Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Teach your children well, so they won't go through their parents' hell: A financial primer for kids

It's times like these when we can learn a lot from "Gilligan's Island," not only about resourcefulness but also about how to stay out of financial trouble.

How is that, you ask? Hark ye back to the castaways' musical version of Hamlet, where the Skipper, playing Polonius, sang (to the tune of the "Toreador Song" from "Carmen"):

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
Do not forget: Stay out of debt.
Think twice, and take this good advice from me,
Guard that old solvency.
There’s just one other thing you ought to do,
To thine own self be true.

Following are some additional tips to share with your children, to help keep them out of debt. (Grownups could also profit from them.)

* Do not spend more than you make or have.

* Do not count your money -- or spend it -- until it is actually in your bank (or brokerage or money market) account.

* Do not borrow money unless you are sure you can pay it back, with interest.

* Do not borrow more than you absolutely need, if you have to borrow it at all.

* If or when you get a credit card, pay off your balance in full each month.

* If you buy a house, make sure you can put down at least 10 percent of the purchase price and earn or have three times the monthly mortgage payment. If you can't do/afford that, rent.

* Make sure you have enough money saved so if or when something bad happens (you lose your job or can't work), you will be okay for at least six months financially -- or longer, like eight to 12 months, if you are supporting a spouse and/or children.

* Remember those less fortunate and give to charity. It doesn't have to be much, especially when your children are young, but it's a great habit to start early.

I am sure there are many other good tips. And if you would like to share your common sense financial tips for staying out of trouble, feel free to do so in a comment. These are just the ones I recently shared with my daughter after explaining the current market meltdown (though the market rebounded today), what a mortgage is and why so many people are in trouble because of some bad ones, and the tight credit market we are experiencing. Quite a lot for a 10-year-old to absorb -- even for us reasonably financially savvy fortysomethings.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Where was the bailout plan for the Mets?!

Why is Mr. Met sad? Because the Mets SUCK! They blew it. Once again, they blew their divisional lead in the last 17 games of the season -- and lost, once again, to the Florida Marlins, a bunch of FISH!, blowing what was left of their chances to make it to the National League Playoffs. But no. Done. Over. Last game at Shea Stadium. Ever. No playoffs. Feh.

Oliver Perez?! You call that a bailout plan? Joe Smith? Puh-lease. Stokes, Schoeneweis, Ayala, Feliciano? What a bunch of wusses. We needed a pitcher, not a bunch of belly-itchers.

Hey, I saw Tom Seaver at Shea the other day. Why didn't Jerry Manuel have Seaver pitch one last game? I bet the old boy still has a few good changeups and knuckle balls. Or what about Ron Darling? He looks to be in OK shape. Heck, my 10-year-old nephew could have probably pitched a better game than these supposed "relievers" and "closers" the Mets currently have.

You know how I spell relief? Sure as hell ain't S-M-I-T-H. Try R-O-L-A-I-D-S -- and make it the family size pack.

I say Jerry Manuel should have started Johan Santana, screw no days rest. Just PATHETIC. And I type this as a Mets fan from way back (though not since their founding, as I wasn't born then, but the post-Seaver 1970s and pre-1986 World Series Mets). Even the Mets usually reliable hitting just wasn't there today.

So now, as a result of some bad investments and trades, hundreds of thousands of Mets fans are suffering around the world, and there is no amount of money that can repair the damage or restore us to our prior glory.

Maybe if the other Major League Baseball teams had acted in time and sent the Mets some relief pitchers this disaster could have been averted. But now, what's done is done. And we're just going to have to rebuild in the off-season and wait until next year. In the mean time, Go Cubbies!

And in totally unrelated news... For those of you who did not see Tina Fey once again portray GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin being interviewed by "Katie Couric" last night on Saturday Night Live, check out my newly updated blog post, "Tina Fey for VP," which features the video clip.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's debatable

Here is my takeaway from last night's presidential debate: we're screwed.

It wasn't that Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) or Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) were awful. I thought they both did an okay job. But that is precisely the problem. Okay is just not good enough, not for me, not with what's going on here in the United States and abroad right now.

I was really hoping that last night one of the senators running for president would get me really excited and/or make me feel really confident that the country would be in really good hands come January 2009. But frankly, I don't know if anyone could do that at this point, not with a $580 billion (and counting) war going on, a $700 billion bailout looming over us, and trillions of dollars in debt. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (yes, I am shocked as you are), as you know, you have to go to vote for the presidential candidates you have, not the presidential candidates you want.

But the candidates' answers to moderator Jim Lehrer's question (which I am paraphrasing) about what each candidate would cut or delay as a result of the $700 billion (or however much it winds up being) bailout just left me cold, or at best lukewarm.

On the bailout and all the other "lead" questions, I felt that Obama was more articulate and thoughtful in his answers -- and showed he had done his homework and came prepared for the debate. I also admired his ability to keep his cool when attacked by McCain (or else he really is a Vulcan, though I did see him smile occasionally) and not get flustered or obviously irritated.

McCain on the other hand, while not as articulate (check the transcript), was far more engaging, even though what he was saying did not always make sense or was something I agreed with. But the way McCain spoke, as well as his body language, showed caring and passion, which I think a lot of American people are looking for and probably need right now. Though McCain's obvious irritation (the constant smirking) really, really irritated me. (Also, was it me or did McCain look like the whitest guy you have ever seen, like Ultrabrite white?)

The bottom line is: If you came into the debate supporting or leaning towards McCain, you left that debate still a McCain supporter -- and will no doubt claim he showed that Obama. If you came into the debate supporting or leaning towards Obama, you likewise probably turned off the TV still an Obama supporter -- and will no doubt state, when or if asked, that Obama clearly had the edge. So let's just call it a wash. I don't think this debate was, as the pundits like to say, a "game changer."

Btw, if you missed last night's debate or would like to watch it again, go to http://www.mydebates.org/, a collaboration between MySpace.com and the Commission on Presidential Debates. And remember, the vice-presidential debate takes place on Thursday, October 2, at Washington University in St. Louis, and will be moderated by Gwen Ifill, and the next presidential debate is on October 7, and will be moderated by Tom Brokaw.

As for me, I am crawling back into bed and pulling the covers up over my head.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Everything you ever wanted to know about tonight's presidential debate (but were afraid to ask): a brief Q and A

Q: I heard John McCain has agreed to participate in tonight's presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi. Does this mean that the financial crisis has been resolved and a bailout plan agreed upon?

A: Financial crisis? What financial crisis? The fundamentals of our economy are strong! Oops. That was last week. Today's answer is "no." But the McCain camp acknowledged significant progress had been made on the bailout plan -- since McCain left the Capitol.

Q: Who is moderating tonight's debate?

A: The McCain campaign -- I mean, Jim Lehrer, the executive editor and anchor of PBS's NewsHour.

Q: What is the focus of tonight's debate?

A: How many times McCain can contradict or reverse himself -- I mean, foreign policy and national security, though moderator Jim Lehrer has said he is free to ask questions about the current financial market/mortgage crisis.

Q: Do you think a lot of people will be watching tonight's debate?

A: Depends on how many baseball and college football games get rained out. But I will go out on a limb here and say "a lot."

Q: What does Barack Obama have to do in order to "win" tonight's debate and convince working class and the wealthiest Americans that they should vote for him?

A: Change his skin color -- or perhaps have a pastor from the Wasilla Assembly of God Church perform a blessing over him beforehand. Seriously? (Though actually, I was being serious. Just ask Former-Tennessee-Congressman-Couldn't-Get-Elected-as-Senator Harold Ford about the skin color thing.) Okay, seriously, Obama needs to keep saying what he's been saying but say it with some emotion or "fire."

Q: Does tonight's debate even matter?

A: Probably not, according to at least one political scientist who's researched the subject. But it could be entertaining and informative nonetheless.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for how to make tonight's debate more entertaining?

A: Just in time (before the liquor stores close), I received this suggestion from blog reader "Lietzy": "I think I am going to play a drinking game during the debate -- and drink every time McCain says 'my friends.' That will ensure that I will be good and wasted by the time it is mercifully over." Excellent advice, Lietzy.

Got a question re tonight's presidential debate? Post it as a comment here and I will do my best to answer it.

NEW Q: Blog reader Dave S. asks, What time is tonight's debate?

A: Good question! It begins at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, Dave. And *bonus answer* you can catch it on all three networks as well as on FOX, CNN, and MSNBC.

ANOTHER NEW Q: Blog reader TommyMac71 asks, "If I cannot watch the debate... from which media source [can] I get a reliable recap?"

A: Much as you would like me to say "The Daily Show," Tommy, it won't be on until Monday night, though I am sure Jon Stewart will have something (many somethings) to say. In the meantime, if you wish to catch a replay of the debate, for those of you outside the U.S., CNN will be replaying the debate at 9 a.m. GMT Saturday. And no matter where you are, you can catch the debate on www.mydebates.org, a collaboration between MySpace.com and the Commission on Presidential Debates, both as the debate is airing and afterwards for several days.

Shocking new campaign allegation: Barack Obama is a Vulcan!

At first, I didn't want to believe it either, but the proof is overwhelming. Inability to display emotion? Check. Alien-sounding first name? Let's see... Tuvok... Sarek... Spock... Barack... Check. Speaks in almost a monotone? Check. Lives by reason and logic? Check. Amazingly calm under pressure? Check again.

And if that were not enough evidence for you, just take a gander at this:

I rest my case. Barack Obama is a Vulcan.

(Clearly, that whole "father from Kenya" story was just a cover-up. In reality, Barack's father was an emissary from the planet Vulcan who mated with Obama's mother, as well as other humans, during his brief stay here on Earth.)

On the plus side, would you rather have a president who can render our enemies unconscious with a Vulcan nerve pinch or a guy who seems as though he's been nerve pinched one too many times?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Large Hadron Collider not responsible for financial black hole; the Mohegan Sun report; and why Friday's presidential debate should go on as planned

As some of you may already know, the Large Hadron Collider, over near (or rather under) Geneva, Switzerland, has been shut down for at least two months due to a) a broken 30-ton transformer that cools the system and b) a large helium leak that has caused scientists and technicians to speak in falsetto voices for the last few days.

As a result, the Large Hadron Collider has not been able to collide anything, meaning (and it pains me to type this) there is no way it can be held responsible for the black hole that is currently sucking up (or down) the world's financial markets. That black hole, which has been rapidly expanding, despite government efforts to contain it all costs (or at least $700 USD), I am afraid, was caused by the collision of other forces, mostly economic in nature.

Equally, if not more, disappointing, scientists will now have to wait at least a few more months to test how long it would take the particle accelerator to defrost a pizza.

I know, I know: You are as disappointed as I am, though perhaps not more so than the intrepid editors over at Scientific American who "made an estimate based on the rate and energy of particle collisions when the machine's two beams meet head on" as to how fast the LHC could defrost a pizza.

Based on certain suppositions (which you can read about in the article, which I link to above), it would take 30 nanoseconds to defrost a frozen DiGiorno's Microwave Rising Crust Four-Cheese Pizza, though, theoretically speaking, the collisions required to heat the pizza could unintentionally create a black hole and suck the pizza into another dimension or just vaporize it.

In other news... I won $100 (actually a bit more) in just a couple of hours yesterday at Mohegan Sun. And my buddy, G., won almost $400! Talk about a good return on your investment! And let me tell you, I had waaaay more fun playing blackjack (with a CPA and a college computer science professor and my buddy) than I've had watching my money managers gamble with my savings the past few months. My outing at Mohegan Sun was also more profitable.

Finally, as many of you have probably now heard, earlier today Republican presidential candidate John McCain called for postponing Friday's presidential debate (the first of three scheduled debates) until the resolution of the financial mess on Wall Street, and also vowed to suspend his campaign to concentrate on finding a solution.

While I honestly believe McCain is dedicated/committed to finding a quick and even bipartisan resolution to the current Wall Street crisis, I agree with the Boston Globe that this is (in some part) a stunt to delay the upcoming presidential debate this Friday.

Barack Obama, who had phoned McCain this morning to discuss issuing a joint statement regarding the current financial crisis, had no idea until this afternoon that McCain wanted to delay the first debate -- and rejected McCain's call to do so, stating: "It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess," adding, "I think that it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once."

I agree, as has, apparently, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which, as of this afternoon, had not heard from anyone in the McCain campaign and said it was going forward with the debate as scheduled.

Will the debate go forward as scheduled? Will the Large Hadron Collider go back online before the year is out? Will I quit my day job and become a professional gambler? Stay tuned...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Life's a crapshoot, so I'm going to Mohegan Sun. Where's Tim Russert when we need him? And can the Mets save themselves?

As many (if not most) of you know, the market was down 372.75 points today as Congress and the Bush administration worked on/out that $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout plan. Personally, I am spitting mad at the thought of having taxpayers bail out a bunch of greedy investment bankers, mortgage wheeler-dealers, absent actuaries, and foolhardy financiers who should have and most likely did know better but hoped and prayed this day would never come -- or would come after they had socked away more than enough to weather the eventual s**t storm.

However, since the government seems to be willing to bail out just about anyone with big enough losses, I have decided to liquidate what's left of my portfolio and get me to Mohegan Sun tomorrow, as soon as the kid heads off on the school bus. If I lose, I will just write a letter to Congressman Chris Shays respectfully requesting the government and/or taxpayers reimburse me for stupidly gambling away my life savings -- and allowing the good croupiers at Mohegan Sun to take unfair advantage of me. (In the meantime, I plan on having a jolly good time playing the slots and blackjack and having a martini -- maybe two! -- at Leffingwells, which opens at 11 a.m.)

And speaking of bailing... Where the heck were journalists as this crisis loomed and why have they not been talking up more about the increasingly erratic and angry McCain campaign and it's shocking disregard for the truth and facts?

Yes, yes, I know there are many pundits and politicos, including the folks over at the George Stephanopoulos Show (aka This Week), who are starting to show some real outrage re what's been going down economically and politically. But where is Tim Russert when you need him?! (And yes, I know he's dead. I am speaking metaphorically.)

MSNBC has been flailing around since Russert's untimely departure -- and boy could they, and we, have used him. Now more than ever.

Tim, if you're out there, can you, please, go contact Whoopi Goldberg, like Patrick Swayze did in Ghost, and hold McCain's feet to the proverbial flame? (Actually, maybe he already has.)

And speaking of flames, or flaming out, how 'bout them Mets, huh? As I type this, the New York Mets are having their collective feet held to another fire -- or perhaps more accurately, getting their asses kicked and/or balls busted -- by the Chicago Cubs 7 - 2 in the top of the fifth. (Weeping.) As a Mets fan since way back (after their '69 miracle year but long before their next World Series win in '86), I am used to the Mets blowing it, but there is only so much I can take. And I ain't getting any younger. Are there no relief pitchers out there to make the hurt go away?

Well, at least the Giants won yesterday. (Take THAT Ocho Cinkhole.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama is NOT going to raise your taxes. He wants to lower them.

I am sick and tired of hearing people say "I'm not going to vote for Barack Obama because he is going to raise taxes," especially when they sound like GOP sound bites. You don't like Obama, fine. But if you want the real dirt on Obama's tax plans, read Obama's tax plan -- and stop listening to the fear- and tax-mongers.

Don't have the time or desire to go through the six-page tax plan right now? Fine. Here are some of the highlights, taken from http://origin.barackobama.com/taxes/:

* Middle class families will see their taxes cut – and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

* Families making more than $250,000 will pay either the same or lower tax rates than they paid in the 1990s. Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years to ensure we are restoring fairness and returning to fiscal responsibility. But no family will pay higher tax rates than they would have paid in the 1990s. In fact, dividend rates would be 39 percent lower than what President Bush proposed in his 2001 tax cut.

* Obama’s plan will cut taxes overall, reducing revenues to below the levels that prevailed under Ronald Reagan (less than 18.2 percent of GDP). The Obama tax plan is a net tax cut – his tax relief for middle class families is larger than the revenue raised by his tax changes for families over $250,000. Coupled with his commitment to cut unnecessary spending, Obama will pay for this tax relief while bringing down the budget deficit.

Want to know how Obama's tax plan stacks up to/with McCain's? Here you go.

While the bit about asking the wealthiest 2% of Americans to give back a portion of their tax cuts is probably a pipe dream and unrealistic -- and has caused some of those folks to support McCain as a knee-jerk reaction -- the bottom line is that a vote for Obama is NOT is not going to mean, should he be elected, that the richest of us are suddenly going to find ourselves paying 40% or 50% of our incomes in taxes.

Rather (well, should Obama get elected and his tax measures be passed by Congress), the vast majority of Americans will get a tax break or see no change in their taxes, which, considering the tab the U.S. government has been running up the past eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan and here at home with all these bailouts is pretty incredible.

Here's the real bottom line, folks, when it comes to tax policy: No matter who gets elected, there is no way that Congress, even if the Democrats get a larger majority, is going to sign off on an enormous tax increase for individuals and/or families (or even businesses), despite how much the government needs our money.

A slight tax increase may be inevitable (even George H.W. "no new taxes" Bush had to raise taxes as part of a 1990 budget agreement) -- to cover all this excess spending. But to believe all the tax smack talk being put out there by some commentators, supposed journalists, and opinionators and bloggers is wrong.

Before you vote, for anyone, study the issues and get the facts -- and stop listening to those 30-second sound bites.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bet that AIG baby (and his parents) are crying now

I was watching MSNBC and CNBC this morning, listening to the folks on "Morning Joe" and on "Squawk Box" talking all about how greed is the primary cause of the latest market meltdown, and sitting through all sorts of commercials when it hit me: I haven't seen any of those cute, funny AIG ads lately.

You know the AIG ads I'm talking about, the ones narrated by Stockard Channing and featuring some cute kid, like this one with the "laughing baby":

Bet that kid (and his folks) are crying now. (Btw, if laughter can add eight years to your life, how many years does crying shorten it by?)

Or remember this cute AIG ad, featuring the adorably precocious child who gets up in the middle night and pads down the hall to his parents' room, telling them he is worried about his family's financial future?

Ah, the Irony, Guys. Bet that kid's having nightmares now!

I probably should not be making light of this situation. I own a bunch of AIG stock, which was worth $2.05 at yesterday's close, and I have family and friends who work at AIG (or did as of yesterday), who I know are not responsible for the current mess and are no doubt freaking out -- and wondering about their family's financial future. (For more about the AIG fiasco, and to see CNBC "Money Honey" Maria Bartiromo's September 16 one-on-one "interview," for lack of a better word, with former AIG CEO and chairman and crook Hank Greenberg, click here.)

But the AIG situation has me pissed, pissed about all the mismanagement and excessive risk taking and greed that we all now painfully realize has been going on, for YEARS, at not just AIG but all over Wall Street and even Main Street -- and what it's going to do to our tax bills. (Cause guess where the government is going to have to get at least some of that bailout money, folks? From US, the taxpayers.)

And while I do believe the market will (eventually) make a comeback (which is why I have not liquidated my increasingly meager portfolio and shoved what's left under our 15-year-old mattress), I don't see it happening any time soon.

In the meantime, I'm heading to Mohegan Sun, where life is truly a crap shoot -- and at least you have fun and get free drinks while losing money.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The real reasons for the market's meltdown: greed, envy, and ignorance

While I did work on Wall Street for several summers (in the days of liquid lunches, when you could still smuggle a stripper into a training session), and had a father and friends in the business, I am no financial genius. But I can tell you the three leading causes of the current financial crisis or meltdown: greed, envy, and ignorance.

Let us start with greed, and Mr. Gordon Gecko of the 1987 movie "Wall Street":

Brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it?

That was 21 years ago, but it seems like just yesterday (or a few months ago).

Btw, when I talk about greed, meaning "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as in money) than is needed," I'm not just referring to the Gordon Geckos of the world. We are all, at least most of us, greedy about something, like wanting a nice or nicer house, a nice or nicer car -- or clothes, lawn, whatever.

And many (if not most) of us, if offered a seemingly quicker, easier path to getting whatever it was we wanted, would run not walk down that path, ignoring or trying to ignore any moral and/or financial hazards along the way, particularly the inconvenient truth of not actually being able to afford or pay for whatever it was.

I've already mentioned (in a different post) my friend who despite having a decent-paying job ran up large credit card bills then declared bankruptcy -- and blamed her woes not on spending more than she made but on the evil credit card companies. She is/was far from being alone.

And now we are dealing with the repercussions of a similar problem, people who bought more house (or any house) than they could afford -- and it is or will be us the taxpayers, not just these homeowners, who will be paying the price or are. (Btw, I don't blame all of these individuals. Where were the naysayers, the people to tell them "No, I'm sorry, but you can't afford that," or, "You need to put at least 10 percent down and make three times your monthly mortgage payment if you want that house [or condo or co-op]"?)

The other day, I was having a conversation with the man who built our deck. Turns out he was in the mortgage business a while ago. And we got to discussing the sub-prime lending/mortgage fiasco.

I don't know about all of you, but every time the spouse and I have gone looking for a mortgage or to refinance one, we've had to produce a mountain of paperwork, been grilled by strangers wanting to know everything about us, and had to put down at least 10 percent. (Oh, and my dad had to co-sign/guarantee our first mortgage, even though the spouse and I, who were newlyweds at the time, both had jobs and savings and were able to put down 20 percent, this on a house that was by no means big or fancy.)

So anyway, the deckman, who works very hard and has built up a nice business building decks and selling spas and hot tubs, tells me that he used to meet with folks all the time who wanted a mortgage but had no or little means of paying it off -- and he would flag their application. Only to have his boss tell him to just put it through. The deckman found this very discouraging and moved on. And we know what happened to those people who got those interest only and/or subprime adjustable rate loans they couldn't really afford, don't we?

Which leads me to ask the question: When did renting become a dirty word? While owning is nice, there is no sin in renting (at least as I recall from the Bible). Yet someone clearly sold the American public a bill of goods (or bill of something) that made them/us think that we were somewhat "lesser" if we didn't own a house.

Which brings me to envy, that "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage," and another deadly sin (one which I have been guilty of more times than I'd care to admit). Envy gets more people into more trouble than just about anything else (except for maybe greed and ignorance).

We see our neighbor has a shiny new BMW, and we want one, and make ourselves miserable for the wanting. We see a girlfriend got a big honking diamond ring from her boyfriend or spouse and we want one (or feel inadequate because we don't have one or ours is smaller) and make ourselves miserable. We hear the new guy just got a raise and promotion and we wonder how come we didn't get a raise and promotion. The list goes on and on.

How much happier the world would be if, to paraphrase Sheryl Crow, instead of having what we wanted, we just wanted what we've got?

I often wonder, maybe I would be more blissful if I stopped reading all the time (especially this week). Yet ignorance, or lack of knowledge, can be very dangerous, as I think we have learned -- or are learning (and I'm not even discussing the Iraq war or the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a!).

Raise your hands out there if you understand exactly how mortgages and complex financial instruments like CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations) and CMOs (Collateralized Mortgage Obligations) work?

I grew up on Wall Street (metaphorically), and like to stay on top of things and keep tabs on my financial portfolio, but a lot of the stuff I've been hearing about the past 5 - 10 years has stumped me, and caused me to dig and ask questions.

How many ordinary Americans out there do you think know what CDOs or ARPs (for Auction-Rate Preferred securities or bonds) are -- or knew before this year -- or know how their 401ks are invested?

While I would love to type with confidence "Never invest in anything you don't understand," I doubt that most of us have the time or energy to truly master the intricacies of investing, though if the last 20 years have taught us anything, we should certainly devote more time to understanding what our tolerance for risk is and how much risk (read LOSS) is acceptable.

Maybe now that the chickens have come home to roost, or to the slaughter, and all traces of lipstick have been wiped off the pigs, we should take a little time to educate ourselves, or re-educate ourselves, about financial matters, and to admit that greed and envy and ignorance extract a high price. I also believe it is high time the government reinstituted measures like the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, to better protect investors (especially the smaller ones), so we don't find ourselves in a similar mess another five or 10 years from now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tina Fey for VP... And wouldn't you have chased that kid with a metal pipe if you had found him naked in your teenage daughter's bedroom?

For those of you, like me, who either a) didn't know Tina Fey would be appearing on "Saturday Night Live" last night and/or b) were asleep before 11:30 p.m. ET, take a gander at this:

Many are saying it was a role Tina Fey was born to play. Me, I say, Barack Obama should have picked Tina Fey as his vice presidential running mate. Just think of how much more fun we would be having right now (you know, instead of worrying about silly things like the economy, healthcare, education, and that pesky war in Iraq). I like Joe Biden and all but Barack, if by some chance you happen to read this, I think, for the good of this country and, more importantly, television ratings, you should ask Joe to step aside and put Tina Fey on the ticket.

UPDATED 9/28/08: Once again, Fey proves that she has the chops to be VP in this SNL skit with Fey once again portraying GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin in an exclusive interview with CBS News's "Katie Couric":

And in "family values" news... In case you missed this little news story at the end of last week, allow me to share it with you. According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, last Thursday a man, the father of a 15-year-old girl, found a naked teenage boy in his daughter's room at 4 a.m. Not knowing the young man, who, as I said, was naked and in his daughter's room, he did what I think (or hope) most fathers would have done: he chased the young man away with a metal pipe he had taken from the garage upon hearing strange sounds coming from his daughter's room -- and called 911.

But that's not the end of the story. Oh no. It turns out, the boy had been seeing -- and having sex with -- the man's daughter for 18 months, often sneaking into her room late at night. And the father, who thought he was rescuing his daughter from a fiend, gets charged with aggravated battery on a child and hauled off to jail, even though the father of the boy hadn't pressed charges.

Which brings me back to Sarah -- and Todd -- Palin and their teenage daughter, Bristol. As I recall, Ms. Palin is quite the shot. And I bet Todd is no slouch with a gun or a metal pipe either. Yet where were they when some teenage boy was having sex with their daughter? But instead of outrage, at at least the boy if not the daughter, that kid was invited to stand on stage with the Republican presidential nominee and his family at the Republican National Convention. Is this country great or what?

Oh, and did I mention that all the parties in the first story were Hispanic? Not that that necessarily makes a difference. Or maybe it does. As Conservative commentator Byron York of National Review wrote back on September 3: “If the Obamas had a 17-year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.”

All I have to say is: Obama-Fey 2008.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

That's all fine and good but WHAT ABOUT THAT BLACK HOLE?

What, me worry?! You betcha. However, the very fact that you are reading this post means that the world has not been swallowed up by a globe-gobbling black hole. Yet. But that is only because CERN's Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator won't start colliding anything until next month.

As you may have already read, this morning scientists at CERN (which stands for European Organization for Nuclear Research -- it's French, OK?) switched on their newest toy, the $10 billion "Big Bang Machine," "the biggest, most expensive science machine on earth," according to reports.

As reported in an article by MSNBC science editor Alan Boyle today, "former CERN chief Luciano Maiani noted that the money spent on the project over 14 years was a mere fraction of the $40 billion that China spent for this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. 'These are the Olympics of science," CERN spokeswoman Paola Catapano replied during a Webcast interview.'"

Well, that just makes it all better, doesn't it? No, it does not.

While I will not deny the cool factor of beaming protons around a 17-mile underground racetrack at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light and then slamming them together to recreate the Big Bang (and hopefully find the elusive Higgs boson), isn't there a better way -- make that a million better ways -- for scientists to spend $10 billion dollars than to try to blow up things?

And then there is the matter of those pesky little globe-gobbling black holes.

Per Boyle's article from September 9, CERN theoretical physicist John Ellis thinks it would be "extremely exciting if the LHC did produce black holes."

I, however, have a slightly different definition of "exciting," but let us hear what Dr. Ellis had to say.

"OK, so some people are going to say, 'Black holes? Those big things eating up stars?' [Like me!!!] No. These are microscopic, tiny little black holes. And they’re extremely unstable. They would disappear almost as soon as they were produced."

Or not.

According to one Walter Wagner, a plaintiff involved in a federal lawsuit to shut down the Large Hadron Collider, the mini-singularities (that is, black holes) produced by the Large Hadron Collider (which is located on, or really under, the border of France and Switzerland) could fall to the center of the earth, grow larger, and swallow more and more of Earth's matter until all the bloggers (and everyone and everything else, including Alaska) have been sucked into its maw.

But for now, scientists, journalists, and dignitaries over there in France (okay, Geneva, Switzerland) are sipping Champagne and sucking on each others toes, toasting to a bunch of invisible particles, pretending the end is not near. As for me, I'm off to smash me some Cheerios together in a bowl of milk.

UPDATED AT 11:00 AM: Still confused? Watch this:

Those wacky CERN scientists! To the L, to the H, to the C!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jon Stewart's Guide to Spotting a Hypocrite, Plus: My campaign to ban the word "maverick"

Hi boys and girls! It's time to play "Spot the Hypocrite." Today's lesson is brought to you by the research team over at "The Daily Show." The subject of today's game, Playing the Gender Card. Are you ready to play?

Just hit the play button (that right-pointing triangle in the middle of the box) to begin -- and see if you can spot all the hypocrites.

Good luck!

Did you spot all the hypocrites?

Good job!

Now, please join me in my drive to ban the word maverick from on air and print usage. Why? Well, if you have to ask, you a) have not followed any of the news coverage around this presidential election; b) do not own a TV; c) do not read newspapers or news magazines; d) just got back from two years on the International Space Station; or e) all of the above.

Just Google "John McCain maverick" to see the 3,410,000 results (as of 9:30 a.m. today -- up from 3,270,000 just a couple days ago when I sat down to write this post) -- and that's not including the hundreds of thousands of on-air mentions. Heck, you can't be on TV these days and mention the name John McCain -- and now Sarah Palin -- without reflexively adding "maverick" either before or after. It's like some involuntary Tourette's tic.

For those of you unfamiliar with the origin and definition of the word maverick, here's what The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online version) has to say:

Pronunciation: \ˈmav-rik, ˈma-və-\
Function: noun
Etymology: Samuel A. Maverick, died 1870. American pioneer who did not brand his calves.
Date: 1867
1: an unbranded range animal; especially : a motherless calf
2: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

So, on behalf of unbranded range animals and motherless calves everywhere, I am asking -- make that begging -- all of you to help me send a message to the mainstream media by leaving a comment on this blog saying, "Yes, I want to join the drive to ban on-air personalities and pundits, as well as the mainstream press, from ever using the word maverick again (or at least in regard to all candidates running for any elected office)! Enough is enough!"

Thank you.

This just in: While MSNBC/NBC has censured Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, removing them from their anchoring duties on MSNBC (and replacing them with David Gregory), due to their left-leaning bias, pressure from the GOP/McCain campaign, and low ratings, ABC News has scored something of a coup with Charlie "Journalistic Integrity Is for Wimps" Gibson nabbing the first media interview with GOP VP pick Sarah Palin. Look for hard-hitting questions like, "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?"

Friday, September 5, 2008

Talk about a "task from God": Giants continue winning streak, beat Redskins 16 - 7 in season opener

Are you ready for some football?! I said: ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?! (Man, do I miss Hank Williams Jr.'s Monday Night Football song.) Here at J-TWO-O Central, we have been very excited. How excited? Allow me to share the following exchange that occurred at my daughter's elementary school yesterday (Thursday):

So Mr. H., a fifth grade teacher at our daughter's school, says to our daughter and some other students, "Hey kids. There's a special event tonight [it was Open House, where the parents get to meet the teachers and sign up for stuff]. Can anyone here tell me what it is?"

So our daughter, A., quietly raises her hand, and Mr. H. calls on her."Yes, A.?"

And A. says, "Tonight the New York Giants are playing the Washington Redskins. It's the season opener."

Gosh, I love her.

(Mr. H. loved her answer, too. According to A., who honestly thought the game was the biggest event happening last night, and it may indeed have been, according to what I've been hearing about McCain's speech, Mr. H. laughed and told A. she was very smart.)

Yes, dear readers, I shamelessly admit we have been counting the days since the Giants sent Tom Brady and the Patriots packing last Super Bowl Sunday (Best. Super Bowl. Ever.) to last night's season opener, hoping our beloved New York Giants would continue their winning streak. And last night's game against the Washington Redskins did not disappoint (well, at least us Giants fans).

Of course, the spouse and I completely missed the first half, because apparently our daughter's elementary school is run by a bunch of spiteful New England Patriots fans, who decided to hold Open House the same day and time as the New York Giants' season opener. But thanks to technology, in the form of my spouse's trusty BlackBerry, we were able to catch the score (as did the father of another student who was sitting next to us in class). Our bad.

I wouldn't say the Giants "throttled" the Redskins like Judy Battista wrote in today's New York Times, but Eli (as in Manning) and Co. looked way more confident than they did at the start of last season (when they dropped the first two games), and this with a lot of last year's roster missing.

Will the Giants make it to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa in February? Dunno. But I'll be watching.

In other football news... In case you didn't hear, it's official: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson has officially changed his last name to "Ocho Cinco." And apparently jerseys are flying off store shelves.

(So what do you think, J-DOS-O? Has kind of a ring to it... )

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

10 Things You (and the McCain Camp) May Not Have Known About GOP VP Pick Sarah Palin...

until this week (that have nothing to do with her family or her being a woman):

1. Before she was against "the bridge to nowhere," a term Palin once called "insulting," she was for it -- and the $223 million earmarked for it. (So if Republicans want to give her a pass on lying and flip-flopping, they should extend the same courtesy to Democrats.)

2. "Three times in recent years, McCain's catalogs of 'objectionable' spending have included earmarks for this small Alaska town, requested by its mayor at the time -- Sarah Palin," according to an article in the September 3 Los Angeles Times. Additionally, Palin hired lobbyists to secure funds for pet projects in her home town of Wasilla, including $15 million for a railroad from her town to that of Senator Ted Stevens, who she had once supported and is now under indictment for failing to report gifts. (And before you jump in, I know that Palin reduced the number of earmarks requested for 2008 and that just about all politicians, Democrats and Republicans, have pet projects. My point is that only one of the politicians cited by McCain, Palin, is on the ticket with him.)

3. Governor Palin believes in abstinence-only sex education, as does John McCain, which we can clearly see really works. (Btw, while I think the notion of abstaining until marriage is nice, it is totally unrealistic to think that a majority of teenagers will do so. And I much rather have a safe, healthy sexually active teen than a sick or unhappily pregnant one.)

4. Palin cut funding to help teenage mothers. While Palin believes teenagers, no matter their circumstances, should, if they become pregnant (despite supposedly abstaining from sex), have and raise their children, she apparently doesn't believe in providing sufficient funding to programs that will give these girls and their babies a good, safe headstart.

5. In a speech last June to her former church in Wasilla, Ms. Palin said the war in Iraq was “a task that is from God," which apparently also applies to building a $30 billion gas pipeline in Alaska.

6. When I last looked at it, the First Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) provided for the separation of -- a wall between -- Church and State. However, Gov. Palin hasn't let a little thing like the Constitution get in the way of her, God, and her fellow Republican's (at least the ones who take her side -- woe to those who don't) plans or invoking God in government addresses or at schools. Btw, her Wasilla Assembly of God church pastor, Ed Kalnins, makes Jeremiah Wright look like an altar boy.

7. Along similar lines... "As a candidate for governor, Sarah Palin called for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools," according to the Associated Press and many other reports (though she hasn't forced the issue -- yet).

8. Governor Palin doesn't believe that human activities have contributed to global warming (though McCain was an early proponent of capping emissions).

9. Palin is not known as a consensus builder and is used to getting her own way. John McCain take note!

10. Palin favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and offshore. McCain is (or was) opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

(Btw, on an unrelated note, who is and has been taking care of those five kids? Does Palin have help? Is Todd the primary caregiver? Just curious...)

JUST ADDED 9/4: 11. Palin has been in favor of and supported raising (at least some) taxes. Palin supported a sales tax increase in Wasilla and also, as Governor of Alaska, higher taxes on energy companies, which McCain has said he opposes. (For the record, the money raised by the sales tax went to some good causes, like a new ice rink and sports complex* and increased public safety, which probably would not have been funded or possible otherwise. In case anyone forgot, providing for our safety, security, education, health and well being is largely what taxes are for. And we pay far less than Canadians or citizens in most, if not all, European countries.)

ADDED 5:40 P.M.: Be sure to also check out this fact-checking article from ABC News. Just trying to set the record straight...

ADDED 1:00 P.M. ON 9/5: I've been hemming and hawing all morning about whether to include Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny's letter to some friends that was posted as a comment to an article in the Washington Independent on Sarah Palin. But after verifying that she is, indeed, a real person and legit (having now been vetted by at least one professional journalist), I am adding this additional information. Although Ms. Kilkenny is just one person/one opinion, other folks who have or do live in Wasilla, who know or have interacted with Palin have since chimed in and corroborated much (if not all) of what Ms. Kilkenny wrote.

*IMPORTANT SPORTS COMPLEX UPDATE: According to a report in the September 6 issue of the Conservative Wall Street Journal, the indoor sports complex project, the largest project Palin ever undertook, was mismanaged from the get-go -- and "led to years of litigation and at least $1.3 million in extra costs for a small municipality with a small budget. What was to be Ms. Palin's legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla."

Is there ANYTHING this woman hasn't fibbed about? Did the McCain camp talk to ANYONE in Wasilla about Sarah Palin before selecting her to be on the ticket? Apparently not.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to lint roll a cat

As many of you know, my cat, Flora (full name Flora Adorable), likes to keep me company while I work. Which is fine, in theory. The problem is that Flora weighs over 15 pounds, has got to be at least two feet long when stretched out (which is her favorite position), and has a serious shedding problem.

I have tried using Dust Detroyer (cans of compressed air) and a dustbuster to keep hair (and pet dander) to a minimum -- particularly around/on my computer. However, after vacuuming off the keys on my IBM ThinkPad a while back (while trying to extricate her hair from the keyboard), I went in search of a different solution.

I had tried using one of those pet grooming gloves -- you know, the ones with the raised rubber cleats to gently remove pet hair. But more times than not, I got more hissing than cat hair when I tried to use it.

That's when my spouse teasingly suggested I tried lint rolling Flora, as I happen to keep a lint roller just two feet away from me in my office. Et voila! A new shed control system was born.

Most of the time, Flora enjoys a gentle lint rolling. However, occasionally, she rebels.

Want to know the proper way to lint roll your (or any cat)? Watch this short instructional video my daughter and I put together over the long weekend. (She was the cinematographer -- and the one giggling.) And feel free to share it with fellow cat lovers.

Btw, in case you have problems viewing the video, you can go to/click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzl5lrz800M to watch it on YouTube.