Thebastidge: 12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011
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    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Bookmarked

    One of those classy, erudite, intelligent, sassy chicks who say f*&k a lot, as the group on Facebook has it.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Better sleep

    So last night I tried putting the carpet on the bed, and it actually worked. It was still kinda lumpy where the carpet would sort of bubble up where the mattress had a depression from an elbow or sitting, but once I laid down on it, it was much smoother with my eweight more evenly distributed. I didn't wake up with red rings on my ribs from the mattress springs this morning, and I actually got more than an hour or two of sleep before I would be forced to wake up.
     
    The carpet is about 3'x4.5' or 5'. Plenty big enough to get my torso on it. That and a sleeping bag worked.

    I'm in Kandahar- limited Internet

    I can't actually read blogs here in Kandahar, so I am cut off from a good deal of my daily Internet entertainment and missing the references to interesting things around the Web. I can email an update to my personal blog or to Facebook, but can't read either, so forgive the formatting if it's messed up. I may get commercial Internet for my iPhone and laptop, but I haven't had a chance to look into it yet.
     
    Got here a couple days ago. It's even dustier here than Kabul, which is hard to believe, but true. Slightly warmer, probably due to a couple thousand feet less elevation. I'd absolutely hate to see this place in the rainy season, the moon dust all over must make it a muddy nightmare.
     
    The food's slightly better, possibly just due to more variety. Housed in a solid building for the first time since I got to Afghanistan, but this is only a temproray gig, for a couple-three weeks at most. We still have a short hike to a latrine trailer and shower tent, which we have to flip the sign from male-female every 1/2 hour of the morning.
     
    Oddly enough, I have the best furniture and the worst mattress I've seen here so far, lol. The mattress edge folds over when you sit down on the side of the bed- just folds back over itself all of a sudden. And no matter how you sleep, you end up waking up with a numb spot on your ribs somewhere from a spring pressing through the super thin fabric of the mattress. It's kinda funny, if not very comfy. But this is the first time I've had a drawer to put my drawers in, so to speak. The building is supposedly condemned, but it's the best accomodations I've had- it has its own individual heater, lights, and a wall locker with built-in dresser.
     
    I think I'm actually going to buy a rug, just a regular machine-made mat for wiping your feet, to put on top of the bed. I think that will spread the weight better than the mattress material. It should be no worse than sleeping on a floor, maybe better since the springs do give under my weight, just not evenly. Not bothering to get linens for this place, just using a sleeping bag and a pillow.
     
    It's not too bad, if I can just get a little sleep it'll probably be downright rosy.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Rambling...

    Found this piece by John Stossel over at at Morgan's place.

    I first ran into this concept about ten years ago. As I recall, it takes an average of 17 years in calendar time, and over a man-year in personal effort to get clear title to untitled land in Mexico, even if your family has lived on it undisputed for as many generations as anyone can recall. And you probably spend an entire year's income in bribes, as well, on top of legitimate fees.

    Similarly in Egypt, it was something like 23 years.

    In societies which don't enshrine personal property as a basic human right, the vast majority of the people will always be poor, because only those with enough wealth to enforce their claim with raw physical violence will ever accumulate a surplus.

    Capitalism is the leveraging of surplus wealth (and wealth is a VERY relative term, it may simply mean enough extra that one is sure to be fed until the next crop comes in) by loaning out the surplus. By investing that surplus instead of simply consuming it, one is able to create greater surplus (or wealth) but such an investment always comes at the cost of risk. If you plant the extra corn instead of just eating it at a feast, it may not all grow. If I loan it to you to plant, you may instead simply eat it, and have nothing left to repay me. Interest is the cost of borrowing money, a combination of the price I require to defer my consumption (of my own asset, mind you. I'm lending you my corn instead of eating it at a feast) plus the risk that you won't repay me. The aggregate return from all my investment has to at least cover defaulted loans plus my opportunity cost in deferring my consumption, just to break even.

    Without trust (usually in the form of a combination of solid contract law and collateral) the cost of a high-risk loan (and indeed, all loans) is higher because the rate of default will be higher. This higher cost has to be absorbed by someone, - this is a direct cost to the lender, so they pass on a portion of it to all the borrowers, in the form of (higher) interest.

    So fluid capitalism and easy credit requires trust. This is where both culture and strong rule of law come into play. This is the natural and right Venn diagram intersection of government and the economy: enforcing private property rights (and by extension, contracts made in regards to one's property). Without recognized property rights, one may not have the collateral to engender trust, to reduce the risk (and therefore the COST) of a loan.

    This is one reason why the economy does poorly with Democrats at the helm. They don't do enough to guarantee property rights, and even undermine some of them- e.g. the the bail-outs of the Banking, Inusrance, and Auto Industries. Contract law clearly spells out how to deal with bankruptcy. A neutral 3rd party (the courts) is supposed to restructure the contracts to be as fair to all creditor parties as possible. Everybody gets a proportionate chunk of the debtor's assets, according to what they are owed, even if they don't get everything they are owed. Well, they can't get EVERYTHING they're owed, because the point of bankruptcy is that adequate assets no longer exist to conceivably pay off all debts.

    In the case of the bail-outs, the administration stepped in an voided 200+ years of solid contract and bankruptcy law, by high-handedly determining who gets what, and handing out deals to their supporters: the unions, in the case of the auto industry, and the big financial firms, in the finance industry. Make no mistake, this a pretty straight-up case of quid pro quo.

    But the rule of law has been undermined. Property rights have been undermined- not all creditors got what they deserved. This makes everyone more skeptical of contracts and increases the perceived risk of default. This increases the natural interst rate, but lo and behold, the feederal reserve, which sets the prime rate, has been keeping it artificially low, and "encouraging" high risk lending through threat of investigation and criminal punishment for "discrimination". Institutions and business are even still, holding onto money instead of lending. This indicates a great deal of worry about default. These people iare in essence, saying the risk of default is so great, I will just hold onto my seed corn instead of lending it to you, or eating it myself. This is why business are reporting record profits, because investing that money or lending it out normally, would have prevented it from having to be counted as profit.

    The problem is, seed corn goes bad if you hold onto it too long, and so does money, especially when the Fed starts printing more by the billions. This is called inflation. When more currency is released into the economy, but the overall value of the economy has not gone up either via expansion to new markets or increased efficiency, then having more currency is meaningless. It's simply more markers for the same amount of stuff (or value). If I say my house is worth $180k or 2,241,450 pesos, it doesn't mean it's more valuable in one currency or the other, it is simply more counters of the same amount of value. This means that the value of the counter, or marker, that we call "dollars" has gone down. A dollar literally doesn't go as far as it once did.

    It is entirely possible to inflate the currency so much, that it becomes cheaper to use it as wallpaper than to buy realy wallpaper with it. This has actually happened in other countries. And the more it happens, the faster it goes in a spiral until people literally change the prices on real goods every hour, and you need a wheelbarrow of cash to buy a loaf of bread. Where millon-dollar bills become common.

    Now, I mentioned Democrats above, and it's true they are bad. The Republicans are slightly more fiscally responsible. The problem is, the government has lots of incentives to make things look better without actually making them better, which is much simpler, but much harder. Simpler because mostly they need to just leave it alone. Harder because they all want to have control, exert control, and generally have people see them "do something".

    Monday, December 06, 2010

    On Wikileaks

    This one is very simple.

    Julian Assange has the absolute right to say anything he wants to say, as publicly as he can get people to pay attention.

    What he does not have the right to, is other people's intellectual property. The information he is publishing does not belong to him. He is a thief, or at best, a fence knowingly dealing in stolen goods.

    The piece of shit who passed the information to him, is likewise a thief. He agreed to certain terms and stipulations when he was granted access to his employer's information, and he violated those agreements. Given the nature of the information and employment, he is also a traitor.

    So I have little sympathy for Mr. Assange, and zero for the traitor. Persecute Assange every way that is legally permissable, and execute the traitor. Then scratch his name off the wall.

    Congrats...

    Friday, December 03, 2010

    Not again?

    Got up at oh-gawd-oh-dark hundred this morning. Seriously, 3 am should be illegal. Why would I do soemthing so clearly stupid, the gentle reader may ask.

    I went to climb a mountain in Afghanistan.

    The idea has been bouncing around the "office" for a couple weeks now. The fun and edcuational value of climbing Mohman Ghar Mountain, that is. I was kinda iffy on it, and thought perhaps work circumstance might intervene to save me from my foolishness, but no such luck. My boss refused to go: he says "Black folks are too smart to climb mountains" but our Major and a couple other worthies put the lie to that. Black people are just as dumb as white folks, apparently.

    This wasn't quite as strenuous as climbing Mt St. Helens last year, mostly because it was done much earlier in the morning (jeeeez, it was EARLY!) but also because the rally point to start climbing is almost 6000 feet already. The last few weeks of walking about in Kabul have been a bit of conditioning all in themselves. But this climb was steeper than all but the last bit of St Helens. Not as much loose ash and sand, but lots of loose rocks.

    The temperature was about 26 or 27 F when we started, and had only come up to 32F by the time we rallied back at the vehicles. That's pretty cold when you're covered in sweat.

    By the time I was half or 3/4 of the way up, I wasactually feeling pretty good (notwithstanding the pain in my lungs) and I had firmly decided to stand wherever the highest point happened to be. I was goind to dominate this mountain (even if it is only a small one. Maybe I'm a bully when it comes to mountains- I LIKE the little ones, ok?)

    Sure enough, only 5 out of perhaps a dozen of us actually went the last bit. To get to the very topmost point, you had to follow a knife-like ridge up to it. It would have taken real climbing gear, otherwise. The ridge was effing scary- the very definition of agoraphobia. A shear knife-edge with a few footholds here and there, and a couple points where you could either walk along with absolutely zero ground beside your footprint on either side, and nothing to hold onto, or crab walk/scoot along it. Nothing but air on either side, with a good 200ft or better slide/drop on either side.

    The route back down was definitely easier, but harder on the body. My knees and legs were DONE after that.

    The high point? Well, standing up there on top was a pretty good feeling, once I'd caught my breath, but breakfast in an American chow hall back at Phoenix on the way back was even better.

    Mount Ghar

    Don't believe the website: GPS and altimeter say 7200-7400 feet. The spot we parked was somewhere just under 6000.

    For another account by someone I found on the Interwebs:

    Fix Bayonets

    I didn't have a camera with me, but I'll post pics as I get them from other people.