CFL Oddnesss

Submitted to the collective wisdom of the JesusH readers, most of whom are much better at the home improvement/electrical circuitry stuff than I am.

We have a weird problem in the second room of our two bedroom condo (the “baby’s room”, as it’s recently been branded) – the electrical outlets will not operate lamps that have CFLs in them. I can sense that you have follow-up questions, but it really is that simple. Take a lamp, put in an incandescent bulb, and plug it into one of the outlets in the room, and it will work (as will other devices, such as my laptop, radios, etc). Take that same lamp and put in a CFL, and… nothing. Take that same lamp, leave the CFL in, and move it to any outlet in any other room in the house and voila – eerie flourescent light.

Some basic Google searches turn up nothing that would seem to explain this. Though I’m a budget conscious, Inconvenient Truth-watching liberal, I’m willing to just use incandescents if there’s a good, innocuous explanation for why this would be so. However, I’m more concerned that it may indicate a problem that could cause other problems like damaging electronics.

Any theories or suggestions?

I’m sick and tired of five-oh running up on my block

Have you noticed an increase in police activity lately? I don’t mean serving and protecting… I mean the type of activity that doesn’t really accomplish anything to improve law and order. I’m getting the feeling that the tight local and state budgets are translating into the government asking the cops to shake-down their citizens. Pasadena’s finest have been staking out the Fish Taco District lately, pulling people over for rolling stops and jay-walking.

A few weeks ago I parked my car at the airport for a few days and came back to a $25 expired tags ticket. No biggie – I hadn’t got around to taking the plate frame off so I could get the tag on. I was surprised to get ticketed in a parking garage, but I guess the city owns those lots. I remember expired tags being a fix-it ticket, but there were no instructions on the ticket for how to get it corrected, so I figured I’d wait for the version that comes in the mail. I got that three weeks later as a “notice of delinquency” and a notice that if it wasn’t paid in another two weeks the fine would go up to $66 – that’s an increase of 164% if I don’t pay within two weeks of receiving the official notice in the mail! There are no instructions for getting it corrected, and a perusal of the Parking Violations Bureau website turns up nothing about fix-it tickets.

Seriously, what the heck? This kind of thing bugs me a lot more than a straight tax increase because it’s a) intellectually dishonest and b) it’s actually a form of regressive tax. People who can’t afford to pay immediately pay two-and-a-half times as much!

If there are any law enforcement types that frequent this blog, I’d be interested to hear whether the city pressures the police to increase their revenue-activities in times of economic stress.

Thoughts on First Presidential Debate

Some initial thoughts on the first presidential debate:

– Jim Lehrer’s “say it to him” shtick at the beginning made him sound awkwardly like a marriage counselor.

– I’m surprised the post-debate polls seem to have scored it so clearly for Obama.  I didn’t think there was a clear winner, though I do think a tie on the foreign policy debate is a great outcome for Obama.

– I was disappointed with both candidates’ answers on the bailout issue.  Clearly it would have been foolish to say “I do” or “I don’t” support the plan, but it was a missed opportunity to demonstrate leadership by laying out a clear framework for what a successful plan ought to look like.

– McCain advocates a federal government “spending freeze” on everything except defense, Veterans’ Affairs, and entitlement programs?  This is a huge policy proposal.  Why isn’t everyone talking about this today? 

– “You’ve sung songs about bombing Iran.” – it’s nice to finally see the Democratic candidate hitting back hard instead of going on defense.  There’s something to be said for Chicago politicians.

– When McCain forces a smile even though he’s kind of annoyed, he looks like Skeletor having dinner with the in-laws.

– Don’t the VP candidates normally appear on all the networks for post-debate commentary?  Interesting that one campaign decided to take a different tack.  That’s so maverick!

Discuss.

A World Without Nachos

You probably know that John McCain was born during the Great Depression and will, if elected President, be the oldest person to take that office and chase kids off the White House lawn during the annual Easter Egg Roll.   But have you considered that John McCain had to live the first seven years of his life without even the possibility of being served nachos, because they hadn’t yet been invented?  So certainly, between that and being imprisoned in Vietnam, the man has endured more hardship than I could handle.

Also, I have recently discovered that you should not read about nachos when you are dieting.  Damn you Ignacio Anaya!

The Case for Detroit

First off, I’d like to congratulate the Boston Celtics. They certainly fought a hard battle, and they did well in the playoffs. Boston’s a good team, and they had a good run. However, the leaders of the Eastern Conference should ignore the outcome of the conference championship (as is their God-given right as free men and AMERICANS), and send the Detroit Pistons to the NBA Finals.

Sure, Boston had a 66-16 regular season record compared to Detroit’s 59-23. But you can’t look at the whole season – you have to give the most weight to the recent contests. They both ended the season on a four game win streak, so isn’t it really a wash? And what about the playoffs? Boston lost 8 games in the playoffs, while Detroit only lost 7. Ouch.

Also, Boston’s regular season advantage existed primarily in road games, where they were 31-10 to Detroit’s 25-16. The two teams were nearly identical at home. And who has home court advantage for the NBA playoffs? Why the Eastern Conference champs, of course! So Boston has only performed better than the Pistons in the types games that are going to matter least in the championships. They should be called the Boston Paper Tigers.

Boston has very little high level playoff experience. The Pistons made the conference finals in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, and won the conference championship twice during that period. Boston has only made it as far as the conference finals once in the last 20 years. Look, maybe in four more years Boston can amass the Pistonesque experience that you’d need to get involved in such a stressful situation as the NBA Finals but right now it just seems too likely that they’ll crack under the pressure.

For those who say that it would be unfair to overturn the results of the playoffs, I counter that it would be unfair not to take into account the preferences of the people of Michigan. Who cares what the rules say? Rules that ignore the will of Michigonians are like apartheid, Jim Crow laws, female voter disenfranchisement, and the civil war in Zimbabwe. Michigan represents the heart of America… working class white folks who build American cars. What does Boston have? Over-educated, clam chowder-eating, latte-sipping yuppies.

At the end of the day, shouldn’t the Eastern Conference send the team that has the best chance of beating the Lakers? That team, my friends, is the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons know how to match up against Kobe and in fact ended the Kobe-Shaq dynasty when they beat the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals. 


Rasheed Wallace is ready to lay the smack down on Kobe… just give him that chance.

When you really step back from the hype and look at the facts, it’s clear that only one outcome would be both fair and give the Eastern Conference the best chance of taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy.  I implore you, the leaders of the NBA Eastern Conference… nay, I beseech you… send the Pistons of Detroit to represent you in the NBA Championships of 2008.

Thank you for your time.

Politics that matter

So Clinton and McCain want to suspend the $0.18 federal gas tax, while Obama correctly points out that’s a dumb-ass idea for a country that’s trying to reduce its dependence on oil and has some of the lowest gas prices in the world.  But, really, who cares?  I want to know where the candidates stand on issues that really impact me. Take, for example, the anti-Taco Truck ordinance that goes into effect next week in L.A. County.

I fancy myself a bit of a taco connoisseur, and some of the best tacos in Los Angeles come from these trucks. Seeing these trucks around reminds you that you’re in Los Angeles and not, say, Flint, Michigan. Obama’s right, dammit.  This gas tax thing is just a shell game to distract us from the real issue: tacos.

saveourtacotrucks.jpg

Schroedinger’s Whopper

I really like Whoppers. I like the flame broiled kind, but I really like chocolate coated malted milk ball kind. If you keep sucking, first all the chocolate comes off, then the malt ball collapses into a whey singularity. Every now and then, however, you get a stubborn Whopper what won’t crush — a chewy Whopper.

I hate these. I don’t even like chocolate that much, so if the malt ball doesn’t collapse then the disappointment is… crushing. However, my wife loves the chewy Whoppers and is, at best, lukewarm about the normal ones. You’d think this would be a match made in heaven, like Jack Sprat and his wife.

Unfortunately, detecting the chewy Whoppers has a pretty destructive observer effect. To put it unnecessarily geeky terms, the Whopper exists in a quantum state of superposition, both chewy and crunchy, until I have eaten it. At this point, my wife is no longer interested in the Whopper, chewy though it may be.

And so it goes. It feels like we’re so close to having my crunchy yin harmoniously complementing her chewy yang, but the problem is no closer to being solved than the day it was first identified.

Obama Opens Cans of Worms, Whoop-Ass

If you haven’t seen Democratic Presidential Nominee* Barack Obama’s speech on race relations, and you can find 37 minutes to do so, you should. It’s an extraordinary speech. What was so extraordinary about it is that it was not remotely a politician’s speech. He resisted the urge to simplify a complex issue and distance himself from a friend who, when presented in 30 second clips, comes off as an extremist to the working class whites Obama needs to win over. He resisted the urge to patronize. He addressed a complex issue head-on, and talked about the semi-taboo subtext of black/white relations – that many whites think there’s no problem, and many blacks still have a big chip on their shoulders. The speech has none of the qualities that cause people to dismiss him as “form over substance.” I’m just not used to politicians speaking so directly about issues that can’t be described in a soundbite.

Incidentally, as I listened to the speech, I came to the conclusion that Obama has hired Aaron Sorkin as a speechwriter. You could close your eyes and picture Martin Sheen giving a similar speech. However, it turns out that he has hired Swinger’s star Jon Favreau as his lead speechwriter.

jonfavreau.jpg
The silver pen behind the silver tongue.

Until now Obama’s really positioned himself, without actually saying it, as a “Post Racial” candidate. But this Wright thing really seems to have shaken up working class whites. It all really seems to be about trust… like wild deer, they had finally been coaxed into taking food from Obama’s hand, but Wright is the loud noise that scared them off. They seem to be concerned that Obama is a Manchurian candidate – either a Muslim extremist masquerading as a Christian, or a Black Panther masquerading as a friend to the whites. And all of that goes to show you that we’ve still got a long way to go.

So this speech, this direct acknowledgment that there is justified black anger directed at the USA when the politically expeditious thing would be to shore up the Pennsylvania vote by denouncing his pastor in 30 seconds or less, is really a breath of fresh air. And so he’s become the only politician who’s worth 37 minutes of my time.

*Barack Obama is the Democratic Nominee for president. It’s done. Over. Clinton’s actions since she was mathematically eliminated from winning without destroying the Democratic party have caused me to regret that I voted for her in the CA primary.

Flamin’ Hot Funyuns

“Dr. Rothenstein!”
“What is it Jenkins? Can’t you see I’m trying to complete a Sudoku?”
“Sir, I think I’ve had a breakthrough on the Flamin’ Hot Funyuns!”
“Give it up, Jenkins. The Flamin’ Hot Funyun is your white whale. You know as well as I do that, despite our early successes with Doritos, Cheetos and even Pretzels, Flamin’ Hot Funyuns have always proved frustratingly elusive. The alliinase enzyme in the Unyun extract interferes with the Flamin’ Hot binding agent. You’re wasting your gift on this quixotic pursuit.”
“No sir! It came to me last night as I was writing up our results on the canned cheeseburger. We’ve been going about it the wrong way. By including Flaming compound in the pressurized Funyun bag unbound, the alliinase enzyme breaks down into its harmless constituent aminos without compromising the freshness of the Funyun. The Flaming compound then binds during transport!”
“Of course!”

Later…
“You know, Jenkins? I kind of thought these would taste better.”
“Yeah.”

flamingfunnyun

(out of 5 Pochaccos)

The Singularity is Near

In 2005, Ray Kurzweil published a book claiming that the acceleration of technological progress will lead to a time when technology is so advanced that it will be merged with humanity. Manmade evolution, the end of aging and world hunger and unlimited wealth creation are all on the horizon, and not far off. It’s not hard to believe that we are approaching such a time. Consider:

1.5 million years ago, mankind invented the knife. Six hundred thousand years later, man learned to control fire. It was only 12,000 years ago that agriculture was invented, but it took another 5,000 years for man to invent beer and the wheel and axle. 5,500 years ago, man learned to write for the first time. It was another thousand years before the toilet came along, and a thousand more for the sword. Two thousand years ago came paper. In the last thousand years, mankind has invented everything. The thermometer, cannon, scissors, and the steam turbine. The car, typewriter, revolver, moon lander and the telegraph. The x-ray and the cruise missile. The electric shaver, the Post-it Note, and the Internet. Tetris and trickle-down economics.

Now the 21st century brings Pinkberry, the hybrid car, online poker, translucent concrete and the iPhone. But if that evidence doesn’t convince you… if it hasn’t dissolved the last vestiges of your skepticism… if you still doubt that the singularity is near, then I present to you the pinnacle of mankind’s achievement.

cannedburger.jpg

Yes, that is what you think it is. It took almost a million years to get here from fire, but mankind has developed the technology needed to store a cheeseburger in a can. Just so we’re clear: when you open the can, there is a cheeseburger inside. It’s a golden age in which we live, my friends. A golden age.

Medical Myths You Probably Believe

Via the New York Times, which recently has made it’s entire website and archives free free free:

The Hoosier School of Medicine has published a list of seven medical myths that are so pervasive that even many doctors believe them. They are:

  1. We should drink 8 glasses of water per day.
  2. We only use 10% of our brains.
  3. Hair and fingernails grow after death.
  4. Shaving hair makes it grow back thicker.
  5. Reading in dim light harms your eyesight.
  6. Eating turkey makes you drowsy.
  7. Cellphones create electromagnetic interference at hospitals.

I, for one, was shocked to learn that turkey contains less tryptophan than either pork or cheese.  No wonder fondue makes me sleepy.

The Princes(ses) and the Pauper

From Kiplingers, the net worth of the major candidates as reported in their FEC filings.

  • Barack Obama:  $456k to $1.1mm
  • Fred Thompson: $2.6mm to $8.3mm
  • Hilary Clinton:  $10mm to $50mm
  • Rudy Giuliani: $18mm to $70mm
  • John McCain: $21mm to $32mm
  • John Edwards: $30mm
  • Mitt Romney:  $190mm to $250mm

I find this interesting for a few reasons.  One is that Barak Obama could maybe afford a house in a middle class area of Southern California.  You know — College area, but not Scripps Ranch.

The other thing that’s significant, when you read through how they made their fortunes, is that their income jacks up significantly when they are between jobs.  Rudy had less than $2mm in assets when he left his post as Mayor of NYC, but he earned $16.8mm in 2006 alone, almost all from speeches and “security consulting”.  So Obama shouldn’t despair too much.   If he wins he’s got company housing and a company car, but losing is where the real money is.

Q: What could you buy for $1.1 trillion?

A: You could pay, in full, the federal taxes of every person in the US and A.

A: Everything the US Military plans to buy for the next two years.

A: Every share of stock traded in the Russian stock market.

A: 100% ownership of Microsoft, Google, GE, and Qualcomm.

A: PetroChina, the Chinese national oil company which listed on the Shanghai stock exchange yesterday.

The Exciting World of Decorating

A scant four years after moving into our place, we’ve finally accomplished our goal of putting something up on the living room wall! We were going to go with photos but, instead, I found these invisible bookshelves on sale at The Container Store and solved our book storage problem in a way that makes the wall seem much less plain. I’m like Bob Vila or Carter Pease or something.

Floating Bookshelves
Just in time for Halloween: spooky, levitating books.

The National Debt

Haven’t had a lot of time to post lately, but we’re darned near 30 days between posts. So I’ll point out this article on MSNBC about who holds the US national debt. In other words, we all know we owe a 9 trillion billion jillion dollars, but to whom do we owe it? This part, especially, caught my attention:

So just who are these lenders? As of last June, the biggest holder of Treasury debt was the U.S. government itself, with about 52 percent of the total $8.5 trillion in paper that’s out there. Most of the government’s holdings are massive savings accounts for programs like Social Security and Medicare. Just as you may prefer to keep your Individual Retirement Account in the safe Treasury bonds, the folks who manage the Social Security Trust Fund are looking for a secure investment, too.

This makes me feel a little better, because I’m sure if we really get into trouble, the social security administration isn’t really going to make us pay that back. I mean, we’re family, right?

Joe Biden’s Favorite Portable Gaming Device

This is apparently months old, but I just saw an ad for the PSP White that Sony pulled last July amid accusations of racism. Seriously, regardless of context, regardless of intent, how naive do you have to be to think that this is going to fly? What is with the amateur hour? At least the black woman being attacked appears to be relatively clean.

PSP White
Not shown: The lynchin’ tree.

A Super Tax Tip

Here’s a quick tip to get you a handful of Hamiltons.

After a court decision that a telephone tax collected between 2003 and 2006 was illegal, the feds have to give it back. The only trick is, you have to ask for it this year, on your 2006 tax return. If you don’t ask, you lose it forever.

For those of you who don’t want to dig through four years of phone receipts to figure out exactly what kinds of taxes were permissible and which weren’t, they’re even going to make it a little easy for you.

Individual taxpayers can take a standard amount from $30 to $60 based on the number of exemptions they are eligible to claim on their 2006 tax return. For those who can claim:

– One exemption, the standard refund amount is $30;
– Two exemptions, the standard refund amount is $40;
– Three exemptions, the standard refund amount is $50;
– Four exemptions or more, the standard refund amount is $60

All you have to do is staple Form 8913 to your 10-whatever. Many happy returns.

Last Minute Christmas Ideas

Haven’t watched much SNL lately, but last Saturday they aired a “Digital Short” (their name for non-live videos, typcially starring Adam Samberg, like Lazy Sunday) that required considerable bleeping.  Shortly after it aired on the west coast, they released it uncensored on the NBC website and on YouTube.

They deserve mad props for posting this officially on the NBC site, for putting it on YouTube, and for the sketch being pretty funny to boot.

Michael Richards is a sad man

Around 6-8 weeks ago, V and I went to The Improv and saw Bill Dwyer, John Heffron, Joe Rogan, and some other random hacks. Oddly, we had received an e-mail from The Improv saying that Seinfeld’s Michael Richards would be appearing, but they didn’t list his name on the program after we got there, only saying that there would be a “surprise guest”. Before Rogan came on, sure enough, Michael Richards ambled up to the stage. Surprise!

Now we were pretty excited to see Michael Richards perform… he’s something of a larger than life figure. But what followed was the most painful – well, it seemed like an hour, but he was probably up for 15-20 minutes – of “comedy” I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even Pauly Shore or CarrotTop funny. I mean, find a remedial sixth grader, give him 10 minutes to come up with 15 minutes of material, and it would have been funnier than Michael Richards.

At first, the audience gave a few courtesy laughs. (So I asked the cop giving me a jaywalking ticket where I should have crossed, and he pointed to the corner. And I’m like, “but I forgot my canteen”. ahem. ahuh. huh. huh.) But as it became clear that the material wasn’t getting any better even that stopped. And even though other, less tragically unfunny comedians were heckled that evening, nobody had the heart to heckle Michael Richards. It was too sad to see this supposed giant of comedy trying to do stand-up, which he clearly had no business doing. It got sadder, though, as Richards evidently was unwilling to leave the stage until he got a laugh. Eventually, he made some Jesus joke that got a couple chuckles, and high-tailed it off the stage on what couldn’t possibly be considered a high note, but was clearly the best he was going to get. Pity poor Joe Rogan who had to follow that, but did his level best to get us back.

Fast forward to Richards’ meltdown over the weekend. First off, the meltdown is not surprising if he’s been out there since Seinfeld went off the air, using his name to get into comedy clubs that shouldn’t even allow him in the audience. Imagine that, for some reason, every Major League baseball team felt obligated to let me pitch a couple of innings every time I showed up at their stadium, and you’ll have an idea of the kind of failure the man has been experiencing. Couple that with the fact that he’s still out there trying, and you get the ingredients for some kind of meltdown. To quote Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption: Hope will drive a man insane.

And then there was the truly bizarre Letterman apology.

I went into a rage and said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans…

Afro-Americans?  When was the last time you heard that term? The man’s clearly been disconnected for a while.

I’m very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, whites – everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through, and I’m concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger coming through, not just towards me but towards a black/white conflict. There’s a great deal of disturbance in this country and how blacks feel about what happened in Katrina,

1. Now they’re “the blacks”. He was confused when the audience laughed after he said “Afro-Americans” and he doesn’t know what to do. 2. Katrina? Huh?

And I’ll get to the force field of this hostility, why it’s there, why the rage is in any of us, why the trash takes place, whether or not it’s between me and a couple of hecklers in the audience or between this country and another nation,

Huh? Force field? He’s going to get to the bottom of why nation-states war?

So the man is clearly nuts. And not entertaining pre-batshit insane Tom Cruise crazy, or hopped up on Percoset Paula Abdul crazy… Michael Richards is homeless crazy. And there is nothing funny about homeless crazy.

Charity ROI

As the holiday season approaches, I’d like to spend some time talking about something that I always think about this time of year.  I receive dozens of solicitations each holiday season for charity from police organizations, homeless shelters, animal services and zoos, schools, you name it. So how do I decide which charities to give to?

I have what I suppose are unusual criteria… I like to ask the question of which charity will have the greatest “return”. I tend to believe that Americans are better off than other people in the world, so I consider it a poor use of my resources to give to charities such as “Make a Wish”, which aim to bring a little more joy into the life of dying children who are already well-off by world standards. While I understand the sentiment, I’ve seen true abject poverty and misery abroad, and I’d rather feed some kid in the Philippines for the rest of his life than send a kid in Minnesota with Leukemia to Disneyland.  It’s a tradeoff… I can help one or the other, and that’s how I make my decision.

But that’s not enough… while undoubtedly “Save the Children” is a great charity, how can my money have the most impact? I’ve read about charities that offer entrepeneurial “microloans” which follow the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, and those seem promising. Has anyone bothered to rank charities in terms of a charitable ROI? I’d be really interested in seeing that.  I have a limited amount to give, so it’s important to me that the money go where it will have the greatest impact.

As we head into the holiday season, I’d love to hear from other JesusHers.  What charities do you support, and why?

CharityWatch – ranks charities by administrative costs.
SocialROI- A social entrepreneurship blog.
Forbes.com – America’s most (and least) efficient charities.