Monthly Archives: November 2009

California’s Broken Economy

In 1989, I enlisted in the Army, partly because the economy in California was in the dumper. In 1992, I reenlisted for much the same reasons, although the rest of the country had generally recovered from the Reagan-era recession by that time. I thought it was odd that California, a state which by many estimates could be in the top ten countries’ economic stature, would be in such doldrums. California has transportation, tourism, energy production, entertainment, manufacturing, agriculture – in short, everything you need for a robust state. Yet, it continues to be hammered harder and sooner and for a longer period than most of the rest of the country even today. So, the 1980s aerospace collapse isn’t the only reason; there must be some explanation for why California seems incapable of maintaining a healthy economy.

Over the years, as I grew older and more curious, I discovered what seems the most likely explanation: Californians hate taxes but love spending. Since states can’t spend into deficit territory like the federal government can (too bad CA can’t issue money, eh?), they must balance the budget. So, every one of those propositions people vote for has to come from somewhere. I dug around a bit more and discovered the proximate cause of this insane situation: Proposition 13. Whenever someone would talk about how crazy high the housing prices in California were, I would opine about Prop 13 and the caps on property taxes and the 2% limit on valuation increases per annum and the disincentive to selling and friction in the housing market and their eyes would glaze over. When the housing bubble burst and friends and family lost jobs, businesses, and homes, I would think back to the Proposition 13 consequences and commercial properties paying a lower percentage of the taxes every year due to shell corporations and other legal legerdemain. But, I had a hard time tying all the pieces together for my friends who have never lived in California, and I didn’t have a great summary of how far the state has fallen, from the great public schools that my older sister went to in 1974 until the much deprived public schools that my younger sister went to in 1990.

Now, I’ve come across a journalist who writes a very concise and cogent explanation of exactly what went wrong with the California economy. If you’re curious about how the Golden State has become the Gilded State in a mere 30 years, you should read it. I find it interesting that CA had a large budget surplus, and Moonbeam Brown wanted to hoard it, which caused the Governor Ronnie backlash in 1978. Talk about unintended consequences.

Wingnuttery

I received a generally decent email from corporate overlords today, which basically told employees that the 2010 census will be happening soon, and that census workers won’t ask for your credit card or bank information, but will have badges and handheld computers etc. Don’t be scammed, and all that jazz.

Then, there was a paragraph which stood out for its appeal to the wingnuts among us:

AND REMEMBER, THE CENSUS BUREAU HAS DECIDED NOT TO WORK WITH ACORN ON GATHERING THIS INFORMATION.. No Acorn worker should approach you saying he/she is with the Census Bureau.

Um…yah. ACORN was not going to send “Acorn workers” to do the census anyway. Never a plan, never an intention, never an agreement. ACORN was going to help direct people looking for temporary employment to the Census Bureau and assist them in applying for those jobs. The end. So, you’d no more get an “Acorn worker” approaching you than you would a “USA Jobs worker” or an “Employment assistance office worker” approaching you. Such an insane appeal to continue to demonize a rather innocuous and minor organization, sadly, is not too surprising in the defense contractor world.

2012

Notwithstanding the aircraft carrier-sized plot holes (not the least of which is the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling being inside St. Peter’s Basilica), the science that seems to have been invented by a screenwriter for maximum gibberish factor, and the general feel of “disaster porn,” The Boy convinced me to see the latest Roland Emmerich explodafest.

As I was summarizing the flick to The Woman, I was impressed with the sheer number of coincidences to move the plot in anything like a coherent direction. The failed writer just so happens to know a Russian mafioso with connections to the ark project, but just so happens to need a copilot, and the writer’s ex’s boyfriend just so happens to be an amateur pilot, etc.

And the characterizations… Well, there are a couple ways to approach an “end of the world” movie. You could look at the human drama of man’s inhumanity to man, with deep introspection and evaluation of the hard decisions needed to perpetuate the human species. Or, you could just slam an aircraft carrier into the White House. Since this is a Roland Emmerich film, you know which way he went.

Still, it’s not like anyone going to see “2012” expects anything other than what it delivers, and it delivers in spades. The Boy said it was the best movie he’d ever seen, and even though he says that about every movie we watch, and even though he seemed to forget that 6.89 billion people die in the film, he’s probably right. This is possibly the best disaster porn explodafest you’ll ever see.

Veterans Day

I’ve worked for several defense contractors since I left the Army over 8 years ago. I’m always rather astonished when one of the companies doesn’t give Veterans Day as a paid company holiday. All our customers take the day off, and almost every employee is a veteran as well. Seems a bit dissonant.

Anyway, enough griping.

Happy Veterans Day. Remember it’s not Memorial Day, but it’s also not a day which is all about sales.

Army Photos

Stupid Tech Support Tricks

Suddenlink killed my cable modem on Thursday morning. When I called tech support that night, they couldn’t get a signal from my modem, an old Motorola 4200 (DOCSIS 1.1).  The techie they sent to the house Friday said that Suddenlink had recently upgraded to DOCSIS 3.0 locally, and therefore my old modem would no longer work. He offered to rent or sell me a modem or I could go out and buy a new one on my own. Since I know they sell a strange brand that nobody respects, I decided to hit the local Radio Shack to pick up a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. They only sell one modem, which happens to be a DOCSIS 3.0 model (Motorola 6120).

I plugged in the modem, hit DHCP refresh and got a non-local IP address, but couldn’t connect to the internet. This is expected, of course, and so I called the tech support help hell line and proceeded to be told that 1) DOCSIS 3.0 is not in my area, 2) the modem I had been using should work just fine, and 3) the modem I just spent $100 on was not on their approved list. Naturally, I find it absurd that a modem which complies with DOCSIS 2.0 and DOCSIS 3.0 standards would not work on a DOCSIS 2.0 network. Isn’t that the whole point of standards? The tech support guy was very patient and well-informed but was eventually unable to get the Suddenlink system to connect to my modem, regardless of the IP address that it granted me. He even had me connect the old modem, which would not grant me a routable IP address, and he couldn’t get a signal from.

Back to the store, to return the modem. And then to a different store a few miles away, to buy a less-capable modem. While at the store, I noticed a couple things. First, there were almost no DOCSIS 2.0 cable modems remaining on the shelf, although they normally stock three different models. Secondly, my old buddy Karl was there. Karl’s cable modem died on Thursday morning as well. He told me that his gym buddies also had widespread cable modem destruction visited upon them at the same time. Suspicious. We both left the store with new cable modems, and the shelves appeared to have one modem remaining that would work on our system.

I get the new cable modem (which is awfully tiny compared to the old one) home, plug it in and call the tech line to get the modem provisioned. This time, the person on the end of the line was less informed, which is always annoying. She was very obviously reading directly from her flowchart and would not deviate, no matter how absurd the things she insisted I do. At one point, she wanted me to unplug the modem, the router, and all computers connected to the router. This displays a deep lack of understanding of how routers work. Finally, after far too long on the phone with Flowchart Fanny, the connection was up and functioning as it was meant to.

I find it absolutely amazing that the two stores I went to both sold the Motorola 6120, which won’t work on the local system. Since there’s only one cable internet company in town, this exhibits a distressing lack of understanding of the market on the part of the local retailers.

Now it’s time to write a nasty letter to Suddenlink for breaking my modem, lying to me, and wasting my time and money. I don’t expect to get anything but catharsis from this exercise, but I must try.

Speculate Wildly!

I’m continually amazed at how frequently what “everyone knows” about an event is wrong. For instance, did you know that the Columbine shootings in 1999 were actually intended to be a massive bombing? Fortunately for the students there, the bombs didn’t actually go off, but they were placed in the cafeteria. Almost nobody knows that, but almost everyone “knows” that the two shooters were part of the Trench Coat Mafia; they weren’t. Everyone knows the two shooters were bullied by jocks; they weren’t. Two girls were shot because they were Christian; also not true – Cassie Bernall’s entire exchange with Harris was when he yelled “Peek a boo” before he shot her.

So, this week we have another shooting. First reports are that three men, including a U.S. Army Major (and psychiatrist, ironically) shot dozens of people with handguns and M-16 rifles, and the Major was reported as killed by a police officer who lay fatally injured himself. Turns out, the Major isn’t dead. Neither is the cop. There are, as of now, no other shooters identified by law enforcement and none are expected. ABC reported that Hasan was a convert to Islam; his brother says they were raised Muslims. He’s been rumored to be a sleeper agent; apparently sleeping since his birth in Virginia to Muslim parents.

At this point, so soon after the shootings and while the gunman is in custody to be questioned, could everyone just take a moment to stop and NOT speculate or repeat rumors?

All work and no internet makes Gary grumpy

When I awoke this morning, the internet was missing.  I was very sad, but figured it would be back up when I got home.  It’s not been dead for more than a few minutes in a couple years. I can’t get to many of my geek sites from work, and even if I could they block video and  I don’t have speakers and… SIGH

The home internet is still not up.  Good thing the coffee shop has free wifi.  Yay for free wifi.

Year Two: Electric Bugaloo

And so it begins continues….

My lovely bride and I have completed our first year of wedded bliss. It’s been a great year. Well, the getting laid off and burning through all our savings and putting off home improvement projects for 10 months and the car accident and the repairs we didn’t expect on the truck…not so much great there. But, we muddled through all the minutiae and trivial nonsense everyone deals with in life, together.

Some people continue to claim that our lack of major disagreements and complete lack of yelling and fighting means that we are repressing something vitally important. We contend that we just get along well. It helps that we both have the same basic view of the universe and how important some things are and how unimportant most other things are.

We’ll see how outside forces conspire to deflect our plans, but hopefully we’ll actually stay on track to our great goals of vacationing out of state, getting the hot tub installed, painting the house a less-putrid shade, and saving up for an eventual move out of West Texas. Even if things don’t work out as we plan, we’re still happy and that’s something no outside force is going to change.

Love you, pumpkin.