Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finance 101

Q: How can you spend more money than you have?
A: If you're a person, you borrow it. If you're a crook, you steal it.

And if you're a country, you have a third option.

You print it.

Option one works great, as long as there are people willing to lend you money. The way you keep people willing to lend you money is you pay it back plus a little extra. If I borrow $4 from you today, I'll give you $5 on my next payday. The US has been using this option to fund the budget for decades now. That's what T-bills and T-bonds are when you get right down to it; payday loans for the entire country. Now, as long as people want to buy those bills and bonds,everything is cool.

But what happens when people decide that those bonds are no longer a good bargain?

Well, option two has worked well nationally as well,except instead of theft, we call it an income tax. But as kings and emperors have discovered in the past, tax a man too heavily, and he decides not to work quite so hard.

And that brings us to option three, printing money. Now when the average citizen tries to bridge an income deficit by printing money, he's called a counterfeiter, and spends a fair amount of time as a guest of the Federal government. But when the Federal government does it, it's called a fiscal stimulus package.

It's also called an inflationary nightmare. When you print dollars without creating value to back those dollars, every single dollar is worth less. This is a bad thing, not just because the dollar you worked for is worth less today than it was yesterday, but the dollars that we use to pay off the T-bills and T-bonds are worth less as well, and future purchasers know that,and will be less likely to buy. Fewer sales means a bigger revenue gap, leading to printing more dollars.

This is called the inflationary death spiral, and history is littered with examples of countries who rode that spiral to the very end. Germany in the 1930s for example. Brazil in the 1980s. Think it couldn't happen here?

Last time I checked, the money for the bailouts, over a trillion dollars now, didn't just grow on trees. Not to mention the announcement that the US budget deficit has already set a record and we are only three months into the fiscal year.

Let me put it to you this way. Suppose you had a friend and he had borrowed $100 from you. He paid it back the next week, with an extra $10 in interest, then borrowed $150. This goes on for several months, and now he owes you a couple of thousand bucks. Then your friend comes up to you with a grea idea. He wants to borrow $10,000, and he'll pay it back by printing up these super special dollars that may not be worth much, but there are an awful lot of them.

Would you go for that deal?

And that's why it's called the death spiral.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Newspapers: Fail

Newspapers are over.

TV didn't kill them but the internet will. I can get my news from internet sources quicker, easier, and more accurately than I can from a piece of paper that was printed 12 hours ago and has been sitting in a box for another five or six. Newspaper can't give me audio, or video, or any interactivity that isn't limited by the 24 hour publish cycle. But that's not the crucial problem. Newspapers can establish an online presence and give me all of those things. What they can't give me, and what I can get from the internet, is knowledge and expertise.

Newspapers are limited by the simple fact that most of their employees know very little about anything other than reporting. Sure, some are specialized. In the sports department, you've got a football guy, and a basketball guy, and the business department will have a guy who knows a lot about stocks, but what happens when the big story of the day is about Jai Alai, or real estate backed derivatives that are so esoteric that most of us have never heard of them?

The newspaper has to go out and find an expert and interview him, and hope that the reporter knows enough on the subject to intelligently convey what the expert said.

Usually, they fail.

Think about it. How many times have you read a newspaper article dealing with a subject you are very familiar with, and the story has a key piece of information wrong? Yet you trust the paper to get it right when the story deals with a topic you are unfamiliar with!

The new media is run differently. It's made up of millions of people, all of whom have areas of expertise, so when the story is more complicated that "My dog has fleas" or more esoteric than covering yesterday's Kiwanis Club meeting, there is somebody online who knows the subject backwards and forwards and is able to write about it intelligently, accurately, and even more important, quickly. In order to survive, newspapers will have to tap in to the strength of the new media, that endlessly expanding group of experts and somehow harness and brand that knowledge. Rather than an aggregater of news, they will have to become an aggregater of knowledge.

The worst part is that they have to do it without imposing a cost on the viewer because their are too many of us out here doing it for free.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Perspective, People

Yes, there's a gas shortage in Tennessee caused by a hurricane that's causing prices to spike.

There's a housing shortage in Texas caused by a hurricane that's causing people who have lost everything to live in shelters and wait for food and water from the Red Cross.

Get a grip Knoxville.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, August 04, 2008

The Only Sane Choice is to Vote for the Nut

So, the Department of Homeland Security has a policy that says if I travel out of the country, they have the right to confiscate my laptop, cellphone, and/or mp3 player, look through all of the contents, share those contents with other agencies, and return my stuff in a "reasonable" amount of time.

And they don't even need to suspect me of committing a crime.

So it looks like my choice in the upcoming election is to vote to lose my freedoms to creeping socialism or to creeping fascism.

Ron Paul is starting to look better all the time. He's just crazy.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Is It Safe To Be A Liberal?

Jack Lail asks this question over at

Well, let's look at the record, shall we?

Four Presidents have been assassinated, three Republicans and one Democrat, Lee Harvey Oswald can not be described in any way as a conservative.

Looks like it's safer to be a liberal than a conservative in America.

Now before all the liberals howl with outrage, let me point out that this is obviously not a fair test. I've taken one small example of political violence, one certain to induce strong emotional responses, and I'm extrapolating a threat to a much larger group.

Sort of like what Jack is doing, isn't it?

Jack defends his piece by writing in the comment section:
I said that some in the national media (and not from obscure publications) are raising issues about being liberal in America.

And I backed that up with examples.

But beyond that the links included in the article contain a range of perspectives.

Sorry, Jack, but I don't buy that defense. First, the title of the article says that a question has been raised, but the ones you choose to quote don't ask anything. The question, in their minds at least, has already been answered. It is dangerous to be a liberal, and it's all Rush Limbaugh's fault. Second, you claim that there is a wide range of perspectives linked, but you didn't quote any of them and you chose some pretty egregious examples to use, most notably the Guardian piece. Finally, the question is absurd on it's face. Trying to pull rational conclusions out of the irrational acts of an irrational man is futile at best and dangerous at worst. Programmers have a saying, "Garbage in, garbage out."Using Adkisson as a single data point to extrapolate a general trend is a wonderful example of that principle.

On the other hand, right now Jack's story is the 5th most e-mailed and 2nd most commented on the KNS website.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Irony

Take a look at these posts from 2004. I wroite them shortly after somebody took a shot at the West Knoxville Republican Party Campaign headquarters. Mr. R. Neal was highly upset that I had the audacity to claim that emotional and extreme rhetoric such as that featured on his former site, South Knox Bubba, contributed to an atmosphere where drive by shootings were encouraged. As I recall, at one point, he posted that he was considering pursuing legal action against me for these posts.

Of course now, when the target is a progressive church, Mr. Neal is singing a different tune. And judging by the comments at his site, some portion of his members feel that folks on the right are more to blame than the guy who pulled the trigger.

What a warped sense of reality.

Incidentally, my position hasn't changed. When you engage in rhetoric that tends to dehumanize your opponent in any debate, you make it easier for unbalanced persons to take violent action. This in no way reduces the responsibility of the guy with his finger on the trigger, nor does it make the guy with his fingers on the keyboard culpable either legally or morally any more than the manufacturer of a videogame is responsible when a deranged kid hurts himself or somebody else.

The question boils down to this: Do we as free citizens need to stifle our speech in order to avoid triggering a violent act from a disturbed individual, or do we accept the fact that when we voice strongly held convictions some folks will be offended, and some of them will react violently?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So Ironic It’s Magnetic!

Read this post at KnoxViews:

We need to address the following: to replace hate-media with more inclusive forums/discussions...

This coming from a website that bans people from posting based solely on their political views, utilizes secret moderators who remove posts and/or comments with no explanation to the author, and where comments on the TVUUC tragedy include these:

  • Submitted by LeftWingCracker on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 10:30am.

    On second thought, I DON'T want this worthless old bastard to die. I want him to spend his remaining years as the 'wife" of a large, preferably Muslim, prisoner who finds him real attractive and shows his affection on a daily basis.

    I'm not taking this very well, obviously...

  • Submitted by rikki on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 11:01am.

    Great, the 18 hours per day of cheap slander against liberals WNOX pipes into East Tennessee homes is finally paying off. RedDog has himself a hero! All the cowardly halfwits who reflexively call anyone to their left 'socialist' can now mouth condolences while they mutter gleefully under their breath about witchcraft and fags. Should some remnant of civility twitch inside their vacant brains, they can just turn on Boortz or Rush or Phil or Hannity or Levin, whatever the hour of the day, and snap safely back into groupthink. Liberals are out to destroy America.

    It has been months, if not years, since Republicans have had the courage to speak honestly about major problems facing our country or about the lawless perverts they put in charge, and now they don't have to!

  • Submitted by R. Neal on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 11:35am.

    "well, when you take such extremist stands on the gay agenda, you might need to worry....."

    That to me sounds like it would be actionable.The quoted statement comes from a hypothetical remark made by another commenter.-Ed Half the crap these morons spew, including the chief moron at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., is actionable. But alas, no action.

  • Submitted by gttim on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 12:32pm.

    Well, he does not have to worry about unemployment, food, gas prices, VA issues or much of anything anymore. Most of this will be taken care of for him. He will have other problems to deal with, however. He does have to worry about hating gay people. That is about to cause him some serious self-hatred issues.

  • Submitted by Factchecker on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 12:50pm.

    I find Rikki's comment to be fairly spot on... You never hear anything remotely similar coming from the left. To the extent you may, it's not more than an occasional misguided extremist, or just a normal person emotionally overreacting, and who has an audience no bigger than the size of this one...
    No doubt this guy is mentally unstable... And who's encouraging the marginally stable to take the final plunge?

  • Submitted by rikki on Tue, 2008/07/29 - 12:39pm.

    ...I'm waiting for some of you conservatives to grow up and take a stand against the vile bastards among your ranks, whether it is war criminals like Donald Rumsfeld or liars like Rush Limbaugh. I'm not sure any of you have the courage, but maybe if you explain what you can do to make sure this sort of thing does not happen again, you can earn a little respect.

  • Submitted by Andy Axel on Mon, 2008/07/28 - 9:49am.

    The sick f***** who perpetrated these crimes probably thought that the non-violent membership of the congregation wouldn't put a hurt on him once he started blasting away.

    Note to Jim Adkission: You got your ass kicked by pacifists.

Other choice comments:
  • And every kid born of
    Submitted by Andy Axel on Thu, 2008/07/24 - 6:09pm.

    And every kid born of "illegal" parents whose ass gets spanked on American soil is also eligible to be President.

    Which makes Michelle Malangalangadingdong Malkin eligible.

  • Yup
    Submitted by gonzone on Fri, 2008/07/25 - 2:34pm.

    Michelle Malangalangadingdong Malkin (you're good Andy!) is yet another anchor baby for some right wing dictator's friend. And a stupid, sick puppy to boot.

What was that you were saying about hate-media?

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

I’m Not A Racist

So I'll call this guy an idiot lacking the brains to pull down his pants before he takes a crap.

That way he won't be offended.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Let's talk about smoking for a minute. I don't smoke and never have. Probably never will unless I'm on fire. And there's nothing that can ruin a good dinner faster than somebody lighting up in a booth nearby.


There's some fundamental dishonesty going on in the camp of the anti smokers,and it's resulting in some very bad law.

Let's look at the numbers with a little bit of reality.

According to the CDC, for 2007
  • 458,000 deaths in the US can be attributed to smoking.
  • There are 45,300,000 smokers in the US

So, by these numbers, 1000 smokers per 100,000 will die from it each year, or about 1%.

Hmmm. What about the other 99%?

We'll get back to them in a minute. First, let's see where they get all these scary numbers, like smoking will increase your risk of death by lung cancer up to 10 or 20 times.

The CDC tells us that roughly 36% of deaths due to smoking are cancer related, and of those, 78% are lung cancer deaths.

1000(deaths due to smoking)X 0.36(percentage of smoking related deaths due to cancer)X 0.78(percentage of cancer deaths that are lung cancer)=281 lung cancer deaths due to smoking per 100,000 people.

We need one more piece of information. The average lung cancer rate among the non smoking population is about 16 deaths per 100,000 people. ( average of men 17.1 and women 14.7)

281 (lung cancer deaths in smokers)/16 (lung cancer deaths in non smokers)=18.

This means that smokers are 18 times more likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers.

Ok, so the scary commercials are right. But only partially. The initial risk of lung cancer, 16 per 100,000, is so low that multiplying it by 18 still means that 99,719 smokers will not die from lung cancer.

Hardly compelling is it?

"But Rich, what about all the other smoking related deaths that aren't cancer? Won't that change the numbers?"

Yep. But now we're back to those 99,000 smokers out of 100,000 who aren't dying from it each year. (Incidentally, these numbers include deaths from secondhand as well as primary smoke.)

The truth is that smoking does not result in death for the vast majority of those who smoke, yet you will never hear that during any debate on smoking laws.

In order to fully understand the risks associated with a behavior, you have to know two things. You have to know the increase in the risk, which the anti smokers are really good about, but you also have to know the baseline risk, which the anti smokers are very quiet about.

The problem for the anti-tobacco side is that the baseline risk is so low that if they publicized it, they would lose all traction. Or do you think the anti-smoking bans would have passed if the anti smoking warriors banners said
"90% of smokers will not die from smoking!"

And that is what bothers me. By giving people only half the information they need, they are manipulating them through fear, while pretending to inform them.


Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What is Up With WBIR?

I was watching the 11:00 news and couldn't believe what I was seeing. On a night when Barack Obama claimed victory in the race for the nomination, they teased that story and went into their top story of the night, a UTPD bicycle officer doing a face plant that was caught on You Tube.

This is the lead story?

Ok,sure, a local news station usually leads with a local story, but the next story to air was about the retrial ordered for Gussie Vann, currently on death row for raping and murdering his 8 year old daughter. (Note the link goes to The Knoxville News Sentinel; a search of the WBIR website for Gussie Vann came back empty.)

A kiddie cop acting the fool is a bigger story than Obama claiming the nomination, and a murdering rapist getting a new trial?


Ah, but where else could you get to see college students pontificating about how people shouldn't goof off at work, especially when they are getting paid by "my daddy's tax dollars."

Truly a sad night for local news, but don't worry, the national boys have some issues as well. Check out this screen grab from my yahoo news page.


Yes, the headline is all about Obama, but the picture and the story are all about Hillary.

Sour grapes anyone?

Speaking of sour grapes, not that I'm flogging a dead horse or anything, but I'm not convinced that Hillary plans on retiring quietly to the Howard Dean Home for Failed Presidential Ambitions just yet. I am curious about how all the Hillary supporters will react if she does concede. To put it politely, some of them have really been hard on Obama. Will they eat their words, swallow their dislike and vote for him anyway,or will they walk away in disgust?

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Misplaced Priorities

So, let me get this straight.

We want to make strip clubs illegal, but we're ok with strip mines?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Voter ID:  Why Is This a Controversy?

The Supreme Court has ruled that it is OK for a state to require voters show a photo ID in order to vote, throwing local blogger The Crone Speaks into a tizzy.

Not everyone has a certified birth certificate lying about, the cost to obtain that document is around $10, plus time and money to get to the point of even ordering one’s certified birth certificate. Then there is the time (including travel) and cost of updating/obtaining a Social Security card, then the time and cost of getting to a Motor Vehicle agency that provides photo ID’s. So, no, obtaining a photo ID is NOT free. It may be free at the point of obtaining the ID at the motor vehicle office, but to get to that point can be costly for quite a few people.

You know, the last time I checked, you needed a photo ID to cash a check, fly on a plane, rent a car, or to get a library card. Obviously, the benefits of having a photo ID extend far past voting, so why assign all the costs of obtaining one to voting?

And isn't ensuring that only those eligible to vote do vote worth a little bother? Voting is one of the few activities I can think of where the state has a vested interest in confirming identification.

The AP story has this bit of inadvertent humor towards the end. When discussing programs to ease the burden of acquiring a photo ID for the poor, Bob Brandon, president of Fair Elections Legal Network, a nonpartisan network of election lawyers said, "Who's going to show up and sign an affidavit saying 'I'm poor'?"

Umm, the same folks who show up and sign one to get WIC, Welfare, etc?

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today is a Good Day

The State Legislature is once again looking at banning the removal of mountain tops And Eric Boyd was found guilty of being an accessory to carjacking.

Now, let's make it a trifecta and win the lottery!

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The American Dream is Not Dead; It Just Speaks Spanish Now

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, reports of the death of The American Dream™ are greatly exaggerated.

Despite the doom and gloom we're hearing on the nightly news (and isn't it odd how it's always the other guy's doom and gloom?) there are still plenty of people, a vast majority of people, who are still doing ok.

Some, even better than ok.

My oldest daughter is engaged to a young man who came here from Mexico with nothing but the shirt on his back, and through a strange set of circumstance too long and embarrassing to go into here, he soon didn't even have that. Broke, homeless, a non English speaker, and here illegally, lacking even shirt sleeves to roll up, he went to work.

He took whatever jobs he could get, saved his money, and worked his butt off. Two, three jobs at a time, he worked his way across the country until he arrived in Alabama, where he joined others of his family. He continued to work hard, clocking in a total of 65-75 hour weeks, all the time saving money. Eventually, he bought a truck. Then he bought a mobile home and instead of moving in, he stayed in a cramped double wide with his family and rented out the mobile home. He traded in his truck for a nicer one. Then he bought another mobile home, and moved into it with my daughter.

All of this time, he worked his tail end off, trying to build something he couldn't have had back in Mexico, a solid life.

And because he worked hard, and smart, and had the support of his family around him, he is succeeding. Just don't call him "lucky." Luck had nothing to do with it. Endless hours of hard work coupled with initiative, patience, common sense, and iron self control brought his to where he is.

Every time I hear somebody complaining about how it is impossible to get ahead in this country, that "the man" is keeping them down, that "the rich" are taking everything away from everybody else, what I really hear is the crying of a spoiled baby who never got over mommy taking the tit away and wanting the gov't to replace it. The American Dream was never about having success delivered to you without effort. It was never about a guarantee of success. It wasn't even about that house with a white picket fence and two cars in the garage.

The American Dream was always about the opportunity to improve your life through your own efforts. And friends and neighbors, we can only appreciate something if we've had to work for it. If it's a gift, it has no value. To put it in terms the young folks can understand, when Paula tells you that you did great on American Idol, it means almost nothing. She tells everyone that. But if Simon tells you that you're a star, buddy, you believe it. Why? Because you had to earn it. Simon doesn't care about your "feelings." He's not worried about your self esteem. All he cares about is whether you knock his socks off with your performance.

His praise has value because you have to earn it.

The value of achievement is the bedrock of the American Dream. And it is that sense of value that is under constant attack, cheapened and dissolved by every federal giveaway program instituted over the last 5 decades. Those of us raised under the pervasive nanny state that is Washington DC no longer value achievement as highly because most of us have never had to work for it. We've had it handed to us, either by the gov't, or by our parents. And we want more. Now it's universal health care that we want. We want the federal givernment (no, that's not a typo) to take care of us, instead of being willing and able to take care of ourselves.

That's why so many American's are failing to live the dream. That's why so many say the dream is dead. It's not because it's no longer possible; it's because most of us have forgotten that it takes hard work to achieve it. How many of us think that we could do what this young man has done? How many of us think that we could move to a foreign land, carrying nothing but the clothes on our back, and work our way up to prosperity? How many of us are willing to work long hard hours day after day, denying our impulsive purchases in order to save for the future?

It's not 'the man' or 'the wealthy' that are keeping us down.

It's ourselves and the choices we make.

Work hard; make good choices; exercise self discipline, and act with initiative.

Just ask Gustavo. Or his brothers.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, March 02, 2008

We Want to Encourage Protest, as Long as It Causes No Inconvenience.

Kids paid for lunch with pennies to protest the short lunch period. In return, the school administrators gave the students 2 days detention for causing a disturbance and disrespecting the cafeteria staff.

Apparently, the cafeteria workers felt disrespected by having to count pennies.

Allow me to show them true disrespect, so in the future, they may know the difference.

"Ladies, had you stayed in school and gotten an education, your self respect might not be so fragile."

Ok, that is disrespect.

As I see it, the kids conducted a legal transaction using legal currency, and for that, they are getting punished.

Yes, it inconvenienced the cafeteria workers, and the other students who didn't have time to eat, but then again, wasn't the point of the protest to point out how short the lunch periods were? Just how effective is a protest that doesn't inconvenience anyone? If you create a protest that can be ignored, it will be ignored. The whole point of a protest is to draw attention to a problem and the kids certainly did that.

And had they broken school rules during that protest, then they should be punished. But they broke no rules.

This is a pretty clear case of a school administration getting caught by surprise and lashing out at the kids responsible for embarrassing him.

Had it been my child, and the school had tried to discipline them for paying in pennies, I'd have been in the office the next morning, paying every one of the school fees in pennies and demanding a receipt.

Incidentally, here's the funniest line in the whole story:

Each student brought in 200 pennies. Multiply that by 29 you get close to 5,800 pennies.

Only close?

Apparently basic competency in math is not required at UC Santa Barbara or the Columbia University Masters Program for Journalism.

Posted by Rich
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