Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."  -Bertrand Russell

Yesterday sent the best news we've had in months.  It's good to see that sometimes the system works, at least when people respond in substantial quantity to make elected officials fear either: a) losing their job, or b) showing their face in town back home.  What better way to head into the fourth quarter than to learn that our Representatives have rejected the federalization of our nation's banking system?

Oh sure, the market dipped.  For a day.  And I'm sure that the market corrections aren't complete yet.  But the best news came today when the market regained ground on new investments in the market.  Could it be possible that people were just holding out while the prices might have been artificially inflated, waiting for a deal? I think it's highly possible.  Seriously, think about it.  Banks like Wachovia were waiting to sell their assets at a loss.  Why wait?  

Let's make up some numbers for illustration.  Let's say that Good Bank is interested in buying Bad Bank's poor assets for 25 cents on the dollar.  That's a huge loss for Bad Bank.  Why would they sell for 25 cents on the dollar when the government might give them 50 or even 75 cents on the dollar? Heck, all they have to do is wait it out.  What do they have to lose?  The value has already tanked.  You probably know as well as I do that the government has a track record of paying too much for things of little value.  The only seeming exception is in cases of abuse of eminent domain where the complete opposite is true.

People haven't been investing on purpose. It's been too unpredictable and everyone loves a deal.  Guess what we have now.  A little more certainty that this crap bailout probably won't happen soon and bargain basement prices.  Holy crap, the free market at work!

Sure, there's the short term credit crisis.  But the problem was created exactly by short term thinking.  Let's get in, boost the balance sheets with little to no regard for what they'll look like in 5-6 years, make our money, and move along before the chickens head home.  What's going to happen eventually?  Someone will realize that there is money to be made in lending and they'll do just that. Perhaps a little more judiciously than in recent history.

We don't need more government intervention, we need less.  This garbage housing bubble was created exactly by government intervention in free markets.  Hit Google up for some info on the Community Reinvestment Act, a deceptively named proposal like most bills in Congress (Wikipedia's take is in question these days due to multiple edits per hour lately).  Notice that it wasn't created or expanded in the last eight years as most talking heads would have you think this problem was created.  The system worked well before that legislation, less well after, and even worse after expansion. So why are we looking to Washington to fix their screw-up with another screw-up?  And exactly where in the Constitution does it authorize them to do so anyhow?

UPDATE:  Here's a fun video to back up some of my statements.

I had found a page yesterday showing campaign contributions from Fannie and Freddie. It'd be interesting to see how these guys voted on saving the GSE's and how they do on the current bailout.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, but this mess is getting absolutely ridiculous. I've taken statistics and did pretty well in it. So, what are the odds of the entire bag of feces hitting the oscillator right near the end of an election cycle? Sorry, but I think that it was precipitated by the not-so-invisible hand. You know, the one that lives in D.C.?

It seems like this all started when we heard news of the recent "re-federalization" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which somehow simultaneously were and were not federal institutions.  Fannie and Freddie have been at risk for some time now. I'm sure that someone can trace it all of the way back to when they were created, but to be more "current" let's just take some advice from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Greenspan has, over the last few months, repeatedly called for portfolio restrictions. He seems particularly troubled by what he views is a public perception that Freddie and Fannie are government insured entities. This, he has stated, not only promotes risk-taking on the part of some investors, but also gives the corporations a competitive advantage when it comes to mortgage rates. The two were created by Congress as vehicles to pump money into the housing market but are both publicly traded stock companies.
This was published in 2005, by the way. I really like the line about "the perception that Freddie and Fannie are government insured entities." Perception becomes reality, anyone? I'm sure it was not the first time that he was concerned.  Too bad he wasn't too concerned with the Fed facilitating artificially low interest rates with Fed policy.

Somehow, perhaps magically, this concern became real for the Washington politicos in the fall of 2008. From my understanding it was due to depreciation in the housing market.  But this concept is strange to me because the housing market has been in decline for some time now.  From Bernanke in November of 2006:
The deceleration in economic activity currently under way appears to be taking place roughly along the lines envisioned in the Federal Reserve's July report. As anticipated, the slowdown primarily reflects a cooling of the housing market. Most other sectors of the economy appear still to be expanding at a solid rate, and the labor market has tightened further.
Perhaps it just took this long to finally make a dent on the multi-trillion dollar balance sheet of Fannie and Freddie. Sorry, but it doesn't seem like too much of a "surprise" from the abundant data that existed before 2008. Then, with the "fall" of these behemoths, the ones that were dependent on the teats that had run dry started having problems as well. Big frickin' surprise. Color me shocked.

And is anyone else thinking that foreclosures have spiked in the last month because people running for office are constantly promising (and I don't know how) to keep people in their homes?  Heck, guess that means this big ass mortgage payment can go to hell! Granny Government gonna clean up this mess for me!

Why were the warning signs ignored for so long?  Why did "just recently" become the time for action? But I suppose my main question that will likely go unanswered, and history will not be provided the opportunity to tell, is "Is all of this reaction actually necessary?"  Sorry, but the Action Boat done left shore.   I guess the illusion of leadership is a lot easier to maintain than actual leadership. And it's a lot more profitable in the short run.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

well duh!

Sorry for all of you ladies who were moist for some Clay Aiken. It turns out that contrary to popular belief he prefers to play swords.

I'm shocked. If you could see my face right now, you'd know what my shocked face looks like. Nah, that's just my you're a doofus if you thought Clay Aiken was straight face.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ah, democracy!

It's very difficult to turn on a television these days and not have the opportunity to participate first-hand in a democratic process.  Seemingly, the trend in the US seems to have stemmed from one of the first hit reality television shows, Survivor.  The participants voted which other participant would be selected to leave the island, effectively terminating their participation in the event.  This process was repeated each week in order to narrow the selection down to a single winner.  The democratic process was used in somewhat reverse order, but represented the general process nonetheless.  But it wasn't enough...

Then came American Idol!  The fundamental advancement in democracy here was expanding the vote.  The vote was not solely up to the participants (can't imagine that they were banned from voting for themselves) but it was expanded into your living room.  All you had to do was call a special number or send a text message to vote for your favorite act. Now I think you can even use the Internet! This is the essence of a true democracy!  The only difference from our voting system is that each person could vote more than once. Or perhaps that is not different...

It's good to see that our political system in the great United States of America is keeping up with the times.  Here we are now, at the end of a lengthy process where candidates have been trotted on-screen, allowed the opportunity to perform, and then the people were driven out to vote for them.  Unfortunately, they aren't too modern and we actually had to go to a special location to vote.  Each major political party had their own tribe and we elected a "Grand Poobah," so to speak.  The most exciting part of this whole process was that they each had a live, semi-season finale where they each announced their winner! These semi-finales were essentially large fiestas that were televised and took place over several days.  Several days exceeds the attention span of the average American viewer, so I have taken the liberty of editing them down to something that the average US citizen can handle.

Since it was first chronologically, I figured we'd start with the Democrat National Convention that occurred in Denver.  This video focuses primarily on the party platform and the proposed solutions that were developed at the convention.  Pay attention! This is important and riveting stuff!

The following week, the Republicans had their own convention in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis & St. Paul. Who doesn't love twins?  This was effectively the message that we take home from their televised events.

The best part is that it's not even over!  Like any good television series, they just keep us glued to the tube wanting more!  Now, we get to witness the really fun part!  All day, every day, until November 4th, we get to see more and more performances by the respective elected Grand Poobahs from each tribe until it's time for us to vote yet again!  You have to keep us riveted and I'm sure that they will! In the meantime, since we're between seasons for the good shows anyhow, enjoy the ride!

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Thanks, retards. Mostly, thank you Governor. Thanks to you, the price of gas couldn't rise to the point where people consumed less and now we have artificial shortages. Thank goodness I filled up regularly on Wednesday.

At $5/gal, some folks might decide they only need a half a tank until maybe the end of next week when gas prices might naturally go down.  Instead, it's all "Hey, it's still less than $4/gal, let's fill up now while the stations are afraid of being accused of "gouging." You'd hope that anyone deciding anything about market prices has actually taken a course in economics.  But that class is only a half-credit requirement for graduation in Georgia.  Keep those kids just smart enough to pay bills, but not quite smart enough to know better when politicians make bad decisions.

Thanks again, lame duck.

Friday, September 12, 2008

weapons of mash destruction

Most people that know me know fairly well that I like to brew my own beer. As of this week, I've also made my first batch of root beer. Yay me, right? Most people that know home-brewers also know that they like to make other stuff, too. For example, I also like to make desserts and bake homemade bread. But the obsession with creating stuff for most brewers doesn't stop in the kitchen. It also lends itself well to other projects that involve lots of milling around in The Home Depot looking for parts that can suit some new equipment project. And sometimes it also involves a little bit of woodwork like my project today.

A lot of home-brewers start off by brewing with malt extracts. *nerd alert!* This is where barley, or other grains, has had its starches converted into sugars (the stuff yeast likes to turn into alcohol) and the resulting liquid then has its water evaporated off leaving behind a solid "sugar" that is further processed into powder. Keep in mind that other non-volatile compounds remain as well. You take this extract, dissolve it in water, add some other ingredients like hops, boil it for a while, and then cool it for the yeast to have a fun time. And voila, a few weeks later, you've got beer!

But the more you get into brewing, the less and less that this approach with extracts seems to satisfy. You read about how starting with the grains themselves and doing the starch to sugar conversion yourself is way more satisfying and some say it produces better beers. Something to do with preservation of nutrients for the yeast, yada yada yada, blah blah. So, a few trips to The Home Depot and a couple hundred bucks later, you've got yourself a "real" brewery! Now the fun begins.

Well, if you're like me, you start off relatively inexpensively. One of the best attributes of a home brewer is to be able to do more with less. It takes some improv skills, but not the acting-type. More of the engineering-type improvisation skill. But acting is okay, too, as long as you're brewing with a few friends. Anyhow, back to the point about being on the cheap... A fairly cheap way to make a vessel for converting the starches into sugars, called a mash tun, is to use a 5-gallon cooler, of the variety that you see on construction trucks that are commonly orange like mine. Change out the button-style spigot with a ball-valve (handled) spigot and like magic, you've got a nice insulated mash tun. Did I mention that mashing occurs at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and that holding that temperature is important for good conversion? Well I have now.

Well, the only real problem that I've had with mashing has been stirring the mash, which is not easy to do with about 12 pounds of grain and only three gallons of water. The mixture is a lot like a fairly firm mud. It takes some effort to get down to the bottom of the mix. And stirring is essential to get water into the nooks and crannies of the grains to convert more starches plus to even out the temperature of your mash to avoid hot and cold spots. Those natural enzymes only work in a fairly limited temperature range. I had been using a long plastic spoon, but it started bending way too much due to the heat. Plus it was kind of skinny and was difficult to get down to the bottom of the mash tun. Then I was using a kitchen spoon that had a metal handle with a plastic spoon end with some luck, but it just wasn't long enough. I did mention that this stuff is at 150 F! Ow, fingers!

So, I was looking for a solution. They had a nice long metal spoon at the homebrew store, but it just didn't look as durable as I would like. The metal was rather thin, probably less than 1/32". And barely long enough. I asked about a wooden mash paddle, like the ones you see on the internet for about $40, and the owner said that his suppliers don't sell them. So, it looked like another project time! Yay!

After reading up on the Internet and in a homebrew magazine that I subscribe to, it looked like the best wood choice was a nice hard wood like maple. So, off to The Home Depot to find a suitable piece of wood. The only problem was, the one I went to only had pine, red oak (too porous), and poplar (which was too grainy/pitted), and cheap "whitewood". Disappointed, I sulked off. Looks like I have to go elsewhere.

So, today, I headed out to another Depot, hoping their wood selection would be better. No such luck. I guess it doesn't sell well enough for them to keep it in stock. Since it was just a quarter mile down the road, I figured I'd try my luck at BLowe's. I avoid it as much as possible since it don't pay my bills but sometimes, it's worth the try if El Depot de la Casa don't carry stock. And guess what. They had maple boards. So I bought one. It only cost me $8.50 for a 1x4x48" plank. A far cry from the $40 bucks or so to order one pre-made!

I got it home and started measuring and marking. I'm not a stickler for perfection on simple projects where the only consumer is me so I marked some guidelines and free-handed a few curves and cut-outs then headed down to the garage to drill/cut/router/sand. About an hour and a half later, my masterpiece was complete! I didn't think to take pics during the construction so you'll just have to imagine from the jigsaw puzzle of scraps. I also took a picture with it resting in my homemade mash tun so that you could see perspective. There are a few places where it isn't perfect, chipped edge and bad drill placement on the upper handle, but the business end is pretty decent.

*cross posted at SudsPundit

Monday, September 01, 2008

at the risk of being insensitive

People just don't get it when it comes to air. You can't see it, so it doesn't exist, right? No, wrong.

If you're transporting large items in an open vehicle, like a truck, and you think there might be even the remote possibility that it might move in transit, strap it down. Strap it in well. The box spring in your open bed truck that is not even lying flat because of the crap underneath it, like a kid's bike, may just in fact take one bad bounce, catch a little bit of airflow, succumb to natural laws of physics regarding fluid flow, and become airborne. Straight up about 10 feet before coming down. On the interstate highway. Traveling at about 65 mph. With someone driving behind you (at a safe distance). That someone being me. With the unfortunate circumstance of having the box spring go to the right while someone is in the left lane right next to them. So they hit your box spring. And luckily gets away with a couple of scratches and dents in their four month old car instead of possible bodily injury to themselves (and wife!) or possible others (if I had swerved left to avoid it).

Just ask the people in southern Louisiana (and AL, MS, TX, etc.) about the power of something you can't even see. I suppose that you might be able to see the movement by watching how the rain drops are affected. But you still can't see the air. That's where the power of that storm is. Movement of ridiculously small individual molecules. In ridiculously large numbers.

And of course, you can't have a good natural disaster story without having the old standby. You know, the poor sob story about the affect of relocation on some poor family or other. Like this one on CNN.

After enjoying that fine piece of journalism, please pay particular attention to this line.
She brought two hair weaves with her from New Orleans and is passing the time by styling them and trying to reach friends on her cell phone.
Somehow, there's money for hair weaves and cell phones but not for food and gas. Only in the US.