Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Subject Is Taxing My Patience

It seems like it was just a few days ago that we were talking about a nominee for a Cabinet post who cheated on his income taxes. Oh, that's right; we did. As the slicer-dicer commercial guy might say, "But wait--there's more!" That's right, another one:
ABC News has learned that the nomination of former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to be President Obama's secretary of health and human services has hit a traffic snarl on its way through the Senate Finance Committee.

The controversy deals with a car and driver lent to Daschle by a wealthy Democratic friend -- a chauffeur service the former senator used for years without declaring it on his taxes.

It remains an open question as to whether this is a "speed bump," as a Democratic Senate ally of Daschle put it, or something more damaging.

After being defeated in his 2004 re-election campaign to the Senate, Daschle in 2005 became a consultant and chairman of the executive advisory board at InterMedia Advisors.

Based in New York City, InterMedia Advisors is a private equity firm founded in part by longtime Daschle friend and Democratic fundraiser Leo Hindery, the former president of the YES network (the New York Yankees' and New Jersey Devils' cable television channel).

That same year he began his professional relationship with InterMedia, Daschle began using the services of Hindery's car and driver.

The Cadillac and driver were never part of Daschle's official compensation package at InterMedia, but Mr. Daschle -- who as Senate majority leader enjoyed the use of a car and driver at taxpayer expense -- didn't declare their services on his income taxes, as tax laws require.
Is anyone else just totally sick of this? We simply cannot have two sets of rules--one for public "servants" and one for the average Joe--but if Daschle, like Tim Geithner before him, gets confirmed, this is pretty much exactly what will have happened.

Hat tip for this story goes to Instapundit, and you can read more on the subject from TigerHawk, as well as a big roundup at TaxProf Blog.

Scrappleface's Scott Ott has found a sliver lining in all this:
In office less than two weeks, President Barack Obama has already increased tax receipts at the U.S. Treasury with an innovative plan to get tax-dodgers to pay up, in full, immediately.

“The president’s plan is simple but ingenious,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, “He targets wealthy individuals who filed inaccurate tax forms, cheating the government out of tens of thousands of dollars. Then he just nominates them for cabinet positions. They suddenly see the error of their ways, and they cut checks for the full amount owed, plus interest.”
(Ott is a humorist, so the above is not a real quote from Gibbs, but it's still funny.) John Hinderaker at Powerline and Tom Maguire at Just One Minute have similar takes on the subject.

As I've said before, we need to get better people in government. Surely these people can't be the best and brightest that we have, can they? And nobody should be rewarded with a high-ranking government job if they did something that a "regular" person would go to prison for doing.

UPDATE: John Pitney at NRO's The Corner posts a very interesting quote, considering the source:
“Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter. ” Sen. Tom Daschle, Congressional Record, May 7, 1998, p. S4507.
Indeed they should, Tom.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Daschle withdraws. And so has Nancy Killefer, nominee for "chief performance officer," whose outstanding tax bill was much smaller than Daschle's. And here's a good idea: Just audit every public official and get it over with, already.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Travel Advisory

I'm off to Commerce to run a fraternity workshop this weekend (I'm not sure if I'll get to park in the Purple Permit Parking lot or not). Back Saturday evening, but may not post until Sunday. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Midweek Saturday

Even though we've had plenty of occasions during the winter when forecasters spouted predictions of doom and gloom, I had the feeling that the ice storm that started yesterday and solidified itself (pun intended?) overnight was for real this time. And sure enough, the weather didn't fail to disappoint. I woke up at six this morning to check the TV and radio for the status of my school district, and it, like virtually all the others, did indeed have the day off. I watched a bit of the TV footage before going back to bed for several more hours, which was nice; my Saturday this week will be taken up by an out-of-town workshop that I'm running, so it was very nice to get a substitute Saturday now.

A few random observations about all this:
  • I know that, at 22 degrees, we can't hold a candle, weather-wise, to places in the North (compare Madison and Minneapolis--not to mention the 7 degrees that my friend in Wisconsin reported at lunchtime--and we're downright balmy here. But the fact of the matter is, Dallasites don't drive well on ice, we don't have the heavy equipment to clear it that northern states do, and it's just better for all concerned that people stay home if at all possible.

  • I don't watch TV news much, but it's always amusing to see the reporters all bundled up and stationed near big freeway intersections like the High Five, Ft. Worth Mixmaster, and so on. I suppose they could do fine without the visuals, but it's become such a staple of news coverage in times like these that I suppose everyone has to do it. And there's something about looking at the glazed freeway surface that makes one think, "I'm really glad that I'm warm and dry in my house right now."

  • But you do have to hand it to these people for putting themselves in harm's way. One of the reporters in Denton this morning regaled us with a (slightly embarrassing, to her) story of how she fell on her behind on an icy sidewalk; another one in Ft. Worth last night told the tale of their news van doing a 180-degree spin on a freeway, noting the uncomfortable feeling of seeing headlights in one's own direction.

  • This type of reporting sure is rough on the local flora. It's bad enough to be sleeted and iced upon, but it seems like every reporter is doing something destructive to some sort of plant life, be it crumbling some leaves, ripping a shoot off a bush or repeatedly kicking the ground with one's boot to show how badly everything is covered in ice.

  • The TV stations' lists of schools and other closings has gotten massive; it took nearly half an hour to scroll through the entire thing. I was impressed by the organization of FOX 4's list, which categorized everything into Public, Private, College, Business and Other. (My only gripe is that they didn't keep the list going during commercials, and--inexplicably--the weather.)

  • Some of the names on the lists were amusing, such as Lil Rascals Daycare (I guess they can't have the pit bull in this day and age), Somebody-or-other's Family Karate (It just amuses me to imagine Mom, Dad and the kids doing that together), Classical Karate (are they accompanied by Beethoven? I"d think Jazz Karate would be cooler), and the Barbara Gordon Montessori School (you'd think she would have been more renowned for her incarnation as Batgirl).
If you're from around here (or anywhere else where it might be even worse), I hope you got to stay out of this weather yourself. And feel free to make your predictions as to whether this is it for our major winter weather this year, or if there's more to come.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kids Put the Darnedest Things in Their School Reports

I usually don't post forwarded emails, but this one is really funny:
Life Lesson# 45893 = Always check your child's homework before it gets to school!

When asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up, second-grader "Sarah" turned in the lovely drawing shown below. Needless to say, the teacher was a bit surprised -- Mrs. Smith had always seemed like such a conservative woman. So she sent a note home to the girl's mother asking for clarification as to the picture's meaning.

Here's the reply the teacher received the following day:

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer.

I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot.

From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.
As one of my friends pointed out when I sent him the email, for something that's not a dancing pole, it is a really, really big snow shovel...

Thanks for not coming, have an ice day: We're in the midst of an ice storm warning here in the DFW area; the public schools canned all after-school activities, and the college closed well before I would have gotten there. To all my fellow Metroplexites--if you have to go anywhere tonight, be careful out there.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Can't We Find Anyone Better?"

I'm still looking for the source of the quote (though I know it was a senator), but I heard it the radio on the way home tonight when the story broke that Timothy Geithner was confirmed by the Senate as Treasury Secretary today.

I'm appalled by this. Why? Because of the, umm, "careless" way (his words) that he handled his taxes a few years ago. They came when he worked for the International Monetary Fund, which--being international and all--doesn't withhold taxes from people who do work for it (but evidently takes great pains to explain to its American employees that they have to report this money as self-employment income). We're talking amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars here, and he didn't pay a lot of it back until he got the Treasury nomination a few months ago.

I get some of my income from self-employment, and if I did what Geithner did, I'd be in prison right now. Why should we hold our public "servants" to any less of a standard? (Indeed, since it's everyone's money we're talking about, they should be held to an even higher standard.) We can't have two Americas here--one set of rules for people in government, and another set for everyone else.

The vote in favor of Geithner was 60-34. And some of his supporters were all too eager to toss aside this ridiculous character flaw:
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said he did not minimize Mr. Geithner's tax failings, but insisted, "This is one of the most talented people I have ever met in the area of financial services.

"Rather than decrying or lambasting this nominee, we ought to be thanking him," Mr. Dodd said.
Of course, Dodd is mired in scandal himself and none of his colleagues seem to care. Birds of a feather, and all...

But I was very disappointed to see that one of our Texas senators, John Cornyn, voted in favor of the confirmation. Until just a little while ago, I had never written to a member of Congress in my entire life, but here's an excerpt of what I sent to Cornyn tonight:
"I'm sorry, but having some of who "forgot" to pay his taxes in charge of the IRS is like having a crack addict in charge of the DEA. This should have been a game-ender right then and there."
We have to find better people to work in government. Are these truly the "best and brightest" that our nation has to offer?

UPDATE: I still can't find the phrase I thought I heard on the radio, but this may have been what was actually spoken:
Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, noted that a number of presidential nominations in the past have been torpedoed for ethical and financial lapses far less serious than those admitted by Mr. Geithner.

"Are we saying there is only one person in the whole world qualified to handle this job today?" he asked.
I'm asking the same thing, Senator. I'm sorry your side lost today. I'm sorry our side (as in the side of the regular, taxpaying American) lost today.

OTHER VOICES: There's plenty of ire being tossed around (including mine) at Althouse, who notes an Instapundit post today that references the classic Steve Martin "I Forgot" comedy bit. (And how funny--or sad--is it that the Martin bit discusses how you can be a millionaire and never pay taxes. Life imitates art...)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Drunken Lemur Alert

This is pretty much my favorite Dilbert cartoon of all time:

dilbert drunken lemurs

(If I had known how to link to this comic before, it would have certainly worked its way into an earlier post.)

It would appear that the drunken lemurs are alive and well in county government; here's the latest example of their idiocy:

A little while ago, I went with a friend to a rather busy Starbucks. The place was packed, and, because the temperature is in the 30s tonight, everyone was inside. There was this huge group in the middle that threw the tables-to-chairs ratio all out of whack, which meant that there were plenty of tables, but no chairs to place around them.

I saw one empty chair up front, behind a still-large-but-somewhat-smaller group, and I asked the guys if that chair was taken. They said it belonged to some (unseen) friend of theirs, but that I should do what they did and get some chairs from outside (since those tables were obviously not being used). I did this, and my friend and I sat down to enjoy our drinks, and we noticed that several other nearby tables had the outside chairs as well.

Within a short while, we noticed one of the Starbucks workers coming up to each of the tables around us. I knew that it was nowhere near closing time (indeed, the store is still open as I write this), so I wondered what was up; eventually, I heard something about us not supposed to be using the outside chairs inside. I asked the employee why this was, and she said she didn't know, but we were welcome to contact the manager. Sure, I'll take a card, I said, and when she came back with his card, she had found out why the rule was in place: The health department didn't allow "outside" chairs inside. Huh??

I feel relatively sure that this wasn't the first time I had experienced the commingling of indoor and outdoor furniture, and it led us to muse about what the health department could possibly be worried about. My friend jokingly suggested that there must be "cancer particles" in the outdoor air that would "get in the coffee as it's being ground," whereas I posited that they must be afraid that a bird would land on an outside chair and bring plague and pestilence into the place if we took the chairs in. It also occurred to me that this type of commingling must happen all the time in people's houses: bringing in lawn chairs to accommodate extra guests, bringing plates from the kitchen outside when barbecuing, and so on. Mostly, I was annoyed that my evening was made less enjoyable by the work of some petty bureaucrat somewhere who has no idea that this regulation sometimes gets in the way of business.

Again, I'm not railing against all government regulation; indeed, keeping the food supply from being tainted is one of the few things government does well on a regular basis. But I fail to see how the inside/outside chair situation rises to the level of tainting the food supply. Instead, this sounds like the work of a do-nothing government worker with too much time on his or her hands, a "solution" in search of a problem. (If this situation were so serious, why had none of us at Starbucks heard of it before?)

So, even though I was prepared at first to fire off an irate (or at least annoyed) email to the Starbucks manager, I was glad to find out that the problem is not likely of his making. I will contact him, though, to get the information for whichever drunken lemur is their regular contact in the health department, and chew on that person for a little while (as I told the folks at the next table, who defiantly remained in their outside chairs for "ten more minutes"--and thought we were being too nice for taking the chairs back outside as we left--it would be fun to rag on a bureaucrat, who undoubtedly deserves it).

As I said earlier, we can't even afford the government we have, much less the kind that some people in Washington would like to bring in, and letting go of a whole lot of bureaucrats would be a good start. Tonight was yet another example of the unproductive class interfering with the productive class, and another reason why this situation must change.

(As always, I acknowledge that your mileage may vary; if you've ever been sickened by the Tainted Outside Chair Flu or something, please feel free to disagree with me in the comments.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Strike Up the Bands (Marathon Version)

Tonight was the All-Region Bands concert in the region where I teach--an event which I have blogged about for the past three years. Anyone who reads this post every year may notice a bit of a rerun aspect to it, but I always have a new observation or two:
  • Once again, this concert ran like clockwork, with each band starting precisely on time. Though none of the bands used the entire 45-minute allotment of time, the breaks provided time to stretch and schmooze with some of my students' parents a bit. (Since a lot of the school bands' individual concerts are on nights when I teach college, I don't get to attend nearly as many of those as I might like, so I don't always get to see the parents except in summer, and, once the kids get their drivers' licenses, not even then.)

  • I had nine students make the bands this year, which ties my 2007 mark but falls short of the twelve I had make it a year ago. My students were in all the bands except the freshman band--someone did originally make that band, but also made the high school band, which supersedes the freshman result--though I forgot that I had no freshmen until my arrival. That would have given me a little more time to find someplace to eat (we were at the same "boonies" school as two years ago), but it did allow me to receive a set of mythical "five stars" awarded by the final band's conductor to anyone who made it through the entire concert.

  • Though the concert has always gone according to a certain set of guidelines, there were some even more formulaic elements tonight: Most of the bands started out with a short fanfare, all but one included a Sousa march, usually as an encore-like finale (and the one that didn't play Sousa did a traditional Russian march instead), and the director didn't come to the microphone until after the second or third selection. (My only quibble with this was that the program said "to be selected from the following" before each listing of tunes, so if a band played two unfamiliar pieces before the conductor spoke, we were left guessing as to what was being played, or at least assuming that the order listed in the program was correct.)

  • Though all of the conductors made mention of of how good the students were, and how it flies in the face of what is usually said about young people in the news media (I've done this myself both as a clinician and at jazz camp), one of them said something that amplified this point: It's too bad that the media weren't there to chronicle this mass of model youth, repeated five times over throughout the evening. But if some teens had knocked over a convenience store or scrawled graffiti on a bridge, the media would be all over that story. I guess it's up to us "citizen journalists" (i.e. bloggers) to keep the positive fire burning for the young people of today, because there really are a lot of good stories out there.

  • I'm reminded that, for at least the past three years, I've meant to write a post entitled "How Film Scoring Saved Classical Music" or something of the sort. Tonight is not that post, though I'll reiterate that the modern "orchestral" style of writing for band is still more appealing to me than most of the old "warhorses" that bands used to play a few decades ago. Writers such as Jack Stamp, Samuel Hazo and Brian Balmages are, to my ears, just writing more exciting music and getting more innovative combinations of sounds out of the instruments than the older composers. In a nutshell, I prefer "wind ensemble" music to "band" music, and yes, there's a difference.

  • But that being said, the top band tonight did an outstanding job with eight of the thirteen movements of Carmina Burana (even if you don't know classical music at all, you've heard the "O Fortuna" movement of this in a movie or something; give it a listen and see). That arrangement may have been published in 1967, but tonight, it crackled with energy in a way I'd never heard before. (And my proverbial hat is off to players and conductor alike for pulling this together in less than 24 hours!) Obviously, there's something to a few of those old chestnuts that's not always readily apparent.

  • And not to dilute my "wind ensemble is better" thoughts anymore, but I'll be the first to say that a Sousa march is three minutes of perfection--the absolute pinnacle of the genre. They may get maligned a bit in some circles for being impossibly old-school, but each one is a little gem in its own way. (Hearing four of them tonight reinforced this thought, and it also gave me a mini-clinic on how I would rescore my own march that I wrote in high school if the occasion ever came up.)
At this concert, the directors and private teachers of whomever is on stage at the moment are asked to stand for a moment (as well as the parents, who are rightfully asked to do this ahead of us). It's always nice to be recognized like this, because most music educators--especially those of us who go from school to school--toil in quiet anonymity most of the time. (That being said, one set of parents attempted to give me quite a bit of the credit for their kid's success; I reminded them that I give out similar information across the board, but it's up to the students to take it and run with it. ) It's a night that we can all celebrate a little, which makes it totally worth whatever effort is required to attend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Growing the Productive Class

I'm sure this went mostly unnoticed among all the pageantry and celebration on Tuesday, but this headline made my skin crawl: There are now more people employed in government than in manufacturing and construction (hat tip: Instapundit).

This cannot stand, if we as a nation expect to continue standing. Why? Because government doesn't actually produce anything. It certainly doesn't produce wealth, no matter how much politicians may blather to the contrary, and on many occasions, it actually gets in the way of those who do produce wealth. It may provide things (national security and so on), but it produces nothing, and there's no reason it should be allow to grow.

A commenter at SayUncle says it best:
Here’s a simple lesson. Production increases wealth. That is the only thing that does. Service economies don’t increase wealth, government doesn’t produce anything.

Whatever government causes to be produced when they purchase a good or a service is wealth neutral. That’s right, no change in the nation’s wealth, just a redistribution of the already existing wealth. What they give to one, they have taken from another, or a host of others.

Wealth is produced and increased when a good is manufactured, fabricated or grown that exceeds in value the sum of its parts. Nothing else creates wealth. A nation without a strong manufacturing base, strong agricultural base, and the ability to combine components of lesser value into components of greater value than the cost of its parts cannot sustain a static population. It has no chance to provide the conditions necessary for economic security for a growing population.
In this current economic climate, we can't even afford the government we have, much less the government that some people in Washington would like to bring in. President Obama said this week that some "difficult choices" will have to be made to help fix our economy, though I'm not sure the best choices are the same ones that the Washington folks have in mind.

The best choice means acknowledging this idea: It's time to grow the productive class in America. And the only real way to do so is to shrink the government. Starve it, even. There are parts of the government that are crucial to our well-being, such as the military (which may or may not be included in the linked graph), but as for all the little bureaucracies? Not so much. We need to knock the unproductive class out of the way of the productive class, and we need to do it now.

It was announced a few weeks ago that the president has chosen a "chief performance officer" to "scour this budget, line by line, eliminating what we don't need, or what doesn't work, and improving the things that do." That officer, Nancy Killefer, should be plenty busy, because there are plenty of things that we don't need, and all the little bureaucracies that were formed to solve a single problem--sometimes decades ago--and have now become "problems in search of a solution" should be the first things on the chopping block.

I've railed against bureaucrats before; they tend to be untalented, uninspired people who are paid not to think, putting processes above people and generally gumming up the works for everyone. These are the kinds of people who need to be unemployed, not people who actually do something. And while, at first glance, adding to the unemployment rolls may seem like a bad idea, eliminating as many government as possible is a great idea. Send 'em all back to school (at their own expense) to learn how to actually Do Something. And for those who are found to have no discernible talent, well...McDonald's needs workers, too.

And here's how to keep this idea going in the future: I've said before that there need to be not only term limits for members of Congress, but also their attendant bureaucracies. Ideally, nobody (save for the military and pseudo-governmental corporations such as the Post Office) should spend an entire career in government. In the best possible scenario, people wouldn't start out in government either, but would cut their professional teeth in the productive sector, then come in for a few years and lend the talents they have acquired in that sector to government (which is sorely in need of such talents) and then return to the productive sector for the duration of their career. Indeed, it would become a source of shame to be a career bureaucrat, because such a thing would indicate that the person doesn't have the talent or desire to participate in the productive class. And the more of these people who are around, the more the productive class suffers for it.

None of this will happen in the current climate in Washington, but it's definitely the direction in which our nation needs to go in order to truly prosper. Hopefully, someone down the road will have the courage to see this problem as it really is and make the tough choices necessary to implement the solutions stated above.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Memo to Lawmakers: Keep Your Nanny State Out of My Car. And Here's Why:

The Texas Legislature convened last week, and now Congress and the new President will begin working together--or not?--to solve various problems, real and imagined. One of the items that might be on the agenda either here in Texas or at the national level is the subject of my post today.

Ever since cell phones became almost universal in this country, some people have been trying to take them out of the hands of drivers. While most of the laws that have actually been passed are much more specific--banning their use by drivers in active school zones, or allowing them only to be used if a hands-free device is engaged--there are people trying to tighten things up in 2009. Here at home, a few Texas lawmakers are hoping to introduce bills to completely ban cell phone use by drivers, and the National Safety Council advocates a complete ban nationwide as well.

But the nanny-state implications of this notwithstanding (we'll discuss that in a minute), it seems like someone should stick up for the cell phone and its use while driving. (I should emphasize that, yes, this use should be done responsibly; adverse weather or traffic conditions may trump everything else on occasion.) But these lawmakers and the safety council are making it sound like no good can come from talking while driving, and that's far from the truth. A few examples:
  • People on long trips, especially those driving alone, can often use some "company" from time to time. Sure, other things--coffee, opening a window, listening to CDs or the radio--can help to an extent, but sometimes, there's no substitute for interaction with a real, live person on the other end. I've certainly benefited from this practice, and friends who take long hauls have often called me while en route for the same reason. (And yes, there are some who would say that the person should simply be taking a shorter trip, but that's not the way life works sometimes.)

  • And then there's the person who's driving around lost; it's much easier to phone a friend for directions if you're actually going somewhere, because you're much more likely to pass a landmark that someone else may recognize and can thus more easily assist you. And if you're in a questionable neighborhood, it might be downright dangerous to stop.

  • Cell phones have often been used to report crimes in progress. In certain instances, such as road-rage incidents, people would be far more likely to phone in a report if they could remain cloaked in the anonymity of their cars. Pulling off to the side of the highway might make one a target himself.

  • And it should be mentioned that highway shoulders are not particularly safe places to be in the first place. Here in Dallas, the section of LBJ Freeway between Stemmons and Central has proven to be particularly dangerous over the years, with crippling or fatal accidents happening to people changing tires, good Samaritans helping people with stalled cars, and even people sitting in cars. Enacting laws that would put even more people on the side of the road seems more dangerous, not less.
And it would be nice if more of the safety studies agreed with each other. A study cited a while back concluded that a driver talking on the phone as more dangerous than talking to a person in the passenger seat because the caller on the other end couldn't see the traffic conditions experienced by the driver, while the passenger might pause the conversation in such an instance. But in a defensive driving class I took a few weeks ago, we were told that the most recent studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving is actually less dangerous than talking to a person in the passenger seat, because in the latter case, the driver is likely to look at the person while talking to them.

And of course, there's the whole nanny-state aspect of this. Government has already gone way too far in its intrusion into our personal lives, and there's no reason for it to proceed even further in that direction. Sure, there are some people who can't operate a car safely while talking on a phone, but there are also those who can't do so while (pick one) eating, drinking, changing the radio station, changing clothes (!), putting on makeup, or reading the paper. Is the government going to try and outlaw those behaviors as well? Considering their actions in the past, I don't find it unreasonable to fear a slippery slope here.

I have no problem with requiring hands-free devices if it can be proven in several studies that it's better to have both hands on the wheel (but remind me to buy stock in the companies that make Bluetooth devices before such a law is enacted), The school-zone laws don't trouble me at all, nor would laws against texting while driving. And I don't even mind upping the punishment for causing an accident while using a cell if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that this behavior was the primary cause of the accident (that would allow people the freedom to assess the risk and use common sense, which also can't be legislated.) But completely outlawing their use while driving would throw out the good along with the bad.

Agree or disagree? Feel free to speak your piece in the comments.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Enjoy the Day

I have a couple of really big topical posts this week, but I'm going to put them off for one more day.

Why? Because my next two posts will be highly critical of government, or at least some of their proposed actions. But a lot of people are celebrating today, and it's time to let them have their moment. Even those whose candidate was not victorious in November can hardly fail to see the symbolism of today, or they may be very close to some people with whom today resonates very personally.

So today is a day for celebrating, or at least for quiet reflection. (And it's possible to celebrate the bloodless transfer of power--again, as it has been for over 225 years--even if one's own candidate didn't win; how many other nations can boast such things?) Tomorrow, everyone in Washington will get back to work, and here (where we don't discuss politics per se, but there's certainly a lot of discussion of when the government goes awry), it will be time to speak out once again.

So enjoy the day in whichever way you choose. Posts of substance will resume tomorrow.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All Caught Up Once Again

I suppose it's bad that, for the second Monday in a row, I'm coming out with a list of links to the posts of the past week, unfinished until now. I'll get this time-management thing down soon enough, (at least in terms of the blog, which seems to be the first thing to suffer when things get busy), I suppose. But for now, here's what I finished today--the things that would have come to you daily last week if things had allowed:For those of you who had a three-day weekend, like I did, I hope tomorrow morning is not too Monday-ish for you. But Friday is a mere four days away now!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009: A Jazz Odyssey

Sometimes, you attend a concert and just wish the opening act would be over quickly, or maybe even not have been there at all. Other times, you come away with yet another band to enjoy besides the one you went to see in the first place. Last night in Denton, it was the latter.

I hadn't been to a Snarky Puppy show since their CD release party back in September, so it was high time to go again. There was only one opening act this time (unlike the three at the CD release), and it was one of those bands that I had heard of but never actually heard: The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.

One of the things that I did know about the JFJO was that there wasn't anyone named Jacob Fred in there, and a bit of further reading revealed that nobody in the band possessed any part of that moniker. Formed in the mid-'90s in Tulsa, the band consists until recently of keyboardist Brian Haas, guitarist/bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Josh Raymer. According to Wikipedia, Mathis left the band last year for other endeavors, so the touring version, featuring Haas and Raymer along with upright bassist Matt Hayes and electric/lap steel guitarist Chris Combs, is now the current lineup of the band.

So how to describe the band's music...I could punt and call it "fusion," but not at all the happy '80s-'90s version that now gets played in shopping malls. Elements of straight-ahead jazz are artfully mixed with touches of rock and the avant-garde, and what comes out is adventurous and pleasing to the ear, and the style may turn on a dime, going from mellow to raucous within mere minutes, while navigating a maze of tempos and feels. The compositions range from originals to offbeat jazz gems like Monk's "Four in One" and a medley of Rahsaan Roland Kirk tunes, and the originals include some very catchy tunes.

All in all, it's a great combination of sounds. The use of Combs' lap steel guitar on many tunes added a very unusual element to the proceedings, as it was often used as the melodic instrument. Hayes held down the fort masterfully, going from extended walking bass lines to strong rhythmic underpinnings of the more rock-like passages. Raymer's drumming often veered off into creative territory, sometimes seeming at odds with the rest of the tune but always coming back in sync. And Haas stole the show on many occasions with solos that ranged from sensitive to otherwordly, taking advantage of the large sound palette offered up by his Rhodes. And for as many times as things ventured into "out" territory, there was an equal number of those hook-laden melodic moments.

As I said earlier, it's rare to find an opening act that's as enjoyable as the main attraction, but the JFJO fits the bill. Check out some of their music on their website or their MySpace. And I can't wait till my new monthly allotment of eMusic downloads is available later this week, as the JFJO is definitely high on my list of new things to get.

Good puppy! Good puppy! I'd be remiss in finishing this review without saying anything about the band I went to see in the first place. Snarky Puppy was every bit as enjoyable as last time, and it was quite enjoyable to hear the different treatments that were given to the various tunes. Just as you never know how many people will be onstage at a Snarky show (it's usually between nine and twelve, and some tracks on the new CD have up to 18 people playing on them), you also never know what new twists and turns will be added to the tunes, be it new intros, tempo changes or variations on the groove. Special guest José Aponte took a nice solo turn on the drumset; he's the director of the Latin Jazz Ensemble at UNT, among other things, and Snarky leader/bassist Michael League said, "If you go to school at UNT, you really need to take a class from this guy!" I sure would if I were still there.

Snarky generously gave the JFJO the lion's share of the performance time, so their own set wasn't as long as it could have been, but I'm sure I'll catch them again really soon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Someone Tripped the Circuit (CIty) Breaker

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that Circuit City is going out of business. They had already closed a few underperforming stores at the end of the year, but they couldn't find a buyer, so they pretty much ran out of options.

As noted here, being #2 in your retail category is usually a safe place, but that's not the case right now; other second-place holders such as Linens and Things and KB Toys have also fallen in recent months. At the first linked article, a former CEO stated that the likely causes of Circuit City's demise (besides the crappy economy) were that they "didn’t take the threat of rival Best Buy Co. seriously enough and, at some points, were too focused on making a profit in the short term instead of building long-term value."

I haven't shopped at Circuit City all that much in recent years, but they were good to me back in the day, offering my just-out-of-grad school self a line of credit to finance a car stereo when Best Buy all but laughed at me for applying. Though I've never bought a whole bunch of electronics during any given year, I also went to those stores when they had good deals on CD's, and, for a while, the Plano Circuit City had a decent jazz selection (the one here at Firewheel, however, did not do so well in that area; from looking at their CD aisle, you'd swear they must have read a demographic study saying that half the people in Garland spoke only Spanish). I also bought my washer and dryer from Circuit City, and they've lasted over 12 years now.

It's unfortunate that a lot of retailers are leaving the landscape right now; it would be better if Best Buy had more competition instead of less (because I haven't been all that impressed with them in recent years), and I hate to see all the big empty boxes that will be the result of Circuit City's demise (especially the hole it will leave in Firewheel, so soon after Linens and Things shuttered right around Christmas). Hopefully, once things turn around and people start buying things again, someone will find a creative use for all those boxes. (In terms of Firewheel--hey, Conn's, howdja like to come to Garland?)

In an earlier post on the subject, when it looked like Circuit City might weather the storm, I linked to a video of one of their early '90s commercials that featured the old "plug" building design. As a farewell of sorts, I'll post it here:

Gotta love the prices on the old computers, especially in proportion to their (lack of) power.

As I've mentioned before, I have a TV that dates to 1991. I don't have to worry about the upcoming DTV changeover, because I have cable, but that set is not going to last forever. I'll be watching the liquidation sale for the next few weeks to see if I can get a deal, but others have said that, so far, it's only 10% off, which is still not cheaper than Amazon, and perhaps that's a fitting epitaph for the company. Still, it's sad to see it go.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Today, I'll Celebrate This Holiday

Via Lileks, who often makes note of unusual holidays, I discovered that today is National Nothing Day, where you're encouraged to do nothing, as long as it's OK with the boss.

Since a three-day weekend is upon us, and I'm really tired, I'll wait to finish my pending posts until later on in the weekend (with apologies for my busy-ness, as always). Feel free to go out and enjoy some nothing as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

There But for the Grace of God Went He

By now, I'm sure you've read the story of the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River near New York City this afternoon--a story that could have been a disaster, but everyone got out alive, thanks to the quick actions of the flight crew, among others.

I didn't expect this when the story first broke this afternoon, but there's a small personal angle as well.

Here's a little backstory: My buddy Aaron went to New York last week (where, as I mentioned on Monday, he got to see an amazing Dave Holland show at Birdland to ring in his birthday). I knew that he flew back yesterday and that he'd gotten back pretty late. When we talked this afternoon, he had mentioned a layover in Charlotte, and he noted that he'd ridden on a variety of aircraft during the three or so legs of his flight, but I had no idea which airline he'd flown.

I didn't think too much about any of that until about half an hour later, when I was in the waiting room at the car place getting my oil changed. Fox News was on the TV, and the top story of the day was suddenly interrupted by news of the crash. All of us in the waiting room put down our reading materials and were pretty much riveted to the TV at that point.

As the details started to come together, I heard that the flight was bound for Charlotte, and I got to thinking about my recent conversation with Aaron. And then I got another phone call, where all he had to say was, "Dude..." and I knew exactly what he was going to say next. (Quite a few years ago, I briefly discussed an article in which linguist did a deconstruction of the word "dude," and happily, it's still out there. That one word has so many meanings, and they vary depending on how it's said.)

My reply was, "You're watching the news, aren't you?" He answered in the positive, and then I asked him if the flight that crashed today was the same one that he took yesterday. He concurred again, and would later tell me that he and his girlfriend had even joked about him staying a day longer. Count me among those who are glad that didn't really happen.

But beyond the personal angle, one of the amazing things about this story is how everyone worked so well together--the flight crew, the crews and passengers of the various nearby ferries, the Coast Guard, the NYC Police and countless others. Government and private entities all worked together in near-perfect harmony, so it would seem; the "first responders" were passengers on one of the numerous commuter ferries that cross back and forth between New Jersey and Manhattan every day. One ferry passenger, David Watta, quoted on a New York Times blog post, said that everyone on the ferry rushed to the passengers' aid:
“We were holding people, hugging them, reassuring them, holding their hands, warming them with our body heat,” he said.

“We provided cell phones so they could call loved ones. A lot of them were so cold that they couldn’t dial, so we dialed for them. I would say that everyone on the ferry were heroes for the day. They were all civilians who stepped up in a time of need to help their fellow citizens.”
And the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III (what a great name!) is certainly deserving of the term "hero," not only because he managed to avoid the heavily-populated areas on all sides of him, but for orchestrating as smooth a landing as possible on a far-less-than-ideal "runway." (UPDATE: He's originally from Texas.)

This could have been a total disaster, but, thanks to a little luck, a lot of skill, and, yes, the Hand of God, such a thing was averted. New York has been through a lot in the past decade, so I'm glad this had as happy of an ending as possible. And no matter what had happened, I'm really glad that Aaron wasn't on that plane.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maybe It's Their Lucky Ad Campaign

This one may not resonate with anyone but my fellow Texans, so feel free to scroll down if that's not you. But I think the story is interesting no matter where you might reside.

I listen to a lot of talk radio during the day, and one of the common advertisers on my favorite station is the Texas Lottery. They've had many ad campaigns over the years, with varying degrees of success (anyone else remember Scratchman? I thought he was annoying as all get-out, and I wasn't wild about all the ads that had various winners throwing cowboy hats in the air, yelling "Yahoo!" and basically demonstrating all the stereotypes we don't need other people to have of Texans); the "Jackpot" song from a few years ago was not bad, but the current one, "Maybe It's Your Lucky Day," is really engaging.

What they've done is used original music that is heavily inspired by other pop songs, starting out with other subject matter that doesn't even make the nature of the commercial apparent until the "maybe it's your lucky day" part sneaks in. So far, I've heard three different ones: A female vocalist whose song is mildly reminiscent of the '70s song "Brand New Key" by Melanie (but with a much more pleasing voice); a male-voiced song that's a dead-ringer for Fountains of Wayne; and a very Beatlesque song that ran before Christmas and changed the tagline to "maybe it's your lucky holiday."

There's apparently nothing to be found about the campaign on the lottery's website, and a bit of searching finds but a few tidbits of information: The "girl song" is evidently sung by Camille Cortinas of Dallas, from a band called Fishing for Comets, and the whole campaign is done by the agency Juniper Music and Sound Design, but I can't find anything but the old "Jackpot" song on their site. (Likewise, on Cortinas' site, there's no record of the lottery commercial, but there are enough clips to convince me that she is indeed the singer.)

At any rate, it's nice to hear some advertising that's not only not annoying but actually includes really good music.

IN THE COMMENTS: An appearance by Camille Cortinas herself! And welcome to everyone who's finding this post via all the different search engines; feel free to have a look around.

Monday, January 12, 2009

All Caught Up for the Year

Sure, it's easy to do when the year is only twleve days old, but I've managed to complete all the unfinished posts of 2009. So that my work doesn't go for naught, here's what's new on the blog as of now:I'll try to do better with posting this week; I felt bad about announcing that I was under the weather and then not posting for a couple of days, because I didn't want people to think I was getting worse or anything (the laryngitis is slowly going away, and thanks to those who inquired about my condition). It's taken a while to get back into the swing of things this semester, but hopefully my blogging time will settle in as we go along.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my protege, bandmate and li'l bro, Aaron, who's in New York for the big day this year. He rang in the day with a trip to Birdland to see the Dave Holland Octet--think the Quintet (Potter, Eubanks, et al.) plus Gary Smulyan, Antonio Hart and Alex Sipiagin. (Yes, I'm jealous, but I guess he's making up for the time two years ago when I was up there on his birthday, seeing awesome concerts every night at IAJE, while he was stuck at home.)

...and one more: I almost forgot (how could I?)--today is also the first "cariversary" of Kevmobile 2.0. It's been a great first year, having seen the inside of a mechanic's for nothing more than oil changes and tire rotations, and the gas-sipping has been most welcome. Here's to many more great years...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Hostel is Just Plane Cool

Via Instapundit comes the news of a most unusual place to stay near the Stockholm airport in Sweden: the Jumbo Hostel, which is a renovated, retired 747 jumbo jet featuring 25 rooms and 85 beds:
The Jumbo Hostel is now accepting reservations on its website for stays beginning Jan. 15. Dorm rooms start at 350 Swedish kronor ($45), with deluxe private rooms at $1,350 Kroner ($175). For even more, you can spend the night in the plane's cockpit, which has been converted to a sort of honeymoon suite and is the only room on the plane with its own bathroom and shower.

[...]The Jumbo Hostel might be cheap, but it still comes with some hotel-style extras . The 747's upper deck, which airlines often use as a lounge, will remain such, with the original seats and serving areas intact. The plane's first-class cabin has been turned into a cafe that seats 20 and is open to the public 24 hours a day. Passengers are also free to use the plane's emergency exits to step onto the wing and take a look around.
More info about the hostel can be found on its website (I like some of the little touches: how they've kept one of the overhead bins in each room for storage space, how they're planning to hang one of the plane's tires from the back to be used as a swing).

A Guardian reporter from the U.K. got to check it out in advance of the opening and posts this report:

(And how weird is it to hear a Guardian reporter with an American accent?)

I don't know when my travels would take me to Sweden, but I would definitely check out a place like this--assuming, as noted in the video, that I could find the right two people for the, umm, unusual sleeping arrangements ("one who will sleep with you, the other who will presumably promise not to watch." LOL!). But owner Oscar Diös hopes to franchise the concept, so maybe it'll make it to these shores; as the article points out, given the state of the airline industry, there may be plenty of retired planes for the asking.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Weekend Cornucopia

A bunch of randomness that may coalesce to form a post:
  • I finally took defensive driving, so as to wipe out the ticket that I got on my Corpus trip back on Halloween. It was relatively quick and painless, considering the six-hour length of the class and all. (I took from one of those "comedy" driving schools, and, while it wasn't quite as "wacky" as it was 17 years ago when I took it the first time--evidently, the state has tightened up the curriculum a bit--it was still funny enough to be interesting.)

  • Classes like this always offer up an interesting cross-section of humanity. The most fascinating person (at least to me) in our class was a woman who is now a jewelry consultant (she said she "accessorizes people for a living"), but used to race Corvettes competitively a while back. That pretty much covers both ends of the spectrum, as far as I'm concerned.

  • There's been an unusual thread running through every bit of the process of this ticket: My friend whom I was following down to Corpus (my Fit Brother, Coop) has the last name of Cooper; the state trooper who issued me the ticket had the last name of Cooper (which would make him Trooper Cooper, and that totally explains why he did not introduce himself in that manner, simply saying "I'm with the Highway Patrol" instead); and the owner of the driving school (who was mentioned by the comedian in a humorous fashion several times over) had the last name of...that's right, Cooper. All I would have needed to complete this charade would have been for me to have been driving a Mini Cooper and getting nabbed near the Cooper St. exit (there really was one, closer to Corpus).

  • Incidentally, "Trooper Cooper" gets almost 2000 hits on Google; take away the parentheses and the number rises to 1.6 million.

  • After the class was over, I went to see some of my middle school students perform in an all-district concert. One of the pieces that the second band performed was entitled "Don't Feed the Drummers." (The percussion section got to come up front and take a bow afterwards; as the director noted, they often get lost in the shuffle when everyone else in front of them stands up at the end of a piece.)

  • It's amusing to watch the audience at a middle school concert, since many of the kids have siblings who are elementary-age or younger. Just like when one of my college combos played on campus last month, a lot of dancing took place during the concert; the kid who was mimicking the conductor while doing so was the funniest.

  • Moving on to the world of sports: The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw says, in his column from this morning's paper, that the BCS system "worked" this year. I'm betting that fans of Texas and Utah might be inclined to disagree...

  • And I suppose you may have heard which industry is now asking for a government bailout--that's right, the porn industry. (I'm pretty sure they're kidding, by the way, but you never know these days.) But if it's true, would anyone really want government part-ownership of porn??
I'll try to catch up on some unfinished posts tomorrow and link them on the frontpage.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gassed, in More Ways Than One

The first week back to public school hasn't been kind to me; it's been harder than usual to get to sleep early and get up early, my allergies are working overtime (abetted, I'm sure, by our continual rollercoaster temperatures here in North Texas), and when I got up from a nap this afternoon (which should have been helpful), I found myself with almost no voice left, despite that not really being a problem when I was teaching all morning. Needless to say, this will be an early night tonight; even though I have a few unfinished posts from the past couple of days, they'll have to wait.

But I do have to toss out a little rantlet about gas prices, which have gone up quite a bit in the past week. The linked article says that some distributors or dealers may be "testing the market" to see how high of a cost it will bear, but the bottom line is that everything's still really volatile right now, and prices can turn on a dime.

I had to go a little bit out of my way, but I found regular for $1.58 in Plano tonight (while in Richardson, about a mile to the south, it was almost uniformly $1.69). Anybody found a better deal out there than that?

Back with more (and hopefully a voice) tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

This Guy Thinks the B.A. is B.S. for Many Students

I read an interesting article by noted scholar Charles Murray, who has an unusual suggestion for President-Elect Obama for improving education past the secondary level:
[H]e should use his bully pulpit to undermine the bachelor's degree as a job qualification. Here's a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: "It's what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it."

The residential college leading to a bachelor's degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics.

But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. So my beef is not with liberal education, but with the use of the degree as a job qualification.
I'm not sure that I'm on board with this yet, but I'll let him speak his piece. Murray continues:
For most of the nation's youths, making the bachelor's degree a job qualification means demanding a credential that is beyond their reach. It is a truth that politicians and educators cannot bring themselves to say out loud: A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work.
Hmm. Is he slamming young people as a whole, or is he saying that college-level work has become too geared towards the likes of MENSA members? Or that high schools aren't doing a good enough job preparing people for college (perhaps because of their overemphasis on standardized testing)? Or that the students themselves aren't prepared? It could even be that old favorite test answer, "All of the above."

Murray does provide an answer of sorts:
I'm not thinking just about students who are not smart enough to deal with college-level material. Many young people who have the intellectual ability to succeed in rigorous liberal arts courses don't want to. For these students, the distribution requirements of the college degree do not open up new horizons. They are bothersome time-wasters.
But is it really bad to take a few courses that aren't in one's major, in an attempt to actually open up said horizons? Is broadening oneself no longer a good thing? (If nothing else, specializing in just one thing seems to be putting all of one's eggs in a single basket; what happens if the area in which you specialize becomes obsolete?

Something would obviously have to take the place of the B.A. degree; employers wouldn't likely hire a large amount of people straight out of high school. So what's Murray's solution?
Discarding the bachelor's degree as a job qualification would not be difficult. The solution is to substitute certification tests, which would provide evidence that the applicant has acquired the skills the employer needs.

Certification tests can take many forms. For some jobs, a multiple-choice test might be appropriate. Today, many computer programmers without college degrees get jobs by presenting examples of their work. With a little imagination, almost any corporation can come up with analogous work samples.

The benefits of discarding the bachelor's degree as a job qualification would be huge for employers and job applicants. Certifications would tell employers far more about their applicants' qualifications than a B.A. does, and hundreds of thousands of young people would be able to get what they want from post-secondary education without having to twist themselves into knots to comply with the rituals of getting a bachelor's degree.
Sure, I'm biased here, because I teach college. But besides that, I think there's a certain value to having a buffer period between high school and the working world, because many valuable lessons are learned along the way: How to live away from one's parents, how to manage money, how to get along with a variety of people in a situation that's often much less homogenous than the high school "bubble." And I'd also be interested in seeing exactly how Murray expects people to gain those skills without college; are vo-tech schools going to just suddenly sprout up all over the country?

And call me idealistic (although I know full well that this idea is often out of sync with reality), but college is a place where people should be able to learn to think, to reason, to solve problems (since those things don't often happen in high school anymore, thanks to the aforementioned standardized tests). What will substitute for this type of experience if fewer people go to college?

I think the jury's still out on this one. But I'll be honest--as a professor at a two-year school, if this idea were to expand the role of schools like mine, I wouldn't complain too much (he says, in a rare fit of near-selfishness). But I still think there should be something in between high school and the workforce.

What think you? Feel free to add a comment.

It just became harder to jack a computer: This is a cool story--a laptop belonging to the Ft. Worth Independent School District had been stolen recently, but they got it back because it was fitted with Lojack technology just like the kind used to recover stolen cars.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Being an Aggie's Brother and All...

...I may be predisposed to root against the Texas Longhorns most of the time. But tonight's winning touchdown catch by Quan Cosby in the Fiesta Bowl was a thing of beauty, especially the way he joyfully leaped into the end zone. I'll see if I can link to a video later; even in this on-demand world, things don't necessarily get posted online right away.

Truth be told, I lapse from time to time in being a "good Aggie's brother," I suppose, as I still favor Texas over Oklahoma every year--state pride and all--and have pretty much pulled for them almost every game this year, with the obvious exception of the A&M game, of course. Maybe some of it has to do with the aw-shucksness of Colt McCoy and crew, but this--unlike some Texas teams of the past--just seems like a really likable team that just happens to be wearing burnt orange. (And there's always the fact that most of my friends from high school attended college in Austin, and I've had a bunch of former students go there for business, engineering, architecture and things like that.)

At any rate, it was a good game, worth watching in almost its entirety. But the spring semester starts for the public schools in the morning, and I need to try to reset my sleep clock. I'll be back with a longer, more substantial post tomorrow.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I can has frontpage tag on Althouse? Kthxbai

First, a bit of background: In the early days of the blogosphere, a lot of blogs were more like diaries, and more than a few blogs started to specialize in whatever the writer's favorite hobby happened to be. One of the bigger categories turned out to be cat blogging, which often was as simple as people posting funny pictures of their cats on their blogs. (For whatever reason, Friday became a popular day to do this.) As I said, it was popular four or five years ago, but I haven't seen a lot of it of late.

Now fast-forward to this morning: Ann Althouse, who hosts one of my favorite blogs, wrote a post this morning about khat, a plant native to East Africa and the Arabian peninsula which is often ingested by chewing on its leaves, which contain a stimulant similar to amphetamines. It's illegal in many countries, including the USA, but a group of immigrants from places like Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen are decrying this illegality, citing "cultural differences."

It's a great discussion (which I encourage you to read), but I was in a playful mood this morning, so I tossed out the following comment in that thread: "I thought khat-blogging had kind of gone out of style lately."

When I came back from lunch, I found that Althouse wrote a new post around the theme, encouraging readers to make lolcat pictures of their own and email them to her. (What's a lolcat? This. Where's the best site to see lots of them? Here. And how do you make one of your own? This way. And I should point out that an Althouse post from 2007 is what turned me onto lolcats in the first place.)

Incidentally, the lol-khat connection had occurred to me as I was writing the above comment, as Althouse had written "You're not supposed to notice that the actual scene is nothing more than some men lolling about having a drug-fueled argument" in the original post, but I didn't have time to comment on that before leaving for lunch.

Anyway, I decided to make a lolcat myself:

(This would also make the frontpage of the Althouse post. And it took a bit of looking to find a "kitteh" with a tag on it to go with my intended caption.)

Althouse has been generous of late in rewarding commenters who say something witty or noteworthy with frontpaging (where a comment gets quoted in an update to the main post) and tags (the things you see at the bottom of the post), so it was cool to get my very first set of those. After all, her blog gets nearly 17,000 visitors a day, so it's no small peanuts to be recognized.

Now I just need to work on getting an Instalanche sometime...

Friday, January 02, 2009

Some People Got a Raise Yesterday. But Is It Deserved?

I'm not sure if you caught this story between all the holiday festivities or not, but it's one that everyone needs to see: Despite the lousy economy, Congress gave itself a raise yesterday. Sure, this tends to happen every year, but shouldn't this year have been an exception?
A crumbling economy, more than 2 million constituents who have lost their jobs this year, and congressional demands of CEOs to work for free did not convince lawmakers to freeze their own pay.

Instead, they will get a $4,700 pay increase, amounting to an additional $2.5 million that taxpayers will spend on congressional salaries, and watchdog groups are not happy about it.

“As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executives to accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault for their own personal gain,” said Daniel O’Connell, chairman of The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), a non-partisan group. “This money would be much better spent helping the millions of seniors who are living below the poverty line and struggling to keep their heat on this winter.”

However, at 2.8 percent, the automatic raise that lawmakers receive is only half as large as the 2009 cost of living adjustment of Social Security recipients.

Still, Steve Ellis, vice president of the budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Congress should have taken the rare step of freezing its pay, as lawmakers did in 2000.
Agreed. With the type of demands that Congress has been making of CEO's, shouldn't they put their money where their mouths are? And with an incoming president who's talked a lot about "shared sacrifice," shouldn't such things begin at the top?

This has been a problem for a while now, and the system is rigged in Congress' favor:
Rep. Harry Mitchell, a first-term Democrat from Arizona, sponsored legislation earlier this year that would have prevented the automatic pay adjustments from kicking in for members next year. But the bill, which attracted 34 cosponsors, failed to make it out of committee.

“They don’t even go through the front door. They have it set up so that it’s wired so that you actually have to undo the pay raise rather than vote for a pay raise,” Ellis said.

[...]Ellis said that while freezing the pay increase would be a step in the right direction, it would be better to have it set up so that members would have to take action, and vote, for a pay raise and deal with the consequences, rather than get one automatically.

“It is probably never going to be politically popular to raise Congress’s salary,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to find taxpayers saying, ‘Yeah I think I should pay my congressman more’.”
Maybe if they actually deserved it. But we haven't exactly been seeing sterling examples of leadership from Washington for quite some time now.

Anyone else upset about this? Rant away in the comments...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Thought for the New Year

Instapundit links to a post by blogger Fabius Maximus, who contributes this pearl of wisdom for the new year:
As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list:
1. We are a people with a great past.
2. The challenges ahead are no greater than those behind us.
3. The American people can surmount these challenges if we work together.
4. We will be what we wish to be, if we but make the necessary effort.
I can't argue with that too much (though some of his commenters do--everything from splitting hairs to outright disagreement, especially on the "work together" part, though Fabius makes it clear that he does not mean "working together under the government").

There's been a lot of talk about what a horrible year 2008 was for many people, but, from where I sit, a lot of good things happened. Sure, if you read the newspaper, you might think our nation is going to hell in a handbasket, But while I won't deny that there are challenges ahead, I believe in the people of this nation--especially the strong-willed, individualistic, entrepreneurial types who are the true backbone of our society. It's going to take a while to show some of the others that government isn't the answer to everything--indeed, it's not the answer to very many things at all--but it will be a lesson well learned in time.

May 2009 be a year of joy and good health, surrounded by friends and family who love you.