Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wow the Feds Pick Stupid Hills to Die On

But grizzlies are so cute and cuddly...


This. This I was waiting until later to post about. But really, it hits too close to home:

Maybe it’s time to start a Jackboot Watch feature.
We’ve got DOJ lawyers going after Gibson guitars. There’s the ongoing Fast and Furious debacle. Add the eco-nitwit rogues at the Interior Department. Then there’s the War on Lemonade Stands.
And now, we’ve got the U.S. Attorney in Idaho filing federal charges against Jeremy Hill, a father who shot a grizzly bear on his property to protect his wife and kids — even though state officials who investigated the case thoroughly took no action against the man. He now faces up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. He pleaded not guilty last week and faces trial in October
This is the incident she's referring to:

According to Douglas' findings, Hill, his wife Rachel, and four of their six children were home together when the incident unfolded about 7 p.m. on the Hills' 20-acre ranch, which fronts Highway 1, near Porthill.

The children were outside playing basketball in front of the house and Rachel, not feeling well, had gone to lay down. Hill was showering.

His wife, not able to sleep, looked out her bedroom window and spotted the bears an estimated 40 yards from where the kids were playing. She ran outside, shouting for the kids to get in the house.

Hill, finishing a shower, heard the screams and looked outside.

Seeing the bears, he grabbed the only weapon at hand, a rifle, which was wrapped and unloaded. He found three bullets, loaded the weapon and raced outside. He didn't know where his children or his wife were exactly, but could hear his wife's panicked screams.

He stepped out onto the back deck from their bedroom and saw one of the bears climbing halfway up the side of a pen for the children's pigs.

He ran out and fired a shot at the bear closest to him. The other two bears, alarmed by the crack of the rifle, darted away from the pig pen toward the forest behind his house.

"He didn't fire at the retreating bears because they no longer posed a threat," Douglas said.

The grizzly on the fence was hit, and he tumbled off, then got up and ran off, limping slightly.

The family dog went after the injured bear, which was heading in the same direction the other two had fled.

The bear, only a few yards from the house, turned and charged straight toward where Hill was standing by a large basement window under the deck.

Fearing there was nothing but him and a large pane of glass to keep the wounded bear out of his house, Jeremy took aim and fired again.

The bullet hit the grizzly and the bear rolled to the ground, tried to get up, then fell back down.
So Hill did the right thing and put a dangerous injured predator down, called Fish and Game, and was cleared of wrongdoing by all local officials.

Which is of course why he's in Federal Court now, pleading not guilty to killing an endangered species.

Yeah I could go into the wrongness of this, the fact that it was self-defense, that the Endangered Species Act needs to die, or any other number of trains of thought.

Let the other self defense and second amendment bloggers handle that, they're more than capable.

I want to go into the ABSOLUTE STUPIDITY that is choosing this hill to die on.

It's not like Idaho as a whole is thrilled with the federal government at the moment. We've signed onto the healthcare suits, the federal firearms suits (ID has a statute specifically allowing sales and manufacture of firearms within the states without Fed intervention), and we've been bitching about the Endangered Species Act for forever. Idaho also de-listed wolves from its own internal endangered species list and that has been a bone of contention between Governor Otter and the Secretary of the Interior. How did that turn out? Well...

2011-2012 Wolf Hunting Season:

Standard hunting season dates statewide: Aug 30 - Mar 31, except for Aug 30 - Dec 31 in Island Park and Beaverhead wolf management zones and Aug 30 - June 30 in Lolo and Selway zones.
Hunters may buy 2 tags per calendar year.
Bag limit: No person may take more than one wolf per legal tag in his or her possession.
Wolf seasons are Any-Weapon seasons.
Electronic calls may be used statewide.
Wolves may be taken incidentally during fall bear baiting.
Resident tags are $11.50 each. Non-resident are $31.75.

Moral of the story? Don't mess with Governor Otter. He doesn't back down AND he'll rub it in your face.

But back to the main issue. Notice the part where all of our politicians, from the Governor to the senators to our representative to our state congresscritters are behind this guy? For gods sake we have a governor who could hold his own end of a conversation about which rifle for bear and which rifle for wolf because he's hunted both.

So there's the entire state behind this guy, and that's awesome. Everyone's more than a little fed up with federal intervention, and all of Idaho supports its own before the rest of the country. That's how it works here.

There is one tiny little detail I can guarantee almost everyone else is going to overlook, and I'm going to mention it because I live 50 miles south of this guy.

This is not a metro area we're talking about. This is Boundary County, all of 11K people, only 2900 of which live in an actual town. Boundary County makes the rest of Idaho look liberal. It's said the Mennonites run the school district. The pawn shops stock an amazing selection of firearms that would make most of our readers drool (we've been in the stores, we speak from experience).

The last time Boundary County ended up in the national spotlight happened to be this little incident:

Ruby Ridge was the site of a violent confrontation and siege in northern Idaho in 1992.


The Weaver property was located in northern Idaho in Boundary County, on a hillside on Ruby Creek opposite Caribou Ridge near Naples.

At this point I'm pretty sure everyone in the gun community knows this story, but here's a refresher:

On the morning of August 21st, during a botched surveliance operation; deputy US marshal Art Roderick fired at Sammy Weaver and Kevin Harris, or at their dog striker (this is unclear); killing the dog, and drawing return defensive fire from Weaver and Harris.

Deputy marshals Roderick, Degan, Frank Norris and Larry Cooper then opened fire on Weaver and Harris. Degan shot and wounded both Weaver and Harris, at which point Harris shot back directly at Degan, killing him. In retaliation, deputy marshal Cooper then shot Sammy Weaver; killing him.

When the marshals called in the FBI, the situation they described to the FBI, was an outright lie. They informed the SAC and the HRT commander that the Weavers were radical religious fanatics, part of a white supremacist holy war cult; that all members of the family were armed and ready to fight at all times, and that they were going to kill their children and themselves rather than surrender. They also told the SAC that they had been pinned down for 12 hours by heavy small arms fire, and possibly automatic weapons; and that William Degan had been deliberately murdered.

Based on this outright lie, the FBI instituted rules of engagement to allow any adult with a weapon to be shot on sight. These ROE were clearly unlawful, and should have been rejected by the onsite agents (and a judge decided that as well later); instead HRT acted on them for a full day.

Within a few hours, the FBI chain of command knew that the marshals had lied; but they did not change the illegal rules of engagement until after Horiuchi had already fired several shots at Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris (wounding both). Horiuchis final shot at Harris missed him, and struck Vicki Weaver who was standing behind the door that Harris was entering, holding her infant child.

As a sidenote, the only entity more hated in North Idaho than the Devil is Lon Horiuchi.

So lessee. Charge a man for killing a grizzly in self defense. Make sure there's small children he was protecting about 40 yards away from said bear. Do this in a state where even the governor would like to toss out said law and where all local officials, even your own game wardens, support him. Then make sure the incident happened in an area where the LAST time you went in you shot a woman holding a baby in her own house.

What moron thought this would be a good idea?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Changes - Part 2


This is me at my peak weight of 490lbs:

Honest to god, I can barely bring myself to say that. 490lbs... that's just insane. I'm almost ashamed to even admit that. How in the hell did that happen. That's me... plus 200lbs.

I get angry thinking about it... How could my doctors not know? Not understand? How could it have taken so long for them to listen, to do something. Why did I have to go from doctor to doctor for years...

But yaknow what... anger isn't helping me. It isn't helping my health, or my stress, or my life... It's just not worth it.

Now... Thing is... I still didn't look like 490 there (thank god). I'm just a huge guy by nature. The two women given the Burqa treatment here (I didn't feel like getting their permission to use the photo) are 5'7 and 5'9 respectively, not petite shrinking flowers. You can see, my hands are about as big as their heads.

Now, here's me, 8 months and 90lbs later:

And rest assured, my eyes CAN open more than that, but it was DAMN bright out there.

Oh and yes, that giant bulge on the left (right from my perspective) side of my neck, is the big damn tumor.

90 lbs... another ohh... 125lbs or so to go...

It's a start.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lost the Patriarch of the Stern Family Today

Raymond Stern passed away at 11:05 local time this morning at his home in Kearny, AZ.

Grandpa was born on December 12, 1916. He would have turned 95 this year.

He leaves behind his wife, Dorothy, his 3 children, his 12 grandchildren, and I lost count of the great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. He amazingly managed despite his age to not lose a single one of his blood descendants during his lifetime. Many in-laws yes, but none of his children or their children or their descendants.

Grandpa was born with a cleft palate which complicated his life but never got in his way. He worked as an architect for most of his life, and "tinkered" as he called it with his vehicles for most of his retirement. Grandpa never stopped being sweet and trusting, and he managed to mentally stay 20 years old up until the end, full of good humor and cheer.

He and Grandma raised 3 children in a converted barn in Johnson City, TN. Their daughter still lives there and their younger son lives on the other side of the state line in Boone, NC. Their eldest, my father, lives in AZ. Ray and Dorothy moved there to live near him in 2000.

Grandma and Grandpa played a large role in our daughter's lives, spending time with them and otherwise teaching them. As Grandpa's hearing was failing daughter the younger became the only person he could reliably hear and understand, until she got older and her voice left the magic range that he could hear.

I don't have many pictures of Grandpa (all of the Stern family albums are with my dad) but what I found tells the story quite well.

From Pictures
Grandma and Grandpa in 1967.

From Pictures
My mom with daughter the older, my father, Grandpa, youngest brother, me, oldest brother, middle brother with nephew #1, sister-in-law, Grandma, aunt. One of the last pictures of all of my siblings together prior to my mom's death in 2008. Oh, and of course the Olds which is still in the family. The Olds is the vehicle that helped Grandpa raise his fledgling family during WWII.

From Pictures

Christmas 2005. That's my mom and daughter the older with my grandparents. It was the first Christmas Chris was with us.

I last saw him in April; his failing health was a driving force behind me going on Chris's business trip with him. I at least got to see him before he said his last goodbye.

So now I'm going to have a few fingers of Woodford Reserve and remember Grandpa the way he would want me to. I think this song says it best:


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

One of the most important things ever said

And yes I mean that, with no reservation and no hyperbole:
"It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint." -- Penn Jillette

That says it all right there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Woo hoo, my last ponzi scheme "contribution" for the year is Friday

As of this coming Friday, I will have paid my maximum social security contribution for the year... Yay, I am not being stolen from as much starting next week.

And yes, if you're a smart boy you can figure out how much I made this year from that. I don't really care. My salary is actually published by my company anyway, since I'm a "person of responsibility" under Sarbanes Oxley.

Now if only they would stop stealing the other 26.85% (20% approximate income tax after deductions, plus 1.45% medicare, plus approximately 5.4% Idaho income tax after deductions).

If I've calculated it right, up to today I've actually under-witheld by about $3,000 but the rest of the year should more than make up for that (they're going to kill me on some cash payments later in the year, with 28% federal and 5.4% state. That should more than cover my total liability for the year).

I made 20% on my investments last year (yeah I know, good year) but my moving 10 year average is 13%; including all losses in that time period, which involved two major crashes and a couple of minor ones. That's better than the average investor of course. The 50 year moving average for a well managed pension fund is about 8%; but if you watch the market psychology, you can grab a couple extra percent here and there every year (at a slightly larger risk of course. I lost $7,000 in the last month for example... a little bit more than a more conservative pension fund would have).

My employers and I have made the maximum social security contribution each year. That's currently just over $11,000 but it's been adjusted up a few times in the last 10 years (and slightly down for 2011); so let's treat that conservatively as a constant dollar contribution.

Hmmm... 10 years 13% annualized rate of return on $11,000 annual contributions and reinvestments... That would have been worth about $260,000 (more than double the funding contribution). Even at the average 8% return, that would be $195,000 (a little less than double)

And yet people are still against private accounts...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Changes - Part 1

Last Monday, I did something I haven't been able to do in over two years.

I worked out.

Actually, I worked out twice, once in the morning, and then again in the evening.

I haven't been able to, because the pain, inflammation, and dependent fluid retention in my joints was so sever that I simply could not do it. My body wouldn't support my weight, and the weight I wanted to lift. It wouldn't let me pedal the bike and then walk away...

And now, that's changed, because my doctors have finally found a good balance of medication for me.

For the past few years they've been... experimenting shall we say... with what medications actually help me, what does nothing, and what actually makes things worse.

I've been on almost every anti-inflammatory out there up til now; except lodine, celexa, and vioxx (which they pulled off the market a few years ago.

Most recently we were trying meloxicam (aka Mobic); and it did help, but only in very high doses (60mg daily. Normal is 15mg). That said, if taken in combination with Ibuprofen or Naproxen, it made them more effective.

It wasn't enough, but it took the edge off.

The problem with strong prescription anti-inflammatories, is that they all tend to have nasty side effects; including ones that make my other symptoms worse (like edema, and gastrointestinal difficulties). Some of them also interact badly, or are at least partially counteracted with testosterone, and somebadly with strong diuretics).

Given that, my normal docs were very leery of prescribing anything "stronger" than Naproxen. My GP only agreed to prescribe Meloxicam on an "as needed" basis, for when the inflammation got so severe I had trouble walking.

Which, unfortunately, it had been since fourth of July weekend (I slipped and fell on the dock while swimming, and torqued something. I couldn't walk at all the next few days).

Then, two weeks ago, I finally had my appointment with my new orthopedist. He listened to my history, examined my joints, and immediately sent me down for x-rays (same office visit, came right back up with them 30 minutes later).

And he said something that surprised me.

He said I don't need knee replacements yet.

That yes, they're both in rough shape ( I have osteo-arthritis, synovitis, and cartilage and tendon damage in both; and I may be developing rheumatoid arthritis, but it's too early to tell); I can regain much of my mobility with proper drug treatment and the right exercise regime.

Because I have been in so much pain for so long, my supporting muscles have atrophied and tendons and ligaments have lost flexibility(because the joints hurt so much, I try to avoid moving in the ways that make them hurt worse, which means I don't exercise those muscles and stretch those tendons enough). This in turn made the joints less stable, which made them hurt worse and so on, in a vicious circle.

That day, he started me on Lodine (aka Etodolac), 400mg twice a day (1200mg is the highest daily dose allowed. They make it in 400, 500, and 600mg tabs).

The next day, I was able to walk up and down the stairs in my house without pain, for the first time, ever.

I wasn't flexible... I was stiff, and slow... but I wasn't actually hurting when I started, or when I finished.

Thing is...

I haven't used a flight of stairs without pain in 10 years.

I should be clear... The pain isn't GONE by any stretch of the imagination; but it's so reduced as to be nothing in comparison. I went from a level 4 constant background pain with spikes to level 7; down to a 1, with spikes to a 2 or 3.

And walking up and down the stairs, doesn't really aggravate it. I can go up and down the stairs a half dozen times in a couple hours now, and be fine; whereas before more than two or three times a day and I wouldn't be able to move for hours.

It's not perfect of course. It works a lot better when I double them up to 800mg, and its peak effects only last for two hours or so; but two of them, timed properly, cut the pain and improve my mobility dramatically all day long.

I've asked the doc to up me to two 500s a day and see how that works (the 600mg is extended release only; and ER formulations don't work well for me; plus diuretics tend to make them much less effective).

The next thing the doc wants to do hasn't happened yet; but the medication is ordered (should be here next week actually).

Instead of cortisone injections in the knees (which only last a few weeks, and have their own side effects, like accelerating joint degeneration), he wants to try my out with injections of Synvisc (hylauronic acid in an oil based lubricating transport).

It's supposed to both lubricate the joint, and reduce inflammation dramatically.

Unfortunately my copay is $400 a piece for the injections, even after my out of pocket max for the year (yeah I know... insane). Apparently this stuff is also popular in cosmetic surgery (where it's sold under the trade name Restalyn), so they can charge a fortune for it; and they won't price the orthopedic version any less so it won't be used cosmetically, off label.

Also, it doesn't work for everyone; and for a small percentage, it actually causes a bad histamine reaction (like a nasty bee sting, only inside the joint). So, he wants to try me out and see how it works for me on one knee, wait a few weeks then do the other one.

If it works, I would need to get a series of shots in each knee; but the inflammation should be dramatically reduced for several years, delaying, or even eliminating, the need for surgery (at least until my mid 40s to early 50s. The doc is pretty sure by then I will need the knee replacements).

The final thing the doc ordered (other than losing weight of course), is that I absolutely MUST work out again (particularly with the testosterone).

Of course I knew that already, and it was part of the plan; but the pain was in the way.

Now the pain isn't in the way (or at least not enough to stop me).

I am under strict order to exercise my legs, and in particular my knee joint, and the supporting muscled and tendons. Not to overstrain them, but to give them frequent, repetitive, no impact tension and stress. I.E. the exercise, and leg extensions and thigh curls at high reps and low weight.

So, last weekend I snagged myself this:

Which, after a couple hours of effort became this:

And along with this (325lbs on a weight tree):

and this (which I already had):

And I'm working out again, finally.

20 minutes on the bike in the morning, followed by 40 minutes on light to moderate weight and high reps; then 20 more minutes on the bike in the evening.

At least when I have the time, which starting this week is a lot less (more on that in a later post).

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Random Favorite Song

From a random favorite artist, Christy Moore (yeah, I know he's a commie. I don't care):

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trying out Spotify

I've got ten invites. Anyone want to give it a try?

UPDATE: Sorry guys, I'm all out.

So far I'm liking it, but there are some irritations

The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

People in this country are angry.

They're angry for a lot of reasons, but mostly they're angry because they feel they have been, and continue to be, cheated.

And they're right.

The current budget crisis (as opposed to all the other budget crises over the last 50 years) has highlighted something that most Americans have tried... mostly successfully... to ignore for the past.. oh 37 years or so:

We're broke, and we're getting broker.

Not only are we broke, but we've run up about four times as much debt as we have income...

There are of course lots of reasons why we're broke, but to most people it's obvious that "taxes are too low" isn't one of them.

Most people meaning "everyone other than democrats" of course.

Of course, part of the reason why we're broke is because of military spending. Wars are expensive after all... But really, it's only a small part (about 4% or so).

Part of why we're broke is just that the federal government is huge, overstaffed, inefficient and wasteful... A not insignificant part actually (maybe 20%)... but still, not really enough to account for it.

The real reason why we're in a hole, and digging fast is simple:

We have been the (somewhat willing, mostly ignorant and apathetic) victims of the greatest fraud in the history of the human race.

That fraud is called Social Security; which together with medicare, medicaid, and "social safety net" spending (also part of the fraud) make up about 60% or so of federal spending (and growing every year).

Social Security was sold to the American people as insurance, or a pension; which they would pay into for their working life, and when they retired, be able to live on, or at least supplement their income with, just like any other pension.

The problem is, the entitlement package was a pyramid scheme from day one; and congress has been taking their ill gotten proceeds out of it since day two.

The only things that made social security work from the beginning, were demographics, and the single greatest expansion of wealth in recorded history (both occurring between 1945 and 1968).

Initially the age of retirement was set older than the average age of death for workers (the average worker died at 58 in 1934, vs the average lifespan of 65).

That, combined with the increases in birth rates, and reduction in infant and childhood mortality rates from the '30s through the mid '60s; ensured that there would be far more workers being taxed, and more total taxes collected; than people being paid benefits, or total benefits paid; for at least 65 years from 1945.

In 1934, only about half the population made it to 65 (though those that did averaged a life expectancy of 72 years).

Then, the baby boom and the post World War two medical boom happened (these were not unrelated of course).

From 1946 to 1964, birth rates in the U.S. went up by about 50%, while at the same time lifespan increased dramatically (to 72 by 1964).

This ensured a huge and growing surplus in taxes collected vs. benefits paid for the next 30 years or so, as these "excess" people entered the work force.

It also ensured a huge crash, as the post '64 birth rates went back down to normal; meaning that combined with increased lifespans, after around 1986 or so, the retired population would be growing faster than the workforce (as of 2010 about 1.5 million more people leave the workforce through retirement per year than join it through starting employment. That may end up as much as 3 million more within 10 years.)

Since 1934 the number of people who live past the age of 65 has increased from 50% to 77%, with an average lifespan for those who do of over 80 years (the total national average life expectancy is 78, but 23% of the population don't make it to 65).

In 1934 there were about 7 million people in the U.S. over 65 out of a population of about 125 million (about half of which were working). In 2010 there were about 40 million over 65 out of a population of about 300 million (about half of which were working).

The ratio of workers to retirees started out at about 8 to 1 in 1934; but by 2010 had reduced to about 3.5 to one.

Also, inflation in America remained below 3.5% annual averaged until 1968; when it surged to over 10%, reaching almost 20% by the end of the 70s, and it didn't return to normal until the mid 80s (we are now averaging about 3.4%, but most expect inflation to top 10% again within the next few years because of the currency manipulations the fed is making on behalf of the last three administrations).

That 15 year surge of inflation devalued the contributions of every American from before 1968 dramatically, and the situation didn't normalize until 1984; such that all contributions from prior to 1984 are worth about 1/4 what they would have been on a constant dollar basis.

Basically, that period of inflation it took about 10-15 years of social security taxes and flushed them down the drain.

Now, it's around 65 years from 1945, and social security payments are set to exceed receipts within the next two years (or may have done so already depending on whose accounting you believe).

Exactly as one would predict based on how it's structured, and the economic and demographic makeup of America.

We have known this was coming since 1968... Hell we knew it was possible when social security was created in 1934; but assumed the demographics of America wouldn't change as dramatically as they did.

Then the baby boom happened, and the 1970s happened, and here we are.

Social security is a bankrupt fraud. A ponzi scheme. It always has been. The people of America have been conned, and they're angry.

Americans over 50, for the most part, feel they are entitled to their social security benefits. They were promised them, and they paid their entire working life thinking they were guaranteed... but it was a scam.

If social security was really insurance, or a pension, they'd be right. It would be theres, and no-one would be able to take it away. That's how the system was sold to them. Thats what they were taught for decades... and that is a huge lie. A con game.

Because of that "single greatest expansion of wealth in human history" thing I mentioned earlier, the crash didn't have to happen. Social security shouldn't be broke.

If Social Security had been run as a pension fund, it would be flush right now, and for the forseeable future; because all the contributions in excess of payments would have been making money for the last 77 years.

Remember, from 1934 until 1986, the workforce was still growing far faster than the retired population. Not only that, but real income (inflation adjusted) just about doubled (in 1934 the average household income was $1525 a year, an inflation adjusted $25,000. In 2011 the average household income is just under $50,000).

This means that for about 40 years, the surplus was actually about double what it needed to be just to be self sustaining (presuming a 4% annualized average return).

If it was a wisely managed pension fund, with an average rate of return, those surpluses combined with moderate and safe returns on investment would have insured retirees an excellent income; while covering the big demographic hole for the next 30 years, as the rate of retirees exceed the rate of people entering the work force.

However, instead of actually investing that money, congress used it as part of the general fund, in order to make their budget deficits look smaller than they really were (and have done so every year since 1958). No actual investment has been made... in fact they've used those funds to justify even more borrowing and spending.

The thing is, Social Security was never actually organized as an annuity or insurance plan, or even as a conventional pension plan; as it should have been (neither was Medicare/Medicaid, nor state or federal "unemployment insurance" other than private unemployment insurance carried by employers and provided by non-state actors).

If they had been an annuity or a pension and post retirement health care plan; you would own them as your own assets, and you would receive far more from them than the current benefits schedule; plus you'd be able to leave them to your kids, take loans against them or use them as collateral, and set your own payout schedule.

Most people in this country work for about 45-49 years, and the average 22-34 year old today makes $25,000 per year, with wages generally slightly outpacing inflation (so it's reasonable to assume a constant dollar basis).

The contribution to Social Security and medicare that employers and workers combined is 15.2% of their annual wages and earnings (up to $106,800).

15% of that saved annually, earning 4% (just over the 50 year average rate of inflation at 3.4%, which is extremely pessimistic. The average rate of return on pension plans over the past 50 years is about 8%), for 45 years, and assuming never receiving a pay increase (again obviously not correct. The average 50 year old worker makes around $50,000) would leave a 67 year old retiree who began working at 22 and never received anything more than a cost of living raise a fair bit of money for their retirement.

What's a "fair bit"?

Try around $350,000. In fact, even if you just managed to save cash, with no pensions or investments whatsoever, you would have $170,000.

If instead we assumed a normal rate of pay raises (3% annual average across the entire workforce, plus inflation/COLA of 3.4%), and a normal rate of return (8% average for conservatively managed pension plans over the last 50 years) that fair bit turns into between $1 million, and $1.5 million

Oh and these are numbers after taxes, presuming taxes remain at current levels... which they probably won't. Historically, since the 1960s taxes have gone down in this country, but that's almost certainly about to change.

Also remember, this is on a constant dollar basis, so thats expected to rise with inflation. this is a purchasing power parity number with today.

That same 67 year old worker can expect about $15,000 a year from social security, or about $1275 a month (the average retired worker today receives $1180 per month, or $14,160 per year)... or could if the system actually worked, wasn't broken and bankrupt etc...

The average worker survives their retirement at 67 by 11 years. Even if you had only saved cash, and your savings had only kept pace with inflation, you'd be beating the "benefit' from social security, with about $1275 a month.

And of course, if you had a normal career, with a normal pension plan... Well, even being very conservative, you would have something like $95,000 a year.

More importantly, you would have an asset. It would be yours, to do with as you like. You could leave it to your kids, borrow against it to pay off your mortgage, or even take a lump sum to do so and not worry about a payment again... anything you wanted.

And of course, that ignores any asset value you may have, like a house with a paid off mortgage (which, ignoring the recent bubble, will on average increase in constant dollar value about 50% over the life of a mortgage), any other investments or savings etc...

Ok, but what about health care?

An individual health care plan runs about $4-5,000 a year in todays dollars, a family plan usually runs between $8000 and $12,000 (in most states anyway, some are much higher); which in the U.S. is generally paid 80% by employers and 20% by employees.

Since we are talking about individuals, let's presume you can continue that $5,000 a year cost post retirement, but paid out of your own retirement savings rather than medicare.

Even with just savings, presuming your 11 year average retirement you only come out slightly behind Social Security; and with any kind of investment whatsoever you come out at the least 100% ahead.
Note: i should mention that as of today, actually, in general, Americans between 65 and 75 are doing quite well. They have higher median income and assets and lower expenses than the median of the general population. However, the bottom 22% of seniors are not doing at all well, with social security their only real income, and medicare their only medical care.
If Social Security and Medicare had been run as proper pension and health care plans, we'd have no problem with payments, and Americas older population would be rich.

But they're not run that way.

They are, and always have been, taxes; which are conventionally referred to as insurance, as basically part of a massive 77 year fraud.

Well.. 46 year fraud for the medicare portion...

Congress has been taxing everyone 15% for the "privilege" of earning wages, for the last 77 years; and using that money to pay for spending that gets them reelected. In return they have promised that you are "entitled" to a small payout, with the caveat that it's as much or as little as they want to give you, when they want to give it to you, for as long as they want to give it to you.

And yet, people defend this system?

In reality they don't. They defend the idea of the system they BELIEVE they had, because they were defrauded by congress for 77 years.

But it was all a lie.

Now, that lie is being exposed... and people are shocked, and angry. They want what was promised to them.

The politicians are smart enough to know that these people vote, and for the most part young people (who haven't believed they were going to get their social security benefits in 20 years) don't.

So, we're inevitably going to end up taxing the productive more, and accruing more debt.

There are about 150 million workers in the united states, earning an average of $25,000 a year; for a total personal income of about $3.75 trillion dollars a year (this year the actual estimate is $3.51 trillion)

However, only about 47% of those pay more taxes (including social security taxes) than they receive in net payments and benefits.

So that's about $1.85 trillion net positive income.

At this point social security is so broke, and the government has borrowed from it so much; that you could tax every productive worker at 100% of their income for 20 years, and STILL not make up the unfunded liabilities of the system (which currently stand at $18 trillion dollars for social security alone - $62 trillion for the whole shebang - , with an additional 1.4 trillion per year added for the next 20 years).

We'd still be 10 trillion short, and of course no-one would bother working at 100% tax rate, they would just become unproductive workers like the bottom 47%; not only not solving the problem, but making it worse.

Ok... how about we tax total corporate profits? Surely the "big corporations" can afford it, and if we take everything they make, that should cover it right?

Well, no.

Total corporate profits in the U.S. are about $6 trillion annually, and have actually been pretty consistent on a constant dollar basis since the late 80s; minus the internet bubble and the housing bubble.

Ok, so we could tax them at 100% for four years and that would cover it right?

Well no, because if we did, total corporate profits would instantly fall to zero. There would be no incentive to produce profit, and companies would either close up shop entirely, or simply plow the money back into the business as expenses so as to show no profit.

And of course theres the fact that about 50% of all "corporate profits" are actually from small businesses; and half of those are form sole proprietorships or limited partnerships.

Basically your plumber, electrician, corner store owner, mom and pop shop...

Their "profits" are actually their only income... and they wouldn't be able to protect themselves from taxes the way a bigger company can.

50% of the employment in this country also comes from small businesses... You think unemployment is bad today at around 9% (officially. The "real" number is probably more like 15%) how bad do you think things would be if we went to 50% or more unemployment overnight?

Hell, why do you think unemployment is so high today, while companies are sitting on big piles of cash?

Simple: It's because the management of those companies is TERRIFIED of what congress, and this administration are going to do to them. They don't know if they're going to be able to survive whatever it is they do.

In past years, American business could count on the fact that politicians understood you couldn't slaughter all your cows to pay your bills this year, or you wouldn't have any calves to sell next year.

With the current congress and administration... Frankly, businesses see that as a scenario the government might try, in an effort to save their own skins against the rising tide of angry Americans.

OK, what about cutting spending?

Well, it's a great idea. It's something we should definitely do. We could probably cut spending by 20% or so and not have it significantly impact the lives of most Americans, or our ability to defend ourselves, and we absolutely should (that includes cutting 20% off the military, and off current entitlements etc... through waste cuttting and shrinking the federal government in general... REAL waste cutting by people who actually know how to do it, not congress... which won't happen of course).

... And don't try to feed me that con about reducing demand or understimulating the economy. Keynes was wrong, and Bastiat was right. It's all the broken window fallacy, and if you don't understand what that is, go look it up...

There's a problem though...

The remaining 80% of spending really is non-discretionary unless we completely restructure current entitlement programs.

The U.S. government will spend 4.3 trillion dollars this year, on projected 2.8 trillion in revenue; a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit.

A 1.5 trillion deficit is by the way, almost as much as the entire 1998 budget (the last "balanced" budget we had in this country... Actually it wasn't, the last actual balanced budget we had was in 1957 but a certain percent of federal spending is carried off books every year. 1998 had an actual deficit of about $60 billion); at 1.6 trillion... though there has been 33% inflation since '98 so in constant dolar terms the budget would be $2.1 trillion.

From $2.1 trillion in constant dollars to 4.3 trillion..

Not only have we more than doubled the constant dollar budget since 1998 (on 33% inflation, meaning the budget is growing almost 250% faster than inflation... not 50% faster, not 1.5 times faster... 2.5 times faster), we've almost tripled the gross debt from 5.6 trillion to 14.6 trillion.

Half of that 9 trillion increase in debt has been in the last two years. The Bush administration took us from 5.7 trillion to 9.8 trillion in 8 years... But the Obama administration managed to add 4.8 trillion in just two (and on pace to add another 4 trillion before January 2013).

By the by, Bushes last years spending was $3 trillion on $2.6 trillion in revenue, for an actual deficit of $400 billion... at the time thought of as enormously high (and about $200 billion more than projected, because of additional military appropriations).

Obamas first year actual spending was $3.5 trillion on $2.1 trillion in revenue, for a $1.4 trillion deficit. His second year actual spending was $4.5 trillion (almost $1 trillion over budget by the way) on $2.2 trillion in revenue.

Yes a $1 trillion dollar year over year spending increase, that can't be blamed on Bush, in a year that military expenditures were actually reduced, so you can't blame it on the war either.

Of course it isn't really Obama, it's congress; I'm just using the common popular rhetoric.

After this years "cuts" (which really aren't, they're just reductions in the planned increases) we're "down" to a 4.3 trillion planned budget (which doesn't account for overages and off budget expenses, which have for the last two years been more than $1 trillion each year).

Even if we make a 20% real cut down to 3.5 trillion, that still leaves a $700 billion deficit... and that's before you account for the $6.1 trillion a year in total unfunded liabilities we are accumulating... which without huge cuts in entitlements, at best we'll trim to $5 trillion.

In constant dollar terms, and minus the theoretical 20% across the board cuts from shrinking government (which need to happen, but probably won't); 60% of the increase in federal spending since 1998 has come from increases in social security, medicare, medicaid, and social spending programs. Only 20% has come from military spending, and only 10% from "infrastructure" and 'stimulus".

We have to cut entitlements and social benefits. The currently make up about 60% of government spending, and will increase to 100% of federal spending within 10 years (at todays budget levels) if we don't.

There is no choice. It has to be done.

Historically, the U.S. Federal government has never been able to achieve more than a 19% annual 10 year average revenue return on gross domestic product. If taxes increase they reduce personal spending, corporate profits and spending, and overall economic growth, to the point that revenues fall back below 19% within a few years.

At todays levels of GDP of around 15 trillion dollars (and currently not keeping pace with inflation, so it's falling in constant dollar terms; but historically we've grown between 4% and 5% annual average over the last 50 years, slightly outpacing inflation) we can sustain a real expenditure level of about $2.85 trillion.

Our revenues this year look like they're going to be about $2.8 trillion... or just about the maximum we can expect to get based on current economic production. There's really no room for long term "revenue enhancement", and short term revenue enhancement is counterproductive.

We can't tax our way out of it, that's the maximum tax revenue we can collect (at least for more than about 4 years... and the suppression of growth for the following six years will just make the 10 year average the same... so it's the real maximum).

We need to cut about $1.5 trillion from the budget, and a "real" expenditure level of over $2 trillion.

Annually, not over 10 years.

That would be a 20 trillion cut over 10 years if we want to report things the way congress likes to; not $100-$200 billion annual reduction in increases, as we just passed through congress.

$2 trillion, right off the top, no questions no comments no bluffing.

The most we can realistically cut without radically restructuring entitlements is about $900 billion (or 9 trillion over 10 years).

Oh and of course, thats without even starting to pay down the almost $15 trillion in national debt. Let's call it another $500 billion to be able to pay the debt off in 30 years; so $2.5 trillion.

Which, funny enough, puts us right back around 1998 constant dollar expenditure levels +$300 billion or so.

Let me ask you something?

Was 1998 really a horrible year? Was federal spending so low that it killed our economy? Were old people dying in the streets because they didn't have enough social security?

Of course not.

We COULD go back to that spending level in constant dollars (meaning adjusted for inflation since then). In fact, at current revenue levels, if we didn't feel like paying down the debt, we could increase spending by about 40%. Or we could actually use that to pay down the debt.

We can't tax our way out of it, we have to cut. It's that simple.

There is no solution to this problem that doesn't involve cutting spending by about 40%.

Let me repeat that:


Or at least no solution that doesn't massively hurt everyone in this country for the next 20 or 30 years.

4% of that or so can come out of military spending, another 4% from discretionary spending (that's a 20% cut in each by the way, it's 8% of the total budget combined); the remaining 32% are going to have to come out of entitlements.

...And that's not going to happen.

Politicians won't do it, because they know they will lose votes.

The AARP and the left wing lobbies won't let them, even if the "right" had the guts to push it, which they don't.

The only thing we can do, is limit the damage as best we can, and work through the pain. There is no other option.

We are going to have to increase the retirement age. There is no other option.

We are going to have to reduce medical spending somehow. There is no other option.
A side rant on that topic... Between 60% and 80% of every dollar spent on medical care in this country goes to taxes, insurance, legal fees, administrative overhead, and regulatory compliance; almost entirely imposed by the government. That's an easy fix, but we won't do it, for the same reasons listed above.
We are going to have to eliminate social security for everyone below a certain cutoff age; and move them to some kind of private accounts system as I describe above. There is no other option.

We have to do it now, or at least soon; because every year we don't the problem just gets worse. It was punting it down the road every year since 1974 (the first time the excessive entitlements spending problem was brought into the congressional sphere) that got us into the mess we're in now.

We have to do it now, because every year we don't the hurting gets worse, and the time it will take to gut through it gets longer.

We have to do it now... because we've run out of other peoples money to spend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Five Years Later - Why bullpups aren't a great solution

In my ongoing series revisiting posts from five (or six) years ago, I thought I'd update one of my most read and linked posts, the one on bullpups.

In this case, I'm not doing a new post, but I've completely re-written (and corrected all the typos and dead links in) the old post. In particular I greatly simplified it, pulling out a bunch of wonkish detail on human mechanics and ergonomics which just about everyone ignored.

Oh and I renamed it; since I don't actually thing they're a BAD idea, but they aren't an optimal solution:

For some reason, the the bullpup rifle keeps being put forward as a good idea.

...Really, for the most part, they are not.

I'm an engineer and a firearms expert; by training, inclination, experience, and employment. I'm a veteran, a former security contractor, a former firearms trainer, and a class III armorer and light duty gunsmith (I don't have a barrel lathe or mill at the moment, and I don't want to be an FFL again; so I don't offer full gunsmithing).

I have a great appreciation for good engineering. Bullpups are, in general, not good engineering.

The bullpup rifle has one real advantage: bullpup designs allow for a shorter overall weapon, for a given length of barrel (typically between 4" and 7" shorter than a conventional rifle).

That's not an insignificant advantage. In some missions it's even a huge asset (particularly in urban combat, or infantry dismounted from armored vehicles).

In most missions though, that 4-7 inches isn't much of a plus.

On the other hand, the bullpup configuration has a number of disadvantages:
  • Bullpup designs are mechanically more complex, requiring a long trigger linkage, and control system linkages. This seriously degrades both control feel, and reliability, and increases bulk and weight (there may be engineering solutions to this problem).

    If current munitions infrastructure and laws allowed for electronic trigger, feed, and ignition systems, this would be a non issue, and the bullpups advantage may outweigh it's several disadvantages; but for now, that's not an option (also, electronic systems have their own issues).

  • If a bullpup has a catastrophic failure, instead of the explosion being six or eight inches in front of your eyes, it's right at your eyesocket, or touching your cheekbone or ear. The only good thing is, if the bolt flys back, it doesn't end up in your eye socket.

    Most bullpups also eject hot brass, and vent hot gasses in the vicinity of your eyes and ears (some eject downward or forward, which is a better solution for a bullpup, if it's engineered properly).

  • Mag changes on most bullpups are slower (sometimes much slower) because they require more repositioning, that positioning can be awkward, and can be difficult to see (if necessary) without fully dismounting the rifle.

    A conventional rifle allows you to see your mag changes, and is more easily maneuvered with your dominant hand, which makes mag changes easier in general.

    More importantly a human being can naturally bring their hands together in the dark. As a basic design guideline, magwells should either be in your dominant hand, or just in front of it; because it is far more difficult to manipulate anything dexterously that is located behind your dominant hand.
  • Because of the positioning of the magazine (usually the part of a gun extending lowest) close to your shoulder when the weapon is mounted, bullpups can be difficult to fire while prone (though this is common with some other rifle designs as well).

    Note in the pictures below, the magazine is by far the lowest point of the rifle; and being located behind the dominant hand and close to your shoulder; when you drop prone it will tend to strike the ground forcing the muzzle downward.

    This can also cause problems with mags being warped, ripped out of the magwell, having the baseplate broken off, or the rifle itself being ripped out of the users hand when hitting the deck.

    A conventional rifle with a long magazine can have issues with dropping prone as well, but because the mag is positioned forward of the dominant hand, instead of forcing the muzzle down, it will tend to force the muzzle up; and though it's not advisable to use the magazine as a monopod, it's possible. With a bullpup, it isn't.

    This isn't an issue for rifles that are generally fired off bipods, so in an SAW or LMG role, the bullpup may be an appropriate solution (though having the feed system in such tight quarters with your shoulder and cheek is its own issue).

  • Charging the rifle and manipulating the operating handle is often more difficult, and sometimes can't be done without dismounting the rifle, or reaching over the rifle with your support hand (again, some conventional rifles do share this weakness; and this is a problem that can easily be solved with proper engineering).

  • Bullpups are naturally balanced in a non-instinctive way.

    This is really the biggest problem, and the one that is hardest to solve with engineering.

    The balance point on most bullpups is in between your hand and your shoulder when mounted, which is unnatural. We have a natural tendency to try to balance things between our hands, not between our hand and shoulder.

    The only way to correct this is to put heavy things in front of your dominant hand, or to make the weapon short and light enough that this won't make a difference (and even then it will still be more awkward and less instinctive to point; but several modern bullpups have taken the second approach).

    This balance will tend to make a bullpup tend to shift its butt under recoil, unless it is very tightly mounted to your shoulder; particularly during rapid fire. This tendency is somewhat countered by the position of your support hand so far forward on the barrel,  by the fact that the overall leverage moment of the muzzle is lower (the muzzle isn't as far from either your shoulder, or your dominant hand), and by the fact that most bullpups have straightline recoil.

    A conventional rifle is balanced in between your dominant and support hands, and there are good reasons for that. A human being naturally handles things that balance in the palm, or in front of your dominant hand, better, because we naturally want to balance things between our hands.

    Under recoil, the muzzle of a conventional rifle rises, but just from gravity will fall into you support hand again without actually holding or pulling it down, because the fulcrum of the lever is in your dominant hand, and the balance point is in front of the fulcrum. 
Some of these issues can be solved, or mitigated with engineering (and most modern bullpup designs do resolve, or at least reduce, many of those issues). Also, a lot of this can be worked around with training.

What it comes down to though, is that bullpups are ergonomically incorrect for human beings. When you have the option, you don't train someone to do something ergonomically incorrect, you redesign the equipment to fit human ergonomics.

The only good thing about a bullpup is the short overall length in relation to their barrel length; and that is not advantage enough to outweigh the disadvantages for most missions.

Well, that and the fact that they look cool, which is the real reason so many people are enamored of them.

A lot of folks have watched a lot of stargate (or played a lot of stealth shooter video games). They use the FN-P90 PDW which isn't exactly a bullpup, but follows a similar concept; and they do just look kind of futuristic.

The Steyr AUG was designed in 1976, and it still looks like a space gun:

Several countries have adopted bullpup designes as their primary service arm, notably Austria, and Australia (the AUG above), France (the FAMAS),

and the UK (the SA80 system, now in the L85-A2 variant):

The reasons cited are usually overall length, the extra accuracy and velocity afforded by the longer barrels allowed by the configuration, and some medical or efficiency studies showing that the bullpup was actually ergonomically correct.

Here's the thing: every study that the British did showing that the SA80 design was ergonomically correct, or that the reliability issue was solved, has over the past few years been proven to have been "Unjustifiably optimistic", or some other such euphemism for fraud.

The SA80 has  proven to be ridiculously unreliable , though at least it is SA80 is quite accurate when it functions properly (also the HK refit and remanufacture of the A2 variant has dramatically improved reliability... Though it's still not great).

The SA80 in fact is so poorly designed, that firing it from your left shoulder will give you a black eye (and can even break your cheekbone) and send hot brass and gasses flying into your eyes. You also can't fire the thing from the left side of cover without exposing your whole head and torso.

I have tried the P90, the SA80, the Steyr AUG, the Bushmaster M17, the FAMAS, and the IMI Tavor (the latter two held and played with, but not shot), and I haven't found any of them but the P90 to be remotely comfortable, or anything but awkward. I've tried a couple of bullpup conversions from other weapons as well, same thing (excepting several bullpup sniper rifles, that I quite liked, and as I said, the P90 which is only sort of a bullpup... it's quite handy and nice to shoot).
UPDATE: Since I first wrote this, I've had a chance to shoot with the FN F/S2000 in both semi and full auto variants: 
While it looks like a heavy and awkward spacegun, it's actually very light, well balanced, and comfortable. Reports from the field are that it is generally reliable, but there aren't a lot out there yet to establish a useful sample.  
Mag changes are still less than ideal, and the trigger is still poor; but the handling of the gun is good, and it is reasonably accurate for an assault rifle. I do worry however about the forward ejection system. It seems to me like it would be easy to jam up in the field. 
Also, since I originally wrote this, Kel-Tec has introduced their RFB forward ejecting bullpup in 7.62x51: 
Unfortunately, not many of them are out in the world yet, so I haven't had a chance to fire one; but the design seems to address some of the issues above.  I have real concerns about the forward and up ejection system, and the inability to clear a jam without field stripping the weapon however. 

Until someone has shot thousands of rounds through them, had to change mags in the dark, and in cramped conditions, had to clear jams under combat conditions etc... they can't know how unsuitable bullpups are as anything other than a niche weapon, to be used only where OAL is the most critical factor (but where SMGs are not an appropriate choice).

For example, bullpup sniper rifles make a lot of sense, particularly in .50bmg and other anti-materiel chamberings. In fact, any weapon that you would normally fire off a bipod makes sense as a bullpup, because the ergonomic issues around balance, and lying prone don't really apply.

People say "Well the designs just aren't good enough yet, I'm sure as they mature they'll get better, isn't it the natural way to go eventually?"

First of all, why would it be?

Other than the fact that the Sci-Fi network likes featuring bullpups in their television shows, there is no reason why bullpups should be "the future". They have one design advantage, shorter length, and many design disadvantages.

Now, when we use caseless ammmo loaded in 1000 round blocks, and using electronic ignition systems... sure, bullpups make sense. At that point, all the basic engineering weaknesses are compensated for, and the advantage of a longer barrel for length of weapon offsets the balance issues... if they even exist then, given progress in materials.

But for now, so long as we are using relatively "conventional" ammunition and firing mechanisms, those engineering problems outweight the one real advantage; and the ergonomic issues simply compound the problem.

Engineers aren't miracle workers. We can refine a design until it's mechanically perfect within its design parameters; but the point I'm trying to make, is that at our current level of cartridge firing weapons development, there is no way to design an ergonomic bullpup.

So, bullpups are only slightly shorter than their conventional counterparts (maybe 7" in the case of an assault rifle), nothing to sneeze at, but not a huge advantage in most cases considering the missions they are intended for; they are less reliable and more mechanically complex than conventional designs, they are ergonomically incorrect, and they are more likely to injure their user.

I'm not denying there are missions where a bullpup is appropriate (as I said above), but I can't see any conventional situation where a bullpup assault rifle is the right tradeoff to make; even urban warfare and infantry dismounted from armor.

But they look cool...

I need this posted on my front door

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

More GBR Prizes and Toys

The famous Gun Blogger Rendezvous raffle prize pool is growing in size and *ahem* scope.

Weatherby will be donating a new shotgun to the Project Valour-IT Fund Raising raffle, and Ruger is also donating a new pistol to the raffle. Dewey, makers of fine quality gun cleaning kits and rods, will be a new sponsor this year. Leupold will be adding a beautiful new scope to the raffle too. Pro Ears will be also sponsoring this year, and also letting us play with their hearing protectors at the range. We will be able to buy them at a very special Rendezvous price, if we find one we like.

Remember, you can't win or play with any of the toys if you're not there.

This year's Rondy is September 8-11 in Reno and it's not too late to register.

Frikken great song

I think I still wear shirts that are 15 years old...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sadly, this isn't much of an exaggeration

Of course no-one actually says it out loud, but you just know that's what their expectation is...

Is it just me...

Or does Giada Di Laurentiis look more and more like a porn star?

This one is not really porny, but I couldn't find one of her recent look which really, honestly looks like a vivid DVD cover.  Also this is WAY less cleavage than she almost always shows.

And of course, there's her "foodgasms"

The Best Advice I Can Give

Don't try to define yourself. Don't let others define you.

Don't try to fit any definition at all.

Don't look for a road map.

You never know what's going to happen in life, you can only try to live as you want to live, and prepare for the unexpected.

Much of the unhappiness we feel in life is the conflict between what we expect or feel we should be or do, what we want to be or do, and what we actually be or do...

Don't limit yourself, and don't create worry and stress and pain for yourself by setting expectations that may not be what you really want or need.

Just let yourself happen, and you'll figure out who and what you are, and what you want to do, as you go.

That said, don't just let life happen to you. Make sure you happen to life.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Life... in the way etc...

Sorry, no content last couple of days, but life is busy being life right now, and I'm busy dealing with it.

Maybe later...