Sunday, December 30, 2007

And in strong running for "Biggest Idiot of the Year"

In discussions here and here on, this idiot hit what I called "the grand slam of stupidity." But that's not enough: he's hell-bent on winning the Super Bowl and World Cup of stupidity too. He's like the Energizer Bunny of morons.

It comes down to the reality that people like me tend to order from, even if it's a little bit higher, because of the convenience of not having to waste time traveling to buy it, not to mention having the mailman hand it to me. There are few things I really need to get immediately, and in general I've been very happy with Amazon.

Morons like him just don't get it. They cry "rip-off" just because someone is selling something at a higher price than what they like. They'll never fathom that there's a cost in time to hunt around for the best deal. In the end, the same freedom that allows him to be so stupid allows him to go to his favorite store, Best Buy (which most of us know as Worst Buy). Let him be duped by their advertisements. when most of the time they won't have it in stock, and the sales staff will largely ignore you?

If you read his blabbering, he accuses me of being the kind who put Bush in power. Uh, yeah. Right. It's not just his ignorance of consumer's freedom to choose, not just ignorance of sale prices versus normal prices, but the latest example of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Isn't it fitting that he's from Massachusetts?

Update: it occurred to me what my friend Billy Beck routinely says: remember, these people can vote on your rights. It's idiots like this "Real Deal" who make the U.S., not just Massachusetts, the land of un-freedom it is today. By their votes, they create a monstrosity called government, which has no authority of its own, but rather uses force to take people's property. That there is my most important post ever, and it's worth reading and pondering again.

It doesn't matter whether "Real Deal" and other morons band together out of malice or sheer ignorance. What matters is that they come together and decide how to control your life, that they can simply take (steal) your property as they see fit, and that they can tell you who you can do business with and with whom you can't. They can do it firstly because the rest of us are socially conditioned from early years to accept it, courtesy of the virtual government monopoly on education. We're taught about "compromise" and "government doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves." No small part of this is the continued disarming of private citizenry, which history proves leads to government running roughshod over the people it claims to "protect."

Secondly, because the rest of us effectively sigh and accept it; we're prosperous enough that we think the resulting social upheaval, the restoration of a free land, makes it not worthwhile to fight back. It's tragically a rare individual who realizes that it is, with words now and our own force when the time comes, that those of us who produce things of economic worth, those of us who give a damn about real rights to our own lives and property, could be more prosperous without the shackles our neighbors place on us.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

A happy holiday to everyone who celebrates today. And even to those who don't, may their days have been merry and bright anyway.

Here are a couple of pictures of the 2007 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The second turned out pretty well, except for Christmas Eve's late afternoon sunlight impacting on the star. The first was the best of several shots, all taken on the night of December 21st, my only chance this year to take nighttime shots of the tree. In previous years, I had time to go through my camera's range of ISO settings for an optimum shot. This year I could only rely on automatic detection, and afterward some manual touch-up of colors and gamma. I like to use GIMP for very fine rotation (fractions of a degree as necessary) and Irfanview for resizing. GIMP is by far more powerful, but I find Irfanview faster for quick jobs like cropping.

You can find my previous pictures here, here, here and here. The nighttime shot in the second link is my favorite: the image is sharp, and since it was 11 p.m. at night, I could take my time to get a good angle. The first picture in the third link is my favorite as a scene, admittedly an imperfect shot, but the people skating and the snowflake projected onto the GE Building give it a wonderful Christmas flavor.

Though I didn't get a memorable picture this year, it's not the fault of my new camera. My old Kodak broke after a couple of years, and I replaced it with a Canon 570IS. I've been extremely happy with it, and Amazon has a great price. Hint: if you buy it via the link, I get a small referral fee. Think of it as worthwhile if you do decide to buy it, since I would have helped reduce your search cost, namely time spent in examining cameras and deciding.

I needed a new camera fairly quickly in time for Christmas pictures: something relatively inexpensive in case it's lost or stolen, that takes SD cards, and that uses AA batteries. Cameras with built-in rechargeable batteries are usually thinner, but when I'm overseas, I may not always be able to recharge. Also, though lithium-ion batteries are good for many more shots than alkalines, I've been known to take several hundred photos in a single afternoon. My previous camera took AAs, and I habitually kept a sizable stash of fresh batteries on me.

The Powershot 570IS, 7.1 megapixels (up to 3072x2304 pixels) with image stabilization, is rated very well in reviews, so I decided to chance it. Most cameras in this class have only a 3x optical zoom. The 570IS has a 4x optical zoom, very nice for getting a little bit closer. I've been extremely impressed with the picture quality. which has three ranges: normal, fine and superfine. The difference is that with a 2-gig SD card, it can store 2047 pictures, 1006, or 632, respectively. Most people would do great with "fine," which is the factory default. The latter isn't significantly better, but I use it anyway; I never know when I want to use the full resolution of a picture and need it to be as clear as possible.

There are a host of features that most people will never use, but it's a very versatile camera. Up to ISO 1600 (although "noise" will creep into pictures above ISO 400), and several different scene settings. They're all intuitive enough that I don't expect to crack open the user's manual, ever. So far I've been able to figure everything out. The menus are fairly clean in layout.


Monday, December 17, 2007

A much better scan

Far better than the other one. Staples up on 57th and 6th did a very good job on the scan, and a decent job on the photo holiday cards that we're sending out at the last minute.


Alan Greenspan, just shut up already

File this under "Physician, heal thy goddamn self." Greenspan says that the Federal Reserve has the power to contain inflation, if it's willing to act. And he says that as if it were some miraculous revelation! He caveats that, saying,
"One of the lessons of the last 20 years especially is that low inflation is the major contributor to economic growth overall, and that fundamentally, inflation must be suppressed," he said. "It's ultimately the Federal Reserve in this country which is the key architect of doing that, and it's critically important that the Federal Reserve is allowed politically to do what it has to do to suppress the inflation rates that I see emerging, not immediately, but clearly over the intermediate and longer term period."
He's so completely dishonest and misrepresenting here that there must be a special place in hell, a tenth circle Dante couldn't see, reserved for Greenspan, Bernanke and other bad economists.

First, it's a Keynesian myth that inflation is necessary for economic growth. I explained in this post describing how an economy works, with each person producing and trading with others, creating wealth without subtracting in any way from what the others produce. My principal point was to explain why Tiger Woods earning another $1 million does not take away $1 million from the rest of us, but rather creates new wealth, because the rest of supply goods and services to, eventually, provide him with his $1 million. However, in describing the basic workings of an economy, I extended that to the observation that economic growth does not require inflation, let alone a central bank to regulate the money supply.

Greenspan's apologists might say he was talking about relative inflation, that high inflation hinders economic growth, but that an economy can grow if inflation is kept low. That doesn't wash in the least. First, inflation in any amount hinders an economy from growing at its full potential, because it skews market forces by which people know what to produce and how much of it. Moreover, Greenspan said, "low inflation is the major contributor to economic growth overall," ignoring that economies grow more from productivity and trade, not some clique of balding men in pin-striped suits who decide how much more to debase our currency.

Second, Milton Friedman taught us that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." Inflation comes only from the central bank creating money. The Federal Reserve is officially not part of the United States (meaning "federal") government, but it is very much a full-fledged entity. Congress, warping its power to "regulate the value thereof" of our national coin (as proscribed in Article I of the Constitution), gives unconstitutional power to the Fed: to regulate our money supply and act as a lender of last resort. Most people believe it's in a sort of limbo between the private sector and government, when in reality there's no such thing. If something isn't 100% in the private sector, it's part of the government. There is no in-between. The private sector might be the major player, but it's still ultimately controlled by the government, because the government can always use force to steer things in the direction it wishes.

The Federal Reserve has authority over our money because it has the backing of the federal government, especially in forcing us to accept Federal Reserve Notes. Well, tyrants keep power in one of two ways: they force people to submit, or they make people think they should submit for their own good. The latter is worse because you willing accept such slavery, and most Western people believe that central banks are necessary. The Fed doesn't need to use physical force to make us accept it, because it justifies its existence by telling us that we need inflation for economic growth, and enough people believe it.

Third, Greenspan talks about inflation as if it's hard for the Fed to maintain. Don Boudreaux pointed out in November 2005 that
Because the Fed largely controls the supply of U.S. dollars, the Fed's role isn't to "tame" inflation. Rather, the Fed's role simply is not to generate it. It can achieve this goal very, very easily -- namely, by not increasing the money supply.

This is no difficult task.

But the popular account of inflation still portrays inflation not as something caused by excessive monetary growth but as some alien-like demon, or animal spirit, that visits us from time to time and needing "taming" by smart and brave central bankers.

Too often, things that are simple -- for example, not causing inflation -- are treated as though they are challenges of the first rank, while things that are impossibly complicated -- for example, government provision of health care -- are treated as though they are quite easy to achieve.
That last paragraph is especially telling. Greenspan and other Fed officials are like a spendthrift who laments, "Oh, we need to do something our spending." And the American people are like a patient spouse who shouldn't have to put up with it, but Americans instead convince themselves that they, too, are part of the problem, that somehow by creating wealth we distort the value of our money. Nothing could be further from the truth!

As Don Luskin pointed out way back in February 2006, Greenspan kept inflation in check when the Fed raised or lowered interest rates: a "virtual gold standard" that did work pretty well, because gold prices are a historically excellent barometer of the availability of dollars. You can find historical Federal Funds Rates here, which presently goes back to 1990. Side note: some time ago I pointed out to a friend the 8 percent FFR of July 1990, asking if it's any surprise that we had a recession. The Federal Reserve engineered it, just like it did with the Great Depression.

That leads to my fourth point. Greenspan, once upon a time, was a good economist and Ayn Rand acolyte who talked about gold and sound money. But power corrupts, and his speeches, like that on "irrational exuberance," often demonstrated how much he came to love the limelight. He's been called the first "economic superstar," being far more visible than any of his predecessors, and even now, he has to prove that he may be gone from the Fed but still has power. He has to prove that he can still roil financial markets with his mere words, and Americans are stupid enough to think he's prescient enough to predict a recession. How would he know if the odds are actually 50% that we'll have a recession, or that they really should be 60% or 70%?

Also, when will we have that recession? It's an old joke, sadly true, that "Economists have forecasted ten of the last three recessions." There's been a resurgence of punditry, absurd as ever, about a looming "recession," particularly from's chief "economist" Mark Zandi, whose soundbites have started to litter a lot of AP articles. This is a guy who has continually predicted recessions since at least 1997, which as I've said is like Red Sox fans predicting every year since 1919 that their team would win the World Series. Keep predicting it, and certainly it will happen eventually, but that doesn't mean the person has any analytical or prophetic ability.

With Greenspan, Zandi and "AP economic writers" like Martin Crutsinger and Jeannine Aversa, who needs Democratic presidential candidates to tell us how bad things are? But the truth is that this economy is incredibly robust and growing. The economy grew 4.9% in the third quarter of 2007, which in France or Germany would be an economic miracle, yet Aversa lamented the expected lower performance of the fourth quarter. So what? Salesmen live all the time on such expectations, that you'll have a very good season followed by a leaner one. And for heaven's sake, the economy in November added 94,000 jobs to payrolls, yet Reuters is still talking "recession."

The media, naturally, wants to make the 2008 presidential election a close remake of 1992: the American people are stupid enough to elect a Clinton, after being deluded into thinking George Bush wrecked the economy. Though the 1990-1991 recession (as I wrote above, engineered by the Federal Reserve) had ended in March 1991, NBER didn't reveal it until December 1992, allowing Bill Clinton to get elected after campaigning on the supposedly bad economy. In the next several months, expect to see the news talking about "recession" everywhere we you turn, just as it's been hammering us with the mythical housing industry collapse and the need for government to save us.

Now, besides getting his name in the news again, I don't know what Greenspan's angle is -- but he can shut up already.


Monday, December 10, 2007

And now for Perry's "nice" list

Dell, for superb computers and having terrific customer support. I love my Dell desktop, and my fiancée loves the laptop I bought for her.

Depending on the girl, technology can make her eyes light up as much as jewelry. But that's not say diamonds still aren't a girl's best friend. A big thanks to Kay Jewelers for treating me like a friend and giving me a competitive price on a beautiful piece. Just in case my fiancée sees this post, I won't say exactly what I got her, but it sparkles nicely! and UPS , as I said in my previous post about my naughty list, have been fabulous. "Free Super Saver Shipping" usually gets me things within three or four days.

For daily deals, be sure to check Woot and Yugster. I also recommend Deal Extreme and Meritline.

Last but not least, Wal-Mart, for "everyday low prices" and an excellent refund policy. As I've said before in disclosure, I receive nothing from Wal-Mart to blog about them.

My "naughty" list: companies that screwed me this year

As my regular readers have noticed, I haven't been blogging at all in weeks. My apologies, but as you can understand, I'm pleasantly busy.

Well, it's time to start creating a "naughty" list of companies that have screwed me over. We'll begin with FedEx, who I had used a number of times for overnight documents. But those imbeciles lost my trust and business three years ago, when they couldn't even make a simple ground delivery within nine -- NINE! -- business days. I had ordered an important Christmas gift from, who at the time offered ground shipping at no extra charge. I was assured that it would arrive by Christmas.

So there I was on Christmas Eve, waiting at the office until 6 p.m., with no sign of my package. A FedEx truck had made deliveries that morning, but my package wasn't among them. A call to FedEx assured me that "It's on the truck, just a different truck. Don't worry, it's scheduled for delivery today." At 5 o'clock, I called their number, frantic with the realization that I wasn't getting the delivery, and that I'd have to pray a decent jeweler at the nearby mall was still open. The FedEx representative was incredibly rude and hung up on me.

After that, I swore I'd never use FedEx again. Their records later claimed that the truck showed up at 7. With it being Christmas Eve, everyone was gone by then, of course, even the security guards. BlueNile was very apologetic and told me to refuse the package when FedEx delivered it, so I wouldn't have to pay for the return, and I will say that they refunded my credit card reasonably quickly. I later checked out BlueNile some more and discovered that they're known to engage in very shoddy business practices, which some would consider borderline fraud. That I didn't get the package might have been a blessing in disguise.

I never used FedEx again for any type of delivery: overnight, standard or ground. If it was a shipping option, I'd pick another. How pathetic is a company when I'd sooner trust the USPS? In the rare case that FedEx was the only option, I'd ask the company for another option, or else I'd give up the order. I'm willing to pay more elsewhere so that I'll know the package will arrive when expected.

By the way, six stars out of five for Amazon and UPS, whose "Free Super Saver Shipping" alliance has always gotten me a package within an amazing three or four days. And it's only ground shipping!

Well, earlier this month, I ordered a couple of items from and paid extra for "3-5 day shipping," as opposed to ground. It wasn't until the day my order shipped that I discovered, you guessed it, the shipper was FedEx. They were supposed to make the delivery last Friday but unsurprisingly managed to screw the pooch. When I called Friday evening, the phone rep explained that they thought they were delivering to a residence, not a business. I had given them the full commercial address of a relative's small business, where I have packages delivered during the day. Yet somehow they got the cockamamie idea that I was shipping to a residence, and when I had never specified either way! Didn't "_____ Plaza" at the end of the address give them a clue? Since they were clearly in doubt, was it really too hard for the truck driver to take a few minutes to park in the spacious parking lot and inquire inside?

Yes. He apparently turned right around and didn't even try. The phone rep was as nice as she could be, to her credit, and apologized. She said she'd send a message so the truck could deliver on Saturday. Not surprisingly, it didn't arrive Saturday. Should we be surprised that it didn't come today, either? The second rep said, "But we don't deliver to residences on Mondays." What kind of goddamn morons are these, that they're still insisting that they're delivering to a residence, after I've now told them twice that it's to a business? The rep was rude, holier-than-thou and incompetent, so I blew back, "You can all go to hell, just shut up!" and hung up. shares their guilt by association. This is my second experience with them, and they're not doing well at all. Tomorrow will be the fifth delivery day, still within the specified timeframe, but at this point I'm going to insist on a refund of the slightly expedited shipping charges. I could have chosen ground shipping at no additional charge, and at least I'd have known it would take a while.

I previously had ordered these XFX headphones from They were a good deal at $19.99 with a $10 mail-in rebate and free shipping. (Come to think of it, was it FedEx? It was only ground shipping and so took a while.) I wanted to try them as full-sized headphones, and the "shake" feature sounded really neat. I have to say, it is, on top of the excellent sound: explosions and other deep-bass sounds will make the headset vibrate, adding a little realism. The microphone is a bit tinny in quality, but more than adequate for online gaming.

XFX sent me a postcard claiming that I didn't include the original serial number, and that the receipt I included was not sufficient. So after I did send them the serial number, clipped from the packaging, what am I supposed to send them now? And if the original packing slip, plus the "Please print for your records" receipt, don't qualify as receipts, what do? After a bit of Googling around, I found that I'm not the only one taken by XFX's rebate scam.

I had always done well with rebates, like with Verizon's "free" cell phone upgrades that mean paying $50 now with a $50 rebate. But now there's this scam by XFX, and recently Symantec ignored my $20 upgrade rebate on one of their products. What I truly wish is that each of their employees involved would get nothing but lump of coal in their stockings.