Sunday, February 24, 2019

I Am Not a Financial Advisor ...

... and this is not investment advice.


If I was looking to buy stock right now, I'd be snapping up shares of shares. Here's why.

The share price lost more than 50% on Friday, because talks between the company and US Snail broke down. At issue: USPS wanted to continue selling USPS shipping exclusively, while wants to also work with e.g. FedEx, UPS, and Amazon.

Smart move by, even if it is temporarily hurting their share price.

The only thing keeping USPS in business at all at this point is its government monopoly on first-class mail (which is waaaaaaay down since email came about) and its waning ability to swing last-mile deals with Amazon (which is starting to do its own deliveries).

Friday, February 22, 2019

Hey, It Makes Noise, and That's Good Enough

This is Dead Man's Hand:

I wanted to go primitive in building a "diddley bow." For example, none of those new-fangled metal geared tuning machines. I ordered four wooden friction pegs on eBay (and broke two of them before I got the hole in the "headstock" just large enough for a tight but turnable fit):

One good excuse for going "primitive" is that the only power tools I own are an electric drill and an electric stapler. I didn't use the latter at all. I used the former to drill the tiny hole for the string at the tail, to drill a tiny pilot hole in the headstock, after which I used an awl to enlarge it in tapered fashion for the peg, drill the sound holes, etc.

Other than that, the instrument is:

  • Body -- A little cigar box I found for 50 cents at a garage sale, which I painted green and decoupaged the "dead man's hand" (aces over eights) onto from a dollar store deck of used casino cards (from the Flamingo, IIRC -- so now I've got Bugsy Siegel in addition to Wild Bill at play). Used a hand saw to cut holes for the neck to fit through. 
  • Neck -- A piece of wood I found hanging loose off of a dresser that someone had left at the curb as trash. Cut it to length with a hand saw and cut/chiseled a bit off the top to account for the cigar box's lid thickness (didn't go a very good job).
  • Bridge and nut: These are a couple of "bats" for smoking you know what. I ordered them specifically to use as bridge and nut for a different (cigarette-themed) homemade guitar project which quickly went to hell. I am probably going to replace the one I'm using as a bridge with a couple of souvenir casino chips.
  • Tuning machine: The aforementioned friction peg, presumably meant to be used on a violin.
  • String: A used guitar string I had lying around.
Things that went wrong:

  • That neck is very old, very dry wood. It developed a crack/split by the time I got the friction peg into it. I may try to repair that, or I may just let nature take its course.
  • I had planned to drill the centers out of the aforementioned casino chips and use them as borders around the sound holes. Who knew that casino chips were metal in the center? So now my plan is to use them (I have two), stacked, as the bridge once I get to the store and buy some super glue.
  • The body is just too small to put very big sound holes in. So it's just not going to be very loud.
  • I had planned to slowly and carefully build the thing over "Christmas break." Got busy. Put it off. Then did it in a sudden fit of activity one Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. When you hurry through something, it's half-assed.
  • When I sat down to record something with it for this post, I hit "record" and then realized I hadn't thought about what to play. So I fumbled badly through a few bars of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move."

I'm sure I'll get back to homemade instruments in the near future, and maybe come up with something better (I've got an old cake pan and ideas for making it into a bass guitar). For the moment, my musical energies are going into practicing the D major pentatonic scale on the mandolin.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Something Else That Became MUCH Cheaper But That I Seldom Buy Now

Back in the mid-1980s,  music was pretty much my life. I was knocking down $3.85 an hour ($154 a week gross, about $125 net) at my first post-high-school job, but living with my parents and didn't really have bills beyond car insurance and such. That $3.85 went up to $5.00 pretty quickly. But $200 gross, maybe $170 net still wasn't a insanely high pay -- $459 a week in 2019 dollars.

Every Friday, as soon as I got off work, I cashed my paycheck and went to the record store (a local one until that one closed, later one an hour away in the town where I always spent my weekends watching live bands at the coolest nightclub in town, which had an "all-ages" area). And every week, I bought two albums.

My recollection is that new releases ran $7.99 on vinyl or cassette (I considered CD the work of the devil). I would often buy one new thing (say, The Head on the Door by the Cure) and one older item, usually either a punk classic or something from the '60s. New vinyl or cassette, maybe $5.99. Used, $3 or $4. I seem to recall that I thought my average spent on recorded music each week was about $12, or $27.50 in 2019 dollars.

These days, I pay for maybe two new albums a year. Usually that's buying a CD at a gig to support a band I like, or going ahead and buying the "deluxe" streaming version of something I really, really, really care about. And even when I do pay for new recorded music, the price is perhaps $10 -- far less than the inflation-adjusted cost of an album back when.

In fact, I've become a complete miser when it comes to paying for recorded music. I use YouTube. I use the free version of Pandora. I use the free version of Spotify. I pay for Amazon Prime, which comes with (they say) more than a million songs, but I haven't purchased their upgraded version with a lot more music (at least twice a week, Alexa tells me that a song I asked for isn't available, would I like to sign up?).

For less than $10 a month (less than $5 a month in 1986 dollars), I could pretty much have the recorded music world at my feet. Sure, it would be digital rather than physical media, and from the streaming services it would go away if I didn't keep paying, but I used to cheerfully spend $120 a month on recorded music and now I balk at 1/12th that amount.

Why? Because I can find almost anything I want "free" if I'm willing to spend a few minutes looking for it.

I Get Mail

Usually it's little "e-packets" from China containing guitar picks, hats, etc., that I bought on Wish or eBay, or those annoying after-party notices trying to make you think they're your domain registrar. Stuff like that.

But occasionally it's something different ...

I'm beginning to wonder if they really, really, really like or hate my family. Tamara got summoned (and picked, and did a short trial) a few months ago. Astel got summoned (and dismissed without being selected for a jury) last month. Liam's not 18 just yet.

I've only reported for jury duty once (in Missouri), and they got all the jurors they needed before they even got to the point sticking me in a group to be considered. I got summoned two or three times in a period of six months back in 1991 -- while I was out of the country for Desert Storm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Thanks For Asking!, 02/20/19

Weekly, fortnightly, twice a month ... something like that ... it's the periodic AMA thread brought to you by Free Pony Express!

Ask me whatever you want to ask me in comments below this post. I'll answer in comments, on a potential future podcast, with a blog post ... one way or another!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Chaos @CatoInstitute?

Up until a few weeks ago, the Cato Institute was pretty reliable in terms of posting its text commentaries and podcasts on its web site.

That is, on any given day, usually by the early afternoon, the "Cato Daily Podcast" for that day would be up on their web site and showing in my RSS feed. Ditto the text commentaries written by its analysts and usually published that day, or the day before, or scheduled for publication soon, in this or that newspaper or magazine.

Starting around the turn of the year, though, the Daily Podcast  "for" Date X shows up on the web site five days, a week, or two weeks after Date X.

And the commentaries are hit or miss for showing up on the web site at a time/day consistent with the date they were supposedly "published" on. For example, this morning there's a commentary in my RSS feed, and on the Cato site, with a publication date of February 11. But it wasn't actually posted on February 11. They just "back-dated" it.

Why do I find this bothersome? Well, I publish a daily roundup of news, commentary, and audio/video that's presumably "of interest to libertarians." Cato's definitely in that mix. Or was, going back to the 1990s. And still would be, if their stuff was actually published when they said it was published.

There's not a hard and fast time frame rule, but I generally try to grab stuff within 24-48 hours of publication. If you say you published it on the 11th, but don't actually publish it until the 18th, it's ... stale ... by the time I see it. And by the time anyone else sees it, too.

My guess: Perhaps some staff departed and the positions haven't been filled yet. Maybe I should submit my resume?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Among the Things That Have Become Better Over Time ...

... are cheap shoes.

Remember the old Traxx tennis shoes they used to sell at Kmart, circa the early 1980s?

Those things were the bane of my existence.

Hitting junior high and high school, naturally I wanted what something like what the Kool Kids wore (except that I specifically didn't want Nikes because that seemed too much like playing "keep up with the Joneses -- Adidas, maybe, or Asics).

But my family, while not poor exactly, definitely had to remain on the frugal side. Which meant I got school pants from Monkey Ward instead of Levis or Jordaches or whatever. And often shirts from Goodwill. And those Traxx shoes.

My recollection is that they ran about $7.99, but let me jack that down to $4.99 just to be on the safe side. IIRC, the first pair of Nikes I bought (because I was told to bring tennis shoes to boot camp in 1985) were about $40, or $93.57 in current dollars.

$4.99 in 1980 dollars comes to $15.24 in current purchasing power. $7.99 would come to $24.41.

Those $5-8 Traxx tennis shoes started coming apart within weeks, sometimes within days, of putting them on for the first time. Usually the first sign was the sole peeling away at the toe. If the damn things lasted six months, by the end of it the soles were flapping at both ends and the dark blue fabric had faded to light blue and was disintegrating. I hated them because they were ugly. I hated them because they were uncomfortable. And I hated them because they made me look like someone whose parents either couldn't or wouldn't clothe him decently.

I have three pairs of shoes right now that I paid $20 or less for.

One is a pair of Walmart store brand pull-on shoes ($9.97, IIRC) that seem to be promoted as a sort of after-game slipper for athletes. I've had them for three years, I think. They're starting to show their age, but they're also still completely intact. They get worn around the house, while doing yard work, etc.

The second is a pair of lace-up tennis shoes that I bought via Amazon for (once again, IIRC) $17.xx. They're more than a year old, probably about two years old. I bought them for exercise (walking and running), but wear them all the time when I go out for anything but don't want to dress up. They still look and feel pretty much new. I'd be surprised if they have less than 300 miles on them.

The third is a pair of suede work boots, another Walmart special. I paid $19.97 for them three months ago when I was getting ready to head for the Great White North to help my brother move house. Now, in addition to the Traxx tennis shoes, I usually got store brand Mork'n'Mindy style hiking boots (the new ones look a lot like that) for the winters when I was a kid, and I think they ran $12-15 ($36.66-$45.82).  So far, the boots at about half the real price seem to be a lot more durable, although I haven't worn them as much in a like period of time as I did the ol' Mork'n'Mindys.

I don't like to write in the OMG! Capitalism! vein, but I do have to admit that when it comes to footwear, you can get a lot better gear for a lot less now than you could 35-40 years ago.

So I Had a Really Cool Idea This Morning ...

... and, as is often the case, I quickly discovered that someone else has already had it and is already working on it.

Which is cool, since I wouldn't have had the technical expertise to implement it anyway.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Incentive Question Concerning Inheritance Taxes

If the state gets a bonus when you die, isn't that a very good reason for those whose jobs entail grabbing as much loot as possible for the state to hasten that event in any way they can think of that doesn't cost as much as the prospective bonus comes to?

Word(s) PSA

Well ...

The comic strip Non Sequitur in Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel and others papers across the nation included a vulgar comment directed at President Donald Trump. ... Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel, said the cartoonist’s action was "a breach of trust with our readers."

Hmm ...

breach of trust, noun 1. Law . a violation of duty by a trustee. 2. a violation of duty or responsibility.

I doubt that there was ever any agreement, explicit or implicit, between cartoonist Wiley Miller and the readers of the Orlando Sentinel, under which he was obligated to never, ever, ever use a word that most of those readers probably occasionally use themselves and that 99.x% of them would never have noticed the use of if the Sentinel's editors hadn't called the matter to their attention.

Such an agreement might have existed between Miller and his syndication agent, or between that agent and the newspapers to which it provided Miller's work, I guess, but that's a different matter entirely.

Readers who require fainting couches and smelling salts when exposed to one of the most common "swear words" in the English language probably gave up newspaper comics long ago lest they put their souls at risk of eternal damnation or whatever.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Venezuela: A Tentative Prediction

While a US ground invasion to tip the scales in favor of Juan Guaido's presidential claim seems very unlikely, here's something that (to me, anyway, doesn't):

A couple of weeks ago, the US regime seized control of the Venezuelan regime's US bank accounts, putting them under control of Guaido's faction rather than Maduro's. Beyond any cash already in those accounts, the idea was that revenues generated by the state-owned Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, would end up financing Guaido instead of supporting Maduro.

Maduro's first response was to order that ships leaving Venezuela with oil wouldn't be allowed to leave port until the oil had been paid for (with the funds going to his regime rather than Guaido's).

Yesterday [h/t Steve Trinward], PDVSA began directing incoming oil revenues to Gazprombank AO, a Russian bank (the Russian regime supports Maduro v. Guaido).

My tentative prediction: Unless something else breaks big with the Venezuelan situation pretty soon, we may see a sort of half-assed reprise of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Step 1: Guaido asks the US to help him stop Maduro from "stealing oil and oil revenues" by selling the oil and accepting the money into Maduro-controlled accounts rather than Guaido-controlled accounts.

Step 2: The US blockades Venezuela, intercepting tankers and not letting them leave until it's been established that the oil they're carrying was purchased with money deposited to Guaido-controlled accounts.

Step 3: The Russians send ships to escort tankers carrying oil for which Maduro, rather than Guaido, was paid.

Step 4: US-Russian naval standoff (or even violent encounter).

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

When I Feel Like I'm Getting Low on Musical Instruments, I Often Go Rogue

Disclaimer: I'm not being compensated in any way for this post by Rogue or any other musical instrument maker or seller, nor are the links "affiliate" links. Just my opinion, because I feel like it.

So, my daughter Astel has indicated an interest in taking up guitar. Since I only have one acoustic dreadnought, one acoustic/electric dreadnought, one cigar box guitar complete and one stalled in-build, one 3/4 size dreadnought configured as a three-string with drop-in pickup, two electrics, and one electric lap steel at the moment (I gave away one of my old acoustic dreadnoughts to a friend who seemed to need it, and tore up my $10 Strat clone for parts), a ukulele, and an ancestral mandolin that's not playable (it hangs on the wall) ...

I decided to buy this:

The guitar is the same model black Rogue RA-90 as the one I gave away. And after a coupon code, it came with the mandolin for $90.

A benefactor bought me the same mandolin, in black rather than sunburst, years ago (at least six, but I think more like nine). I messed with it a little bit but never got serious, and passed it off to someone who was interested when I was shedding stuff for the move to Florida. But I've been listening to a lot of bluegrass and blue-grassish stuff lately and that bug is biting again.

I'll pass off my other Rogue RA-90 -- an acoustic-electric that I bought open-box -- to Astel and replace it with the new one as my "when I sit up and bed and feel like practicing my blues scales -- Alexa, open Backing Buddy" axe. I don't have an amp in the bedroom anyway.

So anyway ... this will be my fifth and sixth Rogue instrument (my third dreadnought and my second mandolin -- the lap steel is also Rogue), and I've never found much to complain about. I think the lap steel was the most expensive at about $80, and I've always found that I get much more than I pay for with Rogue. I had to raise the action on the previous RA-90 acoustic to get rid of some string buzz, and I always put new strings on either immediately or fairly quickly. but that's just part of setting up and breaking in a new guitar. Other than that, the instruments produce good sound quality, the intonation isn't off (that would be a nut-to-bridge distance problem with fret placement), and they're not delicately built.

There are cheaper guitars out there. My reading of reviews says they're worth even less than they cost, tending to arrive with bowing necks, separating fretboards, etc. Rogue produces an inexpensive instrument, but in my opinion and experience a quality one that's better than one has any right to expect for the price.

Note: I've come across a number of claims concerning who makes Rogue instruments -- that they're made by Fender, by Squier (which is owned by Fender), or as an in-house brand of Musician's Friend. Since I can't find an official Rogue site, or any Rogue references on the Fender or Squier sites, I assume the last is the correct answer (especially considering that's where I've always bought them).

Here's the Thing About Weld's Departure

Over at We Are Libertarians (a fun podcast, btw), one of the participants (I'm not  always so good at identifying voices, but I think it may have been WAL chief poobah Chris Spangle) bemoans treating it as a "victory" that the Libertarian Party managed to "drive someone away" (quote from memory).

I'm not sure seeing the back of Bill Weld (again) is a "victory," exactly, if for no other reason than that it's not obvious that said departure had anything to do with intra-party "infighting" or criticism.

What it is is, just possibly, a first step on the way to repairing the massive damage he's done to the to Libertarian Party's prospects and the Libertarian Party's brand over the years.

In 2006, Weld ran simultaneously for the New York gubernatorial nominations of the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party. The LPNY nominated first. He was publicly asked to pledge to remain the LPNY's nominee even if he lost the GOP contest. He so pledged -- and then dropped out as the LPNY's nominee within hours of failing to procure the GOP nomination. That put "permanent" ballot access out of LPNY's reach for a minimum of four more years (it ended up being 12).

In 2016, Weld told LP national convention delegates he had changed on gun rights issues, right before going out in the hall to reassure CNN viewers that he hadn't changed on gun rights issues. And despite that bald-faced lie and his screw job on the LPNY ten years before, got the party's vice-presidential nomination.

After which he went out and campaigned against due process and gun rights for people on secret government enemies lists, and in favor of continuing the war on drugs that aren't marijuana.

Damn right I'm glad to see him gone. Not just because he's a lying, traitorous snake whom no one should ever, ever, ever trust even an eensy teensy little bit, but because every past association between him and the Libertarian Party has damaged, and any future such association will damage, the latter.

Of course, we're not entirely shed of that association -- if he does run in the Republican presidential primary, both supportive media and his opponents in the GOP (to the extent that they deign to notice him) will tout his LP vice-presidential nomination, further tarnishing the LP's reputation and hurting its 2020 prospects every time they do so.

There's even a pretty good chance that after he collects some media coverage and loses a couple of Republican primaries, he'll come sauntering back to the LP wanting its 2020 presidential nomination. If we respond to that by doing anything other than laughing him out of the room, we're a bunch of fucking idiots.

Anyway -- the more distance we put between ourselves and Bill Weld, the better. Damn right I'm glad to see him helping with the distancing.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Frag, 02/04/19

Asa Pine always wakes up a second or two before. A second or two before the alarm goes off. A second or two before the phone call comes through. That's how he always remembers it, anyway. It's been like that since boot camp and the first subtle breath of needle noise before reveille tried to shake apart the squad bay's sound system.

He's staring at the clock radio as 3:36 a.m. becomes 3:37 and his phone lights up. Ring tone: "Riders on the storm / Riders on the storm / Into this world we're thrown ..."

He doesn't sit up or unplug the phone from the charger before swiping the answer icon and hitting "speaker."


The answer is not the expected: "Storm," or just a perfunctory order.

"Deputy Pine, this is Sheriff Susan Dorsey of Alachua County. How quickly can you get to Cedar Key, lights and sirens?"

Pine blinks, thinks. "Forty minutes."

"Don't stop for anything or for any reason. Meet me at the Sumidero County Sheriff's Office in 35."

"Yes ma'am."

No click, just a "call ended" message.

Pine pops a k-cup in the machine while he pulls on a uniform. He's out of the house with his insulated travel cup of joe four minutes later. One minute after that, as he turns on to Highway 24, he hits the lights. No siren. No need to wake people up unless he hits traffic. At a quarter to 4 in the morning, that's unlikely.

Just northeast of Otter Creek, past the Upper Waccassa Conservation Area, the strobes of several law enforcement and emergency response vehicles light up the sky to his north. An un-labeled gravel service road, or perhaps a very long driveway, leads in that direction. Pine ignores it and accelerates.

He pulls into a parking spot in Cedar Key 41 minutes after "call ended." Not 40. Certainly not 35. It's going to have to be close enough for government work. All of the department's vehicles except the sheriff's Ford Explorer are out. He's pretty sure he knows where.

Dorsey awaits just inside the employee entrance. Pine hears tension in the steady but unintelligible hum of talk from the dispatcher's desk down the hall.


"Yes ma'am." They've met before, at a law enforcement banquet. He's not surprised she doesn't remember him. He barely remembers the event himself, but she's hard to forget.

"Ronnie Storm is dead."

Oh, shit.


"Doesn't look like it."

Oh. Shit.

"Let me make this as simple as possible. The sheriff's department can't investigate the death of someone who happens to be the sheriff's daughter, the chief deputy's girlfriend, and another deputy's ex-girlfriend. Alachua County will handle the investigation until and unless the state decides to take it from us. We're going to need a liaison. You answer to the description -- a reserve deputy, with an alibi, from the other side of the county, who has never dated Ronnie Storm."

Alibi? Pine files that one away for the moment.

"How's the sheriff holding up?"

"I don't know. I haven't had time to monitor his emotional well-being. He called me the minute the news came in and we had about 30 seconds of so sorry, how can I help before I had to get to work on this. He's in his office. Leave him alone for now. We've got work to do."

As she turns away with an unspoken direction to follow, Pine brushes the star over his breast with one hand before filing the matter away under THINGS I DIDN'T SIGN UP FOR BUT THAT HAPPEN ANYWAY.

Word PSA

complimentary, a. Expressive of regard or praise; of the nature of, or containing, a compliment; as, a complimentary remark; a complimentary ticket.

... does not mean the same thing as ...

complementary, a. Serving to fill out or to complete; as, complementary numbers.

You're welcome.

Friday, February 01, 2019

You Know I'm Not a Fan of Roger Stone, Right?

He brought his "Nixon dirty trickster" toolkit to the Libertarian Party, ruining one of its best chances in years at continuing ballot access in New York, etc. He is simply not one who should ever, under any circumstances, be trusted.

But this "gag order" stuff is, pardon my Esperanto, bullshit.

Your free speech rights don't magically disappear just because a political hack in a black dress fears that your narrative, which presumably differs from the prosecution's, might reach as many people as the prosecution's does.

The pre-trial proceeding should not be a "public relations campaign,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, adding that she's worried that Stone treating the pre-trial process "like a book tour" could taint a potential jury at a future trial.

She gave Stone and the government until Feb. 8 to submit arguments about whether she should impose a gag order.

I hope that Stone puts his contrarian qualities to good, rather than evil, use with this, and has his attorneys submit the following "argument":

Mr. Stone will ignore any "gag order," except in circumstances where he chooses to publicly mock it. He has also pre-recorded and pre-positioned content violating/mocking it with assorted allies so that if he's jailed to shut him up the violation/mockery will continue to flow unimpeded. Do you really want to play this game against this guy?

How to Talk to a Career Politician, if You Must

Thanks For Asking!, 02/01/19

It's the first of another month, so how about a new Free Pony Express-sponsored AMA thread?

  • Ask me anything (yep, anything); and
  • I'll answer in one form or another.
Let's do this.