Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So I remembered to open my monthly statement from the mortgage company. This month, there was a refund cheque attached to the statement, as well as a notice indicating that my escrow payment was increasing by about $10 a month. I was expecting the latter, as our property taxes are scheduled to creep up next year, and I've been reading stuff like this indicating that homeowners' insurance is also scheduled to balloon a bit. The former... why couldn't they have just left the money ride in the escrow account & cover the increases for the next two years or so? Since they don't seem to have figured any increase in the expected homeowners' insurance payment, they're probably going to hit me again next year for more; if they decide that I need to make some sort of mid-year additional payment to cover a deficit because they felt the need to take that surplus out of the account, I'm gonna be steamed.

Not as if I am going to get much of any interest income out of $345 of additional capital, even if I bother to take it out of my non-interest-bearing checking account & move it into savings.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reading for the day: postwar German currency reform. Some guidance on how the American occupiers of Germany & the West Germans managed to get out from under the disastrous burden of destroyed German infrastructure & massive liquidity left over from inflationary wartime Nazi financial policies & debts.

Heavily politicized process, though. I kind of think it only worked *because* it was overseen by a foreign military occupation government. The potential for politically-directed corruption in the burden-equalization-fund and the escrow-account feature of the conversion law appears vast.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm always last to notice these things. The lawyer who used to be my company's CEO, and then was... something in management for a couple of years after we merged the company with his one-man law firm, left again a few years ago to start his law firm up again, taking his secretary with him as part of a general down-sizing of our front office, which was overstaffed at the time, given the administrative needs of a small research & information technology company. Well, apparently Rod bought the old First National Bank building on the northwest corner of Bellefonte's courthouse square. I stopped by this morning on my way to pay my utilities at the borough building, and Heather gave me the five-dollar tour of their renovations.

It's a grand old building, built in the 1870s or 1880s. Tall, if narrow lobby with a vaulted ceiling; an enormous bank vault takes up the back third of the building. It's not so much a building with a vault, as a vault with a building built around it. Heather said the vault door weighs seven tons. There's a grand mural on the wall, painted during the Kennedy administration from a 1878 engraving of the view of old Bellefonte from the top of Half Moon Hill. Beautiful, although I'm told that it's made retrofitting an ADA-compliant toilet terribly difficult, because the mural stretches the whole length of the lobby, including the area where they want to put in the new bathroom. Also, the old bank president's office, located on the second floor, would apparently be in violation of modern fire codes. The basement retail space is also in violation of ADA codes. They're ripping out thirty years of catastrophic slumlord "renovations" which do things like block doorways and so forth. The upstairs bathroom had *two* layers of drop ceilings, one layer three feet from the true ceiling, and a second, newer layer another two-three feet below that.

The time capsule under the courthouse square's pavement, which is marked by a plate in the sidewalk outside the building, is apparently (if only theoretically) accessible via a bricked-up entrance in the basement. Also in the basement is the entrance to an access tunnel which I'm told the borough had forgotten existed, which almost collapsed earlier this year while they were repaving and surfacing High Street. You have to wonder how many other forgotten little subterranean architectural elements are hidden around town.

I hope Rod and Heather all the best, because the new office looks like a real challenge. It'll be pretty when they get everything nailed in place, though.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I hope to god this story isn't true. The sheer magnitude of bureaucratic stupid required to demand the confiscation of toenail clippers and multitools from a company of National Guardsmen carrying pistols, assault rifles, and machine guns because "they couldn't take over the plane with the guns without bullets, but the toenail clippers were dangerous" is... galactic in scale. I'd prefer to think that someone's just having us on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I had a nightmare this morning about Credit Anstalt and British naval mutinies this morning. I really oughtn't read Depression business histories prior to going to sleep. I'm not sure if I should call it a nightmare, or pre-waking musing on the news of the day before. More and more, the Euro is looking like this generation's gold standard. More and more credit is going to get tossed into its maw to maintain the unsustainable status quo until a series of sovereign defaults causes everyone to bail out in hopes of not being the one left holding the bag. Beggar they neighbor, here we come.

Meanwhile, I've been watching a show I don't particularly like, Hell Girl. It's a supernatural contemporary fantasy, basically a series of half-hour revenge plays. Our villain protagonist and her coterie of lesser demons offer revenge on the target's object of grievance, promising to drag said object directly to hell in exchange for the eventual damnation of the target's soul. The episodes are usually crafted in such a way as to make the audience root for the double-damnation, and in fact, as of episode 15, not a single target has gotten away scot-free. Initially, the setups were pretty rote, and I was grumbling about how formula it is, but after a while the writers started changing things up & introducing a second protagonist with whom you could actually have a moral affinity, this sketchy freelance journalist whose psychically-entangled daughter keeps seeing visions of the process of vengeance-solicitation & damnation as it happens.

The issue is that the nominal villain-protagonist has very little depth or back-story. She shows up, she puts the spiritual loaded gun into the hands of the aggrieved, and hovers about, not doing much of anything other than collecting evidence & waiting for Chekov's curse-doll to go off, whereupon she forcibly ushers the grudge-object into Buddhist hell. 80-90% of her dialog is exactly the same, from episode to episode. Her three demonic renfields have more character, and more lines, than she does.

Also, she doesn't seem at all picky about the vengeance she wages. Initially, they show you the demonic band demanding the villainous victim offer remorse, and his or her defiant refusal. Then the cases get shakier and shakier and the revenge-takers squirrelier and squirrelier, and we start not seeing this scene of self-incrimination before the demonic tribunal. And the grudges start getting really, really mistaken, although not invariably so. The writers are building up a case that no act of revenge is worthy, but then they keep undercutting that case whenever it starts getting overwhelming.

Anyways, it's an interesting show for arguing with the screen. And the first season was dirt cheap.

Friday, November 12, 2010

So, I've been watching a pile of anime DVDs I accumulated over the last month or so. There's been other things to do, so I've got a bit of a backlog. And there's a lot of good stuff - Xam'd is hipper and weirder than I expected, as if somebody set the creative staff of Eureka 7 loose in an erzatz variant on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and told them to touch on biological terror-weapons, suicide bombers, and squeeze in schoolgirls when they had the chance. BONES can usually be relied upon to produce something pretty, if not necessarily something coherent. The only complaint I have with it is that the sound is so aggressively stereophonic that it exceeds the rather primitive capabilities of my current TV-watching setup, and every ninth or tenth line is delivered to a speaker I don't have set up. Very disconcerting when you get a subtitle but no actual audible words behind it.

But the single craziest thing I've seen all month is an episode from the new Dirty Pair TV set released this week from Noizumi. Now, Dirty Pair's always been known for its bunny girls, and the petty trademark squabbles with Playboy that dogged the franchise in Studio Nue's attempts to sell into the North American market. The Japanese just love bunny girls, and the Hefnerites don't like to share their toys. But I've never seen... this. Bunny boys? The crazy thing is that this is where that episode *starts* - it gets weirder than that; for one thing, they're the servers at a grandiose polygynous wedding wherein the reluctant bridegroom has been chained to his seven prospective brides. The plot can roughly be described as "end of the Graduate as portrayed by the couple from Dog Day Afternoon, with a ending courtesy of the Urashima Effect". Dirty Pair TV is loose and crazed, with very few imaginative brakes. The writers weren't too enthusiastically dedicated to the cause of coherent narrative or consistency, which means that the episodes can end up in unpredictably strange places when things inevitably go off the rails. I had never realized that the OAVs were actually *staid* in comparison with the high weirdness of the TV series.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Hear, hear.

Keith Olbermann may be a irredeemable rage-addicted spokesclown with toxic political views and a silly set of affectations, but this is a preposterous reason to can him. Fire him for being a sociopathic, abusive co-worker; cut him loose for bad ratings; discard him as part of a emotional re-balancing of the badly off-kilter network - but don't let him go for putting his money where his mouth is.

Every nightly tirade in favor of left-wing, Democratic political aims and policies is a contribution in kind worth many, many times the monetary value of whatever maxed-out individual contribution he may have made to Jack Conway and whomever he gave money to down in North Carolina. Furthermore, political donations are inherently private affairs unless trumpeted loudly by the donor. Even a overbearing blowhard of a public figure like Olbermann ought to have some sort of privacy. We know more about public figures these days than I really think necessary; unless it's a criminal affair, I mean...


Thursday, November 04, 2010

"So our experts in political advertising have a problem. They don’t understand politics. And they don’t understand advertising."

This is pretty true. And the more I hear from the Consultancy, the more I get disgusted with them. Like horrible Frankenstein monsters - chimeras cobbled together from the butchered remains of a pile of Wall Street quant cowboys and unemployed used car salesmen.
Got to talking here at work about the increasing spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in agricultural lands. Any pesticide or antibiotic will, given consistent and unvaried usage in a region, breed resistance, and glyphosates - "Roundup" - has been very, very successful and very popular. The answer, obviously, is to shift over to a similar broad-spectrum herbicide in regions affected by resistant weeds, and definitely in regions in immediate proximity to affected regions.

A few years after Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready GM traits, their rival corporation Beyer CropScience offered a competing set of traits, known as "Liberty Link", which introduced glufosinate resistance into the modified crops. While glyphosate and glufosinate are chemical cousins, they attack different parts of the amino acid array, so that glyphosate and glufosinate resistance are not interchangeable. Luckily, glufosinate is similarly non-persistent in soils, which means that it isn't particularly prone to concentration due to heavy usage. It's also not particularly vicious towards mammals, although it is, like most pesticides, not exactly something you want to eat with your morning raisin bran.

However, glufosinates aren't nearly as pugnacious against weeds as classic glyphosates. Usage guides talk about "weed management" rather than "weed control". This is why Liberty Link has been less than a roaring success as a competitor to Roundup Ready traits. Liberty and its cousins are just less powerful and more specialized in their timing requirements than good ol' Roundup and the generic glyphosates. Roundup's an AK-47; Liberty seems to be more of a hobbyist's target rifle, maybe a long .22.

Pioneer's extensive marketing of their Herculex family of GM traits, which includes a base resistance to glufosinate along with the marquee bio-insecticide which replaces the original YieldGard, means that the glufosinates are a widespread alternative to Roundup resistance if it really gets out of hand. But I really hope that someone somewhere's working on a replacement to both, with more of a "kick" than the underpowered glufosinate. As GMO matures, its practitioners have to realize that while the pace is more sedate than in bacteriology, weed and pest management is still very much a Red Queen's Race.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

So, looks like Toomey nailed it down, outside the margin of lawyers-making-faces-at-each-other-in-front-of-judges. So there's that.

Nationwide, it's kind of a mixed bag. Looking like maybe 55-65 in the House, and what, 7 in the Senate? Meh, it isn't the superwave we were hoping for. Was it enough to terrorize the moderates in the 2012 Democratic class in the Senate into playing ball with the conservatives? I suppose it comes down to Angle-Reid. If Reid goes down, that'll break the Democratic caucus's unity, I think.

But, it doesn't look like he will. Boxer looks a lot closer than Reid at this point tonight. I figure at least one of the four in the west are going to break to the challenger after everything's counted - Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada. But no more than one. Maybe two.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Comments spam is getting more and more clever. I just had one which took a minute and a half to classify properly as spam rather than a particularly wordy example of the product of an addled mind. It was semi-on-topic, filled with hot-button phrases aimed squarely at the political slant of my particular blog; if I only scanned for ideological relevance, it might have gotten past. Sadly, once you actually try to make sense of it, it's clearly a very clever example of word salad with embedded advertising links.

But they're getting closer.
Brr. Hard frost. Not too many voters so far, I was #4 and only two more came in while I was leaving.

Looks like it's going to be clear across most of the country. So much for bad weather driving low turnout. Oh, well.

Vote Toomey!
The polls open in about an hour, and I haven't gotten around to doing down-ballot research. Oops!

Oh, well. Here's the list of Centre County sample ballots, not easy to find this year. And...

There is no down-ballot. No state offices (other than the state legislators), no judges, no initiatives, referenda, or county offices. Well, that was anti-climatic. I guess I'm voting straight ticket Republican this year? Oooh-kay. To be honest, I never like to do that. Maybe against Jake "Shakes" Corman on the general principle that I don't like ex-junkies in public office? But I don't particularly like his opponent either... Corman's dumped a ton of expensive flyers on my doorstep, which confused me because up to this moment I didn't know who was running against him. So far as signs go, he might as well be running unopposed.

Let's go with that. With Corbett likely to blow out Onorato, there probably ought to be some Democratic opposition in the Pennsylvania upper house to keep 'em honest. I'll stick with my local state rep, though, because Benninghoff has been pretty honest as time-serving members of the Black Horse Cavalry go.