Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stock market

Bets on the Dow hitting 7000?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Norse pantheon

All you need to know about the Norse pantheon: "In short, the plan is a paratroop attack into an erupting volcano that's swarming with heavily armed giants. Half the Aesir tell Eric how jealous they are that he gets to lead the gloriously insane commando raid. And they mean it."

On pain

"Pain exists for a reason. It's how your body, and your mind, tell you that something's not right. Ignore it at your peril. If there doesn't seem to be a reason for it, perhaps you're not looking hard enough. Or perhaps not in the right place. You won't find a physical cause for a non-physical problem, nor will you find the physical cause if you keep insisting it's all in the head."

My father went through idiots who wouldn't follow that advice after his accident. His right arm was numb, painful and showing all the signs of nerve damage. All the tests they ran confirmed nerve damage. But since none of the X-rays showed any physical cause for the damage, the doctors kept insisting there couldn't be any nerve damage. Until finally Mom brow-beat the insurance into getting an opinion from the surgeon who all the other doctors named as the guy they wanted if they had to have work done on their necks. He looked at everything and said "OK, all the tests show there's damage, if we can't see the cause from the X-rays we'll just have to open it up and poke around and see what the X-rays aren't showing.". And when he opened my father's neck up, there was a nice loud clatter as a vertebrae fell out in about 3 pieces, to which the surgeon commented "Well, that's the problem right there.". No sign on the X-rays, but the insurance couldn't argue with the bits of vertebrae on the desk. And Mom made a point of rubbing the noses of all those other doctors in the photos of the shattered vertebrae that they refused to look for.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Peanut Corp. of America - RIP

It's official: PCA, the company mentioned before, is no more. They're filing for Chapter 7 liquidation and going out of business. Good riddance. The only thing I can hope is that the owner, who apparently knew of the problems and considered dealing with them to be a nuisance that was hurting his profits, gets nailed for negligent homicide.

More Peanut Corp. problems

This time they found rodent debris in the food. ""The order was issued after dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers were discovered yesterday in a crawl space above a production area during an in-depth Department of State Health Services inspection," the agency said in a statement.". Not a good thing to be finding after all the high dudgeon over China's problems.

No raises this year

No raises at work this year. With the economy, there's a very small pool of money for raises. Management set down a rule: raises are to go first to those in the lowest pay grades and with families. The reasoning was that those were the people being hurt most by the current recession, and they'd be able to spread that pool of money among the most people. So the high-paid people like me got pretty much nothing. Which I'm OK with, I'm in a better position to absorb not getting a raise than the guy making $30K.

OTOH, I'm watching the company's financials. When the economy and the company's profitability picks up again, follow-through will be expected.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Republican inanity

A wonderful quote from Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) had this to say: "When (President Franklin) Roosevelt did this, he put our country into a Great Depression. He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression. That's just history."

Well, Roosevelt and the Great Depression are history, that's true. However, that's about all of his statement that has any connection to reality. The Great Depression began in 1929. Roosevelt didn't become president until 1933, 4 years later. Keynes didn't write his book on economics until 1936, 3 years after that.

Now, admittedly, after being presented with the historical record, Austria did backtrack: "I did not mean to imply in any way that President Roosevelt was responsible for putting us into the Depression, but rather was trying to make the point that Roosevelt’s attempt to use significant spending to get us out of the Depression did not have the desired effect."

Again, not exactly correct. The GDP had declined from $103.6 billion in 1929 to $56.4 billion in 1933, and started rising in 1934 to $66.0 billion and continued to rise through the start of WWII with only one drop in 1938 (the year FDR cut funds from a large part of the New Deal to help balance the budget). You can find detailed numbers at the BEA's web site.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jury duty

I gots jury duty on Feb. 25th. Well, theoretically. What it probably means is I'll get to sit around all day at the courthouse being bored, only to be told I won't be needed after all. Or get called to a courtroom only to either not be called to the box, or be called only to be dismissed by one side or the other before I've actually got properly sat down. That's the annoying thing about the whole matter: all the disruption with little likelihood of actually serving on a jury for my trouble. That's one of the reasons I'd like to change a few things about the legal system, starting with a policy of "If you've gotten to the point that this court has hauled a bunch of people into this courthouse, made them sit through jury orientation and herded them into a courtroom, then gentlemen you will be making your client's case before a jury and that jury will get to render a decision. If you don't think that's a good idea now, you should have thought of that earlier.".

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dow Jones Industrial Average

If you look at the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq indexes, you can see how bad this latest crash was. We're down to the same level as the bottom of the last crash in late 2001 to early 2002. The last time before that that we were at these levels was back in late 1997. That was the point the indexes rose through current levels and stayed above them consistently.

IOW the current crash has wiped out a decade's worth of gains in the market.

That's a scary thought.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Second Life annoyance

I just got a password-reset e-mail from my not-very-active Second Life account. I hadn't requested a password reset. Naturally I immediately logged in directly to their site and changed my password, just in case it was a cracking attempt. Others in SL might want to be on the lookout.

Daschle nomination withdrawn

Tom Daschle is withdrawing from his nomination as Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama adminisration. This is good. There's too many issues with taxes among nominees lately. Potential nominees need to be more careful about their taxes, and clear up things before their nomination is announced. The Obama administration needs to be more careful about vetting potential nominees, and prod them to clean up their records ASAP. And both need to be clearer about whether the problem is a real, clear error or just a disagreement about an item that could arguably go either way.

Now, personally I don't consider tax "errors" to be a killer simply by existing. The plain fact is, most of those "errors" haven't been found to be errors. They're cases where either the IRS or an auditor disagrees with the original preparer as to how to classify a particular item. This isn't anything odd on a moderately complex tax form. Besides the IRS regulations there's a huge body of administrative and case law government what can be considered how, and even IRS agents aren't familiar with it all (one reason good tax accountants are in such demand is that they know that body of law better than the IRS agents and, when the IRS wants to disallow a deduction, they can point to a ruling that says it is too allowable). For instance, take a home office. Expenses related to it are deductible, however if it's also used for personal use some things are deductible and some aren't. For instance, if it's mixed-use you can't deduct a portion of the utility bills. You can, though, deduct business calls on a mixed-use phone. And not all mixed-use disqualifies it. The IRS will try to argue it, but occasional and incidental personal use has been ruled to not disqualify the office. The personal use has to be regular and consitute a not-insignificant portion of the use to disqualify the office. You can have endless arguments with the IRS over this if you aren't careful. Get into investments or foreign earnings and it gets really fun. Eg. you were paid $50,000 for work done in a foreign country, the money was deposited into a bank in that country and used only in that country, and taxes were paid on it in that country per their rules. How much of that money must be reported as US income, how much of it is taxable as US income and how much of a credit against US taxes paid are you entitled to? What if the foreign country says you owed $20,000 in taxes to them on that money but the IRS says only $10,000? Note that in that last case, if you paid $20,000 to the foreign country for taxes and claim $20,000 in foreign taxes paid, you have an error on your return even though you're in compliance with what the rules say simply because the IRS disputes your (and the foreign country's tax people's) interpretation of the foreign tax laws.