Monday, December 31, 2012

Breaking: A Fiscal Cliff Deal is Confirmed

But the central detail, the one that sticks out the most, is this: they're going to postpone deciding anything else for a couple of months.

Whaddaya wanna bet that means we go through this last-minute, headless chicken scramble again? 

Breaking: A Tentative Deal on the Fiscal Cliff

They may have pulled something out of their hats.

I have no faith.  Once again, our nation's "best and brightest" have failed us with their worst and dimmest.  They have waited until the last minute, scrambled like middle schoolers caught without their homework, trying to cobble some disastrous, ill-conceived half measure at the last. possible. moment.

I'm disgusted with all of them.

I'm so angy and frustrated I can't even think straight.  If you can stand it, check out the latest.  When I wake up in the morning, we'll see exactly how much poo is in the blower, and see what's next.

Friday, December 28, 2012

At the Precipice, A Decision

Can Obama and Congress come to a conclusion that averts the fiscal cliff?  We'll know in three days.

It's worth noting that the median net worth of Congress - Senate and House combined - is about $880,000.  That's a hell of a lot more net worth than I can claim, including the house.  It stands to reason that there should be a lot of friction coming from these people about raising taxes - they have an awful lot to lose.  Republicans and Democrats both, they stand to take a serious bath if their taxes go up.  Most of them don't fall into the category of the so-called "ultra rich," the top one percent income-earners in the United States.

It's pretty easy to see where the distrust and unease come from.  The richest people in America, even without insurance and government-funded health care, can afford what they need.  They can simply pay for things.  The vast majority of the rest of us, however, cannot.  A tax rate hike hits a rich person pretty hard, no doubt - an extra 10 percent is an extra ten percent, and when your income is 25 million that means shelling out a lot more money than before.  But unlike somebody getting by on $30,000 or less, that guy with the $25 million income can afford his necessities.  His groceries are a tiny portion of his income, his health care premiums are a vanishingly small sliver of his take-home pay.  If he isn't an idiot trying to pay the mortgage on a private island, the super-rich guy has very little to worry about.  He could lose 90% of his income and still be considered very well-off indeed.

A guy on $30,000, losing 90% of his income, would be on the ragged edge of homelessness.  With that kind of money, you can afford a nice used van to live in.

Obama and the four Congressional leaders (majority and minority heads, Senate and House) met for an hour - c'mon, you needed a whole hour? - and Obama is coming away saying he's "modestly optimistic."

I'm not optimistic, modestly or otherwise.  I'm damned annoyed.  In that same story, Obama is quoted as saying that "the hour for immediate action is here..."  No it isn't!  The hour for immediate action was months ago!

Politicians are playing hardball against each other, and they're using our country's economy as the ball.  I'm mad as hell, utterly disgusted that this kind of important issue must fall prey to such brinskmanship.  The stakes are too damned high.

I know I keep saying "let's just go over the cliff, and deal with it."  I'm still saying that.  But the most frustrating part is seeing this last-minute scramble to try to come to some kind of agreement.  This is a large part of how the US lost its favorable credit rating just last year.  Does anybody else remember that?  That was the same sort of problem, and it would appear to me that NO ONE HAS LEARNED ANYTHING FROM IT.

Well, I've learned something from it.  I've learned something pretty important, and I hope every politician that has anything to do with my part of the country gets the message, loud and clear.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gun Nuts

You've seen them before, in popular culture references, in magazines, and lately in the news.

That last reference is to Nancy Lanza, mom to the crazy guy that killed her and then a slew of children and teachers at the elementary school where she worked as a kindergarten teacher.  That's right, that gun nut was a kindergarten teacher, the kind of person you usually associate with almost anything but guns.

What constitutes a gun nut?  That's a tough call.  In my lifetime I've owned a couple, though at this time I don't have any aside from an excellent pellet rifle that can shoot through a 1/2" thick piece of plywood.  As a "home defense" weapon (more on those later) it's almost worthless, since it's in a box, in the closet, unloaded.  Home defense is about preparedness in an emergency, in that regard the pellet rifle is more effective as a club in its current condition.  I think it would be safe to say I'm not a gun nut.

My dad owns a shotgun, I think.  I haven't seen it in about 35 years, which might be about as long as it's been since he saw it, assuming he even still has it.  I haven't asked, but I feel safe in saying: not a gun nut.

My brother-in-law has a couple.  He occasionally takes them to the local firing range, runs a box of ammo through them, keeping his eye in.  Not a gun nut.

I think the term "gun nut" has to apply not so much to ownership and use (more on that later, too) of guns, as to the philosophy surrounding their ownership and what that ownership means.

The point of the Second Amendment was ostensibly to ensure that the newborn American government never grow up to be a tyranny.  It's difficult to oppress and threaten with deadly force when the entire civilian population has its own weapons to bring to bear against a despotic government.  As I said when describing NPR's problems during March of 2011, when you have to take action against a force that can destroy you, you tend to work hard to keep things fair.  I'm not saying that disgruntled citizens should take up arms at every vote their Congressman makes that doesn't quite suit them, I'm saying that it would be damned hard for our governmental to become a dictatorship that disregards the needs and desires of its citizens, now that we've had legal access to our own military might for quite some time.

In the beginning, when the art and science of gunsmithing was relatively new, the gun you used on the battlefield as part of a military unit was a close cousin to the gun you used as a civilian, hunting for food.  It was understood by the government and the military machine that only the cannons owned and operated by the nation's military represented superior firepower and even so, superior numbers of civilians and smart tactics could overtake slow-firing, logistically cumbersome cannon.  In short, it would be desperately unwise to attempt to overthrow the nation's own citizens.  When so much of the army was really local militia called up to service and they already owned the guns they would use in such service, it would be a doomed effort from the beginning.

But in more recent times gunsmithing has become something else entirely.  It is possible to manufacture weapons capable of firing over 600 rounds per minute.   The fastest non-automatic firing I've ever heard of is damned fast - eight rounds in a single second firing a conventional revolver.  But when the eight rounds are gone, the revolver has to reload.  The AR-15 just keeps shooting until the 30-round clip is empty.

There are people who are freakishly fast shooters. I know I can't pull the trigger eight times in a single second, but there are some who can.  And they hit their targets, so they aren't just whaling away at it.  But that doesn't change the fact that most people simply aren't going to shoot that fast or fire very many rounds in a single go.  The automatic weapon changes that.

But no problem!  You can purchase an automatic weapon if you want one.  Well, semi-auto.  The gun fires a round, resets the trigger for you, and you fire again.  That limits how quickly you can fire the gun, but that limitation isn't a big deal: you can still fire a round every second.

Now is when I ask the question: how quickly do you need to fire?  Sportsmen, legitimate hunters, will usually tell you that being able to fire another shot very quickly is pretty important, but those same hunters will tell you that if you need to fire more than three shots, you're a crap hunter.  Really.  If you can't hit the target on the first shot and need the second shot to end its suffering - suffering you, the hunter, have caused, by the way - a third round can only underline your lousy performance.  And if that third shot doesn't finish it off, that's because the wounded animal has gotten completely away.

In my book, gun control is hitting the target the first time, every time.  But the larger question is what kind of gun should I be able to have?  If actual hunters will tell you that more than three rounds at a time is poor performance, then the "legitimate sporting" argument for a 30-round magazine and a round every second is a pretty weak argument.

Here's where the gun nuts start getting their wind up.  They'll shout "Second Amendment" this and that, that the Constitution protects our legal right to own and bear arms.  They're a degree.  The Amendment clearly states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, so as long as the weapon can be owned, you can own it, absent legal reasons why you should not.  But in light of the Connecticut school shooting and now this nutjob in New York setting a trap for firefighters by setting his own home on fire, it points up the question, should some weapons be legal to own?

I don't hunt.  I know one guy who does, and I asked him a few questions about what kind of guns he owns, but it's been a couple of days since I asked and he hasn't gotten back to me.  I hope he does soon, because I don't want to file this essay without representing a legitimate user's view.

Having  a shorter magazine would not have stopped that murderer from killing all those kids.  It would have slowed him down, however, and maybe those heroic teachers who tried to stop him would have had a chance.  Maybe nothing would have changed.

Having to re-cock the gun for every shot would have slowed him down.  Maybe the teachers would have had a chance.  Maybe not.

Looking at the statistics, the United States isn't the worst place to worry about getting killed by somebody with a gun.  El Salvador, for instance, is way worse.  Colombia is way worse.  Brazil is way worse.  Countries, to put it bluntly, that are raddled by ultra-violent drug cartels that are killing indiscriminately are worse off than we are.  Third-world countries awash in organized crime are way worse off than we are.

I think it's high time we look very hard at whether having the capacity to deal out death at such a high rate is a good thing.  The many checks and balances already make it damned hard for our own government to take unchallenged control and become a dictatorship, a tyranny that dispossesses its constituents.

The right to own and bear arms shall not be infringed, but I think we need to look damned hard at whether the right to sell the capability of dealing death in bulk amounts should be infringed.  It really ought to be, since dealing death in any amount is by and large illegal, not useful in hunting, and a national tragedy every time it happens.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Internet Communication Is Killing Interpersonal Communication

I was going to lay all the blame for everything I'm about to talk about on facebook. But really facebook is a Johnny-come-lately, a newcomer to a paradigm shift that was already well underway when facebook hit the scene.

Letter writing is falling way off as electronic communications become more and more prevalent.  Now, this doesn't mean that people aren't talking to each other, but what it does mean is that a lot of what is getting said doesn't need saying.

Writing a letter was, at one time, a project.  You needed to set aside a small block of time for it, gather materials, find an envelope and a stamp, get it to the mailbox or, if you're like me, to the Post Office.  It wasn't a spontaneous thing to do, and with so much other effort bound up around it, the things that got conveyed in a letter were things that mattered.  And since so much effort was bound up around the letter, if you were going to send a page, you might as well send several.  If I recall, you could send as many as six or seven pages on one stamp.

Even with her largish, loopy handwriting, a friend who corresponded with me in college could send over 1,000 words on one stamp - and she did.  I might have enjoyed a closer relationship with her since we were good friends in high school, but as it turned out her conservative religion - and similarly conservative father - would have prevented it.  And I have no regrets with how my life has turned out so far, so no worries there.

But if you want to send 1,000 words now, it's not so easy.  Twitter aggressively prevents such in-depth reporting, limiting each message to 140 characters.  Not words, characters.  Twitter bills itself as a "short message service," which is definitely true.  I'm already well beyond 140 characters in the first two lines of this paragraph.

How much can you get said in just 140 characters?  Average word length varies depending on whom you ask, so that's a tough call.  Let's assume 4.5 letters per word for your typical person, add one (for the space, which counts), and we're at 5.5.  That's about 25 words per tweet.

Can't get a lot said in 25 words.  Sure, there are all those iconic "25 words or less" contests that some of us over a certain age would recognize from our youth, but really - you can't say much.

It's no surprise that "twitter" is defined as "an inconsequential sound," is it?  And reading some of the tweets that have made it to the news, it's amazing that they're even put on the news.  Isn't the producer embarrassed afterward?

Read some tweets from celebrities, and they're just pointless bits of noise.  Inconsequential, indeed.  It's one thing to have idle thoughts - do you have to share them?  Hell, no.

So now, with twitter, with facebook, with email, we're training ourselves away from the letter writing skill, the letter writing tradition.  We can dash off a note with any of those technologies, a quick little missive that doesn't dig into the meat and bones of whatever it is we're talking about.  And even though it's awfully convenient to have those, I don't think they're as good.  We're communicating a lot but an awful lot of the communication is just babble.

It's as if we were all buying newspapers, but only reading the headlines.  The actual story isn't getting out.

My address:
PO Box 552
Norris TN 37828

Write me.  Write me something a bit longer than just 140 characters.

Or, if you prefer, you can write something lengthy and in-depth in the comment box below.  Give it a try, share something meaningful.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is This the Afterlife?

So, no Apocalypse, huh? If you had big post-humanity plans, bummer.

If you, like many others, kept your head as the Mayan Long Count Calendar came to its long-awaited end, then the winter solstice of 2012 was simply an opportunity.

Some folks held huge parties.  That the party took place in a gigantic nuclear Cold War Doomsday bunker was just fortunate happenstance.

Some folks stocked up on the essentials.

Even the Vatican, whose stock in trade is belief in what some would call the unbelievable, will tell anyone that predictions of the end of the world aren't worth discussing.  That's the Vatican's own head astronomer, Rev. Jose Funes, saying that.

Okay, I was going to make a link taking you to a couple of references I found to Funes, but they took me to a site called "Falling Angels," which is full of utter nutjobs.  People insisting that the ancient Sumerian planet "Nibiru" is real and is where Lucifer is assembling his army, that reptiles are Satanic and that - oh, what the heck.  I can't swallow enough bile to keep repeating what these idiots are saying.

You can bet they are disappointed the world didn't end.

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's The End of the World (as we know it)

But not because of the Mayan Apocalypse.

As I said over and over, what happens isn't the end of the world, it's just the end of the calendar.  So everybody just settle down.  Now we turn the Mayan pyramid over and start back at the beginning of the calendar, no problemo.

But in other news, Speaker of the House John Boehner's own so-called "Plan B," the counterproposal from Boehner's own mind to Obama's assorted proposals to fend off the upcoming "fiscal cliff," never racked up enough support to even go to the floor for a vote.  It was, in effect, stillborn.

A couple of interesting things come out of this.  First, it sharply undermines Boehner's stock in Congress.  If a challenger shows up to unseat him, he'll really wish he hadn't stuck his neck out quite so far with this Plan B.  Secondly and this is probably a lot more important, it leaves the ball flat in the Republicans' court.  Not only did their golden boy's proposal not gain any traction, but it was the Republicans themselves who let it fail.

So all the teeth-gnashing conservatives out there can rant and rave and rail against that bleeding-heart liberal, socialistic commie wannabee Obama all they like, they can froth and fume at how the liberal Democrats are ruining the country, but at least the Democrats aren't doing it by squabbling amongst themselves.  We're, you know, trying to help.  Meanwhile, the Republicans are bickering amongst themselves: one faction of the Republican party is saying, "we can allow the severely rich to hoist a slightly heavier load because they don't have to wait for sales at the grocery store," while the other faction is saying, "no, we don't need to raise their taxes any higher than they already are, not even for the people who make more than twice as much as the severely rich."  In that impasse is where Plan B crashed, burned, and embarrassed John Boehner.

Frankly I'm pretty disgusted at all of them.  Social Security should be rolled back a little bit.  Not much, just a little.

There are too damned many people receiving food stamps, and many people who do receive them are doing it fraudulently.  Get those people under control and you start saving a lot of money right there.

Encourage people to settle for lower wages, working at an assembly line, doing things that aren't exciting or especially engaging.  Having a job - any job - is a good thing.  Paying your own way for what you eat, where you live and what you want in your off time, that's a good thing.  Get off your butts, Americans.  Get back to work.  Sick and tired of seeing everything that passes through your hands being made in China?  Well, whose fault is that?

You don't deserve $10, $20, $30 per hour.  Nobody deserves anything.  And for doing a job that could as easily be done by a robot, you'd better be thrilled to get the job at all, at any wage.  Suck it up, get to work.  Pay your own bills.

Pay the taxes on the wages you earn.  Be willing to pay a little more.  If it means you have to eat a little bit less for a few weeks, well, 30% of Americans are obese, we could afford to lose the weight.  Take the job, pay the taxes, work a full, healthy life and continue paying into Social Security so you can expect a little support in your sunset years.  Suck it up.

This country needs a paradigm change.  The Fiscal Cliff is an opportunity for the short, sharp shock that people need, to make them aware that the way they've been living, the expectations they've had, are unrealistic and unsupportable.

The time has come for a whole new world.  Let the old one die.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Anonymous Smacks Down the Westboro Baptist Church...Again

Once again, the Westboro Baptist Church has been punted off the internet by the hacker group Anonymous.  Under normal circumstances the name of the church would be a hotlink but right now there's no point.  It doesn't go anywhere.

That's mostly good news, as anything that shuts up the WBC can't be all bad.  In the wake of the recent school shooting in Connecticut, the WBC had announced plans to protest at the school of those murdered children.  Stay classy, WBC.  Way to share God's love.

In response to their announced plans, Anonymous took them down.  Google the WBC and click the homepage link and nothing happens.  Eventually the connection times out.

But Anonymous is also publishing personal information of WBC's representatives: home addresses and phone numbers.  That's pretty hypocritical, for one thing: you'd think a group that calls itself Anonymous would have a bit more respect for the sovereign privacy of individuals.

If Anonymous keeps up its attack and keeps the WBC off the internet pretty much forever, I'm totally down with that.  As much as I'm for the First Amendment, I also think there should come quite a bit of responsibility along with such power.  And abusing that power to terrorize, demonize and ostracize should result in the loss of that right.  It's like prison for your mouth.  Commit a few crimes with your body, and society sends your body to jail.  Commit a few with your mouth, however, and you get to keep talking.  Except Anonymous is meting out a little civil justice - or editing, at least -  and I'm totally okay with it.

But while we're talking about abuse of power, Anonymous is robbing itself of much of its credibility by digging further into the WBC's databanks and completely exposing them to all and sundry, essentially exposing those people to retaliation from angry victims.

I'm not saying the WBC's people couldn't stand to receive a few righteous slaps, but we're talking about people who have been insulted and harangued even as they were experienced some of the worst moments of their lives.  As bad as the WBC has been, you can see how frustrated rage could stew and fester in a grieving parent and then suddenly Anonymous is holding out this poisoned apple, "look, here's where they live.  Go get them, punish them."  I can understand where that parent would be coming from even if he/she went through the entire WBC's directory and killed every member...but then imagine the horror and anguish that person would have to go through when it was all over.

Anonymous has been reckless with its power in the past and again it would appear a large dose of hypocrisy is evident in Anonymous' activities.  The stated motivation behind the above cited attack, for example, was to "teach a lesson in security," without actually teaching any lesson.  Anonymous punishes, but doesn't correct or guide.

In the real world, that's called bullying.

In fact, that cited example Anonymous calls out the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for having been compromised by the Russian Mafia.  If Anonymous really has serious concerns about that, they might have more and better results by taking down the Russian Mafia's computers.

Just a suggestion.

So silencing the WBC isn't a bad thing, not in my opinion.  But Anonymous is bruising its own already damaged image by going too far in this instance.  They wield tremendous power with something approaching impunity; I hope they realize they have the potential to do tremendous good, and are wasting it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Repair Parts: update

Well, that didn't work.  I may need to open up the chassis and take another look at the control board on the Maytag Neptune washer, but at this time I'm about decided to go ahead and order a new control board and install that.  Fortunately since this model is out of production, prices on the control boards have been falling as more of them fall out of use and demand for parts decreases.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Repair Parts: addendum

I have a Maytag Neptune stacked laundry pair.  I bought it when I bought this little house I live in; I added a few thousand dollars to the original home loan so I could also afford a few new appliances.  The previous owner took all the original appliances with her, and frankly she was welcome to them.

She also wanted free access to dig up plants from the yard for up to a year after she moved out; we offered to take our purchase offer back and continue looking.  She acquiesced immediately as the house had been on the market for over a year and she was well sick and tired of trying to sell it.

My Kenmore refrigerator has had its share of problems.  We had to replace the defrost timer, and it currently needs a new something-or-other to get the icemaker back in order.  But these are little things that aren't hard to fix.

The Whirlpool stove is on its second oven control.  That was easy to replace, the entire electronic module just pops right out and a new one pops in.  The hardest part is scootching the stove away from the wall.

The Maytag washer has had a couple of problems.  I don't remember precisely what the first one was because I called a tech to come fix it; the price was ridiculously high.  So when it stopped spinning out the load of laundry, I started researching it.  It turns out there's a known fault with these MLE2000-series washers.  If you have the brown-tipped "wax motor" actuator that locks the door, it's likely to get moisture intrusion, short out and blow a couple of components on the control board.

The wax motor is nothing to replace.  It helps if you have small hands, and finding precisely where all the screws are to get access to the motor can be tricky, but really it's a small matter of five minutes or so to get the old motor out and a new one in.

But the control board is still dead.  The prescribed fix is to replace the control board, which costs $200 or more depending on where you shop.  However, digging around on the internet - which is how I found out that this is a "known fault" and not just a random failure - I see that it's a consistent mode of failure that disables the control board, and it's not too difficult to repair.

So I did.

Costs associated:
New soldering iron, $20 (the old one has been repurposed into a woodburning iron)
Solder, $5
New wax motor, $18.50
New 3.9Kohm resistor, $2.50 (for two)
New NTE5657 Triac, $4.50 (plus $8.50 for shipping, for two)

Total, about $50.50 for everything.  I could have maybe borrowed a soldering iron from work, but I strongly prefer owning my own tools.  About an hour and a half for disassembly and reassembly, a grand total of about 30 minutes clipping out the old electronic elements and soldering in the new ones (and cleaning up my messy soldering job), and that's it.

The washing machine is running at this time.  The "Door Lock" light, which had not been lighting up for about a week and a half, is on.  We'll know for certain whether I've done the job right when it goes into a spin cycle.  If it spins, it's a good fix and I've avoided incurring an unnecessary $200 expense.

Fixing things saves money and avoids lots of unnecessary environmental loading: manufacturing that could be avoided, landfill space that need not be filled, etc.  When that cheap $50 toaster oven won't fire up, don't toss it because it was cheap: add to its value by making it last longer.  Replace only the broken components and keep using the rest of it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mayan Apocalypse

Oh, people.  Please.  Get a grip.

The world is not about to come to an end.

Certainly most of you have noticed that the so-called "Long Count" calendar comes to an end on a solstice.  Solstices, those longest and shortest days of the year, were natural stopping places for pre-Christian calendars.  When your life revolved around such natural phenomena as seasons instead of the arbitrary phenomena of months, it made perfect sense to make such days special.  December 30th being the end and January 1st being the beginning of years is completely arbitrary, a human-made observance.

And observing the end of a calendar is itself arbitary.  It doesn't mean a hill of beans, not even a small mound.

The Long Count calendar is thousands of years long.  Let's write that louder: THOUSANDS.  Long Count, indeed.

When you get to the end of your 2012 calendar and have flipped over the last muscle car or Weimeraner puppy, is it the end of the world?

No.  You go to Barnes and Noble and buy another calendar.

If you're Mayan, you've seen this coming for the last few centuries, round up a few thousand slaves and build another pyramid, and have your astrologers start carving a new calendar.  That's all there is to it.

It's worth noting that even in such a long calendar as the Long Count, there are individual pages, called by researchers a Ba'k'tun.  It corresponds to about 394.something years in our calendar.  So if the world really doesn't come to an end on December 21 (and it won't), we can all get together in March, 2407 and see what happens then.  Hint: nothing special will happen then, either.

Don't flip out over the end of the Long Count calendar, all you ridiculous sky-is-falling chickens.  If the Maya were such accurate predictors of the end of the world, don't you think they might have foreseen their own demise?  Just flip over another page on the calendar.  The world isn't about to end anytime soon, and all of you who are behaving as if it might are simply embarrassing yourselves.

Get a grip.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bickering in a Burning Building

As the fiscal cliff rapidly approaches the two sides of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are sniping at each other, presenting untenable plans and decrying each others' cognitive dissonance when the plans are respectively discarded.

Republicans admit some revenue generation would be a good thing.  Letting a few tax deductions go away might be a good way to do that, they concede.  Good.

Democrats are aware that a lot of programs are pretty expensive.  Running a couple of wars overseas hasn't improved things, either.  Time to wrap those up.  Good.

But Republicans insist that the wealthiest individuals already might pay as much in a single year as other taxpayers pay in their entire lives and shouldn't face any tax increase (or withdrawal of tax relief, however you want to phrase it it amounts to the same thing).  And while we might be ramping down activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's saber-rattling going on over whether or not Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium is for peaceful purposes.

I say step out of Iran.  If they do manage to build a bomb, I reckon there's about a 10% chance they'll just blow themselves up, and maybe a 5% chance they'll use it on Israel.  If that happens, Israel's flexible, highly capable military will simply wipe Iran out.  That ought to set their nuclear weapons program back a few years longer than anything we might do.  Even if they do manage to build one, I don't think Iran has anything capable of delivering it to US soil.  And most of our foreign friends in the region have pretty capable anti-missile defenses, so maybe we should let that be a neighborhood problem, and tend to problems in our own backyard.

There's only about four and a half weeks left in the calendar year, and the deadline for this fiscal cliff thing is January 1.  And what are our nation's leaders doing?  Throwing ridiculous plans back and forth at each other, and haranguing each other when the ridiculous plans are rejected for being unreasonable.

Meanwhile, the kitchen is going up in flames.  When the kitchen is on fire is not the time to begin the debate over dry-chemical vs. Halon fire extinguishers.  Just grab one and start spraying.  Worry about the pros and cons later.

But this is where we are: we knew this fiscal cliff thing was coming, we've known it for years.  Some of the triggers that will set the fiscal cliff in motion are over ten years old - from the Bush era.  Republicans who whine and gripe about the economy under Obama should be well aware that the economy was going on long before Obama, and Democrats who similarly gripe about how the economy fared under Clinton - wait, it did great under Clinton.  Never mind!

Now I see on the news that the Obama administration is perfectly willing to go over the fiscal cliff.  I say, go for it.  The budget is crazily out of balance and a Republican-heavy Congress isn't likely to make things easy for anything the White House has to offer.

I say, when things get harrowing sometimes it's easiest to just lay back and be harrowed.

Historically, unemployment rates under Democratic presidents tend to be significantly better than they are under Republican ones -an average of 4.3% vs 6.1%.  I think we're probably going to come out of this okay, but it's going to hurt for a while.  Don't fear the fiscal cliff - it might be difficult, but we'll be better off at the end of it.

It's just embarrassing to me as an American that we're handling things the way we are.  None of this is a surprise, but now that it's here everybody is acting as if it were an emergency.  Lax behavior has set the sofas on fire, now let's put the damned fire OUT and get back to a normal life.