Sunday, May 03, 2009

Another Sunday Ramble

First, let's all be grateful for the recent rains. It did force me to an additional lawn mowing today, but always be ready for serendipity. As I was working the alley behind my house, I actually scared up a Horned Toad! Fully mature, about 3 inches long by half that across, scooted a few feet and paused, giving me a clear look at it. I make a point of not poisoning red ant beds. I have always been fond of horny toads, so I leave their prey alone. I hope the presence of the one I saw today indicates a mate and breeding pair. No, I did not pick it up, let alone try to sex it, (frankly, not real sure how one would do that) but finding the critters in town is becoming rare.

On to less happy news, if you are feeling some discomfort in the nether regions, it could be that you are discovering that your credit card company is raping you with your pants on. Some of the "too-big-to-fail" financial institutions on the receving end of Billions of our money are expressing their undying gratitude for this taxpayer largesse by taking accounts (such as mine) and moving us into what used to be default interest rates. In my case, Chase bought out WAMU; I've never been late, consistently pay well above minimum, but I just got bumped to nearly 30% on balance. The reason: because they can; and Congress has let them know reform is 2010! In other words; get it while you can. The recent Presidential dressing-down of these economic pirates amounted to...a photo-op. Sound and fury signifying nothing, as a long dead scribbler from Stratford-on-Avon put it.

Take a closer look at your card statements. Not all of them are as opportunistic as Chase. I have been aggressively paying down debt; new job, I've halved my overall debt in 6 months, I should be paid up this time next year, but I am fortunate.

If you noticed, the city recently corrected an oversight on the new-style utility bill and went to 21 day billing. In short, if you are on two-week payroll cycle, you will not get a utility bill due before you get another paycheck. Some of the card companies are intentionally going to a 14 day cycle, it catches bill-payers between paychecks and generates additional late fees and another chance to bump those interest rates into usurious range. Or force debtors into payroll/car title short-term loans at up to 350% APR, and guess who owns those store-front companies?

Why one might ask, in a high unemployment economy, would the card companies make it harder for debtors to pay? Well, gee, credit cards are one of the few high profit ends of the financial business. I wouldn't care to be bundling sub-prime mortgages for resale as a living right now, let alone credit/default swaps. If you are able to pay (my circumstance) they are making tons of money on us. If you can't, they get to write off debt in about the only profitable line of trade going, and so sorry we had to wreck your credit score in the process, not that we really give a hoot about you anyway, but thanks for the Billions.

OK, that wasn't really local news, it's not something City Council can deal with, but this affects enough local people I thought it worth mentioning. I note for the record that neither national Party seems to be in nearly so big a sweat to protect US as they both were to fling our tax dollars at the companies that are raping us.

Back to local: we have an election next Saturday. Unless one is registered in SMD Council district 4, the election itself will not be as interesting as some of the process changes. SMD4 has two candidates seeking the seat now held by retiring member Emilio Perez-Martinez. It is not my district, I don't have a horse in this race, as I have said before, either candidate will be a good addition to Council.

I have worked polls since '92. I have seen the new system, and I have to say, Bravo! Instead of the old "Combination form" you the voter had to sign (upside down), the new style is computerized and will print out labels as we process you in. When I say computerized, no I don't mean you will have to vote electronic, you want a paper ballot, it will be available, I just mean the intake procedure. Also, on early voting we now have sites in each precinct, not just Edd Keyes Bldg. AND any voter in whatever precinct can vote at whichever is most convenient for them. We were not required to do this until we hit 120,000 by census, but we are not only ahead of the legal requirement, we are ahead of the rest of the state in the vote-anywhere part.

Right now, on election day, one will have to be at the correct precinct. I can say, we are looking at systems that will allow any registered voter to vote at any site on election day. That is doable now on the tech side, it would require substantial funding and training, but it can be done, if we want it done and are willing to pay for it

Now I get to swine/H1N1/Mexican flu. Unlike the H5N1 bird flu that was going to kill us all 18 months ago, this is a very real human to human virus. CDC is showing that it is still highly communicable, new cases coming in daily, but as new reports come in, the mortality rate is, if anything, lower than the normal spectrum of influenza. Remember, influenza and related infections regularly kill 36,000 Americans annually, a pretty steady number over the last three decades.

There are a lot of things we don't know yet. Why was the mortality higher in Mexico? First generation cases here, the private school in NYC, 28 initial cases, straight out of Cancun, it spead like wildfire in the school, very infectious, but no one even needed hospitalization, let alone critical care. I have advised in the past, be prepared to "turtle-up", or quarantine yourself and live on canned goods/no outside contact for a month or so if needed. San Angelo seems to have gotten away unscathed, hope that continues. On this one, the media has over-reacted moreso than the gov't. Sensible precautions are in order, but "head-for-the-hills-Justine" appears to be a bit premature.

Congratulations to the Standard-Times on the 125th anniversary. Good supplement today. It brought to mind something I have noticed over the years; anytime I have gone to the library records of a paper, any paper, in the process, I always trip over something more interesting than the topic I started looking for. Just for one, see the May 28, 1923 copy of S-T: Obviosly the big story was Santa Rita, the start of West Texas oil. BUT; bottom left, "Nebraska Now Has Eugenics Marriage Measure in Effect"; or column 5 bottom of the page; "Women Declared to be Chief Cause of Half World's Woes": Can one imagine either issue even getting print today? And how many people today would even understand the editorial cartoon top-of-the fold regarding Germany and reparations? That cartoon foretold WWII had anyone been paying attention. Thank you S-T; great history lessons, and a lot of them not the day's headline.

History is always worth reading; unless of couse, you would prefer to repeat it.


  1. keepster...

    So many subjects, so little time...

    First, horned toads: When I was a tyke, what feels like 150 years ago, I would scour the vacant lots in my old neighborhood searching out the little buggers. I would build a collection of them, put them in a cardboard box partly filled with dirt, and keep them until I grew weary of watching them sit there and do a whole bunch of nothing other than eye each other balefully and occasionaly squirt blood. Then I'd take them out and turn them loose. I was easily entertained in those days.

    I suspect it would take me a mite longer to build a collection of the spiky little critters now.

    Second, credit cards: I have a bulletproof credit rating and payment history, since if I'm anal about anything it's keeping an eye on money. Being so conservative I make Ebenezer Scrooge look like the most profligate of spendthrifts helps as well. I, like you, have seen my interest rates get jacked into lower Earth orbit lately, and it peeves me mightily. I have one card whose masters have not seen fit to interest rate me into fiscal oblivion, so it's going to get all my card business henceforth. I will keep the other accounts open, but just not use them. The masters of these usurious vehicles found fault with my approach when I told them my plans over the phone, but I showed them the same level of sympathy they showed me. Understand that I pay my accounts in full every month, but there is a principle here.

    Small victories are better than none at all.

    Third, the Mexico trip I mentioned in another place: I have decided to eschew the umbrella drink. My poison of choice south of the border is Pacifico, and a longneck looks really silly with one of those wee umbrellas stuck in it. Plus, that's a good way to poke oneself in the eye, and hearing the expression "Gringo estupido" is not something I care to have aimed at me... although it has been known to happen on occasion.

    Fourth, the ill-named Swine Flu: I don't know if you perused that link I gave you, but the site had several stories regarding this Flu and its apparently highly overrated nature. Incidentally, I find that site very entertaining, and I listen to its head cheese (Ed Wallace) every weekend up here. The boy talks about a whole lot more than just cars, and his takes on alternative history are rich in content. Plus, he does not suffer fools gladly, and it seems we have more and more of those all the time in politics, religion, business, and just about everywhere else.

    Fifth, the Standard-Times: I miss Bob Milburn. He was the head sports writer when I was attempting, with VERY limited success, to be a jock.

    Finally, I was in Angelo a few days ago. It appears you have things pretty much under control.



  2. To combine two of your paragraphs, swine flu and "umbrella drinks"; We recently had a flight, 168 passengers, Houston Hobby I think, was detained. No off boarding allowed, we don't care about your Atlanta connection.

    Seems two passengers from Mexico City displayed symptoms the stewardii (flight attendants, WTH) thought were suspicious. After two hours at the gate, competent medical personnel checked this out and, to everyone's astonishment, the two guys were suffering the 90 proof flu, Cuervo's Curse, Tequila Sunrise in its most literal sense. The MD's signed off on "No way a virus could survive the ethanol level we measured".

    We will see more such foolishness, and mind, I don't say get sloppy, but I really think I get to keep my canned goods for another day