Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pants (not on the ground, but on sale), WSOP, no super powers, & the Grammys

The wife and I found out we'll be getting a decent chunk of money (which had been stolen from us over the past year) returned to us in a few weeks.  Yup, it's tax season.  Not only is my mom-in-law willing to smuggle 6 Pass Key sandwiches into her carry-on when she comes to visit us, she's also our personal accountant, and she said we'll get a nice return this year.

This news led us to go out shopping for some new pants for me to wear during the work week.  We ended up hitting the jackpot at Old Navy.  They had men's pants on sale, down from $30 to $18, and the entire store was 30% off.  After paying $12 each for three pairs of nice fitting pants (which are harder to find than one might think) at the mall, we headed to the other big mall in town and bought four more pair of pants.  I can now Goodwill half-a-dozen ill fitting pants that I've been wearing for way too long.

Speaking of Goodwill, we stopped by a local thrift store and found three really nice golf-logo polos (and one not so nice shirt that I bought anyway because it was a buck).  I have started accumulating a nice collection of golf course logo polos, and all at thrift store prices.

Earlier this week, my wife informed me that the Horse Shoe Casino in neighboring Council Bluffs, IA, is hosting the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit tour during the last half of February, culminating in a $5000 buy-in Hold'em tourney on March 1st.  The winner of the March 1st event earns a seat in the Main Event in Las Vegas this summer.  But a $5000 buy-in tournament prices out most poker players, so the casino hosts dozens of "satellite" tournaments before hand.  A satellite tournament is a way for the average Joe to buy in for a modest price ($40-$65) and, should they do well and make it to the final table, make enough money to buy-in at a higher price.  Should a fellow get on a roll, he might parlay a $40-tournament into a $235-tournament into a $5000-tournament into the Main Event in Vegas (not probable but possible).

Needless to say, the thought of the WSOP in Vegas got my poker playing juices flowing.  I found the poker room at the Horse Shoe's February calendar and began plotting my schedule.  I found that there would be over a half dozen $40 tourneys over the next few weekends.  The first available $40 tourney was today (Sunday) at 2:00.  I called the poker room and they explained that the event would not be held in the Poker Room (which only has about 20 tables) and that they would accept entries up to 40 minutes after the event started.  The person I spoke with also said that it wouldn't sell out, so I figured I'd show up at around 2:00 and play some cards.  My friend Ron and I showed up to find that everything I'd been told about today's event was false.  The event was in the poker room and it was sold out.  Bummer.

We ventured over to the table games and settled on the "Let it Ride" game.  Ron explained the rules of the game to me and we sat down.  I got $50 in chips and 30 minutes later I colored out my chips after he lost his.  I cashed out with $65 in profit, so it looks like I'll be playing on house money this weekend.  Score one for the little guy.

Also poker related, on Friday, I went to one of my co-worker's fiance's bachelor party, where we played poker.  It was a $10 buy-in Hold'em tournament, with unlimited re-buys the first two hours.  I made it to the final three (and without re-buying) before being knocked out.  Very fun.

Last Friday, my wife did her iodine treatment to fix her hyperactive thyroid, and I'm happy to report that she's on the mend.  She's still taking beta-blockers to help slow her heart rate, which she's been able to decrease her dosage over the past few days, which is a great sign.  Also, I'm sad to report, no super-powers resulted from the iodine radiation.  Bummer.

Tonight I watched the Grammys and wrote down some thoughts that I had, which I recorded on Twitter.  (Yeah, I use Twitter.  Jealous?)  During the live-tweeting, I responded to SarahK47's question about who was singing with Taylor Swift with the following tweet:  "I believe she's singing with either David Crosby or Stevie Nicks. I can never tell the difference."  That tweet resulted in a re-Tweet and a "haha" reply from SarahK, of which I will forever be proud.  (It should be noted that SarahK has about 1400 followers, so, yeah, it was awesome.)

Other tweets from my live-tweeting:
  • New Rule: Drummers for rock bands are not allowed to wear eye-liner. Let the lead singer/guitarist get glammed up, but not drummers. (regarding the drummer for Green Day)
  • "Imma Be" putting on the mute until the Black Eyed Peas finish this song.  
  • Wow, Stevie Wonder is reading off the teleprompter. Impressive for a blind guy. Wait, what? That's not Stevie? Who is it? Lionel who? Oh.
  • Apparently Hudson, Celine, Smokie, Usher & Carrie are such bright stars, the audience has to wear sunglasses.
  • Holy crap, Micheal Jackson's kids look like they are 30 yrs old. It seemed like just yesterday they were being dangled over a balcony.  (Too soon?  Sorry.)
  • If I promise to buy a concert ticket will Bon Jovi promise not to do the "everyone-sings-into-the-microphone-at-the-same-time" move. I hate that move. 
  • "You & Me" + choir and orchestra + wacky Dave dancing = best performance of the Grammys.
  • I love that "Honey Boy" Edwards is wearing a hat with his name on the front. I could learn a thing or two from him about self-promotion.
  • Quintin Tarintino thinks hes cooler than he really is.
  • As much as I hate baggy jeans on rappers, I hate skinny jeans more. Did Lil' Wayne borrow a pair of jeans from a fan in jr high school?
  • Do Eminem and Lil Wayne understand that each curse causes CBS to cut out 7 seconds of performance, including the music? Horrible.
  • How much more attention does Lady GaGa need before she'll go away?
  • Taylor Swift just slayed some musical giants: Beyonce, DMB, Lady GaGa, Black Eyed Peas. Impressive and well deserved.   

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nate Fowler

A while back, while surfing through Twitter, I stumbled upon a musician named Nate Fowler.  He's an up and coming artist whose music reminds me of Mat Kearney.  After following him for a while, I discovered that he is very active in communicating with his followers.  After I initially started following me, he sent me a direct message (Twitter term for email) thanking me for supporting him.  Sure, it a self-promoting message, but it carried with it a personal touch that I'd only received from two other Twitter-celebrities that I follow (golfer John Daly usually responds back to Tweets I send to him, as does one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah K).

I mainly use Twitter to correspond with my wife, mom, and sister, as well as finding a good laugh or two from the comedians I follow.  I also follow a couple of political figures and bloggers, which keeps me up to date on any movement in the sphere of politics. 

Any aspiring artists would be wise to follow Nate's lead in interacting with potential fans via social media.  Earlier this week, Nate tweeted that if someone leaves a review of his recent EP on iTunes, he would send them the mp3s of the EP.  Sure enough, I let him know I left a review and a day later, he'd sent me the mp3s, free of charge.  What a great way to connect with fans and spread his name and music.

The guy is a class act and I hope he swings out to the Midwest in the near future so I can catch his show live (he's currently based out of Boise, so his tour schedule is currently focused on the Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific northwest).

So, if you're looking for an addition to your jam/chill/modern rock collection, this EP will fit nicely.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Well, he's been sticking his hand up my butt for eleven years."

"So we're pretty close."

Lyle Lanley is now our President?

(Via Reason's Hit and Run blog)

It looks like Obama is going to propose a high speed rail system as a way to create jobs.
A day after delivering a State of the Union address aimed at showing recession-weary Americans he understands their struggles, President Barack Obama intends to award $8 billion in stimulus funds to develop high-speed rail corridors and sell the program as a jobs creator.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to announce grants for 13 major corridors during a town hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, the president's first public appearance following his speech to the nation. It's an attempt by the White House to show that getting Americans back to work is the president's top priority and that he has a plan for how to do it.
The president's visit to the region means Florida's proposal for a high-speed line connecting Orlando and Tampa is likely to receive funding. California's proposal for an 800-mile-long rail line from Sacramento to San Diego and a nine-state proposal in the Midwest are also considered strong contenders.
The $8 billion in funding for high-speed trains and other passenger rail projects is part of the $787 billion recovery act. Besides the 13 corridors receiving grants, a White House official said several smaller awards will be made for improvements to existing rail lines. Overall, 31 states will receive funds.
The official said the projects are expected to create or save tens of thousands of jobs in areas like track-laying, manufacturing, planning and engineering, though there is no time frame for how long it will take for those jobs to develop. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak ahead of the president's announcement.
Though the White House is quick to point out that the economy is no longer on the brink of a depression, as it was when Obama took office, stemming the free fall hasn't translated into job growth. The unemployment rate has hovered near 10 percent for several months, while Obama's approval ratings have dropped.
With that in mind, Obama will spend about two-thirds of his speech on the economy, telling Americans in specific terms that he understands their struggles. He'll reinforce that message in the coming weeks by laying out a number of job creation initiatives, the first of which will be the high-speed rail grant awards to announced Thursday in Tampa. Trips to Maryland and New Hampshire will follow.
So, we're going to spend $8 BILLION dollars to help "create or save" THOUSANDS of jobs?  So, we're going to continue digging ourselves deeper into debt while unemployment is above 10 percent?  Well, this shouldn't surprise me, because you know what they say, "the government has to print money to make money."  Or something like that.

I'm going to assume that the possibility of the light rail proposal means the rumor that the President was going to propose "a three-year 'freeze' on non-defense federal spending" is false.  Unless he's going to have the gall to suggest that a light rail system is necessary for homland security and national defense.

If only there was some event from the past that could give us an idea of how this whole scheme might work out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One reason I'm glad the election isn't being held today

(Via Instapundit) I see that a "Poll shows Scott Brown could top Obama in Prez run"
A Newsmax/Zogby poll shows the Massachusetts Republican within striking range of Obama in a hypothetical presidential matchup.
The poll shows the pair statistically deadlocked if the presidential election were held today.

The GOP needs to seriously get a grip.  Brownie has only done one thing in national politics: win a special election for a famous Senate seat.  And he only did that because the national attention on Kennedy's seat lead to a great fund raising weekend for Brown, which, when added to his challenger's gaffes, lead to his come-from-behind victory.

I hate it when liberals play personality politics, and it's even more unbecoming when it's done by conservatives.  I believe the last time a Senator spent two years in Congress before making a run for the presidency, it was said by conservatives that he was too inexperienced to be president.  And, while I agree that that person ended up not being experienced enough for the job, how the hell is a person with zero experience going to do a better job?  How about we let the guy spend a full term or two as a Senator before we deem him the savior of the party?

Also, I swear I'll vote for Ralph Nadar in the next election if the Republican's platform is "Anybody but Obama".  Just saying.

Safe vs. Safer

Today I got into a disagreement with a couple of coworkers about tobacco use.  I work in an office where many people smoke cigarettes.  A few of these smokers and a couple non-smokers were giving another coworker a hard time because, while he had recently stopped smoking cigarettes, he still enjoys getting a nicotine fix through the use of chewing/snuff/lip/smokeless tobacco.  I made the comment that I was glad he made the switch because chewing tobacco is safer than smoking cigarettes.  They couldn't believe I would say such a thing.  For every attempt I made to defend my case, they gave me a reason they believed chewing was just as bad.

"It's still tobacco," they told me.  (Yes, but it is relatively safer to use than cigarettes.) 

"They put glass in the tobacco."  (This is an urban legend that is the cousin to the "razor blades hidden in candy" that gets passed around every Halloween).

"Spitting is gross." (Yes, yes it is, but that has nothing to do with the relative safety of its use).

The more I tried to convince them, the deeper they dug their heals in and, it seemed, the stronger they clung to their belief.  So while I was on my lunch break, I thought about how I could explain it better.  When I got back from lunch, I asked one coworker these three questions:
  1. Would you agree that two similar activities can both be dangerous/hazardous/unhealthy, but one can be "safer" than the other?  (example:  riding a bike with a helmet vs. riding a bike without a helmet; driving a motorcycle vs. driving a car; etc.) -- She agreed.
  2. With that in mind, which would you consider safer, chewing nicotine gum or a smoking a cigarette? -- She sheepishly conceded that nicotine gum is safer.
  3. With that in mind, what is the difference in "safety" between chewing nicotine gum and using smokeless tobacco?  -- She couldn't come up with a difference.
I told her that I am not arguing that using smokeless tobacco is healthy.  I am not arguing that it is "safe".  I am arguing that it is a safer way to get a nicotine fix than lighting up a cigarette.

The bias that the women in my office and our society as a whole, have against smokeless tobacco frustrates me.

If I were to tell someone that I drink three to five beers a week, they wouldn't flinch.  If I tell someone that I drink three to five caffeinated sodas a day, nothing.  If I brag that I've never smoked marijuana (I've actually never even held it.  The closest I've been to a doobie was when two guys were smoking one about 20 feet away from me last summer at a Dave Matthews Band concert) they often wonder what rock I've been living under.

Should I then admit to them that I use smokeless tobacco daily, and have done so for the past ten years, you'd have thought I had admitted to being a dog-fight promoter.  Even though most people who "know" me have no idea I chew, have never seen me "spit", and up until that point, thought I was a "great" guy, they often think less of me because of this habit.  Chewing tobacco carries with it a stigma.  I'm either a hick, a cowboy, or a baseball player because I chew.

But the fact is, I have an "addictive" personality, and I made a conscious decision that if I was going to become addicted to something, smokeless tobacco was the lesser of many evils, because, of the things I could have or am addicted to, it is one of the mildest and least unhealthy.

But, people who hate tobacco use have a hard time wrapping their minds around that concept.  Oral snuff is less unhealthy than smoking a cigarette.  Our government health officials are even a part of the spin game when it comes to smokeless tobacco.  As this 2003 Reason Magazine article explains:
A recent study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most popular brands of smokeless tobacco in this country are the ones with the highest levels of readily absorbed nicotine. For the researchers, the finding was an opportunity to once again mislead the public about the hazards of oral snuff.
"Consumers need to know that smokeless tobacco products...are not safe alternatives to smoking," said co-author Patricia Richter of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The amount of nicotine absorbed per dose from using smokeless tobacco is greater than the amount of nicotine absorbed from smoking one cigarette."
No one claims smokeless tobacco is completely safe, but it is indisputably safer than cigarettes—by a very wide margin. Obscuring this fact, as the public health establishment routinely does, leaves smokers with the impression that they have nothing to gain by switching to snuff, when the truth is that they can dramatically reduce their risks, as University of Alabama oral pathologist Brad Rodu has been pointing out for years.
Richter's nicotine comparison might lead unwary readers to believe that using smokeless tobacco is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. Yet nicotine itself plays little or no role in the diseases associated with smoking.
Nicotine does not cause lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses. And according to a 1999 editorial in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, "the epidemiologic and experimental data suggest that nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco, nicotine gum or transdermal nicotine is not a significant risk factor for accelerating coronary artery disease or causing acute cardiovascular events."
Like chewing nicotine gum or wearing a nicotine patch, using smokeless tobacco does not involve inhaling combustion products, the main source of smoking-related hazards. Oral cancer is the only well-established life-threatening danger associated with smokeless tobacco, and even that disease is twice as common among cigarette smokers.
Furthermore, as an article in this month's issue of the journal Tobacco Control explains, the oral cancer risk does not show up in studies of smokeless tobacco users in Sweden, where the typical curing, processing, and storage methods result in lower concentrations of carcinogens. The authors argue that "the availability of snus [Swedish-style oral snuff] appears to have contributed to the unusually low rate of smoking among Swedish men by helping them transfer to a notably less harmful form of nicotine dependence."
In the same issue, British anti-smoking activist Clive Bates and five European scientists note that "Sweden has the lowest levels of tobacco-related mortality in the developed world by some distance." They call upon the European Union to lift its misguided ban on snus, which applies in all member countries except Sweden.
Bates and his co-authors estimate that snus and some American smokeless tobacco products "are at least 90% less hazardous than cigarette smoking." They argue that it is "ethically wrong to actively deny users the option to reduce their risk in this way," calling the E.U. ban a triumph for the "health professional's authoritarian insistence that the only valid choice for smokers is to quit or die."
So, here we are, in the year 2010, where every person and their dog knows that cigarettes are extremely unhealthy, even deadly, but our government continues to refuse to concede the middle ground and admit that smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.  And, there is no way a mainstream media outlet would concede the middle ground because it goes against the populist template that "tobacco is bad".  So, we continue on, with many people ignorant to the fact that there is a safer way to get a fix of nicotine because no one will make the distinction between "safe" and "safer".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Facebook memes

Remember back in the early 2000s when people would send out an email telling you that if you forwarded this email to 12 of your friends, Bill Gates would send you a check for $20?  Or the one asking you to prove your love of God by forwarding the email full of puppy/kitten/starving children in China pictures?  Or how about the one that proved that liberals/conservatives/satanists/immigrants/gays/evangelicals/etc. were ruining this country, and you have to prove you're a real American by forwarding the email to everyone in your contact list?

Boy, I miss those days.  Because, at least with those meme's, only select people would be subjected to the madness.  Also, I would get great pleasure by responding to the person who sent me the email, and could explain, in "private", that it is an urban legend that welfare recipients will receive extra food stamps if they register as Democrats.  And, no, Obama is not so stupid as to answer a phone upside down, it was a satirical photo created by a blogger.

But how do you respond to the onslaught of Facebook memes?  How do you set the record straight without sounding like a d-bag/grouch/jerk/nit-picker?  Well, you write a blog post, thats how.

Today, one of my Facebook friends put this as her "status update":

America: The only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment. Yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this !! What about OUR country and OUR people?

Holy crap on a cracker, Batman!  How can I let this one slide?  First, America is NOT the "only" country with homeless, hungry, elderly, mentally ill people needing care.  That's just ignorant. 

Second, did you know that 83.2% of statistics are made up to help make a person's point?  Well, they are.  How the hell can a person know that 99% of people won't "have the guts to copy and repost"?  Besides, what do a person's "guts" have to do with whether or not they repost?  Maybe a person doesn't agree with the statement, or, maybe they don't know how to copy and repost.   

Third, what about "OUR country and OUR people?"  Are you recommending that we make it illegal to assist another country?  That's pretty heartless.

Look, I know that these people mean well, but, come on, seriously, you're going to complain about people voluntarily donating money to the cause-celeb of the day?  And none of this used to bug me as much as it does now that Facebook modified their "news feed".  I used to be able to sort through the chaff much easier, which made the proverbial wheat much more enjoyable.

Other gems that my friends have asked me to copy and repost: 
WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Press 1 for English. Press 2 to disconnect until you learn to speak English. And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, JESUS CHRIST. And the AMERICAN SOLDIER. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. If you agree... copy and paste in your status....I did!!!!!
 This one hits the Facebook meme trifecta: oversimplified religion, praise of the military, and immigrant bashing.  Classic.
I love my mother! For all of you who aren't too proud to say thank you to your moms for helping you be the great person you are today... please copy and paste to your profile! I expect to see this many times on my page! Some people no longer have their Moms here to appreciate, but we can still say THANKS for their love...

This one is one that has been going around for the past month or so, with "mother" occasionally replaced by children/spouse/parents/God/etc.  I love how all these memes are dripping with guilt.  Apparently my relationship with friends and family rests on my ability to copy and paste and to peer-pressure others into doing the same.
 MIDDLE NAME ONLY...Everyone play this game. You will find it interesting to know what your FB friends' middle names are. Post your middle name as your status then copy & paste this and put it as a comment.
 This one is one of the "games" that people play, which are always pretty lame/trivial.  The ones that I've noticed lately are the middle names, bra color, and one that involves writing a nonsensical sentence that only women are privy to the code (example: "I sang to a baseball bat in the car cuz I roll like that").  At least with these games, people don't use shoddy statistics or threaten me with eternal damnation if I don't participate.

This status update is being tracked, as the owners of facebook have confirmed they will send $1 to the rescue fund for the Haiti earthquake disaster for every status update!!! Copy & Paste this as your status for a minimum of 1 hour. Lets all do what little bit we can to help out!!!
How the hell did this person even get their computer turned on, if this is the level of their knowledge about technology?  

Not nearly as annoying, but makes me wonder if I can continue being their Facebook friend are:
  • People who post their prayers (not prayer requests, those are fine) for all the world to see.  Kinda seems braggy to me.
  • People who post scripture/song lyrics/inspirational quotes DAILY.  I love the occasional words of wisdom, but it loses its punch when it's done daily.  I actually start skipping over these, just because I'm bombarded with them daily.
So, if you want me to continue to be your friend, forward this on to everyone you've ever met, EVER.  And for every person you forward this blog post to, I'll donate a pint of blood to the Red Cross.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Etch-A-Sketched in our Minds

Joe Posnanski has an amusing post about Infomercials.  Along the way, he takes a detour and lists the five moments that stand out "so much that I know precisely where I was and what I was feeling when I heard the news."  Here are mine:

1.  September 11, 2001(While in Junior College, I had just stepped out of the shower, and was getting ready for class when my roommate/cousin Brian told me to come watch the TV.  I sat down, and we watched the second plane fly crash into the Towers live.  Also, it should be noted, September 11th is my birthday.  It was one of the most impacting events of my life.)
2.  The Columbine shooting (In class in high school--kind of a blur, but the days following are much more vivid in my mind)
3.  The Denver Bronco's first Super Bowl victory & the Elway Mid-Air Spin (watching with the family at Dawn and John's house)
4.  The OJ Simpson verdict (in junior high social studies class, they wheeled in a tv to watch the verdict live)
5.  Micheal Jordan pushing off Bryon Russell and hitting the game winning shot over the Utah Jazz, thereby ruining John Stockton and Karl Malone's best chance at winning an NBA title. (at home, and boy was I bummed).

So, what are the 5 memories etched into your mind?

(UPDATE:  Dad's memories made me want to add in the where I was in these situations)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Heckuva Job Brownie

Republican Scott Brown defeats Democrat "Marcia" Coakley in "Massachusettes" today.

Personally, I was happy to see a Coakley loss for her involvement in the Amirault case alone.

Some other thoughts:
  • Obama now has political cover for when his agenda gets slowed down in Congress now that Democrats will be a vote short of their previous "super-majority".  For the coming years, he'll be able to blame "obstructionist" Republican's for anything that stalls in the Senate.
  • There had better be some obstructionism going on in the Senate if Republican's know what's good for them and if they would like to continue picking off Democrat Congressional seats.
  • Republican's need to remember that Scott Brown is a New England Republican, which means he's more liberal/moderate than a Republican from, say, Texas or Nebraska, because that is the only kind of Republican that can be elected in the Northeast.  They need to remember their giddiness over his victory today when they think about calling him a RINO in the future, should he ever decide to part from the party line (a la Snow, Collins, or Gregg).  And if Republican's want to continue to have an "R" after the name of a Senator from Massachusetts, he will have to remain a moderate Republican to win re-election in the future.
  • It is my hope that this Republican victory can be enough to derail the progress of the Health Care bill.
Good stuff and an interesting bit of political football during this final week of campaigning.

For Dana

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maybe I should rethink enjoying this glass of milk and pile of Oreos

At least until the geniuses at the Guardian newspaper let everyone know enough time has passed since the Haitian earthquake for everyone to not have a guilty conscience while living their lives.  See for yourself:

Cruise ships still find a Haitian berth:  Luxury liners are still docking at private beaches near Haiti's devastated earthquake zone for holidaymakers to enjoy the water

Sixty miles from Haiti's devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jetski rides, parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.

The Florida cruise company leases a picturesque wooded peninsula and its five pristine beaches from the government for passengers to "cut loose" with watersports, barbecues, and shopping for trinkets at a craft market before returning on board before dusk. Safety is guaranteed by armed guards at the gate.  The decision to go ahead with the visit has divided passengers. The ships carry some food aid, and the cruise line has pledged to donate all proceeds from the visit to help stricken Haitians. But many passengers will stay aboard when they dock; one said he was "sickened".

"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water," one passenger wrote on the Cruise Critic internet forum.
"It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving," said another. "I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''
So a person enjoying a jetski ride or having a bar-b-que with family and friends 60 miles away from Port-au-prince is sickening to some people, but what of a person 100 miles away, are they "sickening"?  How about 500 miles away?  Where is the line?  Is it "sickening" to attend a professional football game in New Orleans (1300 miles away)?  Or, how about attending an awards ceremony where television and movie stars pat themselves on the back, but wear ribbons while doing so (3000 miles away)?  I wish there were a way to get a hold of the philosopher kings in England and ask them for clarification. 

Well, actually, the editors do provide some clarification as to how some of the people are able to live with themselves after "sunbathing and enjoying the water" during a time of tragedy, but I had to get half-way through the story to find out the details.

The company said the question of whether to "deliver a vacation experience so close to the epicentre of an earthquake" had been subject to considerable internal debate before it decided to include Haiti in its itineraries for the coming weeks.

"In the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti's recovery; hundreds of people rely on Labadee for their livelihood," said John Weis, vice-president. "In our conversations with the UN special envoy of the government of Haiti, Leslie Voltaire, he notes that Haiti will benefit from the revenues that are generated from each call.  "We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti. Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most."

Royal Caribbean has also pledged $1m to the relief effort and will spend part of that helping 200 Haitian crew members.  The company recently spent $55m updating Labadee. It employs 230 Haitians and the firm estimates 300 more benefit from the market. The development has been regarded as a beacon of private investment in Haiti; Bill Clinton visited in October. Some Haitians have decried the leasing of the peninsula as effective privatisation of part of the republic's coastline.
Holy crap, did I just have to put up with 8 paragraphs of the Guardian furrowing their brow in disgust at "holidaymakers" and the people who run "luxury liners" to find out that Royal Caribbean is donating $1 million dollars and are helping transport supplies to the area, not to mention continuing to support the local economy and employing hundreds of Hatians?  Seriously? 

Rather than being a bunch of sourpusses, why not flip-flop the layout of the story?  Why not lead with "Luxury liners full of holiday makers donate a million dollars and support local economy during troubled time?"  Why is it necessary to have such a condescending attitude?  What's with all the guilt?

One of the Instapundit's readers may be on to something when he postulates:  "Rich people on cruise ships give Haiti money voluntarily through evil capitalism. What they really need is handout money confiscated by force from the middle class and given through government compassion.”  In other words, this story doesn't fit their template.

But why can't it be both?  Why can't support come from tourists?  Why can't support come from money being funneled into the economy through "holidaymakers"?  Isn't right now the best time of all to vacation there, when the locals need money the most? 

It would seem to me that the tourists should not feel guilt, but rather pride, that they were able to help out in their own small way.  Sure, the cruise lines are going to catch some flack from people who feel that sending a $10 text makes them morally superior.  And sure, some people are going to project their guilt onto others because it makes them feel better.

But I say congrats and kudos to the people of Royal Caribbean and to their customers for helping out Hatians and for supporting them in their time of need.  The next time the wife and I book a cruise, we'll definitely remember Royal Caribbean, and maybe we can visit Port-au-prince, if it's okay with the people at the Guardian. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sorry for the radio silence...

...but my brain was frozen for the past week or two.  Now that the snow is starting to thaw, it seems more and more stories are worth visiting on the blog.

American Idol is back.  I'm going to try to fully appreciate Season Nine, as this is the last season I'll be watching it, since Simon is 85% the reason I've stuck around this long.  If you happen to miss an episode, SarahK always does a great write up of each show at her Snark Raving Mad blog.  And, as for Ellen joining the show, I'm hoping that she doesn't try too hard to win over America.  But, time will tell.  (And, memo to Miah and Erica:  I will win this season's picks, and you will have to "SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!")

I consider myself member of "Team Conan" "I'm With Coco".  As I expressed in an earlier post, I have been rooting for Jay to fail at the 9:00 time slot.  But had I known that the idiots at NBC would screw over Conan after Jay failed, I probably wouldn't have rooted so hard.

I'm not sure which story out of Washington pisses me off more:  "Citing 'obscene' bonuses, Obama to tax banks" or "Unions agree to compromise on 'Cadillac tax' for healthcare".    In both cases, our all-knowing government is picking winners and losers, and both are being done not because it is the best for the country, but rather to score political points.  While campaigning, President Obama promised (video at the link and emphasis mine):
"I'm going to listen to everybody. We'll have the doctors and the nurses and the members of Congress and patient advocates. I'll have the insurance and drug companies at the table. They just won't be able to buy every chair. And we will... And I'll be at the table. I'll have the biggest chair, because I'm president. If people have other ideas and I don't assume that I've got every single idea. It can be improved and I want input. We're going to have to make some compromises.

But here's the thing. We're going to do all these negotiations on C-SPAN.

The American people will be able to watch these negotiations so if they start seeing a member of Congress who is carrying the water for the drug companies instead of for their constituents and says, 'Oh, you no. we can't negotiate for the cheapest available price on drugs because the drug companies need these profits to invest in research and development', I'll say, 'OK, let me bring my health care expert in here'. And on TV, we'll ask my health care expert, 'What do you think about what the drug companies are saying?'
And what that drug expert will undoubtedly say is 'Well, drug companies do need some profits to invest in research and development but a lot of what they're calling research and development is actually marketing costs for some of these TV ads you see' ... where everybody is, you have all these people dancing in fields, looking all happy. You don't know what the drug is for. Right? Except for that one drug, you know what that's for. You know what that one is for.
Anyway, you get my point. Open this. Transparency. You will hold me accountable, you will hold Congress accountable. That's how we'll get welfare... uh health care reform passed."
 Now, I will freely admit that CSPAN is not one of the 7 channels we pick up on our rabbit-ears, but I'm pretty sure the negotiations have not been aired, and "transparency" has not been achieved.  But what has been achieved is a handy sweetheart deal/kickback for the Unions for their support during the last election.  I guess that's the "hope and change" everyone was talking about back in '08.

As for the "bank tax", this line in the MSNBC report really got my goat:
"I think it is entirely reasonable to say that the industry that, A, caused these problems more than any other and, B, benefited from the activity, should be contributing," said Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The problem, Mr. Frank, is that they wouldn't have "benefited from the activity" had you not bailed their dumbasses out with tax payer money.  While I'd argue that it was "crony capitalism" (the mixture of government and big business) that caused the financial problems to which Mr. Frank is referring, it was Congress and Congress alone who forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to the people who helped ruin the system in the first place.  So, I would propose that "it is entirely reasonable to say that the POLITICIANS that, A, bailed out a failing industry moer than any other, and, B,  benefited from the activity, should be contributing."  So, how about a tax on Congressmen who voted for the initial TARP payment to help climb our way out of the deficit they threw us in. 

A few weeks ago, my wife's hand tremors and high heart rate lead her to visit a doctor.  After some tests/scans/work-ups, they determined that she had Grave's Disease (a hyperactive thyroid).  They decided the best treatment option was using iodine to kill off the thyroid, so next week, she'll take some iodine pills and will be radioactive for about a week.  She'll have to keep her distance from other people/animals, use disposable eating utensils/dishes, and be really careful about cleaning up anything she touches, so as to not pass on the iodine treatment (which is apparently pretty potent stuff).  We will also have to sleep in separate rooms and can't ride in the car together for more than an hour.  I asked her to ask the doctors how far into the process it'll be before she develops super powers, but she got too bashful to ask, so we'll just be surprised.  I hope she ends up with super powerful sight (since it weirds me out having to look into her eyeball for a stray contact lens) or Dr. Doolittle-syndrome (since I've always wanted to know what Brodie is thinking).

A few thoughts on the MLB2009 PS2 video game I bought with Christmas gift cards:
  • Video game baseball is much tougher than video game football or golf.
  • It is odd/awesome seeing one of my high school classmates, Luke Hochevar, in a prominent video game.  I'd even say it is more surreal than watching him pitch against the Red Sox last season.
  • Video game baseball is as slow/methodical as real life baseball.  I had hoped that they'd spice it up a bit, but, sadly, they didn't.
  • Any and all video games are awesome when projected into a 100+ inch image on our wall.  Our digital projector is probably the best purchase we've made while in Omaha (second place being the snowblower, third place being my hybrid golf clubs).
And, while it is on my mind, sports columnist/blogger Joe Posnanski has a 9000+ word write up about the KC Royal's Decade (1999-2009).  It is facinating and a bit "inside baseball", but if you've got a half-hour to kill and would like to learn how/why the Royals became the team that lost more games than any other team in baseball, then this is the column for you.  While I don't agree with his assessment of my man Hochevar, he did happen to sneak into this opus the funniest line I've ever encountered in a sports column:
Where does the talent of Royals prospects go? I imagine a man in Germany shouting “Why can I play baseball so well? WHY?”
(find out why that joke is funny here).

It is my hope that the duration between blog posts is inversely proportional to the length of a day, so that as the days get longer, the time between blog entries gets shorter.  Until we meet again, remember that "you be looking like a fool, with your pants on the ground."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The perfect combination

When I saw this commercial from Visa for the first time, it took every bit of will power I could muster to keep tears from rolling down my face.  By layering such elements as Morgan Freeman's stoic voice behind the emotions provided by the Olympics Games and a tragic death paired with the agony of defeat ultimately being triumphed by the thrill of victory and the joy of parenthood, Visa created a very touching and motivational thirty seconds.  

I can't wait to see what stories emerge from the Winter Games next month.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teens Turning Green

A former high school classmate of mine, and current professional beach volleyball player, Brittany Hochevar, is one of six AVP pros participating in the Athletes for Hope charity campaign.
Six top AVP athletes are stepping up to champion a charitable cause as part of Athletes for Hope’s ongoing “Who Gives?” campaign. An online fundraising challenge entitled “Racing for a Cause” is a virtual race for charity representing a larger call to action for athletes around the world to show support for causes they are most passionate about. 
(Brittany Hochevar) will compete with 60 other professional athletes spanning various sports and levels of play. Steve Nash, Lance Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Jeff Gordon, Mia Hamm and Tony Hawk are among other athletes participating in the fundraising challenge.
Brittany's charity of choice is the "Teens Turning Green" campaign which "is a teen led campaign to inspire, inform and empower teens to eliminate toxic exposures from their daily lives, schools, and communities."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Craftsman 179cc, 21" path, one-stage Snow Blower

I used our new Craftsman snow blower on fresh powder today, and I couldn't be happier.  This will go down as one of the smartest investments the wife and I have made, as well as one of the funnest.

Friday, January 1, 2010

May you have a happy 2010th new year.

As the new year begins, I thought I'd do some blogging clean-up, so here are a handful of articles that I had sitting in my "Items to Blog About" queue, but never got around to using for one reason or another.

Charles Krauthammer on the New Socialism:
Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will be regulating practically everything. No institution that emits more than 250 tons of CO2 a year will fall outside EPA control. This means more than a million building complexes, hospitals, plants, schools, businesses and similar enterprises. (The EPA proposes regulating emissions only above 25,000 tons, but it has no such authority.) Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life. 
 Veronique de Rugy with the economic case against soda taxes:
The rationale behind a tax on soft drinks, or any sin tax, is that when the government raises prices on a certain good, it will become so expensive that consumers will give it up. Having been forced to eschew that sin because of the high monetary price, consumers will reap the moral and/or physical benefits of not indulging, thereby bettering themselves and society.
The story sounds plausible. The trouble is that sin taxers don’t appreciate human creativity: Consumers have a knack for replacing one sin with another. When the price of a “sinful” good increases, people often substitute an equally “bad” good in its place.

Victor Davis Hanson on the Long March from California to Copenhagen:
In truth, in some ways, the world economy depends every day on some engineer, farmer, architect, radiator shop owner, truck driver or plumber getting up at 5AM, going to work, toiling hard, and producing real wealth so that an array of bureaucrats, regulators, and redistributors can manage the proper allotment of much of the natural largess produced.
The whole system from California to Copenhagen will keep on working as long as the productive classes feel there are still incentives to jump out of bed at 5AM. When they don’t, the power is cut off to thousands of gears and cogs — and the world looks more like Ecuador or Somalia than the U.S.
Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz explain that markets fail, which is exactly why we need markets:
Given this dynamic, markets are unpredictable, prone to booms and busts, characterized by bouts of exuberance that are rational or irrational only in hindsight.  But markets are also the only reliable mechanism for sorting out this messy process quickly. In spite of the booms and busts, markets drive genuine long-run innovation and wealth creation.  When governments attempt to impose order on this chaotic and inherently risky process, they immediately run up against two serious dangers. 
The first is that they strangle new innovations before they can emerge. Thus proposals for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a systemic risk regulator, a public health insurance plan, a green jobs policy, or any attempt at top-down planning may do more harm than good.
The second danger has to do with the nature of political economy. Politics creates its own kind of innovators who can be as destabilizing to markets as market actors themselves – but in far more pernicious ways. 
Economists call these political entrepreneurs  “rent-seekers.” Rent-seekers gain wealth, not by creating it, but by channeling it through political favors. Examples include government-sponsored monopolies, “targeted” tax breaks for special industries, and legislative loopholes inserted by lobbyists.

John Stossel argues that the House should adopt the filibuster:
Regardless of what senators in the 19th century had in mind, the filibuster is a wonderful antidote to the tyranny of the majority. It's no argument against it to say that the statists' favorite piece of legislation didn't fly through smoothly enough. They'll have to come up with a better case than that.
There is no greater threat to individual freedom and autonomy than government. The threat from private freelance crime is small potatoes compared to the daily usurpations of the state, with its taxation, regulation, privilege-granting, inflation, and war. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's immortal passage has never been topped:
To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place(d) under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored.
That just about covers it.

And, finally, in one of my favorite end of the year traditions, DJ Earworm mashes up the Top 25 hits of 2009.  Pure artistic genius.  (Here are his 2007 and 2008 editions).