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.