Friday, May 30, 2008

Primaries

I hereby place my vote for the Ugly Evangelical Democratic Primary for Cookie Monster. Having made my vote, with the candidate I chose winning 100% of the vote, I demand that it be fully counted and given a delegation at the Democratic National Convention. I know it's probably against party rules to give a delegation to a registered Republican, representing only himself and not a state, and voting for a fictional character... but evidently the rules don't matter - at least, that will be apparent if any delegates from Florida or Michigan are seated at the convention.

Seating delegates from Florida, where both Clinton and Obama were on the ballot is a lesser abandoning of the rules, but to count Michigan - where Clinton was the only major candidate to remain on the ballot, and where scores of would-be voters went to the Republican primary just to cast a meaningful vote - is absurd.

The rules were well-established going into the primaries. The rules were flagrantly violated. The penalty for violating the rules was clearly laid out. If the rules are now changed it is remarkably unfair - and if the reason for doing so is making sure every voice is heard (no matter what the rules are), then I demand that my vote for Cookie Monster be recognized with delegates.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Special Kind of Frustrating

Once upon a time, there was a girl I was great friends with. I wanted something more out of the relationship, she - not so much. But for years I nursed the hope that one day things would work out. And I knew that if I got the chance, I wanted to take her to a good Chinese food restaurant for a first date because I knew she really loved Chinese food.

So when I found out that a guy she was interested in was taking her to a Chinese food place for dinner one night, I was profoundly jealous - not only because he got the girl I wanted, but because he used my great idea (disclosure: this is coincidence, because I never really knew the guy)... but for him, it worked. And it must have worked well, because not long after that, they were getting married (disclosure: yes, I know that it probably took more than a single genius idea to accomplish that. This just makes it sound more dramatic, I reckon).

To watch someone else use the plan you had on a girl you liked, but successfully - to watch the intended effect play out in her life, but with another guy in your place... that's a special kind of frustrating.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Better Regulation

From the RGJ:
---
Before the town hall meeting, Obama stopped briefly at the Las Vegas residence of Felicitas Rosel and Francisco Cano, who are worried they might lose the home they bought three years ago with an adjustable-rate mortgage. “At the beginning it was OK, but all of a sudden, it started going up and up,” Rosel told Obama.

Tighter regulation of lenders could have prevented their plight, Obama said. “A lot of this wouldn’t have happened if we had done a better job of regulating the banks and the mortgages. Nobody was watching them,” he said.
---

Wha's left unsaid: tighter regulation may have prevented the problem. It would likely have prevented it by prohibiting them from buying a home in the first place. There are probably some people who didn't need fancy mortgages but got them anyway. But there were many more (I am guessing) that needed fancy mortgages to be able to "afford" what they purchased.

So we have the quandry - in hindsight, we wag our fingers at the banks - "shame on your for your loose credit!" As it was going on, we cheered the increase in home ownership rates - "More people are living the American Dream!" We need clarity when people talk about the implications about their calls for more regulation. There is no middle ground - we have to be able to admit directly that we should have prevented the Canos from owning a home. Better lending standards squeeze out those on the low end of the ladder. Even if the government takes the (in my opinion) wrong-headed tack of propping up overvalued homes, it will only discourage home ownership by keeping homes unaffordable; unless we want the government to be in the business of buying overpriced homes for people, we can't have it both ways.

I am therefore curious about the significance of Obama making a photo-op stop at this couple's house. The implied message - "it's the bank's fault you might lose your home" is a half-truth. Obama's solution, implemented retroactively (as he seems to suggest the problem was in the past) means they never get the house they stand to lose in the first place. The truest message would be "it's the banks fault you were ever allowed to purchase this house to begin with." That is, however, much less people-friendly, and I doubt the Canos would want the photo-op at their house if that message were clearly understood.

Edit: Another source for the story confirms my suspicion - the Canos are not big wage-earners. They are a maid and a porter at the Bellagio. There is, I'm sorry to say, probably no reason they should ever have been allowed to purchase in the first place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Local News

Prices continue to work.

(CNN) -- At a time when gas prices are at an all-time high, Americans have curtailed their driving at a historic rate.

The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded.

Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.

If you can't beat them, starve them

If you want to be shocked at what the international community will allow to happen without intervention, Zimbabwe is a good candidate to look at. A country once considered the bread-basket of Africa, it has been hard hit by famine ever since white land-owners were forcibly driven out of the country and their land handed over to political favorites who knew nothing about farming. Switching from being a net exporter of food to a subsistence level of farming was but one of the many problems Robert Mugabe has given his country.

Now, in the grip of this famine and in the wake of a less-than-favorable election, somply beating, burning and torturing the rural citizens who were accused of voting for the opposition is not enough. With power over the centralized distribution of food comes the ability to distribute food to your supporters, but not the opposition.

The upcoming election will almost certainly fall to Mugabe, not the opposition. It will be a farce, an outcome determined by force, torture, rape, and starvation. But will the international community have the courage to denounce it as such... or will it "accept the will of the people" and treat Mugabe as a legitimate winner?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Behold the Spud

Both I and my roommate had seen at least one commercial for a restaurant in Reno with an interesting premise. The meals are all centered on the potato - normally, the baked potato. The restaurant name - Spudistro - gives you the basic premise, all in a name.

What I didn't know was that this is a completely original restaurant. Owned by a mother and her daughter, with a vaguely Minnesotan accent, they work one shift - 11-7, closed on Sundays. We didn't know their hours, or really anything about them when we went out for our normal Friday night dinner. We arrived at about 7:05 pm, the door propped open with a "Closed" sign clearly visible. I walked up to at least take a good look at the menu, when the owner came to the door. I Asked if they were really closed, and she said yes. But she may have read the disappointment on my face, because she mentioned she still had some potatoes and asked if we wanted to just place an order to go.

I ordered the "Slide Mountain" - a baked potato, covered in pulled pork, barbeque sauce and sour cream. Some other combinations were a beef and broccoli potato, a potato with pulled pork, jalapeƱos and onions, and a potato smothered in cheese, chili, and onions. One of us also got a sourdough bowl of potato cheddar soup, also evidently quite tasty. They were all delicious, filling, and cooked perfectly - soft but firm, and tasty through and through.

I like to support local businesses. I like to support original ideas. And I like to support friendly people that go out of their way to offer service. All of these things are true of Spudistro. You should check it out.

To find it, the website doesn't look too informative. But it's at 624 Prater in Sparks, in the shopping center on the north-west corner of Prater and McCarran, in the Longs Drugs center, right behind the McDonalds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Abuse of Power

I heard on the radio this morning that oil executives are once more being called into the Senate to testify. That's perhaps more obscene than the Farm Bill, if it's possible, because at this point it's the Senate of the United States simply using its power and authority to bully individual US citizens.

I can't help but suspect that there are only 2 reasons for doing this yet again. Reason 1: A parade of oil executives distracts people from the fact that while stopping 77,000 barrels per day of oil from going to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a nice symbolic move, it pales in comparison to the 1 million barrels per day that we could be getting from ANWR, and that a de facto ban on new exploration contributes to the plateau of the oil supply which is the actual cause of rising prices. Reason 2: They are hoping to catch some executive perjuring himself in a misstatement, so they can throw the book at him. Just like the embarassing baseball steroid investigations, they just want people punished - for their statements about whats going on if they can't manage to find anything substantial to punish.

Seriously - I didn't mind when the Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006. But surely this is simply farce. Evidently, we elect 100 people from around the country to wag their fingers at people. They'd better be careful though - I don't want to have to pay them disability for the case of carpal tunnel syndrome they are simply begging for.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Farms, Expensive Subsidies, and Cheap Talk

Given Senator Obama's support for the recent travesty of a Farm Bill, (which I am assuming is true, with a later switch to "no vote" once it was clearly going to pass, though the final vote tallies show all the candidates not voting on the final bill - cowardly for all concerned, in my book) there are two possible explanations I see.

1) He really does want to change but considers support for the Farm Bill a necessary evil to get elected president, from which place change may come.

2) He's just talk, and nothing more.

If option #1 is true, then he has nothing but good intentions, but that and $4.00 will get you a gallon of gas. Personally, I suspect #2 is true. This farm bill is so embarassing that no one who supported it should deserve reelection, on the basis of being unfit for the office (disclosure: I typed that before deciding to look up who voted how from Nevada).

Representing Nevada, voting to approve the final bill:
Senate:
Ensign: Nay
Reid: Yea

House of Representatives:
Berkley: Yea
Heller: Nay
Porter: Nay

At least Nevada's Republicans were on the right side of this travesty.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's A Busy Summer, Movie-Wise

But the movie I'm most looking forward to isn't Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's not Narnia: Prince Caspian. It's not The Incredible Hulk. It wasn't Iron Man. It's Kung Fu Panda.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When Ideology Trumps Reason

From the LA Times:

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attempted to forge a path out of the state's financial mess Wednesday by offering concessions to both Democrats, who are demanding that schools and other services not be cut, and Republicans disdainful of new taxes...

"As the deficit grew these past few months, I knew that we could not solve this crisis by cuts alone," the governor said in presenting his proposals. "We had to get creative."

But state Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland) called the revised budget "beneath a governor of this great state. It's telling our citizens: This is it. Our best years are behind us."

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis called the sales tax idea -- a linchpin of the governor's plan -- "a deal-killer."

To the leader of the State Senate, I'd say this: for now, they are. The entire country is having fiscal problems right now. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending that today is better than yesterday financially is foolish nonsense, and your citizens deserve better. You should be ashamed of your cowardice. Unless you really think that this is a great time to really ratchet up taxes to pay for everything you'd like to be able to do, you had better prioritize what you absolutely have to do.

The the leader of the State Assembly I'd say this: There are three options - even more crippling debt, cutting spending, or raising taxes. You aren't going to be able to convince the other side of the aisle to cut spending enough, and I dare say you lack the stomach for it yourself. Postponing the problem will only make it worse. And if you are utterly dug in to your current position, you will be overrun by grim reality. If you can't win all the spending cuts you'd like, then you are better off winning some spending cuts and agreeing to some tax increase, so that the debt you currently face can be addressed.

Your state has major cities declaring bankruptcy for crying out loud. Times are tough. But on you is laid the burden to find a solution - and sitting across the aisle yelling at the other side doesn't count.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In Which I Contemplate Moving

Since the wildfire that closed down 395 during rush hour several weeks ago, my latent "I should really move to Carson City" feeling has been growing stronger. I'm currently under a lease until November or so, but since I'm spending pretty much all my extra money on paying down my credit card right now, that's just fine.

The options, of course, are purchasing or renting. I plan on being in Carson City long term, so purchasing is a fine option, even in a weak market. Given that I'm a buyer, the weak housing prices are even more attractive. The thing is, purchasing takes money, and I don't have much. And if I had it right now, it'd be paying off my debt.

But there have been a few properties that have attracted my attention. There's a couple houses about 3/4 of a mile from where I work - both 3 bed, ~950 sqft. One's up for $133,000 and another is $155,000. There's also some townhome-style condos about 2 miles away (though literally right off the new freeway), with one priced under $80,000 for a 2 bed 1,300 sqft. That's a really attractive price. And there are a few other properties that are both well-located and affordable for me - so even though these will probably sell, I'm not likely to run out of options before I can accumulate the needed funds.

Renting - it's not really a good option in Carson City. All the apartments I like are so expensive it's just not worth it. Or they are income-controlled, and I make too much to live there. Purchasing is the way to go, as I can build equity and claim the mortgage interest tax write-off.

But that's my plan right now. It becomes more attainable as my debt keeps shrinking, and with housing prices finaly slipping back to where I can afford to buy something with a real foundation, it might become a reality in the course of the coming year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Temple of Doom, Nevada-Style

In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the big bad guy likes to pull people's hearts out of their chest. This, obviously, kills them. And it's a beautiful picture for what the Nevada teacher's union wants to do to the state economy.

Another apt picture is the story of the goose who laid the golden egg. The farmer gets greedy, and slices open the goose, hoping to get much more gold now, instead of waiting for it to reliably deliver.

With the economy down and the gaming industry already laying off people because times are hard; with gas prices pinching auto traffic to the state and jet fuel prices pinching airlines; and with the housing market beating up on construction employment - it takes blind fools to think that raising taxes by 44% on the biggest industry in the state won't be a major blow.

The profits made in business aren't a pot of money that we can draw from through taxes without consequence. It so happens that people like their money, and the ability to get big pots of money is the whole reason they are in business. The casinos will stay in business, but it will be their employees who suffer. It will be lost construction jobs when they don't expand and rennotave. It's the industries that support gaming that will suffer.

In the end, the teacher's union will get its tax increase. And it will fall squarely on the back of people making $7 an hour who will end up making $0 per hour. And that really makes me mad. It's some of the 197,200 people who are currently employed by the casino hotel industry in the state, making a pittance even compared to teachers, who will get the shaft.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Empowered?

From the New York Times:

"With more years out of the workforce to care for family, combined with lower wages and a greater life expectancy, it's clear that simply being a woman in our society may jeopardize your financial security," Cindy Hounsell, the study's lead researcher, said in a statement.

Ummm... no. I'm not saying gender discrimination doesn't exist, but at least one and a half of the reasons listed here aren't due to "simply being a woman." Choosing to care for your family ahead of pursuing a career is a choice. Reduced income because of that choice could affect your financial security, but the choice is the cause - not the fact that you are a woman.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Love and Prostitutes

I admit, I considered not linking this article. It contains frank and, depending on the feelings of the reader, profane mentions of sexual acts. But it's not written to be titillating, and I think the article would suffer if it were left out.

The article is in the Nevada Sagebrush (our University's student paper), and is about the experience of the columnist, who visited the Mustang Ranch with the ornery intention to go cuddle (literally, as in "no sex acts at all") with a prostitute and talk politics. What he ended up getting was not what he expected.

The writing is quite frank, and I decided to link to it despite the offense it may cause some readers because it reminded me of a crucial lesson about people all around us who are so very desperate to be loved, and the impact of just a small ray of light into that world. But those people are usually, if not always wrapped in immorality that we will, rightly, find shocking.

I'm not sure what practical lesson I can apply from this, but in the end I agree with a commenter on the Sagebrush website: it's one of the best articles I've ever read, period.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Interpretations

There's two ways to read this story. One is that the man was a legitimate threat, and was detained for the reason (which is why I suspect this was released - "See, we were right!"). The other is that the man became a suicide bomber as a result of his experience at Guantanamo Bay.

The same evidence can be read with different conclusions. It depends more on what you were inclined to believe before than on what the story "proves."

Gas Tax Holiday?

Not for Nevada. Even if the ludicrous proposal suggested by John McCain and repeated by Hillary Clinton were to become law (suspending the 18.4 cents/gallon federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day), Nevada won't see any beneficial effect at all (not that I expect one for anyone else).

Evidently, there's a state law that increases the state gas tax to offset any decline in the federal gas tax.

But if the proposal were to go through, it's likely that incresed demand would push the price back up nationwide anyway, in which case they get no benefit either, but our price for gas will be 18.4 cents per galon higher.

There's only one reason why I'll probably vote for John McCain instead of just staying home. I expect the Democrats to retain control of Congress, and I don't trust either party with control of both elected branches of government any more. It's definitely not because of head-scratchers like this one. He may as well join Hillary Clinton in expressly stating that he just doesn't trust economists.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Strangely Awesome

I find it strangely awesome that when galaxies collide, they do so without any stars in the galaxies actually touching. It gives you an idea of just how empty galaxies really are, and how far away they must be to appear so solid.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Oil Companies: How Profitable Are They?

In the interest of providing perspective on the "Exxon made $40 billion in profit!!!!" hysteria that seems to come around once every quarter these days, I decided to look up just how profitable the oil and gas industry is compared to other similar industries. On Yahoo Finance, the industry can be found within the breakout for the "Basic Materials Sector."

Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, etc are in the underlined category. Even within their general industry sector, their profits are hardly exemplary. They might make a lot of profit but it's because they are huge companies, not because they are extortionately squeezing the people.

Sector: Basic Materials
IndustryProfit Margin
Silver27.30
Industrial Metals & Minerals20.40
Copper18.20
Oil & Gas Equipment & Services14.90
Oil & Gas Drilling & Exploration14.60
Independent Oil & Gas14.10
Steel & Iron13.70
Agricultural Chemicals12.60
Gold12.30
Major Integrated Oil & Gas9.40
Aluminum8.50
Oil & Gas Pipelines6.10
Chemicals - Major Diversified5.80
Oil & Gas Refining & Marketing5.70
Synthetics4.10
Specialty Chemicals3.30
Nonmetallic Mineral Mining1.90

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Random Sentences

I was recently tagged by Ben, my political doppelganger. The rule is to pick the nearest book to you, turn to page 123 and paste the 6th, 7th, and 8th sentences up. Then, as you desire, you can tag 5 more people.

My random sentences come from The Dilbert Future. I had to use phrases from the comic panels, because there wasn't enough text on page 123. My sentences:

"Ratbert, we'd like you to be the director of marketing for the company we're starting. Okay, what do I do? Be as annoying and illogical as you can."

This was a more interesting read than the one I answered at work on Jeff's blog. That came from the Department of Labor's Dictionary of Titles. That was... dry.

If cousins Ken and Steve, my sister, Dawson, and Jose would be so kind as to add their random sentences (as well as anybody else who cares to try), I'd find it amusing.

Friday, May 02, 2008

News Flash: Prices Work

I've suggested before that making gas expensive is the best way to reduce consumption on a national level, beyond the efficacy of energy policy mandates, and with little to no effort on the part of legislators. It required no tax credits, no legislation and no minimum-sales requirements, but a dramatically growing segment of the population has decided that 8mpg vehicles just don't cut it with $4 a gallon gas looming on the horizon.

But it gets better than that. Besides buying smaller cars, some people are choosing to simply drive less in their large vehicles. And the beauty of prices is that it lets every individual choose how they are going to respond. Some people will just cut back in other areas of life and drive as they always have. Some will choose mass transit. Some will drive less or slower. Some will choose to carpool. And some will buy more efficient vehicles. But people get to choose the solution that best works for them. This minimizes the burden on the people as a whole without the government needing to try to micromanage anything.

"How the downsizing of America’s vehicle fleet will affect fuel consumption is still largely unknown. When gas prices rise, as they are now, many drivers simply drive less to save money. But there are some indications that the trend toward smaller vehicles will reduce the nation’s fuel use. In California, motorists bought 4 percent less gasoline in January than they did the year before, a drop of more than 58 million gallons, according to the Oil Price Information Service."

It's a burden on the people to have to pay more for gas. But vehicle emissions are a HUGE part of total CO2 emissions, and if you want to reduce that, it will be costly. The best way to mitigate that burden is to give people the most flexibility in responding to it.