Gestalt Circus

Musings on life, TV, games, movies, books, and the Internet. Plus anything else I feel like commenting about.

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Location: Redmond, WA, United States

I'm just a typical American who likes to read, watch TV, play games, work on puzzles, hang out with friends, and work way too much. Okay, I don't work that hard, but it's still too much.

October 25, 2008

Hobin Rood

I just saw some U.S. wage data on CNN that blew my mind.

  • 33% of Americans make less than $15,000 annually.
  • 76% of Americans make less than $50,000 annually.

I had no idea the wage gap was so huge. The source of the numbers is NYT Pulitzer-winning reporter David Cay Johnston. I found one fairly recent (2006) interview online. It's really reverse socialism at work: robbing the poor (and middle class) to pay to the ultra-rich.

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October 20, 2008

Fall TV Report Card

Time to assign see the grades of the fall shows. I've updated my thoughts so far in my previous blog entry.


October 12, 2008

Trade & Labor

Given the economic climate lately, I've been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the U.S. economic policies that have gotten us into the mess we're currently in. The domestic capital markets are causing an international impact on the rest of the world's economy, up to and including bankruptcy of some nations such as Iceland.

What I've come down to is that the U.S. is finally starting to feel the pinch of it's domestic goods production and trade deficits with other nations. In the 60's it was not uncommon for most goods to be "Made in America" and, indeed, people often thought of goods from other countries as cheap junk. Compare that to where we are today, where most of our goods are made in China or Japan. We import more finished goods than we export and we export more raw goods than we import. We've moved to a position where we no longer make the majority of things we buy in this country, and that is bad.

Why? Because wealth is created by making things. We're trading away the keys to our wealth-generation.

Since the mid-seventies we have begun running trade deficits at ever-increasing volumes, paid for in stocks and even real-estate holdings in our nation. Our trade policies have encouraged this and we haven't taken corrective action to fix the core issue, the diminishment of the U.S. labor force and trade equity with other nations. It's now a huge problem, and it's not going to be fixed overnight. Many of the proposed "fixes" would have serious negative consequences in terms of retaliatory policies or worse.

I did stumble across this brilliant piece in Fortune magazine by Warren Buffett which could directly redress this issue. Apparently it was introduced in a bill in congress in 2006 in the Balanced Trade Restoration Act, but there has been no movement on the bill. Guess what? The predictions are coming true. It's time to act. It was proposed by the very guy that both current presidential candidates mentioned as a possible Secretary of the Treasury in the second presidential debate.

Why has congress not moved on this? Have they been too busy being courted by lobbyists of the financial industry intent on squeezing ever more personal money out of the U.S. economy? I truly hope we don't have to wait for Inauguration Day to get this bill moving again.


Wake-Up Squall

As many of you know, Marcee and I've been adopted by a neighbor cat, which we finally made official last February. His name is Bo, short for Bilbo. Yes, he was named after a hobbit. But in many ways he is quite hobbit-like. He's short, sociable, loves to eat, and has hairy toes. Bo is decidedly an indoor-outdoor cat. After getting tired of getting up and down to let him through, we finally decided to install a cat door so that he could see himself in and out. Since we have quite a bit of wildlife in our neighborhood, we got the kind with a magnet on his collar that deactivates a locking mechanism on the door. That way, the neighborhood critters can't find their way in.

This morning, just after 5 am I groggily became aware of Bo racing through the house. After the second or third lap I heard a squawk of something decidedly not feline. I had a strong suspicion he had brought home a friend to play with in the house. It wouldn't be the first time. He had previously brought home two bats, one of which sadly had to be killed given its broken wing, and a juvenile bird, which we managed to catch and release outside, sans tail feathers. After a fair bit of searching (Bo helped narrow down the location), we located a quivering ball of fur under our cd rack. We suspected a rat, given that there are wood rats in the forested area behind the house (they aren't the kind that come indoors). After banishing Bo to the other end of the house, we unloaded the cd rack and used some towels to constrain the area in question. When we lifted up the newly-emptied shelf we discovered a juvenile rabbit about the size of a baked potato. Quickly wrapping him in a towel, Marcee carried him outside and down to the field just down from the house. After opening up the towel he stayed frozen for a moment then took off for cover.

What have we learned? 1) Bo has learned that bringing friends (toys?) home to play with where they can't get away is kind of neat. 2) The rabbit has learned to be wary of the mean neighbor cat. 3) I have learned that rabbits do make noise, and it is not one you want to be woken by at 5am.

Fortunately, Bo isn't really interested in bringing dead things home, and we have a pretty good success rate at letting them go free. Ah, the joys of having a cat call your place home.


September 28, 2008

The Icing on the Cake

Like everyone else, I've been watching the $700 billion dollar bailout proceedings. Many experts argue that it will be closer to 1.2 or 1.5 trillion dollars. that's like a tenth of the national debt. But Bush rang the alarm bell and everyone on Capitol Hill has formed a virtual bucket brigade to rescue these major investment banks' insolvency from bringing down the entire economy.

I'm not saying that some level of protection for the economy isn't good or needed, but I do feel like we're rewarding corporate greed on an unprecedented scale. I'm reminded of this Business Week article from 2007, which reported investment banker salaries at an unprecedented level. Goldman Sachs employees averaged profit-based performance bonuses of $622,000 per employee, but this doesn't count that the fact that the biggest trader got a bonus of $53 million dollars.

Why did this happen? Well, beginning in the 80's, Reagan led the charge on sweeping deregulation of nationally important industries, like the airlines and, yes, financial industries. We know what happened with the airline deregulation--planes started falling out of the sky. Similarly our economy seems to be on the same crash course. Regardless, with the regulatory oversight out of the way, mortgage lenders started selling riskier and riskier loans, because it was all about maximizing profit. Investment banks started then issuing new mortgage-backed securities, kind of a futures trading on payoff of mortgages. Yes, those same highly-risky mortgages. These securities were so complicated no one knew how to value them, but the investment bankers paid some investment raters to give these risky, highly-leveraged securities a strong buy rating, and we were off to the races. The investment bankers were squeezing even more profit out of these bad loans, essentially covering their risk they took in accepting them in the first place.

Fast forward to 2006, when the housing bubble finally burst and all these people who were told they could afford these mortgages found out they'd been lied to, and started facing foreclosures and bankruptcy. Enough of these happened that it rippled up and toppled even some of the big investment banks, like Bear Stearns. The government stepped into bail out the behemoth, subsidizing its acquisition by JPMorgan Chase. Last week, Washington Mutual, itself toppling as one of the largest perpetrators of the subprime lending fiasco, was seized by the government and sold off for a fraction of its previous value to... JPMorgan Chase.

The crazy part of all of this is we the taxpayers are now set to bailout some wide range of major financial institutions for the largest price tag in the history of the planet. So these investment banks took advantage of the deregulation by the government to engage in extremely risky investing, intent on maximizing personal profits, but now that the piper has come to the door, expecting payment, the government (that's us, taxpayers) are expected to pay them again for screwing us in the first place.

Of course, this is at the urging of Bush and the Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. You know, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who helped orchestrate this mess in the first place.

So, where do we stand? We the people were sold bad mortgages by unethical financial institutions, so they could squeeze money out of us. These mortgages were then leveraged into complicated mortgage-backed securities, so they could squeeze more money out of us. Then, when all their bad decisions come to their rotten fruition, they squeeze more money out of us to bail them out. Oh yeah! And where do the pieces go? They get snapped up for pennies on the dollar by other financial institutions, so they can squeeze even more money out of this whole shameful debacle.

That's just icing on the cake.

How about this? Instead of seizing homeowner's mortgages and selling them off cheap, mind you without letting the homeowners themselves benefitting from this discount, why don't we go seize the money of the investment bankers who got us into this mess, especially those got huge $53 million dollar paydays? I'm all for individuals keeping the pay for their work, but in my mind anything over say, $750,000 each year is out and out stolen money, and should go into reparations to fix the mess they caused. Radical? Yes, but it adequately expresses my outrage at these people.


September 13, 2008

Agricola in Fimo

Over on, they have some creative people. In particular, some talented Fimo clay scuptors. I just love these guys:


September 12, 2008

Things to See on Fall TV

Every year, I scour the web to find out info about all the new Fall TV shows. I've winnowed it down to the list of ones I'd like to check out. Expect this posting to evolve as I remember everything and find out more about the mid-season replacements.

  • Fringe (Fox) - My Rating: A-
    Started already. JJ Abrams does X-Files.
  • Valentine (CW) - My Rating: D+
    Starts 9/21. A dramedy with Greek gods and goddesses as the characters. I'm vaguely horrified (comedy) yet intrigued (mythology).
  • The Mentalist (CBS) - My Rating: B-
    Starts 9/23. Psych without the funny.
  • Knight Rider (NBC) - My Rating: B
    Starts 9/24. Nostalgia TV worth watching, even if the miniseries was so-so.
  • Sanctuary (SciFi) - My Rating: C
    Starts 10/3. Woot! Amanda Tapping gets her own show.
  • Eleventh Hour (CBS) - My Rating: B-
    Starts 10/9. "Science investigator" show. We'll see.
  • My Own Worst Enemy (NBC) - My Rating: A-
    Starts 10/13. Christian Slater does Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • Crusoe (NBC)
    Starts 10/17. Looks pretty. Might be an okay drama. We'll see.
  • Batman: The Brave & the Bold (Cartoon Network)
    Starts 11/14. A new Batman show where he teams up with another DC hero each weak. Love it.
  • Kings (NBC)
    Starts midseason. Retelling of the book of David. Only not.
  • Dollhouse (Fox)
    Starts midseason. Alias-like show by Joss Whedon. Could be great, could be mediocre.

In addition, there's the other regular shows:

  • Eureka (SciFi) - My Rating: A
    Started already. Funny sci-fi with great characters.
  • Stargate Atlantis (SciFi) - My Rating: A-
    Started Already. Good staple science fiction. Too bad Amanda Tapping left (see Sanctuary).
  • Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network) - My Rating: C-
    Started already. The luster is off and the funny is mostly gone. What happened!
  • House (Fox) - My Rating: A
    Starts 9/16. Gotta love House.
  • Smallville (CW) - My Rating: A-
    Starts 9/18. It's a good thing this is the last year. Otherwise I'd not be watching it.
  • Heroes (NBC) - My Rating: A
    Starts 9/22. Superheroes + good drama = WIN.
  • NCIS (CBS) - My Rating: A+
    Starts 9/23. Funny and great characters. Good stuff.
  • CSI: NY (CBS) - My Rating: A
    Starts 9/24. Although it started as my least favorite of the CSI shows, it's now my favorite. It's the best written and the most interesting.
  • Dexter (Showtime) - My Rating: A+
    Starts 9/28. Best written show on TV. Seriously. Not for the weak of heart, though.
  • Chuck (ABC) - My Rating: A
    Starts 9/29. Occasionally annoying, but the good points way outweigh the bad.
  • Pushing Daisies (ABC) - My Rating: A-
    Starts 10/1. Quirky and offbeat, this show is like nothing else on television. A visual treat.
  • Dirty Sexy Money (ABC) - My Rating: B+
    Starts 10/1. One of the least appreciated entries from last year. It started off great, then lost its rhythm a little bit, but I really enjoyed the series.
  • Ghost Whisperer (CBS) - My Rating: B
    Starts 10/3. I just watch it for the stories. Really. Lightweight spooky stuff. I hear Supernatural is better, but requires more commitment to the overarching plot.
  • Numb3rs (CBS) - My Rating: A
    Starts 10/3. Enjoyable characters, enjoyable stories. No real overarching plot lines.
  • 24 (Fox)
    Starts midseason. I'm not sure why I watch this, other than the suspense is usually pretty good, even if the plotting is ridiculous. Plus Kiefer Sutherland is a great actor.
  • Lost (ABC)
    Starts Midseason. A lot of people gave up in season 3, but it's really picked up the pace in season 4.
  • Doctor Who (SciFi)
    Start unannounced. It's off the air this year, to be replace by around 4 2-hour movies and the usual Christmas special. I'll be there.

You can tell I watch too much TV. That's why I've begun this year's cut list here:

  • Testees (FX) - My Rating: F
    Starts 10/9. Two guys who are professional lab rats, trying to live normal lives while dealing with side effects.
  • CSI (CBS) - My Rating: D+
    It just keeps getting grimmer and I care less about the characters.
  • True Blood (HBO)
    Already started. If I got HBO, I'd check this one out, since it's based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels. Looks like a little too glam version, though.


September 10, 2008

Essen '08 Wishlist

Thought I'd organize and post in one place all the boardgames I'm looking forward to that are coming out soon. Mostly, you know, so I can find that list. Note that not all of these are Essen games. Some are just due to arrive in the September-November timeframe.

So, here we go, in no particular order:

Battlestar Galactica: The BoardGame (Fantasy Flight)
Endeavor (Z-Man)
Tales of the Arabian Nights (Z-Man)
New World: A Carcassonne Game (Rio Grande)
Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm (Rio Grande)
Monuments: Wonders of Antiquity (Mayfair)
Huang Di (JKLM)
Confucius (Surprised Stare)
After the Flood (Treefrog)
Steel Driver (Treefrog)
Die 3 Gebote (BewitchedSpiele)
The Princes of Machu Picchu (PD-Games)

I'll probably continue adding to this list over the next month or so as I find or remember other games I'm looking at.


September 07, 2008

Kept Down by the Man

As you may have noticed, I've not been around in awhile. Part of that is that I've been überbusy... for the last couple years. I come back, though, to find out that Google has acquired my blog. Seriously? Google owns me? I've gone G!

That's cool I guess. I'll just log in and post something... Uh, I can't use my old login? I have to create a Google Account? Hmm, I thought I had one of those around here somewhere--just need to remember what it is... Nope. I've got nothin'. Time to create a new one I guess. Okay, done!

Wait.... I need a GMail account now? Hm, thought I had one of those too. It sucks to have no memory sometimes. Guess it's a new one for me. Wait, somebody else claimed my seriously obscure Hotmail account name as a GMail account? I guess I need to come up with yet another login. Ah well.

The good news is I've got my blog back and that I can no longer use my old login. The bad news is that I now have a GMail account, a Google Accounts account, my old profile was blown away, it took an hour to set up, and I'll forget all this stuff by tomorrow.

Now that that is all out of the way, I guess I can actually compose my post. What was I going to write about again? I forget. Sigh.

The G-Men have it in for me, I guess.


May 09, 2006

Wii Little Remote

Just saw some pictures of the Wii remote... is it just me or does that look vaguely like a sex toy? Oh yeah, I'd have to agree with Chris Lemon... Wii has got to be the stupidest product name ever. We went from Revolution to revolting. It certainly doesn't seem like a Wii is something you want your kids to play with.

However, Super Paper Mario looks awesome. Here's a couple cool screens and a video.