Category Archives: Random Thoughts

All the old Random Thoughts and Screeds, and some new

LJ Friends-locked posts

Hey, if anyone with a Livejournal account is reading me here, and not at LJ, maybe you should check out the LJ once in a while too (while logged in to LJ, duh).  I post the rare friends-only post over there, cuz I don’t want to make people register on my personal site too.

Why do so many people hate themselves?

The estate tax only affects estates valued at above $2 million today, and maybe down to $1 million if things are allowed to lapse in 2011 (not $675,000 no matter what your talk radio told you). How much do you expect to leave in net worth for your heirs? More than a million dollars? Not likely. Yet, a significant number of people who will never be affected by the estate tax are fighting to repeal it, on behalf of people making amounts of money most of us can’t imagine.

There are so many complicated economic issues wrapped up in estate tax debates, it would be ridiculous to try to summarize them. My curiousity is piqued by the rabid defense of the “repeal the death tax” mantra by people who will likely never have to pay it anyway. What kind of strange phenomenon causes people to spend time and effort fighting for something that helps only people most of us would classify as filthy rich?

I recently read a Princeton research paper, which showed quite clearly that the party in the Executive has historically been a good indicator of the rate of increase in income inequality. Republican presidents have been very good to the top 20% of Americans, and pretty crappy to the bottom 20%, with a relatively straight-line graph between them. Democratic presidents have been pretty good to the bottom 20%, and just about as good to the top 20%, with a straight-line graph between them as well. The difference, of course, is that the Dem graph is nearly horizontal. Income growth is about 2.5% for the top quintile under either party, but under a Dem that’s about the same level for everyone in the country (2-2.5%). Under the GOP, on the other hand, the top quintile still gets a nice growth rate of 2.5% or so, but the bottom quintile gets growth of 0.5%. The only exception to this pattern is in election years, when the Democrats seem to shoot themselves in the foot with the poor, and the Republicans somehow discover they can give money to the plebes to gain votes. Economic stimulus package, anyone?

By the way, I’ve been told by someone near and dear to me that the Princeton paper is not nearly as fascinating a read as I think it is. Something about “deathly dull” was murmured, as I recall. I am focusing on income inequality because it is so stark a statistic of economic health for most people, as well as being an indicator of widespread discontent.  Discontent breeds instability and all that, ya know. So, currently, the top 1% of people in the country have 22% of the income, which is the greatest concentration of wealth in such a small group since before the Great Depression.  We all know how well that turned out, eh? Another good indicator of economic health is personal savings. In 1982, that rate was 11%; in 2006, it was negative 1%. I’m pretty sure that’s not good.

If this income inequality issue is so blatantly obvious, the question remains: Why does anyone who isn’t already wealthy vote Republican? My theory is “the media makes people crazy.” Look at the giant storms of controversy and outrage the media talking heads have been stirring up over relatively minor issues of things like “bitter people” and cleavage and flag pins. Do any of those things really matter to the citizenry? Of course not. But, people have grown so accustomed to the din of information flowing from the magic box that shows them both parties looking stupid and venal and self-serving and hypocritical, people assume there’s no difference between them. We’ve watched the offshore outsourcing and domestic dismantling of our industrial base, through several presidents of both parties. People have become used to the idea that either party will screw the citizenry over. So, the parties end up ceding the ground of substance to “none of the above” and spend all their time fighting over trivia and “social issues.” Most of the social issues affect very few people, and based on my reading of that quaint document called The Constitution, are none of the government’s business anyway. But, you can sure rile folks up if you claim your opponent wants to take their guns or Bibles away (no matter how fictitious your claim may be).

It’s all rather disgusting. If you can stand it, watch the Pennsylvania Democratic debate – the first half is devoted to flag pins and bitterness. We’re so screwed.

Apple new beer

Happy 2008!

The Boy made it to midnight, which was surprising. We had cheese, sausage, crackers, and fresh apple tartin (upside-down cake thang). Oh, and Italian sparkling wines are much more drinkable than champagne.

In the previous year, I’ve achieved some stability in life, and gained a sane and intelligent girlfriend. The coming year looks promising.



In an Ideal World

It’s amazing to me how many people will deny reality in order to defend their prejudices and pre-existing notions. And there isn’t just one area of life that is vulnerable to this sort of reality denial; it can be everything from computers to cosmogony to theology.

Linux users have, for years, said it’s not the OS that is causing usability and productivity problems – it’s the lack of drivers. Of course, the average user doesn’t care why their printer doesn’t work, and is not going to blame HP for not supporting Linux, because their printer works just fine in Windows so it must be Linux’s fault that it doesn’t print.

Although the vast majority of the technology industry has come to the conclusion that Windows Vista is more trouble than it’s worth, some people defend it to the most ridiculous lengths. The driver defense comes up, just as with the Linux geeks from years past. “Vista is great, it just needs some drivers and people need to understand how to manage it. And the User Access Control dialog boxes aren’t very intrusive after you get used to clicking them every single session once per program or operation; people just need to get used to it. Of course, you can’t expect to run Vista on a machine with only one gigabyte of memory, no matter that the big box retailers sell 1GB machines with Vista Premium installed on them.”  And so on.

No, people won’t learn the OS in order to work their applications; they just want to click a file and make it work. To assert otherwise is to deny the reality of how the vast majority of people approach computing, in favor of some ideal world where everyone takes a three-week course in Vista before they operate it, and never go to skeezy websites and always keep their virus software updated… Well, you know.

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about theology? Nah. PZ Myers can do that for me.

Thoughts from the road

I’m not going to bore anyone with the details of our week in Southern California, nor the four days of driving to and fro. But, I will share a few entertaining bits and random mind drippings from the travel here.

We passed a number of military vehicles (construction-type mainly) on the way through Arizona, and not far behind them were some buses. The juxtaposition was merely a coincidence, but the buses have covered windows and the Department of Homeland Security emblazoned on their sides. It made me think of obvious plots of conspiracy theory movies based on some version of the Argentinean Disappeared.

While crossing the Californian desert, I saw billboards advertising special sales on breast implants (only 3500 dollars!), followed closely by billboards advertising artificial turf for the lazy homeowner. Fake boobs and fake lawns.

Although I continue to not find El Paso appealing, they do have a Paulina Rubio concert coming up next week. Yum.

The Morongo tribe has a name just made for a casino. “Yes, Kemosabe, moron go to casino, Morongo Casino.”

Social Distortion has a new album out. Well, a new song on a greatest hits album.

Petrified Paint

Playing with the geotag feature of Flickr, I came across this strange picture from my old stomping grounds at Fort Ord. This paint can apparently was left behind when the Army pulled out of the post in 1993. The photo was taken 13 years later, and the spill still has the illusion of freshness. Strange as heck.


Originally uploaded by A.p.K..

Every Day is Halloween

Well I live with snakes and lizards
And other things that go bump in the night
Cos to me everyday is halloween
I have given up hiding and started to fight
I have started to fight

Well any time, any place, anywhere that I go
All the people seem to stop and stare
They say ‘why are you dressed like it’s halloween?
You look so absurd, you look so obscene!’

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
It’s the same, it’s the same in the whole wide world

Well I let their teeny minds think
That they’re dealing with someone who is over the brink
And I dress this way just to keep them at bay
Cos halloween is everyday
It’s everyday

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
It’s the same, it’s the same in the whole wide world

O, why can’t I live a life for me?
Why should i take the abuse that’s served?
Why can’t they see they’re just like me
I’m not the one that’s so absurd

Why hide it?
Why fight it?
Hurt feelings
Best to stop feeling hurt
From denials, reprisals
It’s the same it’s the same in the whole wide world


At least two people on my LJ Friends List have posted recently about Mercury being in retrograde.  I’d like to say, on behalf of all rational people in the world, “whoopdedoo.”

Seriously?  We now know that the world is not flat and that the stars are actually giant balls of insanely hot gas rather than spirits who intervene in our daily lives. Ooga booga.

Firefox 2.0

I know, I should let it rest for at least an hour or so before I start to dissect the browser, right?  Anyway, the new version of Firefox is out today. Two good things I’ve noticed already: the functionality of the essential SessionSaver extension is built into the browser now (one extension nuked); and there is a spellchecker for fields that just works. So far, it’s tagged “SessionSaver” and “spellchecker” as not real words.  Too bad, I’m keeping them.

The bad things I’ve noticed?  It takes at least a tenth of a second longer to load. And, I can’t seem to get rid of the useless little green button next to the address bar. Even IE 6 allowed me to nuke the “Go button.”  What’s up with those buttons? You’re willing to type the URL into the address box but you’re not quite capable of hitting the RETURN key when you’re done?  Is it really easier to move your hands off the keyboard, move to the mouse, twitch it to the right, and click the green button?  Naturally, I see this sort of wacky-ass behavior from coworkers and my boss every day, but they’re OLD!

Magazine Addict

I’m inspired by Ferrett’s confession. I, too, am a magazine addict. Here are the ones I can recall that show up in my mailbox (only the ones I actually pay for-some freebies show up that I don’t care about at all):

  • Cuisine at Home
  • PC World
  • PC Magazine
  • Computer Power User
  • Maximum PC
  • Seed
  • MIT Technology Review
  • The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Granta
  • Mental Floss
  • Wired

I can quit any time I want.

Miles Per Dollar

Back in 1987, when I first started driving, I had a 1967 Dodge Coronet. It got 17 miles per dollar (mpd). That car had horrible mileage, a cranky carburetor, and generally drove like the tank it resembled.

When I got back from my first tour in Korea in 1992, I got a cheap Toyota. With advances in technology, I was able to average 25 mpd. Of course, I had rare need for air conditioning in Monterey, but that 25 mpd was mostly city driving.

My next car, the Dodge Neon, was a victim of a slight rise in gas prices, so I only got 23 mpd when I first got the cute little thing in 1995. By the time I moved on to the next car, I was only able to squeeze 17 mpd from the Neon.

The Ford Contour (crappy car, don’t ever get one) I got saddled with in 2000 made a then-sad 15 mpd. Power locks, air conditioning, but otherwise a simple auto.

Now we’ve got these insane fuel prices, and I drove to and from Dallas this weekend. The previous week, with commuting the primary fuel usage, I only made 7 (seven!) mpd. The highway trip made things slightly better, with a massive 11 mpd.

Of course, even a Toyota Prius would only average around 15-17 mpd nowadays. I don’t even want to do the math on that old Coronet (OK, fine – it would be five mpd). I think my “Check Economy” light is flashing…

Credit Cards

A few credit card companies sent me updated cards in the past month, including one which didn’t expire for another two years.  Makes me wonder if the credit companies know something I don’t.

Anyway, all these credit cards require activation, including my ATM card. The activation procedure for one is simple: call the number, they hit the caller ID database and say, “Thank you for calling. Your card is now activated.” Other companies require you to type in the credit card number in full, others the last few digits of your Social Security Number (which is illegal to use as an identification number), etc.  Do only a very few companies know what Caller ID is?  And what’s with the plethora of calls trying to get me to buy the oh-so-useful credit insurance crap lately? Leave me alone!

This has been your random surreal moment of the day.  Please pull through.

Rerun Season

Gloom, despair and repeats on me. Deep dark reruns, excessive reality (shows). If it weren’t for Stargate, I’d have no shows at all. Gloom, despair and repeats on me.

Alex gets a billion new shows on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon showing up on the DVR, while I get…a few episodes of That 70s Show that I missed years ago, and some old Stargate episodes. Hell, I can’t even count on Battlestar Galactica to make the summer “oh hell it’s hot” TV schedule better – it’s supposed to return in October. Thankfully the Dead Zone and 4400 are coming back soon, but what are they running, 10 or 12 episodes? *sigh*

San Angelo Pools

We have a municipal pool here in beautiful San Angelo Texas, which opens tomorrow for the season. The hours are 11am-6pm on Saturdays, 1-6pm on Sundays, and 1-7pm the rest of the week (for open swim, which is all I’d care about for Alex). The pool closes for the season on the 13th of August.  So, it’s open 10 weeks of the year.  In west Texas.  Where it got to 100 degrees in April.  Where we use the air conditioning well into October most years. WTF?

What do you expect for 3 bucks per day, right?  So, what about the local swim & racquet club? It costs over 500 bucks for membership the first year (400 the following years – what a bargain for you). Their pool opened today (a day earlier!), and stays open until the 4th of September (three more weeks!). For five hundred bucks, I want to be able to swim on Christmas freakin’ Day, folks. At least the swim club pool is open 10-9 five days a week, and 1-9 on Sunday (like many things in West Texas, it’s inexplicably closed on Mondays).

The only way to use a pool here for the period when someone would reasonably want a pool to beat the heat is to own your own.  I live in bizarro-world.

What’s New?

Someone (phbt!) recently pointed out that it has been more than two weeks since I posted, which is some sort of rare event. Gee, sorry I haven’t had any particularly stellar blinding insights lately that I had to share.

I’m still happy with the MythTV box, which now has about 180 programs stored on it. I’m planning to get another drive to use just for storing movies, which I have been acquiring from late-night TV regularly now. I also had to stop feeling so packrat-like. I was recording shows that I remember from my childhood, as if I suddenly acquired the ability and desire to watch 45 hours of television each day while still going to work and caring for the Boy.

I’ve added limits to most of my recordings, to make them stop recording more than X number of shows (X can vary from 3 to 10). Exceptions are, of course, the SciFi channel shows, which don’t auto-expire and don’t have storage limits. Yes, I am predictable.

I’m still slowly converting my VHS tapes to DVD. Unless I buy a different piece of furniture for my television, I won’t have room for a separate DVD player or VHS player again, anyway.

Work remains fun and exciting. The two women I work next to need slapping on a daily basis, but it beats being in the Army.

It was 85 on Thursday, and 35 on Friday. Just in time for the big Rodeo Parade.

Three weeks until Game Night.

I’ve got chocolate.

Kwanzaa – a Pan-African Celebration?

According to the Official Kwanzaa Web Site, Kwanzaa isn’t just an artificial holiday invented by an American in order to have a “Black holiday” that explicitly excludes anyone of any other ethnicity.

As an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the world African community, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.

Of course, they neglect to mention that nobody in Africa celebrates Kwanzaa. Why? Because they have enough traditional holidays as it is, they didn’t need to invent one that sounded like a traditional holiday but isn’t.