Greece and Euro – will Germany be freed?

Posted by & filed under Misc, Politics.

I keep reading news about Greece’s fiscal crisis and keep wondering, what will be the outcome of the whole situation. I don’t really believe in ability of Greek government to clamp down on all public workers and squeeze out enough money to permanently resolve the debt problem. No way.

It’s like suddenly deciding to cut a third or more of your salary. Theoretically possible. Think about it — there was a time when we all lived on so much less. Sure, it probably was right after the school, the job was probably less than satisfying, and meager salary was barely enough to pay for a small rental place in a weird part of town. But it was (and probably still is possible). It’s just that since then you move into a bigger place, there’s mortgage, property taxes, family, credit card stuff, vacations, furniture and a gazillion of other things that you have now and wouldn’t want to live without after you got used to the conveniences and niceties.

Except in case of Greece there was no income increase. But there was a very convenient way to borrow against “future salary”. And they did. Have you ever seen public sector to say “no, we can live with current salary/funding, save the surplus”? Right. So, any “surplus” was immediately spent. And now, Greece has no choice but to default.

Honestly, what else could they do? They can’t devalue their currency, because they are in the Euro zone. They need massive amount of money, but even then they wouldn’t be able to cut enough of a budget to compensate. So, they will default, right inside the Euro-zone. And afterwards, it’ll probably be Spain.

Poor Germany. They got talked into this whole utopia of unified currency, and it seems to bring them nothing but trouble. Yes, France can help a bit, but it’s German economy that is the primary driving force behing the Euro. And what used to be quite stable and nice Deutsche Mark is now being diluted by other countries, that joined monetary union. And the more countries join union, the harder it will be for Germany — other governments don’t seem to be concerned so much with fiscal discipline and normal accounting. I suppose it was because of the Germany’s re-unification process — essentially Western Germany had to learn how to more or less absorb Eastern Germany into the system (I don’t know if that process is quite complete — last time I visited I was under impression that some people still felt isolated and “second grade citizens” for being from the East).

Would Greece exit the Euro zone because of its horrible mess of a budget and economy? No way. They managed to sneak into the club under false pretenses, so there’s no way they’d voluntarily decide not to use the perks that go with it.

Would the Euro zone government kick the Greece out? Also no way. Expect France and a number of other “interested” parties to sing the “well we created the zone to help each other out” song (even though it’s “to have Germany help each of us out” tune).

My only question is, would Germany be able to say “screw you guys, I’m going home”. And actually do it. I hope so. I’d be glad to be able to buy Deutsche Marks again. I wouldn’t care that to visit Germany I wouldn’t be able to use Euro — who cares, when credit card systems so easily convert currencies upon purchases of goods/services. And I hope Germans won’t have to pay for mistakes of other Euro zone countries. But it’s just a hope…

BK is crazy? How about that NAMI guy?

Posted by & filed under Misc.

The Washington Post is writing on how new BK commercial is offensive to Mental Health specialists. Specifically that Michael Fitzpatrick guy, executive director for National Alliance on Mental Illness. I suppose complete lack of humor could be considered a mental illness too, and we should feel sorry for him.

I’m sorry, but this is utter political correctness BS. Yes, it’s unpleasant, but people call many things crazy. And no, beyond those orderlies in white lab-coats and a whole bunch of TV commercials on what to ask doctors about if you’re feeling down and not afraid of three pages long list of nasty side effects, I don’t think most people know anything about mental health issues. Be happy for them and laugh at the “crazy king” selling cheap burgers.

Otherwise all other professions will demand satisfaction too. TV and Hollywood is notoriously bad about showing accurately how and when and what other professions do. They’re not in a business of educating, they are entertaining. Let them do that.

Oh, and let people use the words they normally use. You know, blind for visually-impaired, deaf for hearing-impaired, crazy for mentally-impaired. Heck, I’m fat, and I don’t mind if people say I’m fat, because even if everyone will keep saying that I’m “body-shape challenged” or “stout” or whatever else “gentle” version of the factually correct word we’re forced to use, it’s not going to make me thinner. Wait, can I use “thin”? Because some people suffer from bulimia, and they don’t like being called thin.

World is cruel and generally efficient, get over it.

Arnie, come back

Posted by & filed under Misc.

After watching Conan the Barbarian once again, I’ve realized how much I miss old-time action movies. Arnie pretty much played similar character over and over, but… it was fun somehow. And then he became a governator. Sad… Who could be his replacement? Matt Damon? Not really, though his Bourne series were getting relatively close (absence of terminator-like physique aside). Bruce Willis? But he’s also old. Gerard Butler? Mmm… not after the Bounty Hunter.

Oh well, off to watch Terminator again…

P.S.: Best Arnie phrases. Contains some F-bombs, so may not be entirely work-safe.

Telecom pricing: ad price is not the price

Posted by & filed under Oddities, Technology.

When I just moved to Texas, I was shocked at local telecommunication pricing. Not as much at how much it costs (well, at that too, sometimes) but how far away you are removed from the real price.
First encounter was with the regular phone, but then pretty much the same problem happens in almost all “major” cell phone carrier. Advertised price is never what you actually pay.

Something, that is advertised to be, say $19.95 would turn out to be closer to $25 or more. Because there will be “FCC Line Fee”, “Universal Service Charge”, and so on and so forth.
What’s worse, practically nobody could say how much it would cost upfront. You have to actually order the service (or go pretty far along in ordering) before you get the price.

Telephone and mobile companies claim that those additional “fees” are just taxes, so they don’t have to include them in price of the actual service. Right, except not all “taxes” are really taxes, they just look that way. Nobody forces them to charge user Universal Service Fee (that gets spent foolishly afterwards, under the banner of “affordable service”). It just means that they can either pay it out of their own pocket or pass it along to the customer. Unsurprisingly, they always choose the second.

Can you imagine how it would feel to live in a world where all industries use the same billing practice? You go to fast food place, big lightbox advertises $9.95 combo. Great! You order it and you get…
Super Food Combo: $9.95
Sales Tax: $0.09
Food Tax: $0.12
Choking Rescue Service Fee: $0.28
Narrow Throat District Choking Fee: $0.13
Hand-washing Fee: $1.03
Floor Cleaning Surcharge: $0.87
Affordable Hamburgers Fund Fee: $0.97

Would you be happy? Something tells me that not. But because fast food industry had no chance to introduce such pricing, this situation is purely hypothetical.

Don’t get me wrong, I love when taxes and fees are separated from the actual cost of product. Gives you a perspective. But I believe that advertised price should always include all of those costs you’d encounter should you actually decide to buy the stuff. I mean gas stations always advertise exactly the price you’re paying (perhaps because you’d be shocked with 47% tax), but not cell phone carriers. Crazy!

There is one exception. Prepaid carriers. Short of sales tax on re-fills, they seem to be pretty much straightforward with their pricing. So, if you don’t need a giant country-wide network, think about a prepaid carrier. You will know exactly how much it costs.

Topeka renamed itself into Google, Google into Topeka

Posted by & filed under Misc, Technology.

Thanks to April Fool Day, Google decided to repay Topeka, KS by changing its name to, well, Topeka. Aside from giggles that this “retaliation” produces, the real question is how soon will Topeka gets Google’s gigabit service?

I wish Google’s Gigabit would come to Austin, TX too. Aside from having a large student population, Austin also has a questionable pleasure of being a testbed for Time Warner’s attempt to force everyone to pay by byte. Sure, first attempt has failed, as users are not that stupid, and understand perfectly, that company can’t report record profits from its internet service arm, along with falling expenditures on equipment and transport of internet traffic and being hurt by those evil bandwidth hogs, that dare to use up to the promised bandwidth.

For provider ideal situation is when everyone pays heaps of money and use very little of bandwidth. And what can be better than claiming that your internet connection is somehow limited by the number of bytes you downloaded? Unlike, say, water, that actually is limited by the number of gallons in local lake (or whatever the source utility uses), internet connection is more like charging for the right of flight through a certain territory, and then claim that corridor can only support no more than a certain number of planes per month. Yes, it’s limited, but only by throughput, not by the number of bytes.

So marketoids decided to dress this as a “question of fairness”. That those evil bandwidth hogs should pay even more, and preferably for each byte they download. Yet somehow grandma won’t pay significantly less, because despite the fact that cost of single GB delivered to user’s home is a few cents, cable company would love to charge several bucks for it.

Regardless, I hope Google’s project will at least give a pause to these plans to squeeze out as much money as possible from customers. Yes, I agree that private enterprise should charge as much as they can, but only in case of open market. Cable and telco companies are not in open market — they enjoy significant protections by being monopolies in certain geographical areas (and work actively on banning localities’ ability to provide alternative means of connecting to the internet). If Google can afford to run fiber to the home, so should ATT.

Google, please wire Austin.

Related sites: DSL Reports, Stop the Cap