TxTag; It's Not Very Friendly.

The Wife has been driving to Lockhart for the last three days, using the toll roads. So TXtag, in their infinite wisdom, disabled online access to our account because the increased activity drained the account down into a negative balance. No emails saying "account suspended", or more wisely, no email saying "here's how to pay, pay now".

Even better, when I finally get to talk to someone at TXtag (the first operator hung up on me, she apparently had virgin ears) manage to figure out what the toll charge was per day, and got the account back open, there isn't any way to check usage and see what the current charges are. Most annoyingly, while waiting on hold, I'm told every 30 seconds about how I can go online and pay, when I wouldn't have been hearing the message if that were true.

I don't know which petty little modo thought it was a good idea to disabled online access when accounts go negative, making it harder for people to actually pay their tolls, but I don't think that person is qualified to sweep floors, much less make important decisions of this nature. Yes, I'm looking at you Governor Perry.



I scalded both sets of ears of the people I talked to. I got the account reopened and all additional charges dropped, but I have a real problem with the way they're doing this stuff. The State should be handling this themselves if they want to charge us for the roads, or at least have the contractors answer to the state (which they don't do know. They only answer to the gov) it has to change and the only way to change it is change who is running the state.

Facebook status and comment backdated to the blog. I still don't like TxTag, and it is getting harder to avoid toll roads.

Our Hearts Weep for You West, Texas

Being Liberal on Facebook
Yes, I KNOW that this is a cheap shot, but I simply cannot resist. On April 17th, 2013, a fertilizer storage facility exploded, killing fifteen people and injuring more than 160. The people of West deserve more than to be remembered as the point of a political meme, but this example of corporate largesse begs to be stated as bluntly as possible.

For the last 40 years, corporations have successfully brainwashed the voters, most of whom now believe "regulation" is a bad word, and believe that governments who want to prevent corporations from maximizing their own profits, regardless of consequences, are evil. How many times have you heard the mantra that OSHA interfered with my business? Staffing and funding OSHA has been demonstrably reduced because of calls for deregulation.

Corporations are not evil any more than government is evil. However, they do exist to make profit, for themselves and for their stockholders, and they exist for no other purpose. It is up to government to ensure that corporations function within the parameters of protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of innocents who just happen to live nearby. It is long past time that we stop viewing government regulation as a bad thing. What the current US and Texas state governments needs to embrace is the notion of smart regulation, regulation that serves the higher purposes embraced by the majority of humanity. This includes protecting the environment and public safety, something wholly lacking in current Texas regulations.

The Senator from Canada and the congressional rep for West, Texas and the surrounding area have made the issue a political football because of their stands against Hurricane Sandy relief, while simultaneously asking for aid for this. This hypocrisy cries out to be corrected.

Facebook Status and related edited comments backdated to the blog. A h/t to a Facebook friend is also in order here. As of this posting (04/23/2018) changes to the regulations that lead to this disaster in West have been completely inadequate to keep another such tragedy from occurring. The state government still doesn't know where these kinds of storage hazards exist. Roger Williams remains the representative for West, Texas and my representative here in Austin. Here's hoping both he and Ted Cruz are replaced in the upcoming midterms. Changes made to the US regulatory codes by the Obama administration following this disaster have been weakened by the administration of the Orange Hate-Monkey.


Texas Standard, Five Years After the Explosion in West, Texas, Very Little has been Done to Prevent Another One

Multi-Level Marketing; No, It Doesn't Pay.

Still going through the back issues of Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. In addition to noting the passage of Perry DeAngeles (who's unique take on the subject of skepticism marked the early episodes so powerfully) and running across the odd bit of trivia, the interviews are the things that keep me listening.

In episode #135 the interviewee is Robert FitzPatrick.  I wish I had run across this guy and his invaluable information before I signed up for Amway way back when; I would have saved myself a lot of pain, worry and expense.  Luckily the Wife and I are pretty savvy when it comes to counting pennies (I only wish I was that savvy when it comes to sales pitches. I'm getting there) and it only took a few months before we realized that the cost of the goods from Amway and their online presence Quixtar, even at the 'discounted' rate, was more than equivalent quality products available from any big box retailer.

So many of the things that Mr. FitzPatrick related in the interview reminded me of my experiences with my 'upline' and Amway, that I kept getting chills thinking about how close I was to buying into the whole twisted mindset of selling people something that I needed them to buy, simply because I needed them to buy it. It really is a cult mentality; and they are hardly the only group I've gotten in with that, when looked at through the lens of hindsight, look suspect on that score.

To this day, every time I'm confronted with a direct-selling scheme, I cringe. There are far, far more of them out there now than there have ever been in the past, and the internet appears to be the vehicle allowing these 'businesses' to flourish.  We've come a long way from the days when the Amway guy could show up at your door, selling soap at a price where, in rural America, it seemed like a bargain since you didn't have to go out and get it.  Amazon may not pay me to buy products from them, but it's hard to argue that their prices are driven by anything other than fair market value.  More than I can say for most direct sell products.


I wanted to add a shameless plug for Mr. FitzPatrick's site Pyramid Scheme Alert.  It really is too bad that no one takes the subject of these schemes seriously.



John Oliver does his usual best take-down of MLM here.



Ever wonder what is in all those self-storage units? Think about it for a bit.

Delusional Downsize DC or Follow the Money

The founder of Downsize DC unfriended me today because I dared to suggest that he should at least read this guy's book. Apparently hiding from contrary opinions means that those opinions have no power over you.



But we cannot ignore this corruption anymore. We need a government that works. And not works for the left or the right, but works for the left and the right, the citizens of the left and right, because there is no sensible reform possible until we end this corruption. So I want you to take hold, to grab the issue you care the most about. Climate change is mine, but it might be financial reform or a simpler tax system or inequality. Grab that issue, sit it down in front of you, look straight in its eyes, and tell it there is no Christmas this year. There will never be a Christmas. We will never get your issue solved until we fix this issue first. So it's not that mine is the most important issue. It's not. Yours is the most important issue, but mine is the first issue, the issue we have to solve before we get to fix the issues you care about. No sensible reform, and we cannot afford a world, a future, with no sensible reform. 
Okay. So how do we do it? Turns out, the analytics here are easy, simple. If the problem is members spending an extraordinary amount of time fundraising from the tiniest slice of America, the solution is to have them spend less time fundraising but fundraise from a wider slice of Americans, to spread it out, to spread the funder influence so that we restore the idea of dependence upon the people alone. And to do this does not require a constitutional amendment, changing the First Amendment. To do this would require a single statute, a statute establishing what we think of as small dollar funded elections, a statute of citizen-funded campaigns, and there's any number of these proposals out there: Fair Elections Now Act, the American Anti-Corruption Act, an idea in my book that I call the Grant and Franklin Project to give vouchers to people to fund elections, an idea of John Sarbanes called the Grassroots Democracy Act. Each of these would fix this corruption by spreading out the influence of funders to all of us. 
TED2013 - Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim
The reaction of  Jim Babka to this very reasonable counter-argument, the suggestion that government wasn't actually the problem it was business manipulation of government which is the problem was a classic illustration of confirmation bias blinding someone to relevant facts. It is just too bad that libertarians and other small government types cannot understand that big business is as much or more of a threat as big government. That they are the ideological pawns of big business. 

Dr. Who Christmas Special. My First Amazon Review. A Twofer.

Image courtesy BBC
& Dalekdom on Deviantart
available on Amazon.com
Posted here on Amazon.

Let me set something straight. I love Doctor Who. I have watched every episode available from the First Hartnell to the latest Matt Smith. My cable system and PVR let me down and didn't record this years Christmas Special, (wasn't marked "new" apparently) so kudos to Amazon for having it available to purchase and stream (can I get a round figure on what it would cost to own all of the Doctor this way? Less than 5 figures, please) Doctor Who remains Doctor Who whether we're talking about Hartnell's Captain Kangaroo delivery, Pertwee's 007 flamboyancy, Tom Baker's charming teeth and curls, or Matt Smith doing a fair impression of Troughton's second doctor. It's all British, it's all time traveling entertainment on a grand scale.

Watch this one, it's good.

However, I write this post because, once again, I'm sent a message by Amazon asking me "how many stars I would give this show". The same hook they use each time I purchase ANYTHING. From a song to a book to a movie that is 20 years old; to this film (which could probably benefit from a positive review) and each time I fall for the hook and wander over here, it's demanded of me that I wax verbose on the subject of whatever it is. If I've purchased a single song, I cannot leave a review without writing an essay about it! That is simply ridiculous.

Please. Please, I'm begging here. Remove the requirement that essays be written for each and every product that you purchase, just so you can give an 'attay boy' to something that deserves it, without having to struggle with wit and punctuation, and heaven forbid CAPS LOCK. Let us just give a star rating, please? At least quit pretending in your e-mails that a star rating is all you want.