Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Questions for the Health Care Conservatives

I've been listening to the health care reform debate with increasing bewilderment. Not over what we should do. I've already been pretty clear about that. No, I really want the answers to these questions:

  • Why is a private-sector bureaucrat incented to not pay for your health care better than a government bureaucrat whose directors are incented to keep you healthy?
  • How can you call the insurance market, as it currently stands, a competitive marketplace? Most companies contract with only one insurance company, so the only way for most people to choose their insurance is to go work for someone else.
  • Why are all the expenditures made by private insurance companies, the lack of which expenditures constitutes the supposed advantage a public option has over private companies, so valuable / important that we should continue wasting money that could otherwise go to keeping people healthy?
  • How do you sleep at night, given all the lies and bullshit you're tossing out there to make people afraid?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things I Dislike About Bainbridge Island

They say that Bainbridge Island has the highest per-capita number of lawyers of any city in the state. Possibly the country. I mostly like BI, the small-town feel, driving at night with my high-beams on because there are almost no street lights. All the trees. What I don't like is the self-important hypocritical nasty-ass gits who seem to flock to the place. Take, for example, the blog Let the dog in, that Google Reader was kind enough to suggest to me. I looked at the first post in Reader and thought, "meh." Then I got to the bottom of the post, where it says this:

"Copyright © 2009 Let the dog in!. This Feed is for personal non-commercial use only. If you are not reading this material in your news aggregator, the site you are looking at is guilty of copyright infringement and in BIG, BIG TROUBLE. Please contact legal@www.letthedogin.com so we can take legal action immediately."

It reminds me of the story I heard of a guy from the city who was putting up a fence at a park, and was greeted pleasantly each day by one of the neighbors, and when he was just about done with the fence was told that that same neighbor was suing the city because the fence was too high. Number one: who the hell would be taking posts from some random housewife (and I mean no disparagement to housewives, but usually what goes on in their house is of interest only to the people that live there) and putting them on their website? Number two: if someone were foolish enough to do that, who would be such an idiot as to reproduce such a notice along with the content? Really? You're going to set up a special email address for people to contact you about copyright infringement? Really? Really? Puhlease.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Poeta Vox Vocis

I find myself
by that lugubrious animal
The Poet's Voice.
You know it.
As it takes a piece of beauty
and rends it
with unexplained
and odd rushes of breathless heartless pointless babble
so unlike a brook that I can brook no reading
that treats its subject so harshly.
Poems are precious
not precious,
as poets recite them.
They are lively.
They should move with a natural flow,
like a happy creek,
not creak along
like an old man
with narcolepsy.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

It's 1:30 in the Morning. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Perhaps your children are the pricks with the firecrackers and other things that go BOOM that are keeping me up. The acepromazine has mostly worn off my dogs, so I'm reluctant to go to bed, where the noises are more present than up here with the TV on. It's at times like this that I want one of those old loudspeaker trucks and an endless loop of Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips, so I can park next to these assholes and let 'er rip.
A firetruck goes screaming up Stone Way. Is it uncharitable of me to hope that one or more of these nitwits has set themselves on fire? I think not.
If you don't know where your children are, perhaps you should get their asses in bed, and put the rest of us out of our misery.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Did I Miss a Memo?

So, apparently today was Be a Dick to Pedestrians Day in Seattle. Normally I find the place pretty friendly, but today on the way to work I was walking in an unofficial crosswalk (i.e. from one street corner to the opposite corner) and this douchebag in a pickup, one of these big guys who likes to drink a lot of beer and push people around, comes barrelling down 35th St as I'm crossing. I glare at him as I'm crossing, because it's clear that stopping is not in his plans, and as he slows down he yells, Get out of the fucking road! I glare more and yell, Respect the fucking crosswalk, asshole! while his buddy's on the phone in the passenger seat. Dude starts to slow down and ease over to the side of the road, so I start walking towards him, and he changes his mind. This being Seattle, though, as I continue my walk to work, a guy in a Forerunner who'd been waiting to drive across 35th leans out his window and says, I'm sorry man, that was bullshit.
Then on the way home, I'm standing on the edge of the Burke-Gilman trail under the Aurora Bridge taking a picture of it, and some punk on a bicycle goes whizzing by and yells, You're standing in the way! so I yell back, No I'm not! and keep taking my picture. What a weird day.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Intuit Doesn't

Back in the day, the folks at Intuit gave a damn about the user experience, but the people who cared seem to have long left the building. The sorts of things I see in Quicken 2008 or TurboTax just make me shudder. Let me give you a few examples:
  • I'm filling out my taxes this year, for the 2008 tax year, and I enter a date, like, say, 4/13. Can you guess what date TurboTax thinks that is? 4/13/08? Ha! It actually thinks you meant April 1, 1913. I kid you not.
  • I have my main Quicken file on a server in the basement, and the internal database management is so incredibly bad, after every operation, the entire screen flashes (I mean, every single UI control in the screen) as it redraws, and it puts up a little dialog telling me it's refreshing Quicken data. This is on a machine with several gigs of RAM just waiting to be used.
  • While I'm talking about refreshing, I just had to close quicken, because it got into some kind of refresh argument with internet explorer, where each window kept repainting and repainting and repainting and repainting and repainting and repainting. You get the picture.
  • My favorite idiocy in quicken is when it's matching up downloaded transactions, and rather than matching a transaction with an uncleared transaction for the exact same date as the downloaded transaction, it'll choose to match it against a cleared transaction for a month prior. I mean, who wrote that code? Sarah Palin?
The sad thing is, from everything I hear, all the other financial management packages suck even worse, so I stick with Quicken, and I stick with TurboTax. But damn!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Photos of the Week - 3/8

This week's images are two that I like a lot, but didn't quite make it into my Photo-a-Day project. They were both taken at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

I like the sense that these two are riding up to fairy-land, with the big umbrellas at the top of the escalator:

These ladies with their huge duffel/suitcases are in Vegas for serious. They ended up going up into the "Spa Tower" at the Bellagio.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Photos of the Week - 2/28

I've been so caught up in my Photo a Day project, I've been forgetting my Photo of the Week posts. I've decided to give myself a little latitude, and post a couple, including some that I had to edit out of my daily photos.

This one is from Seattle Center, and the Experience Music Project:

This one is first in a series of Photos Taken On Dog Walks:

Finally, they say Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man, but on Bainbridge Island, it's a bear:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Inauguration Day

I have done nothing to deserve this.
I did not march.
I did not call.
I did not show up, when I said I would:
I went to dinner instead.

But I am here now,
on this day,
with all these people,
around the world,
and I am so happy I can cry.

I stand with the old guy
who flips Bush the bird.
I smile with the young boy
who gives out tickets for the show,
so carefully and intently.

This day is a gift
like so much in my life.
I have done nothing to deserve this,
but I am grateful all the same.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Capital Losses

Quick: name me one form of gambling income that isn't taxed at your normal income tax rate. Slots? Lottery? Multi-state Powerball? Nope. It's "capital gains" on stock sales.

If you talk to defenders of the capital gains tax, and especially those who have argued for it to be lower than regular income tax, they'll tell you about how important it is to encourage people to Invest In Companies That Provide Jobs And Other Good Things, and I completely agree. Except 99% of the shares out there are not actually shares that were bought from the company. There was absolutely zero capital invested In Companies That Provide Jobs And Other Good Things. By giving preference to the stock market, people are encouraged to buy shares from the people who do Invest In Companies, and ensures that they make a lot of money. But let's not kid ourselves that we're encouraging investment in companies.

If we want to encourage investment in companies, rather than encouraging the development of a financial industry that siphons off billions of dollars a year without actually producing anything (oh, except for the financial crisis we're experiencing now), we'd give preferential tax treatment only to the sale of shares that were purchased from the company, i.e. only those things that can truly be considered to be "capital".

What? This would discourage people from investing in the stock market? How do you figure? People were investing in the stock market before the drop in the capital gains tax rate. There's no lesser appeal to the money to be made by buying into the chance that someone down the road will be willing to pay more for your share, except people making that choice won't be able to make as much money as before. But why is this bad? What good does gambling on the market provide to the society, to warrant preferential tax treatment? Gambling on a company, sure, but when you buy a share of stock, you're buying a share of stock, not investing in a company. The stalwarts will continue to maintain that you should value shares based on the performance of the company that issued them, but really, come on. Did the dot-com bubble teach them nothing? The rationales people come up with to justify the different P/E ratios of different shares are just rationalizations. What it comes down to is this: for long periods of time, people implicitly agreed that stocks should be valued based on the underlying performance of the company, but that's just a principle, it's not a requirement, as we've seen all too well.

Let's take the company I work for: Google. In late 2007, its shares were trading north of $700 a share; this month, they're at $300 a share. What has happened to the fundamentals of the company in those 14 months? Still bringing in a heap of money quarter after quarter, with nice gains year over year, even as it expanded its workforce and costs significantly. Yet its "value" is down over 50%. Neither price is based on fundamentals: they're both based on opinion.

Buying stock is gambling, pure and simple. You're wagering that beyond some horizon with which you're comfortable, someone else's opinion of the company is going to make them willing to pay you more for your share than you paid for it. But don't kid yourself that you're "investing in the company": most of the time you're just paying off another person that took the same gamble you are.

So how about we get building businesses again: change the capital gains rate to apply only to the sale of shares that were purchased directly from the company, and make that same rate apply to interest earned from purchasing bonds, in both cases regardless of how long a person holds the instrument. Encourage investors to actually invest, not endanger the economy by frittering away money on more and more elaborate financial ploys.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Artisanal Bread

I heard about this book on the radio a few weeks ago: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It sounded awesome, and I'm here to tell you that it's so-far-so-good. Easy to make, good texture to the bread (sweetie says it needs more salt, but I don't agree). It's fun being able to have fresh-baked bread pretty much whenever you want, though the bit about waiting until it's cooled down causes some angst in these parts.

You get yourself a food-storage tub (6 qt for the master recipe, though perhaps 4 qt would be enough), where you mix everything up, and set it for an initial 2-hour rise:


After the initial rise, you put it in the fridge, where it hangs out and the yeasties do their fermenting thing on island time:


When you're ready for bread, you chop off a hunk using your bread knife (they say to grab a grapefruit-sized piece to have a 1 lb loaf, but the stuff is kinda sticky and hard to get out of the tub, so I ended up with a large orange), and shape it gently into a ball — do not knead it:


It rests for 40 minutes or so, and about halfway through, you put your baking stone and an empty broiler pan in the oven at 450:


After the loaf's beauty rest, you slide it onto the stone and pour a cup of hot water in the empty pan to steam up the oven:


It cooks for about 30 minutes, and you take it out and put it on a wire rack to cool. All the way.


Then (hooray!) you eat it:


I have to say, though, that I'm a guy who likes to work with his hands, so I'm not positive about this whole you-don't-have-to-knead-it aesthetic. I like to knead bread. It's fun. Perhaps, though, I'll save that for the pizza dough.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Photo of the Week - 1/16

Actually two photos, because I like them both. The second is from my Photo a Day gallery on my website, where I'm posting a single shot from each day. Makes me edit. Makes me shoot. Makes me happy.