Friday, March 31, 2006

Thinking outside the box

Well, thinking outside the box insofar as any happy shiny critter with a brain the size of an almond can do so...

- Badtux the Cat-Owned Penguin

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 3 Part 2

Chapter 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Part 2 Chapter 2 Part 1
Chapter 2 Part 2 Chapter 3 Part 1
The next thing on my mind was the question of who donated a car to me, complete with a load of rotten meat in the trunk. That, and the state of my pantry, where two lonely packets of ramen noodles were keeping each other company.


Anybody who might have seen my mystery car donor park his load in my parking lot wasn't going to be around at 9AM in the morning. Most of the men worked from dawn until dusk, doing construction, gardening, or other menial chores that the rich needed to keep their glistening glass cubes operating. The men whose business was selling substances that busybodies didn't want sold were in bed asleep. And the women rarely ventured out at night. This wasn't some country club suburb. Things could get rough here at night. So investigation at this end wouldn't happen until evening.

That left the remainder of the morning free for a workout and some grocery shopping. The day was warm for March, sixty degrees, and it was a running day, so I traded the sweats I'd put on early that morning for running shorts and sports bra, which I didn't mind at all because I'm still built like an athlete even though my competitive days are long behind me, and don't mind the looks of admiration. I locked Buddy into the apartment -- German Shepherds are fast, but they're not built to run continuously for miles at a time -- and patted Connie on the head as she smacked her gum and read some vacuous romance novel where a knight in shining armor saved the girl. I hate to tell her, but there is no such thing. She would get used and abused and dumped on the streets in the end, because men were liars. Only one man ever told me the truth, the whole truth, and he was a child molester. The counsellor at the group home had told me I had trust issues. I'd call that the understatement of the century. There is one person on this planet that I trust, and that's myself. Nothing in the last ten years of my life gives me any reason to feel otherwise.

I am not at the peak of physical perfection that I'd reached under Coach Davis's tutelage in high school, but I'm still within 5% of my best times on the track. As short as I am, I have to run a lot of miles in a week to keep weight from accumulating on my frame. I average about twenty miles a week, plus speed work to keep my speed up. It's the speed work that hurts, but it's necessary. I don't push myself with the self-punishing fanatic intensity of the angry and hurt teenage girl who'd relished Coach Davis's attention, but I approach my running workouts with a serious attitude nevertheless. In my business, being able to outrun the security goons, the cops, and random bad guys is a big advantage, considering that I'm not genetically set up to beat the crap out of them.

I try not to get into those situations, but shit happens. As long as I can get a little bit of head start to make up for the fact that my legs simply aren't long enough for a high top speed -- and mace generally suffices for that -- I can outrun almost anybody by simply out-toughing them. Even young guys at their physical peek generally can't run more than forty yards at full speed without running out of gas. Granted, any guy on the track team could run me down within a hundred yards. But those guys are generally too busy being jocks to be muggers, rapists, or murderers. And they certainly aren't cops.

But that ability doesn't come free, which is why I spend three days a week running three miles at a fast pace, spend some time flinging myself up a hill at my top speed then slowly jogging back down it over and over again until it felt like I was about to die when I wheezed to a stop at the top, then run three miles back home at a slightly slower pace. The man in the red BMW, whoever he was, got a good show today. I waved to him as I went by. I had no idea whether he was a random pervert or was following me for a reason, either way, all he was doing was looking, so I didn't care. Much, anyhow. I cared enough to pull a notepad out of my fannypack and write his license plate number and description on it while trying to catch my breath at the top of the hill.

By the time I got home, I felt like I'd been through a wringer, but I'm still young enough that I knew it'd pass quickly. A bit of veg'ing out in the bathtub, a quick snack of ramen noodles, and I was ready to tackle the next things on my agenda: stocking my pantry with something to keep the one lonely remaining packet of ramen noodles company, then finding out what exactly was the deal with the car I'd had towed and the dead meat therein.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Just another liberal peacenik

Objectively pro-terrorist.

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 3 Part 1

Everything he told me was probably a lie. But in the end, why would I care? His money was plenty green, and that was good enough for me.


Now, I wondered.

Chapter 3

After I'd checked the place out and noted that the trash bin was out in the open behind the place, I had taken dear Tom's first $5,000 installment, then told my friendly ficus to tape my flash into a tape dispenser, and then toss it all into the trash. Trash that I ended up searching through the next evening with my nifty little RFID scanner to find the RFID tag that I'd stuffed into the casing of the flash. I stuffed the tape dispenser and scanner into my handbag just before Officer Fife accosted me with his shaking gun. If the security guard hadn't believed my ditzy secretary story, all I was guilty of was trespassing and stealing trash, something for which I'd pay a fine at best. There was nothing to trace me back to the jerk who'd hired me.

So now was delivery day, and I got to deliver the goods for the rest of the money. Officer Dick's cheery little morning interrogation had woken me up an hour before I'd have had to get up anyhow, but at least that gave me time for a shower. Officer Dick always makes me feel dirty. Still, he is useful. I make a point of hiring him to bounce out wayward tenants who overstay their welcome and their deposit. In turn he does me favors like accusing me of murder. Of such wonders are lasting business relationships made. Then after exercising Buddy a bit outside, I went to wait for my boy Tom.

At 8AM on the dot, he drove up. Punctual. I hate punctual people. They're almost as annoying as morning people. I didn't bother with the Glock this time. It stayed in my desk. I didn't need it with Buddy around anyhow, but it made a nice prop for dealing with jerks.

"You have the money?"

"Five thousand dollars. Cash." He handed it over to me. I counted it. Fifty $100 bills. I tucked it away in my top drawer. Not bad for three hours work. My ghost tenants were going to pay their rent this month, yes indeedy.

I pulled a tape dispenser out of my handbag and handed it over. "Tell Mr. Emory that it was a pleasure," I said.

"Mr. Emory?" He looked appropriately confused, and I just smiled.

"Isn't Mr. Emory a darling? How many billions does he have now? Three billion? Four billion?"

"Harry Emory? The billionaire software executive? Has his own personal MiG jet? Never met him."

"Which is why you called his personal cell phone number yesterday after you left my office."

"How do you know that?"

"It's my job to know things," I said, smiling. "So tell Mr. Emory it was a pleasure, and he knows where to find me if he needs more work done."

Tom grinned, and said "There may be more work at that. Someone will see you." He unfolded himself from the wooden chair in front of my desk, and showed himself out.

A few minutes later, after stashing the cash in the floor safe under my desk, I showed myself out and knocked on the next door over. Mrs. Hernandez answered the door. "Is Connie in?" I asked, and she said "Si, senora," looking a bit glum because as far as she was concerned I was a bad influence, then Connie -- Consuella -- shoved her way out, looking defiant as usual, jaws smacking bubble gum as if it were a personal affront to her existence.

"Did you get it?"

"Yeah." Connie wasn't a morning person either, and didn't look too happy. She handed me the bug, its little antenna curling around its body like a mouse's tail. I stuffed it in my pocket.

"I need you to look after the office today. Normal rate. You know my number if you need me."

"Awright," she said, smacking her gum.

Okay, so Consuella wasn't the best office secretary ever. But she was cheap, and she spoke Spanish well, and her family did a good job of keeping an eye on things. Family meaning, well, family. Uncles and cousins and nephews galore, they were the Sopranos of East San Jose, except not as pasty. You didn't bother them, they didn't bother you, they were too busy selling their merchandise to give you the time of day if you were on the clean and straight. Do a few favors for them and they weren't your best buddies and pals, but they weren't out to get you either, and might do a favor or two in return. Or maybe not, but I wasn't picky. I live here, after all.

The next thing on my mind was the question of who donated a car to me, complete with a load of rotten meat in the trunk. That, and the state of my pantry, where two lonely packets of ramen noodles were keeping each other company.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ruminations on guns

Does power grow from the barrel of a gun? Most assuredly so. But that is only part of the requirement.

Use of a gun in a tactical manner requires intelligence. As in, "Who needs killin' and where is they?". If you don't know who you're supposed to be shooting at, the gun is useless. That is why dictatorships based upon rule of gun have large secret police agencies spying on people. Their goal is to find those who "need killin'" before those who "need killin'" can get together and kill them, while themselves remaining anonymous and hidden and thus immune from recourse.

Use of a gun in a tactical manner also requires ruthlessness. Let's face it, most people don't like violence, and the thought of killing another human being sickens them. The biggest problem that firearms instructors have in self-defense firearms courses is convincing people that the job of a gun is to kill people, and thus you must aim for the center of mass, not for a leg or shoulder shot. That is why rule of gun inevitably results in survival of the most ruthless -- those with the fewest moral compunctions about killing their fellow human beings. A gun is no use if the person holding the gun has difficulties pulling the trigger.

Use of a gun in large-scale operations requires both intelligence and concentration. If your people with guns are scattered as individuals all over the place, then a much smaller force can defeat your people in detail -- i.e., four people can take out one two-person household, then move on to take out the next two-person household, etc., allowing a relatively small force to achieve tactical victory.

Concentration requires logistics. One of the great advantages of the State vs. armed individuals is that the State can concentrate its forces due to superior logistics, while armed individuals must remain fairly scattered in order to persue their daily employment. This is primarily because the State can obtain the resources it needs to maintain its armed soldiers and policemen via force of arms -- i.e., they simply seize the resources they need at gunpoint. The notion of a bakery refusing to sell their bread to an oppressive government is ludicrous -- said oppressive government would simply seize whatever bread they need at gunpoint.

All of this combines to state that Libertopia(tm), the Libertarian utopia where everybody has a gun and the State has withered away, would be an abysmal failure. We already have proof of that, in modern-day Somalia and Afghanistan and Iraq. These failed states are places where rule of gun, not rule of law, is what's real on the streets, leaving those who are most ruthless, most willing to kill, as the ones who rule.

And what is true in Iraq, what is true in Afghanistan, what is true in Somalia, is true here in the United States too. We have a large well-armed State that is very much in a seige mentality and which is run by ruthless people who will stop at nothing, including murder if necessary, in order to retain their power. This State is not going to be overthrown by guns, period. The State has already accumulated too many resources, already attracted too many ruthless people, for any other accumulation of power to arise to threaten it in any way. Anybody who says that a well-armed populance could overthrow the State here in America is a deranged loon. The State simply has too many advantages in terms of intelligence, concentration of forces, and sheer viciousness to be overthrown by force.

So what's the answer? I wish I knew. In the meantime, I have a question: What do you consider to be the best CCW pocket pistol? The Kahr PM9 or the Rohrbaugh R9? At the moment my opinion is the PM9, because the slightly longer grip makes it more controllable while still not making it unduly large. The R9 does shave a tiny bit off the length and height, though, and it's a beautiful weapon...

- Badtux the Well-armed Penguin

Monday, March 27, 2006

Give this woman a parenting award

Though I'm not sure what kind.

- Badtux the Head-shaking Penguin

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 2 Part 2

[See Chapter 2 Part 1]

But I wondered: Was it an accident that a dead man was left on my doorstep? Or was it a message?

And if it was a message... did it have anything to do with why I was rolling in the garbage the previous evening?


Perhaps it would make more sense if I started a few days before, when Tom Willis walked through my door.

Tom Willis was tall, blond, and good looking, and I didn't trust him for a minute, any more than I would have trusted myself if our roles had been reversed. He had the slick look of a used car salesman, and the manners to match.

"Hey cutie," he said as he walked through the door. "How 'bout you get your boss for me?"

Cute. Ugh. That word. I looked up at the sky, or the ceiling anyhow. "What do I look like, a priest? Do your own praying if you want to talk to God."

"Whoa! Like, someone's on the rag?"

I sighed, pulling my Glock out of my lap where it had been sitting ever since my security cam had shown some unknown male coming to my door, and brought it to bear on the jerk's family jewels. "I love Glocks," I said. "Especially a nice sweet Glock 17 like this guy. 9mm round that doesn't kick too hard for a lightweight like me, 17 round magazine, I just love taking this little darling to the firing range. You know the nice thing about a Glock? No safety. You just squeeze the trigger, and bang. Well, assuming that you have a round chambered. Gosh, I wonder if I have a round chambered? Oh, I know! I can just squeeze the trigger and find out!"

He raised his hands and backed off. "Whoa! Kathy Varis?"

"Gosh, the man has a clue after all. You got it, bucko! And if you want to rent an apartment, forget about it. You wouldn't last an hour. You got narc written all over you. Take it elsewhere."

"Uhm, I heard that you, ah, do things."

"Like I said, take it elsewhere. I only do things for people I like. And I don't like you."

"Uhm... I'll pay you ten grand for a day's work max. How's that?"

"I just started liking you a bit better," I said. "Tell me more."

He fed me a song and dance about how he was a programmer for Akilna Software, project lead for their latest software, and how it was his brainchild and his only. He wanted to leave, he said, but his contract had some golden handcuffs. He needed dirt on Akilna, and thought he had it -- some computer files that showed Akilna had stolen software from another company, filed the serial numbers off, and called it their own. All he had to do was get it out of there, and then the lawyers could handle the rest.

As he talked, I sat behind my desk, my notebook computer open, taking notes. I asked him for his ID and popped it into the scanner. It came up on the screen with all the right holograms and watermarks. Not a hundred percent certain, but his driver's license seemed legit. As legit as anything in this corrupt city ever was. I asked him for his social security number and he gave it to me. As Tom talked, I typed his social security number into the credit bureau and pulled his credit report. The credit bureau info matched the driver's license info. But the employment info was... unusual.

"So EMAIL it to your home computer," I suggested. But, he went on, Akilna's security was far too good for that. Their EMAIL server wouldn't mail attachments, and their web proxy blocked webmail services. Their firewall would shut down Internet access for any workstation that sent more than a certain amount of data. And furthermore physical security was tough, with a guard at the door who searched everybody who went through. He couldn't even take his mobile phone into the building, because it had a camera.

"So take a flash keyfob with you, copy the software onto it, and walk out with it in your sock," I suggested.

"They have this thing at the exit door. They call it an EMP machine. It fries anything electronic that goes through it. If you want to take anything out, it has to go through corporate security, who wipes it clean as a whistle before allowing it to bypass the machine."

I rolled my eyes. "Who are these guys? The fuckin' CIA? Nobody does shit like that here in the valley. It doesn't work, for one thing. I can think of a half dozen ways to get shit out of there."

"These guys think the CIA are a bunch of wimps."

These guys, hmm? I wondered which of the competitors that Tom really worked for. One thing was clear -- the boy had no imagination. But then, most corporates don't. Ass kissing and brown nosing don't leave much room for imagination.

I pulled a flash drive out of my top drawer and slid it across my desk. "Will your software fit on this?"

"Sure, but what good does that do me?"

I smiled. "Show up here tomorrow with $5,000 cash, and I might tell you." I gave him my cutest smile, the one that made me look, like, fifteen years old. "Now isn't that just the cutest thing you ever heard?" I stroked my Glock, and pointed at the door.

Tom wisely said nothing as he left.

A bit more checking made it clear: my boy Tom was a plant.

No, not ficus. He was one of a breed of professional job hoppers in the Valley, job hoppers who went to work for companies that, let us say, certain people were interested in. People like me served as fake references, produce bogus letterheads and cards for bogus former employers, and otherwise help the plant take root.

Everything he told me was probably a lie. But in the end, why would I care? His money was plenty green, and that was good enough for me.


Now, I wondered.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Happy shiny CatTux

Happy Shiny CatTux relaxes after a nice meal of kitty kibble.

- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Yeah, doing my Friday cat blogging a bit late.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 2 Part 1

[See Chapter 1 Part 2]

Chapter 2:

Some people are morning people. They get up in the morning all chipper and happy, ready to conquer the world, a cheery smile on their face and humming a joyful tune.

I hate those people. Especially when they're cops.

Here's a clue: when someone is banging on your door at 6:30 AM in the morning, it's probably not good news. If someone is banging on your door at 6:30AM in the morning and your webcam security system shows it's a cop, it's probably worse. Add in the fact that I'm not a morning person, and I wasn't at my best when I jumped into a set of sweats, slid into some sandals, then padded to the door. But with this cop, being at your best wasn't a problem. Simply being sentient was good enough.

"Hey, Dick," I said brightly to the cop who was poised to bang again when I opened the door to him.

"That's Richard."

"Awe, that's so sweet! But you'll always be Dick to me." I gave him my most iridescent grin, guaranteed to melt ice from any man's heart. It delayed Officer Richard Welch for exactly one second before he put his game face back on. I can't blame him, I guess, considering that the last time he believed my smile, he ended up suspended for a week for inadvertantly destroying evidence.

Buddy panted behind me, tongue lolling from mouth. "Care to come into my office?" I said, pointing Richard at the chair in front of the manager's desk. I gave Buddy a hand signal and Buddy parked himself next to the desk, looking alert. "Good boy!" I told Buddy, patting him on the head, and sat behind the desk.

Richard looked confused. He was supposed to be brow-beating me, apparently, but now he was perched on a wooden chair on the other side of a desk from me, a wooden chair deliberately lowered (and my chair deliberately raised) so that we were seeing eye to eye instead of me having to look up at him, and he seemed a bit flustered for a moment. Just for a moment, though.

"Why did you kill him?"

I blinked. "Excuse me?"

"I'm sure you had a good reason. Just tell me, and we'll take care of it."

"I'm sure I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about," I said in my best ditzy blond voice. Which was the truth.

"You're not fooling me," Richard said. "I know you."

"Uhm, Richard, who is it that I'm supposed to have killed?"

"That's a good question," he said. "A darned good question. Not a stitch of ID on him. Naked as the day he was born."

"And this has something to do with me... why?"

"What, you thought the guys at the impound yard wouldn't notice the smell?"

A light switch clicked in my head. "This is about the car I had towed out of my spot last night?"

"Your fingerprints are inside it."

"Of course they are. The driver's door was unlocked, so I looked inside to see if there were any papers in the glove compartment. If I'd known whose car it was, I could get them to move it instead of having to tow it. But there weren't any papers there."

"So how did you get him into the trunk?"

"Uhm, how much did this person I supposedly killed weigh?"

"Around 250 pounds."

I laughed, and shook my head. "Dick, Dick, Dick. Listen to you. I'm five-foot-one, weigh a whole 110 pounds, and on my best days at the gym can squat maybe one-fifty. I think you need a new theory."

"The last man you killed was almost as heavy."

"Uhm, Dick? I hate to break it to you, but those charges were dropped?"

"Yeah," he said bitterly. His own role in that wasn't something that he was proud of, I'm sure.

"So you ran the plates? You ran the VIN?"

Richard smiled. "You're a trip, you know that? You seriously expect me to tell you that?"

"C'mon, you might as well tell me. You know I'll run the VIN as soon as you leave."

"It won't get you anywhere. The car was reported stolen a month ago."

I sighed. "So you got someone dumping a stolen car in an empty spot in a parking lot with an unidentified dead body in the trunk. It could sit there for a month before anybody noticed. Except they had the bad luck to leave it in my parking spot. Sucks to be them, I guess. I hope. Dead bodies are bad for property values, y'know?"

"Any idea when it was left there?"

"Not really," I said. "I went shopping around 7PM, it was in my spot when I got back at 9PM."

"Where'd you go shopping?"


"Buy anything?"

"Gosh, Dick, you need to indulge your feminine side sometime. Shopping isn't about buying things. It's about... shopping. No I didn't buy anything. I just... shopped."

"Let us know if you find something out?"

I smiled. "Are you asking me for help with your case, Dick?"

Richard looked uncomfortable. "You do seem to have a habit of, uhm, knowing what happens on this side of town."

"Gosh, imagine that!" I said brightly. "Maybe it's because I, like, live here?"

"We'll owe you one," Richard said, still looking like he had just eaten a toad.

"I'll let you know what I find," I said. "Now I need to get ready for work. The door?" I pointed him towards the door, and he obediently started for it, then realized that he was doing the bidding of someone who was at least a foot shorter and hundred pounds lighter than he was, and turned back to me.

"Let us know," he said again, and I nodded, and smiled at him. "I will," I said, and waved bye-bye with a perky little wave that I'm sure he didn't believe for a second.

I went to the door and watched him bang on other doors for a while. Sleepy women answered the doors and shook their head, "No hablo englais!", and he eventually gave up and left.

But I wondered: Was it an accident that a dead man was left on my doorstep? Or was it a message?

And if it was a message... did it have anything to do with why I was rolling in the garbage the previous evening?

Eating the seed corn

I was talking with a guy in China about software development. He had a copy of my resume, and mentioned that China had a lot of well-educated software engineers, but nobody with my kind of background, skills, and experience, because back when I was learning computers and electronics in the 1980's the people of China didn't have such opportunities.

Then I think of today, and wonder: do Americans today have those kinds of opportunities?

Really, the answer has to be "No." While they're more likely to have access to a computer at school or at a public library, the most likely use they'll be making of it will be googling Alyssa Milano's bra size. While the cheap computer equipment that they can buy is much better than when I was a kid -- even a $400 computer from Wal-mart has more than enough power to do anything -- the fact of the matter is that they're much more likely to have a $400 X-Box than a $400 computer in their homes. Furthermore, these are complex computers that are much more difficult to learn from top to bottom than the simple little Apple II's and Commodore 64's of my youth. The programming manual for a 6502 microprocessor was 20 pages. The programming manual for a Intel-architecture microprocessor is three volumes of approximately encyclopedia size.

Once you get past age 17, opportunities are even more limited for most Americans. Most Americans cannot afford college due to declining real incomes and rising college costs, and student loan burdens have become so horrendous that many Americans who graduate college are basically enslaved to their student loan debts for the rest of their lives. The cut-off of most grant-based aid programs in the 1980's, under Saint Ronald Reagan, means that most of the poor no longer have access to college, and George W. Bush loves the poor -- he must, given that he's created so many more of them during his regime.

Meanwhile, in China it is seen as your national duty to learn mathematics, science, and technology. And the Chinese are naturally mercantilistic -- the Chinese are the Jews of South Asia, in every country of South Asia other than Japan the mercantile class is largely Chinese just as it was Jewish in pre-Hitler Europe, and even though those mercantilistic impulses were eliminated from the mainland during the Communist era (for the record, China is no longer Communist, though it still claims to be), when China re-opened for business this huge talented bunch of merchants moved right back in.

There is still the fact that China is a creaky authoritarian dictatorship, and creaky authoritarian dictatorships rarely produce much in the way of innovation. But the fact of the matter is that they are creating their seed corn, and we are eating ours, destroying our educational system and deadening the minds of our youth in pursuit of low taxes and mindless entertainment and something for nothing. When the Chinese evolve a reasonable government -- and there's every reason to think it will happen, albeit it may be decades -- they will be in a position to rule to world. And the United States? Just another third-world banana republic, just like the ones south of the border, with a small wealthy elite and huge masses of poorly-educated servants. Maybe there will be reservations for smart people, like maybe they'll let the SF Bay area and New York City areas continue to be filled with smart people to do the things that the servants can't do and that the elite don't want to do, but the United States as it existed in the era 1945-1980, with opportunity for all, will have otherwise vanished.

- Badtux the Apocalyptic Penguin

Busy, busy, busy

Really busy.

More later.

- Badtux the Busy Penguin

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chapter 2 delayed

Looking at it, I want some snarkier dialog. When I wrote it I didn't yet know much about the main character, now I know more and the dialog needs a polish to match the snark in further chapters.

- Badtux the Authorial Penguin

Postscript: Looked at it some more. Will post it shortly. Only minor snark additions needed. WTF, it's a first draft.

Why mass transit loses money

I took my car to the dealership this morning to get it serviced. By the time I was finished with the paperwork, it was 9:35am. So I walked to the nearest light rail station and bought a ticket (9:49 AM according to the ticket), and waited. And rode. And waited. And rode. And got to work at 11:35A. For what would be a 30 minute drive in my car.

The fact of the matter is that if it takes four times as long to get anywhere via mass transit, people aren't going to use it. All the cuts in service in order to "save money" just reduce the ridership even more, until the only people using the service are those who have no choice. This isn't brain surgery. This is Economics 101. Higher fares + less service = less ridership. Doh!

- Badtux the Economics 101 Penguin

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 1 Part 2

[See: Chapter 1 Part 1]

"I got it," I told the voice on the other end. "Meet me at my office. Tomorrow. 8am." I hung up and headed home.


Ah yes, home. Home is the manager's apartment in a shabby apartment complex on the east side of town, the side where the servants of the movers and shakers live, the side where "La Migra" is a constant worry in the minds of people who live a dozen per run-down apartment, where the concept of "law" is a joke and the smell of desperation fills the air like the stench of a thousand corpses rotting in the sun. Like the glass cubes in northern San Jose, this apartment complex is officially owned by a limited partnership. Ownership of the limited partnership might change, but ownership of the apartment complex has remained the same since 1978. Reality is that I own the complex, lock, stock, and barrel.

It is all quite legal and aboveboard. Legalized corruption. Like the glass cubes along Tasmin Drive, this locks in taxes at 1978 rates, thanks to the wonders of Proposition 13, which punishes the young and the poor in order to benefit the wealthy men who own those glass cubes through "limited partnerships" of their own, the same wealthy men who own the city government that hires the thugs with guns upon which their power ultimately rests. The fact that a few people like me manage to take advantage of the same loopholes does not relieve the stench of corruption. It just means that a few of us, like the early mammals in the era of the dinosaurs, manage to eke out an existence in the margins of their laws.

Someone had parked in my space again. I parked behind him, blocking him in, and went into the office. Buster greeted me at the door, tail wagging, ready to go out, seventy-five pounds of Schutzhund eager to serve his alpha dog. There was a note that had been dropped through the mail slot. My Spanish is rough, but apartment 124 apparently had a clogged toilet. Ah, the life of a small-time apartment owner, filled with adventure and excitement. I grabbed the maintenance duffel bag and tossed in the plunger and the toilet snake, put a small pail in there also, then put Buster's leash on and took him outside to do his business of fertilizing the grass along the highway. When he was done, I went to the door of apartment 124 and banged on it until a short Mexican man answered the door.

"El inodoro necesita servecio?" I asked.

"Si, senora." He led me to the toilet through a room crowded with people, Buster trailing behind me. A dirty disposable diaper floated in the middle of a pool of fetid water.

"No panales en el inodoro," I stated emphatically, and he looked suitably abashed. I put on a pair of rubber gloves, fished the diaper out and put it in the pail, then pulled out the toilet snake and gave it a twirl. Sure enough, when I pulled it out another diaper came out, and the water went down and flushed.

"No panales," I stated again, stern look on my face, and flushed the toilet again. I popped my gloves off and tossed them in the bucket with the dirty diapers, then paraded back out, glancing at the faces that were staring at the small television as I walked out. Nobody new. Just a lot of people. An illegal number of people. I said hello to the ones I knew, asked the names of the ones I didn't know yet by name and asked them if everything was okay in the apartment complex. Information is power, and I tried to keep track of who was in my apartments, legally or no.

I emptied the bucket into the trash bin, then took my tools back to the office and walked the complex. I had a rule -- no drug dealing in my apartments. While the apartment complex is more a way to launder money rather than a way to make money, I have no desire for the local P.D. to find some excuse to steal my apartments under the drug forfeiture laws for running an "attractive nuisance". This meant that I couldn't just rent them out and let people do what they want to do. I had to walk.

There was no open drug dealing this night, just Jose' Mendeles drinking with some of his friends in front of his apartment, the door open and the sound of women chattering coming from inside.

"Jose', do you know who's parked in my parking space?"

Jose' leered. "No, but if you want, I'll park in it." He made an obscene gesture.

"You? I don't think so. You'd wake up missing a few parts."

Jose's pals laughed. "La gringa, she got claws, no?"

"Ask Manuel Vazquez," I said tartly to them, and snapped my fingers at Buddy. Buddy's lips curled back from his teeth.

Jose' remembered Manuel, apparently, because he turned to his buddies and asked, "Do you know who's parked in the manager's spot?" They all shook their heads. I sighed and pulled out my cell phone and called the tow company. They said they'd be out in around an hour.

I shook my head and went to the car. It was a Ford Crown Victoria, maybe ten years old, yellow. Maybe had once been a cab, there were scuff marks on the doors where something had once been written. The doors were locked. I ducked into my apartment and grabbed a jimmy, and jimmied the driver's door. The interior was clean. I opened the glove compartment. The glove compartment was clean. No papers. I got the VIN off the dashboard and wrote it in my notebook. I closed the driver's door and went to the back and noted the license plate number. I could have busted the steering lock and hotwired the car and moved it out of my space, but there was no need for vandalism when a tow truck was coming. So I went inside and watched an episode of "Veronica Mars" off of DVD, and after the tow company came and I moved my car out of the way so they could haul off the car that was in my space, I went to bed.

A couple of notes: 1. The car is important. In the next draft there will be some foreshadowing of that, you're getting to see the raw first draft. Chapter 2 Part 1 tells you something important about the car as well as Kat's relationship with the local cops. 2. No, I don't know what she stole out of the trash. First draft, remember? I don't think she knows either, or really cares, as long as she got paid. 3. Probably I'm going to flashback past some of this in the second draft to speed up the pace. Flashbacks are a noir staple because noir is about stylized pulp fiction. Pulp fiction was (is?) all about cliffhangers and plot and pace and violence, and the first few pages have to bang the reader over the head, slug him in the stomach, and kick him in the balls in order to get his attention. Noir can be a bit slower paced, but has to respect the basics of the form. Probably most of this second half of the chapter gets cut, or pushed forward into a flashback while we push forward to the car. 4. I haven't figured out how to make Blogger take Spanish letters, and several of the "n" letters are actually the "enyay" letter (the n with the squiggle over it) that has an entirely different sound in Spanish. Not that it matters much. La nina no habla mucho espanol.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy Birthday, Iraq War

The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

  -- Ashbah, by Iraq veteran Brian Turner

Fixer [Interim Title] Chapter 1 Part 1

Power grows from the barrel of a gun.

Ruminations on the nature of power do not normally occupy my time. I, Kathy Varis, am no virginal innocent. I learned a few unpleasant truths about how the world works at an age when most girls were busy cutting the latest pictures of teen idols out of Tiger Beat. But the nature of power simply is not a subject of daily interest to me. Except when I'm staring down the barrel of a gun.

In this case, the gun was in the hands of a very jittery security guard who had a bad case of the Barney Fifes. I admit it, he'd caught me red-handed. Or dirty-handed as it might be, since I was half-buried in garbage in a dumpster behind his place of employment, the headquarters of Akilna Software. But this did seem somewhat of an overreaction. It isn't as if he had to worry about me beating him up.

"Uhm, hi!", I said brightly, smiling at him. "Do you really need that gun?" I tilted my head a little, emphasizing the fact that I am indisputably female and indisputably tiny besides and physically about as intimidating as your average twelve-year-old girl, which I'm not but hey, I didn't get to choose my genes, any more than I got to choose my natural blond-ness and all the dumb blond jokes that came with. "You might want to put it away before someone gets hurt," I added.

The security guard put it away, his hand shaking somewhat. I clambered out of my humble abode, glanced at his nametag, and asked, "Hey, Earl, could you help me find my checkbook? I think I accidentally threw it away today. I'd appreciate it a whole lot, okay?" I turned up the "cute" factor a bit with another smile -- okay, shameless, but what the hey, you work with what you got -- and Earl grumpily said, "You're not supposed to be back here."

"But it's my checkbook!" I wailed forlornly. "What if someone finds it and writes hot checks? Didn't you read that identity theft series in The Examiner last week?"

"That's why I'm back here, miss," Earl said, looking relieved that he wasn't going to have to shoot somebody or deal with anybody more threatening than Miss Perky Young Lady. "You just go on home, we have everything covered.

I put a bit of a tremor in my voice. "Well... if you say so..."

"Go on home, miss."

"Okay, but if you find a checkbook that says Alyson Morisson, give me a call, okay! My phone number's on the checks."

"I'll do that. You just go on home, young lady."

"Thanks! Bye!" I gave him a little half wave with my right hand, smiling big at him again, and headed for my car, a nondescript beige Toyota like a million others on the road. Earl watched me drive off, feeling secure that he had bravely defended Akilna Software from the scourge of ditzy secretaries digging through the trash.

Perhaps at some point in the near future he'd think, "What's a dainty blond secretary doing getting all dirty while digging through the garbage?" But I doubt it. Probably the only thing going through Earl's mind was, "Awe. How cute." If he knew my real name, he'd be saying the same thing. Let's face it, "Kathy" makes you think of some perky cheerleader ready to wave her pom-poms and do cartwheels. You don't think "corporate espionage."

Which, I suppose, is a plus if you're me, and corporate espionage is a big part of your business.

One of the scourges of modern life for those of us who are, let us say, on the questionable side of the system, is the demise of the payphone. With cell phones cheap and widespread, payphones are disappearing left and right. And the few that remain are call-only -- you can't receive calls on them. And prepaid/disposable cell phones have their own limitations. But in this case all I needed to do was make a call.

I found a pay phone at a service station off of the 101. A fog was rolling in off the bay, softening the lines of the modernistic office cubes of the Silicon Valley. You could almost pretend that you were in a real city, rather than in a soul-less collection of buildings devoted to making money or taking care of the people who worked in those cubes. I dialed my number, and listened as the person on the other end answered.

"I got it," I told the voice on the other end. "Meet me at my office. Tomorrow. 8am." I hung up and headed home.

[ To Be Continued ]

Saturday, March 18, 2006

In the dark

Darkness falls
and a firefly's light
briefly twinkles in the sky
as if to say "all is right".

and as in a land not far away
the blood flows and the bodies stink
here on these shores so very serene
I sit in the dark and embrace the night.

- E.L.G.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The party of security

From a newswire story subtitled "Congress embarks on spending spree" (ah, Republican fiscal conservatism!):

Before the final vote, Republicans defeated a Democratic effort to add $1.2 billion for domestic security programs, including $825 million for protecting ports.

Ah yes, the Republican Party is the party of national security indeedy...

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gah! My eyes! My bleary eyes!

Okay, so thanks to the recommendations in my previous post, I decided to check out Veronica Mars. I was prepared to hate it at first sight. Let's see:

  1. Perky blond lead character: Check.
  2. Haves and have-nots school: Check. (Even with gratuitous reference to The Outsiders in the first episode!).
  3. Asshole gossipy rich kids: Check.
  4. Soap-opera emotional hysterics: Check.

But in the end, I couldn't hate it. I guess I'm just a sucker for the whole noir genre, with the hard-boiled private investigator with a marshmallow heart yada yada yada. Make that character a bright 17 year old tiny mite of a girl with a fierce and cynical outlook on life (thus the "Mars" last name -- god of war, remember?) who at one point is referred to by her own father as "my action hero daughter", toss in some of the tightest plotting I've ever seen on the small screen, and furthermore cast the talented Kristen Bell as the title character (I swear, the gal can say more with one little tilt of her head and raised eyebrow than a whole encyclopedia of books), and now you know why my eyes are bleary. You wouldn't believe just by reading a review that such a cute little mite of a girl could manage to terrorize an entire high school with her philosphy of "when the going gets tough, get tougher, and get even", but Kristen manages to put so much presence into her character in those scenes that she manages to pull it off. I mean, c'mon. She accidentally wanders into a junkyard full of *very* upset Hispanic workers who tower over her and are screaming at her, and yet rules the scene? Now *that* is presence! The writers even throw in enough instances where Veronica is wrong or makes serious mistakes to make it believable (I mean, c'mon, maybe she's smart, but she's supposedly 17, right?).

Not to say it's perfect. Teddy Dunn, playing her former boyfriend Duncan Kane, expresses exactly two emotions in the entire first season -- rage and zoned-out wood. Jason Dohring does a much better acting job as the complex but troubled abused child of a rich action hero actor. And some parts are just altogether too 90210-ish. Bleh. And frankly, her former best friend whose murder is the first season's ongoing mystery? As far as I can tell, the only redeeming characteristic said "best friend" had was that she was an equal-opportunity slut whose sole interests were boys and booze. You'd think that even pre-murder Veronica, while shallow and vacuous, would be more intelligent than to hang around with someone with that kind of vacancy upstairs. And that half-assed "biker gang", apparently rounded up from whatever cast extras' bikes were running on any particular day (c'mon, no biker would get caught dead on a crotch rocket!) was just plain ludicrous.

But what the hell. It was enough to keep me up for far too many hours over the past couple of days. The plotting is tighter than pretty much anything else I've seen on this scale (22 episodes in the 1st season!), and it's rarely stupid, unlike the majority of TV today. So I'm going to bed.

- Badtux the Bleary-eyed Penguin

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Things you never knew you needed

Somehow, I doubt that this alarm clock would be very welcome in Da Fixer's or Lurch's bedroom... though they might get a perverse pleasure out of THIS alarm:

-- Badtux the Timely Penguin

Newsflash! FBI uncovers threat to America!

No, not Osama bin Laden: Followers of Thomas Merton.

Yeppers, pacifist followers of a pacifist Trappist monk are a threat to America. Why, they might be hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction beneath those nun's wimples and monastic robes.

Herring. Yumm. ERRRP!

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

W/props to Pissed Off Patricia for link

Catholic nuns and priests go to jail

One of the untold stories of the past five years of Bush Reich rule has been the dozens and dozens of Catholic nuns, priests, and laity who have been jailed for protesting against the war in Iraq. One by one, they've been disappeared into the American Gulag for weeks or months at a time (or in cases, years), not for harming people, not for stealing from people, not for being a danger to people, but for the crime of standing where The State does not want them to stand, the crime of speaking what The State does not want them to speak, the crime of believing what The State does not want them to believe.

If you want truly scary results, try the Google search Catholic nun sentenced war protest. Apparently these women are hiding weapons of mass destruction beneath their wimples, if you believe what The State says.

The United States is a police state. We just refuse to admit it, because that would mean admitting that the people that the police state is bearing down upon are not thugs and criminals, but, rather, people braver than us, people with the courage to speak out against injustice and war rather than cringe in terror behind keyboards. It would mean admitting that we are a nation of cowards and fools, who believe what we're told to believe, who think what we're told to think, who fear what we're told to fear, rather than the land of the free and the home of the brave. And for most of us, shedding our dearly-held delusions will happen about the same time that an ordinary citizen rather than a member of the unelected elite that rules us is elected to be President of the United States. No no, far better to believe that we live in a free and principled democracy, where the police only arrest and convict people who are guilty of real crimes against humanity, rather than the crime of stating truths that The State doesn't want us to hear....

- BadTux the Clear-sighted Penguin

Monday, March 13, 2006

Veronica Mars

Looking for my next vege-out material. Joss Whedon (see previous entry) says something along the lines of "The writers of Veronica Mars make me feel like a talentless hack". A quick check of shows that the season 1 DVD set is $45 (!!!!). Worth it? Or no? Has any of my three loyal readers seen this show and can comment? Curious penguins want to know!

- Badtux the Vegetating Penguin

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I just wasted most of a weekend watching DVD's.

Somehow I missed this sci-fi series when it appeared on TV. Of course, Fox made it easy to miss, running the episodes out of order so that they didn't make any sense and putting it on the air at strange times never two weeks in a row at the same time. It was apparently too intelligent for Fox's executives, who need material dumbed down to their Neolithic level. Hey look! Over there! It's a runaway bride!

Anyhow, Joss Whedon (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer dude) wanted to create a science fiction series that was more about losers than winners, about the kind of people who the haughty captains of the Starship Enterprise would have just soared right over. He also wanted a science fiction future where the good guys fighting the evil empire for their independence lost. So he put together a cast of nobodies, and put together a spaceship that looks more like a pile of junk than something that actually flies and which is totally unarmed when it comes to external weaponry (because, I mean, do you think the evil empire would allow anybody to go around with armed spaceships? Puh-LEEZE!). The results are somewhat uneven, but that is to be expected of the first season of pretty much any science fiction show -- go watch the first season of Babylon 5 or Star Trek.

But while Fox killed the series and refuses to sell the rights back to Joss for further episodes (and Joss refuses to have anything to do with Fox ever again), the one season that did get made is now available, in proper order, on DVD. And while Fox owns the series rights, they don't own the movie rights, so Joss basically made a two-hour episode of Firefly as a movie called Serenity that wraps up a few of the hanging plotlines (and a couple of the characters). Although, given its poor sales and Fox's refusal to let go of series rights, this pretty much is the end of the line for the Firefly franchise.

Too bad. More of Summer Glau's feet would have been a firm antidote to a bad day at work. Given that nobody other than Joss Whedon seems to think Summmer Glau is worthy of a major role, and Joss isn't doing any work in TV nowdays because of his opinions about the scumbags at Fox (Fox apparently has blackballed him in the TV industry, using their influence and Australian moneybags to make him persona non grata), this is likely the only chance we'll ever have of seeing the young lady on the small screen. A firefly, indeed... one chance to shine bright, and the rest is downhill from there.

- Badtux the Movie Penguin

Saturday, March 11, 2006


This is a story. This is a story about four very talented people (and a few less-talented people) who came together and did the impossible within less than eight months, creating a technical accomplishment that is being sold to this very day.

And then the story ends in the typical maneuverings of men of wealth and the insane games they play with the lives of people, and all that talent, all that potential, is scattered to the four winds, none to ever achieve anything of note again.

When is it, I wonder, that dreams become lies, that hope becomes futile, that one must face the certainty that this is it, that this life of pointless mastication and defecation and fornication and unending drudgery is all you will ever have, all that you will ever be, and that the only hope for the future lies with your children, not with yourself? For in the end, the vast majority of us are fireflies. We shine brightly for one moment, then our light disappears forever, lost in the fog of everyday life as we go through the motions every day pretending that our life matters.

Which, in the end, is a hilarious notion, for we are monkeys. Monkeys with delusions of grandeur. We live, we die, and in the end, all turns back to dust. In the end, no human accomplishment survives. Even the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids shall eventually be nothing but dust. Yet we persist in believing, persist in shining our tiny light, no matter how feeble, into the face of the universe, even after it fades to a dull glow on its way to dying out. That futile flickering in the face of the immenseness of eternity, that desire to say to the universe, "Here I am! I live!" is perhaps the most ludicrous, yet, strangely compelling, story ever told.

And that, perhaps, is the most horrifying tragedy of the Bush regime. By deciding to govern via fear and hate and violence, the result has been the death of hope. Those who have seen their dreams crushed, their children killed, their homes destroyed, they have no hope, and they kill and kill and kill, not caring any more if they are killed. Those who are sent to kill, those who are sent to destroy, themselves are destroyed, their feeble firefly light quenched under the load of horrifying memories and the weight of hate that settles into their souls and corrodes all like acid. And those here in America who want to believe, who want to hope, have their dreams crushed by the immense costs of perpetual war for perpetual peace, see their children's futures pouring out of the nation's coffers into the sands of Mesopotamia, see the inevitable future of an impoverished uneducated and increasingly marginalized nation that will be mean and ugly and filled with violence and hate and no hope for the future. Some give in to despair. Some, some refuse to acknowledge reality, refuse to see anything but the hopeful future in which they wish to believe, shine their firefly light for a brief moment into a cloud of destruction for it to be seen by none at all. And others... others become a little bit crazy, embracing the mean, embracing the ugliness and violence and hate.

And in the end, none of matters. The Republican values of "greed is good" and "he who dies with the most toys, wins" have no more effect upon the universe than a firefly's light in the evening sky. A thousand thousand years from now, nobody will know how many millions of dollars Dick Cheney had when he died. Nobody will care how many nations George W. Bush conquered during the course of his insane plan to create peace through war. Yet we persist in our belief that we are something other than monkeys with delusions of grandeur, that what we do somehow matters. Yet we persist.

And that is both the tragedy of our lives, and the only meaning it will ever have.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Menu #14: Vegetable Manicotti

This MRE menu is one of the least-loved ones in the MRE repertoire. Let's start by looking at the entre', freshly decanted onto a plate after heating:

Man, look at that alarming red color! And no, that's not meat spilling out. That's zuchinni. The entre' is edible only if you put powdered parmisan cheese on it (which luckily packs well in the field). If you do that, you can eat it without feeling like you're choking it down. Otherwise it is virtually inedible.

It doesn't get better from there. The "Potato sticks" are basically potato chip crumbs because the white-coat wizards at MRE Central haven't yet figured out how to package potato chips so that they won't get turned to powder by a helicopter drop (I must say they do have the proper grease-and-potatoes taste of cheap potato chips tho!). The "pound cake" requires peanut butter to make it edible. Then there's the bag of peanuts -- peanut butter *AND* peanuts, in the same packet? Nobody can eat that many peanuts at a sitting and feel good!

Not even the accessory pouch manages to avoid being a disaster. The accessory pouch contains a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce... which is utterly incapable of making this disaster edible, what is needed is a small pouch of powdered parmesan cheese.

Definitely trade this off to the hard-core peanut lovers in your neighborhood when the Big One hits and you're parcelling out the booty from your last trip to the disaster aid center where they're handing out MRE's. If you must eat it, eat it -- it won't kill you, and if you can scrounge up some powdered cheese it's even edible -- but this one definitely deserves its general reputation.

- Badtux the Culinary Penguin

The day of reckoning is coming

So sayeth Robert Reich, pointing to unsustainable deficits and an aging population of lazy feckless baby boomers who refuse to save for retirement and who refuse to work once they hit age 65, yet who demand that all of us born to later generations sustain their unsustainable lifestyle.

Learn a real skill (one that uses your hands). Buy a good set of tools for fixing stuff. Learn how to build a house out of nothing but mud and straw. Third World America is coming, and it isn't gonna be pretty...


Famous last words

Oh Shit!.

Of course, these were only Mexicans (not real people) working on this factory farm, so putting a fence or warning area around the manure pools wasn't necessary. It's not as if people could have drowned there... just untermenschen, unseemly mud people, and there's plenty more where they came from.

- Badtux the Disgusted Penguin

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The investigator of open boxes

In last week's episode, I brought a box full of old papers out of storage to sort through, The King claimed it, I evicted The King, and The King went off to sulk under the sofa.

So now I have finished sorting/shredding/filling black plastic bags with trash, and there are two black plastic trash bags and an empty box sitting on the floor. CatTux comes by and licks one of the plastic trash bags for a while (what's with that?!), then decides that it is time to do his duty of investigating the box. While The King, still sulking under the sofa, looks on, he places his paws up on the edge of the box to support him while he dutifully peers inside, and...

oops, it fell over! Oh well, nothing to do but go all the way...

Cool! Except, CatTux puts his paws up on the bottomside of the box and... it falls back over! Oh well, guess that means it's nap time...

And that ends this day's episode of Catside Theatre. Have a very nice day!

- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Dairy Shake of Death

I *finally* dared the MRE Vanilla Dairy Shake of Death for lunch today.

Verdict: Flawed, but still good.

There are two basic problems: 1) when made with cold water, it turns out pretty lumpy. 2) It's hard to tear open the package without tearing it too far and making it hard to, well, shake (!). So if I had to do it again, I'd open the packet using the scissors on my Leatherman Juice (which goes everywhere with me when I'm in the field... the one I have is the perfect size, big enough to be useful but small enough that I don't feel like I'm carrying a big lump of iron in my pocket).

Still, once you get that all squared away, it tastes fine. Not like a chemical spill, which apparently is what the strawberry or chocolate versions taste like. So it turns out that all the fear and trembling was for nothing. I'd have no problem at all with drinking this thing while in the field.

- Badtux the Satisfied Penguin

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

No duh, Sherlock

Gasp! Barry Bonds used steroids!

And in other news, the ocean is still filled with salt water.

Alrighty, then!

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Monday, March 06, 2006

Why John Edwards is a terrible candidate for President

John Edwards, Kerry's hapless running mate, has announced he's running for President (again). If he became the Democratic candidate for President, the Republicans would wipe the floor with him.

Edwards was incredibly weak as a VP candidate. He didn't pull in North Carolina for his ticket, and Dick Cheney wiped the floor with him in the VP debate. Dick was the pure epitomy of evil there, never stating anything true if a lie would do, and Edwards looked flustered and bewildered and a lot like he was wanting to shout "Objection, your honor! The witness is purjuring himself!" every time Cheney popped out another great big lie.

Edwards is a good guy, but he just doesn't have the right stuff to confront the pure evil that is today's Republican Party. Sorry. That's just the truth.

- Badtux the Political Penguin

Third World USA watch

In third world nations, government officials prosecute you for criticizing government officials or government agencies.

We have officially arrived.

Well, actually, we arrived some time ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Feds to prosecute a guy for the crime of holding up a sign critical of King George at a time when King George could actually see it. But this is just a punctuation mark.

We are now a third world nation. The United States of America is dead. The Third World States of America are all you will ever know, all that your children will ever know. And as far as I can tell, nobody gives a damn, or cares to do shit about it.

- Badtux the Saddened Penguin

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Yet another outlet of the Waistline Expansion Demons

Carl's Jr. just introduced a jalapeno burger.

As a native Louisianian I of course cannot pass up spicy food. I love Korean cuisine -- oooh, that spicy red sauce! When I fix pizza, I put jalapeno peppers all over it before I stuff it in the oven. But my jalapeno burger fix has gone unfulfilled ever since I moved out of Whataburger territory (you can get your Whataburger with jalapenos, and yum is it good!). It just isn't worth trying to fix hamburgers for myself from scratch -- you can't buy just two or three buns, you have to buy a whole eight-pack (which I won't eat up before they go bad), and besides, hamburgers are best cooked on an outdoor grill over a charcoal and wood fire and my iceberg is currently docked at an apartment complex that prohibits charcoal or wood grills.

Well, my lust for a jalapeno burger goes unfulfilled no longer. And, alas, a Carl's Jr. is only a 3/4th mile walk from my apartment...

Evil. Evil evil evil, I say. Now I know why the workers at Carl's Jr. wear those caps and smocks... it's to hide the horns and tail!

- Badtux the Waddling Penguin

Moving to a third world country

At one time I considered moving to a third world country, but then I realized that I already was moving to a third world country. Or, rather, a third world country was moving to me.

Consider this:

  • Corrupt government: CHECK.
  • Bad roads: CHECK
  • Dirty polluted air: CHECK. (See: Gutting of environmental regulations)
  • Dirty water that causes intestinal diseases coming out of the faucets: CHECK. (See: Gutting of environmental regulations, various outbreaks from contaminated municipal water).
  • Tiny upper class, shrinking middle class, and huge number of poor people? CHECK.
  • Lack of electricity and running water for many homes? CHECK. (See: New Orleans, where the electrical wires in most of the city are lying in the streets, abandoned by the power company which has declared bankruptcy despite its corporate parent making record profits over the past few years, and where the water is still off in most of the city because of breaks in the mains).
  • Treasury printing money with all the abandon of a Weimer Republic government ministry? CHECK. (See: Money supply figures for past 8 years).
  • Can be thrown into jail and locked up anytime someone in authority doesn't like the way you look or the people you hang out with: CHECK. (See: Jose' Padilla. Or, rather, you can't.)
  • Your telephone calls and bank transactions are overseen by the government to see if you might be engaged in subversive activity? CHECK (See: NSA spying, Patriot Act banking regulations).
  • Large masses of uneducated people, useful only as brownshirts for the government? CHECK. (See: Entire state of Alabama, entire Fox News viewership).
  • An educational system that serves primarily as a propaganda outlet for the government, and does little educating? CHECK. (See: Your local school board.)
I don't need to move to a third world country, because one is swiftly coming here to where I already live.

So the next question: How does one survive in a third world country with a smigeon of dignity and comfort left?

One possibility is to move to a first-world country. Unfortunately, everybody else in a third world country has that same idea, and first-world countries tend to slam the doors shut pretty quickly on anybody who can't buy their way in. And buy-in typically is a *lot* of money -- as in, the equivalent of a million dollars. Some first-world countries have special programs to bring in people from third-world countries with talents that they can use (see, for example, Canada), but even that has some serious limitations -- limitations on age of people they'll accept, limitations on numbers, etc.

Another possibility is to move to a second world country. These are countries which were once third world countries, but now are increasingly prosperous and democratic, with a growing middle class, decreasing income differences, and improving educational system. Most of these countries today that welcome foreigners (to a lesser or greater degree) are in South and Central America. Costa Rica, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, and to a certain extent Argentina and Brazil have increasingly diverse and robust economies that produce everything from microchips to jet airliners, yet remain inexpensive enough that you can support yourself in fine fettle with relatively modest occupations. Once again you're going to have to buy your way in with hard currency, but the amount of hard currency is much less than for the first world countries -- for example, to get into Costa Rica will cost you $150K, Panama $100K. (Note: Verify this, it changes regularly!). And while you'll be adrift in a culture that you can't really understand and will have the typical life of an immigrant in a new and strange country (i.e., lots of hard, hard work to barely get by, little influence upon the direction of your newly adopted country, etc.), your children have an opportunity to become enthusiastic participants in that country's future -- most of these countries have been quite friendly to the descendents of immigrants (especially immigrants of European or Asian ancestry), who after a generation or two typically rise to the top of the country's socio-economic structure.

The final option is to move to a third world country, except you don't have to move to do that. The question then becomes one of how to a) survive, and b) insure some degree of comfort and dignity, while living in the third world country that the United States will become after the dollar collapses and the Wal-Marts of the land become empty shells.

And that, alas, is a question whose answer I am still working on.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Puzzles, smuzzles

One of the most irritating notions I've ever run across in the computer industry is the notion that the ability to solve ridiculous mathematical puzzles has anything to do with your performance as a software engineer. I just had an encounter with an engineering group whose manager *loves* those stupid things. All he hires are engineers that are good at those puzzles, and all that those engineers do when they interview potential new engineers is (doh) pepper them with puzzles.

Now, this engineering group is not particularly productive or effective. As far as I can tell, they consistently lag their competition by at least 6 months when it comes to the product cycle. But still, they persist at their ludicrous notion that the ability to solve trivial little artificial problems has anything to do with solving real-world problems.

Note: I'm not ranting this way because I'm particularly bad at those stupid little puzzles. Rather, I think it's utter nonsense. When I interview someone, I want to know what they've done and what they can do. I care about results, not about their ability to solve something unrelated to results. Furthermore, if the guy is any good, I want to convince him that our company is staffed by no-nonsense results-oriented types, not by a bunch of freakin' air-heads who go around solving problems that have nothing at all to do with real life. Furthermore, I want to give him some info about what he'd be doing if he came to the company, so that if he wasn't interested in doing that kind of stuff, he could tell me and we could both save some time on a match that wouldn't work. But what the hell, that's why I'm an engineer and not a manager. If I cared about bullshit, I woulda already bullshit myself into one of those six-figure-salary executive jobs. Sigh...

- Badtux the Rant-o-matic Penguin

Cheeze Whiz, oh my!

Just popped upon the next MRE pouch, "Red Beans, Rice, & Sausage". Two items therein: "Filled Pretzels, Chedder Cheese" and "Cheese spread".

So I kneaded the cheese spread as directed on the package, opened it up, opened up the pretzels, dipped them into the cheese, and... junk food heaven! A bit salty, and HORRIBLY bad for you, being a bit over 400 calories of which almost half of it is fat, but yummy all the same.

If these items aren't a popular trade item for the guys in the field, they musta grown up in a different country from the one I grew up in, 'cause this was, like, the very *essense* of junk food!

- Badtux the Waddling Penguin

The King's New Throne

I got another box out of storage to sort through its contents. I turned my back, and said box was reclaimed by The King as his new throne: This made it somewhat difficult to sort through the contents of the box! So I evicted The King from his throne, and he went off and sulked under the futon: Life is hard, when you're The King...

- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's evil elf time again!

$@#$%. Adorable little ragamuffin with... with... THIN MINT COOKIES. AGH! Can... not... resist... $$$ flying out of wallet... haul huge sack home with me... AGH!

Those demented elves are at it again. Oh sure, they might call themselves "Girl Scouts", but we penguins know better. They are... WAISTLINE ENHANCEMENT DEMONS. That's what they are, yessiree! Especially the ones with the THIN MINTS.

Gotta go. A thin mint (or two, or three, or twenty, or thirty) is calling my name...

- Badtux the Waddling (more, now!) Penguin

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More MRE review...

Well, I still haven't dared try the dairy shake. Instead, I tried another MRE that I had at work: Menu 13, the cheese tortellini.

This was *GOOD*! It might have been vegetarian, but it was quite tasty, sort of like a high-grade Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Comfort food all the way. I'll trade the "meatloaf" (Friskies) MRE for this one any time of day. The lemon poppy pound cake that came with it, on the other hand, was merely edible. I tried it with and without the peanut butter that came with this MRE. Either way, it was uninspiring. The other stuff that came with it is this:

  • Spiced Apples
  • Toffee with Walnuts
  • and the same accessory packet as the chicken tetrazini, including the worthless "Seasoning Blend, Salt Free". However that seasoning packet might actually improve the cheese tortellini, since it has a vaguely oregano-ish taste to it. I didn't bother, the tortellini was tasty enough without it.
I was full after eating the tortellini and the poppy cake, so I didn't try the spiced apples or toffee. However, in the past I've had happy experiences with the MRE "spiced apples". Unless they managed to somehow ruin them over the past ten years, I bet they're still pretty yummy.

-- Badtux the Fine Cuisine Penguin