Russia Invades Ukraine, Prays Nobody Gets Shot

UPDATE: The pretext for Russia to formally invade Ukraine happened overnight, with the newly-installed Crimean prime minister requesting aid to restore peace and order. Putin promptly asked the Russian parliament to allow him to send troops into Ukraine; it was approved unanimously. Good times.

To say that things have escalated quickly in the Ukraine would be a massive understatement. A week ago, the world was watching the Sochi Olympics go completely smoothly under the watchful fatherly eye of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Viktor Yanukovich was the president of Ukraine. Less than seven days later, Yanukovich is unemployed and Russian VDV paratroopers are effectively invading the Crimea.

A number of other events have taken place in the meantime. These including the revelation that Ukraine is completely broke (in part because Team Yanukovich stole billions), the release of kleptocrat and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and Yanukovich’s former residence being turned into a public park nicknamed “the museum of corruption.”

Pro-Russia Rally in Sevastopol

And then there’s the small issue of not everybody being ok with an incompetent and corrupt yet still democratically elected president being overthrown using the muscle of nationalists and fascists. Most of these people are ethnic Russians in the south and eastern parts of the country, particularly the Crimea. The Crimean Russians haven’t taken the government change well by any stretch of the imagination. First, massive pro-Russia rallies took place in several cities, with Russian flags being forcibly flown from some government buildings, most notably in Kerch on the far eastern side. Oh, and they formed “self-defense groups,” which is a fancy term for militias.

Usually, nothing good happens when armed militias start being formed. This case isn’t one of the rare exemptions like the anti-cartel vigilante groups in Mexico. Within days of being formed, masked gunmen that presumably are part of one of these militias (operative word being presumably, they could have been Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces for all anyone knows) seized control of the Crimean parliament and several other government buildings. Then the Russian military just kind of showed up, with the only hint of a bullshit pretext being a statement that all armored vehicle movement has been agreed upon with the Ukrainian government, something the days-old administration denies. Except that still doesn’t explain the paratroopers or the shut down of Crimean airspace.

Now what? It’s not in anybody’s interest for anyone to get shot, despite the whole massive violation of sovereignty thing, because the second somebody gets shot, Shit Gets Real. And this is the kind of shit getting real that may make those Senators bitching about the army getting too small be right. Also, they literally can’t afford it. Ukraine, as I mentioned before, is completely broke to the point of imposing capital controls on foreign currency; the country is certain to default in a few months unless it gets a huge amount of aid, the latest estimate being $30 billion. Russia, meanwhile, is teetering on the edge of recession; a severe enough crash could produce unrest too big for even the well-drilled OMON to handle.

So, until the next escalation, the situation is analogous to an armed guy walking into your living room, sitting on the couch, and then daring you to do something without actually wanting you to do anything because then everyone is fucked. And the cops probably aren’t going to come.

How to Remove the Rear Seat and Subwoofer in a Lexus LS 430

Several weeks ago, I became the second owner of a 2003 Lexus LS 430 in generally excellent condition save for a blown subwoofer. This effectively limited my soundtrack to classical and NPR for several weeks. A new sub from Lexus is $300 because it’s a luxury car and parts cost luxury car prices, the fact that it’s 11 years old be damned.

Aftermarket options are limited because the Mark Levinson system uses a two ohm impedance and it’s an open-air setup. One well-known drop-in option is the Polk db840DVC, which has two four-ohm voice coils. Wire them in parallel (+ to +, – to -) and you get 2 ohms.

Of course, buying the sub on Amazon was the easy part. The fun part is getting to its location in the car, which requires removing the rear seat. This is actually not that complicated, but damn if I couldn’t find a clear explanation of how it’s done on the internet. Which is why I’m writing it here:

  1. Remove the seat cushion. This is best done from inside the cabin since it requires some force. Pull up on the cushion from one side to the other until it’s free. Hold at a 45 degree angle or so and then pull forward until the rear guides from below the seat back are free. Set it down and disconnect the heated seat plugs on either corner (use a small flathead screwdriver). Remove seat cushion from car.
  2. Remove the rear headrests. Behind both headrests are plastic plugs. Remove those to access the first two nuts. Use a deep 10 mm socket with at least a six inch extension.
  3. Flip down plastic cover behind the armrest. A third nut is behind the plastic cover behind the armrest. Pull down the armrest and open the pass-through, then you’ll be able to pull it down. Use the same deep 10 mm socket. Slightly lift up the armrest to get the plastic cover to pop back into place.
  4. Remove lower screws. There are four 10 or 12 mm screws on the bottom. You don’t have to remove the seatbelt bolts; they’re screwed on a lot tighter and it’s not worth the effort.
  5. Disconnect heated seat control plug. On the passenger side of the seat is an electrical plug that goes to the heated seat buttons in the armrest. Pull the black restraint out of its base first (pop the side with a screwdriver). Once you have it unplugged, pull the seat forward and set it on the floor.
  6. Unscrew top-of-seat seatbelt mounts. The seatbelt mounts on the top of the seat are held on with Philips-head screws. Once they’re unscrewed, move the seatbelts out of the way and remove the seat.
  7. Remove pins holding liner. The front part of the rear liner is held down by two black plastic pins. Pop them out with a flathead.
  8. Pull the liner up to pop up the sub grate. This is where things get annoying. Removing the entire liner requires taking apart the C-pillars, a level of effort that’s not worth it. You can pull the liner up enough to get the old sub out and get the new one in.
  9. Remove subwoofer mount screws. Squeeze your socket wrench in with a 10 mm socket and remove the four screws, pop the connector with a small flathead, and then pull out the sub.
  10. Unsolder the wires and remove the plastic mount. You need a torx bit for these screws.
  11. If you’re using the Polk dB840, you’ll need to pull the rubber grommet off the top. When putting it into the mount, put the top side on upside down and insert the screws through the bottom instead. When soldering the connectors, make sure to run a wire between the two positive terminals and one between the two negatives. Otherwise, you’ll only be connecting one of the voice coils.
  12. As they say in Haynes manuals, assembly is the opposite of removal. Just don’t forget to plug everything back in. Also, getting the seat cushion back into its spot will require some serious force. I used my knees to push it in far enough for it to pop into its slot.

Lexus Link System Bypass

Everytime I started the car, I start with the following messages:

“The Lexus Link System is active.”

“A Lexus Link error has been detected, please contact your Lexus dealer.”

I was going to just deal with it when I went in for an oil change, but since I was pulling the car apart anyway, I figured I’d look into a fix for this. Turns out, it’s really easy.

Open the trunk, lift up the right side of the carpet, and open the cover over the compartment on the right side. Next to the navigation drive are two large white plugs. Disconnect both and then plug them back in, but into the other plug – the male on the left side goes into the female on the right and vice versa. The cables are short, but it’s doable. I ran the right side female under the metal mount and pulled the right side male off its mount to make it work.

Presto, annoying message is gone, for the total cost of $0.

Update: The rear left speaker stopped working despite the internet saying it wouldn’t. I ended up plugging it back in the way it was. I’ll just deal with the stupid messages until I research this further.

Dear Media Overlords, Please Let Us Watch Sports Without Commentary


Some years ago, CBS or Fox had technical difficulties during a football game that resulted in the commentator audio being cut out. It was probably the most enjoyable game of football I ever watched because it was possible to actually become immersed in the on-field action.

Think of all the sports you’ve watched. Now ask yourself, how many of those events were made better by the inevitably inane commentary that accompanies them on? Odds are the answer is none. Let’s use football as an example, specifically the man pictured above, the legendary John Madden, whose commentary style was so in-your-face-obvious, there was even a term coined for it: Maddenisms.

This also applies to hockey, basketball, the UFC, probably even baseball. But what if it was possible to watch without the inane blabbering? Sure, there was a time when commentary was necessary to tell you what’s going on; that was before the advent of 60″ 1080p flatscreens with more real estate than the apartment its sitting in. Today’s TVs can handle all of the graphics the production guys in the trailer can throw at them without getting in the way of the action. And the technology for multiple audio feeds certainly is out there. Hell, I’d even be willing to pay extra money to watch the Anaheim Ducks crush the Canucks without having to listen to John Ahlers and Bryan Hayward or see someone gets knocked out in the UFC without the same repetetive commentary from Mike “John Madden of MMA” Goldberg and Joe “I’m always stoned” Rogan.


Sure, I’d miss out on the occasional gem like Joe Buck’s “That is a digusting act,” but the upside is not having to listen to Joe Buck talk the rest of the time. So I ask you, oh media overlords, please give us this option. Don’t ask why, just put it out there and take our money.

Why There Hasn’t Been Much of an Economic Recovery In Three Charts


From the St. Louis Fed:

The velocity of money is the frequency at which one unit of currency is used to purchase domestically- produced goods and services within a given time period. In other words, it is the number of times one dollar is spent to buy goods and services per unit of time. If the velocity of money is increasing, then more transactions are occurring between individuals in an economy.

The frequency of currency exchange can be used to determine the velocity of a given component of the money supply, providing some insight into whether consumers and businesses are saving or spending their money. There are several components of the money supply,: M1, M2, and MZM (M3 is no longer tracked by the Federal Reserve); these components are arranged on a spectrum of narrowest to broadest. Consider M1, the narrowest component. M1 is the money supply of currency in circulation (notes and coins, traveler’s checks [non-bank issuers], demand deposits, and checkable deposits). A decreasing velocity of M1 might indicate fewer short- term consumption transactions are taking place. We can think of shorter- term transactions as consumption we might make on an everyday basis.


The broader M2 component includes M1 in addition to saving deposits, certificates of deposit (less than $100,000), and money market deposits for individuals. Comparing the velocities of M1 and M2 provides some insight into how quickly the economy is spending and how quickly it is saving.


MZM (money with zero maturity) is the broadest component and consists of the supply of financial assets redeemable at par on demand: notes and coins in circulation, traveler’s checks (non-bank issuers), demand deposits, other checkable deposits, savings deposits, and all money market funds. The velocity of MZM helps determine how often financial assets are switching hands within the economy.”

In short, money is not being spent that often. All of those helicopter airdrops of cash by the Federal Reserve? They’re not going into the real economy and are not being spent on stuff by real people (who increasingly don’t have any money). If they were, the above three graphs would bear some semblance to that of the money supply below:


This is where our friend Mr. Income Inequality comes in. Taking the social justice argument out of the picture (let’s say it got sent to a labor camp, it’d be fitting), a huge concentration of money at the top will inevitably slow down the money supply because even the most frivolous-spending rich person will only spend so much per year, with the rest going into savings/investments/etc (why do you think the stock market keeps hitting record highs?). That money is not creating jobs, growing businesses, or even being spent on dumb shit. All it’s doing is making some guy with an insane amount of money even more money – something the Fed and our government are effectively encouraging with their current policies.

Until that money is brought into the real economy through some means like increased capital expenditures, taxation and public spending, direct payments to taxpayers – pick a method that jives with your ideology – the velocity of money and the real economy will continue to kind of suck. You simply can’t have a consumer spending-based economy if most consumers are broke and jobless. Good thing the unemployment rate went down! Oh wait…



Labor Force Participation Rate, Currently 62.8%. Source: BLS


The Doge Meme: We Need to Stop Celebrating Illiteracy


Wow. Such Rant. Very Opinionated.

For approximately 35 seconds, the Doge meme – I pronounce it the same way I pronounce the title of medieval and Renaissance-era Venetian leaders – was fairly amusing. Look, this cute dog has these simple thoughts! That’s hilarious!

Unforunately, unlike other flash-in-the-pan memes like those six-panel “what people think I do” contraptions for everyone’s profession, Bitstrips, or Draw Something, Doge pulled a herpes and decided to stay to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised to see some company use it in a Superbowl ad (MetroPCS, I’m looking in your direction.

We’re already collectively dumber thanks to the leaking of AOL IM shorthand into the mainstream thanks to text messaging (that it hasn’t stopped despite everyone and their mother – except mine – having a smartphone is sad), but we don’t need to compound the inability to finish words with the inability to form grammatically-correct sentences. It’s not even first-grade level, it’s…Ralph Wiggum.


I’d make a crack about someone using it as a pickup line or opening message on OkCupid, but that bar is so low, not even James Cameron can raise it. At least the people that make doge memes spell out the words; the same cannot be said of internet pickup artists.

I hereby put forward a motion that we stop celebrating illiteracy and put doge into the dustbin of Internet where it belongs, or at least bury it deep in some NSA server alongside everyone’s porn history. Who’s with me?

Ukraine’s Crisis: Why did Yanuk Reneg?

Vladimir Putin, Viktor Yanukovych

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich probably expected some anger when he decided to reneg on his word to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, but there is no way he expected the reaction that he got. Or maybe he did, having already been on the receiving end of it nearly a decade ago during the Orange Revolution. Regardless, you know you’re dealing with a seriously pissed off people when they come out to public squares – and stay there – in late November and early December in a place like Kiev, which isn’t exactly famous for its mild winters.

Part of the reason for the anger is that President Yanukovich had promised to sign the EU AA before he didn’t. Reneging on a deal like that isn’t the sort of decision that’s made lightly.

Economic Hardball

It increasingly looks like Yanukovich changed his mind because his Russian krysha made him an offer his country couldn’t afford to refuse. Ukraine’s economy is in a sorry state, having been brutally battered during the Great Financial Crisis, and the government is danger close to running out of hard currency (something the EU is not in a position to offer) – thus staring at the abyss of devaluation. Ukraine also needs Russian gas, preferably at a discount rate – leverage Russia has shown no qualms towards using in the past — and Russia is also Ukraine’s top trading partner, accounting for just under a quarter of its exports and a fifth of its imports. In short, Ukraine is simply too dependent on Russia economically to break free of its orbit.

Given the importance of Ukraine to the success of his customs union, it’s hardly surprising that Putin decided to play some of the stiffest economic hardball despite Yanukovich being generally pro-Moscow. Without Ukraine, it’s a joke devoid of countries that matter other than Russia — Belarus brings nothing to the table, Kazakhstan has plenty of gas but no people, and Armenia is Armenia. Beyond the geopolitical implications of Ukraine falling out of Russia’s orbit, Putin simply has too much money on the line.

Eastern Provinces

Ukraine 2010 Presidential Election Map. Source: BBC (

Ukraine 2010 Presidential Election Map. Source: BBC (

Aside from the near-certain economic disaster that would have unfolded has Yanukovich tried to call Putin’s bluff, he would have also committed political suicide. His Party of Regions (Partyia Regionov) draws its power from pro-Russian provinces in the eastern and southern parts of the country (and is probably covertly supported by the Kremlin). There is no way he could survive politically if he lost the support of his base given the level of polarization in the country.

Given these two realities, it’s easy to see how Yanukovich’s hands were tied. From a politician’s point of view, he made the only choice he could.

#AskJPM: JPMorgan Draws X-Pac Heat With Social Media Experiment Gone Awry

I was going to write about how we all need to take a breath when it comes to this whole Obamacare thing, but then JPMorgan decided to hijack the news cycle by pulling one of the biggest public relations fails in recent memory by deciding to hold a hashtag chat with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee on Twitter at #AskJPM.

I can visualize the series of phone calls, meetings, power points, and oversize checks that led to the social media guy convincing the custom-suited brass of JPM in my mind. It’s full of corporate jargon and hot air – basically, not all that interesting. The problem here is that this is a strategy for a popular celebrity or a consumer product company, not a scandal-ridden bank that could easily be the country’s most hated corporation.

The hashtag quietly sat there for a few hours…and then went viral, becoming a trending topic, but nowhere near in the way JPMorgan intended, drawing what I can best describe as a galactic level of X-Pac Heat:


HuffPo, among lots of others, has some more good ones.

Facing an orgy of disdain, the bank did the obvious thing and cancelled the aforementioned Q&A. There’s certainly no good way to extricate yourself out of a cock-up of this magnitude, but their terse tweet didn’t do them any more favors.


The aforementioned social media guy has most certainly been sacked and Jon Stewart’s writers currently hate their lives, but the real takeway here is that people really hate JPMorgan. This isn’t the usual sort of hate levied publicly at company – McDonald’s failed with a similar stunt, but they mostly dealt with “your food sucks” instead of accusations of everything from open corruption of politicians to laundering money for drug cartels.

Will this materially affect the TBTF bank? Certainly not as much as the multi-billion dollar fines The public’s outright rejection of #AskJPM should be seen as a message of distaste for JPMorgan – and, almost certainly, other Too Big To Fail banks -  something that politicians should be aware of going into 2014 and, since we’re talking about it already, 2016.