We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Saturday, May 18. 2013
Three weekends ago, my wife's company ran a volunteer day. They have one every year, and we will sign up to clean beaches, parks, or do a variety of things which benefit the community. I feel if I use the beach or the park, I should help keep it clean.
This year we signed up to help clean a shore town in New Jersey that was afflicted by Sandy. We were assigned to clean streets and lend a hand to any homeowners who requested assistance in removing trash. Others in our group were assigned to paint the Ambulance Hall. We cleaned a 2 square block area, and our team 'captain' was a local man who not only gave us guidance on what we would be doing, but also filled us in on what transpired in the town.
He pointed out that May 1st would be the 6 month anniversary of Sandy, and requests for FEMA funds would have to be in by then. He said most residents had already applied, but the funds were limited. In addition the payment wasn't enough to help those with any substantial damage. His home had filled with water up to the ceiling of the first floor and his foundation had cracked, so he was renting the house next door in order to keep his kids in the school district. FEMA was a drop in the bucket for him. Charities were few and far between in this section of NJ. He was getting by on his pension and couldn't afford to get work done on his home.
He took some of us on a brief walk around town to point out the damage. The water level had reached 4-18 feet in this 1 square mile town. 7 of the 21 bars and restaurants were open. The police were still operating out of a trailer.
Continue reading "6 1/2 Months and Counting"
Friday, May 17. 2013
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Jason Collins and one comment made a comparison to the gay Jason Collins getting all the media attention, while Tim Tebow was being run out of the NFL for being a vocal Christian. I think the first part was true, while the second part was primarily a longshot opinion. There are too many Christians, and some very vocal ones, like Kurt Warner, who have played the game and not suffered.
I do believe Christians in the US suffer far more media abuse than gangster rappers, but that's another story. I'm writing this about Tebow, who I happen to like. He's a smart kid, a hard worker, and a good leader.
But sometimes even that just isn't enough. While his introduction to the NFL signaled an appreciable change in the nature of the QB position, unfortunately his skill set is not up to snuff.
That said, the guy still has more playoff wins in Denver than a certain Peyton Manning. Which perhaps says more about Tebow than it does Manning.
Posted by Bulldog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 11:11 | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)
Tuesday, April 30. 2013
Yesterday, Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay, active, NBA player. Collins is a center for the Washington Wizards and is supposedly the first active professional sports player to come out. I don't think that's true. After all, several female players, such as Brittany Griner who is going pro this year, are openly gay. I'd even argue that if you didn't know Martina Navratilova was a lesbian during her time on the pro tour, you just weren't paying attention. Of course, she wasn't 'open' about it. Not sure how more open she could've been, but it was pretty evident to me and I was only a teen.
But Collins is, supposedly, big news. Big enough to be a top story on every major sports and news broadcast. In fact, I can't get away from it this morning. It's getting more than a reasonable amount of coverage on every morning TV show.
Continue reading "Coming Out in America"
Thursday, January 31. 2013
In a marathon session yesterday, politicians allowed people from Newtown and various other lobbying organizations to state their views about guns. Several of the more emotionally compelling statements made the press and have been forced on an unsuspecting public, as a means to push harsher gun control laws. One statement in particular struck me as I watched the news this morning. Susie Ehrens, whose daughter survived the attack, made the following plea:
It is heartfelt sentiment with a strong statement. I have no doubt many people, many parents in particular, were moved closer to supporting gun control as a result. Certainly, it is a statement which hit me hard - do I really love guns more than I love children? So much so that I'm willing to let children die just because I support the freedom to bear arms?
Of course not. After thinking about this statement, I believed a response was needed. Mainly because it is factually inaccurate, at least in terms of how it describes me, and it is logically flawed, in general.
Continue reading "Guns and Emotions"
Thursday, January 3. 2013
Al Gore may not have invented the internet or Global Warming, but his name will be forever associated with both. He certainly found ways to profit from these themes.
Now he's found a way to profit from TV, which he never claimed to invent, but hoped to 're-invent' with his Current TV network. An unwatched network airing questionable programming, pursuing a bizarre agenda that was mildly anti-American to most of us. Well, now he's out of the TV business and turning the reins over to another crowd of potentially anti-American broadcasters.
I can see the conspiracy theorists lining up behind this one.
If Al-Jazeera somehow turns the U.S. into a Muslim nation, will Al Gore take credit for being the founding father of Islamic U.S.A.?
Monday, December 24. 2012
Last year, we were at a friend's and I was introduced to the Coquito. This is, basically, a Puerto Rican eggnog.
Very tasty, but also very fattening. Probably 10,000 calories per glass. Delicious as can be. After that party, I made some and brought them to our family Christmas party, where they were a hit. We all had to run marathons to burn off the calories, but it was worth it.
I decided to make them again this year and found another recipe to work with. Most of the recipes are similar, though there are minor variations which make it an interesting drink. This year's recipe called for egg yolks, last year's did not. Last year I added nutmeg and vanilla. This year I didn't.
I pour it into resealable bottles, and keep it cold. It needs to be shaken prior to pouring, and sometimes you have to warm the neck of the bottle a bit to loosen it up.
I don't usually like distilled liquors, but during the winter I'll have some whiskey or add rum to my drinks. Particularly when the temperature dips as it has lately.
Continue reading "Coquitos"
Friday, December 21. 2012
I spent the entire day of Friday 12/14 in a meeting. I kept getting text messages asking what I thought of 'the news', though I had no idea what they were referring to. When I finally came out from the meeting and saw what happened I was deeply saddened and my thoughts and prayers went out to the families and friends of those lost. It's a tragic episode, one which has played out far too often in the past few months here in the US.
I'm pleased with the limited time Maggie's has spent on the topic. By the end of Friday evening, I was done with the news. It isn't news. It's an emotional outpouring which began to grate on me, and even this morning as I left for work, I was annoyed that major outlets continue to spend far too much time on this tragedy. Without any useful information, it's been over-analyzed in the course of the week.
I can't and won't let emotion sway my beliefs. My views on life are backed up with analysis and thought, not an emotional reaction to one or two events.
This is important to me because the meetings I have been in are about leadership. One primary approach to leadership is that style less important than behavior. If your behavior in emotional and stressful situations is different from how you behave normally, it undermines your credibility and ability to process information rationally. This is why the voices we hear on the black boxes of aircraft facing emergencies are usually calm and matter-of-fact. These people were chosen to be in their position for a particular reason...
Continue reading "A Week Later, Some Thoughts on My Beliefs"
Monday, December 17. 2012
This past week was finals week for my son. Thankfully, his slow start at college led to a fine rally and his efforts were rewarded with good grades. I give him a tremendous amount of credit for pulling himself together in his new environment. He started out carelessly, as many young people do when suddenly placed in an environment which is seemingly responsibility-free. The reality hits home quickly, of course, and his hit in the first two weeks, details of which are not important.
What was important was how he responded. He buckled down, and realized that while he could have some fun, he was there to do work. I pointed out to him his payment for the work he does is the sense of accomplishment good grades provide.
However, for all the fine work he did, there was one event which bothered me. He handled it well, I can't say that I would've.
His professor, for their final paper, asked them all to write a letter to President Obama asking for increased legislation and leadership to move our nation to a 'green' or sustainable energy policy. All the papers would be graded, but the highest grade would be sent directly to President Obama through a personal friend.
My first reaction was "what right does this professor have to force a particular view on his students?" My son replied, "Look, I don't agree with this and I don't support it. But I can get an A and I've got a good idea of how to write this. If I fight him, he'll probably give me an F on the paper."
As much as this approach bothered me, I was impressed with his maturity and focus on the goal. His paper was, for what it was, pretty darn good. I don't know if it will get forwarded, but it was worthy of a very high grade. He and I laughed and I said "at least if it does get chosen, we can use it as a platform to show the inadequacies of some portions of higher education."
I'm aware that many colleges have become bastions of liberal indoctrination. I'm not sure when the decision was made to eliminate critical thought in the classroom - but I hope it is not fait accompli. Luckily for my son, he and I have active discussions about topics like his paper regularly, so he's aware there is more than one view on the topic. I'm not sure how many of his classmates are.
Thursday, November 29. 2012
The recent Wal-Mart strike on Black Friday seems to have galvanized the labor movement. To what outcome, we shall see, but I suspect they are operating with some huge misconceptions.
As I drove to the train station, I heard an interview with one of the leaders in today's strike of fast-food workers here in NYC. He has a pleasing workers' story which he is spouting about 'living wages' and the need for workers at these companies to make trade-offs between a Metrocard and dinner. I'm all for 'living wages', but I think people have to remember when they take a job they need to determine if it's going to require them making tough choices. If I live so far from work that the cost of getting there deprives me of a meal, then maybe I need to find something closer to where I live.
Continue reading "The Economic Consequences of the Election"
Tuesday, November 20. 2012
Almost a year ago, I commented on a tax 'solution' which I think could work here in the U.S.
Here we are, post-election, and what are we hearing from Republicans? Astonishingly little pushback, almost no effort to 'obstruct' (not that were ever obstructionist, in my opinion), and a generally held agreement that taxes have to rise because that's what the election was all about.
I doubt the commentary would be vastly different if Romney had won, but the focus on tax increases versus spending cuts would probably be significantly altered. I also don't think that's what the election was all about, either. But that's the meme.
Can the Tobin Tax rise from the dead?
Still, where do we go from here? Every day, we hear that "something has to be done before we fall off the fiscal cliff."
Continue reading "Taxes: What Can We Do Now That We're Here?"
Saturday, November 17. 2012
Many years ago, I'd read a piece about how we did as much housework today as we did 100 years ago, despite a plethora of labor-saving devices. This may not be as true as it once was, but the recent storms gave me some insight about why it may have been.
I noticed that without power, we were busy doing many things to keep the house going. Finding firewood, getting gas, sweeping, going to the laundromat, getting and cooking food. Clearly having power means the gas lines are shorter and I don't have to seek out firewood on a daily basis. But what is it about labor-saving devices may have caused us to do continue to spend as much time doing housework as we may have prior to having them?
One day, as I was sorting the laundry, it hit me. By being able to do more in less time, our standards and expectations rose, so we tended to do more. We do things we couldn't do before, because we can.
I didn't like that my home's cleanliness took a slight dip during the storm, but given the time I was forced to spend doing other things, it just seemed like there was a logical trade-off in letting some things go for a bit until I had the chance to get around to them.
Monday, November 12. 2012
Like some (or many) of Maggie's readers and contributors, my family and I were bedeviled the past two weeks by Sandy and a freak winter storm. We encountered Sandy after returning from a visit with my son, who is in Ohio at college. While we were in Ohio, we picked up flashlights, batteries and other odds and ends, having been forewarned that these items were sold out already in New Jersey.
On the drive from Ohio back to NJ we were surprised to see so many trucks from utility companies. All were headed toward the storm, making my "it's all hype" attitude shift toward one of "what do they know that I don't? I sure am glad they are taking this seriously."
In July, I wrote about how we take some things for granted, and the mindset of progress. I wrote it after a storm which made me think about why we put so much effort into clean-ups. After Sandy, I'll double down on what I wrote, because there are attitudes which are geared toward productivity and those which are not. Productive people prepare for the worst, and then begin to build as soon as the worst has past. What I saw, within 24 hours of the storm, was virtually every house on my block clearing debris off their yards to prepare for pickup by the Department of Public Works. Several of us took it a step further and started making runs down to the Conservation Center instead of waiting for DPW. I was amazed at how quickly all of us put our minds toward moving past the storm. As concerned as we were with the lack of power, there were bigger issues to deal with, both at that moment and in the days ahead.
Continue reading "Back to 'Normal'"
Monday, September 24. 2012
It is no surprise that investigations into voting fraud yield no meaningful results. Why should they? Whoever is looking into it is ignoring the fraud their own party perpetrates, while seeking only the least likely forms employed by their opponent. The idea is to give the perception of doing 'something' about a problem so you look responsive. The hint of a problem is all you need to focus voter attention.
Eric Holder (of all people) once said "You constantly hear about voter fraud...but you don't see huge amounts of voter fraud out there." Maybe. It's unusual a comment of this sort would emanate from Holder. After all, Democrats often claim the Republicans are seeking to disenfranchise voters, and that's just fraud in another format.
Maybe politicians are just looking in the wrong place? Fraud is best performed out in the open, where it won't be questioned. Like a magic show. Misdirection and illusion. Paying people to vote, providing transportation to the polls in exchange for votes, blocking access, even having the dead vote are all versions of fraud which are time-honored.
It seems unlikely fraud is happening on a wide scale. But at a local level it could happen fairly frequently, and in ways which are pretty visible. We tend not to question what we see everyday, or that with which we've become comfortable.
Monday, September 17. 2012
Iceland was a mess after the 2008 meltdown. By 2012, while GDP per capita is still at depressed levels, unemployment is also down dramatically and growth has returned, making Iceland a 'star' among the embattled European nations.
It helps, somewhat, to be a homogeneous and isolated isle. It also helps to let financial institutions fail so debt can be washed out properly.
I'm not a fan of rap music, but Russ Roberts and Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek have done a good job making economics entertaining for the younger crowd. I sent their Hayek vs. Keynes series of videos to my son at college. There is an appropriate correlation to the events in Iceland and Hayek's views. There is no Keynesian stimulus taking place there.
Saturday, September 8. 2012
This is a good idea, right?
Because everybody should own a home.
Everybody should own a car.
Everybody should have whatever they want. So we should just outlaw prices.
Education is not a necessity. Ask Larry Ellison. It's a very good thing to have, and it's certainly something to strive for. But not everybody should get a college education. It's this mind-set which is part of the cause of increased costs.
Wednesday, September 5. 2012
Another Labor Day has passed, and I hope all Maggie's readers had a fine, relaxing long weekend. Barbecues, beer, wine, lawn or lounge chairs, picnics, whatever you typically do on a fine summer holiday, I'm sure you had a good time.
My wife and I, after having drinks with friends at the local swim club on Saturday, relaxed on a rainy Sunday then decided to head into the city on Monday to take a look at the Freedom Tower. We usually drive to Jersey City, park at a mall, and take the PATH train in. Parking and PATH for 3 people (our remaining homebound son joined us) was $22, much cheaper than driving into, and parking in, Manhattan.
They've done plenty of work on the tower and the area is finally starting to look as developed as it was prior to 9/11/2001. We checked for tickets to the 9/11 Memorial, but had 4 hours to wait. We decided to pass on that, and take a walk. Note to self, next time order tickets online before going in. They are free, but donations are welcome.
We headed up through City Hall Park, then turned and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and into the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, where we decided to have pizza for lunch. Grimaldi's is the big name pizza place under the bridge. But the line was too long and we couldn't wait. Ignazio's is around the corner, and turned out to be a great alternative. Good pizza, great location near the water and also under the bridge. I give it high marks for food, service and views.
If you've never walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, I highly recommend doing it sometime. It's worth the effort. Not only do you get to soak up some of its great history, but the views are amazing. Some pictures below the fold. Unfortunately, it was not a bright, sunny day. We had some rain, it was overcast. It was still an enjoyable trek.
Continue reading "Labor Day Stroll in NYC"
I'm a fan of Cory Booker. I do not share his politics, but there is much to compliment him on at a local level. I can appreciate how he has improved Newark, a city very close to where I live, and how he has created a strong working relationship with Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey.
When he goes national, though, he tends to put his foot in his mouth. Most recently, there was his commentary on Bain Capital, calling out Obama's campaign.
Now he's given a speech at the DNC which makes a claim that is outlandish.
Continue reading "Class Warfare at the DNC"
Friday, August 31. 2012
It seems Canada may do many things right, but can't keep the maple syrup flowing.
Wednesday, August 29. 2012
There is a slow, deliberate change taking place on the internet. Not all that long ago, most digital publishers offered 'free' content, focusing on the sale of ads. This model is not a good revenue generator for the majority of websites. Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal switched to a paid model, and the New York Times also has a pay wall, one which is somewhat porous. Many of the digerati feel all content on the internet can, or should be, 'free'.
The Economist is a publishing outfit which has spent much time analyzing this market and how to approach it. I have read The Economist for years and I respect their views and analysis. They recently moved to the subscriber model, as well.
Technically, most publishers are not 'free', since they use advertising to cover their costs of business. But there's a cost to you, the reader, with advertising. It's a subtle cost, one which impacts the amount of readable material and sometimes even the editorial content. The alternative, a subscriber model, is something internet users rarely encounter. For some reason, people are comfortable subscribing to magazines, newspapers, and even cable TV. Radio remains one of the few 'free' media, and even that is changing as XM/Sirius slowly becomes popular (it was included as a 'free' trial for a year with our new car). However, on the internet, it's not uncommon to hear people ask for 'free' access.
Should news and information remain 'free', and, if not, why would anyone be upset if it isn't? Many of my friends who work in the media industry have lamented the move to subscriber models. I point out a simple fact. If they were willing to pay for the paper or magazine, why wouldn't they be willing to pay for the online version? Is there some difference in the delivery system that eliminated costs?
Continue reading "Everything is Free on the Intertubes"
Tuesday, August 28. 2012
With the new football season only a week away, I started gearing up for my fantasy leagues. I'm usually in at least one, sometimes two, because I love the science of football. I love any sport that is highly quantifiable, and football has recently begun to have more than its share of statisticians break it down.
To learn as much as I can and prepare, I've studied the game closely. The best sites I've found are Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats (I'm open to more if anyone cares to share). Call them sabremetricians for football, and as Bill James' work revived my love for baseball, these people keep my enjoyment of football very high.
The real value of fantasy leagues are the communication which takes place between the participants. It tightens the bonds of friendship and improves the vibe in an office. People who once had only work in common suddenly have much to talk about.
The old saw that you don't discuss religion or politics in polite company should probably be revised to include sports. Specifically fantasy sports, but sports in general can be very messy. Many of us have had disagreements and arguments over sports. Regardless of quantifiability, the question of who the greatest players are will always be fraught with emotion rather than pure reason. Barstool logic tends to predominate these discussions.
One could say barstool logic predominates most emotionally driven discussions.
My favorite coach of all time (many peoples' favorite), Vince Lombardi, was often called upon to share his opinions on business, politics, and religion. Vince was a devout Catholic, a very tough taskmaster, but he was known to have a heart of gold. His views on the relationship between success and work for the achievement of victory continue to resonate through the years. He was a man who took control and didn't place blame, he inspired people to perform a job.
Continue reading "Football and Leadership"
Monday, August 27. 2012
'Apocaloptimist' is a humorous term I recently heard that best describes how I've felt about the economy these last 4 years. The concept that it's all crashing down, but not to worry because we'll all be fine, in the end. I'm not sure that it's all going to come crashing down, but we're still not out of the recession/depression and there is a long road ahead before things improve to the point where we can feel confident about the future. Regardless of where we are, a quick review of history does point to one clear fact, and this is simply that mankind has a remarkable capability to adapt, make due, and eventually engage progress of a tangible nature.
We're still progressing today, just much more slowly.
But in the depths of a recession, true pessimists step forward. These are people who cannot see anything good, and refuse to take a simple step of reviewing history and seeing that bad times never last 'forever'. Absolutes can come back to haunt you, if used improperly. "We can never..." is the kind of phrase that inspires someone, somewhere to think, "Well, maybe we can...", and then they actually go out and do whatever it is we could never do.
Most human activity leads to peaks and those peaks are usually followed by valleys. Getting into the right frame of mind is how you get out of the valley and move to the next peak. Statements such as this, however, do nothing to help:
Malthus was wrong, and 215 years later his views have still not provided any meaningful insights on how the world operates.
Wednesday, August 22. 2012
The question of the Bush Tax cuts 'causing' the deficits, and hence the 'need' to increase taxes on the 'wealthy' is one which Democrats spend many evenings discussing. Clearly, Bush was an insane tax-cutter without any good ideas and caused every problem mankind faces today, and frankly every problem we've faced for the last 40 years. He was just that bad.
However, a non-partisan look at the cuts indicates something quite different. On a standalone basis, taking out all other additional spending programs from the last 11 years, what we find is the tax cuts paid for themselves, and then some. In other words, the issue isn't the cuts. The issue is all the additional spending which took place after the cuts. To be completely honest, and completely fair, not all the spending was by Bush, either. In fact, most of it was voted on with bipartisan support. Very little could be said to be purely Bush-related, let alone Republican-related.
Honesty is a difficult thing in politics. Typically I don't look for anything more than a minimal degree of it, what I prefer is a level of consistency of thought. The Republicans have their own challenges regarding honesty and consistency, but the Democrats have really done a good job of cornering the market on dishonesty and hypocrisy.
I've been busy the last few days with management meetings, mostly running from office to office and keeping people happy. However, there was a full day off-site meeting recently on the 44th floor of a relatively new high-rise on 57th Street. We had the entire floor to ourselves, and before the meetings got underway, I walked around and snapped a few pictures. Here's one:
A good view of the Hudson, Jersey City in the distance, down 8th Avenue from 57th. As I snapped this, I noticed several other people in the room doing the same thing. I laughed, and commented, "Isn't it strange, we've all lived in the New York area for years, we've been in so many skyscrapers, and here we are taking pictures?" One woman, who lives in Manhattan, replied "Yes, but you need to do this to remind yourself just how special it is sometimes. We tend to take it for granted." I agree. We don't usually stop to enjoy what we've got available to us.
Continue reading "High-Rise Art"
Wednesday, August 8. 2012
My older son turns 18 this year and heads off to Miami of Ohio. Sadly, he will not be home on his birthday, as classes begin that week. While discussing what he'd like for his birthday, we heard "I want to eat in a real Manhattan steak house". No argument from me.
There are plenty to choose from. Keen's, Smith & Wollensky, The Palm, Peter Luger (technically Brooklyn, but one of the originals), The Strip House, Sparks (I worked across the street from Sparks in 1985 and heard the shots that killed Paul Castellano - we all thought it was a car backfiring), Del Frisco's and The Old Homestead are all top notch. After some discussion, the choice was The Old Homestead as this is a classic, original New York steak house.
Continue reading "Birthday in Manhattan"
Monday, August 6. 2012
It's been a bit over a week since the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, and I haven't seen much on Maggie's about them. I really enjoy the Olympics. The Opening Ceremony is always great entertainment, and the events capture my attention. I've found myself watching handball, water polo, and even men's field hockey. I enjoy sports, and there's something about the Olympic Spirit that captures me. But there's always a portion which bothers me.
It used to be the overcommercialization which bugged me. I've grown used to this. I knew the 'amateur' status we used to try and pretend existed wouldn't last. It was clear that money would eventually be the driving force. In some ways, this has made the competition better. The athletes still play for pride, but now they can also get a payday. Nothing wrong with that.
On the other hand, the politicization, which was bad in Cold War years, has taken a subtle turn. There is still a semblance of competing ideologies. But there is also the use of spectacle to make some kind of statement, using the commercial aspect to push a separate agenda.
Continue reading "Olympic Fanfare"
Posted by Bulldog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 17:50 | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)
Thursday, August 2. 2012
Yesterday I received a notice in the mail. Apparently, Obamacare be beri beri good to me. My kindly
I really like getting money back from anyone. I suppose I should be pleased. But I'm not, I'm offended.
It seems that the ACA has set what is considered to be a 'reasonable' amount for spending on administrative costs and the coverage of medical fees. That split is 15% for administration, 85% for fees and services. My carrier hit only 84.5% on the fees and services portion, which means I get .5% back.
Continue reading "My Rebate"
Monday, July 23. 2012
The main method Obama and many politicians seek to stimulate the economy is through deficit spending.
What is lost on those who engage this method is that for deficit spending to actually work, it has to be funneled into truly useful production, projects which will yield massive value. Without getting into the problems inherent in all deficit spending, some might make a case that government related spending may yield benefits. It's a stretch to say that the TVA or the Hoover Dam was best provisioned by the government. Fact is, private industry would have managed these projects much more efficiently.
But these are examples of the sort of project which could make the government look better than it does right now by spending massive amounts of money with little to show for it. I'm not saying I support these projects, just that better options exist than Obama's current path. He made a moderately good show by using some funds to try and build a train tunnel under the Hudson which would have saved me 15 minutes on my commute each day. That tunnel, however, was going to be built with limited oversight, meaning costs would've spiraled and New Jersey would have overspent on it, thus losing all the value it would provide.
More importantly, these types of projects are difficult to begin today. Why? Regulation. It would be virtually impossible to build the Tappan Zee Bridge today, and even the current upgrade of the facility has faced massive problems which have increased the cost dramatically. A study of the region around the Hoover Dam, with today's regulatory environment, would end up killing this sort of project altogether due to environmental concerns. My perspective is simply that the Left has hung themselves on their own petard. They want the government to spark job growth, but they want to regulate all sorts of things, not realizing they hamper job growth.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has issued its annual report on the regulatory environment, outlining the economic costs of current Federal regulations. Today, these economic costs are greater than all corporate profits. In other words, one of the fastest and best ways for Obama to earn tax income to drive down the deficit would not to be raising taxes - but by reducing regulation. Of course, this would mean admitting his previous approach was incorrect and flawed.
Monday, July 16. 2012
Rep. Jesse Jackson's absence lately has been the source of much speculation and rumor. Yesterday, his mother spoke about his disappearance.
I don't know what's wrong with him, and if he is sick, I hope he gets the treatment he needs and is better soon. But his mother's words ring hollow. Is she saying that her son can't get up in the morning because he didn't get what he wanted?
There are plenty of things I wanted. I thought I'd be a senator, too. I thought I'd be a fireman, an astronaut and a pro soccer player. But I still get up in the morning and do my job, despite many disappointments in life.
People need privacy, particularly when ill. But this is an elected official who is suffering through several scandals. Something seems amiss. One has to wonder how Democrats would handle this if it was a Republican representative who was "disappointed"?
I'm not trying to diminish a physical ailment or a (rumored) addiction. These are difficult and can require much assistance. But the idea that he's not "bouncing back" from disappointment sounds a bit like a mother excusing and rationalizing her entitled son's behaviors.
Tuesday, July 10. 2012
The mayor of Scranton, PA recently lowered all city workers' salaries to the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. This in an attempt to cover a budget gap but still keep people working. It's a fine attempt to try and balance financial hopes with reality. Scranton doesn't want to follow in Stockton's footsteps.
But what is the reward for doing something intelligent? You get sued, of course. The logic of this is obvious, because another lawsuit burdening the system helps you get what you can't create. It's the most productive solution in the modern economy.
I grew up not too far from Scranton. The region has been depressed for as long as I can remember. But when people get used to a certain quality of life, they begin to believe they deserve it. What's the solution? Taking out a loan is only a good idea if the money is put to work building productive capacity somehow. But that's not what the city would borrow money to accomplish.
The 'solution', such as it is, is exactly what the mayor is doing. Trying to live within his means and find a way to make it work. Eventually, if Scranton isn't a viable productive center which attracts or starts new businesses, it's going to fail. Just like many cities or small towns before it. This is nothing new. It's sad, but reality isn't always happy and fun.
Unfortunately for the mayor, the people want what they perceive to be theirs so they can preserve the life they've become used to.
With the federal government handing money out to all and sundry, is it any surprise people want what they can't have?
Saturday, July 7. 2012
When I was in my teens, my scout troop did quite a bit of hiking and camping. Spam was part of our menu for longer trips, usually longer than a weekend. It's easy to carry and prepare. It's understandable that during WWII it was a food of choice for the troops. I also understand why my step-father, a WWII vet, never touched the stuff even as I scarfed it down.
I doubt I'd ever touch it today, unless I visited Hawaii where it's seen on menus regularly.
But happy birthday to an American icon.
Friday, July 6. 2012
I've had to deal with a number of issues lately, some good, others not so much. Last August, I was introduced to a phrase, when Irene knocked out our electricity for 4 days. Dealing with no electricity, or the limited capacity provided by a small generator, was annoying. Eventually, though, things went back to normal. My son, during the blackout, kept repeating "First World Problems" every time one of us complained of inconvenience.
The phrase refers to things which are meaningless to most people and occur only in industrialized nations. The ennui of life leading to kids not bothering to change a channel even though they have the ability to click a button. The disappointment of a latte, after realizing you really wanted a cappuccino. It's a phrase usually used in a snarky fashion, but it can have meaning in a larger sense. After the Derecho that passed through Ohio and some Mid-Atlantic states, I once again uttered the line as we cleared my father's property of fallen trees and branches in stifling heat. First World Problems are things which never occur to a Papuan jungle tribe member or even a denizen of Rio's "City of God". In fact, trying to explain these things could yield quizzical looks and questions about what we view to be important in our lives.
Continue reading "First World Problems"
Thursday, July 5. 2012
An interesting dilemma has presented itself to the world's bankers. For years they have been misguided in believing that forcing money through the system is the only way to keep economies running. Ignoring the nature of economic cycles, and trying to centrally manipulate positive outcomes, typically called 'soft landings', has led to a number of unintended consequences.
A slowing economy is one which needs savings, because in a heated economy, too many people are spending. At some point, the investment cycle can only be completed by having more people save.
We are, and have been for some time, at this stage. But the Federal Reserve (and other central banks) have all tried to manipulate consumption and spur borrowing by lowering interest rates. At some point, we've borrowed too much. At what point is that? At the point where we begin to charge for the 'privilege' of saving money. This is a Keynesian solution to a problem, but a problem that is misunderstood. During the Depression, rates were raised. This was the correct approach to handling the issue. But they were raised too far. Keynes did not deal with the issue of scale, just the issue he felt was problematic, which was a lack of consumption. Lack of Consumption is a very real problem, but lack of savings is an even worse problem.
The truth is, with interest rates as close to zero as they can be, and bank fees reaching levels that rival extortion, the US has been in a Negative Interest Rate situation for almost 3 years. We just haven't made it official the way Denmark has. It's not a good thing, either (though Denmark claims it is).
Interest rates have been negative once before - for reserves by banks at the central bank in Sweden in 2009. Even the US is considering this approach to get banks to lend more.
At some point, the massive credit expansion the Fed has employed the last 4 years will create inflation. We've been lucky so far, as a reserve currency, that most of this inflation has been exported to smaller nations. But that time is coming to an end, as is our reserve status. This, combined with negative interest rates, will no doubt spark the inflationary fires as consumption takes place and dollars are repatriated when interest rates go up.
It's worth noting, as well, that the US has been in a Negative Real Interest Rate situation for quite some time (inflation is greater than interest rate payments = negative real interest rates). Negative Real Interest is not rare, and is usually what leads to increased consumption (and has no doubt kept our economy struggling along rather than forcing us to do what we need to do). Which explains why Jim Rogers has been deeply invested in commodities.
Saturday, April 7. 2012
Several years ago, my wife purchased a gift card as a Christmas present for my parents. It was for a meal at Rat's Restaurant on the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. My parents used the card 2 years ago, they have since returned twice. Their third visit was two weekends ago, and we joined them. Unfortunately, some personal issues limited our time on the grounds prior to dinner, but for 45 minutes we wandered among the artwork. What we saw was impressive and enjoyable.
The Grounds for Sculpture opened in 1992, the vision of J. Seward Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson family). He took 42 acres, formerly the NJ State Fairgrounds, and transformed it into part botanical garden and part sculpture garden and museum. Johnson creates some of the work, though most is provided by other artists. It is an eclectic mix of styles, designed to fit within the existing environment, although at times the environment is altered slightly to work with the art.
(more below the fold)
Continue reading "New Jersey Art and Food I"
Wednesday, April 4. 2012
I read the headline of this article, and expected to see a discussion on why Wall Street is indispensible. Instead I found a discussion on the election and specifically Romney. It's clear he's going to be the Republican nominee, so it's probably best to start cleaning up his somewhat tarnished image. I agree with much of the commentary. But there are a few comments and insights which should be shared.
First, the economy can function without Wall Street. You don't need a capital market in order to have a functioning economy. It's useful to have a capital market, it makes acquiring capital for progress much easier. In fact, stock corporations were originally performed to raise revenues for large projects which were determined to be 'outside the scope' of government responsibility. What most people are critical of is the very concept that Wall Street considers itself indispensible, and uses that as a lever to charge very large fees and pay outsized salaries. These are not required for a fully functioning economy. I'm not opposed to a person making, or earning, whatever he or she can. But even the corporate titans of the Gilded Age put some of their more public displays on hold during times of economic duress.
Second, as a Libertarian, I'm usually opposed to the government regulating anything. But I admit there are some instances where oversight and enforcement are required. The question is - what KIND of oversight and enforcement? Certainly not the kind we're seeing out of this administration:
Sarbanes-Oxley has done nothing to stop the fraud it was supposed to stop. It has added several weeks of work to the audit process in many companies, though. In other words, usually regulations result in nothing but increased costs of doing business.
Finally, I was amused to see Bain Capital misspelled as 'Bane' at one point. I would hate to say this is deliberate, but given my cynicism toward journalists today, I am likely to believe it was. Then again, spelling isn't a strong point with journalists these days. It's a rather unfortunate sign of the times.
Wednesday, March 28. 2012
The other day, a woman walked into a mall. She visited several stores, among them Macy's, Starbucks, Nordstrom's, an interior design shop, a paint store, and finally the Apple store.
She didn't buy in each one, but in cases where she did, she gave quite a bit of information about herself to the store in order to make her purchase. In fact, she gave quite a bit of information to each store and she didn't realize it. It wasn't long before she was inundated with coupons, offers, ideas for purchase, calendar of sales, and various other items related to her trip to the mall. It was as if she returned to her car and found all this under her windshield wiper. These coupons and offers were from the stores she visited, but from other stores that offered the same or similar products. At first she wondered, "Is someone following me?" At that point, her smartphone buzzed, and she had an email. Target was letting her know there was a sale on dresses from a designer she had recently purchased.
The mall the woman walked into was the internet, and there was somebody following her. But that somebody wasn't just one person. It was a large number of people. Faceless, nameless people collecting data on sites she visited so they could tell what she was interested in from her clicking, what online stores she visited, on her purchase decisions, whether she got to that store by clicking on an ad, as well as other data points. If this had happened in real life, as described above, how would you react? Certainly there are laws against this, you'd think? Not really. If I chose to sit in the mall and just pay attention to where you went, then visited each store to peek and see what you purchased, and then leave coupons on your car, you are limited in your ability to stop me. Laws exist to prevent stalking, but if I'm sneaky enough, you may never even notice me.
Continue reading "Internet privacy: Are You Following Me?"
Friday, March 23. 2012
A gorgeous couple of days in New York City give me the opportunity to wander around and see how people are enjoying themselves. Central Park is a great place to take it all in. I started on the southwestern portion of the park, at its Columbus Circle entrance. Plenty of people just resting, looking at the flowers blooming in the Circle, or eating lunch.
Central Park is 843 acres. More below the fold -
Continue reading "Central Park in Spring"
Thursday, March 22. 2012
Apparently, the record high temperatures and wonderful weather we're having in most of the United States is just a 'good to have' moment. That is, if you're tired of winter and enjoy spring, a state of mind I'm currently in. The issue isn't 'Global Warming', though I'm sure this is something we'll hear about (because the Huffington Post and Daily Kos won't let us forget). The issue is simply the Jet Stream, which is following an odd path at the moment.
The freak October snowstorm, which caused many problems in the Northeast, didn't mean a long, difficult winter was approaching, so there is no reason to believe we are in for a hot summer.
Apparently, even though Al Gore and many others have assured us there is a guarantee of warming, there are none on offer:
Friday, March 16. 2012
In media, connectivity is all about getting content out in as many ways possible, as quickly as you can. There is no worrying about how information is processed. When there were limited forms of media outlets, the ability to add discussion (Op/Ed pieces in print, news shows on TV) created some context and helped the information flow. With the myriad resources available today, and the speed at which information arrives, context is being pushed to the side in favor of raw data. The medium is no longer the message. The message predominates.
How is this impacting youth?
It's troubling question, leading researchers to address the different potential outcomes. There are indications that people's brains are becoming 'wired' differently. But whether that wiring is improving decision making or analysis is open to question.
My point of view is that shortened attention spans and more breadth of knowledge (exchanged for less depth) is the likely outcome, which is not necessarily beneficial.
Thursday, March 15. 2012
The best you could say is that he at least defends Limbaugh's right to speak. Beyond that, this is a very pale attempt to sidestep outrage at his otherwise outlandish and clearly misogynist use of language. He claims because he gets a laugh, it's fine to use words that demean a woman. What he's really saying is it's fine to use those words regarding Sarah Palin or any woman on the Right who he dislikes, especially if it gets a laugh.
The outrage regarding Fluke was about the use of the word, and had little to do with context. That, somehow, just using it was wrong. Limbaugh didn't use it to label all women, it wasn't a misogynistic commentary. He did not show hatred or distrust toward women in general.
Maher was not misogynistic, either (to be fair, my original statement above was meant to be sarcastic). But he cannot distance himself from Limbaugh on this. Both of them utilized language and imagery that is inappropriate. Getting a laugh, I have been told by my Human Relations Department, does not make something okay to say. Now, Maher lacks an HR Department, but common sense is clearly lacking if he thinks that just because people laughed, his jokes were acceptable. And being a "pottymouth" doesn't make it okay, either.
We all use words, from time to time, we wish we hadn't. Limbaugh apologized for using his. Maher tries to rationalize his.
Monday, March 5. 2012
Well, the OWS Movement didn't last through a rather mild winter. They may have some vigor left as the election cycle heats up, but for the most part the press has ceased to be impressed with their value.
It seems the Fed isn't all that impressed, either. While I'm no fan of the Fed as a manager of the economy, they do some fine research.
Saturday, March 3. 2012
Sadly, I can't find the video, but a classic SNL skit for the season. One of the best minute and a half seasonal sketches. Belushi was a great talent, unable to tame his demons.
Posted by Bulldog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 13:26 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)
Friday, March 2. 2012
Last night, I helped my son prepare an Op-Ed piece for his high school class on Economics and Financial Literacy. He chose the Durable Goods report, and we sat down to dissect and discuss what it told us. As a neophyte, he naturally saw discussion of "Shipments rising" and "Orders increasing" and asked "this means things are getting better, right? We're in an uptrend?" Linear thinking is easy. Being human, we do it all the time.
Yes, I told him, but there's much more to the report. I pointed out that Inventories were growing rapidly, Unfilled Orders were increasing, and while Shipments were increasing, the rate of increase was slowing. None of these are particularly good signs of future activity. More importantly, Capital Goods, the building blocks of future productivity, were declining. At best, we decided, the report was neutral, showing that things may have improved somewhat, but many other signs were indicating a stall or slowdown.
Most importantly, I pointed him to the Inventory-to-Sales Ratio, which is a harbinger of true economic activity. A rapidly climbing ratio does not forebode good times, but rather difficulty with pricing and sales in the future. As consumers, we rarely pay attention to what goes on 'behind the veil' with items like inventories. We like our answers pat, easy and predictable. It's a shame they never are.
Continue reading "Some Thoughts on Where We Are: The Economy"
Saturday, February 25. 2012
The International Center of Photography is running a retrospective on Weegee, also known as Arthur Fellig, who was known for his stark black and white photos. His story is very inspirational, but most interesting was how he remade himself in the midst of the Depression.
Weegee had an eye for the presentation of America's social life. It was generally optimistic, tinged with dark humor. This developed only after he redirected his career as a studio photographer into one following a police radio, and is the portion of his career the retrospective focuses on in "Murder is My Business." As this career path began to fade, Weegee recreated himself again by documenting society and individuals in an America that was enjoying itself. The mythology surrounding him was primarily of his own creation, which today adds an extra dimension to what makes him so fascinating.
One of his pieces of work become the model for Mad's Alfred E. Neuman.
The story of Arthur Fellig is the story of individual American exceptionalism.
Wednesday, February 22. 2012
I'm sure Isaac Asimov was not a fan of capitalism, let alone the Republican Party (or even Libertarians). The movie I, Robot was based on his series, primarily his work on the Three Laws of Robotics and some outcomes that may occur with their implementation. In some ways, the movie was a criticism of corporate culture and government becoming too interlaced. US Robotics becomes an overly powerful organization with deep ties to government, ultimately making the robot takeover very difficult to slow or stop. On the other hand, it's a criticism of Progressive overreach. Perhaps unknowingly.
There is one scene which reminded me of our current government's goals. The idea that we have politicians or bureaucrats who 'know better', and can guide us to a better place. All we have to do is agree to let them, and while many will be harmed, it will be for a 'better good'.
Continue reading "I, Progressive"
Tuesday, February 21. 2012
The sports news in New York has been dominated the past week and a half by Jeremy Lin. A city overwhelmed by Super Bowl mania has quickly moved on to basketball and a great story in an overlooked point guard who has raised his game and put his team back in the race for the playoffs.
One of the difficulties, however, has been the racism which has been glaringly evident in the coverage. Saturday Night Live did a wonderful send up of this last night, showing the double standard which exists in media today.
Lin is the NBA's Tim Tebow. He has brought a wonderful story to the pros, an inspiring, unlikely, and unexpected story.
Monday, February 20. 2012
One of the most annoying situations you can run into at the office is inertia. The belief that something is done, or happens, just because "that's the way it happens." I've lived my corporate life (for better or worse - usually worse, for me) in a relatively idiosyncratic fashion. I have never enjoyed being a 'Yes Man', and if I sensed groupthink, I'd usually ask a question designed to break the logjam, even if I agreed with the emerging groupthink pattern:
Sometimes these approaches don't work, and you don't win friends this way.
Continue reading "Captain Obvious: Groupthink at the office"
Tuesday, February 14. 2012
I've lived in the New York City metropolitan area for 26 years. I take many things about New York for granted. I still haven't been up to the top of the Empire State Building, and I haven't been to the Statue of Liberty. I did (back in 1982, when I was in college) get to the World Trade Center, and I've been to Windows on World for dinner. I've also been to the Top of the Rock and the Rainbow Room (which I preferred to Windows on the World).
None of these really compare to Central Park, though. It's just a great place to hang out, and thankfully is very close to my office.
(more pics below the fold)
Continue reading "Central Park Pics"
Monday, February 13. 2012
The Fed has kept interest rates at an historic low in an attempt to help 'heal' the economy. Fed Governors have no fear of dead weight in assets, in the form of declining values and poor potential returns. The assumption is that with economic expectations so low, inflation is not a risk, and that rates can be used to 'fix' things by keeping rates low indefinitely.
This artificial approach to soothing our economic woes is a dangerous game. The economy has, in many respects, become unlinked from the stock market. In pursuing the current path, the Fed has gambled on some concepts which have been tried before, though in different conditions and with varying results.
Does this sound familiar? Because if it doesn't, remember that the current situation was caused, in part, by the creation of bundled mortgages, an existing tool which was utilized to try something new, with the assumption of safety baked in. In theory, the level of risk was limited. The problem with them was related to the nature of the individual loans themselves. Each bundled group offered had varying degrees of risk involved. Despite the levels of risk, many high risk assets were given very good ratings. In the end some failed, which put all at risk.
Continue reading "What Does it Take to Heal an Economy?"
Saturday, February 11. 2012
In the last week, we've seen Facebook file for an IPO. It's been talked about incessantly, and there are many interesting things within the filing which have caused people to begin sharing opinions about it. Since Facebook is in my industry, I find this discussion intriguing and certainly have my own point of view, particularly since I use Facebook.
Originally, I didn't want to join Facebook. Several friends emailed me invitations to join in 2007. I wouldn't accept. Finally, I joined just to stop the invitations. At first, what I found fascinated me. It's actually a terrific picture sharing facility. On the other hand, as Betty White famously said on Saturday Night Live about when she was younger, "We had PHONEBOOK...seeing pictures of people's vacations was a punishment."
Continue reading "Facebook"
Friday, February 10. 2012
Earlier, The News Junkie posted a great piece on the kerfuffle surrounding Obamacare and birth control.
I was 'lucky' enough, at roughly the same time, to see a friend post this on their Facebook page:
Interesting, I thought. I had always been taught that abstinence was affordable. Can anyone tell me when it stopped being affordable?
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