2.28.2011

Collective bargaining on a broad scale is more similar to an antitrust violation than to a civil liberty

Unions vs. the Right to Work

Excerpt:

Labor unions like to portray collective bargaining as a basic civil liberty, akin to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion. For a teachers union, collective bargaining means that suppliers of teacher services to all public school systems in a state—or even across states—can collude with regard to acceptable wages, benefits and working conditions. An analogy for business would be for all providers of airline transportation to assemble to fix ticket prices, capacity and so on. From this perspective, collective bargaining on a broad scale is more similar to an antitrust violation than to a civil liberty.

...

The national fiscal crisis and recession that began in 2008 had many ill effects, including the ongoing crises of pension and health-care obligations in many states. But at least one positive consequence is that the required return to fiscal discipline has caused reexamination of the growth in economic and political power of public-employee unions. Hopefully, embattled politicians like Gov. Walker in Wisconsin will maintain their resolve and achieve a more sensible long-term structure for the taxpayers in their states.

Comment: good read

Buckley: Obama "Robin Hood-esque ... anti-business"

3M chief warns Obama over business regulation

Excerpt:

“I judge people by their feet, not their mouth,” he told the Financial Times. “We know what his instincts are – they are Robin Hood-esque. He is anti-business.”

Comment: Full article is very good

2.27.2011

What is the Gospel? By Lorraine Boettner

What is the Gospel? By Lorraine Boettner

Comment: Worthwhile read

"Those on the left side can probably see the people on the right side looking at the space shuttle"



Space shuttle seen from above

The "Brrr!" Billboard

Minneapolis Institute of Art billboard replaced after clothes painted on nude Venus

Excerpt:

A billboard for a Minneapolis museum has been replaced after someone spray-painted clothing and the word "Brrr!" in red over its depiction of nudity from a 16th-century Venus painting.

The advertisement is for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' exhibition of works by the Italian master Titian. The museum chose to feature the famous "Venus Rising from the Sea" painting on the billboard because "it's very typical of paintings in the show," said MIA spokeswoman Anne-Marie Wagener.

The graffiti was discovered on a billboard in Long Lake, a western suburb, last week. None of the other Minneapolis area billboards advertising the show have been damaged. The one that was vandalized has been restored to its previous condition, despite objections from museum officials.

"We said 'We think it's funny, just leave it, don't bother replacing it,'" Wagener said Thursday.

But she said Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the billboard, has a policy that ads with graffiti must be taken down so as not to encourage vandalism.

The billboards are slated to come down in mid-March.

Comment: An unaltered one is on Hwy 169 in Plymouth (10th Avenue). Personally I was not offended and did not even notice it until it hit the news - too busy driving I guess. For a full view of Venus Rising from the Sea 

Cheese Head Teachers

Oh, To Be a Teacher in Wisconsin

Excerpts:

The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500, but with benefits the total package is $100,005, according to the manager of financial planning for Milwaukee public schools. When I showed these figures to a friend, she asked me a simple question: "How can fringe benefits be nearly as much as salary?" The answers can be found by unpacking the numbers in the district's budget for this fiscal year:
  • State Pension. Teachers belong to the Wisconsin state pension plan. That plan requires a 6.8% employer contribution and 6.2% from the employee. However, according to the collective-bargaining agreement in place since 1996, the district pays the employees' share as well, for a total of 13%.
  • Teachers' Supplemental Pension. In addition to the state pension, Milwaukee public-school teachers receive an additional pension under a 1982 collective-bargaining agreement. The district contributes an additional 4.2% of teacher salaries to cover this second pension. Teachers contribute nothing.
  • Classified Pension. Most other school employees belong to the city's pension system instead of the state plan. The city plan is less expensive but here, too, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, the district pays the employees' 5.5% share.

    Overall, for teachers and other employees, the district's contributions for pensions and Social Security total 22.6 cents for each dollar of salary. The corresponding figure for private industry is 13.4 cents. The divergence is greater yet for health insurance:
  • Health care for current employees. Under the current collective- bargaining agreements, the school district pays the entire premium for medical and vision benefits, and over half the cost of dental coverage. These plans are extremely expensive.

    This is partly because of Wisconsin's unique arrangement under which the teachers union is the sponsor of the group health-insurance plans. Not surprisingly, benefits are generous. The district's contributions for health insurance of active employees total 38.8% of wages. For private-sector workers nationwide, the average is 10.7%.

If the president is so upset with Wisconsin's labor law reforms, why won't he allow federal workers to bargain collectively?

Excerpt:

The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven't directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most "hostile workplace" in the nation: Washington, D.C.

It will no doubt surprise you to learn that President Obama, the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.

This is, after all, the president who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an "assault on unions." This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies. Ah, but it's easy to throw rocks when you live in a stone (White) house.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a "right to work zone." Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Out of Wisconsin, a lesson in leadership for Obama

Excerpts:

A few days after President Obama submitted a budget that would increase the federal deficit, he tried to sabotage Wisconsin's progress toward solvency. The Washington Post: "The president's political machine worked in close coordination . . . with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals." Walker notes that in the 1990s, Wisconsin was a trendsetter regarding school choice and welfare reform. Obama, he thinks, may be worried that Wisconsin might again be a harbinger.

...

Walker, by a fiscal seriousness contrasting with Obama's lack thereof, and Obama, by inciting defenders of the indefensible, have made three things clear:

First, the Democratic Party is the party of government, not only because of its extravagant sense of government's competence and proper scope, but also because the party's base is government employees. Second, government employees have an increasingly adversarial relationship with the governed. Third, Obama's "move to the center" is fictitious.

Comment: Of the three articles the first (please read the whole) is a real eye opener. I personally am not opposed to unions but when there is a symbiotic relationship between unions and government disaster ensues. Governor Walker offered some good advice to Obama: "The president really ought to concentrate on the $1.65 trillion deficit on the national level ... rather than put his nose in Wisconsin’s business"

2.26.2011

Long Slide

Map

I'm out driving today and going a little faster than I should have been. There was about 2" of snow on the road. There's a 90 degree turn right up ahead ... I hit the brakes and take a L O N G slide ... Map above

Fargo .... Where jobs are

Help Wanted: Fargo Strains to Fill Jobs

Excerpt:

"It's not easy finding a candidate from the coasts who wants to move here," says David Dietz, vice president of Fargo staffing firm Preference Personnel Inc., which is trying to fill more than 80 positions. Three years ago a technology-sales vacancy—a typical Preference assignment to fill—would have had a maximum base salary of about $50,000; now that position will top out at $65,000, Mr. Dietz says.

Recruiting workers is a perennial struggle for the remote state. The low unemployment rate attracts lots of attention, but it's hard to convince many out-of-state residents to move there.

Most acutely needed: doctors, nurses and other health-care workers, as well as salespeople, from retail clerks to insurance agents. The western part of North Dakota, in the midst of an oil boom, is desperate for welders and engineers. Even truck drivers, who posted nearly 11% unemployment in 2010 nationally, are hard to find.

This year the state commerce department is hitting the road to find workers, scheduling job fairs in cities that tend to attract former Dakotans, starting with Minneapolis in May. The state expects between 40 and 50 employers and community organizations to attend and hopes to hold another fair in the fall.

Tech specialists are tough to hire, too. "We don't have people camped outside our office begging to work here," said Vern Dosch, chief executive of Mandan, N.D.-based National Information Solutions Cooperative. The 840-employee technology company plans to send representatives to the Minneapolis job fair.

Comment: For all the joking Minnesotans do about North Dakota (and we mock Wisconsin too (but I think it is really Packer envy!) and Iowa (the plain flatness), I don't think North Dakota would be a bad place to live. One of my co-workers has property and intends to retire there. I doubt it is really much colder than Minnesota!

2.25.2011

We need to heed the words of Robert Gates

Gates Warns Against Any More Wars Like Iraq or Afghanistan

Excerpt:

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,” Mr. Gates warned.

“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

Comment: I'm not a pacifist but exporting our democracy and remaking other countries doesn't work. Poem In Flanders Fields (something we memorized in school)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Would you buy this stock? (Coffee Holding Co., Inc. - JVA)

Coffee Holding Co., Inc. - JVA

Comment: I have an extra $ 500 to invest. I used Yahoo Stock Screener to search for stocks trading under $ 5 that are paying dividends. So what do you think? A worthy investment?

Does your Homeowner's Insurance cover this?

Chanhassen homeowners cleaning up after sewage backup

Excerpt:

Chanhassen residents cleaning up after a broken water main sent raw sewage pouring into their homes have discovered yet another chapter in the catastrophe: Insurance may not cover the damage.

At around 7:30 Wednesday night, an 8-inch water main ruptured near the block of 8600 Chanhassen Hills Drive South. The rupture sent thousands of water gushing into sewer lines. The sewage ultimately ended up in more than a dozen homes in the area.

But residents say they can handle the accident, just not what they've discovered in its aftermath.

"The flooding itself, it happens. You deal with it," said Humphrey McKenzie about the mess.

"[But] it's irritating, because you buy home owner's insurance because you expect it to protect you from things that take away from your home value. Things that make your home less valuable, and to me, this is just one of those situations," he added.

McKenzie and his neighbors discovered what experts admit is a lesser-known truth of homeowners' insurance policies -- they don't always cover sewage backup disasters.

"It's not covered under a regular home owner's policy. But for a very small amount of money extra, you can add a rider, called 'back up of sewer and drain endorsement,'" said Mark Kulda with the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.

Kulda said the coverage -- which costs between $25-$30 a year -- can go a long way toward mitigating the damage. Kulda acknowledges a strict "cap" on what the coverage will pay for -- the cap will vary depending on the policy -- but he says it's still worth picking up the additional insurance.

And he recommends all homeowners review their own policies.

Comment: I checked my Allstate policy and we are covered for $ 10,000 with a $ 1,000 deductible. I increased it today to a $ 20,000 level with an inexpensive rider.

Where Fundamentalism has failed

Comments: A couple of interesting blog posts by Kent Brandenburg on Fundamentalism are linked below. Frankly Kent and I probably do not see eye to eye on some points. He is strongly KJV and I am not. He has views on women's dress that I cannot concur with. And I am a strong Calvinist and he is not. I also add that my experiences in fundamentalism (largely the GARBC and now 4th Baptist Church) have generally been very positive and I love my own church!.

One think Kent and would agree on is how John MacArthur was savagely maligned on "the blood issue"

Kent writes in Part 2

When Bob Jones attacked MacArthur in their magazine, Faith for the Family, I already knew what MacArthur's position was on the blood of Christ. Fundamentalist leaders said that MacArthur denied the blood. I knew that wasn't true, because I had read through his Hebrews commentary. The type of argumentation used against MacArthur was so superficial and silly that I was mystified. To start, MacArthur did not deny the blood, but even if he did, his error should have been pointed out from scripture. Bob Jones and its surrogates really did argue a strawman at the time. Once they saw that they had misrepresented MacArthur, they should have recanted right away, but they dug in for over a decade in typical fundamentalist fashion. As the winds toward MacArthur began to change among young fundamentalists, Bob Jones came out with a weak apology many years later.

As Kevin Bauder has famously said, there is a fundamentalism worth saving.

In my view Fundamentalism has failed in these areas:

  • Where there is showmanship it has failed
  • Where there is an authoritative governing structure it has failed (Dictator Pastors)
  • Where there is weak preaching (non-exegetical) it has failed
  • Where there is a rules-based view sanctification it has failed
  • Where guilt is used to manipulate people it has failed
  • Where people are ignorant of the Scriptures it has failed
  • Where fringe views percolate to the top and become cardinal doctrines of the faith, it has failed.
  • Where Calvinism (or more properly the doctrines of grace) are vilified it has failed.
When I Left Fundamentalism part one

When I Left Fundamentalism part two

As always I appreciate your comments

2.24.2011

The Personal Balance Sheet

Calling the Shots: How to Be the CEO of Your Own Life

Personal Balance Sheet

Comment: Be sure to see the 2nd link for a sample. (This is not mine ... I would never publish this for the world!). We keep the following documents:

  • A running table of our checkbook with cleared items checked. Future items (2 months out) are projected. I update the checkbook registry daily and balance the checkbook monthly
  • A spreadsheet with upcoming large projects. Eg we have on there some dental work for me in the Spring and some maintenance on my truck (tires and battery) for the Summer. (This is actually a second tab on the checkbook spreadsheet)
  • A balance sheet. I update this monthly. What I don't include: value of cars, value of furnishings, value of timeshare (which we regard as essentially of zero value).
  • A yearly tracking of the balance sheet with values as of approximately January 1st.
  • A house upgrade tracking sheet with a separate tab for major appliances. Like we bought a new washer earlier this year. For the house upgrades, we track past upgrades (like a replaced window or a room painted (with the brand of paint and color code). For future upgrades we have tentative dates for various items like replacement of the bedroom carpet.
  • We also have a spreadsheet with projected stock purchases. For example I anticipate buying 5 shares of IBM next week. I use Macro*World Investor to track our portfolio. Our brokerage account (Wells Trade) does a super job as well for tracking but I use the other site to augment.
  • All documents are on a Google shared site that both Kathee and I have access to.

Grif.Net – Cheering Up Minnesotans on Long Winter Nights

Grif.Net – Cheering Up Minnesotans on Long Winter Nights

Excerpts:

Rumor is that the Vikings are called “the purple” because that’s the color you turn when you choke.

...

The snowmobile was invented in Roseau, so as to allow families a means of attending 4th of July picnics.

If a Palestinian and a Minnesotan get married what do they name the kid? Yassir Youbetcha!

When a Minnesotan sees the Pillsbury Dough Boy he will often compliment him by saying “Hey man, nice tan!”

Minnesotans are almost indistinguishable from Wisconsinites. The only way to tell them apart is to ask if they voted for Mondale in ’84 and if they’ve ever had a good association with the two little words “Super Bowl.”

Comment: Very funny .... read them all!

2.23.2011

Farm Life - good for you!

Greater Germ Exposure Cuts Asthma Risk

Excerpt:

Children living on farms have a lower risk of asthma than children who don't because they are surrounded by a greater variety of germs, according to two large-scale studies published Wednesday.

The prevalence of asthma in the U.S. has doubled over the past 30 years, and one theory for the increase blames urban and suburban living environments that are too clean. The latest findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, bolster what is often known as the hygiene theory, which says that contact with bacteria and other microbes is necessary to building a normal immune system.

The key appears to be exposure to a diversity of bugs, not just more of them, according to Markus Ege, an epidemiologist at the Children's Hospital of Munich and first author on the paper that covered both studies.

"Bacteria can be beneficial for asthma," said Dr. Ege. "You have to have microbes that educate the immune system. But you have to have the right ones."

Comment: My wife is the daughter of farmers. When I was a kid visiting Grandpa's farm was the highlight of the Summer. Image is American Gothic.

Lou Pritchett's Open Letter to President Obama

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
You are the thirteenth President under whom I have lived and unlike any of the others, you truly scare me.

You scare me because after months of exposure, I know nothing about you.

You scare me because I do not know how you paid for your expensive Ivy League education and your upscale lifestyle and housing with no visible signs of support.

You scare me because you did not spend the formative years of youth growing up in America and culturally you are not an American.

You scare me because you have never run a company or met a payroll.

You scare me because you have never had military experience, thus don't understand it at its core.

You scare me because you lack humility and 'class', always blaming others.
You scare me because for over half your life you have aligned yourself with radical extremists who hate America and you refuse to publicly denounce these radicals who wish to see America fail.


You scare me because you are a cheerleader for the 'blame America' crowd and deliver this message abroad.

You scare me because you want to change America to a European style country where the government sector dominates instead of the private sector.

You scare me because you want to replace our health care system with a government controlled one.

You scare me because you prefer 'wind mills' to responsibly capitalizing on our own vast oil, coal and shale reserves.

You scare me because you want to kill the American capitalist goose that lays the golden egg which provides the highest standard of living in the world.
You scare me because you have begun to use 'extortion' tactics against certain banks and corporations.

You scare me because your own political party shrinks from challenging you on your wild and irresponsible spending proposals.

You scare me because you will not openly listen to or even consider opposing points of view from intelligent people.

You scare me because you falsely believe you are both omnipotent and omniscient.

You scare me because the media gives you a free pass on everything you do.
You scare me because you demonize and want to silence the Limbaugh's, Hannitys, O'Reillys and Becks who offer opposing, conservative points of view.

You scare me because you prefer controlling over governing.
Finally, you scare me because if you serve a second term I will probably not feel safe in writing a similar letter in 8 years.

Lou Pritchett

Comments:

By Lou Pritchett, Procter & Gamble

Lou Pritchett is one of corporate America 's true living legends- an acclaimed author, dynamic teacher and one of the world's highest rated speakers. Successful corporate executives everywhere recognize him as the foremost leader in change management. Lou changed the way America does business by creating an audacious concept that came to
be known as "partnering."
Pritchett rose from soap salesman to Vice-President, Sales and Customer Development for Procter & Gamble and over the course of 36 years, made corporate history.

This letter was sent to the NY Times but they never acknowledged it.

2.22.2011

Zero!

mngop.com

Comment: Democrats behind Governor Dayton's tax plan! Link has a list of MN Representatives and Senators.

2.21.2011

To do lists and being a "bit player" in the drama of redemption

Does My To-Do List Reflect Arrogant, Evil Boasting?

Comments: The above blog post prompted some thoughts

  • Firstly I can honestly say that my "to do" lists are not boastful. You have to have one at work or you just cannot function. One has to prioritize and keep track of what must be done. At home my lists are very mundane and normally only a Saturday thing. Examples: gas for tractor, give blood, coffee with friend, etc.
  • About the "bit player" in the drama of redemption in the title. We've been reading Samuel. Now in 2nd Samuel but just finished the 1st. Whenever I come to the story of Jonathan I want him to live. I want him to survive and not die (not giving the story away but he dies in 1 Samuel 31). I read something earlier this week (but cannot put my finger on the location) that God does is not obligated to meet our expectations. One may plan a number of things ... what I will do in retirement, what my gloriously important ministry will be, etc. But each of us are but bit players in drama of life. Jonathan is an semi-important player (1st Samuel) but he with others just advance HIS-story ... History! The History of Redemption and the coming of the Messiah! It's not about me! Or you! It's about the Lord!
  • One should say or could say with Mary: "My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior"
  • Or with John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease"
  • We live that Christ "may have the preeminence"
  • Dramas (think a play) have multiple Acts. Some characters are but bit players in the 1st act and are not found in succeeding acts. Jonathan (it still saddens me) didn't make it to 2nd Samuel (although I understand the Jews regarded Samuel as one book!). He is a bit player in the drama of redemption.
  • Conclusion: It is foolish to think of oneself as more significant than he should.

An abortionist's regret: "We see the child’s mouth open in a silent scream"

B. N. Nathanson, 84, Dies; Changed Sides on Abortion

Excerpt:

Dr. Nathanson, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in Manhattan, helped found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) in 1969 and served as its medical adviser.

After abortion was legalized in New York in 1970, he became the director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, which, in his talks as an abortion opponent, he often called “the largest abortion clinic in the Western world.”

In a widely reported 1974 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Deeper into Abortion,” Dr. Nathanson described his growing moral and medical qualms about abortion. “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”

His unease was intensified by the images made available by the new technologies of fetoscopy and ultrasound.

“For the first time, we could really see the human fetus, measure it, observe it, watch it, and indeed bond with it and love it,” he later wrote in “The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind” (Regnery Publishing, 1996). “I began to do that.”

Despite his misgivings, and his conviction that abortion on demand was wrong, he continued to perform abortions for reasons he deemed medically necessary.

“On a gut, emotional level, I still favored abortion,” he told New York magazine in 1987. “It represented all the things we had fought for and won. It seemed eminently more civilized than the carnage that had gone on before.”

But, he added, “it was making less and less sense to me intellectually.”

In addition to the 60,000 abortions performed at the clinic, which he ran from 1970 to 1972, he took responsibility for 5,000 abortions he performed himself, and 10,000 abortions performed by residents under his supervision when he was the chief of obstetrical services at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan from 1972 to 1978.

He did his last procedure in late 1978 or early 1979 on a longtime patient suffering from cancer and soon embarked on a new career lecturing and writing against abortion.

“The Silent Scream,” a 28-minute film produced by Crusade for Life, was released in early 1985. In it, Dr. Nathanson described the stages of fetal development and offered commentary as a sonogram showed, in graphic detail, the abortion of a 12-week-old fetus by the suction method.

“We see the child’s mouth open in a silent scream,” he said, as the ultrasound image, slowed for dramatic impact, showed a fetus seeming to shrink from surgical instruments. “This is the silent scream of a child threatened imminently with extinction.”

Comment: I really know nothing about this man except from the Silent Screen connection. Perhaps he is at peace with God.

Macro*World Investor

Macro*World Investor

Comment: Just discovered this site. A Wells Fargo subsidiary

I don't even eat Sushi!

The Six-Legged Meat of the Future

Excerpt:

Not long ago, foods like kiwis and sushi weren't widely known or available. It is quite likely that in 2020 we will look back in surprise at the era when our menus didn't include locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights.

Comment: I'm a red meat kind of guy!

2.19.2011

New York: "The Rich, the Famous, the Armed"

The Rich, the Famous, the Armed

Excerpt:

MEN and women. Democrats and Republicans. Doctors, lawyers, merchants and moguls. A remarkable, if relatively small, cross-section of New Yorkers legally own handguns, according to public records obtained by The New York Times.

Among the more than 37,000 people licensed to have a handgun in the city are dozens of boldface names and public figures: prominent business leaders, elected officials, celebrities, journalists, judges and lawyers.

Some expressed pride in their gun ownership, like the renowned divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who readily posed with his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson. Others, including David Breitbart, Yetta Kurland and Walter Mack, all well-known lawyers, were irked to learn they would be included in an article based on the public records. And there were a few conflicted souls, like Alexis Stewart, co-host of “Whatever With Alexis and Jennifer” on SiriusXM radio and the Hallmark Channel.

“I don’t believe people should be allowed to have guns in America,” Ms. Stewart, daughter of Martha, said in an interview, explaining that she bought a .357 Magnum after 9/11 — but would be happy to give it up if handguns were banned. “Having a swimming pool is way more dangerous than having a gun,” she added.

Comment: Interesting article from the New York Times. As for me, I'm not rich or famous! I personally don't think concealed carried records should be public!

WeatherTech floor mats

WeatherTech

Finally getting serious about floor mats. We had the Buick cleaned thoroughly at Plymouth VIP and installed custom fit floor mats. They about twice the cost of good heavy duty ones, but are custom fit. Worthwhile if you live in snow and muck country!

Warning on underfunding 401Ks

Retiring Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Fall Short

Excerpts:

Vanguard Group, one of the biggest providers of 401 (k) plans, has changed its advice on how much people should save. Vanguard long advised people to put 9% to 12% of their salaries—including the employer contribution—in their 401(k) plans. The current median amount that people contribute is 9%, counting the employer contribution, Vanguard says.

Recently, Vanguard has begun urging people to contribute 12% to 15%, including the employer contribution, because of the stock market's weak returns and uncertainty about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

...

Consider households headed by people aged 60 to 62, nearing retirement, with a 401(k)-type account at their jobs.

Such households had a median income of $87,700 in 2009, according to data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which derived this and other numbers by updating Fed survey data, at The Journal's request. The 85% needed for retirement would be $74,545 a year.

Experts estimate Social Security will provide as much as 40% of pre-retirement income, or $35,080 a year for that median family. That leaves $39,465 needed from other sources. Most 401(k) accounts don't come close to making up that gap.

The median 401(k) plan held $149,400, including plans from previous jobs, according to the Center for Retirement Research. To figure the annual income from that, analysts typically look at what the family would get from a fixed annuity.

That $149,400 would generate just $9,073 a year for a couple, according to New York Life Insurance Co., the leading provider of such annuities— less than one-quarter of the $39,465 needed.

Just 8% of households approaching retirement have the $636,673 or more in their 401(k)s that would be needed to generate $39,465 a year.

Comment: Seems like a steep incline!

Bauder on Foreknowledge

The Electrum

Excerpt:

Divine foreknowledge is the hinge upon which all the other debates turn. One’s definition of foreknowledge will determine whether one ends on the Arminian or Calvinistic side of the debate—and everyone who expresses an opinion is on one side or the other.

Arminians see God’s foreknowledge as His foresight. God looks ahead through the corridors of time and sees what free people will choose. For Arminians, divine foreknowledge is essentially reactive.

For their part, Calvinists see God’s foreknowledge as causative. God’s foreknowledge does not passively observe the future, but rather shapes it. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen. According to Calvinists, foreknowledge is not so much God’s foresight as it is His forethought.

Once a definition has been chosen, the other pieces of the puzzle fall into place almost unavoidably. If God’s foreknowledge is causative, then election must be unconditional. If election is unconditional, then divine calling has to be efficacious.

Comment: I'm on the causative side.

1911: When Niagara froze






Snopes article


Comment: Sent to me from a friend. Snopes says the freeze is authentic but the date(s) is/are unknown.

How much snow?

Hey, it's still February, ya know: 10-plus inches of snow in forecast

Excerpt:

The National Weather Service has put much of southern and central Minnesota under a winter storm warning starting about dawn Sunday and continuing for at least 24 hours.

Heavy snow "now appears likely" in a wide swath from Morris in the west to St. Cloud to Cambridge, just north of the Twin Cities. Those cities are looking at accumulation above 10 inches.

Then the southern edge of Twin Cities will be joined by Mankato, Faribault and Hutchinson looking at nearly a foot of snow, the Weather Service anticipates.

Winds ranging from 15 to 30 miles an hour over the weekend -- in particular Sunday afternoon and into the night -- "could create areas of blowing and drifting snow," according to the Weather Service.

"Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous," the Weather Service is cautioning. "Only travel in an emergency."

Comment: Tired of Winter! But close to the end

Back to work

Comment: Several have asked and thus a brief update

  • I saw Nila Suntharam, a specialist, on Wednesday and she authorized me to return to work
  • The antibiotics continue for another couple of days
  • I am eating normally and also adding probiotics: A drink called Kefir, and also the Align pill.
  • I knew it would finally get approved but first the short term disability was denied (because the clinic was slow to get the paperwork to the insurance company. Finally it was approved on Thursday and I received my paycheck for the time out. Altogether I missed 17 days of work


Thanks to all for your prayers

2.18.2011

Will "Watson" be the next Google? Bing?

Fear not, humans: Watson the new Jeopardy champion won’t take over the world — yet

Excerpt:

After “Jeopardy” began taping its three man-vs.-machine matches last month, pitting the IBM artificial intelligence software Watson against two of the game show’s most celebrated champions, host Alex Trebek confessed some concern to author Stephen Baker.

“Is this going to be fair?” he and the producers of “Jeopardy” asked, repeatedly. It wasn’t just a matter of ensuring an honest fight. The show’s producers wanted the Watson challenge to be compelling television. And if the machine — powered by a cluster of 90 servers with nearly 3,000 processing cores and 16 terabytes of data storage — made mincemeat of its human opponents, the show would be a pretty dull affair.

The IBM team, led by principal investigator David Ferrucci, reassured the show’s producers that the terms of the contest would, if anything, favor the humans.

“What we’re doing is we’re building a machine, and the machine has all kinds of weaknesses. It doesn’t understand language very well. And it doesn’t know anything,” Baker said, recalling the IBM team’s argument. “So we’re putting an ignorant machine that has a language handicap up, and you’re saying it’s not fair because it happens to be fast on the buzzer?”

Now, of course, observers are crying foul all over again, after Watson dispatched his human competitors with apparent ease. In Tuesday’s match, for example, Watson answered all but two questions correctly. The machine made a rather glaring flub by offering “Toronto” as the answer to a Final Jeopardy question whose category was “U.S. Cities,” but otherwise seemed unbeatable.

Watson cruised to victory in the final installment Wednesday, prompting Ken Jennings to write for his Final Jeopardy answer, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”

Watson is just a super search engine

Excerpt:

If we learned one thing by watching the Watson computer challenge real humans on the “Jeopardy!” game show, it’s that International Business Machines Corp. has developed a new kind of search engine.

That’s what this is all about, a search engine, probably called Watson that will obviously take straight English queries and deliver answers. This has been the promise of numerous search engines, beginning with Ask Jeeves. That idea is still being explored by Ask.com, owned by IAC/InterActive Corp.

This Watson device should go online immediately — assuming it actually works and is scalable.

All we know so far is that IBM intends to produce a medical-expert system using the technology.

During the heyday of the AltaVista search engine and the early days of Google Inc. , IBM had been playing around with search technology and had an internal “private” engine that was as good as anything commercially available. I followed its development closely, and somewhere along the line IBM dropped the idea.

But this indicated to me that the company had some interest. Surely the attention (and money) given to Google must have been noticed by now.

When I think of the possibilities, I wonder if the algorithms can be used for more than trivia but to determine the kind of websites that people are looking for. In other words, can these algorithms deliver the same kind of results as Google?

I don’t see why not.

Pure algorithmic search results without needing to cache the entire Internet every few minutes is a holy grail of these technologies. At some point, Google’s cache’s will be larger than planet Earth. If you want to stop global warming, stop Google from adding more server farms.

I cannot find anyone at IBM to comment on whether the company has any immediate plans in this area. Watson is a research project; IBM does a lot of research.

Comment: Watson official page. Interesting article on why Watson missed the Toronto question.

2.17.2011

The Ball and Chain of Student Loan Debt

College debt meets real life

Excerpt:

"My student debt has made me nervous to take chances," one woman wrote.

"I haven't been able to afford health insurance," said a 2010 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

"Student debt has deterred me from pursuing many job offers (and passions -- I would love to work with a nonprofit organization assisting veterans) that did not pay enough," said a woman who expects to pay back more than $40,000 in student loan debt over 30 years.

Many students surveyed went straight to graduate school. That decision defers loan payments but eventually adds to them.

"That may not be the best idea in the long term," said Jered Weber, director of communications for the student association. "At least it gives you a little more time. It's especially hard with this job market."

Alumni echoed that thought. One business management grad makes $14,000 a year as a direct care staffer.

Halfway through, the survey asks: "Looking back, how would you change your college experience, related to finances?"

"I wouldn't have gone," Ezra Kazee answered.

Kazee finished his political science degree at Winona State University in 2008. Thanks in part to $300 monthly loan payments, his family lives paycheck to paycheck, he said. "At the end of the day I have mortgaged my life and my children's future for an education that did absolutely nothing for me."

He works as a debt collector.

Comment: Sad ....

2.16.2011

Too many Malls?

Borders Goes Bust: Are There Too Many Stores in America?

Excerpt:

Dan Gross describes it as "peak mall" theory, in this clip. "Have we reached the point where we have all the malls we're going to need?," he asks. E-commerce, coupled with the demise of "conspicuous consumption" as a result of the Great Recession could spell trouble for mall owners and commercial real estate in general.

Comments: Interesting article (with photos ... see links) from DeadMalls.com

Brookdale center was initially developed by the Dayton Hudson company shortly after Southdale, opening in 1962. The Mall featured wide corridors, and only had one level in contrast to the other malls developed from the Gruen model. Brookdale also differed from its counterparts in the Twin Cities area, as the area around the mall was substantially less well to do than the areas around Rosedale, Ridgedale, and especially Southdale.

At its peak, Brookdale had three anchors and over seventy other stores. A wing build in the early aughts brought a fourth anchor position and a food court. In 2004, Brookdale lost its first anchor. Within five years, there was near total attrition from the location. In April 2010, the mall was closed to the public. Causes of the closing include: the graying of the community, changing traffic patterns caused by new roads, the opening of new shopping centers, and the struggles of maintaining a public space.

2.14.2011

Valentine for "Miss Boylen"


Comment: From my Sister-in-Law's vintage card collection.

Excerpt:
Looking at the scanned card, it says on the back in a child's cursive handwriting, "Miss Boylen". From this, I presume this little one found it as special as I do.

Real love:

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The LA Trump Card

California scheming: NFL has been brilliant in using LA to get stadiums built

Excerpt:

Los Angeles lost its two NFL teams, the Rams and the Raiders, the same year, 1995. Since then, not including teams that would never move (the New York teams, Dallas, Pittsburgh) and the five expansions teams, 10 NFL teams have gotten new stadiums, and most of them had the threat of "you'd better build a top notch stadium, or else LA!" hanging over the host city. Recently, the threats from the NFL have become more ominous as developers insist they want to bring two teams to LA. Coincidently, four NFL team owners are looking for new stadiums: San Diego, Buffalo, Jacksonville and our own Vikings. My guess is the NFL felt the potential of one team moving wasn't enough to scare all four cities into action.

Comment: Goes like this: "If you won't build a stadium, we will move". And some people think ... "Minnesota won't be Minnesota without the Vikings". Well life will go on. Zygi Wilf needs to put up much more than he has so far voiced.

2.13.2011

92% — The share of new mortgage loans backed by the U.S. government

Government’s Overwhelming Role in Mortgages

Excerpt:

Fannie alone ranks as the world’s largest bank by assets, while Freddie is in the top ten. The firms’ subsidized mortgages encourage Americans to take on a lot of debt. Their balance sheets, consisting of long-term investments financed with short-term borrowing, make them highly susceptible to sudden credit freezes. Their government ownership means taxpayers stand to lose tens of billions of dollars if the firms get into trouble again.

...

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury published a “white paper” with some ideas on how to handle the behemoths. Fannie and Freddie can curb borrowers’ ability to get too deep into debt by requiring larger down payments and lowering loan limits. They can increase the fees they charge for mortgage guarantees to bring those fees more in line with the risk they’re taking on. And they can gradually wind down their businesses, ceding the market to private lenders who must have ample capital to protect them from bankruptcy in the event of losses. All that can help remove market distortions and save taxpayers’ money.

Comment: Time to phase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of the Mortgage business. Begin to close the doors now and fully shutter them in 5-7 years! Click through to the WSJ article for a helpful chart.

Wild Oats founder attempts to sow them

Grocery CEO resigns after arrest in child prostitution sting

Excerpt:

The chief executive officer of a Western grocery store chain resigned after he was arrested in a child prostitution sting, according to police and CNN affiliate KNXV.

Michael Gilliland, 52, was one of eight people arrested in the sting, said Steve Martos, spokesman for Phoenix police. He is accused of soliciting sex online from a girl who identified herself as a minor on Thursday, he said.

Nevertheless, "the suspect arranged a meeting with this underage female" and allegedly drove to a hotel to meet her, authorities said. "The suspect agreed to pay the underage female for sexual intercourse," police said.

Gilliand founded Wild Oats Market, which was bought by Whole Foods in 2007, and was the CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market. He was charged with felony child prostitution.

Comment: Wonder if "wild oats" was part of his life when he founded he chain?

2.12.2011

Probiotics

Align Probiotic

Comments: More on Probiotics here. Saw my Dr today. He extended the antibiotics for another 10 days and I will see and infectious diseases Doctor on Wednesday. Meanwhile multiple people suggested that I take Align (my Sister, my Daughter, my Sister-in-Law, our youth Pastor, and a Pastor in Wisconsin). I ordered a supply today from Amazon.

Mitch Daniels: " No enterprise can remain self-governing so deeply in hock to others"

Full text: Mitch Daniels’ speech to CPAC

Excerpts:

I bring greetings from a place called Indiana. The coastal types present may think of it as a “flyover” state, or one of those “I” states. Perhaps a quick anthropological summary would help.

We Hoosiers hold to some quaint notions. Some might say we “cling” to them, though not out of fear or ignorance. We believe in paying our bills. We have kept our state in the black throughout the recent unpleasantness, while cutting rather than raising taxes, by practicing an old tribal ritual – we spend less money than we take in.

We believe it wrong ever to take a dollar from a free citizen without a very necessary public purpose, because each such taking diminishes the freedom to spend that dollar as its owner would prefer. When we do find it necessary, we feel a profound duty to use that dollar as carefully and effectively as possible, else we should never have taken it at all.

...

In our nation, in our time, the friends of freedom have an assignment, as great as those of the 1860s, or the 1940s, or the long twilight of the Cold War. As in those days, the American project is menaced by a survival-level threat. We face an enemy, lethal to liberty, and even more implacable than those America has defeated before. We cannot deter it; there is no countervailing danger we can pose. We cannot negotiate with it, any more than with an iceberg or a Great White.

I refer, of course, to the debts our nation has amassed for itself over decades of indulgence. It is the new Red Menace, this time consisting of ink. We can debate its origins endlessly and search for villains on ideological grounds, but the reality is pure arithmetic. No enterprise, small or large, public or private, can remain self-governing, let alone successful, so deeply in hock to others as we are about to be.

Comment: Common sense from "the middle". I was born in that "flyover" state (Fort Wayne, IN - 1949). More on Mitch Daniels

2.11.2011

The "Just Get r Done" wedding



Romance Is in the Mountain Air in Tennessee

Excerpt:

Approximately 30 wedding chapels in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park expect brisk business this weekend and Monday when excited couples repeat their vows on a romantic adventure with mountain majesty as a backdrop.

The love-struck have been descending on the East Tennessee area for years to get married, and Valentine's Day and the weekend before have turned into marriage marathons.

Gatlinburg, in fact, touts itself as "the wedding capital of the South." Hundreds of couples are projected to say "I do" over the three-day period with mist from the peaks as a witness.

"Couples romanticize about getting married on Valentine's Day," said Guy Jacob, senior coordinator for the Gatlinburg Wedding Center. Weddings are such big business in Gatlinburg that his center has diversified in the finest Wall Street tradition: It includes three wedding chapels, a reception business, a bed and breakfast and a bridal store.

"The city in general is a draw," Jacob said.

The popularity as a wedding spot has several explanations: It's fairly easy to get married in the area, it's a picturesque setting and can't-wait couples can honeymoon instantly without driving or flying off.

A blood test is not required and there is no waiting period, but couples must be 18.

"You get your license in the morning, and then get married," Jacob said.

Cupid's Chapel of Love, a white log chapel in business 15 years, says it's been the site of more than 15,000 weddings and proclaims itself "Tennessee's most photographed wedding chapel."

Its rates run as high as $1,400, but its "Just Get r Done" package costs $99.

Jacob, whose company operates the chapel, describes "Just Get r Done" as "a simple ceremony with no photos and no fanfare."

It lasts eight to 12 minutes, and is "a full Christian ceremony, with a scripture reading."

"It's the most common wedding at that chapel," Jacob said.

A marriage license costs $38.50 for out-of-state applicants and $98.50 for Tennesseans, but the extra $60 for those in-state lovers is waived if couples complete a four-hour premarital course. Licenses can be obtained any day of the week except Sunday.

Weddings in Gatlinburg's Sevier County each February have been almost double those in January. The ceremonies have kept pace with those in March when the weather moderates and even with weddings in the traditional marriage month of June.

There were 10,711 weddings last year in the county, which is within a day's drive of much of the Southeast and part of the Midwest.

Comment: Proof that it doesn't have to cost tens of thousands to get married! Gatlinburg is a beautiful spot by the way. But the drive through Pigeon Ford is depressing with its commercialism. Above photo is Web snip from Cupid's Chapel of Love. On Git r done.

2.09.2011

C-Diff "between three and six-fold more common than it was just ten years ago"

CDC: Deadly Superbug “C-Diff” Spreading

Excerpt:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, C-Diff kills thousands of people every year and that number is growing.

“It’s between three and six-fold more common than it was just ten years ago,” explained Dr. Rocco Riccardi of Lahey Clinic.

Antibiotics are the standard treatment, but that doesn’t always work. “In that situation, one can get very, very sick and have to have their colon removed,” Riccardi said.

Both Dr. Riccardi and the CDC blame a new strain of the bacteria for the increased cases of the bug.

“This epidemic strain is much more aggressive and it produces more toxins or stronger toxins and it’s harder to treat,” Riccardi said.

C-diff is highly contagious and is spread through contaminated stool, usually by health care workers who don’t wash properly. What makes this bug particularly tricky is those alcohol-based hand sanitizers often used in hospitals don’t work on C-Diff. Doctors and nurses need to wash with soap and water before and after they visit a patient’s room. The microscopic spores can also survive for weeks on hard surfaces like a counter, a phone or a handrail.

Kathleen believes hospitals need to do more to educate and protect their patients. “You don’t think you’re going to go in (to the hospital) and come out with something deadly,” she said.

“I just want people to be aware that this C-Diff is out there and it’s devastating,” she said.

Certain antibiotics can actually increase a patient’s risk of developing C-Diff. Often doctors will prescribe an antibiotic to prevent a skin infection during surgery. But sometimes that antibiotic wipes out all the good bacteria in the patient’s gut and that clears the way for C-Diff to take over.

Comment: Latest: Am seeing if I can see a specialist at the Mayo. Still on short term disability

Metro home prices in decline

Twin Cities home values decline at record pace

Excerpt:

Zillow.com’s latest report on the housing market suggests that home prices are still falling. A lot. During the last quarter of 2010 home values in the Twin Cities metro area fell 12.1 percent, or $22,800 compared with the previous year — the highest quarterly decline on record since Zillow starting keeping stats in 1996. Quarter-to-quarter values were down 5.8 percent. Nationally the annual decline averaged only 5.9 percent and fell 2.6 percent between the third and fourth quarters.
Zillow’s home value index in the Twin Cities during that period was $166,300, down 32.6 percent or $80,500 from the July 2006 peak.

The data is different from the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtor’s sales report that I write about every month. This one tracks the value of all homes, not just those that have sold. It also shows that 42.3 percent of all single-family homes in the Twin Cities with a mortgage were underwater, up slightly from the third quarter and way above the national average of 27 percent. Okay, and there’s one more piece of bad news: 36.1 percent of all home that sold during December sold for a loss — another slight increase from the previous quarter

Comment: Chart is from Zillow for my home. Underwater numbers are vastly different than reported by USAToday yesterday (blogged here). USA today was just for Hennepin CO. "Twin Cities" would include outlying counties.

2.08.2011

Ken Olsen, computing pioneer, passes

Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84

Excerpt:

Ken Olsen, who helped reshape the computer industry as a founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, at one time the world’s second-largest computer company, died on Sunday. He was 84.

....

Mr. Olsen, who was proclaimed “America’s most successful entrepreneur” by Fortune magazine in 1986, built Digital on $70,000 in seed money, founding it with a partner in 1957 in the small Boston suburb of Maynard, Mass. With Mr. Olsen as its chief executive, it grew to employ more than 120,000 people at operations in more than 95 countries, surpassed in size only by I.B.M.

At its peak, in the late 1980s, Digital had $14 billion in sales and ranked among the most profitable companies in the nation.

But its fortunes soon declined after Digital began missing out on some critical market shifts, particularly toward the personal computer. Mr. Olsen was criticized as autocratic and resistant to new trends. “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” he said at one point. And in July 1992, the company’s board forced him to resign.

Six years later, Digital, or DEC, as the company was known, was acquired by the Compaq Computer Corporation for $9.6 billion.

But for 35 years the enigmatic Mr. Olsen oversaw an expanding technology giant that produced some of the computer industry’s breakthrough ideas.

In a tribute to him in 2006, Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, called Mr. Olsen “one of the true pioneers of computing,” adding, “He was also a major influence on my life.”

Comment: I worked for DEC for 2 years back in '77-79. At that time, DEC just passed $ 1 Billion in annual sales.

Hennepin Co ranked amoung lowest Counties with mortgages "underwater"


Chart: Owing more than home is worth

Comment: Good news for Hennepin Co home owners. Chart from USA today. Click through for full chart.

2.07.2011

Why I support an internet kill switch for the United States



Why I support an internet kill switch for the United States

Comment: U.S. civil rights bodies call for rejection of Internet "kill switch". Commerce would screech to a halt! Our freedoms would be abridged!

Unwilling to redeem!



Comment: I remember J. Paul Getty III's kidnapping clearly. His family was unwilling to pay the kidnappers and the young boy's ear was ultimately cut off  (picture above).

J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors


Excerpts:

J. Paul Getty III, who was a grandson of the oil baron once believed to be the richest man in the world and who achieved tragic notoriety in 1973 when he was kidnapped by Italian gangsters, died Saturday at his home near London. He was 54.

...

At the time of his abduction, Mr. Getty was just 16 and living on his own in Rome, where his father, J. Paul Getty II, had, for a time, helped oversee the family’s Italian business interests.

Expelled from a private school, the young Mr. Getty was living a bohemian life, frequenting nightclubs, taking part in left-wing demonstrations and reportedly earning a living making jewelry, selling paintings and acting as an extra in movies. He disappeared on July 10, 1973, and two days later his mother, Gail Harris, received a ransom request. No longer married, she said she had little money.

“Get it from London,” she was reportedly told over the phone, a reference either to her former father-in-law, J. Paul Getty, the billionaire founder of the Getty Oil Company, or her former husband, who lived in England.

The amount demanded was about $17 million, but the police were initially skeptical of the kidnapping claim; even after Ms. Harris received a plaintive four-page letter from her son, and a subsequent phone call in which a man saying he was a kidnapper offered to send her a severed finger as proof he was still alive. Investigators suspected a possible hoax or an attempt by the young Mr. Getty to squeeze some money from his notoriously penurious relatives.

“Dear Mummy,” his note began, “Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.”

The eldest Mr. Getty refused to pay the kidnappers anything, declaring that he had 14 grandchildren and “If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” His son said he could not afford to pay.

Three months after the abduction, the kidnappers, who turned out to be Calabrian bandits with a possible connection to organized crime, cut off Mr. Getty’s ear and mailed it, along with a lock of his hair, to a Roman newspaper. Photographs of the maimed Mr. Getty, along with a letter in which he pleaded with his family to pay his captors, subsequently appeared in another newspaper. Eventually the kidnappers reduced their demands to around $3 million. According to the 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, the eldest Mr. Getty paid $2.2 million, the maximum that his accountants said would be tax deductible. The boy’s father paid the rest, though he had borrow it from his father — at 4 percent interest.

The teenager, malnourished, bruised and missing an ear, was released on Dec. 15; he was found at an abandoned service station, shivering in a driving rainstorm.

Comment: I'm glad I have a God willing to redeem!

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) (Galatians 3:13 )

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The "I love myself" Valentine



The "Murphy's Law" of Valentine's gifts:

Thoughtfully (I'll tell my wife this when her gift arrives!), I ordered Sees' candy for Kathee for Valentine's Day. I put my own address in as the billing address and clicked shipping address is the same as billing address. I even ordered a card to go along with it - "I love you! Jim". After I did the web submit, it dawned on me that it would be shipped to me - to my name! Obviously Kathee and I live together so it will go to the correct address. But it will be a Valentine card "To James" with love from Jim.

I immediately called the Sees' toll free # but they informed me that the "web department" would have to take care of it. I emailed them yesterday. Here's their response.


Text:

Unfortunately your order has already been prepared for shipment and we are unable to make any changes to the order at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

If they could only imagine how I will "pay for this"! :)

2.06.2011

Downfall



Comment: I watched Downfall on DVD yesterday. Excellent. Very intense. German with English subtitles. About the last 10 days of the Third Reich in the F├╝hrerbunker

Myron Cope and the Terrible Towel




The world's most revered textile—with the possible exception of the Shroud of Turin.

Excerpt:

The towel's genesis dates to 1975, when the station manager of WTAE-Radio asked Cope to come up with a gimmick, something to connect with the fans. "I'm not a gimmick guy," Cope retorted. At which point he was reminded that his contract was almost up—so he became a gimmick guy in short order.

Cope imagined something simple, safe, portable, cheap—ideally something people already had, like a towel. He took to the airwaves, demanding they bring gold or black towels to the upcoming playoff game against the hated Baltimore Colts. "If you don't have one, buy one. If you don't want to buy one, dye one."

Some were skeptical. Former linebacker Andy Russell remembers Cope going around the locker room to discuss the concept. "As captain he came up to me and asked me what I thought of the idea of a towel. He said we'd call it the Terrible Towel. I said, 'Myron, that's a dumb idea, even for you. We're not a gimmick team. We don't need our fans swinging a towel,'" Mr. Russell recalls. "It was really going against [Coach] Chuck Noll's philosophy to have these players getting interested in a towel," Mr. Russell believed at the time. He's since come around, having recently seen 67,000 fans waving the rags at Heinz Field.

At that win against Baltimore, Cope claimed there were 30,000 people waving towels. But it was the following game against the Raiders that really ignited the crowd.

"There was a Terrible Towel in the locker room and it was going to be a nasty day," Hall of Famer Lynn Swann tells me. "I don't normally put a towel under my belt, but I had it in my hand." As the offense was announced, "I was hitting the towel against my leg—a bit of nervous energy." When he was introduced, Mr. Swann ran onto the field jumping and waving the towel.

It was "not a premeditated act, not intended to be promotional to any degree, just natural, spontaneous," says Mr. Swann. But Cope capitalized, screeching on the radio about Mr. Swann and the magic of Terrible Towel.

WTAE's gimmick became a phenomenon. Dish rags and hand towels of various hues soon became a uniform, trademarked product. In 1996, Cope gave the towel's trademark rights to the Allegheny County School, which services 900 individuals with special needs, including Cope's son. Since that year, all of the royalties—$3 million—have gone to the school.

Tim Carey, merchandise director for the Steelers, says "there have been more towels sold in the past 10 years than there are people in the Pittsburgh market." Retailer Marcia Feinberg says she is absolutely slammed, ordering some 1,500 a day. "We can't get them fast enough. There's just not enough Steelers merchandise in the world."

Pittsburghers have taken Terrible Towels to Vatican City, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and on at least one NASA mission to space. One was seen fluttering among the Tibetan prayer flags on Mt. Everest. And right now, a Terrible Towel festoons the New York City Public Library—the result of a lost wager between Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Why the towel took off is a subject of serious debate. Sports marketing experts claim it taps into a highly scientific combination of color and motion. Then there was Cope's relentless promotion. "The Terrible Towel is poised to strike!" he'd wail.

Comment: More on Myron Cope * and the Terrible Towel

* For my Brother who still is a Cincinnati fan: "Cope also used the term "Cinicinnati Bungles" to describe their division rivals, who had a string of bad seasons during the 1990s"

"You mean like Democrats"

2.05.2011

The Tape of the First Super Bowl

Found at Last: A Tape of the First Super Bowl

Excerpt:

Unless they were one of the 61,946 people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that day, or one of the fans who watched it live on NBC or CBS, there's one thing that all football fans have in common: They've never actually seen the game.

In a bizarre confluence of events, neither network preserved a tape. All that survived of this broadcast is sideline footage shot by NFL Films and roughly 30 seconds of footage CBS included in a pre-game show for Super Bowl XXV. Somehow, an historic football game that was seen by 26.8 million people had, for all intents and purposes, vanished.

Comment: Interesting read from the WSJ. My prediction for tomorrow ... Steelers!

Helping "drive this recovery"?



Graph for the Day for February 5, 2011

Excerpt:

"The unemployment rate declined by 0.4 percent to 9.0 percent, down 0.8 percent in the last two months... And we continue to create jobs... I am encouraged by the drop in the unemployment rate and convinced that the actions taken by the administration have helped drive this recovery." Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, February 4, 2011.

Comment: Oh really?!

1994: 'What Is the Internet?'

NBC Fires Employee for Posting 'What Is the Internet' Clip

Excerpt:

An NBC worker who posted old footage from the "Today" show of the hosts wondering, "What is the Internet anyway?" has been fired, the network confirmed, saying the person had a history of distributing material without permission.

The footage, in which Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel and Elizabeth Vargas try to figure out the Internet and e-mail addresses, made the rounds via said Internet last week, posted and re-posted to Facebook pages and sent via e-mail.

Filmed in 1994, the clip features Gumbel demanding, with a befuddled expression: "What is the Internet anyway?" and Couric stumbling to define it as: "that massive computer network, the one that's becoming really big now."

Comment: I was using the Internet back then but it was in it's infancy. I had a Prodigy account. As I recollect we had a 9600 baud modem. Click article link for video.

This explains why he keeps saying the same old thing

Peer-to-peer lending - 5 years

Comment: NYTimes article on Prosper and Lending Club. Good read. See further comments below

The Gamble of Lending Peer to Peer

Excerpts:

No more banks! Let the people play loan officer! The hype was literally suffused with the rhetoric of revolution when a company called Prosper began operations in February 2006. “Prosper gives people the opportunity to take back the marketplace for consumer credit,” the company’s co-founder, Chris Larsen, said in its news release.

The big idea went something like this: Borrowers would post a request for funds and explain why they needed the money. Lenders could put money into part or all of any loan that caught their fancy. And Prosper (and later, Lending Club) would run credit checks of aspiring borrowers for the lenders, watch for fraud, collect and distribute monthly payments and take some money off the top for itself.

People borrowed for breast implants and home renovations, and lenders pored over payment data in search of patterns that could help them select better borrowers in the future. To the Securities and Exchange Commission, however, all of this looked like investing, not lending, and both companies stopped taking in new lenders for months in parts of 2008 and 2009 to get their regulatory houses in order.

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... here’s the far more basic function that these companies actually serve: the majority of customers who borrow use the loans to pay off higher interest debt. They are paying 18 percent or more to credit card companies, and they seek Prosper or Lending Club loans that charge, say, 10, 12 or 14 percent. So as an investor, your return would be the interest rate that borrowers pay, minus the companies’ small fee and whatever money the borrowers fail to repay.

Most lenders throw a couple of $20 bills into many dozens of these loans. And once they do they end up with a portfolio of sorts. So it isn’t a stretch to see how these loans may look, in aggregate, like an entirely new asset class, one that could zig when bonds or stocks zag.

This has attracted investors who are hardly motivated by helping the little guy or needling the banks. Hedge funds are writing seven-figure checks to Lending Club to get in on the action. More conservative types, like money managers for wealthy families, are also dipping their toes in. In total, borrowers have signed up for more than $400 million in loans through the two companies in the last five years.

Comment - my experience:
  • Below are screen shots of my Prosper account
  • It's hard to "play loan officer!" I've learned a lot. I had hoped to make 10%. My reality is more like 3%
  • I now have $ 300 left in Prosper (at one time over $ 4000)
  • I think that with more cautious investing I could make 5-6%
  • If I had a free $ 10,000 I would like to put it in Prosper and just invest in AA loans and see if I could make the 5% per annum
  • Now less interested because I am investing in dividend paying stocks and making about 3.3%
  • My wife is less enthusiastic about Prosper than I. I suppose she is more "risk adverse"
  • To compare my $ 4000 Prosper investment with a good dividend paying stock - let's say Bank of Montreal (NYSE - BMO): The small investor could open up an account in Sharebuilder and invest the same and make 4.8%.