Monthly Archives: July 2008

Economy officially still sucky

Yep. The latest stats are out and the Gross Domestic Product grew by 1.9% over the last quarter, which was a few percentage points less than the economists expected. They’d forecast a 2.3% increase. They attributed the growth to the stimulus package – that $1,200 per couple tax rebate thing. Had that not been available, the difficulties in the housing market would have probably made it a lot worse.

They also revised the data for the last quarter of 2007 (based on actual numbers) to show that the economy declined during that period. Not by much, 0.2%, but it was a decline. Since the stats showed a “less than expected” result, the stock market dropped in panic, uh, anticipation of impact to the, uh, well, shit they don’t know why.

The stock market just reacts to crazy shit by acting, well, crazy. Success in the stock market is based on being able to predict the behavior of things that don’t behave in a rational way. It soars and drops based on suspicion, fear, innuendo, and greed.

This is very cool

Want to see how a virus or contageous disease could spread across a country? Go check out this movie of Walmart’s growth and it’s remarkably similar. It starts as blips in Arkansas that gradually begin to spread out a little farther and farther and farther…

On oysters

I wandered around through food and cooking blogs a bit yesterday (springing from Claudia’s place) and noted someone talking about oysters on the half shell (Ah, here. I had to re-wander back to find it.). That reminded me of a story…

My father had his own business. He developed chemicals designed to clean milking equipment. When I was a wee tyke, milk wasn’t all that safe to drink – high harmful bacteria levels – and milking equipment wasn’t really cleaned well (all that stuff they hook up to the cow teats plus the pipes and storage tanks, etc., can get a little slimy if they aren’t cleaned daily). Think leftover spoiled milk mixed into everything.

So anyway, a bacteriologist friend asked him to look into other areas of the food biz to see if there were things that could be done to improve sanitation. One year he took a trip to the Chesapeake Bay to check out oyster processing plants. He never would eat oysters after that trip (if he ever did before).

It seems when the first boat comes in, they haul up the oysters out of the ship’s hold, where they’ve been waiting, in big nets and drop them onto the docks where they will be taken inside, cleaned, etc. However, as ships continue to come in and unload at the processing plants, the processors never get all the oysters scooped up and taken inside to get refrigerated and such before the next batch comes in. Yep. You guessed it. There’s this pile of oysters that lay on the docks for 8-10 hours warming in the sun’s gentle rays. There’s no way to make them safe.

Despite this, I do eat raw oysters on occasion.

I’ve been away from the tubes

I took two weeks off from work to build a shed for my equipment. I bought posts 14′, 13′ and 12′ tall that I planned to put 3′ deep.  Three posts in each row makes nine holes. Once I had the area cleared and the posts painted, I started to dig the holes. I got the first two done one afternoon and I was amazed how hard the ground was.

Using a post hole digger is, or should be, part of every child’s education. (I say every child, but practically that means every male child. Girls aren’t as stupid as boys and know better than to do manual labor.) I say this for several reasons. First, most of us are descended from some form of immigrant who probably came here poor and had to work at manual labor to survive. Digging post holes we channel out inner ancestors. My inner Irish immigrant Kane ancestor merged with my psyche somewhere during the second hole. The other reason that all boys should be taught how to use this device is so they will know how painful it is to make your living through hard physical manual labor. If digging a 3′ deep hole doesn’t scare them right back into school, nothing will.

Engineers tell you posts should be deep enough so that somewhere between 20%-33% of the height above the ground is buried (more is better, of course), so that means a post that sticks up 12′ should have up to four feet in the ground. Engineers are highly specialized at what they do and rarely know anything other than their specialty. These two traits make engineers the virtual equivalent of sadists wearing horse blinders. They don’t actually dig holes themselves, they just tell the unsuspecting of us how to do things they don’t have to do in the air-condigtioned engineering offices. After digging two of those damn holes 3′ deep (I am firmly convinced now that not even Jimmy Hoffa is buried 3′ deep) I revised the phrase “deep enough” down by 6 inches.

I decided next that powered equipment was the key. Since no one I knew had an borer for a tractor, I rented a gas-powered borer. Obviously invented by engineers from where the ground is soft and buttery in nature (or like that dirt Billy Mays churns up in the TV commercial with a cordless drill), it sucked here. At the end of the four hours I had seven wonderfully round depressions in the ground, varying from four inches to six inches deep. If sweating makes you lose weight, during the process I lost somewhere in the neighborhood of three or four hundred pounds and exercised muscles that never existed before, apparently.

I decided to let Mother Nature do all the work and filled my little depressions in with water and called it a day. The water, applied repeatedly, eventually worked when viciously attacked with the post hole digger, manual version.

Corn

I’m glad I don’t run a grocery store. I’d never be able to label the stuff they sell as corn without feeling guilty. I grew up in Nashville and didn’t move to the country until after I married but my wife’s family is from the country and had a huge garden.

Corn is nothing like what you get in the supermarket (or from those trucks on the side of the road). Sweet corn, preferrably Silver Queen, is not starchy and the kernels are full, but not so tight together that the silks don’t come out easily. Once picked, it needs to be shucked and silked and refrigerated (or cooked) as soon as possible. If it sits in the sun, as in the back of a pickup all day, the sugars turn into starch. Farmer families who grow corn to eat consider what city folks buy in the supermarket as more like field corn, suitable for cattle feed more than people feed. There is a difference that is astonishing. I’m spoiled now and can’t eat the crap sold in stores.

We freeze cut corn. It becomes a production operation with people shucking, silking, and cutting.

Stop whining, you media syncophants

Yes, I’m talking to you. OK, I’m not really. But Phil Gramm is. You remember him? He’s a former U.S. Senator from Texas and he’s now a Vice-Chairman of UBS, the Swiss bank and one of John McCain’s economics advisers. He was interviewed in the Washington Times. All this negative economy stuff is just in your mind. It’s a mental recession, not a real one.

We have sort of become a nation of whiners,” he said. “You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline” despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy, he said.

“We’ve never been more dominant; we’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today,” he said. “We have benefited greatly” from the globalization of the economy in the last 30 years.

Mr. Gramm said the constant drubbing of the media on the economy’s problems is one reason people have lost confidence. Various surveys show that consumer confidence has fallen precipitously this year to the lowest levels in two to three decades, with most analysts attributing that to record high gasoline prices over $4 a gallon and big drops in the value of homes, which are consumers’ biggest assets.

“Misery sells newspapers,” Mr. Gramm said. “Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.”

And if you ever happen to get a damn clue, Mr. Gramm, please take a trip to one of those closed GM plants and tell the people who got canned. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear it’s just in their minds and being fed by the stupid media. Or, should you lose your job and suddenly not have so many millions in your bank account that you have to actually be able to afford things to live, you might try filling up your own gas tank on an income that’s not growing much at all.

H/T SoBeale and Newscoma who are giving that old fart a slamming up against the blogging wall he richly deserves.

I love bubble wrap

It’s almost like popcorn, it’s so addictive. Now someone (put this one in the why didn’t I think of this category) is selling bubble wrap panels printed as a poster-sized calendar. You can pop each day as you go. It has the U.S. holidays on it and it’s backed with plastic or paper (where the calendar is printed). It’as $29.95 for the vertical  paper-based one.

bubble calendar

Grocery prices hitting hard? It’s ethanol doing it.

Your grocery prices have gone up 75% because of ethanol production, according to the World Bank. The British paper, the Guardian, has leaked a World Bank secret report on the economic impact of producing biofuels, like ethanol. (In case you don’t pay attention to the little stickers on the gas pumps, 10% of your tank now contains ethanol.) The World Bank report, which was ready for release in April, is being held back to avoid embarassing President George Bush, according to the Guardian. 

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that. This report – the “most detailed analysis of the crisis so far,” in the Guardian’s words – says that biofuels caused global food prices to rise by 75 percent. Previously, a group called Food Before Fuels had estimated the damage to be in the 30% range while the Bush administration had put forward an estimate of the impact at 3%.