Friday, February 27, 2009

Investment idea?

A friend was joking that we should all convert our savings accounts into gold. After all, his theory was, what if the value of the dollar just suddenly collapses?

It looks like pretty much every currency is going down right now. So maybe it evens up. But I was thinking that gold might not be such a good investment.

Think about it. What do we use gold for? At this point, decoration. By that I mean jewelry. And tooth fillings.

But that requires people buying it in the long term. My suggestion back to my friend was that we should all just start bottling up clean water. That way, when the economic apocalypse comes, and people start hunting and gathering, we'll have the one commodity everyone needs: clean water. Lots of it.

Unf., from what I can tell, water is not traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Someone's missing out on a gold mine here Or in this case, a spring!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Up in Michigan

Saginaw, Michigan is not a place I have been. Looking at Google Maps, it seems like it could be more remote, however, it does seem like a place where one could get bored.

Boredom, of course, leads to bad ideas. Like this:

AP - A man has pleaded no contest to indecent exposure after police said he was arrested for performing a sex act with a car wash vacuum.

Uh huh.

A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but will be treated as one at sentencing on March 25.

Police said the man was arrested after a resident called officers early on Oct. 16 to report suspicious activity at a car wash in Thomas Township, about 90 miles northwest of Detroit.

So wait... a resident noticed something and it was still going on minutes later when police arrived?

See, this article, to its credit, is low on what you might call "the gory details." The problem here is I have a tremendous imagination. And right now, it's not a good thing to have.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tune Day: Jury's Out

I'm trying to decide how I feel about this band. I first heard this song before the holidays and didn't know where I stood on it. Then I decided I liked it, though it's pretty overtly trying to be The Arcade Fire.

The album is not, though and I've been trying it on for size. Anyhow, since I heard it on Tampa radio today, it will soon be on every rock stations (if it's not already), so might as well weigh in now:

Sometime Around Midnight - The Airborne Toxic Event

Monday, February 23, 2009

The South is Burning

Two weeks ago, I flew from NYC to Orlando at night. We flew over the Tidewater area of Virginia, which is important only in that I knew as soon as the lights from that metropolis faded, I was over North Carolina (which is relevant b/c I could pick out where we were and other things you don't care about...).

What is notable is that when we got somewhere over eastern NC, there were wildfires. Big ones. Like, able to see flames and their eerie reflection off billowing smoke thousands of feet below.

Now, in 2003, I flew to LA at the height of some terrible California wildfires. And by bad I mean, smoke 15,000 feet in the air huge. So these were small fires.

The key word in that last sentence, though, is "these." They are everywhere. Flying from Charlotte to Tampa today, I saw tons from the air. These were not factories or plants billowing ick from smokestacks. This was smoke rising from acres of land.

As I drove south on I-75 from Tampa to Sarasota I drove by one on the side of the road. I shit you not. Cars were slowing down with a collective, "huh?"

Anyhow, General Sherman is not the one flambe-ing Dixie this go 'round. It's drought, of course.

So, the brain trust down here in Florida thought, "well, if we do some controlled burns, it will wipe out wildfire fuel."

As this story shows, that's not going so hot. Or it's going extremely, blazingly hot.

He's alive? In Sarasota?

The sign says: "Waffle Stop - Eat With Elvis."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking stock of these whiners

I am getting more and more annoyed as the economy worsens and not for the reasons you might think.

Take, for example, this morning's article in the Charlotte Observer. Therein, we find a lot of bank stock shareholders whining. Things are so bad for them. One guy sunk $35K into a bank and he's nearly lost it all. And now there's this talk of nationalization... it's just not fair. He could lose everything.

Was I the only one reading the news a couple years ago, when the personal savings rate was below zero and debt was rising more than ever - even as incomes stayed flat, thinking "Golly gee whillickers, maybe the lunatics are running the asylum!"??

Because they were. Stocks were soaring. But built on what? I asked people who knew this stuff better than me at the time and they came back with nothing to reassure me. Basically, they said, "well, but growth is good!" They never said how we would sustain it.

Last year the Dow was up over 14,000. I remember Jim Cramer getting on his soapbox on CNBC announcing that the bulls were out to stay. Basically, those Bush tax cuts and the economic stimulus checks had worked, he would explain. The thing was, the only people who were helped were company shareholders, buoyed by their own willingness to invest.

Meanwhile, the rest of us saw a check in the mail and that was it... no sudden increases in spending power, nothing that would allow for the model profits of our economy to be sustained.

And now, these shareholders are whining because for the first time in this crisis, we're going to try to help the bulk of the citizenry slowly get stronger instead of handing already well-off shareholders more cash to toss into their own interests.

And they're fighting back. Saying they'll "revolt," that they won't purchase stocks anymore. Puh-leese! What a joke. These guys only see dollar signs. They change their minds the moment they can grab another extra dime.

They say that it's not their fault the economy is bad. Maybe so, but their signatures are all over the voting rolls that approved the mega-mergers that exposed their banks to toxic debt. They did get to vote on those after all.

Business TV has oversimplified the economy for most. Many channels carry the Dow in the lower corner of the screen during the day... a moment by moment scoreboard of the index. And the moment they tip down - that dubious deep-red down-facing arrow on the screen - the alarms sound.

Folks, your economy isn't the Dow. Many seem to think if the Dow is down, our economy will follow. That's not how it works. The Dow goes down because there are already economic problems.

But these days, it seems it goes down because we're seeing whiny investors who were only in the market to make a quick buck "revolt." They're pulling their dollars back when they never should have been there to start with. Investing, whether they like it or not, is a long-term deal.

So when I hear these folks complaining that they're hurting, maybe they should go trade in their BMWs and go get a Hyundai. Their lifestyles are turning out to be more precarious than they thought, but unlike a lot of Americans who are battening down the hatches and doing all they can to get by, the shareholders are whining that it's just not fair for them to have to do the same.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Two quick raves

More to come on these, but...

Slumdog Millionaire IS as good as you've been told. Tremendously well-acted, it is intense on every front. There are some critics saying otherwise. Those people, it can be said with certainty, either have no souls or are the kinds of people who bitch about free Miller Lite.


I have been extremely critical of U2 since All That You Can't Leave Behind. I have felt like they put their creativity in a box since Pop, favoring indulgent songs that please their ultra-entitled fans. Their new disc shows otherwise. I cannot stop listening to it. Songs are subtle, relying not on Bono's bravado, but the flat out skill of the entire group. It's nice to have them back.

More to come...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let's just hope they, uh, don't "finalize" this arrangement

Let us turn to our friends at Reuters, who bring us this lovely romp. As always, I don't need to type when they can tell it so much better:

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – An infant boy was married off to his neighbors' dog in eastern India by villagers, who said it will stop the groom from being killed by wild animals, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.

Around 150 tribespeople performed the ritual recently in a hamlet in the state of Orissa's Jajpur district after the boy, who is under two years old, grew a tooth on his upper gum.

The Munda tribe see such a growth in young children as a bad omen and believe it makes them prone to attacks by tigers and other animals. The tribal god will bless the child and ward off evil spirits after the marriage.

OK... so... uh...

No dowry was exchanged, the witness said, and the boy will still be able to marry a human bride in the future without filing for divorce.

Indian law does not recognize weddings between people and animals, but the ritual survives in rural and tribal areas of the country.


That said, I mean this guy is going to have problems in middle school. Like, I see this kid hanging out after school with a group and getting pissed when his friend Ravi turns to Irshad (the new kid) and says, "Oh yeah, Sagula here [ed - this is his name] is a great guy but his wife's a real dog!"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tune Day: A day early!

Tomorrow will be a day of planes, trains and automobiles for me (no really, US Airways in the morning, the DC Metro and then a car ride). So not a lot of time for blogging. But tomorrow is Tuesday, and that means I owe you a song.

Our selection this week by the British hot band du jour, Glasvegas. I actually am enjoying this group, though... worth checking out. Here's "Geraldine:"

Geraldine - Glasvegas

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday is for Spin

Last summer, I feel into a nice rhythm of going to a Sunday morning spinning class. Then the NFL season started. Then it was the holidays. And for that time of year, Sundays just weren't working for me to go hit a bike for an hour.

Since getting through the holidays, though, I've been hitting the gym even harder, getting myself back into shape for spinning.

Today was the first Sunday morning spin I've done since August. And it went very well, but a few observations:

  • Apparently, it's vital to have a sadistic spinning instructor. I mean, she pushes everyone to bring out their best, but she's not afraid to call the room out when they're not.
  • Teenage girls who look affected for the first half hour - barely moving the pedals - and then walk out should just stay home. Spinning is not for everyone and, yes, by the end of class you will look sweaty and grimy. And if you cannot bear to deal with that, please stay home.
  • The music is vital. A group of coworkers and I did a spinning class on a business trip two weeks ago. Decent instructor but the tunes were brutal. I think a good rule is don't let an aging hippie teach your spinning class.
  • I guess Monica Seles was in my class. And she is now and Asian man. That noise you hear at 12:55 p.m. today? Yeah, it was this guy. Grunting. Groaning. Punching himself in the quads. I am not making this up. All very unnecessary.
Anyhow, I'm back in the saddle as they say.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tune Day: Pop Music Saviour

Today, Lily Allen's new CD, It's Not Me, It's You, hits shelves. And not a flipping moment too soon.

It's the sass-mouthed, snarky, danceable fun you might expect, but about 20 times more intelligent than the pop drivel we suffered through in 2008. Hopefully, Kelly Clarkson's Swedish songwriters can keep up here next month.

Ms. Allen, by the way, writes her own material. Her album is fantastic (I think I like it better than her debut, to be honest). And this, friends, is your current #1 single in the United Kingdom:

The Fear - Lily Allen

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Adventures in Homeownership, Part 302

When we last saw our hero, he was finding out he owes more on his house than he's likely to get on the market. In today's episode...

It started innocently enough. We decided that the old fish tank was beyond repair and needed to be replaced. So, out I went to go get a new, smaller tank (with a filter that doesn't sound like the background on a Skinny Puppy song). As we're installing this new aquarium, there's a lot of running to and fro in the house, and on one particular trip, I put my hand against the wall in our hallway and feel something give. And, there, sure enough, is a 4-inch hole in my wall.

I barely even touched the damn thing. Fortunately, it's not so much a hole as the beginning of a hole. The part of the wall that would need to be absent to have a true hole in my wall is still somewhat in place. There are no signs of water damage, though, so let's count our blessings there.

Now, friends, it gets interesting.

I have a home warranty. I wasn't sure if this hole in the wall might be covered. If it was a small hole, I would go to Lowe's, get some mesh and Spackle and go to town. But it's not small. I need someone to come do this for me (because if I do it, it will look like I did it... not the goal here).

Unfortunately, the home warranty doesn't cover this. It does, however, cover my HVAC system. And wouldn't you know, my heath pump is a legit fire hazard, with jerry-rigged wiring powering the fan motor. The wires could get clipped by the fan blades and then... well, any number of things could happen. This is all aside from the fact that one of the wires is held together by a wire nut, so every time it rains... well water might just get on the wires. None of these contingencies bode well.

So, I call my home warranty company to inquire about the heat pump. Grab some popcorn kids...

I'm not even going to detail the insanity of the conversation with the first guy I talked to. Needless to say, when I picked up my jaw from the floor, I asked to speak to a manager. Here is what transpired next:

Me: Hi, so my heat pump is a fire hazard. I just discovered this. I'm thinking probably better to repair it.

Home warranty guy: Well, does the system work?

Me: It works.

HWG: Well, we can only schedule service if it breaks.

Me: OK, so... if I'm getting this straight, you would rather not pay the small price to prevent a problem in favor of paying a much larger price to replace the system when this does break. And, you're assuming the house doesn't burn down when it breaks?

HWG: Well... yes.

Me: I mean, that makes sense, right?

HWG: I understand you're frustrated. But if the system was working when coverage started, we cannot repair it. We don't cover incorrect installation or repairs, either.

Me: Well, how do you inspect this stuff? I cannot imagine an inspector would think this would be OK if he looked at my heat pump.

HWG: We just have occupants run through a protocol and report back on what works.

Me: You don't have an official inspection?

HWG: No.

Me: So the previous tennants can just lie?

HWG: Well... i suppose...

Me: So, you're telling me I would be better off to just call you when it breaks, assuming that I am home when it does and can cut the circuit breaker before an electrical fire starts?

HWG: Yes, we'd send a tech out then, but he would have to report on whether or not breakage was the result of faulty work, which we wouldn't cover.

Me: Whoawhoawhoa... so you're saying that you won't send someone now because the system is in good working order, but if it breaks you'll send someone out who could say that it broke because the system wasn't in good working order?

HWG: Well, I suppose that could happen...

Me: I mean that's a great deal for you guys.

I. Shit. You. Not.

The problem was, by this point, I pretty much had the warranty guy on my side. But he couldn't do anything. Underwriting is underwriting. What he did was give me the names of three contractors they use for HVAC.

I call all three. Only one is working today on routine service and he doesn't even charge an extra fee for coming out on a Sunday. It is completely unfortunate that this contractor lacks a Web site I can link to, but let's just say that if you're in Charlotte and need an HVAC guy, Real Cool is the way to go.

And so, the system has been repaired, at a mercifully low cost. Now, to find a handyman for my wall...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Brief Civics Lesson

From time to time, we will use this space to offer you, dear readers, with some clarification on civics and our country's political system. We will do this in as non-partisan a way as possible.

And today's issue stems from the fact that everyone on TV is calling the stimulus bill "Obama's stimulus bill."

President Obama did request a stimulus bill. He requested it not be solely based on tax cuts, favoring a package that would spend money on infrastructure, putting blue collar people to work, giving them paychecks to spend, creating white-collar jobs to support that spending, etc. Basically, spend government money to create more taxpayers - which makes some sense.

All that aside, there's one thing he didn't do: create the legislation. That, friends, is what your legislature - the House and Senate - gets to do. Obama can state his view, but it's your elected representatives and senators that make laws here.

So, then, this stimulus people are discussing isn't Obama's - it belongs to Congress.

Now, follow me here - since we elected these representatives to represent us (not just a clever name we gave them), if you don't like the bill, you need to go tell your guy/gal in congress that you care and you vote. And, sure, the president can veto a bill he doesn't like, but we've forgotten that a veto is the president looking at you, my voting friends, and saying: "I don't care what you told your reps to create, I disagree, so there."

And, see, presidents don't always want to do that. They want to trust that their congress - the people's voice - is giving them what the people want.

So... long story short, if you don't like the stimulus package (something interesting since any stimulus package is going to need to be judged on its merits months after it has passed, but that's an entirely separate blog...), it's not on Obama. It's on Congress. And by extension... it's on you. Because you're the ones who are supposed to let your congresspeople know what you think.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tune Day: Under the Covers

One thing we do like around here is a good cover of a contemporary song. They come along somewhat rarely... Fountains of Wayne doing up "...Baby One More Time." Or Gnarls covering "Reckoner."

Here's one that's been around, but since I have London and all thing British on my mind, it's time:

Champagne Supernova (Edit) - Matt Pond Pa

Monday, February 2, 2009

Status: Coming Up With Brilliant Ideas

I have an idea for Facebook. I want to be able to update statuses FOR my friends. I would pay for this... maybe a monthly subscription or something.

I mean, seriously... don't you have that friend that you see their status update pop up and you think it should read "Suchandsuch is a complete idiot?"

Well, dear readers, under my plan, that could happen.

Sure, there would be ramifications. For instance, that friend might not talk to you anymore. And you'd have to figure that out. But what about those "friends" who aren't really friends? Think about it. Do you care if that annoying person from whatever place in your past gets mad that you wrote him/her a status that said "Suchandsuch really needs to start thinking about Rogaine?"

No. You don't.

And think about it. Other people could comment back on the status like "Damn right!"

Anyhow, I think this merits some consideration.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Foreign Relations

The economy is bad, to be sure. There aren't a lot of upsides to that. When you find an upside, I'm of a mind that you take advantage of it.

In this particular case, the upside is that it's dirt cheap to travel overseas right now.

So, Sarah & I are going to exercise our passports in a month. Through the continuing magic of Yahoo! Travel - my go-to for el travel cheapo for several years - we've got flights and a hotel in London starting March 4 (or March if you start when we land).

I've always felt kinda bad... I've been to Europe and Sarah hasn't. I remember never having been there and being around people who had been. It wasn't any fun. It's one of those things that nothing you can say in that conversation is going to be able to hold serve.

Anyhow, for what really looks like bargain pricing, we are going to have a four-night trip. We get to fly directly from Charlotte. I'll get to exercise my new digital SLR in the best way possible. I'll get to smooch my wife at the top of the London Eye.

And the best part... we're going to do our normal thing... pick a bunch of things we want to do, knowing it's unlikely we'll get to them all... and then we'll let every day come and grab us. There will be things we will make sure to do and see, for sure. But we've found the way that works best for us anywhere is to sit back and the city grab you...

That said, please let me know your tips, bargain spots, hook-ups for FA Cup tickets and those sorts of things.

Oh and... the thing I really need are a couple of these.