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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blue Tuesday – Larry Sabato has his next-to-last set of election predictions up over at the Crystal Ball. The only "good" news is that the GOP might avoid a filibuster-proof Senate.

More – Don't really disagree with anything Cole has to say here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Free money! – The Fed keeps pumping, but will the banks free up capital? Business Week: "How low can Fed go on interest rates?"
Discordant drivel - Jon Bon Jovi objects to Sarah Palin playing his music at campaign rallies. She responds: "is that what you call it?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diversity of opinion

Slate polled their entire staff, even the software engineers, to see who they're voting for:

Barack Obama: 55
John McCain: 1
Bob Barr: 1
Not McCain: 1
Noncitizen, can't vote: 4
The most lopsided national poll shows a 15 point lead for Obama and the RCP average is around 7%; Slate's spread is somewhere around 87%. So there's a message for all you aspiring journalism students who are thinking of interning at Slate: craft your resume carefully and demonstrate the right kind of thinking.
He who must be punished

From CNN/Money: "Look who pays for the bailout"

Bill Kwon is the embodiment of the American dream. His father - who was arrested by North Korean Communists in the early 1950s for championing democracy - brought the family from Seoul to Illinois when he was a baby. Bill worked himself ragged pursuing every opportunity America's heartland offered, never leaving Peoria.

Just out of college, he was earning a six-figure salary at a telecom company and sleeping in his parents' basement. Now he's a wealth advisor earning $375,000 at Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500), with a five-bedroom brick home, a minivan, a son in private school, and three younger kids to follow. "My dad never made more than $25,000 a year," says the burly, outgoing Kwon, 39. "When I was a kid, this was the top neighborhood in Peoria. I never thought I could live here."

For all his blessings, Kwon gets really steamed when politicians and pundits claim that he and other Americans in his income group aren't shouldering their "fair share" in taxes and should pay more. Nor does he appreciate being branded as "rich" when it's far from certain he'll ever build the kind of lavish nest egg the truly wealthy enjoy, especially after the current market meltdown. "I'm not a trust-fund baby," says Kwon. "Raising taxes for people at my income level is like being punished for success, for working hard." Kwon's total tax bill is already more than $100,000, and the bite is taking an ever-rising share of his raises and bonuses, not to mention his wife's income as a photographer. Kwon fears that America risks killing the incentive for people like him by shrinking the rewards for logging extra hours or starting a business, diminishing the dream that brought his father from Korea.
I suspect for every Paris Hilton that is caricatured as a symbol of the indolent rich, there are ten Bill Kwons who pursued the American dream and now the government is going to (forcibly) reap the rewards of their hard work. Hard to believe, but sometimes "well-off" Americans and "working" Americans aren't mutually exclusive classes.

Extra – First they taxed the "rich" and I didn't speak up because I didn't make $250K. And then....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Creme brulee was #26 - Something to discuss "From stone to silicone: a brief survey of innovation." It's a list of world-changing inventions and innovation from quantum mechanics (#25) to fire (#2) to blogging (kinda-sorta #1).
Fun - I spent the last two hours figuring out how to replace a popped-out comma key on my laptop. It's kinda working, but it may limit my use of compound sentences.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Our bread has fled because of the TED spread - While the rest of us are fixated on the Dow Jones, the Boston Globe has an interesting article about the metrics that financial insiders watch.
Amazing Race update - Angkor Wat's goin' on?

Teams started out from Phil's homeland of New Zealand and had to find their way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Ken & Tina have a two-hour head start. Terence refers to himself in the third person, then gets pulled over for speeding on the way to the airport. The Ditzy Divorcees declare themselves "intelligent" which foreshadows some dumb move during this leg. Team Infidelity and Team Co-Dependency are on the earliest flight and Team Bluto and Team Long Distance are on the latest flight, so it's very likely one of these teams will be eliminated tonight.

Spoke too soon: Team Bluto finds another flight leaving right away so Aja and Ty are on the very last flight to Cambodia. They better hope for some bunching and/or a serious Detour. Once in Cambodia, teams are supposed to find some self-pump gas station. The "intelligent"divorcees, Kelly & Christie, stop at an Exxon station and check a restroom for the next clue. Heh. Nick & Starr finish the gas-pumping task and head to the next stop which is a floating restaurant. The frat boys Andrew & Dan can't figure out how to use their pump.

At the Siem Reap harbor, teams take flat boats out to the restaurant. The outboard engine on Terence & Sarah's boat blows up as we go to commercial. I think they are allowed a replacement boat but there's no credit for lost time. Aja & Ty are catching up.

At the restaurant, it's the Detour: Village Life or Village Work. Teams must collect items from around the boat docks, or collect a bunch of fish. Tina executes a proper wai to the Cambodian dentist. Nick & Starr finish the Detour and head to Angkor Wat. Meanwhile, the Ditzy Divorcees stay true to their name by doing a task before getting the clue. Nevertheless, they pass Team Bluto who are always bringing up the rear.

At Angkor Wat, it's the Roadblock: one team must search the grounds of what Phil calls "the largest religious structure in the world." The Racer must find a certain room that echoes a heartbeat when you thump your chest. Nick finds it fairly quickly by asking locals at the temple while Tina wanders aimlessly, actually walking right through the chamber. Team Perky heads to the Pit Stop at Bayon temple near Angkor Wat. As predicted, Aja & Ty cannot overcome their large time deficit and they are eliminated.

From the "didn't see that coming" file: Terence & Sarah will be penalized a half-hour at the start of the next leg for getting pulled over by a Kiwi traffic cop.

Final standings:

Team Perky - Nick & Starr - Prize: Travelocity again
Team Mom/Son - Toni & Dallas
Team Co-dependency - Terence & Sarah
Team Infidelity - Ken & Tina
Team Ditzy Divorcees - Kelly & Christie
Team Bluto - Andrew & Dan
Team Long Distance - Aja & Ty - PHILIMINATED

Next week: Tensions rise on Team Infidelity.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Speaking of "demand destruction"

From the Wall Street Journal: "How Detroit drove into a ditch." It's not just that Honda and Toyota produce more fuel-efficient cars; it's that they've forged a new relationship with workers while the UAW tries to hold onto policies forged a half-century ago. From the concluding graf:

But to thrive, instead of just survive, Detroit will have to use the brains of its workers instead of just their bodies, and the UAW will have to allow it. Two weeks ago some automation equipment broke down at the Honda factory in Marysville, Ohio, but employees rushed to the scene and devised a temporary solution. There were no negotiations with shop stewards, no parsing of job descriptions. Instead of losing an entire shift of production, Honda lost just 150 cars. The person overseeing Marysville's assembly operations is Brad Alty, still with Honda after nearly 30 years. These days, instead of a Gremlin, he's driving a Honda Pilot -- made at a Honda factory in Alabama.
George Will once pointed out that the typical General Motors car includes "more health care than steel." Every worker likes company-sponsored health care, but General Motors provides for its pensioned workers and families at coverage rates that adds $1500 to the cost of every GM car.
"Demand destruction" - Time explains "What's Behind (and Ahead for) the Plunging Price of Oil"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hey, what's going on?

Well, NASCAR qualifying was rained out yet again. Remember when teams had to qualify on speed to get into a race? Long time ago.

I have something to confess: I heard "See You Again" by Miley Cyrus on the radio and I liked it. That's right, it had a good beat and you could dance to it. Is that wrong?

I can't find my "Getting by in French" CDs although I don't know when I'll use them again. I thought I'd load them onto my laptop and slowly teach myself a new language.

Man, my desk is messy. There's still papers here from my last class at WNEC.

Let me check my "to do" list. Oh, yeah, I gotta bring in the garden hoses before they freeze.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Squeezing retirement - McQ on Q&O writes that Congress is preparing to phase out 401(k)s in favor of government-sponsored private accounts. He has some well-founded criticism, but it's based on the elimination of tax breaks for matching employee contributions and, frankly, I don't think that's going to happen. The 401(k) program is undoubtedly the most popular private retirement program with millions of participants and the $80 billion in tax breaks pale in comparison to other forms of government spending.

Extra - CNN: "Candidates ignoring coming Social Security crisis, critics say." There's a crisis coming? Who knew?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yeah, entitlements again – In a letter to young voters, Robert Samuelson writes that everybody's taxes will be heading skyward soon enough: "You'll pay Social Security and Medicare for aging baby boomers. The needed federal tax increase might total 50 percent over the next 25 years. Pension and health costs for state and local workers have doubtlessly been underestimated. There's the expense of decaying infrastructure -- roads, bridges, water pipes. All this will squeeze other crucial government services: education, defense, police." But those taxes will only be paid by the rich...until they won't.
Robin Hood forever – When 60% of Americans pay no income taxes, what incentive will there be to reduce the size of government? As Bulldog Pundit notes, the tipping point is coming.
What media bias? – Fox News reports: "The Project for Excellence in Journalism's report shows John McCain's media coverage has been 57 percent negative, while Barack Obama's has been 29 percent negative."

Although the report doesn't cite provable bias, the American people smell something ain't quite right.

Update – That old poll was a 5-1 advantage for the Democrat. It's now up to 7-1: "Voters overwhelmingly believe that the media wants Barack Obama to win the presidential election. By a margin of 70%-9%, Americans say most journalists want to see Obama, not John McCain, win on Nov. 4."

In unrelated news, the New York Times's stock dropped another 10% today to a new 52-week low.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The state of American discourse

1980: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." – Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman.

2008: "Every word anyone utters against The One is racist."

Monday, October 20, 2008

They used really tiny handcuffs - Gateway Pundit: "Iranian Regime Arrests 2 Spy Pigeons Near Nuclear Site"
Who wants to see another white guy as President? - McCain aide Mark Salter hits media bias with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg: "I think the media is driven by a need to see this history happen." Sounds right.

Or as Kim Priestap notes: "It would be nice if the media actually did its job and reported on the Obama campaign's lies but they just wag their tails, pant, and beg The One for more."

More - Tom Maguire on the NYT: "We're not biased, it's our darn readers!"
A college education, not for everybody

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: "America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree"

Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education.
Author and career counselor Marty Nemko offers some suggestions to improve undergraduate education and concludes: "College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it. It's crucial that they evenhandedly weigh the pros and cons of college versus the aforementioned alternatives. The quality of their lives may depend on that choice." (HT: Arts & Letters)

Extra - From Maggie's Farm, it's looking like colleges are just looking for warm bodies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A mighty wind

Boston Globe: "Block Island embracing offshore wind farm plan." Without a direct line from the mainland (like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard), Block Island relies on diesel generators for power.

This summer, electricity prices on the island reached a record of 65 cents per kilowatt hour - at one point, the highest rate in the continental United States and more than four times the rate paid on the mainland 12 miles away.
Some on nearby Nantucket, including Ted Kennedy, have blocked a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound because of the fear it will hurt home values, um, I mean the "aesthetic quality" of the Sound.

Keep on burning that diesel, Block Island: we have unfettered horizons to consider. For the children.
Amazing Race update – In the land of Phil

Teams have to travel nearly 7K miles from Bolivia to Auckland, New Zealand; it's very late at night in La Paz and everybody's trying to figure out flights. Team Twelve Oaks says: "I hope they like blondes in New Zealand." (What an odd thing to say.) At the airport, everybody's trying to find computers to get the earliest flight. It's funny: in previous seasons of TAR, teams used to beg locals for their cellphones. Now, in this modern age, they simply ask to use the laptops of people sitting around the airport. WiFi is making the Race easier.

Once in Auckland, teams take marked cars to a nearby harbor to untie some knots and find the next clue. Aja & Ty get a flat tire on the way. At the clue, the teams are directed to Mount Eden which is the tallest natural spot in New Zealand. It's also the Fast Forward and Ken & Tina decide to race to this task that could allow them to skip all other challenges. Team Infidelity barely beats out Team Bluto to the Fast Forward (only one team may take it) and Ken & Tina climb to the top of a building.

At the non-Fast Forward clue, it's the Roadblock: one team member must match a pattern to a Maori warrior's face tattoo. Terence & Sarah finish first and head to the next clue at the City Life hotel. The Ditzy Divorcees can't seem to find their way up Mount Eden so they decide to climb the mountain. Great idea. However, they're looking like rocket scientists next to Team Twelve Oaks: the Southern belles can't find the harbor and arrive hours behind the other teams. Then they can't find the "Gordian knot" even though a huge rope ball is sitting conspicuously on the harbor pier.

At the City Life hotel, teams take binoculars and they need to look around the landscape for a Travelocity gnome. Once they grab the gnome, they're driving to "Kiwi 360" for the next clue. There's a lot going on in this leg so it looks like Ken & Tina made the right move to take the Fast Forward, even though it involved climbing up a radio tower. They take a helicopter ride to the Pit Stop where they are welcomed to New Zealand by...Phil's dad! (In case you didn't know, Phil Keoghan is from New Zealand.)

At Kiwi 360, it's the Detour: Matter of Time or Matter of Skill. Teams may either crush kiwis to make 12 quarts of juice, or learn to use an asphalt sailboat and go around a track three times. Terence & Sarah finish and head off to meet Phil's dad at the Pit Stop. Yet three other teams start this task before giving up to race the sailboats. I always think that switching tasks is a time waster but some of them master it quickly. Kelly & Christie stick it out and finish crushing kiwis ahead of the switchers. Aja & Ty have been bickering this entire leg of the Race and they don't like crushing fruit; after a while, they switch Detours. Team Long Distance and Team Twelve Oaks both finish their respective Detours in the dark, so it's unclear who's in the lead.

In the end, Marisa & Brooke can't overcome their time deficit and they are eliminated at the Pit Stop. Phil's dad decides they need a hug from him. Phil throws up his hands as if to say: "Oh, Dad."

Final standings:

Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina – Prize: (what else?) a Travelocity trip
Team Co-Dependency – Terence & Sarah
Team Ditzy Divorcees – Kelly & Christy
Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
Team Perky – Nick & Starr
Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan
Team Long Distance – Aja & Ty
Team Twelve Oaks – Marisa & Brooke – PHILIMINATED

Next week: Pulled over for speeding.
You betcha! - Sarah Palin was fine on Saturday Night Live tonight, but you have to hand it to Amy Poehler, in her tenth month of pregnancy, for the "Alaska Rap" during the Weekend Update segment. It was cold as ice! (Geez, have that kid already)

Update - Ann Althouse has the videos.
Social Security follies - Matt Hoy: "Of course, if you’ve pledged to lower taxes on the bottom 95 percent of Americans, then you can only increase taxes on the top 5 percent - and there’s not enough money in the top 5 percent to make Social Security solvent even if you took all of it."

I like how Obama is going to "ask" people making over a quarter-mil to "pay a little more into the system." Isn't that polite? Much more from Harvard economist Greg Mankiw.
Military men - On the Sunday talkshows, John McCain will be on Fox News Sunday while Colin Powell will be on Meet the Press.
Heartless governor slashes social programs - Boston Globe: "Protests loom over state cuts." The blind and disabled are upset but Deval Patrick just laughs and laughs, the bastard.
Floating currencies - No, not cash on the Goodyear blimp. The Economist has a short history of modern finance starting with Nixon's currency float to deregulation. Concluding graf: "Amid the crisis of 2008, it is easy to forget that liberalisation had good consequences as well: by making it easier for households and businesses to get credit, deregulation contributed to economic growth. Deregulation may not have been the main cause of the rise in living standards over the last 30 years, but it helped more than it harmed." Discuss amongst yourselves. (HT: Maggie's Farm)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

CDs I got at my library's book sale, wicked cheap

Haydn symphonies
Richard Strauss - Ein Heldenleben
Motion picture classics by Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops
Hallmark Music presents Wedding Sampler: Music to help plan your ceremony
Mega Dance Hits, Vol. 5 (e.g. "Dazz" by Brick)
Living in Oblivion: 80's Greatest Hits (e.g. "Poison Arrow" by ABC)
Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits 1968 (e.g. "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell)
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Welcome to the Pleasure Dome
Led Zeppelin - In through the Out Door
Roger Waters - Radio K.A.O.S.

and my favorite:

University of North Texas College of Music - 1997 Music Sampler

Friday, October 17, 2008

Given up for dead and poised for a big comeback! - John McCain? Maybe! No, I'm talkin' about them Boston Red Sox last night. Incredible.
The government big enough to give you anything... big enough to take it away when the tax revenues dry up. From the Boston Globe: "State fiscal problems may worsen"

This week's announcement of 1,000 state employee layoffs and $1 billion in budget cuts may just be the beginning, as financial forecasters say that Governor Deval Patrick's predictions of revenue shortfalls are as much as $500 million too low.

The reason: the continuing plunge in the stock market is dragging down capital gains taxes that have kept Massachusetts flush in the boom times.
Beacon Hill legislators ignored a voter referendum to roll back the state tax rate and instead kept on expanding state services:

During the past four years, taxes collected on capital gains have risen steadily, from $1.49 billion in fiscal year 2005 to $1.9 billion last year, according to the state Department of Revenue. The windfall has allowed the state to increase spending on key areas like education and healthcare without dipping into the state's cash reserves, known as the rainy day fund.

But the sudden drop in the stock market - the Dow has lost nearly 18 percent of its value since Sept. 15 - has left the state veering toward a financial crisis not seen since 2003, when Governor Mitt Romney made sweeping cuts in local aid to cities and towns.
Now that everybody has become dependent on the state government for home care, HIV/AIDS prevention, after-school tutoring, and substance abuse programs, they're all going to be cut to the bone. But don't worry: Governor Deval Patrick is going to take bold and unpopular steps to fund the state government...after the election:

Thus far, Patrick and legislative leaders have avoided any talk of imposing fees or new taxes, such as an increase in the gas tax, to help balance the budget. Observers say this is because the governor and lawmakers don't want to risk angering voters who will be asked in a Nov. 4 ballot question whether they want to eliminate the state income tax - which generated $12.5 billion last year.
Of course.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

They're gonna go with O - The WashPost endorses Obama: "The nominating process this year produced two unusually talented and qualified presidential candidates. There are few public figures we have respected more over the years than Sen. John McCain. Yet it is without ambivalence that we endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president."
Hard-working, tax-payin' Joe the Plumber - Fox News says: he owes taxes, isn't a licensed plumber and his name isn't Joe. You can't make this stuff up. Also, according to Hot Air, he'll soon be unemployed soon so there goes the workin'.

Extra - WashPost: "After debate, glare of media hits Joe"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not one question on entitlement reformNot that it's important or anything. (Sigh)
Looks you in the eye – I noticed that Obama often directs his explanation to the television camera while McCain is making his case to Bob Schieffer. It's effective and evinces confidence.
Hiccups – Am I the only one getting audio drop-outs on tonight's debate?
Why this question? – In a discussion that's supposed to focus on domestic policy, moderator Bob Schieffer asks why the Vice Presidential candidates are suitable. Wasn't that the point of the Vice Presidential debate? I'm not saying it's not a valid question, but it subtracts time from other domestic issues that we won't get to tonight.

Update - Well, education policy is the last question of the night, so we won't get to entitlement reform which is the single biggest threat to the long-term economic health of the country. Good night!
Ayers, not Obama - Patterico on the "kill him" controversy.
Not to be confused with Bob the Builder – Joe the Plumber is tonight's hero.
Like I said

Victor Davis Hanson has the same idea, among his Debate Thoughts:

Two, the problem with Obama's tax plan is twofold: if we end up with 50% of the income earners paying no federal income tax, what incentive would they have to worry about how other people's money is spent, or why would they work additional hours and thereby risk losing their tax credit or at least their tax exemption? Second, why would businesspersons making over $250,000 in a high-tax state take on additional risks of hiring more employees, building a new addition, or opening up a new line of products, when they would know that with state (10%), federal (39%) and FICA (15%) obligations, roughly two-thirds of their additional profits would go to the government? The ratio of risk and effort to gain is not worth it.
Now it's debate time. Let's watch.
The last debate

I'm just going to type away and not add any links until later. That's OK, right?

Anyway, I sincerely believe that the second debate was John McCain's last chance to turn the momentum of this election around. Only the most ossified partisan would say he did anything to improve his prospects in that debate, and there's considerable evidence he made things worse. Could he possibly turn things around tonight? I doubt it: opinions have hardened and voting has already begun across the country.

Essentially, McCain is fighting to avoid a blowout and maybe go out with a little dignity. That's why I don't believe he'll bring up William Ayers or Jeremiah Wright in tonight's debate. It only plays into the Obama camp's strategy to portray McCain as an angry, erratic, old pol who is avoiding the issues of the day. I think for every one vote he gains because of Obama's associations, he loses five from people (mostly independents) who want the candidates to focus on the faltering economy and the pending recession.

McCain should go out and hammer Obama on his tax plan and, specifically, his explanation to that plumber who is essentially being punished for his success. He should point out that Obama will raise taxes on the small businessmen (like this plumber) who could be using that money to hire apprentices and workers. Finally, he should point out the redistributive aspect of Obama's plan to "spread the wealth" that further tilts the entire tax burden of the country onto a handful of wealthy people. In times of economic trouble, the siren call of Robin Hood politics is strong; McCain has to make the case why it's ultimately cancerous to the economy and society as a whole.

Some have pointed out that McCain has been counted out before, but all the momentum and enthusiasm in this election is only pointing one way. Forget about Ayers and Wright, focus on the economy and what it means at the kitchen table, and...well...we'll see.

Extra - Scott at Power Line has more on tax distributions:

Despite Obama's implication to the contrary, however, It doesn't represent much in the way of change. According to the most recent (2006) data released by the IRS, the top 1 percent of filers paid nearly 40 percent of all income taxes; the top 5 percent paid 60 percent of all income taxes. The bottom 50 percent paid virtually no income taxes (3 percent of all income taxes paid).
The personal income tax, the federal government's main source of revenue, is collected overwhelmingly from a relative handful of Americans. The large majority of all Americans pay little or no income tax.
Given that poorer citizens always outnumber the rich, political philosophers have long worried that government based on majority rule could lead to organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses. "If the majority distributes among itself the things of a minority, it is evident that it will destroy the city," warns Aristotle.
And TaxProf Blog notes that Obama's tax plan actually raises the marginal tax rates for lower-income workers:

Because Mr. Obama's tax credits are phased out as incomes rise, they impose a huge "marginal" tax rate increase on low-income workers. The marginal tax rate refers to the rate on the next dollar of income earned. As the nearby chart illustrates, the marginal rate for millions of low- and middle-income workers would spike as they earn more income.

One mystery -- among many -- of the McCain campaign is why it has allowed Mr. Obama's 95% illusion to go unanswered.
More on "Obama's 95% Illusion" from the Wall Street Journal.

Even more - Here's the chart of which the Tax Prof speaks:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Something to post - Maybe it is time to turn this blog into an all-music site. I can't bear to write about the fiscal mess we're in, my 401(k), the groundswell election coming, Paul Krugman, or the collapse of the Red Sox.

Anyway! Driving home, I heard Mama Cass's version of "Make your own kind of music" and the very first thing that popped into my head was Desmond on "Lost." That's a good song. New episodes of "Lost" start early next year.

Oh, and today I bought a one-burner Coleman propane stove at Wal-Mart. So I got that goin' for me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Miracle of miracles

The Boston Globe recognizes that there's a land west of Worcester:

The trouble is that the Turnpike Authority has a $2.5 billion debt and no obvious source or revenue other than tolls to pay for it. Day by day its credit rating inches closer to junk bond status. It needs a cash infusion. But residents west of Boston unfairly bear the brunt of paying for the Big Dig, which also benefits drivers of Interstate 93 and the state's business climate as a whole.
The solution is easy: let everybody using the Ted Williams tunnel pay $5 per use to save 15 minutes on their commute. Ba-bing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Guess tomorrow's headline in the New York Times

Here's the Oregonian headline on the Molotov cocktail attack: "Two men arrested in McCain sign burning"

My NYT guess: "Men help Portland couple with fuel costs; provide free gasoline"

By the way, I can see this commenter was very concerned about the specter of political intolerance and the near-firebombing of a Portland home:

Doesn't the city of Portland have sign ordinance? If so, there might have been a much easier way to get rid of that eyesore.
'cause, you know, it was a big sign.
Amazing Race update – Breathless in Bolivia

Me, last week: "Teams are suffering from altitude sickness, so I'm guessing La Paz, Bolivia is the next destination."

Next stop: La Paz, Bolivia. Advantage: Geography Pundit!

Teams had to make their way from Brazil to Bolivia and everybody ends up sleeping in a town square, waiting for the morning newspaper which contains the next clue. Team Bluto finds the classified ad first and go to a hat store for the next clue. Some teams take taxis that get caught in traffic, while others walk but they're weighed down by the thin oxygen.

This clue is a Detour: Musical March or Bumpy Ride. Teams may either form a band from a group of musicians and lead them, like Professor Henry Hill, to a nearby park. The bumpy ride involves taking a rickety bicycle down a cobblestone road to the same park. Also at the end of this Detour is a U-Turn, which means that one team can force another to go back and do the other Detour as a delaying tactic. Team D&D and Team Co-Dependency leave the hat store for the Detour, but fail to notice that the clue instructs them to travel by foot. Sarah sees the mistake and they turn around, but Mark & Bill go to the bicycle, confident they're in first place. It looks like they are on the way to a 30-minute penalty when they get to the mat.

Team D&D arrive to the U-Turn, choose not to penalize anyone, then head to the next clue. They're listed as "first place" so far, but I think they're going to get penalized. Team Twelve Oaks are leading a band ahead of the frat boys and they arrive second to the clue at the park. One of the Ditzy Divorcees wipes out on the bicycle task while Team Perky considers giving them a U-Turn. Commercial time!

The next clue is a Roadblock. Well, this should be good: one team member must dress up in a gaudy outfit and wrestle a girl. Unlike American wrestling, the Racer must learn a choreographed routine before heading out to the ring to "fight." Ken of Team Infidelity finishes first and heads to the Pit Stop. Many of the other teams are caught up in traffic or beset by vehicle problems. Toni & Dallas, who left the park in last place, arrive fourth to the Roadblock by virtue of a competent cab driver. Dallas does a great job and Team Mom/Son jump up to second place. Meanwhile, Mark on Team D&D is totally winded and needs oxygen to continue. But he screws up the routine a second time and has to go back to training. I'm thinking they're going to get a time penalty at the Pit Stop anyway, so it's looking bad for the nerds.

Aha! Mark & Bill re-read the clue and realize they needed to walk to the Detour. They arrive at the mat and Phil informs them they are the "eighth team to arrive" but not "Team #8." Kelly & Christy are on the way as the last team and they arrive, sure they've lost. Phil tells them they are the "last team to arrive…however." They're visibly relieved then a little upset to have supplanted Mark & Bill, but they're still in the Race.

Final standings:

Team Infidelity – Ken & Tina – Prize: Travelocity trip to Mexico
Team Mom/Son – Toni & Dallas
Team Co-Dependency – Terence & Sarah
Team Twelve Oaks – Marisa & Brooke
Team Perky – Nick & Starr
Team Long Distance – Aja & Ty
Team Bluto – Andrew & Dan
Team Ditzy Divorcees – Kelly & Christie
Team D&D – Mark & Bill

Next week: Tension on Team Long Distance.
Booing Obama = hate crime

Rick Moran has the sordid details:

Barack Obama was booed at a McCain Town Hall in Waukesha, Wisconsin yesterday.

That’s right. I’m not joking. A crowd of Republicans actually had the audacity, the temerity, the gumption to show their displeasure when the name of The Messiah was uttered.
Can you imagine? What is this country coming to that political partisans would express disapproval of an ideological opponent? Rick has a follow-up post here on those angry GOP "mobs" and even the normally unflappable Instapundit is peeved. Will the Professor turn vigilante? Who can tell with these crazy libertarian types?

Extra - Roundup at Memeorandum.

More – So it's come to this: Molotov cocktails.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Let's take a break from the worst week ever. Here's one of my favorite artists, Jason Mraz:

That's "I'm Yours" from his new CD. The video looks like he was digging for an excuse to go to Hawaii.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Instant karma's gonna get you – Or maybe a crocodile: "A Zimbabwean soccer player drowned in a crocodile infested river during a ritual to cleanse his team of bad spirits before a match, a state newspaper said on Tuesday."
The economy may push MA question #1 over the top

From today's Boston Globe: "Shaky economy may weigh heavily in income tax vote." That would be the state referendum to abolish the state income tax in Massachusetts:

The last time the income tax question was on the ballot, in 2002, it received little attention but stunned political observers by collecting 45 percent of the vote. At the time, a gallon of gas cost less than $1.50, home prices were soaring, and the economy, if imperfect, was not the dominant issue.

That's a far cry from 2008. Voters for months have endured unemployment increases, flat or decreasing wages and home values, a rising cost of living, and, for the last two weeks, have watched with unease and even panic as stock prices plunged and the credit crisis spread around the world.
As I've noted, Beacon Hill should stop trying to demonize those who want to constrain the state government and make a good-faith effort to bring the tax rate back to the promised rollback rate of 5%. This "reckless" referendum is less about taxes than a frustrated citizenry forcing government officials to live up to their promises.
It's official – Politico: "The worst debate ever." Key quote: "The day after leaves behind a puzzle: How the hell did candidates manage to be so timid and uninspiring at a time when American troops are in two problematic wars, the world financial markets are in scary free fall and the Dow has lost 1,400 points since Oct. 1? This is a moment history rarely sees - and both men blew it."

Not to beat a dead elephant, but Obama didn't need to be inspiring. He needed to be plausible as a Presidential candidate and he accomplished that. Boring and defensive? Running out the clock? Sure.
Finally some attention from the New York Times

I made it to the "Opinionator" blog with "The right goes negative on McCain"

With the pithiest summation is Eric Lindholm, the Viking Pundit: "My debate analysis in three words: "Congratulations, President Obama."
Traffic is nice, but now I feel like I need a shower.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My debate analysis in three words

"Congratulations, President Obama."

Look, John McCain always had a Sisyphean uphill battle to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. First of all, it's rare for one political party to hold the White House for three terms in a row, even during periods of peace and prosperity (ask Al Gore). Then there's my favorite piece of Presidential trivia that no candidate has been elected to the White House who has been in public office more than 14 years. And there's the "tallest" edge to Obama as well as the "agent of change" and "most optimistic."

Of course, this was before the headwind of the war in Iraq and the meltdown of the financial and stock markets. And while McCain may have been on the right side of the surge in Iraq and reform of the GSEs, few can make the distinction between the Bush administration and all Republicans. Make no mistake: John McCain can make an argument for his candidacy, but he's been hobbled by economic conditions that favor the Democrats. Meanwhile, Obama has benefited from a fawning mainstream media, frozen by cries of racism from investigating his relationship with a domestic terrorist or election fraud on the Left.

In my mind, Virginia was the canary in the coalmine, a solidly red state that has now moved strongly into Obama's column. In fact, of the eight state on Real Clear Politics listed as "tossups," seven of them are currently leaning for Obama. (That Indiana is even in the tossup column, leaning slightly for McCain, is another signal of McCain's weakness.) The various electoral counts have all moved in Obama's favor and there's no real indication that McCain can grab any of the blue states that either Gore or Kerry carried.

Earlier in the campaign, John McCain invited Barack Obama to join him in a series of town hall meetings, which was the format for tonight's debate. The Illinois Senator should have accepted because tonight he was articulate and knowledgeable on a range of topics with a good memory for statistics and a flair for rhetoric. To use a cliche, John McCain needed a "game changer" and he didn't come close. He wasn't bad, but Obama was better, and it's hard to argue that anything that happened tonight will change the current trajectory of the race.

Believe me, it pains me to write this, especially since I have boundless respect for John McCain who has given his body and soul in service to this country. It's further disappointing that McCain will lose to somebody with no military, executive, and barely any legislative experience. But, indisputably, Barack Obama has landed squarely at the crossroads of history at the right time.

What this means for America, I guess we'll have to wait and see.

More - Right Wing News: "Huge winner by default: Obama."

Ace: "Barack Obama...effectively he wins."

So we got that going for us: "The takeaway from this debate may be that it will prevent Obama from running away with the election."

Stephen Green: "McCain won, but not by nearly enough to matter."

Powerline: "Obama edges closer to the Presidency." That's what I said.
Bill Kristol is right - These "town hall" debates are supposed to mix it up and bring to the surface a whole gamut of issues. Instead, this was a narrow discussion over the economy and foreign policy with no room for gun control, or judicial nominations, or immigration.
Mixed metaphors - Obama: "Senator McCain says I'm green behind the ears." But he's hitting back hard on foreign policy and military intervention. McCain responds in such a way to say "I don't telegraph my punches" which seems less impetuous.
The entitlement question

Tom Brokaw pushes the candidates on Social Security and Medicare reform. Obama essentially ignores the question and talks about his tax plan which has nothing whatsoever to do with the funding of entitlements.

McCain jokes: "I'll answer the question." He's talking about a bi-partisan approach, along the line of the Ronald Reagan/Tip O'Neill deal in 1983. But then he felt compelled to respond to Obama's tax speech and the question was essentially wasted. The third rail strikes again.

Extra - Michael Graham on Obama's tax cut for "95% of Americans": "One more time: 47% of Americans pay NO federal income taxes! You can't "cut" their rates. Sen. Obama said that everyone under $200,000 will get a tax cut. Just ask Sen. Obama what the new, lower tax rate is going to be, particularly on those paying ZERO. A one-time rebate check, from people who pay taxes to people who don't, is not a tax reduction."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Adventures in socialized medicine

One of the goals of Massachusetts' health care mandate was to reduce the number of emergency room visits, which are an expensive drag on the state economy:

Routine care in ERs is considerably more expensive than at a doctor's office or community health center. The average charge for treating a non-emergency illness in the ER is $976, according to a 2007 report by the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, which estimated that the total bill for non-urgent ER care in Massachusetts exceeded $1 billion in 2005. In comparison, it costs between $84 and $164 to treat a typical ailment such as strep throat in a primary care doctor's office, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state's largest private insurer.
How's the new plan working out? From today's Boston Globe: "Costly ER still draws many now insured"

Thousands of newly insured Massachusetts residents are relying on emergency rooms for routine medical care, an expensive habit that drives up healthcare costs and thwarts a major goal of the state's first-in-the-nation health insurance law.

The 2006 law requires nearly everyone to have health insurance, coverage the law's framers hoped would ease overuse of ERs as the newly insured went instead to primary care doctors for non-urgent health needs.

But a sizable number of patients who obtained state-subsidized insurance have continued to use the ER - at a rate 14 percent higher than Massachusetts residents overall, according to state data compiled at the Globe's request. Those state-subsidized patients with the lowest incomes, who formerly received free care in emergency rooms and now pay a nominal fee, are using ERs at a rate 27 percent higher than the state average.
Good intentions.

Extra - Meanwhile in Georgia, creeping socialism as "civic rent."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Amazing Race update – What we have here is a failure to communicate

Ten teams start out from Salvador, Brazil and need to head to Portaleza, Brazil and the next clue. Last week's winners Nick and Starr kick off this leg of the race. Terence (of Terence and Sarah) hits his head on the cab and reveals himself to be a total crybaby; he actually asked his girlfriend to "blow on my head." This team has abruptly catapulted into the lead of the teams I want to see eliminated. There's some tension at the gate while everybody is bunched up, waiting for the same flight.

Once at Portaleza, Brazil (where they still speak Portuguese) a blonde is urging her taxi driver "Rapido, por favor!" At the clue, teams find they have to take dune buggies across the beach for the next clue. This next stop is the Detour: Beach It or Docket. Teams may move a sailboat a hundred yards over sand to an inlet, or in a less-strenuous task, find a shipping container in a huge shipyard. Everybody chooses the beach task except for the nerds Mark & Bill who promptly find the shipping container. Anthony & Stephanie are bringing up the rear. Terence & Sarah finish their sailboat task first but walk right by the taxi stand. The divorcees Kelly & Christy are confused: they start looking for the "container" from the Docket detour after they complete the Beach It task.

At the next stop, it's the Roadblock: one team member must look down a long wall with advertisements for a list of potential destinations and give the name to a painter who will give a clue if correct. One of the nerds simply copies down all the places and recites them to the painter until he hands over an envelope.

The Ditzy Divorcees Kelly & Christy are comedy gold, the Lucy and Ethel of this Race. They're angry and embarrassed they didn't read the clue at the Detour and wasted time looking for a container that had nothing to do with their task. So on the way to the Roadblock, they're reminding each other to "read the clue, read the clue." Lo and behold, they get to the Roadblock where the clue instructs them to make their taxi wait until they complete the task. They don't, and their taxi drives away. And although they're the third team to complete the Roadblock they have no way of getting to the Pit Stop. Eventually they find their cab, which was waiting nearby, and head out.

At the Roadblock, Nick tells one of the frat boys he'll share the answer if he finds the right answer. Instead, he gets his clue and books from the Roadblock; in a subsequent interview, Nick is unrepentant. We know how Karma feels about maneuvers like this. The lethargic Anthony is last to find the answer and he and Stephanie are eliminated at the mat.

Final standings (with tentative team nicknames!):

Team Infidelity - Ken & Tina – Prize: off-road vehicles
Team D&D - Mark & Bill
Team Co-dependency - Terence & Sarah
Team Long Distance - Aja & Ty
Team Mom/Son - Toni & Dallas
Team Perky - Nick & Starr
Team Ditzy Divorcees - Kelly & Christy
Team Bluto - Andrew & Dan
Team Twelve Oaks - Marisa & Brooke
Anthony & Stephanie – PHILIMINATED

Next week: Teams are suffering from altitude sickness, so I'm guessing La Paz, Bolivia is the next destination.
Embracing a "reckless" solution to Beacon Hill's spending

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe: "It's time for a blunt budget ax"

Time and again, the voters' restraint has been repaid with disdain by a political class that seems to believe there is no higher or better use for our money than a government expenditure. Nothing has penetrated the politicians' indifference to the frustration and anxiety of so many Massachusetts residents. Maybe a blunt budget ax will get their attention.
In the parlance of Joe Biden, I believe Massachusetts question #1, rolling back the state income tax, will expose a significant minority of citizens who are "unpatriotic." But between the Big Dig, runaway pensions, and an unceasing rise in spending, Bay Staters have been pushed into a corner. Instead of demonizing those of us who want to constrain the state government, Beacon Hill should look into why so many Massachusetts citizens are prepared to embrace an extreme solution.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I question the timing

Bill Kristol asks of McCain-Palin: "Can they catch up?"

It looks like the New York Times has decided they cannot since it's now safe to probe into Barack Obama's relationship with domestic terrorist and Chicago "neighbor" Bill Ayers. As you might expect from the Times, they're just two paths that crossed in the night - nothing to see here, move along. Hot Air and the Minuteman provide much needed context.

More - Roundup at Memorandum. Also, Vodkapundit notes that the Obama-Ayers story had another "timing" aspect: they saved it for the least-read Saturday edition. Natch.
Guilty! - Thirteen years to the day after he was acquitted by the dumbest jury in American history, OJ Simpson was found guilty by a Las Vegas jury today for theft and kidnapping and some other stuff.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Conservatism is dead - The Hill: "House passes bailout on second attempt"

Sure, why not? I think I'll take the weekend off and head to the corn maze in Sunderland.

Extra - Related thoughts from Maggie's Farm: "The end of capitalism, again."
More of that media bias all in my head

Here's Noah Pollack on Contentions:

An astute commenter to a previous post notes something about CNN's "poll" of VP debate viewers that on the one hand is utterly predictable, given CNN's track record, yet is still appalling: CNN declares that its poll finds Biden the winner, but CNN never discloses any information about who participated in the poll. This would be like asking people whether they liked the Red Sox or the Yankees and not revealing what percentage of phone calls were made to Boston versus New York.
As you may (not) have noticed, I didn't trumpet Fox News' text-messaging poll declaring Sarah Palin the winner of the last debate, nor the Drudge Report instant poll, because the methodologies of these polls are in question. Thus, as you can see, my standards are well above those of CNN's. Advantage: Viking Pundit!
Lost in nature - Field and Stream: Wilderness survival quiz

I knew I was in trouble when one (incorrect) answer taunted with "prepare to be ingested."
"Plausibly Presidential" - Charles Krauthammer writes that "Cool Barry" is gaining traction with a first-class temperament. Momentum certainly seems to be on his side.
Why expensive placebos are better than cheap placebos

Last night at Harvard, the Ig Nobel awards were handed out for unconventional research. It's an annual event where scientists get a little crazy, including a much better method of getting talkative winners off the stage:

The Ig Nobels ham it up to the extreme. When speeches go on for more than a minute, an 8-year-old named Miss Sweetie Poo is there to declare "Please stop. I'm bored," and usher the garrulous prize-winners off the stage.
The IgNobel for economics went to Duke University professor Dan Ariely who found that when people pay more for something, they tend to think it's a superior product, even when it's not:

Ariely recruited volunteers for a study and printed brochures describing an invented painkiller that was actually just a placebo. Some were told the drug was expensive; others were told it was cheap.

The subjects were given electric shocks before and after they took the pill. Those who got the pricey fake medicine reported a bigger reduction in pain than those with the cheaper fake.
There's some important work here:

Other prizes ranged from studies on the effect the sound of crunching has on the perception of the crispiness of a Pringle, to an examination of the tips that professional lap dancers earn.
Nice work, if you can get it. Or as Dr. Venkman once said: "Back off, man, I'm a scientist."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sarah smile

I thought Sarah Palin did okie-dokie tonight and Joe Biden didn't make any major gaffes, so maybe "tie goes to the challenger." But on Fox News, pollster Frank Luntz had a large focus group of undecided voters in St. Louis and they were effusive in praise for Governor Palin. I think the main difference is that Sarah manages to connect on a more personal level.

Sarah Palin wandered off topic at times, coming back to energy once too often. But Biden lapsed into Senate-speak in a way that seems disingenuous and I'm pretty sure he fudged the facts on some Senate votes. We'll see what Factcheck says about the debate tomorrow.

Extra – Andrew Sullivan said what?

More – Ace has the transcript of the Luntz group.

And this – Ann Althouse liveblogged along with Betsy and Q&O. Good night!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hooray? - Revised bailout bill passes in the Senate. Goin' to the House on Friday.

Because of Senate add-ons, the bill's initial price tag will be higher than the $700 billion that the Treasury would use to buy troubled assets. But over time, supporters say, taxpayers are likely to make back much if not all of the money the Treasury uses because it will be investing in assets with underlying value.
Everybody in Washington, please stop telling us that we're going to see that $700 billion dollars again (maybe even turn a profit!) That cash is gone, it's vapor, it's black hole time. It sucked up the value of those stimulus checks here in Universe Alpha and all the parallel universes. It's a memory, an afterthought, ephemeral and ethereal. Gone, baby, gone.