Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No disrespect intended

Flags are funny things. Colored scraps of cloth that represent a military regiment, a people, a state, a country, an ideal, or any number of other things.

Because of that, flag desecration is serious business. If you damage or destroy a flag to which a person has an emotional attachment, that person might react irrationally. For the past twenty years, politicians in the United States have been able to score cheap political points by promising to amend the constitution to prohibit desecration of the national flag. Countries like Denmark make it illegal to desecrate foreign flags so as to avoid offending foreigners. Pretentious art students damage or destroy flags as art.

I went to a Mexican restaurant today. This restaurant, like many such restaurants, puts a little Mexican-flag-on-a-toothpick onto every meal as a decoration.

I'm never quite sure what to do with this flag. Any other decoration would be casually set aside once I begin eating, but with a Mexican flag - in a restaurant staffed largely by Hispanics - it seems vaguely disrespectful to just toss it onto the table for it to be thrown away. I'm not sure what the rules for the Mexican flag are, but an American flag is not supposed to touch the ground and should only be disposed of (ironically enough) by burning.

So, to the Mexicans of the world, when I take your national symbol, stick it into the coleslaw that I'm not going to eat and then let it get thrown in the trash and covered with my uneaten enchilada sauce, I didn't mean any disrespect to your country when I did it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Interesting fact of the day

In 1654, a colonist named Anthony Johnson had an indentured African servant named John Casor. John Casor tried to transfer his indenture to a different person, and the court refused, declaring him to be the property of Anthony Johnson, and indeed, "Property for Life". Thus, John Casor was the first legally-recognized slave in the English colonies that would eventually become the United States. Casor spent the rest of his life owned by Johnson.

Bizarre Twilight-zone-esque twist: Anthony Johnson, Casor's owner, was black, and was himself an African immigrant.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

But I thought it was for...

So, the bailout, which was originally sold as purchasing valuable if artificially depressed assets, won't even be doing that. Now it's just a general, free-for-all fund to give money to any company or industry that claims to need it.

I think we all know that any money given to GM, Ford, or any of the others that are asking for it, will never, ever be seen again.

And they're going to do it. Somehow, our government is going to come up with hundreds of billions - possibly over a trillion - dollars and pay it to any company who asks for it.

We had an overarching deficit before this all started. Now, suddenly we're spending billions more that we don't have.

If only there were a political party that was *against* giving large sums of money to private companies. I'd vote for them.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I don't fear Obama...

...but I am concerned about the fact that the Democratic majority in congress is going to be running the show for the next two years.

Things that I'm worried might happen, in no particular order of probability or magnitude:

1) Tax hikes

2) More complicated taxes

3) Elimination of my HSA and forcing me to go onto my employer's health insurance

4) Any criticism of the president being called racist

5) Reintroduction of the fairness doctrine and other attempts to suppress dissent

6) Elimination of my employer's health insurance and forcing me to go into a national single-payer system

7) War in Pakistan

8) War in Korea

9) War in Iran

10) War between Iran and Israel, potentially nuclear

11) Higher gas taxes

12) Much more expensive mortgages

13) A draft, either military or 'mandatory national service'

14) Loss of integrity in the power delivery system, with rolling blackout and mandatory remote shut-off devices on your air conditioner and other high-power devices becoming the norm

15) 'Card-check' union elections

16) Massive new gun control schemes


Well, I was wrong. As of this morning, with 96% of the votes counted, Barack Obama managed to pull over 52% of the popular vote, making him the most popular Democrat to run for President in over 40 years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Interesting events on eBay...

Microsoft Live Search has teamed up with eBay to offer cash back - currently at 25% of purchase price - for people using Live Search to buy things on eBay.

The 25% maxes out at $200 per purchase, meaning that you get optimal payback by buying an $800 item. This discount only applies to buy-it-now items, not auction items.

Gold is currently running at around $750 / ounce, and one-ounce gold coins have long been popular on eBay. I have occasionally looked into buying gold coins there, and they usually trade at just a very small premium over melt value - not more than a few percent.

Until recently.

An economy seems to have sprung up on eBay of people selling gold coins (and other ~$800 items) to each other at a substantial premium. Right now, the cheapest 1-ounce gold coins are selling via buy-it-now for around $910, and most non-interesting one-ounce gold coins seem to be priced around $950, about $200 above melt value. This premium represents the entire cash-back that a buyer will get via the Live Search program.

So, the law of supply and demand is still functioning. By subsidizing purchases, Microsoft has just added $200 or 33% to the cost of every purchase on eBay.

And on a side note, if I were in the gold business, I'd be dumping my entire inventory on eBay right now, since I could get 25% above regular market value for it.