Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Prosperity from the Twitterstream

From Casey Peters:
All papers signed, home got pwned! Shower door to come next week along w/ remote control for fireplace. w00t!

How hard can times be when you get a remote control for your fireplace?

I should talk, I have a remote for my ceiling fan...

Congrats Casey on the new home!

Posted by Rich
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Presented for Your Comments

Obama Looks For Rape Victims For Campaign Ad.

Truly appalling, but I'm sure somebody will be along to defend it.

Posted by Rich
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Obama’s Target Audience

The only group without the experience to know he's full of it.

Like I'm supposed to believe that these kids all went to their mommies and said "Mommy, I want to sing a song for Obama so he can be elected and change the world. And I want it recorded using professional Hollywood equipment and direction and released on You Tube so everyone can know what a wonderful human being Obama is. Because he is a wonderful human being and I know this not because I've been propagandized to within an inch of my life, but through my own vast experience in filtering the rhetoric of political candidates through the screen of harsh reality. Yes mommy, this is exactly what I want to do. So make it happen. Please?"

22 show moms prostituting their kids for politics. Next up, the beauty pageants.


But then again, it worked for the Soviets...

Posted by Rich
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Saving Money the Old Fashioned Way

The water pump on my truck began leaking last week, so today, I replaced it with a new one. I figured I'd save money by doing it myself with parts I acquired from the parts store.

Yeah, that went well.

First of all, I drive a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. It's got 186,000 miles and this is the first repair other than brakes that I've had to make on it, so I really like this truck. Or I did until this afternoon.

After taking Luke to school, I stopped by the parts store, and got a new pump, belt, gasket, and sealant ($148.00) and headed for the house. Having learned on an earlier adventure that allowing the car to cool down before playing with the engine isn't just a good idea, it's mandatory, I went into the house to work for a couple of hours.

I woke up bright and early at around noon thirty and got to work.

I pulled out my trusty Haynes guide and started the rpocess of pulling the water pump. It seemed so easy when I read over the instructions the night before. Pull the belt. Pull the fan shroud. Pull the fan. Disconnect the hoses. Remove old pump. Clean the seating surface. Apply new gasket. Install new pump. Put the car back together.

Ok, cool.

My truck has what's called a serpentine belt. It's called that because if you don't watch it carefully, it will reach out and bite you. It twists and turns through multiple gears and pulleys like spaghetti on steroids, and all of it runs right next to a fan blade made of surgical steel finely honed to a razor's edge. I'm not sure why the fan needs to be that sharp, but if I'm ever trapped in a Mad Max movie, I've got my weapon of choice ready.

The way you remove a serpentine belt is simple. You hook up a ratchet to a nut on the tensioning pulley, and you pull the ratchet towards the engine. In theory, this will pull the tension pulley towards the engine, releasing the tension on the belt, allowing you to slip the belt off of the pulley and begin to remove it. In practice, this will slam your hands into the razor sharp fan blades because you forgot to check which direction your ratchet was set.

Upon setting the ratchet correctly and again pulling towards the engine, I successfully disengaged the belt from the pulley, and began the long process of threading it around the fan blade so I could remove it entirely. After 15 minutes and 2 stitches, I went for plan B and I cut the silly thing off.

The next step in the Haynes manual is to remove the fan shroud. But before you remove the fan shroud, you have to remove the radiator surge tank (See section 4.) Turning to section 4, I find out that removing the surge tank is simply a matter of pulling it up and disconnecting the surge hose.

I mention this process only so I can document the only thing that went right throughout my entire afternoon. So if you need a radiator surge tank pulled, I'm your man.

So I went to remove the shroud, only to find that I also had to remove the windshield washer fluid tank. According to the manual, this was so simple, it didn't even need its own section, just a picture. Just unplug two wires on the bottom, disconnect a hose, and lift the tank clear.

Yeah, right.

The two wires on the bottom are about two and a half feet below the hood area, which means I have to stand up on a stool to get high enough to get low enough. Yeah, you read that right. Then there's the little matter of plugging a rigid plastic nipple with out damaging it, or allowing windshield washer fluid to spray out all over the engine compartment. By the way, windshield washer fluid is very slippery. When you put your hand on a brace to support yourself, and that brace is covered in windshield washer fluid, things do not end well.

I finally got everything disconnected, and lifted the tank per the manual, and ran into a snag. There was a great big hose leading from the engine to the radiator that ran over the fluid tank. The manual said nothing about that hose, and when I looked at the pictures, it wasn't there, so I removed it.

I hope it wasn't important.

I lifted up the tank, now that the last obstruction was de-obstructed, and nothing happened. It would not move. I put all the force I felt comfortable using without breaking anything, and it wouldn't budge. Fine, I'll skip that step.

Now it's time to remove the shroud, so I quickly release 3 of the 4 screws holding it in place. I say three because the fourth screw is located, you guessed it, behind the windshield washer fluid tank.

At this point, I inadvertently enlarged my grandson's vocabulary a bit more than his mother would like.

I managed to work a box wrench in to loosen the last screw holding the shroud in place, and the assembly was free. This is when I found the two plastic tabs holding the tank in place. I popped those bad boys right off and the tank was free. Well, except for the third wire the Haynes manual didn't tell me about.

I don't think it was important, but I'll let you know in a few days.

Now it was time to play with the fan. Remember the fan? With razor sharp blades and an appetite for my blood? The manual sad that I should use a large screwdriver and a special wrench to remove the fan, since the fan nut was attached to a clutch that went both ways. Now I don't have the special wrench, but I do have a lathe that has a large spindle nut on it, and it seems to be they are roughly the same size, so I get my spindle nut wrench and surprise surprise, it was a perfect fit. Not that it did me much good. Have you ever tried to use a screw driver to brace a free spinning pulley by trying to catch it between two bolt heads, all while
leaning over an engine with the hood latch wedged firmly in the perfect position to either castrate or disembowel you depending on which way you slipped?

I haven't been in a position that awkward since junior high when my dad walked in on me furthering my relationship with Col Wilma Deering from Buck Rodgers. (I'm sharing too much again, aren't I?)

Anyway, the screwdriver wouldn't hold, and I couldn't get enough leverage to back the fan nut off and any time I tried to apply a burst of force, the screwdriver would slip and I'd find a new and interesting place to bleed. Not to mention the silly fan shroud kept falling in front of me, interfering with my line of sight and access to the nut. Eventually, I got tired of it flopping around and bolted it back in place temporarily while I figured out what to do with this nut. I decided to get creative, and got a pair of slip jaw pliers and used them to hold the pulley steady. I was finally able to apply some good torque, but 10 years and 180,000 miles had pretty much welded the nut to the fan clutch. It was time for my secret weapon, 3 in1 oil. A few pops of the can, and 10 minutes later, I gave it another try. A used the pliers to hold the pulley, put my wrench on the nut, and thrust down with all 300 pounds of my weight on both tools. Of course, the 3 in 1 oil had worked and the nut spun freely and I rammed my head into the air filter housing.

Doc says the double vision will clear up in a day or so.

With the fan loose, I unbolted the shroud again and pulled both pieces out of the truck. After 2 hours, I was finally ready to start working on the water pump.

The pump is held in place by 3 hoses, 7 bolts, and a mysterious gasket-like substance with a bonding strength greater than super glue, but more about that later. The first thing I had to do was drain the radiator and engine of coolant. According the Haynes manual, there was a little knob on the left side of the radiator that opened a drain, and two drain plugs on the engine block. I looked all over the left side of the radiator and didn't see any sign of a knob or drain valve. For grins, I looked on the other side, that would be the right side, for those of you playing at home, and loo and behold, there was the drain plug. Apparently, when the folks at Haynes say "left," they mean "on the left if you were physically superimposed over the engine, and were looking out from the engine compartment," not "on the left as you stand outside looking at the radiator."

Silly me.

I opened the little valve and nothing happened. Consulting the Haynes manual, it said that sometimes the drain would get plugged by rust, and I should insert a screwdriver into the drain hole to remove the rust. The drain was about as wide as a drinking straw, and I don't have any screwdrivers that small, so I said forget it, and started pulling hoses from the radiator.

I caught most of the fluid in a bucket, which is good, because I have dogs and I want to continue having dogs.

After the flood ended, I was ready to start pulling hoses from the water pump. Two hoses were very easy, sticking out on either side but there was a third hose coming from the top of the pump, ducking immediately under something that looked very important and highly technical, and leading back into the dark recesses of the engine compartment. There was almost no room to get a hold of the hose clamp, and even less room to move the hose clamp back off of the nipple, and to make matters even more fun, the hose was acting like it had been welded to the nipple.

About this time, my son got home from school, which worked out nicely because he could help. It was even nicer because now I had somebody to blame when things didn't go well.

Working together, the two of us finally managed to remove that last hose, and after removing the bolts, the water pump wouldn't budge. I consulted the magic book, which was rapidly becoming dark, smudged, and much harder to read. It recommended hitting the pump with a soft faced hammer, so I immediately got my 5 pound sledge, and that water pump sailed out of the engine compartment. Then I found out that I needed an inlet tube from the old pump, so I climbed the tree where the pump landed and brought it into the garage to remove the tube.

I think I avoided all the poison ivy.

While I removed the tube from the old pump, Luke prepared the surface for the new pump by scraping off the old gasket material. If you've ever changed a newborn baby's diaper, you'll understand the task that Luke faced, and also why I let him do that part.

The tube was held in place by a simple o-ring. Well, a simple o-ring and 10 years of road dirt, mud, tar, and other assorted nastiness. It was supposed to pull free, but of course, it didn't, and I resorted to brute force, grabbing some slip joint pliers and trying to twist it free. Then I jumped in Lissa's car and drove to the parts store for a new intake tube. They don't twist really well, but they crush flat in a heart beat.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Luke finished scraping the seating surface, and we were ready to start putting things together, which was good because we were running out of daylight. Assembly was in reverse order of disassembly, and everything went together just as well as it came apart, which was no big surprise. I dropped a bolt from the new water pump and it fell between the radiator and the the thing in front of the radiator that looks like a radiator and isn't really. or maybe the truck has dual radiators; I don't know. But where the bolt fell, there was no way to reach it. We wound up picking up a random piece of rebar and using it to probe the small gap and managed to knock the bolt free without doing too much damage to the radiator.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, we reassembled the truck into something similar to the way it was before I started. The last step was to install the new serpentine belt, which again involved the no longer razor sharp fan blades, and the labyrinth of pulleys and tensioners. At last the job was done, and it was time to refill the cooling system with fresh antifreeze and water.

When I bought my supplies, I paid a couple of extra dollars for the low toxicity anitfreeze. It's propylene glycol, instead of ethylene, and it has a bitter agent that is supposed to keep dogs from drinking it. I tasted it myself, and it is pretty nasty. If it keeps my dogs healthy, it's worth the extra couple of bucks.

Luke filled up the radiator and I started the truck and we waited for it to heat up. As far as I could tell, there were no leaks, and the truck ran as well as before, and seemingly a bit quieter as well. I'll know more in a couple of days, but for right now, I think I've got a good truck again.

So in the end, I spent 5 hours doing a job a mechanic could have done in 2 hours tops, collected several new and interesting scars, and saved about $150. On the other hand, if I had worked at a paying job for 5 hours I would have made $150, and had no scars, and no grease and oil under my fingernails. (If my mom saw my fingernails right now, she wouldn't let me eat at the table for a week.) I also have a sore back, cramps in my hamstrings, a mild concussion, and my fiance says I'm too smelly to kiss.

But I also have the deep soul satisfying satisfaction of doing the job myself, and that's worth, well, that's worth something. Not a lot, but something anyway.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Scuttling the Bailout

For those of you who believe this is a market fluctuation and that it will correct itself, I want you to know that I agree with you. You are exactly right; the market will correct itself if we just give it time.

Of course, last time it took 10 years of deep economic depression and a global war, but it did correct itself.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I don't know a lot about finance at this level. But instead of proclaiming my ignorance, as if it were something to be proud of, I've been studying. I still don't know enough to make policy, but I've learned enough at least to understand where we are, and why we must take action.

In a nutshell, our entire economy is built on smoke and mirrors. Our currency, our houses, our real estate, our investments, everything that we have is valued solely by our combined opinions of its value. If we believe a house is worth $150,000, we pay that much for it, and presto, the house is worth $150,000. If we decide that the same house is worth $90,000, and nobody else thinks it's worth more, then presto, that house is worth $90,000. $60,000 has just vanished from the economy in an instant. And if you own the house next door, your personal wealth just took a significant hit as well.

Banks make loans based on an asset to liability ratio. If you lose 40% of your assets, as in the example of our house, the bank is going to be significantly less willing to loan you money because even though your liabilities haven't changed, your assets have, even though you haven't done anything or lost anything real.

Banks loan each other money on the same principle. If a bank holds a significant number of mortgages that are downgraded, whether they are defaulting or not, that bank's ability to attract capital investment is crippled. It can't make anymore loans, and without interest on loans, banks will have a hard time paying interest on deposit accounts.

It gets worse.

Insurance companies take you premiums and invest them in securities. By making that money grow, they can offer lower premiums and attract more business. Regulations require that these companies maintain a certain ration of their assets in cash, and the rest can be invested, and they have to maintain an asset value that is equal to a certain percentage of their insurance liability to their customers. If their investments fail, they fall below those required ratios and must acquire more capital. Except right now, there is no capital to be acquired because their ratios are screwed.

Are you beginning to get the picture now? The biggest investment in most people's lives are their homes, and those homes are rapidly becoming liabilities rather than assets, and the ripples from that one simple fact will be enough to shake the whole house of cards to the ground.

Depression? This thing could turn out to be the single greatest economic collapse in the history of the world.

I'll let y'all in on a little secret. At this point, it doesn't matter what they do in Washington. They just have to do something big enough to convince us that our homes are worth what we used to think they were. If they can pull that off, and it doesn't matter how, we can pull out of this mess with minimal damage.

If not, a 780 point drop on Wall Street is going to look like a good day.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Other Bracelet

You know, the one Obama wears to make sure that he remembers that soldiers have mothers who want them to come home? The one that Obama has been wearing for months, but can't quite manage to remember the name that's engraved on it?

Yeah, that one.

Apparently, the family of Sgt. Ryan Jopek has asked Obama to stop wearing it as a campaign prop. Original story here.

Obviously, Obama has not honored that request, instead using that bracelet, and the memory of a dead soldier to campaign against the very thing that soldier died defending.

Words fail me on this one.

Posted by Rich
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Time Well Spent

Rather than watch Fulmer's Follies, we went out to Calhoun's for a little food, fun, and lively conversation with Knoxville area bloggers and Twitterers. Attending the festivities were:

Doug and Cathy, the Blogging McCaughans
Rich and Lissa, the BlogFest Monarchs
Glenn and Helen, the Blogfather and the Docter
Isaac, the starving son
Boriqua, of Patties Pop Culture Paradise
Mark and Ann, the star crossed lovers
Jen McClurg and her escort.

It's great to get a chance to meet up in real life and remember that there is more to life than our current obsessions and that people are more than just pixels. It was nice to see Glenn and Helen again, although by the sound of it, we'll be seeing a lot more of Glenn in the near future. Mark and Ann gave us a drive-by wave as they went in search of a restaurant that hadn't caved in to Tennessee's draconian smoking bans. Doug and Cathy were as charming as always, and Cathy liked my hair so I get a reprieve on the whole haircut thing. Patty and Jen were our rookies tonight, and I hope they had a good time.

We'll be doing it again soon, probably right after the election, so keep your earsopen for the announcement.

And Doug, I Love You Man!

Posted by Rich
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Don’t Feel Bad for theVols; Feel Sorry for Auburn.

UCLA beat the Vols and then lost by a zillion points to BYU.

Florida beat the Vols, and then were upset by lowly Ole Miss.

If the pattern holds, Auburn better be very careful facing Vandy next week.

Apparently whatever the Vols have is contagious.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

It’s All About Your Point of View

A seed pod gets stuck in the coat of a dog. The dog and its pack travel for miles over months until he sheds his winter coat and the seed pod falls off. The pod falls on fertile soil, sprouts, and a plant grows in a new environment. The plant thrives because this new area has no natural predators that feed on it. It displaces native species and soon dominates the landscape in that area.

We call this process natural selection and it is an integral part of evolution.

But replace the dog with a man, and we call it "interfering with Mother Nature's delicate balance.


Right now, well meaning idiots are poisoning streams in the Smokies to kill off the rainbow trout so they can replace it with "native" brook trout. Once the poison has killed off the rainbows, they place baskets of fish into the stream to make sure all the poison is gone. If the fish die, they wait a while longer, and do it again.

This is called environmentalism.

When the stream is safe for fish again, they'll release the brook trout.

So why are environmentalists against evolution?

Posted by Rich
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Debate Review

I still haven't watched the debate, but after reading all of the coverage and looking through the transcripts it looks pretty much like a draw to me.

Both men have bracelets.

Can we get back to serious issues now please?

Posted by Rich
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Who Killed the Bailout?

According to Democrats, it's all the House Republicans' fault.

Which is kind of odd, since Democrats hold a majority in the House and the Senate, and the plan had the backing of President Bush and both Presidential candidates. The House Republicans don't have the votes to stop it and nobody mentioned the f word, so I don't see how the Republicans could have stopped the bail out.

As nearly as I can tell, it was a lack of a spine among Congressional Democrats that killed the deal. All Obama, Reid and Pelosi had to do was lead.

They failed. Concerned about the fallout of approving a $700 billion bail out without being able to blame it on Republicans come election time just turned their guts to water. As is all too common in Washington, they put their own selfish interests ahead of the their constituents.

Pretty pathetic.

But hey, at least we got a debate on TV!

Posted by Rich
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An Explanation for the Crash

But is it the right one?

Liberals, arm yourself with facts and links and tell me how this video is inaccurate.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, September 26, 2008

A Sense of Proportion

I know I'm in the minority on this one but a Presidential Debate right now while we still haven't resolved the financial mess is a lot like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's a wonderful distraction, but ultimately useless.

Posted by Rich
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Barack on Guns.  The Final Answer

While Obama is busily trying to intimidate radio and TV stations into falling in line with his propaganda, I went looking for the truth and the truth is that Barack may believe in the Second Amendment, but he sure doesn't support it.

Obama's campaign is threatening civil and criminal actions against TV and radio stations that air the NRA's latest ad that paint him as anything but a friend of the Second Amendment. To back up his contention that the ad is false and misleading, Obama points to a piece that isn't very flattering towards the NRA ad.

Well, the post has been rather thoroughly fisked and debunked, and the sources cited in the NRA ad hold up under scrutiny, but the coolest thing is that we have Barack himself admitting that he wants to ban all semi automatic guns.

Here's the ad:

Here's the story that covers Obama's campaign attempt to get the law involved:

And here is Obama's response to a Political Courage Survey when he was an Illinois State Senator.
Gun Issues
(Back to top)
Indicate which principles you support (if any) concerning gun issues.
X a) Ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons.
X b) Increase state restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms.
c) Maintain state restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms.
d) Ease state restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms.
e) Repeal state restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.
f) Favor allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms.
X g) Require manufacturers to provide child-safety locks with firearms.
h) Other

Obama said he would support banning the sale and transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons. My little Ruger 10-22 is a semi auto, as are both of my hand guns, a Walther P-22 and a SA XD .40. This isn't just scary looking guns, this is nearly every rifle and a large chunk of hand guns.

Posted by Rich
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The Great Debate.

I didn't see it, but I'll review it all the same.

Conservative pundits are saying that McCain clearly showed a better grasp of the compexities of foreign policy, while Obama struggled without the help of a teleprompter. McCain projected an air of competency while Obama revealed a surprising amount of naivete that would surely hurt him when trying to carry on tough negotiations. The conservative will finish with a statement that even when Obama sounded confident, and spoke with eloquence, he was simply trying to cover up the dearth of real ideas with a cloud of rhetoric.

Liberal pundits are saying that Obama's performance was more than adequate to demonstrate his mastery of foreign policy, while McCain looked like he had rubber hair. And besides, Sarah Palin lives in Alaska and that doesn't make her a foreign policy expert. And don't forget McCain's impulsive "no debate, yes debate" wobble. He's old and can't be trusted.

So, how did I do?

Posted by Rich
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