Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm Changing My Name to Ron Paul

One of my father's favorite quips was, "Isn't it amazing the things people would rather have than their money?" He was usually referring to something like an uncomfortable-looking pair of shoes my mother had bought, or to a faux baseball jersey some fan had just overpaid for at the ballpark. Walk through Target or Costco or Macy's, and you're stunned at the number of things for sale and you wonder about many of them, "Who'd ever buy that?"

Well, someone will, probably. They'd rather have that green frog doorstop than they would the money it cost. Which, of course, leads me to the topic du jour.

On Bloomberg news this morning, I heard that Congressman Ron Paul had raised $1.8 million for his Quixotic presidential bid. It means that a group of people--don't know who or how many--would rather have Ron Paul than their money.

Naturally, I thought to myself, "Man, what turnip truck did you just get off of?" It was for just being Ron Paul, I guess. So, I thought, why not change my name to Ron Paul and quit pushing the real estate string?

Then I thought, changing my name to Ron Paul might be absolutely Ron Paullian! First, I'd have to cancel all my credit cards and other debt and tell my creditors since I'm now Ron Paul, the debt isn't mine. Then I'd have to go out and get all new credit cards under my new name. This pretty well sums up his monetary policy, and I can see why people would pay him $1.8 million so they can all do that.

Next is the problem of my children's names. Ron Paul named his son after South African currency, the rand. I don't know if my kids would like to be called, say, Peso, Yuan and Lira, but it's definitely worth asking.

Because, hey. I can go on with this, but if someone out there wants to hand out $1.8 million because they'd rather have Ron Paul than their money, I'll stand in line. I can be their guy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What the Hell Were They Doing There, Anyway?

Of course, I mean the three Americans who went hiking in Kurdistan, somewhere along the Iraq-Iran border, and were snatched by Iranian authorities and charged with espionage.
On July 31, 2009, Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, who had decided to go for a nice hike on oh, say, the Iraq-Iran border in a war zone, were arrested by the Iranians and ultimately charged with espionage. Ms. Shourd was later freed on $500,000 bail. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal have just been found guilty and were sentenced to eight years in prison.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't for one second believe the Iranians. I even pretty much think the Iranian border patrol crossed the border into Iraq to make the snatch, probably at gunpoint. But Jesus, what in the hell were these Americans doing there? What in hell were they thinking?
I get that it's Kurdistan, and that Kurdistan is different from Iraq, not the least of which is that the Turks have been shelling the place and running air strikes. Whatever else it might be, Kurdistan is not on Conde Nast's or Lonely Planet's list of don't-miss vacation places.
These three are not dummies. Mr. Bauer is an honors graduate from U.C. Berkeley, speaks Arabic. Mr. Fattal is also a Berkley graduate, in environmental economics. Ms. Shourd, also a Berkeley graduate, taught English in Syria, where she was living with Mr. Bauer.
Here are the reasons given. Believe what you will.
  1. They were spies.
  2. Mr. Bauer was a freelance journalist working on a story about the elections in Kurdistan.
  3. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal were intensely curious about the entire Middle East and were willing to be live-off-the-land travelers to satisfy and insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding.

Cut them all the slack you want. Okay, they lived in Syria and somehow supported themselves. It was time to go out on a knowledge quest. Ms. Shourd had a week off from her teaching duties, so why not. Choices, among others:

  1. Turkey
  2. Jordan
  3. Saudi Arabia

Hmm. As the crow flies from Damascus, where they were living, to the point in Kurdistan where they were nabbed, it looks to be about 1,000 miles. In that part of the world, traveling that far is, well, hard. It's not like they have interstates. It's not like you can get a Eurailpass. And for a week?

A hike in Kurdistan was the agreed-on best option?

Back to the title: What in the hell were they doing there, anyway?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to End The Financial Crisis (or Great Recession or Whatever We Call It)

I've been casting about for months for ways to save the world's financial system. It seems to be getting worse and the people in charge don't seem to be doing anything.
One of the problems, a guy on Bloomberg said, is that no one wants to buy anything. People and businesses are still shedding debt. This is called "de-leveraging."

Well, I say we need to leverage. That's what we did before and it seemed to work. In sort, we all need to go out and buy stuff. And don't pay cash. Charge it. Here's why.

Our economy--the world's actually--only works when American consumers do what they do best--consume. It's fun. Don't you remember how fun it was? We replaced our television set last week and the old endomorphins spiked like they hadn't in years. So let's do it. Let's roll! We all need to go out and run our credit cards up to the max.

Okay, okay. So, what if, you say, the credit card bill comes due and we can't pay it?

Easy. Nothing. Don't pay it. What're they gonna do? Take your house? Turn you over to collections? Wreck your credit rating? Who cares? I say "who cares," because if we all go on a big spending splurge and it doesn't turn the economy around, we'll be so bad off it won't matter.

Ok, some banks might get stuck, but they never get really stuck, so we know that won't happen. Americans will simply raise their individual debt ceilings and instead of TARP--Troubled Asset Relief Program--Congress will pass the Consumer Relief Arrears Program, known as CRAP.
Under CRAP we can simply
Look. Big lenders borrowed money from the fed and made crummy loans to homeowners. They sold the loans to Wall Street and paid back the Fed. Then, one day, Wall Street didn't buy what lenders were selling, and the lenders couldn't pay the Fed back. TARP to the rescue.

So leverage up, I say. If Congress gave big banks TARP, I have no doubt they'll give us CRAP if things don't work out as planned.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The TV, the Recorder and the Vast Cable Conspiracy

Two weeks ago, our television died. It had given seven years of reasonably reputable service, but it just quit in the middle of "House." We ran out the next day and bought a new television. Under $400, and better than the one that died, which had cost around $600 or so.

We tried to install the new Samsung on our old universal wall mount, only to learn that nothing would fit. The manual said we'd have to buy a Samsung wall mount for around $125--a little over 1/4 the price of the TV. The Best Buy guy said, "Oh, hmmh." The True Value guy said, "Hmmh," when his $100 mount wouldn't work, either. We thought, piss on it, and just set the thing on top of the cable box.

A couple of Netflix DVDs were laying wround, and we'd thought to watch them since Netflix had decided to screw over its mail order customers, whose club we held membership in. However, our DVD player would not connect to the Samsung. We needed a different cable to connect the DVD with the new television.

Undaunted, we set out for Best Buy to buy an adapter, which, as best as I can discern, would connect an S-video connection to an HDTV (specifically, an HDMI port). Well, these did not exist. Roland, a Comcast guy doing double duty at Best Buy, told us that.

We had Roland because the Best Buy people were more interested in talking to each other than they were talking to us. As inexplicable as this seems, you would totally understand that Roland was the preferred alternative, since the Best Buy help was more interested in talking to each other on those scant times when they were around.

After talking with Roland, we determined that we'd have to buy a new DVR, or some other movie-playing device. Roland explained our options and then looked at us as though we were two clueless grayhairs. We had graduated from an adapter to a new movie player, but Roland was already at the next level.

We looked back at Roland as though we were two clueless grayhairs. Roland looked at his paperwork. Clearly, we were on the same page, here.

I will not go into the specifics of our rather discursive discussion, but we ended up buying a Samsung Blue-Ray thing which can both play our DVDs as well as stream movies from Netflix and Blockbuster. That sounded cool, even though this would address an issue we never knew existed.

HDMI cables alone were priced from about $60 to $90. The Blue Ray, at $150, seemed to deliver so much more. Except, Roland said, we'd also need a router.

We had a router, I said. An N-router, or a G-router? Roland wondered. A G-router, he said, won't do. A G-router, I said, and Roland pilled his chin and said, "Hmmm."

"Hmmm" offers little in the way of security, especially with a chin pull and inordinate attention to whatever is on the ceiling. We beat it for the router department, buying the $80 one instead of the $40 dollar one so we could be sure that our devices would all network properly.

I forgot to say we'd moved our computers to the bottom level of our tri-level rowhome,even as the printer remained on the third level. And Roland had convinced us of the wonders of Comcast Digital Voice--internet telephone--to replace our current Frontier service and throw in HBO and Encore without a price increase.

All this for a damned cable adapter?

And, oh, the killer: I tried to install the Samsung Blu-ray player, but learned it wouldn't work without an HDMI cable, which, in the butt-reaming verbiage of the owner's manual, "must be purchased separately."

Best Buy's HDMI cables ran from$50 to $80, as I said. Newegg had them for about $3.50, but you had to order them online. But Facebook to the rescue!

Ricki, then Ben York recommended far cheaper (and better and local) places to go. [Editor's note: If you have computer hardware, software, networking, website work or presence issues and can't or don't want to deal with it, contact Ben York immediately before you assassinate your friends and family. Thoroughly competent and reasonably priced.]

But Melissa Denton, friend and client, also called, and had an extra leftover HDMI cable. For free. She offered to drop it off the next morning.