WHAT'S THAT? Oh, no no no. This hasn't anything to do with the state of the economy, the speculative bubble in commodities, interest rates or anything like that. No, my faith in capitalism is tested because of an alarming story I read in the New York Daily News.
Apparently, one apparel company (the "Juicy Couture" division of Liz Claiborne Inc.) has sued another apparel company (the Victoria's Secret segment of Limited Brands Inc.), and news reports say the former has charged the latter with stealing particular facets of its clothing design and marketing schemes: most notably, the former's practice of stamping logos on the asses of its pants.
No, I am not kidding.
I don't know why this should test my faith in capitalism. It sure seems like a win-win on the face of it. After all, here you have a company selling -- dear God! -- velour tracksuits and other mindless frippery that must have insane gross margins. Not only that, they're selling to an impressionable and uncritical market, where buyers spend great amounts of money on the stuff in desperate attempts to look "hip" and "with it," and apparently do so without recognizing the finance guys are playing them like an accordion. Why, it's almost enough of an investment opportunity to warm even my cold, grasping heart -- except I vowed long ago never to invest again in fashion.*
Yet it tests my faith, nonetheless. I guess I just can't see why anyone would voluntarily sell (or voluntarily buy) clothing that demeaned the wearer so. I mean, the logo's on the ass. That's just fundamentally wrong on so many levels. Then again, perhaps it bothers me, because we clearly have a money-making business here and I don't get it. Perhaps I'm just getting old.
In fact, maybe that's just it. I'm getting old. My all-time favorite reaction to the foibles of modern youth came from a teacher of Chinese, who when asked about the social habits of Chinese youth, said with a somewhat perplexed look on her face: "Ah, the young people. They go crazy." God knows that with each passing day, I'm more inclined to think she was right.
* The story of why I will never invest in fashion again will have to wait, but I took the loss about as well as Emperor Augustus took losing the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest. ("St. John Knits! Give me back my $1,300!")
ANN ARBOR, Mich., Apr. 27 -- SINCE FOOTBALL will be the prime focus of this and several posts following, it's important to mention The Rant's football-related quote of the week, from none other than my good friend Geoff Brown:
Michigan State is like Scrappy Doo -- lemme at 'em! Lemme at 'em!"
This quote, admittedly, will make no sense to anyone over 40 years of age, nor anyone who does not follow college football or the Big Ten Conference. But if you are under 40 years old and do follow college football, you realize the beauty and majesty of this simple statement, which is clearly correct and just.
You see, like many second-rate agricultural schools, Michigan State is in a one-way rivalry with their more prestigious big brothers in Ann Arbor. Simply put, they can't stand us and would consider their annual football season a success if they beat us. We, on the other hand, find Michigan State an annoying irritant. For fans of the Michigan Wolverines, the idea of losing to the hapless Spartans is mortifying and a loss to them would prove hugely embarrassing. Fortunately, we have beaten the Spartans six years straight in our annual matchup. Unfortunately, as Mr Brown pointed out during our recent dinner togheter, they could pull it off this coming year.
After all, as Mr Brown noted, Michigan has a new coaching staff, a new offensive scheme, and a lot of relatively new players. Not only that, it's still somewhat unclear who our starting quarterback may be. All this, therefore, led Mr Brown to conclude Michigan will get beaten like the proverbial red-headed stepchild this season, and part of my worries he is right.
But I remain cautiously optimistic about the season. After all, college football is played in autumn, and autumn is the Season of Miracles. If a miracle doesn't happen, well, I'd settle for beating Ohio State. If we lose to both Ohio State and Michigan State, it will immensely suck, because wearing a paper bag over one's head to mask the shame isn't any fun.
Anyway, Geoff and I had dinner -- as we traditionally do -- at Good Time Charley's, a hangout on South University Street famed for its "count twists," which are a type of cheesy bread. I must say I've never seen Ann Arbor that quiet before -- but it was the day after graduation, and so the campus was quickly emptying out. Although this did not change some things -- the line at Blimpy Burger was still very long -- it did have its benefits, much to my surprise and amazement.
For instance, parking was free in the Maynard Street parking structure. This was downright amazing -- free parking? in Ann Arbor? As a former resident of the city, I concluded what any Michigan student would have concluded: that the rage virus had somehow gotten loose from the University's researchers and was rapidly turning Ann Arborites into zombies. But then I realized the tired, frustrated Baby Boomers I had come across were just ruminating about their kids' tuition bills. A degree in art history, even from a prestigious school like Michigan, is still a degree in art history.
But Ann Arbor was as nice as ever -- and both Geoff and I admitted it would be pretty cool to move back to the place. (Mr Brown lives on the outskirts of metropolitan Detroit). There's something to Ann Arbor that is incredibly pleasant. Perhaps that's just a combination of nostalgia and the grass being greener, but there are fewer places in the world I would rather live.
KALAMAZOO, Mich., Apr. 26 -- SO ON MY DRIVE between Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne, I briefly stopped in my hometown to grab lunch and see the old neighborhood and the house where I grew up. A few brief points: although many houses seemed to be for sale, I saw some impressive new construction -- at least to me -- and a lot of the old landmarks that I knew grewing up were still there. The neighborhood in which I grew up was also much the same.
Now, the particular neighborhood in which I grew up -- and the residential streets to the east of it -- were nice places to live. Much of this had to do with the fact they were actual neighborhoods; you know, those mythical places where people who live in adjoining homes actually know each other and socialize. Plus, in the springtime and the fall, they were absolutely beautiful. When I drove along the tree-lined streets, it was an amazingly glorious sight -- the trees were in bloom and the leaves were coming out and the sun was shining. Beautiful.
Then I drove by my old house and said:
"Dear GOD -- what have they done?!"
To the new owners' credit, the house is not much changed from how it was when I grew up (at least from the outside) and given my nostalgia for the place, it is no surprise I would disapprove of any changes. After all, these things are matters of personal preference. Also, it was the end of April and I am sure it will look much better come summer.
But still. They've got this hideous plant -- I don't know what it is, but it looks like a goddamn truffula tree -- in the front yard. It's near the sidewalk leading to the front porch, from what I could tell from the street. Also, the entranceway from the side porch into the garage has been enclosed and it has these godawful octagonal windows -- I hate octagonal windows -- and if you ask me that takes away from the colonial-style architecture of the house. I was so stunned that I didn't even make the drive over to Simon From Jersey's old house to see how it stood up, and instead went to get lunch down on Stadium Drive.
I suppose the long and short of it comes down to this: they weren't kidding when they said you can't go home again.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Apr. 25 -- WELL, THE DRAFT WEEKEND turned out to be a hell of a good time for a football weekend back in the Midwest. I did catch some of the draft commentary on the radio while driving about, but all-in-all I thought my trip made more sense. After all, what's more fun: going to actually watch football or listening to analysts drone on about drafted players, 95 pc of whom will be consigned to relative mediocrity over the span of their careers?
As readers may recall, my trip was financed through the Government's tax rebate scheme, which will soon arrive in my pocket. I can assure readers that I spent my tax rebate on goods and services that will directly help the economies of Michigan and northern Indiana. This included roughly $100 spent on tickets to two football games, sodas at the games, parking expenses and one $2 coaster emblazoned with the logo of the Fort Wayne Freedom. Additionally, I spent $144 on a rental car, $225 on hotel rooms and $99.75 on gasoline. Oh, and I spent $18.20 at Meijer for snacks and sodas for my road trip. Throw in meals and that adds up to $650 or so. So: mission accomplished. I spent my stimulus money and did it in a way that will help our most troubled states. I rule.
Oh, and the football was awesome. Not only did Grand Rapids win convincingly, so did Fort Wayne, so I went two-for-two in my football watching. Here, we'll discuss the Grand Rapids game, between the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Kansas City Brigade of the Arena Football League.
Grand Rapids is the one area of Michigan that is seemingly booming and full of economic vitality. There's plenty of activity going on, especially in terms of construction work, and the whole town seems to be doing all right for itself. The Van Andel Arena, its downtown venue, is a well-built and pleasant arena with convenient and inexpensive parking right across the street. I arrived at the arena about 5:45 p.m., about an hour and a quarter before the game got underway, and I was stunned at what I saw.
Outside the arena, a group of teenagers were painting their faces in the Rampage's colors, and chanting "Let's Go Rampage!" with an impressive fervor. A man noticed me standing outside the arena and asked if I had any extra tickets to the game, which stunned me -- either he was a scalper or thought I was one. Keep in mind this is arena football in Grand Rapids. When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the team cleverly had its cheerleaders at the doors passing out souvenirs -- which was a pretty clever idea, I thought. Also, the Rampage's cheerleading squad got a serious upgrade over the past year.
Fast forward to 7 p.m. and the arena was, if not full, pretty close to it. Attendance at the game was 8,102 and it certainly felt like it in the arena, where the crowd was boisterous and happy. My sixth-row seat at midfield gave me a great view of the action and I was in a section with some devoted football fans. Much to my surprise and amazement, there were two former Manchester Wolves players I noticed on the field. On Grand Rapids' side, defensive back William "Roc" Haith, a standout DB with the Wolves, was starting. On Kansas City's side, the starting quarterback was none other than D. Bryant, who was once a starting QB for the Manchester Wolves.
I couldn't believe it. Bryant apparently did quite well after leaving the Wolves and so got a boost up to the big league, but upon seeing him as starting QB, I was feeling pretty confident about Grand Rapids' chances. After all, Bryant was inconsistent in Manchester, so why should that change now that he's in the AFL? And I was right! Not only did he fumble the ball on the first snap -- resulting in Grand Rapids recovering the ball -- he threw two interceptions right after that, leading to Grand Rapids take a 13-0 lead. It was not Mr Bryant's night.
The best thing about the game? It was a true defensive battle -- at least on Grand Rapids' side of the ball -- and the team's defensive antics helped put the game away early. At halftime, Grand Rapids was up 41-17, and we would end the game up 72-38 -- with Kansas City's last touchdown coming in garbage time at the end. But the best part about the whole experience, I think, was the level of fan enthusiasm -- it was a fun time, and that added a lot to the game. So anyone in the greater Grand Rapids area who isn't presently attending the games should look into tickets -- it would make for a fun night out.
I am also glad to report that Grand Rapids now goes to 3-5 on the season, and with the win is actually getting itself into playoff position. Seeing the Rampage in the playoffs would be super cool, especially since the playoffs will be televised. As for Kansas City -- well, they're 1-7, so they have a lot of makeup work to do if they hope to make it to the postseason.
FORT WAYNE, Ind., Apr. 26 -- When I told people I was going to Fort Wayne, Ind., to watch a minor-league indoor football game, most people I know reacted with surprise and disbelief. Some folks expressed amazement that I was driving hours out of my way to go watch a minor-league football game. Others, perhaps believing Fort Wayne to be a bit rougher than it actually is -- it's certainly not in the same level as Flint, Mich., or Youngstown, Ohio, or even Kalamazoo, Mich. -- reacted as if I had casually mentioned going to watch a football game in Gaza.
Well, I am proud to say I can deliver a positive report about The City That Saved Itself -- and about the Continental Indoor Football League, the small indoor-football minor league that put on the game between the Fort Wayne Freedom and the Marion (Ohio) Mayhem. The game was held in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum: a very nice venue indeed, and one of which Fort Wayne can be proud. Getting to the stadium was remarkably easy and parking was a breeze and very affordable ($4). Inside, the stadium was well-appointed and staff were friendly -- all nice things. Now, about the Continental Indoor Football League.
Here at The Rant, we classify football leagues into a ladder-like structure. At the top, of course, is the NFL. Then comes the Canadian Football League, and after that, the Arena Football League. After that comes the af2, which serves as a developmental league for the AFL. But as amazing as it might seem, below this -- "below," at least in my mind -- are several minor leagues that aren't part of the arena-league system.
For instance, residents in the Great Plains can watch teams in the American Professional Football League, which has teams in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas. Great Plains residents can also watch teams in the United Indoor Football league, which also has teams in Kansas, Nebraska, but also South Dakota, Montana and nearby states. (The UIF is also home to the silliest-named football team ever, that being the Omaha Beef. No, really. The Omaha Beef). There's also the American Indoor Football Association, which has 16 teams, most of which are around Ohio, Pennsylvania and the South, but are located around the nation. Then, there's the Intense Football League, with teams around Texas, Louisiana and -- oddly -- two in Alaska. Don't ask me how that works, but it apparently does.
Now, the cool thing about these leagues, if you ask me, is that they allow minor-league football to reach places that don't have AFL teams -- located in the big cities -- or af2 teams, located in smaller but still big markets like Manchester and Peoria and Lexington and Tulsa and Boise. These other teams compete in the smallest markets, many of which arguably couldn't support an af2 franchise, although I think a few could. There's certainly a market for many of these teams, and attendance in the several thousands for a game isn't uncommon. The Omaha Beef, for instance, got 7,634 at one of their home games earlier this year.
As for the CIFL, I think it has some real potential. The biggest difference between the minor minor leagues and the arena-league system is the absence of rebound nets, which the AFL cleverly patented. Instead, there's a "floating" goalpost hung from the rafters. Also, kickoffs -- at least in the CIFL -- have to land in the field of play, or else you get dinged with a big penalty. One big difference between the CIFL and the other leagues is that play in the CIFL is 7-on-7, as opposed to 8-on-8.
Before I went to the game, I dismissed this as a gimmick. But it works. Really. The seven-on-seven works. For one thing, it opens the game up to a lot more running -- particularly by the quarterback, if he can escape pressure from the linemen. Since the linemen are eligible receivers, it heightens the importance of man-on-man coverage. There's also more open space on the field, meaning well-executed running plays have a chance to go the distance, instead of having the back run three yards and fall down.
Anyway -- as for the game itself -- it was a blast. Much to my surprise, my third-row seat at midfield was actually a first-row seat behind the visiting team's bench, which was great fun. For one thing, I was so close to the field I could hear a lineman say, "Oh, shit!" as he jumped offsides. For another, it allowed me to join in the boisterous teasing of the opposing squad. Consider this conversation between me and former Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson, who was remarking on the raucous crowd:
Mr JACKSON: These guys aren't used to winning around here.
Mr KEPPLE: Neither are you!
Mr JACKSON: We're 4-2, in case you haven't noticed!
Mr KEPPLE, making a surprisingly quick comeback: I haven't noticed! I'm not from around here!
Admittedly, if I had known at the time Mr Jackson had played in Canada for several years, and had formerly been a quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts, I would not have been so snarky. But I was. Besides, the man played for Ohio State, and that was enough reason to try and egg the guy on. As it turned out, Mr Jackson was part of the amazing 1996 Ohio State squad that went 10-0 until they faced Michigan in the final game of their season, and lost, so I really didn't feel bad about it. Hey, my football loyalties run pretty deep.
However, most of the taunting between the fans and Marion was directed at defensive lineman Thomas McKenzie, who played for Riverside Community College in California. I liked McKenzie, as he gave as good as he got, and he was very much a leader on the squad. When Fort Wayne got out to a 14-0 lead, McKenzie was furious at his team's lackadaisal attitude towards the matter and rallied them accordingly: "14-0 to these dudes? 14-0 to these dudes? Nobody mad?!" McKenzie said. Well, they apparently got mad, because at halftime it was 24-20, and in the third quarter it was tied up at 27-27. McKenzie played quite well, too -- on one play he just flattened his opposing lineman. Someone should consider the man for a promotion, if you ask me.
Still, although Marion was able to tie the game up, they were not able to gain a lead, as Fort Wayne powered back to take an insurmountable lead, and they eventually won the game, 55-40. Although only 2,300 people or so attended the game, I was impressed with Fort Wayne's fans -- they had one section that was very much a cheering section, lauding every first down and every big play. Near the end of the game, some joker in the crowd started chanting, "Warm up the bus!" and soon everyone was taking part. Heh. "Warm up the bus!" I like that. I may use it here in Manchester. If I can, that is -- while I was away, the Wolves were on the road, and lost, putting them at 1-3. Supposedly big changes are in the works in terms of the Wolves' line up, but we'll see.
Anyway, I have to give Fort Wayne a lot of credit for putting on some really good football, and people around Fort Wayne should definitely give the Fort Wayne Freedom a try. The tickets are cheap and the games are a lot of fun, and the game I went to definitely made the trip to northeastern Indiana worthwhile.
... UNTIL TUESDAY, APRIL 29 due to a Class IV Football-Related Event. Until then, enjoy the archives, the various posts I've written in the past week, the links in the left-hand column, and so on!
I LIKE VOTING on proxy statements. A proxy statement, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a form on which a company that needs its shareholders to vote on various proposals tells its shareholders about the proposals in question, and how it thinks they should vote. The latter option is traditionally a recommendation to vote Yes on the matters at hand, and I must say I delight in voting No.
True, it doesn't really matter. Generally speaking, shareholders get one vote per share they own in the company. Since my holdings are tiny, my No votes are far less than a rounding error when everything is added up. Meanwhile, some lame-o mutual fund that owns roughly eighty million more shares than I do gets to vote Yes on all of them, thus making my vote even more worthless than those of Fritz Mondale's electors back in '84. Still, it is fun. I only wish the voting options would be changed. I would prefer three: Yes, No, and No, No, No You Rotten Bastards.
FOR THE RECORD, The Rant is not impressed with the stories appearing in the press about the sudden "rationing" of rice at many U.S. supermarkets. This is for the following reasons:
1. The Government has not announced rice rationing, meaning the issue is not a fundamental supply issue but ultimately logistical in nature.
2. The Government has never rationed cereals, even during World War II, when we were fighting the Nazis.
3. When we were fighting the Nazis, the Government rationed meats, fats, sugar, vegetables and gasoline. Not only that, the Government set the national speed limit at 35 mph as part of a rubber-rationing scheme. 35 miles per hour. No wonder everyone signed up to fight the Jerries.
4. The rice products being "rationed" at these stores are not American rice, but rather fancy imported rice, as the American Digest blog notes. True, the imported rice (such as Thai basmati rice) is higher-quality, but it's not like you can't procure rice to save your life.
5. The price for American rice is higher than it used to be -- it now stands at about $850 per ton. This works out to $42.50 per cwt or $0.425 per pound. Four pounds of rice is enough to feed a family of four for an entire day. Thus, even if a family of four ate nothing but rice for a day, this rice would cost $1.64 at wholesale.
6. The purchase limit at the chains "rationing" rice varies from between 100 lbs. to 200 lbs. PER PURCHASE, as American Digest again noted.
In short, anyone who wants rice can have it, because American rice farmers are producing bushels and bushels of the stuff. Even the fancy stuff is available to anyone who wants it, even if stores may occasionally run out of the fancier grades due to localized speculative buying. So it seems hard to describe this practice as "rationing." I mean, I don't know about you, but it seems difficult to argue the nation is in fundamental peril because some stores are limiting people to buying a scant two or three months' supply of rice at a time.
Of course, I do realize that export bans abroad may eventually limit the supply of top-quality rice, but I doubt things will get that far. Even if it did, it would be no different than the present situation we have involving caviar, where beluga caviar cannot be found for any price. (Not that one could afford it even if it was available, but it's not like one can't enjoy caviar otherwise just because beluga is not on the shelf). Other kinds of rice would still be there. They will always still be there. Whipping up panic does not help matters.
ONE OF THE THINGS I enjoy about The Rant is that I get to see, through my comments feature, what people think about my writing. Most people who write comments are civil and well-meaning. Then, there's the guy who took issue with my post on basketball, which I claimed (and continue to claim) is not a real sport. My favorite line in the whole screed? "You're a fucking joke to America you lazy faggot."
It may seem strange, but when you're a writer, you don't just live for responses like that -- you think about making them into T-shirts!
Anyway, scroll down on the above link to see the comment in full -- and my response. I will say this, though: I don't think I've gotten a reaction like that since my college days!
ONE OF THE KNOCKS AGAINST the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded terrorism threat level chart is that the warning guide is neither specific nor all that helpful -- it has stayed in the "yellow," or elevated band, for roughly the last seven years. Occasionally, it will move up to "orange," or the high band; it has never, to the best of my knowledge, actually fallen into the "guarded," or relatively low band.
I am not an expert in security matters so I will leave the issue of tweaking the charts to the experts. But I do have an interest in financial matters -- to the point where people will sometimes ask me about what I think regarding various market happenings. Along these lines, I thought perhaps a chart detailing the probability of an utter financial disaster might prove helpful. People could use this chart to make easy determinations about where things might be headed, and issue pronouncements to folks accordingly. My own thoughts are that we're in the Gold band, for moderate risk, or the Orangeish band, for moderate to high risk; although I would caution readers that I am not a financial advisor, and you should always consult with a financial advisor before making investing decisions, investments can and do lose money, so on and so forth.
Anyway, without further ado, here is Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Financial Disaster Warning Scheme:
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!
An occasional Rant feature
ALTHOUGH I CONSIDER myself a loyal and right-thinking American, willing to stand with my country right or wrong, I must admit there are times when I despair greatly for the future of the Republic. Sometimes I despair when I look at certain past decisions of the nation's Government (e.g., the Seventeenth Amendment and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment). Other times I despair when I consider present developments in society, such as the fact people actually send text messages whilst driving motor vehicles. Then, there are my search logs, which cause me the most despair of all.
I mean, I'm sorry, but what am I to make of the fact that the phrase "melty crunchy spicy grilled" was the second-most searched for term on The Rant this month? I'm not even including certain variants of the phrase, such as "what is the melty crunchy spicy grilled" and "crunchy melty spicy melty."
These folks can't all be foreigners trying to learn the finer points of modern American culture -- since nearly all my visitors are from the United States, one can thus deduce that actual American citizens are typing these terms into their search engines and arriving here. This bothers me. I mean, I'm willing to laugh at certain foibles of American life -- like that Johnny Bravo episode where our dimwitted hero, upon encountering his VCR clock blinking 12:00, thought what any reasonable person would have thought -- "that time had stopped for everyone but me!" But this ... oy vey.
Anyway, if you've come here searching for "melty crunchy spicy grilled" or any of its variant phrases, I would encourage you to ... I don't know, look harder for gainful employment. Also, it probably wouldn't hurt you to eat a salad. But I digress. Let's move on to the deeper and, in many ways, more disturbing aspects of The Rant's search logs in this latest edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered!
QUERY: currency speculation
ANSWER: Alarmingly, currency speculation was the third-most popular query here at The Rant this month. Folks, if you're interested in currency speculation, I guess I should start by applauding your interest in financial matters. That said, if you do take part in forex speculation, you're going to get chewed up and spit out. This is because the leverage used in these transactions (100 to 1 is typical) can be disasterous for novice investors. Also, novice investors don't have a chance in hell of beating the experts at their own game. However, if you must pursue this silly notion, I would advise waiting to do it until everyone stops talking about currency speculation.
QUERY: anheuser busch tattoo
ANSWER: Do you have any idea how much money it costs to remove a tattoo? I don't either, but I'm sure it's not cheap. Don't make a stupid mistake that you'll later regret, particularly as someday you'll make more money and start drinking real beer, and not watered-down American-style pilseners that taste like horse urine.
QUERY: is kalamazoo dangerous
ANSWER: Well, as with any city, it depends in which part of Kalamazoo you are. But generally, it's about as dangerous as any struggling small post-industrial Rust Belt city. Which is to say, yeah, kinda sorta.
QUERY: circle and exclamation point warning light in 2005 mitsubishi endeavor
ANSWER: This warns drivers about losing style points for buying a Japanese sport-utility vehicle. Particularly if you're in Michigan. If that's the case, good luck with that.
QUERY: potted meat in the can for low carb diet?
ANSWER: For the record, The Rant believes potted meat should not be part of anyone's diet if at all possible. It's potted meat, for God's sake.
QUERY: dummest small claims
ANSWER: Pot? It's kettle on line three!
QUERY: now that s what i call music song list
ANSWER: Now how would I know that? Do I look like Rick Dees? Don't answer that!
QUERY: what is market rally
ANSWER: A market rally is when the hedge funds and speculators who control the markets change direction suddenly and bid up the price of securities through buying, thus temporarily creating the illusion that small investors have gained wealth. Give it time. It'll change.
QUERY: nebraska football
ANSWER: *snicker* *guffaw* ... what's that? You want a real answer? Fine. I shall summon the words of the famed actor Joe Lo Truglio ("You loser! God, you are such a loser!").
QUERY: what happens if i drink too much beet juice
ANSWER: Your tongue turns purple and you get jaundice.
QUERY: the chance of plaintiffs winning against corporations improved between 1988-1992?
ANSWER: The chance of plaintiffs winning against corporations improved when juries decided they didn't like corporations and wanted to "send a message" instead of actually dealing with the claims at hand.
QUERY: grand rapids sex group
ANSWER: I don't want to know.
QUERY: an instance of cultural misunderstanding that happened to you
ANSWER: I walked down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in a suit once. No, really. I did. This prompted many instances of cultural misunderstanding. Goddamned hippies.
QUERY: what does a woman wear to james bond party
ANSWER: Very little?
QUERY: 1979 business week ran an infamous cover story titled "the death of equities"
ANSWER: Yeah, that was a lulu!
QUERY: ways to spell the name benjamin
ANSWER: There is ONE way to spell the name Benjamin. ONE WAY. Don't screw it up! Also, if you're going to name your son Benjamin -- a good, solid name, by the way, and evidence of your sophistication and cleverness -- DO NOT call him a nickname other than "Ben." That's all you get: Ben or Benjamin. Not Benny, not Benji, just Ben or Benjamin.
QUERY: based on value line s forecasted information what is the range of possible intrinsic values for geico?
ANSWER: I'm just stunned to learn Value Line still offers its print product. Wow. Anyway, I'm not a subscriber so I can't tell you, but certainly Value Line is an excellent and wonderful source. I remember those black binders -- I wonder if they still have them!
QUERY: if i pay off the mortgage to buy half my girlfriend s house what are the tax implications? we d change the title to joint tenants.
ANSWER: Never mind the tax implications! If you're going to buy a house with the girl you should start thinking about something a bit more serious, shouldn't you?
QUERY: appropriate actions to take against a narcissistic boss
ANSWER: Quit and get a new job.
QUERY: clever comebacks like did i invite you to my barbucue? then why are you all up in my grill?
ANSWER: That's not clever, primarily because it uses the word "grill" in a non-ironic slang sense. Not cool.
QUERY: which 15th seeded school upset iowa st. in the first round of the 2001 ncaa menýs basketball tournament?
ANSWER: Murray State.
QUERY: eugene oregon where to stay weird places
ANSWER: The whole stupid town is weird. Thus, you're weirded out by default. You'll fit right in!
QUERY: what musical note does a car horn beep in?
ANSWER: In my experience, it's either an F or an A note -- usually an A note -- but it varies by make and model.
QUERY: matthew mcconaughey rooting for duke
ANSWER: He would do that.
QUERY: matt hasselbeck post game interview lavender argyle sweater
ANSWER: He would do that.
QUERY: waitress places check in front of female meaning
ANSWER: I have to think that's a not-so-subtle slap at the man she's with. A proper waiter should always place the check in front of the man, who should not let the woman see it, unless he wishes to openly advertise that he's leaving a decent tip.
QUERY: i live in washington dc can i file a complaint against my neighbor for all the noise
ANSWER: Good luck with that!
QUERY: lazy high school student
ANSWER: Can you blame him?
QUERY: students who do their homework do better on tests than students who dont
ANSWER: One would hope so.
QUERY: i was ecstatic they renamed french fries as freedom fries. grown men and women in positions of power in the us government showing themselves as idiots
ANSWER: Yeah, you know, because that's not normally the case.
QUERY: why must celebrities have uncommon names
ANSWER: They're not as bright as they think they are.
QUERY: i want a guy with smooth liquidations i want a guy with good dividends meaning
ANSWER: She'll eventually want half.
QUERY: indeed economic commentator ben stein has promoted the notion of market manipulation from the shadows largely in the form of hedge funds
ANSWER: You know what? He ain't wrong, either.
QUERY: which of the following is correct? a.it s a lot of work b. don t aggravate me. c. between you and me i think it stinks d. she is smarter then he is.
ANSWER: All of the above.
QUERY: why was pete postlethwaite chosen to play kobayashi?
ANSWER: Because Pete Postlethwaite rules, that's why.
QUERY: overachieving douchebag hot girlfriend
ANSWER: If there is one thing I've learned in life, it is this -- love is strange. As frustrating as it can be to men, who tend to analyze relationships like they're assigning bond ratings, trying to apply rules of logic and traditional analysis does not work when one deals with love. Thus, it makes no sense trying to understand why Hot Woman A is dating Douchebag B. Your job, consequently, is to get over it and find a hot girlfriend of your own, and experience the joy of it accordingly.
QUERY: how to strategically plan for a beauty pageant-what steps must be taken
ANSWER: I have no idea. I know little about beauty pageants. It may be wise to plan out answers beforehand for the inevitable stupid questions the judges ask the contestants, though.
QUERY: why do people tend to give leaders too much credit or blame for organizational outcomes?
ANSWER: Because the leaders are making all the money.
QUERY: what should you do if you do not know the answer to a client s query?
ANSWER: Find the answer.
QUERY: society distracted with sport and celebrity
ANSWER: Yes, but that's all part of Secret Master Plan 46B, which the Legion of Doom is conducting under the Superfriends' noses. Don't resist it -- at least, not with the sport. Sport is fun and enjoyable and celebrates the grand virtues of American life. In the meantime, save your money and start investing so you can be part of the investor class which will rule American life in about 20 to 30 years or so -- at least, they will until the Wonder Twins take the form of inflation and recession, respectively.
QUERY: price ceiling of $1 000 per month might be set on two-bedroom apartments by santa monica municipality of california affect the supply and demand curve
ANSWER: That's the type of typically stupid idea Santa Monica would come up with, but I'll tell you the answer: it will send the supply plummeting. We already know demand is very high for Santa Monica apartments and supply is limited, and price equilibrium has been established at that point. If you screw with the equilibrium, you'll create a shortage because supply will fall while demand will increase. In fact, I'd go so far as to say two-bedroom apartments would disappear if this came to pass -- the owners would simply turn their buildings into condominiums.
Well, that's a fitting end to another edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time when we discuss the Cincinnati Bengals, the ECB's Volcker-like focus on inflationary pressures, and why television still sucks. Until then, have a great weekend!
IN RETROSPECT, it may not have been a good idea for Decca Records to turn down The Beatles, for Western Union to dismiss the telephone as a toy, for the Schlitz Brewing Co. to mess with its formula, and for something called the W.T. Grant Co. to use such negative incentives for a credit-promotion scheme that managers gave credit to anyone with a pulse.
These and other incredibly stupid decisions are recounted in Neatorama's compilation of The Stupidest Business Decisions in History, which makes for some fun reading. Amazingly, there are no entries related to the whole subprime lending mess ("Lending standards? Hah!") but I suppose that isn't technically history yet, but rather current affairs. On the other hand, I suppose this compendium can make the rest of us feel better -- no matter how bad things may be, at least we didn't screw things up like these guys did.
I HAVE THE SAD DUTY to report this evening that the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, lost their home opener to the formerly hapless but now quite good Albany Conquest, by a score of 64-54. Despite the seeming closeness of that score, I can assure you that the Conquest stomped all over us similar to how Julius Caesar conquered the Gauls. Football-wise, it was pretty grim.
Of course, this loss was all my fault. You see, as I was halfway to the arena, I realized with horror that I had forgotten my Lucky Steelers Hat, the glorious headwear which I have worn many a time to watch the Wolves triumph over their opposition. Thus, in retrospect it seems clear we never had a chance. Some may argue that I am vesting far too much faith in my Lucky Steelers Hat -- after all, Manchester's turnovers, dropped passes, innumerable penalties and general failure to get the job done may have contributed to our loss. But it's my lucky hat. I mean, come on.
At the core of our troubles was an inability to stop Albany's well-executed offense, particularly the good play of its offensive line and excellent performance running and passing. Along with that, everything seemed to go wrong for our side. Starting with the coin toss, which went against us, and continuing on with many plays that were oh-so-close to successful but which ended up unsuccessful -- and in some cases, disasterously. For instance, one of our wideouts made a great catch deep in Albany territory, but had the ball stripped from him almost immediately after he caught it and started running for the goal line. Albany pounced on the ball and recovered it. There was a blown lateral that our quarterback threw and our receiver missed, leading a quick-thinking Albany defender to scoop the ball up and run forty-something yards for a touchdown. That's just a sampling of what went wrong. All in all, it was tough.
Although we hung in there during the first half -- Albany was only up 33-27 at that point -- at the end of the third quarter, Albany had 54 points and we had but 34. That three-touchdown lead was surmountable, but we needed to play better than we did to make that a reality. The end result is that we're 1-2, Albany's 2-1, and we get to play division leader Wilkes-Barre Scranton (now 2-1) on the road next week. Oh boy.
Still, the game was a lot of fun -- they always are -- and the players played hard. I daresay my new favorite player on the team is No. 22, defensive back TC Myers. First, consider the guy is a cross between a cornerback and a safety in the DB position. Next, consider that he is 5'7" tall and weighs 165 lbs. He's a defensive version of Mack Herron. But did he have energy tonight. He made some of the best plays on defense we had, and the guy could hit like a steamroller. Also, he flew around the field, making tackles and never giving up. That was something to behold -- even as the players he covered had six or more inches on him, he kept at 'em. It was pretty darned impressive. Speaking of Mack Herron, though, I do wonder if Myers might be a good running back. First, the opposition would have to catch him, and then they'd have to tackle him. Good luck with that.
Of course, with such a new squad and yet another new quarterback at the helm, it's going to take some time for the team to coalesce and I am hopeful that they'll catch fire later this season. Admittedly, I'd prefer it if they would catch fire next game, because Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is never an easy team to face. But we'll see, won't we?
OOOOH! OOOOH! THE NFL's 2008 schedules are out!*
My initial thoughts:
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Oh, God help us. I love how we get to play New England and Dallas in back-to-back weeks. That's frickin' great. At least we get to play the Colts at home. Of course, we are playing the Colts, so that's not going to be a picnic either. At least our opening schedule is kinda-sorta easy. Not that it helped us last year, when we lost to Arizona.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: You lucky ducks are going 15-1 this year, and I say that just because I refuse to concede that the Patriots could beat the Steelers. What's that? I don't care if you've got two West Coast trips. Oooooooooh, you have to play Oakland! Cry me a frickin' river, and we'll see you in the playoffs. Which reminds me: when you get off to a 7-0 or 8-0 start, if anybody starts babbling on about an undefeated season, I'm going to throw up.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Dallas and Pittsburgh ... well! Look who's going to start the year 0-2!
THE AFC SOUTH: You get to play the NFC North? I guess we'll see three of your teams in the playoffs again.
DETROIT LIONS: Look at the bright side -- you get to start off playing the Atlanta Falcons! If that's not a classic "somebody had to win" game, I don't know what is. Unfortunately, I think the NFC North got the second-worst conference rotation this year, behind the AFC North. I can sum up my analysis in two words: Fire Millen.
* N.B. The above link provides team-by-team schedules for teams in the American Football Conference, as The Rant's Football Department figured no one would really be interested in teams from the other, second-rate conference. However, in the event you are really interested, an NFC link is available via the AFC page.
OH, GREAT. According to no less a source than The New York Times, the first-ever international conference on the artificial manufacture of meat is taking place in Norway. The symposium will look at the idea of growing various forms of meat -- basically, all the good ones we all enjoy -- in vats. Yes, vats. Apparently, this process is now being tested on the laboratory scale, and so it may not be much longer before we're harvesting hamburger meat out of tanks.
The Times man who wrote the story -- it was actually a blog post -- worries whether the Earth of 2050 can sustain an increasingly-wealthy population of some nine billion people while still enjoying succulent, wonderful meat. This has attracted bunches of comments, which can be generalized as follows, viz.
1. There are too many people. Having too many people is bad.
2. People shouldn't eat meat because it is wasteful and inefficient.
3. But why don't meat eaters turn vegetarian and enjoy life-sustaining meat substitutes?
4. SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE! IT'S PEOPLE!
Generally speaking, these complaints are pretty easy to answer.
Regarding the first point, those who believe the Earth is dangerously overpopulated can themselves easily take concrete and immediate steps to help reduce the population. True, the particular long-term solution of which I speak is contrary to God's law, but it is the most effective step in reducing one's impact on the planet. However, should that prove unpalatable, one could always get a vasectomy.
Regarding the second point, arguing that meat production is wasteful and inefficient is a non sequitur. It is only wasteful and inefficient if one lives in a giant fantasy land where everyone does one's bidding -- you know, kind of like the Soviet Union, but with no famine. Here on planet Earth, however, one could argue that beef is actually a better value for the consumer because he is paying less of a markup compared to say, corn. No, really. Hear me out on this.
Right now, wholesale beef is running about $143 per cwt (that is, 100 lbs). That works out to a wholesale price of about $1.43 per pound. When shipped, delivered and ground up, the end consumer may pay between $3 or $4 for his pound of ground hamburger. Although corn is cheaper -- it costs $6.06 per bushel or so, which works out to 11 cents per pound -- the markup is greater: a 4.4 lb. bag of corn meal will run you $2.34, or 53 cents per pound. Thus, your end markup for beef is about 200 pc or so, whereas the end markup for corn meal is about twice that. Plus, if you buy beef, you get tasty, succulent beef, and not corn, which is good for tortillas and chips but not much else. One thing the eco-economists forget is that Foodstuff A does not automatically equal Foodstuff B.
Regarding the third point, a major reason meat-eaters like myself do not switch to meat substitutes is that the meat substitutes aren't, well, meat. They don't taste like it, they don't feel like it, and they sure as heck don't fill one up like it. I know this because I was occasionally subjected to meatless cafeteria nights in college, and this exercise taught me that animal protein is important for my well-being. True, I could survive on meat substitutes -- at least one of which is actually grown in a tank -- but I'd prefer not to do so.
As for the fourth point ... well, we haven't much reason to worry about Soylent Green anytime soon. Nor, for that matter, do we have to worry about meat production. Although hardly anyone on the Times' message boards figured it out, the solution to all these matters is based in economics -- just as it has been in the past.
You see, we already know what happens when growing populations face limited food resources -- the rich get the choice stuff and the poor do not. The economic historian Fernand Braudel demonstrated this very well when he looked at the grim Iron Century (1550-1650) and compared this to Europe a couple of centuries earlier -- when the population was severely reduced thanks to the Great Pestilence. After the Plague, there was plenty of food for everyone, especially meat and dairy products; by the Iron Century, yon peasants were subsisting on bread and a few turnips.
Thus, we do not need to worry about meat production because we will eventually reach a productivity peak with it, and supply-and-demand will take care of the rest. Already meat production is growing at just 1.7 pc per year (4.7 million metric tons, according to the Times, on production of 270 million tonnes). Although one could expect more meat production to start up as the price rises, eventually it will come to a head as the costs of inputs for growing it rise accordingly. The price will then rise, and people will seek alternate substitutes -- like ground salmon, or chicken, or even meat grown in a frickin' vat -- as a result.
Incidentally, I've found my diet has changed over the past year or so -- I am eating far less meat and a good deal more chicken and fish. In part, this is because my desire for glorious meat has abated, and I'm definitely finding the economic value in fish. Why, I picked up a one-pound bag of farmed-raised smoked salmon trim for like $6 at the store, and when you figure that works out to like $1.50 per meal, there's little reason to go buy ground beef, which is clearly inferior to smoked salmon. Et voila, you can see the invisible hand working already.
OK, I HAVE TO ADMIT IT: I went to see "Leatherheads" tonight not simply because I was bored, but because I thought it would make a good "Bad Cinema With Ben" post, and I haven't done one of those in a while. However, that Bad Cinema With Ben post is going to have to wait, because "Leatherheads" turned out -- wait for it -- to be an enjoyable movie. Silly in some ways, but a heck of a lot of fun.
That I enjoyed the movie quite a bit undoubtedly helps explain why financially, the film is facing a fourth-and-long and will probably turn the ball over on downs. This is a shame, because the movie really was fun. Not only was it fun, it was actually decent -- a movie that relies on wit and humor to score points, and clean humor at that. My God, what a concept. In short, it's a movie that you could take an eight-year-old to see and you wouldn't have to deal with any embarrassing questions afterwards. Also, if you ask me, there's something to be said for movies -- especially romantic comedies, which this was -- that actually have smart dialogue.
True, the marketing of the movie might not have been the best. I never got the sense it was marketed to couples or families, and it might not have been the best move to launch a football movie right when baseball season is opening up and basketball and hockey are headed to their playoffs. The multiplex where I watched the movie was deserted -- no doubt because a) everything else playing was shit and b) the Red Sox were playing the Yankees. In my own theatre, there were all of four people watching "Leatherheads," and I was the youngest one of them. Not good signs, if you ask me.
But that didn't take away from the goodness and beauty of the film, which really was quite well done, and managed to capture the feel of the Roaring Twenties. I always like movies about the Roaring Twenties. For one thing, I like seeing everyone having a good time, because God knows the Thirties and Forties weren't a picnic. For another, the mid-Twenties seemed like a pretty good time -- one full of optimism and full of hope. Of course, as we know, it's easy to be full of hope and optimism when the stock market is booming thanks to a margin-fueled bubble, but hey. Good times were had, and it's nice to see that on film these days; it's a nice escape.
Anyway, the plot takes some explaining, so here goes. Of course, before I do that, I should deliver a quick primer on the history of professional football in America.
As I think we all know, American football was the brainchild of none other than George Washington, and the first football game was played at Valley Forge in 1778. The first epic battle, between Col. Henry Purvis' Fighting Wolverines and Maj. Enoch Tarleton's Redcoat-Buckeyes, resulted in the Wolverines defeating the Buckeyes by the amazing score of 42-3. But in the years to come, football went dormant, as the victorious Americans became soft and decadent and started playing baseball.
However, in the late 19th century, thanks to the efforts of various American heroes, football started to develop into the great sport we know today. By the early 20th century, college football was wildly popular -- extremely dangerous, but still wildly popular. Eventually, massive crowds would turn out to watch college football games -- but professional football, which was formally established in 1920 with the creation of what is now the National Football League, struggled in its infancy. However, it started to pick up speed when the league started hiring football stars out of college -- such as Jim Thorpe, who was paid $250 a game when the Canton Bulldogs signed him in 1915. (When you consider a bricklayer at the time made $33 a week for 44 hours on the job, that made Mr Thorpe kind of a big deal).
Anyway, this is the period in which "Leatherheads" is set -- as professional football is first starting to make its way from an also-ran of a sport to an actual professional phenomenon. (There are some parts in the film where the historical aspects of football's development are completely laughable, but by that point you're having too much fun to really mind). George Clooney's character, Dodge Connolly, is the team captain of the woeful Duluth Bulldogs, who play to pitiful crowds and are lucky if they can get to the next town for their next game. Teams in their league are folding left and right, and Duluth itself finds itself in big trouble. Enter clean-cut Princeton College football star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), whom Clooney convinces to play for Duluth and provides the spark to relight football's pilot light. Enter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who is investigating whether Rutherford's tales of heroism are all they're cracked up to be. With two guys and one girl, you can see where this is going.
All in all, though, "Leatherheads" was a fun movie and thoroughly enjoyable to watch -- and Mr Clooney got the classic "big football game" at the end just right. (Football fans who watch it will understand why). As I said, it's a shame the movie hasn't done well at the box office, but I'll probably pick it up on DVD when it comes out. Good movies about football -- that also happen to be good movies in and of themselves -- are precious hard to find.
WITH THE WEAK ECONOMY, it makes sense for people to re-examine their spending on various goods and services. It's not only a question of trying to strengthen one's own balance sheet, but also taking advantage of economic conditions to score a better deal on the goods and services one regularly buys. Given this, I've been thinking about my own spending on communications, which represents a good portion of my monthly "fixed" expenses -- about 15 pc of them, to be exact. Here's how things break down:
Cost: $68 (incl. taxes and fees)
Until Congress or the FCC decides that they'll allow cable customers to buy channels on an a la carte basis, I'm pretty much stuck with this bill, which provides me with access to a) CNBC, b) a whole bunch of sports channels and c) everything else. I never watch the channels in Category C, as many of the shows on these channels are so bad they would constitute violations of the Geneva Convention if they were shown to war prisoners. On half of them, one expects the idiot hosts -- whose peppiness is only exacerbated by the idiot producers who would pass off dryer lint as fascinating -- to erupt in exclamations of "EXTREME!" whenever something of moderate interest actually happens on their shows. And yet, I can't get the Big Ten Network nor a decent Canadian television feed (for the CFL games, of course) to save my life. Christ.
But wait, you say. What about satellite television? Not going to happen. I live in an apartment complex and I have a sweet deal going with my landlord, so I'm not about to screw things up by badgering him to let me have a DirecTV dish, even if that would solve all my problems in terms of access to football broadcasts.
Cost: $48 (incl. taxes and fees)
At this point, I've come to like my high-speed broadband connection so much that losing it would be akin to cutting off my right arm. Could I survive without it? Well, of course -- but until I stop writing and relying on it for most of my communications needs, it stays.
Status: Annoying but needed accessory
I am a late adapter to the mobile phone, which has been in wide use in America since the Eighties but a device I did not acquire until 2005. I use it as infrequently as possible, and although I have found it useful for certain things (like checking my stocks when I'm on the road, and meeting up with people when I'm on the road) I have found other uses of it (such as text messaging) patently uncompelling. Part of me would ditch it tomorrow if I could; the other part of me finds it useful enough to keep.
Yes, I still have an actual copper-based "landline." Among my peers, this is a quaint anomaly: although there have been no jokes about whether I actually still use a horse-and-buggy as well, I imagine many of my friends have wondered about it -- particularly since it costs, you know, $70 per month, which is ridiculous. That does include unlimited long distance in the U.S. and Canada, and cheap calls to Mexico, for which I occasionally find use.
Still, I have considered switching to digital voice service, if only because it also offers the same package, but for just $40 per month. However, I am loathe to make the switch.
True, I have gotten beyond the "what if the power goes out" problem, as I would still have my mobile phone. Also, I think if I was in a situation where the mobile and cable networks both went down, the whole "being utterly screwed" aspect probably wouldn't change much if I still had my landline. But I am leery of turning over my phone line to the same people who provide me with cable television. And I'm also not convinced I should rely solely on my cell phone, even if I make all my calls on nights and weekends. Old habits die hard, I guess. That said, if anyone out there wants to convince me otherwise, hey -- go for it. I'm all ears.
OK, SO PERHAPS that's a bit harsh. But at the time I drew this conclusion, it seemed an eminently reasonable proposition. After all, for the privilege of buying a ticket to a sporting event, I had paid a markup that amounted to a 26 pc premium over the actual face value of the ticket itself. As such, I was a bit annoyed, and it slightly dampened the joy I had at getting the best seat in the house for the sporting event I plan to attend.
This may seem surprising to Loyal Rant Readers, given that I am traditionally accepting of the idea that businesses are in business to make money. Indeed, I would be the first to agree with the idea that the folks at Ticketmaster, most of whom I am sure are good and decent people, ought to be compensated for the services they provide, and at the terms they reach with the venues they represent. After all, I'm not a Communist. Still, it is one thing to pay a legitimate markup for a product and another to have that legitimate markup broken down into a series of duplicitous, wretched, egregious and downright insulting charges and fees, said charges and fees described in such a manner that I feel like I'm being treated like an idiot.
To be blunt about it, I would be fine if Ticketmaster just listed the $8 I paid to buy the ticket through them as a "customer surcharge" or some such. However, I am not at all fine with the said $8 being broken down into a $4 "convenience charge," a $1.75 "delivery" charge, and a $2.25 "order processing fee." Like I'm not going to fucking notice that I'm paying $8 -- which, as I mentioned, was a 26 pc markup -- for the privilege of buying the ticket through Ticketmaster. Or Ticketshafter, which is punny. Yeah.
OK, first things first -- what the hell is a "convenience charge?" I mean, I'm sorry, but it isn't exactly all that convenient to have to pay an additional $4 for the privilege of buying a ticket. For the love of Christ, call it something reasonable -- an on-line ordering fee or something. Hell, call it a "mandatory and arbitrary customer charge" for all I care -- just approximate exactly what it is that I'm paying for.
While I'm thinking of it, could someone at Ticketmaster explain to me why I was charged $1.75 for the privilege of printing out my own ticket using my home computer, while I could have received the ticket through the mail for no additional charge? I mean, clearly I missed something here, because I was under the impression that buying the ticket on-line would result in an additional net cost to Ticketmaster of roughly, oh, $0.00, while their cost of actually stuffing the ticket into an envelope and mailing it would probably cost $1. Yet for some reason, I'm being charged $1.75 for delivery when no actual physical delivery took place. Couldn't this be rolled into the "convenience charge?" That actually was convenient.
Finally, what's with the $2.25 "order processing fee?" I mean, are you kidding me? What processing? It's not like anyone has to do anything extra. I mean, it's one thing if you want to recoup the cost of the merchant transaction fee you'll have to pay to the credit-card issuer. I couldn't blame you for that. Yet the description of this $2.25 "order processing fee" makes me feel like a schnook.
You know, here's an idea -- why not just charge me $8 in one line item for your costs associated with acting as the ticket agent? I mean, I understand you have to keep the lights on and pay your employees and ship up God knows how much cash each quarter to corporate. I'm cool with that. Also, I just realized I indirectly own a tiny percentage of your operation through some investments I hold, so why not just be honest about it? I'm a shareholder! You can be honest with me! Hell, given that I'm a shareholder, boost it up a couple bucks if you want!
Of course, I do want the good people at Ticketmaster to realize that I do sympathize with them. It's not like you haven't heard any of this before. In fact, I imagine the company is kinda like North Korea -- it's got of plenty of good people, it's just that the ones at the top are evil and sadistic. As a result, I am guessing that this whole scheme about "convenience charges" and "order processing fees" was dreamed up in your marketing department, and that there is absolutely nothing you, the good rank-and-file employees of Ticketmaster, can do about it.
However, maybe you can find out just who came up with the idea of adding useless and pathetic fees, and exorcise their office. Because whoever did is clearly not human, but was rather shit out of Satan's festering bowels for the sole purpose of acting as a wicked scourge upon mankind. You'll need a Bible -- you've heard of it, it's this old book -- and some votive candles. Let me know how it goes, and I'll be glad to provide an update to my vast audience of influential readers. Well, OK, my decent-sized audience of influential readers. Dammit, I'm ranked in the 300,000s on Technorati, that's got to count for something. Anyway, thanks for listening.
IT IS RARE that the lead in a newspaper story provides the money quote, but The Wall Street Journal's story on the troubles facing the "condo-hotel" market manages to do it. Says the Journal: "For many investors, the condo hotel may go down as the Pets.com of the real-estate bubble." Ouch!
The Journal goes on to describe the myriad woes facing investors who bought into condo-hotel projects, which let buyers purchase a room they could use whenever they liked, plus receive a share of the revenues whenever the room was rented to hotel guests. The trouble, however, is that the expected revenues for these hotel rooms didn't apparently materialize -- leaving the people who bought the condo-hotel rooms with less revenue than they expected and deteriorating values for the asset. The Journal interviewed one such unfortunate buyer, who says he got burned on his purchase of a room at a Las Vegas casino:
"It's been a very bad investment," said Moji Adekunbi, a 47-year-old engineer, who bought a $550,000 condo-hotel unit in the Signature at the MGM Grand in 2005 in Las Vegas, where one of every four hotel rooms being developed is a condo-hotel unit. Mr. Adekunbi counted on the cash flow from renting out his unit more than covering his $3,000-a-month mortgage payment, leaving him with a tidy profit.
He said the developer's sales staff led him to believe that the hotel would have 94% occupancy and $350-a-night rates, Turns out, he said he is netting only between $400 and $1,800 a month before his mortgage payment.
"I am in so much debt. I don't know how long I can sustain this," Mr. Adekunbi said. Making matters worse, many markets for these rooms are weak, meaning owners might lose much of their investment if they sell.
Representatives for the developer and the hotel operator said hotel-rental projections weren't discussed with customers before they bought their units, and some buyers made their own assumptions about rental income. "Some people's assumptions didn't pay off, and they are trying to find someone to blame," said MGM spokesman Alan Feldman.
Now, I must admit I have always been enamored of the idea of a condo-hotel room, if only because I would end up spending a good amount of time in it and aggravating the hotel staff:
ROOM SERVICE: Room service! May I help --
ME: Yes! This is Room 1412, and --
ROOM SERVICE: Oh, God.
ME: -- I'm calling regarding my aviator's salad. Again.
ROOM SERVICE: Well, now what is it?
ME: Well, I'm sure you're aware that an aviator's salad is supposed to contain anchovies. Yet here I am, once again faced with a cheap imitation Caesar salad, that much to my annoyance does not have any anchovies on it, despite my repeated requests for them. So I suppose my question is, how exactly can I get some anchovies up here? I mean, if I have to go out and buy a tin, that's fine, but do let me know.
ROOM SERVICE: (grumbling) We'll send some up right away, sir.
ME: Thank you. I appreciate it.
ROOM SERVICE: Idiot!
Also, if it brought in some revenue to offset the mortgage, well that would be great. But a condo-hotel certainly isn't the type of investment I would sink my life savings into, either. The word "hotel" is perhaps the operative one in the description and hotels can be a bit streaky as an investment. There are off-seasons and bad weather and all sorts of things that can crop up and gum up the cash flow.
As for the buyers -- well, it is difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for them. They're deserving of some, I guess -- it's no fun when your investments tank, and so perhaps some pity is deserved. Still, even in this day and age, there's something to be said for caveat emptor, and the assumptions these buyers seem to have made are a bit strange.
For instance, take our engineer quoted above. He figured he could make a profit based on the cash flow alone from the room rentals; but if that was the case, why would the price not have been higher? After all, if the rental income outstripped the cost of the mortgage income, that would have meant the developer was selling the room at a discount. Another buyer, who sprang for several condo-hotel units in Florida, says the sales staff for his units were preaching the virtues of the hot market and the necessity to buy quickly -- but is that was anything other than what they would do? They're salesmen.
Interestingly enough, though, some developers' enthusiasm for their projects may let the buyers off the hook, the Journal said. If sales staff made detailed statements about income, cash flow and other matters, then one could argue the condo-hotel rooms should have been marketed as securities and not just real-estate. Since securities sales have to be registered, the buyers could then unwind the deals because their transactions weren't registered with the proper authorities. You've gotta love the technicalities.
THE NEW YORK TIMES has published an article that suggests all is not well in the blogging world. According to the Paper of Record, some professional bloggers are working under sweatshop style conditions, being forced to toil for the modern equivalent of piece work, and suffering accordingly. Even worse, a couple bloggers have actually died -- a result, the paper suggests, of their blog-centered lives.
I would be more sympathetic to the Times story if I did not happen to know professional conditions for young journalists just starting out are not particularly lucrative. For instance, I was talking with a relative some time ago when she told me a young man she knew had just started out working on a weekly newspaper, located back in the Midwest. She told me all about his job and what he was supposed to do, and etc., and my reaction to this was: "Eighteen thousand?" Although the young man made more than that per year, it was not much more than that, and he was certainly expected to work hard for that money. (My relative, however, was appalled at how close I was to guessing the kid's pay).
Of course, once you get into the higher echelons of the field, you can and do make more -- in many cases, considerably more. For instance, at the New York Times, reporters' top minimum salaries are about $87,000 per annum. But starting out at the very bottom rung -- challenging in many fields -- is particularly challenging in journalism. It's simply a supply and demand function. A lot of people want to write, and there aren't that many jobs, so the pay is lower. This dynamic continues as you go higher in the field, but since the skills and experience required for those higher-level jobs are more demanding, it reduces the supply of available workers, who can thus demand higher wages for their services. Somehow, I'm guessing things are the same in the professional blogging world.
So for the Times to suggest that bloggers are working in some sweatshop-style environment is a bit much, because neither bloggers nor journalists do so. When you're a professional, you work hard, and when you're just starting out, you work hard for not that much money. It is the way of things.
Also, to be perfectly blunt about it, a journalist's life (or a professional blogger's life) is not equivalent to that of, you know, a hod carrier, or a breakfast waitress, or those of myriad other people who work very hard in physically demanding jobs for not all that much money. A journalist gets to talk with people and write about it. A professional blogger does much the same, and due to the nature of blogging gets to have more fun with his work. It's not like they're putting up drywall for a living. This helps explain why lots of people want to write for a living -- it is fun work and they enjoy it. It's not as if the professional bloggers -- or the professional journalists, for that matter -- are slaving away cooking bricks in an oven.
I would argue that for the vast majority of bloggers, blogging is -- dare I say it -- fun. For me, at any rate, blogging is a great stress reliever -- I get to write about things in which I'm interested, crack a few jokes here and there, and talk with other people about them. I don't make any money at it, and in fact, lose $71.40 per year to engage in my hobby. For me, it also carries the benefit of being able to improve my skill set -- the faster I can write and the better I can write, the better it is for me.
Could I make money at this? Well, perhaps. Certainly one of the reasons I blog is to have something I could monetize in the very unlikely event I find myself made redundant. But since at this point blogging for cash would require me to turn over about 40 percent of my profits to the Government, and could also open up a can of worms I don't want to open, I've elected to keep the non-profit model. I'm perfectly fine with that.
But I would imagine that nearly all the bloggers who are paid for their work don't rely on it for their full-time income -- and most of the top bloggers out there still keep their day jobs. Rather, they find themselves in the enviable position of being able to make money through a hobby -- and so I doubt the circumstances described in the Times' story would apply to them.
OK, SOMEHOW THE Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football league team, managed to pull out a win against the Mahoning Valley Thunder, on the road, in their first game of the season. The final score was 45-39. The way the game ended, though, I just hope they managed to make it out of Youngstown.
Manchester won on the last play of the game -- or perhaps one ought say Youngstown lost. With 2.7 seconds left and the ball on Manchester's 20 yard line, Mahoning Valley quarterback Josh Swogger threw a pass into the endzone and into the arms of wide receiver DeMarcus Mathes. But Mathes, who was apparently forced to go up for the ball, was juggling it as he went over the endzone wall and did not have control over it as he went out of bounds. That negated the touchdown call that would have tied the game, 45-45. Had the touchdown held up, Mahoning Valley would have then been able to go for the extra point to win -- and although that's not a gimme in arenaball, it was certainly not a position Manchester would liked to have found itself.
But instead of a touchdown call, I heard instead those sweet words from WFEA-AM's announcer: "They’re taking the touchdown away from the Thunder! ... No touchdown! The Wolves win the game!” I shouted for joy at this glorious news. At the same time, Youngstown's coach had what the announcer was calling a conniption fit. The crowd was furious and on the audio feed one could hear their obscene chanting. My video feed wasn't keeping up with the action on the field, but the audio said it all. Manchester wins, Mahoning Valley loses, and the referees gave the Thunder a Youngstown tuneup. Of course, the call was clearly correct and just, but it's pretty tough when you think you're about to win and then discover you lose.
The very good news about this win is that Manchester finds itself on top the af2's American Conference's Eastern Division, above the 1-1 Thunder, the ever-hapless 0-1 Albany Conquest, and the surprisingly 0-1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers. With WBS in the mix, we need every win we can get.
Still, it was an ugly, ugly, ugly win and I can imagine Wolves coach Danton Barto will run the men ragged in practice this week. Consider: at halftime, Manchester was leading the Thunder 30-22. Yet it took roughly a quarter-and-a-half for the Wolves to get on the board again! The next thing we knew, the Thunder were leading, 36-30, and the game looked very much in jeopardy. We got another touchdown halfway through the fourth, but the Thunder managed to get a field goal with 43 seconds left to regain the lead, 39-37. So then we had to come back and get a touchdown AND a two-point conversion in the final minute of play, and then defend against Mahoning Valley. We escaped by the skin of our teeth.
There were bright spots, of course. The defense played well -- and anytime you can hold an opponent to under 40 points in an arenaball game, you're in pretty good shape. But our offensive line was severely tested, as the Thunder sacked our quarterback FIVE times. Also, the game was sloppy -- I don't know how many penalties the Wolves got called on, but it was a lot, and just like in traditional football, penalties are killer in this game. Most annoying were some personal foul and defensive pass-interference calls -- I mean, come on. You've got to do better than that.
On the flip side, though, it was the first game of the season, and when you have a new group of players working together for the first time, things aren't going to go clockwork every play. That's only to be expected. I am also sure the players realize just how close they came to losing the game, and will thus work even harder when we play our second road game of the season, against the Green Bay Blizzard. In the meantime, a win is a win. I'm going to enjoy it.
IN OTHER AF2 NEWS -- I am really enjoying being able to get the audio feeds from other games, even if my computer is not cooperating with the video. I got to catch the end of the Green Bay-Tennessee Valley game and it was exciting -- Tennessee, down 37-35, recovered an onside kick and then went for a long field goal. It was short, and they lost; but still, not a bad ending.
The top two teams in the league so far this year are clearly the Tulsa Talons and the Spokane Shock, which are crushing their opponents like nobody's business. Spokane beat Stockton 70-12 tonight. 70-12. That's opening up an industrial-sized can of whoopass. As for Tulsa, they easily knocked off Boise, 65-28; again, delivering a beatdown of epic proportions. Generally speaking, if you can beat an opponent by at least three touchdowns, you've handily won the game -- but these differentials, of 58 and 37 points, respectively, far exceed that threshold.
Unfortunately, Manchester must play Tulsa this year at home. We've got plenty of time to prepare for them, but we'll need to be ready when they arrive. As for the Wolves' next game, against Green Bay, that's on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.
ANYONE WHO HAS USED Google Maps recently has undoubtedly taken a look at their "Street View" feature, which allows one to view a street-level picture of the destination where one is traveling. This can be rather helpful if a traveler has never been to his destination before, as knowing what a particular building looks like can be a lifesaver.
But Pittsburgh residents Aaron and Christine Boring -- yes, Boring -- do not think the "Street View" feature is helpful. You see, they recently bought a house for $163,000 in the Steel City, and a big reason they did so was because the house was secluded, according to court papers. The house is located on a clearly-marked private road and has a fifty-foot right of way. Perhaps understandably, the Borings were not pleased to learn that Google's camera squads drove by their house and took bunches of pictures of it. Not so understandably for a privacy-seeking couple, the Borings filed a lawsuit against Google. Since Google is Google, the suit has received much media attention and is now linked on the Drudge Report.
The Borings' attorney claims in the lawsuit -- which is available on The Smoking Gun's Web site -- that the couple have suffered "mental suffering" and that Google's actions have "diminished the value of their property." As a result, they want Google to scrub the pictures from their Web site. Oh, and monetary damages.
I will leave it to others to discuss whether the Borings' case is justified, although I myself wonder if they might have a case. I mean, if your lawn looked like this, wouldn't you be mortified to have that on the Internet?
LIKE NEARLY ALL Midwesterners, your humble correspondent grew up bowling. Although I was never any good at it -- save one brilliant exception* -- I did manage to gain a measure of competence at the game in my day. I was typically good for a score in the low 100s using my patented "throw the ball really hard" system.
Now that I am older, I haven't been bowling in years, and I daresay I've gotten a bit rusty. Plus, up here in New England, most places you go have "candlepin bowling," which is a regional variant of bowling unique to New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada. The pins are a bit different, and you get three shots per frame instead of two, and the balls are tiny. Under the rules, they can't weigh more than about 2 1/2 pounds, and they can't be more than 4.5 inches wide. Basically, it's bowling for wimps.
Well, it is, I'm sorry. Gad. Anyway, the last time I went bowling -- real, ten-pin bowling -- I scored in the low 100s and I daresay I could do it again. So what I want to know is how Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., scored a 37 when bowling in Altoona, Pa., recently. No, really. How the hell do you score a 37 at ten-pin?
I mean, think about it for a second. That's an average of 1.85 pins per throw -- or 1.76 pins if Sen Obama somehow picked up a spare on the tenth frame -- and works out to 3.7 pins per frame. I mean, that's bad. There's no polite way to put it.
From the news reports, one couldn't tell why the senator had performed so badly, other than the fact he hadn't bowled in about 30 years. But fortunately, in this day and age, we have video of Sen Obama graciously bowling badly:
Could you tell the problem in that video? I think I picked it up, and if I'm right, the senator's throwing style was once like my own. Look how Sen Obama follows through. It looks as if his "swing" is a bit slanted. He's bowling with his left arm, but it looks as if when he releases the ball, his release sends the ball to the right due to his follow-through motion. I had the exact same problem -- as a right-handed bowler, I would send the ball left into the gutter because my follow-through wasn't straight. Once I learned how to deliver a straight follow-through -- something that took repeated lessons to learn -- my game markedly improved.
As a result, I am confident Sen Obama's game will improve once he changes his throwing style, and embarks on a consistent practice regimen. As it happens, the White House has a bowling alley of its very own. Should the senator win the election in November, he'll have plenty of opportunity to practice. True, one could argue the next president will have many more important things to worry about during his tenure. But I always found bowling rather relaxing, and perhaps he would as well.
* This brilliant exception took place during my high school years, in which I went bowling at the old-school bowling alley at Western Michigan University with friends, including Simon From Jersey, who can thus vouch for this story. During one game, yours truly managed to bowl a downright amazing game -- a 227, or a 231, or something like that. For some reason, everyone had an outstanding game.
This was especially amazing since my average at the time was in the 120 to 130 range. It was also especially amazing because near the end of our play -- I can't remember if it was the same game -- one of my throws went astray. It tipped over into the gutter near the end of the lane, hit a loose metal part of the gutter, flew up out of the gutter and struck the pin display over the lane, then crashed back down onto the lane and knocked over a bunch of pins. It ruled. Understandably, we soon left afterwards, as the pin display looked a little worse for wear. And I'm not kidding -- Simon can vouch for this. Unfortunately, Simon can also vouch for the time I was shooting pool and managed to break all the lightbulbs in the lamp hanging over the table. (Don't ask).
Oddly, the pool hall is a bank now.
MARKETS SET TO PLUNGE
ON APR. 2
Hedge Funds, Institutional Traders
Behind Huge "Joke" Buying Spree
Mr. Livermore Goes Long
By HARRIS SCHWED
NEW YORK -- Today's huge, across-the-board stock market rally that sent every major U.S. index up more than three percent and resulted in big European gains was the result of a "massive" April Fool's Day joke, traders have admitted.
The joke, which began only half-amusingly early this morning at a Connecticut-based hedge fund, quickly caught momentum in the close-knit hedge-fund community. Not long after, institutional traders began to get in on the joke, whilst European traders delivered the coup de grace in a spree of buying. The end result proved "extremely funny" to all those who took part, as nearly all admitted they would "switch gears on Wednesday."
Among those taken in by the joke were retail investors in Muncie, Ind.; small speculators in Oneida, N.Y.; commodities traders in Chicago; and the entire adult populations of Hong Kong and Shanghai.
"Whooo!" shouted Piers Brosnihan, a junior hedge-fund trader at Stamford-based Dewey, Shortem & Howe LLC. "Oh, man! I can't believe they all fell for it! Boy, are all those (small investors) in for a surprise tomorrow when they check their portfolios about 3 p.m."
It was at Dewey Shortem where the April Fool's Day joke was launched. Dewey Shortem managing director Fred Argyle, the superior of Brosnihan's superior, had spent the wee hours scheming to find a way to get back at rival hedge-fund director Lloyd Frontiero, of Cos Cob-based Rainy Day Now LLC. Frontiero, Argyle believed, had purposely avoided him at the previous night's Help America's Struggling Children charity fundraiser. Not only that, but Frontiero had outbid Argyle in an auction for a weekend skiing in Whistler, British Columbia.
"After getting a tip from Lloyd's secretary's college roommate, I was pretty sure Lloyd was short on a whole bunch of financial stocks," said Argyle, who was embittered over Frontiero bragging about a considerable winning put he had made against the Bear Stearns Cos. "So I figured I'd get the bastard right between the eyes with a concerted and devious long press on financials. Then, I started thinking about it. The market's been so choppy that a big one-day rally, only to disappear the next day, would be a great joke. So I talked it over with the guys and we threw the whole goddamn portfolio long."
"It really was a brilliant idea," agreed Frank Johansson, managing director of Dolphin Cove-based Leverage This LLC. "Once I heard about it from Fred, I was like, 'Hell, yeah, let's go for it.'" The next thing I know, we're up like $80 million and we'd successfully closed out all our short equity positions before anyone in New York managed to notice. By 2 p.m. I was on the phone ordering six cases of 1985 (Louis Roederer) Cristal (Champagne)."
"I'm going to party like it's 1999," Johansson added.
Among the big winners yesterday was stock speculator Jesse Livermore, known for his sharp prowess in figuring out market trends before they happen. Livermore said he expected such a scheme to take place, and cleverly unloaded his short positions over the past week. By Mar. 31, expecting a spate of mutual funds to engage in window dressing, Livermore had made considerable long bets on blue-chip and financial stocks. On Apr. 1, when stocks unexpectedly rose, the scheme netted him millions on paper. However, Livermore -- like many others interviewed for this story -- said they immediately planned to switch gears.
"I'm going to ride it all the way to the bottom," Livermore said gleefully.
Despite the admission from big Wall Street players that the market's huge jump was a one-day thing, many investors refused to believe the increase was actually a huge joke.
"A joke? Oh, that's complete crap," said Morton Henries, an investor from Pierre, S.D., as he touted his success with one particular equity. "I told everyone this stock would go up, and it did. See? Look there, on the chart. There's a cup-and-handle pattern! At least, I think it's a cup-and-handle pattern. Anyway, the point is, it's going up, and it wasn't the result of any stupid hedge fund."
"A joke? Oh, that's complete crap," said Ma Jin-tao, an investor from Shenzhen, Guangdong, as he touted his success with one particular equity. "I told everyone this stock would go up, and it did. See? Look there -- on the registry index -- there are three eights in the registration number! Only clever and connected people could have managed that. Anyway, the point is, it's going up, and it wasn't the result of any stupid hedge fund."
"Dew neh loh moh on all filthy gweilo hedge funds and the stinking foreign devils who run them!" Ma added.
The particular equities Henries and Ma were discussing will fall 8.9 pc and 13.8 pc, respectively, on Apr. 2, sources in the hedge-fund world said.
As for the market itself, analysts said Wednesday's anticipated losses would likely run between 4 pc and 6 pc, and worse on the broader indicies, with the "true whirlwind" to hit about 3 p.m. Eastern time. The drop will likely begin in pre-market trading as hedge funds and institutional trading floors cash out their long positions and switch back to shorting the markets, with said shorting positions increasing as the day goes on. Most traders interviewed said they plan to end the day aggressively shorting stocks, and then spend between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. trying to get a table at Masa.