Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Death by hanging, or death by firing squad?

 Just my two cents, which actually has no cash value at all....

  
Of course the O'Bama administration is touting the new Iran / 5+1 (or whatever it's called) nuclear freeze deal, and now our living rooms are being blasted with TV commercials saying it will be the end of the world and we must stop it.  So who's right?

IMHO both are.  There is no way we are going to get (our definition of) a good deal with the Iranians.  They are led by religious zealots who don't care what the world or even their own people want.  Oh sure, they trotted out the guy with the neatly trimmed facial hair and a suit of western-style clothes to be their front man....



....but it's really this guy, their Grand Exalted PooBah, who holds the real power, and he has said the agreement will in no way alter his determination to destroy Israel or deter him from spreading his pro-Shia Muslim influence across the Mid East.  I don't trust him, or the rest of the Gubment of Iran, and look for them to cheat every chance they get. 

They'll get the world's sanctions off their backs, get the go-ahead to buy critical "stuff" from the West, then they'll be off to their old shenanigans again.  (Before the ink even dried they announced a deal with Pootie Poo Putin to buy 100 Ilyushin aerial-refueling tankers, enabling their shitty little air force to extend their range to cover virtually the entire Mid East.)


BUT....

Let's get real here....we can't stop them.  With regard to this particular crisis, we're essentially powerless.  Sure, sanction hurt them, or more specifically hurt their people, but the religious zealots who call the shots there haven't cared about their people in decades.  Why start now?  

A few years down the road this will surely look like it was a bad deal.  But at least on paper it bought us some time.  Time to figure out what to do.  Time to develop some miracle new technology that can zap their nukes, or scramble their computers with some new computer virus.  I dunno.  Anything is possible.

So I guess we should take the deal, but NEVER let ourselves think this will be the peaceful end of those pesky old Iranians.  Like your slug of a brother-in-law, they'll be back.  Count on it.  *sigh*

Fortunately (?) for us, the Egyptians, Turks, and Saudis, and of course the always vigilant Israelis are making noises like they might step to the plate and do something.  'Course, if they succeed, what will be the unintended consequences from those odd bedfellows?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On a totally unrelated (believe it or not) topic, this evening I'm going to the gun club to shoot this:


You know what they say about men and their toys.  :)



Now where did I put my tin foil hat?

S



Monday, July 20, 2015

Free college education? Hmmm....lemme think on that.

I can remember my dad telling the story on more than one occasion of how there were only 11 grades of public school when he was a kid back in the 1930's.  I don't know if that was universal nation-wide or just in his small-town school district.  Regardless, according to him it was a bit later that a 12th grade was added to the free public education system.


I'm guessing dad missed being in his senior class photo as he was probably in the principal's office.  (This is actually a generic photo.  Doesn't matter....he would still have been in the principal's office :)

What brought this to mind was a Facebook post I saw today quoting Democratic / Independent / Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders advocating a free college education for all.  

I'm sure this brought squeals of glee from one end of the political spectrum and cries of anguish from the other extreme.  That's always how we see things, either liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.  If one side proposes something, the other opposes it, just to deny their opponent the satisfaction.  

I don't look at things through those glasses.  I think "practical".  Example:

Knowledge is today exploding exponentially.  Kids today have so much more to learn than I did when I was in school.  Using dad's example, a 12th grade was probably added to the public education system because kids needed to absorb more information than they had in the past.  (I won't go in to the "dumbing down" of the system over the intervening years.  Grrr!)

Not long ago I was invited to visit the Lockheed Martin facility in Foat Wuth where we got a tour and heard a presentation by their PR folks.  They told of how their greatest challenge today was finding / hiring enough qualified American engineers.  (I say "American" because most of their work requires a very high security clearance, making many / most foreign-born engineers, technically qualified though they might be, automatically ineligible.)  They said our stagnant (my word) educational system was hindering them.

There was a time when obtaining a high school education was considered adequate for a bright future.  Then it became necessary to get a college education in order to climb the socio-economic ladder.  Today some sort of advanced degree is becoming almost mandatory in order to rise above the lower / middle management level.  Yet here we are 80 years after dad graduated, still with the same 12 grades of free public education.  Helloooo?

"But...but...how would we ever pay for it?"  Consider this (decade-old) census bureau chart:


Imagine how much more income tax revenue we could squeeze out of a Bachelor's / Master's / Doctorate Degree holder than we are getting from a high school graduate, much less a public school dropout?  I'd look there for the additional funding!

I don't think every kid should necessarily get a free ride to Stanford or Princeton or Texas Tech....well OK, maybe Texas Tech....or that post-high school education even has to mean "college".  There is a great need for trade skills such as welders, mechanics, medical techs, etc that require more education, but not an actual college degree.

I think this is an idea that might need to be looked into further.  It seems to me that it would be in our NATIONAL SECURITY INTEREST to have the best educated population and the brightest, most dynamic workforce in the world.  Right now lack of $$$ is no doubt holding back a lot smart kids.  Yes, some can work 2 or 3 jobs and perhaps get there, but along the way I wonder how many others would simply, exhaustedly, give up the dream?

I say let the #$%^& Democrats and Republicans fight over who's bright idea it was.  But lets do take the idea and see if we can find a way to make it work.  Seems to me we'll all be better off if we somehow can.

And you say....?

S


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Move over Michelangelo

We recently completed construction on a major new Mother-In-Law wing addition to a home that we built several years ago.  It turned out so nice my friend and the project architect, Scott Roberts of Creative Architects, took these photos and is entering it in a Home Builders Association award contest in the category of Best Addition To A Several Year Old Home Designed By An Architect With The Initials Of SR And Built by Two Brothers With The Initials Of SP & TP.  

I thought you'd like a sneak preview....


This was the original home.


This southern end is the new Mother-In-Law addition.  Lucky Mom!



Two views of Mom's new den. 


The new library.


The new library ceiling....it took me FOREVER to paint that, lying on my back for days at a time!  *wink* 



Mom has her own modest pullman-style kitchen and laundry area.  (The dryer is behind the double cabinet doors to the right of the washer.)


She also has her own media room upstairs.  (The theater seats hadn't arrived before the photo session.) 


And of course Mom also has her own second story balcony with a view of the neighborhood water feature across the street.  I LOVE that big ass fan!  (Seriously, the manufacturer is The Big Ass Fan Company.)


And finally, here is the completed project exterior.  Not too shabby, huh?  :)

Nice job Scott Roberts!

S


Friday, July 10, 2015

Pimp My Ride

I've never been a big car customizer.  I usually buy my cars with my options just checked on the order form.  But in the spirit of the TV show Pimp My Ride, I decided to let my hair down *snicker* and do something different to my new car.  But what?




The first thing that came to mind was some 26" chrome wheels and low profile tires, but I'm not prepared to pay big bucks to replace the dental work likely to be shaken loose by the rough ride.




Then I thought about one of those 26-speaker, 4000 watt audio systems, but remembered I'm not all that impressed with today's music.

What I decided on was something a bit less flamboyant, but something likely to keep my car looking showroom new for years.  Something like this...


What do you think?  Like it? 

What I splurged on was the application of a top-quality paint protection film on the front end, fenders, and hood to save my car from the thousands of little rocks and dirt clods that fall off all those #$%& construction trucks every day here in Dallas.


The owner, Brian Martin ^, could be the poster child for anal retentiveness.  *And I thought I was bad!*  I watched as he washed the car that I had just washed, then used a clay bar to get it cleaner still.  Then he touched up a couple of almost microscopic chips I couldn't begin to see.  Finally he slowly, meticulously, applied his miracle film.

My friend Neil did this to his new car years ago and it still looks perfect.  I see it all the time on the fancy autos at Cars and Coffee...the Audi's, Mercedes', BMW's, Lexus's, Ferrari's, Lambo's, etc.  While my car is juuuuust a bit more modest, I still think it's worth it.

In my research (yes, I even researched this) I learned that most film applicators use pre-cut pieces that are much easier to just slap on, but don't fit well at all.  The average slug might not see it, but I knew I would.  Brian uses full sheets of film, then cuts them to wrap under the hood and fender edges, making it virtually invisible.  


 It took him all day, and then I left my car with him overnight to make sure everything "cured" just right. When I picked it up the next day I could not see it.  Kudos, Brian!

So okay, maybe it's Pimp Lite.  Ya' think it needs anything more?  Curb feelers maybe?  Gangster white walls?  Oooo....I know....


Hey, this is Texas.  :)

Full disclosure:  I received absolutely nothing for this review, dammit!  But I do like to see small entrepreneurs who do a truly superior job get the credit they deserve.  If you live in the Dallas/Foat Wuth area and value your car as much as I value mine, I sincerely recommend you go see Brian. His website is www.invisibra.net

S


Friday, July 3, 2015

Where is OUR Teddy Roosevelt?



I'm a big fan of our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt.  He was a visionary, was tough, and looked after the interests of the American people.  And he had a cool mustache.

TR was also a trust buster.  In his day corporate monopolies were not uncommon.  Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, but it was just a dust collector until TR came to office and used it to break up industries that didn't have the interests of the public at heart, all while NOT declaring war on the wealthy.


He broke up JP Morgan's Northern Securities which had a stranglehold on much of the northern states railroads, and most famously, he broke up John D Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.  They were set up solely to enrich the principals, with little regard to any public responsibility.

Where am I going with this?  Today's news:

(Health insurance giant) Aetna to buy (health insurance giant) Humana in $35 BILLION deal.

And just last month (health insurance giant) Blue Cross / Anthem announced they wanted to buy (health insurance giant) Cigna, offering them $47 BILLION.  Cigna said that wasn't enough, and negotiations are still quietly moving forward.

I have many doctor friends, clients I've built homes for.  They all tell me, every single one of them, that it is the health insurance companies who are the BIG winners in the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.

Profit is a good word.  I'm all for profits, but at what cost?  Are profits truly a zero-sum game?  Does one group have to be a big loser in order for the other to be a big winner?

For years both the Democrats and Republicans, with a slight edge to the Republicans, have preached "FREE MARKET!....DE-REGULATE!....MORE COMPETITION!"  Did you feel their hot air being blown up your skirt?  They certainly talked-the-talk, but they turned their back on us when it came time to walk-the-walk.

Over the past few years Delta and Northwest Airlines have merged (now known as just Delta), Southwest and AirTran have merged (now known as just Southwest), and America West absorbed US Airways, and then merged again with American Airlines (now known as just American).  They control 80% of the US airline marketplace.  Over the past year or so the price of jet fuel, one of their biggest costs, has come DOWN by approx 40%, yet fares are UP by 13%.  The Feds are now looking into this, questioning whether these giants are somehow in collusion.  Betcha nothing, or next to it, will come of this investigation.  It's the Washington way.

Do you think if there were 8 mega-airlines instead of just this handful this would be the case?  I'm not even going to mention the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS they're making off checked baggage fees, stale sandwich sales, and pay toilets. (OK, maybe I'll mention it just a little  :)

Now the health insurers want to merge, too, citing "economies of scale", and how it would be "in the public interest".  MY ASS!  Once they get what they want, get ready for a wild ride, folks.  Recent history tells us this will turn out to be another nail in our....the people's....coffin.

What happened to de-regulation?  Yes!  The well managed will survive and thrive, while the laggards will fail, as they should.

What happened to competition?  Yes!  The most innovative, the most customer oriented, the smartest will thrive, while the others will languish, as they should.

It is anti-monopoly laws that keep things on the up-and-up.  IMO they are NOT being enforced vigorously enough, if at all.  We're getting steamrolled!

What happened to the "free market"?  Wake up people!  WE ARE THE MARKET!

One last bit of wisdom from Teddy Roosevelt:

I want my Teddy!  *sniff*
 
S




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Have Spam, Will Trade....

Hmmm....I'm not sure what to make of this:




This was the cover of The Economist three weeks ago....


....and the news this week is all about the high-living (?) Greeks and their impending default on a multi-billion-Euro loan payment.  Greeks have made a run on their banks, and now the banks have no liquidity....they have no more paper currency in their vaults and can no longer fill up their ATM machines.  People may have money on paper, but....

There was a piece on the local news earlier this week telling of a HUGE property value bubble building here in Dallas.  It seems investors are buying up houses for over-the-top prices, and paying cash, freezing many hopeful buyers out of the market.


Now today I learned that Texas Governor Greg "Who's on First" Abbott has signed into law a bill authorizing the State Comptroller to set up a State Bullion Depository (literally a secure vault) with HSBC Bank.  

It seems the University of Texas endowment fund (now in excess of $25 Billion dollars), on the advice of its investment team, has bought $1 Billion dollars worth of gold....not gold CERTIFICATES, but 6,000+ actual gold bars, and needs a place to put them.  Oh, and any Texan is invited to park their precious metal there, too.

The insiders say there is growing concern that gold certificates may not be readily redeemable if TSHTF (The Shit Hits The Fan), and that's why they are stashing away actual physical gold.  Having gold on paper is not necessarily the same as having gold, if you get the distinction.

Is there a message here for us lowly peasants?

Being the contrarian that I am, I'm considering diversifying with a new barter currency, too, but I'm thinking something like toilet paper or bullets, or maybe cans of Spam.  What do 'ya think?

S


Monday, June 22, 2015

Half of us are crazy, and the rest are just nuts!

It's been a few days now since the senseless killing of 9 worshipers at a church in Charleston, SC.  Tragic....racist....simply beyond comprehension.  But it happened, and it has started the conversation anew about gun control.  And IMHO we have again taken the wrong fork in the road.  We're headed towards a dead end where nothing will happen except get everyone even more polarized and pissed off.

We have lost our sense of reality.  As in most instances, we know what we would LIKE to see happen, without seriously acknowledging what actually CAN happen.  There is quite a difference between the two.


My liberal friends think Congress should pass a law restricting certain types of guns, or even outlaw them all together, similar to what has been done in the past in the UK, Australia, etc.  End of problem, and we all live happily ever after.  La-tee-dah!


My conservative friends think Gubment agents will soon be knocking on their door....no....KICKING THEIR DOOR DOWN....in order to confiscate all their firearms.

The first scenario is a pipe dream, and the second is silly.

No law can change people's thinking.  A law is a signed piece of paper, nothing more.  People have to be willing to accept it before it can have any long-term practical affect on our society (think Prohibition), and a huge portion of our population will NEVER give up their firearms.  ("....when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.")  It simply won't happen.  And no one, no amount of force, can go door-to-door and confiscate people's guns.  There would be blood in the streets. 

And for that same reason, no Gubment agents are going to come into our houses and confiscate our firearms.  There aren't enough police or soldiers to do it, and besides, a good many would probably mutiny if they were ordered to do so.

Nor can they prohibit / buy up all the ammunition, making our guns little more than paperweights.  There are already BILLIONS of rounds of every caliber ammunition you can imagine in private hands.  That goal is even more pie-in-the-sky than confiscating our guns!

Instead of chasing those windmills, why don't we pursue something more realistic, something we can all (?) agree on, like keeping firearms out of the hands of known criminals and the mentally unstable?  How difficult would that be to do?  Damn difficult....but much easier than turning the country upside down looking for several hundred MILLION guns and BILLIONS of round of ammo, and creating a civil war in the process.

Known criminals are just that, known.  They should regularly be subject to random searches of their residences, cars, their persons, etc, to insure they are not in possession of guns they are prohibited having due to their status as felons.  A daunting task for sure, but even if marginally successful, likely to yield immediate, noticeable results.

The mentally disturbed....Oooo....that will be tougher.  Who gets to decide who is mentally disturbed?  Their former spouse?  Their next door neighbor with an ax to grind?  Will counselors and therapists rat out their patients who they suspect might be dangerous, without having any real proof?  Will that doctor / patient confidentially thing come into play?  I dunno.  Still, I think this, more than anything else, will make our country safer.  

We must somehow identify those among us who are disturbed enough, desperate enough, hate-filled enough, to resort to violence.  Making this a national priority should start NOW.  We can talk this subject to death and accomplish nothing, or we can get real and maybe see something good come of this tragedy.

S