Friday, April 29, 2011

Brownstown Michigan. A downtown with no sidewalks..

Just a post to remind people that not all politics come from Lansing or Washington..

We live in Brownstown Township.  There are nine people on the Downtown Development Authority.  They seem like a decent bunch.  The DDA gets its budget from part of the property taxes paid by the people who live within the boundaries of the downtown area, which is a big chunk of the community actually.  It was set up that way years back.  The DDA legislation in Michigan was originally intended for blighted areas like Benton Harbor or Pontiac or Flint to direct some property taxes into a separate account that local officials could use at their discretion to eliminate blight and restore the downtown's viability.  As the area improved and tax rolls increased, the DDA's budget grew along with it.    

Then, completely undeveloped communities like Brownstown got on board and came up with their own DDA's even though its hard to see how vacant overgrown sections of woods and grass fields could be considered "blight".  Its all relative.  

Around here you can't actually tell when you're approaching or leaving our downtown near Telegraph Road.  There really isn't much here to distinguish it except a mix of new and old neighborhoods, apartment complexes, party stores, gas stations, bars, some light industry, graveled parking areas, strip malls, vacant land, prairie grass fields,  etc..  Three stories would qualify as a skyscraper. So there is no real downtown.  not yet anyway.   But if you read through the latest  DDA newsletter you will see they are working to turn this here hicktown into a genuine downtown through some really big initiatives like ...  the Facade Improvement Program.   Because more customers will stop in if the place doesn't look like a craphole. But sharpen your pencil before you come looking for cash ...
 
The applicant and architect will also be required to execute a “Fa├žade Improvement Agreement” to access program funds. In addition to all required forms, architectural renderings and/or project descriptions must be presented in sufficient detail to demonstrate the exact scope of work.
Well, I'm no Facade Improvement subject matter expert.  But I do live within the Brownstown DDA,   the only downtown in the world where there aren't sidewalks and you have to walk in the ditch alongside the road whenever you leave your street.  Its common to see people walking or even pushing a stroller downtown in the gravel shoulder along Sibley or Telegraph Road while semi-trucks blast past them on their way to the I-75 entrance ramp.  When you take a stroll downtown here you should always wear hiking boots and an orange reflective safety vest.

But hey, we have some cool new bike trails through the woods and soon a splash park for the kids.  And some spiffy new facades on party stores and bars.   But we don't have nor are we even planning for sidewalks along the roads through our humble little downtown.  I say dump all the other projects until we have sidewalks downtown.    Or at least a bike trail...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reacting to the fall of the dollar, if the stories are true this time..

There is a lot of clamor around the net about the incipient fall of the US dollar and how the world's financial system will soon be rebuilt with a new global currency leaving the dollar in the scrap heap of history, decimating the American economy in its wake. As the story goes, global investors are now dumping US Treasury Bonds and this will soon cause interest rates to skyrocket in the USA which will lead to a fall-off-the-table effect to the value of the dollar and with it American purchasing power.

I'm a bit skeptical in that I have been hearing this same doomsday prediction for decades but I recognize this time it really could all be just around the corner. Nothing would surprise me anymore. Its not a secret that the US and global financial systems are essentially giant houses of cards built with IOU's.

The only thing that makes a currency have value is confidence that you will be able to exchange that piece of paper for something of value later. When public confidence in the future value of currency  wanes, people holding them will want to trade them for something of real value before its too late.   It can turn into a death spiral as lack of confidence leads to massive sell-offs and vice versa. 

To prevent or offset this scenario I think President Obama and the Congress need to enact some measures to restore confidence, and now would be good.  People need to see that there is a navigable plan out of the mess because all they are hearing now is that there isn't.  To have any chance at controlling the debt requires both less spending and increased tax revenue. 

A part of the plan to restore confidence has to include provisions to reduce oil prices.  I think we need to begin releasing some of our strategic petroleum reserves to cool off the speculative oil investment which is skyrocketing prices and squeezing our recovery. The whole point of taxpayers buying oil on the open market just to store it in caverns underground was for future national security reasons, and if impending economic collapse doesn't rate as a national security issue, I can't imagine what would. Secondly, we need to open up more licensing of US land and coast for regulated oil drilling.  Even though actual production from new sites might be months or years off, just the prospect of increasing supplies will help cool off demand for futures.

It would also help if there was a concerted National effort for conservation of gasoline (as if the $4 gasoline wasn't enough prodding).  For example there could be initiatives to reduce the US Mail to 3 days delivery per week, promote public schools to convert to 4-day weeks, direct road crews to time stoplights on major roads to ease traffic congestion, and promote general public awareness to do the little things like carpool when possible, keep the tires fully inflated and skip the drive-through and walk-in instead. Anything that enables us to use less oil will help build a glut in supply and eventually lower the market price which will help pump money into the economy and help rebuild consumer confidence, the most precious of all commodities.

And Americans can keep in mind we have some fundamental strengths in our economy. We are the world's largest producer and exporter of food and no matter what oil or gold may fetch on the open market, you can't eat them. We have by far the world's most capable military and defense systems. We have tremendous reserves of fresh water, preserved natural beauty and a wide range of natural resources. We have a stable political and legal system and highly developed utility infrastructure and transportation system. So as bad as the doomsday predictors make it out to be, where else in the world would be a better place to invest when it all comes tumbling down.
I hope the ones betting their fortunes on the demise of the US economy end up on the wrong side of history and their short-sells.  But first we need the partisans in Washington recognize how silly they look arguing over trifles when the perhaps the biggest challenge this Nation ever faced might be just around the corner.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Regarding that Tea Party moniker

I think using the term "Tea Party" to describe the modern conservative political alliance that goes by that name is incorrect and in a way even insults American history.  The theme of the original Tea Party was "No taxation without representation".  American colonists rejected how the British Legislature could impose taxes on the colonies while the colonists had no vote in the British elections.  Legitimate gripe I'd say.  This rebellion in Boston eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

The folks in the modern Tea Party have always had the opportunity to vote for the elected officials who imposed the system of taxes under which they now live.  If one day they looked around Washington and saw no representation there, it wasn't because they had been disenfranchised or had their voting rights violated, it was because they were never interested enough to do the hard work to get one of their candidates elected or perhaps their candidates were too extreme to attract enough votes from the general population.  In either case, the Tea Partiers can't adopt "No taxation without representation" as their theme.  Maybe "We want a do-over." would be more applicable.

As for one of their missions, I do agree with opposing Federal Government run amok. Just because there is a real or perceived need in this world does not automatically mean the US Government has the authority to try to do something about it. Government actions should be tied to legitimate powers enacted by law, not just the whims of whoever currently holds the office, or the bench for that matter. If that was the main focus of the Tea Party, I might be more likely to jump on board.   And I also agree that the National debt is a calamity for the near and long-term future of the USA and that federal spending needs to be pared back dramatically to reduce budget deficits.

But there is more to the mission in this ragtag political alliance, and that's what prevents me from joining. One, I see the far-right Buchananite-Paleocons who hold views like Abraham Lincoln was wrong about everything, the US Dollar should revert to a gold standard right now and that Washington should close our borders to foreign trade. Two, I see the religious fanatics who think the US government should put scientists under religious oversight and impose a Christian version of Sharia Law on the population. Those are deal breakers for me.

The vision of the Tea Party regarding the financial system is not attainable without first demolishing everything currently in place and starting over from scratch. If the Ron Paul faction could have their way and kill the Fed and put the US dollar on a gold standard, we might theoretically be better off as a Nation decades down the road, but it would collapse the economy and bring everything and I mean everything to a grinding halt in the here and now.  There is no way to get to here from there without mass chaos and economic havoc.  Its unrealistic to think a complete economic meltdown in a Nation of some 300 million people would benefit any of us.   Yet that is a main plank in the Tea Party platform.

I would like to see the GOP nominate a reasonable candidate who has a genuine chance of winning the Presidential election in 2012. Jon Huntsman would be my early choice for the nominee. The GOP will not win the White House if the nominee is a Tea Party approved candidate like Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin Michelle Bachman or Donald Trump. Americans may seem to like extremists if you look at Internet polls and the comment section in political blogs, but when it comes to general elections, the majority of Americans prefer to vote for centrist candidates. If the Tea Party crowd doesn't approve of the GOP nominee and attempts a 3rd party run with their own litmus-tested candidate, it will just guarantee a second term for Obama, given the electoral college system and how tie-breakers work.

If this is what the GOP has become, then I don't think its a good thing for the USA. We need two functional parties vying for each elected seat. The Tea Party is painting themselves and perhaps the entire GOP into a corner of extremism. If the Tea Party takes over the GOP and nominees have to toe the Tea Party line, Democratic party candidates will be able to continue lurching further leftward and still get elected. You win elections by staking out the middle ground, not by promoting extremism.  When you make your opponent fight over the middle ground even if your side loses that seat, the debate and general perspective moves further away from the edges and closer toward the middle and that's good for all Americans regardless of Party.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some things never change.. The Penalty of Leadership




Its no big surprise that in 1915 an advertisement for an automobile company wouldn't mention horsepower, fuel economy or airbags. Customers back then probably just wanted to know how much the horseless carriage would cost and how easy the thing would crank start, right?

But it turns out advertising in 1915 could be a bit more sophisticated than that. Cadillac responded to some negative stories about their products and to the critics who questioned their perceived leadership with a full page ad in the New York Post featuring this eloquent and terse essay by Theodore MacManus. I might even describe the tone as highbrow smack talk. Highly recommended. Looks imposing but its a quick read.

The Penalty of Leadership
In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be merely mediocre, he will be left severely alone - if he achieve a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you, unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest genius. Multitudes flocked to worship at the shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could not build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is the leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy - but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as the human passions - envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains - the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live - lives.


By Theodore F. MacManus

The message is timeless, like the design of the modern day Cadillac CTS Coupe. 

  
   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flashback 1984, My Lincoln Park Homey in Famous photo..


Kenny "Bubba" Helms from Lincoln Park MI celebrates the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Championship
Perhaps you remember this photograph that adorned the front pages of newspapers worldwide October 15th, 1984, the morning after the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres to win the World Series.  This photo has dogged the reputation of the city and its sports fans ever since.  It is one for the ages really, a photo of not just a turtled police car en fuego, that would have been embarrassing enough, no this picture featured a flabby burnout wearing undersized football pants holding up a championship pennant in front of the turtled police car en fuego.  Classy on stilts. 

I knew Bubba back then, but not good enough to know his real name was Kenny.  Back when I was an engineering student I worked about a year on the midnight shift at a Total gas station near Dix and Champaign in Lincoln Park and Kenny was one of the usual suspects of LP riff-raff that periodically stumbled up to the station in the middle of the night to pick up smokes and stand around and BS.  I couldn't go anywhere so they had a captive audience.  I worked in a small kiosk in the middle of the pumps, like one of those old photo booths in the mall parking lot.  It was too small for customers to come inside, they gave me money through a window and I doled out their cigarettes and reminded them to stop the pump themselves.  Bubba would stand there at the window and smoke and play tunes on his boombox and tell me about the party he went to and the chicks he was dealing and how shlockered him and his buddies got, yada yada yada.   Kind of annoying but more interesting than the calculus homework I was trying to sneak in between customers.

So when I picked up the Detroit Free Press that morning after the World Series victory and saw Bubba standing there holding up the pennant in front of the burning police car I was like, Oh geeze you idiot.  There was a note in the Free Press that said if anyone could identify the person in the picture to please call.  I called the number and told them he was Bubba Helms from Lincoln Park.  And the lady was like, Yeah, you're about the 50th caller. I'm guessing Bubba was one of them.  Kenny became a flash in the pan Detroit area media star for being a 16 year-old drunk, high, dropout from Downriver passed out on the lawn.

Bubba took his life a few years back.  From what I read he never did gain much traction in life, just kind of drifted.  He might have turned out like most the other gonzo hall burnouts from Lincoln Park who eventually got their shit together and carved out a decent life Downriver, but Bubba never could shake that image from 1984.       

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coming to an Office Space near you. Treadmill Desks.


Woah. All this new information about the health risks for people who sit too much is striking.  Apparently if you sit around a lot either at work or at home (or both) there are some substantial health risks.  Now that alone isn't news, but what is interesting is that even if you exercise regularly when you aren't sitting, it doesn't offset the risk factor from sitting too much.  Lots of stories on the subject out there.. Here is one from American Council on Science and Health..  "Get up and shake that thing!" Prolonged sitting poses health threat.     

New studies supply some confirmation that whether you're overweight or in shape, a sedentary lifestyle can cut years off your life, even if you work out multiple times a week, and whether you’re overweight or trim. Last year, an American Cancer Society study of 123,000 Americans found that men who sat more than six hours per day in their leisure time had a 20 percent higher death rate than those who spent less than three leisure hours sitting down. The findings were worse for women: more than six hours of sedentary leisure time equated to a 40 percent higher death rate.

Currently I have one of those jobs where people tend to sit at their desk answering e-mails and working on the computer or listening in on conference calls or going to meetings, and driving from one site to another.  I really enjoy the job, but I have never liked sitting around much.  I'm too fidgety and ADD to sit in one place for very long.  I raise the adjustable desktop in the cube so I can stand up while on the PC and I take short walks around the office every so often.  Most my career has been spent in factories where your desk was just a place to set your coat and lunch and occasionally sit down to catch up on e-mails or file a report but if you sat at your desk too much you were a slackass out of touch with what was happening on the floor and no one needs a boat anchor like that around.  Sitting too much was not an option and that was fine with me.  

That's why this little tidbit from the end of the story caught my attention..

But experts believe there is a solution for sedentary office workers. Simply put, finding even the smallest of ways to move around during the workday can improve your outcome. The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine, for example, showed The New York Times reporter James Vlahos a human resources staffing agency in which many of the employees worked on treadmill desks, thus moving away from the “chair-based lifestyle.”
A treadmill desk.. How cool is that? Heck, companies are paying so much for employee health insurance costs there might even be a business case for treadmill desks for the Office Space workers. But I know what would happen. The Libertarian/Tea Party guy on the staff would raise holy hell that its a violation of his civil rights to be coerced to walk on a treadmill while working at the desk. Maybe Obamacare has some super sekrit "life panels" to go along with the well known death panels?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Note to self.. Don't startle the secret service guys..

OK, this is pretty funny.  So back in 1988, Shelly and I went to the 4th of July parade in nearby Wyandotte.  Vice President George Bush was going to be there with his wife Barbara and we wanted to be a part of the big event. We wanted to snap a picture but we couldn't get anywhere near the stage where Bush made his speech.  So we did the next best thing and walked around the back of the trailer and staked out a primo spot near the back door where the entourage would eventually exit. 

After a while he finished the speech and we heard the crowd applauding so we knew he'd be coming through the door any moment.  The door swung open and the stream of people started to leave, but they weren't looking our way as they left.  We didn't go through all that effort just to get a picture of the back of his head.  Like Dana Carvey would say.. Nah-gah-do.  So when Bush came through the door and started to walk away I screamed out from about 15 feet away.. "HEY GEORGE!"  I don't know why I thought I was on a first name basis with the Veep, it just came out.  It worked though.  My yell caught his attention for about 2 seconds.  He turned around and waved and Shelly snapped the picture.  Perfect!

HEY GEORGE! photo by Shelly Sute 
We didn't realize until the photos were developed that we probably spooked the secret service guys by hiding out back and startling them all like that.  Observe the one guy in front who immediately stepped between Bush and me.  Observe some other secret service guys reaching into their pockets.   If you look real close there are even guys on the roof of the building across the street.  They probably had us in the crosshairs at the time.  Ha.  Note to self, be careful not to startle the secret service guys next time.  They don't like surprises.        

And this is cool, in Bush's presidential library there is an official photo from that same Wyandotte summer morning in 1988.   I like the picture Shelly took better.  Way more interesting to catch a bunch of secret service guys off guard like that.   
Vice President and Mrs. Bush attend the July 4th Parade in Wyandotte, Michigan.
04 Jul 88

Rathergate memos. My own made-up conspiracy theory.

I used to post a lot of comments in the threads at the website "Little Green Footballs". Shouldn't be too hard for anyone who cares to figure out my username. I still lurk and occasionally post comments and hold Charles Johnson in high regard for his tireless work exposing and opposing radicalism and BS that permeates politics. The Internet has ended the traditional media's control over which news stories get reported and which get ignored and that changed everything. Charles and LGF helped tear down that wall.

I owe a lot to CJ. LGF took me in as a Paleocon washed ashore in a Rathergate "Drudge Wave" in September 2004. I caught a registration window after a couple weeks. Over months and years and thousands of threads I learned about all sorts of topics in history and politics. It opened my mind and made me equally skeptical of left-wing and right-wing propaganda. I'd describe my own politics now as "classical liberal". I know that posters come and go and no one really misses anyone when they quit hanging out there, but I don't want anyone to think I flounced or have some kind of issue with the content of the threads. Keep on rocking in the free world, Charles.

One of the things I learned a lot about at LGF is how many goofball wacky conspiracy theories are out there. Over time I became quite an aficionado of the whole genre of conspiracy theories. Not that I believed them, just that I found it interesting how seemingly intelligent people can be convinced to believe almost anything. Good CT's always start with a shred of truth to sound reasonable but then veer into wild speculation that ignores all contrary facts and data that undermine the theory. Typically the intent of the CT is to place blame for some evil thing on political enemies, to justify racism or some other form of hate, or in some cases to explain the missing pieces of a story. 

So on that note, I introduce and claim my own made-up conspiracy theory about Rathergate.  Like all good CT's, there isn't proof to support it..Yet.  Contrary evidence and fact-checking is welcome, but like any good CT spreader, I will consider any data and facts that undermine my theory as evidence of just how far the other guys will go to keep the truth concealed!  ha.   

I think the Rathergate memos were illegally obtained documents that were scanned and saved as Microsoft Word documents using optical character recognition software.  I think it happened during the early months of the Clinton administration when the FBI files of GOP leaders went missing for months and then mysteriously reappeared and were returned. Its hard to imagine those files were simply misplaced and no one in the Clinton White House rummaged through them. 

Whether the goal was to use the secret documents to sway elections or just to sell them for cash, it was a simple plan poorly executed.  They couldn't make paper copies of all the documents.  It would be too risky sneaking around with stacks of paper. Just ask Sandy Berger about that..  So they scanned the juiciest pages and saved them to files.  But the boneheads saved the scanned documents as .doc files, not as .jpg images.  Probably the default setting on the Rose Law Firm OCR software package they used. 

Someone sat on those documents all that time waiting for the right moment to cash them in. In 2004 CBS and Dan Rather bit the hook and ran with the story on 60 Minutes and boldly posted the Killian documents on their website like a picture of a trophy fish. But then unhelpful fact-checkers on the net found and spread the evidence that the Killian documents could not possibly have been copies of documents that were typed in the 1960's. The text on the document perfectly matched the default settings on Microsoft Word and the spacing between characters could not have come from any typewriter from that era. Boom done. Game over. It was brutal for Dan Rather and CBS. They tried to stick to their story for a while, but just made fools of themselves doing so. Rather's long illustrious career ended in shame and CBS was a laughingstock for failing to do any sort of checking into the validity of highly damaging documents from a shadowy source.

I see two possibilities. Either someone completely fabricated the Rathergate memos, or they were genuine documents that were illegally obtained. I think the latter theory is more plausible. I just can't see anyone dumb enough to use a computer to make such a controversial and damning document and try to pass it along as being from the 1960's. Anyone that deviant would have spent $50 and bought an old used typewriter. But if a reliable known source gave an egomaniac media star like Dan Rather a wink and whispered to him that they had some top secret documents from GWB's personal file available for use, he might be so giddy at the good fortune that dropped in his lap that the fact-checking seemed unnecessary.

I wonder what the reaction was from the ones responsible for the whole operation when they realized the fundamental f-up in the grandiose plan.  What a hoot that must have been.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Deficits, Taxes, and Bicycle Generators.




I thought I would try to explain how the government works with a simple machine, a bicycle generator. This one I borrowed from my wife's Schwinn 10-speed from the '70's, the kind with the tiny seat and the super skinny tires. The bike is hanging in the garage here, sans generator obviously. As for my old Schwinn, the way badass Hevi-Duty Paper Route Bike, that baby will never hang from the ceiling in a garage. Its parked on the floor and ready to go right now. Anyway..

OK, so the taxpayer is the guy pedaling on the bike. He needs a light on the bike so he affixes a "Deluxe Bikeway" generator/light assembly to the frame to engage the spinning tire to steal a little power for the light. The guy pedals a bit harder than required to make the light shine.

The light represents services the Government provides.  How much light does the guy want?  Well that depends on how hard he feels like pedaling.

The generator represents taxes, a parasitic drag on pedal power that provides resources to the Government.  The faster the bike goes, the more power the generator makes and the brighter the light will shine, but if the generator tries to make too much power the guy won't be able to pedal the bike up to speed.

As for the question of where does the USA sit in regard to this analogy, here's my take.. The guy pedaling the bike wants a lot of light but doesn't like to notice the generator's drag on his pedal power so he uses a battery to augment the power from the generator to help the light shine brighter than it would just from the generator power alone. That battery is the budget deficit. Now, the weight of the battery is hardly even noticed by the guy pedaling and it makes pedaling so much easier, so whats not to like? Well, the problem is once the battery is dead, you have to keep carrying it with you and in the analogy the guy is pulling trailers full of dead batteries (aka national debt) behind his bike.

If I assume a national debt of 14 trillion dollars, 5 bucks for each D-cell battery, and use 32mm diameter x 57mm height for the dimensions of a D-cell battery, then here is a nice ballpark estimate. 50 Americans pedaling the bike for each semi truck trailer full of dead D-cell batteries.

And the most pressing matter in Washington right now is to raise the debt ceiling.  Because we need more trailers for dead batteries.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How to prolong a war . “If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing,”

I saw this story today in the NYT.. Israel and Hamas Consider Cease-Fire.

Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said Sunday that Israel had received several messages indicating that Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, was interested in a cease-fire.

“If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing,” Mr. Barak told Israel Radio...

During the relative calm of the last two years, both Israel and Hamas have upgraded the weaponry at their disposal."

I think its a strategic error to agree to a cease-fire with a group hell-bent on your destruction. Hamas only ever wants a cease-fire when they need time to regroup and reload. Its not because they want to sing Kumbaya, that's for sure.  Hopefully this cease fire will mark an end to the fighting for good, but there is no reason to think it will hold for any longer than it takes Hamas to get back in a killing mood.   

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Job Interview Curveball Questions..

This is pretty good.  Fortune.com:  The most ridiculous job interview questions.

"As if job interviews weren't stressful enough, hiring managers at some of the largest companies have taken to throwing real curve balls. Here's a sampling of the wackiest questions..."

"Explain quantum electrodynamics in two minutes, starting now." -- Intel
"How many balloons would fit in this room?" -- PricewaterhouseCoopers
"If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?" -- Goldman Sachs
"You have a bouquet of flowers. All but two are roses, all but two are daisies, and all but two are tulips. How many flowers do you have?" -- Epic Systems
"What is the philosophy of martial arts?" -- Aflac
"Explain to me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years." -- Boston Consulting
"If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?" -- AT&T
"How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?" -- IBM
"If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?" -- Amazon
"How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings." --Deloitte Consulting

Pretty funny.  I've actually used a couple of my own curveball questions when interviewing college students for engineering co-op positions.  Just to see how they would answer.  Should be totally easy questions for a 3rd or 4th year engineering student but its fun to see the reaction to the question.  To me its more telling than their actual answer.  I want to see how stressed out it makes them to handle a curveball.

" What's the difference between enthalpy and entropy?"
" Do you put the acid in the water or the water in the acid?"
" How many milliliters in a cubic centimeter?"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An idea to generate more tax revenue.. Loosies.

NY Times:  A Cigarette for 75 cents, 2 for $1.00: The Brisk Shady Sale of Loosies

“The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” Mr. Warner said. “Bloomberg thinks he’s stopping people from smoking. He’s just turning them onto loosies.”
America has a tax - hate relationship with cigarettes. We do everything we can to convince people to avoid smoking, from put a skull and crossbones warning label on the package to making smokers stand in the rain outside. But the State governments are just as addicted to tax revenue as smokers are to cigarettes. While health advocates are pleased that fewer people are smoking, politicians don't appreciate the reduction in tax revenue, so they do the what seems to be the obvious thing and increase the per-pack tax on cigarettes to make up the shortfall from fewer packs being sold. However, the Laffer Curve is at work here. The higher they raise taxes on a pack of smokes to increase revenues, the less revenue they collect because it convinces more people to quit smoking. As the story points out, it also creates an environment rich for a black market to thrive.

Here's an idea that I think is worth considering. Why not offer for sale cigarettes in 2 packs for the occasional smoker who doesn't want to invest an arm and a leg in a whole pack of 20? Currently, a consumer can only buy cigarettes in either a 20 pack, or a carton of ten 20 packs. If you have a hankering for one smoke, you either bum one from somebody or buy a whole pack. Now, these days, no one likes to bum smokes when they cost $10 a pack. But if you do go out and buy a whole pack, its not like you'll just smoke the one you wanted and toss out other 19. Chances are, you buy the pack for the one you wanted, and then finish the rest off over the course of the next few days or week even if you don't even want the rest of the pack. Heck, you spent $10.

Imagine if you could only buy beer in a 24-bottle case. period. No 6-packs, no tall boys, no jumbos, no double deuces. You want a beer? Buy a case of them chump. Sounds ridiculous, right. Well to me it does. Why does the Government force cigarette manufacturers to package their product strictly for consumption by mass users, hooked to regular smoke breaks? What about the rest of us who only want an occasional smoke and aren't hooked into a smoke every hour every day.

That's why that story from the NYT caught my eye. I think they should quit arresting and charging this guy with a crime and thank him for prompting the Government to realize how stupid and outdated the 20-smoke pack or else mandated marketing of cigarettes really is. If the States would allow the legal sale of 2 for a buck smokes, or something similar, they would increase tax revenue and prevent occasional smokers from becoming regular smokers because by the time they finished off that pack of 20 they wanted just one more

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lady Gaga Kicks Adam Lambert Out of Her Birthday Party

No, its not geopolitics or science or even slightly important at all, but some stories are just too good to pass on.  Lady Gaga Kicks Adam Lambert Out of Her Birthday Party 

Celeb blogger Perez Hilton told Morning Dish radio program Thursday, "Adam showed up beyond drunk. Super sloppy embarrassingly drunk!"

Hilton also revealed that Lambert began some intense fist-pumping and kept beating on the walls until he actually punched a hole in the bar's low ceiling.

Us reports an eyewitness saying, "Adam acted like an animal. He kept jumping up on the tables and chairs and screaming. When they brought the cake out he tried to smear it in Gaga's face and put a doll from the cake in her mouth!"

As for when Lambert tried to sing to Gaga, Hilton said his singing was "like he was auditioning for 'Idol' again!"

Eventually, Gaga had enough, and she had her security throw Lambert out of the party.
 Many of us have gotten a bit too drunk at a party and been brought up to speed later as to the events that had transpired by witnesses who could actually remember the details. Hopefully its not a regular occurrence for anyone, that's no good. But I can think of a few occasions over my own long amateur career where a buddy reminded me later of some minor details from a party like, Dude, you were dancing on the boss's living room couch!" or "Dude, you hijacked the neighbor's pizza from the delivery guy!" or "Dude, you walked right through their flower bed!" Its no fun hearing stuff like that. But at least I never won the Google News drunken loser idiot of the week award like Adam Lambert..  Too bad Ryan Seacrest wasn't there to deliver the news in that over dramatic fashion.. "Adam, America has spoken and ...I'm here to say... You're... going home. "

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Government mandates increased use of ethanol and corn prices skyrocket. Who could have seen that coming?

Here is a case of a Government program that originally had good intentions but wasn't thought all the way through and in the end will do more harm than good.   In order to reduce our Nation's dependency on foreign oil and I suppose to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (although I question the math), the Government enacted the Energy Policy Act of 2005 with all sorts of provisions to increase the use of renewable fuels (read: ethanol). Here is a good link to get up to speed on details of the Government's efforts to replace petroleum with renewable fuels..  Texas State Energy Conservation Office: Ethanol Incentives

  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in February 2008 that it is raising the renewable fuel standard (RFS) for 2008 to comply with the Energy Independence and Security Act, which President Bush signed in December 2007. The RFS applies to refiners, importers, and non-oxygenate blenders of gasoline and sets a minimum percentage of the fuel that must be displaced with renewable fuels, such as ethanol. The EPA is raising that minimum percentage from 4.66% to 7.76%, a 66% increase, in order to meet the new energy act's requirement to consume 9 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2008. The requirement will continue to ratchet up each year until it reaches 36 billion gallons in 2022.
And to illustrate the Theory of Unintended Consequences, the price of corn has been skyrocketing, doubling in the past year alone.  Corn is King as Farmers Chase Prices

Demand for corn is so strong—thanks to the expanding appetite of the federally supported ethanol-fuel industry, record-high prices of corn-fed livestock and booming farm exports—that grain traders are worried that even the bumper corn harvest farmers could produce this year might not be enough to rebuild unusually low U.S. corn reserves to comfortable levels.

The USDA reported that the amount of corn stored around the U.S. had plunged by a steeper-than-expected 15% on March 1 from a year ago, signaling that prices may have to climb further to cool intense demand.
So, Americans and everyone else in the world will pay more for corn and all other agricultural commodities as well because acreage has been converted to corn production to chase higher prices. We the taxpayers are subsidizing a burgeoning industry that by design will make all our food more expensive. There is plenty of oil in the ground for the taking but we let it stay there and take food and convert it into fuel instead. This way we can pay more for fuel and more for food. Genius of a plan there Washington.

Fast forward a couple years and the USA's short-sighted ethanol policy will be getting blamed for vulnerable people starving all around the world, creating social unrest, political upheaval and a global humanitarian  crisis.  Lets just hope for good weather and bumper crops.    

Sunday music selection.. Kings X, "It's Love"

I remember hearing this song the first time on WRIF radio in Detroit thinking who ARE these guys?  Thick distorted hard rock sound, shredding guitar leads, with impressive, dare I say almost Beatle-ish vocal harmonies.. Woah.  King's X.  Three great musicians making a wall of sound with their instruments and their voices.  I was a big King's X fan back in the late '80's.  Went with some buddies to see them a couple times at a local rock bar called The Ritz in Roseville.  They were a great live band especially if you liked it loud.   I occasionally slide one of their CD's in the changer and jam on the way to and from work.  They still sound fresh and distinct.  No one ever could copy their sound or blend of talent.

This was the big song, from their CD "Faith, Hope, Love"  Whats the greatest of these you might ask?  hmmm. It's Love, of course. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Florida Pastor screams FIRE! in crowded theatre to sell coffee mugs.

Another chapter for the "Who could have seen that coming?" book.  An evangelical Christian pastor from Florida burns a Koran to promote internet sales of his "Islam is of the Devil" coffee mugs and T-shirts.  And then right on schedule on the other side of the world, on a Friday after Mosque services, a mob of angry Muslims vents their anger by going on a killing rampage.  Afghans Avenge Florida Koran Burning, Killing 12

Last year when the same guy, Terry Jones from Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville threatened to burn a Koran, many people including General David H. Petraeus asked him to refrain, knowing that this sort of provocation would put US forces and civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere at higher risk of being attacked in retaliation.  Today with the mass murder at the UN facility in Afghanistan by a mob of frenzied  Muslims who had just left Friday Mosque services, those fears were confirmed.  The 20,000 Afghan rioters initially set out looking for Americans to kill, but because none were close by they attacked the UN facility instead.  Four Nepalese, a Swede, a Norwegian, and a Romanian along with four Afghan protesters were killed in the melee.

And I'm sure Terry Jones won't feel a bit bad about the pile of dead bodies in his wake. Here is a quote from another paster at the church in response to the violence.   Seems Terry Jones is laying low today..
"..In Florida, Wayne Sapp, a pastor at the church, called the events "tragic," but said he did not regret the actions of his church.
"I in no way feel like our church is responsible for what happened," Sapp said in a telephone interview on Friday."
So what did this bunch of alleged Christians in Florida accomplish with the mock trial and execution of the Koran? Seems to me they did it to bring lots of media attention to themselves so they could sell their offensive hate merchandise. They gave radical Islamists some outstanding "bulletin board" material to incite violence and retribution in the Friday services. And they helped recruit more terrorists in the campaign to kill Americans and their allies.

They certainly didn't burn the Koran to help spread the message of Jesus from the Gospels. That would be the absolute furthest thing from their intentions. If Jesus himself walked into their Church and recited the beattitudes from the Gospels, they'd probably call him a anti-American smelly hippie liberal do-gooder and throw him out so they could get back to wallowing around in their hate.