Friday, December 6, 2013

Best of 2013

Here is my Best of 2013 list. Maybe it is too early to publish but I doubt anything will change for me in the next 3 weeks and thought this may be more interesting for people to read now.
  1. Best beer: Firestone XVII Anniversary. This is a blend of several Firestone beers and at $23 from the brewery is pricey but definitely worth the money. Nothing else was even close though the Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout was my second place pick. 
  2. Wine of the year - all of them! I was really struck this year by the amazing quality of most wines. You almost have to try to find bad wine these days. Of course, there is the very low quality bulk wines that are one dimensional and will give you a headache, but, almost anything in the $15+ range is of very high quality.
  3. Best music album: Classixx's Hanging Garden. This is like 80's dance music with the updated 21st century sound. Great beats and hooks. The Disclosure Settle album was a solid #2. This was maybe the best year ever for dance music with many other solid albums in this genre. I could easily list 5 more excellent releases.
  4. Bike race of the year: The Vuelta Espana was so much fun to watch. Amazing climbs, many lead changes, and watching Chris Horner take the GC at the age of 41 was incredible. 
  5. Personal Bike Ride: Rode the inaugural Castle Crags metric century in Siskiyou County. Low traffic roads, unbelievable views of the Trinity Mountains and Castle Crags State Park, and well-stocked and fun rest stops. Funny anecdote that exemplifies this ride was a guy from the Bay Area who I was riding with exclaimed at about mile 30 that he was worried because he had only seen 3 cars since leaving the start line and had become complacent and was using the whole road on the descent into Castle Crags.
  6. Drink of the year is the simple Margarita: 1 part Reposado Tequila; 1 part Orange Liqueur, 1 part lime juice poured over ice. You can shake it first and a half teaspoon of agave syrup can be added if you want the drink a bit sweet though the syrup does tone down the flavors of the components. The Corralejo and Trader Joes Reposado's make a nice drink. For orange liqueur, use the standard and expensive Cointreau or try some of the lesser known like Gran Gala.
  7. Home cooked Meal of the Year and my lifetime was goat chops with a simple oil, herb and lemon marinade seared medium-rare like a lamb chop.
  8. Restaurant meal of the year was at Lone Eagle Grille in Incline Village on Lake Tahoe. Impeccable service, view, ambiance and food along with the fact I had ridden my bicycle from Truckee over to the Hyatt conspired to make this a fantastic dining experience. The group of fellow bike riders also helped make this a fun evening.
  9. Most read Sojkascall post written this year was US Health Care Costs Explained.  The second most hits went to The Real Story About The Washington DC Shutdown.
  10. Book of the year went to A History of the World in Six Glasses.This was human history told through the lens of beverage-making technology focusing on beer, wine, rum, tea, coffee and Coca-Cola. 
  11. Homemade recipe creation of the year was taking the tried and true chile relleno recipe from Hot & Spicy & Meatless and just adding ground chorizo sausage to the filling. We have been getting Don Juan chorizo at our local Winco supermarket for $3 a lb which has been fantastic. The same company also makes a very good hot Italian sausage. I know this sounds very simple and you might think how can this be recipe of the year, but, usually simple is the best! Try it yourself.
  12. Movie of the year goes to Silver Lining Playbook which was released in December 2012 that I watched in 2013. Though I found Bradley Cooper annoyingly cutesy, Jennifer Lawrence was riveting as a fellow functioning bipolar trying to cope in the real world. Excellent screenplay and supporting cast make for an enjoyable and ultimately uplifting movie that transcends my criticism of BC.  
  13. Documentary Movie of the year goes to Dirty Wars by and starring Jeremy Scahill about America's secret covert wars around the world currently with operations in 70+ countries. The description death squads was never used in the movie though my take-away was the US now has the most sophisticated death squad apparatus ever assembled with the President and his advisers making life and death decisions daily for thousands of people around the world completely outside the justice system. Gut-wrenching and eye-opening expose of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
  14. Personal accomplishment of the year was learning how to grow lettuce greens. We did not buy any lettuce or greens in the grocery market from about the first of July until Thanksgiving when the first hard freeze finally took its toll. The difference this year was using raised beds and keeping the rows covered all year with agribon.
  15. Blogs of the Year. Politics and Society goes to Contrary Brin due to his consistent thoughtful posts using logic and brilliant analysis. Personal Growth blog of the year is The Altucher Confidential. James Altucher hits the mark over and over with seemingly simple insights and advice on improving your life. Economic Blog of the Year is First Trust Economics written by Brian Wesbury. Brian coined the term Plough Horse Economy to describe our current circumstances and has been right on the money for more than a couple years now - worth following his insights.
What were your "best of" moments and winners in the categories I listed? I am always interested in how the year treated others and what they learned. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Government is Evil

This blog brings up many economic and political issues that are easy to construe as evil. And, figuring out what we can do in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression and power that negatively affects our lives is why many of us continue to wrestle with understanding what is going on in the government and economy.

What if the answer to these problems was already answered hundreds of years ago? How could anyone know what we would be dealing with now? The Chinese civilization is possibly the oldest surviving civilization on earth. They have been dealing with the issues of oppression by a ruling elite for a long time. So, while the specifics may be different now, the issue is the same.

In an article posted on IMOS, a modern-day recluse summarizes the philosophical differences of Confucianism and Taoism. I like his analogy of viewing the two as the yin and yang of historical China.
The genius of historical China rests in the oscillation between Confucian and Taoism, between yang and yin. Confucianism is concerned with politics, ritual, education, hierarchy -- all yang elements. Taoism is concerned with art, poetry, nature, seasons -- all yin elements. Within ancient China, these elements function like forces of energy, sometimes predominating, sometimes not. To find unique conceptions and insights is to identify ideas within both schools of thought. One such idea and practice is reclusion. Reclusion is the conscious disengagement from relations with authority figures and structures. In ancient China, reclusion was considered an expression of deep philosophy based on an ethical premise as much as a practical action based on empirical observation about survival and well-being. An ancient Chinese saying ascribed to Confucius is aptly summarized: “When the emperor is good, serve; when the emperor is evil, recluse.
The article talks about the dilemma people face on how to respond and what evolved in China hundreds and even a thousand plus years ago. The question is are these responses valid today? The Confucians believed that in certain circumstances it was acceptable to serve the government.
Two premises of the saying are clear. First, the saying assumes the inevitability of emperorship, and second, takes into account the vagaries of personality as the cause of stability or chaos. So-called good times legitimize not so much the emperor as the structure of empire. The saying promotes service in the state bureaucracy by the literate and intelligent of the day, often called scholars, usually scions of noble and mercantile families. Because the ancient Chinese state controlled all major enterprises, no other employment was deemed worthy of the educated man. On the other hand, if the emperor was tyrannical and authoritarian, as in the violence-ridden Warring States era (471-221 BCE), resignation from government service and avoidance of summons to service was considered ethical and necessary, regardless of hardship. But Confucian theory could not reconcile imperial wars and military conscription in its advice, however, because scholars were easily exempted.
 The Taoists, on the other hand believed it was never ethical to engage with authority. Sounds like some people I know today. Ha ha!
Taoists of the Former Han period (post-200s BCE) went further than Confucians. Taoists of this era maintained that the emperor and the empire were intrinsically evil. No service could be ethically justified, regardless of the personality of the emperor. To Taoists, Confucian recluses were mere retirees, not true recluses. The real issue was only the form of life that reclusion should take. The recluse must craft a life promoting the pursuits of virtue, which did not intersect with the goals of empire.
When thinking this through about my own personal response, I realized that my disengagement from emotionally involving myself in the political divisions is in a way a Taoist approach. The Taoists had three different ways of disengaging.
1)Reclusion in the city, or, becoming a “hermit of the marketplace,” a hermit in the crowd.” This life-style aimed at inconspicuousness, a low profile in the heart of the busy imperial capital or other cities, and in the midst of the thriving neighborhoods.
2)Reclusion to a farm or village affirmed the Taoist principles of simplicity and naturalness while providing greater anonymity than in a city and a more favorable setting for reflection and solitude. The recluse venturing to the land often worked side by side with simple folk of modest interests. Thus the intellectual Song Sheng-zhai quit the city to become a shepherd, take up the zither, become adept at calligraphy, and live in obscurity while practicing his virtue.
3)Reclusion to obscure natural places by those called by tradition “scholars of mountains and forests” and “men of cliffs and caves.” These were the classic hermits of ancient China who disengaged not only from the empire but from society itself, including to some degree rural society, living in virtual isolation.
I opted for #2 not knowing consciously at the time what some other part of me needed. The decision has turned out to be a good one for many reasons.

The IMOS article is not that long and I urge everyone to read the whole thing. Check it out at this link.

The Hermitary blog is also very interesting. There is a section with many links to films about hermits that you can watch on Youtube or Vimeo. Decide for yourself if any of these strategies work for you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Clarifying to See Better

A stupid analogy because I cannot think of a better one right now is that when you first heat butter it is milky looking and then starts to bubble and until the bubbling stops you cannot see the bottom of the pan. This morning I saw the bottom of a couple pans.

The first one was thanks to a post over on Naked Capitalism where Yves Smith writes about one of the Right's favorite boobs and the left's Economic policy leader, Paul Krugman. The really interesting part of this post was the distinction between fiscal and monetary policy. Basically, Krugman and Summers argue in a NY Times article, for a couple things: First that since it is impossible to balance government spending we must inflate our way out of the budgetary mess we are in, and; Second, since there is no Real economic growth at this time, it makes sense to create economic bubbles. You should read the NY Times article Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers so you know I did not make this up.

Back to fiscal vs monetary policy, once I understood how fiscal policy like running government deficits is the real culprit because it is trying to create economic growth through debt creation, which seems to be the only tool in the bag of policy-makers, then the current economic conditions around the world make more sense. Every government in the world seems to be creating debt though deficit spending (fiscal policy) and debasing their currency through central bank low interest rates (monetary policy). Makes me want to see if there is one western-style government not embarking on that path. Even the Swiss are debasing their currency now! The result of generating inflation is that individuals are the ones paying for this in reduced purchasing power. From Yves Smith.....
If you want to put it in more technical terms, what is happening is a large and sustained fall in what Keynes called the marginal efficiency of capital. Companies are not reinvesting at a sufficient rate to sustain growth, let alone reduce unemployment. Rob Parenteau and I discussed the drivers of this phenomenon in a New York Times op-ed on the corporate savings glut last year: that managers and investors have short term incentives, and financial reform has done nothing to reverse them. Add to that that in a balance sheet recession, the private sector (both households and businesses) want to reduce debt, which is tantamount to saving. Lowering interest rates is not going to change that behavior. And if you try to generate inflation in this scenario, when individuals and companies are feeling stresses, all you do is reduce their real spending (and savings power) and further reduce demand (and hence economic activity).
Steve Blumenthal came to the same conclusion in his weekly update. This sounds like the totally discredited trickle-down economic theory in different clothes. If you cannot do it politically with even lower taxes on the rich, then do it a different way with monetary policy.
“As shown in the charts below, the marginal effects of wealth increases on economic activity have been declining significantly. The Fed’s dilemma is that its policy is creating a financial market bubble that is large relative to the pickup in the economy that it is producing. If it were targeting asset prices, it would tighten monetary policy to curtail the emerging bubble, whereas if it were targeting economic conditions, it would have a slight easing bias. In other words, 1) the Fed is faced with a difficult choice, and 2) it is losing its effectiveness.
11.15 Chart 1

The basic issue is that quantitative easing is a much less effective tool when asset prices are high and thus have low expected returns than it is for managing financial crises.  That’s because QE stimulates the economy by (1) offsetting a panic by providing cash to the financial system when there’s a need for cash, and (2) by raising asset prices, and driving money from the assets they buy into demand and investment, creating a higher level of future economic activity.  So, the policy was particularly wise and most effective (in the sense of impact per dollar) at the height of the financial crisis when there was both a desperate need for cash and when extremely depressed asset prices were heavily weighing on demand and investment.
And, John Maudlin in a promotional article of his new book writes about this in a similar vein. John writes:
This concept is key to understanding current economic thinking. The belief is that it is demand that is the issue and that lower rates will stimulate increased demand (consumption), presumably by making loans cheaper for businesses and consumers. More leverage is needed! But current policy apparently fails to grasp that the problem is not the lack of consumption: it is the lack of income. Income is produced by productivity. When leverage increases productivity, that is good; but when it is used simply to purchase goods for current consumption, it merely brings future consumption forward. Debt incurred and spent today is future consumption denied.
So the Fed policy of loose money comes around at this point to destroy demand from consumers. While TARP may have been necessary at one point, clearly it is not helping now except to kick the can down the road through once again trying to increase debt in all sectors: individual, corporate and government. That seems to be the only economic tool policy makers will use.
Simply put, ultra-low interest rates mean that those who have saved money in whatever form will be getting less return on that money from safe, fixed-income investments. We're talking about rather large sums of money, as we will see. Ironically, this translates into a loss of consumption power when the Federal Reserve is supposedly concerned about consumption and requires increased savings at a time when the Fed is trying to boost demand. This is robbing Peter to favor an already well-off Paul.
Hope readers got the distinction between fiscal and monetary policy and why it is so important to understand the differences. If we only use monetary policy the result will be the loss of consumption and less demand. The only ones who win are financial institutions and already wealthy individuals. The rest lose because they are getting less return on safe fixed-income investments and inflation and the resultant decreased purchasing power hurts demand and makes most people poorer. And, the large sums of money Maudlin talks about - Pension Plans! Got one? Be concerned.

The other distinction is Nation and State. And, why this is important became clear today when trying to understand why governments will not reign in deficit spending for one thing. The concept can be applied to many other government policies that do nothing for the common person except make their lives worse. Over at Golem XIV in an article by David Malone he helps us understand the difference between Nation and State.
Our problem and their advantage is that it is deeply ingrained in us to see the State and the Nation as almost interchangeable. The very name, ‘The Nation State’ inclines us to believe that the State and Nation are one and therefore that any action taken by the State, no matter how harsh or unfair it might seem to us, must necessarily be for our good. It allows those who control the State to hide their narrow selfish interests behind a smokescreen of talk about the Nation.
David uses the example of the EU-US Trade talks portrayed in the media as a battle ground for governments to advance the interests of their citizenry. Who does it really help?
They, with the help of a largely supine and grovelling media, will claim to be there for you.  They will be decked out in flags and called by the names of our nations or national groupings, such as the EU. But the truth will be otherwise. Behind the national name plate a largely unseen machinery will be almost entirely corporate. Both sides will be there to seek advantage, not for you the people, not for the nations whose flags they use as camouflage , but for the corporations who pay them. The US delegation will seek advantage for US based global corporations and the EU delegation will seek advantage for EU based global corporations. Both sides will be hailed victorious.  The real question – very carefully never ever raised by the compliant media will be - who lost? And the answer, studiously unreported, will be the ordinary people of both sides.
Then he argues who does the NSA (US) and GCHQ (British) really work for? Is it The Nation as we are led to believe? Using Snowden's disclosures as an example.
But is it really National Security Mr Snowden compromised or State Security? When someone appeals to ‘National Security’ the unspoken assumption is that they are talking about your security and mine.  We, after all, are ‘the Nation’.  But I wonder if Mr Snowden might be more accurately described as having compromised the State’s security rather than the Nation’s. Which doesn’t sound nearly as good, does it? State security has a ring of the Stasi about it. And for good reason. Protecting the interests and security of the State is quite different from protecting the interests of the people who make up the Nation. One is about protecting you and me. The other is more about protecting the position, power and wealth of those who make up the State and its various organs of power. State security is about the security of the jobs and social postion of those who are ‘the State’. It is about the security of a particuar arrangement of power and those who benefit from that arrangement.  Which one does the NSA or GCHQ serve? Which did Mr Snowden really compromise by revealing the extent of the NSA’s and GCHQ’s indiscriminate and unlawful spying upon ordinary and innocent citizens?
Mr Malone challenges us to prove that the persecution of Snowden really helps the Nation. Our elected representatives are almost completely divorced from the internal running of the NSA and GCHQ. So, who do the NSA and GCHQ work for?
If we wish to hold on to the fiction that the NSA and GCHQ work for their respective Nations then how do we explain that the people we elect, even very senior members of the State, even within the government of the day, had NO idea what the NSA or GCHQ were doing? Certainly the NSA and GCHQ were financed by us, and draw their original legitimacy from us, but they no longer answer to those who we elect. So who do they answer to? To what are they loyal and to whom do they report?
And, here is why I have been thinking, writing, and communicating that the divisions between Pubs and Dems, liberals and conservatives, and Left vs Right are all artificial divisions to keep the voting public angry at the wrong supposed enemy and completely in the dark about the reality of the situation. This situation has been clear to me for sometime. I really like the way Mr Malone lays it out in the next section.
The old order was laid out from left to right: Communist to Libertarian. From those who felt the State was there to guarantee certain protections and provide a minimum of welfare and service, over to those who felt any intervention from the State was no more than an abuse of power by a group of self serving insiders. Largely this is still the range of thought and opinion. Those on the Left see the Free Market as the greatest danger to liberty, welfare, justice and fairness, and regard the State as our best protection against it. While on the Right the fears are exactly the same but the State is now the great danger and the market the best protection. Each side regards the other as hopelessly, even criminally, misguided. Each side sees the other advocating that which will bring disaster.
Into this sterile and suffocating tweedledumness a new ideology and power has grown. It is neither Libertarian nor Left, but has been called both. The Libertarians have seen how eagerly and constantly this new politics intervenes in and distorts the market and cries “Socialism”. Which, it has to be said, makes anyone who knows anything about Socialism gasp with amazement. Nevertheless you can read this ‘it’s socialism’ opinion in most of the right wing press and on most blogs where Libertarians comment, such as ZeroHedge or The Ticker.
On the other hand the Left sees the way the new politics intervenes on behalf of and protects the interests of the wealthy (The financial class and global corporations) doing nothing about tax avoidance, nothing to regulate the banks, insisting instead that the only answer is more free market, less regulation and austerity to be borne by those least able to bear it – and sees clear evidence that this new politics is right wing and libertarian.
Both sides seems only able to see things in terms of the labels and world view they are used to and as a consequence see nearly nothing at all. The truth, I suggest, is that we are at a moment when an entire cultural form is ending. At such times it is not one part or another, government or market, which corrupts and breaks, which betrays the values it was meant to embody and ceases to do the job for which it was created, it is all parts at once. All parts of our society have become corrupted.
We must move beyond the politics of the last century, seeking to blame all ills on a corrupt and captured State or alternatively on a corrupt, captured and rigged market. BOTH are true. Both are corrupt. Neither is working for us. A new elite exists in every nation, has control over every State but which has no loyalty to the Nation of people in which it exists any more than a tape worm is loyal to the creature in whose body it feeds and grows.
Nation vs State and Fiscal vs Monetary Policy. Understand how these distinctly different concepts are affecting us in very real ways. The general media, political and economic pundits, and politicians confuse the differences and keep us mad at artificial divisions like Pub/Dem, Left/Right, Conservative/Liberal instead of the real culprits who create and continue the problems the average person face.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Whose Fault Is It?

This past weekend while bicycle riding along in what most people would call a very aggressive paceline at around 28 mph two guys right in front of me got tangled up and crashed. It looked like one of those peloton crashes you would see in a pro bicycle race when bikes go flying into the air, people are sliding across the road, and then there is the sickening silence of someone not moving. And, as soon as people know that everyone is going to live the blame game starts. Why?

We had just left a regroup point at a local gas station, market and bathroom. There were three tandems and a group of about six riders on regular bikes who were pushing the pace. First everything is nice at around 21 mph and people are relaxed. Then it gets a bit more serous at 23 mph. The third tandem in line threw a chain and had to stop. That turned out to be the precursor of the crash - or was it really?

A gap opened up and the group behind the third tandem now had about 50 yards to close. The front six bikes and two tandems were really moving. It was taking a major effort of around 28 mph to see the gap start to close. I was on the front for a minute and then maxed out. A couple guys go by and then a few more. I bridge to them for about a minute and then realize it ain't happening for me so I start to back off. My unwillingness to go anaerobic for a longer time turns out fortuitous because a 15 foot gap to the small chase group in front of me has opened providing precious time for what comes next.

Then I hear that horrible sound of bikes on pavement, people yelling, and see the mayhem a half second away. While slamming my brakes on and skidding through the off-pavement gravel in-between the two guys and bikes on the ground with both wheels locked up the strangest thing happens. My right elbow seems to twitch ever so slightly and I get this message it does not want to be scraped up. Very weird.....

That forgotten, I slide to a stop and survey around me. One guy is laying on his back holding his wrist and people are asking if he is OK. It is obvious he is not and he has already immobilized himself. He is talking about what happened and that people were in that pace line that should not have been and answering questions about his well-being. One guy who acts like a medical professional is attending to him and asking him not to move until a better assessment can be made of his condition.

The other guy is walking around a bit dazed with blood coming out of his chin and elbow. All of sudden there is a loud bang. His front tire had rolled off the rim and the tube blows while we stand around trying to figure out what happened. That is when the blame game starts.

And, I am just as guilty as anyone saying something or silently thinking it. It seems obvious that someone was sort of maxed out physically trying to keep the acceleration. A little thing at 21 mph that would have been adjusted for and no one would have given a second thought to, now conspires at 28 mph to cause an accident because reaction times were slowed just that wee fraction of a second due to exhaustion and a faster speed necessitating even faster reactions.

If only the lead folks had not surged. Why did everyone have to push it just a couple miles out of the rest stop? Why didn't the lead group slow down? How come people obviously over their head did not pull out of the chase group? On and on and on.........

Only a few hours later when replaying the whole scene again did I realize my own compulsion to affix blame. And, it made me sad to think maybe someone accepted blame and then was feeling guilty. One guy ended up with scrapes and bruises. The other guy has a separated shoulder and a fractured wrist and supposedly will need surgery on the wrist. So, everyone lived but one has semi-serious injuries that he might bounce back from in a few months or could be dealing with for a longer time. Everyone on this big club ride of around 45 people was at least in their 30's with the majority in the 50 - 60 range. The guy that broke his wrist was probably in his late 50's around my age and I felt badly for him and part of me wanted to find someone to blame, like that would help him. Now I feel so stupid.

Is there a correct way to deal with these kinds of events? Do we accept it as fate? Should we figure out who to blame and then either educate them or ostracize them from club rides? Is it OK to just accept it happened and not think about it anymore? Why did my elbow talk to me while both brakes are locked up and I am thinking I am going to crash? Do we handle the next club ride differently by maybe setting up three groups to ride at different paces? Why are we taking bike riding so seriously?

Bike riding is supposed to be fun and this makes you question that. In the end, while eating my Italian dinner and enjoying the endorphin high of a 88 mile ride I felt guilty for not feeling guilty. What kind of mind game am I playing with myself? I don't have any answers right now.

Monday, October 7, 2013

iGoogle Reader Shut Down

If you are reading this post it is probably because you used iGoogle for aggregating your news feeds and the various blogs and websites you regularly visited. It is/was quite handy for putting all the new posts and news from those sources onto a single page that was easy to scan and then pick which stories you wanted to read. Today (10.7.2013) iGoogle said 25 days to shutdown. I am assuming that you have exported you current iGoogle settings in a XML file and now are looking for a site to upload them to. Sounds easy, but this has been a few months for me of trying different solutions.

Google stated that usage had declined and that was the reason they were pulling the plug. I really liked the ease of use and how it saved me time gathering updates from multiple sources. So, I looked at many, many blogs and websites that recommended various substitutes.

After trying many of them and getting pretty frustrated by multiple issues like: 1) Google exports your iGoogle page as a XML file and most of the replacement sites want OPML files to import your current settings 2) XML to OPML converters don't work 3) renaming a XML to OPML and trying to use it does not work 4) the replacement site did not update my feeds or 5) Replacement sites did not support uploading a list (XML or OPML) at all, I settled on

uStart was able to easily upload my iGoogle XML file. It was fairly easy to modify columns and look/feel, though not the best. And, well, it just worked.

Ighome had looked like the winner for a while but then stopped updating the feeds even though I had configured to update every 10 minutes. It also seems to be overloaded with slow web page loading problems. It could be a viable alternative down the road but did not accept my XML file either and forced me to load the feeds one at a time - I was part way through that when the performance and reliability issues started.

I tried ighome, netvibes, and myYahoo in earnest. I looked at several others and did not even try because they did not allow for importing your current settings or provided a daily list and did not use containers for segregating feeds which I like visually. I did not want to start all over setting up around 75 different feeds. For me, the simplicity of made it the winner so far. The other nice thing about it was I could import my iGoogle XML file with all my feeds without even registering an account - that was nice!!! I could see right away that everything was there and then registered for an account.

If you want to check out various sources for ideas here are some.  Good luck and hope you don't start pulling your hair out and wanting to rip your own face off like I felt a few days working through this Google induced pain.

Edit 10.9.2013 - one of my friends found info that said had been involved in some kind of browser home redirect issues back in May 2013. And, there are some virus detection software sites that warn people about uStart. I have been using it several days now and have had no issues. Apparently it is a French-based company and several French software companies have been involved in this kind of thing in the past. Whether this was guilt by association or uStart was actually involved I don't know. I can only vouch that at this time everything is fine. I will post an update if any issues develop. Right now, performance is good, I have not been asked to download any browser extensions or any other files, and everything is fine. I have not experienced any increase in SPAM that might be related to uStart having my email address.
Edit 10.14.2013 - still no issues with hijacking my browser, requesting me to download extensions, or causing any computer mayhem.A couple of kind readers made suggestions that I checked out but did not switch to for the same reasons mentioned in this post.
Edit 11.20.2013 - uStart has not done anything to me yet and I consider it a decent alternative to iGoogle. It was certainly the easiest one for transferring my feeds to from iGoogle. I have gotten used to it and don't think about iGoogle anymore except when I see this post.
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  6. 10 Great Google Reader Replacements | News & Opinion | PCMag ... › Product GuidesSoftwareInternetRSS Tools
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Saturday, October 5, 2013

How the shut-down will likely end

The latest from Brin and surprise - he is quoting a Fox News article and not to bash it! These are strange times. From Fox....  
"'Compromise,' to these demagogues, is to mandate that Democrats scrap President Obama’s signature domestic legislative accomplishment, which was passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court and ratified by voters who returned its architect to the White House last November."

"Senate Democrats, of course, had been begging for a budget compromise for months – ever since the Senate passed its budget last spring. But Republicans rejected this attempt at compromise 18 times, refusing to allow the Senate and House of Representatives to go to a budget conference to hammer out a deal that would have put an end to this cycle of continuing resolutions," writes Julie Roginsky.
If you watch the news the last couple days and listen to the Pubs complain about the unwillingness of the Senate to have a budget conference, and have not really followed the story before, you could be forgiven for thinking the Pubs are the only ones wanting to compromise. In the end though, the Tea Party and those who have signed the Norquist Pledge have one thing on their mind and that is "....the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Anything else said contrary to that is political maneuvering. They are not kidding when they say their goal is to get rid of the government completely by drowning it. If you want to return to feudal times with warlords, princes, kings and such and have your AK-47 ready to defend yourself 24/7, then these are your folks. Am I exaggerating for effect with that statement? Make up your own mind. Listen carefully to what these people are saying. They are extremely emotional, not willing to listen to reason or science, and believe their righteousness justifies any means - that is a dangerous mindset to me.

I hope Brin's predictions on breaking the stalemate come through. We need Congress making changes that fix problems instead of just sitting on their hands like little kids taking their ball and going home. And, all this total BS about the shutdown saving money. In the last shutdowns, Congress voted to provide back pay for all federal workers so the shutdown turned into extra vacation time for federal workers. Tell me how that is a good thing except if you are a federal employee. So all Federal workers, have a nice paid vacation thanks to the Tea Party and radical Pubs! In the meantime, we taxpayers get less work out of the people paid to run the system for us.

CONTRARY BRIN: How the shut-down will likely end: Before I get to my forecast of how the Great Big US Government Shut-Down of 2013 will end... let's start with this surprising commentary...

Link to SojkasCall..........

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Real Story About The Washington DC Shutdown

This is incendiary talk from David Brin:
Despite all the pundit-ravings about a "civil war within the GOP," The 21st Century Republican Party remains (for now at least) the most tightly disciplined political force we have seen in American political life since the "solid south" of the old Dixiecrats, seventy years ago. Pundits tell us that discipline and the Hastert Rule are maintained by fear of Tea Party insurrections in next spring's GOP primary. Don't you believe the pundits. In fact, nothing happens in the Tea Party without say-so from Fox News. Fox is co-owned by Rupert Murdoch and several Saudi princes who have made their agenda clear. The government of the United States of America, which has functioned -- overall -- far better than anything else the world ever saw , helping to lead a consortium of other free nations and peoples to transform civilization for the better... that government and even the concept of "government" must be undermined, discredited and ultimately destroyed. It is the core, consistent narrative and one that a third of U.S. citizens now swallow as eagerly as babes do mother's milk. And hence, amid this re-ignited civil war, it is only proper to evoke Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one more time. Recite it to your neighbors enthralled by the Murdochians. Watch them wince. So. Do not let the appearance of internal GOP strife fool you. All -- (or nearly all, so long as the Hastert Rule applies) -- is choreographed. Were these sane days, it would take just twenty House GOP members to break off and form a Grownup Conservative Caucus -- taking their chances with the inevitable Tea Party vengeance in their district primaries, next spring -- in order to negotiate with moderate democrats, as used to happen all the time, back in the 20th Century. They would do this for the sake of the nation, out of courage and love of country… and love for a version of conservatism that Barry Goldwater might recognize. (A deal to make entitlements more efficient, in exchange of elimination of some fat-cat tax breaks, has been on the table for two years. Those twenty are all it would take.) Alas, Rupert Murdoch and his partners have made clear their agenda to destroy Goldwater Conservatism in America… and thereupon all meaningful discourse.
For those not familiar with the Hastert Rule read this op-ed piece from CNN that explains it very clearly.  Read Brin's entire 10.1.2013 blog as he is on fire today and not taking any prisoners. Watch the linked video clips to get the full perspective.

Brin has done a masterful job of pulling together many stories that are in the news today. I have been trying to get more information on how and why the Saudis tried so hard to pull the US into conflict in Syria and have been largely unsuccessful. Brin provided a missing piece of the puzzle regarding Fox, The Tea Party, and the current promotion of taking the government apart with the Saudi ownership at Fox info. Maybe some other day I will figure out a little more about how Saudi Arabia influences US foreign policy decisions.

This has been a very interesting day that out of the ashes of my negativity regarding the government shutdown has come a wealth of understanding about how things really work. Read and watch all this a couple times if you are not familiar with the perspective. Cross-check the info and make up your own mind. Stop listening to the pundits and listen to your own analysis and see if you can push away any fear creeping in long enough to make your own decision.

On the positive side is the info Brin provided from his friend and one of the  investment advisers I follow and had read his writeup last week regarding an American economy emerging into a new upswing. Maudlin is not the only one saying this. Look at the data on that too. You might hate fracking and the ecological damage it has wrought in certain areas. There is no denying it is helping our economy.

Link to read this post at SojkasCall and comment.

Is Drifting Bad?

While looking for something else on a website, I came across this video and thought  it might make a good analogy for what is going in Washington DC yesterday and today. Being "adrift" seemingly was a bad state of affairs in my mind.

After watching the video I realized that being adrift can be a good thing. This took me back to the time in the late 70's when my wife and I first moved to the Bay Area and we saw islands floating in the sky when riding along Skyline Blvd and looking back over the foothills towards the ocean around the Page Mill intersection. It was one of the things that made that time in my life so magical.

Adrift can be a peaceful place and full of joy. Let's enjoy adrift and let the fools continue on their time and not ours.

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

Government Of The People

Today there was a post over on David Brin's blog asking people to reread the Gettysburg Address and ponder the last sentence. Here is the last sentence: It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

For most of us, the part resonating today is ...government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Has it perished here in the USA? 

When our politicians in Washington DC behave like they did yesterday it makes one wonder.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

US Health Care Costs Explained

This seven minute video does a good job explaining why US healthcare costs are higher than all other countries in the world and busts some of the myths surrounding reasons and benefits of those high costs.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Religion, Science and Spirit - Korten's Personal Story

Now that SojkasCall readers have taken their own personal journey through discussing the original David Korten article, it might be time to see what the author has to say from a personal perspective. Very enlightening reading for me and shows the depth of understanding many, many people around the world are achieving. It makes me trust that everything is working out just fine.

Check out The Personal Story Behind the Essay, “Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time”

Religion, Science and Spirit

Could it be that the problems we face have nothing to do with Obama and that he is only the current example of what we see as something wrong? Since whoever is President is the leader and example of our society in the US, I posit that when the system is malfunctioning then the public leader of the system will look like he/she is malfunctioning. It does not matter if it is W, Obama, Newt, Hillary, or whoever. We need to change our view of what is real. That means looking a lot deeper than most of us are willing to look. It is so much easier to blame everything on a scapegoat. Just host another one up on the cross. That will fix everything. Then we can remain arrogant and self-righteous and feel good we did something (just remember to wash your hands). So, vote for whoever is not in power and things will all be better. Right - and I have some "land" in Florida for sale........... This article by David Korten called Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time is very thought-provoking. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Charles Ramsey gives a great interview detailing how he freed Amanda Berry and the two other woman that had been held captive for years in a suburban Cleveland house. He also, inadvertently, gives a complex insight into America's race relations today.

This is rich and says so much about a man and a culture in a very short amount of time. Imagine 100 years from now someone opening a time capsule and watching this.

Back to the basics though - Charles Ramsey is your everyday man who became the accidental hero today because he walked through the door. Or, in this case - kicked it down!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What is Wrong With Pub Leadership?

The Republicans have seemingly given up on any kind of leadership on the US economy. Brian Wesbury puts this in perfect perspective. Wesbury is very much sympathetic to policies that promote smaller government and that will reign in spending on entitlement programs. Yet, he argues that the Pubs keep trying to bash the current economy and that jumping on every little negative economic number and ignoring that the US has been in a steady recovery going on now for about four years is hurting their credibility with voters as seen in the last election. The Dems have certainly shown that they are not going to lead on reducing the size of government and it is something that needs to be done. Unless the Pubs are willing to embark on a true strategy of leadership that acknowledges where the economy is at, the US is going to continue to see the discussion dominated by Krugman and his type of economic theory.

Hopefully, the Pub leadership like McConnel and Boehner will listen to this advice and start to act like statesman and not Fox News pundits who are looking for a sound bite to get a headline in next day's news. We need credible leadership on economic issues. That is going to take leadership being truthful in order to establish trust with voters. Today, the lies and half-truths have so alienated most voters that the average person does not believe a word almost any politician utters.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Asset Bubble, Bond Bubble, Is the Fed OOC?

Interesting discussion on Bloomberg. Check out this short video if you can stand watching these guys interrupt each other, especially Pento.

Wesbury makes the point no one on this panel disputes that PE ratios are not in the stratosphere. Pento does not think current market strength supports forward PE's (what I got trying to follow the conversation with all the interruptions) and that market conditions are going to finally cut into profits. Other analysts not on this panel (Hussman, for example) say the Shiller PE ratio is too high. With everyone believing treasury bonds are in a bubble does that mean they are the best contrary play right now?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Take Control

Can we truly feel powerful in our daily lives? When the news, day after day, paints this picture of a government out of control that wants to run every detail of our life and take away things we want and believe we need, how can we feel powerful?

We can sally worth with false machismo waving our weapon. We can stick our head in the proverbial sand through a variety of means like percoset, oxycotin, little blue or purple pill, marijuana, alcohol, etc. We can forward emails about the 28th amendment to our friends and threaten to boycott some business or product. We can even send money to the NRA, Sierra Club, or the Organic Consumers Organization.

Will any of those actions really change anything? They will probably make you feel better for a little while because at least you did something or you temporarily forgot about your perceived state of disempowerment. But when you do wake up in the morning and read the newspaper or that forwarded email from a friend or talk with someone about the daily events, the feelings come right back. You could become a hermit and just unplug completely.

The hermit's life does have a certain appeal. Maybe you could just be in a community of hermits who have completely unplugged from all forms of media. It could work but is a radical step especially if there are family members and friends you like to see, or you like to travel using modern methods, or you want to eat above subsistence level.

So, what can we do to take back our sense of power in the world today? We can Unplug From The Man as Dr. Sherry Ackerman advises. In her publications she advises us to adopt an everyday attitude of reducing our dependance on "The Man" and gain independence. She gives practical advice on how to gather wild food, recycling, and in general changing our mindset so that when the kitchen tool you always use breaks the first thought in your mind is not ordering a new one from Amazon, but how to substitute something else you already own for it.

Will gaining independence foster "taking control"? The definition of independent in Websters: a (1) : not subject to control by others : self-governing (2) : not affiliated with a larger controlling unit 

Does that answer the question?!

The other trait of those being independent is independent thinking in your own self-interest. An interesting essay by Jared Diamond was published recently. He talks about how humans constantly overreact to uncontrollable risks and underestimate ones we can control.

Studies have compared Americans’ perceived ranking of dangers with the rankings of real dangers, measured either by actual accident figures or by estimated numbers of averted accidents. It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.
Mr. Diamond uses the example of falling in a shower as something that is actually much more dangerous to him personally at age 75 and much more likely to occur because he takes one every day, than any of the events beyond his control. So, the next takeaway is look for those everyday activities you perform and do them mindfully and reduce your own risk. That can be taking precautions when using power tools to eating well to reducing or eliminating other risky behaviors in your life like racing your car around that blind turn, taking illicit drugs of unknown strength and mixture, or a myriad of activities you know are risky.

Take control today! It is not difficult. Start with the small things and keep working on it everyday. As Ms Ackerman wrote in her Sticking It To The Man article:
Another form is something I call unplugging from The Man. Scott Nearing put it succinctly when he wrote that he:

"must reduce wants and even needs to a minimum; wherever possible, serve myself, raise and prepare my own food, wash my own clothing, do my own building and repairing, maintain the best of health to avoid the heavy costs involved in sickness, keep down such fixed costs as rent, interest and taxes; never borrow and take on interest slavery, but always pay cash; build up a capital reserve sufficient to cover a full year of unemployment, and be prepared for emergencies."
We may only do a portion of these, but, it does not matter. Every little thing adds up to more independence. And, following in the definition from Webster, that means less control of us by others.

Take Control! I salute your independent attitude!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Best of 2012

This is my list of the best and most useful places, ideas, things, etc of 2012. These are not necessarily new to 2012 but what moved onto my radar last year. Click to read on.