Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Come back, Bill Watterson - Calvin and Hobbes explains how bailouts work.
The Teel thing

For the record: congratulations to Rutgers for winning the Something-Something Bowl, beating North Carolina State 29-23.
The law is the law...except when it's not

An interesting take on the law over at Volokh:

At risk of offending my many friends in the legal academy, I think that law is a shockingly phony discipline. Virtually everyone - liberal, conservative, Marxist, libertarian, or whatever - imagines that the law conveniently agrees with what they favor on non-legal grounds.
In an earlier post, Eugene Volokh wonders if Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Illinois AG Roland Burris can be blocked, either by the Illinois Secretary of State or by the U.S. Senate:

If there's some evidence that Burris's appointment was indeed the result of a bribe or some illegal maneuvering, then indeed the Senate can refuse to seat him. But if there is no such evidence, then for reasons I noted earlier, I think their position is legally unsustainable, given the Supreme Court's Powell v. McCormack precedent.
On the one hand, it appears that the law is clear and the (not-yet-impeached) governor can appoint whomever he wants to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. On the other hand, it seems reasonable that the legislature has a check on executive power in extraordinary circumstances (e.g. Senator Oprah). The "phony discipline" lies in determining where the extraordinary circumstances begin, I suppose. This sounds like a job for the legal bloggers.

Extra - Red State: "Looking ahead to a Constitutional crisis."

More - John Cole weighs in: "Blagojevich will have his day in court, but for now he is legally the governor, he is legally carrying out his duties, and unless and until the Democrats grab the stones to get rid of him, they should suck it up and deal with his pick." Yes, there's that approach.

And this - Bench Memos: "State law as it currently stands empowers the governor of Illinois to make this appointment. Rod Blagojevich is still the governor. Brazenly shameless this act may be-but constitutionally valid it certainly is."
No double standard here - Do you know who really didn't want to see this story about Vicki L. Iseman suing the New York Times? John Edwards.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just back from Christmas vacation; spoilers for "Oliver Twist" below

Back to work tomorrow, but for now I want to take note that I finished "Oliver Twist" during my trip. This is a classic? Sure, the writing is superb, the characters as vivid as a Kodachrome picture, and the social commentary is tart. But at some point I'm to believe that Oliver's two random benefactors in the book are 1.) an old friend of his father and 2.) his long-lost aunt. That is one coincidental bridge too far.

It was humorous, however, to find that Charles Dickens' illustrator for "Oliver Twist" was George Cruikshank which became the inspiration for Hermione Granger's cat in the "Harry Potter" books.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

So close - Boston Globe: "Patriots did all you can ask for": "This leaves the Patriots as the first team in the 12-team playoff era to go 11-5 and not make the playoffs."
The Social Security scam - From New Jersey's Star-Ledger: "The Ponzi scheme that Baby Boomers are waiting to cash in on": "The federal government, on the other hand, never tried to make the Social Security system work. The feds didn't invest the money in the market. They took the money that we gave them and lent it to themselves, promising themselves interest. To be paid by themselves."

Friday, December 26, 2008

I enjoy them on my chicken piccata - Wired: "The 7 best capers of 2008" (HT: Fark)
Progress - For Christmas I asked for, and received, a new 16 GB flash drive (the kind that plugs into a USB port). It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I got my first 16 MB drive. Now I can backup my entire MP3 collection.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas everyone

In case I don't get to a computer over the next couple days, let me leave with these words from Abraham Lincoln:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Happy holidays and see you soon.
An annual tradition - NORAD tracks Santa
A tiny piece of good news - Calculated Risk says "Savings rate starting to recover": "It looks like savings from lower gasoline prices is showing up as savings - as opposed to other consumption - and this process of increasing savings is a necessary step towards restoring healthy household balance sheets."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rod Blagojevich's theme song

Two days before Christmas, the Obama campaign releases a report with the passive voice explanation that "no inappropriate discussions" were made with regard to a quid pro quo with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich for Obama's vacated Senate seat. Although to read the transcripts of the Blago wiretaps, it sure seems like the governor was doing his damnest to get his point across:

One conversation Fitzgerald's complaint described had hinted that the the Illinois governor was frustrated by contacts with Obama or some of his staff.

"Blagojevich said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat," the complaint states, referring to an unnamed person thought to be Jarrett. "But 'they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.'"
So it sounds like Blago was making some transparent demands but he was rebuffed by Rahm Emmanuel, probably with a stony silence. Given the strident and insistent tone of Blago's wiretap transcripts, it's hard to believe that at least one side of the conversation wasn't "inappropriate."
Everybody loves Cheney - Ann Althouse notes that Dick Cheney should be pleased that only 23% of Americans think of him as the worst vice-president ever: "Because it's not as though most Americans have a whole list of ex-Vice Presidents to call to mind at a moment's notice. Most everyone knows Cheney. And then who?"

All this poll indicates is that Americans have a wafer-thin understanding of history. Spiro Agnew, anyone? Aaron Burr? How about John C. Breckinridge who left to fight for the Confederacy during the American Civil War? Please.

Extra - Forgot about John C. Calhoun.
Hope over reality and those who profit

Before you read this Boston Globe editorial about the abysmal graduation rates for students entering college (only 56% have a degree six years later), read this excellent essay from "Professor X" from the Atlantic magazine a couple months back:

There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces-social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students-that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.
Also, on the Corner, Mark Steyn has some thoughts on "Subprime education."
Slow news morning - Why does Fox News have this inane story of "Wii-itis" on it's top page? Silly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Runner-up quote of the dayFrom the New York Times, on a letter criticizing Caroline Kennedy as a potential Senate replacement: "It should not have been published."  Not, as you might suspect, because it's against editorial policy to criticize Democrats but because the letter was a fake.  Well, it's been five years, so we were due for a new low point at the Times (not to be confused with this low point.)
Quote of the day"We have enough evil already." - Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the religious police chief of Saudi Arabia, on the introduction of movies to the Kingdom.  How very true.
What's all that hey? - I just posted from Google Chrome and my fonts are weird.

I'm listening to: Little River Band Greatest Hits
I'm also: procrastinating because I don't want to go out in the cold and shovel

I think it's time for lunch!
Stopgap measureMickey Kaus reviews the auto bailout and decides that the $17 billion loan is just postponing some serious sacrifice in the future and there will be no appetite among Americans for another cash infusion.

Extra - Jaguar needs help too?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A poll they wouldn't dare take three months ago

Boston Globe: "Grudging support for gas tax hike in poll"

Massachusetts residents are more willing to embrace higher gas taxes to repair the state's crumbling transportation system than any other proposed solution, including higher tolls or more booths at the state's borders, a Boston Globe poll shows.

In fact, higher tolls - as recently proposed by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with Governor Deval Patrick's support - are by far the least popular among an array of suggestions that have been floated to fix the state's transportation woes.

Patrick has called it a bad time, with the economy sagging, to raise the gas tax. House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi has said he would prefer a tax hike, which affects motorists generally, to toll hikes that burden only some.

When those polled were asked to choose between raising tolls on the turnpike or raising the gas tax, the tax won out 48 percent to 42 percent. The feelings about taxes or tolls varied considerably depending on where respondents live - toll hikes were the clear preference of those from the state's west and southeast sections, who are least likely to pay them.
It was sure nice of the Globe to wait until gas prices hit a record low before asking all of Massachusetts how to pay for the near-bankrupt Turnpike Authority and its white elephant, the Big Dig. Apparently the fair thing to do is have all Bay State residents pony up for a public benefit (such as it is) that serves only Boston commuters.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The price is really right

This past week, a winner on "The Price is Right" got his showcase bid exactly right:

Friday, December 19, 2008

No brown M&Ms - The Smoking Gun has Van Halen's legendary concert rider.  The band weren't being jerks; they just wanted to make sure that promoters read the contract and the stage wouldn't collapse.
Look out, Paul and Ringo! - Boston Globe: "$24m in US aid to help wipe out beetles"
Shake your booty - Economist: "Why music? - Biologists are addressing one of humanity’s strangest attributes, its all-singing, all-dancing culture" (HT: Arts & Letters)

All I know is that my Christmas vacation started a couple hours ago, and I'm going to relax with some beer and music, probably Jason Mraz.
The Decider punts - Those are my principles and if you don't like them, I have others: "Federal Government to Loan Automakers $17.4B"

A billion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Albinos unite against 70s funk music

Best post title ever.

A couple months ago, I picked up one of those 1970s funk music compilations from the library (50 cents) and one of the tracks is "Play that Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. Last night I finally gave it a listen and when they got to the line "Play that funky music, white boy" they had dubbed over the "white boy" with a loop of "play that funky music."

Were they concerned about the backlash from white boys? The CD was put together in 1989 which may have been the apogee of political correctness, I don't know.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Send the repo men...we're broke

From the DC Examiner "Who will bail out Uncle Sam?"

The United States of America is bankrupt. Don't believe it? Consider this: Federal obligations now exceed the collective net worth of all Americans, according to the New York-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Washington politicians and bureaucrats have essentially mortgaged everything We the People own so they can keep spending our tax dollars like there’s no tomorrow.

The foundation's grim calculations are based on Sept. 30 consolidated federal statements, which showed that Americans' total household net worth, diminished by falling stock prices and home equity, is $56.5 trillion. But rising costs for unfunded social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security increased to $56.4 trillion – and that was before the more recent stock market crash, $700 billion bank bailout, and monster federal deficits chalked up in October and November.

"Given more recent developments, it's clear that America now owes more than its citizens are worth," said Foundation president David M. Walker, the former Comptroller-General of the United States who has been trying to warn Americans of the coming financial tsunami for years, to no avail. So, after Uncle Sam bails out bankers, Wall Street gamblers, carmakers and over-their-head homeowners, who'll bail out Uncle Sam?
Readers of this blog will recognize the name of David Walker, the former top accountant in the U.S. government. Just in time for Christmas, it looks like we've crossed over into George Bailey territory:

Mr. Potter: [to George Bailey] Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me "a warped, frustrated, old man!" What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds. Nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. You're worth more dead than alive!
Whatta mean no bonds? We've got these great T-bills selling at zero-percent interest. What a deal!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote of the day – WSJ Opinion Journal: "Forcing us to save GM, Ford and Chrysler is to force us to buy what we have already decided we do not want. That's about as un-American as you can get." – reader Paul Cooper responding to "Bankruptcy is the perfect remedy for Detroit."
The Ponzi scheme expert – WSJ: "Put Madoff In Charge of Social Security"
Come-uppance - Capital Commerce: "The 10 dopiest business and economy leaders of 2008": "Not only did CEO Fuld watch Lehman Brothers, the 158-year-old investment bank, go down the tubes, but he reportedly got punched in the face in the company gym." I had not heard that story.
Journalism is easy – You don't even need to look for facts. It's all about the instinct, man!
Ted Kennedy blocks clean, green wind power

The business of energy is dirty and dangerous: oil, coal, and nuclear require the digging through the earth and processing ore. The push for renewable energy is based, in part, on breaking the stranglehold of fossil fuels on our energy security. But all forms of energy – even wind, solar, and hydroelectric – have tradeoffs. For Senator Ted Kennedy, his long opposition to a wind farm off his Nantucket home is, simply put, a selfish effort to preserve his pristine ocean view, energy independence be damned. From today's Boston Globe, here's "An Ahab for Cape Wind":

Senator Edward Kennedy's Ahab-like efforts to kill the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound have taken a new twist. Having failed three years ago to get Congress to give veto power over the project to then-Governor Mitt Romney, an opponent of the wind turbines, the senator is now pursuing a delaying tactic. An aide to Kennedy conferred with staff of the House committee chairman with responsibility for the Coast Guard, who got that service to put off release of a recommendation on the project that is expected be favorable to the wind developers. Representative William Delahunt also worked to postpone the Coast Guard action.
The Cape Wind turbine farm could power three-quarters of the Cape while providing over 600 jobs during its two-year construction. Ted Kennedy's legislative sabotage lays bare the limits of his environmental beliefs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Less than zero – Well, almost: "Fed May Cut Target Rate to Historic Low"
Free speech is grand – Roger L. Simon makes a salient point: "That buffoon-like shoe chucker - his name is Muntazer al-Zaidi from Al-Baghdadia channel which broadcasts from Cairo - proved it. No matter what happens to al-Zaidi now (and it won't be much if anything), it will be nothing like what would have happened to him if he had hurled a shoe at the president during the previous Iraqi administration of Saddam Hussein."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Car talk - It's going to be a demolition derby on Fox News Sunday tomorrow as Senator Bob Corker (R-Cool Springs, TN) faces off against Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Detroit, MI).
Obama wants to destroy Social Security

Oh boy, oh boy! I'm all geared up for years of demagoguery on America's favorite entitlement program. It looks like our President-elect is polishing up his boot to kick Grandma into the street. At least that's what The Progressive is reporting: "Obama’s pick for OMB puts Social Security in jeopardy"

President-elect Obama’s appointment of Peter Orszag to be director of the Office of Management and Budget has raised the threat level for an attack on Social Security to orange.

While Orszag has taken thoughtful positions on a number of policies, three years ago he came up with a plan for Social Security that would cut its benefits to all workers under age 55 - hitting people harder the younger they are.
The article by a professor at San Francisco State University defines cognative dissonance: on the one hand, he lauds Social Security's universality, but then holds forth that wealthier Americans should pay more into the system, presumably with no proportional benefit increase. Well, soon enough we'll see the clash between campaign rhetoric and fiscal reality.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Facing reality - Megan McArdle has "The death of a bailout": "But I think most people should be able to agree that a company on the verge of bankruptcy, which is losing a ton of money on every car it makes, cannot afford to pay its workers substantially more than the competition, particularly when there is no indication that this labor is any more productive than the competition."

Extra - GM was "burning the furniture to stay warm."
Taxpayers upset they weren't more irresponsible

CNN: "Taxpayers: Furious over homeowner bailouts"

"All these idiots who bought homes they couldn't really afford are going to be rewarded with loan modifications, but what about those of us who didn't make stupid decisions?" asked Jay Black, a CNNMoney.com reader who rents in Queens, N.Y.
Sir, don't you know it's your patriotic duty to bail out your fellow American dummies? Sheesh.
Money man - The front page of today's Wall Street Journal screams: "Top broker accused of $50 billion fraud." That's "billion" with a "B." And now Gateway reports that he was a big donor to Democratic candidates.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Auto bailout dies in the Senate - It's a quarter after 10 (EST) and Harry Reid along with Mitch McConnell are indicating that they will not reach cloture in the Senate on the bailout for the Detroit automakers.

Extra - Is this a fake ad?  I think so.

Update - Not even close for cloture: 52-35 (60 needed).

More - Barbara Boxer is making a fool of herself as usual.

Even more - Dick Durbin, on the other hand, makes some sense.  He notes that Consumer Reports always rates Japanese cars as having much better reliability than American cars; the Detroit automakers didn't really have a good response to this during Senate hearings.

Finally - Ten Republicans voted for cloture, so the vote could have moved forward with 50 of the 51 Democrats.  So says Arlen Specter (R-PA) who voted "aye."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some numbers for review

Mises Economics blog: "Mismanagement at the Big Three"

It was a dead heat. General Motors sold 9.37 million vehicles worldwide in 2007 and lost $38.7 billion. Toyota sold 9.37 million vehicles in 2007 and made $17.1 billion.

That was the second best sales total in GM's 100-year history and the biggest loss ever for any automaker in the world.

For Toyota, that was roughly $1,800 in profit for every vehicle sold. For GM, it was an average loss of $4,100 for every vehicle sold.
Yikes. (HT: Q&O) You know, I don't know how this whole Detroit bailout is going to unfold, but there's one thing that Congress should demand as a condition: everybody in upper management has to go. I mean, look at those numbers! In the spirit of Christmas, put a fruitcake in Rick Wagoner's executive chair - it couldn't possibly do worse.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Well, that's all I'm going to say about poor Flick"

Boston Globe photogallery: "The best and worst holiday movies"

"Bad Santa" - naughty
"A Christmas Story" - nice
I'm from Hawaii and never heard of this "Ill-a-noy" place - John Dickerson on Slate: "Obama's unsatisfyingly vague response to the Blagojevich scandal"
At least Scrooge didn't kick away Tiny Tim's cane

The best bit from today's charge against Blagojevich:

[I]ntercepted phone conversations between ROD BLAGOJEVICH and othersindicate that ROD BLAGOJEVICH is contemplating rescinding his commitment of state funds to benefit Children's Memorial Hospital because Hospital Executive 1 has not made a recent campaign contribution to ROD BLAGOJEVICH.
God bless us, everyone!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Not so much change - Contentions: "Gitmo won't easily disappear"
Is it over yet in Minnesota? - Well, Hot Air is reporting that they're calling off the search for 133 mythical ballots so it's about over for Al Franken's bid to overturn Norm Coleman's win. After millions of re-counted ballots, Coleman's 238-vote margin is pretty close to the margin on election night.
Peace prize winner says "Kill Mugabe"

So it's come to this. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu is urging drastic action to save Zimbabwe from dictator Robert Mugabe. From Opinion Journal: "In the land of cholera Africans finally turn against Comrade Bob."

The situation has become so dire that Mr. Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate and former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, told a Dutch TV station Thursday that African leaders cannot stand by any longer. "If they say to [Mugabe], step down, and he refuses, they must go in . . . militarily," Mr. Tutu said.
Given the lengths – and depths – that Robert Mugabe has gone to hold on to power, it's hard to believe he'll go down without a fight that will lead to more bloodshed. Bishop Tutu's position illustrates how desperate things have gotten in southern Africa.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Amazing Race update – Sprint for the finish

Another season, another finale and I can't help but wonder what the future holds for the six-time Emmy winner "The Amazing Race." I'm always worried that the ratings have slumped and CBS will pull the plug but, if this report is to be believed, TAR is all ready for another season (and soon!):

"The Amazing Race" rarely hosts a spring season. However, this fall's edition featured so many quirky characters and outrageous challenges that the ratings went through the roof.
The show really lived up to all of its Emmys, so the "The Amazing Race" will air a special spring edition starting Feb. 15.
I'm as elevated as Phil's eyebrow.

Well tonight was the season finale for TAR 13 and the final three teams – Nick & Starr, Andrew & Dan, and Ken & Tina – started out from Moscow on the final leg. Team Perky headed out first to the final destination: Portland, Oregon. It looks like everybody is taking the same Lufthansa flight to the U.S. via Frankfurt. Flying arrows! I can't believe Frankfurt to Portland is a direct flight (although once I took a looong flight from Chicago to Paris).

All teams are now heading to a lumberjack camp and the Detour: High & Dry or Low & Wet. Teams must climb trees and swing across like a lumberjack, or walk across a log bridge to get the next clue. Team Infidelity and Team Perky are neck-in-neck climbing trees while Team Bluto has a bad taxi driver and falls behind again. It's possible that these teams may hit a penalty. Nick did not jump to the trapeze to get the next clue while Tina removed her helmet briefly to incur a safety violation (maybe). Both teams are heading to a zip line at the Bridge of the Gods.

Ken & Tina arrive at the bridge ahead of Nick & Starr. They do the zip line and then we get the final challenge: teams must match up pictures from this season of the Race from pictures in 150 clue boxes. For example, if there's a roadblock symbol for leg #3, they need to find a picture from the wrestling roadblock in La Paz. Team Infidelity and Team Perky appear to be very close on this challenge; the Frat Boys are nowhere. Nick & Starr finish first and head off to the next clue in the parking lot.

Teams must now head to the Portland Building and find a green dinosaur and the next clue. The taxi drivers to Portland are driving a little recklessly. Ken & Tina get caught in traffic while Nick & Starr get the next clue. This directs teams to find a food cart from a "country of your last Pit Stop" meaning Russia. Team Perky gets there first and this clue sends them to the place where "magic is in the hole." They ask a local who sends them to Voodoo Doughnuts.

(In the background, I see a gas station with a price of $3.91 for regular unleaded.)

At the doughnut shop, this clue directs teams to the Pit Stop, their final destination, and the million-dollar prize. Essentially it comes down to whether Nick & Starr or Ken & Tina can get a taxi first. With creative editing, it looks like they both get a cab at the same time. As the eliminated teams cheer on it's...

...Nick & Starr first to the mat to win the Amazing Race (no penalties.) They were clearly the dominant team throughout this season and their win is well-deserved. Ken & Tina finish second but they tearfully reconcile their marriage as Ken takes out their wedding rings. Andrew & Dan show up later with the sun lower in the sky.

Final standings:

Team Perky – Nick & Starr – Winners of Amazing Race 13
Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina
Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan

Post-note – My wife noticed that Toni & Dallas, who lost their passports last week, were not among the previous teams greeting the winners at the mat.

See you in February!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Specifics needed - President-elect Barack Obama will be on "Meet the Press" tomorrow and Politico has ten questions for him.
No word on the "Get out of Zimbabwe" cards - From CNN: "Cash-strapped Zimbabwe revealed plans Saturday to circulate $200 million notes, just days after introducing a $100 million bill, Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said. After the $100 million note began circulating on Thursday, the price of a loaf of bread soared from 2 million to 35 million Zimbabwean dollars." That's a lot for bread.
President Bush tries to destroy the planet again - It looks like the Detroit automakers are going to get a loan: "Several officials in both parties said a key breakthrough on the long-stalled bailout came when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bowed to Bush's demand that the aid come from a fund set aside for the production of environmentally friendlier cars."

Those would be the cars that nobody likes, don't make a profit, and would never sell at all without a federal tax credit.
Cause and effect? - OJ is gone for at least a decade. Friday's stock market soared after he was sentenced.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Detroit CEOs explain the roadmap back to profitability

Jim Manzi on "GM's magical thinking"

However, if GM got the loans, and if we have a decent consumer auto purchase market for the next year or two (how'd you handicap that?), and if GM is able to improve its operations sufficiently, then they could squeak by. The point of this document [GM's bailout/restructuring plan] was supposed to be the presentation of the plan to achieve these operational improvements. But there's no there there. I guess somebody who's never read a real business plan might mistake this document for one, but it's a joke. It's basically a list of assertions of amazing improvements, entirely discontinuous with actual performance to date, that they will achieve. What's missing is any real indication of how they will go about accomplishing this.
Here's an interesting article about how Detroit got addicted to fat-profit trucks and SUVs:
One reason they might have dropped their guard was the irresistible profit margin in light trucks. "The trucks and SUVs had fat profit margins. Even if [the automakers] saw it coming, it would have been hard to shift resources to build more hybrids. The U.S. auto industry has been struggling with a lot of problems for a long time," MacDuffie notes. "They felt that they could not move away from the SUVs and pickups because they needed the profits from those products to cope with the other difficulties they were having. ... Labor and benefits costs were one of the largest problems."
Burned once before in the late 70s/early 80s, American automakers should have re-tooled for smaller, gas-efficient cars. But somewhere along the line, General Motors became the largest national provider of health care, and needed the cash they could only find in honkin' trucks.

Extra - Wizbang: "For one, there wasn't exactly a market for smaller, fuel-efficient cars in the US because, well, Americans wanted bigger ones."

More - Jennifer Rubin: "What are they driving at?"

Finally - McQ: "They don't seem to live in the same world as the rest of us do. And that's what stirs the anger - here we are contemplating, again, rewarding stupidity, mismanagement and failure."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Like driving into a wall

Here's cause-and-effect for you:

[Ford CEO Alan] Mulally's current compensation package will pay him about $22 million this year. Asked last week if he would consider cutting his salary, Mulally told members of Congress, "I think I'm OK where I am."
That was during the first round of Congressional testimony on a bailout for the Detroit automakers. Only after taking their corporate jets back to Michigan did the auto execs realize what a mess they'd made: "CNN poll says 61% now 'dead set' against auto bailout."
Worst government acronym ever

Great Britain's NICE is naughty. NY Times: "British Balance Benefit vs. Cost of Latest Drugs"

When Bruce Hardy's kidney cancer spread to his lung, his doctor recommended an expensive new pill from Pfizer. But Mr. Hardy is British, and the British health authorities refused to buy the medicine. ....

If the Hardys lived in the United States or just about any European country other than Britain, Mr. Hardy would most likely get the drug, although he might have to pay part of the cost. A clinical trial showed that the pill, called Sutent, delays cancer progression for six months at an estimated treatment cost of $54,000.
But at that price, Mr. Hardy’s life is not worth prolonging, according to a British government agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The institute, known as NICE, has decided that Britain, except in rare cases, can afford only £15,000, or about $22,750, to save six months of a citizen’s life.
Reading the article it appears that, in the interest of making drug coverage the same across Britain, NICE unleashes a firestorm whenever they restrict a drug in the interest of pharmaceutical equity.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cape Wind one step closer

The Boston Globe reports today that the Bush administration may give the final federal OK to a wind farm off Nantucket Sound:

The Bush administration is expected to issue as early as Friday a favorable final environmental review of the nation's first offshore wind farm project, clearing the way for Cape Wind to obtain a federal lease to erect 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
The wind farm has presented a dilemma for largely left-wing residents of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket who support clean energy as long as somebody else makes the sacrifice:

The proposal from a once little-known company has endured years of environmental review, several rounds of political maneuvering by the likes of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and former governor Mitt Romney, and strong opposition from a group of homeowners on the Cape and Islands. They worry that the 440-foot-high turbines, visible on the horizon, would mar their views, depress property values, and deter tourists. But the project has gained momentum as the public's appetite has grown for renewable energy to help forestall global warming.
Hope and change time.

Monday, December 01, 2008

You should sell stuff for more than it costs to make it - And you probably shouldn't change accounting practices from year to year either. Over at Wizbang, DJ Drummond explains why the situation at General Motors is "Worse than you think."

Extra - WSJ: "America's other auto industry."
Where's Plaxico Burress when you need him? - Mickey Kaus on Mumbai: "Nowhere in the NYT story will you learn what American blog readers learned a day earlier when Instapundit (among others) linked to the Belfast story: Police had lots of guns, and no problem seeing who and where the terrorists were, but they wouldn't shoot at them."
Step away from the stock market - Extreme Mortman: "Top 10 funniest political quotes of 2008."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Amazing Race update – Do not pass go without a passport

If I wasn't explicit last week, let me state as a long-time TAR fan that Andrew & Dan of Team Bluto are possibly the dumbest team to make it to the final four. They misread clues enough to make me think they're illiterate. They blow all of their traveling cash on airport shoes. They can't find their way or complete Detour/Roadblock tasks. Yet – somehow – they've made it this far on luck and the misfortune of other teams.

Well, let's get back to the Race: teams are still in Moscow and they must find a submarine for the next clue, held by an actor who appeared in "The Hunt for Red October." Team Bluto admits at the outset they've made "an incredible amount of mistakes." After searching the submarines, teams make their way to Park Iskusstv for the next clue. This is the Roadblock: one team member must search the park and count the number of statues to Lenin and Stalin, then give the combined number to the owner of a bookstore who will provide a book with directions to the next clue.

Nick correctly counts six Lenins and two Stalins and Team Perky jumps out to a significant lead. Team Infidelity is bickering again. Dallas miscounts badly and has to wait to make additional guesses. Meanwhile, Nick & Starr go to a park to find a woman with a Shetland pony who hands them the Detour. The Detour is "Ride the Rails" or "Ride the Lines." Teams may take a train, buy a pastry, and then hand it to a babukshka, and head back or something. Or they may take a trolley, obtain a key from a keymaker, ride back, and open a locker. Both are confusing but it looks like the subway avoids the problem of Moscow's traffic.

Did I mention "the misfortune of other teams"? Dallas of Team Mom/Son hops out of a taxi after completing the Roadblock and leaves behind his bag with all his money and his passport. I've never seen this on the Race and I don't believe a team can continue on without a passport. In other words, I think Team Mom/Son just disqualified itself. Meanwhile, Team Bluto is so far behind (and they haven't even done the Speed Bump!) that they would never survive without this deus ex machina.

At the park, Team Bluto hits their Speed Bump: they must perform a Russian dance before they can continue on. (This is their punishment from the non-elimination leg.) Toni & Dallas also arrive at the park but because they traveled by subway instead of taxi (as the clue dictated) they are not given an envelope. They need to head back to where they started and take a taxi to the park with no money. Nick and Starr are cruising and they complete the Detour: they head to VDNKh Park and the Pit Stop where they finish first yet again.

Somehow, Andrew & Dan arrive to the mat in second place. Team Infidelity is right behind but they failed to pick up the clue after the Detour and they need to go back to the train station. This appears to be just a minor distraction because Toni & Dallas are way behind, begging Russians for cab fare. Sure enough, we don't even get to see them at the mat as Phil stops them as they're trying to finish the Detour to tell them their Race is done.

Final standings:

Team Perky – Nick & Starr
Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan
Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina
Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas – PHILIMINATED

Next week: The finale.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The word you're looking for is "No"

For the first time in recorded history, toy manufacturers are marketing their products directly to children. During the holiday season! Some parents have written to toy makers, asking them to stop advertising during "Dora the Explorer" in these troubling economic times.

Fark perfectly captures my sentiment: "Unable to say no to their precious snowflakes, parents send letters to toy companies asking them to stop advertising." Good gravy.
Watch for the "pigeon drop" - Via Winds of Change, here's "The psychology of grifting." I saw something similar in "Matchstick Men" with a bogus lottery ticket.
Must be Amish – From Powerline: "Apparently only one of the Islamic terrorists who attacked Mumbai survived. He is now being interrogated by Indian authorities, and information about the attack is starting to emerge. The survivor is a Pakistani named Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab."

No further comment necessary.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Terrorist attack in Mumbai - The latest news: Commandos are trying to gain the upper hand in the standoff, some Americans were killed including a NY rabbi, and tensions are high with Pakistan.

Update - From Expat Yank: British citizens of Paki origin? Who are these guys?
Black Friday FAIL - For the first time in my life, I shuffled out of bed to make the 5am sale at Walmart this morning. It was a nightmare, especially for someone like me who hates crowds. By the time I got to the electronics department, every single TV was long gone, snatched up by the people who camped out the night before. Fustigated, frustrated, and flat-TV-less, that's me.

WTF – NY Daily News: Walmart employee trampled to death

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our crazy Constitution - Marc Ambinder reports that Article One of the U.S. Constitution may prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming Secretary of State.
Panic at Fidelity?

Today on my answering machine was the strangest message: a woman - not a robo-call - had phoned to see if I had any concerns about my 401(k). She noted that there had been some "market volatility" and I might have some questions that Fidelity could answer.

To be honest, I've decided not to look at my nest-egg statement for fear of suicidal thoughts. I know it's probably a lot lower, although I balanced off with bonds so it hasn't dropped as much as the stock market. And with twenty years until retirement, I can ride out volatility.

Still, I have a substantial amount in my 401(k) because I have no faith in the future of Social Security (surprise!) Maybe Fidelity is contacting the "big" accounts and then working down the list. Did anybody else receive a similar call?

A sign of the times.

Extra - Robert Samuelson shows how volatile the market has become: "From mid-September to Nov. 21, there were 50 trading days; on 25, the market moved 4 percent or more (16 down, nine up), reports Wilshire Associates. In the previous 25 years, there were just 25 daily moves of 4 percent or more. We've gone from one a year to one every other day." Whiplash.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Amazing Race update – Moscow shoes

With last week's elimination, we're down to the final four on the Race. Nick & Starr have won four consecutive legs and Team Perky is clearly the team to beat. They left first for this leg on the way to Moscow and a monastery for the next clue. Frat boys Andrew & Dan are forced to purchase shoes in the airport because they left them behind on the last leg while doing the cow costume task. Everybody's on the same flight to Moscow.

After visiting the monastery, teams make their way to a military camp outside Moscow. This is the Detour: Boots or Borscht. Teams may either learn a parade march or serve beet soup to 75 Russian soldiers. Nick & Starr fall far behind because their taxi driver has no idea where he's going and doesn't understand English, which doesn't stop Starr from asking "Are you sure?" Meanwhile all the other teams are doing the Boots Detour; Toni & Dallas finish first and head off to a bakery for the next clue. But Team Bluto can't even get their boots on correctly so they bail on the marching to serve borscht. Proving they are incapable of reading clues or making decisions, they change their mind yet again and try the marching. Dan is a complete Spaz and they fall behind the other teams yet again. It's a wonder they've made it this far in the Race. They give up on the march and go back to the borscht.

Meanwhile, at the bakery, it's the Roadblock: one team member must transfer fifty 50-lbs. bags of flour to the bakery. Dallas finishes first and Team Mom/Son heads to the Pit Stop. Ken & Tina are close behind while Team Perky is lost in traffic with the same cab driver. They eventually get to the bakery where they tell their driver to get lost. But when Nick finishes the Roadblock, they can't find a taxi to take them to the Pit Stop; eventually they track down someone. Andrew & Dan are behind but they seem to have a better cabbie.

Toni & Dallas mark their first win and they get a Travelocity trip. Nick & Starr eventually make it to the mat in third place. Andrew & Dan, because they spent money on shoes at the airport, didn't have enough money to pay their cab driver. The rules of the Race dictate that they can't just walk away (i.e. rob) from a cab driver so they beg him until he walks away disgusted with the Americans. They come in last but it's a non-elimination leg so they'll face a Speed Bump on the next leg. So they'll have this extra challenge, they're completely broke, and they're incapable of reading clues. In other words, there's little chance we'll see Team Bluto at the finals.

Final standings:

Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina
Team Perky – Nick & Starr
Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan – Non-elimination leg

Next week: One team loses a passport. Can they continue?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The last 20 songs I downloaded off ITunes

Chico and the Man (main theme) - Jose Feliciano
Joey - Concrete Blonde
Diner - Martin Sexton
Israelites - Desmond Dekker
All I Ever Need is You - Sonny & Cher
Island in the Sun - Weezer
Smoke from a Distant Fire - Sanford & Townsend
Southern Cross - Crosby Stills & Nash
Say it Right - Nelly Furtado
Shake you Down - Gregory Abbott
You are the Woman - Firefall
Some like it Hot - Power Station
Big Bad Bill is Sweet William Now - Ry Cooder
Use Me - Bill Withers
Landslide - Fleetwood Mac
Kisses Sweeter than Wine - Jimmie Rodgers
Lovergirl - Teena Marie
The Groove Line - Heat Wave
Right Down the Line - Gerry Rafferty
Smokey Joe's Cafe - The Robins

Skyrockets in flight - What the heck happened to the stock market around 3pm?

Update - Ace sez it's because some guy was tapped to be Treasury Secretary. Um, OK.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Instead of a new TV for Christmas, I think I'll get the kids a nice dictionary - CNN: "Another brutal day on Wall Street"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My kids love it - Slate: "Sleater-Kinney's guitarist tries out Wii Music" Maybe one of the coolest/silliest things about Wii Music is that the instruments include handbells, Japanese taiko drums, "cheerleader", banjo and "galactic horn." You haven't lived until you've heard "Daydream Believer" on bagpipes.
Inconvenient squiggles - Divining voter intent in Minnesota.
The national dinosaur - Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney advocates tough love for U.S. automakers: "Let Detroit go bankrupt."

Update - Everybody in Washington is waiting for the other guy to blink.
Who's deregulating?

Here's Jeff Jacoby with "The blame for the bloated economy":

Deregulators run amok undoubtedly make a flamboyant culprit. But do they exist? Should we really take seriously the claim that the past eight years have been characterized by letting "the market run wild"?

Granted, there is significant recent legislation that eased financial restrictions. Most often mentioned is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which, as The New York Times described it on Monday, "removed barriers between commercial and investment banks that had been instituted to reduce the risk of economic catastrophes." Some argue that the law, which allowed traditional banks and investment firms to be affiliated under one holding company, helped bring on the credit meltdown. Even if true, how was that George W. Bush's fault? The law was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1999, after being passed by lopsided majorities in both houses of Congress.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley's lead sponsors were Republicans, but the 34 Democratic senators who voted for the bill surely weren't scheming to "let the market run wild." Ditto the 151 Democrats - among them future Speaker Nancy Pelosi - who voted for the measure in the House. Then-Treasury Secretary (and current Obama adviser) Larry Summers didn't denounce the bill as "laissez-faire jungle capitalism" - he praised it for "promoting financial innovation, lower capital costs, and greater international competitiveness." Clinton himself defends the law to this day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Goodbye Mr. Chips

The Boston Globe has an article today on the search in Massachusetts – and probably around the country – for more male teachers. It's your standard quest for an inspirational "Dead Poets Society" guy until you get to this modern-day roadbump:

Yet the shrinking number of men can be chalked up to another reason: Some men worry that overly protective parents might falsely accuse them of being pedophiles because teaching, especially in the lower grades, is still largely perceived as a woman's job, requiring a nurturing personality that supposedly is not common among men. In other words, something must be wrong with the guy who likes working with children.
I can't find the link right now but I distinctly remember a John Stossel special called "What would you do?" (or something). In one particular show, the ABC crew staged a situation where a young child was crying on the street to see if anybody would stop to help the distressed kid. A lot of people passed by but, overwhelmingly, those who did were female. Depressingly, one reason suggested why more men didn't stop to help is they're afraid of being accused as sex offenders. Which is sad.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Peter Schiff was right - Via Q&O: "Stay away from the financials, they're toxic."
Might as well be infinity - Fox News "The absolute worst currency in the world": "When the currency was revalued this summer, an egg cost about $35 billion Zimbabwean dollars."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Amazing Race update – In the land of Borat

The remaining five teams started out from India to make their way to Kazakhstan. There's a big pileup at the airport as everybody is jockeying for the best flights. Team Perky, Team Mom/Son, and Team Infidelity all make the first flight, Team Co-Dependency makes the next flight, but Team Bluto has to take a "much later" flight. No matter: everybody is bunched at the chicken factory where the next clue waits.

This is the Roadblock: one team member must search among thousands of chickens for one of seven golden eggs. But there's also a Fast Forward and Team Perky and Team Co-Dependency both decide to try to make it. The Fast Forward, which allows teams to skip other tasks, involves eating a (disgusting) local food. It's at this moment we find out that Terence is a vegetarian and now he has to eat a gut-stuffing plate of sheep mutton.

Back at the Roadblock, Toni finishes first and they travel by giant crane truck to find some Mongol warriors. This is the Detour: teams may either "Play like mad" or "Act like fools." Teams can learn Kazakh instruments and play a song for money, or dress up like a cow and march themselves to a meat market. I'm guessing that everybody's going to dress up like bovine since they'll be "cowed" against learning instruments. Meanwhile, at the Fast Forward, Team Co-dependency bails out on the sheep meat, leaving Nick & Starr to win the Fast Forward; they head for the Pit Stop at Old Square and another first-place finish. Terence & Sarah need to head back to do the Roadblock.

I think I understand why Ken & Tina have marital problems: in the words of Cool Hand Luke, they have a failure to communicate. Plus, they're incapable (mostly Tina) of reading a clue correctly. First they miss one part of the clue, double back, and then return their costume before going to the meat market. The butcher won't give them the clue so they have to put the costume on again, with time ticking away. Still, they finish as team #3 because Team Bluto and Team Co-dependency are so far back.

Speaking of Team Bluto, they also fail to read the clue which directs teams to travel "by foot" from the meat market to the Pit Stop. The exhausted Andrew & Dan take a cab and Phil tells them they're the "fourth team to arrive" and not "Team #4." They need to head back to the market and walk back to the mat before Terence & Sarah complete their task. On top of all this, they left their shoes back at where they picked up the cow costume so it's a slow walk back. Nevertheless, babe, Terence & Sarah, babe, can't make up the time deficit, babe, and they are eliminated.

Final standings:

1 – Team Perky – Nick & Starr
2 – Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
3 – Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina
4 – Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan
5 – Team Co-dependency – Terence & Sarah – PHILIMINATED

Next week: The dominant Team Perky runs into taxi troubles.
Big Dig update

I know I've complained about Boston's Big Dig and how it's funneled billions of highway dollars away from Western Massachusetts. And I've griped about the $15 billion price tag and how Massachusetts will be paying for bonds and repair costs until kingdom come. But at least it's reduced the traffic congestion around Boston.

Or not.

Susan Scribner was pumping gas just off Interstate 93 and getting ready to rejoin the sea of red brake lights flowing north. She had already been inching along the highway for 30 minutes.
"Look at it - traffic is worse than ever," said Scribner, an accountant who, since 1994, has commuted between her home in North Reading and Cambridge. "It's worse since the Big Dig - totally worse."
She's right.
A Globe analysis of state highway data documents what many motorists have come to realize since the new Central Artery tunnels were completed: While the Big Dig achieved its goal of freeing up highway traffic downtown, the bottlenecks were only pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes.
Ultimately, many motorists going to and from the suburbs at peak rush hours are spending more time stuck in traffic, not less.
Thanks again, Ted Kennedy. Government rocks!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ennui sets in - There's a reason my blog traffic is way off and it's reflected in the non-election snooze-fest being prepared for the Sunday morning talkshows. It's time for a vacation, guys.
The Big Dig strikes again - Boston Globe "Turnpike OK's hefty toll hikes": "Daily commuters from the western suburbs would be forced to spend $250 to $500 more a year to help pay off Big Dig maintenance and debt under a set of steep toll increases approved yesterday by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority." Ouch.
It's a shopping channel now, right? - I like the snarky title of this Boston Globe photo gallery of classic music videos: "Back when MTV had videos"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Congratulations, Dale!

NY Times: "Obama hires Jarrett for senior role"

I was worried he wouldn't be able to find work after leaving the UPS Team.
Shocking, I know - The Boston Globe advocates for a tax increase: "The Commonwealth has broad transportation problems that require a broad solution. Meanwhile, the state's gasoline tax is 7.5 cents below the national average. Each extra penny would yield about $25 million a year. Hint, hint." Wrote the editors who don't commute 50 miles a day.
Radio Daze - The Consumerist notes that the XM and (less-so) Sirius changed programming after their merger with little advance warning to subscribers. This explains why my old disco channel (yeah, that's right) is now something called "The Foxxhole" which is mostly "comedians" yelling into a microphone. I seem to recall another time when a radio station changed formats on the fly. That didn't work out as planned, either.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The engine of doom - Michael Lewis of "Liar's Poker" has a must-read article (long, some salty language) on the subprime mortgage mess. If you want to know why Wall Street imploded, here's a good place to start: "In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Save the Chevy Cobalt – Maggie's Farm writes on the proposed auto industry bailout: "It's been as clear as day to everyone for years that the once-Big Three are lousy companies with lousy businesses, products that don't sell, and that nobody wants to invest in anymore - except politicians." The government bailout of the financial system is the slippery slope upon we're now sliding.

UpdateBailout fever! (HT: Q&O)
The Big Dig wrecking ball

Boston Globe: "Big Dig debt challenges Massport"

In the mid-1990s, state lawmakers were desperately searching for a way to pay the state's share of escalating Big Dig costs. To borrow the billions they would
need, they found a financially stable government agency with a consistent source of income: the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

More than a decade later, the authority is unable to afford needed maintenance, has a credit rating just above junk bond status, and is in such a shambles that Governor Deval Patrick is drafting a plan to split it into parts and wipe it from the face of state government.

Under Patrick's plan, the details of which began to surface this week, most of the authority's responsibilities, including the Big Dig, would be shifted to the Massachusetts Port Authority, the entity that runs Logan International Airport, a financially stable government agency with a consistent source of income.

Will history repeat itself?
To ask is to answer. From the moment the first shovel hit the ground, Boston's Big Dig has been a black hole for state and federal funds. Shifting the burden from the MTA (sorry Charlie!) to the MPA is just part of the shell game. Can we get another government bailout?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Delightfully obscure music reference on Fark - "2,000 year old golden earring found in Jerusalem. How did they find it? Radar, love." (story)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Put it on the credit card

With the national debt shooting above $10 trillion, our lenders are taking a second look at Treasury bonds. Boston Globe: "As creditors get edgy, US keeps spending"

The math is simple. Federal taxes bring in $2.5 trillion a year for the government. But we spend almost $3 trillion. Of this, over half is gobbled up by "entitlement" programs such as Medicare, Social Security, veterans and federal retirement pensions, and a further $700 billion by the Defense Department. That leaves less than $800 billion for everything else the government does - but interest payments on the debt soak up $250 billion. As the debt grows, and interest rates rise, interest payments will squeeze more and more of the budget, leaving us with only two unpleasant options - raise taxes or cut spending. The longer we wait, the more painful the choice becomes.
Discretionary government spending wiped out by entitlement costs? Where have I heard that before?
Nobody to blame but the conservative in the mirror - P.J. O'Rourke in the Weekly Standard – "We blew it": "None of this is the fault of the left. After the events of the 20th century--national socialism, international socialism, inter-species socialism from Earth First--anyone who is still on the left is obviously insane and not responsible for his or her actions. No, we on the right did it. The financial crisis that is hoisting us on our own petard is only the latest (if the last) of the petard hoistings that have issued from the hindquarters of our movement. We've had nearly three decades to educate the electorate about freedom, responsibility, and the evils of collectivism, and we responded by creating a big-city-public-school-system of a learning environment."

Related – From George Will: "The Capitol Steps, an ensemble that entertains Washington with political satire that often is indistinguishable from the news, begins its current show with a public address announcement advising the audience to note where the auditorium's exits are. But "in the event of an emergency, please remain seated and wait for a federal 'bailout.'" Thus does a conservative era end, with a Republican administration's policy as a punch line."
Amazing Race update – Instant karma's gonna get teams that don't read the clue

Teams start the morning in India by speeding to an apartment building and the next clue. Team Infidelity is the last team out of the gate and, because they finished last on the previous leg, will face an extra challenge in this leg. At the apartments, it's the Roadblock: one team member must participate in the Holi Festival which involves getting hit with colored powder. Nick & Starr finish quickly and head to the next clue at some pigeon coop.

The Ditzy Divorcees fulfill the annual TAR ritual by noting that India "stinks." They've already invited bad karma by ridiculing Team Bluto and their taxi driver gets lost. Then they fail to read the clue (again) and fall behind the other teams who can master the act of reading. Kelly keeps getting slammed with paint as she continues to go back for empty envelopes. Fittingly, Dan & Andrew arrive and leave behind the ex-wives.

At the pigeon coop, it's the Detour: Bleary-eyed or Teary-eyed. Teams may either follow a bunch of power lines and track small numbers or grind up a bowlful of chili powder, which may be physically difficult. Ken & Tina arrive at the Detour but they're turned around to do the Speed Bump, their extra task. They must serve holy water to pilgrims at a Sikh temple. The power lines dangling over the streets in India are as ordered as vines on an Ivy League dorm. Team Perky and Team Mom/Son team up to follow the lines and head to the Pit Stop.

Everybody is doing the power lines except Terence & Sarah who are chopping up chili powder under watering eyes. But Team Bluto and Team Ditzy Divorcees count the wrong tags on the lines and keep getting the thumbs-down from the local judge. After serving their penalty task, Ken & Tina get to the power lines and immediately do it correctly to pass the other two teams. They help Dan & Andrew around the same time (according to the TAR editing) that Kelly & Christie figure it out. Now it's a race to the finish line between these two teams. Shaky camera run to the mat! It's Team Bluto while Team Ditzy Divorcees brings in the rear where they are eliminated by Phil.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Perky – Nick & Starr
#2 – Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
#3 – Team Co-dependency – Terence & Sarah
#4 – Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina
#5 – Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan
#6 – Team Ditzy Divorcees – Kelly & Christie

Next week: A sprint to the clue box.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Headline of the day - CBS News: "How Obama can win over the media"

Oh yes, clearly he has some work to do.

Runner-up (11/9) – ABC News: "Election over, Ayers, Wright & Farrakhan emerge" The media then asked: "Who are those guys?"
This seems unlikely - Gateway Pundit: "Dems hold hearings to target 401(k) accounts." It's far-fetched that Congress would "confiscate" the hugely popular retirement accounts. But, then, I've wondered aloud whether the federal government could keep their hands off such a big pile of cash.

Also, another idea that will go nowhere quick is the oxymoronic "compulsory volunteerism." I'm betting there's a 13th Amendment clause that proscribes any such thing.

Update - The revisions begin.
"Americans face far more claims on their incomes than can be easily met"

Writing in Newsweek, columnist Robert Samuelson takes note that future economic policy is constrained by unsustainable promises of entitlement spending:

Start with government. It's overcommitted in the sense that it's made more promises than can be sensibly afforded. The largest of these involve retirement costs. As is well known, three programs for the elderly dominate the federal budget: Social Security, Medicare (health insurance) and Medicaid (nursing-home care for the elderly poor). These programs now represent more than two fifths of the $3 trillion budget, and as baby boomers retire, they could nearly double—measured as a share of the economy, gross domestic product (GDP)—in 2030. The tough questions are obvious. How much will we permit spending on retirees to raise taxes or crowd out the rest of government?

Health care compounds the difficulty. About three quarters of the projected increase in federal spending for the elderly involves Medicare and Medicaid. As a society, we haven't learned how to control health spending. Most Americans think that people should get all the medical care they need. Spending controls-for government and private insurance-haven't worked, because Americans don't want them to work. Health spending has gone from 5 percent of GDP in 1960 to 16 percent now and may hit 20 percent by 2015.
So if entitlement spending doubles from 2/5ths of the federal budget to 4/5ths, you're talking about a government that sends money to retirees with the last fifth going to interest on the national debt. America has always had the luxury of making promises based on the "next dollar earned" in a robust and productive economy. But when tax rates - which may have to rise 50% to cover retiree benefits - become an undue burden, it crushes incentive to work and depresses economic growth.
Sorry for the light blogging - My son had a late swim meet tonight and he shaved 21 seconds off his 100-meter freestyle time. Nice! The key, it seems, it making sure his goggles are tight.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Please blog to Boston

Well, I'm back from Beantown. This morning, I went out of my hotel for breakfast and passed a newsstand; on my way back I noticed that all the papers were already gone. I think a lot of Obama supporters were collecting historical souvenirs.

My speech went fine, although I followed an MIT professor who had 309 publications to his name (to my eight), 14 books, and 17 patents. Now I know how the act that followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan felt.
Obama speaks - He cites his debt to his grandma, and notes that his kids are getting a puppy. He also, fittingly, praises campaign manager David Plouffe, who will surely join the pantheon of Karl Rove in the world of Presidential politics. A hat tip to Abraham Lincoln, OK.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

McCain concedes - Unexpected line: "The failure is mine, not yours." In all, a great speech for a man who loved, and served, his country. A real class act and true American.
The polls have closed in California - Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America.

Extra - I'm watching Fox News (natch) and Juan Williams is obviously moved, calling it one of the greatest moments in American history. Well, I can't quibble on one point: although there's little evidence of leadership based on his past, Obama has run a near-flawless Presidential campaign, one that I hope he carries on to the future.

Hey, I'm back from dinner – And they're calling Ohio and Pennsylvania for Obama. Well, it's all over but the shouting.
Greetings from Boston - Well, I paid for the $12.95 to get Internet access in my hotel room which is a small price to pay for the Super Bowl of political punditry. I voted this morning for John McCain which, in Massachusetts, is tantamount to whistling against the wind.

I need to head out for dinner with an old friend but I'll be back for the carnage results. I think if Virginia goes strong for Obama it will be a very short night.
Engineers have no respect for Presidential politics

Regrettably, I won't be at home tonight filling in an outline of the United States with red and (mostly) blue markers. Instead I'm heading to Boston (the lions' den!) because I'm an invited speaker at a National Science Symposium on Advanced Thermal Technology. So while everybody is scanning the news lines for the latest polls, I'll be reviewing my presentation on "Hermetic optical fibers." Fun!

I'm heading into Boston in just a little while and I'll check in if I can find an Internet connection that doesn't charge $20 per half-hour.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm bringing you a poll that's true, so get ready, get ready - Real Clear Politics: "Fifteen races to watch on election day."

Of course, always keep your browser ready for Election Projection.
The (non-GOP) elephant in the room

USA Today hits on my favorite topic in today's editorial (HT: RCP):

Not only must the next president calm the economic storm and successfully end the wars he inherits, he also must - finally - come to grips with the looming crises in Social Security and health care brought on by the aging of the Baby Boomers.

Simply "changing Washington," as compelling as the idea always is, won't be enough because the most poisonous byproduct of today's politics - its ceaseless peddling of the delusion that our problems can be solved at the expense of someone else - has seeped deep into the national psyche. The next president's toughest task could be persuading the nation to rediscover the sense of responsibility that led it to greatness.
Just as "only Nixon can go to China" maybe only an all-Democratic government can reform Franklin Delano Roosevelt's program before it bankrupts the country. On the other hand, the Democrats are so hard-wired to demagogue Social Security reform, it's unlikely they'll know how to start.
Bummer - CNN: "Obama's grandmother dies after battle with cancer."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bizarro World update – The largest newspaper here in Western Massachusetts is the Springfield Republican which, despite its name, is a left-of-middle paper. Today they offered their endorsement for President and you could have knocked me over with a feather: "This election offers a clear choice, and John McCain is our preferred candidate." Wow, they're not going to like that in Northampton.
Sending a message – Opponents of Massachusetts question #1 eliminating the state income tax have stated that it's a poor way to "send a message" to Beacon Hill. Jeff Jacoby considers what message is sent by defeating the anti-tax referendum.
Amazing Race update – Irons and ire in India

As noted last week, Terence & Sarah start out this leg with a 30-minute penalty for speeding in New Zealand. Everybody's heading off for New Delhi, India from Cambodia. Speaking as a longtime TAR fan, I can guarantee that somebody is going to make a comment about the smell once they arrive in India. Team Bluto is bringing up the rear (again) as they try to get out of Cambodia but everybody's on the same flight.

Once in Delhi, everybody has to go to Moonlight Motors in cabs which is a problem with cows wandering in the road. This is the Roadblock: one team member must paint an auto-rickshaw green after they've masked the yellow part of the cab. Although everybody left the airport at the same time, some teams get confused cab drivers who turn circles around Delhi. Tina is badgering Ken and Terence is nagging Sarah at the Roadblock. Andrew & Dan take the lead after this task for the first time the whole race. Teams must now find a doorman at the Ambassador Hotel.

Once at the Hotel, it's the Detour: Launder Money or Launder Clothes. Teams may either create a wedding necklace with rupees or iron clothes with an iron filled with charcoal. Everybody chooses to iron clothes except Team Infidelity and Team Co-Dependency – the two teams with the worst relationship problems – who pick the wedding necklace task. Nick & Starr finish ironing and head to the Pit Stop in first place for the second leg in a row.

Ken & Tina finish the wedding task just as Dan & Andrew are finishing ironing. It's a sprint to the finish line and, thanks to yet another confused cab driver, Team Infidelity winds up in last place. However, this is the first non-elimination leg, and Ken & Tina are spared to live another week. They'll have to complete a "speed bump" task in the next leg of the Race which could slow them down.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Perky – Nick & Starr – Prize: electric cars
#2 – Team Ditzy Divorcees – Kelly & Christy
#3 – Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
#4 – Team Co-dependency – Terence & Sarah
#5 – Team Bluto – Dan & Andrew
#6 – Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina – Non-elimination leg

Next week – Multicolor tasks.
I don't know, Davey – Today in church one of the hymns was "A Mighty Fortress is our God." Is there a child born in the sixties (such as myself) who doesn't instantly associate it with the religious cartoon series "Davey and Goliath"? Dum-dum-da-da-dum....

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Obama's useless Social Security tax hike

Barack Obama has proposed raising the cap on Social Security taxes and forcing people with an income over $250,000 to pay more into the program. But here's something I never considered and clearly the Democratic candidate didn't either: most people earning a quarter-million a year aren't making it in wages subject to FICA taxes:

Most people earning more than $250,000 per year receive the vast majority of their income in forms other than wages or salary. In fact, according to the IRS, only a littlemore than $1 billion in wages were earned by people with more than $250,000 in wage income. Assuming standard wage growth in the future, Senator Obama’s tax would generate barely $50 million per year. That would not even push back Social Security’s cash-flow insolvency by an additional year.
$50 million a year? That's a rounding error. But, just like his position on capital gains taxes, it appears Obama's policies are geared to be punitive rather than revenue-generating.
We shouldn't have made fun of Zimbabwe

Here's a unique view of the cause of the financial problems here in the West:

Comrade Mugabe leans forward, eyes popping behind glinting spectacles. To him it's obvious: The global financial meltdown, coming after endless Western ridicule of Zimbabwe's economy, is no coincidence.

It's an act of God.
Zimbabwe's inflation rate, at last count, is 231 million percent, so we still have a ways to go.
I got nothin' - There's just nothing else I can write about the next three days and I'm going to skip the Sunday morning talkshows for sanity's sake.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Keep 'em broke – Betsy has a post on "Decreasing the investment class." This sounds like a conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid.
Happy Halloween!

As if you needed more proof that 1.) cats and 2.) Yankee fans are pure evil.

Pictures of pets dressed up for Halloween.