Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Just When You Start to Get Compassionate

Last week, I went to the bank to make an innocent transaction. I stood in the teller line to make a deposit (I am old school, I still like to get an immediate receipt for my deposit having been made to my account). The branch was busier than usual. There was a woman in front of me in line, fairly nondescript as I recall, but nicely dressed.

As we got to the point in line where she approached the teller, I could hear the banter. The woman told the teller that she just wanted to see if her AFDC check had cleared. Now, AFDC was eliminated in 1996 under the welfare reform act signed by President Clinton. It stood for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Presumably, she meant her TANF check. TANF was the replacement program -- Temporary Aid for Needy Families.

This did not seem like an unusual request. Times are very tough these days. Lots of people are unemployed and many of them have been unemployed for historically long periods of time. I understand this. I have gone through periods of unemployment twice in the last seven years.

Here is where it got a bit disconcerting. While the teller was checking on her computer, the woman said to the teller, "Check out my new iPhone 4S." That's right -- she wanted to know if her welfare check had cleared and she has a brand new state-of-the-art iPhone, presumably with a data plan to go along with it.

I had just been feeling sorry for this woman. As I noted, many of us have gone through tough times recently. Many of us still are. I feel badly for those people. But, when they are on welfare and they are spending their money on things like iPhones, it certainly makes me wonder.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Better Fair Tax

Those of you who know me well know that I am a proponent of the Fair Tax, HR 25 as it has been introduced in the current Congress. In a nutshell, here is how it works:

  • Every household gets a 'prebate' equal to 23% of the cost of basic needs for a household of that size
  • Income is not taxed
  • Payroll is not taxed
  • You pay a 23% national sales tax on consumption of all new end user products
Essentially, you can tax people on either of two components, or both: productivity or consumption. Intuitively, if you tax someone on productivity, then you are telling them that working hard increases what they give to the government and decreases what they keep. I realize that's not quite right, but it feels that way. On the other hand, if you tax consumption, you are motivating people to be more productive so that they are able to consume more. That makes a lot of sense to me.

I promised you a better Fair Tax, but first I digress. Many, including some Republican presidential candidates, are espousing a flat tax. Flat taxes are regressive by nature. They place a burden on lower earners that the low-income segment of the population cannot afford to bear. And, a flat tax does not promote productivity.

However, ask an American today what the top priority for the country should be. While some will disagree, many will say that we need more American jobs. 

As I said, I like the Fair Tax. In their book on the subject, former Representative John Linder (R-GA) and radio talk show host Neal Boortz point out that CEOs of most large foreign-domiciled multinationals would move jobs and facilities to the US if the Fair Tax were implemented. [The current version of the Fair Tax is sponsored in the House by Rob Woodall (R-GA) who was formerly Mr. Linder's Chief of Staff.] Suppose we had a Fair Tax that did even a better job of promoting and developing US jobs.

Are you listening?

I haven't done the math to know what the right numbers are, but let's put the Fair Tax on a sliding scale. The technology to do this is available today. Here is how it would work (remember that my numbers are approximate as I have not vetted the math). If a product subject to the Fair Tax is manufactured entirely outside of the US (made in a foreign country with foreign components), the sales tax is 25%. If it is made entirely in the US with US components, the sales tax is 16%. For products that are partially American, there would be a sliding scale between 16% and 25%. 

This would motivate buyers to buy American which would, in turn, motivate producers to make American products. You're worried about all the jobs that have moved overseas, this would move a bunch of them back quickly.

And, again, to counter the critics, the Fair Tax is not regressive. For low income earners who buy only the necessities, they will pay no federal tax -- not income tax, not FICA tax, not sales tax. The higher earners will continue to have more disposable income, will spend more and will pay more tax. And, finally, the underground economy will be taxed. 

I'm not commenting here on the illegality of things like narcotics or prostitution, but the fact is that neither the group that peddles illegal drugs nor the group that earns in the prostitution industry currently pays their fair share of federal taxes. This would change that.

I think this truly is the better Fair Tax. Let's make it the law.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reflecting on the Occupiers

They are a new kind of movement. They call themselves the 99%. They started out by occupying Wall Street, and now, Occupy movements are springing up in every city and nearly every major college campus.

I applaud them for wanting to bring change to something that they see as being wrong. After all, we live in a country that was founded on that (and related) principle.

However, what is it that they want to change and what do they want to change it to? They seem to be against capitalism. Yet, most of them carry items routinely that you just don't see people carrying in countries that are not based on capitalism. Where else but the United States would you see the unemployed carrying the latest iPhone, a Kindle, an Eddie Bauer backpack? And, where else but the United States would you see an unemployed worker driving to a demonstration in a new BMW? Surely, this has come from capitalism, the very thing that the Occupy-ers want to see go away.

They also appear to be very communal, as compared to individual, in nature. In fact, in their occupation in Atlanta, they are not allowing outside speakers. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) made an effort this morning to speak to them, and he is a supporter of theirs. They turned him down saying that would make him look more important than the movement. And, when people within the movement speak, no applause is allowed as this would interrupt the speaker. Instead, they hold their index fingers in the air and wiggle them.


While I don't think I agree with the Occupy movement, I think they could make a positive difference. But, they need a plan. They need to identify what needs to be changed and what it needs to be changed to. And, then they need to work within the system to change it. I'm sorry. We are a country with a Constitution and we have laws. You don't get to just take up space and effect change.

Perhaps we shall see. In the meantime, I remain mystified. I just can't see the point of camping out forever to protest something, and not even present a potential solution.

Maybe I've gotten old.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When Humanity Overtakes Politics

Yesterday, I witnessed a stirring event. It happened to be at a political event, but it wasn't about the politics. Personally, I think that regardless of your politics, you will find something more important in this one.

If you are reading this, there is a reasonable chance that you know that I am the father of an autistic son. Jimmy is 26 now, and while he does have political views, the issues that matter to him are probably not the issues that matter to you, or to me. That doesn't matter.

In any event, there were four of us having a family lunch at The Olde Blind Dog in a town called Milton in north Fulton County, GA. Outside, there were people gathered, a lot of people. They were there to see Herman Cain, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Right around the time he began to speak, we went outside to hear him as well. We were there among probably 1500-2000 people (guessing, but I know that he was signing 500 books for attendees and there were plenty who were after number 500 in line, as well as the many who chose not to buy his book).

After his speech ended, we moved to a shady area around the side of the building. Mr. Cain was signing books. From where we were standing, we had a pretty good view of him, albeit from behind.

To fully understand this, consider the day. Mr. Cain was at The Olde Blind Dog from 3:00 until 4:30. He had a 6:00 commitment at Peachtree-Dekalb Airport, a good distance away. Said differently, he was on a very tight schedule.

It doesn't matter how it happened, but let me assure you that no money was involved. Mr. Cain was on his way to his car after finishing the book signings. He stopped off to speak with Jimmy. They shook hands. Herman Cain asked Jimmy if there was anything he wanted to ask him. Jimmy told him his two priorities.

During that time, there were a few things that I noticed. Herman never took his eyes of Jimmy. He never let go of his hand. He listened carefully and he responded to both points. Then he shook Jimmy's hand again, got in his car and headed to Peachtree-Dekalb.

You may love Herman Cain's politics. You may despise Herman Cain's politics. You know what, this is a free country and I support your right to have your feelings, whatever they may be. But, regardless of political leanings, I was truly impressed with the man. This was an exhibition of true human kindness that you just don't see every day.

Vote as you see fit. If you think that the President has been doing a good job, then please get to the polls next November and support his re-election. If you think that a Republican could do a better job, then show your support in the primaries and hope that you can vote for your candidate of choice in November. This is all part of what makes the United States the greatest country in the world.

But, no matter how you vote, do not disparage this man.

Do not disparage this man!

Friday, August 5, 2011

A True Friend

You never know it when they happen. I certainly didn't. I didn't know that August 21, 2004 was going to be a particularly meaningful day.

What happened? It was the first time that I was picking Lisa up for a date (we had met at the date place before then). I arrived at the door and was greeted by a ferocious almost-black creature making loud noises and bearing his oh so sharp teeth held in place by massively strong jaws. He could have torn me to bits and at the time, I think I knew that.

Upon placing my heart back in my chest, I learned that his name was Shep and his much smaller (at the time) little 'sister' was Duckie. Shep was about 7 1/2 at the time while Duckie was just a puppy. I had never had a dog in my life. I didn't know what to do, but as my relationship with Lisa progressed, I knew I would have to learn.

By Christmas (probably much earlier) of that year, Shep was no longer ferocious to me. In fact, I learned that while those jaws and those teeth could tear me to bits, they never would. He was playful and he was loyal. I found out that he and Duckie were special creatures indeed.

I don't know exactly when they became my four-legged children, but there was a time when that happened. I could say pretty much all of the same things about Duckie, but today is about Shep.

He is a rescue dog --part Doberman, part Shepherd. He suffered a severe hip injury during his first year of life. When you see him, you could always tell that it bothers him, but rarely has he shown it in his spirit. He is lovable. He adopted me as his Papa as much as I adopted him as my four-legged child. And, he is loyal.

As Shep is in what may sadly be his last days, he remains oh so loyal. Today he has trouble moving. He is suffering with a number of ailments, difficult to diagnose because his version of English has a limited vocabulary, But, there is one thing that I know for sure. If someone out there were stupid enough to threaten Lisa and me in our home during these days, they would still have to deal with Shep. He would be there for us, and while I don't know what would happen to him, he would make sure that we were safe.

Unconditional loyalty ...

Unconditional love ...

A true friend ...

You've given me 7 good years and I know the end is near, but if you can sense what I am writing, I want you to know before you leave us what you have meant to me.

I love you Shep.

Friday, July 29, 2011

10 Pleasant Wine Surprises Year to Date

I haven't been blogging much about wine lately and when I do, it's usually critical of people not branching out. We try our fair share of different wines here and I thought I would share a few that I've been happier with this year than I would have expected. So, in no particular order, here it goes.

  1. 2008 Juan Gil Jumilla. This is a $10-$15 bottle of wine depending on where and how much you buy. It's made primarily of Monastrell, the same grape that most of the world calls Mourvedre and some of the Aussies call Mataro. It drinks now and is a very flexible food wine. I give it about 90 points.
  2. 2008 Achaval Ferrer Finca Bella Vista Perdriel Malbec. If I hadn't had it at a tasting, I wouldn't be able to comment on it. This wine from grapes grown at about 3,000 feet in Argentina, may be the new standard for Malbec. It has all the characteristic malbec flavors -- violet, tobacco, garlic, raisin. The finish goes on forever, with layer upon layer and each flavor and aroma blending effortlessly into the next. Drink now through 2030, at least. Pricey in the vicinity of $100, but the 99 points that I give it may justify it.
  3. 2010 Barnett Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. At $25, this is not an inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc, but the reasons it is here are these: first, I think of Barnett as a Cabernet vineyard, not a place for white wines. Second, it's flavors were fairly unique and well-defined. The wine is clean and crisp, and only slightly citrusy on the nose. When it hits the palate, you immediately detect some ripe, juicy honeydew melon, followed by kiwi and some hints of thyme. Drink with brie or other similar cheeses, or get my wife's recipe for cold cilantro cucumber soup. 91 points.
  4. 2008 Tait The Ball Buster. I saw the name and had to own a bottle or two, especially at $15. Then, we opened a bottle on a night when we weren't expecting anything much. Wow, were we surprised. Characteristic flavors of Aussie Shiraz, but a bit less jammy. Quite chewy (stay away from it if you don't like mouth feel, but if you do, look out) and another long, layered finish. Would be great with lamb chops. 92 points. Drink now through 2019.
  5. 2009 Page Springs Cellars Vino de Familia Arizona Table Wine. Yes, Arizona. Grown on the estate in Page Springs, Arizona (near Sedona), this is a blend of grapes of many styles. There are Bordeaux grapes, Rhone grapes and Arizona grapes. It drinks young, but at $10 or so, what would you expect. It's light, fruity and very pleasant. 87 points and good memories.
  6. 2008 Andrew Will Meadow. This is a Washington winery, but I'm not sure if the grapes in this case are Washington or Oregon. In any event, it's a Pinot Blanc, fresh, fruity, crisp, and not oaky. It's in the $14 range, and is great for a summer wine, with some soft cheese. Do you have some friends who are not wine drinkers, but you want to introduce them? Well, this is a great starter wine, but it's a very good serious wine drinker wine as well. 88 points.
  7. 2006 Sawyer Petit Verdot. OK, I cheated. I had this wine at the winery well before 2011. But, this year we opened a bottle. Most people don't think of Petit Verdot as a single varietal, but more of a grape to add structure to a Meritage or other Bordeaux-style blend. I believe this wine is in the $40-$50 range. It's not cheap, but it's character is very unique. Are you a hunter? Then, kill your dinner and when you have something gamey, drink this one now, or for the next 15 years or so. 92 points.
  8. 2007 Van Duzer Pinot Noir. I had never heard of this wine. My wife liked the label. We tasted it. We liked it. We liked the price, too, at $19.99. Nicely crafted with wonderful floral and spice notes. Refined enough to drink with baked chicken or trout with lemon and butter, but powerful enough to handle beef. It's ready to drink now, and we have chosen to drink a lot of it. 89 points and a great label.
  9. 2009 Avanti Mencia. What is Mencia? I thought Avanti Mencia was a long lost car, cousin to the Studebaker Avanti. How wrong I was! So, what is it? It's dark, it's peppery. It's loaded with anise, mint, rosemary, thyme, black cherry. That's a lot for a $9 wine. To the mouth, it actually tastes like it will age, but at that price, we are not going to find out. Buy a case (<$100 with case discount) and get about 1056 points. That's 88 points per bottle.
  10. 2004 Armida Poizin Reserve Zinfandel. The bottle will frighten you. The bottom of the bottle is quite narrow and as it flares upward, you see the red skull and crossbones glazed deeply in the black bottle. Working your way up, you see that the bottle is tightly sealed in what appears to dripping blood (actually, it's bright red wax, I think). Open the bottle if you can. The aromas explode. It's plum, cherry, peppercorn, cranberry, and high-end brandy. Pour some. Chocaholic? Right up front you'll be satisfied. Like freshly picked strawberries. It won't take long till you get them. How about rhubarb pie? It will finish and finish and finish and finish. At $80, this wine is not cheap. Why is it here? It's simply the best zinfandel I have ever had. 98 points, but perhaps more as the years go by.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whiskey Foxtrot Tango: Government Now Required to Write in New Language -- English

Last year, both houses of Congress passed, and President Obama Signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010. You can read it for yourself, all three pages of it, here. Sadly, it's not written very plainly.

Under the law, beginning sometime in October (roughly coinciding with the end of the world according to the people who say that the Rapture begins in two days), the government will be required to put all new or substantially revised documents in plain written English. The requirements include these:

  • clear
  • concise
  • well-organized
  • follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience
Wow! The federal government is going to conform to this? What will be paying them for? Don't they spend virtually every waking hour writing crap that is murky, wordy, haphazard, and written for nobody on this planet? 

The law gives them an out though. It does not include regulations. So, the Feds will still have regulations with which to boggle the senses. And, over time, they have come up with some beauties.My favorite, because I am a benefits person were the retirement plan nondiscrimination regulations. To move into the technical realm for a second, they are there to regulate Internal Revenue Code Section 401(a)(4), all one sentence of it. 

When final regulations were initially released, do you know how many pages it took to regulate on sentence? Come on, take a guess. I'll make it multiple choice for you.

a. 11
b. 609
c. 1
d. 2,716
e. 84
What was your guess? Did you get it right? I'm not going to give you the answer just yet. But I will tell you that this regulation was neither clear nor concise nor well-organized, and many practitioners still don't understand it some twenty years later, so I don't think it was written for its intended audience.

Did you get the multiple choice question correct? Did you answer "b. 609"? No? You didn't believe that even our government could do that? Think again.

Perhaps better yet, there was the Pentagon brownie recipe reference in a regulation. I swear, I'm not making this stuff up. I'm an actuary, I couldn't possibly be this creative. It included these lovely terms:

  • Regulations promulgated thereunder
  • Flow rates of thermoplastics by extrusion plastometer
  • Shall be examined organoleptically (that last word means by smell touch or taste)
Whiskey Foxtrot Tango?

So, there is this requirement coming up. But, there is a problem. Violators of the law will not lose their genitalia or other equally important body parts. So, I guess the government shall continue to pollute our eyes with gibberish.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Diversify Your Wine Tastes -- You'll be Glad You Did

If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you live in the United States. If you do, and if you are a wine drinker, there is a pretty reasonable chance that when you look at a wine list in a restaurant, you go immediately to either the Chardonnay section if you like white wines, or to the Merlot section if you like red wines.

Shame on you.

They are both nice grapes, but don't you get bored sometimes. Isn't it about time you branched out a little bit. Try something different. Experience something new.

For starters, there are about a gazillion wine varietals in the world. A gazillion is a big number, or at least for the purposes of this post, I am claiming it is. In some cases, the grapes that you see listed on a bottle, while different, are really the same grape (for example, Zinfandel and Primitivo, or Mourvedre and Monastrell). But, most of them are different and have their own unique characteristics.

Here are some examples (by no means an exhaustive list), off the top of my head, with some of their common characteristic flavors or aromas. Do you know which ones you like? Which ones have you tried?

White Wine Varietals

  • Chardonnay (green apple, citrus, melon, quince, honey) ... if it has too much butter or too much oak, you lose the real flavor
  • Sauvignon Blanc (tropical fruit, mango, peach, honeysuckle, light citrus) ... well made, it should have a very clean, refreshing taste
  • Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio (Grapefruit, bigger citrus, lichee, apricot, nectarine) ... the mass produced usually have somewhat overbearing citrus, look for the ones with subtler fruit
  • Semillon (Lemongrass, lemon, key lime pie, pear, honey, smoke, cut grass, gooseberry) ... not grown much in the US, but one of the two staples of Sauternes
  • Riesling (White flowers and light fruits, white peaches, jasmine, honeysuckle, passion fruit) ... the reputation is that Riesling is a sweet wine and some rieslings are, but the combination of its natural sweetness and its minerality make it perfect with spicy foods (Thai, etc.)
  • Gewurtzraminer (Think of the baskets of potpourri that women like to adorn powder rooms with, lavender, rose petals, mango, guava, another grape that cuts through asian spices well)
  • Viognier (often a bit effervescent and refreshing, think violets, irises, and apricot marmalade)
Red Wine Varietals
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (the king of all red grapes, often big and bold, craving flavorful meats and stinky cheeses, chewy, think dark berries, tobacco, eucalyptus)
  • Shiraz/Syrah/Sirah (very different depending on where it comes from, in Australia tendency toward jammy wines with the very best having cocoa and chocolatey notes, American wines tend more toward licorice and fennel or even leather and tar, in France they are more refined with red berries and currants)
  • Pinot Noir (Spice, red berries, red and purple flowers, difficult to produce well, a classic food wine)
  • Merlot (the grape that tried to give a bad reputation to American red wine when at its worst, at its best it is a melange of red blue and black fruits and goes with most any meats)
  • Zinfandel (the American grape, pepper, spice, dark fruit, earth tones and raisins)
  • Tempranillo (the noble grape of Spain, many characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon, but typically less tannic, dark berries earth tones and leather galore)
  • Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc, one of the two genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, more often a blending grape, think black fruit, mint, graphite and dust)
  • Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais, refreshing, youthful, strawberry, raspberry and cherry)
  • Malbec (to the nose and palate a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, think blackberry, plum and chocolate)
  • Sangiovese (the king of Tuscany, nothing describes it better to me than rhubarb pie with a hint of tobacco)
  • Nebbiolo (the northern Italian grape, with chestnut, mocha, tobacco, tar, earth notes)
  • Grenache/Garnacha (earthy, meaty, peppery and spicy, take a sensory trip through a briar patch)
  • Petit Verdot (the Bordeaux grape rarely used as a single varietal that hits the mid-palate hard, perfect with wild game, earthy, yet bold, do not drink it young)
  • Mourvedre/Monastrell (the nose is gamey, but the fruit is much softer red, it's a versatile food wine young and a great blending grape for a winter wine in front of the fireplace)
  • Touriga Nacional (the key grape of vintage Port, very intense raisiny flavors, very tannic, give it time, give it time, give it time)
I'm sorry if I've left out your favorite grape, but like I said, this was all off the top of my head. 

In any event, whatever you do, try some diversity in your wine drinking, you'll thank me later.

The Gang of Six -- They Might Just Get a Following

You may have heard of the Gang of Six, six US senators with somewhat disparate backgrounds and voting records with a common goal. They all want to get the US economy back in shape. And, if there is any one thing that perhaps all Americans agree on these days, it's that the economy isn't where it needs to be.

The blame is placed virtually everywhere. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society gave us lots of social programs that surely are the reason for our current fiscal disaster. You don't believe that? Jimmy Carter's economic policy for recovery that gave us double digit inflation is surely to blame. You don't believe that either? Ronald Reagan and his Tax Reform Act of 1986, as well as trickle-down economics and deficit spending must be the curse of all economic curses? You don't think that's the reason? How about the great bailouts under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, were they the reason? Surely, you think that at least one of these contributed to the morass that we find ourselves in, and if not one of those, then find a way to blame one of our recent White House denizens. Surely, you can do it.

The Gang of Six (hereinafter, G6) wants to fix it all. That's really cool, methinks. Here is what they have going for them. There are 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans, so whatever they come up with will be bipartisan. They say that all Americans will hate some part of their plan. Perhaps that means it is good. They say that it is important that they worry about doing what is right for the country, not worrying about getting re-elected.


Let's consider what the G6 have in common. Not much. Republicans would tell you that these are 3 liberal Democrats. Democrats would tell you that these are 3 conservative Republicans.

Now, I'm going to reproduce the current G6 plan in its entirety. It should be a long read, but you can do it. It will start in the next two lines immediately following this one and end before the following paragraph.

That sure was a good read, wasn't it? A few lines of blank space. But, there are some fairly smart people among the G6. All are popular in their home states, so they may not need to worry about re-election. Maybe, they'll come out with something useful, maybe not. It can't be worse than where we are now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stems are Not on Wine Glasses to Make Them Easier to Break -- Use Them People

My wife, a wonderful person who I love to death, likes this TV show called "Brothers and Sisters." It's about a pretty dysfunctional family who used to own a California winery. Let me repeat -- they used to own a California winery!

Most of the actors and actresses on the show are pretty famous at their trade. They've done a lot of gigs. I suspect they have a lot of money. And, on the show, they are always drinking wine, sometimes talking about it to the point of mentioning vintages. These are not cheap wines that this wine family is purportedly drinking ... and they are generally drinking the wine out of relatively proper glasses.

They all hold the glass by the bowl, making sure usually to wrap their fingers around the part of the bowl that actually has wine in it. Sometimes, they even cradle the bowl. And, the wines are purported to have come from their cellar.

Let's get this straight. They spend money to keep the wines temperature controlled and then they warm the wine to inappropriate temperatures by making love to the glasses with their hands.

Stupid! Asinine! Uncouth! Despicable!

Gee, how do you think I feel about this?

And, you know, it's not just on that show. It's pervasive among the Hollywood snobs. You see them at an awards show -- most of them are nicely warming the champagne with their hands. I even saw on one show (I don't remember the show) where they were supposedly drinking 1989 Chateau D'Yquem (that is one of the great vintages of perhaps the world's finest dessert style wine). They were drinking it in Riedel Sommelier Sauternes glasses. And they were cradling the bowl!

They should be flogged. They should be incarcerated. They should be sentenced to spend hours listening to Charlie Sheen.

Important notes:

  • Stems are on wine glasses for a reason
  • Wines are served at proper temperatures for a reason
  • Not all of us can serve our wines at exactly the right temperatures, in fact most of us can't, but we try to get close
  • Don't get your wine to the right temperature and then warm it up because you think it's a glass of brandy and you need to caress the bottom of the bowl
HOLD THE GLASS BY THE STEM ... or the base

Friday, March 4, 2011

Too Much Rhetoric - The Fools on the Hill

Congress sucks!

That's right, I said it. The House Republicans are claiming $100 billion in budget cuts, but their starting point is a budget that was never passed. Their cuts from budgets that ever existed total $61 billion if enacted for a full year. The Democrats in the House retorted by saying that their proposals cut $45 billion from the budget which is roughly 3/4 of the $61 billion cut by the Republicans. ow did they get their $45 billion? They worked from the same Administration budget that was never passed.

The issue isn't about how much they cut, and how they miscalculate the amount. The issue is how close we can get to a balanced budget, and how quickly we can get to one that is balanced.

Little more than a decade ago, we had a balanced budget. Yes, we had events occur (9/11 and others) that caused increases in certain components of the spending side of the budget. But, just like you and me, when the US has a sudden unexpected expenditure that comes up, the government needs to tighten its belt elsewhere.

Ain't happening. There are too many pet budget items out there.

So, with all due respect to Messrs Lennon and McCartney, here is my ode to Congress:

Day after day,
Up on the hill,
The House with the foolish grins in sitting perfectly still
We all want them to do something
But they are a bunch of fools,
And they never give an answer,

But the fools on the hill,
See their polls going down,
And the eyes in their heads
See the world spinning round

Well on the way,
Brains in the clouds,
Millions of voices out there speaking perfectly loud
But Congress never hears them,
Or the sound they appear to make
And Congress doesn't notice

As the fools on the hill,
See their polls going down,
And the eyes in their heads
See the world spinning round

And nobody seems to like them
Their rating is ten percent
But they ignore those feelings

Cause the fools on the hill,
See their polls going down,
And the eyes in their heads
See the world spinning round

Ooh, ohh
Round and round [my apologies, I just can't do anything with those lovely lines]

And they never listen to us
They know they are just fools
They know that we don't like them

They're the fools on the hill,
With their polls going down,
And the eyes in their heads
See the world spinning round

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's Justin Bieber's Birthday

I don't know whether I learned it first because it was trending on Twitter or because somebody posted it on Facebook, but today is Justin Bieber's birthday. On Facebook, I saw this post: "My daughter and her bff are acting as if it's their bdays. Balloons, JB Cookies". That is just wrong, very wrong. But, I had to figure out what it is about him that makes people want to celebrate his birthday.

I googled "Justin Bieber lyrics" and it took me to some song called "Baby", which I have had the misfortune of hearing. It says that Justin Bieber was one of the songwriters, so I looked at the lyrics which surely would be so wonderful that it would explain why pre-pubescent girls are celebrating his birthday. Here you go:

And I was like
Baby, baby, baby, ooh
Baby, baby, baby, noo
Baby, baby, baby, ohh
I thought you'd always be mine
Baby, baby, baby, ohh
Baby, baby, baby, noo
Baby, baby, baby, ohh
I thought you'd always be mine

That's it. It's those lyrics. They summarize the meaning of life and that's why Justin Bieber's birthday is on track to become a national holiday here, even though he is Canadian.

Seriously, I understand this kid is pretty talented and even though I hear he cut his hair, I guess he's pretty cute. But, c'mon people. This is a kid whose voice may continue to change. He may turn out like Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen. And, much to the chagrin of millions of screaming tweens, he didn't even win the Grammy for best new artist (it went to Esperanza Spalding, someone who does have significant musical talent).

I guess we've been through this before. There was Elvis. There were The Beatles. And, there have been countless other favorites. But, I grew up with The Beatles, and while there was hysteria (and fainting) when they arrived in New York, there was never a celebration in my class, anyway, of Paul McCartney's birthday.

This scares me. I think it is the current sign that the apocalypse is nearing.

By the way, Justin Bieber IS more talented than Miley Cyrus.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aggression in Card Games

The other night, I couldn't sleep. So, at 3 or 4 AM, I was watching the final table from the Main Event at last year's World Series of Poker. For those of you who don't know, the Main Event is a $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold Em event. So, on any hand, you can bet as much as you like including the infamous 'all in' where you put all your chips in the pot. If somebody calls your bet and they have as many chips as you and you win, you double your stack, but if you lose your out of the event.

So, as I looked at the final table, most of the players were amateurs and of the poker pros there, they were almost all in their 20s and not among the best known players. Why is that?

I think it has to do with a combination of youthful exuberance and the fact that once you are playing with chips as compared to real money, the players with experience in big cash games are actually at a disadvantage. Consider this. At any table, the player with the biggest chip stack has a big advantage. He can be the table bully. So, on the first hand of the tournament, if you get dealt a good hand, why not go all in? If you lose, well so be it. Most people don't stick around long enough to 'cash' in the Main Event. If you happen to double up, you are now the bully, the boss, the head honcho.

Top players don't play this way. It's not a percentage bet. But the internet players who have gotten used to playing hand after hand after hand, usually in lower stakes games aren't bothered. Online, if you lose, you just find another tournament. It happens so fast.

Consider the effect of doubling up early though. When you start the event as a random player, you have about an 11% chance of cashing. That is, roughly 89% of players will lose their $10,000. The remainder will turn a profit, albeit small for most of those who cash. I don't know this, but I would hazard a guess that someone who rolls the dice, so to speak, gets lucky early on, and doubles up a few times significantly increases their chances of cashing. So, for example, if by being ultra-aggressive (some might say ultra-risky) early on, you might double your chances of cashing, or even more. Now, here's where the math gets funny.

Suppose the result of over-aggression is that at the end of the first day of play, either you have doubled your chances of cashing or been eliminated. Let's also defined 2 possible outcomes, either you cash, "C", or you lose, "L". Initially, your chances of C were 11% and that has doubled to 22%. Initially, your chances of L were 89% and that has increased by only about 1/8 to 100%. Frankly, I like that play, but the top pros are too conditioned to make the same play they would make in a cash game. I would never play against them for real money, but in tournament conditions, I think their edge is diminished significantly.

I could take this analysis to duplicate bridge as well, especially head-to-head team games. Suppose my partner and I are playing against two of the best players in the world, and similarly at the other table, our poor teammates are playing against another top pair. If we play things straight, we may rate to lose 95% of the time and win 5% of the time. Suppose we go wild instead. We interfere in their auctions ultra-aggressively and take lots of chances.

Frankly, we will probably now lose by an extremely large margin most of the time. But, if we lose, we don't care what the margin is. If you lose in a knockout, you are out. So, suppose when we played things straight, in our 19 losses out of 20, we lost on average by perhaps 50 IMPs. Now, by taking a walk on the wild side, when we are losing, it is by 125 IMPs on average. But, we are now winning 2 matches out of 20. Then we have increased our winning percentage by 100% (2 divided by 1 minus 100%), and the way we got there was by losing by more when we lose.

Bottom line: in the right circumstances, stupid looking aggression can pay off. If the worst downside is humiliation, but the upside makes sense, go for it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Statistics Inflation

I read a headline this morning: "Rondo triple-double leads Celtics past Heat." Rajon Rondo had a nice game. He had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. You know what I say? Big deal!

Look back to the 1961-62 NBA season. I realize that was a long time ago, and that the game has changed significantly. Here were Oscar Robertson's key statistics for the season: he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game for the entire season. With those averages right now, he would be leading the league in scoring (Kevin Durant leads at 29.1 per game), fifth in rebounding (Kevin Love leads at 15.5), and second in assists (Rondo leads with 12.3).

But, we have become so enamored with statistics that don't really matter that all of these cute little thresholds have been devised. Triple double! When the Big O averaged a triple double, the term hadn't been invented. Because of that, players didn't strive for ten of each, they just played to win.

Who leads the NBA in free throw percentage in home games played on Tuesdays against teams from the Western Conference? Thankfully, I have no idea, but I'm sure that some bored person could find the answer, and if he or she did, then some player would use that come contract negotiation time.

Everyone is enamored with these statistics. And, it's the thresholds that get all the publicity. Here's a really good example that I got from the book, Scorecaster. No player in recorded major league baseball history entering his last at bat of the season with a .299 batting average has ever drawn a walk. The number of players who have finished a season with 30 home runs exceeds the number who have finished with 29 by a statistically significant margin. Likewise, the number who have finished with between 100 and 105 RBIs exceeds the number who have finished with between 95 and 99 by a significant margin.

And, while I haven't seen it in that book anywhere, I would bet you that not too many NBA players finish a game with Triple 9s (points, rebounds, and assists), or even with double digits in two of those categories and nine in the third. Have you ever seen a player in a tight game take a really stupid shot to try to score their 50th point when a pass to a wide-open teammate for a layup was the right play? I have. Have you seen an NFL coach keep his star QB in the game to throw a few more passes in a blowout so that he can get to 400 yards passing? I have. And, in that circumstance, I've even seen the star QB get injured and miss a game or two with that injury, all in search of a useless holy grail. 385 yard passing games are not a great negotiation tool come contract time, but 400 yard games are.

Players should be measured by what they do for their team, not what they do for themselves. But, a great defensive small forward doesn't put fans in the seats. A 30 point per game scorer does.

I just hope that someday when future sports historians are writing down the greats of the games that they remember the players who made their teams winners not the players who made their contracts bigger.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Americans and Their Wine Habits

When I was a kid, adults who wanted to look distinguished drank scotch. Scotch made you look really cool, and if you were a man, you had a cigar with your scotch. Now, I don't want to put a damper on scotch because a good scotch can be very enjoyable, but this post is about wine.

Tastes of Americans gravitated with the generations. Gradually, scotch gave way to vodka, and then to wine. And, that's ok. There are lots of incredible wines out there in all price ranges. So far, I'm pretty agreeable, huh? If you think I'm always this agreeable, then you don't know John.

So, what's the catch? It's what Americans drink. As a group, we drink overly oaked Chardonnay and not great Merlot (read that to mean alcoholic blueberry juice). Chardonnay is a very nice grape. Oh, and we also drink white zinfandel which I refuse to concede is actually a wine (I think it's a poison). The Burgundians have done wonders with it creating such wonders ranging from Pouilly Fuisse to Montrachet. There are some great American chardonnays as well, but most are not cheap. The cheaper ones, as a group, are very mediocre. They are either overly buttery or overly oaked, and it's intentional.

What is the #1 selling wine in the United States? I can't vouch for my research on this one, but it tells me that the best-selling producer in US restaurants is Beringer and the best-selling varietal by a producer is Kendall-Jackson chardonnay.

Most wines are aged in oak -- French oak, American oak, Hungarian oak to name a few. And, among them, there is new oak, used oak (usually being used for a second time), and neutral oak (being used for a third time or more). Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson found a better way to impart that oak flavor -- ok, it's not better, but it sure makes more money -- instead of using oak barrels, he uses oak chips. And, people love it ... and I don't know why.

And, I go back to where I was -- chardonnay and merlot. As I said, great chardonnay is largely the province of the Burgundians, while merlot is one of the five legendary red grapes of Bourdeaux (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot being the other four). So, some really fantastic things can be done with both of them.

But, too many Americans don't get it yet, and we drink the bottle with the fun name or the cute label. It's time to branch out. Drink the well-made wines, and drink some different varietals or some blends. Drink wines that show off the terroirs from which they come (terroir is a fancy word for the land and terrain).

So, here is my challenge to Americans who are exploring wine. Smell your wines, taste your wines, chew your wines. Try at least two wines made from each of these grapes (by no means an exhaustive list), and make sure they are from different regions so that you get different styles. Then, figure out what you like.

White grapes

  • Riesling
  • Gewurtzraminer
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Semillon
  • Pinot gris (also known as pinot grigio in Italy)
  • Pinot blanc
  • Albarino (albarinho in Portugal)
  • Roussanne
  • Marsanne
  • Chardonnay (intentionally put in very small font
Red grapes
  • Cabernet sauvignon
  • Cabernet franc
  • Merlot
  • Malbec
  • Petit verdot
  • Pinot noir
  • Syrah (called shiraz in Australia)
  • Petit Syrah
  • Tempranillo (sometimes known as tinto fino)
  • Mourvedre (known as monastrell in Spain)
  • Zinfandel
  • Grenache (known as garnacha in Spain)
  • Sangiovese
  • Barbera
  • Gamay
Ok, get the picture. You're going to be branching out. Don't forget, smell your wines, sip your wines, chew your wines, and above all, enjoy your wines ... and let me know what you think.

Prayer in Public Schools

According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/february_2011/65_of_americans_favor_prayer_in_public_schools , 65% of adult Americans favor prayer in public schools.


Ok, forget about separation of church and state. I have heard all the arguments there. The US Constitution doesn't have a separation clause, it has an Establishment Clause that prohibits establishment of one religion [presumably over another or all others]. The courts have interpreted this a bit more broadly to generally preclude the spending of taxpayer dollars where they judge there to not be a separation of church and state. Both sides point to the intent of the founding fathers ... as if they know.

Look! I can see into the past and the future as well as the next person (since this is my blog, I can do it better here). And, you know what? I have no idea what was going through Thomas Jefferson's (or whomever else may have written it) mind when he drafted the Establishment Clause.

Let me repeat: I don't know exactly what Thomas Jefferson was thinking. Neither does Glenn Beck. Madalyn Murray O'Hair http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madalyn_Murray_O'Hair didn't either.

Here's what I do know. Too many American children need to be praying in school because they don't have a clue what is going on in school. But, there's the rub. They shouldn't be. If they spend, say, 7 hours per day in school and sleep 8 hours (I doubt that most of them manage that), that gives them 9 hours per weekday and 32 hours per weekend for a total of 77 hours per week to pray. That's a lot of prayer. What they need is more time to be learning so that they don't have to pray for good grades.

I have a strong opinion on the legality of this one, but that's beside the point here. The point is that school hours are dear. Our students need them for education. Perhaps they should be giving up video game time to pray instead.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Curriculum in the Schools

OK, I admit it. I am eligible to join AARP. In some circles, that makes me old. In other circles, that makes me wise. I prefer the latter, but you can decide for yourself.

What's up with curricula in the public schools. It used to be important to learn your reading and writing and 'rithmetic. Now, it doesn't seem to matter. Sometimes, when I look at resumes, this becomes obvious. When I look at business correspondence, it becomes more obvious. And, finally, when I see some of the math done by otherwise intelligent, obvious has reached a whole new level.

But, we debate on what other, obviously far more important things, should be taught in school. In many parts of the country, the politicians want to make sure that the educators enforce that evolution is just a theory. C'mon people. In 1859, Charles Darwin wrote "The Origin of the Species", outlining his Theory of Evolution. Yes, it is still just a theory, and it always will be. But, more than 150 years later, there is not one scintilla of evidence to disprove this theory, and trust me, people have tried.

Then, there is this crap about integrated learning. In this debacle, a not atypical math assignment asks a student to research a math topic and write an essay on it. Tell me, how does this serve a student.

Even when I think back to my days in school (yes, it was after the invention of the light bulb), we learned a lot of stuff that had little, if any, value when we could have been learning more important things. I applaud, for example, Vasco da Gama for being the first man (actually everyone else on his vessel was probably tied with him for this honr, but I never learned their names) to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. I think that learning this once was probably sufficient, but we covered it in every grade of elementary school. On the other hand, we never made it as far as the end of World War II in US History.

Worse yet, in this country, I would posit that the US Constitution is and has been as important a written document as about anything else out there. In 12 years of schooling before college, we barely covered it. I think we learned that there are three branches of government and we knew their names. We learned that there were a bunch of amendments and that the first 10, when taken together, were called the Bill of Rights. All the rest of that stuff, we skipped over it for the most part.

This is ludicrous. Schools need to go back to the basics. You want your kids to learn about your religion? Teach them at home. You want your kids to learn about the explorers (beyond the basics)? Buy them a book, or give them a link to a good website. You want them to learn about pop culture? They can't avoid it.

Let's get back to the basics. In my world, here is the really important core of the curriculum:

  • Math, out the wazoo. There is no reason that good students cannot be in calculus by 9th or 10th grade. Yes, I know we don't have enough teachers who can teach at this level yet, but we should. But, if we spent more time on math, average and better students would be learning algebra in 5th and 6th grades, and the rest would follow naturally.
  • Computers. Everything we can teach our kids about them. They are now, and without them, our students are lost.
  • Civics. Yes, let's teach them about the US Constitution.
  • Reading and writing, including grammar ... and more grammar ... and spelling ... and more spelling.
  • Culture, so that they can have more diverse discussions.
  • Foreign languages, so that we are not the only country in the world with a bunch of mono-linguistic oafs.
OK, I've probably pissed off enough people by now. If you are one of them, let me hear it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Used to Be My Ears Really Hurt Today

Did you watch Super Bowl XLV yesterday? Did you see the halftime mess?

The average person in attendance at the Super Bowl is probably post-adolescent, or believe it or not, even older than that. How anyone beyond the age of 14 could have possibly liked that debacle between halves is beyond me. That they brought Slash in to wail on his guitar on "Sweet Child O' Mine" was a disgraceful attempt to make the 30-to-50-somethings feel like they belonged. So, they tried a rock anthem, but Fergie is not a rock singer.

Who are they trying to kid? Christina Aguilera botches her own stylized version of the national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner was never intended to be sung with runs. In fact, though, it has lyrics and they were not intended to be changed.

Back to the halftime show. This is football. Why do we need to have a politically charged song in "Where is the Love"? And, if they have to sing that song, why can't they sing it instead of screeching it? Along with everything else they did, it was just flat out bad.

You want the good news? They didn't get paid a cent. The NFL and promoters paid the travel expenses for the Peas and their entourage, but their real pay was their opportunity to shine (oh, excuse me, it was the gaudy dancers who were shining).

In the early Super Bowls, the halftime entertainment was typically a college marching band. The band from Grambling State (LA) University had the honor of appearing more than any other. You know what? That band was good. And, they took incredible pride in their performances. They nailed them.

This year, the halftime mess was a travesty. If you disagree, it's my blog, so you are clearly wrong, but I'd like to hear from you anyway.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl MVP

It's Super Bowl Sunday, or should I say it's the day of the Big Game. Before I rant about the game's MVP, the NFL needs to get a life. They need to stop suing people who use the term Super Bowl in advertising. Is anybody going to a bar to watch The Big Game? Is anybody going to a Big Game Party? Of course not, they're going to see the Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLV.

You know, there was a business a few years ago that they made change their name. Don't quote me on the type of business, but I think it was a bowling alley that had been called Super Bowl since the 1950s. But they didn't trademark the name and the NFL did.

Back to the MVP. It's probably going to be a QB or a RB without an outside chance of a WR. Thus far, it's been a QB in 22 of 44. There have been 7 RBs and 6 WRs. There have been 2 defensive ends, 2 linebackers, 2 safeties, a cornerback, a defensive tackle, and a kick returner. If you are counting, that adds up to 45, because SB XII had co-MVPs, defensive lineman from the Cowboys.

Some of these are ridiculous. Timmy Smith, a nobody ever heard of him running back broke the SB record with nearly 200 yards rushing in SB XXVI, but Mark Rypien was the MVP. For what, handing the ball off to Timmy Smith? If you're counting, Rypien was 18 for 33. That's less than 55%. Who did he pay off?

Super Bowl XXXVI -- Tom Brady goes 16 for 27 for 145 measly yards, but is somehow the MVP. If he was the most valuable player in that game, then they all must have sucked.

I could go on, but it's almost kickoff time. Go Giants! Oops, they forgot to make the playoffs this year.

Interesting Radio Commentary

I heard some commentary on the radio Friday that was certainly not mainstream. The gist of it was that drugs should be legalized in the United States. We're not just talking marijuana here, we're talking all drugs -- heroin, hallucinogens, crack cocaine, methamphetamine.

The commentator's rationale included the following:

  • Drug trade is controlled by gangs and cartels. If you make this stuff legal, they will no longer control it, and with that lack of control will come a decrease in gang violence and a decrease in violent crime.
  • If you legalize these products, they will become less expensive, but subject to taxes, such as sales taxes. That combination is probably good for the economy.
  • If they were legal, they would be more likely packaged and labeled. Labels tell you what's in the package, and in our highly regulated society, packages come with warnings.
  • According to this particular commentator, if you are then stupid enough to take the more dangerous among the drugs, then you deserve what is coming to you. As he says, this would do a good job of making the existing gene pool stronger.
I can't tell you that I agree with every word that came out of his mouth on this topic, but there is certainly more than a grain of truth. What do you think?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wine Prices

Lisa (my wife if you didn't know) went to a few Arizona wineries this week. One of them, Javelina Leap, was a return visit, as we had been there in the fall of 2008. The others were Oak Creek Vineyards and Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars.

One of the appeals of Javelina Leap the last time we were there was that the wine was very drinkable and the prices were moderate. Now, they are selling Cabernet and Zinfandel for $75 per bottle (that's a normal sized bottle). For $75, I can get a very good Napa or Sonoma or Washington Cabernet. They will improve with age over 5 to as much as 25 years. I can also get one of the great Zinfandels for this price.

This Cabernet and this Zinfandel are not that good. They are meant to drink now or soon, and they remain drinkable. We have probably made our last visit to Javelina Leap.

Oak Creek Vineyards was amusing. As I was going to be making a long drive, I planned to spit my wine (a common practice when wine tasting, believe it or not). For context, the outdoor temperature was about 20 degrees ... Fahrenheit. They gave me a little plastic spit cup and said I could spit in it ... as long as I went outside to do my spitting. Their wines were bad. These were not 90 point wines, or 80 point wines, and in fact, some of them were not 70 point wines. They were BAD. And, still most were priced over $30. PYECHHH! (You can look it up, I swear that's a word.)

Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars was different. The average price of a bottle of wine there is $22. Some are less expensive. If you buy 6 bottles of any of their wine, they will give you a bottle of their Syrah ($24 retail) for $1. And, their wines are structured and balanced. They blend grapes to create their own version of a Rhone style. Tasting (and spitting without going out into the cold) was a pleasure there. They grow about a dozen varietals on their 130 acres and take care to produce well-made, appropriately priced wines.

I salute Page Springs, and think the other two need to take a lesson.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Excessive Celebration in Sports

The sarcastic among the pundits like to refer to the NFL as the No Fun League instead of the National Football League. I guess that's because the players aren't allowed to have enough fun. Call me boring, call me old school, call me whatever you like, but they and other pro athletes are having a lot of fun. They are playing games and making millions of dollars, sometimes without being that kind of fantastic at their sports. To me, that would be fun enough.

So, I watch a wide receiver make a fairly routine catch for a 12-yard gain and a first down. And, he struts all over the field. Hasn't he just done what he is getting paid for? Or, is he the one who is right and in fact, when I help out a client, I should be doing chest bumps with my nearest colleague? I don't think so. That is what I get paid for. Don't get me wrong, it's fine to show some emotion, but this has gone way too far. To a large extent, I blame ESPN the most , and the networks that carry the games to a slightly lesser extent. They show these stupid celebrations over and over again. So, the players really believe, in my opinion, that this is what everybody wants to see.

Don't get me wrong. When B.J. Raji (all 338 pounds of him) ran back an interception for a touchdown a week ago, that was different. While interceptions are part of the game he plays, that was probably a once in a career thing for him. It was unexpected ... to him and to everyone else in the stadium and out in TV land. He deserved some celebratory moments.

But, when you do exactly what it is that you are getting paid for, just treat it as part of your job. I never saw Walter Payton practicing Zumba after he scored a touchdown (OK, there was no Zumba then). Johnny Unitas never shook his booty in an opponent's face. Alan Page didn't do a dance over a fallen quarterback. To players like this, being great at what they did and contributing to wins was enough. And, they didn't get paid anywhere near as much.

Obviously, more people than not disagree with me. But, it's my blog, so here I am correct, until you convince me otherwise. Disagree? Tell me so. Convince me. But, if you think that's easy, You Don't Know John.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Don't They Teach Grammar in School in the 21st Century

Look up the word 'myself' in a dictionary. I looked it up online. I learned that this word is used both as a reflexive pronoun or in place of 'me' for intensity.


Nowhere does it say that using the word myself for no reason other than to attempt to sound smart and to really sound stupid is appropriate. Are you confused? Read on.

I've received many e-mails that end with this sentence: If you have any questions, call myself. Why oh why ... doesn't call me do the trick. Blondie even did a song about it in the late 70s or early 80s. You remember:
Color me your color baby, color me your car. Color me your color darling, I know who you are. Come up off your color chart, I know where you're coming from. Call me on the line. Call me call me any time. Call me, oh my love. When you're ready we can share the wine, call me.
It doesn't say call myself.

While I'm at it, it's time to dump on the talking heads on the over-the-air and cable networks. They love to invent words. They love to make verbs out of nouns and then turn around and make nouns out of the verbs that they made out of nouns.

Example: Radical has become a noun (some might argue, but a person who displays radical tendencies is often referred to as a radical). Now, radicalize has become a verb. Come on people, radicalize is not a word. And, to make it worse, the act of radicalizing someone has become radicalization.

This is as bad as the duo credited to none other than Al Gore in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary. He is credited with having coined the verb (ouch, it's not a verb, it never was a verb, and it never should be a verb, but the OED says it's a verb) 'incentivize', and it's even uglier cousin, the non-noun, 'incentivization'. What's the matter, is motivate no longer a legitimate word? Is providing an incentive to cumbersome?

And, then there is one of my other favorites -- the use of impact as a verb. Look up the etymology. Impact comes from the same root as incite. It implies a physical collision whereas affect (effect is a noun) does not imply a physical collision.

There are many more of these horrendous uses of words that I could come up with, but that's enough for today's rant.

You think I'm too stuffy here, comment. You think I'm wrong, comment. It's my blog and my turn to rant, and if you don't believe it, You Don't Know John.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Every Child Left Behind

It was one of the crowning achievements of the administration of Bush 43 -- No Child Left Behind. It was the revolutionary law that was to hold teachers accountable for their students. Schools were to be held accountable.

But, there was a problem. It didn't work.

Students are now judged largely on standardized tests. So are their schools, and in some cases, so are their teachers. So, what happens? Many teachers are afraid to teach useful stuff. it's much easier to teach to the standardized tests, so that the students will look like they are succeeding.

What happens? The students learn how to score well on standardized tests. They don't learn problem-solving skills. They don't learn to read ... to really read. They don't learn to write proper English. Their math skills are horrible. Sure, they can use a calculator or computer, but they have no idea how to assess if the answer that is coming out is correct.

I shouldn't generalize this to all schools, all teachers, all students. But there are far too many. President George W. Bush was correct. We needed (and still need) education reform. He tried. I give him credit for that. And, he did place a newfound focus on education. It's a first step, but perhaps we need to take at least half a step back before we take a step forward.

Tell me I'm wrong. Comment. Berate me. I like a good argument, but as I said in an earlier post, of course, my opinions are correct. Or, at least they are until you convince me otherwise. And, you know what, if you do convince me otherwise, I'll be grateful.

I Have Opinions on Sports - Tennis This Time

I have opinions on sports. So does everyone else. The difference, of course, is that my opinions are closer to being facts. Oh, you think yours are, too?

Since a major tennis tournament is in progress, I am going to get controversial about tennis, first. I hear all this stuff about Roger Federer being the greatest player of all time. I take exception. Roger Federer may (or may not) be the greatest male singles player of all time. He has an excellent serve, one of the great forehands in history, an outstanding backhand, and a good net game when he uses it.

Roger Federer has never won a Grand Slam. Rod Laver won 2 of them, 7 years apart. He won one in 1962 as an amateur. Then, he turned pro and wasn't eligible for the Grand Slam events from 1963 through 1968. Then, he won the Grand Slam as a pro in 1969. He won 11 major singles titles and 8 major doubles titles despite being in eligible for 6 years in his prime. He was arguably the #1 player in the world every year from 1961 through 1971. That's 11 straight years. He won on grass, he won on clay, and although there were no Grand Slam hard court events at the time, he won on hard courts. He had perhaps the best forehand in his era, one of the best backhands, and probably the best serve and the best net game.

Today, they play with different equipment, they have tour trainers, the players are pampered. I know that we really have no way of comparing, so all we can do is look at dominance in their own eras. For my money, The Rocket was the best ever.

You disagree? Then, comment!

My Second Blog

My other blog at http://johnhlowell.blogspot.com is for business. There I blog about exciting stuff like benefits and compensation, and other HR, Finance, and Risk issues. None of that is going to happen here.

Here I am going to be opinionated. I am going to blog about outside interests, frustrations, pet peeves, misconceptions, and anything else that I feel like.

I hope you'll enjoy.