Month: July 2013

Sunday, 21 July 2013

09:00 – Well, it appears that there’s no interest at any level in bailing out Detroit. The state of Michigan isn’t going to do it. Obama isn’t going to push for a bailout, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats in the Senate or House are interested in throwing any more money down that rat hole.

Even if anyone were interested in bailing out Detroit, there’s nothing there to be bailed out. With the Chrysler and GM bailouts, there was at least the prospect of those companies returning to financial health by continuing to produce and sell automobiles. The city of Detroit doesn’t produce anything. It consumes. Bailing out Detroit would be like bailing out Greece, and we all know how well that’s worked.

The real problem is too large, too sparsely populated, and too poor to be salvageable. The city sprawls over 142 square miles–that’s a square 12 miles on a side–and has a tax base large enough to support less than 10% of that area. In 1950, Detroit was the 4th largest city by population in the US, at just under 2,000,000 residents, and had one of the highest per capita incomes of any city in the US. In 2013, Detroit’s population has fallen by almost two thirds, and its per capita income is one of the lowest. Businesses have abandoned Detroit in droves, as have those with middle-class and better incomes. Only the poor and those with lower-middle class incomes remain, and even the latter have been abandoning the city in increasing numbers over the last couple of decades. The city is gutted, both physically and economically, and yet it still must somehow provide city services to that whole 142 square miles. That’s unsustainable, and of course it hasn’t been sustained.

Declaring bankruptcy was a good first step, but it’s not enough. What Detroit needs to do is dissolve itself. It could then start with a clean slate by re-incorporating as a much, much smaller New Detroit, a new legal entity with only 10% of the area and population of the old entity, and none of the debt.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

09:46 – The morning paper says the Winston-Salem cops shot another dog. Apparently, the cops responded to a home alarm and three dogs came rushing out of the garage. The cops say at least two of the dogs bit one of the cops. The dogs then ran around the house and disappeared. One dog apparently returned and approached the cops to within 15 feet (~ 5 meters) while growling. The cops shot it.

As Barbara said, the cops have a right to protect themselves from being bitten, even though the dogs were just doing their jobs, protecting against intruders. But I have to wonder if our cops haven’t gotten trigger-happy. Presumably they carry pepper spray, which would be at least as effective as small arms fire against an aggressive dog. Cops are notoriously rotten shots, and discharging their pistols in a residential neighborhood presents very real dangers to innocent civilians. To drive that point home, a month or so ago the newly-appointed Chief of Police of Winston-Salem shot a dog. He grazed the dog and wounded a woman who was in his line of fire.

I didn’t witness either incident, but my impression based on the news reports and police statements is that in both cases the cops acted irresponsibly. Their firearms should be their last choice against aggressive dogs, not their first. In the first incident, the woman suffered only minor wounds from spattering bullet fragments, and apparently no person was injured by police bullets in the recent incident. But that’s just luck. In either incident the results might instead have been tragic.

Friday, 19 July 2013

07:51 – Well, it’s official. The city of Detroit has finally filed for bankruptcy, the largest ever municipal bankruptcy. They’re not even sure exactly how much they owe, but it must be on the close order of $20 billion. This in a city that has been hemorrhaging both population and businesses. Most of the rich and middle-class population has abandoned Detroit, a process that’s accelerated over the last decade or so, leaving only 700,000 or so residents, mostly poor and on government assistance. Detroit’s tax base is pathetic and getting worse. Large swaths of the city are row upon row of abandoned homes and businesses. Detroit is never coming back.

The reality is that Detroit’s creditors are likely to see at best a few cents on the dollar, and that’s if they’re lucky. City government employees will have their pensions slashed by 90% or more, and many vendors who trusted the city will be left holding an empty bag. The city government employee unions are screaming bloody murder, of course, but I have zero sympathy for them. Their demands played no small part in driving Detroit under. Now, no doubt, they’ll be appealing for the state and federal governments to bail out Detroit. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Unfortunately, the problems that beset Detroit and eventually drove it under are by no means unique to Detroit. Although Detroit may be the most extreme case, there are hundreds of other local governments who have made and are still making the kinds of mistakes that ultimately killed Detroit: spending money they don’t have, assuming massive debt loads, making promises they can’t keep, allowing public employee unions to run roughshod over taxpayers’ interests, creating environments that are hostile to businesses and employers, and so forth. Detroit isn’t the first municipal bankruptcy, and it certainly won’t be the last.

09:19 – As of yesterday morning, we were down to two of the SK01 core prepared slides sets in stock. We sold both of those yesterday, but I built a new batch and as of this morning we’re back up to 30 sets in stock. But as of this morning we’re down to only 15 of the CK01A chemistry kits in stock, which this time of year means we urgently need to restock. Other than a few of the chemicals, we have everything we need to put together another batch of 60 of those, which I’ll be doing over the next several days.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

07:44 – Despite our best efforts, we’ve been in OMGWO inventory mode on kits for the last few weeks. We get down to one or two kits of a particular type in stock. I think to myself that we’d better restock, but have other things occupying my time. Then someone orders the last kit, and I think to myself that we really, really need to build more. Then an order comes in for a kit we’re out of stock on, and I drop everything to build another batch. So far, we haven’t had to delay shipping any order because we were out of stock, but it’s come close.

It’s happening again. I got an order overnight for a biology kit with the core prepared slides set. We currently have 38 of the biology kits in stock, but only two of the prepared slides sets. So today I’ll build 30 more of the slide sets. We’re also down to only 16 of the CK01A chemistry kits, so I’ll get started today on another batch of 30 or 60 of those.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

08:39 – I get so tired of hearing Sharpton and the other demagogues playing the race card at every opportunity. Yes, Martin was a young black man. Yes, Zimmerman has a “white” name. But Zimmerman self-identifies as Hispanic, and is apparently of mixed white and black heritage. To attempt to portray this incident as a racially-motived killing goes beyond contemptible. In a rational world, Zimmerman wouldn’t even have been charged with a crime. It was so clearly self-defense that the police didn’t charge him for weeks, until they caved to political pressure.

Much has been made of Martin’s age and race, that he was somehow “profiled” because of them. Maybe so, but so what? It is not sexist to state that men are much more likely than women to commit violent crimes. It’s fact. It is not ageist to state that young men are much more likely than older men to commit violent crimes. It’s fact. And it’s not racist to state that black men are much more likely to commit violent crimes against whites than the converse. It’s fact. Whites are immensely more likely to be the victims of violent crime perpetrated by blacks than the converse. That’s not racism. That’s reality.

Everyone has situational awareness of threats. It’s been bred into us by millions of years of evolution. If I, as a 60-year-old white man, am walking down the street and see someone approaching me, I instinctively evaluate the situation without even having to think about it. If the person approaching is female of any age or race, the potential threat is minimal unless she’s behaving strangely. Not zero, but not of much concern. If the person approaching is male of any age or race, the potential threat is much, much greater and I am accordingly more alert. If the man is also young, I’m still more alert. And if the young man is also black, I’m still more alert. And if it’s a group of young black men rather than just one, I’m on full alert. And if the group of young black men is rowdy, I’m in DEFCON 1 and mentally prepared to engage multiple targets. And there’s nothing sexist, ageist, or racist about that.

13:59 – This is very cool, at least to me. Tracking information on the two science kits I mailed Monday to the UK.

Customs Clearance UNITED KINGDOM July 17, 2013 6:14 pm
Customs Clearance UNITED KINGDOM July 17, 2013 6:13 pm
Processed Through Sort Facility UNITED KINGDOM July 17, 2013 6:02 pm
Processed Through Sort Facility ISC MIAMI FL (USPS) July 16, 2013 11:06 am
Arrived at Sort Facility ISC MIAMI FL (USPS) July 16, 2013 10:45 am
Processed through USPS Sort Facility MIAMI, FL 33112 July 16, 2013 9:24 am
Depart USPS Sort Facility GREENSBORO, NC 27498 July 15, 2013
Processed at USPS Origin Sort Facility GREENSBORO, NC 27498 July 15, 2013 8:07 pm
Dispatched to Sort Facility WINSTON SALEM, NC 27106 July 15, 2013 5:33 pm
Acceptance WINSTON SALEM, NC 27106 July 15, 2013 4:07 pm
Electronic Shipping Info Received July 15, 2013

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

09:54 – Kit sales have been slower than expected for the last month or so. Yesterday was the first time in a month that we shipped five kits in one day. Our original goal for 2013 was to double 2012 units and revenue. For a while earlier this year, it looked like we might quadruple sales year-on-year, and that may still happen. But even if it doesn’t, doubling or tripling sales year-on-year is nothing to complain about.

Yesterday, we shipped the last CK01B chemistry kit we had in stock, so I spent some time building another batch. That puts us in good shape on both chemistry kits, the biology kit, and the life science kit. But we also just shipped the last forensic science kit we had in stock, so today I’ll build another batch of those.

10:38 – Interesting juxtaposition. One of the front-page stories in this morning’s paper was about Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center here in Winston-Salem. US News & World Report recently completed a study that evaluated 4,806 hospitals nation-wide on 16 aspects of adult care. The top tier for each of the categories was defined as being in the top 50 of all hospitals evaluated. Only 147 hospitals (3%) had a top-tier rating in even one of the 16 categories. Wake Forest had top-tier ratings in 12 of the 16 categories. Among North Carolina hospitals, only Duke University Medical Center did better, with 13 top-tier ratings. Nationwide, only 12 hospitals had more top-tier ratings than Wake Forest.

So then, as usual, I headed for my office and checked my regular on-line news sites, starting with Their front page story was about Britain’s National Health Service: NHS inquiry: thousands of patients died amid ‘fundamental breaches of care’

Of course, no one in Britain uses the NHS if they can possibly afford to go private, but even so. Numerous NHS patients have died as a result of unspeakably abysmal care. NHS has literally allowed many patients to starve to death or die of thirst because they literally forgot to feed and water them. You probably think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. And this is exactly what our president wants us to have. ObamaCare is just another word for NHS.

Monday, 15 July 2013

10:43 – Well, that’s interesting. I just shipped a BK01 biology kit and a CK01A chemistry kit to England, in one box. The man who ordered them added two shipping surcharge items to his cart, for a total of $128, on the understanding that shipping two kits doesn’t cost twice as much as shipping one kit and that I’d refund the difference.

So, as I was filling out the address and customs information on the USPS web site, I noticed that shipping via Express Mail International (1 to 3 business days delivery) cost only a few bucks more than Priority Mail International (6 to 10 business days delivery). Also, with Priority Mail International, the package is covered for only $100 if it’s lost or damaged, with no option for buying additional insurance. With Express Mail International, it’s covered for $100 standard and buying replacement value ($366) insurance cost only a couple bucks. But the real difference was what happens if the package is undeliverable. With Priority Mail International, I had two options: return-to-sender, in which case I’d get the package back but would have to pay return postage; or treat as abandoned, in which case the post office discards the package, and I have to pay an unspecified fee anyway. With Express Mail International, I have the same two choices, but if I elect return-to-sender, they ship the package back to me without charging for return postage. For just a few bucks more, Express Mail International is a far better deal, both for me and for the buyer.

16:30 – The latest video to go viral on YouTube is a brief “news” clip from a Providence TV station. Intrepid reporter Julie Tremmel demonstrates with great enthusiasm what unnamed supposed “experts” recommend if one encounters a bear.

Much though I hate to dispute the authoritative advice of a bubble-headed bleach-blonde, particularly one who believes that a 300-pound (136 kilo) bear is “massive”, I do think that screaming, waving one’s arms and throwing one’s shoes at a bear is not the best way to ensure friendly inter-special relations. I suppose it’s possible that the bear could assume it’s faced with a crazy person and flee in terror. But I think it’s just as likely that the bear would assume that it’s about to be attacked by a crazy person and charge. Better to remain calm, speak to the bear in a firm, low-pitched voice, and wait for it to amble away. Bears, particularly black bears, are essentially super-dogs. They’re smart, they’re familiar with humans, and they know that we’re dangerous to mess with. Those who thought humans look like tasty, easy prey were eliminated from the gene pool long ago.

I did consider emailing Ms. Tremmel with a couple of additional suggestions, in case she ever encounters a bear herself. First, always take your dog along when you head into bear country. Ideally, you want a little yapper. It’ll find a bear for you, bark like crazy, and then run right back to you for protection, with a pissed-off bear following close behind. Second, if you ever encounter bear cubs, you should always pick them up and pet them. There’s no better way to make friends with a mother bear.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

09:44 – While Barbara cleans house this morning, I’m making up international chemicals bags for both the biology and chemistry kits. I need both because I have outstanding orders for both that are to ship tomorrow. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to build an international kit of either type. I just open a US-only biology kit or chemistry kit, remove the “problem” (restricted) chemicals, drop in the appropriate bag of international substitute chemicals, and transfer the contents of the box to one of the boxes we use for international shipping. Those are larger than the USPS-provided boxes we use for US and APO/FPO shipments, which leaves room for more padding. I’ve never had a kit damaged when I used the USPS boxes for shipments to Canada and APO/FPO addresses, but these internationalized kits will be going to Great Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, and so on, so a bit of extra padding might be a good idea.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

08:07 – So, Republican Governor Pat McCrory, despite his campaign promise to oppose any further restrictions on abortion in North Carolina, now says he’ll sign the “compromise” NC Senate version of the anti-abortion bill. Weasel. He ran as a moderate Republican without ties to the Religious Right, but now here he is doing their bidding. Bastard.

Obama seems enamored of ruling via Executive Order. All he needs to do to solve the problems caused by Shiite Southern Baptists in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere is issue another Executive Order: any hospital or clinic that receives federal funding, directly or indirectly, must provide abortions on demand, in a timely manner, inexpensively, and without any restrictions whatsoever, or lose that federal funding.

09:33 – I was just reading an article in the paper about the US House splitting the farm subsidy and foodstamp programs into separate bills, for the first time in 40 years. Disregarding for a moment that both programs should be eliminated, I was struck by the absurdity of how much we’re spending on foodstamps. Apparently, about a fifth of North Carolinians receive foodstamps, although I don’t believe I’ve ever known someone who’d ever gotten them. If that ratio holds up nationwide, we’re spending $80 billion a year to give foodstamps to about 60 million people, or more than $1,300 annually per person. And those foodstamps can be spent on packaged foods, meat, and other foods that are expensive way out of proportion to their food value. There’s no way it costs more than $100/month to provide proper nutrition to one person, if we keep the choice of foods as inexpensive as possible.

We need to revisit what Republic Rome did to keep the head count fed. A subsidized grain dole, which any Roman citizen was entitled to, without means testing. Stand in line to get a chit, and then stand in another line to get the food package for the month. I’m guessing that if we distributed wheat, dry beans, and similarly cost-effective foods we could reduce the costs of this program by at least two thirds. Call it $30/month/person, or $1/day.

Friday, 12 July 2013

07:58 – We are living in a temperate rain forest, literally. We had another 1.9 inches (4.8 cm) of rain overnight. I don’t know what our official total is for July-to-date, but according to our rain gauge we’re already over 8 inches (20 cm). That takes us up to about 20 inches (50 cm) in the last six weeks, which would ordinarily be what we’d get in six months. We haven’t had any serious flooding locally, but there has been pretty bad flooding elsewhere in the state.

CNN posted an article on Spotify’s list of the 10 most common mondegreens. Their #1 was Blinded by the Light (wrapped up like a douche), with Jimi Hendrix at #2 (‘scuse me while I kiss this guy). But they didn’t mention the one track with the one line that’s been more mondegreened than any other I can think of: Clapton’s Cocaine, where the original “she don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie. Cocaine” has been butchered at least a dozen different ways: “she don’t like”, “she don’t mind”, “shoot your line”, “she does lines”, “sheep don’t lie”, “she don’t fly”, “it’s all right”, “shit don’t lie”, and on and on.

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