Gray Flannel Dwarf

8/31/2005

Nero Fiddled, Dubya diddled.

The old lore says that Nero fiddled while the city burned.

Well, Nawlins is sunk, Biloxi is decimated, the whole gulf coast is in bad shape.

…and that makes it a good time for Bush to go out to California and take a photo op.


cswiii @ 8:17 am

8/24/2005

*snort*

Stupidity is writing a letter to credit bureau(s), disputing issues with certain accounts found on your credit record, presumably because your information got leaked out somewhere…

…only to leave a copy of this letter, with the account numbers partially XXXX’ed out, but containing your full name and SSN in the hotel computer’s recycling bin.

People are funny.


Tags: , — cswiii @ 11:09 pm

8/23/2005

Of course.

I find it quite amusing that, as news comes out that the newly-proposed Iraqi constitution stipulates that ‘no law can be passed that contradicts the fixed principles of Islam’s rulings‘, Pat Robertson goes apeshit on Chavez and word comes out that Iran wasn’t making nukes after all.

The disturbing part about all of this, of course, is that

1) We’ve lost 2000 US soldiers in an effort to turn a secular (albeit authoritarian) state into a religious one.
2) There are probably any number of Christians out there who will agree with and listen to Robertson, or at very least, sympathise and support him.
3) There is probably no one in the Bush administration who will agree with or listen to the international investigators in Iran. In all, it’s de ja vu all over again.


cswiii @ 2:27 pm

8/22/2005

Tragic Comic

A few hours ago, CNN had this image on their website. I am glad I was able to find it in my cache, because it’s not displayed anymore. This is, apparently, an artist’s rendering of Eric Rudolph in the courtroom.

What the- who was the courtroom sketch artist, Todd McFarlane, despite the “Richard Miller” credit? Perhaps the artist really, really likes the Punisher series or something?

Maybe some of you comic book fans out there have some better suggestions ;)


cswiii @ 4:15 pm

8/20/2005

NWA on strike

NWA union members are on strike.

I fly from Raleigh to Detroit every week. The only direct flight is NWA. I recently received a letter in the mail, addressed to “Silver Elite” members. As I just got my SE, I was assuming it was my new FF card or something… and then I read it. It was advance warning about the possible strikes.

Ramblings…

I am kind of torn on the whole union thing, and I probably don’t fall along the lines that many on the left. I totally empathise with those looking for better treatment in their respective industries… but I dunno. Working in Detroit, I can’t help but feel that, between my air travel, and the auto industry there, labour unions and industries have a serious disconnect, and I can’t blame it all on the industry giants themselves…

Sometimes I wonder if labour unions have outlived their usefulness, and I am sure that is bordering on heresy to some on the left. I can understand the purposes of unionisation, back in the day. We are all familiar with The Jungle, and we all know about child labour that occurred early on, etc. Unions, then, were useful and perhaps more legitimate.

However, today… I honestly have a hard time being as sympathetic, although if someone can convince me, I am open to it.

Is there someone who can tell me what baggage handlers make? This article says that some start at $8.75/h, and some were, until recently, as high as $20.
Overall, I am estimating $15/h. 15*40*52 is 31k a year, which isn’t mad coin, but hell, inflation hasn’t been that bad in recent years, and this isn’t far from where I was six years ago getting into IT.

…and despite the sometimes long hours I have worked in the past, and am working right now, I have no desire to see IT labour unionisation.

I have an open mind to these things, and am more than willing to listen to union defenders, but I need some tried and true facts, not just the propaganda I see — and it is, what with the bumper stickers and cheesy slogans — on the union billboard on-site.

Just based on my observations, I am currently struggling with having a lot of sympathy with unions much of the time. Maybe someone can change my mind.


Tags: , , , — cswiii @ 1:31 am

8/15/2005

Natalee News Network

I used to think my least favourite news anchor was the annoying Nancy Grace. Next, I stopped being able to watch Joe Scarborough.

Now, it’s only been a few weeks since she’s been on during primetime, and I can’t stand Rita Cosby, although it’s mostly her annoying voice.

However, it’s occurred to me that the common thread woven through all these is the Natalee Holloway “saga”, which has had more coverage than a Michael Jackson visit to Romper Room.

Also, Cosby just pronounced it “Arubia”.

A few weeks ago, I was going to comment about the fact that the one redeeming feature of Fox News is the fact that, while MSNBC is showing crap like MSNBC Investigates, and while CNN is showing schlock like CNN Presents — all weekend long, these two networks show nothing but turds — Fox had news in the evenings.

…and then I changed the channel over to Fox. Nothing but Natalee.

How come Karl Rove couldn’t go missing off some Caribbean island? After all, it would give the networks an entire weekend to cover the plight of endangered whales.

P.S.: MSNBC is now talking about an apparent body part found floating off the coast of Venezuela. They have the dude from America’s Most Wanted on, who talked about the hopes that “this body part is attached to Natalee”.

Talk about a bad choice of words.


cswiii @ 8:24 pm

8/14/2005

Popped!

Huge kudos to the North Carolina General Assembly and to Governor Mike Easley for passing HB392, which raises the cap on alcohol content in beer to 15%. North Carolinians will finally be able to purchase fantastic craft beers previously unavailable in the state, due to an older 6% imposed cap.

More thanks goes out to the folks at Pop the Cap for all their hard work campaigning and lobbying to get this done. Sean, if you’re ever in Apex, let me know — I owe you a round.

For what it’s worth, this is just in time for the World Beer Festival in Durham…


Tags: , — cswiii @ 10:45 pm

Talkin’ David versus Goliath Bike Ridin’ Blues

Did a bit of biking today. I have really been enjoying my bike outings lately. I have been riding the Wake County portion of the American Tobacco Trail as of late, but since Chatham County is being lazy in getting their section complete… (in)convenienthly smack in the middle between Wake and Durham counties, it is getting boring riding the same stretch over and over again.

Thus, today, I got on the road, went about 2 miles down to the Log Pond portion of the Carolina Connection trail, which is also encompassed by US Bike Route 1. Rode that for a while and then looped back onto the ATT and rode home from there… probably did between 15 and 20 miles today, so I’m pretty pleased.

It’s always the first 2 miles or so of hills that get me, then I am fine. I would like to eventually be able to bike the Cape Fear Run, which heads into Wilmington. 140 miles or so… I’ll get there eventually.

Anyway, a large portion of my trip encompassed pieces of New Hill, NC, which is currently embroiled in a battle with schoolyard bully Cary, over the latter’s desires to build a waste treatment plant within the town limits. I lost count of how many Stop Cary signs I saw, and saw many other more amusing ones. Two notables:

  • A toilet sitting out near the road with a stuffed bulldog on top of it, accompanying a sign which read something to the effect of, “If you won’t take ours, we won’t take yours”
  • A sign sitting outside an old, vacant gas station (when was the last time you saw gas for $1.37/1.47?) that read, “Save New Hill, don’t “Waste” It!”

In any case, it was a good ride, and even kind of thought provoking. Next time I may try riding down the ATT, connect onto Log Pond and ride into Moncure, NC. I am sure there will be some interesting stories to learn there, too.

Strings

So, the other day I got a “Local Businesses” guide in the mail. It contains a bunch of phone numbers and ads for various services, as well as some coupons.

Flipping through it, I saw an ad for a gym down the street. I kid you not, there is a coupon that reads as follows:

30 Days
Free Membership
(No strings attached)
Some restrictions may apply


cswiii @ 1:32 am

8/6/2005

A Defense of the PCUSA versus charges of Anti-Semitism

I just read this article from the NYTimes (registration possibly required), titled “Threat to Divest Is Church Tool in Israeli Fight“, which is about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) threatening to divest from companies who, in its opinion, is aiding and/or supplying the Israeli military. I’m kind of disgusted by it, actually.

If Johnnie Cochran played the so-called “race card”, then some of the people interviewed for this article played the full-on anti-Semitism royal flush.

Rabbi Cooper said the Protestant churches were ignoring the current “reality on the ground” – that Israel is preparing to withdraw this month from Gaza and remove settlements there. “Instead of divesting, these churches should be investing,” he said. “There is so much humanitarian need on the ground in the Holy Land. We’re not telling them: ‘Stay out of it. It’s not your business.’ There’s a ton of work to be done.”

He called the churches’ actions “functionally anti-Semitic.” But he said that after attending the conventions of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ this year, he concluded that the resolutions were being “rammed through” by denominational leaders and were not reflective of the churches’ grassroots membership.

I am not so sure I agree with Rabbi Cooper on this and the way he framed his statement, donning the cloak of humanitarianism, when he suggests the need to invest rather than divest. I find it particularly misleading, especially when the debate is about supplying militaries. Furthermore, as protestant leadership organisations go, that of the PCUSA church has been one of the more progressive ones out there; as one might expect, a large plurality of its congregation shares those goals. It is unlikely anything is being “crammed through” its councils, at least.

The companies in question have, of course, voiced their opinion in the debate, too…

The Presbyterians gave a variety of reasons for choosing these five companies. It accused Caterpillar of selling Israel heavy equipment used for demolishing Palestinian homes, and of constructing roads and infrastructure in the occupied territories and Israeli settlements.

The company released a statement saying: “For the past four years, activists have wrongly included Caterpillar in a publicity campaign aimed at advancing their much larger political agendas. Over that same period of time we’ve repeatedly evaluated our position, as have our shareholders, and determined that while the protests occasionally succeed in getting headlines, they neither change the facts nor our position.”

The Presbyterian committee said in its announcement that it included United Technologies Corporation, a military contractor, because a subsidiary provides helicopters used by the Israeli military “in attacks in the occupied territories against suspected Palestinian terrorists.”

A company spokesman, Paul Jackson, responded by e-mail: “UTC has been widely recognized as an ethical and responsible corporation. Work on military programs is stringently regulated by the U.S. government, and UTC complies wholly with all policies and related regulations.”

The church said it identified Motorola because the company has a contract to develop wireless encrypted communications for the Israeli military in the territories and is a “majority investor in one of Israel’s four cell phone companies.”

Norman Sandler, a manager for Motorola on global issues, said the church’s action “came completely out of the blue.” He said the company supplies radio products to Israel, as well as to many Arab countries.

ITT also made the church’s list because, the committee said, it supplies the Israeli military with “communications, electronic and night vision equipment used by its forces in the occupied territories.” A spokesman for ITT did not respond to a message left on Friday afternoon.

Leah Johnson, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, said: “Any assertion that Citigroup supports terrorism in any way is an outrage. We take all possible measures to ensure that our institution is not used by criminals or as a conduit to fund terrorist activities.”

..but as far as I’m concerned, these statements are irrelevant to the issue at hand. In all, it’s total BS. Now, whether an organisation — or individual — comes to believe that the companies in which it or he invests is supporting an environment of turmoil is one thing, and that is the sole opinion of the investor(s). Nothing can change that. However, to play the straw man, to make blanket generalisations, to play the victim, it’s pretty damned pitiful.

If this is what the PCUSA church believes — that’s fine, and if, from its worldview, the best way to reduce violence and escalation is to divest from companies it believes to promote these things, that’s its own prerogative.

If I see two kids throwing rocks at each other, I don’t care who started it, I don’t care who has caused more injury, I am certainly not going to supply either one of those kids with more ammunition, and I can’t see how it would possibly improve the situation by doing so. Nevermind Biblical teachings about always turning the other cheek… how is aiding either party going to help things?

If the PCUSA church truly believes that these companies escalate the tension in the middle east, it has every right — and perhaps even obligation — to avoid doing so. Doing otherwise would mean blood on its hands. The church as a body should, in the vast majority of cases, be a conscientious objector. The closest to any rational pro-bellum argument that I can think of is that of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who did ponder a great deal about — and indeed lost his life over — whether it is ever righteous for Christians as a whole to support a military resistance against oppression. This said, the struggles between Israelis and Palestinians hardly meet the burden of proof for such an argument.

Whether it is an investment in Halliburton, supplying the US military in Iraq, or an investment in a company who apparently supplies the Israeli military, the church has no place in promoting violence. To say the church is “anti-Semitic” because of this decision is a cop-out, and a weak, desparate one at that. I find it all terribly disappointing.

The PCUSA church has done a great deal to strengthen awareness of social injustices around the world . Some might even go so far as to argue that it has come at the cost of church membership, noting the ever increasing vigilence with regards to injustice, at the same time that the PCUSA’s congregation finds itself in a steady population decline, as it focuses more on social issues and less on retention. Even if this were the case, though — and such a correlation may not be valid — to follow such a guiding principle to its end does not lessen the righteousness of such goals. The point stands — I can’t understand how refusing to support military-industrial complexes can be seen as a “morally reprehensible” action — much less “functionally anti-Semitic”.


cswiii @ 1:01 am

8/4/2005

Assuming the mantle: Fiscal Responsibility

Fiscal conservatism is dead…at least from a partisan perspective, anyway. I’ve been saying it for a long time, and it’s good to see the media beginning to cover this notion. Per MSNBC/WaPo, “GOP lawmakers embrace their spending side

From the article:

“If you look at fiscal conservativism these days, it’s in a sorry state,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of only eight House members to vote against the $286.5 billion transportation bill that was passed the day before the recess. “Republicans don’t even pretend anymore.”

I’m also convinced that this is a serious opportunity for the Democrats, but not in a “swing voter” sort of way, so much as it is the opportunity to assume the mantle of fiscal responsibility. Democrats have long been viewed as the party of big government, and in the past that might have held some water. It’s different now.

These days, it’s just the opposite. While the current administration has been on a spending binge like none other, it didn’t start with GWB. Bush I and Reagan also had a love affair with federal monies, far outweighing Democrats over the past several decades.

So why not just assume the mantle? It’s the oldest trick in the GOP book — take a popular or controversial topic on peoples’ minds and proclaim themselves the saviour thereof. Why not borrow a page or two from them? It’s outright good strategy.

Think this is just an absurd idea? Consider this:

“There’s a rising level of frustration with the disconnect between where the vast majority of conservatives are in this country and how Congress is behaving,” said former representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose Club for Growth political action committee finances the campaigns of conservative candidates. “There’s going to be a wake-up call sooner or later.”

The tectonic plates of political parties are always shifting. During the civil rights era, a major political shift occured when many traditional southern democrats moved across party lines to the right, when they didn’t support the push for equal rights. During the 80s, Paul Weyrich and friends persuaded Jerry Falwell to mobilise his followers to march towards the right by promising a new religious revolution in America.

In these cases, and countless numbers of other smaller shifts, promises were made, common beliefs were held, but in reality, those groups were courted in an effort to increase the voter base. It may not sound like a pleasant way of doing things, but it is political reality.

Flake and Toomey’s statements in the quotes above are, I suspect, only stirrings amidst a larger undertow of discontent. I don’t doubt that there are a great deal of disaffected fiscal conservatives that can be added to the ranks of independents and political moderates who have grow weary — and wary — of the Right’s drunken pork-barrel frat parties.

What’s more, this can be done under the Democratic mantra of leveling the playing field. Consider this bit from the same article:

To fiscal conservatives, it is not just the total cost of the bills but also their content. At 1,752 pages, the highway bill is the most expensive public works legislation in U.S. history, complete with 6,376 earmarked projects, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Kern County, Calif., home of powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R), snagged $722 million in projects, or nearly $1,000 per person. Los Angeles County, with clogged highways and 10 million people, will receive barely $60 per resident.

When something like this happens, they should be called out, and doubly rebuked, first for the excessive spending, but also for the unbalanced allocation of federal funds. In doing so, the opportunity is presented to welcome those who are fed up with the GOP’s massive spending while at the same time staying true to Democratic ideals.

The Democratic party simply needs to claim the mantle, but not by immediately criticising the Right. Doing this just inflames the rhetoric. Rather, the left needs to begin referring to itself as the “fiscally responsible party” and run with it.

The same thing can and should eventually be done with other supposedly-GOP traditions — personal freedoms, privacy, etc… because in reality, none of these are espoused by today’s neocon-run GOP. However, I believe that fiscal responsibility should be the first thing to which the Democrats should lay claim.

It’s like a big game of capture-the-flag, and in an effort to take over the playing field, the GOP has left their flag unprotected. It’s time to take it out from under their noses. For far too long the GOP has been able to simply take up the sword for some perceived common ideal, whereas the left has been perceived as the beacon for unorganised or loosely-organised political interests. However, having abandoned its base on many traditional, so-called “conservative” planks — and indeed, admirable ones, from the perspective of idealistic political populism — they’ve left the gate wide open.

Partisans have stuck with the GOP for two reasons, I’m guessing. One, because as I’ve said in the past, people want to be part of the “popular crowd”, and with the GOP in charge, who else could be moreso? However, I’m less convinced, anymore that this is the only reason — or at least, is the reason for only a certain subset of current Republicans. The other is the fact that they’ve simply been shown no real alternative. The GOP has abandoned the mantle espoused by traditional ideal-driven “conservatives”, but no one has taken advantage of this… and certainly not the Democratic Party. Already hesitant to change their ways in the first place — some of them are, after all, conservative — and having been shown no alternative, they’ve stayed where they are, despite being ever more disaffected.

People talk suspiciously about the results in the 2004 elections. They point to polls being rigged, and point out that exit polls had far different results. I don’t buy it. If that much of the electorate was gypped, I think we’d have seen far more angry voters, such as those in some Florida 2000 precincts. Rather, in my mind, the exit polls were so different precisely because people were embarrassed or ashamed to publicly voice support Bush, but hadn’t been reassured enough to privately vote against him. It is these voters who need assurance that the Democratic party espouses their traditionally-rooted beliefs.

Today’s Democratic leadership needs to espouse fiscal responsibility, needs to strive for it, and needs to call the Right out when they fail to deliver it. This is the only way to shift the political lines in the Democrats’ favour. This is not about a move to the centre, it’s about pulling the centre back into the fold. By staking claim to the traditional, populist American political ideals that the GOP once cherished but now abandons, the left can gain and retain a voting constituency. Furthermore, this can be done without alienating either the hard left or the ideals espoused by liberally-minded partisans.

These ideas are traditional common American values which were hijacked by the GOP, have since been abandoned, and it is the left, anymore, which truly espouses them. The left has not, however, been ardent in vocalising these claims, but if the Democratic Party truly wants to regain any sort of political bearing, it seems evident to me that it needs to begin doing so.


cswiii @ 10:01 am

8/3/2005

zero-savings part deux

Well, the “zero-savings” story has now had several iterations on dKos, and while many have the right idea, there are still some who want to go ahead and blame the current administration for any impending ills. I feel that’s terribly misplaced.

Someone in this thread made a good point… this is a political issue, but it’s not a partisan one.

Where do I stand on this? There is a definite line that can, and should, be drawn between compassion for those who are truly down on their luck and those who are in trouble of their own making, and while higher energy costs, or easy credit, or the housing bubble may be easy culprits, none of these can be solely to blame, and nor can one political party be blamed for this.

Granted, changes made by the recent administration will likely make it a lot harder for people who fall in any coming recession. However, you can’t blame them for past decisions made by individuals who have failed to grasp the concept of “opportunity cost”. To make this a partisan argument doesn’t shine well on the left.


cswiii @ 3:52 pm

8/2/2005

“Booming Economy” at the expense of personal savings

CNN/Money is currently featuring an article titled “The zero-savings problem“. It notes that:

Even as a government report Tuesday showed the national savings rate at zero — that’s right nada — the rise in the value of homes has given the average U.S. household a net worth of greater than $400,000, according to a separate report from the Federal Reserve.

It goes on to note, though, that people are using this new-found equity to put cash in hand. And lest one think “zero percent” is an overreaction:

June was only the second month the rate was at zero since the monthly figure started being calculated in 1959. The annual rate for 2004 was 1.8 percent; the last time the annual rate was lower was 1934.

Strong auto sales in June played a big part in the latest read on the savings rate. The government counts the entire price of the autos purchased during the month, even though most consumers pay for vehicles over time.

But even if that zero savings rate is a bit of a quirk, the trend towards lower and lower savings rates is unmistakable. In May, before the current “employee pricing” offer from automakers, savings rate was only 0.4 percent, or 40 cents for every $100 of take-home pay.

According to the article, more and more homeowners are saving less, opting instead to take out equity in their home and spend. What’s worse, it’s suggested that this is the one thing holding the the US economy — touted as thriving by the current administration — afloat.

Again, per the article:

“We’ve backed ourselves into a very dangerous situation,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The economy is dependent on everyone consuming like crazy. If everyone heard my diatribe and said, ‘Yeah, we better start saving,’ the economy would go into a recession.”

So, okay, people are saving less, and credit card use is up… these are old hat. But to have savings hovering near zero and have the ensuing spending be one of the only things that keep the economy from going into a tailspin? That’s bad news folks.

This will only be further impacted by the housing bubble… and while I don’t expect the bubble to violently burst — housing is quite illiquid, compared to other investments, as people need places to live — the fact that people are using the equity in their homes to pay down their bills and debt is a frightening proposition, as even a 5% drop in home values could mean people have leveraged themselves into negative equity… not to mention those who have been duped into zero-equity home loans.

And finally, I can’t shake out of my mind the recent concessions handed over to the credit card companies by BushCo. The companies can now charge more and it’ll be harder to file for bankruptcy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to disavow personal responsibility. Consumers shouldn’t treat their CCs like cash, and if people can’t be persuaded to save more than fifty cents on every hundred bucks they earn, I can’t say I’m very impressed. At the same time, however, the stage has been set for those in tenuous situations to fail — and if/when they do, I can’t see how it wouldn’t have negative affect on the economy.

I forsee the possibility of us all being stuck in a very precarious situation. If people don’t repay their debts, they get bludgeoned by Ma Credit. If they don’t continue their consumerism, though, the economy goes downhill real fast.

I’ve never been a predictor of economic doom before, but this is frightening stuff…and yet this administration keeps telling us all that the economy is doing just fine…

…then again, has it ever told the truth before?


cswiii @ 5:48 pm