Thursday, August 25, 2011

Today is my birthday

Today is my birthday. I keep thinking of cute things to say about that. It is also the tenth anniversary of my father's death. So, I think I'll save the clever for another day. I just had a nice dinner and now I'm having a nice beer*. Later, I'll take a little Scotch out under the stars and have a drink with Dad. Then I'll have another. Dad said he would never ask a man to stand on one leg.

* For those who need to know, it's Arrogant Bastard Ale made by the Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, CA. Dad would have approved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake in Virginia

A few minutes ago, at 1:51 p.m, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake rattled Northern Virginia between Richmond and Washington. That's no small potatoes. Five nine is enough to crack foundations, knock things off shelves, and cause spontaneous pants wetting among people who have never been in or close to an earthquake. On the West Coast, 5.9 would be something to talk about for a week, but not a big deal. For context, the Japanese earthquake this spring and the 1964 Alaska earthquakes were over one thousand times stronger than this one.

Not all earthquakes are created equal. The amount of death and destruction that one causes depend on many factors besides the Richter number. In many cases magnitude isn't even the most important factor. Earthquakes release different kinds of waves. A simplified way of looking at it is to think of them as vertical, horizontal, and compression waves. Once the waves get moving their destructiveness is strongly modified by geographical features like soil composition and coastlines. In Japan, the tsunami generated by the earthquake was hundreds of times more destructive than the shaking itself. Finally, and this might be most important in Virginia, building codes make a huge difference. The West Coast is young and most of our buildings were constructed under very strict codes that paid attention to the danger of earthquakes. In Virginia, no one expects an earthquake and many of the buildings in cities are older brick buildings (just about the worst place to be in an earthquake).

It's too soon to hear many details. I hope people are okay. I hope they learn the lesson that earthquakes can happen anywhere. I'm probably way too optimistic, but I hope some of our leaders will get the message that government regulations, like those building codes that limit tremor damage on the West Coast, can be a good thing. Proper regulations, properly enforced can save lives and save property (I'm not sure which is more important to our current leaders).

On Facebook, my Alaskan friends are already chiming in. I suppose you are a real West Coaster if your first reaction to an earthquake somewhere else is to check its Richter number and then snort, "Ha! You call that an earthquake? Let me tell you about earthquakes...."

Monday, August 08, 2011

Alaska still AAA. Who knew?

CNN Money was kind enough to post a little map of the world showing the economic club that the US has just been booted out of.

A closer look at the map reveals something that hasn't appeared in any other news coverage. Apparently, the downgrade only applied to the Lower Forty-eight.

Despite appearences, Alaska must be doing something right. That's the only thing the map could mean, right?

Friday, August 05, 2011

Dear e-mail forwarder, you have been lied to

This e-mail, obviously, has been floating around since before last Monday, but some are still sending it around. A very sweet friend of ours forwarded it to us in the middle of the week.
Dear Mr. President,

I heard you say you will not guarantee SS checks if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Why is it the scare always has to do with SS, Medicare, & our Soldiers pay? Why not stop your pay, your staff, or Congress and the Senate to save more money for our country? Why use Seniors, Soldiers, & our Needy as examples? Take the money from those who take no risks and reap the benefits!! Instead of threatening to withhold Social Security, VA and disability payments of people who really need the money.... Lets hold the paychecks of all house & senate members, then see how fast they resolve the debt ceiling crisis !!!!!

If you agree re-post this & keep it going across the whole USA.

Thank you

I hate this kind of crap, not just because it's full of lies--as this one is--but also because it's predatory. People who start these letters prey on the emotions and good will of people who are frustrated by news they hear that only reveals half of a story and in only revealing half, distorts the complicated reality beneath. Government is confusing. The rules are obscure and hard to understand even by the primary actors themselves (sometimes especially by them). That's why it's easy to lie to people who don't spend their lives studying these things and who don't have the time or background to educate themselves on the deep background of every story in the news. That's why it's easy to lie to people using common-sense sounding phrases that fit on a bumper sticker. That's why the liars prosper.

Dear e-mail forwarder,

I know you mean well, but you have been tricked and lied to. Our government doesn't work that way. The United States is a country of laws. We have laws that prevent the president from using the Treasury as a political weapon. We have laws that prevent the president and his appointees at the Treasury from deciding which bills they feel like paying and which they don't.

The Treasury is required by law to pay the bill in the order they arrive. The first bill in gets paid first. The last bill in gets paid last. The President does not have the power to say, "move this bill to the front of the line and that bill to the back." If the Treasury doesn't have enough money to pay all the bills, they start at the front of the line and pay until they run out of money and the rest don't get paid. If the payroll bill for the President and Congress arrives first, they get paid. If the bill for the Border Patrol arrives last, we start laying off guards. That's how it works.

President Obama was speaking the truth when he said he couldn't guarantee that Social Security checks would go out on time. Defense Secretary Gates was speaking the truth when he said he couldn't guarantee that military paychecks would go out on time. Anyone who says they could have pushed those bills to the front of the line is lying to you. That's how it works. The United States is a country of laws and the law says the Treasury pays the bill in the order they arrive.

According to the Republican House leader, John Boehner, President Obama and the Democrats gave them 98% of what they wanted. That wasn't enough for the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party. They threatened to crash the government unless they got 100%. Obama gave, and gave, and gave to see that those checks would go out on time. When radical rightists tell you it would have been Obama's fault if the government had crashed and the checks stopped, they are lying to you.

The person who forwarded the lies to to you is probably a good person who cares about the truth. And the person who sent it to them is probably a good person who cares about the truth. But somewhere up the line, that e-mail was born in a nest of lies, confusion, and someone's desire to keep you scared and angry. They're counting on the fact that you're too busy trying to pay your own bills to stop and try to read seventy years worth financial law. They're counting on it.

If you believe that the truth is more important than lies send this back to the person who sent you the lies. They deserve to know. Ask them to keep it going across the whole USA.

Thank you

I know that this kind of push-back is usually a waste of time. Mark Twain wrote, "A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants." While I'm over here helping the truth get it's pants on, six more lies have left the starting gate. But pushing back feel better than wringing my hands and doing nothing and maybe, just maybe, I can help one friend get out of the way of the galloping lies. That would make it worthwhile.