Tuesday, 20 November 2012

09:36 – Greece is on tenterhooks today, awaiting the decision by the eurogroup finance ministers as to whether the long-overdue €31.2 billion aid tranche will be released. It won’t be, at least not today. Germany and other guarantors require approval by their legislatures, which is unlikely to occur for at least a few weeks. And the IMF is not likely to approve any IMF funds being disbursed until it can be sure that Greece’s debt pile is “sustainable”, whatever that means.

At a minimum, it means Greece must default yet again to reduce its outstanding debt burden. The IMF categorically refuses to take any loss on its loans to Greece, as does the ECB, as does the EC. The IMF simply can’t do so under the rules that govern it. Even if it could, its major non-European financial supporters refuse to take any loss, arguing that Europe is rich enough to pay its own damned bills. The ECB also simply can’t do so under the rules that govern it. The EC–read Germany, Holland, and Finland–simply can’t take any loss because their voters would crucify any politician who agreed to do so. So. the short answer is that no one is willing to pay. They’ve all written off Greece, and are concerned only with minimizing their own losses on what they’ve already given to Greece and with buying time until the next elections have passed.

Meanwhile, pity the poor private-sector investors. You remember them. The last time Greece defaulted, they lost 75% of the value of their investments. And now Germany, grasping at straws to put off the inevitable until Merkel can be reelected, has proposed that those same PSI folks take another 75% writedown. That’s 75% off the remaining 25%, taking their total loss over 90%. Even that is a drop in the bucket against Greece’s gigantic debt pile, but Germany (read Merkel) hopes it’ll be enough to stave off the eventual collapse until next autumn, when she must again face her voters. It sucks to be Angela.

And then there’s France, which Moody’s has just cut one notch from AAA. That leaves Fitch, a French company, the only one of the Big Three ratings agencies that still rates France AAA. These sovereign bond ratings are pure fantasy anyway. As I’ve said before, there’s not a single country in the eurozone that deserves anything higher than a junk rating. They will all default eventually, either explicitly or by the euro being inflated to a small fraction of its current value. Either way, investors in “sovereign” eurozone bonds are going to lose most or all of their investments.

I’m building science kits today.

11:19 – Barbara stopped by the library the other day to pick up some books she had on hold. One of the ones she got for me was Last to Die, the most recent of Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series.

On page 58, Dr. Maura Isles is touring a rather special private school, asking questions of her tour guide, Lily. The following exchange jumped out at me:

Lily: “Professor David Pasquantonio. He teaches botany, cell biology, and organic chemistry.”

Isles: “Rather advanced subjects for high school students.”

Lily: “High school?” Lily laughed. “We start those subjects in middle school. Twelve-year-olds are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for.”

My feelings exactly. You’ll seldom get any more out of even bright students than you expect. If your expectations are low, so will be their performance. If your expectations are high, they might surprise you. No one’s told them this stuff is too hard for them.

Monday, 19 November 2012

09:50 – We received orders for two chemistry kits and one biology kit this morning, which took us down to zero inventory on both kits. Fortunately we now have everything in stock we need to assemble 30 more of each.

Barbara spent yesterday afternoon watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix streaming while she sealed 30 sets of the regulated chemicals for the chemistry kits and then labeled another set of bottles for 30 more chemistry kits. That’s plenty to keep me busy for a while. She wanted to get ahead of me so that she can take the Thanksgiving weekend off from doing kit stuff and put up the Saturnalia tree and decorations. Bob the illuminated penguin is already out on the front porch.

While Barbara was labeling bottles yesterday, I had to open our last case of 1,100 15 mL bottles, so this morning I’m cutting a PO to order about 7,000 more 15 mL and 30 mL bottles and caps. I’m still ordering by the case, which is 1,100 of the 15 mL bottles or 1,500 of the 30 mL bottles. I though about ordering in bulk, but that would mean ordering 10,000 to 20,000 of each size, they’d arrive on a pallet rather than in large cardboard boxes, and the cost is only 2 or 3 cents less per bottle. So for now we’ll stick with ordering cases.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

09:29 – I’m amazed that Israel has responded with such restraint to islamic terrorists launching hundreds of missiles a day into Israeli territory. Israel has responded with just a couple hundred surgical airstrikes that give high priority to minimizing “civilian” casualties. If islamic terrorists in Gaza were launching 300 missiles a day at me, I’d be inclined to cover the entire Gaza Strip with cluster bombs and burning napalm, and the hell with “civilian” casualties.

There’s no doubt that the goal of Hamas is to destroy Israel and wipe out its population. They’ve said as much. Why should Israel show any restraint? The obvious answer is that Netanyahu is afraid of American public opinion turning against him, and more particularly of Obama withdrawing diplomatic and logistical support.

Barbara is cleaning house today. I need to get the library cleared out, as well as some stuff I have stacked in the den. We’ll be moving Saturnalia decorations upstairs today, and she needs those areas clear.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

08:40 – The stupidity of many unskilled and semi-skilled workers never ceases to amaze me. I suppose it shouldn’t. If they were smart, they probably wouldn’t be unskilled or semi-skilled.

In the latest example of this phenomenon, the morning paper reports that Hostess has been driven out of business by the recalcitrant bakers’ union, destroying more than 18,000 jobs. Even the Teamsters are pissed at the bakers’ union, whose stupid stubbornness also cost a lot of Teamsters their jobs. And some moronic WalMart employees are going on strike because they don’t want to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Geez, they knew when they took the job that WalMart is open on holidays. Why are they complaining now? I hope WalMart fires every one of them. It’s not like they’ll be hard to replace.

10:33 – As usual for a Saturday, I’m doing laundry. Our washer, a Sears Kenmore Elite (part # 110.24832200, in case I ever need to find that again…) has been having some agitator problems. Two or three weeks ago, I decided to do something about that. Barbara wanted to replace the machine, but it’s only nine years old. So I did an Internet search and found a bunch of hits on replacing the agitator dogs in a Whirlpool/Kenmore washer, including some YouTube videos. I was about to order an agitator repair kit, but I couldn’t find the model number on the machine. For the last couple weekends I’ve been so busy that I just let it slip. This morning, I finally located the model number and ordered an agitator repair kit for $29 including shipping. Much cheaper than paying for a service call, let alone buying a new washer. It should take me five or 10 minutes to do the repair once the kit shows up.

Friday, 16 November 2012

07:14 – I had an interesting conversation with our mailman yesterday. I commented on the $15+ billion loss the USPS had just reported, and he commented that much of that was because of the $11+ billion USPS is forced to pay to fund health care for future retirees, something that no other federal agency does. I said that in the long run it didn’t really matter because none of us were ever going to see the pensions and retirement health care that we were supposedly paying for now. He agreed completely and commented that he thought it was time to start stocking up on canned food. I said, “We already are,” and he replied that he and his wife were as well.

Over the weekend, we’ll build another 30 chemistry kits and another 30 biology kits for inventory. Although sales are much slower now than they were in August/September, slow is relative. So far this week, we’ve sold two forensic science kits, two biology kits, and four chemistry kits. We’re still in good shape on forensic science kits, but we’re down to only three chemistry kits and two biology kits in stock.

10:12 – I just finished making up the last chemical but one for the chemistry kits. (That one is starch indicator solution, which I make up in the kitchen rather than the lab.) As usual, I waited until last to make up the hazardous/obnoxious chemicals, finishing up with 6 M sodium hydroxide, which’ll dissolve a glass stirring rod if I’m not careful. So, today I’ll fill and cap the final six or eight sets of 30 bottles for the chemistry kits. I’ll leave the sealing to Barbara. She likes to shrink the cap bands on the 30 mL bottles of regulated chemicals with the heat gun.

As always, I feel a bit hypocritical when I’m working with chemicals for the kits. I always wear splash goggles, of course, but I don’t wear gloves for any of them. Having concentrated bases or acids contact my hands doesn’t really worry me. If it happens, I just rinse the stuff off with cold water. I do draw the line at concentrated hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids, though. Those I’ll handle without gloves. But anything much more hazardous/corrosive than those I’ll wear gloves for, if not double gloves.

15:46 – Barbara is leaving work an hour or so early this afternoon to go run errands and then have dinner with her parents and a couple of friends. I just finished the last set of bottles for the chemistry kits. We now have 30 of each chemical and 60 of several. So I decided to knock off early, too, and watch some more Heartland reruns.

When I started watching Heartland reruns yesterday, I noticed that Netflix streaming was showing 67 episodes. That’s 13 episodes from series one and 18 episodes each from series two, three, and four. Until yesterday they had only 45 episodes available: all of series one and two and the first 14 episodes of series 3. But then I checked the Netflix website, which is still claiming to have only those 45 episodes. Oh, well. I prefer to watch streaming, but I have series three, four, and five on disc.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

08:00 – ObamaCare strikes. The top headline in our paper this morning was “Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Cuts 950 Jobs“. The spokesman made a point of saying that the cuts were preemptive, and not a result of any financial difficulties. WFU/BMC is preparing itself for the new economic realities. As the article pointed out, we can expect to see similar cuts at other hospitals across the state and the nation.

That’s just the beginning of the destructive and distorting effects that ObamaCare will have on our economy and our society. I have many acquaintances who own small businesses, and several of them have told me that they’ll be making changes to minimize the effects of ObamaCare on themselves and their companies. These range from shifting away from using all full-time employees toward temporary/part-time/contract labor to cutting payrolls to get under the 50-employee statutory minimum to splitting their companies into two or three smaller companies. Two or three that currently provide health insurance have said that they plan to eliminate it because it’ll be cheaper to pay the annual fine than to continue to pay health insurance premiums. One thing is sure: ObamaCare is going to hurt small businesses and their employees.

10:04 – Well, that was interesting. They’re still re-roofing the house across the street. Colin is terrified of popping and banging sounds, so I’ve been taking him downstairs and out the back door.

The instant we went out the back door, Colin froze in his alert position. I followed his sight line and saw what I at first thought was a stray dog down in the corner of our back yard. But Colin wasn’t barking frantically, as he would if there was another dog in his yard. Instead, he froze and snarled. Let me tell you, Colin has an absolutely vicious-looking set of fangs and a low, rumbling growl that should scare anything.

It was a coyote, of course, and it quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor. I could just see what was running through its mind in the instant before it turned and ran for its life. “Holy Shit! That thing is twice my size and its ears stick straight up. WOLLLLLFFF!”

11:31 – Well, crap. I just finished making up three liters of IKI (iodine/potassium iodide) solution for the kits. I make this solution and many others up in gallon orange juice bottles that Barbara provides me at a rate of about one a week. So, I just finished making up the three liters of IKI when I realized that I’d need to transfer it to glass bottles because the IKI penetrates the orange juice bottles if it’s left in them for more than a few days. So off I went in search of six 500 mL glass bottles with cone liners. I found six of them, all already filled with IKI solution. So now I have six liters of IKI, which is enough for about 200 kits. Oh, well. The stuff keeps forever, and fortunately I have many spare glass bottles to transfer it to.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

07:51 – The MDR-1 test kit for Colin showed up yesterday. It contains two tiny little brushes to do cheek swabs. The instructions said that food can interfere with the test, so we decided to do the cheek swabs first thing this morning, before Colin had eaten.

So, Colin was lying on the love seat in the den while Barbara was sitting on the sofa opening the envelopes that contain the brushes. I sat down beside him. His ears went flat as he watched Barbara opening the brush envelopes. I could tell exactly what Colin was thinking: “You’re going to stick those in my mouth and use them to obtain specimens of my squamous epithelial cheek cells, aren’t you?” I told him that was exactly what we were going to do. He cooperated pretty well. I’ll send the swabs off today for testing. My guess is that Colin doesn’t have the MDR-1 mutation, or if he does it’s heterozygous. But it’s worth $70 to find out for sure.

The paper this morning reported a horrible accident in Yadkinville, which is just down the road from us. A three-month-old baby was killed by the family dog, which apparently mistook a multi-colored stocking cap she was wearing for a ball and bit her head repeatedly. What surprised me was that the paper reported that the police had investigated and ruled the incident an unpreventable accident. Nowadays, it seems that nothing is ever an accident. There’s always someone to blame. But apparently the authorities recognized that no one was at fault here and that the family was going through enough already without criminal charges being filed.

09:50 – Riots have broken out along the southern tier of the eurozone. Riots as in Molotov cocktails and rioters throwing bricks at police, who are responding with rubber bullets. (Those, incidentally, are no joke; they can seriously injure or even kill people.) Greece is really at the tipping point. Even moderate, formerly middle class people are now talking about revolution. As one commented, what do they have to lose? As another said, all it’ll take is a spark. And they’re going to get that spark as it becomes clear that what Greece has agreed to will not be enough to secure any kind of long- or even medium-term funding.

I was amused by the list of demands made by the European Trades Union Convention, nearly all of which are utterly impossible to meet, for both political and economic reasons. Here they are:

• Economic governance at the service of sustainable growth and quality jobs,
• Economic and social justice through redistribution policies, taxation and social protection,
• Employment guarantees for young people,
• An ambitious European industrial policy steered towards a green, low-carbon economy and forward-looking sectors with employment opportunities and growth,
• A more intense fight against social and wage dumping,
• Pooling of debt through Euro-bonds,
• Effective implementation of a financial transaction tax to tackle speculation and enable investment policies,
• Harmonisation of the tax base with a minimum rate for companies across Europe,
• A determined effort to fight tax evasion and fraud,
• Respect for collective bargaining and social dialogue,
• Respect for fundamental social and trade union rights.

16:14 – I’ve spent a little bit of time visiting some of the prepper sites that have been linked to in the comments recently, and there’s something I really don’t understand. A lot of these folks seem to be overly-concerned with the shelf-life of stored foods. I mean, are they really storing 25- to 50-year supplies of food? If not, why do they care about the difference? Or perhaps they’re stocking grains and other foods by the ton, figuring that maybe their great-great-grandchildren might have some use for them.

I also think it’s interesting that they take stated shelf-lives as gospel. For example, we just bought some canned chicken chunks at Costco. They have a best-by date three years from now. I promise you, they’ll be fine a lot longer than that. After 10 or 20 years, they might show some darkening, but they’ll still be perfectly edible and will have probably 95% of the nutrition that they have now. Heck, they’ve found 4,000 year old Hostess Twinkies in Egyptian tombs, and they were still edible.

I also wonder about some of their choices of specific foods. Do they eat this stuff now, or are they figuring that it’ll be better than nothing if they get really hungry? I suppose cost is part of this. People decide what they can afford and how much food they want to store and then buy whatever that multiplier dictates. Still, I think that’s a stupid way to go about it. We buy stuff that we eat anyway. We just buy extra. So what if the canned and dry stuff we eat is a year old? If nothing else, it provides a buffer in case anything we buy is contaminated with salmonella or something. In terms of flavor and nutrition, year-old stuff is fine. Two-year-old stuff is fine. Geez, five-year-old stuff would almost certainly be just as good as new stuff. Sterile is sterile. Preserved is preserved.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

09:00 – UPS showed up yesterday with a partial shipment from one of our wholesalers. This was mainly small stuff that we were running short of. Fifteen dozen each of the 10 mL graduated cylinders, 15 cm plastic rulers, and 12″ lab thermometers. Oh, and a case of glass Petri dishes for the life science kits. The rest of the order is chemicals, which haven’t shipped yet.

Poor Colin. He’s terrified of banging noises, and they’re replacing the roof on the house across the street. He cringes each time he hears a pop or bang, so he’ll be doing a lot of cringing today. He’ll probably also have an accident or two in the house, because I can’t convince him to go outside.

Monday, 12 November 2012

09:24 – We did a Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. Neither of us needed very much, so it was a short run. We picked up a fresh supply of Coke for me, a couple of things I needed for kits, some stuff Barbara needed, and an extra couple or three weeks worth of canned food.

I can make a good excuse for my incorrect prediction that Romney was going to win in a landslide. Around here, it sure felt like the Democrats were in deep trouble. While the Democrats made gains or at least broke even in most of the other 49 states, North Carolina turned sharply right. This was the only battleground state won by Romney, but that was the least of it. We elected a Republican governor, replaced several Democrat US representatives with Republicans, and flooded the North Carolina house and senate with Republicans–it’s now almost 2:1–giving the Republicans a veto-proof majority in both houses. Republicans also dominated the other statewide races and at the city and county levels. Finally, the Republicans control the state supreme court, all of which makes North Carolina among the reddest of the red states. Don’t expect gay marriage or marijuana to be legalized here.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina government is busy burning down our nearest state park. They started an (un)controlled burn on Thursday at Pilot Mountain state park, intending to burn less than 200 acres. The fire has now burned more than 800 acres and is still not under control. It’s supposed to rain this evening and tomorrow, so perhaps that’ll help.

I’m working on kit stuff.

10:56 – Hmmm. The fustercluck in Greece continues, with no resolution in sight. Basically, the problem is that Greece is completely bankrupt, with huge outstanding debts, and no one wants to pay for them. The Troika–the EU, the ECB, and the IMF–are now bitterly divided on this issue. The IMF insists that it will not kick in any more money until Greece’s debt is somehow made “sustainable”. Meanwhile, the EU and ECB categorically refuse to take losses on the Greek debt they hold because their electorates, primarily the German people, would crucify them for doing so. So, the situation as of now is that the IMF is refusing further funds and the EU/ECB is refusing further funds. Neither of them is willing to budge.

The IMF has the whip hand. Their debt is senior to that held by the EU and ECB. So, at this point, the most likely outcome is that the IMF will walk away, leaving the EU and ECB holding the bag. The EU and the ECB are unlikely to throw good money after bad. It seems likely that the Greek debt that comes due this week will be paid off by an accounting trick. The ECB can allow Greek banks to increase the percentage of Greek bonds on their books, allowing the Greek banks to purchase the worthless bonds that Greece will issue to rollover those coming due. But in reality that translates to the ECB lending Greek banks yet more money that will never be repaid, so the question for Germany becomes whether it’s worth throwing away a few billion more euros to buy just a little more time. That’s the same situation Germany has been facing, and so far they’ve decided to throw away the money each time the situation has arisen. What Germany (Merkel) really wants is to put off the crash until she runs for reelection next autumn, but that’s becoming increasingly costly. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Merkel finally decided to bite the bullet and say enough is enough. If that happens, Greece goes completely belly up this week. If Merkel decides to pay one more time, Greece will totter on for a few more weeks.

Here in the US we have the upcoming so-called “fiscal cliff”, which the MSM describe as moderate tax increases coupled with dramatic spending cuts. In fact, it’s no such thing. It’s large tax increases coupled with spending increases that will be smaller than they might otherwise have been. No one, including the Republicans, is talking about actual cuts in spending. Why bother. They’ve dug us into a hole so deep that there’s no getting out of it. Might as well just continue digging. Our economy can’t get deader than dead.

The government figures on debt are even less trustworthy than their figures on inflation. I don’t even bother to keep track of what the government claims our debt is. Something like $17 trillion IIRC. In reality, as I’ve said before, if you calculate our debt honestly, including off-budget items, unfunded commitments, and realistic demographics and NPVs, our actual debt at all levels must exceed $100 trillion. I’ve seen credible figures claiming it’s well over $200 trillion. As Everett Dirksen famously said, “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money”. And we’re talking about debt levels four or five magnitudes higher. A billion dollars is more than $3 for every US citizen, man, woman, and child. A trillion dollars is $3,000 each. The $17 trillion the federal government admits to is more than $51,000 each. The real debt is almost certainly at least $300,000 per citizen and may be twice that. The obvious outcome is that those unfunded commitments aren’t going to be honored. Or they’ll be honored at face value with grossly inflated dollars. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’m working on kit stuff.

14:26 – For those of you who don’t read the comments…

It all makes sense now: Gay marriage legalized on the same day as marijuana makes perfect biblical sense. Leviticus 20:13: “A man who lays with another man should be stoned.” Our interpretation has just been wrong for all these years.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

07:46 – I’m still trying to figure out what an affair with Paula Broadwell has to do with the suitability of David Petraeus to serve as CIA director. I have no idea if Petraeus is a good, bad, or indifferent CIA director, but I can’t imagine what bearing having sex with Paula Broadwell could possibly have on his suitability.

These things happen. He’s 60 years old and has been married for 37 years. She’s a very attractive woman who just turned 40. They have a great deal in common, including graduating from West Point and serving in the US military. They’re both serious runners and physical fitness enthusiasts. Both are experts on counter-terrorism. She’s writing his biography. They’ve apparently spent a great deal of time together. That they ended up in bed should come as a surprise to no one.

In a sane world, this wouldn’t have even made the news. Petraeus and Broadwell would both be doing a great deal of groveling to their respective spouses. One or both of them might have ended up in divorce court. But it would have remained private. Why should this be anyone’s business other than the four people involved? Making a media circus of this is simply uncivilized.