THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. Welcome to the Home of Hyperopia.: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

That Is Some Wall ...

I think it would sure be neat to someday hike the length of the Great Wall of China. That sure sounds like an interesting thing to do. More interesting to me than hiking the Appalachian Trail, for example.

But some preliminary fact-finding research indicates I have inherited some fundamental misunderstandings from someplace.

One problem is that I thought I'd read that "the wall" is about 1,400 miles long. Well, this page of Wikipedia suggests it is over 3,000 miles long. That is a big difference. Assuming in mountainous terrain and with varied weather conditions I could cover 10 miles per day, that's 140 days (late spring-summer-early fall) versus 300 days (basically an entire year). Material difference.

Of course, there are plenty of other people (apparently) who have done it before. This William Lindesay fellow has apparently run the length of the Wall. That's pretty interesting. I may just have to read his book.

The Flies (and the Neighs) Have It

Have you ever experienced a heightened awareness of your surroundings as a result of being in a stressful, perhaps semi-dangerous situation? Me too. There does seem to be something about peril that gets some of us on our toes.

Consider Hurricane Rita. As loyal readers know, when Hurricane Rita was headed Houston way, traffic leaving Houston was badly snarled. And the storm was expected to come ashore to the south and west of Houston (this would have been bad). And we were in our house, closely, diligently, and consciously monitoring the situation.

It was in that spirit of alertness that we finally made our escape, and given the circumstances, we retained that alertness through the balance of our trip and until we settled in at my father's house. And so it is that I credit Hurricane Rita for helping me reach an understanding regarding this collection of observations:

  • There are very, very few houseflies in Houston.
  • There are considerably more houseflies in and around San Antonio than Houston.
  • There are very, very few cows in Houston.
  • There are considerably more cows in and around San Antonio.


Where there are cows, there will be houseflies. And were there aren't cows, there won't be nearly as many houseflies. I should've been able to figure this out without the aid of anxiety-induced alertness. Iowa and Nebraska have heaps of cows (and pigs) and flies. There is an apropos ancient wisdom, after all: "they'll be on that like flies on shit."

Leading me to expand (or refine, I'm not sure which) my conclusion: where there are cows and pigs there will be shit lying around outside, and where there is shit lying around outside there will be houseflies.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Working Conditions - Yours or Theirs

Interesting story here about the United Food and Commercial Workers union hiring temps to picket in front of a Wal-Mart store in Henderson, Nevada. I also heard the current Hoffa (head of Teamsters) hollering on NPR last night that unions desperately needed to "organize Wal-Mart."

Unions aren't run by dumb people. Union leaders know there's a heck of a lot of dues that could be paid by Wal-Mart's employees. Of which, according to this page, Wal-Mart currently has 1.7 million. That's a lot of donuts.

But unions do appear to be willing to pay remarkably low wages for some of the jobs they hire people to do. (Lower than Wal-Mart's starting pay, so it seems.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Corporate Life - Tip #1

You should generally not initiate a conversation with someone while that person is tucking in their shirt in the restroom.

It is also almost certainly incorrect to watch.

Recovering From Rita - Part 2

SUBTITLE: The Truly Tragic (Seriously) Parts


I realized late in the evening this past Thursday that I was the proud but suddenly even more nervous owner of two pints of Ben & Jerry's. And that one of the pints was the flavor pictured above (the greatest ice cream in the world). The other was the provocatively named Karamel Sutra (schwing). Hurricane Rita was bearing down. It was bedtime. We fully expected to lose electricity to our home (freezer) for at least several hours after the storm hit. I couldn't bear the thought of losing this ice cream to the storm. We took extraordinary steps. We filled a cooler with ice. We tucked the Ben & Jerry's into a plastic bag. We put the ice cream in the cooler. We violated maximum posted speed limits slightly during our exfiltration of the greater Houston metroplex. And as soon as we got to my dad's we stored the ice cream in his freezer. It was barely soft.

It was saved.

Then Saturday afternoon when we left to come back to Houston we skipped all of the steps before the "we violated maximum posted speed limits" step. In other words, we done drove off and forgot the ice cream in my dad's freezer. Both pints. Heartbreak Hotel.

Curse you, Hurricane Rita.
There's no recovering from a loss like that.

The next tragedy is my wife's. Last night, at about 7:45 p.m. Houston time (15 minutes before the season premiere of Desperate Housewives), the cable went out. This show is important to lots of thirtysomething women, including my wife. She likes it. She was really looking forward to seeing it. I had a desperate housewife on my hands!

And because we were one of the few families in our neighborhood to have cable immediately after the storm and prior to the outage last night, we attribute this vicious blow (pun intended) to Hurricane Rita. Rightly or wRongly. According to the Houston Chronicle, it is unclear whether Rita is to blame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


These pictures don't show the "ducks", per se. These are some pictures of cormorants and egrets in the water in our backyard. Each of these pictures was taken last November or December. Many months before Hurricane Rita paid us a visit. So they don't really update the status of the treasured ducks in the aftermath of the storm.

But they're nice pictures, don't you think?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Recovering From Rita - Part 1

Thought you folks might find some of these pictures of the devastation wRought around our residence by Rita revealing regarding the severity of the storm in southwest Houston. Suffice it to say, we were extremely lucky and blessed in our area. The damage shown in the photos below is somewhat representative (as near as I can tell from driving around the past couple of days) of the experiences of our neighbors.


Rita ripped this branch right off of this tree.
Nature can be so cruel.


I don't have a clue what this is. But darned if that Rita didn't leave this pile of it in our yard. Unseemly.


This sign was standing almost straight up when we left Friday morning. Before the wRath of Rita came a'calling.


Here now are "after" photographs of our house and the lake behind our house as viewed through our palm trees (please feel free to compare these to the "before" pictures filed in one of the "Running From Rita" posts). These photographs were taken this morning. Because the sun was still fairly low in the sky when I was out surveying the landscape, I had to change the angle of the shot of our roof a little.



I have not been able to find visible damage to our house. This means probably no federal disaster relief cheque windfall (pun intended) will be coming my way.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Returning From Rita - Part 1 (and only)

As The Velvet Fog relayed, our family made it successfully and without trauma to San Antonio, where we played the part of people fleeing the possibility of a hurricane to perfection. By this I mean that as soon as we got to town, we re-filled our car with gasoline, carefully stored our meagre provisions in my dad's refrigerator, and emptied some of our suitcases into bureaus in the guest room. There for the duration.

And by "duration," as it turned out, I mean less than thirty-six hours. We arrived in San Antonio at about high noon on Friday. We left San Antonio at about five p.m. on Saturday.

The out-of-the-way route had relatively light traffic both times. Each trip took almost exactly four hours. (The "normal" route using Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio takes about 3 hours 15 minutes, so this was by no means a hardship.)

The main lesson I learned from Hurricane Rita is that I don't care for being called an "evacuee." From now on, when describing the activities of me or my family in relation to Hurricane Rita, please refer to me as an exfiltrator (or "exfiltratee" if you prefer).

Thank you.

Friday, September 23, 2005


We are heading out. For real. In about one hour. The updated forecast is for the hurricane to trend northwest so we here on the southwest side will probably get a pretty good blow out of it. Rita's arrival time has been delayed; she's now expected to make landfall sometime around 5 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

I'm off to pack up our principal belongings (including all our Disney DVDs) into the minivan. We have a full tank of gas, luckily. I used our other car for my scouting.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Running from Rita - Part 8




We are heading for San Antonio. Planning to leave at roughly daybreak tomorrow morning.

I went on a scouting mission tonight about 7:30 and discovered that Highway 59 South running southwest out of Houston was basically free of traffic. We are going to try to slip out of Houston on the southwest side, run down 59 to Victoria, then run up Highway 87 into the southeast side of San Antonio. My dad lives on the northeast side of San Antonio, and I am fully expecting that it will be slow going trying to get across Interstate 10 once we get there. But I am optimistic that getting to San Antonio will not be an unreasonably demanding journey.

Note that the freeways running due west (Interstate 10), northwest (Highway 290), north (Interstate 45), northeast (Highway 59 North), and east (Interstate 10 again) are jammed to the gills. Gridlock is the prevailing situation there. But as sometimes happens, it seems massive numbers of people have overlooked one of the paths out of harm's way.

One real unfortunate and tragic situation that is developing during this exodus is that the friendly government officials who were "helping" the people from Baytown (see photo of map) sent those people east on Interstate 10 towards Beaumont. Well, I've heard from several seasoned Texas hurricane survivors that it's worthwhile to make a guess that a Gulf of Mexico hurricane that appears to be drawing a bead on Texas is going to go north, and it's reasonable to speculate that such a Gulf of Mexico hurricane is going to go east (in each case of the initially-predicted landfall location). But it is not at all reasonable or worthwhile (and it is probably actually dangerous) to gamble that a Gulf of Mexico hurrican that has its eye on Texas is going to end up going south or west of the initially-predicted landfall location. Those poor souls from Baytown that followed instructions and are in their cars on Interstate 10 trying to get to Beaumont or trying to get into Louisiana are in a dangerous situation. Let's hope and pray for them that they get off the roads and into shelter before the storm hits. On the other end of the spectrum, Corpus Christi evacuated more than two days ago (those folks headed north to San Antonio or west to Laredo, I imagine). Corpus Christi is now not even expected to get any rain out of Rita.

So ... I've been absorbing all this information and crunching all this data and trying to figure out what I'm going to do to make this hurricane experience as safe (and interesting!) as I can for my family. And I'm thinking starting off to the southwest is sounding like a good bet.

Cross your fingers for us. I'll try to send a final bulletin from the news desk here in southwest Houston before we get on the road. Blogs from the road will be sans pictures. So prepare to use your imaginations.


Running From Rita - Part 7

Took these pictures in our backyard an hour or so ago. The one showing all the blue sky is facing east to southeast. The other is facing northwest. I took these pictures standing up at the top of the slide on our swingset.

It sure looks like a beautiful, innocent late Houston summer day. Very sunny, very hot. Nothing unusual that I could see. Looking at these pictures and having been alive here on this day before the day before the day of Rita's anticipated landfall, I can see how people got surprised in the centuries and decades before. Twenty-four to thirty-six hours from now a hurricane might be here. But I sure can't tell from looking around outside.

Kind of interesting.

Running From Rita - Part 6

We're packing up our stuff. We're putting our photo albums and keepsakes and so forth into plastic storage bins (we're going to leave those in the trunk of my car in the garage). We're getting organized also in case we end up staying here. We got our emergency supplies together: batteries, water, beef jerky (not really), and so on.

Our three-year old daughter has a dragon. She's had him around for a few weeks. He keeps her up at night with his snoring. He spills her orange juice at breakfast. Think Family Circus "Not Me" ghost and you'll have a decent idea about this dragon's personality.

Well, this afternoon her dragon hid all of the flashlights. I just hope she remembers where he put them!

It Keeps Going and Going and Going ...

... but car batteries sometimes don't.

Went out to try to find an open store that would be willing to sell me a cooler. Failed. All major grocery stores and big-box discount retailers in the neighborhood closed their doors earlier today. I did find one small (non-branded) drugstore that was open. But they didn't have any coolers. They did have some other customers, however. And I overheard those stranded souls asking whether there were any batteries for sale. There weren't. But we have children and children own toys, so we own lots and lots of batteries. So I offered them some of our batteries. They followed me back to our house and I gave them some AA batteries. That's right - Energizers.

But then their car wouldn't start. I don't have any spare car batteries lying around. Luckily the lady's husband lives nearby. He came over, jumper cables in hand, and a few minutes later they were off.

I was just trying to keep up with my brother-in-law. Who earlier today rode his bicycle to a convenience store and met a guy who had been waiting in line for gas for hours only to have the station run out of gas right a few cars before it was his turn. The brother-in-law then invited the guy back to his house and was in the process of siphoning the gas out of one of his cars to give to the guy when I last talked to him. Now that's a good samaritan.

Running From Rita - Part 5

If anyone out there can do me a favor, can you please get a message to the wonderful person who gifted me with this beautiful cricket? Please let her know that every precaution is being taken with this wonderful creature to protect it from the wrath of Hurricane Rita.

Unfortunately, this beautiful cricket is at considerable risk from the amusement-seeking of Hurricane Julianna. (See her left hand in the background here.)

Not many ducks around out there. Maybe they finally got the message.

Running From Rita - Part 4

We are still at the house. Email exchanges with friends here in Houston indicate a lot of people are still at their houses, uncertain about the traffic. Unbelievable stories about how long evacuating is taking. Lots of news coverage on TV and so forth.

I found this interesting paragraph on a CNN story:

  • Houston resident Tim Conklin told CNN that he had been in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 13 hours and had only gotten about 48 miles. He said the drive to Dallas, where his father-in-law lives, usually only takes about four hours.

13 hours to go 48 miles is the 4 mph average walking pace. Wild.

My primary concern is that if we get out on the freeways and have to drive at less than 10 mph for an extended period of time, we'll run out of gas or our car will overheat. And it's hard to find gas in the city. I imagine it is similarly difficult along the freeways.

Good news for denizens of southwest Houston and for the treasured ducks is that the meterologists keep inching the projected landfall to the north and east.

Running from Rita - Part 3

I am putting a bunch of "X" figures on our sliding glass door and large windows with duct tape. That should do the trick!

Running From Rita - Part 2

I knew Texans loved their cars. But I had no idea how many cars there actually were around here. It's a large number. There are clearly more cars in Houston than the roads can handle. At least there are certainly more cars than the Houston freeways can handle all at once. And, of course, all those people driving out of here are buying gas. I didn't find a filling station with gas until the seventh or eighth filling station I found this morning.

I am wishing Our Family would have evacuated on Tuesday. The gridlock on all out-bound roads is unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it (obvious statement alert ... obvious statement alert). Getting out of here is going to be an interesting and complicated proposition ...

Current plan is to try to sneak south and west on some back roads. Back roads that I'm sure the real locals won't know about. :-)

Further updates as events warrant ...

The treasured ducks seem to be oblivious to Rita's approach. I tried to explain to them that this might be a decent time for them to take advantage of their ability to fly and head for higher ground farther inland, but they just pooped in our yard and waddled off to hunt for whatever it is ducks eat.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Running from Rita - Part 1

Here she comes. Apparently. Us here in Houston are making preparations. Today in the office most everyone is boxing up their piles of paper and books and so forth from their offices.

We're all moving our stuff into the hallways and filing cabinets away from our windows. Pretty interesting. There is a fair amount of anxiety in the air. The seasoned veterans of Houston hurricanes are quietly gloomy about it. "Oh, power should be out until at least next Tuesday." And that sort of thing.

Everyone is curious about when everyone else is planning to evacuate. The timing. Where they're going. Friends of mine are just deciding to take vacation earlier than they expected to. Schools are expected to be closed at least until Wednesday next week.

Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant.

God Bless Us ... Every One.

How Many Shots Does It Take To Make a Hole-In-One?

There's a mildly interesting story from the Tall Corn State playing itself out on Court TV.

If you're familiar with charity golf events and similar tournaments, you're probably familiar with the concept of "buy a mulligan". This is the key concept in a recent lawsuit between the FFA and the kid pictured. See:
The gist is this: Kid enters tournament sponsored by the FFA (which apparently no longer calls itself "Future Farmers of America"; I wonder why the change?). Kid buys 5 "mulligans" (if he doesn't like a shot he plays, he can use one of the "mulligans" he bought to re-hit the shot). On a par 3 hole where a hole-in-one is rewarded with a big prize ($10,000 in this case), Kid hits crap shot, elects to use mulligan, then hits hole-in-one. The FFA says thyat since he used the mulligan, he's not entitled to the prize (one reason the FFA is giving is because the insurance the FFA bought expressly excludes coverage for mulligan efforts). Kid says he was going to use the $10,000 for tuition to college his first year (awwwwwww....).

My anecdotal experience in these matters is that when I've been involved in those sorts of tournaments, the organizers expressly tell you that you can not win the "big prize" for a hole-in-one if you make the hole-in-one when you're using a purchased mulligan.

If the FFA didn't make this clear during this tournament, the FFA should lose. Interestingly, the FFA did give his team a score of "1" on that hole. They dispute only that he is entitled to the big prize (the $10,000). This argument is especially strong since the FFA's insurance expressly excluded mulligans from coverage (so presumably the FFA should have been alert to this issue).

It's interesting (mildly) to think about this issue from the insurance company's point of view as well. It is extremely difficult to make a hole-in-one. The odds of one golfer making a hole-in-one on any one swing are about 33,000 to 1 against (from one of the FAQs on that page). It's hard to imagine that those odds appreciate materially if you take a mulligan on any one hole. But apparently the insurance company thinks they do.

At least enough to have an express exclusion in the policy.

Based on the info I've seen to date, the FFA should lose. It sounds like the FFA screwed up. Also, I'm stunned this case made it to trial. It's impossible to imagine the FFA could take this to trial for less than $10,000 (the amount of the big prize). And what horrible publicity. Poor kid was thinking he'd won his tuition money for next year. Or drinking money, anyway.

Apparently the case settled. That's dull.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Spouses Like Us

On Dreams Realized - Part 1

If At First You Don't Succeed,
Try It On Your Spouse

One of the commonly-recognized side effects of raising an infant is that it makes you (and, see below, your spouse) sleep deprived. One of the commonly-recognized side effects of sleep deprivation is that it can make you (and, see below, your spouse) a bit mentally duller, and thus a bit more vulnerable to conversational traps. Even if you (and, take my word for it, your spouse) are otherwise pretty sharp.

Well, over the weekend, sleep deprivation produced by infant-raising conspired to allow me to realize a dream I've had since I first saw Spies Like Us back in 1985. I played the part of Austin Millbarge (referred to hereinafter as "Villain"), and my wife suffered graciously in this scene as Emmett Fitz-Hume (referred to hereinafter as "Victim").

The pertinent exchange follows (the setting is - family gathered in the kitchen, breakfast being prepared):

  • Victim: What is that black thing out by the lawn chair?
  • Villain: I don't know. It looks like a dickfer.
  • Victim: A dickfer? [pause] What's a "dickfer"?
  • Villain: To pee with. [laughing, laughing, laughing]

Ah, the utter and complete joy of it all. Good times.

I tried to get somebody (anybody!) to say "what's a dickfer?" for twenty years. And it finally happened. It was well worth the wait. This event was my Heinz ketchup for this decade, at least.

Please enjoy this sound clip of the original with my compliments. Also, as a side note, in googling for the links in this blog, I noticed that there are a number of different spellings of the key word out there. The IMDB spells it "dickfor" and the .wav file linked in this paragraph spells it "dicfor". Well, neither of those are correct. I have spelled it correctly, based on my recollection of the source material. I read the novel version of Spies Like Us. Today, it is unclear to me how or why. But I did. And I remember that the word is spelled - in print, in the book version of the movie - "dickfer." If somebody has the movie and wants to watch that scene with the close-captioning on, I would consider input as to how "dickfer" is spelled in the movie's captioning important.

It's true, you know. Pee is the new coffee.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rating Sweets - Part 1

The original. Four stars. Excellent candy. I've been eating these things for decades. And I'll be eating them decades from now, God willing.

The albino. Two stars. The taste is interesting and the texture is pleasantly different, but the white chocolate thing is a fad. This candy will lack the staying power of the original or the version discussed immediately below. I just ate three of the minatures. I enjoyed them, and if I had more, I'd eat them. But I suspect there's a limit to how many of these I can enjoy at once.

The cadillac of peanut butter cups. Five stars. I hope "Limited Edition" is just a sick joke. The day Hershey's stops making these Extra Smooth & Creamy gems will be a sad day. Stock up now just in case. If you have to, rent space in a cryogenic freezer.

You can buy Reese's on eBay: Extra Smooth & Creamies.

Does anybody actually buy candy off eBay? Somebody must. It's for sale. Note the seller is asking the buyer to pay $1.25 in shipping & handling. For four cups. And the seller will ship the product 4 to 7 days after payment. That's not an appropriate candy timeline (or price) for me.

I'd rather let Wal-Mart pay for the logistics. It's all about scale.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Well, Mr. President ...

... I guess that's one conclusion you could draw from the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

I'm talking about his speech last night. During which, according to, he said:
  • "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice."

See: CNN article (emphasis mine).

The military might just be the most capable institution of the government for this kind of operation. That statement might just be true. But it's hardly a sound justification for President Bush's conclusion. The most capable institution of a group of bumblers is still a bumbler. The armed forces (and all institutions of government) are light years behind private enterprise (Wal-Mart, Costco, etc.) and private individuals in this regard. Expand their role, expand their authority and enjoy increased costs and decreased results for your supper. This is a point Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, and Gary North (among others) continually make. Why does government get rewarded for failure? Again and again? What are the chance that this time, in this instance, more money will suddenly make government work? Zero. And I know that is a true statement.

Note that disaster relief is not the primary business of Wal-Mart and Costco. Those companies kicked the government's ass on logistics and compassion. And those companies are not in the business of disaster relief (that's FEMA's rai·son d'ê·tre). Imagine how beneficial it would be to our society if the federal government just up and quit the business.

Instead, though, the federal government monopolizes disaster relief (basically). Wal-Mart and Costco have to provide their services around the edges of the government. In spite of the government. If the obnoxious, slow-moving behemoth** of the federales wasn't in there mucking up the show, America would have private enterprises focusing on disaster relief as their primary business.

And we would be enormously better off.


** Here's a great Lew Rockwell column called "Working Around Leviathan" about how there's cause for optimism despite the ever-increasing size and scope of the federal government. I borrowed the "behemoth" concept from that article. It's pretty long, but well worth a read.

Those Wacky Europeans

Stunning news of fuel tax rates on the Continent. Most of the countries described below extort more than 60% of the cost of a litre (that's British for "liter") of gas in tax. Hijole.

That's no excuse for our elected representatives not repealing (or at least waiving) gas taxes here in Los Estados Unidos. But it is interesting.

The Quest For Rocks Continues, Expands

And it's getting to be a more and more expensive quest.

That's the amount of money NASA estimates the bold new plan to put Americans back on the moon in 2018 will cost. That is a material amount of capital. Capital that is being stolen from the private sector and handed over to the bureaucrats to finance a boondoggle. Capital that will not be invested in a project that will generate profits. Capital that will not be put to its highest and best use. (Well, I suppose it will be put to a use bent on reaching an extremely high elevation. But of course that's not what I meant by "highest".) Capital that will be spent but not invested.

The government sure seems to like that hundred billion dollar number.
It's pocket change for those crooks.

Don't miss Gary North's column on NASA.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bill Brasky

This what all the hullabaloo is about? Interesting. Tempest in a teapot, if you ask me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On (Apparent) Double Standards - Part 1

Wow. Look at that oily sheen. That is a mess.

I was just looking at some pictures of the floodwaters in New Orleans. And I was thinking about all the articles and comments I've read and heard about how toxic the water in the city is and how polluted it is. Then I was thinking that it's curious the same government that enacted CERCLA and is requiring GE to spend over $400 million to perform a clean-up operation that appears to be of debatable merit** is pumping (or at least approving/permitting the pumping) the toxic, polluted floodwaters out of New Orleans into the canals and the Mississippi River. See below. On the right is flooded New Orleans. Water is being pumped out of there. Into the part on the left, the Seventeenth Street Canal. Water is being pumped into there. And it eventually flows (I believe) into the Gulf of Mexico.

Look at that film on the water on the left. Disgusting. Apparently it's a lesser of two evils? I don't know. Maybe. It sure is interesting, though. Makes the environmental enforcement movement seem pretty political. Not that I should be surprised about that, I guess.

** Here are some pro-clean up versions of the story from the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Nation. Here is the current GE website about the Hudson River cleanup.

A Local Treasure - Part 1

For your viewing pleasure, below are a couple of pictures of the ducks in my backyard. These photographs were taken on Sunday, September 11, 2005. By me. At approximately 4:00 p.m.

Please enjoy these pictures with my compliments.

A friend who is significantly more likely to know than me told me that he thinks these are Fulvous Tree Ducks. But they might also be Black-bellied Tree Ducks. I'm no orinthologist. I'm just a duck treasurer.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Random Observation #1

Kip Winger would make an interesting drag queen.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

BREAKING NEWS - NPR Praises Wal-Mart

  1. Things in Katrina-land are really bleak.
  2. The government must have really done a bad job.
  3. The current administration must be Republican.

I'm confident each of those three statements is true because last night I heard, on NPR's All Things Considered, positive remarks being made about Wal-Mart. You can hear it for yourself by clicking here. When you hear what they have to say in that story, consider this is the same bunch (or was it the Corporation for Public Broadcasting folks?) that a few months ago was basically nominating Wal-Mart executives for the hangman's noose. But that was at a time when it was popular to complain about "outsourcing" and companies having their goods manufacturered in China. Now that Wal-Mart's incredibly low cost structure and elegantly organized distribution chain made the Bush administration look bad, Wal-Mart is a hero.

I was going to write a bunch of other stuff and say a few other things about it, but luckily for me, Gary North has done it for me (and better than I would have). Read his comments here. He is smarter than I am and better read, so his column ties a few more topics together; the stuff on Wal-Mart is towards the bottom of the column linked above.

  • Wal-Mart could respond rapidly because (1) it runs a profit and can pay for a small loss (a truck load of water); (2) Wal-Mart is flexible because it is so profitable; (3) someone in charge at Wal-Mart can say "do this," and the chain of command responds. None of this is true at FEMA.

One last comment. And I may be wrong about this. But I can't find any reports that Wal-Mart held any press conferences or went out of its way to make sure to publicize its generosity and efforts. Contrast that with the basically 24/7 press conferences and bulletins emanating from the government actors.

Here's links to some other articles I found about Wal-Mart and Katrina (you might have to log in to read some of these; on-line newspapes should quit requiring log-ins, but that's obviously a different topic):

Friday, September 09, 2005

On Property Rights - Part 1

The personal suffering and loss resulting from Hurricane Katrina is tragic. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of what has happened and what is happening.

One of the things that is happening that I find interesting from a political point of view is the question of the possible forcible evictions of residents of New Orleans from "their" homes by police. published this article yesterday. There are some very interesting quotes in there. My personal favorite follows (in context, it's towards the very bottom of the article):

  • "If they come to my property and they attempt to evict me from my independent state ... there will be gunfire," O'Dwyer said. "There will be gunfire, so let them be warned."

Mr. O'Dwyer does not understand the definition (or, more accurately, the derivation) of the word "real" estate. Mr. O'Dwyer thinks he owns his house. He refers to it as "my property" and his "independent state". The truth is quite a bit different (unfortunately). The truth is that Mr. O'Dwyer is renting his house and property from the government. To appreciate that this is true, consider what could happen to Mr. O'Dwyer if he didn't pay his property taxes. The taxing authority could file a lien against his property and sell it at public auction to the highest bidder to satisfy the unpaid tax obligation.

As Robert Kiyosaki (if I recall correctly), among others, points out in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the word "real" in real estate comes from the Spanish "real" (can't figure out how to do the accent symbol over the "a" on this blogging software) meaning royal, or "of the crown." You own and occupy your house only so long as the government is willing to allow you to do so. You own and occupy your house at the pleasure "of the crown." That is the truth.

But there's quite a different dynamic in this Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Forced evacuations of human beings is the government asserting ownership over the persons being forced out. And although this article seems to say pretty clearly that the government has the power to take such a step and compel such action, I find that to be considerably more troubling. Here in the "Land of the Free", we don't even own ourselves.

My goodness but we're a long ways from freedom.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Request ...

Goodbye, little buddy.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Americans Are Buying Gas For Iraqis ...

... (including insurgents).

Found another article on this topic. Key paragraph, I thought, is below.

  • Although Iraq is a major petroleum producer, the country has little capacity to refine its own gasoline. So the U.S. government pays about $1.50 a gallon to buy fuel in neighboring countries and deliver it to Iraqi stations. A three-month supply costs American taxpayers more than $500 million, not including the cost of military escorts to fend off attacks by Iraqi insurgents.

I can understand the logic.

I would expect Iraqis to be generally unhappy about their country being occupied by foreign soldiers. And if Iraqis were accustomed to paying very low prices for their gasoline under Saddam, it's logical to expect that they would be significantly more unhappy about the occupation if as a byproduct of Saddam's ouster they had to pay market prices for their gasoline.

But I'll be damned if I will agree that that allocation of my money (tax dollars) is acceptable. It is not. It's really like taxing me twice. I pay my taxes. (Yes, I'm a sucker, as noted by Gary North in this column.) And I pay the current (very high) market price for gasoline at the pump here in Texas. Oh, it's really like taxing me three times. Because I also pay that $.184 per gallon federal tax, unless the federales repeal it. (I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.)

Back to Politics ... Iraq and Gas Prices

Congressman Ron Paul has filed another interesting and important report. He's hoping (as I am) that when Congress shows back up to work this month they immediately suspend the federal gas tax ($.184 /gallon).

But he mentioned something else I want to highlight here.
  • U.S. taxpayers paid almost $3 billion last year to buy gasoline for Iraqi residents and citizens.
It is my understanding that this happens because Iraqis didn't have to pay market prices for gasoline before the war. (Logically they would likely be resentful of an invading army that overthrew their government and then failed to continue this subsidy.) Here's Ron Paul's comment on this problem (from the article linked above; emphasis mine):
  • Consider this: Iraqis can buy gas for as little as five cents per gallon, courtesy of American taxpayers! We’re talking about imported refined gas, because Iraqi refineries are not operating. Iraqi officials, using American tax dollars, buy this fuel from the Saudis or other OPEC nations at market rates. This subsidy to Iraq cost us nearly $3 billion in 2004 alone. What kind of foreign policy justifies using your tax dollars to subsidize gas prices in an oil-rich nation, while prices skyrocket in the U.S.?

Note also that so long as American tax dollars buying gas for folks in Iraq, American tax dollars are directly benefiting the insurgents that are blowing up our troops. I am not at all pleased to know that dollars the federal government has taken from me are being given to people who are blowing up Marines.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Beans, Beans ...

... they're good for your heart. Especially rich, roasted coffee beans. I love the smell of coffee after a good meal. Don't you?

Thinking about coffee got me wondering how many Starbucks there are within twenty miles of my old zip code in Omaha, Nebraska.

Turns out there are sixteen. The internet is really the right place to find information like this. The Yellow Pages are so 1980s.

Friday, September 02, 2005

On Fashion Trends - Part 1

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Lavender (see adjacent photo) is the new french blue. Get floral and get noticed.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005


Sometimes those generic facial tissues are of such poor quality that blowing my nose with them makes me sneeze. Tiny particles of lint and paper break off of these generic facial tissues during the operation and can be inhaled, prompting another sneeze, requiring application of another generic facial tissue, prompting another sneeze, and so on.

But there is such a significant difference in cost. It's worth it.