A failure to educate

The financial meltdown has been generally blamed on greed and the over-use of credit. But it's also the end result of a decades-long failure of the education system.

MBAs have basically been taught how to run companies into the ground.

But the problem goes far beyond the mindless worship of meaningless sheepskin letters when choosing people to manage and lead companies. From elementary school onward, students were and are trained to value short-term, shallow goals. Deep knowledge - well, what's that?

We pay a lot of lip-service to schools and education in this country, but the truth is it's just talk. Schools are run for the convenience of the staff. The standards are low, and too often mindless. Even in the best school districts, the majority of teachers are either mediocre or subtly encouraged to be. And the irony is, things will only get better when they initiate the change themselves.

You can tell I'm an optimistic - I said "when" not "if" in that last sentence.
The Dogboy finance

I hadn't seen Dogboy in dog years until he turned up at the bar the other night. He'd changed -- he'd gotten a haircut and was wearing a pair of pants that didn't have any holes in them. But the strangest thing was that he was drinking a lite beer.

I went over right away. Clearly the Dog was in serious hurt.

He waved me off. I figured he was cheating on his wife or something, so I looked for a table nearby to watch from. The next thing I knew, his better half was walking through the door. Being a good friend, I ran to intercept her.

"Hey, hey what's going on?" I said, trying to distract her.

Mrs. Dog is usually a gabber but not tonight. I finally had to grab her to keep her from going inside.

"You don't want to see this," I told her.

"Damn. Did Dog shoot him?" she asked.

"Shoot who?"

"The banker. We're supposed to meet him here to discuss our loan. Dog said he'd shoot him if he wouldn't go lower than four percent interest."

I was dumbfounded. "Banker?"

"I better get in there," she said, pushing past. "See you later."

It figures that Dogboy would find the one bank in the world that's loaning money. Of course, I'm kind of wondering what he'll put up for collateral. Probably his still.
Where is Rod when you need him?

So I was invited to write a short story for this Twilight Zone anniversary anthology, and it's an honor and cool and all, but damned if I can't nail the ending.

Not for lack of trying. I have about a hundred endings. But getting the right one to fit, so the story is a Twilight Zone story but not a cliched Twilight Zone story -- arg.

Somewhere around version ninety-eight I realized just how much the master's voice over at the end really does for an episode.

Too bad I can't just cut and paste.
For sale

The Navy is trying to sell the Sea Shadow, shown at left leaving its garage. Just the thing for stealthy water skiing.

You also get the Shadow's garage, officially known as the Hughes Mining Barge. The barge played an important role in the Cold War, hiding the extracting gear when the CIA grabbed parts of a sunken Russian nuclear submarine from the deep sea.
Don't put grenades in your luggage . . .

. . . or this may happen.

(A Colombian "policeman" had what the authorities say was a tear gas grenade in his luggage. Pretty big hole for a tear gas canister, but what do I know . . .)

Shame of it is, that's a DC-3. Check out the turbo-prop engines - imagine that sucker going over the Hump . . .
Because we do requests at Jumping Bail

Jerome on A-Rod

Deep in the Red

How to annoy the IRS

Working on your taxes? Here are some tips cribbed from an ex-IRS employee who used to work in their return receiving department. Identifying details have been altered. (I’d link to the actual comments, but I’d be violating the site's TOS and probably getting him/her in trouble. So I’ll just semi-plagiarize instead...)

Always file paper, not electronically. When you e-file, you can only annoy computers.

Staple, staple staple – along the right side of the tax documents. The “extractors” have to unstapple them. Screw up the return order, put pages in backwards, upside down, etc. This has to fixed by hand.

Glue the envelope closed on all sides. This makes it difficult if not impossible for the handlers to use the machine to open the envelope.

Pay with cashiers checks. The more the merrier. It's even better if you can arrange to pay with two-party checks. This provokes a serious amount of red tape.

Include real money with your return. Not a lot -- just a dollar or two will do. There is all sorts of red tape for the poor person handling the return.

Send a personal note. Notes, letters, etc., have to be read and logged.

Use over-sized envelopes. Large envelopes get special handling.

Sign the return . . . on every page if possible. Each signature is supposed to be verified and stamped. This really slows things down.

Of course, the problem with all of these suggestions is that you're only annoying a low level person. the person you really want to annoy doesn't even work for the IRS - it's your congressperson, who passed all the laws in the first place. But you have to start somewhere.

By the way, the former IRS employee who came up with the list recommended doing these things only if you owe money. No sense delaying your return.
Who says people don't vote for tyranny?

The news from Venezuela:

President Hugo Chávez handily won a referendum on Sunday that will end presidential term limits, allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely . . .

Chávez lost a similar referendum last year. He pulled out all the stops this time.
No wonder you're all bugged out

In case you’re curious: you’re probably ingesting one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites each year without knowing it, a quantity of insects that clearly does not cut the mustard, even as insects may well be in the mustard.

Story: "The Maggots in Your Mushrooms"

If looks could kill . . .

We'd all be dead.

Pretty plane, but it's better at acrobatics than fighting. The next version, however . . .
Say it ain't so . . .

Starbucks to unveil instant coffee

Sheesh. The fact that they offer decaf is bad enough . . . .
And more . . .


Masochistic deniers

So the treasury secretary gives a speech on the latest plan to "fix" the banks, and the stock market tanks.

Instant analysis follows . . . deciding the market plunged* because there weren't enough details about the plan.

Which means either a) people who owned bank stocks sold off because the secretary didn't say they would be bailed out with no exposure or loss or b) people who owned bank stocks sold off because the secretary didn't say the banks would be nationalized and they would be wiped out.

Which in turn means that the people who hold bank stocks are (or were) either a) in complete denial or b) heavily masochistic.

Or maybe the people "analyzing" the market couldn't analyze their way out of an empty Wal*Mart parking lot...

* If five percent still qualifies as a plunge
Tightening the cycle

The most interesting conversation I had at NY Comicon had nothing to do with the conference or even the comic-related industry, but about book publishing. Basically, he was questioning the present book production timeline. The timeline generally means it takes a book twelve months - at least - from the day it's submitted to the day it's published.

That's an incredibly long delay. In some cases, a good hunk of that delay is due not to editing or production concerns, but to the fact that publishers still try to leave time in the process for book reviews to be prepared. The only problem is that those reviews are a) diminishing and b) have little to no effect on sales.

Will it change?

It should. Some books already skirt much of the delay - I happen to be working on one - but in those cases everyone seems to get unnaturally nervous about the accelerated timeline. The problem is that the publishers aren't really geared for such quick turn-around - and neither are authors. The present model - and that includes advances, salaries and staffing - needs a long timeline in case things go wrong. It shouldn't, but that's the way things are.

For now, anyway. With everything that's going on in the economy and in the industry, maybe it'll change.
On A-Rod

Item: A-Rod reportedly tested positive for steroid use.

Reaction: And?

The truth is, there came a point toward the end of the 1990s when if you were an athlete and you didn't take steroids, etc., you were screwing yourself.

Eventually, someone is going to point that out. They're also going to point out that the substances aren't a substitute for heavy workouts, good genes, and desire, but supplemented them. At best.

Not argument for using them. Just the facts.
NY Comiccon today

See ya'll there.
Iran's satellite

Iran announced today that it had successfully launched a satellite Monday to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of its revolution.

Despite what you'll read, the surprise isn't that they launched the satellite - they've been working on that for quite a while. What's news is the fact that the launch apparently came without additional test flights of the launch vehicle, the SAFIR-2, which reportedly suffered setbacks during testing this fall. Iran had originally intended on launching its satellite by the end of March 2009, but problems with the rocket were said to have pushed back the time schedule.

Of course, the launch gives rise to all sorts of media stories interpreting it as a direct challenge to the West and Obama. The truth is, the Iranian rocket program - which includes actual nuclear capable missiles, not just "conventional" rockets like SAFIR-2 - has been ongoing for quite some time. So the challenge has been there. Needless to say, the missiles make Iran's ongoing nuclear bomb development program a very serious matter.

Neither the satellite, whose function remains to be seen, nor the rocket pose a direct threat to the U.S. The military missile program, on the other hand, could certainly become a serious regional threat within a few years - with or without any technology transfer between it and a supposedly civilian program.

Did Iran push up the time schedule in an effort to get a better deal from the West on the nuclear program as the world economy - and theirs - threaten to collapse? Could be.

More likely, the guys in charge of the satellite program might just have decided they wanted to keep their jobs.

Somebody was talking about em dashes last week, and the fight to preserve them. I use so many of the damn things that no copy editor would ever be able to kill them all.

What I want to know is, what's up with the dash in AK-47/AK47, M-16/M16, M-4/M4, etc. Do they belong, not belong -- some copy editors want to kill 'em, some add 'em.

Personally, I usually go with what the guy holding the gun says, but that's just me . . .

Here's what happens when you fire more than one round at a U.S. position . . .
Afro Samurai

The season's best Xbox game . . . even the Wall Street Journal likes it.
World domination indeed

Is there a better symbol of the relationship between us poor serfs and the blowhard oligarchy than Davos?

You know you're in trouble when the only descriptive metaphors that come to mind involve sexual abuse.