Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mmmm ... "Free" Ham (Brief Grocer Review)

My first response to the range of grocers in Gainesville was "what ... no Piggly Wiggly?" Moving to the deep south, I thought I'd be able to shop at Piggly Wiggly, dammit. But no dice.

The three main chains in Gainesville are Publix, Winn Dixie (a close second in deep south identification to me), and Sweetbay.

Publix is closest to where we live, which is no surprise because Publix is everywhere. And by "everywhere," I mean that there are two essentially side-by-side shopping centers on Archer Road, each with its own Publix.

I'd like to like Publix, since it's close and especially since it's employee-owned, but the prices ... it's like most of their stuff is made of gold or something. That may have to do with them selling a lot of high-end organic food and so forth, but even the regular groceries seem mostly over-priced. My usual point of comparison is cold cuts. The cheapest hot dogs at Publix cost about half again as much as similar hot dogs did in Missouri, and significantly more than they do at other local stores. I was there not long ago and randomly picked up a 12-ounce box of kosher "pigs in a blanket" from their special Passover section. $13.xx. Yes, you read that right: More than a dollar an ounce for hot dogs in biscuit dough. Needless to say, it didn't go in the cart. Probably wouldn't have anyway -- on the rare occasion when pig in a blanket sounds good to me, I can make more than 13 ounces of them for less than $2 (if I don't buy my hot dogs and biscuit dough from Publix).

Winn Dixie is a mixed bag. Some of their prices are a lot better, some not so much. The real problem with them is that their locations don't happen to be convenient to where we live or where Tamara works (she normally does grocery shopping on her way home from work; I only tag along if we need to pick some stuff up on the weekend).

Fortunately, Sweetbay is fairly conveniently located, and generally has better prices than Publix. And for the last little while, leading up to Easter, they've been running a special. Every time you buy more than X dollars worth of stuff, you get a little coupon. When you get five of those coupons, you can trade them in for another coupon worth $20 off a spiral-cut Easter ham. Which is what Tamara did. Then when she went to get the ham, they were out of all the hams priced at over $20 ... so she got a $16 ham, free. It's in the slow cooker right now, and it smells great.

So we're pretty much with Sweetbay and happy there (the nearest Aldi is in Ocala, too far to drive with any great frequency).

A side note, though: The service is fast, courteous, and friendly in the way that southerners are renowned for, at all of the above-listed grocers. All three chains seem to run clean, well-stocked stores. The only complaint we have with Publix is price, and we'd gladly shop at Winn Dixie more often if it wasn't a cross-town drive.

Of Purple Hearts and Terrorism

Per Fox News:

Legislation that would award the injured from the 2009 Fort Hood shooting the Purple Heart would adversely affect the trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan by labeling the attack terrorism ...

But that's exactly backward.

Survivors and their families who are asking for the Purple Heart to be awarded assert that "Fort Hood was turned into a battlefield when Hasan opened fire during the November 2009 attack."

English: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, Fort Hood sh...It's hard to argue that point. Hasan attacked military personnel, on a military base, with a military weapon (the FN Five-SeveN, developed for and used by military and police, although now available on the civilian market as well), apparently pursuant to an ongoing military conflict. If Congress could be bothered to declare war, he'd be culpable for charges of treason, aiding the enemy, etc.

But a battlefield action -- an attack on military personnel, on a military base, with military weaponry, pursuant to an ongoing military conflict -- is not, whatever else it might be, "terrorism." It's almost the exact opposite of terrorism, which is the targeting of civilians and non-combatants for the purpose of creating (presumably politically useful) terror.

If the US government confers the Purple Heart on the Fort Hood victims, it is explicitly asserting that what took place at Fort Hood was a military battle, not a terrorist attack.

More on this at Memeorandum.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty, Torture, Etc.

I've followed the controversy over Zero Dark Thirty's depiction of torture, but only cursorily.

Some people think the film glorifies torture or credits it for the killing of Osama bin Laden (for some people, the film credits it too much, for others crediting it at all would be too much).

Some people think the film's depiction of torture doesn't credit it (or credit it too much), or that its presentation of torture is dispassionate or journalistic.

After finally watching the film the other day, I'm with the latter crowd. Here's why:

  • As best we can tell, the US has used torture in the "war on terror." For a film on this subject to leave that out would just be silly and unrealistic. I don't agree that the film is "journalistic," as the filmmakers call it (more on that below), but it does try to be believable. They couldn't accomplish that by having the US interrogators give the detainees ponies. Some very bad things happened, and the film had to portray them happening.
  • Since the film has to depict torture, it should do so realistically. I am not an expert on torture, but it seemed realistic to me (and the point of film as entertainment is to seem realistic to the viewer -- experts on torture are a very small percentage of the audience, and that's a good thing). It doesn't treat waterboarding, locking people in small boxes, etc. romantically at all. Neither does it go the other way. The treatment is very flat and naturalistic. "This is happening, no comment on whether it's good or not." The main torturer informs the detainee "I am not a good guy," and proceeds to prove it. So far as I can tell, the film leaves the question of whether or not he should have done so to the viewer.
  • If Kathryn Bigelow had wanted to glorify torture or give it undue credit for producing information, she wouldn't have done it this way. The key early break in the case comes not from torture per se, but from convincing a previously tortured detainee that he had already given up important information after sleep deprivation, so why not eat a good meal, smoke some cigarettes, and have a leisurely chat with his captors?
I'm just not seeing the controversy here. It seems to me that if you have a problem with the way Zero Dark Thirty depicts torture, you'd probably have a problem with any film attempting to tell the story in question. Torture is just the low-hanging fruit to complain about.

Now, as to the film itself: I won't say I enjoyed it -- I don't see how anyone could enjoy the topic -- but I couldn't stop watching it and I don't feel like my time was wasted. I'm not sure I believe it in detail, but I think it was a genuine effort to tell a story as truly as the filmmakers could.

Is the film "journalistic?" No. Not because Bigelow didn't want it to be, but because it's impossible for it to be. Many of the details of the operation are still secret, and those which aren't secret have no doubt been released in such order and in such detail as to reflect as flatteringly as possible upon the US government and to accord with that government's narrative.

That narrative, in its bare bones, is that the US intelligence community tracked down Osama bin Laden and that the Navy SEALs killed him. We have no way of knowing if either of those two foundational factual claims are true. For all we know, bin Laden had been dead for years by the time the government announced his assassination. Or maybe he's even still alive (far less likely, I admit -- I doubt the US government would claim to have assassinated him if they believed he was still out there to dispute the claim).

Bigelow accepted that bare-bones narrative and fleshed it out into story, doing the best she could with what information she could get, no doubt constantly weighing the likelihood that this or that piece of information was good. And in my opinion, she did a fine job of it. It does drag a bit in places and weighs in at a thick 2 1/2 hours. I wish it had been tightened to a flat two hours with a little faster pacing, but I don't know that another director could have made that happen while preserving the quality.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scary Story

Yesterday, I watched a movie. It was a really good movie, too, and it gave me a lot to think about.

Then, for some reason, when I tried to recall the name of the movie, I couldn't, even though I had just finished watching it maybe 30 minutes before and then read up on it on Wikipedia and so forth. I wracked my brain for several minutes, and finally had to mess around with my browser history to find it.

In the normal course of things, that wouldn't be particularly scary. I mean, we've all done things now and again like looking for our glasses or car keys for five minutes before realizing they're on top of our heads or in our hands. At least I think we all have ... um, right?

But this incident put me almost into a panic because of the plot of the movie in question.
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Lanza v. Oswald

According to NBC News, investigators studying the Newtown school massacre have determined that gunman Adam Lanza conducted the killings in "a 154-bullet barrage that took less than five minutes."

Cue the "ban weapons that look military -- nobody needs a gun that can fire that fast!" propaganda.

But wait a minute ...

154 bullets in five minutes is a shot every 1.95 seconds. Lanza killed 26 people, taking about six shots to kill each one. And most of his victims were children pre-trapped in convenient kill boxes ("classrooms") for him.

Deutsch: Foto von Lee Harvey Oswald
Assuming that we believe the official account of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and accept the Warren Commission's determination of the maximum time from first to last shot, Lee Harvey Oswald managed a shot every 1.86 seconds and killed one person with three shots.

That's faster shooting and more efficient killing than Lanza managed. And Oswald did it with an old-fashioned bolt action rifle, from a much longer range, shooting at someone in a moving car and surrounded by armed guards.
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Kind of Petition I Won't Sign

Even though I'm an anarchist, I'm not completely opposed to occasionally petitioning "my" elected officials, generally by way of asking them to refrain from passing, or to repeal, some idiotic authoritarian law.

Today, however, I got an email asking me to "help us get 100,000 strong calling on the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA" (the fraudulently named "Defense of Marriage Act").

I'd certainly like to see DOMA overturned or repealed (and the government that passed it overthrown!), but the Supreme Court's job is to apply law, not to make law. Their decision on whether or not to overturn DOMA should, in theory, be based entirely on whether or not DOMA is constitutional, and not at all on how much popular pressure might be brought to bear on them by one side or the other (to make it so is presumably one reason why Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, not elected and subjected to periodic re-election).

So while I agree wholeheartedly with the goal, no dice.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Practical Case Against Victim Disarmament, Part 2

Here's Part 1. For Part 2, I'll just let Cody Wilson make the case directly:

"Charged as an Adult"

If there's going to be a legal distinction between minors and adults based on a number drawn out of a hat, that distinction should be clear and firm, not "you're a minor if you try to vote, buy a pack of cigarettes or drink a beer, but as soon as we think you may have done something illegal, you magically become an adult" -- even in cases like this one.

It's perfect cause for jury nullfication -- if the prosecution lies to the jury from the very beginning, which is exactly what this "I waved a magic wand and voila! It's an adult!" stuff amounts to, it should prompt an automatic "not guilty" verdict.

Friday, March 22, 2013

That's Me, Always Trying Something New

It was a fast food Friday night tonight, and unlike the rest of the family I just didn't like the sound of McNastyburger. So I asked Tamara to run me a couple of blocks further to Falafel King. I generally like the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern foods I've tried, but I'd never had falafel.

Now I have. I ordered the falafel wrap, hold the pickles. Interesting. Not sure it's really my bag (kind of salty and the mix of spices didn't grab me; the next time I go I think I'll try their baba ganoush or a gyro), but it was interesting, the service was courteous, the food was made to order, not just grabbed from under a heat lamp, there was plenty of it for the price, etc.

It beat McNastyburger by a damn sight, anyway.

Concern Pols Are Concerned

Despite the fact that there's precisely zero evidence that Iran's regime is interested in having nuclear weapons, and a good deal of evidence against the possibility ...

[C]oncern is growing about another rapidly advancing project that could supply plutonium for a nuclear weapon. ... The United States and its allies worry .... the reactor is "of increasing concern" .... Israel ... is even more concerned.

Most of this "concern" comes from:
  • The only country to ever use atomic weapons on another; and
  • A country already well-known to possess its own nukes but which has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike Iran), does not comply in any way whatsoever with that treaty's requirements (unlike Iran), and allows precisely NO "international" inspection, regulation, etc. of its nuclear facilities (unlike Iran).
It reminds me of a joke that begins "So Typhoid Mary and Karl Genzken walk into an epidemiology seminar ..."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

If You Thought Republicans Were for Balanced Budgets ...

... you thought wrong.

House Republicans and Democrats both have some interesting little tricks in their political bags.

The Republican trick is to propose a "moderate/reasonable" budget-balancing path, then count on all the Democrats to vote against it, so that only a few Republicans have to pretend to jump ship to kill it (after which, they blame the Democrats for its failure to pass).

The Democrat trick is to get most Democrats to just vote "present," in the hope that the Republicans will pass said "moderate/reasonable" budget-balancing path (which Democrats consider "extreme"), after which it will die in the Senate or under the president's veto stamp (and the Democrats will campaign on how "extreme" Republicans are).

This time, both plans backfired.

The Republican Study Committee proposed a "moderate/reasonable" bill to balance the budget in four years. That's four years longer than it should take, of course, but a lot less time than other plans (Paul Ryan's budget supposedly balances in ten years, and none of the Democratic plans balance at all, ever, period).

Most Democrats voted "present" in hopes of forcing the Republicans to pass the "moderate/reasonable" -- er, "extreme" -- bill. That didn't work; the bill didn't pass.

The Republicans, not having enough cover from Democrats to blame them for killing it, decided they'd rather kill it themselves than risk the slim possibility that it might ever get through the Senate and past the president.

104 Republicans voted to balance the budget in four years. 118 Republicans voted not to.  QED, at least 53% of Republican US Representatives oppose balancing the budget any time in the near future, so much so that even if they can't shift the blame for not balancing the budget onto the Democrats, they'll still vote against balancing the budget.

And that 53% is a best-case scenario -- some who voted for the bill may have actually opposed it, but knew that it could be killed without a nay vote their constituents might notice.

Even counting the Democrats who did vote, only 15 more Republican votes would have passed the bill.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Trevithick, You Ignorant Slut

I take just a wee bit of umbrage at this:

The mortar has changed little since World War II and remains one of the simplest weapons to operate, which is why it is found at the lowest level of infantry units, said Joseph Trevithick, a mortar expert with Global

"Basically, it's still a pipe and it's got a firing pin at the bottom," Trevithick said. Still, a number of things could go wrong, such as a fuse malfunction, a problem with the barrel's assembly, or a round prematurely detonating inside the tube, he said.

 Am I qualified to speak to how "simple" it is to operate a mortar? Credentials time:

Well, let's see: I earned the "Golden Gunner" award -- perfect scores on the 60mm and 81mm mortar gunner's exams -- at Infantry Training School, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA, 1986. I subsequently served for ten years and in every Weapons Company 81mm mortar billet  in the US Marine Corps, with the exception of forward observer, platoon sergeant and platoon commander (and those last two on a few brief occasions as "acting" and FO once or twice by way of familiarization training to learn to work with a Forward Air Controller on Suppression of Enemy Air Defense [SEAD] stuff).
English: M29 81mm mortar
English: M29 81mm mortar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I've been an ammo man, an assistant gunner, a gunner, a squad leader, a section leader, and chief of the Fire Direction Center (in that last role, I OJTed the plotter billet -- and in fact re-invented that billet by teaching myself the ballistics and trigonometry necessary to get a programmable calculator to handle some of the lifting in place of our warping old M16 plotting boards, since my unit didn't have money budgeted for the then-new Mortar Ballistic Computer). In 1991 in Saudi Arabia, myself and one other Marine (Corporal Gerald Pagan) were selected to familiarize the embryonic Saudi Marine Corps with the Vietnam-era M29 mortar, since he and I were the only two guys in the area who still knew it inside out (our unit had upgraded to the M252 a few years before).

So yeah, I think I know a little bit about mortars. More on their complexity after the jump.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Not That Bad, Actually

Not a big Rand Paul fan, but credit where credit is due -- his speech to the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was, like George W. Bush's proposal of 2003 or so, "a good start," at least by comparison to most politicians' Know-Nothing Appeasement positions.

Brief Wordpress Technical Note

The back end of the Wordpress installation over at Rational Review News Digest started running really slow awhile back. The slowdown was, for the most part, noticeable when I'd hit "publish" or "schedule" on a post.

Silly me, I didn't think to check the plugins, because I hadn't installed any new ones recently. I messed around with various cache settings and database optimizations and so forth, to no effect.

A few days ago, I decided that maybe the site was just getting too damn big at ~30,000 posts, and started deleting old material (it's a news and commentary roundup/excerpt/link site -- the old stuff may be mildly useful for researchers trying to find stuff, but it's not like there's a bunch of original material there). But that went VERY slowly, too, even using the "mass delete" plugin (it kept timing out).

I finally got tired enough of it yesterday to start selectively shutting down the plugins I could afford to do without (some of them are just absolutely required to get things the way they need to be), and discovered that when I turned off the Google sitemap plugin, bam -- things started running at normal speed again.

My guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that the plugin was re-indexing the whole damn site every time I added, deleted, etc. a post, and that at a certain point there was just too much material for it to handle in a timely manner.

In any case, if you have a Wordpress site with a lot of posts, and if it suddenly starts running like a snail with a stomach ache, and if you have that particular plugin running, try turning it off and see what happens.

Things That Say More About the Observer Than the Observed ...

According to the Daily Mail:

Sunday evening's episode of the History Channel's hit series 'The Bible' threw up an awkward coincidence when viewers noticed that Satan bore a remarkable resemblance to President Obama.

The article also refers to "striking similiarities," "the eerie similarity" and "the clear physical match."

All of which seem to be different ways of saying "hey -- both of those guys are black!" Because apart from that, they really don't look very much alike.

Just sayin' ...

Since I Can't Get the #^@!(@! "Cat Signal" Code to Work ...

... I'll just link to the Internet Defense League's page on The Return of CISPA.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

For Once I Agree with Dianne Feinstein

I've never run into a sixth grader who was anywhere near as venal, arrogant, narcissistic or dumb as the Senator from California.

Also, with a sixth grader, you can tell yourself there's at least a chance of cranial-rectal disentanglement. By the time someone reaches Feinstein's age with decades of such a chronic condition, there's presumably been some kind of permanent fusion.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Question That's Been Bugging Me

St. Louis's Major League Baseball franchise didn't even make it to the World Series last year, let alone win it ... so why do they get to choose the new pope?

Manning Speaks

The fact that the government forbade this recording is, in my opinion, sufficiently good reason to give it a careful listen. Hat tip --

So Far the Sequester Looks Better ...

... than either of the "mainstream"  alternative proposals.

US Representative Paul Ryan's Republican proposal supposedly balances the federal budget -- over ten years. But it does so by keeping the taxes associated with "ObamaCare" while not delivering the programs associated with "ObamaCare." That's right -- you have to pay for socialized health care and then you don't even get the socialized health care. Oh, and Ryan insists that the federal government must continue to spend 4-5 times the maximum imaginably plausible amount on "defense."

US Senator Patty Murray's Democratic proposal is, if anything, even less convincing. It doesn't even pretend to balance the federal budget over any amount of time, and frankly it's mostly just vivid imagination -- it counts the prospective end of the Afghanistan war and hypothetical reductions in debt interest payments as "spending cuts" on one end, and predicts nearly a trillion dollars in increased tax revenues from "closing loopholes."

A serious 2014 budget proposal would be balanced, on the basis of 2013 revenues and tax rates. Period.

A serious longer-term budget plan would include:

1) Balancing the budget each year on the basis of the previous year's actual revenues;

2) Automatic appropriation of any end-year surplus for additional debt service;

3) An assumption, until and unless evidence to the contrary arises, that the US is smack on top of/in the middle of the Laffer Curve -- and that any proposed tax increases or decreases will therefore require corresponding spending cuts.

Anything short of the above is just  middle school horseplay.
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Friday, March 08, 2013

Won't Someone Please, Please, PLEASE Turn Down the Stupid?!?

Umm ...

Florida state Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat, introduced the "Sunshine Protection Act" earlier this year that would make daylight saving time permanent year round. Why? Soto, an attorney, said that he was just tired of leaving his law office in the dark.

Hey, here's an idea: How about instead of everyone else changing their clocks, you change your office hours?

Not that I object to the idea per se, really -- if timekeeping is going to be a matter of law, why not just pick a single scenario and stick with it? And I don't particularly care which scenario it is. If people want more or less daylight, they can set their own schedules earlier or later as they please, instead of expecting everyone else to spring forward, fall back, etc.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Solution to the "Domestic Use of Drones" Issue

Shoot them down.

No, really.

The MQ-1 Predator has a $4 million price tag, and prices seem to go up from there.

I bet there are effective homebrew anti-aircraft solutions that can be put together for a few hundred dollars. Maybe even less. Maybe cheaply enough to make them effectively disposable.

Let a local law enforcement agency get a few million dollars worth of the things turned into smoking heaps of scrap metal, and spend more time and money investigating that than they would have saved using them, and see how keen they are on keeping it up.

I think it's eminently doable.

You Know You're Living in a Distorted Economy When ...

  1. ... government-provided health care is more efficient than its "private sector" counterpart.
  2. ... Even the most "conservative" governors decide they're just fine with expanding government-provided health care, so long as the feds foot the bill and their corporate benefactors are allowed loot it by passing it through faux "privatization" schemes.
  3. The national health care program proposed by what Republicans (at least Republicans who are too young or too senile to remember Richard M. Nixon) call "the most left-wing in American history" turns out to be just another crap ton of corporate welfare.
But I guess all of that's to be expected given that there's been nothing resembling a free market in health care in America for more than a century. That has been, as they like say inside the Beltway, "off the table" for more than a century -- ever since the inception of medical licensure as a way of letting the doctors' guild use the state to artificially drive up doctors' wages and shut down their competitors.

Stats Discrepancy

According to Sitemeter, KN@PPSTER received 4,449 page views in February.

According to Blogger's stats (which look like they're probably powered by Google Analytics), KN@PPSTER received 16,452 page views in February.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of them is nearly four times as big as the other --  a difference of 429 page views per day.

That bugs me. Not the numbers per se (I haven't been obsessed with traffic much lately, although I never know when I'll suddenly get the bug), but the difference between the numbers.

Anyone have an opinion on which stats package is more reliable?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The difference ...

... between a fairy tale, a sea story and a schizophrenic break with reality:

A fairy tale starts with "once upon a time ..."

A sea story starts with "no shit, this really happened ..."

A schizophrenic break with reality starts with "we can win with Mitt, if ..."

Card Games

OK, maybe I'm not really the guy to write about this. But I'm going to anyway.

I'm not a huge comics fan, and to the extent I like comics at all I'm more a Marvel than a DC type (and in the DC universe, I prefer Batman to Superman).

I'm also very much of mixed mind about Orson Scott Card.

On the one hand, I rate the first three Ender Wiggin novels among the great works of science fiction in general, and of English literature in the last half of the 20th century. Ender's Game is one of the great anti-war novels (especially given the rest of the cycle) -- and was also on the US Marine Corps' reading list because of its insights regarding leadership.

On the other hand, we're obviously political and social opponents. He's an anti-marriage, anti-family Mormon Democrat and I'm a pro-marriage, pro-family ex-Mormon anarchist. He thinks the government should be overthrown if it doesn't suppress marriages and families he doesn't like. I cheerfully agree that the government should be overthrown, but would likely fight to the death against his recommended replacement regime.

I can understand why some comic fans might not be hip to the idea of Card as Superman story author.

I can also understand why one artist would be uncomfortable partnering with another artist if their worldviews clash in a big way.

[all source material h/t David Klaus, btw]

But I think maybe everyone getting exercised about it is a disservice to all involved -- to the Superman franchise, to the fans, to Card.

HP Lovecraft was a racist, but the work was good.

Hell, Ezra Pound was a bona fide fascist, but lots of admirers say the poetry is good (not a big fan myself).

Robert Heinlein seemed a bit overly pre-occupied with propagandizing for consensual incest toward the end of his writing life, but most of his stuff was still incredibly good (the most incest-themed of hs novels, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, was fantastic; I thought The Cat Who Walks Through Walls failed as a story, but who doesn't have the occasional stinker, and wasn't he entitled to one after so many great books?).

My guess is that Superman fandom would be better off for having that story from Card, even while complaining about his heresies, than it is for letting those heresies bait them into depriving itself of the story.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

That Ol' "As a Percentage of GDP" Dodge ...

The Congressional Budget Office projects that in 2013, federal tax revenues will reach an all-time high of $2.7 trillion.

The folks at FactCheck.Org have a quibble, though:

Bob Williams of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said it doesn’t make much sense to talk about revenues only in nominal dollars. That doesn't account for growth in population, inflation or the growth of the economy. Say, for example, the population doubled, Williams said. You would expect the amount of revenues to double as well. So revenues would increase without the need to raise tax rates. But spending would have to go up to provide services to twice as many people.

"Provid[ing] services to twice the people," as in Williams's example, does not necessarily mean providing twice the services, nor does it necessarily mean twice the cost. As a matter of fact, it almost certainly means neither.

Just because the population got bigger, that doesn't mean the borders got any longer or that they cost any more in man-hours or equipment to "secure."

It also doesn't mean the armed forces had to get bigger or have more planes, tanks, guns or bombs. Nobody else's borders got any longer, or their territory any larger, either. The oceans are still the same size, too -- it takes exactly as many Carrier Strike Groups to patrol them as it did before.

And if the population of Unfriendlystan  got bigger too, so what? A 10-megaton nuke (just for example) will kill 98% of the people unlucky enough to be living within its 13-mile blast radius. It doesn't care if there are 10,000 of them or 100,000 of them.

Even in the areas where costs do rise, they probably don't double. Does the phrase "economies of scale" ring any bells?

So the government is sending out twice as many Social Security payments, yeah, and the total cost of the payments themselves doubled, true, but the administration shouldn't cost anything like twice as much. So they had to stick another computer in the SSA building to run more direct deposit routines. That doesn't mean they had to double their work force, or build a new building twice the size, etc.

Yellowstone and Yosemite will be the same size next year as they were last year. It doesn't take twice the staff to usher twice the number of visitors through the gates. If there are 100 people standing by to watch Old Faithful erupt today, it takes the same single tour guide to give the lecture as it took when there were 50 people there a year ago today. Yeah, they may need a larger maintenance and cleanup crew, but not double (twice as much trash may have to be picked up, but that there shrub doesn't have to be trimmed twice as often).

There will still be 435 US Representatives, not 870, and 100 Senators, not 200, and they will still operate in one Capitol building, not two. There will still be one President and White House, one Vice-President and Naval Observatory,  and so on, and so forth.

Just because the population of my household -- or the income they earn --  doubles, that doesn't mean the costs have to. Sure, they'll go up, but they won't double. It costs the same amount to light the living room for the evening with two people in it as it does with one. The rent or house payment doesn't change, nor does the cable bill or the phone bill unless we just really want an extra phone line or more DVRs or something. It costs the same amount to mow the yard or have it mowed (if we mow it ourselves, though, there are twice as many people to split the work -- more leisure for all!). I may spend more on food, but I'll probably spend about the same amount to refrigerate that food until I cook it, and the same amount on or electricity to cook it with, and less than double the amount of water on washing dishes, doing laundry, etc.

Trying to calculate taxes "as a percentage of GDP" is 100% pure Grade A horseapples.

Monday, March 04, 2013

You Say It Like It's a Bad Thing ...

"Ashley Judd, potential U.S. Senate candidate, sure has done a lot of on-screen nudity," that is.

Seems like more of an asset than a liability to me.  She definitely has the transparency vote in pocket, if for no other reason than that nobody wants to see Mitch McConnell naked.

In the Footsteps of Father Guido Sarducci ...

... comes Bishop Ralph Napierski.

USA Today dubs Napierski an "impostor ... with an entourage of fake clerics," who tried to get into the Sistine Chapel to hobnob with cardinals planning the election of the Holy Roman Catholic Church's next pope.

According to the report, Napierski claims to represent Corpus Dei, which the paper describes as a "non-existent Catholic organization," but which has a web site (identifying it as a "Catholic Order after episcopal law by Bishop Ralph Napierski").

Also per USA Today, the Italian Orthodox Church (which Napierski apparently claims to be a bishop in) "does not exist," but Wikipedia begs to differ:

The Italo-Byzantine Monastery of St. Mary of Grottaferrata, 20 kilometers south of Rome, was founded by St. Nilus of Rossano in 1004, fifty years before the division between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church and remains to this day an enclave of Byzantine tradition under the Roman jurisdiction. The immigration of Albanian Orthodox to Southern Italy contributed to a brief revival of Orthodoxy in the fifteenth century, but soon the Albanians were assimilated under the Roman Church, which preserved their autonomy by creating the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, of Byzantine Rite.

The Italian Orthodox Church went underground, and the Bishops used to move to avoid persecution. Consequently, they were referred to as bishops residing in a given place, rather than as diocesan territorial overseers. However, due to its small numbers and persistent persecution by their Roman Catholic brothers, the Italian Orthodox Church became almost extinct and there were times when gaps existed in the hierarchy. Due to the persecution, comes the belief that there were many married bishops ordained secretly, although this practice was not endorsed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nevertheless, the Church has survived to this day and is experiencing a period of revitalization.

And I have to give Napierski high marks for his updating of the clerical vestments. A fedora makes a lot more fashion sense than a skull cap or a mitre, and that magenta sash is simply fabulous.

None of which is to dispute the fairly obvious fact Napierski  in not an official of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, with the requisite credentials to participate in its papal selection conclave, but as an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (and a Litterarum Doctor per same), I do wish that the "mainstream media" would be a little less loose with its declarations concerning who may or may not be "real" clergy and what religious institutions might or might not exist.

I mean, if Pat Robertson or John Hagee had shown up at the Sistine Chapel trying to horn their way in, they'd likewise have found themselves escorted out, but nobody would have denied that they were clergy or that their churches existed, right?

Just for the record ...

... I am not this asshat:

Last September, Alvin Schlangen was acquitted in Hennepin County, Minnesota of the following three charges: selling raw milk, operating without a food license, and handling adulterated food.

But in January he was brought up on six charges in his home county of Stearns, including the same three that were just dropped against him. Each side had a few weeks to submit letters, one of which was Alvin's attorney requesting to have the same three charges dropped.

Alvin is arguing that this is serial prosecution - I'm guessing a less severe form of what we might call Double Jeopardy. But Judge Thomas Knapp disagreed and said they were different "crimes," although similar, happening 10 days apart and involving separate foods.

Just sayin', as I wouldn't want to be mistaken for said asshat if someone decided to beat some sense into, or the tar out of, him.

Not that I'm encouraging that, mind you. Turning him out of office and ostracizing him with such thoroughgoing intensity that he moves, changes his name and changes his ways would probably be more effective remedies to his cranial-rectal inversion problem.

h/t: Thane Eichenauer

Saturday, March 02, 2013

What's Outrageous About the "Sequester" ...

... is not that $85 billion will be "cut" from the federal budget over eight months.

It's that the entire federal budget comes to not just more, but lots more, than $127.5 billion (what that $85 billion, extended to one year, adds out to).

Think about it: $127 billion breaks out to about $400 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Do you really think you're getting $400 worth of anything good out of Washington?

You know, I might be willing to pay them $400 just to go away. If it would work. But of course it wouldn't work, any more than feeding other wild animals does.

So anyway, that $85 billion "sequester" represents a "cut" (from projected increased spending, not from last year's actual spending -- neat trick, huh?) of $283 per American ... from previously projected 2013 federal outlays of more than TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS per American.

To call the sequester a drop in the bucket is insulting to drops. And to buckets. I'd say "serious" starts at $1 trillion.

Friday, March 01, 2013

One Good Thing About the Sunshine State ...

... is that there's quite a bit of sunshine, and a reasonable amount of wind. I'm trying to make as much use of them as possible.

I just got the electric bill for our first full month. $118.

That's not terrible, considering there's no gas bill (it's an all-electric trailer), and considering we used both central air and central heating at various times (I should have kept a diary, but my guess is that the air ran for at least a couple of hours during the day, at least 15 days out of 30, and that the heat ran for several hours at night, at least 10 nights out of 30).

I expect that as spring winds up and summer approaches, it's going to get more expensive, so I'm looking at ways to control that.

We'll be picking up some fans and trying to work out a good air circulation setup so that we can do without air conditioning most of the time (by "we," I mean "everyone else in the family" -- I acclimate well), but the gains to be had in this way are minimal. Tamara and the kids prefer comfort to the stoic acceptance required for lower utility bills for some unknown reason.

I've laid down the law on televisions, game consoles, etc. -- if I see them left on when not in use, they'll disappear until an understanding is reached. I think there's room for at least $20 a month in savings right there*.

Another issue is lighting. I've replaced a few of the most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with CFLs already, but even with lower power consumption, I spend a lot of time turning off lights that others leave on. And most of those lights put out more lumens than I really want, even from fixtures reduced from two 60-watt incandescents to a single equivalent CFL.

So, I am going solar for some room lighting. I've picked two rooms, and two different lights, to start with.

The first room is my "office" (really sort of a family all-purpose room -- my guitar and Liam's keyboards are in here, and so forth). The light from the windows is exactly right during the day -- never too dim and if it's too bright (it's a south-facing room) I have adjustable blinds to tone it down. But at night the place is always either too dark or too bright. I've ordered a d.light s10 lantern, which looks (from reviews, etc.) like it will put out maybe a little less light than a 40-watt incandescent.

The second room is Liam's, because he just hates the dark and wants a light on all the damn time. It doesn't have to be bright light, but a night-light isn't enough. He's got a d.light s1, which looks to be roughly equivalent to a small desk reading lamp, on the way.

The only thing I don't like in advance about these two products is that the solar panels are hard-built into the units. I'd prefer to be able to mount the panels outside the house and run wire from there to the lamps, instead of having to remember to put the units out in the sun during the day to charge them up for use inside at night. But units like that are a little more expensive. They come later if this works out well.

If these two lights work out, I'll pull the bulbs from the wired fixtures so that we have to use them (and then I'll order more solar lights for other rooms). The two solar geegaws came to about $30, so if they save a total of $5 a month they'll pay for themselves in six months. And just for value added, they'll put out less heat than an incandescent bulb or a CFL, so maybe we'll save a little on climate control as well.

If they don't work out for this use, well, I have some other uses in mind for them. We have an outdoor canopy that could use an overhead light for grilling out in the evening and so forth, and I expect I'll need something for the chicken coop I'm about to build as well.

If I had it my way -- that is, if we owned this place and had cash to spare -- I'd just go whole hog, cover the roof with solar panels and maybe stick a wind turbine out back. From what little research I've done, I suspect that that would pay for itself in three years or less and actually turn a profit in the long run (because we'd be producing all of our own power and selling the surplus to the local utility). But we don't own the place, and can't lay out mid-four-figures to do things up that way, so this is how I'm doing it, one little bite at a time.

* I'll probably also be buying a $5 outdoor pathway light -- not because I need the light, but because it operates on rechargeable AA batteries. The kids use AAs for game controllers and such, and right now we recharge at the wall outlet. Why not let the sun recharge those batteries instead?