Tuesday, March 31, 2009

GM and Rising Dread

Obama has now pressured CEO Rick Wagonner to step down. The president will presumeably appoint or at least suggest someone else to take his place. Because of course Obama's appointments have really been the strong core of his new administration.

Birthday Presents from Midway USA

Hey, the order I placed in November just shipped! I'll soon have AR mags, an extra mag for my hipower, and a red-dot for my M1. Everything was very back ordered.

Makes me really wonder whether I want to risk ordering a gun belt and mag pouches from them, but if they have them in stock it should be ok.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Trip to the Left Coast

I spent most of last week in California. I was at a meeting in the middle of the Mohave desert but flew in and out of the Los Angeles area. It was my first trip out to Southern California and honestly, it could be my last for all I care.

I flew into the LA valley where the scenery is two kinds of heartbreaking. The city is full of idiots who get to routinely enjoy the obscene beautiful landscapes. The mountains seem to spring up and tower effortlessly over the urban plain. But on a bad day, you can barely see the mountains through the smog. Coming back into the valley through one of the mountain passes at the end of the trip, I could see the air change color as I approached the valley and things only got worse as I descended into it. I've often heard jokes about the air in LA being yellow. It's true. On the day I left, looking up at the sky made me feel like I was standing at the bottom of a used urinal. The city's general level of cleanliness didn't help matters.

The high desert was better. Cool crisp nights gave way to dry warm days with a pleasant but constant wind. The drive back and forth was over an hour of rocky hills, blooming desert, tiny towns, and power lines stretching back to the hungry Los Angeles Megalopolis. On the trip out it occurred to me that if the car died, I'd be over a day's walk from anyone that would care. I bought a small case of bottled water for the trip back. When my coworker asked me about it, I pointed out that our tiny Yaris had been requesting an oil change since we pulled off the rental lot.

I can't help but wonder if LA doesn't heavily shape media perception of the US as the center of the entertainment industry. The land is beautiful but polluted. Crime is rampant. There is a sharp division between rich and poor. It's poor are very poor and trying to make do however they can. It's most prominent upper class are famous people who make undeserved millions for being professionally photogenic. Isn't that media portrayal of American?

Oh and I hate LAX. Typical of older busy airports, it hasn't adapted well to the heightened security requirements of the post-9/11 era. The security lines were so long that my coworker returned the rental car at a different site, hopped the rental shuttle, went through the faster frequent flier line, and sat at the gate for almost a half hour before I got there. It was also the only time I've had the TSA get surly with me.

And no I didn't see anybody famous there.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Free as in Beer and Speech

Geek with a .45 makes an important point in this current post. I often hear the planned economy folks talking about the horrible perils of the free market. They have a point. The market is not an all-knowing, all-seeing hive mind. At best it represents the collected wisdom from a huge number of professionals. At worst, market movements are based on total SWAGs or groupthink reinforced by peer pressure and investor dollars. But the important thing to remember is that the free market is fundamentally free.

The free market is the result of allowing people to spend their money how they choose and with whom they choose. They get to use their insight and their money how they see fit and with whom they see fit. This is their fundamental right as free individuals. The more you infringe on this process, the more you must infringe on the fundamental rights of property and association.

Now some of these infringements are good ideas. I don't mind financial professionals having to be regulated and licensed to handle other people's money any more than I mind engineers having to be licensed to design a bridge other people will drive across. Ditto independent auditing requirements. But ultimately these laws reinforce the market by insuring the trustworthiness of free market agents. This is a good thing.

Still, I'm wary of those touting ideas like planned economies. Because they're ultimately about removing free choice from a group of people, in favor of something else. Often that something else defaults to decisions by a bunch of political appointees who could never get anywhere in the free market. And if the free market continues to be a nuisance to these people, soon that group denied free choice will grow include you and me.

Markets are ugly and they're messy. They're fallible and they can be manipulated. They can definitely use some level of regulation just to maintain trust and honestly. But they're free and that, in and of itself, is worth something.

Dark Comedy for the Day

In honor of the President's gallows humor on 60 minutes:

Q: Why did the Founding Fathers create the Federal Government with three branches?

A: Because a three ring circus is far more fun.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Wisdom of Proverbs

My son, keep your father's commands
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

Bind them upon your heart forever;
fasten them around your neck.

When you walk, they will guide you;
when you sleep, they will watch over you;
when you awake, they will speak to you.
Tam has related economy snark. I remember doing a study in Proverbs several years ago in Singles Group. Proverbs isn't a book of continuous prose, it is a book of often repeated and restated maxims. People who don't listen to their parents (or the words of the wise) and then coming to ruin is one of the major threads running through the entire book.

My pastor went on to lament about his own generation, the Baby Boomers. He pointed out, quite correctly, that the common formative thread of his generation is "don't trust anyone over 30". Your parents are idiots. Don't listen to them. This explains why their parents are "the Greatest Generation" and their kids are not.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mexican Gun Running

While the feds keep making outrageous claims about Mexicans running guns from the US to drug cartels across the border, current events are showing something different:
The Feb. 21 attack on police headquarters in coastal Zihuatanejo, which injured four people, fit a disturbing trend of Mexico's drug wars. Traffickers have escalated their arms race, acquiring military-grade weapons, including hand grenades, grenade launchers, armor-piercing munitions and antitank rockets with firepower far beyond the assault rifles and pistols that have dominated their arsenals.
Why would you spend a lot of time jumping through legal hoops in Texas in order to get a semi-automatic assault weapon, when I can go to a Latin American banana republic and buy them in bulk from a corrupt supply sergeant or captain or general?

Via Smallest Minority

Friday, March 13, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

I caught the 7:30 show at People's yesterday along with about 15 other moviegoers. Good but not great. Thoughts?
  • Malin Akerman doesn't quite pull off Laurie. In some places she's ok, but none of the scenes Laurie has with her mother work. Maybe she's too wooden (although it could easily go too far the other way), maybe the direction sucked, maybe it's because Carla Gugino is so obviously 30 something in lots of makeup.

  • Ozymandius is turned into an obvious villain and wasn't cast properly. The actor playing him is too scrawny for an olympic gymnast and you don't get a feeling of depth or intelligence. He's not even dressed properly. Instead of being in the comic's regal purples and golds, he's in more sinister navy blue and silver.

  • Very ham-handed direction in parts. The comic very skillfully and tastefully cuts around nudity and graphic violence. The movie revels in them. Ditto major plot points like Laurie father.

  • The script could be more streamlined, especially since Hollis Mason's role is so pared down in the theatrical release he might as well not be there. Nixon's role was also mostly unnecessary and horribly done.

  • Nite Owl, Rorschach, the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan are all executed near perfectly. Matt Frewer makes a good Moloch and Danny Woodburn (whom I fondly remember as Carl the Gnome) goes a good job as Big Figure.

  • I like the new plot climax. The comic's plot climax was it's weakest part, the new one is simpler and in almost all ways better. Falling action was mediocre though.
I realize that my list is mostly criticisms, but honestly those four good character executions absolve a multitude of sins. I have a similar feeling to what I experienced after the Lord of the Rings films. I don't regret seeing it in the theater and I don't think most people will either.

UPDATE: People are saying that the opening credit sequence is great, but what do you think?

Just kidding.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

But HK Says Its Good

The Norwegians are having trouble with the ultra-reliable HK416.

I'm not sure if I've pointed it out here, but nothing in the HK416 is revolutionary. Colt has developed and testing all these changes as planned product improvements for the M16/M4 series of weapons. The government didn't adopt the changes then because they didn't bear fruit. Now HK is trying to sell this stuff as the 416, largely by buying articles in Army Times. No thank you.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Neon Demon on Wheels

Netflix brought us the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer movie this weekend. Despite the bad mouthing it took in the press, we both really enjoyed it. They capture the feel of the classic show perfectly. But you aren't going to get depth of plot here. Why would you expect that with a Speed Racer movie?

I could give you a brief plot overview, but it's Speed Racer. Speed drives fast cars through multiple exotic and completely made-up countries as he tries to win the Grand Prix. Every race is fixed against him, but Speed has his friends like Racer X and his family on his side. And an awesome bulletproof car with buzz saws.

What you're going to get is action oriented racing scenes turned up to eleven. Most of the tracks and rally scenes look like they're taken straight out of a racing video game. But it's an alternative future/present/whatever. Every car has the Mach 5's jump jacks and if you ain't bumping, you ain't racing. Actually most of the racing scenes are more like boxing or wrestling than bumping. Cars are frequently destroyed in candy-colored pixie-stick explosions with the pilots being thrown clear in their gumball safety gear. Or brightly colored parachutes if they fall into a deep icy crevasse. Good stuff.

There are decent bare-knuckle fight scenes. With ninjas! Or cigar-chomping mobsters! And a monkey! That's hitting all the bases right there.

There are the obligatory scenes where Spritle and Chim-Chim stow away in various places. Unlike on TV, they are generally useful. They're either exposition and foreshadowing or acting as an important diversion that actually helps the Racers out. Good. Nothing like having to be constantly saving your grubby little brother and his monkey for no good reason.

Anyway, great movie. About my only complaint is that some of the characters curse. Rent it and be a kid again. But still best not to think too much.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Urban Ghillie Suit

Well I guess this might work in a third grade classroom...

Sorta looks like a construction paper version of Madame Trashheap or Cousin It to me.

Oil Prices

Well this article goes a long way to explaining why oil is below $40/barrel and yet regular unleaded is still running $1.80 at the pumps. The answer? Oil companies and speculators are paying people to sit on it supply, mostly by paying tankers to sit on what's in their holds.

Now I can't be too pissed off about this. Because of plummeting prices the companies were drawing down crude inventories at an accelerated rate earlier this year. That (and stupid laws designed to curb "price gouging") caused shortages across the south last hurricane season. Now that the prices have bottomed, they ought to replenish those stocks as fast as possible. But I'd like those cheap prices to trickle down to me at some point. More importantly, they were running record profits for quite a while there, so it would be nice if the oil companies were willing to accept less when that's the cards they've been dealt.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Done with Blogrolling

Well the new service is up. It's also worthless. Not only does it automatically serve up embedded ads which reduce the usefulness of the service, but the whole thing is horribly slow. No thanks.

I've discovered that Blogger has a widget that lets me do the same thing. All I have to do is update my site from 1.0 templates to 2.0 layouts. Looks like I'll have to front burner that effort.

Monday, March 02, 2009

AIG Bailout to the Nth Power

When I turned on the news this morning, I heard that AIG is receiving even more money from the US Government. Uncle Sam now owns a substantial portion of the business. Why do they keep receiving government funds? Could be a lot of reasons I suppose, but the big one has to do with AIG handling insurance for the US congressional pension program. That's an interesting factoid, isn't it?

By the way, why does Congress still have an old school pension system when the rest of the US government was phased over to 401k style Thrift Spending Accounts when the Federal Employee Retirement System went live over two decades ago? Why does Congress have a retirement system at all?