Sunday, April 25, 2010

Draft Talk

I'm not much of a football fan.  Don't get me wrong, I love to watch games and I root for the Broncos when they are on broadcast television, but I couldn't tell you who their left tackle is, nor could I tell you who is their offensive and/or defensive coordinator.  I don't follow the team (or any sports team for that matter) very closely.

So, when I heard through Facebook and Twitter (no way I watch the draft, since it's both on cable television, which I don't have, and really boring) that the Denver Broncos selected Tim Tebow, the "controversial" quarterback from Florida, with one of their first round draft picks, I didn't really care one way or another.

Some people were disappointed in this selection because apparently the Broncos already have two young quarterbacks (I only knew of the one quarterback, Kyle Orton, because he was there last year, but I have come to find out that somehow or other a fellow by the name of Brady Quinn is also a Bronco QB).  Since the Broncos are not desperate for a young quarterback, some people felt that the pick could have been used more wisely.

Other people like the decision to take Tebow.  Some like his character and leadership characteristics.  Some like that he is one of the most athletically gifted guys to come out of this years draft.  Other people feel that this selection will create great competition at the quarterback position, which they hope will lead to the emergence of "The Next Elway".

But me, I really didn't care one way or another.  At least I didn't care until I read this story in the Boston Herald:
A Boston sports-radio host yesterday likened former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow’s NFL draft party to a “Nazi rally,” a remark one media observer called an “amazing double standard.”
Fred “Toucher” Toettcher said yesterday on 98.5 The Sports Hub, “It looked like some kind of Nazi rally. . . . So lily-white is what I’m trying to say. Yeah, Stepford Wives.”
And I am now a Tim Tebow fan.  Did the sports jock misspeak?  I'm sure he did.  But anyone who can get some pissed-off liberal (I assume) sports-talk Mass-hole flustered just for being alive is a friend of mine.  I may be compelled to get a Tebow Broncos jersey just for the divisive properties such a jersey would hold.

And it is especially fitting that the person who wore the #15 Broncos jersey last year, Brandon Marshall, was an amazing athlete but possessed and/or displayed little to no leadership abilities throughout the season, despite his being one of the most important offensive position players on the team.  So the Broncos traded Marshall and will be replacing his #15 with another #15 who is, in the minds of many, will be a greater leader/character than he will be an NFL quarterback, Mr. Timothy Tebow.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The older I get...

the more I wish I'd have been able to see George Carlin live.  This little bit of wisdom from the late, great genius seems fitting for Future Enviromentalist Indoctrination Earth Day.

(And, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that you can expect some salty language in this piece.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"An island unto himself, surrounded by water but dying of thirst."

This is the analogy that Pete Landry used in his "The Masters - A Tale of Contrasts" post to describe Tiger Woods, and it is by far the best description of Tiger's personality.  Mr. Landry is the author of the great golf blog "Golf Grooves" and he attended this year's Masters tournament.  While at the Masters, he encountered two of the main people of Tiger's entourage, his caddy and his mother.
As I meander behind the 14th green, looking up toward the clubhouse, I notice Steve Williams walking in my direction. In his trademark Valvoline blue tee-shirt, Tiger's caddie is checking on the course and taking notes in preparation for the final round of the Masters. We are, for a short moment, alone and in close proximity to each other.

When Williams is only a few feet away, I say "good luck to you and Tiger today Steve"...

With that, he brushes by me. He is obviously avoiding eye contact; close enough to shake my hand, but choosing instead to totally ignore me. Like a man raised in a barn, he did not acknowledge me or my words. A simple nod would have sufficed. Had it been someone else, I might have been insulted or surprised, but this is Steve Williams after all. What else would you expect? In my life, I've met heads of State, shared meals with Hall of Fame athletes, and had conversations with some of the top business people of our time. So, a snub from the guy who carries Tiger's golf clubs is certainly not a traumatic experience. I simply shrugged it off and chuckled at the ignorance of the man.

Hours later, on that same 14th hole, I would be standing against the ropes nearly half way down the fairway, at a spot where you can see the players hit their approach shot and also clearly see the green. We had all just cheered a great iron shot by Fred Couples and were waiting for Woods and Choi to arrive, when I noticed Tiger's mother walking behind us. She was surrounded by her usual entourage and clearly looking for a spot from where she could see Tiger play the hole. I signalled to her bodyguard that she was welcome to stand on the rope in front of me. She is a tiny woman and wouldn't block my view, but I knew she wouldn't possibly be able to see Tiger from behind the crowd. At our invitation, she slipped in front of my father and I.

Anyone who watched the Masters on Sunday will recall that Tiger had a rare brain cramp on that 14th green, three-putting from close range. When she saw that, Tiger's mother yelled "Oh! He is pissed off!" The moment was surreal.

My father and I looked at each other in shock and amusement. You just wouldn't expect that kind of language from a tiny older lady... Then, as if she had been entitled, she left without taking a second to thank us for making room for her up front. In fact, just like Steve Williams had done, she basically ignored me and the people around her.

All this to say that life has a way of repaying people for how they treat others. These are not major trespasses, but the way these people act shows a basic lack of upbringing and social grace. As the saying goes, money does not buy class.

Despite the fact that I am not a fan of Steve Williams, I was courteous enough to wish him luck when I came across him. Having been raised to respect people and to yield to a lady whenever appropriate, I was only happy to make room for Tiger's mother. Both Williams and Mrs Woods repaid me with ignorance and bad manners. Surrounded by the likes of these people, is there any wonder that Tiger Woods is such a miserable man who feels a sense of entitlement and that the rules of decency do not apply to him?
Mr. Landry then compares his encounter with the Tiger clan to how Phil Mickleson treated the fans as he worked his way to winning this year's Green Jacket.
Faced with a potentially devastating miss that could have cost him the lead, Mickleson was gracious with fans, politely asking for the gallery to make room, thanking everyone and acknowledging his fans when he successfully hit the shot. In similar fashion, his caddie "Bones" was polite, saying please and thank you repeatedly. How difficult is that? For most civilized people, it is second nature to be courteous.
While he has played inspired golf during this tough stretch of life, with his wife and mother both battling cancer, Phil Mickleson has taken the title of "Fan Favorite" on the PGA Tour.  It's a case of the underdog working his way into the hearts and minds of the average golf fan by pairing his great skill with a likable and pleasant attitude toward the fans.  For all the thanks and smiles that Phil gives to the galleries, they repay him double.  For being truly thankful for their support through his difficulties off the course, the fans double their support for him on the course. 

Tiger was always the cut-throat competitor, and while he was always cold toward the crowds that followed him around the courses, the fans greatly respected him because of his awe-inspiring skills on the course.  But that was before his private life became tabloid fodder.  Now, Tiger and the people closest to him, are going to need fans if he wants to cement his legacy as the greatest golfer to ever live (rather than just being the most successful golfer of all time), and they'll have an easier time if they are using honey rather than vinegar.

SONG"On the Run" by Gangstagrass  (the theme song to the tv show "Justified")

TELEVISION:  "Justified" on FX (and Hulu).  Timothy Olyphant plays a U.S. Marshall who returns to his childhood hometown and is attempting to clean up the town with a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality.  It is an old western set in modern times.  Great, great show.

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  Dinner and a show this weekend with The Wife to celebrate the end of her 4th (out of 6) semester of law school.  We are going to eat dinner at the Upstream Brewery and then are going to the Orpheum Theater to watch the off-Broadway production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical".  It should be a great night out with my pal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Baseball Card Bubble

I'm not an economist, but I play one online.  One of the things about economics that fascinates me are "bubbles" within an economy. 

My wife and I barely got out of the recent "housing bubble" just before it burst and the housing market went to hell.  While we ended up losing around $2000 (if not more, I don't remember the numbers at this moment) on our house, at least we got it sold before we came out to Omaha.  We got lucky and we made a wise decision, because in all reality, we could still be the owners of a home in different state than the one in which we are living.

So, while I have a little bit of life experience with regard to "bubbles", I should probably have more.  I missed (or wasn't paying attention) to the "Tech Bubble" of the late 1990s, nor did I feel much pain within the current financial recession/bubble.  With that said, there was one "bubble burst" that occurred during my lifetime that has had a lasting and impacting effect on me personally:  The Baseball (and, in my case, Basketball) Card Bubble Burst of the 1990s.

Last month, Slate printed an excerpt of Dave Jamieson's book Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession.  While Mr. Jamieson's book focuses on the baseball card bubble, I can attest that the same thing was happening in the basketball card market, which is where me and my friends invested our money during our preteen years, and, unfortunately, we had entered the market when it was in its decent during the mid-90s.

By the '80s, baseball card values were rising beyond the average hobbyist's means. As prices continued to climb, baseball cards were touted as a legitimate investment alternative to stocks, with the Wall Street Journal referring to them as sound "inflation hedges" and "nostalgia futures." Newspapers started running feature stories with headlines such as "Turning Cardboard Into Cash" (the Washington Post), "A Grand Slam Profit May Be in the Cards" (the New York Times), and "Cards Put Gold, Stocks to Shame as Investment" (the Orange County Register). A hobby bulletin called the Ball Street Journal, claiming entrée to a network of scouts and coaches, promised collectors "insider scouting information" that would help them invest in the cards of rising big-league prospects. Collectors bought bundles of rookie cards as a way to gamble legally on a player's future.
Unfortunately for investors, each one of those cards was being printed in astronomical numbers. The card companies were shrewd enough never to disclose how many cards they were actually producing, but even conservative estimates put the number well into the billions. One trade magazine estimated the tally at 81 billion trading cards per year in the late '80s and early '90s, or more than 300 cards for every American annually.
Precious few collectors seemed to ponder the possibility that baseball cards could depreciate. As the number of card shops in the United States ballooned to 10,000, dealers filled their storage rooms with unopened cases of 1988 Donruss as if they were Treasury bills or bearer bonds. Shops were regularly burglarized, their stocks of cards taken as loot. In early 1990, a card dealer was found bludgeoned to death behind the display case in his shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with $10,000 worth of cards missing. A few weeks later, Bob Engel, a respected National League umpire, was arrested for allegedly stealing more than 4,180 Score baseball cards, worth $143.98, from a Target store in Bakersfield, Calif., and attempting to steal another 50 packs from a Costco.
In 1989, the Upper Deck Co. would transform the industry with flashy, high-priced cards aimed at investment-minded collectors. As the sales of new sports cards swelled to more than $1 billion a year, children began to flee the hobby, turned off by the pricey packs and confounding number of sets. The baseball strike of 1994 ushered in an industrywide hangover that still hasn't ended. Revenues from new sports cards have fallen to around $200 million a year, roughly one-seventh of what they were at their peak. While vintage cards like the T206 Honus Wagner and the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle have continued to soar in value, baseball card's boom times produced no such valuable merchandise. Those 1988 Donruss cards, once considered a savvy investment, can now be bought in bulk for around 1 cent apiece.
{Emphasis mine}

Mr. Jamieson brings up some very important points that take me back to my card collecting hayday.

He says that "unfortunately for investors, each one of those cards was being printed in astronomical numbers."  Even as a kid, I had figured out that many of my cards could be worth more money if it they weren't so easy to come by.  I would open pack after pack of cards, only to end up with maybe one or two unique cards and a boatload of duplicates. 

I collected basketball cards fanatically for about 4 years in the mid-90s, and the fruits of that labor has been distilled into one shoe box of cards that I consider to be worth keeping around.  I continue to drag that box around mostly because of sentimental value and not because I hope that one day they may become monetarily valuable.  (Ah, who am I kidding?  Of course I hope that I'll be able to take that box to the Antiques Road Show and be surprised when one of those cards is appraised at thousands of dollars.  Every kid who ever collected cards has this hope deep down inside of them.)

And, as Mr. Jamieson points out, I was one of those children who fled the card collecting market because I was being priced out of the market.  And, looking back, it kind of pisses me off that that happened.  In the years before I left, the lure of finding a "gem" of a card (rookie, autograph, etc.) was the driving force when buying pack after pack of cards.  By the time I'd left collecting, the trading card companies had taken all of the work out of getting these cards by pulling them out of the standard packs, and instead sold packs of cards that were "guaranteed" to contain one high priced card.  But, the catch was that these packs of five to ten cards cost $20 or more.

In addition to being priced out of the "unique" cards of the time, the market was also getting completely saturated with card companies.  During Michael Jordan's rookie season, there was one card company, which meant that there was one Michael Jordan rookie cards, which meant that it was a rare and valuable card.  However, ten years later when Kobe Bryant was a rookie, there were at least six major card companies (and each with countless different branches/brands within a company) putting out Kobe Bryant rookie cards, which meant there were literally hundreds of different Kobe Bryant rookie cards in the market.  And it was like that for every other player in the league. 

As I've mentioned before, my favorite player in the NBA was John Stockton, which meant his cards were the ones I sought out the most.  I have a couple hundred unique cards of his, and I didn't even collect during the final 10 years of his career.  (I have however picked up a few of his later cards in the past few years.)  The only cards that I would actively seek to purchase would be one of his rookie cards or an autograph card. 

One advantage to collecting his cards and not those of, say, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, is that I would hypothesize that his smaller fan base lead to a reduction of John Stockton cards in the market.  Where everyone who has kept their cards over the years made sure to keep their Jordan/Bryant/James cards, if they ever did throw out cards, 2nd tier players would have been the first to be thrown away.  And every Stockton card that is taken out of the card collecting community makes mine that much more valuable. 

Just as in baseball cards, the basketball card market tanked in the late 1990s due to over-saturation and artificially high prices ("unique" cards that weren't really that unique) and a dwindling fan base.  I would say that there was a correlation between my fandom of card collecting and my interest in the NBA:  when I stopped collecting cards, I stopped caring about the NBA. 

It's a terrible shame, but a great lesson in economics: the card companies were short sighted and thought that interest in their product would continue forever.  Rather than building their industry with the idea of "life-long collectors", they sought to increase their current sales no matter how it affected their futures. 

Getting away from the business side of card collecting, I wonder if the internet has improved or ruined the personal aspect of card collecting.  When I was a kid, the only people who I could trade cards with were the only two other people I knew who traded cards, my friends BJ and Eric.  We would haggle, barter, and trade cards for hours at a time.  I wonder if anyone does that anymore when you can put your cards online for the world to bid on.  Then again, it has never been easier to get into contact with other collectors, even if they never come face to face.

I will admit that writing about my card collection has lead me to go dig them out of a box in the garage.  So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to relive my youth for a few moments as I look through my inventory. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Taxman Cometh

As you tuck yourself into bed this Tax Day Eve and lay there staring at the ceiling already thinking ahead toward next year's Tax Day, worry not.  According to the Washington Examiner's Grace-Marie Turner, ObamaCare will make every day feel like April 15th.
New taxes on investments, taxes on medical supplies, taxes on drugs and health insurance, and taxes on you if you are just breathing… the list of taxes Americans will face just got a lot longer thanks to ObamaCare.
The health overhaul plan just enacted represents the largest tax hike in U.S. history - $569 billion over 10 years through a dizzying array of taxes and fees that promise to frustrate taxpayers at every turn.  ObamaCare will make every day feel like April 15th.
And despite President Obama’s campaign promise that no one making $250,000 or less would see a tax increase, Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation confirms that these tax hikes will hit millions of middle- and working-class families who are struggling to make ends meet.
She goes on to explain how these different taxes to which we will soon become accustomed will affect our day to day lives.

And if, after all of these new taxes are put into place, you feel like you're still not quite contributing enough dough to Uncle Sam, worry not, for there is also talk of bringing a Value Added Tax (VAT) to the U.S. economy.  As Veronique de Rugy explains at REASON Magazine,
Widely used in Europe, the Value-Added Tax (VAT) has always seemed a non-starter in the United States. That may be changing given apparently insurmountable structural deficits and fear that the financial collapse of Greece could happen here if revenue isn't increased. These days, the VAT is being taken seriously even by pro-market conservatives and libertarians. A VAT is a consumption tax which is levied at each stage of production based on the value added to the product at that stage. 
So, along with the many, many, MANY other taxes we pay every day, we might also get to look forward to paying taxes on all of the products we consume.  They are going to get us coming and going.  Sheesh, it's like these people want to take from each according to their abilities and distribute it to each according to their needs. 

So, this April 15th, I hope that the Taxman is kind to you and yours, and remember:

Let me tell you
How it will be.
There's one for you,
Nineteen for me,

'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Should five percent
Appear too small,
Be thankful I don't
Take it all.

'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

If you drive a car,
I'll tax the street.
If you drive to city,
I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold,
I'll tax the heat.
If you take a walk,
I'll tax your feet.


'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Don't ask me what I want it for,
(Uh-uh, Mr. Wilson.)
If you don't want to pay some more.
(Uh-uh, Mr. Heath.)

'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

And my advice to
Those who die.
Declare the pennies
On your eyes.

'Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman,
And you're working for no one but me.

Through a Dog's Eyes

Be sure to set your DVR on April 21st (and probably grab a box or two of tissues) because this documentary on PBS is sure to be a gem.

(And be sure to check out their website.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm on a Highway to Lipitor*

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is healthy for me.  Sure, I've learned much more information from online sources than I ever learned in school, but then I encounter such items as the ones following, and I'm certain my blood pressure doubles, which can't be healthy.

(*And yes, I know that Lipitor is for cholesterol and not blood pressure per se.  But I couldn't find any recognizable name brand blood pressure medicines that would work for my title.)

First, I watched this video today.

This must be some footage from an Iranian protest, right?  Or maybe it's file footage of Socialist Soviet abuse of it's citizenry?  Well, if not those, then it must be video of protesters or rioters from some foreign, third-world nation?

Actually, according to the Washington Post:
The FBI is investigating an incident last month in which three Prince George's County police officers in riot gear used their batons to beat an unarmed University of Maryland student after a basketball game -- an event captured on video and aired nationwide on Tuesday. 
The FBI probe is the third investigation by authorities into the beating and the criminal charges filed against John J. McKenna, 21, and Benjamin C. Donat, 19. Charging documents filed against the two students are contradicted by the video. Prosecutors have dropped assault charges against both.  
Are you freaking kidding me?  SERIOUSLY?  Assault charges were brought against the students?  Why, did they break one of the officer's batons with one of their skulls?  Did one student's face break one of the officer's hand?  Did one of the officers throw out his back while slamming his riot shield into the obviously dangerous and threatening student who happened to be skipping by?  And, yes, prior to being turned into a modern day Rodney King, that student was skipping down the sidewalk.  Oh, the horror.  Thank God the police were there the squelch the madness.

I've watched that video a handful of times, and I just couldn't help but imagine what an uproar there would be had a group of the students cornered one of those cops and put an equally punishing beating onto him.  It would be a national scandal of epic proportions. 


So, my blood has been boiling all day.  And then I read this article from the Boston Review in which Colin Dayan discusses "breed bans, euthanasia, and preemptive justice" with regard to dogs.

I've always been a philosophically opposed to breed bans for dogs and Mr. Dayan makes some great points in his article.
The seizures, detentions, and exterminations of pit bulls—sanctioned by laws in many states—expose the statutory logic for making preemptive justice constitutionally permissible: canine profiling supplies the terms for inclusion and ostracism, and even the suspension of due process rights. No criminal conviction of the owner is required for state seizure and destruction of property. In other words, the Constitution’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit the government from depriving anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” can be suspended for the public good without evidence, without trial, by classification alone.
In legal rationales, realities are created. Old inequalities and radical discrimination are repackaged in unexpected forms. In breed-specific legislation, the taint and incapacity of the disenfranchised live on. At a time when our government is labeling certain persons as threats—alleged terrorists, enemy aliens, illegal immigrants, ordinary people who want to get on airplanes—we need to ask how the seizure and destruction of dogs deemed contraband becomes a medium for the intimidation and debasement of humans in turn. Who should suffer deprivation without redress so that we can live in reasonable—safe and secure—consensus? And who gets to decide?

Those are some mighty fine questions. 

And how did it get this way (at least, according to Mr. Dayan)?

Pit bulls were once known as “America’s Breed”: RCA’s “Nipper” (pictured head cocked while listening to “his master’s voice”); Buster Brown’s “Tige”; “Pete the Pup,” part of the Little Rascals gang in the Our Gang comedies; and the pit bull pictured on the celebrated World War I poster proclaiming: “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.” Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in military history, fought for eighteen months in the trenches, saved several soldiers’ lives, and captured a German spy. Now the pit bull is the most demonized breed, the poster dog for dogfighting, the herald of criminality and drug-dealing, the mauler of children.
In 1987 Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Time Magazine all ran articles featuring pit bulls. Rolling Stone’s “A Boy and his Dog in Hell” reported on pit bulls used in street fights by gangs in North Philadelphia. Valued as proof of their owner’s mettle, the dogs were subjected to unimaginable torture and death if they lost. The cover of Sports Illustrated showed a snarling pit bull with the headline “Beware of This Dog” and branded these dogs with the locking-jaw myth and “a will to kill.” It was bested by Time’s “Time Bombs on Legs,” which compared the pit bull to “the vicious hound of the Baskervilles.” According to the Time article, the pit bull “has seized small children like rag dolls and mauled them to death in a frenzy of bloodletting.”
Since then the pit bull has been the media’s choice for horror stories about dogs labeled “four-legged guns” or “lethal weapons.” Citing pit bulls’ “vicious propensity,” hundreds of towns large and small throughout the United States have adopted the first ever breed-specific dog bans. Regulations vary from one city to the next, but once a ban has been enacted, any dog considered a threat to public welfare can be summarily seized and put down. This despite the fact that other breeds of dogs also bite, but we hardly ever read about them. “Dogs that bite people,” as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, “are vicious because they have owners who want a vicious dog.” That is, what predisposes a dog to bite is not its nature, but its environment. The most loyal dogs are the most abused. Ever ready to please, these dogs become victimized by those they love most. They are either the tools of human-initiated aggression or, as Karen Delise writes in The Pit Bull Placebo, the targets of “every type of positive or negative emotional and physical circumstance humans are capable of imposing on dogs.
 [Emphasis mine]

Which is one of my biggest pet peeves, so to speak, about breed-specific legislation, the fact that these laws rarely take into account the bigger problem than a dog's genes:  shitty owners.  Many of these dogs are raised to be vicious.  It just turns out that the pit bull is the dog of choice for these horrible people who train, torment, and torture the dogs into fighting machines. 

Mr. Dayan also walks through the legal history and case law with regard to dogs.  Are dogs property?  If so, what legal protections are they afforded?  Is a dog's breed the index for his disposition?  Or can we look past its looks and instead focus on its actions?  He notes that, "Nowadays, dangerous-dog hearings decide if dogs live or die. Vicious-dog law, or what some simply call “dog-bite law,” usually precludes any legal challenge—especially if the offending animal happens to be identified as dangerous simply because of the breed."

(NOTE: while I am in agreement with much of the author's thesis throughout the piece, I must take issue with his decision to close the piece with an analogy that includes the word "Nazi" as it is way too much slippery slope/straw man argumentation for my taste.  That final paragraph nearly destroys strength within the rest of the article, and for some people it may undercut it entirely.)

So, what's the point?  I guess I don't like it when police brutalize the citizens they are entrusted to "serve and protect".  I also don't like it when legislative bodies enact laws breed-specific dog laws that make judgments about "big schweeties" based upon their genes and not their behavior.  And now you know where I sit on these two extremely specific issues.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pulitzer Prizes

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners were recently announced and one of the most gripping, riveting, and heart wrenching stories that I've ever read won this year's prize for Best Feature Writing.
I remember reading Gene Weingarten's piece last year about parents who unintentionally kill their children by forgetting them in their car.  And after rereading it today, I could not imagine that any of the other entries could have stood a chance at winning this award. 

Reading the accounts of parents who have accidentally killed their children, such as Miles Harrison, whose heartbreaking picture of him clutching his child's toy accompanies the story, it is difficult to imagine a sorrow deeper than theirs.  Their stories are fairly graphic, yet are told as a warning that this can happen to anyone: parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, etc. 
"Death by hyperthermia" is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. The season is almost upon us. 
Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?
The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.
The facts in each case differ a little, but always there is the terrible moment when the parent realizes what he or she has done, often through a phone call from a spouse or caregiver. This is followed by a frantic sprint to the car. What awaits there is the worst thing in the world.
Mr. Weingarten presents some of the legal questions such events pose:  to prosecute or not to prosecute.  Is this a crime?  If so, can it be a felony if there is no intent?  And, if it's not a felony, isn't the parent's internal punishment going to be greater than any that a misdemeanor might carry?  If a case goes to trial, is a jury going to convict? 

I'm certain that Mr. Weingarten began this piece intending to focus on the law and order aspect of such a rare event.  But the strenght of his writing, and what probably lead to his ultimately receiving the award, was how he treated these parents.  Another writer may not have been so kind.  Mr. Weingarten expertly allows some of these parents to explain how they are able to cope with the mental and psychological tole such a loss takes on them, their spouses, and their marriages.  Some parents put up a fight.  Others take flight.  Some parents avoid, others embrace.

I began this story wondering, "how could someone forget their child in a car?"  I ended this piece wondering, "would I have the strength that these parents have displayed and be able to face the rest of my life?"  Because he was able to get readers like me to move away from being judgmental of others and instead become introspective of themselves, Mr. Weingarten is $10,000 and a Pulitzer Prize richer.  

Thursday, April 8, 2010


If this doesn't inspire you, I don't want to be your friend anymore.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

American Idol 2010 -- Top 9

Tonight is Lennon and McCartney (the Beatles) Night on American Idol.

(As I found the song list on the Vote for the Worst website, I’ll be forecasting what I think will happen with each performance, and then comment on what does happen.)

Aaron - The Long and Winding Road – One of my least favorite songs by the Beatles.  It is such a drab and dreary song that plods along.   And this song is even more unappealing to me coming from Aaron.  Please let this be the song that sends him on the “long and winding road” home.

(ASIDE:  I really wish the judges would ignore the people in the crowd.  Nothing slows the show down more than having Simon turn around and look at who “boo-ed” him after he told someone they did a poor job.  Sheesh.)

KatieLet it Be – One of the most cliché songs by the Beatles.  It has been played to death.  Not looking forward to this performance one bit.  She’s trying to “make it her own,” which is always important to the judges, but she took no real risks on her vocals.  She did nothing to hurt or help her position in the competition.   

Andrew Can’t Buy Me Love – I’ll be interested on what kind of arrangement Andrew does with this one.  If he sings the Beatles version, he’ll be quickly forgotten.  If he can somehow modernize the song without completely destroying it, he could win the night.  Andrew tried to pull the song out of the 1960s, and only managed to get it to the 80s.  It wasn’t great, but it was much better than if he’d have tried to make it exactly like the original.

MikeEleanor Rigby – this should be a hot mess.  Ok, it wasn’t a complete hot mess.  He turned it into an R&B song and it kinda worked, but he could have done the same thing to some different song and it probably would have translated better (maybe something like Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB?).  But, it was probably better than I’ve giving it credit, because I don’t like R&B for the most part. 

(ASIDE:  I’ve been muting the show between songs so I could listen to the Beatles songs in my iTunes library, which means I’ve been missing tonight’s video packages.  Well, I just listened to the package for Crystal, where all the other contestants talk about one person, and it was kinda creepy.  It felt like a memorial tribute one might make to honor someone who’s just died.  Creepy.)

Crystal Come Together – The second most cliché Beatles’ song being performed tonight.  She turned it into a Country version (with some dude playing a didgeridoo beside her which is odd).  This was probably the most entertaining song of the night.  

TimAll My Loving – one of the earliest Beatles songs being sung tonight.  It will either be really good, or really bad.  I’m betting it’s the later.  Ummm…..hmmmmmm………uhhhhhhhhh.  Ok, imagine if Jason Mraz and Brian Setzer reproduced and their kid made it to the Top 9 of American Idol.  Got that in your head?  Good, because I’m pretty sure that was what Tim was going for, but, unfortunately he just fell short of his goal.  At least he still has the Vote for the Worst crowd’s support, because he’ll need it. 

CaseyJealous Guy – I was unfamiliar with this song, so I listened to it on youtube.  This song does not have a guitar on the recording I listened to, so maybe Casey puts the 6-string down for once, which should be quite awkward.  Nope, he did it with the guitar.  He was wise to pick a relatively unknown song, because then he could get away with singing it exactly like the original, although I don’t remember Lennon being quite so liberal with goat-vibrato in his version.  This guy is a joke.

SiobhanAcross the Universe – I didn’t recognize the song from the title alone, but after listening to it online, I remembered it, and it fits Siobhan’s personality to a “T”.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate through the television.  It was a dud, in my opinion.  The song had zero personality or flair.  I hope her off-stage personality will keep her in the competition for a few more weeks.  She needs to step her game up.

(ASIDE:  Ughh, they are obviously stalling for time because there is 15 minutes left for one performer.  They are asking the contestants beauty contest-style questions and allowing weirdos from the audience to come on stage.  All of this filler is insufferable, and it makes me long for the return of the 1-hour shows.)

Lee Hey Jude – My favorite Beatles song of the night by my favorite contestant remaining in the competition.  I’m cautiously optimistic.  (Note: I would promise to vote a hundred times a week if Lee would learn how to properly wear a stocking cap).  He’s doing an adequate job with the song, but he went to the chorus way too early.  And what the hell is up with the bagpipes?  Totally distracting, totally unnecessary, a total gimmick, and, ultimately, they ruined the song for me.  Which is a bummer, because he was on track to be my favorite of the night.

Disappointed that no one sang the following songs, all of which are better “performance” songs than most of the ones done tonight.
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Day Tripper
  • Lady Madonna
  • Ballad of John and Yoko
  • Get Back
  • Help!
  • Drive My Car
  • With a Little Help from my Friends
  • Yellow Submarine, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, or I am the Walrus – any of which I would have preferred Siobhan to have sang instead of the borefest that was Across the Universe.
  • Anything from my favorite Beatles album, “Rubber Soul”, could have easily been updated and modernized and knocked the judge’s and audience’s socks off.  Lee could have killed The Word.  Crystal would have nailed In My Life.  Aaron might have pulled of Drive My Car.  Siobhan could have screamed her way through I’m Looking Through You.  Andrew might have pulled off Michelle.  Kinda bums me out that no one attempted a song from this album. 
  • Also surprising was that no one attempted any McCartney/Wings songs.  No one wanted to do Maybe I'm Amazed, Live and Let Die, or Band on the Run?  Hard to believe, unless they weren't allowed to choose from those songs, which would be odd during "Lennon and McCartney" night.
After the replay, I’d have to say my order tonight was:

TOP:  Big Mike, Crystal
MIDDLE:  Lee, Katie, Casey, Siobhan
BOTTOM:  Tim, Aaron, Andrew

After the reply, I'm also convinced that this year's contestants are horrible at song selection.  Why no one has called me to come produce this show is beyond me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Regulators (and a new Warning)

While eating our Easter lunch at Taco Bell today, the Wife, the In-Laws, and I were discussing one of the public initiatives within ObamaCare that will have an immediate effect on our lives (considering that the health care/insurance stuff doesn't fully kick in until 2014, well after our next presidential election and into the 2016 election race):  chain restaurants will have to provide nutrition information on their menus.

Some highlights from the discussion:
  • Most of us seemed to be in agreement that it was a ridiculous requirement.  
  • I noted that many stores had already been proudly displaying these facts in full view of their paying customers (Subway was the first that came to mind).  
  • The Bro-in-Law noted that most people already know that quick/cheap/convenient food (usually) = high in calories
  • And then the Wife noted that most people will probably become desensitized to the information overload.
And she's exactly right (as usual).

Think about all of the "Cover Your Ass" legalese that we encounter everyday and (for the most part) completely ignore.  I have a pile of small-engine yard and garden equipment user manuals in my garage filled with warnings that I've never read.  There are thousands of "small print" explanations and warnings that I've glossed over in my lifetime.  Warning signs on cigarettes, slippery floor signs, caution signs, speed limit signs, prescription labels, and the list goes on and on.  All of these are supposedly for "my own good," yet I ignore them (or at least pay them no heed).

One of the main selling points for me about small/limited government is that it puts an emphasis on personal responsibility and common sense.  With this bombardment of warnings and cations comes a sense of "well, my government (or this company) is looking out for me, so why should I worry?"

Today, Glenn Reynolds wrote in the Washington Examiner about "The Knowledge Problem" inherent in government regulations.
Economist Friedrich Hayek explained in 1945 why centrally controlled "command economies" were doomed to waste, inefficiency, and collapse: Insufficient knowledge. He won a Nobel Prize. But it turns out he was righter than he knew.
In his "The Use of Knowledge In Society," Hayek explained that information about supply and demand, scarcity and abundance, wants and needs exists in no single place in any economy. The economy is simply too large and complicated for such information to be gathered together.
Any economic planner who attempts to do so will wind up hopelessly uninformed and behind the times, reacting to economic changes in a clumsy, too-late fashion and then being forced to react again to fix the problems that the previous mistakes created, leading to new problems, and so on.
Market mechanisms, like pricing, do a better job than planners because they incorporate what everyone knows indirectly through signals like price, without central planning.
Thus, no matter how deceptively simple and appealing command economy programs are, they are sure to trip up their operators, because the operators can't possibly be smart enough to make them work.
Hayek's insight into economics and regulation is often called "The Knowledge Problem," and it is a very powerful notion. But recent events suggest that it's not just the economy that regulators don't understand well enough -- it's also their own regulations.  
The United States Code -- containing federal statutory law -- is more than 50,000 pages long and comprises 40 volumes. The Code of Federal Regulations, which indexes administrative rules, is 161,117 pages long and composes 226 volumes.
No one on Earth understands them all, and the potential interaction among all the different rules would choke a supercomputer. This means, of course, that when Congress changes the law, it not only can't be aware of all the real-world complications it's producing, it can't even understand the legal and regulatory implications of what it's doing.
There's good news and bad news in that. The bad news is obvious: We're governed not just by people who do screw up constantly, but by people who can't help but screw up constantly. So long as the government is this large and overweening, no amount of effort at securing smarter people or "better" rules will do any good: Incompetence is built into the system.
The good news is less obvious, but just as important: While we rightly fear a too-powerful government, this regulatory knowledge problem will ensure plenty of public stumbles and embarrassments, helping to remind people that those who seek to rule us really don't know what they're doing.
Mr. Reynolds hope is that these public stumbles will increase the public's skepticism toward Big Government (and I hope that too, but like the saying goes:  hope in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first).  Instead, as I've pointed out before, there are now three things you can take to the bank:  death, taxes, and the growth of government.

Each regulatory failure rarely leads to a paring back of previously enacted regulations, but instead, new "fixes" are trotted out and piled on to previous regulations.  And these new regulations usually compound previous "fixes" ad nauseum. 

My solution?  I propose every ballot come with the following warning:   
Voting for this candidate and/or referendum will, in all likelihood, lead to a reduction of your money and liberties and freedoms.  
Because one more warning can only help, right?

UPDATE:  The following picture was featured in a recent Hit & Run blog post at about "the Nanny State."  The picture displays two points about over-regulation and nanny statism:
  1. When annoying noises are outlawed, only outlaws will make annoying noises.  It is quite annoying to me that these types of regulations are on the books, so the only logical conclusion is that there out to be a law against these types of laws, right?  
  2. This sign also helps prove the point about becoming desensitized by information overload.  I did not make it halfway through the statute before my eyes glazed over with boredom and annoyance.  (Also, the fact that this sign has not been defaced makes me wonder about its legitimacy.)


SONG:  "Wonderful" by Everclear

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  Opening Day for the 2010 MLB season tomorrow.  (Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox played tonight, but no one cares about those team, right?  So, the season starts tomorrow).  And it looks like my man Luke Hochevar is going to be the #2 starter for the KC Royals for a while.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I Learned Today -- 4/1

Today I tried to pull some April Fool's Day pranks on my online friends via Facebook.  With the advice of my wife, I decided to forgo the typical April Fool's jokes that we're pregnant (nothing funny about that one), that I've quit or been fired from my job (no need to jinx it), and/or weather related pranks (which is something only my grandma would find funny, and I'm pretty sure she's been banned from Facebook to help cure her FarmVille addiction).

So, this morning before leaving for work, I hastily jotted down the following "joke":

I can't believe that they aren't going to allow on the course spectators at the Masters this year because Tiger didn't want people watching him. The guy is a diva. And the people running the Masters tournament are a bunch of wimps for caving into his demands.

At the time of my writing it, I thought it would be good for a chuckle or two, but I now realize it was too much of a niche joke (and not all that funny in hindsight).  One of my friends believed it was true, but it didn't bring me too much joy to point out that it was my April Fool. 

So, the first lesson of the day:  make sure to keep your audience in mind when concocting a prank.

When I got home for lunch, I decided to give it another try and came up with the following:

You know, the more I've read about it, the more ObamaCare sounds like a good idea.

This joke still brings me much pleasure, because anyone who knows me or has been reading my blog knows that very little is going to convince me that ObamaCare is a good idea.  I also liked that it was more personal than the first joke, which lent more credance to it's credibility.  And, it is a controversial topic, so I figured it would chase out a few people who were happy for my conversion and others who would be pissed about it.  I ended up getting one of each reply.  I also recieved a challenge from my cousin JB for me to prove on my blog that it's a good idea.  Another friend questioned whether it was an April Fool.  And my Mom gave me a "Oh, that's rich" reply, which is exactly the reaction that makes me happy that she's my Mom.

Lesson number 2:  personal pranks are better than celebrity news pranks, those of political nature need to be crafted by a master jokesmith to be effective (and I'm not a master political jokester, nor was my attempt very effective).

I decided to give it one more try, this time broadening the scope of the joke, and going for something a little more lighthearted.  I came to this joke while walking to the bathroom at work (number 1), which is where I often get my best ideas.  I decided to end my April Fool's Day with this "gem":

Ugg, someone broke into my car and stole my CD case filled with my Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, GLEE, and Celine Dion CD's. Luckily my Miley Cyrus CD was in the CD player because only "Party in the U.S.A." can lift my spirits at a time like this.

This update was probably the most successful one I had today.  I received kind words from my friends, including:
  • L.G. -- "my 10 year old has all of these if you want to copy them".  (I would never copy someone elses cds, because everyone knows piracy hurts us all)
  • T.B. -- "I assume you had your mp3 player loaded with the Best of the Jonas Brothers and Hansen."  (of course I did)
  • C.R. -- "This prank fails because everyone assumes you have copies and b-sides on your hard drive."  (again, guilty as charged)
  • A.B. reminded me to just "nod your head like ya".  (words to live by.  also, a candidate for my next tattoo)
  • D.R. -- "that's a devastating loss.  Tell the wife to hide the rope and shower rods."  (great advice.  consider it done)
It's good to know that I have great friends to help me though the tough times in my life.

Lesson number 3:  Putting Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber's names in a blog post should help pick up the page hits from the 10-15 year-old demographic.

SONG:  "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley

THINKING BACK ON:  Seven years ago today was the first time I told my Wife that I loved her.  We had been dating for about a month and a half and had been doing the "I really like you" tightrope walk up until that point.  We were upstairs at my parent's house and were watching a movie.  I finally psyched myself up enough to take the plunge.  I turned to her and said, "Can I tell you something?"  And, at that exact moment, I had this internal dialogue:
Oh, man, today is April Fool's Day.  What if she thinks I'm pulling an April Fool's joke?  What if she gets pissed off and storms out of here?  What if she doesn't want to say it back?  What if I'm moving too fast?  Uh, oh, this is WAY too long of a pause.  What if she thinks we're breaking up?  Say something, stupid.  SAY IT!!!
I finally broke out of my trance and told her "I love you" for the first time.  It was terrifying and exhilarating.  And, thankfully, she reciprocated with an "I love you, too."  The rest is, as they say, history.

(Bonus) THINKING BACK ON:  The best April Fool's Day pranks that I fell for during my youth.  The ones that have always stuck with me were both carried out by my favorite radio station, 98.1 KKFM.  I don't recall which came first, but I remember that one year they were playing classic country music rather than the usual morning show.  They would occasionally announce that the station had been bought by a country music station and that they were so thankful for the support they'd received in the past when they were a classic rock station.  They also took phone calls and people were not pleased with the move, to say the least.  Very funny.

The second prank came when the station announced that the Broncos had traded John Elway to Pittsburgh for Kordell Stewart (who had played QB at CU, so he was basically a local boy).  This was before the internet was a huge phenomenon, so people couldn't hop online to double check the story.  Instead, they called in to voice their support with the move (Elway was at the end of his career and Kordell was a great athlete) or their opposition to the trade (Elway IS the Broncos.  Kordell is not half the QB of Elway).  Again, very funny.

LINKThe Definitive List of April Fool's Shenanigans for 2010