My family is now scattered all over the globe, but my husband and I have friends we'd love to see on Thanksgiving, and I want to have an open house myself. Should I just plan our own gathering and deal with his family's wrath? Or is what I want to do just not that important?

Invite all your family and friends to your sister-in-law's house. When you go through the food line make sure to heap food on your plate till it touches the ceiling. Don't bring any food of your own. Make sure you constantly and loudly remark about how long it's taking to clean up the buffet table. Don't offer to help. As soon as you finish eating, take your friends and family and leave without saying goodbye. Go enjoy a bottle of wine somewhere. Next year you'll get to host Thanksgiving at your place.

My husband and I recently attended a funeral. The service was so intense that someone actually fainted. I'm a nurse, so I dashed over to the man's side. On the way home, my husband asked me about the fellow who fainted. I shared the experience of helping a stranger and talked about the funeral and the eulogy. I was pouring my heart out, but when I took a breath, he broke in and said, "I see Pedro's in the game." How can I let him know that it means a lot to be able to share my feelings and experiences with him?

I understand your frustration. Bringing in Pedro in that situation was the wrong call. A left-hander was the right move. It's called playing the percentages and it's what smart managers do.

As always, compare my advice to someone getting paid and see how I did.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who's The Enemy Here?

Here are some examples of the level of respect for the military in some quarters:

Marine Recruiting Office Protest and Counter Protest

Berkley Marine Protest

San Francisco Anti-War Rally

Now, here's the reaction from your common every day mugger.

Say what you want about Code Pink, socialist hippies and cowards conscientious objectors. At least you know they aren't muggers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Norse Art

Macy is participating in a program called Discovery at her school. The subject of the three-month-long course is Norse mythology. One of the things Macy has been working on is creating a puzzle where each piece represents on the of the Norse gods.

(click to enlarge)

It's Hard Being Right All The Time

After the Fort Hood shooting, I wrote the following:

The other thing I'd mention is this: I am expecting to see stories in the next few days painting this incident as a case for gun control. After all, the expected narrative goes, if a base full of gun-toting professional soldiers can't stop a gunman, why should we expect a bunch of armed civilians to do so?

And verily, it did come to pass:

From the Brady Campaign:

“America has seen an epidemic of horrific gun violence at churches and synagogues, workplaces, health clubs, high schools, universities, police stations and now Army bases. This latest tragedy, at a heavily fortified army base, ought to convince more Americans to reject the argument that the solution to gun violence is to arm more people with more guns in more places. Enough is enough.”

Chicago mayor Richard Daley:

“Unfortunately, America loves Guns. We love guns to a point where that uh we see devastation on a daily basis. You don’t blame a group.”

There are others, but the gist is the same: we need more gun control. No, we don't.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spot The Missing Sentence

Here are some recent news articles. Each one has a sentence missing. See if you can figure out what they are (answers at the end):

  1. Prof Busted In Columbia Gal 'Punch'
  2. St. Louis Protects SEIU
  3. 'Pro-Gun' States Lead The Nation In Per Captia Firearm Death Rates
  4. After The Wall Tumbled
  5. Obama Pays Tribute To Fall Of Berlin Wall


  1. "This is being prosecuted as a hate crime."
  2. "Charges against the attackers are pending."
  3. "States with more guns have more incidents related to guns -- who woulda thunk it?"
  4. "Most of those predicting dire futures for central Europe weren't happy when communism failed."
  5. "The U.S. President wasn't present at the ceremonies as he was engaged in visiting Ft. Hood working on the N1H1 vaccine shortage winning governorships in New Jersey something else.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Shooting At Fort Hood

By now you've heard about the shooting that took place at Fort Hood. An army major, apparently distraught about being shipped to Iraq, opened fire on the base, killing thirteen people and wounding thirty more.

I'm not going to comment on the alleged motives of the gunman or his religion; not enough is known at this point (and may never be; the suspect was shot four times and is on a ventilator). I will however, comment on a couple of things.

First, I watched an interview on Good Morning America this morning with the suspect's brother. This man described the suspect as the target of racial slurs and negative comments about Islam. I'm not saying the charges aren't true (I have no idea). I will say though, that as a major in the U.S. military, if anyone did make comments to him of that nature as anything other than good natured joking, the offender would be disciplined before the ink dried on the complaint. As someone who served in the United States Air Force, I can tell you there is little tolerance for that sort of thing. A complaint is enough to launch an investigation, and no soldier, airman, sailor or marine wants to be on the receiving end of that. I knew people who got into trouble at Grand Forks A.F.B. They didn't enjoy themselves.

To be fair, the offenses I observed ranged from drugs to improper relationships. I never saw any race baiting or religious bigotry. And yes, there were muslims in my squadron. That is not to say it never happened, but I certainly never saw it. The consequences were certainly something to be feared.

The suspect's brother went on to say that in the face of this alleged harrassment, the suspect did everything he could to smooth things over and make peace. I'm sorry, but peaceful men don't go on shooting sprees.

The other thing I'd mention is this: I am expecting to see stories in the next few days painting this incident as a case for gun control. After all, the expected narrative goes, if a base full of gun-toting professional soldiers can't stop a gunman, why should we expect a bunch of armed civilians to do so?

The problem with this argument is that military bases are some of the strictest gun control zones in the world. Soliders don't, as part of their uniform, march around with weapons. Access to weapons is strictly controlled. Even parades normally consist of marching rows of soldiers carrying unloaded weapons.

Private ownership of weapons is also controlled. In my Air Force service, airmen were not allowed to keep weapons in the dorms. Even base housing had restrictions. Generally, personal weapons were to be stored at the base armory and could be checked out for use (target shooting, hunting, etc.). Guns were not to be kept for personal protection in homes on base. Note that my service ended over twelve years ago, so things may be different in Texas in 2009, but I don't believe so.

The only exception to this generally is military police officers. Those are the soldiers who responded and took down the suspect. If you start reading articles trying to tie this incident with gun control, please keep in mind that most reporters know next to nothing about how military bases are run and less about guns.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trying My Hand At The Advice Game

Emily Yoffe has a weekly advice column at Slate in which she dispenses grammatically correct advice to the sort of people who can't talk to their spouse/friends/family about their problems but have no problem asking a complete stranger writing under a pseudonym. I wondered if that's maybe a game I could get into. Below are some abridged versions of questions with my answer. Compare them to the original and see how I did:

London, U.K.: A very dear friend of mine...has dabbled in cross-dressing, sexual relationships with other men, and has even experimented a bit with female hormones. Should I tell the fiancé?


The Bedroom, USA: I am in a loving relationship with a woman and we're going on two years. My only issue is that our libidos don't match. She is fine having sex once a week while my ideal would be everyday, once, twice and maybe three times. What can I do to help us figure this out?

You didn't say anything about losing your hands in a farm accident, so it seems to me you should get used to shaking hands with yourself once or twice a day. You think it's going to get better once you're married? Once a week? Good luck with that.

Mobile, Ala.: Recently my children (ages 4 and 2) have been invited to birthday parties for their friends. The Birthday child never opens their gifts at the party anymore. Has this become a common occurrence among parents to not let their kid open the presents at their birthday parties?

This happened about the same time that parents thought it was mandatory to throw Felliniesque extravaganzas at places like Chuck-E-Cheese everytime their toddler makes it through another year without choking on a Lego. The next time the gifts remain unopened just yell, "hope you enjoy the dick-in-a-box!" as you walk out the door. You'll never have to worry about being offended again.

Lillington, N.C.: My husband's mother has recently moved to the same town as us. Last weekend, she requested my children to come to her house and visit for a few hours. The next morning, I was getting my 6-year-old ready for church and talking about her visit yesterday. She said she didn't like being spanked by everybody there.

I told [the grandmother] I am not comfortable with her disciplining my kids and had not given her permission. She then told me I was out of line and that she was the grandmother. I am unsure how to deal with this situation and starting to worry about the family I've married into.

Your husband's mother comes from a different time, one in which the elder matriarch wielded much power in the familial unit. Calmly explain to her that since the advent of electricity, old people should be seen and not heard, lest their social security payments be reduced. If this doesn't convince her, punch her in the tit.

Columbus, Ohio: [M]y sister's husband just published a book and immediately gave me a copy to read. As I read the book, I realized that it's one of the worst books I've ever read! It's a book where the author is trying to use every word known to man to sound more credible, but instead comes off sounding like a buffoon!

My problem is this: my sister and her husband now want me to write some reviews! What's the best way to approach this?

Simple. Right a review from the point of view of the author. I'll get you started:

"As a digester of literature, it is rare that I get the chance to masticate words as eloquently cromulent as contained in this cornucopia of smartness. Truly the masterwork of a braniac of another world, this tome stands as a monument to percipacity of idiom and awesomacity pores from every pour."

Monday, November 2, 2009

California Announces New Reverse Loan Program

Cash-strapped California has announced a new program by which citizens get the privilege of making an interest-free loan to the state equivalent to 10% of their current tax withholding. Gosh I wish I lived in a state that unilaterally gave itself the power to use your paycheck as a personal savings and loan.

As for the idea that citizens will be "repaid any extra withholding in April", I wouldn't hold my breath; this is the state that was issuing IOU's for tax return overages last April.

Happy, Happy Halloween

The weather didn't cooperate on Friday so we skipped the Haunted Farm this year. It rained in the morning, snowed in the afternoon and turned cold and windy at night. Oh well. Instead, Donna and I got dressed up and headed to a local watering hole to have a drink and dinner with friends. We got several compliments on our get-up, which can be summed up shortly as "zombie parents" and can be described more thoroughly with this (click to enlarge):

We met up with friends Kelly and Debbie, who proved to be more in tune with current macabre celebrity news than Donna and myself:

After a couple of beers and a couple hundred compliments on our hilarous takes on both dead celebrities and the zombie mythos, we headed out to a halloween party in Moorhead that involved this:

I stupidly left my camera in the truck when we first went in, so there is no video record of Debbie doing "Thriller", but perhaps that is for the best. No mere .avi file could possibly capture the magic.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Music

Here's some music to get you in the mood for the second scariest holiday of the year (after Arbor Day):

Rest In Peace, Warren.

Not really Halloween in content, but what the heck.

Scary for all the wrong reasons.

The title says it all.

Terrible video, 80's style. On the upside, the song has been cut from its original thirteen minute run time:

History's Greatest Monsters

Halloween is upon us, and what better time to take a look at the monsters of myth, legend, and nightmare and put them in a list in ascending order based on arbitrary criteria I make up as I go along? No better time, that's when.

13. Wolfman

I watched the original movie a few months back, and I must say it wasn't scary. Basically, a guy gets attacked by a wolf, turns into one himself the next full moon, goes after his love interest and gets shot by a gypsy. Or maybe it was a guy from town. There were definitely gypsies involved though. But really, it was as simple as shooting him. The werewolf hasn't got much tougher in the intervening years.

12. Zombie Zero

This is a stand-in for all zombies everywhere; the protozombie, if you will. Terrifying in Night of the Living Dead, the years have not been kind. 28 Days Later tried to liven things up by giving them the ability to run, but dozens of videogames in which you kill thousands of them with everything from a howitzer to a steely glare make them the red shirts of the monster kingdom.

11. Mummy

I first saw this as a kid and it was plenty scary. The idea that this implacable thing would just keep coming after you, never making a sound was very frightening. Then I realized it was all a metaphor for taxes and it fell apart. Oh, and Abbot and Costello kicked his ass.

10. Frankenstein

Easily the most sympathetic of the lot. He didn't ask to be. Some dude bolted his head on someone else's body like a bad nudie photoshop, shot him full of lightning, and made him wear uncomfortable platform shoes. All he wanted to do was be nice, make contact with people and fall in love. He had a bad temper, but so does Al Franken. Whoa.

9. Freddie

Could have been one of the greats, but multiple sequels diluted the product until it became a parody of itself. Still, the original idea of a pedophile getting burned to death in the school basement by parents then coming back to seek revenge by giving free haircuts in their kids' dreams was plenty freaky.

8. Pinhead

The image of a WWI soldier sitting in a room playing with a puzzle box that, when solved, opens a gateway to Hell is just awesome to me. Pinhead, number one evil dimensional time traveller and leather trenchcoat afficiando long before New came along was super creepy, as all people with British accents are.

7. That Head-Spider Thing From John Carpenter's Remake Of The Thing

One of the great unsung horror films of all time, this movie is still freaky as all-get-out even with the 80's special effects. The chest-giving-way-sprouting-teeth-and-chomping-the-guys-arms-off was bad. The dead guy's head detaching itself from the body, sprouting legs and running away was badass.

6. Jason Micheal Voorhees-Meyers

The implacable silent killer with a mask was a great concept in its original iteration. Personally, Halloween was a far better movie. But I've had nightmares about Jason, never about Michael. Weird.

5. George W. Bush

Maybe should have been considered for the top spot. I mean, here's a monster reputed to be the cause of every single thing that went wrong for eight years, and is still being invoked today! 9/11, flu scares, lead in toys, gas prices, hurricanes; he's been blamed for all these things!

4. Little Japanese Girls

True story: when Macy was two she would sometimes wake up early in the morning and come into my room to wait for me to wake up. She would do this by standing silently by my bed and stare at me. Eventually I would open my eyes and see a ghostly figure standing silently in a darkened room six inches from my face, just staring. And that's why I have rubber sheets.

3. Dracula

The original mac daddy. He can change into wolves and bats, he can command the same (and rats!), chicks find him irresistable. Then there's the less-suave, far scarier-looking version from Nosferatu, which the makers of the TV version of 'Salems's Lot later ripped off. Freaky freaky.

2. The Original Alien

The best horror film of all time featured the most terrifying monster in space. The thing had one form where it launched itself at your face and latched on like a spider and pooped eggs down your throat. The baby form exploded out of your chest and had stainless steel teeth. Then it grew up, became ten feet tall, could crawl on the ceiling, had a mouth that could shoot another mouth at you. Then, if you got lucky enough to wound it, it bled acid that would burn through every level of your spaceship until you lost compression. The best part of the film is that all the characters are grossed out by the gross stuff, scream when they see the monster, and scared to death the rest of the time. Just like you would be in that situation.

1. Shelob

I do not like spiders. The Shelob scene in The Lord of the Rings scared me when I first read it as a kid (see also: Mirkwood Forest in The Hobbit) and when that friggin spider came after Frodo in the movie theater I squirmed the whole time. The way spiders move freak me out. The way Shelob rolled Frodo while it spun webs around him made me want to throw up. I would gladly fight an army of zombies or a space cruiser full of aliens rather than take the chance that I might be awake when Shelob started rolling me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nannyarchy In The U.K.

London is a city that has CCTV cameras on every street corner. Citizens are caught on camera an average of 300 times a day. They are mandatory in pubs. Gun ownership is restricted nearly into non-existence. These measures are all justified by the U.K. equivalent of the old "national security" cliche here in America: public safety.

The overzealousness for public safety leads to police loitering around bars at night to hand out flip-flops to drunk patrons in heels. It leads to babies being taken from families the state decides is too fat to be trusted with raising a child. It leads to talk of creating a file for every child born so it can be monitored for signs that "the child is suffering significant harm" (no potential for abuses there, and one guess who decides the definition of 'significan harm').

It has now led to forcing parents who take their kids to a park in Watford to watch from behind a fence. They aren't allowed on the playground itself because they might be pedophiles.


The Watford council defends its actions by saying they're only following the law:

"Councillors insist they are merely following Government regulations and cannot allow adults to walk around playgrounds 'unchecked'."

Kids on the playground are to be supervised by government-vetted "play rangers"; adults the council has deemed responsible and safe enough to be allowed around children.

In fact, it seems Britain has taken the idea that anyone could be a pedophile to the extreme. In the U.S. if a person is convicted of certain crimes, he or she is placed on an offender's registry, a scarlet letter if you will. The problem with that system, apparently, is, what if you just haven't caught somebody yet?

They solve that apparently by having a sort of bizzaro sex offenders database. It lists people who are deemed not to be pedophiles. If you aren't in the government's computer, you either are one or perhaps just haven't been caught yet.

"It comes amid an escalating row over the Government's new anti-paedophile database, which will contain the names of more than 11 million adults cleared to work with children and vulnerable adults."

The idea that government knows best and citizens are children to be taken care of is anathema to many people. Even those who support big government would, I believe, strenuously object to measures like these (except for those who would be playing the role of nanny: they love this stuff). I'd like to think that if these sorts of things were introduced in America there would be outrage, perhaps even revolt. My question to those in the U.K.:

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Birds On A Wire 10/27/09

Spending Someone Else's Money

You are the executor of the late, lamented Ernest R. Megabucks, millionaire philanthropist and adventurer. His well left you in charge of caretaking his vast fortune, now liquidated, by doling out monies as needed for the care of his many children, siblings and other dear friends, all of whom, in the words of Ernest, "should be taken care of for life". Essentially, you have to sign checks.

In the beginning, this is all new to you. You meticulously weigh each request. Does the eldest son really need a car? Is the sister's request for a little spending cash for her vacation warranted? In the end, you okay these things because, well, you are supposed to be taking care of them. Besides, Ernest was a millionare. Fifty thousand here and two thousand there is nothing.

As the years go by, it's just easier to sign the checks rather than fight. You stop checking the account balance every other day; there's plenty of money to go around, and besides, it's not like it's your money being spent.

Eventually, the requests are for larger amounts and even more frivolous things. It's not for a doctor visit; it's for a nose job. It's not for a replacement car; it's for a third one. Still, the money isn't yours. It's theirs. The various heirs have become accustomed to having their every wish granted, their every request fulfilled. Eventually the money runs low. You can't give what isn't there. You try to figure out where the money went, but record keeping was never your strong suit. You know basically where it went; it went to Ernest's heirs. But you don't have any idea how much went to whom or what it was spent on.

Now read this article and see if you can understand why, while the author pushes this stance...

"The bad news is that an estimated $700 billion is wasted annually. That's one-third of the nation's health care bill," Kelley said in a statement.

"The good news is that by attacking waste we can reduce health care costs without adversely affecting the quality of care or access to care."

...I take the opposite: billions of dollars of waste is endemic to a government-run operation because they aren't using their own money.

Private corporations have plenty of problems. Not knowing where the money went is not one of them: they'd be out of business [*]. Private businesses have to obsess over where the money goes. It's how they control costs, grow the business, and create return on investment for the shareholders.

When you're spending someone else's money it's way too easy to sign the check and worry about the accounting later.

[*] Unless someone steps in and bails them out, of course. With someone else's money.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Tale Of Two Executives

The Obama administration is going after executive pay. This is no surprise; if a company gets in bed with the federal government by taking taxpayer money, they should expect the said government to step in and start taking the reins in some form. This is why bailouts were a bad idea in the first place.

But regardless of how you come down on the executive pay issue, there is an executive whose pay is untouchable. You just have to work for the right company. One that has always been in bed with the government.

"Freddie Mac is not just another company. It's alive today, and nearly 80 percent owned by the government, only because almost $51 billion in taxpayer funds were pumped into it over the last year. More bailout money also may be needed in the quarters ahead as losses from its troubled mortgages mount."

Private companies are being increasingly isolated as "bad". Government cronyism is increasingly being rewarded at taxpayer expense. That's saying something; cronyism has been around since George Washington first gave his half-brother's horseshoeing outfit a no-bid contract with the Continental army.

As long as their are two sets of rules, one for government-approved business and one for "evil" private companies, the economy will not recover. As soon as profit and competiton give way to favor-currying and tax money-fueled payoffs, a company is no longer a free market entity, and we're all the worse for it.

Early Halloween

We took Macy to Zoo Boo in Little Falls, Minnesota this weekend. The local zoo does it up right with spooky tableaux and free candy. Despite putting Macy's costume in a bag with our duffel bags we managed to leave town without it. So a quick trip to Wal-Mart and some makeup wizardry from Donna and Macy was ready to to roam the lands as a witch.

After some early trick-or-treating we celebrated Donna's nephew's 5th birthday. Happy birthday, Cole!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hippie Mail 2: The Return

Donna got some more hippie mail recently. Unlike some earlier correspondence, it didn't revolve around massacring wolves with apache helicopters. Instead, it revolved around buying various animals for various indigenous peoples from this place and that. They're very professional looking mailings. It's only when you open them and start reading that the crazy becomes evident.

Don't get me wrong; charities are wonderful things. Helping others is a noble goal. If a girl in Peru is given a chance to choose one thing that will lift her out of poverty and she picks an alpaca, hey, I've got no problem with that. Personally, I would say, "just give me the cash value", but I've never been a ten year old Peruvian mountain girl.

It seems to me though, that these charities could just buy a few goats, alpacas, rabbits, water buffalo, chickens, etc. Make sure they get some boys and girls and, you know, let nature take its course. They should only need some farmland, some feed, and maybe some mood lighting and Barry White CDs.

The other piece of mail makes a pitch for a much less nebulous form of help for those people suffering from third world maladies like measles, malaria and Madonna buying up all their children. It asks for money to do things like provide cataract surgery for the blind, provide training for healthcare workers and building community gardens. Noble goals, to be sure. Then it goes for jugular, and well, misses.

Bob Barker was a very vocal proponent of spaying and neutering your animals. Pamela Anderson extolled you to go naked before wearing fur. Ed McMahon told you how easy it was to sell your gold online. Who will stand up and plead the case for third world eye surgery?

This guy.

I am not lying.

Here is how he is introduced in the catalog: social activist, clown, author, Co-Director of Camp Winnarainbow.

Social activist and author make perfect sense. I have no idea what Camp Winnarainbow is (I'm afraid I might have a bad trip just from typing it into a search engine) but I'm sure it's brought a lot of something or other to an unspecified number of people. But clown? Unless you're the co-director of Kamp Krusty or possible a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, is that really an adjective you want attached to your endorsement?

Are You A Sucker For Taking That Raise?

An article in Forbes points out the many disincentives our tax code lobs at people whose goals in life are some combination of: make more money, get married, get college educations for the kids.

It does a lot of soul-searching over the whys involved in giving incentives to those who don't work as hard and don't move up the financial ladder. It seems pretty clear cut to me though. Our tax code is constantly tweaked and tailored with the goal of equalizing income. The goal is to take money from those who have it and give to the government, who will give it to those that don't. Think that's crazy?

"There are now more than two dozen federal tax breaks, including seven created or expanded by February's $787 billion stimulus, that disappear (often simultaneously) as income rises. As her adjusted gross income climbs from $60,000 to $90,000, a single parent could lose some or all of the $1,000 per child credit, the $2,500 per college student credit, the $400 Making Work Pay credit and the $8,000 first-time home buyer credit, as well as deductions for contributions to an individual retirement account and for interest paid on a student loan. Such gotchas can push up the marginal federal income tax rate--that is, the tax on the next $1 earned--far beyond the top 35% rate imposed on rich folks."

It's easy to say, well of course tax breaks go away as you make more income. We have a progressive tax system, after all. True enough. The problem is, in the rush to hand as much money as possible to those in the lower income brackets, the definition of "rich" or even "well off" grows to encompass more and more people. That's the only way to explain the graph on page one of the linked article, which plots the marginal tax rates for single parents.

Obviously, there are people that need the help. But the goal of society should not be to increase the number of people on one dole or another. It should be to provide people with the means to get off the dole forever. Our tax system, with its perverse incentive to make less money, doesn't do that.

Birds On A Wire 10/23/09

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fun With Spam

The spam filter on my work's email servers is pretty fantastic. I never see any spam in my inbox, and only very rarely does a legitimate email get stuck in the spam filter. I still check the filter every once in a while in order to catch those two or three a year that get caught. Here are some of the subjects:

  • What Britney hides?: I just imagine a guy getting stopped by customs officals: "Okay, Johnny. Where are the Brtiney hides?" "What Britney hides?" Johnny replied innocently.

  • Your Love Stick won't get tired: Especially if I ever called it that in front of my girlfriend. I'd never need it again.

  • This is not a potion for making you a womanizer. This is better than that: Better than tequila? Cause that stuff makes me sleep with all kinds of women then I say "later baby" and leave them all alone and crying in the bed.

  • Madonna is a moslim now: First she was cathalick, then she was into the cabbala junk. What's next? Vudu?

  • Pants off, Lavigne: I think this got sent to me by mistake.

  • Chest pains chasing you. Get them off track: No, no. Charley horses keep chasing me. Chest pains just call and hang up.

  • Renew your organism: I'm trying to kill the tapeworm, not renew it.

  • Oh shit!: I almost opened this one.

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Trespass On Your Land Without Seeing You Naked

A man in Springfield,VA is facing charges in connection with an incident in which police say he exposed himself to a woman and her daughter. In this case, however, the man was in his own kitchen and the two females cut through his yard from a path on which they were walking.

The police's theory seems to be that this man was making coffee in his kitchen naked because he somehow knew that someone would leave a path that runs along his property, cut through his front yard, pass the kitchen window, and look into his kitchen.

So let that be a lesson to all you perverts who think that, just because you're in your own house on your own land, you can just walk around naked. Other people are trying to walk through your yard uninvited and they have the right to look in your kitchen window and not see you naked.

Whither The Blame For The Flu Vaccine Shortage?

Remember back in 2004, when flu vaccine shortages had everybody up in arms? No? You should. It was all over the news. Pundits wrung their hands in disbelief that this could happen. One guess who most blamed for this.

Well, here in 2009 we are in the midst of a shortage of N1H1 vaccine, but I don't see a lot of finger pointing. Where are all the stories about the Obama administration being to blame for ignoring a health crisis, not being prepared for flu season and generally not caring about Americans in general?

For the record, I don't believe the current administration is to blame for the vaccine shortage any more than I thought Bush was responsible in 2004. But if you're reading this and wondering why all our news outlets aren't raising the same questions now as then, congratulations! You're starting to realize just how in the tank most Obama-Approved news organizations are.