Tuesday, November 04, 2008

2 bonus points on the '08 election

I've been wondering now for several months: with all of the macro indicators pointing towards Obama and the Democrats, why does Obama support such liberal economic policies? I think the election was won by Obama (or whoever was to be the Democrats' candidate) before it even started. Running against Bush, a bad economy, and a war is a dream scenario, one where any candidate could have channeled Bill Clinton by making a balanced budget a priority.

Instead, Obama's seeks to expand spending by $4.3 TRILLION, and the rest of his economic policies are also an abrupt departure from centrist policies, such as raising the cap on social security taxes, which hasn't changed in decades. (Not to mention the redistributionist tax policies.)

Obama has good lines in his election ads - "most people will pay lower taxes," but every policy analysis that i've read says otherwise.

I disagree with the Obama policies, but my point here isn't whether his policies are good or bad - I'm asking why with such a favorable election setting did Obama adopt such radical (and bad) economic policies?

Along the same lines, I'm seeing that Obama is projected to win 52-46, which is a nice, solid, no-doubt win, and notable for the margin of victory when compared to the last two elections (and really the last 3 out of 4 have been very close.)

However, I'm stunned that the margin isn't much greater. (And maybe it will be tomorrow.) With the dismal opinion polls of Bush and the Republicans, an economic crisis, several thousand Americans killed in foreign wars, and terrible, unpopular policies in place anywhere you look (from No Child Left Behind to stem cell research), why isn't the margin of victory likely to be larger?

The answer, I believe, is that the Democrats still represent dismal, fringe policies driven by dismal, fringe people.

In my lifetime, the Democrats did best when governing from the center, as embodied by Bill Clinton's adoption of centrist policies such as NAFTA, a balanced budget, and welfare reform. (This agenda was really set by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, but credit Clinton for abandoning left-ish roots to jump on a good, centrist thing.)

Today, we've got Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid shelving centrist opportunities like the Columbia free trade pact, and pursuing a very liberal agenda.

Perhaps the Democrats will take the relatively small margin of victory for what it is and make the changes necessary to govern from the center, but I suspect they won't. Instead, I expect to hear later this week what a mandate for Democratic policies was delivered on Election day, and then I expect to see exactly what happened between 1992 and 1994 - the Democrats focused on very liberal policy priorities with little chance of success (like the Hilary Clinton-led heath care plan, and endorsing gays in the military). Between these new policies, and the efforts to overturn Reagan-era decisions and reward key constituents, the Democrats quickly fell out of touch, and were absolutely murdered in the 1994 mid-term elections.

All of the signs point to a repeat, with obviously liberal policies lined up that will naturally offend a good portion of the population. Just like Clinton's campaign promise that his first official act would be to permit gays to serve openly in the military, Obama is promising to enable partial birth abortions. (Or something like that - I really don't pay much attention to reproductive rights. Nevertheless, I understand that such a change would be a very liberal one.)

Following the abortion change, we'll be seeing the Employee Free Choice Act, a new law to overturn decades of Union/management practices to facilitate greater union representation.

Following this script, you'll see a big gain for the Republicans in the 2010 elections, unless Obama tunes out his fringe constituents and very liberal nature and rushes towards the center.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I endorse........

Well, nobody. Sort of (see below).

But first a bit of background: I'm a libertarian centrist living in Virginia. I voted for Obama in the Virginia primary, and thought enough about McCain to go to a campaign rally of his in 2000.

I generally believe that people and markets are capable of amazing things when left to flourish, and that most government initiatives - while well intentioned - typically impinge on liberty, are too expensive and poorly run, and fail to deliver desired results.

(For some examples relevant to these lessons, watch the series of quick vids starting here.)

I believe in flat taxes, school choice, and liberalizing rules, such as in allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines. I dislike farm subsidies, anything that expands the government's powers, and I can tell you from having seen socialized health care first hand that a future where government plays a bigger role in health care is not a future that I want to live in.

With rare exception, I tend to view politicians not as left or right, but as tenured political class, or not. I think many of America's problems are explained not by the policy of one of our two parties, but by entrenched interests. My bias is to "throw the bums out," and, unfortunately, I won't be surprised when Congressional financial regulators like Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd do NOT lose their seats on the relevant Oversight committees.

With that as a backdrop, I would describe our 2 choices for President at equally bad.

One candidate is a creature of his party, an old-school machine politician. The other sees an increasing role for the state in every aspect of our lives, from energy policy to national service.

(If you can't tell which candidate is which, you might begin to see another point).

One candidate is pushing a divisive policy to make the majority of America band together to take advantage of a disadvantaged class of people. The other candidate is in a disadvantaged class of people - old folks.

One candidate actively intends to redistribute wealth for no purpose but "fairness" (in his eyes at least). The other thinks we need only continue the Bush tax cuts.

One candidate is actively against free trade. The other candidate is against free election financing.

Both candidates agree on a cap and trade system to help fight global warming. I don't see any way that this turns out any better than Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac - another government program to push policy-driven spending off of the government's books.

I could go on, but frankly it is too depressing.

Current polls suggest that Obama will win this election, probably winning the national vote 52-46. If the race is more competitive, Virginia (where I live) will be a swing state, and it is possible then that I might cast a deciding vote, so though I am underwhelmed by both candidates, I need to hold my nose and choose one of these two. To do that, I've made the following list of pluses and minuses for each candidate:

-his election would start a new chapter in race relations, and inspire many
-an ability to give a good speech
-the courage to have spoken out against the war in Iraq
-a good brand image, and
-the respect of the world may enable him to set a better foreign policy course

-terrible economic policies, most have which have been stale for oh, 70 years.
-strong statist tendencies (have you seen a government program that he doesn't endorse expanding?)
-a definite lack of any non-political experience. In other words, he's a professional politician. He knows how to read an opinion poll, but doesn't know how to lead.
-Joe Biden as VP/potential Prez. All of the liberalism and party control, none of the dynamism of Obama.
-Congress is controlled by his party. (I like divided government - it forces centrist policies (ask Bill Clinton), and generally spends less.)
-this is not a dealbreaker, but I am deeply troubled by Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright - not just the association, but the "cover-up" so to speak. How does somebody attend approximately 500 services and become so inspired as to donate $500/month to Wright's church expect us to believe that there isn't a philosophical link between Obama and Wright?

-former military officer means he has had to lead people before.
-he's been a maverick over the years, indicating that he won't always make a decision based on party policy.
-Sarah Palin. I'm not completely sold on her, but I believer to be a charismatic, principled leader. Don't judge her on the pundit commentary - watch her in action.
-the result of his election would be divided government.
-His economic policies are less worse than Obama.

-he's 72 years old. As I've learned all too well from experience, at this age, you can't rely on clear decision making. There's too much going on in the world today which makes me wonder if a 72 year old can keep straight all of the facts needed to make a decision on a particular policy. (I am not saying that 72 year-olds aren't functional, just that they're not suited for the office of President.)
-he's right out of the Big Government Republican wing of his party - he likes to regulate, and likes "national greatness" policies.
-No bold ideas at all, except for the idea to push health care onto the individual instead of tying this to a job.

I really, really can't get excited about either of these candidates. I might have been enthusiastic about McCain if he were 10 years younger, and not following Bush. I could have stayed interested in Obama if his economic policies weren't on the socialist fringe. (Yes, they're way out there, and yes, they are socialist. Redistributing wealth and increased central planning (see the health care policy) does make one a socialist.)

In the end, I have decided the economy matters most and that John McCain stinks less, mostly because the Democrat-controlled Congress would keep him in check, while a Democratic Congress might hand Obama a blank one.

Also, having paid way too much attention to the election this year, Obama's charm has worn off on me, and I now see him for what he is - a classic Chicago politician with a strong liberal bias. I suspect that over time, less people will be excited by Obama, unless he very quickly governs to the center. (See also Clinton, Bill.)

So, consider this a very, very tepid endorsement of John McCain.

(I'm not voting until after work tomorrow, so there's still time to change my mind - leave me a message to set me straight.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Phils win! Phils win!


In case you haven't heard, my hometown Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series. I didn't grow up a Phillies fan (I rooted for the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds), but the Phillies grew on me after I moved out of the area.

After moving, the Phillies became not just a reminder of many pleasant baseball memories from growing up in the Philadelphia area, but also a metaphor for all that is great about Philadelphia - namely passion, dedication, and some fantastic people, like Richie Ashburn, Harry Kalas, Tug McGraw, Aaron Rowand, and everyone on the 2008 team.

Even from 250 miles away like I am now, I am very happy for the city of Philadelphia, and I smile knowing just what the Phillies win means to the approximately 3 million people living in the Philadelphia area.

I'm also smiling knowing that it was baseball that was responsible for all of the joy in Philadelphia. Just look at the highlights of Game 5 (below), and you can see in the players, fans, and coaches that baseball generates more and deeper emotions than any other sport. It is one more reason that baseball is special.

Congrats Phils!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stupid/brilliant investment move

Warren Buffet has some great guidance on stock investing: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful."

I'm pretty sure that the bank crisis is overstated, or, at least financial stocks are oversold. There will surely be more carnage like Bear Stearns, but I think there's a few companies with broad enough financial bases that with time will bounce back.

With that in mind, last week I took some fun money and invested it in extremely risky bank securities. I bought Jan 2010 LEAPs on Bank of America and AIG. My total investment in each is less than $750, but because of the nature of the options, I control 400 shares of stock in the two companies(total).

(Specifically, the Bank of America LEAPs (-WBAAA) have a strike price of $27.50. The options cost me $7.41 to buy, while BoA shares trade at $23.24. So, I win if BoA reaches $35/share by January, 2010. That would require a 50% increase in BoA's stock price, but consider that BoA was trading at $35 earlier this month, and was $50 a year ago.

I'm not sure if these specific investments will pay off. (They sure haven't yet, as they're already down 50% and 36%, respectively), but I intend to make a few more buys like this through the end of the year. My next purchases will be an S&P500 index, and a bank stock index.

I'm inspired to do this by two things:

1) the stories of folks who bought securities at the bottom of the Great Depression for pennies on the dollar. These turned out to be very prudent investments.

2) knowledge that while economic conditions are temporarily not favorable in America (and worse so in Europe), there are emerging markets where demand is increasing as locals escape poverty or climb the economic ladder. Whereas demand slumped worldwide during the Great Depression, there is no stopping the growth of the middle class in China. (For example.)

Plus, the American economy is still a good long term "buy and hold" opportunity. But don't take my word on it. Listen to Warren Buffet, who is buying.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I'm up in the Baltimore area to play in a baseball tournament this
weekend, but what to do at night?
You go to the ESPNZone in Baltimore to watch playoff baseball (go
Rays!) and college football at the same time!
Here's the view from my seat: 18 tv screens, including a 16ft big

Monday, October 06, 2008

Key Genomics in the news!

Here's the official press release detailing our partnership with Transgenomic:

Transgenomic Announces Partnership With Key Genomics for Ovarian Cancer Assay to Guide Therapeutic Options

More to come!

What's your attitude towards socialism?

Investor's Business Daily polled ~850 Americans on 3 questions to gauge attitudes towards socialism:

1) Are you willing to pay higher taxes to support more social programs?
2) Should government own or control key industries such as health care of energy?
3) Do you agree that it is government's role to redistribute wealth and income?

Poll results are sliced by age, sex, income, and political affiliation. Take a look at the results here.

Frankly, I'm disturbed by the results - even with socialism in the minority, I was concerned at some of the levels of response. I also wonder if our politicians are getting the point of this poll - that by and large, voters DON'T want more taxes, more government programs, or programmed wealth distribution. Are you listening, Dave Norris? (Charlottesville mayor.) How about you, Barack?

Cool stuff to share

Here's a collection of things worth a visit:

There's some guys tracking pitch-by-pitch baseball flight data. They're using the data to diagnosis pitching injuries. Here's an example:

My favorite politician, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, writing about the bailout. I won't give it away, but it's a point of view not being heard enough during the financial crisis. Well said, Governor!

And finally, here's my favorite political humorist, P.J. O'Rourke, with the graduation speech that he'd give. Here's the condensed version of his wisdom:

1. Go out and make a bunch of money!
2. Don't be an idealist!
3. Get politically uninvolved!
4. Forget about fairness!
5. Be a religious extremist!
6. Don't listen to your elders!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Cool flying stuff

A selection of cool aviation pictures:

Whoah! Here's a picture of an F-16 pilot ejecting a second before impact (and out of danger to the 60,000 people attending the airshow.) I don't know what's more amazing, though - the pilot's escape, or the fact that someone perfectly captured the image. (image via the Flight Image of the Day blog.)

Check out this graphical representation of world aviation flow in one day. (via The Economist).

Finally, someone has turned a 747 into a hotel. Located near the Amsterdam airport, I'd definitely stay there, except for the fact that I think Amsterdam is a stinkhole, and I hope to never spend time there again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Explaining the mortgage mess

Someone just asked me to try to explain the current mortgage mess. Here's my attempt at a neutral, simple explanation:

1. in order to underwrite (sell) a new mortgage loan security (a bond that is really a bundle of similar mortgages), sometimes the bankers behind them offer a default guarantee. An unguaranteed mortgage bond might have a 10% interest rate, but with a default guarantee, it might only need to be, say, 7%. It wasn't always the practice guarantee mortgage bonds, but banks like the fee income they could take from underwriting.

The biggest guarantors of mortgage loans are Fannie and Freddie. The positive spin is that by making guarantees, the cost of borrowing is lower for most Americans. The negative spin is that Fan and Fred have been gobbling risk for decades (with the US taxpayer underwriting their activities), while Fan and Fred shareholders received the profits. The Fan/Fred maneuver 2 weeks ago is basically the US taxpayer stepping up to pay for Fan/Fred's default guarantees.

2. The banks protected themselves from default by swapping their default guarantees among themselves. In other words, if Lehman made a guarantee on $100M in mortgage bonds, they might trade half of that guarantee to AIG, for a quarter of the default risk on their separate $200M car loan bond issuance. (They trade more than just $$$ amounts of risk. For example, a California mortgage bank might sell California home mortgage loan risk in exchange for NYC commercial mortgage loan risk, with the thought that spreading risk further insulates the loan originator.)

3. This whole system is dependent on things continuing as usual - that default rates stay within historical averages. That lets each risk swapper accurately price what's been swapped.

Turns out, in the rush to issue mortgages, some borrowers were given too much credit, and some rated much higher than they should have. These people have been unable to cover their mortgage loans, leading to defaults.

4. With mortgage defaults rising, all of the math underlying the default guarantees has gone to h3ll, and some bond guarantees are being called on. (some default guarantees aren't even being called and are still wreaking havoc, as accountants adjust the value on the books of troubled bonds down, and increase the (expected) liabilities of the guarantees. Banks need to keep a certain amount of capital in reserve for these situations, and the amount of required reserves is rising as a result. Money "reserved" by banks to meet requirements is money that really can't be used for investment. The result: less investment capital available for everyone. (Why this matters, pt. 1))

5. Some finance companies (Bear Stearns, Lehman) don't have the capital to make good on their guarantees, and they're going out of business. Other companies like AIG are feverishly trying to get more capital.

6. Why this really matters (pt 2.): in many ways, the finance world still operates on little more than a handshake (because the volume of transactions prohibits you from getting full legal paperwork done for every deal including regular settling of trades.). Many transactions rely on both sides believing that the other will still be around tomorrow, but now everyone is questioning everybody else, gumming up the system, and ultimately making transactions more expensive (in many different ways, including making a new mortgage for you or me more expensive), and hurting the economy.

7. If the problem described above were limited to a few companies or even just one sector (like home loans), the reaction would probably be "let 'em fail," but there's 2 larger issues that are also in consideration: 1) the mortgage default rate problem has creeped into other credit (financial) markets, such as auto loans and student loans. (As some consumers are swamped by their mortgage rate adjusting higher, they're defaulting on credit cards, car loans, etc.) The result of the problem creep: all financing is getting more expensive and more rare. Good companies with nothing to do with the financial mess are having a hard time getting loans and investment capital. and #2) investors (particularly foreign investors) are loosing faith in US markets, and demanding a risk premium on investments in the US. This hurts our economy in the short term, and makes it really hard to finance our national deficit. This difficulty is magnified by the weak dollar. (Though the dollar has been strengthening recently.)

Feel free to lob me any follow-up questions...

Two for today.....

Two reasons to chuckle today:

Someone compiled the Top 50 quotes from the always entertaining Charles Barkley. Here's a sample:

#33. After Wang has a shot blocked: "He's got to bring something stronger than that. That's like bringing milk to a bar, it's not strong enough"

#2. After throwing a guy through a 1st floor window in a bar Charles was in front of the judge.
Judge: "Your sanctions are community service and a fine, do you have any regrets?"
Charles: "Yeah I regret we weren't on a higher floor"


Apparently a 13 year old broke into a sports arena in Germany and let loose ~350 gallons of beer from the arena's beer taps. I'm not sure if the kids was arrested for breaking in, or for wasting 350 gallons of German beer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Amazing fact of the day.....

Heard this on a podcast I was listening to as I was getting ready this morning and thought it was worth repeating:

No U.S. President has ever been born, and died under the same US flag.

(Fact mentioned by futurist Paul Saffo, though I think he was repeating someone else's research.)

In other words, pick a President. when he was born the US flag had X stars. When that President died, the US flag had X+1 (or more) stars.

Saffo made this point to reinforce the notion that the US is always changing and growing.

This fact will hold at least thru Bill Clinton, as Alaska was added to the Union in 1959, while Clinton was born in 1946. In case you're wondering, Obama was born in 1961, so if he wins this fall, we'll need to add a state for this fact to hold true.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 years after 9/11, half the world DOESN'T think al queada was responsible.

I found this graphic on the Gene Expression blog (and I don't know why they went so off-topic), but I was stunned to see the story that this chart tells:

Look at the bottom line: only 46% of respondents believe that al Queada was responsible for 9/11.

Two thoughts:
1) we've lost a lot of credibility. (Obviously)
2) while I've certainly seen the case against Bin Laden/al Queada on the nightly news, has the case ever been made in a more formal, larger setting like the UN? Have charges against Bin Laden even been filed? A grand jury seated? A quick check around the internet says no. Why?

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Life ain't about how many breaths you take. It's what you do with those breaths."

The above quote comes from John Challis, an 18-year old boy who just lost his two-year battle with cancer. His obituary (here) is another reminder to all of us fortunate enough to be in better health to cherish life.

John's story popped up in the spring, when he got a single at-bat in a high school baseball game, and even in his frail condition, lined a single. The retelling still gives me chills. (Here's the original story - I highly recommend giving it a read.)

John was an inspiration to many, and graceful in every way. Goodbye, John Challis. We were privileged to know you.

St. Louis baseball fans

I've now seen major league baseball games in 17 ballparks in 14 cities, and can say without a doubt that the best fans are in St. Louis. (The best ballpark, btw, is San Francisco's AT&T Park. You can't beat the views, the experience, and vibe, and the fans are good too.)

The St. Louis fan experience starts before the fan even arrives at the park - everybody, from the youngest to the oldest fan dons some Cardinals apparel. Old fans wear Musial jerseys while teenage girls wear cut-off Rick Ankiel t-shirts. It really is amazing, even though I generally disagree that good fans dress up for their team. Still, when you look around the stadium, you generally only see two colors - cardinal red, and white.

The Cardinal dress code also shows that these fans are thinking about today's game from the moment their feet hit the floor in the morning.

You can feel this anticipation build in the hours leading up to the game. During the day, I overheard repeated references to the game, and was surprised when, for example, a woman behind a checkout register starting talking to a customer about that night's game against Pittsburgh. I also heard plenty of folks talking about the game while touring the Gateway Arch an hour and a half before game time.

Once in the stadium though, Cards fans excel. They're smart, cheering small things in nearly every at-bat, like a ground-out to advance a runner. You can also hear a nuanced appreciation for strategy, though their reaction is always positive and pro-Cardinal. I didn't hear any boos all night - imagine that in Philly (my hometown, btw.)

I also got the impression from the Cards fans that their first priority int he Stadium was the game itself. Sure, they ate and drank, bought souvenirs, and took their kids to the stadium playground, but I got the feeling a much higher percentage of fans never really left their seats during the game.

Oh, and as referenced before, all St. Louisans that I met were exceedingly polite. Even when I heard one St. Louis fan say something to a rival Chicago Cubs fans, all he said was "sheesh!" and shook his head no. I imagine that same conversation would involve several exchanges of curses, along with instructions about what to do with oneself.

Speaking of the rivalry, I'll be at a Cubs game tomorrow at Wrigley - a new experience for me that I am really looking forward to. I'll be looking to see if the Cub fans can take the crown of best fans from St. Louis fans, yet another way that these two rivals compete, but I suspect that baseball heaven is set in Busch Stadium.

Trip update: Colorado Springs

We arrived in Kevin's new hometown of Colorado Springs (CS) yesterday afternoon, and after unloading, headed out for a bit of touring. A day and a half later, and in total, I've seen the US Air Force Academy, Pike's Peak, Manitou Springs, the US Olympic Training Center, and downtown CS, which is quite cool.

CS has a nice feel to it - imagine Charlottesville with 4X the population, and 3X taller mountains. There's a slightly more slack and slightly grungier feel here, but compared to Cville, economically there is more going on besides one big employer.

Still, there's an obvious fringe, like this guy, who made a sculpture of Jesus on the pitcher's mound with the tag "He's going nine for America."

The highlight of the trip to CS has to have been the 1/2 day we spent on Pike's Peak. The Peak is famous for its' annual Pike's Peak Hill Climb, when souped up cars race UP Pike's Peak. It's about a 19 mile ride, and almost 8,000 foot elevation climb. While it took us over an hour to climb the hill, racers make it to the top in about 10 minutes!

The top of Pike's Peak is 14,000 feet, and the air contains roughly half of the oxygen in the air at sea level. It definitely had an effect on me - I found myself tired with just a little bit of walking over rocks. Nevertheless, we set off on a hike downhill. I pulled up after a half-hour to listen to the sound of diving ravens (very impressive), while Kevin went onwards another 15 minutes to an interesting overlook. While I kicked myself for being a gigantic wuss and not going the distance, I realized on the climb-out that I did the right thing. The return trip was a half-hour straight up, and I was completely drained at the end.

The views from Pike's Peak were amazing, and yet again, I curse myself for not remembering to put the battery in my digital camera. I captured some images with my camera phone, but these images are, at best, reason enough to go back with a good camera.

On the way back from Pike's Peak, we made a stop at the USOC training center. They wouldn't let me loose with any of their toys, but at least I got this shot in one of their bobsleds.

Next up: a 6am flight out of CS to Chicago, where I'll meet up with my buddy Karl Brewer, and enjoy a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Hello from atop Pike's Peak!

Very glad this isn't an action shot - I'd be shown huffing and puffing. There's not enough oxygen @ 14,000 feet.

Nonetheless, Pike's Peak is spectacular, as additional shots will attest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random trip notes.......Larry King style

(how many planes can you identify here?)

One sensory memory from this trip that I won't forget: the smell from Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City that hits you immediately after getting out of the car - yum!.......The midwest folks are all exceptionally nice, and, as we saw yesterday, exceptionally devoted to the Cardinals......I might have to give the Cardinals fans the nod as the best baseball fans. Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. It's equivalent to three Smithsonians....Conversely, don't go on a Budweiser Brewery tour with high expectations. It was low-brow (pun-intended), a sloppy presentation, and a tribute to homogenized manufacturing. Plus, after spending the bulk of the hour talking up free beers at the end of the trip, it only amounted to 2 x 8ozs beers....I was surprised at how nice Akron, OH was - very livable....I'm amazed at how the cities of St. Louis and Indianapolis just pop up out of the plains. There's nothing but fields and empty highway, then all of the sudden, pop, there's the city. Sure, there's suburbs, but it is very diferent from approaching, say Philadelphia or Baltimore......Seeing all of these 2nd and 3rd tier cities (in terms of size and economic heft) makes me wonder what the future holdsw for them. St. Louis is a regional capital, but regional capitals are becoming less relevant given the rise of world capitals through globalization. (In other words, 30 years ago St. Louis may have been the 30th most important city in the world. With the rise of cities like Guangzhou, and Dubai, St. Louis might be only the 100th most important city in the world.)

(apropos of the last point, here I am in front of the recently globalized Anheuser-Busch HQ and Brewery)

Road Trip Update

Greetings from the middle of I-70 in Kansas, approaching Salina, KS.

We're about 1,500 miles in, with another 400 miles to go.

So far we've managed to:

-see 3 baseball games
-see 1 fantastic aviation museum
-reconnect with 2 old friends and many new ones
-hang out with 2 different furry animals
-had 2 tremendously good, BBQ meals (at the legendary Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, and Pappy's, in St. Louis.

(Lunch at Arthur Bryant's)

I'd say that the highlight so far has been the two hours spent at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH (see separate post), though there are several good choices.

The only disappointment so far has been excitedly pulling out my camera at the Air Force Museum to take a load of pictures of planes, only to realize that I left the battery at home - guh! I've made do with the camera on my phone, but the pictures have roughly one third of the resolution of my camera.

Here's the trip so far:

View Larger Map

Guess where I am!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Greetings from St. Louis!

David Price: Sell high, Ostroff!

Last night Kevin and I and my friends Scott, and Marcus who both live in Indianapolis, gathered to watch Ozzie's treasured prospect - and acknowledged top pitching prospect on the planet, LHP David Price, take on Indianapolis - Pittsburgh's AAA team.. Price was wild and largely ineffective, but so was John Jaso's bat.

Price lasted 5 innings, walking a bunch, and giving up 3 runs. All agreed that he was nothing special. He appeared to be throwing only 2 pitches (fastball & slider) and was hit hard by the likes of Jose Bautista and Rod's hero, Ronny Paulino.

Still, we had fun, especially Scott, who saw not one but two of his players homer. (unfortunately, AAA stats don't count.)

We even got onto the action, as Bulls catcher John Jaso launched bats on bad swings into the stands twice, one about 20 feet away from us, the other hitting me lightly. (apparently it was not only $1 hot dog night, but also total carnage night at Victory Field, as someone one section over from us also took a line drive off of his cocoanut.)

My tour continues - Kevin and I will see the Cards play Pittsburgh's other AAA team. And I'll catch a game at Wrigley Saturday with Karl Brewer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Akron, OH & baseball

I'm writing to you from Akron, OH, first stop on a cross-country trip.
My good buddy Kevin is moving to Colorado, and i'm riding shotgun on
the ride west.

Our first stop is Akron, where we're taking in a AA baseball game and
sampling the city's skyline and cuisine.

Akron surprised me with it's size - there's at least a dozen tall
buildings. The city seems very livable, especially if you sell rubber
well. (Akron is home to Goodyear Tire and Firestone.) There is little sign of
economic deterioration here, perhaps due to Akron's new favorite son,
LeBron James.

As for the game, the downtown ballpark has nice views, and all seats
are great. Plus, in the 4thinning, the bleacher seats came with a free
baseball, as the Akron pitcher was rocked hard.

The food (bratwurst) and beer (Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy) were the
perfect complement to our day in the sun.

Also while at the game, I made a new friend, Orbit.

Next up: Indianapolis, via Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (and Air Force museum.)

VP choices follow-up.....(Mark Sanford)

Wanna see someone who really should be VP (if not President?)

It's Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina (and Darden graad!)

Sanford has a deep, consistent record of fiscal responsibility, promoting liberty through school choice, resisting the REAL ID program, and generally a minimalist approach to government.

Unfortunately, Sanford isn't nearly self-promoting enough to be a national candidate and definiteloy not interested in treading the party line, so we'll probably never see him as VP, but as I've said before, I think he's one of the best candidates out there.

Here's Governor Sanford speaking on the future of the Republican Party:

Hat tip: Club for Growth blog.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vice Presidential choices out of left field

Anyone notice how as the conventions approach, the buzz around most mainstream VP candidates has lessned?

I'd say that buzz around Kaine, Pawlenty, Jindal, Palin, and Sebelius has quieted. One possible interpretation is that none of these folks are "the" choice. who knows, but it is always more fun to talk about more dramatic choices

Here's three dramatic choices that would make sense (I am mentioning them basically so I can say "I told you so" on the off-chance either is selected.)

Mark Warner: Virginia is a must-win state for Obama, and there's no one who could deliver Virginia like Warner. Warner, though, is a shoe-in for the Senate this year from Virginia - why take a chance on losing?

One reason that Warner is such a shoe-in is that Mark Warner is very popular from his time as Governor. The other explanation is that his opponent, Jim Gilmore, is running a campaign that is, at best, still-born.

My guess here is that Warner could clinch Virginia (and the presidency) for Obama, and that the Dems' 2nd choice (or 3rd, or 4th, or even Doug Wilder) could still beat Gilmore.

General David Petreaus.
I don't know Petreaus' politics, but it is clear that he is ambitious, and a climber. He'd be an asset to either the Obama OR McCain campaign. He would provide immense credibility as VP, and whatever position on Iraq that he promotes would instantly have the high ground.

Obama needs someone like Petreaus more than McCain, who already has military cred, but I think Petreaus would still be a good fit for McCain as well.

For many of the same reasons, I could see Obama selecting the less qualified, more political version of Petreaus, Wesley Clark.

Meg Whitman Already a McCain surrogate, and a strategic advisor, Whitman would bring business and economic savvy and managerial credibility. She's one of the few "rock star" CEOs. She'd be an exciting choice, and a great political move for McCain.

Much like Wesley Clark is a shadow of Petreaus, Carly Fiorina could provide the same outline as Whitman, except she's less successful, less talented, and less credible. (But more of a spotlight hound.)

I'm juiced about an Obama-Warner ticket vs. a McCain-Whitman ticket. But don't listen to me - 12 months ago I thought the election would be Gore vs. Powell.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Great idea: immigration to solve housing/credit crisis.

Alan Greenspan is blamed by some for instigating the current credit crisis. (See the BBC article compiling all of the possible targets of blame.)

Personally, I think blaming the Fed Chairman for a loose money supply is off-target - he helped write the rules (i.e. the monetary policy), but he sure wasn't the primary actor (i.e. making loans, buying more house than you should, etc.)

Anyway, Greenspan - who has a libertarian mindset - has a novel idea to help turn the negative momentum of the housing market: increase the number of H-1B visas granted every year.

(H1-B visas are granted to highly skilled non-immigrants - think Ph.Ds. Currently limited to 65,000 annually, almost everyone agrees on 2 things: 1) there aren't enough of visas authorized, and 2) they make a tremendously positive economic contribution.)

As Greenspan suggests, these highly-skilled workers - in addition to turbocharging the economy - are likely to buy houses. As Greenspans says "A double or tripling (of skilled immigrants) would markedly accelerate the absorption of unsold housing inventory for sale-and hence stabilize prices."

(Also, the skilled immigrants are likely to gravitate towards some of the locations most affected by the housing slump. Wouldn't the Bay Area real estate market improve with 5,000 more software programmers seeking new homes?)

Alas, this is such a good idea, that it stands very little chance of ever happening. Immigration is a topic that neither party wants to address, nor does this idea "sell" well - politicians would much rather suggest solutions that let people think they're getting something for nothing. (Example: Obama's $1,000 energy rebate.)

Reflecting some of the ineffectiveness of political solutions, Greenspan also gave his opinion of the housing bill passed by Congress last month. His verdict on the bill: "Bad."

Wanna be like olympic swimmer Michael Phelp? Eat 12,000 calories/day

The WSJ Health Blog reports that Phelps has a monstrous appetite to support 5 hours per day of training in the pool.

Here one Phelps meal:

"Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes."

And, as the WSJ points out, "he doesn’t choose among these options. He eats them all."

In all, he eats 12,000 calories per day. The USDA recommends 2,000 calories per day for an average America. Can you imagine eating 6X as much per day to catch up to Phelps?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cool picture of the day

This looks like something from the movies (maybe Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back). Instead, it's a view of Dubai.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko's "The Agitator.")

Friday, August 08, 2008

If you liked Bert & Ernie rapping, check out Davey and Goliath

Before South Park, and before Robot Chicken, a bunch of undergrads in Upstate NY (I think at Hamilton or Clarkson) spent a winter voicing over off-color dialog for the very Christian children's program Davey and Goliath.

Somewhere in my belongings I've got a VHS copy of the original hour-plus effort by the students. (One of my friends' brother was a co-creator of the tape.)

Fast forward 15 years, and a few segments of the students' extremely foul-mouthed Davey and Goliath parody are now online. Check them out at YouTube (link above) or the video below.

(Warning: definitely NSFW.)

Check this out: cool gizmo showing Olympic medal hauls thru history

The NYT has a very, very cool way of presenting Olympic results by country in the form of a map that changes over time. Think about that, then click here to take a look.

John Edwards going down.....hard

here's an update on the John Edwards cheating/baby scandal, this time from a reputable mainstream press source (The Economist). It's not good, unless you're happy to see this holier-than-thou charlatan/ambulance chaser fall from grace.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bert & Ernie as Gangsta Rappers

Sent to me by a friend, this is one of the funniest things I've seen in a while. It's also really well made - it almost looks like Ernie is mouthing the words.....

China's Olympic Stadium (yuck!)

So, the NYT just published their architectural review of the Beijing Olympic Stadium. It's a glowing review.

Many of you have already seen the stadium, and surely anyone who watches the Opening Ceremonies this week will see it as well. It is nicknamed the "Bird's Nest" for the threads of steel that compose the outside of the stadium.

The Chinese are very, very proud of the stadium, and see it as a symbol of their nations' progress. There is also symbolism at play, as the stadium design echoes a Chinese delicacy, Bird's Nest Soup. (I guess the American parallel would be an arena shaped like a Krispy-Kreme donut, or perhaps a stadium resembling a Papa John's Pizza.)

I'm not an architecture critic, nor Chinese, but having seen the stadium up-close, I gotta say that the stadium is waaay oversold. It is, in fact, ugly, unless you find a pile of paperclips sexy, or think that wax drippings are cool. When I saw the Stadium, I had to ask if it was complete. When told yes, I had to process the fact that the Stadium was actually built according to plan, and that, amazingly, someone actually authorized it.

In my case, I had to process all of this while standing in the break-down lane of a Beijing highway. My guide on the way back from the Great Wall had offered to stop by the Stadium on the way back to Beijing. I enthusiastically accepted, but didn't realize until too late that their version of "stop by" meant pulling over on the highway, with cars whizzing past inches away.

Still, I managed to take a few shots, including this one.

Online timewaster: aviation photos

Everybody has their favorite web sites where every now and then you visit the site and enjoy it, but end up saying to yourself "I really should be doing something more productive." And then you spend ANOTHER hour on the site, or perhaps longer, until something more serious forces you to move along. If you're reading this, you're online, and if so, you'll either instantly understand what I'm talking about, or, you're an absolute liar - everybody has a favorite online time-sink.

For some folks, it is online celebrity & gossip sites, but for me, it is aviation photography. So, in an effort to justify the time I've spent surfing sites like this, I offer a few samples to get you hooked, and implicitly validate my online fetish.

(Either that, or I just want to show a few cool images, all from, and none of them taken by me.)

Thanks for indulging me. What's your favorite online time-sink?

(pictures: #1 is a landing at St. Maarten airport. #2 is the Plane Graveyard at an Air Force base near Tuscon, and #3 is an aerial view of the San Diego airport.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

What's your Chinese name?

One of the most popular postings on this blog was the "Brazilian Soccer Name Generator." A little more serious is Hilton's Chinese name generator.

Head to this site and enter your name, and birthdate, and you'll get back an approximation of your name in Chinese.

I'm officially now Guo Tian Mu, with "Guo" being any easy approximation for Gallagher, and Tian ("sky, heaven; god, celestial") and Mu ("long for, desire; admire" being how the Chinese ear hears "Tim." (I've also heard Tim translated as "Tamu.")

One interesting thing is how closely the translation from Chinese for "Tim" (one combination being 'admire God,') matches the translation from Latin of "Tim" - "honoring God."

-Guo Tian Mu

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If you read only one article today (Obamanomics)

A prominent economist runs the numbers on Obama's economic policies. Verdict: not even remotely good.

I really like Obama's newness, breath of fresh air, and some of his policies, such as getting the US out of Iraq. I really want to vote Obama (and did in the primary), but his policies for business and the economy completely negate the positives.

(I'm indirectly saying that the economy is a more important issue than Iraq. To me, it is not even close.)

I hoped - and keep hoping - that Obama will seek more mainstream policies and tilt towards the center, if not the right. I really thought his positions would moderate after the primaries, but he is obstinate in pursuing higher taxes, protectionism, and increased regulation.

I'll leave the gory details to the article in today's WSJ editorial "Obamanomics is a recipe for recession," but suffice to say, it's an economic policy akin to shifting from 5th gear to reverse. (Or, given today's economy, from 2nd gear to reverse. No, we're not in recession, I'll probably expound on this in another post.) After reading the article, you'll see that everyone's taxes will be rising. This is certainly not a plan that only affects "the rich."

In addition to the economic points in the article, I'm also dismayed by the philosophy underlying the proposals. I have yet to see Obama offer the rationale that suggests these policies will grow the economy more than current policy. All I ever hear as rationale for rolling back NAFTA or the tax increases is "fairness," and occasionally admissions that the additional tax revenue is necessary to pay for expanded government programs.

Select quotes from the article:

On NAFTA, after a litany of statistics: "it would be hard, on balance, for any objective person to argue that Nafta has injured the U.S. economy, reduced U.S. wages, destroyed American manufacturing, harmed our agriculture, damaged Mexican labor, failed to expand trade, or worsened the border environment"

In summary: "History teaches us that high taxes and protectionism are not conducive to a thriving economy, the extreme case being the higher taxes and tariffs that deepened the Great Depression."

Worth repeating and amplifying.....(Oil, John Edwards, and HUD)

Worth amplifying: per Larry Kudlow, the price of oil has dropped $30 per barrel since the proposal to expand drilling in offshore spots (and others) was issued. (2 months ago, I think.)

Worth amplifying: an outstanding economist (Sudhir Venkatesh)- who lived in the Chicago housing projects for more than a year, suggests in an NYT editorial that HUD (the department of housing and urban development) should be closed. Here's a sample of his argument:

"WITH the nation embroiled in a housing crisis, one would expect the Department of Housing and Urban Development to be playing a central role. But HUD is a marginal player. Although its Federal Housing Administration division has agreed to underwrite new mortgages, it is merely following the leadership of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

This is no accident. HUD’s sidelined role is a product of its anachronistic approach to both housing and cities. It might be best to simply close the agency and create a new cabinet-level commitment to urban development."

Good points all around, and a reinforcement of the notion that while many government programs are based on great intentions, a good many should be closed and canceled.

Here's some additional comments on the idea of dismantling HUD from Freakonomics author Steven Leavitt.

Worth repeating: A politician doing something very naughty that is getting very little attention in the press: John Edwards apparently has cheated on his wife and fathered a child with his mistress.

(Another Edwards ditty: I saw Edwards in Dulles airport 3 months ago. I was surprised at how regular he looked, and how short he was (5'9" at best.) I was also stunned at how desperate he was for attention. As I watched, he gravitated to the highest traffic area of the concourse, and proceeded to speak loudly on his Blackberry, until someone came over to shake his hand.)

Quote worth repeating (John Adams on Congress)

"I have come to the conclusion, that one useless man is a Disgrace, two are a law firm and three or more are called a Congress."--John Adams, "1776"

via WSJ editorial by former Delaware governor Pete DuPont. Read the editorial if you don't think Congress is packed with useless gits. don't read the article if you do - it will only make you more upset.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oh, this is scary (Obama policy)

Sen. Obama announced a plan to funnel $25B in low-interest loans to US automakers. Yes, the automakers are in sad shape, and yes, thousands of voters ( are in jeopardy, but this is just a downright bad idea, and more importantly, if this is representative of Obama's administration, we would be taking a seriously wrong turn towards national industrial policy, and state primacy over commerce.

My objection isn't the amount of money involved - through leverage, the cost of the $25B program is only $4B, which really isn't much money in government terms (though, keep in mind, the combined market cap of Ford & GM is only $18B - maybe the government should just buy these two companies?)

What really irks me are two things:

1) the activist notion of the Obama policy that government can and should influence business outcomes. There's a plethora of evidence that government activism is at best a zero-sum exercise. (Which reminds me: why should we want the governement to provide healthcare?) Why would business ever benefit from the participation (read: invasion) of government? How can politicizing commerce be a positive?

Worse, this smacks of industrial policy - in a nutshell, the notion that government can/should pick commercial winners. This was most readily used by Japan during the 1980's, and for a while, pundits thought it might be "Japan Inc.'s" secret to success. Suffice to say, the last ~15 years of Japanese recession have debunked industrial policy as value-creating.

2) that political policies should enforce the status quo. The current crisis - and resulting Obama auto loans - are the latest chapter in a 30+ year long decline of the US auto industry. The problems in the auto industry run deep. They are structural, and based on 30 years of history, not on the verge of being solved. The Obama loans are bandaids, and would likely just prolong the problems of the industry.

There are few industries beyond the auto industry in such dire need for change, and while the loans could fund the development of a few new models, the loans would just continue the status quo. This is quite odd for someone who's political message is change.

Project the Obama policy forward, and before you know it, there'll be another industry in bad shape, and in line for loans and federal oversight. (My early guess here is the pharmaceutical industry.) Eventually, government participation reduces business performance to mean, and ultimate business success or failure has more to do with the discretion of the government, and less about innovation and hard work.

Striking out.......

It's been an exciting week. On Tuesday, I committed to starting and running a new biotech company with two brilliant scientists at the University of Virginia. Our new company, Key Genomics, will develop and apply proprietary software to predict patient chemotherapeutic response. This is in the area of pharmacogenomics - how genetic differences affect drug response.

The sky is the limit for this company, and I'm very, very excited to be a part of making it happen. What makes this even more exciting is knowing that if successful, our technology will - through better (personalized) treatment decisions - improve the outcomes for many cancer patients.

It will be years, though, before our technology earns regulatory approval and is used in the clinic. Until then, we'll be swinging for the fences.

In spite of the big career move, I'd still say that the most exciting thing for me this week occurred Monday night, at the tail end of a meaningless baseball game.

For those who don't know, I'm a baseball nut and player. I have enjoyed continuing my post-college playing career in the local 18-and-over men's league, though at 38yrs old, I'm on the downside of my career.

For most of my career, I've been a catcher, though from time-to-time I've taken the mound to pitch. I think this may have less to do with having pitching talent, and more to do with my coach indulging every catcher who thinks he can pitch, possibly for a good laugh, possibly to remind said catcher how hard it is to pitch.

You can probably see where this going: I got to pitch in a game on Monday.

I took the mound in the last inning against the Orioles. I started off by walking the first hitter on 4 pitches - not good.

Next up was the cleanup hitter, and at this point, I realized that I had nothing in my arsenal except a fastball. I like to think I can throw a curveball, and on the sidelines I have a decent change-up, but for whatever reason - jitters, lack of talent, bad atmosphereic conditions (!?!), all I had was a fastball.

Fresh off the leadoff walk, I threw another ball. At this point, I was thinking this might be a short outing, as I'd told our coach Joe Hart that he ought to hook me if I walked 2 guys.

Luckily, while I didn't have great control, I had loads of movement on the fastball, and with nothing to lose, I just concentrated on pumping fastballs. I came back from the 1-0 count on the second hitter to strike him out swinging.

And then, unbelievably, I struck the 3rd hitter out (swinging), all on fastballs.

I was hoping when taking the mound to throw strikes and hopefully the hitters would put the ball in play on my terms - and with no expectations at all for a strikeout.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when I struck out the next hitter swinging too!

I sure won't win any awards for my performance the rest of the way, though. I went to two strikes on the 4th hitter, and then promptly plunked him. (I'll bet he's got a real nice bruise - I got him mid-thigh.) The 5th hitter hit a hard single to left, scoring both runners. The next hitter popped out to end the inning.

So, no Cy Young award for me, but loads of fun, and what a rush it was to strike out two hitters.

This is my last year of playing baseball competitively. I expect that age, injury, and my commitment to Key Genomics will take precedence next season, but I will definitely be replaying my strike outs against the Orioles over and over again in my mind for a long time, alongside some of the other great times I had on the field. I'll miss the game, but I'll miss my teammates even more. Check out some pictures of them in action here.

So, I have a few more games to enjoy this season. I doubt I'll get back on the pitching mound, but at the plate, and with Key Genomics, I'll be swinging for the fences.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Q: What do Ichiro, Pete Carroll and Robot Chicken have in common?

A: they're all covered in this catch-up post.

Here's a bunch of interesting links to explore:

Ever seen Robot Chicken? It's an animated show that goes even further than South Park, if that's possible. Check it out on the Cartoon Network's online home. (Btw: it's got nothing to do with chicken or robots.)

Here's a view of Charlottesville from visitors from a big-time football school. Southern Cal (USC) is coming to Charlottesville to humiliate the Hoos (note: I'm a Hoo fan) next month, and their advanced report on the area is posted on Pete Carroll's website.

Finally, a story that amused me: apparently Ichiro Suzuki, a 5'7" Japanese baseball player fires up the American League all-stars with a wild, profanity laced (English) pep tal. It must work, as Ichiro hasn't lost once in 8 years. The story is here.

FUN: Fork Union Drive-In

For a great way to spend a summer weekend night, check out the Fork Union Drive-In movie theater.

I had seen mention of the Fork Union Drive-In on movie listing for the last few years, but never much about the drive-in. There isn't a website for the theater, and no one I knew had been there, but I've always been intrigued by this slice of Americana that has almost disappeared, so I finally tried it out.

Drive-ins have mostly gone the way of the dodo because of rising real estate costs. (With any population nearby, the land is worth more as a strip mall than a theatre used 35-40 times per year.) There's still a few hidden in corners of Virginia, and finally I had a weekend where intent, schedule, and weather all synced up to make for a great night at the drive-in.

I finally went this past Saturday to the Fork Union Drive-In, located about 25 miles from Cville in Fluvanna. (Hull's Drive-In, the other drive-in located an easy drive from Cville, is located in Lexington.) The theater is open every weekend for a double-feature starting @ dusk. On Saturday, we saw The Incredible Hulk and Wanted. The Hulk was OK, and Wanted officially sucked (though I'm in the minority here- 15,000 Yahoo users rated the movie a collective B+.) The important thing here is that the Drive-In has two first run films for only $8.50 (total) per person.

A full concession stand offers all of the movie favorites (including very yummy fresh popcorn with real butter), plus hot dogs, BBQ, and ice cream. Prices are very reasonable (I think I paid $2.50 for a large soda - it'd be $5 at an indoor theater), plus, in spite of rules against it, you can bring drinks in via coolers - if the other moviegoers are any indication.

The crowd was a mix of families in minivans and folks in pick-up trucks on a date. (Pick-ups make for great seating arrangements if you park away from the screen.) There's plenty of grass for kids to play on pre-film. With 2 films running until midnight, some families left after the first movie. The audio and visual for the movies was solid - audio is available from both traditional wired speaker boxes and via radio broadcast - just tune your car radio. ;The gate opens @ 7:30, with movies starting @ 8:45. I'd say the drive-in was 80% full on a perfect night weather-wise.

The crowd must have been extreme locals (including Lake Monticello), as there's no marketing for the drive-in, as far as I can tell. I really think that the drive-in could be packed every weekend with more awareness in Albemarle County (or even the West End of Richmond) - what better way to entertain a minivan full of kids on a Friday or Saturday night? Of course, with the theater 80% full, the proprietors are probably just as happy keeping things local.

The drive-in's mailing address is "Rural Route 6," which means that you can't map it's exact location in Google in order to get driving directions. To get there from Cville, take Rt. 15 south 15 miles to a right on Rt. 6. Drive through Fork Union, past FUMA, and take a right just past a BP gas station. The theater is about 100 yards ahead. Careful: there don't seem to be any signs for the theater, keeping with the general trend of not marketing the Drive-In.

I highly recommend the Fork Union Drive-In experience, and will head back a few more times this summer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Catch-up post (What do Robot Chicken, Pete Carroll, and Ichiro Suzuki have in common?)

Here's a bunch of interesting links to explore:

Ever seen Robot Chicken? It's an animated show that goes even further than South Park, if that's possible. Check it out on the Cartoon Network's online home. (Btw: it's got nothing to do with chicken or robots.)

Here's a view of Charlottesville from visitors from a big-time football school. Southern Cal (USC) is coming to Charlottesville to humiliate the Hoos (note: I'm a Hoo fan) next month, and their advanced report on the area is posted on Pete Carroll's website.

Finally, a story that amused me: apparently Ichiro Suzuki, a 5'7" Japanese baseball player fires up the American League all-stars with a wild, profanity laced (English) pep tal. It must work, as Ichiro hasn't lost once in 8 years. The story is here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Congress Has Lowest Approval Rating EVER

Lost in all of the (justified) dumping on 'W' is the fact that Congress has been alternatively inept, ineffective and incompetent for....well, since about 1998.

It seems the public has noticed, as this recent Gallup poll reports - only 12% of all respondents are confident in Congress. This is the story that's getting the most attention, but take a look at some of the other lower scorers:

Public schools - 33% (maybe the Dems should be a little careful before defending education status quo).

Mass media news - 24% (tv news & newspapers - even the masses realize that mass media is choosing ratings over veritas.)

Unions - 20% - considering that only 12% of all Americans belong to a union, it looks like the only people who care are those with a financial relationship with the unions (members, plus retirees and extended family.)

Finally, it is interesting to note 2 disconnects:

Small businesses are well-received (60%) while big business scores poorly (20%). Relatively speaking, the same dynamic exists between the the medical system (35%) and HMOs (13%.)

Hat tip: Club for Growth blog

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bizarre image of the day......

Apparently the Chinese anti-terrorist squad will be deploying during the Olympics on Segways. Better hope no bad guys can run faster than 12 mph!

China is widely publicizing it's anti-terror precautions during the Olypmics as much inside the country as externally, as I noticed on a TV segment featuring such a team (riding SUVs, not Segways) on TV during my last trip to China last fall. Though China is often perceived to be passive internally, and therefore more concerned about external terror threats, IMHO, internal terror group pose as big of a threat, as China is anything but a homogeneous country.

Hat tip: Deadspin.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

video from Jefferson's draft of Declaration of Independence

Happy 4th of July, and happy birthday America!

In honor of this auspicious day, here's an illustration of one of the key moments in the birth of our nation.

This clip comes from the HBO John Adams series which, from the parts I saw, was excellent. One of the highlights was Jefferson, played extremely well by Stephen Dillane. I'd really like to see him in a Jefferson-centric feature.

Hat tip: the Club for Growth Blog

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Another baseball vid.....

OK, I'm definitely overdoing it on the baseball-themed YouTube vids, but take a look at this one:

If you haven't already figured it out, the vid was totally staged and the ballgirl had a lot of help climbing the wall. Still, it's pretty cool.....

Monday, June 30, 2008

My new bike!

Here's my birthday present to myself - a new road bike. It's a Roubaix Pro, made by Fuji. It has a mix of Shimano 105 (front shifters) and Ultegra (rear) components, which means that it has 20 very smooth gears. It's an aluminum frame, with a carbon front fork and rear carbon seat stays. (Carbon, compared to aluminum flexes more, so the ride is slightly more comfortable with a carbon rear.) The whole bike weights 19.2 pounds.

I bought the bike yesterday up in Northern Virginia, and in spite of dark clouds in the sky, I was able to take the bike for a ride down the Mt. Vernon Trail, from Teddy Roosevelt Island to Old Town Alexandria - about 17 miles round trip. It was a fun ride, and it gave me another chance to hang out on the flight path of Reagan National airport at Gravelly Point Park.

All of this was following lunch with my buddy Kevin at Moby Dick's Kabob Shop. (Yup, I didn't get the Moby Dick connection either, but at least the food was good.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What I'm reading now.....

Time for a new feature here at CogentPassion - what I've been reading recently.

I'm currently into From the Third World to the First: the Singapore Story, as told by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

I've been to Singapore twice, and am amazed not just at the city, which is vibrant, exciting, and well-run, but how just miles to the north (Malaysia) and miles to the south (Indonesia) are countries that without the leadership of someone like Lee are still backwards third world countries. As I've learned through the first ~150 pages, a lot of this is due to the iron hand of Lee. Sometimes this is good, though one can not read the Singapore story without noting the absence of liberty in Singapore.

Initial grade: 1 star of 5. It's a plodder, and at ~750 pages, it is going to take a while....

Just to catch up, here's two other books that I've finished this month:

Beyond Band of Brothers: the War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters. I was absolutely riveted by the HBO/Hanks/Spielberg TV series Band of Brothers about an "average" WWII infantry company. While Winters' recollections were a big part of the TV series, there's no substitute for hearing about the story of Easy Company first hand. The book repeats many of the stories of Band of Brothers, but adds the personal perspective and many lessons and leadership.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.

The Collectors, by David Baldacci

Standard Baldacci fare, involving Washington D.C. and the Camel Club. It's not anything like his initial thriller Absolute Power, but still OK beach/deck reading material.

Rating: 2 stars of 5.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Great quotes to consider:

From "Top 10 Coaches Quotes" (linked above):

Inspiration from Vince Lombardi:

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Deep one, from Al McGuire: “The only mystery in life is why the kamikaze pilots wore helmets.”

And one funny, but accurate one from Bobby Knight:

“If the NBA were on Channel 5 and a bunch of frogs making love was on Channel 4, I’d watch the frogs, even if they were coming in fuzzy.”

The other 7 quotes are worth a read.....

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Tim's online photo gallery

I'm dabbling with designing and hosting web pages. My first effort is to put my favorite picture online, which you can see here.

(Of course, with the advent of Flickr and other, this means I'm at least five years behind the times.)

More pages and pictures to come......

Friday, June 06, 2008

Stupid baseball tricks.....

Check out this vid of a catcher pulling a fast-one on a homeplate umpire. It's not so nice, if you're wondering.

I did this once (less obviously) in high school in about 1987 when the homeplate umpire was our assistant principal who had just given me detention after the following exchange with my feminist American History teacher Ms. Wiest:

(Ms. Wiest babbling on about how hard it was to be a woman on the Plains in America in the late 1800's)

Tim (to person sitting next to me): how come we're spending more time on this than the Civil War?

Ms. Wiest (overhearing Tim). This is more important. If you don't agree, you can tell me in detention while writing about great American woman of the Plains.

Tim: (loudly) that'll take five minutes.

That was probably my first encounter with Political Correctness. My answer was a bit too chauvinistic, and I wouldn't today shoot back with the "five minutes" remark, but I would still push back against Ms. Wiest's agenda.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Slimey (the Clintons)

Vanity Fair has a nearly 10,000 word article on the seamy, slimey activities of Bill Clinton post-presidency.

I'm glad someone is detailing the rabid and alternatively erratic behavior of BC. Here's an excerpt:

"Clinton’s temper has continued to get the better of him. By the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, he was reduced, in a Philadelphia radio phone interview, to denying that his comments in South Carolina had been in any way racially charged, and instead insisted that the Obama camp “played the race card on me.” He sputtered, “I mean, this is just, you know … You really gotta go something to play the race card with me—my office is in Harlem.” At the end of the interview, apparently unaware that he was still on the air, Clinton was heard to say, “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?” Asked the next day by another reporter what he had meant by saying the Obama campaign “was playing the race card,” Clinton would have none of it. “No, no, no, that’s not what I said,” he erupted, as if he did not know that his earlier comments had been recorded and were all over the Internet. He added, “You always follow me around and play these little games, and I’m not going to play your games today.” It’s a nice question, just who was playing the games. When I asked a Clinton campaign official how the former president could have issued such a flat denial, the aide immediately responded, with no trace of irony, that the offending reporter had used the word “playing,” while in the radio interview Clinton had used the word “played.” I’m not sure whether that makes Clinton’s outburst better or worse, but it’s of a piece with the parser the public knows so well."

The article, though, comes just short of asking the big question: how did Bill (and Hillary) earn $109M post-presidency (when they were $12M in debt), and how did the Clinton Foundation and Presidential Library raise $500M? Here's one excerpt, though, that should give you an idea of how the Clintons have raised the money:

"Even more troubling is Clinton’s relationship with the Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra. This winter, a lengthy investigative report in The New York Times disclosed that, in 2005, Clinton flew to the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan on Giustra’s MD-87 jet for what was billed as a philanthropic three-country tour. The two men had dinner with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has held the country in a vise-like grip for nearly two decades. At their meeting, Clinton expressed support for Nazarbayev’s bid to head the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors elections and promotes democracy. That position was sharply at odds with official American foreign policy and came in the face of stinging criticism of Kazakhstan’s record on human rights from many sources, including the junior senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Within two days, Giustra’s company signed preliminary agreements allowing it to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency. And months after that the Clinton Foundation received a $31.3 million donation from Giustra that remained secret until a Giustra representative acknowledged it late last year. (Giustra has separately pledged another $100 million to the foundation.)"

The big finish, from the writer of the article, who is married to Clinton's former press secretary: "Throughout his career, Bill Clinton has justified acts of extraordinary selfishness in the name of idealism.............In the end, this is Clinton’s most grievous sin, his steady refusal to take grown-up responsibility for the consequences of his own actions."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Charlottesville makes the WSJ

Charlottesville is covered in today's WSJ. I totally agree on Bizou (restaurant). Ten is OK, but trying a bit too hard to be trendy in my book.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another interesting podcast quote:

"No two democracies have ever gone to war against each other." - Swedish writer Johan Norberg in a podcast titled "Globalization is Good."

I don't think this justifies nation-building or neocon-driven intervention, but it certainly is a good point to remember as we consider foreign policy choices, defense spending as the world becomes more free and democratic, and who REALLY is (or can be) America's friends.

Based on the premise that democracies are inherently allied, why not form a free-trade zone across all democracies, not only to boost trade among friends, but to add an incentive to non-democracies to change their form of government?

Amazing economic fact:

"In the last 25 years, we've had only 3 down quarters." - Former Secretary of State George Schultz,in an interview on Bloomberg, promoting his new book "Putting Our House in Order: A Guide to Social Security and Health Care Reform."

We sure don't hear messages like this often enough. Our economy has been in decline only 3% of the time over the last quarter century. I'd certainly say that I hear bear arguments or outright doom and gloom way more than 3% of the time.

And while the current view of our economic future may be dominated by the current financial crisis, there's still every reason to believe that global growth, opening economies, and IT and communication revolutions will continue to propel the world and US ecomies upward, as best outlined by Peter Schwartz in the classic Wired article The Long Boom.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How NOT to play baseball

Easton created a series of commercials with big leaguers spoofing the immortal Tom Emanski training videos. Check out this great bit of instruction from the Big Z, Carlos Zambrano, on how to be hit by a pitch.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Environment meets energy meets tax policy

Larry Kudlow blogs to comment on McCain's recently announced carbon cap and trade platform (he doesn't like it, nor should you). What caught my eye was hearing that intelligent people (Greg Mankiw and Al Gore to name a few) are suggesting a carbon tax with proceeds to defray federal income and/or payroll taxes in lieu of the cap and trade system.

I LOVE this idea! Here's why:

-tax efficiency: fundamentally, a carbon tax is a consumption tax, while income is, well, income. When you tax something, you get less of it - shouldn't we create incentive to consume less, and remove disincentives to generating more income?

-transparency: directly taxing carbon will give us all a direct and greater understanding of the cost and environmental impact of all economic activities.

-feasibility: a stand-alone carbon tax would never fly - no one wants to vote for a new tax - but substituting taxes could fly. Likewise, there's no chance that either the payroll or income taxes are spontaneously reduced or eliminated on their own.

-economic impact: just a guess on my part, but I think that a payroll or income tax cut will have a net greater positive on the economy than a tax on carbon consumption.

-and finally, this idea works because frankly, cap and trade - already in use in europe - DOESN'T WORK!

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous