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Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Rulz

There’s a new permanent reference page outlining the rules for reposting, sharing, linking, quoting, and/or stealing content from Stonekettle Station.

The page is permanently linked at the top of the blog post field. Up there, right under the commenting rules.

Read, heed, don’t make me unleash the rabid badgers, because I will.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Defaulting on the National Debt Will Be Awesome!

What’s the matter, Gentle Reader, got the blues?

Getting repeatedly cornholed by The Party leaving you a little raw?

Tea Party says defaulting on our debts is a good thing and that makes you cranky?

Worried that America is about to become a bankrupt third world soccer playing shithole where Spanish speaking chickens wander the street and dysentery is the national pastime?

Well of course you are.

But you know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Becoming a Third World shithole, I mean.

You’ve got to look at the silver lining.

 

Now, now, quit sniffling.  I know it’s not easy seeing that the glass is half full.  You’re scared and nervous and thinking about getting stinkin’ drunk, aren’t you? 

Me too – well, minus the scared and nervous part anyway.

So how’s about you quit Bogarting the Victory Gin, Winston, and pass it over here?  If Oceana is gonna burn, we here at MiniStone say get out the Fiddles and Par-Tay!

What? 

Oh for crying out loud.  Look, don’t be a double plus ungood wet blanket.

Sure, there’s no doubt this permanent state of emergency can be depressing, what with the Default Crisis and all (heh heh, default crisis, see what I did there with the Orwellian 1984 pun? Double plus subtle, eh?).  We were just getting over Budget Crises 2011 or 2010: The Prequel or whatever episode it was.  And before that it was the Health Care Crisis and the Mortgage Crisis and, of course, there was the Bailout Crisis and the Social Security Crisis and the Medicare Crisis and who can forget my favorite, The Defense of Marriage Crisis?  There was the Election Crisis and the Birth Certificate Crisis and There’s A Stinky Black Man in the White House Crisis and well, hell, I forget, it’s all just starting to blur together.

Today it’s the Debt Ceiling Crisis.

Crisis, crisis, crisis!  It’s always something. What is it this week? War with Eurasia or war with Eastasia?  What’s next?  Show of hands, who really cares? I mean really? So long as they keep the conflict going, that’s the important thing.  It’s not the battles that matter, it’s the war. Got to keep fighting.  Hearts and minds you know.

And hey, so what if we default on America’s debt?

There are a lot of advantages to becoming a Third World country.  Really.

Think about it. No really think about it.  If we’re a Third World shithole, guess what?

No pressure! 

No responsibility! 

No expectations!

It’ll be awesome

Look at Russia, when they were the Soviet Union it was all ideology this and ideology that.  You’ve got to prop up puppet states, you’ve got to keep outspending the other guy, there’s sneakin’ and spyin’ and repressing to do. Hell your Olympic steroid budget alone can run into the billions.  Man, it just never ends. Being a superpower is hard.  Talk about hypertension. Nowadays, since Russia became a Third World shithole?  Nobody gives a fuck! Pass the Vodka, Tovarich!

Hey! Stop that. What’d I say? Quit your blubbering. Take another hit off the bottle and pass it around the burn barrel.  Stomp your feet, that’ll keep your toes from freezing. Mostly. Probably.

You know what the best part about default is?  The Debt

No really.

Seriously.  When’s the last time a Third World country paid back their debt? 

When’s the last time anybody actually expected them to?

Never!

Well, sure they’ll put our faces up on that Deadbeat Nation billboard outside the International Monetary Fund Headquarters.

So?

No, no, stick with me here, this will be great.  Really.  Screw the debt.  We’ll call it the Tea Party Child Support Plan, here’s how it works: We just don’t pay it.  Fuck China. It’s just that simple. Boom! That’s a trillion bucks in our pocket right there. Win! Let’s spend it on Victory Gin, smokes, and porn, who’s with me?  Seriously, what’s China going to do about it?  Repo?  Bawahaha! Go ahead! Joke’s on them!  Guess what we bought with the money we borrowed from Bejing? Anybody know? I’ll tell you, we bought cheap Chinese goods!  That’s right.  And then we broke them. You want your shit back? Look behind the return counter at Wal-Mart. Help yourself.

What about the money we owe to Social Security? 

That’s the best part, no more musty old people!  Think about it.  You ever hear of old people before Social Security? No, no you did not.  That’s right, Social Security causes old people!  No Social Security, no old people. We’ll live forever!  Get rid of Welfare and we’ll cure poverty too! Double Rainbow!

Besides, this is about jobs, isn’t it?

That’s what they keep saying, right? Jobs, jobs, jobs, where are all the jobs? Where are they keeping ‘em?

I’ll tell you where the jobs are, they’re in Third World countries. Hello!

Common sense, folks. If we become a Third World country, we’ll get jobs too!

Defaulting will kill jobs? Yeah, in Bolivia! Because all the jobs? They’ll come here! Tell me we can’t out Third World Mexico! USA! USA! Booyah!

What’s that? I can’t hear you over the clapping sound of my awesome logic! 

By this time next year we’ll be cranking out TV sets and computers and vacuum cleaners and those little shitty cars for consumers in India and Russia!  Made-in-America products will fill Chinese Wal-Marts. Let their kids suck on our lead painted toys for a change, that’s what I’m talking about!

Illegal Immigration. Fixed!  No need for a wall. No need for expensive border security.  Who the fuck sneaks into a third world country?  Nobody!  Viva la revolucion, Che! Now, who wants to help me pick these tomatoes? Hello?  Seriously, give it a year or two and Columbia will be buying cocaine from us!

Obesity Epidemic? Fixed!  No money to buy food, no fat people! Diabetes cured for free, right there, without any socialist medicine.

Evolution Debate? Fuck it. We can’t afford schools! Where you gonna teach it? Who’s the monkey now, Darwin!

Hey, here’s something I bet you didn’t think about: Peace!  Yep.  No shirt, no shoes, no credit? No war.  It’ll be just like the NFL lock out. You want to invade another country? Cash up front. Looks like you’ll need to find some corporate sponsors, bring in some advertising revenue, and sell those tickets.  Hot cheerleaders might help, just an idea.  

Yeah, but what if we need to buy something?

Well, we hit up our friends for spare change.  Starting with Israel. I think they owe us a $20 or two. 

 

See?  Just like the Tea Party says, defaulting on the debt is a good thing.

And remember, folks, anybody asks you, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Next Step, America’s Future in Space

Knowing my passion for space exploration, a number of people, my parents included, expressed surprise that I didn’t have anything to say when America’s Shuttle Program ended last week.

Bah.

When OV-102, Columbia, lifted off for the first time in 1981, I had tears in my eyes.

When Atlantis came home for the last time, I didn’t even bother to watch it land.

I didn’t have anything to say last week because I’ve already said it.

I said it here, on the bitter anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing.

And I said it again in the following article, which appeared February 1st, 2010, the day President Obama announced the cancellation of the Constellation program. 

However, in answering a comment under the previous post, I started thinking about writing yet another article on the subject. Then I looked up what I had written and realized that a new post was unnecessary, I’d said nearly all I have to say.

I’m not in the habit of reposting old material, but since many folks asked my opinion and because Stonekettle Station has seen such a massive increase in readership since this article first appeared, I’ll repost it here with some additional thoughts:


One Small Step, One Giant Leap

Forty years ago, on July 20th 1969, Americans first landed on the Moon.

At UTC20:17 - about quarter after three in the middle of a rainy summer afternoon, there in Michigan where I watched it on my parent’s tiny black and white TV - a fragile spidery spacecraft called Eagle set down on the desolate airless regolith in the lunar Sea of Tranquility.

Onboard were two extraordinary human beings.

Even as a seven year old kid, I knew just how utterly profound Apollo 11’s mission was.

Damned near everybody who owned a TV, or knew somebody who owned a TV, or could get themselves to a place with a TV, watched that landing – and those who couldn’t watch listened via radio – and they were still watching and listening a couple hours later when Armstrong and Aldrin floated down that ladder and became the first human beings to stand with their own feet upon the soil of another world.

It was an unbelievable moment.

It was a moment that burned itself into my memory and has haunted my dreams ever since.

It was a moment in time that changed the very world we lived in.

On that night, in that moment, five hundred million Earthmen peered into their TVs and wept at the daring of the species.  Those wavering ghostly images from another world captivated the entire race. Strangers in Times Square spontaneously hugged other strangers.  All over the world, people turned to one another, struck dumb by wonder and amazement.  Others cheered and shouted with joy until their throats were raw.  Stodgy TV commentators broke down unashamedly on live TV and the tears streamed down their faces.  People stood in their yards and stared at the night sky, at the moon hanging there, and marveled that men walked upon its ancient and sun blasted surface.

They dreamed of how the world would change now that man had finally broken free of the Earth.

They dreamed of becoming spacefarers, of going to Mars and Venus and the moons of Jupiter – and beyond.

They were inspired.

They were awed.

They were humbled.

 

It didn’t last long.

 

Barely a year later, when Apollo 13 lifted off and shaped orbit for the moon, so few people tuned in to follow that voyage the networks canceled their coverage of the mission and substituted sitcoms and laxative commercials instead.  Americans were already bored with space, lost as they were in the horror of Vietnam, the ever present nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, civil unrest, OPEC, and Richard Millhouse Nixon.  Interest roused briefly when one of Odyssey’s oxygen tanks exploded and it looked like three Americans would die on their way home from the moon.  It didn’t happen, of course, and that brief flare of interest faded into the background of South East Asia and the Cold War and the energy crisis and the rapidly souring cultural revolution and the myriad of other things that made up the churning chaos of those decades.

All in all, NASA landed six tiny ships on the moon.  In two years, two short years, it was over.

Twelve men walked briefly upon the surface of another world.  None stayed and none have ever returned.

Nor are they likely to.

The reasons, of course, are many and varied.

Personally I believe it’s a lack of vision.  A lack of hope. Of courage. Of passion.  Of inspiration

We Americans once dared greatly.  We once revered those who dared and flew and dreamed. We were proud of those extraordinary men, and we dreamed that ourselves or our children would one day follow in their footsteps. There was a time when America was captivated by the moon, by Mars, by space, by adventure, by destiny.  There was a time when pictures of fanciful and speculative spaceships, each with an American flag and the NASA logo displayed proudly upon its shining hull-plates, graced the covers of Time and the front pages of the Wall Street Journal.  There was a time when every failure was ours as a nation to bear, we knew that space was a dangerous place, and each setback only redoubled our resolve.  Oh certainly there were those who didn’t believe, who didn’t dream, who didn’t want to go, who told us to keep our feet on the ground and our heads in the sand and bemoaned how NASA’s budget could better be used here, on Earth, rather than up there in the sky. They were shouted down.

But, no more.

 

See, Apollo, for all its daring, for all its astounding achievement, was little more than a stunt.

 

We did what we set out to do, and we did it well.

But we went to the Moon for all the wrong reasons.

It’s right there, on the side of the Eagle’s descent stage, still up there, still hanging over our heads in the night sky, a mockery of modern America’s lack of will, untarnished and unchanging, as bright and as shining as that day in July, 1969 when it was carried to another world by two extraordinary Americans:

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon

July, 1969

We came in peace, for all mankind

 

But, of course, we didn’t.

Come in peace, I mean. Or for all mankind either, for that matter.

We went to the moon to show the Soviets that we could.  We went to the moon as a strategic move, a front in one of the many battles of the Cold War.  We went to the moon because even at a cost of a hundred billion dollars it was still one hell of a lot cheaper than using any of the those nuclear bombs we’d built and pointed at each other.

And we won.

We beat the Ruskies.

We set a goal, and we reached it.

We fulfilled the promise of a murdered president.

And then we came home and we lost interest within a year, distracted by other battles, by other fronts.

See, governments don’t dream.  Nations don’t dream.

Rarely do governments inspire. Kennedy did, but that’s a very rare thing, to capture the imagination of an entire nation and, more, to hold it for a single short decade.

It is not nations who explore, who seek the limits of human endurance, who push on over the horizon.  It is not governments who quest or go a-Viking or chase adventure upon alien shores simply for the sheer joy of it. There is no government existent, ours included, that has the will and the stamina and the intestinal fortitude to break free of this world and journey to the stars. 

Governments are subject to the whim of the mob, and the mob doesn’t give a good Goddamn about outer space.

The great explorations of history were never government enterprises.  If left to government Shackleton would still be waiting for funding, his ship the faithful Endurance would be the size of an aircraft carrier and hold no more than three explorers.  If left to government, Columbus would still be tied to the pier, pending a review by Congressional subcommittee of his navigational skills and while the fitting out of Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria kept 10,000 defense contractors employed for the next three decades.  Stanley would have no trouble finding Livingston, because Livingston would never have gone anywhere – and the source of the Nile would still be unknown.

Governments don’t explore.

Governments conquer. Governments grandstand and stage stunts. Governments argue and bicker and squabble and wage war. Some are good and some are bad and some are indifferent.

But they don’t explore.

It is human beings who explore. Individuals of courage and daring and burning passion and enterprise.

It is private corporations who explore, hunting profit and new markets and assets and resources.

If we are ever to truly break free from the bonds of this world, we must first get government out of the business of space travel.

Governments own ships for one reason, to protect the interests of their citizen upon the high seas.  Governments send warships to sea, and law enforcement vessels, and vessels for safety, rescue, and navigation.  Until there is need for such ships in space, i.e. until there are civilian and private vessels in significant volume, there is no need for government to build ships of its own.

The internet is a twitter with the news today.  President Obama’s 2011 budget essentially ends America’s time as a space faring nation.

Good.

It’s about damned time.

If you didn’t see this coming, you’re a fool.

Obama didn’t kill Constellation. The Constellation program has been doomed from the start.  Hell, the Constellation program has been doomed since July 20th, 1969.  We’ve been there, we’ve done that – and America as a nation wasn’t interested in continuing when we had the hardware and the resources, what makes you think we’ll do it now when we have to recreate the entire infrastructure at a hundred or a thousand times the cost? Access to space hasn’t gotten cheaper or less complex, just the opposite in fact. The age of national daring, of the test pilot astronaut is over – it’s the age of the bean counter.  Constellation has always been underfunded, organized by committee after endless committee, awash in adminstrivia and paperwork and government bullshit – and really, it was never more than a political gambit by an uninspired and uninspiring twit of an anti-science President who tried to pull a do-over of JFK but couldn’t motivate his own Administration let alone galvanize the nation (maybe he should have gotten himself assassinated right after the speech announcing America’s return to the moon, or found terrorists hiding on Mars.  But I digress).

Constellation has always been doomed.

Obama just put it out of our misery.

Constellation has always been doomed because governments don’t explore.

Bean counters and bureaucrats don’t explore.

Because when Congress runs your space program, you are doomed from the start.

I’ve said here and elsewhere that I never expected a single human being to ride Ares into orbit.  I have never expected to see Orion falling between the worlds, or Altair standing on the moon.  When NASA unveiled the program and we got our first glimpse of a Shuttle SRB with what was essentially an Apollo capsule on top I knew I was looking at the Flying Dutchman of space programs, cursed to rounding the Congressional horn forever. Building a government designed rocket to the moon isn’t going to be any cheaper or more efficient or be any longer term now than it was the first time we did it.

We need something new. Something better. Something inspired.

Those who know me, know that I am an unabashed space nut.  I grew up with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab.  I belonged to the Junior Space Club and the Planetary Society, I collected all the pins and built all the models and memorized the names of every astronaut and knew the specifications of every rocket.  When NASA named the first Shuttle Enterprise I was ecstatic (until I learned later that it was little more than an empty wasted gesture). I grew up reading Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and Niven. I grew up dreaming that I would someday go to the stars.  I’ve waited for forty years to look into the night sky and see the lights of Luna City shining back at me from the darkened crescent of Tycho Crater.  I’ve turned on the TV every day for the last four decades hoping to see men and women setting foot upon Mars the way I saw Armstrong and Aldrin do on that night so long ago.

It pains me so much to know we’ve squandered our legacy, that in my lifetime human beings may never set foot again upon another world, indeed maybe ever, that’ll I cheer any human endeavor that returns us as a species to space and to the moon and beyond – even if those who do it are Chinese or Indian or Russian.

I’ve known for some time that America will not return to the moon, will not go to Mars,  will not explore the solar system let alone go beyond it, not while the dreams and hopes and spirit of exploration are held captive in squabbling congressional subcommittees by petty and uninspired men who dream only of their own glory.  It will not happen when the bean counters and administrators smother the spirit of human endeavor like a B-movie alien slime mold. It will not happen as long as we leave it up to government. It will not happen as long as we leave it to these people:

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), "The president's proposed NASA budget begins the death march for the future of U.S. human space flight. The cancellation of the Constellation program and the end of human space flight does represent change, but it is certainly not the change I believe in."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL.), "The president's green-eyeshade-wearing advisers are dead wrong. And I, for one, intend to stand up and fight for NASA, and for the thousands of people who stand to lose their jobs."

Shelby doesn’t give the contents of a NASA urine bag about the future of human space flight, the cancellation of Constellation, like Iraq or 911 or Wall Street, is simply another opportunity to advance partisan politics. Nothing more.  Shelby’s constituents in Huntsville make up a significant fraction the NASA workforce, if they didn’t you can damned well bet that his interest in the future of human space flight would be exactly nil.  The same with Nelson.  To Senators and Congressmen, Constellation, indeed all of NASA, is nothing more than a cash cow.  A endless source of money that nobody expects success or results from.

Don’t get me wrong here.  NASA does some wonderful science.  NASA pays direct dividends back to the American public every day, in increased air safety, in advanced technology, in aeronautics, in engineering, in medicine, and many fields far too numerous to name.

NASA does many things well.

But not manned spaceflight. Not exploration. Not commercial ventures.  And sure as hell not profit.

That’s right, I said profit.

Americans, conservatives in particular, should be cheering Obama’s “capitalist” approach to space exploration.  Republicans especially should be applauding the president for his repudiation of socialist space travel (Well, what do you call it when the government owns all the ships?), his slashing of wasteful government spending and pie in the sky government programs, and his market driven approach to space exploration.

See, by law, the one thing our government can’t do is make a profit.

But private space companies can.

And if we are ever to make space travel a self-sustaining endeavor, then we must make a profit doing it.

We’ve built government spaceships. We’ve sent government employees to the moon and it is government employees who flew the Shuttle and it is government employees who live on the International Space Station. We been there, we’ve done that, and yes, we even got the T-shirt, the ball cap, and the coffee mug.

Now, right now, It is time for America to pioneer the next step.

And that step is no small step by a single government employee, it’s the biggest giant leap humankind will ever take.

We must privatize space travel and return government to its proper role in such things. 

And what is that, you ask?

Why, the same role that government has always had in exploration; as a customer and as a provider of grants, bankrolls, support, advice, tax breaks, access to data and knowledge and research and technology - and an eventual share in the spoils.

NASA should be National Space University, a place of research and development and education, a place where we train citizen astronauts to fly and float and live and prosper beyond our own little world.  A place where we teach our children how to build spacecraft and habitats and hardware.  A place where we teach spacemen how to manage the business of space, of exploration, of construction and funding and exploitation of the new frontier.  A place were civilian, government, and military people develop standardized engines and components and software and a place where we can rent time in the wind tunnels and weightless pools, on the rocket test stands and in the vomit comet. A place where we teach our kids to dream, to push the boundaries of the human spirit, and to seek beyond the far horizon.

Hell, NASA employees bemoan the loss of a thirty year old Shuttle based on fifty year old technology, and Senators decry the loss of jobs and pork for their states – but if done right, if NASA were to become Space University, why we’d be looking at an entire new civilian industry, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of new jobs, and limitless opportunity not only for our own nation but for the entire world.

If done right, and right now, we could set the course for the entire future of our species.

And if we as a species are to survive, if we as human beings are to reach our ultimate potential, if we as Americans and our allies and partners and friends are to ever break free from this tiny little rock, then we must get government out of space exploration while we still have a chance.

Killing Constellation may end America’s manned space program, but it opens the doors for Americans.

NASA’s vision is limited to the space station.

For the rest of us, for the generations yet unborn, the sky is not the limit

It is only the beginning.

 

Governments don’t explore, but, if they do the job right, their citizens do

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Would Joe Sixpack Do?

My usual coffee place was inexplicably closed this morning.

I pulled up and the lights were unlit and the shutters were shuttered.

I drove around the little building several times, forlornly hoping that it would magically open up in an angelic orchestra of joyful coffee rainbows and bacon flavored happiness.

Alas.

Now, I don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules, but not starting Monday without coffee is one of them.

And so, somewhat later,  instead of cheerfully slurping happy rainbow juice as I barreled carefree down the highway, I found myself plodding through the cold rain to stand, sullen and angry, in line to buy coffee at another place.  A place without a drive-up window (thus the sullen and angry part).

Apparently, a lot of folks found themselves in similar straights this morning because the place was crowded with the sullen and the angry.

Conversation ebbed and flowed around me and my brain mostly edited the babble from my awareness – except for the pair of self-proclaimed budget analysts directly in front of me.  They were talking loudly about government, and more specifically just how much ours sucks huge giant hairy donkey balls (I’m paraphrasing here). They were, more or less, talking about the ongoing debt battle raging on Capitol Hill (if “raging” means “scampering about madly and biting people on the ass like a diseased weasel”). 

It was fairly obvious that neither of these two polyester suitmonkeys had any clue whatsoever as to what they were talking about.

Logical fallacies are like fingernails on a blackboard to me – or for those of you too young to know what a blackboard is, logical fallacies are like the sound of Michelle Bachman’s shrill squawk screeching like a rusty hinge in your ear while you’re suffering a skull splitting migraine brought on by the world’s worst cheap Mexican tequila hangover.

“You know, this isn’t rocket engineering,” one said loudly, “when are those bastards in Washington going to understand that you can’t spend more than you make?”

The other one agreed, “If I ran my house the way these idiots are running the country, I’d be out on the street!”

The wild eyed guy in front of them, a drywall installer from the looks of it or maybe a mass murderer who had recently quick-limed a pit full of dismembered  body parts, turned around and chimed in, “No shit.  It’s common sense. They need to start listening to Weeda Pebble!”

And I thought, who the hell is this Pebble bitch? Is she the voice in your head that sounds like Grover Norquist’s accountant? It was early, I hadn’t yet had coffee. Sue me. Eventually I realized he actually said we the people, which is apparently how we’re now referring to ourselves. I didn’t get the memo, sorry.

Paper Jumpsuit went on to explain, “These rich elitist sons of bitches don’t have the basic common sense of any average Joe Sixpack!”

Other folks nodded their agreement, I heard a “yadamnedriiight” from somewhere up line, and one of the suitmonkeys actually applauded a little bit.

It was at that point where the true beauty of the drive-up coffee shack really became apparent.

 

But I digress.

 

So, what common sense wisdom have we learned today, Children?  Other than a non-fat latte tastes like Satan’s ass sweat?

If we only ran the United States like Joe Sixpack runs his house, why, everything would be groovy.

Why yes, that sound you hear is me contemplating violent mayhem, the kind involving the knocking of heads together like a couple of empty coconuts.

See, national debt represents how much money the government owes – to itself, to its citizens, and to others. Like a household budget, the debt gets larger when the government spends more than it takes in.

Simple right?

Well, no, not really, it’s much more complicated than that, but for the sake of Joe Sixpack’s comic book understanding of how the government works we’ll stick with the basic description.

The ratio of US debt to Gross Domestic Product (i.e. the country’s basic measure of income) this year is about 58%, give or take, or about average for an industrialized First World nation.  Our 58% is much better than Germany’s 78%, but not quite as good as India’s 55%.  Generally speaking a higher percentage is bad, and a low percentage (say like China’s 17%) is good.  But just looking at the percentages is an oversimplification and a country with a low percentage of debt to GDP can still have a crappy credit rating for a number of reasons – say like those oil rich South American countries where soccer is the national sport, right after armed revolution, drug wars, and overthrowing the local despot.  A more stable country can carry a lot of debt and still have a AAA credit rating because the market knows they’re reliable.  Anybody, Joe Sixpack included, who has applied for a car loan or a mortgage from the local credit union should understand the basic principle, appearance is just as important, if not more so, than the actual ability to pay.

Now here’s the thing: A 58% debt to GDP ratio isn’t great, but it’s a damned sight better than it would be if America was your average American homeowner.  

The median income in the US is about $46K per year for single earner households, and about $67K for dual income households.  The median price of the average home in America is about $200K.  Note: in some places income and home prices are lower, some places they’re considerably higher, but the ratio of income to home price remains roughly the same as a function of the free market.   Now, the average American homeowner doesn’t just have his or her mortgage as debt, typically the average household has two cars, one of which is likely to be an expensive SUV and neither of which is paid off, and then there’s the gas to drive them, and the insurance.  Households need electricity and natural gas and water and sewage and garbage service. Then there’s communications, the average American spends a lot of money on cell phones and data plans and cable and landlines and internet.  And you have to eat. And there’s the other stuff, kids and all the crap they need, and clothes, and pets, and haircuts, and medical expenses, and etc and etc and so on and so forth.  Oh, and don’t forget about interest on all those credit cards.

What it adds up to is that Joe Sixpack  has a dead horse of about $300K on average, if he’s lucky. 

And if he bought a boat on credit or an RV or that big monster truck, or a swimming pool or any of those other things he just had to have, well,  he could have a debt that is much, much higher.

What it works out to, on average, is this: Joe Sixpack has an income to debt ratio of about 650%.

That’s six hundred and fifty percent. On average.

If Joe is living in a dual income home, then, on average, he’s still looking at an income/debt ratio of right around 447% – except he probably bought a more expensive house, so his debt to income ratio is probably closer to the previous single income example.

Remember the national debt to income ratio is 58% and just for reference the nation with the worst income to debt ratio right now is Japan with 225%

If we ran the country the way Joe Sixpack runs his house, we’d be looking at a national debt that is anywhere from nine to thirteen times what it is now

That’s a national debt of $115 to $170 trillion, give or take a few dollars, just in case you’re not good with the math.

Of course, during the housing bubble when the banks were handing out free money and Joe Sixpack got himself into that balloon payment interest only mortgage on that $800K McMansion in Temecula, with the matching Lincoln Navigators in the driveway and the boat and the ATVs and the jet skis and the other toys and he was blithely carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars of the American dream on his back, well, then his debt to income ratio was nigh on batshit insane. 

But yeah, let’s run the country the way Joe runs his house.

Yeah, let’s do that.

 

What? Oh the smell, yeah, that’s sarcasm. Sorry about that stinker, I let one slip out there.

 

Joe Sixpack has all kinds of great ideas for running the country. 

Maybe we could apply those ideas to Joe’s household, after all turnabout is fair play, right?

For example, the first thing old Joe Sixpack should do is take a vow to never raise his income level.  Ever.  $46K per year and not a penny more, swear to Jesus.  No matter what. 

He should start referring to his unemployed wife as a “lazy socialist parasite.” When the kids ask for allowances, Joe can explain how that kind of “redistribution of wealth” is anti-American.

Fifty-six percent of the household budget would be spent on guns.

Instead of cutting back on cable or cell phones or eating out six nights a week or those jet skis or, god forbid, buying a few less guns each month, Joe decides to cut his grandmother’s medical coverage. 

At least one member of the family goes to bed hungry every night, while the rest are overweight and throw food away.

Joe’s daughter gets raped one night, and he explains how it’s her fault for looking like a tart, the resulting unwanted pregnancy is God’s will and besides motherhood will build character. Oh, by the way, get out, because Joe sure as hell isn’t paying for that baby.  Oh and by the way, have fun with the cervical cancer since, in addition to the whole rape thing God wanted you to have, he was also apparently against the HPV vaccine. None of which has anything whatsoever to do with balancing the household’s budget, but Joe feels that arguing about it, along with condemning other members of the family to hell, is important.

 

Oops, sorry, there it is again. Logical fallacies give me gas. Go ahead and roll down your window.

 

Unfortunately for us, when it all gets to be too much for stubborn old Joe Sixpack, he can always declare bankruptcy and default on his debts.

And in that respect, well, we are running the country exactly like he would.

Exactly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rainbow Over the MatSu

 

For those of you who didn’t see this on my Facebook or Google+ pages.

There was a spectacular double rainbow over the Matanuska Susitna Valley last night. The colors were incredibly vivid. It lasted about ten minutes or so.

image

About the only way I could have gotten a shot of the entire thing would have been to climb up on the roof. The slippery wet roof. The really high, sharply peaked wet slippery roof. In the pouring rain.

But, you know, I would have done it. For you, gentle reader.

Except the only person available to hold the ladder would have been my wife.  You know, the person who gets a lot of money if I were to fall off the roof and break my neck in the pouring rain.

She did offer. 

But I declined.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Playing Chicken With Disaster

During the founding of the United States, George Washington argued passionately against the establishment of political parties.

The first President said that political parties served only to “turn brother against brother” and he strongly urged the new nation to forgo such divisive nonsense.

The people listened intently to General Washington.

Of course they did. 

After all, this was the very man who had pulled the Colonies together into Union, forged a bunch of raggedy-assed subsistence farmers into the Continental Army and then pushed the most powerful Empire in the world from the continent and back into the sea from whence they came, and finally wrestled freedom from an insane despot.

This was a man who had literally become the very symbol of a new nation and a people.  Of course they listened to him, Americans in large part owed George Washington their very freedom.

The recently minted Americans nodded sagely at Washington’s wise words.

They spoke knowingly of his wisdom.

They even suggested that they might crown him King of America. 

Political parties are bad. Got it. You are wise, General. Wise indeed.

Then, predictably given the astounding tenacity of human stupidity and the enduring perversity of human politics, the new Americans immediately ignored Washington’s admonishment and set about forming teams as if they were kids choosing sides for a game of Death Match Dodge-ball. The Minutemen and the Revolutionaries and the Patriots who fought so passionately to be free of a distantly aloof and arbitrary tyranny, one that existed only to serve its own capricious interests, immediately divided themselves up into tribes like the screeching inhabitants of Monkey Island and began enthusiastically flinging shit at each other. 

And thus were political parties woven into the fabric of America right from the start.

Two and a half centuries later, in the very city named in honor of the great man himself, the crazed monkeys are still screeching madly, ever louder and more stridently each day, and gleefully flinging shit at each other in great double handfuls – and once again Americans are at the mercy of a distantly aloof and arbitrary tyranny, one that exists only to feed its spiteful red-eyed lust for power and capricious self-interest.

The difference is that in Washington’s time Americans were born into tyranny, today they willingly embrace it.

Tyranny!

It’s a word that you hear a lot these days. 

Hell, you’ve been hearing it more and more and more for the last decade.

During the final six years of the Bush administration, the word tyranny was very often upon lips of liberals – and even muttered by more than a few conservatives.

And for these last few years of the Obama administration, the word is bandied about ad nauseum by conservatives – and more than a few liberals.

Nonsense.

Oh there is certainly tyranny rooted and growing in America, but it is not being wielded by the president.

Not this one, and not the last one.

The President of the United States is not a tyrant – no matter how many times the capering monkeys screech their dire warnings that it must be so and the mindless sheep bleat and bob their fuzzy woolen heads in agreement. 

The President’s power is derived from the Constitution, not from heredity or magic beans or divine right or military power – and certainly not from God

The boundaries of the President’s authority are often not sharply delineated, by design and intent, but they are limited, again not by arbitrary whim, not by magic or signs in the heavens or by seers who read the bones, not by secret societies and Star Chambers and not by God or His self appointed representatives here on earth, but by law, by the courts, by Congress, by Constitutional checks and balances, and ultimately by the people themselves via the ballot box.

No, to find tyranny, you have to look beyond the edges of law to the shadowy powers not governed by the Constitution or limited by vote or accountable to the people, and who declare that they are carrying out the will of God Himself (It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not, when power acts in his name what you believe matters not at all – though the consequences of non belief under such tyranny can be very, very high). If you seek real and not rhetorical tyranny in America, you have only to look for an arbitrary and capricious power that pits brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and American against American solely in order to advance its own ravenous self interests.

It is not the president, this one or any other, who will bring down America  – and perhaps the rest of civilization – and take away your freedoms.

No, rather it is those who would willingly give themselves to unchecked tyranny and act as its enthusiastic agent provocateur

I’m talking about those who swore a solemn oath, enforceable by law, to support and defend the United States of America, to uphold her laws, and most especially to represent her people – all of her people – to the death if necessary and who wield power derived solely from the Constitution – and then once in power, boldly and blatantly and publically declare their allegiance to tyrannical power, a power unchecked and unelected, a power that serves only its own selfish ends and is not accountable to the people.

I’m talking about those faithless dishonorable cowards who spit into the face of liberty, who trample the ideals of the republic and of democracy, and bring us ever closer to disaster.

I’m talking about Senators and Representatives and all sworn officers of the United States who hold up their right hands and swear the following legally binding oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter; So help me God (emphasis mine),

and then once in office declare their allegiance to agencies other than the Constitution.

I’m talking about sitting members of Congress who sign pledges and swear allegiance to the very political parties George Washington warned us about and who would give their loyalty to such organizations over and above their sworn duty to the citizens and their duty to the United States itself – even, and especially, if it brings the country to ruin.

I’m talking about Senators who would hold the United States, and indeed the world, hostage to the tyranny of fanaticism and political ideology.

That oath above is not just words, it is a binding contract between members of Congress and the citizens of the United States.

In time of war, failure to uphold that oath could have you taken to the wall and shot.

Any Congressman who places allegiance to a political party above the United States itself and the obligations of that oath is guilty of treason

They are guilty of entering into a legally binding oath under fraudulent intentions.

And they are guilty of perpetuating tyranny in its most foul and insidious form.

What?

Oh you think “treason” and “tyranny” are too strong of words?

An exaggeration, perhaps?

Yesterday, today, certain senators who have publicly declared their loyalty to a particular political party, to a political ideology and not to the citizens they supposedly represent, have proclaimed loudly that they will not compromise on a budget deal with the Executive, nor will they compromise with the opposition in either the House or Senate, nor even with more reasonable members of their own party. Two weeks ago both major political parties were on the verge of hammering out a $4 trillion debt reduction plan, one that would have slain sacred cows on both sides of the aisle and put the country back on the road to financial stability. The mere hint of such a deal was enough to boost the stock markets and give hope to millions.  Then came the fanatics.  They literally threatened and intimidated the more moderate and reasonable members of their own political party.  And now they are, in effect, holding the entire world hostage in this mad game of chicken – and pay particular attention to the words, mad game I said and mad game it is, every bit as MAD as those men who once brought us to the edge of nuclear Armageddon in an insane game of international brinksmanship. 

These wild eyed fanatics, and fanatics they are, each and every one, in the most fundamental sense of the word, are gambling with the very future of our country.

More, they endanger the lives of every human being on this planet.

They jeopardize civilization itself and threaten us with a new dark age.

These are the same folks who decry the president, who claim he is in thrall to foreign influence, and yet it is they and their allegiance to a political power neither elected nor approved of by the majority of Americans that now demonstrably threatens the security and fortune of our nation.

Most Americans have an opinion on the US government debt, but few indeed actually have any idea whatsoever of the details. Far too many cheer this deadly game of chicken and are utterly ignorant of the terrible consequences. Like global climate change, they would bluster and pontificate and grandstand until it is too late.

Nowhere is this more evident than those, like the two idiots I overheard today in line at the coffee shop, loudly discussing how it’s only a matter of time until China forecloses on us and calls in the note on all $14 trillion of our national debt.

Of the $14 trillion and change the US government owes, roughly sixty three percent (give or take), or about eight and half trillion dollars, is owed to Americans.  Yes, that’s right, we borrowed the money from ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong here, certainly just because most of our debt is owed to ourselves doesn’t mean we should have a cavalier attitude towards it. That note must be paid, but it can and will be paid in installments and there is no danger whatsoever of it getting called in all at once.

Of the remainder, the thirty seven percent or so owed to foreign powers, about 12%, or about $1.6 trillion, is owed to foreign investors other than China, another 2% is owed to OPEC for the oil that keeps our engines turning (the exact amount moves up and down with the price of oil. Obama opened the national reserve and caused a sudden drop in oil prices on the world stock markets, which in turn reduced the national debt by some fraction of a percent. You’re welcome. Of course it’s creeping back up again due to the ongoing flap in Libya. Maybe somebody ought to do something about that. But I digress).  Another 2% is owed to Caribbean banking centers.  Roughly 6% is owed to Japan.  What’s that leave?  About 7.3%, again give or take, which is owed to China. 

Now seven percent isn’t chump change, it comes out to a bit over a trillion dollars – but it is a far cry from from China “owning” the US.  Given enough incentive, the United States government could cough up a trillion and pay the Chinese off (sell them a couple of old aircraft carriers for example, and maybe a couple of obsolete space shuttles. You get the idea).

There is no danger of China foreclosing on the United States.

None.

Which is not to say that China couldn’t end up owning us – and much of the rest of the world too.

How?

Well, see, that’s where the treason part comes in.

Today much of Europe teeters on the brink of economic implosion. The Euro is literally within sight of collapse. This looming disaster was brought about same as our own economic crisis – by greedy men on Wall Street and in the US real state banking industry, men consumed by an avarice writ so large that it defies comprehension. And in fact, the world economic crisis was precipitated directly by the United States’ economic meltdown. However, as shaky as it has become in recent years, the US dollar still props up much of the world’s economy.  Should the United States be allowed, be driven to, default on its debts, should it even give the appearance that it intends to deliberately default on its debt as some of these fanatics would have it for no reason other than to win the next election, it will very likely send Europe into a depression the likes of which will make 1929 look like a summer rain shower.  America won’t be far behind, remember, sixty percent of the folks we’re talking about defaulting on here are Americans – and not just any Americans, but the entire middle class.   Should America and Europe fall into massive economic recession, Russia will most certainly follow and so too will then much of the rest of the world. 

And in fact, there is only one country likely to emerge from this mess solvent and in a dominant position while the rest of civilization comes apart at the seams and staggers toward a new dark age.

Want to guess who that is? 

You won’t have to worry about the debt collectors coming to foreclose on America, China will just buy the place for pennies on the dollar – or rather for a few fen on the yuan.

Treason I said and treason it is.

These traitorous lunatics are playing Russian Roulette with civilization itself for no reason other than capricious and selfish self interest. 

They’ve put aside reason and their oath and their obligation to support and defend the United States and they risk all for the tyranny of ideology.

These people are the very danger George Washington warned us about more than two centuries ago.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Warning Signs

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated new warning labels on cigarette packages.

They’re seriously in your face, those labels.

The nine warning labels now required by federal law take up about half the cigarette pack, both on the front and back, and include images of a dissected corpse, diseased lungs ruined by smoking, a dying man in an oxygen mask, and images of rotten teeth and gums. The warnings must also appear in cigarette advertisements and must take up at least 20% of each ad.

The FDA estimates that in 2013 the new labels will cut the number of cigarette smokers by about a quarter of a million (Ironically, doing nothing will also reduce the number of smokers per anum by about 200,000, but I digress), followed by smaller reductions each subsequent year as people get used to the grisly images.

A number of folks wrote to ask what I thought.

Heh.

I think it’s an exercise in futility.

As a former smoker myself, I predict that the new warnings won’t make any difference whatsoever. Period.

Oh, the new labels might scare away a few of the sissies, but there isn’t a smoker anywhere these days who doesn’t know what cigarettes are doing to their health – and they smoke anyway.

The new warnings will do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of smokers.

If you think otherwise, you’re probably smoking something other than tobacco.

You could mandate that all cigarette manufacturers dip their tobacco leaves in liquefied feces made from cows fed a steady diet of bean burritos and plutonium, roll the butts in a warty vellum made directly from Hitler’s enormous purple scrotum, cover each package with the toxic venom excreted by menstruating poison arrow frogs and a metal plate that delivers painful electric shocks, and include a picture on the label of Satan punching a baby in the face, and people would still buy them. And in fact, when I lived in Europe I used to buy Spanish Ducatto cigarettes that I’m pretty sure were made using this exact method – well, at least the cow shit part anyway.

Corpses on the label? Blackened diseased lung tissue? Rotten teeth.

Booga booga.

These things are supposed to scare smokers and/or potential smokers?

You’re kidding me, right?

One of the top grossing movies of recent note was a stomach churning gore-fest called Saw – and if that wasn’t enough for you there was The Human Centipede – the top news story this year was about a women who allegedly murdered her two year old daughter which also included daily pictures of the dead kid’s gruesome autopsy brought to you in full HD and brilliant color courtesy of Nancy Grace and CNN, and for the last decade we’ve watched an endless stream of death and destruction from multiple warzones across the planet with people cheering like they’re at a tractor pull. You think a picture of a corpse is going to stop people from smoking?

Don’t be silly.

Compared to the bloody red images blasting from our TV sets every minute of every day, death by cancer looks positively life-affirming.

Give me a pack of non-filtered Coffin Nail Ultra Gold 100’s, my good man, and hurry it up, I’d like to enjoy a delicious smoke before cholesterol, terrorists, gang violence, global warming, Wall Street, or radiation from burning Japanese power plants kills me!

Honestly, who the hell are these labels aimed at?

Because it sure as hell isn’t smokers.

Talk about not understanding your target audience. Smokers don’t care about their health, or else they wouldn’t be smokers in the first place. They don’t need gory pictures to tell them about the consequences of smoking, they can feel it gnawing away inside their pleural cavity like the chest-burster from Alien. They just don’t care.

The only people these dumb labels will impress are non-smokers.

You want a warning label that actually gets smokers to quit?

Put a picture of two naked gay guys kissing on each pack. 

Then, just for fun, make each cigarette look like a little penis.

Huh? Huh? Brilliant, right? Thank you, thank you very much. Make sure they spell my name right on the Nobel Prize.

 

What’s that?

Sure, of course you’re right, this wouldn’t work everywhere. But I’ll bet you good money that every Catholic Church, Muslim Mosque, Mormon Temple, country bar, and NASCAR track in America would be smoke-free within a week. 

 

You again? What now?

Oh, riiiight, side effects.  Yes, I suppose if you went with my idea you could expect a sudden increase in smoking related deaths among evangelical ministers and far right conservative senators.

So, really what you’re saying then is that there’s no down side.

I’m hip.

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. You’ve got to know your target audience.

For example, say every pack of cigarettes sold in Minnesota came with the following label:

The Surgeon General says:

Be like Barry, support Union tobacco growers!

Tell me the 102nd Bomber Division of the Bachman TEA Party wouldn’t be rabid anti-smokers within about five minutes.

And in the American Southwest:

Warning: Smoking has been linked to a belief in evolution and support for illegal immigration…

 

In the Midwest:

One dollar from the purchase of every pack goes to support our teachers!

 

Okay, now just hold on there, Buster, I hear you say in that raspy two-pack-a-day Joan Jett voice you use when you think I’m being one-sided, you’re talking about saving just conservatives!  What about liberals? How do we get them to stop smoking?

Easy:

Warning: carbon emitted from burning cigarettes

is now the leading cause of global warming

Please think of the polar bears!

 

See?

Okay, sure, but what kind of warning label do we put on cigarette packs to keep teenagers from picking up this filthy habit?

 

This:

 

 

image

 

 

Whoops, sorry about that. I guess I should have warned you that was coming.  Whoa, you’re shaking like a leaf. You maybe wanna a Bieber to calm your nerves?

No?

Right.

See how that works?

 

So anyway, logically, if we add warning labels to cigarettes, why shouldn’t we also add warnings to other things that are bad for you?

Say like Twitter?

Warning: Disappointed voters have determined that sending pictures of Mr Wiggly to random women you meet on the internet could ruin your political career and cause you to make this face:

Really, don’t. For all our sakes, just don’t.

Or say cellphones. Honestly, shouldn’t every cellphone come with the following warning?

Warning: the Federal Communications Commission has determined that talking on this device while driving 40MPH in the fast lane could very likely result in a severe beating, having this phone wrapped in barbed wire, set to vibrate, and inserted into one of your more sensitive orifices.  Fucker.

Children.  Really, all children should come with a warning label, as a caution to single people and newlyweds:

Warning: Bill Cosby wasn’t a comedian, he was a prophet.  Children smell bad, they break stuff, and they cost a shitload of money. Also, you’ll never have sex again. Ever. Get a dog. Trust us.

Tanning Beds:

Warning: Your face, it will look just like this.

 

The TEA Party:

Warning: This guy will come to your house and drink you beer.

Then he’ll screw your wife… or son. Or both.

 

I know. I see you there in the back, rolling your little eyes. I hear your derisive snort, I know, you think I’m just being silly now.

You think I’m going too far with this warning label stuff, don’t you?

Really, nobody would be so stupid as to impose this nonsense on the public. Nobody

Because, you know, that would be just just crazy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hiatus

About the lack of posting: as I mentioned previously, it’s summer in Alaska.

Summer is short here and there are things to do, hence I’m doing them and not writing.  Apologies.

I really needed a break from the internet anyway, so you know, it all worked out.

For the next five days I’ll be on the Kenai, waist deep in freezing water, cursing at fish, slapping at mosquitos, and smelling of campfire smoke.  It is unlikely that there will be any posting here until I get back.  However, I’m taking my netbook, so you never know (Yes, even the wilds of Alaska, there’s still Mifi, doncha just love living in the future?).

Regular daily posting should resume next week.

 

Note: I have not forgotten you.  When I return, I’ll finish setting up my new internet store where you may purchase Stonekettle Station lathework and perhaps other things.

Also, don’t expect fish for dinner.