Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A sad juxtaposition

I be hooked on Teabonics, the new dialect for Teabaggers. Like "ebonics", it is the language of uneducated people who fail at the basics of English grammar and spelling.

Texas Board of Education defiantly stands by their decision to drop Thomas Jefferson from Texas world history standards. And not only did they drop Tommy Boy -- they dropped the entire Enlightenment. Because, of course, that rejection of Church authoritah just could not stand, man.

Jaime Escalante is dead. He was a difficult man who was used by right-wingers during the 1980's to get a lot of nonsense passed, such as the TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) in Texas, which was supposed to end social promotion and promote mastery but instead mostly just caused the majority of students to drop out at the end of middle school (not officially -- they simply never showed up at high school and were never counted as dropouts -- but they wuz *gone* -- hey look, I can do Teabonics too!). Jaime was fine with being used by right-wingers, assuming that all teachers were as good as he was and thus his ideas could be implemented by mere mortals without his direct supervision. When it became clear that was not true, he bitterly resigned and headed back to his native Bolivia to finish his teaching career. Despite his orneriness, he did a lot of good for a lot of children -- he was a genuinely talented teacher who had a lot of success with kids who others might have given up on. Just goes to show that skill in one area (teaching in his case) does not necessarily translate to skill in other areas (promoting educational reform, politics, etc.).

So there you have it. Two groups of people determined to inflict stupidity and ignorance upon the world, and one man who dedicated his life, however imperfectly, to bringing education and intelligence to the world. It does seem that those determined to inflict stupidity and ignorance upon the world are winning, sigh...

-- Badtux the Obituary Penguin

The "competition" thingy in healthcare

One common right-wing meme is that the whole problem with healthcare costs is the middlemen. People don't care what healthcare costs because their health insurers are paying for it, and they don't care how much their insurers are paying for it because their employers are paying the insurers for the insurance.

So, is this true? Well, there's an easy way to test it. If it's true, then the uninsured -- who presumably do care what healthcare costs -- will shop around and pay less for healthcare than the insured do, since they have a financial reason to choose cheaper healthcare. So let's go look at the prices that the uninsured pay for health care, they'll surely be less than what the insured pay, right? Err... no, wrong. The uninsured are routinely charged up to four times more than what insurers pay for the exact same procedures.

So that middleman thing just doesn't work. If the middlemen were the problem, if the insurers were the problem, if competition worked in healthcare, the uninsured would pay LESS, not four times MORE, because competition would allow them to find less expensive healthcare. But that doesn't happen. How can this be, you ask? Well, it's simple. What costs most money is not the routine family health type stuff. You going to your family doctor with the sniffles doesn't cost a lot of money. What costs money is the big procedures, the stuff to treat life-threatening illnesses, where it is literally your money, or your life. And since people value their life more than they value their money, they fork over their money.

In the end, competition in the healthcare field is about as real as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus -- it just doesn't happen, because of the "your money, or your life" nature of the business. Might as well talk about competition in the field of Central Park muggings at that point. That is why I think insurers have been unfairly demonized by both the left and the right -- they're trying to police the Central Park muggers, and yeah, they need to be regulated because they're also taking out some of the pedestrians on the sidewalks too by firing at will in all directions like an Iraqi Army unit taking sniper fire (the so-called "death blossom"), but the core issue with health care costs here is providers with the power of life and death using that to extract people's wallets, not insurers or middlemen or anybody else.

- Badtux the Health Care Penguin


At nearly 80 years old, Leonard Cohen seems to have discovered things about songs that he wrote forty years ago that he didn't know about them back when he wrote them. Somehow, despite the fact that he was simply trying to make a better living than what he could make as a poet, Leonard stumbled across a large cache of Truth that he has been dribbling out in his songs ever since, and we are all the better for it.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GOP: The Party of simulated lesbian sex bondage

I have been laughing uncontrollably over the past couple of days over the revelations of the Republican National Committee paying for a night at a naughty night club for Republican donors -- then attempting to throw one of those donors under the bus to cover its ass. Anyhow, go check out the Wonkette for all the snarkalicious goodies, including the image to the left (animated on the Wonkette site!), which covers Michael Steele's reign as GOP chairman just so perfectly well ;).

-- Badtux the Easily Amused Penguin

Large Hadron Collider now operating

World disappears into massive black hole. News at 5.

-- Badtux the Snarky Science Penguin


The band Morphine, with two of their songs "All Wrong" and "Whisper". Drum, sax, bass. Wait, no guitar? Uhm, yeah, no guitar.

This is another one of those bands from the 90's that couldn't make it today. Not that they exactly made it in the 90's, when bass player and lead singer Mark Sanderman collapsed and died in 1999 they'd sold enough albums to make a decent living of it but definitely were not drowning in megabucks or fame, but they would never even be signed today.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Monday, March 29, 2010

OMG Teh Jackboots iz cuming!

The right-wing blogosphere (and lots of the left-wing blogosphere too) is in the midst of a collective freakout about the possibility of the IRS enforcing the new healthcare tax that'll happen in 2014 if you don't buy health insurance by then. Now, I'm sort of baffled by the notion of the IRS enforcing a tax being somehow unconstitutional -- that was sorta decided in 1794 when President George Washington called out the U.S. Army to enforce the whiskey tax after the early version of the teabaggers refused to pay the tax -- but then, everybody knows that George Washington was an America-hating big government advocate, unlike that great patriot Ronald Reagan, who in his tax reform bill of 1986, err... forced everybody to either get a mortgage, or pay a tax on the money that would be used to pay a mortgage. Hmm... why did Ronald Reagan hate America?!

But nevermind any of that. First of all, the IRS is not going to come audit you to see if you have health insurance. As explained by the IRS commissioner, you're going to get something like the 1099 forms that are issued by your bank for interest income, except it's going to come from your insurance company and be issued if it's an HHS-certified "qualified health plan". As with your 1099 form, the IRS is automatically going to get it, and if the IRS audits anybody, it'll be the insurance company, not you. Furthermore, it was recently broken on the right-wing site that even if you don't pay the healthcare tax, the IRS is specifically prohibited from sending jackboots to seize your home or throw you in jail. You won't get your tax refund, but that's it. Furthermore, if you read the actual government document referenced there, you'll find that if buying the minimum health insurance needed to fulfill the "qualified health plan" requirement would cost more than 8% of your family income, you're automatically exempted from the tax -- which, give that the average individual plan costs over $5,000 and the average family plan costs over $12,000, means that individuals making under $62,500 and families making under $150,000, i.e., over 75% of Americans, are exempt from the tax to begin with.

In other words, Republicans (and left wingers) whining about jackboots blah blah blah are pulling shit out of their ass, as usual. But as the right-wing site points out, the fact that most Americans are exempted from the tax, combined with the mandate upon insurers that they must provide coverage, creates another problem -- as they point out, why would anybody buy insurance before they get sick, if they know they can get it at any time if they get sick? The result is that only sick people would buy insurance... and as I've previously pointed out here, sick people spend 16% of the national income of the United States, but earn only 3-4% of the national income of the United States. It's not a sustainable model, in other words -- the health insurers would go broke swiftly because to pay their insurance claims they'd be trying to suck more money out of the few people enrolling than those people actually earn.

Congress knew this, of course, but they caved to the right-winger paranoia about jackbooted IRS agents enforcing a tax by taking your home blah de blah. They're hoping that the incentives they have for getting health insurance -- the subsidies, the tax credits to businesses, etc. -- will suffice to motivate most people to get insurance without them having to jack up the enforcement side of things. Unfortunately the incentives being offered are likely insufficient to do so. What that means is that in 2014, we're going to have some problems. Unfortunately those problems are only hypothetical right now, so Congress has no incentive to fix them until they see exactly what form those problems take. We could have resolved all these problems ahead of time by simply going to Medicare For All and adding an 8% tax on payrolls and unearned income (you're already paying this "healthcare tax" anyhow, might as well pay it to the government rather than to a private insurer), but that would have required Democrats to have a spine and choose the less popular option for providing health coverage. Rather than do anything now, they decided to punt it down the road to 2014, at which point they have to do something or everything collapses. Sad to say, as Winston Churchill pointed out, Americans seem to do everything but the right thing until they have no choice but to do the right thing... and as was true of American support for Britain early during WWII, so it is true today of healthcare today.

-- Badtux the Healthcare Economics Penguin


Emmy the Great singing "Bowl Collecting Blood", available via iTunes for those of us not in the UK. Yeppers, she still hasn't found a U.S. distributor. Go ahead and buy the "First Love-Deluxe Edition" "album" from iTunes, it's only $9.95 for a ton of great songs...

One thing I can't figure out: Emmy can sing, she's cute as a ladybug, and she writes great songs. So why has she never been wined and dined by a music industry talent scout, while Taylor Swift, who needs auto-tune to sing anywhere near in tune, makes jillions of dollars? I am just plain baffled...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Golden Gate Bridge

Sleator-Kinney, "Jumpers", off of their album The Woods. Corin Tucker is wailing away, seeming almost surprised when she hits those odd quavering notes, while Carrie Brownstein practices her Guitar Hero moves.

They made this album, then broke up. Someone asked Brownstein recently whether Sleator-Kinney would ever get back together. Brownstein said, "We made the album (The Woods) that we always wanted to make, there's nothing more we could do that could add to that." I guess that makes them ten times more honest than folks like the Rolling Stones, who kept making albums long after they'd run out of things to say just for the dough...

Badtux the Music Penguin

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sometimes you get what you want... alas

The easiest thing to have done with health care would have been to simply issue a Medicare card to everybody with a Social Security card, then fund the whole thing with a payroll tax plus an equivalent tax on unearned income. We're spending the money on healthcare anyhow, it makes no sense to collect the money for healthcare in such an expensive and duplicative way as having health insurers duplicate the IRS's money collection mechanisms and Medicare's bill processing systems.

So why didn't Congress do it this way? Why did Congress create over 2,000 pages of kludges and workarounds to try to make the strange conglomeration of the Dutch, Swiss, and German systems that they came up with workable? Was it a conspiracy by insurers? Did the Trilateral Commission contact individual Congressmen and give them marching orders for how to create the New World Order? Did drug companies bend Congress into doing their bidding? Gosh, there's just so many conspiracy theories going around about why we have such an enormously complex health care bill that will only imperfectly cover most Americans, when the actual reason can be summed up in one word: Democracy.

Democracy is the notion that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard (H.L. Mencken), and this bill gives the common people what they want, in spades. Currently over 80% of Americans have health insurance either from private or public sources, the majority of those with health insurance have it via private sources, and over 90% of Americans who have private health insurance have it through their employer. Various non-partisan public health foundations, the most prominent being the Kaiser Family Foundation, set out in the aftermath of the blowup of the Clinton health plan to perform tracking polls to see what health care proposals are most popular. What they found was that the proposals that polled the best were proposals that combined a mandate on employers with subsidies for those who could not afford insurance and restrictions on insurers to keep them from kicking people out of the system. As in, roughly 70-80% support stable over more than a decade.

The single-payer alternative has never polled at even 60% even when polled as "Medicare For All", and generally rarely cracked 50% in the tracking polls. Since democracy is the notion that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it, good and hard, our politicians then sat down to give us what we wanted, good and hard. And that, my friends, is that -- we got what we wanted, a system that largely keeps health insurance for working-age families in the hands of our employers, which thus required 2,000 pages of workarounds and kludges to sort of make it into a universal healthcare system if you squint hard enough. And which, of course, does include pieces of pork here and there on behalf of one special interest or another, but if you look carefully at the bill and at the fifteen years of tracking polls at the site, it's clear why it looks like what it looks like -- its core proposals are what polled best.

In short, there was no conspiracies involved here in the basic bones of what came out of Congress, it was very carefully crafted to include the policy proposals that polled best over the past fifteen years of tracking polls... along with a bunch of nasty kludges needed to make those proposals sort of workable (for example, the individual mandate, which is needed because otherwise the system goes into a death spiral). What happened to the simple notion of handing out a Medicare card at the same time a Social Security card is issued was something called "democracy", which is the worst of all possible forms of government save for all others that have been tried. So it goes.

- Badtux the Democracy Penguin

Good for me and not for thee?

The self-styled "militiaman" who called for "Sons of Liberty" to throw bricks through Democratic legislators' offices in protest of health care reform makes his living by... receiving government disability checks. Mike Vanderboegh is on disability and is eligible for Medicare because of that (currently the only way you can receive Medicare prior to age 65), but apparently now that he has *his* government health care, the rest of us can piss off...

Hypocrisy. It's what makes the Teabaggers go 'round. Calling for an end to "government healthcare" at the same time they receive Medicare. Bwhahahahahaha!

-- Badtux the Astounded Penguin

She found out

Marva Wright died on March 23rd, and thus I'm pre-empting the video that was scheduled for today. Marva was a big lady with a big voice and a big heart, who belted out blues and gospel tunes and gospel-ized pop tunes that, when you heard them, they were just right. I was lucky enough to see her in Houston in the early 90's, when she was just starting out. And man, that voice... she could belt out those blues, yessiree.

Here she's belting out "Change Is Gonna Come". I guess it did, as it does for all of us, eventually.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday, March 26, 2010


The Mighty Fang was grooming Mencken's ear -- holding Mencken's head steady with his paw -- when he saw me pull out the camera. He seems a bit mellow about the interruption though.

-- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

World Nut Daily daily fail

From a World Nut Daily email to me:

The Great Depression brought great change to politics. Hyperinflation was running rampant.

Okay, boys and girls, time to gather 'round the penguin and listen up. The most prominent feature of the Great Depression was a deflationary spiral. Indeed, according to the Irving Fisher debt-deflation theory of the Great Depression, the reason the Great Depression turned into the Great Depression rather than just the Sorta Bad Recession was because the currency entered deflation, which in turn inflates the value of debts since debts taken out in cheap inflated dollars are now being expected to be paid back in expensive deflated dollars. Inflated debts could not be paid off, which caused banks to fail when money they expected to be paid back could not be paid back, which caused further deflation, which caused further debt inflation, which caused further bank failures when people couldn't pay their debt, which caused further deflation, wash, rinse, repeat. The economy went into a spiral of deflation, and the end result was the transferring of much of the actual physical wealth of the nation (land, buildings, houses, etc.) from the debtor class to the investor class who had money and could buy up the assets of the debtor class for pennies on the dollar.

None of this is controversial. Crap, even the Austrians admit that there was a deflationary spiral as a prominent feature of the Great Depression, though they claim this was a good thing because it allowed the economy to "purge malinvestments" and "mobilize capital for more productive use". So when World Nut Daily makes that statement at the top of this post, general hilarity ensues. Sadly,'s audience is so stupid and ignorant that they haven't the foggiest idea that they're being fed a line of bullshit about something that's about as true as the notion that the sky is purple with streaks of mauve... so it goes. Never underestimate the stupidity and ignorance of right wingers, eh?

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin


Kelleigh McKenzie singing her song "Gin". Most of her songs that I've seen on YouTube are banjo-ized covers of other people's songs. But this one is sort of interesting and unique.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And it's final

The House today passed the final reconciliation bill for the health care reform, and the whole thing is now law. The resulting system looks like a weird crossbreed between the Dutch system and the Swiss system with a little German thrown in, not the system I would have set up if I had my druthers, but one whose fundamental structure has proven workable internationally. As I've mentioned it's a profoundly mediocre bill and we'll spend the next twenty years patching up the problems in this bill, but it's a helluva lot easier to fix problems once they're real than it is to fix them while they're still hypothetical. Americans aren't too good at that whole hypotheticals thingy.

As for the death panels, and why they haven't showed up at your doorstep yet, patience! I got my invitation to be on an ObamaCare death panel yesterday, and our first meeting is next Monday, so clearly we haven't had time to dispatch MIB's in black helicopters to take the lucky duckies to the Soylent Green processing centers. What, you didn't get your invitation to be on an ObamaCare death panel yet? Uh-oh....

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

I get asked questions

Question asked of me: "Why do white working-class men support the Republican Party despite the fact that Republican policies harm their economic well-being?"

There is a one-word answer to that question, but let me give you some background first. In my younger days I worked in oil refineries doing electrical work. I know exactly why those peckerwoods have all run to the Republican Party: They hate people of color. They hate "niggers". They hate "beaners". They blame minorities for all their woes, and especially for driving down their wages via competition. A common expression I heard in the oil field was, "goddamn niggers getting out of their place, taking our jobs."

Today's Republican Party is their party of choice, ever since Ronald Reagan made the Republican Party's embrace of racism explicit by announcing the start of his Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a hotbed of KKK activity then and now. When Patrick Buchanan announces to a stunned Rachel Maddow that the Republican Party should re-brand itself as "the party of white men", Patrick is merely acknowledging an already-done deed. White working-class men, buffeted by forces they don't understand, have settled on dark-skinned people as the cause of all their problems... and today's Republican Party is all too ready to welcome them and their racism with open arms. So there's your one-word answer: Racism. All I needed to say, but I am a long-winded penguin, eh?

- Badtux the Southern Penguin

But... but... I read this report!

Yesterday I mentioned that Moody's just made a fool of themselves by mentioning the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on the federal debt. At which point you might start nattering, "but ... I read this report where the *interest* on the federal debt was going to be 50% of U.S. GDP in 2050!"

Yeah, I've read some of those reports too, and get laughs and giggles out of them. These sorts of scare reports make various assumptions that are pure asshattery:

1) They assume that Medicare spending will continue going up and up and up until it consumes half the GDP of the country. That's as ludicrous as the notion in 2005, expressed to me by a supposedly sane real estate loan officer, that real estate prices would just keep going up and up and up because "everybody needs a house!" so he didn't have to worry about morons who could not pay back liar loans, he'd just foreclose on their house and flip it for 20% more than he originally loaned out. Clearly that was not true, and the same is true for Medicare spending -- at some point, the majority are going to say, "Enough, we simply will not allow Medicare to consume more GDP", just as the majority eventually said, "enough, we simply are NOT going to continue buying overpriced houses!" Medicare spending simply cannot continue going up forever any more than real estate prices could.

2) They assume that current tax policies in the United States will continue into perpetuity. In reality the United States has the lowest taxes of any major OECD economy and its current tax policies cannot and will not continue into perpetuity, at some point U.S. taxes will have to rise towards the OECD mean if the U.S. is to continue to be a major economy rather than a Mexico North with a broken infrastructure and a broken government.

3) They assume that there will be no (zero) GDP growth for the foreseeable future and that the current economic downturn will never end. Reality is that the current economic downturn is unlikely to last more than a few years and there WILL be GDP growth, if only because U.S. population is still growing and per-capita productivity is still improving.

4) They assume that inflation will remain at 0% and thus the current debt will not get deflated by inflation. Reality is that the U.S. has often in the past deliberately inflated its currency in order to deflate its debt load, though rarely openly doing so.

5) They assume that the U.S. government will not outright monetize some of this debt. Remember that GDP growth is going to require a growth in the monetary base in the first place in order to prevent deflation (see Milton Friedman, monetarism, school of). The general way this is done is for the Federal Reserve to, err, monetize federal debt by buying Treasuries.

In short, there's a lot of ASSumptions that these kinds of scare reports make, and if all those assumptions come true, federal debt is the *last* thing we should worry about because if all those assumptions come true, millions of Americans will be starving in the streets, all government services will have collapsed, chaos will reign, and the U.S. will have effectively ceased to exist as a viable entity. At that point the interest on the federal debt becomes the *least* of our worries...

In the end, these reports are fiction, of the sort of "if this keeps on" vein as the science fiction future histories of Ray Bradbury and Larry Niven. Like all science fiction they're useful as reminders that what we are doing now can't be sustained, but we already knew that. As predictions of the future, however, they are likely about as accurate as George Orwell's 1984 was -- funny, I don't seem to be living in some grey dreary impoverished tyranny as predicted by Orwell, what about you?

-- Badtux the Fiscal Penguin

And fat goth chicks dance

Amy Lee ("Evanescence"), unlike most of the young pop tart types, actually can sing, though this encore, where she's pretty much run her voice out of gas, probably isn't the best proof of that. This one is "Whisper" off of the first album, Fallen, when Evanescence was an actual band rather than being Amy Lee. For some odd reason Christian music types thought Evanescence was a Christian band, and touted their music highly, until Amy and Ben came out and said, "WTF is wrong with you people? Yeah, the themes might be the same as some Christian music, but what's that got to do with it?" At which point Evanescence became persona non grata in the Christian music scene ;-).

Oddly enough, given what I've earlier mentioned about how many redheads there are in rock music right now, Amy Lee's natural hair color is a reddish-brown. I find it somewhat giggle-inspiring that all the black-haired Asian girls around here are bleaching their hair into a reddish color, while a lot of people with reddish hair are dying theirs black... talk about the perversity of the female race!

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moody's makes itself a laughingstock

The Moody's bond rating agency threatens to downgrade its rating of Federal debt. At which point general hilarity ensues.

Look: There is no -- zero, zilch, nada -- chance that the United States federal government is *ever* going to default on its debt. Y'see, there's this little thing called the PRINTING PRESS, and the U.S. Government has one of'em. A very effective electronic one, that is, which doesn't even need any paper to make it work, all that happens is that the U.S. government "sells" Treasury bonds to the Federal Reserve, which then "deposits" money by adding zeros and ones to the Treasury's accounts on file at the Federal Reserve. Now, granted, it wouldn't be a good thing for the U.S. government to do a lot of this money-printing stuff, but if it were a choice of default or print, you betcha that they'd print.

So if there ain't no chance in hell of the U.S. government ever defaulting on the federal debt, WTF is Moody's up to? Well, it's a pre-emptive strike. See, the folks at Moody's are a bit... oh what the fuck. They're crooks. They fraudulently rated a buncha liar loans and shit as investment-grade securities, and cost pension funds and 401(k)s hundreds of billions of dollars. In a just world, everybody at Moody's above the ranking of mail room girl would be in jail for FRAUD. What the Moody's folks are saying, as they watch the Federal watchdogs sniffing around trying to decide which fraud trail to follow first, is "oh yeah? You think you're going to take us down? We'll take you down if you try!"

Except that all Moody's has accomplished is to make itself a laughingstock. Everybody knows that the Federal Government can't default as long as its debt is dollar-denominated and it has a printing press in its possession. So if Moody's ever did try to downgrade the federal debt, everybody would just ROFL and ignore them, it would not change investor behavior regarding Treasuries by one one micrometer -- and Moody's would lose pretty much every single one of its clients, because if Moody's is giving out clearly fraudulent bond ratings (as would be true if they said Treasuries were anything other than AAA), well, nobody would ever listen to them again on anything. Yeah, they give their clients whatever ratings the clients want them to give, if the clients pay them enough... but everybody ignores those ratings, then why would clients bother paying them for the ratings?

So anyhow, that's the real deal: there ain't no chance in hell that the U.S. is going to ever default on the Federal debt, Moody's has jumped the shark in an attempt to evade being prosecuted for fraud for all that liar loan "investment grade" shit they rated, and now they're a laughingstock. 'Nuff said on that pile of reeking horseshit.

-- Badtux the Finance Penguin


Marianne Faithful was so beautiful and could sing so well back then... today she's a dumpy old lady with a cracked voice, her beaituful voice destroyed by heroin, booze, and cigarettes during the 1970's. She did it just because she wanted to see what it was like to be a bum. Just as she became Mick Jagger's squeeze (and had this song written for her) just because she wanted to bang one of the Rolling Stones. I have to say, she's gotten everything she's wanted out of life, pretty much, for better or for worse. Hard to fault her choices when I'm not the one who had to live them...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

The power to tax

One wingnut talking point being used in the lawsuits filed against the new health care bill (which will be law sometime in the next week) is that it unconstitutionally forces you to buy health insurance. Err, no. Read The Bill. You can choose to not buy health insurance. You are then charged a tax to be paid into the Uncompensated Care Fund (since it is assumed you will be drawing from said fund sooner or later), but you don't have to buy health insurance. You'll go to jail if you don't pay your taxes (like, duh?), but you won't go to jail for not buying health insurance.

In case you haven't figured it out, the power to tax is one of the enumerated powers in the body of the Constitution, and one of the first things done by the newly elected Federal government of President George Washington was to levy a tax on corn whiskey. That also led to the first tax revolt in American history, the Whiskey Rebellion, which ended when General Washington took charge of the U.S. Army and marched into the rebellious area, at which point the rebels gulped, and went back to paying their taxes. In other words, George Washington was kinda the anti-Tea Party dude, the Tea Party loons of his day didn't want to pay their taxes, and he rammed it down their throats with the full force of the U.S. Army. In the end the whiskey tax was not repealed until after Thomas Jefferson won election in 1800, 12 years after the Constitution came into effect.

So anyhow, if the Federal government wants to levy a tax on insurance -- or on non-insurance, for that matter -- it's one of the enumerated powers in the Constitution. So suck George Washington's big, long... musket, wingnut assholes. And, uhm, what's this stuff about Obama ramming things down throats again? Do you dudes have to use homoerotic language for everything? Dudes. Can you say "Suppressed homosexuality"? Sure you can!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to End the Great Recession

Well, we could always have a massive inflationary event where countries all around the world are required to print frantically in order to make production soar of goods that will never be consumed (but instead will be blown up) and thereby achieve full employment and get the economy kickstarted again. That would do it.

Of course, the last time we did that some 70,000,000 people ended up dead, but surely we can figure some way to do this stimulus again today without all those dead bodies being so messy all around, right? Right? Hello? Anybody out there in Chicagoland? Yo, Austrians, can you hear me? Oh wait, why are they putting their hands over their ears and shouting "I hear nothing! I hear nothing!"?!

Hold it, there's my Congressman and Senators, let me tell them about this great new plan for kickstarting the economy again. Wait, why are they running, screaming as if in terror, the moment I open my beak and start talking about this great new plan to party like it's 1941 except, like, without all that death and killing stuff? All that's here are us New Keynesian penguins, are we really that scary?!

- Badtux the Baffled Penguin

Intimidated by mimes

Beaner-basher Roy Beck apparently is scared of small women wearing mime makeup despite having a *HUGE* bodyguard who outweighs all the mimes combined (said bodyguard who, BTW, ended up getting arrested for assault at the end of this). Awe, poor widdle baby, is he scared of the dark too? Maybe he needs to go back to Mommy to have her kiss it and make it all better!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin


There was a time when fine hotels had bars/nightclubs attached to them. There was always a piano there, and often a lady singer, singing love songs as the pianist and perhaps a jazz backing band played.

Diana Krall brings back the sound of that long-gone era, killed decades ago by the decline of the great hotels and the commodification of music. Now only a few hotels have bars or clubs attached, and any music you find there is canned. Elegance is gone, there is only crass commerce and joyless hookups in a sterile environment that reeks of loneliness.

-- Badtux the Reminiscing Penguin

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obedience to authority

It hasn't changed.

funny pictures
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

-- Badtux the Milgrammy Penguin

Health care reform passes (again!)

Hearing the tighty righties fuming about the passage of Romneycare and claiming that it will put Obama in your proctologist's office (because, of course, you know that those buck negros just *love* sticking it up tighty whitey asses) is enough to make a penguin laugh. As is the fulmination from the left about how Romneycare will result in insurance company executives coming into your proctologist's office to stick their gold-plated reamers up your ass.

The reality is that health insurers don't deserve the demonization they got from the left during this debate -- yeah, they've done some evil things, but mostly because providers are escalating costs out of control and they're making some boneheaded moves to try to rein in providers. The high costs of health care, as I've previously pointed out, aren't caused by insurers. They're caused by providers who compete based on how many high-tech goodies they have in their offices, rather than on cost, because when your life is on the line you try to get the best doctor, not the cheapest doctor (because your life is literally priceless to you -- if you're dead, what does money count?). The bill caps their MLR's (Medical Loss Ratios) so that insurers will make out okay, but they won't be able to make the sort of huge profits that some people claim will happen. And of course it goes without saying that Romneycare won't put Obama in your proctologist's office. Indeed, for over 90% of those who are currently insured, Romneycare will not make any difference at all -- they're getting insured through their employer, and the only real difference is now their employer will get some incentives to keep providing insurance.

In short, this is a mediocre bill that has some important reforms in it to improve medical coverage -- see the LA Times, Washington Post, and New York Times summaries -- but will decidedly not cause the imposition of a corporate fascist dictatorship or a Marxist Communist dictatorship or whatever nonsense is getting shouted by the extremists. There's a lot of fixes that are going to have to made to the system set up by this bill over the coming years, but there's nothing inherently broken about the fundamental system set up by the bill -- plenty of other countries similarly provide universal healthcare via various combinations of regulation, mandates, subsidies, and private insurers. The sky isn't falling, folks... and shouting that it is, just makes you look like a buncha loons.

-- Badtux the Moderate Penguin

Funniest quote of the day: MITT ROMNEY ACCUSES BARACK OBAMA OF TREASON FOR FORCING AMERICA TO ADOPT ROMNEYCARE. Bwahahahaha! And yes, that's basically what Mitt Romney said. What a dumbass!

Lotsa wind

Neko Case, "This Tornado Loves You" on David Letterman.

Jazzbumpa accuses me of having something for redheads. Well, I think it's just that there's a surplus of redheaded women in music at the moment, for whatever reason. Whatever, I ain't complainin', mind you...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And tonight's question is...

does Paul Krugman have a white Persian cat?

-- Badtux the Easily Amused Penguin

Tortillas, yay!

Bought a tortilla press and a tortilla warmer at a mercado (Mexican grocery) today, had corn tortillas topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, and salsa for supper. The tortilla press sure makes things easier than whacking the masa ball with a heavy skillet! There's nothing like fresh corn tortillas right off your griddle.

Hints for best tortillas: Make sure you coat your hands with oil before kneading the masa flour to keep it from sticking, but wipe off excess (no need to make your corn tortillas oily!). Wax paper works fine to keep the masa balls from sticking to the press. Use a heavy cast iron griddle, and get it *hot*. As in, at the point of smoking the oil you brushed on it before putting it on the burner. Toss your tortilla on it, wait 30 seconds, flip (with a *metal* spatula -- you'll melt one of those spatulas intended for a "non-stick" pot), wait 30 seconds, flip out into the tortilla warmer. Repeat until all your tortillas are made. 1/2 cup of masa flour and 1/3rd cup of water will make four tortillas, you do the math for more tortillas or usually the corn flour has the recipe on it. Corn tortillas are low in fat, relatively low-calorie (around 80 calories apiece), they're gluten-free if you're gluten-sensitive, and they're ridiculously easy to make -- and fresh off the griddle, they are just so, so good. Or if you want to make corn chips without the oily greasy taste of the supermarket ones in order to eat with your salsa, just bake'em and there you are :).

-- Badtux the Food Penguin

The Six Million err Thousand Dollar Jeep

Over at Moto-Tux, a lengthy discourse upon my Jeep -- yes, I got her back Thursday and have been busily making her better. No more Ford Taurus rent-a-car, yay!

-- Badtux the Jeepin' Penguin

The Chicago School, rational markets, and Mideast peace

According to the Chicago school of economics, human beings are rational and always make decisions based upon dollars and cents. So is that true? Let's do an experiment: Let's find some human beings who are in conflict, and pay them to not be in conflict.

So where do we start? Ah, I know, there's a kerfuffle over there in the Middle East right now, something about Israel and Palestinians. Oh I know, we could just pay the Palestinians to give up their notion of "Right of Return"! And we could pay the Israelis to turn over the entire West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, with no settlements! Since human beings are rational, they would all accept the payments, and peace would break out in the Middle East as everybody sings all sixty-six verses of Kumbaya, right?

Err.... not so fast. It turns out that if you offer a Palestinian money to give up his notion of a "Right of Return", it actually makes him *less* likely to have peaceful thoughts about Israel and Israelis. Similarly, if you offer an Israeli settler money to give up his piece of the West Bank, he's actually *less* likely to consider giving up his piece of the West Bank.

But... but... rational markets! Rational markets! Rational Markets! Warning, warning Will Robinson, does not compute, does not compute, whooo whooooot whooooooot whoooooot BOOOM! Uhm, that explosion you just heard was Chicago heads exploding. Well, if they weren't too busy doing a Sgt. Schultz and insisting, "I hear no-think! I see no-thing!" and utterly ignoring, like, reality, when reality disagrees with their ridiculous notion of "rational markets"...

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Employment and Unemployment Insurance

States will have to raise their unemployment insurance rates to pay back the money they borrowed from the Federal Government. Unemployment insurance may rise from $100 to $237 per worker in some states. And some neo-classical economists claim that this will take money from the companies, reducing their incentive to hire and possibly causing further layoffs.

At which point I can only laugh at the stupidity of people who've never run a business. I am amused by the notion that businesses will lay off workers because the price of unemployment insurance rose from $100 per worker to $237 per worker. This presumes that employment is worker-price-bound. It is on a micro level but not on a macro level. On a macro level it's demand-bound. Businesses are not charities. They have the least number of workers necessary to meet demand, that's how they maximize their profits, which is the whole point of the matter, remember? If insurance rates rise they'll shrug and raise their prices to match. Which could, of course, reduce demand if a single business did this and thus had higher prices overall than their competitors (and thus my micro statement) -- but if *everybody* is having to raise their prices at the same time (i.e. it's a macro-level event), then instead what we get is price inflation across the board, which has little effect upon aggregate demand, something we learned from the stagflation of the 1970's to the dismay of Keynesians who predicted that inflation would cause increased demand.

In short, the only thing that will cause businesses to lay off workers is if the demand for their products goes down so they don't need as many workers (or if they improve their efficiency so they don't need as many workers, something which has been happening for decades now). There is a marginal case where the cost of a worker is currently lower than the cost of an efficiency improvement but a slightly higher tax will make the cost of the efficiency improvement less than the cost of a worker, but $137 doesn't buy a whole lot of efficiency improvement. So I don't expect the hike in the unemployment tax to affect employment in any significant way, its primary effect will be price inflation. Given current deflationary pressures in our economy and the perils of falling into the debt-deflation liquidity trap, it's hard to be too upset about that.

- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Sad Smog

"Say Valley Maker", by Smog/Bill Callahan, from his album A River Runs Through It if I recall correctly. Just another one of Bill's simple little songs that are surprisingly deep.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Busy Saturday

I spent most of the day running errands, tidying up loose ends with my Jeep. I now have shackles for the front bumper and recovery hooks for the rear bumper, for example, though I need a couple of good bolts to finish the job. I'll post more on the MotoTux blog when I get a chance, I just finished installing new front lower control arms to replace the beat up ones that were on there. Yeah, the bushings on those control arms were pretty beat up by the rocks and by flexing while the front sway bar was disconnected, the new control arms are JKS and are stout and have a swivel so that they shouldn't have that problem.

Here, have a kittypile, that's always soothing...

-- Badtux the Soothed Penguin

Kaki sings!

Kaki King is known more for her guitar goddess instrumental music, mostly based on tapping, but she sings on some of her recent songs! This one is "Pull Me Out Alive", off of her album Dreaming of Revenge. She does pretty well for someone who prefers to let her guitar do her talking for her...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some quickies

The GOP sure likes children -- braised and with hollaindaise sauce, that is. Attacking an 11 year old motherless child? Classy, GOP, classy! For some definition of "classy" traditionally applied to transvestite street walkers with hairy legs, that is.

Hispanics are upset because Hispanic is listed as a culture, not a race, on the Census, requiring them to put their race as "White" or "American Indian" depending upon which side of the pond their ancestors came from. I'm upset because Cajun or French isn't listed at all on the Census. They're making me put my race as "White"? Appalling! And I'm sure Irish and Italians are upset for the same reason. For shame on the Census for having no place to write the Irish race!

Blacks are upset because the word "Negro" was added to the Census by 90 year old black men from Memphis, or maybe by Clarence Thomas, both of whom wrote in that word on the last Census for their race. Folks -- get over it and check the box beside "Black" and "African American" if you want your representative to be black in the next redistricting. Sheesh!

The Governator just tweeted, "Tomorrow is BE Californian. Be Counted Day. Fill out your Census form and mail it back to help all Californians". First time I've agreed with that muscle-headed fraud in a *long* time...

GOP talking point: "Big Government is evil because thousands of lives would be saved if FDA approved prostate cancer vaccine!" Reality: err... as of February 5 2010, there is not yet a human prostate cancer vaccine. Ooops! Right wing lie, much? :)

-- Badtux the Quicky Penguin (no, not THAT kinda quicky!).

RWNJ martyr-wanna-bes out of luck

Now, you hear all these wingnuts nattering about how the Census is this vast conspiracy and they ain't gonna answer it and shit like that. And about how they're gonna defend their right to be an asshole cretin with those guns that they insist are gonna have to be taken out of their cold dead hands and yeah, they'll probably die, but then they'll be heros and shit.

Well you know what? It ain't gonna happen. You know why? Because the Census has other ways to get that info if you refuse to turn in your forms. First, a disclosure. I worked as a Census enumerator in the summer of 1995, when the Census was testing out the forms and procedures it'd use in the 2000 Census. Now, what was I trained to do when someone refused to fill in their form and wouldn't answer questions about who was living in the house? Well, first thing I did was go to the county courthouse and pull the property records for the house and see whether the person who paid property tax lived at the house, or was somewhere else. If somewhere else, I then contacted that person, likely the landlord, and asked who was living in the house on April 1 1995 along with who their kids and/or spouses were, and generally got all the info I needed. If the person who owned the house lived there, I still wasn't SOL. I was then trained to go to the neighbors and ask'em about Joe Schmuck, sayin' something along the lines of, "hey, we're trying to count everybody in the county so that we can get more of our money back from Washington, I've been having a hard time getting ahold of Joe Schmuck to find out who all was livin' there on April 1, do y'all know who was livin' there?" And I'd talk to'em about Joe Schmuck, get any info I could get about relatives or employers or whatever so that I could contact *them* for info if Joe still refused to talk to me. And then if, and only if, I couldn't get any info, *then* I turned Joe Schmuck in to my supervisor, who then could get info from the Social Security Administration and IRS and so forth on Joe Schmuck and Joe's family using some sorta court order shit they have set up for that kinda thing, but I only had to do that *once* in all the time I was taking Census. Otherwise, I always got my man, woman, and child.

Point bein', the government's gonna get all your info anyhow, and you ain't gonna get hauled outta your house by jackbooted thugs if you don't answer the damned thing. All you do if you don't fill out your Census form is annoy your neighbors and relatives and maybe your employer and make the Census Bureau spend more of your money digging that shit out of all the government records they already got. And it ain't as if the questions on the form are anything real intrusive anyhow, crap, as I pointed out yesterday, even the 1850 Census asked more questions than the 2010 Census. So you might as well just fill in the friggin' form and dump it in the mail, sheesh!

- Badtux the Practical Penguin

Radio Exit

Radiohead, "Exit", from the album OK Computer.

It starts slow but it builds and builds and builds and builds until...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If the microbes won't eat it....

... you probably shouldn't either. Just sayin'. If a McDonald's Happy Meal can sit on a shelf for a year and never even get moldy...

Badtux the "You call THAT food?!" Penguin

The Census Conspiracy

So, I keep hearing this thing from the Michelle Bachmans of the world that the Census is a conspiracy, and that you shouldn't put anything on the census other than the number of people who live in the household, because anything else is part of a New World Order conspiracy to put the Mark of the Beast upon you. Coincidentally, I received my Census form. It asks me:

  1. How many people in my house?
  2. Any additional people like relatives?
  3. Do I own with a mortgage, own free and clear, rent, or squat?
  4. What's my phone number?
  5. For each person: What's name, sex, age, race?
Wow, that's really going to give the New World Order conspiracy a lot of information necessary to round me up and intern me into the Re-education Camps when the United Nations takes over America! So how old is this conspiracy, anyhow? Well... let's see... how about 1850? Yes, 1850! The 1850 Census asked the following questions of each resident in a household:
  1. name;
  2. age as of the census day;
  3. sex;
  4. color;
  5. birthplace;
  6. occupation of males over age fifteen;
  7. value of real estate;
  8. whether married within the previous year;
  9. whether deaf-mute, blind, insane, or "idiotic";
  10. whether able to read or write for individuals over age twenty; and
  11. whether the person attended school within the previous year.
Oh man, you mean this conspiracy has been going on for 160 years now? And it is only now that people like Michelle Bachman and Glenn Beck are waking up to this danger to America's freedom and liberty? OMFG I feel so dumb that none of my relatives for the past 160 years ever figured out that we're actually being counted like sheep so that our feline overlords can swoop in and know where to find each of us in order to eat our brains! Oh wait, we'd need brains to start with for that to be a problem... alrighty, then!

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Below: The Bachman family gathers around the television to watch Glenn Beck's show, secure in their belief that their tinfoil hats will protect them from those dastardly Census rays!


System Of A Down, "Hypnotize". Okay, so I decided to go the opposite of some gal or dude with an acoustic guitar, but maybe I shoulda tried some death metal or something, this is almost balladic...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Obviously not a Republican

Lithuanian assaults policewoman with his big swinging penis.

If he'd been a Republican, the policewoman would have been laughing too hard to bring him up on charges of assault. Besides, can it really be assault if it's being done with something so tiny?

-- Badtux the Crude Penguin

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Markets, rules, and the Free Market Fairy

Left: The Free Market Fairy prepares to bash a few people over the head with her (his?) magic wand.

I will first state a clear and obvious truth: Capitalism is the best way thus far that mankind has developed for creating a good life for the most people, and markets are an important component of the way in which capitalism operates.

That should answer the question of whether markets are useful or not. The question is not whether markets are useful or not, but, rather, the rules under which they are set up. If they are rules which punish fraud and reward fair dealing, what you will get is a market which accomplishes its purpose, which is to maximize the match between supply and demand of commodities and services and thereby maximize the efficiency and prosperity of the economy. If you attempt to create a "free market", one with *no* rules, what you are actually doing is creating rules which REWARD fraud and PUNISH fair dealing. This is because anarchy inherently rewards those who are most vicious, venal, and violent, which is why no society -- anywhere -- which adopts anarchy as its system of (non)-government functions in any reasonable manner.

It is the difference between realistic thinking and magical thinking. The believers in the Free Market Fairy apparently think the rules of the market simply appear out of nowhere, like magic. They don't. If you don't set rules, the rules of the jungle happen -- fraud and violence (financial or otherwise) become the predominant themes. There is a *REASON* why this nation's period of greatest economic growth was the decades between 1945 and 1980, when our markets were highly regulated to make sure they were fair and fraud-free, and that reason is that markets do not regulate themselves, despite the wishful belief in a Free Market Fairy that, via waving her (his?) magic wand, somehow via the Magic of the Market makes fraud, violence, and unfair dealing go away. So why, then, are our young people being ripped off by these unregulated trade schools? Why did Lehman manage to rip off so many billions of dollars with fraudulent transactions? It seems to me that this Free Market Fairy isn't doing so hot there, eh? But what do you expect from a grumpy tranny whose day job is as a kneecapper for the Mafia, anyhow? The Free Market Fairy has a pretty dress and sparkly wand, but look past those, and you realize that she (he?) is pretty darn scuzzy and hairy.

- Badtux the Pragmatic Penguin

12 foot fence, 14 foot ladder

So let me get this straight. Internet-enabled security cameras are cheap. I can go in to Fry's Electronics and buy a handful of them for a few hundred bucks. Point-to-point Internet radio connections capable of hopping 20-30 miles are a bit more expensive, but not by much -- the biggest cost is the cost of the tower, not the cost of the gear for the point-to-point connection. Software to view security cameras over the Internet comes with most Internet security cameras, I have a box here in the office full of the cameras and the software to drive them. Of course, then you have some serious issues of usability. You've seen security cam footage on the evening news. It sucks. Identifying that people are coming across the border isn't simple. But still, it's better than the current situation, where nobody is watching at all.

In short, I and a few of my office-buddies, together with a tower erection company, could put up a bunch of towers and poles with cameras along the border for probably around $2000 per pole and $500,000 per tower (one tower can serve a bunch of poles, assuming you're using cantennas on the poles to talk to the towers, which then are tall enough to talk to the next tower in line until you reach someplace where you can tap in to landlines). Figure we could do 100 miles of border with about 50 towers and 1000 poles, or a total of around $50 million if we're going to make sufficient profit to make doing it worthwhile :). So why, then, has Boeing burnt $1.4 *BILLION* on this project, for just 28 miles of coverage? And why was Boeing allowed to continue burning money on this project for over two years after we knew the project was failed, before Homeland Security *finally* cut them off?

The fact of the matter is that a "virtual fence" is no better than a real one. If you build a 12 foot fence, people will simply haul a 14 foot ladder to the border. If you build a virtual fence, people-smugglers will simply storm the towers and disable them faster than the Border Patrol can have them fixed. Our border with Mexico is simply too long to secure in any effective manner. Perhaps we should just annex Mexico so that we'd have a shorter southern border to defend down in Central America. I mean, what's the difference between Mexico and Mississippi, in the end, other than that Mississippi is run by white people and Mexico is run by brown people? Oh wait....

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Joni's younger sister

Anna Ternheim is a folk singer from Sweden. This one is "Nights in Goodville", and it has not yet been released on an album as far as I know, but she has plenty of other music in a similar vein that has been.

Damn, that's four acoustic singer-songwriters in a row. I think I'm getting into a rut... tomorrow I'm going to have to do some System of a Down or something to clean the palate :).

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Low-down sad

"Back on Top", by Songs: Ohia (Jason Molina) off of his album The Lioness...

Yeah, three acoustic singer-songwriters in a row. I promise I'll get back rocking shortly ;).

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knee-capping the young

The supporters of the Free Market Fairy, who magically waves her (his?) magic wand and solves all problems via the Magic of the Marketplace, say that free markets are the most efficient solution for all problems despite the evidence all around us that in many problem domains a free market simply doesn't work because it gives too much of an incentive for predatory behavior. You don't open your Yellow Pages and read down a list of fire protection businesses when your house catches on fire, you call the friggin' fire department, because we discovered, over 2000 years ago, that private fire companies had a bad habit of going out and setting fires in order to drum up business for themselves.

The latest case of the Free Market Fairy being a predator is for-profit trade schools that are ripping off their students and teaching useless skills that qualify their customers only for jobs as dishwashers and busboys. "It can't happen!" shout the supporters of the Free Market Fairy. "Trade schools that didn't teach useful skills would go out of business!" Well, yes. And open up again under a new name in some other location to find some new generation of students suckers to rip off. The deal is that young people are, well, young. They don't have the expertise to evaluate the claims that these trade schools make, or the quality of the instruction that is being received there. It is the perfect storm scenario for ripping people off -- when you're selling a product where it will be years later before you know whether the product worked or not, it's simply impossible for the customer to evaluate the quality of the product. That is more than enough incentive for scammers to place products on the marketplace which purport to be high quality, but in fact are just a path to a $10/hour job as a dishwasher.

Markets are a tool, a tool for allowing supply and demand to adjust towards equilibrium for commodities and services, nothing more. There's nothing magical about them, and their stable-state outcomes, like with any neural network comprised of stupid neurons, depend upon the rules we set them up with. If you try to set up a market with no rules, the way the Free Market Fairy advocates do, what you get instead is the rules of the jungle: Predatory behavior. It is time for us to grow up as a people and realize that the Free Market Fairy is a grumpy tranny whose day job is kneecapping people for the Mob (or our ruling top 400 oligarchs who own more of America than the bottom 51% of Americans combined, whatever, same difference) and who would sooner whack you over the head with her (his?) magic wand than actually do anything for mere mortals like you and I. Folks need to look past the pretty costume and realize that, uhm, hey, this Free Market Fairy is pretty dadburned brutal, and certainly nothing that is going to result in anything good for ordinary people like you or I.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin


Another of Townes van Zandt's songs that, in his own words, were not sad, but, rather, hopeless.

This is "Nothing". Allison Kraus and Robert Plant covered it recently, but the original stripped down rendition with Townes's voice that had seen things no man should see... it sends a chill down your back that the cover, as beautiful as it is, simply doesn't do.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Quote of the day

Guns are like fetuses to the wingnuts. They are all unique and beautiful, and it’s never proper to destroy one. -- Balloon Juice user "Honus", commenting on how guns seized as evidence by the Memphis Police Department have been sold off and used to commit crimes all over the US, rather than destroyed.

-- Badtux the Appreciative Penguin

What time is it?

Hopefully you guys have sprung your clocks forward by an hour to account for Daylight Savings Time. Bryan over at Why Now says the invention of the clock was the first step towards fascism. Well, maybe so, but not for exactly the reason you might think. Rather: The clock is what enables navigators to know where they are. And if fascists didn't know where they were, they couldn't try to conquer the world.

Wait, you say, what does a clock have to do with knowing where you are? Well, mankind has known that the world is round for quite a number of centuries, since long before Columbus (that thing about people thinking the world was flat in Columbus's time? Not true). The Greek mathematician Eratosthenes even used trigonometry to measure its circumference within 10% back in 240BC. Navigators could figure their latitude -- how many degrees north of the equator -- they were by using a sextant to shoot an angle to the North Star at night, could use that and the circumference of the Earth to measure how far they needed to sail north or south to get to the same latitude as some port and then go east or west to reach the port. But how far east or west?

To know their longitude, navigators need to know what time is it?. Wait, you say, how can that be so? Well, let's say you're leaving from Lisbon, Portugal, and sailing west. You know the longitude at Lisbon. You set your clock to 12 noon at the exact same time your sundial says 12 noon. Then you start sailing west with your clock and your portable sundial. Look at your clock when your portable sundial says 12 noon. The difference between what your clock says and what your sundial says is how many minutes of longitude you've sailed. And, since we know the circumference of the Earth, yay, we know how far east or west we need to sail to reach the port we're aiming for! So the invention of accurate clocks is what allowed navigators to accurately pinpoint where they were on the featureless oceans and how far they needed to sail to get where they were going.

Now I hear you saying, "what use is that to me today, when we have GPS?" But GPS is all about using clocks to navigate! Each GPS satellite has an extremely accurate atomic clock within it, synchronized to the master atomic clock in Colorado before it is launched. Each GPS satellite is constantly transmitting its position in its orbit and its time. The GPS receiver then receives that information a hundred milliseconds or so later, and can use the time delay between when the satellite transmitted the information, and when the receiver received the information, to know how far it was from the satellite (using the speed of light delay to compute that), which in turn puts the receiver somewhere on a sphere N miles from the satellite. Do this for two satellites, and you know you're on a circle where the two spheres intersect. Do this for three satellites, and then the three spheres intersect at a point, and you know exactly where you are -- you are at that point where the three spheres intersect. But this assumes that GPS receivers have an accurate atomic clock of their own inside. They don't. That's why they need a fourth satellite to determine their position -- the fourth satellite is what allows them to compute the actual Colorado atomic clock time based on the differences between the four satellites.

So: It seems rather odd that it's clocks that allow you to know where you are, but true. The invention of highly accurate clocks may have been the first step towards fascism -- but it was also an important step towards civilization as we know it. And now you know what time it is, so I'll let you go spring your clocks forward :).

-- Badtux the Timely Penguin


Elliott Smith, "Angeles". Elliott was one of those crazy ones who did music because he couldn't think of anything better to do. He lived a troubled and turbulent life of addiction and insanity maybe because of being fucked by his stepdad as a kid (he claimed), and made some haunting music along the way in his brief time on Earth.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Caturday Maru


-- Badtux the Cat-appreciatin' Penguin

Saving Us

The ever brilliant Serj Tankian, off his album Elect The Dead.

-Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ho hum

Just another Mormon Republican buggering an underage Mormon girl. Nothing new to see here, move along. Look! Over there! It's The Gay Agenda! Eeeek!

Clearly, The Gay Agenda forced Rep. Kevin Garn of Utah to have inappropriate sexual contact with a 15 year old girl. It's the only explanation for why the Mormon cult is so fixated on taking on that mighty supervillain The Gay Agenda, who is forcing, forcing I say, Mormon ward leaders to engage in sexually inappropriate activity with underage girls!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Helpless penguin

Blogging had to be delayed due to an infestation of cats taking up all available computational resources...

-- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

And a bonus pose: The Mighty Fang warms his butt on my mixer!

In the dark

Black Nielson was an English band that was active in the early 'Oughts. I accidentally stumbled across one of their songs, which led me to this one, "Come on, come on". I wish I knew more about them, but sadly they were just one of those interesting bands that popped up, didn't get much traction, was in hock to the record company and sleeping on audience members' couches, and the members sort of looked at each other and said, "y'know, this is bollocks" and went home and got day jobs and maybe, occasionally, get together at a local bar and tipple a few brewskis and play a few songs for old times' sake.

Only a fanatic -- or someone who just doesn't have anything better to do with their life -- stays around in the music industry as a musician or band for more than a few years, because it's a huge amount of work and somehow, at the end of it all, you're still impoverished and in hock to the record company no matter how much money you made for them. Sane people will go, "y'know, this sucks" and go drive a cab or something. Luckily there are insane people who stick with it for years and make good music for so long, for so many years, that eventually they pick up a core of fans capable of sustaining them. Because if it wasn't for that small group of insane people who keep making music despite the fact that the industry will suck the life out of you, everything would be Lady Gaga.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Working on a new song...

I put #10 Elixirs on my Duo-Sonic, and have been playing with drop-D tuning and all my new gear, including the cheapo effects unit built in to the new Behringer mixer. What I've come up with is a *very* heavy sounding song that doesn't sound like anything I've ever done before, taking advantage of the easy bar chords available with drop-D tuning. It's called "No Mercy", and as soon as I play it through about 20 or 30 times to the point where I don't keep falling off beat or missing a transition (hey, I didn't say it was an *easy* song to play) I'll try to record it for you, but it might take a while because I haven't devised the drum and keyboard parts yet though I pretty much know in my head what they're going to sound like...

- Badtux the Songwriting Penguin

Efficient markets and the Chicago school

Left: The Free Market Fairy insists, insists I say, that she (he?) really IS efficient.

Angry Bear asks, Why does anybody still listen to the Chicago school, given that its theories don't match reality? And Jazzbumpa asks, if the markets can veer up and down like a drunk driver based on incomplete information, how can anybody ever call them efficient?

My thoughts: I'm not sure that the efficient market theory has failed, as such. Rather, I think people have read their ideological wants and desires into efficient market theory.

There's nothing wrong with the core observation of the efficient market theory, which is that prices in a market tend to converge over time towards some value which can be presumed to be the "true" value of the commodity in question. The problem is that *OVER TIME* thing. In the long run, prices will converge... but in the long run we're all dead (i.e., the timeframe where it takes markets to settle on the price of a commodity may be longer than the timeframe in which economic fundamentals change). In that case the entire efficient markets theory involved is useless, because if conditions in the market change faster than prices can converge -- if new sources of a commodity arise, if new technology is invented to make something cheaper to build, if an economic recession caused by a temporary bubble in housing prices collapsing happens -- then the prices in fact never *will* converge on the price that efficient markets theory predicts.

The efficient markets advocates themselves will readily admit that prices converge over time as markets "discover" the value of the commodity, not immediately. Given how swiftly market conditions change in the real world, that in essence is an admission by the efficient markets advocates that their theory is not, in fact, useful under real world conditions. Good luck on getting any of them to admit that, though...

- Badtux the Economics Penguin

OMG The Ghey iz after our chilluns!

OMG! World Nut Daily just sent me an email that tells me that that mighty supervillain, The Gay Agenda (see left), is on the march (or the prance, maybe?)! According to WND's email, The Gay Agenda is going to force, force I say, the American people to:

  1. "give special job preferences for homosexuals" (a.k.a. "you can't fire people just because they're gay" -- the horror, oh the horror, of not being allowed to fire people just for the crime of being born gay! Civilization is at an end, alas, alak! Teh Ghey will terrorize preschools, churches, and more with their tasteful hair styling and color-coordinated outfits, the horror, oh the horror!), and
  2. "promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in schools" (a.k.a., "teaching our children that tying gay people up and burning them as sodomites is bad because gays are human beings too"... omg, if schools teach tolerance, if we can't stone gays to death the way the Old Testament tells us to, the invisible sky demon up above is going to rain fire down upon us and WE'LL ALL DIE!!!!!).
And the only way to stop this horrible effort by that awful supervillain The Gay Agenda is to... uhm... send money to one of World Nut Daily's advertisers! Yes, send money now, or your children will get zapped by The Gay Agenda's Gay Ray of Gayness and, uhm, become as gay as a CONSERVATIVE ANTI-GAY REPUBLICAN LEGISLATOR! The horror, oh the horror!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin


In this brave new world that we have created, there are two kinds of people: Predators, and prey. And most of us... we're the prey.

Alan Wilder, formerly of Depeche Mode, with his "band" Recoil. Alan rounded up bluesman Joe Richardson of New Orleans to do the vocals on this one, and the video, again, was made by his Russian patrons, the children of Russian oligarchs who took a fancy to Alan and his music and decided to do it for him.

In this brave new world, Alan is their pet, and the rest of us... we are their prey.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the other hand...

Left: The Free Market Fairy being ornery.

Thinking through my previous post again, the Free Market Fairy tells me, "fixed costs? BAH! If that was the answer, you'd see Wal-Mart sized payday loan stores." That is, a payday loan store with more customers would have lower costs per customer and thus be able to provide payday loans for less money than the stores with fewer customers. The end result would be stores with more customers getting bigger and bigger as they use their lower per-customer costs to undercut the small stores, and stores with fewer customers would go out of business as they lost customers and had to raise their prices higher and higher to meet their fixed expenses.

But we're not seeing that. Instead, we're seeing an explosion in the number of payday loan storefronts. So why aren't we seeing the Walmartization of the payday loan market? That's irritating me. It's as if the Free Market Fairy is having a bad day, and has decided to take it out on the payday loan marketplace.

-- Badtux the Baffled Penguin

Payday Lenders and Competition

Left: The Free Market Fairy sez to customers of payday lenders, "youse likes yours kneecaps, you pays me, capiche?"

So the answer to ruthless and predatory payday lenders who charge 200% interest to their customers is... less regulation? And somebody actually says this sounds plausible?! Sounds plausible in a universe where unicorns are purple and cotton candy grows on trees, perhaps. Not plausible in *this* universe, though.

I just spent a long time reading that paper by the Kansas City Fed, and simply cannot see where the data supports the notion that competition actually works in the payday lender field. In fact, the paper specifically says that presence of competitors in a given market didn't seem to make any difference. The only possible "competition" that the paper mentions as possibly beneficial would be if banks and credit unions were allowed to make "payday loans"... but in fact, they're already allowed to issue short-term 30 day personal loans, they just choose not to do so for the most part.

The authors of the paper spend a lot of time noting that the interest rates on payday loans went up until they reached the legal limit when Colorado regulated payday lenders. But in fact that's true for *all* states, whether they had a legal limit or not -- payday loans have gone up in price nationwide over the past decade. Furthermore, when you look at the financials of payday lenders mentioned in this paper, any payday lender who decides to lower his interest rates is going to run into liquidity problems quickly. The average payday lender, according to this paper, has less than $100,000 in loans outstanding and despite charging 200% interest is only as profitable (in terms of profit margin) as your typical bank. Indeed, the problem in the payday loan industry may well be too MANY storefronts, the fixed costs of manning each storefront has to be divided across the number of potential customers, if there are too many storefronts and not enough customers per storefront, the per-customer cost of making a loan skyrockets.

This seems, to me, to be another one of those situations like healthcare where "free market competition" actually results in *higher* prices. There are only a certain number of customers in a given market, and each possible competitor has given fixed costs which his prices must pay for. Thus, just as markets with more empty hospital beds actually charge *more* per utilized hospital bed than markets with higher utilization because of the high fixed cost of maintaining hospital beds which must be divided across fewer customers per bed in the markets with "more competition", the Free Market Fairy seems to be doing the same thing with payday lenders. That is, she (he?) seems to be doing exactly the opposite of what you'd expect: Since no vendor is ever going to price his wares at less than what it costs him to provide them, more vendors serving the same number of payday loans customers seems to result in *higher* prices, not *lower* prices, because of fewer customers per vendor meaning higher rates needed to pay those fixed costs of maintaining a storefront. The Free Market Fairy simply doesn't behave the way that her (his?) admirers seem to think in this situation, but then, the Free Market Fairy isn't exactly a nice gal (guy?) anyhow, so ...

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin