Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cherish the Good Times

It's been 6 days now since my father took his last breath at the age of 88. The last number of years with him were not as I hoped they would be due to circumstances beyond my control. Sometimes, the choices of third parties can separate even the closest of family relationships.

I'll leave it at that.

I was not there when my father died. Given when I learned that he was in his final days, I don't know that I could have been anyway. I said my goodbyes to him by phone. That was where I made my peace.

You may judge me for that and that is your right. But, for me, the way I handled the end of our journey together was absolutely correct. There would have been no purpose in me causing additional discomfort for another person who came into my life just over 30 years ago and left it as quickly as she could find a way. My dad would not have recognized me anyway. Burdened with Alzheimer's and dementia at the end, his nurse told me that he didn't even recognize the people who were in his life every day.

I spoke to him over the phone. His nurse acknowledged that perhaps he recognized. He moved his eyes, positively. Perhaps he smiled. I cried, but it was comforting for me as I reminisced to myself.

We had lots of good times together. If you're still with me, you get to read about a few of them.

My fourth birthday was an interesting one. I remember two gifts in particular that I got -- one from my parents and one from who knows where. You see, on December 5, 1961, I woke up with massively swollen glands and a high fever. I was chilled and after sleeping the night through, I remained tired. My first gift of the day was mumps (there was no MMR vaccine back then).

But, on your birthday, the show must go on. And, it did.

A few people who could possibly see this might remember our house in West Orange. When you came in the front entrance, you were in a small foyer. The den or family room, quite large in my memories, but quite small I'm sure in reality lay in front of you. To the left were seven very wide stairs going up to the living room.

The gift part of my birthday party was there, in the living room. I thought that I had seen all of my presents. That may have been one, it may have been ten. I don't know. My mom told me that there was one more present. But, my dad had to go get it. He went outside. What could possibly be out there.

When my dad came back through the door, he did so with my first bike. As sick as I was, I ran to the stairs and while my memory tells me that I jumped down all seven of them into his arms, my knowledge of my jumping ability tells me there's not a chance in the world that that happened. Nevertheless, I jumped as many stairs as I was able into his arms. I hopped right on that bike with its two big wheels and much smaller training wheels and spent my entire time with my mumps riding that bike around the bottom floor of our house.

And, then there were Sunday breakfasts. When the weather permitted, my dad played golf on Sundays. But, when it got colder, he would be home. We had a ritual. You see there were two delicatessens in the Pleasantdale area of town -- Jay's and Tabatchnick's. Tabatchnick's was the well-known one, but we liked Jay's (I have no idea why).

Every Sunday, we would get in the car together to go to Jay's to pick up salt bagels and lox. It was our Sunday morning ritual -- a great tradition. And, to this day, although if I did all the time I wouldn't fit through the door, bagels and lox is a special (very occasional) breakfast treat for me.

Fast forward to 1967. The little league that I played in, something called the Mountain Top League, was split between 8 and 9 year olds in one league and 10 through 12 year olds in the other. Being 9 still, I played in the lower league at that time. When I was 8, I had hit everything. I recall making the All-Star team and playing in the All-Star game that year. For us, the All-Star game was played halfway through the season.

When I was 9, however, the first half of the season, I couldn't hit worth a lick. I was doing something wrong and today, I have no idea what it was. Nevertheless, because our team was so bad and because each team put three players on the All-Star team, even with a Little League batting average well below the Mendoza Line (.200, for those that don't know), I made the team.

I don't recall what my dad told me, but I do remember him telling me something that did the trick. The All-Star game was on a Saturday afternoon, but due to rain earlier in the week, our team had a makeup game Saturday morning. In the makeup game, everything came together. With every swing I took, you could hear the thwack of the fat part of the bat on the ball. I went 4 for 4 (all extra base hits) in that 4 inning game (don't ask, but the league thought we could only handle 4 innings at that point).

That afternoon, we played at a field then known as Vincent's Pond (later Degnan Park, certainly not as charismatic a name to me). My dad knew that I was starting at 3rd base. He liked watching me play over there. My reflexes were pretty fast and my arm was pretty strong. On the first pitch of the game, somebody who has long since been nameless to me, ripped a ball down the third base line. I could hear my dad as I stabbed at the ball with my glove backhanded, turned and in the motion he had taught me, threw a strike to first base. Three or four more times in that game, I made plays at the hot corner and each time, I heard my dad cheer louder. But, it didn't end there. Whatever it was that he had told me about my hitting was really resonating. Three more extra-base hits on the day. My dad beamed. I did too.

My dad loved his golf. He got me into the game. And, I couldn't be happier than to say that three of my happiest moments on the golf course were with him.

The first time that I broke 100, we were together. The 18th hole was a short par 4, perhaps 320 yards, but shorter I think. It was all downhill with a walled creek running across the front edge of the green. A bogey there would give me a 99. So, playing safe was theoretically an option. The problem was that there was no real way to play safe on that hole. Over the green was trouble and hitting a second shot over the green was not going to produce a good result.

I recall hitting a good drive, slightly left of center. I was nervous. I think my dad was more nervous as I grabbed my pitching wedge to hit over the water to that rock hard green. I thought of everything he had told me, stayed firm through impact, followed through and watched that little white ball fly straight toward the pin. One hop past the hole and the backspin from hitting the ball properly took hold. The ball spun and came to rest about 8 inches left of the hole. I had a tap-in putt and ordinarily, it would have been treated as a gimme. But, to break 100, nobody was giving me that putt. Again, focusing on what he had told me, I stroked the ball into the back of the cup for a 97. I swear he was more excited than I was.

A few years later when I played more and better, I was in a real slump. I had actually started throwing clubs in anger at some of my bad shots. I hadn't played with my dad in a while. He asked me if I wanted to skip caddying and play with him that Wednesday afternoon. He made a game for us, but told me that if I threw a club, he was yanking me off the course.

I had a good feeling about that day, but it sure started out poorly. The first hole was a short par 5. I hit my drive into the heavy rough, made the stupid decision to go for the green and hit the ball into a worse place. 6 strokes later, my triple bogey 8 was a bad way to start the round.

But, I had a calming influence with me. There were no more triple bogeys that day. In fact, there were no more bogeys. For the rest of the front 9, there were nothing but pars. 39 wasn't bad, but it wasn't where I wanted to be.

As I said, though, I had a good feeling. Coming home on the back 9, there were still no bogeys, but there were 4 birdies. That made for 32 and totaled to 71 for the round, 1 under par and my first and only under par round. I was proud, I think someone else was prouder.

And, then there was March 30, 1980. I was playing golf with my dad again (my mom, too as it turns out). It was my first round of the year. And, I almost didn't play that day. At breakfast, I had been a little bit too careless with a sharp knife at breakfast. The large cut in my hand didn't look good.

And, my game was pretty bad. I had nothing but over par holes through 11. Then I birdied the 12th hole. More bogeys and then finally, I parred the 16th hole, giving me the honor on the 17th.

The 17th hole was a long par 3, about 230 yards from where it played that day. Most of the path from tee to green was over water. There was a small sand trap in front of the green. And, of all things, the whole was playing into the wind that day. My dad asked me if I was going to go for it or play safe out to the right. At the age of 22, there are no choices like that. I grabbed my 1-iron, at that time my favorite club (I must have been nuts). I stayed firm and felt the feeling that you get when you know that you have hit the ball absolutely dead on the sweet spot. The ball mark was dead on line, about 8 feet short of the hole. The foursome that had just left the green tell me that the ball bounded once and trickled into the hole for my first hole-in-one.

As happy as that made me and it still makes me, it leaves me sad as well in that my dad never had one. He came close many times, but in more than 50 years of playing and he played pretty well for most of them, he never had an ace. I would have given up mine for him to have one.

And, then there was school. I was a very good student, but I was particularly good at arithmetic. Those who know me well would tell you that even to this day that I am likely faster at it in my head than anyone that they have known. But, back then, I had an interest in and a propensity for math in general.

I know that this was in kindergarten because it was at Pleasantdale School. After my kindergarten year, West Orange redistricted and I spent the next several years at Mount Pleasant School.

In any event, I was an early reader and my favorite book was something called Facts and Figures. It was (memory tells me) roughly 200 pages of facts and data about everything that could possibly interest a young person. It was where I learned about capitals, currencies, dinosaurs, area codes (I knew all of the original 86 in North America and I thought it was really cool that I lived in the 201 code as that was the first in any numerical list), and lots of other not very important things.

I also learned about pi. Yes, pi, that strange number denoted by a Greek letter and equal to the ratio of the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. And, yes, I had somewhat of an understanding of what it actually meant. I also learned how to find the areas of 2-dimensional figures.

One rainy afternoon, this nerdy little (likely 5-year old) kid set about on a project. I started making what are known as regular polygons; that is, n-sided figures with 'radius' equal to 1 or 'diameter' equal to 2. (Today, I have no idea why I did this, but I did. In fact, I wish I still had the papers.) I started with a square and found that its area was 4. I moved to a hexagon and found that the area was about 3.46. Then on to an octagon where the area was about 3.31.

As the number of sides grew, the area got closer to pi. Yes, it's obvious now, but at the time, I didn't know why. These were polygons with angles. Circles don't have angles.

I asked my dad and he didn't know. He said he would find out for me. But, I was impatient. I asked my teacher -- my kindergarten teacher. She said she had never heard of pi. I told her she was stupid.

So, were the origins of the first parent-teacher conference that my parents got called to. They tended to be over stuff like this. Whenever they had them, though, my dad would lecture me, but not in anger. He would lecture me with pride and counsel me to treat others with more respect. And, I did, or at least I tried my best.

I know it happened more than once, but I only recall my dad spanking me once. Our house in West Orange had a backyard that all my friends knew well. We played every sport imaginable in that backyard and made up some of our own. But, when we moved in, there were lots of rocks in the backyard.

My dad was going outside to gather them and remove them and of course, I wanted to help. And, as a young boy might do, I listened to him, at least initially, when he told me to only pick up the small ones. But, as the day wore on, I picked up larger and larger ones. And, my dad told me to go back to the small ones and I did, but only temporarily and then I went back to even bigger ones than before. My dad was scared. He picked me up and spanked me and he was far more upset about it than I was.

Whenever my kids did some of the stupid things that kids will do, I thought back to the way that I was parented. Make sure that they knew that they shouldn't be doing things like that and punish them, but make sure that they knew above all that I loved them and always will.

Something that my dad instilled in me when I was very young (and I hope that even though he was stopped from doing it in his later years) was that when you make a decision to become a parent (and you may or may not realize at that time that you are making that decision), you don't get to take it back. You don't get to pick what your children will be like. You can mold them and influence them, but there will be times that they will do things that anger you. But, when you become a parent, you become a parent for life. And with that comes a set of responsibilities and one of them should be unconditional love.

I'll always love you and miss you, Dad. But, I want to cherish the good times.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Atlanta Trivia Championships

Team Trivia is a big thing in Atlanta. Every 6 months, there are city-wide championships for which the top 150 teams are eligible. This is your chance to try your luck. We don't get to use outside help (living, electronic, or otherwise), so you shouldn't either.

In rounds 1, 2, and 3, one of your questions must be a 1-pointer, 1 must be a 2-pointer and 1 must be a 5-pointer. When you get the first question, you will know the other categories, but not the specific questions.

Round 1

Banks:                            The world’s only bank that allows its ATM transactions in Latin is where?

Oscar Moments:             For what film was Jack Nicholson receiving an Academy Award when he pranced on the stage to avoid stepping on the lines on the floor?

Photographs:                  Taken in 1934, the “surgeon’s photograph” is supposedly the most famous picture of what legendary creature?

Round 2

Nobel Prize:                    Besides Jimmy Carter, who is the only person born and raised in Georgia to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Sports Lingo:                  What sporting activity is the origin of the term “second string”?

Music Honors:                In a 2002 High Times magazine reader poll, what British band was voted “the best band to listen to while stoned”?

Round 3

Reality TV Stars:             When A&E placed Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on suspension in December 2013, it was due to comments he made in an interview with what magazine?

Typing:                           What continent’s name can be typed using the keys from only one row on a standard keyboard?

US Highways:                 The US state with the most mileage of I-95 is Florida.  What state has the second most?

There were three halftime questions with 13 total answers. You get two points for each correct answer.


For 2 points each:
What are the four types of sports balls featured in the logo for Dick’s Sporting Goods?
___________________                                   ___________________
___________________                                   ___________________
According to, by the end of 2013, name the five most followed Twitter accounts that were not for an individual person?  (Three are online services, one is a musical group, and one is a news outlet.)
___________________                                   ___________________
___________________                                   ___________________
In February 1980 (for the year 1979), the Grammy Awards gave out an award – for the first and only time – for Best Disco Recording.  Gloria Gaynor won for “I Will Survive.”  Given the artists, name the other four songs nominated: Earth Wind & Fire (featuring The Emotions), Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, and Donna Summer.
___________________                                   ___________________
___________________                                   ___________________

Rounds 4, 5, and 6 are like the first half, but point values are 2, 4, and 6.

Round 4

Science:                           According to Natural Medicine Journal and, what is the heaviest element essential to human life, with an atomic weight of 126.90?

Winter Olympics:            The Besti squat, the Walley jump, and the Ina Bauer are all maneuvers in what Winter Olympic sport?

Actors:                            What 2011 People magazine Sexiest Man Alive winner was the first actual graduate of The Actors Studio to be interviewed as a guest on Inside the Actors Studio?

Round 5

Georgia Trivia:                On November 22, 2013 at 11:08 AM, Linda and Mike Weinroth became the last Georgia residents to do what, after becoming the first to do it on August 1, 1993?

Publishing:                      In 1980 what romance novel company was started by Simon & Schuster to compete with their former client, Harlequin?

The Internet:                  At The Simpson’s official website,, what object spins in the middle of the screen as an object is loading?

Round 6

TV Debuts:                     Most likely done on purpose, what sitcom was the first show broadcast on The WB network on January 11, 1995?

US Presidents:                 Which US President has/had his family’s crest tattooed on his chest?

Music Duos:                    What unusual distinction do these Hall & Oates Top-40 songs have in common: “Back Together Again,” “Possession Obsession,” and “How Does It Feel to Be Back?”

The rules and the questions for the finale are below. Note the penalties.


You do not have to answer all the answers; put down as many as you’re comfortable with.  You will receive 2 points for each correct answer but lose 3 points for each incorrect answer.  (Those left blank will not count against you.)

By city limits, name the ten most populous US cities whose names contain a double letter (e.g. Boone).
___________    ___________    ___________    ___________    ___________
___________    ___________    ___________    ___________    ___________

By paid circulation in 2013, name the top five magazines in the US whose titles include the name of a real person.
___________    ___________    ___________    ___________    ___________

In 1994 the NFL named its 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, which included five players who were still active at the time – a quarterback, a wide receiver, a defensive end, a safety, and a cornerback.  Name them.
___________    ___________    ___________    ___________    ___________

Post a comment or e-mail me if you'd like to know how you did.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Metro Atlanta Trivia Championships -- August 2013

For all those of you who don't live in the Atlanta area or those who do, but don't pay attention to trivia, it has a huge following here. Try your luck at last weekend's questions.

E-mail me at if you would like your answers "graded."

TeamTrivia Top 150 Tournament, 8/17/2013

Round 1

Royalty:                          Recently, photos of the Royal baby’s (George Alexander Louis) birth certificate surfaced.  On it, Kate’s occupation is listed as what?

Music Quotes:                 Regarding her nominations at this month’s MTV Video Music Awards, what singer tweeted, “If you vote and get us one, I promise to keep a firmer grip on the mic this time”?

Beverages:                       According to a June 2013 press release from Coca-Cola announcing the debut of Coke in Myanmar, there are only two countries where Coca-Cola is not currently sold.  Name one.

Round 2

Advertising Icons:           What advertising icon is the subject of the Tumblr account titled “Robble Robble”?

Movie Plots:                    In Erin Brockovich, what is the name of the California town with the contaminated water supply?

Sports Logos:                  According to owner Robert Kraft, the face in the current New England Patriots’ logo is a depiction of the face of what entertainer?

Round 3

Mascots:                         Named in honor of a famous athlete, what is the name of Twitter’s bird mascot?

Traditions:                      Each year on March 19, the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano.  In what month are they reputed to leave?

Authors:                         What author used the pen name Robert Galbraith in writing the 2013 crime fiction novel The Cuckoo’s Calling?


For 2 points each:
Since the creation of the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999, only five board games have been inducted.  Name them.
There have been six sports figures – individual or group – to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek in the same week.  Who are they?  You don’t have to match them to the correct years, but the years were 1973, 1976, 1984, 1994, 1996, and 1999.

Round 4

Tributes:                         What Italian’s death in Rome in 1937 was observed with two minutes of silence on the radio the next day throughout the world?

Bridges:                          The bridge that crosses the Hudson River between Hudson and Catskill is named after what fictional character?

Directors:                        Simon Wells, great-grandson of H.G. Wells, directed what 2002 film?

Round 5

Cartoons:                        In one issue of a Looney Tunes comic book, what cartoon character’s middle name was said to stand for Ethelbert?

American Politics:           Founded in 2009, the Modern Whig Party uses what type of bird as its symbol?

Science:                           In 2011 the world’s largest sperm bank announced it would no longer accept donations from men with what physically recognizable trait?

Round 6

Entertainers:                   In January 2001 what woman became the first to have a #1 album and a #1 movie simultaneously?

The Braves:                     This season, in what city did the Atlanta Braves play a regular season game for the first time in the history of the franchise?

Vegas:                             On October 18, 2000, Barbara Eden helped reopen what Las Vegas hotel/casino by crossing her arms and blinking?


You do not have to answer all the answers; put down as many as you’re comfortable with.  You will receive 2 points for each correct answer but lose 2 points for each incorrect answer.  (Those left blank will not count against you.)

The 1997 family film Air Bud features a dog who plays basketball.  Including direct-to-video releases, name the sports featured in the first four sequels to Air Bud.
______________    ______________    ______________    ______________

Since Billboard magazine debuted its first “Music Popularity Chart” in 1940 (eventually morphing into the Top 100 singles chart and Top 200 Albums chart), name the top solo artist each of the following decades, based on chart performance: 1940s, 1950s/1960s (same person for both decades), 1970s, 1980s, 1990, 2000s (2000-2009).  There is only one female.
___________________    ___________________    ___________________
                    1940s                         1950s and 1960s                        1970s
___________________    ___________________    ___________________
                    1980s                                 1990s                                2000s

Name the five US Presidents to have served as president, or “rector,” of a university.
___________    ___________    ___________    ___________    ___________

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Atlanta Trivia Championships

Team Trivia is a huge thing in Atlanta. My team was fortunate enough to qualify for the end-of-season championships and even more fortunate to come home with some money for our high placing. For those of you who think you are good at this, try answering these questions without the help of any reference materials.

E-mail me your answers and I'll let you know how you did.

1a) In the movie poster for the Simpson's Movie, the O in Simpson was represented by what object?
1b) What are the last 4 digits of the phone number of Philadelphia City Hall?
1c) What actor was put in the Boxing Hall of Fame as an observer?

2a) Of the top 10 baby girl names in the US according to the Social Security Administration in 2011, which is the only one that is also the name of a US state capital?
2b) What do the following TV characters have in common: Ray Barone, Ted DiMeo, Slap Maxwell, Oscar Madison?
2c) In 2012, 6-year old Lori Ann Madison became the youngest person ever to compete in what annual event?

3a) What 1975 movie had the following title when released in Germany: "Die Ritter der Kokosnuss" which translates to the Knights of the Coconuts?
3b) Who did Priscilla Chan marry in 2012?
3c) Who was the earliest US president who still has 1 or more grandchildren living today?

Halftime: Not counting The Avengers, name the 11 movie franchises with at least $1 billion in US box office receipts.

4a) What famous singer was in the high school choir at Erasmus Hall High School with Barbra Streisand?
4b) Who is the only person in NBA history to have won MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year?
4c) The magazine "Ahoy!" was solely dedicated to the products of what computer maker?

5a) What is the most populous US city named after a US president?
5b) What was the only year in which both a Star Wars movie and a Star Trek movie were released?
5c) Produced by the Ohio Art Company, what toy had its sales dramatically increase in 2012 after Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom mentioned it in a CNN interview?

6a) Who was the only movie critic who won a Pulitzer Prize for writing movie reviews?
6b) You have a SIM card in your cell phone. What does SIM stand for?
6c) According to the US Census Bureau, which day of the year (not counting February 29) had the fewest number of births in the 20th Century?

Final: Name the 10 states with the greatest number of hazardous waste sites. Name the 10 Div 1-A (FBS) colleges that have appeared in the most bowl games. Name the songs that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in which the first word of the title is a positive integer divisible by 2 (1 was in each of 1955, 1965, 1966, 1976, 1989, 1997 and the 6 numbers total to 176).

Monday, August 6, 2012

10 Incredible Olympians

We've all heard NBC trumpeting Michael Phelps as the greatest Olympian ever. Is he the greatest? That's a matter of opinion, and it happens to not be mine. Yes, he has been an amazing Olympian. But, consider that he competes in a sport in which there are a lot of medal opportunities. And, of his 22 medals, 18 of which have been gold, 9 have been in relays (7 of them gold). That said, that's a lot of medals, more than many of the countries in the Olympic movement have won. He still has 11 individual golds (more than anyone else) and 13 individual medals In fact, he has won more individual gold medals than any other Olympian in history and only Larysa Latynina of the former Soviet Union with 15 has won more individual medals (her 3 team gold medals brings her total to 18).

This post is not about that, however. This post is about Olympians and Olympic performances that boggle the mind. Here are my top 10, in no particular order. If you don't agree, say so. You have a right to your opinion, even if I think it's wrong.

And, as an aside, I write this from memory, so if I am forgetting your well-deserved favorite, I attribute it to my brain having aged.

  1. Felix Carbajal (Cuba) -- In 1904, Felix Carbajal, a Cuban postman begged in the streets of Havana to raise money to take a boat to the United States so that he could participate in the Olympic Marathon. The problem was that the boat took him to south Florida from where he ran, walked and hitchhiked to St. Louis to arrive just in time for the Olympic marathon. Out of money, he had not eaten for about two days when the marathon started. About halfway through the race, in the lead and starving, he came across an apple tree. He stopped to grab a few apples, ate them and developed a terrible stomach ache which caused him to stop running. After regaining his composure, he began to run again and nearly made it into the medal grouping finishing fourth, less than a minute behind third place.
  2. Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) -- Another marathoner, Bikila was the first African to win an Olympic distance race. And, he didn't just win one, he won the Olympic marathon twice, once in 1960 in Rome and again in 1964 in Tokyo. Each win was in a world record time and each win had its own remarkable side story to it. In the 1960 Olympics, Bikila vowed to show the strength and determination of the Ethiopian people and ran the 26.2 miles of the Olympic course barefoot to win easily. In 1964, Bikila wore shoes. However, just a few weeks before the Olympics, Bikila had undergone an appendectomy and had stopped training. Again, he won in world record time.
  3. Shun Fujimoto (Gymnastics) -- We hear lots about Kerri Strug and her amazing vault. And, this is not to take away from what she did. That she landed the vault that she did given the pressure she was under and the ankle injury she had suffered was truly incredible. Consider Fujimoto, however. In the team competition, during his floor exercise routine, Fujimoto fractured his kneecap. Think about that, a fractured kneecap. I couldn't walk with that, could you? He competed in not one, but two more apparatuses, the second of which was the rings. In the rings, when a gymnast dismounts, he falls from about 8 feet. In Fujimoto's case, fractured kneecap and all, he dismounted with a twisting somersault and stuck the landing. It was only after hopping off the platform that he informed his coaches and teammates of his injury. His score of 9.7 (out of 10) was enough to give Japan the gold medal.
  4. Eddie Eagan (Boxing and Bobsled) -- Eddie Eagan was an American boxer, a very good one. He was good enough, in fact, that he won the gold medal in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp in the light-heavyweight division. But, that's not particularly amazing. That gold medal has been won by two dozen or so athletes. What made Eagan amazing is that in 1932, in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic, Eagan got a gold medal in the 4-man bobsled (then called bobsleigh). He is the only person to have won gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
  5. Hubert Van Innis (Archery) -- Hubert Van Innis competed in what many consider to be an obscure sport of archery. He won gold medals in two separate Summer Olympics, those held in Paris and in Antwerp. What makes his gold medals so amazing is when they were won. You see, the Olympics were held in Paris in 1900 and in Antwerp in 1920. That's 20 years apart, and that's a long time to be at the top of your sport.
  6. Dara Torres (Swimming) -- Swimming, especially women's swimming, is viewed as a young person's sport. And, it was for Dara Torres. She medaled for the first time in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics winning the gold in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. Torres also swam in the 1988, and 1992 Olympics, skipped 1996, and then swam in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics. In 2008, she won no golds, but barely missed (by 0.01 seconds) winning the 50 meter freestyle. 24 years is a long time span. To medal 24 years apart in women's swimming is completely without precedent.
  7. Eric Heiden (Speed Skating) -- Imagine winning the 100 meter dash in the Olympic Games. Then, imagine winning the 200 meter dash. Then, imagine winning the 400 meter run, and then winning the 800 meter run, and then then the 1500 meter run. If you prefer swimming, think of it as the 50 meter freestyle as well as the 100, 200, 400, and 1500. Nobody has ever come close. Well, in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, Eric Heiden pulled off the winter equivalent. He won gold in the men's 500 meter, 1000 meter, 1500 meter, 5000 meter, and 10000 meter speed skating events. All at once, that made him the finest sprinter, middle distance-skater and long-distance skater in the world. 
  8. Al Oerter (Discus) -- Al Oerter was a very good discus thrower. He was not so good, as any Olympics were coming up that he was ever a favorite to win. In 1956, in Melbourne, he threw a personal best to win the gold medal. In 1957, he was in a horrible auto accident. At first, doctors thought he wouldn't live. Then, they were sure that he would never walk again. By 1960, he made the US Olympic team competing in Rome as the second best discus thrower in the country. Rink Babka, the world record holder was the heavy favorite in the event. After 4 (of 6) throws, Babka held a sizable lead with Oerter well back in the pack. But, Babka had noticed a flaw in Oerter's throwing technique during his fourth throw. On throw number five using Babka's advice, Oerter unleashed the winning throw. By 1964 (Tokyo), Oerter held the world record in the discus. But due to torn cartilage around his ribcage, Oerter considered dropping off the Olympic team. He decided to go, competed and won. In 1968 (Mexico City), Oerter won a fourth consecutive gold beating world record holder and fellow American Jay Silvester. At this point, Oerter retired, but in 1980, at the age of 43, he decided to make another try for the Olympic team. He finished fourth in the US trials (3rd would have made the Olympic team) and finally retired.
  9. Birgit Fischer (Canoeing) -- Canoeing is a strenuous sport. I'm not talking about going out for a leisurely paddle on your favorite lake. I'm talking about competitive canoeing. It's a remarkable exercise in overall (especially upper body) strength and cardiovascular fitness. Most don't have either at the level necessary to compete in the Olympics much past the age of 30. In 1980, at the age of 18, Fischer took home the gold medal in the 500 meter kayak singles (K1 500 if you are a hardcore enthusiast). She didn't compete in 1984 because of the eastern bloc boycott. In 1988, she again medaled in the K1 taking second place, but won the K2 (pairs) for her second gold medal. She followed this in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996) with a silver and a gold in each, and then won gold in both the K1 and K2 in Sydney (2000) at which point she retired. She was 38 years old and had completed her career as probably the best female kayaker ever. Oops, I spoke too soon. She returned for Athens in 2004 at the ripe old age (for competitive canoeing) of 42, she led the German K4 team to the gold medal. At the end of the race after her team had overtaken Hungary, only she of the four Germans had enough energy to raise her oar in celebration.
  10. Bob Beamon (Long Jump) -- 44 years later, this is still perhaps my favorite Olympic visual. The place was Mexico City. The weather was surprisingly cool and damp. The world record was 27 feet 4-3/4 inches. The Olympic record was slightly less. Nobody had ever broken the world record by more than 6 inches. He fouled on his first two qualifying jumps, so he needed a fair jump on his third and got it. He only needed one more jump. Beamon took off from near the end of the (foul) board and created a problem. For the first time, optical measuring devices had been installed in the long jumps at the Olympics. They were ready to measure a world record. But, they weren't ready to measure what happened. You see, Beamon outjumped the range of the optical device. Officials scurried to the pit with hand-held measures to analyze his jump. The result -- 29 feet, 2-1/2 inches. He had broken the previous record by nearly 2 feet. He set a record that stood for 23 years. Second place was 26 feet, 10-3/8 inches. When Beamon saw the results of his jump, he fell to his knees, hands over his face. He never again jumped 27 feet, but on that day, Bob Beamon made a jump so amazing that a new term was added to the sports lexicon; from then on, feats that were so amazing that they might never be repeated became known as Beamonesque.
So, there you have it. If it were a different day, I might have a different 10. What are yours? What do you think of mine?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

(Un)Reasonable Profits Board

Perhaps I am too conservative fiscally. Perhaps I am just too conservative. But, since this is my blog, I get to speak my piece.

Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced into the House of Representatives HR 3784, the Gas Price Spike Act of 2012. Lest he not be the only one associated with this lovely piece of legislation, he has been joined by his co-sponsors John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Filner (D-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), James Langevin (D-OH), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

I need to be fair to these representatives. Let's look at where their districts are.

  • Kucinich (West Cleveland and near western suburbs)
  • Conyers (downriver suburbs of Detroit)
  • Filner (far southern California on the borders of Mexico and Arizona)
  • Fudge (Cleveland and its near eastern suburbs)
  • Langevin (most of Rhode Island except for Providence)
  • Woolsey (area north of Oakland and most of Sonoma county)
These are pretty liberal areas, so these representatives may be doing a good job of serving their constituencies. But, that is the extent of the faint praise they will get from me.

Here is a summary of the way the bill would work if it were to become law. 
  • The President would appoint a 3-member Reasonable Profits Board (RPB), not subject to Congressional approval.
  • The RPB would determine what constitutes reasonable profits for the sale of crude oil, natural gas, or other taxable product (fuel which is the product of natural gas or crude oil). 
  • To the extent that profits on said sale exceed the reasonable amount by less than 2%, an excise tax of 50% on such unreasonable amount would be imposed.
  • To the extent that profits on said sale exceed the reasonable amount by 2%-5%, an excise tax on such unreasonable amount of 75% would be imposed. 
  • To the extent that profits on said sale exceed the reasonable amount by at least 5%, an excise tax on such unreasonable amount of 100% would be imposed.
  • These excise taxes would allow for tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles and to allow grants for mass transit.
Let's see. We have an anti-trust act which prohibits monopolies and price-fixing. It has been used when appropriate. Oil company profit margins are less than they were (in total) 30 years ago. I thought we lived in a free enterprise type society.

What comes next? Do we get a similar tax on pharmaceuticals? The companies that make them are generally judged to be pretty evil. How about cosmetic companies? They have high profit margins. 

In my opinion, this is a bad idea with a very slippery slope to go with it. 

Thankfully, this one won't pass, but I still felt the need to write about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Translation: Refundable Tax Credit = You Are Giving Money to Someone Else for Something You Probably Don't Approve of

It's one of the worst things since we forgot how to slice bread -- the refundable tax credit. And in recent years, it has been a pet trick of politicians to make an individual or group of individuals vote for them.

Before I go on my complete rant, it may be helpful to understand what a refundable tax credit is. Let's take a stepping stone approach. First, there is an income tax. This causes you, the taxpayer, to owe to the government an amount of money based on your income. Whether you like it or not, the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution permits such an income tax to be imposed and attempts to prove that the 16th Amendment was never ratified have been shot down by the US Supreme Court.

Our Tax Code ("The Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as Amended," if you care, which you probably don't) provides that there are items that get taxed (such as wages) and other items that produce offsets to that tax or credits. One such well-known credit is the deduction for contributions to a bona fide charity. That seems reasonable to me. Such charitable contributions to a BONA FIDE charity are in the public interest and giving an individual or corporation a credit of some number of cents on the dollar seems reasonable.

Now, suppose your tax liability before considering the credits is, say, $1,000. And, suppose that you paid no installments (through payroll or otherwise) on your taxes during the year. Further, suppose that your nonrefundable (normal) credits add up to $500, leaving you, tentatively, with a tax bill of $500. Finally, suppose that you qualify for 3 refundable tax credits in the amounts of $750, $1,000, and $2,500. Then, your tax bill is 0, right?

Wrong, not only do you not have to pay any tax, you get a tax refund despite the fact that you have paid nothing into the system. That's right, you paid nothing in, but you get $3,750 back. IMHO, that is not fair to all the good people who have paid into the system.

In recent years, these refundable tax credits have become really popular. You see, they have the potential to get a politician votes from two constituencies at once -- the people who get the credits and the industry being favored by the credit.

If this doesn't make sense, let's consider an example. Suppose I am running for Congress from the lovely 5th Congressional District of California (for those among you who haven't memorized California's Congressional districting map, this is essentially Napa and Sonoma counties). Further suppose that I introduce legislation for a refundable tax credit on the purchase of Napa or Sonoma produced wine. Wine drinkers will be thrilled with me. But, even more so, since wine drinkers will essentially be paying less for their product, so to will the wine producers love me.

Let's look at some of the refundable tax credits which actually have become part of the Tax Code in recent years.

First-Time Homebuyers Credit

In all fairness, this wasn't so much a credit as an interest-free loan from the government to you. If you were a first-time homebuyer in 2008 or 2009, you were entitled to a refundable tax credit for that year of 10% of the purchase price of that home, but not to exceed $7,500. But, starting in 2010, you were required to repay that 'loan' to the government in equal installments over 15 years. Of course, if adding that $500 into your tax liability left you still with no liability, you owed nothing.

Making Work Pay Credit

This was a 2009 and 2010 reduction in your tax bill of up to $400 if you were single, or married filing separately and up to $800 if you were married filing jointly. It was put in place by the 2009 stimulus bill. I didn't find it to be very stimulating. It phased out for people that the government decided didn't need it as their incomes were high enough already.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

This one is for qualified education expenses for years 2009 through 2012. If your income was less than $80,000 for individuals or $160,000 for couples, you can get a refundable tax credit of 100 percent of the first $2,000 of tuition, fees, and course materials paid during the taxable year and 25% of the next $2,000.

Health Care Premium Tax Credit

This was brought to you by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Health Care Reform, if you prefer. I'd love to explain it for you in a nutshell, but the IRS proposed regulations on the topic are 20 pages of 3-column gibberish long. let's just be glad that we have until tax season during 2015 to figure it all out.

Adoption Tax Credit

This one was part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, also known as Public Law 111-152. Under this law, adopting parent(s) can claim a credit of up to $13,170. For parents who go through traditional adoption procedures, that amount cannot come close to covering the cost of the adoption or the costs that they will incur. On the other hand, there have been well-documented stories of parents adopting children to get these credits for little if any cost. Like many other provisions, I like the intent, but not necessarily the execution.

Additional Child Tax Credit

This is one that I have never understood. Essentially, families with three or more children and who have low enough earned income are entitled to a refundable tax credit for each child in excess of two. You don't get it either?


Perhaps you are one of the people who thinks that these refiundable tax credits are a good idea. If so, then consider this in the National Taxpayer Advocate's Annual Address to Congress:
While refundable credits provide valuable benefits to the target populations, they can be tempting targets for fraud because taxpayers eligible for them may claim refunds that exceed the amount of taxes they have paid.  In 2011, the IRS’s Electronic Fraud Detection System (EFDS) flagged 1,054,704 returns on suspicion of fraud, an increase of 72 percent over 2010.  Meanwhile, the IRS’s centralized Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) received more than 226,000 identity theft-related cases, an increase of 20 percent over 2010.
That's a lot of potential fraud. I think it's time to consider whether there is a better way than these refundable tax credits.