Friday, April 24, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Apple has been criticized by app developers in the past for how tightly they regulate both the platform distribution and apps, as well as the long slow process of approving apps for its computers and especially the iPhone. This is what happens when Apple listens to a bunch of mealymouthed babies.

2) "The Party Of No". I like it! It sums up the patrician attitude of the GOP to a T.

3) Just when you thought bird flu might be the problem...

4) Myrtle Beach is burning. And it's not even Spring Break. I get the sense there is going to be a massive drought along the eastern seaboard this summer.

5) The infighting on the marginalized right wing is ramping up. When you have the acknowledged pioneer rightwing kook calling another rightwing kook(ier) a "Eurofascist", all hell is breaking loose. (WARNING: right wing link)

6) Randi Rhodes returns. Ladies, bounce your boobies!

7) If I had written a novel about a major political party so marginalizing themselves, they ended up battling just to stay on the ballot in all fifty states, I would definitely include this chapter.

8) But I would ABSOLUTELY include this!

9) Hey, look...good babysitters ain't cheap, you know!

10) It looks more and more like we are not alone.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Red Parrot

bonaire2006 - 74.jpg
Originally uploaded by actor212
Because we all need a little parrot in our lives.

The Rest Of The Iceberg

It should come as no surprise to anyone who's read my pieces for even as little as a year that the real economic crisis is still to come: credit card debt:
“The administration — which scheduled the meeting at the request of some issuers — has promised to address credit card practices that Summers recently blamed for coaxing consumers ‘into paying extraordinarily high rates that they wouldn't have paid if they knew what they were getting themselves into.’”

The trouble is this. People ran up their credit cards, secure in two pieces of information. First, they could always get a home equity loan to pay off the credit cards, which would also allow them to deduct mortgage interest. Second, the price of houses would always go up, so there would always be more room to refinance the house, and gather in more cash to pay off bigger credit card balances.

Keep in mind that a lot of the problem with the mortgage industry was that people who simply shouldn't have had mortgages got mortgages because banks wanted to throw money at them.

Why? It's not just the interest income, you see, but the fees a bank can charge. Late with a payment? We'll tack on $50. Missed a payment? That's $100.

And then they tightened the rules about when a payment was late and when it was missed. It used to be, if your payment was postmarked before the due date (like when you file your taxes, still) you were presumed to have made a payment to an agent of the company (e.g. the post office).

Now, payments have to physically be received in the office of the lender, and usually by some arbitrary time (say, 2 PM). Doesn't matter if your payment is in the office, so long as they haven't recorded it, they didn't receive it.

You can imagine what that's created.

And that was mortgages. For credit cards, it gets even worse.

A decade or so ago, I held a Fleet Bank Mastercard. I had a really nice rate, 4.9%, and made payments faithfully. One day, I dunno, it was raining or maybe we had a blackout, anyway, my payment was delayed in the mail and was late.

My 4.9% rate climbed up to 26.99%! Now, I was lucky. I had a good record, good credit history, and was able to point out it was a one time occurence, so they dropped my rate. The only reason I noticed it, to be honest, was that on my next statement the late payment fee was charged and as I was disputing that, I looked at the rate information.

Now, banks can do that to me even if my payment record is perfect. Even if ALL my payments to all my cards and on all my loans is perfect.

How? I could be late paying my phone bill. Or electricity. Or cable, even.

Here's a pro economic tip: when a bank starts tacking on fees like there's a sale on them, you can bet your boots that sector of their business is hurting badly. Which means credit card defaults are alarming the hell out of the guys in the pinstriped suits.

There's roughly $1 trillion in credit card debt out there. There's $6.5 trillion or so of mortgage debt.

The rub is, the $6.5 trillion is secured by a house. A piece of property. Something of value. The total losses if every loan collapsed might be something on the order of $500 billion (assuming all the houses eventually get sold).

That $1 trillion in credit card debt is unsecured. If every credit card suddenly became a bad debt, that's a trillion bucks out the door.

You see the problem, I'm sure. In fact, credit cards are even riskier than mortgages because every and any damned fool was offered one, even college kids.

The banks will not give this up easily, and certainly not without a fight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

blossoms06 - 11
Originally uploaded by actor212
A time for renewal.

The Big Question

Photo from NASA via NatGeo

I suppose every generation believes two things about itself:

1) It is the culmination of all generations preceding it, and

2) It will be the last generation on this planet.

I'm not sure why humanity has this fatalistic obsession with finality. Perhaps it is our mortality. Perhaps we just don't want to miss the parties that will take place after we're gone. Or perhaps we truly are that monstrously egoistic that we believe nothing and no one could possibly top us.

Like the one immediately preceding this, our generation has the option to end things. Unlike the generation before this, we have the awareness that things actually can end and without a mushroom cloud.

This week, today, we celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day, like Christmas, is the one day every year people get to remind themselves that they should behave nicely. And others. Nevermind that the other 364 days, most will likely litter to their hearts' content, today, people will take the extra two steps to the trash can.

Yippee! Now, what will we do tomorrow?

I've been involved in environmental concerns since the early 70s, since I was a Boy Scout and involved in setting up the first recycling program in NYC. It was fun. It felt good. As nasty as some of the things we had to do were, like cleaning up an empty lot that had turned into a dog run for the neighborhood, somehow we managed to have a sense of satisfaction from it.

Mother Earth is sick. She's running a fever and all kinds of toxins are rampant in her veins and arteries. And it's our fault. If you want an idea of just how painful birthing the race of man has been for her, I suggest you watch the series Life After People. Watch how the remnants of our civilization crumble as no one is around to maintain them.

The Second Law Of Thermodynamics in action. Entropy is the natural state of things. It is only man in his hubris that tries to circumvent the law as if it was a speed limit and we were in a hurry to go nowhere.

I'm not suggesting a Ludditic existence, or that we abandon clothing and housing and live off the land in caves. What I am suggesting is that each of us can slow down a little. Drive 55 instead of 65, even if the speed limit allows. Walk more. Buy local produce when possible. Wash clothes only when the laundry bag is full. Wash dishes by hand or only when the washer is full.

Buy a water bottle instead of bottled water. Use a canvas bag.

The list goes on and on of ways to cut back even just a little without inconveniencing yourself too much.

And this is a good time to practice these habits, in a time when belts are being tightened anyway, since many of these practices will save you money on your energy costs.

We only get this one Mother Earth, despite what astronomers are discovering daily it seems. She's sick. She needs our help.

She's provided for and carried you for all your life. Give a little bit back, please.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Do Ya Feel Lucky, Punk?

nyc041909 - 5.jpg
Originally uploaded by actor212 ya?

Someone Needs To Check Their Facts

Talk about Epic Fails:

In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.

I'm guessing the American standard of living, according to the Wall Street Journal, now hovers somewhere around the wages Nike pays in Indonesia.

Now, I'm sure there is a small number of people who can actually be prolific enough and charismatic enough to make a go of blogging full-time. You can sell ad space, after all, and its possible the statistics the WSJ includes in their article are skewed by revenues people make who sell their own shit on their websites like their own books and stuff.

But nearly every blog I visit, and I visit many of the largest ones, right and left, is practically begging for donations. Even The Corner, which is sponsored and funded in part by the odious "National Review" magazine, has had to hold two online fundraisers to defray costs.

And Pajamas Media, which was supposed to be the Life Magazine of blogging right-wingers, only without the pictures...or intellect...or snappy prose...or, hell, not even the Life Magazine of the dung pile!...folded unceremoniously.

So I think, WSJ, you messed up here.

Hanoi Hilton

Y'know, I was all set to let this go when I first read about some bizarre contretemps at the Miss USA pageant this weekend.

I figured one stupid insignificant person asking another stupid insignificant person a loaded question on a stupid insignificant made-for-TV event (produced by Donald Trump, the king of all things false and plastic) was nothing to care about.

And then I saw this on the Today Show:

Uh. Yea. Suddenly I gave a crap.

I found myself in the odd position of feeling empathy for the person whose views I found more odious.

Both people are in the wrong here, but it's Perez, who?...who has gotten my dander up the more.

Carrie Prejean carried herself admirably and so far has carried herself admirably in what has to be a particularly uncomfortable instant. Nobody expects a beauty pageant...a beauty pageant! turn into a political debate.

I'm surprised Tom Brokaw didn't appear and grab a judge's mic and turn into Instant Moderator.

She spoke her heart and as offensive as her opinion is to me, it was refreshing to hear someone put on the defensive on national television not hem and haw and calculate an answer, altho she clearly gave herself enough time to decide that was what she had to do, altho she admits later that she had prepared for that question.

As Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." And having been in front of large audiences and live on national TV, I can assure you, no matter how much preparation you do, when you know the moment you dread is coming, you can guarantee your answer won't be as smooth as you rehearsed it.

She did this likely knowing full well her answer would cost her one judge's vote and therefore, the title. Kudos for balls, babe.

Now, onto Perez (who?) Hilton.

There was a time when confrontational activism in the pursuit of gay rights was called for, a time when getting in the face of ordinary people to wake them up to oppression.

That time is long past. As your own question demonstrates, four states have already passed a gay marriage law. Another two states have one in or ready for the legislative hopper.

Gay marriage is progressing.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had been on that stage, your question would have been appropriate. If Rick Warren, the odious pastor who gave the invocation at Obama's inauguration had been up on stage, your question would have been appropriate.

Hell, if Obama, who opposes gay marriage, had been on that stage, your question would have been appropriate.

But to single out some poor kid from California?

Ms. Hilton, the self-proclaimed "queen of all media", you set the cause of gay rights back about a decade.

Fucking idjit. Fucking FUCKING idjit! The idea is to make homosexuality plausible to the large number of Americans who pretend they don't know a gay man or a lesbian.

The idea is ACCEPTANCE & TOLERANCE, you fucking idjit, and that means it HAS to work both ways. And if you can't deal with the fact that a significant number of Americans are uncomfortable with who you are, well, get the fuck out of this nation, son, because it's going to be long after both you and I are dead before gay marriage is not only accepted, but commonplace.

To bully some kid just because you have the spotlight is idi-fucking-otic! The "all about me" trope is something Republicans engage in. Our side is better than that. Or maybe you're not really on our side? There's an awful lot of Bible-thumping red state right winger in you, isn't there?

Then to go on and call her a "dumb bitch," just because she didn't recognize the magnificence that is Ms. Hilton? (Hilton goes on later to apologize, altho my suspicion is the apology ran along the lines of the famed Republican "If I hurt her feelings, I'm sorry" kind)

Ms. Hilton, your fifteen minutes are calling. They're up.

Monday, April 20, 2009


nyc041909 - 1.jpg
Originally uploaded by actor212
These tulips will likely be gone before the end of the week, such is the nature of New York City weather.


No doubt you have heard by now that this is the tenth anniversary of the day when two self-indulgent, twisted, infantile right-wing psychopaths shot up a high school in Colorado.

Much has been written over the weekend with respect to the lessons learned from the Columbine massacre. How can American culture produce this kind of behavior on a regular basis?

Much of it, from both the left (guns!) and right (culture!) has been both simplistic and flat out wrong.

It goes far deeper than that, I fear. It goes all the way to our national psyche.

For example, Canada has a comparable number of guns per household to the USA. It also has as its national sport one of the most physical, violent games played, ice hockey. Guns. Culture. Yet...

You don't hear about Canadians shooting up busloads of people as regularly as you hear about Americans doing it. Why?

The words of the former Premier of the province of Alberta will speak volumes to you:
A few years ago, former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed astonished us by denouncing what he called “the decline of collectivity” in Canada. “We are becoming increasingly Americanized,” he warned, “and this imposes an un-Canadian individualism on our ethic.”


It says so much about this nation.

People only mature when they are exposed to other people on a regular basis, when they can learn to empathize with the plight of others, when the culture around them demands that attention be paid.

If this isn't learned from an early age, immaturity sets in, and you have the fertile grounds for the self-indulgence that sees everything from mass killings to subprime mortgage markets, all in the pursuit of the Material Me.

We used to teach Civics in school, but budget cuts imposed by the Republicans, the very fount of self-indulgence and immaturity, have forced schools to decide whether to raise citizens or drones.

We used to teach ethics & compassion in society, but the greedy bastards who decided that the Fairness Doctrine was unprofitable saw to it that we raised a culture where your opinion doesn't count because you can't raise the money for it to be heard, to ennumerate just one of many hits to ethics we've witnessed in my lifetime.

We used to teach community in our cities and towns, but that was before the word was modified with the adjective "gated".

We used to have neighbors, and now we have co-tenants.

We used to invite the world to our doors, now we make them stand behind fences, gazing in on us, and when we do allow them to enter, we make them jump through so many hoops while dangling the dream of prosperity in their faces, so is it any wonder that after all that effort and time, folks get a little upset when they aren't lottery winners?

We encourage individuality, unless you want to have sex or be married, which is the very essence of individuality. And heaven forbid you need to have an abortion! There, you have to conform!

What the hell do we expect when we insist on conformity in others' behaviors but demand individuality when it comes to our own useless peccadilloes?

Freedom isn't free. It comes with its own long list of demands in exchange for releasing you from captivity. Among these are the responsibilities inherent in any free society best summed up by the saying, "If one man is not free, then I am not free."

Collectivism, in this area, is individuality. If you take care of others, you will be free to be whom you want, whom you need to be, because the responsibility is on them to help you when you need it.

Won't work, you say. True. This is America, and no one trusts anyone else. THe Colonial motto should have been, "I got mine, Jack, now you go get yours," instead of "Don't tread on me."

Which means we have to change America, or we will not survive. No man is an island, and that goes double for a nation of wannabe islands. We have to learn to give a damn about everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, else.

We fake it. We pay attention when Madonna falls off a horse. We geet into a tizzy when some woman in Arizona has fourteen children. We throw a fit when our President tries to fix the problems of this nation.

And we spend trillions on a war in a land where people hate us, where most of us will never visit, and will soon be useless to us for any potential natural resources, but to spend a few thousand here to bail out a neighbor who is losing his house?

And there's the rub.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happy Orthodox Easter!

This is an actual sign on my morning walk. It's for a commercial bakery that relocated from Red Bank, NJ.

But face facts, that sign as a frontispiece for the power plant in the background? That sums up America in a nutshell.