Ukraine: Tensions Rise as the DNR’s End Grows Near

Not-So-Polite Individuals

Not-So-Polite Individuals

The last time I wrote words about Ukraine, Putin had just finished ganking Crimea under the cover of the smoke coming from the $51-billion dollar Sochi Winter Olympics money fire. In the intervening months, things have not only gone plaid, but flannel plaid. It is a minor miracle that the conflict has remained localized.

For those that haven’t been paying attention, a pro-Russian insurgency broke out in Eastern Ukraine, specifically the provinces of Donestk and Lugansk (or Luhansk, as you would say it in Ukrainian or Southern Russian), proclaiming the Donestk and Lugansk People’s Republics, respectively. Sometime later, the two combined to form Novorossiya, after the Imperial Russian name for the region.

Your average American could hardly be faulted for not being able to find these on a map (Google Maps doesn’t count, that’s cheating); then again, your average Russian probably find these on a map prior to the start of this conflict either.

Aleksander Borodai

Aleksander Borodai. Yeltsin would be proud.

Choice Individuals

For an insurgency that’s supposed to be a spontaneous people’s uprising against fascist tyranny, it sure is filled with all sorts of Russians. Take the political leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, premier Aleksander Borodai. Besides the fact that the man is CLEARLY an absolute lush, he’s also a “political consultant” from Moscow. Then there’s one of the bigger characters of the Battle of Slovyansk (this town was the insurgents’ stronghold until it was taken by the Ukrainian military) – the Russian Cossack Alexander Mozhaev (circled in the top image). Under the funny hat and unkempt beard is a felon on the lam who, hilariously enough, fled with his crew when things started going bad and has not been heard from since.

Igor Strelkov

Igor Strelkov. Would you let this man give your children candy?

Of course, the biggest character of all is the military commander of the DNR, one Igor Strelkov slash Girkin. A GRU colonel with a hardon for war reenactment, the Russian Empire, a creepy mustache, and one hell of a pedosmile, Strelkov claims to have been involved in every Russian military conflict since it stopped being the USSR. A Bosnian newspaper found what it claims is a picture of him in, well, Bosnia, during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 90s. Popular uprising my ass.

To Strelkov’s credit go several summary executions carried out under a 1941 directive by Stalin that was since revoked by several governments (including the original “people’s mayor” of Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev; incidentally, Ponomarev was actually a local), and increasingly insane orders such as a ban on profanity and the imposition of martial law in the city of Donestk, which is home to 1.5 million people. If a guy with a couple thousand men behind him at best tried to impose martial law on say, San Diego, everyone would just laugh (and then proceed to shoot back).

The Airliner

The cherry on top of this clusterfuck is MH-17, which was shot down by some drunken insurgent after some genius in the Russian military command decided that it would be a good idea to give some barely-trained (two years as a conscript in the Red Army in 1988-1990 doesn’t count) drunks a surface-to-air missile system. I almost want to say that they were set up with bad intelligence on purpose, because they would have to be among the top 5 idiots in the history of the world to think that an airline at cruising altitude was a valid military target. At least the Soviets shot down Korean Air Flight 007 ON PURPOSE. Then again, Iran Air 655 was an epic cockup too, and that one was carried out by actually trained personnel. Never ascribe to malice that which can be ascribed to incompetence.

Neither the US or USSR desecrated the bodies of the victims either.

We May be About to Witness Sudetenland 2.0

Despite a shaky start and continuing heavy casualties, the Ukrainian military is slowly gaining the upper hand. Most recently, they were able to cut off Donetsk from the rest of the insurgent territory (and thus the Russian supplies and arms from across the border). The UAF is gearing up for a storm of Donestk; hopefully they carry it out without resorting to Grads, Smerches, and Tochkas. Lugansk will hold on for some time still, but then there’s the $64,000 question – will Putin do it? At this point, he’s already been hit with pretty heavy sanctions from anyone that matters this side of China, and he’s starting to look increasingly weak in the eyes of the nationalists that are propping up his precious approval rating. And it’s not like anyone will do anything about it besides more sanctions (which Russia hopes to manage by trading more with China).

In terms of cold-blooded realpolitik, invading is the sensible for Putin to do (especially given that he is that kind of a bastard). He’s already screwed when it comes to the West and he’ll be screwed internally if he doesn’t act. They’ve been halfway there for weeks anyway, as Russian artillrey has been shelling Ukrainian soldiers trapped near the border since mid-July or so. The Russian army will surely crush nearly-bankrupt Ukraine’s armed forces, but not without paying a decent price in blood. Though poorly equipped, the Ukrainians have some pretty solid combat experience to their name at this point. This is, of course, the worst-case scenario, but hey look over there guys – we’ve got a bond crisis coming!

Go Vote Tomorrow: A Last Minute Primer on California’s Top Two Primary System

Tomorrow is the 2014 California Primary Election. You probably won’t vote because it’s a midterm primary election, and turnout in midterm primaries is generally dismal (in 2010, 1/3 of registered voters and ¼ of eligible voters showed up), but you’ll also be making a big mistake.

Neel Kashkari was one of the co-authors of the TARP bank bailout. I Report, You Decide.

Neel Kashkari was one of the co-authors of the TARP bank bailout. I Report, You Decide.

You see, this is the first midterm to use California’s “top two” primary system, which was enacted in the aforementioned 2010 primary election by Prop 14. Prop 14 passed with 54% voting for and 46% voting against, meaning that it took just 13% of all Californians that could vote to massively shakeup the state’s election system. So go out and vote, and tell 10 of your friends and family members to do the same. If they each bring 10, well, then you’ve got a pyramid scheme to Get Out The Vote. This happens to be the only pyramid scheme I’m ok with.

The practical effect of the “top two” primary system is that it effectively makes the general election a “runoff” between the top two vote-getters, which is very European of us. Unlike the Europeans, however, we only have two viable political parties – for now. California’s primary system could actually be used by a third-party, along with the current weakness of the state Republican Party (which is worthy of its own post) to at the least sneak into the general. They’d just have to make you get out and vote.

Tim Donnely is from Georgia. He also tried to bring a gun on board a plane in 2012.

Tim Donnely is from Georgia. He also tried to bring a gun on board a plane in 2012.

If you do want to vote third party, THIS IS YOUR ONLY CHANCE UNTIL 2016. There won’t be a Green Party candidate for governor in November, nor will there be a Libertarian, or a Peace and Freedom, or anything else candidate. No, we will all get the choice between Jerry Brown and the Prison Guards Union OR one of the following two Republicans: Neel “TARP and Axe Commercial” Kashkari or Tim “Georgian Minuteman From the San Bernardino Mountains” Donnely.

This is seriously the best they have. Sorry, inmates, your indefinite stays in SHUs are going to continue unabated.

The only exception to the “top two” primary is the Presidential Election, which operates under its own set of rules. But Representatives get elected every two years, along with State Assemblypersons. Even if there’s no big-name federal election going on, some person who has a say in how your life will be ran will be up for election. You might as well show up and make them uncomfortable.

Source

http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/2010-primary/pdf/2010-complete-sov.pdf

A Rant About the Orange Crush

Google Map view of the Orange Crush InterchangeI traded traffic on the 405 for traffic on the 22. I don’t know if that was such an upgrade because traffic on the 22 sucks worse, and there’s less of an excuse for it. Whereas the 405 gets backed up because of volume and bad driving (why can’t freeway drivers handle curves? It is a mystery!), the 22 gets backed up because somewhere during the Measure M funded constriction process, some asshole decided to add too many ramps, creating complete clusterfucks of merging vehicles.

Take the Bristol Eastbound on-ramp. That ramp feeds not into the main freeway, but the two lanes that feed onto the 5 south and 57 north. These are separated from the rest of the freeway by a wall, presumably to reduce “slamming,” but this creates its own problems. For example, people entering from Bristol that don’t want to get on the 5 south get less than 500 feet to merge.
To make things more fun, the 57 south and 22 east feed onto the 5 south at about the same place. And the 5 south carpool slash HOV is always backed up because the 57 south feeds into it, and then two lanes merge into one. The HOV lanes are also separated from the main freeway by a wall.

The 5 north to 22 west connector sucks too, again because someone wanted to put in an extra on-ramp. Instead of being 2 lanes that merge into one near the end, this connect has one lane that goes onto the 22 west and one that exits towards The Outlet Mall Formerly Known as the Block at Orange. This causes a crushing amount of slamming, of which I am admittedly guilty off because I’ll be damned if I lose another 10 minutes of my life because some politician really wanted an exit. I have no respect for this design. Sorry folks, blame the government and make them close that off-ramp.

Oh, then the 57 south feeds into it a couple hundred feet later, just as you think the interchange-caused jam is going to clear up. Instead, it goes on basically until harbor. Hell to the yeah. Screw you Orange Crush. Good thing you have the East LA Interchange to make you look good.

SoCal’s traffic is legendary. We waste a horrific amount of man-hours every year sitting in this nonsense because nobody can afford housing in the core and there aren’t any jobs in the Outer Rim, err, Inland Empire. Regional transit options are woefully inadequate, there’s no more room to build more freeways. All we can hope for is the self-driving cars. Maybe, just maybe, through the magic of computers, we’ll solve this problem. If not, we’re all going to REALLY lose our collective shit one day. But in the meantime, we could at least not stuff our overloaded interchanges with poor designs. The bad traffic they cause radiates for miles in all directions.

On a related note, I wonder how things will look at the 22/40 connection when they’re done with that construction. So far, I think it just might help.

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.
    2003-lexus-ls-430-rear-seat-disassembled
  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.
    2003-lexus-ls-430-rear-seat-top-nut-location
  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.
    2003-lexus-ls-430-center-nut-location
  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.
    2003-lexus-ls-430-rear-seat-lower-mounts
  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.
    polk-db840dvc-in-2003-lexus-ls-430-subwoofer-mount
  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.
2003-lexus-ls-430-nav-drive-and-lexus-link-plug

Dear Media Overlords, Please Let Us Watch Sports Without Commentary

John-Madden-Run-or-Pass

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.

ufc__mike_goldberg_joe_rogan_fuel

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

M1V_Max_630_378

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.

M2V_Max_630_378

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.

MZMV_Max_630_378

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:

money-supply-may-2012

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-2013

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

Shit.