Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

It is Tuesday, 9:30 AM EST in my neck of the woods, and it is a somewhat overcast day, but with more than a hint of sunshine.  Of course, it's very windy, but to be expected.  I had not been keeping up-to-the-date with the hurricane, but from what I understand, today is supposed to be worse than yesterday was, but it doesn't feel like it...yet.  Last night, parts of our gutter and an awning overlooking the porch in our backyard came down, and there is a huge tree limb that is blocking passage through our street.  But, other than that, things are going as they usually have.  Our electric worked like a champ, a few slight outages (the biggest one was for a little under a minute), but otherwise an uneventful night.  I'm sure it's a different story for many others, however. 

Did read an article that was pretty interesting.  There is going to be a pending gap in our weather coverage, thanks to the aging of crucial satellites that provide critical data to our meteorologists and news sources about these hurricanes and storms.  A replacement satellite won't be set into the air until 2017, at the earliest, due to mismanagement, lack of funding and difficulty in launching the replacement.  Yet another example of how our infrastructure has been allowed to go to shit, since nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tax breaks for the rich (excuse me, the "job creators") takes much higher priority in Washington. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Foolish Consumer Spending Can Be Meaningful

This is one of those times where I'm blogging without a clear direction of where I'm going, or what point I'm trying to make, and I'm hoping that problem is able to rectify itself by the time I'm done.  I happened upon this article in which a self-sufficient blogger is talking about the foster children she has helped raise, and that in many instances, they come from very poor families.  These families are often food-insecure and regularly decide on which of their many bills they will pay for the month, and these decisions can carry heavy consequences, such as phone service being turned off, or even electricity or heat.  But at the same time, there are certain examples of opulence and luxury in these poor families that prevail even in these dire circumstances. 

For example, some of the poor families that this woman has mentioned as having come across, have state-of-the-art cellphones, or give generous gifts to loved ones or throw lavish parties.  Now, those of you who read this will probably condemn these people in the strongest possible terms, and in a lot of ways, I'd usually agree.  However, one of the points this writer makes, and I do agree with her as well, is that our culture places enormous, almost overwhelming demands on people of every class to have these things.  Just as you may condemn them for spending money on a smartphone as opposed to keeping their house stocked with enough food to get their family through the month, if they didn't have a smartphone or a flat-screen, you'd condemn them for being backward and ask, "what kind of person doesn't have a fancy television?"  Definitely a situation in which the person is damned, no matter what they do. 

She makes other good points, and I wholeheartedly recommend the article.  But I wanted to make one more point.  It kind of reminded me of my situation.  I still live at home and do not have enough money to either move out or buy a car.  Being locked out of these two options has basically fucked any chance I have of finding a better job and obtaining the things (I don't mean material by "things") that I always assumed that I would have when I was younger.  I do have a Bachelor's degree and a postsecondary certification, so working at a low-paying service-level job is not what I had in mind at the age of 33, and it has been a very bitter pill to swallow.  But I'm digressing.  The point I wanted to make is that the one thing I do perhaps spend a bit recklessly on is gaming.  I have all the latest consoles, and regularly buy games.  Now, I don't buy the latest, 50-to-60 dollar Call of Duty game, but between buying used games and downloading games off of Xbox Live or Playstation Network, I do spend a good deal. 

And I question myself all the time, "is this the best use of my money?"  I love games, but can't help but feel that I could put my money towards a better purpose, be it by saving or something else.  When I make a particularly big purchase, I will agonize over it for days on end.  But something my mom has said to me a couple of times will make me give in and buy it.  What she has said to me, when I'm agonizing, is "Jeff, why are you working?"  And from what, I understood the gist of that article and what the writer was trying to say.  Yeah, the poor should prioritize having enough food on hand and making sure all the utility bills get paid.  But what some of us would call "bad choices", those choices being things like spending money on liquor or cigarettes or the latest gadget, can be all that stands between someone and the abyss.  A person cannot live on food alone.  In a life without stability and in which you don't know what's coming at you from one day to the next, sometimes that bad choice is the only meaningful thing you have.  We all need our escape.  For me, it's games.  It opens up a world to me that I am unable to experience in any other way. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can Our Teachers Spell?

This story comes out of Australia, but I have no doubt that this is true in a lot of the western world, including in the U.S.  Today's teachers are remarkably deficient in both spelling and grammar, according to tests performed by an Australian news program.  Three different generations were tested for spelling and grammar proficiency, and the newer the generation, the lower the average score.  To put the matter in an even starker light, the questions that teachers failed on were ones that your average 7th grader should know.

I'm troubled, but not surprised.  I find spelling and grammar mistakes all the time, that should be fairly easy to avoid, while reading articles online.  But I am by no means perfect.  An astute wordsmith can probably find at least one error with my grammar in this post alone.  But I do try my best to be coherent and to spell properly.  I do feel that today's person is a little too reliant on spell-check.  It's gotten to the point where writing something on my iPod or cell phone will be automatically corrected for me, even if I didn't solicit assistance from the AI.  But I do feel that an even bigger culprit appears to be people's reluctance to read an old-fashioned book.  In this country, people seem to be notoriously averse to reading, and I doubt that feeling changes much even if you go up the educational ladder.  The visual medium (movies, TV, games) has really taken over in a big way for the vast majority of people.  And for those who do read, it's usually some variant of pop-fiction, like Twilight, Harry Potter, or the latest James Patterson novel.  I mean, it's better than not reading at all, but I do feel that the average adult should strive for a deeper reading experience than one that a 7th grader could have no problem with reading. 

For the record, the last few books I've read were "Catcher in the Rye", and I'm about to start "The Berlin Years", a series of short stories about life in pre-WWII Germany, that was listed on the "Times 100" list of the best English-language books written in the 20th century.  But I'd also recently read the 5th installment in the Harry Potter series, so I'm not immune to a harmless, easy read. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Starbucks (and Other Companies) Not Paying Taxes in UK

There is a furor in the UK over the realization that Starbucks has not paid any taxes in the country despite profits of coffee sales in the UK of over 1 billion pound sterling since 2009.  In addition, the company has only paid 8 million pound sterling in UK tax since starting up in the country in 1998, in the process racking up 3 billion pound sterling in sales. 

Amazon and Facebook are using some of the same kinds of accounting tricks in order to avoid paying UK taxes, routing their incomes in European tax havens such as Ireland and Luxembourg.  As a result, they are also paying little or nothing in taxes to the UK, and yet generating vast sales numbers. 

I know that I'm not in the UK, but if you think that corporations aren't doing the same things here and around the world, you are sorely mistaken.  We have to stop thinking of corporations as "citizens" and "people" and begin to look at them for what they are: psychopathic entities with zero interest in the common good or for serving anyone other than themselves. 

This also puts a huge dent in the argument from some on the conservative side of the fence that bringing jobs back to this country is dependent on cutting taxes even further on these corporations, or as many politicians are calling them, the "job creators".  Corporations are already paying very low taxes around the world, both via the whim of our elected officials and by shady accounting magical tricks, and there is no huge influx of job creation pending.  It is all mere bullshit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Post-Election Riots

On one of the forums I visit, a user posted a Twitter feed of various users who called for riots if Romney were to win the election.  I'm not trying to be an alarmist, I really think such an event would be very unlikely to happen.  But it did give me something to think about.  After the last election, my views on the meaninglessness and futility of electoral politics became starker than it's ever been.  Mainly, the reason why I gave up and will not vote anymore is for the same reason as many others who don't vote: we don't see a dime's worth of difference between the (paltry) two candidates and their positions on major issues of consequence.  But at the same time, there is a major, clear difference between the two candidates, and the same clear difference existed in the last election.  That is, one candidate is black and the other is white.  And for many people, including some of those who are non-political and usually do not vote, that one difference is all that they need to register and vote. 

While many would say that people becoming inspired enough to want to vote is a good thing, in this circumstance, I feel that it can be very negative and destructive.  While there are people out there who can articulate and voice clear reasons and motives for voting for their respective candidate, I believe that there is an alarming variety of people who stop at the race issue.  They may not say it in public, especially whites for Romney, but they hold that view just the same.  I posted a few months ago about Romney speaking to the NAACP and getting booed numerous times.  That kind of viciousness displayed on the part of the audience showed how many blacks feel about Romney or any white candidate for that matter: if you are white and run against a black candidate, no matter what views you hold, even if we share them, we will oppose you and will not give you the time of day because you do not share the same color as Obama.  Again, very inflammatory and dangerous circumstances exist. 

I found the second tweet particularly of concern. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Bubble Bubble

As a denizen of the blogosphere and the web universe in general, few things give me more pleasure than finding a website or blog that casts a different pair of eyes on the events and circumstances that are encircling us.  I happened to find such a site this morning, that was created by an "independent economic analyst" who had also created a website back in 2004 that forecasted a pending stock market crash, which happened a few years later. 

This website is called "The Bubble Bubble" and the analyst, whose name is Jesse Columbo, states his case, which is that our bubble troubles did not end with the housing bubble.  What happened, is that the housing bubble spawned a series of other bubbles, which are coming into their prime now and are poised to pop sooner or later.  There are eight bubbles, according to Columbo, and he gives an acronmym to make it easy to remember "CCC Aches".  "CCC" is the credit rating given to investments that basically means that you're a "junk" investment.  And as many of these bubbles pop, there will be a lot of "aches" and pains involved.  Teehee. 

"CCC Aches" stands for China, Commodities, Canada, Australia, College, Healthcare, Emerging Markets, and Social media.  There is an in-depth piece written for each bubble by Columbo, and I look forward to reading them. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gas Now Being Stolen From Pumps in California

In what seems to have been at least a somewhat elaborate heist, over $4,500 worth of gas was stolen from one gas station in California.  Due to refinery fires and pipeline problems, California has the highest gas prices in the country, by at least 50 cents.  But things aren't appearing too peachy nationwide either.  In my neck of the woods (Long Island, New York), gas prices are back in the $4 range.  I wonder how long it will be before people go from planning schemes to steal gas, to just plain sticking a gun in the clerk's face and saying "fill up on Tank 5". 

Also, I wanted to point out the last paragraph of the article:  "Analysts predict that relief is in sight and prices will bottom out near $3.50 a gallon by Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest times for traveling."  I'm still a little awestruck at the subtle manipulation that has been taking place over the past few years.  Not too long ago, gas prices were much cheaper than they are today.  But now, if you happen to pay for gas, and it's less than $4 a gallon, then you've likely been conditioned to think that gas prices aren't that bad and that you're getting "relief".  In the meantime, still a lot more money in your wallet is being utilized to fill up your car than it used to be.