EVERYONE LOVES LOOKING at old photographs. When they date from the 19th century, they showcase success or aspirations to it; when they date from the early 20th century, they are a window onto a young republic on the rise. During the Wars and the Depression, the joys and agonies and victories and defeats seem to burn through the paper; and today, although our photos are largely electronic, they carry with them our own hopes and dreams.
Then there are all those old photos from the Sixties and Seventies, which cause relatively young people like myself much mirth and glee. You see, this is one of the few pleasures of being part of Generation X. We can collectively express our frustrations towards our immediate forebears through snickering at their silly fashions, odd ideas and general non-coolness. But at the same time, we can also use our knowledge of that era to lord it over Generation Y, which being young and foolish has no idea what it was like back in the day. Some of us remember a time without microwaves, personal computers, and cable television -- and these experiences allow us to make fun of the kids these days, whom we resent for their youth and fear for their weird and outlandish behaviors.
This brings us to Mango Falls -- the excellent site which a Portland, Maine, Web designer dreamed up after he discovered undeveloped film inside ancient cameras. He developed this film and has displayed the best of the photos on his Web site. It is SO COOL. Anyway, there are hundreds of different photos, but here are my favorites (with my own captions):
IN THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF The Economist, the magazine printed a letter from a David Miller of Austin, Texas, in which Mr Miller discussed the social ramifications of naming one's children. Mr Miller was a bit uncharitable in his missive, but I do not think his point was entirely off the mark. Mr Miller wrote, in part:
I recently attended a ceremony at a university and was amazed at the recurrence of traditional first names; a plethora of Anns, Elizabeths, Johns and Stephens (many of them Asian-Americans) with nary a Staci, Crystal, Cody or Elvis in sight. Parents express their aspirations when they name their children, and usually get what they expect.
Even for a Staunch Traditionalist like myself, I think this is a bit harsh. People can and do succeed even if they were given an iffy name at birth, while those who received excellent names often turn out badly. Plus, even iffy names may be perfectly acceptable if they were given for family, ethnic or other connections that play a big role in one's life. Still, this is a big reason why I think giving one's offspring proper names is so important, and why naming one's child is a decision which must be treated with the highest gravity.
Thus, I was gratified to see the Social Security Administration recently hinted that it shared this view, and politely rapped the knuckles of America's more free-thinking parents on their name choices. In a rather extraordinary release, the agency highlighted one of the particularly odd trends taking shape in American life, that of strange names for male children:
For reasons likely to puzzle baby name experts around the world, American parents have become infatuated by names, particularly for their sons, that rhyme with the word “maiden.” These names for boys include: Jayden (No. 18); Aiden (No. 27); Aidan (No. 54); Jaden (No. 76); Caden (No. 92); Kaden (No. 98); Ayden (No.102); Braden (No.156); Cayden (No.175); Jaiden (No.191); Kaiden (No. 220); Aden (No. 264); Caiden (No. 286); Braeden (No. 325); Braydon (No. 361); Jaydon (No. 415); Jadon (No. 423); Braiden (No. 529); Zayden (No. 588); Jaeden (No. 593); Aydan (No. 598); Bradyn (No. 629); Kadin (No. 657); Jadyn (No. 696); Kaeden (No. 701); Jaydin (No. 757); Braedon (No. 805); Aidyn (No. 818); Haiden (No. 820); Jaidyn (No. 841); Kadyn (No. 878); Jaydan (No. 887); Raiden (No. 931); and Adin (No. 983). This startling trend was present, but less pronounced, with girls' names: Jayden (No. 172); Jadyn (No. 319); Jaden (No. 335); Jaiden (No. 429); Kayden (No. 507); and Jaidyn (No. 561). Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter indicated that the agency would resist any legislative efforts to standardize the spelling of these names.
Now, looking closely at the list, one will notice that No. 54 (Aidan) is a perfectly fine Irish name, so one might suggest this particular name is not like the others. But the others -- oy. Some of these names are so amazingly awful it boggles the mind. Consider: in naming their boys Raiden, 210 American couples voluntarily named their children after the thunder god of the Mortal Kombat universe.
Here's the truth -- that's just wrong. I don't care if the couples met at the local video arcade and first made out after beating Mortal Kombat II -- you don't name your kid after the lame-o thunder god character. (The Rant, as one might suspect, played Sub-Zero).
But it doesn't stop there. Consider what the agency said about the necrotic, civilization-destroying influence of America's celebrities on baby name choices:
Although “American Idol’s” Sanjaya did not influence this year’s list, other young celebrities influenced the naming of American children. The 2007 success of popular race car driver Danica Patrick undoubtedly inspired her first name moving from number 352 to number 307. Similarly, the name of the first pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Oakland Raiders’ quarterback JaMarcus Russell, rose from number 914 to number 743 on the boys’ list.
Shiloh, the youngest daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, debuted on the list at number 804. Maddox, the name of their oldest child, has seen steady gains since first appearing on the list in 2003 at number 583 and now ranking at number 226. Suri, the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter, did not make the list. But Britney Spears' second son is named Jayden, which ranked at number 18. Miley is new to the girls’ list this year, entering fairly high at number 278, attributable to the popularity of teen sensation Miley Cyrus.
Does anybody else find it patently disturbing that 297 American couples named their boys after an Oakland Raider? Well, I certainly do. But that's not the only worrying football-related statistic I discovered after plowing through the list of names. Even more alarming, 3,336 American couples named their boys Peyton, after -- well, you know. (1,221 couples named their boys Payton, which on one hand could be considered even worse because of the non-standard spelling, but on the other could be considered far better because Walter Payton would have approved). It is also worth noting that Peyton is a more popular girls' name than it is a boys' name, which opens an entirely different can of worms, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Now, I see nothing wrong with naming one's child after a football player. However, if one does this, there are plenty of perfectly fine football names one should choose instead of, say, Peyton. For instance, what about Terry? Or John? Or Lynn? Or Franco? For that matter, what about Jerome, Troy, Hines, Santonio, Marvel, LaMarr, Jack, Ernie or Mean Joe? Give your kid a good start in life -- don't doom him to a preening, smug existence in which he must boast about his so-called "rocket arm" even while his inability to deal with defensive pressure means his team sits at home -- again -- on Super Bowl Sunday.
Also, while I see nothing inherently wrong with naming one's son with an ambiguous name, one must take care to make sure the name works, as the choice can be fraught with peril. Peyton clearly does not work because one's son should not be typecast as a whining pansy who blames his failures on others. However, a name such as Lynn or Gale -- especially Gale -- would clearly work. After all, none of the kids would make fun of Gale, because his name would signify that he needed just 18 inches of daylight to kick their asses.
But there is good news amidst all this. The twenty most popular names for boys and girls only contains one that makes one wince and three that should have been tabled at their second reading. For the boys, the only truly miserable name is "Jayden," (No. 18) which brings to mind an unpleasant and hardscrabble existence somewhere in California's high desert.
For the girls -- where choosing a proper name is twice as important -- most of the names are also excellent, but I myself would instantly veto Madison (No. 5), Olivia (No. 7), and Addison (No. 11). Addison is a bit too masculine for my taste, Olivia is too old-fashioned (when I hear the name, I think of a Rhoda Henry-like character) and Madison -- well, that's what we named the dog when I was growing up. The way I see it, one wouldn't name one's kid Rover or Fala, so that's right out too.
At least, I hope.
... UNTIL TUESDAY, May 27. You know the drill. See you then!
POLICE IN CHIAPAS jailed a donkey for biting and kicking two men, only releasing it after the beast's owner paid a $36 fine and the $115 hospital bill for the injured. In all, the burro spent three days in a local jail's equivalent of the drunk tank.
The key quote from the two stories linked above? "Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed no matter who they are," said local policeman Sinar Gomez. Well. I guess so.
I applaud this tough law-and-order talk from the police in Chiapas, and I for one am confident the burro learned its lesson. After all, in Mexico -- particularly in the south -- biting people is a strictly-regulated affair, and something which can only be conducted with the knowledge and approval of the proper authorities.
SO I JUST SENT AN e-mail to some friends in which I used the long S character throughout it. No, really, I can aſſure you I did. I just had to mention it because it's ſimply the lateſt proof that I do, in fact, rule.
Well, that and it's the latest proof technology is amazing. I can't believe the long S would have an electronic code for it, but it does.
THERE'S SOME INTERESTING NEWS out of Colorado today. Apparently, the oldest son of Governor and Mrs Bill Ritter, August Ritter III, held a rather enjoyable party at the Governor's Mansion a few weeks ago in occasion of the boy's 22nd birthday. Unfortunately for the Governor, someone among the partygoers was a bit indiscreet and stupidly posted pictures of the bash on-line, which show that part of the party took place on the mansion's historic first floor, where art and antiquities are located. Oh dear. The Governor's son -- although properly attired given his surroundings -- is shown dispensing beer to a friend from the mouth of a beer keg and marching around with the Colorado flag which flies outside the mansion.
I must say I feel rather bad for Gov Ritter -- although only to a point. Since the party was apparently held with the approval of Gov and Mrs Ritter, it suggests the family is a bit cavalier about the lodgings which the people of Colorado have provided them. This is quite poor form and the people of Colorado should expect better from their chief executive. However, this does not mean I do not feel for the man: he has found himself brought into disrepute because of the actions of his son, and that must be highly embarrassing.
The Denver Post, which reported on the story, reports that the Governor has "talked" with his son about the matter. I know if I was in Gov Ritter's position, the word "talked" would have been replaced with the phrase "exploded with incandescent rage." It is one thing if one's son screws up -- all sons disappoint their families, and do so with alarming frequency -- but another thing entirely when those mistakes have a direct impact on the family's position. I know when I was growing up, the worst punishments I ever received were a direct result of embarrassing my parents, and I can bet the Governor's son found himself in the hot seat over this one. I mean, how stupid could the kid be not to tell his friends, "For the love of God, don't take any pictures, and don't post them on the Internet."
However, the Governor may have tempered his anger if he saw how people were reacting to the news before he spoke with his boy. Apparently, the people of Colorado don't think much of the story, and a full 42 pc see no problems with having kickass parties at the Governor's mansion -- they see this as proof the Ritters are regular folks.
For the record, I happen to like kickass parties, even debauched ones, but do think they should be held in places that can reasonably handle a bit of wear and tear. History has shown us That It's Really a Bad Idea to hold raucous parties in places where priceless items can get damaged as a result of the partygoers' inability to conduct themselves properly.
IN THE UNITED STATES, Burma has long been a forgotten country. Unlike so many other countries in East Asia, our nations have not become interconnected through the ravages of war, the benefits of trade, or the movement of people seeking a better life. There are few Burmese in America -- only 16,000 or so as of the 2000 census, making their numbers a drop in the bucket even compared to Asian-Americans as a whole. As a result, even relatively learned people know little about Burma compared to their knowledge of -- well, pretty much everywhere else in Asia. (Nor did I see the latest Rambo movie.)
I must admit I fell into this camp. Although aware of the basics -- paranoid generals, military dictatorship, no freedom for its impoverished people -- I had no idea just how screwed up the country was until Cyclone Nargis hit it. The cyclone's destruction, you see, prompted me to do some reading up about the history and governance of the place. After reading that, along with increasingly desperate news accounts of the Burmese people's suffering, I feel confident in saying that Burma's present leader, Senior General Than Shwe, will be reincarnated as a dung beetle for the next 78 of his future lives, whilst in between suffering the torments of the damned in a very hot Naraka -- the Buddhist version of Hell.
Snr Gen Than Shwe will also undoubtedly have company, as his predecessors in the job were even worse than he is: particularly General Ne Win, who in 1962 started the process of running his country into the ground. The brutality with which Gen Ne Win ran things was not simply political in nature -- it was also economic, and the suffering those policies brought to the Burmese shouldn't be ignored. When you not only stifle people's hopes for political freedom, but also impoverish them through malicious economic controls -- such as demonetizing banknotes without any prior warning, thus making the little money your people have worthless -- you deserve nothing less than the worst punishment Hell can mete out.
It almost defies belief that any ruler -- even the head of a military dictatorship -- could be so monstrously cruel as to do nothing to help his suffering subjects, but Snr Gen Than Shwe's actions clearly are worse than that. Not only is the Burmese junta stopping aid from getting into the country, they're stealing the aid they have let in, and handing out rotten rice and spoiled food to cyclone victims while keeping the best stuff for themselves. That is so unbelievably wrong it makes me sputter with rage. I mean, they're making North Korea -- which is no slouch at wrecking the lives of its people -- look humane and competent. (China, in comparison, is smelling like roses for its excellent response to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan).
I do realize this situation is fraught with politics, and as a matter of course it is impolite at best for nations to act without regard for a country's sovereignty. That said, this is ridiculous.
The Burmese junta has had plenty of time to show it knows what it's doing in terms of rescue efforts. So we -- that is, the United States, and anyone with us -- should give the junta a reasonable deadline, say 24 or 48 hours, to start stepping up its relief efforts. I am sure we can track these via satellite. Then, if we're not happy, we start air-dropping survival packages to the people. After that, we park our ships in Rangoon's harbor and start off-loading aid. This presents the junta with two choices. They can a) accept the fact we're there and deal with it, or b) try to fight us off. Option B should be met with lethal and overwhelming force -- our air power should be more than a match for anything the Burmese military can put forward.
One would hope, of course, that the junta would not actively try to stop our efforts. But their callous indifference to the suffering of their people has cost them the Mandate of Heaven, and it is up to the rest of the world to do something. With hundreds of thousands of lives hanging in the balance, it would be nice if we didn't just sit around and wash our hands of the whole thing.
SO TOM BRADY HAS WHINED about ESPN's coverage of the "Spygate" scandal, in which his New England Patriots stole defensive signals from other teams, charging the network was seeking to fabricate controversy for its own ends. To this, The Rant would simply say: Shut up, Tom. Please. It's for your own good. Shut up.
After all, as a Steelers fan, I would normally have a lot to say about this. But as a Steelers fan, I take direction from Mr Rooney, who has said to drop the matter. So I have. However, this does not mean I can't discuss Mr Brady himself.
Fans of the New England Patriots, who are loyal to their team and suspicious of outsiders wanting to knock them off their perch, may wonder what justification I have for doing so. Well, it's simple. Although Mr Brady is a superstar quarterback and I am but a writer of extremely minor import, we are both Michigan men. Thus, as a Michigan man with one year's seniority over Mr Brady, I get to talk as much shit about the man as I want.
If you ask me, Mr Brady's whining about the situation is demeaning to our alma mater and generally pathetic: similar to the professional antics of Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards, the one-time Michigan star, before Mr Edwards suddenly relearned to catch the ball. Take your lumps like a man, or at the very least draw upon your inner reserve of mental fortitude all Michigan students get as part of their orientation package. You went to Michigan. You are a Champion of the West. Thus, the slings and arrows of the world should not bother you.
Besides, on a practical matter, whining about Spygate means we all have to keep hearing about Spygate, and I'm sick of hearing about Spygate. As far as I'm concerned, it's over and it's done -- finito, kaput, an ex-scandal. I am far more concerned about next season and the things the Pittsburgh Steelers, and everyone else in the league, are preparing so they can knock the Patriots on their asses this fall. That's what I want to hear about, not some lame-o scandal that, although entertaining for a time, was not the blockbuster we thought it would be.
As an aside, I would note it is now just six months and two weeks before the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers travel to play the Patriots in New England. Bring it!
LOYAL RANT READERS may dimly recall an old incident involving Latrell Sprewell, in which the basketball player famously turned down a $21 million contract extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves, saying he had "a family to feed."
Perhaps Mr Sprewell might have gotten more sympathy if he had said he had bankers to pay, because it turns out he owes a few banks a bit of money. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, RBS Citizens Bank has foreclosed upon a house belonging to Mr Sprewell, on which the player owed $320,284 -- and that number will rise once the Scots add up all the fees and charges related to the foreclosure. Other outstanding debts include a $72,698 judgment for an unspecified debt and a $72,102 judgment for unpaid taxes to the state of Wisconsin. Also, Mr Sprewell's $1.5 million yacht was sold at auction to satisfy the yacht's note-holders, according to the paper.
Oops. Then again, maybe Mr Sprewell could turn this to his advantage -- he could show up at the foreclosure auction and choke the auctioneer, and parlay the resulting firestorm into an NBA contract with, I don't know, the Dallas Mavericks or something.
OH, THE PAIN. What words could better sum up the heartbreaking, last-second loss of the Manchester Wolves (now 1-6) to the evil and depraved Tulsa Talons (now 8-0)? We were so close. So very, very close. But in the end, bad luck and the unique peculiarities of the arena game proved our undoing. Even at the end, when Tulsa kicked in the 25 yard field goal that nailed the coffin shut, we so nearly had it. As our defensive line surged forward and our players stretched out their arms, it looked as if one of our players got his fingertips on the ball -- but the ball wobbled its way through the thin uprights and our hopes were dashed. The final score: Tulsa 59, Manchester 56.
Oh, the pain.
However, I have to admit I'm more concerned with how the Wolves' past two losses will affect the team rather than my own emotional reaction to the loss. I hope they realize just how much they've improved over the past few weeks. I hope they realize that when you lose to the two best teams in the league by a combined score of nine points, you're doing a lot of things right. I hope they realize that this season still has nine games to go, including five home games, and that the playoffs still remain a very real possibility.
Despite our loss tonight, I have to say this was one of the best arena football games I've seen in a long time. Huge wins, of course, have a lot going for them, but there's also something to be said for great football -- and tonight was great football. The final score notwithstanding, this was a game with plenty of impressive defense, and the Wolves really hung in there when lesser teams would have folded like a cheap suit.
The end of the first half, and the beginning of the second half, is a great example of this. Consider: with seconds to go in the first half, Tulsa -- which would receive the ball to start the second half -- was down 28-27. With little time on the clock and their attempts to get in the endzone foiled, the Talons decided to go for a field goal. The snap went, Manchester rushed forward, and blocked the kick! The ball went flying, and everyone made a mad dash for it; it was recovered by Tulsa's quarterback. Just as he was about to end up flat on his back, he threw the ball to one of Tulsa's waiting Big Men, who ran it in for a short touchdown. My reaction was as follows:
ME: Wide right! Wide right! ... YES! YES! YES! YES! .... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Now Tulsa was going to start out the half with the ball and I knew this meant trouble. But what happened in the opening moments of the second half? Their kickoff man -- an extremely fast and adept player -- was zooming down the field when he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Tulsa recovered it, but on the very next play Tulsa fumbled the ball again, and this time we recovered. Shortly thereafter, we had tied the game at 34 all, although we missed the extra point try. On the next series of possessions, we managed to stop Tulsa, and soon afterwards, it was 37-34. Oh joy and rapture. We would hold a lead -- albeit a tiny lead -- through much of the second half.
But tiny leads in this game aren't safe. The wide open nature of the game, and the difficulty of defending against certain plays such as the quick slant and quick out passes, means a team really needs a margin of three or four scores before one can start banking the game in the win column. Against a team like Tulsa, that would have been a miracle. After a bit of back and forth, the game ended up tied again, at 49-49. With less than a minute to go, Tulsa went ahead 56-49, and we scored the equalizer shortly thereafter. Then, the 25 seconds until doomsday.
I just hope the Wolves realize the night is always darkest before the dawn -- and the sun's light is creeping above the horizon.
Oh, one more thing before I go. This is a polite message to the co-owners of the Tulsa Talons, Messrs Henry Primeaux III and Paul Ross -- yes, you.
What the devil is wrong with your team? I'm not talking about their play -- they're clearly an excellent squad. I'm talking about their flagrantly boorish behavior on the field of battle. As someone who has watched football all his life, I can honestly say tonight's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Tulsa coaching squad was a first for me. Never in my more than two decades of watching high school, college, NFL, AFL or af2 football have I seen coaches act so badly that the referees actually penalized them for it.
Simply put, gentlemen, this was not cool and with it. Give your coaches some Xanax or something.
THIS PRETTY MUCH SUMS UP Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers:
This, I might add, is a shame, because it didn't let me use the original video I had planned for the game recap. However, given the way the series is going, here's my prediction for the recap of Game 6 in Cleveland:
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM -- billions of evil marauding ants are rampaging around the metropolitan Houston area, infesting homes, destroying computers and other electronics, ravaging plants and even going so far as to bite people. Even worse, the ants -- who apparently landed in the Texas area via cargo ship -- are apparently impervious to our traditional ant-killing methods. The AP reports:
Exterminators say calls from frustrated homeowners and businesses are increasing because the ants—which are starting to emerge by the billions with the onset of the warm, humid season—appear to be resistant to over-the-counter ant killers.
"The population built up so high that typical ant controls simply did no good," said Jason Meyers, an A&M doctoral student who is writing his dissertation on the one-eighth-inch-long ant.
It's not enough just to kill the queen. Experts say each colony has multiple queens that have to be taken out.
At the same time, the ants aren't taking the bait usually left out in traps, according to exterminators, who want the Environmental Protection Agency to loosen restrictions on the use of more powerful pesticides.
And when you do kill these ants, the survivors turn it to their advantage: They pile up the dead, sometimes using them as a bridge to cross safely over surfaces treated with pesticide.
"It looked like someone had come along and poured coffee granules all around the perimeter of the rooms," said Lisa Calhoun, who paid exterminators $1,200 to treat an infestation of her parents' home in the Houston suburb of Pearland.
The Texas Department of Agriculture is working with A&M researchers and the EPA on how to stop the ants.
"This one seems to be like lava flowing and filling an entire area, getting bigger and bigger," said Ron Harrison, director of training for the big pest-control company Orkin Inc.
OK, let's review. Our enemy has established colonies -- let's call them by their proper name, terror cells -- with multiple autonomous leaders. Our enemy uses irregular and novel tactics to defeat our counter-measures, going so far as to mercilessly use its own dead as a survival mechanism. Our enemy attacks in mass waves without regard for human life, common decency or private property.
Clearly, the solution to this involves flamethrowers.
True, flamethrowers won't work indoors, where we'll need to use brutal poisoning agents to destroy the ant menace, but flamethrowers should work wonders against their secret outdoor bases, where they store their supplies and plan their supplies. In the event conditions don't allow for the use of flamethrowers, there are plenty of other things we could do, like use caustic acids, industrial solvents, grenades and our neighbors' garden hoses to kill the wretched vermin in their own nests. If things got really serious, we could even import thousands of anteaters from South America and let them destroy the pestilential scourge.
However we fight the ants, one thing is clear: we must stop them before they threaten to spread beyond the greater Houston area. We must not waver. We must not tire. We must not falter -- and we must not fail.
THE VATICAN HAS GIVEN its imprimatur to believing in sentient extraterrestrial life, according to an interview which the director of the Vatican's observatory gave to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper. Since the wire services have done a poor job at providing their readers with anything but a short snippet, I would direct readers to a translation of the interview which a Dutch priest has provided.
The key part, as I see it, is reproduced here, in which the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes discusses the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life elsewhere:
Q: And that wouldn’t be a problem for our faith?
Fr FUNES: I don’t think so. Just like there is an abundance of creatures on Earth, there could also be other beings, even intelligent ones, that were created by God. That doesn’t contradict our faith, because we cannot put boundaries to God’s creative freedom. As Saint Francis would say, when we consider the earthly creatures to be our “brothers” and “sisters”, why couldn’t we also talk about a "extraterrestrial brother?" He would still be part of creation.
Q: And what about redemption?
Fr FUNES: Let’s borrow the image from the gospel about the lost sheep. The shepherd leaves the 99 of the sheepfold to search for the one that got lost. Let’s imagine that in this universe there are 100 sheep, corresponding to the different forms of creatures. We who belong to the human race, could very well be the lost sheep, the sinners that need the shepherd. God has become man in Jesus to save us. In that way, even when other intelligent beings exist, it’s not said that they would need redemption. They might have stayed in full friendship with their Creator.
Q: I insist: when they would, on the contrary, be sinners, would redemption also be possible for them?
Fr FUNES: Jesus incarnated once and for all. The incarnation is a unique and non-repeatable event. However, I am certain that they too, in one way or another, would have the possibility to experience God’s mercy, just like we men have.
This interview, as you can see, is yet another example of the Roman Church's tradition of intellectual rigor and discourse. I am only sorry that Fr Funes did not discuss this subject at greater length.
Well, OK, only partially sorry. I mean, I'm not seeing anything in this interview that contradicts my ideas about how to deal with the discovery of intelligent alien life. For instance, if aliens do land on Earth, we apparently still get a pass to confiscate their ship, reverse-engineer their hyperdrive technology and seize it for our own. Also, if we're lucky, we can convince (or force) the aliens to teach us the secrets of their advanced technology and commercialize it for untold profits.
Some of my more conscientious readers may be shocked at this expression of outright greed and aggression, but I am inherently a realist. It is one thing if this alien intelligence turned out to be good and cuddly, but I think we all know the chances of that being the case are practically nil. Even if they seem good, they will undoubtedly have some diabolical ruthless plan in the works to force us off guard or turn us against each other, and then they'll go for our jugular.
Remember -- "To Serve Man" was a cookbook! A COOKBOOK!
Then again, maybe I should just stay home when we have the welcoming ceremony for the aliens' advance party.
HELL HATH NO FURY like a blogger scorned. That's the lesson I've taken from the latest uproar on the Internet, in which angry bloggers are openly humilitating public relations firms who are bombarding them with unwanted pitches, annoying press releases, and other things in which the bloggers have absolutely no interest.
Much to my surprise, however, the furore has garnered the attention of some public relations types themselves. To their credit, these PR folks are taking a step back and looking at how to improve their relationships with bloggers and journalists. Meg Roberts, a new entrant into the PR field, has posted a pretty good summary of the problem, along with a few good questions that deserve answers: "What do we need to know? How do bloggers and journalists want to be pitched? Better yet, professionals, what are your media relations training programs like in this PR 2.0 world?"
Well, since I'm not a PR man, I can't answer the third question -- although as a writer I do want to know how much money the person who came up with the "PR 2.0" idea got for it. But as a blogger and an actual professional journalist, I suppose my answers to Questions One and Two might have some validity.
I should start by saying my work as a blogger and my work as a journalist are two entirely separate facets of my life. The work I do on my blog is all for fun; the work I do as a journalist is work. As a result, when it comes to my blog, I don't mind getting PR pitches. I really don't. Obviously, I daresay I've deleted nearly all of them in my time, but I'm still flattered to get them for what is essentially a hobby. The best thing a PR person can do in writing to minor players in the blogosphere is make the pitch personal and make sure your pitch covers something the blogger writes about. As one can see on my blog, I write about high and personal finance, all levels of professional football, and people or events who or which can be charitably described as crazy. I also like humor writing. As a result, pitches should focus on these things, and not something I can't stand, like Major League Baseball.
As a journalist, though, it's a whole different story. This is because a lot of PR folks don't seem to understand just what it is we do, why we insist on things being done a certain way, why we don't respond to the pitch you think is incredibly important, and why we really don't like it when you call us out of the blue on deadline. In that vein, I've created a handy jim-dandy tip sheet for PR folks who deal with journalists -- and, dare I say it, high-profile or important bloggers, who in this day and age are as important as journalists. First, we'll cover what PR folks should do, and then what they should not do.
TEN SMART THINGS PR FOLKS
SHOULD DO WHEN WORKING WITH JOURNALISTS
1. KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER.
This is simply a matter of efficiency. Simply put, make sure you're approaching the right person, and approaching the right person the way he wants to be approached. Thus, if you have a client in Topeka, Kan., who makes aircraft parts, you have a pretty limited universe of folks who would be interested in related news. Stick to those folks. Trying to artificially expand that universe -- e.g., pitching stuff about that client to journalists in St. Louis, Mo., or Tulsa, Okla., -- won't work well. Along with that, know your clients' preferences for receiving such news. If they want it via e-mail, e-mail it.
2. START SLOW
Realize that if you're cold-calling a journalist (or cold-emailing), the journalist will not know you from Adam (or Eve). So take it slow and make a good first impression. Make the pitch personal; know what the journalist has written about before and put things in context. This is also a good way to find out how the journalist wants to receive pitches, when he can reasonably receive them, and when you shouldn't call him unless it's a Grade One Emergency. This can go a long way in establishing the groundwork for a beautiful friendship.
3. BE AS HELPFUL AS YOU CAN
A lot of PR work involves journalists calling PR folks for quotes or information. Be as helpful and responsive as you can. If you don't know the answer to a question, do your best to find out and call back -- and do call back. Ask what the journalist's deadline is, send him background information, and have as much data as you can at your fingertips. If you're talking about your Topeka client with a journalist in Topeka, have information ready about basic facts: the work the firm does in Topeka (and Kansas), how many folks it employs, and so on.
4. BE EASY TO REACH
It is always frustrating for a journalist when he is trying to write about XYZ Corp., but can't for the life of him get anyone from XYZ to return his calls. Make sure your contact information is out there, particularly for after-hours stuff. If you're not available -- let's say you took a personal day -- make sure anyone who calls knows about an alternate contact whom he can call instead.
5. BE READY FOR FOLLOW-UPS
You've had an interview with a journalist about your client's new widget! Great! But the journalist has to go back and write the story and then have it mercilessly edited. This process will undoubtedly lead to new questions. Be ready for these, and let the journalist know how he can get in touch with you.
6. LOOK AT YOUR PITCH FROM THE OUTSIDE
Your client may think the announcement of his new product upgrade is the most important thing since canned beer. The journalist receiving it may think differently. Recognize this dichotomy and become one with it. Along with that, as with the above tips, tailor your message accordingly to each journalist and his coverage area.
As an aside, remember the audience for which your journalist is writing. If he is writing for a sophisticated financial audience, it may be perfectly acceptable to have the money quote from your client's CEO use words like "accretive" and "subordinated debenture," even if the phrases "will boost revenues" and "junior debt" would work better. If he is writing for a general audience, the money quote should focus on basic concepts -- and use words readers will understand. Otherwise, your money quote will get boiled down to one sentence, starting, "CEO Smith said."
7. LIMIT YOUR PITCHES
A good way to make sure your pitches get noticed is to make sure you don't flood your contacts' e-mail boxes with pitches about every single little thing that has happened with a client. That way, when you do send out things, your e-mail will actually get read -- and not given a cursory five-second glance before it gets deleted.
8. HELP A JOURNALIST OUT
If you come across breaking news, or hear of something that's up, it wouldn't hurt to drop a line to your friendly neighborhood reporter. If done right, this will go a long way in establishing working relationships with journalists, who will consequently make time for you even when they're really busy.
9. RECOGNIZE YOUR JOURNALIST IS BUSY
Journalists are swamped with a lot of work and a lot of deadlines. If we're really interested in something, we'll get back to you -- you can bet on it. Just realize that it may take time. For instance, if you know your journalist has a deadline of Wednesday for his weekly publication, realize your pitch sent Tuesday probably won't get a real read until Thursday, particularly if it's not breaking news.
10. TRUST IS YOUR SOLE COMMODITY
Just as readers have to trust the journalists they read, so too do journalists have to trust their sources. Recognize this and conduct yourself in an exemplary fashion. Tell the truth, don't shy away from bad news, say what you mean and do what you say you'll do. All these things will go a long way in building trust, which is crucial when dealing with reporters.
TEN THINGS PR FOLKS
SHOULD AVOID AT ALL COSTS
WHEN DEALING WITH THE MEDIA
1. DO NOT LIE
Trust me on this. Do not lie. If the lie becomes apparent before the story is written, it could prove highly embarrassing. If the line becomes apparent afterwards, the journalist will remember you lied, which won't make dealing with him in the future all that easy. Even worse, he might recount this story to all his fellow journalists, which would make them cautious dealing with you.
2. DO NOT COVER UP
The cover-up is always worse than the issue itself. Do not let a situation that would blow itself out in a day -- and most of them do -- turn into a major fiasco.
3. DO NOT IGNORE MISTAKES -- BUT KEEP THEM IN PERSPECTIVE
Do NOT ignore mistakes. Do NOT consider keeping quiet about them as "a cost of doing business." Reporters and their editors want the story right as much as you do, and will gladly correct errors to the record accordingly, even if it really bruises the ego.
That said, remember reporters are human beings. They make mistakes sometimes. A good reporter will, upon being notified of a mistake, do his best to rectify the situation, even if it means he will get a severe dressing-down from his boss. Keep in mind that if you do approach a reporter about a mistake, he will be apologetic at the least and will do what he can to make things right. (I myself deal with mistakes in a manner not dissimilar to Monty Python's dirty fork sketch).
4. DO NOT ASK IF YOU CAN SEE THE STORY BEFOREHAND
From what I understand, some PR folks have actually advised their colleagues to ask reporters if they can see a story prior to publication. Don't do this, as most publications have strict rules forbidding this practice. At the very least, it will annoy the reporter, although he may be understanding about it. However, some reporters would be highly offended at such a suggestion, due to the implication of incompetence. The way to go about handling this issue is to encourage the reporter to call if he has any additional questions or needs any additional information -- and he will.
5. DO NOT ARGUE ABOUT THE NEWSWORTHINESS OF A STORY
Along the lines mentioned in Point Two, there's no better way to attract attention to an unwanted issue than argue with the reporter or editor about its newsworthiness. Arguing with a reporter is futile, because he's been told to write about the story, so he's going to write about it. I have known seasoned reporters who believe the proper response to this line of questioning is: "Do you want in the story or not?" As for editors, they're even tougher than the reporters. The best way to handle this is like you would any other story.
6. DO NOT PESTER A REPORTER ABOUT YOUR NEWS RELEASE
As I noted above, reporters are busy. It may take time for them to get to your news release, especially if the release contains information that is not time-sensitive. If you are unsure whether they got it, a follow-up e-mail -- after a reasonable amount of time -- will suffice. Do NOT call them and ask whether they got the e-mail you sent three hours before, unless it involves breaking news of the highest urgency. You can rest assured they did in fact get it, but are busy working on a story about something completely different; and if you call, you could be bothering them when they're awaiting a crucial call for a story. That's unbelievably frustrating. Also, that "return receipt" feature on Outlook is really annoying. Don't use it unless it involves news of the highest urgency.
7. DO NOT SEND OFF-TOPIC STUFF
Reporters get a lot of e-mail. A lot of e-mail. Do not send innumerable e-mails of no interest. For instance, if your contact covers business in Kansas, do not send e-mails about events in Nebraska or Oklahoma just because they're in the same time zone. Your reporter wants Kansas stuff. Send Kansas stuff.
8. DO NOT USE A LOT OF JARGON
Many years ago, when I was a young reporter, a friend of mine and I would for fun send corporate press releases through a fun little site known as the "Jargonmeter," and then we would laugh hysterically at the result. I can't emphasize how important the use of Plain English is. Not only will it make your release easier to understand, it will better the chances that what you want to get across gets across.
In sum: don't use words like utilize (you mean use), incentivize (you mean encourage), enhance (improve), wordsmith (edit) or extrapediately (whatever the hell that means). This goes double for silly pormanteau words like Webinar, customercentric, futureproof and cyber-anything.
9. DON'T NOT FOLLOW THROUGH
Forgive the double negative: but it's awfully annoying when PR folks tell reporters they call, then don't; pledge to get information but don't deliver; so on and so forth. Remember again that when you work with a reporter, you are actually working with his entire organization. Efficient PR folks are praised and regarded as good guys; inefficent PR folks can develop poor reputations.
10. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT MAKE A PITCH ON DEADLINE
If there is ONE message I would pass on to interested PR people, it is: do NOT make a pitch when a reporter is on deadline. Consider: you have called at the absolute worst possible time; you are making your pitch to a distracted, harried and busy reporter, who spends most of the inevitably short call trying to get you off the telephone so he can a) get back to work and b) keep the line open for the important call for which he's been waiting all day. These are not conducive conditions for success.
Generally speaking, the best time to make pitches is in the morning, when the reporter has several hours ahead of him and can spend a few minutes shooting the breeze; he will not have that luxury in the late afternoon or early evening.
Well -- thus endeth today's lesson. Hopefully it was somewhat enlightening; I would like to think that was the case, and hopefully it will, in some small measure, contribute to peace and good will among the nation's hack and flack communities. Or, at the very least, make things easier for both of us. Perhaps it might even engender a response -- I am sure there are plenty of things PR folks would like journalists to understand about their profession.
AW, YEAH. GO STEELERS! It turns out our draft, according to people who write about these things for a living, turns the Steelers into legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the 2008 season. Oh, happy day! We're ranked 7th in the latest ESPN NFL power rankings!
What's that? OK, so we have to play against Teams No. 1 through No. 6 during the regular season. Yet, it is to laugh. Clearly the Steelers are on course to get "one for the other thumb," and cement our place in history as the only NFL team to have six Super Bowl rings.
True, there is also good news for the Cleveland Browns, which are ranked ninth. But this is fine, because the idea of the Browns defeating the Steelers, much less doing so in the playoffs, is too silly to even contemplate. Besides, if I did contemplate it, I would start to worry and we can't have that. So, to recap: Steelers, 7th in pre-season rankings, clear Super Bowl contender. We've got it goin' on!
A NEW YORK MAN has sued JetBlue Airways Corp., charging that an aircraft pilot ordered him to sit in the plane's lavatory so a flight attendant could avoid sitting on an uncomfortable jump seat, according to WCBS-TV in New York. The station reports:
A New York City man is suing JetBlue Airways Corp. for more than $2 million because he says a pilot made him give up his seat to a flight attendant and sit on the toilet for more than three hours on a flight from California.
Gokhan Mutlu, of Manhattan's Inwood section, says in court papers the pilot told him to "go 'hang out' in the bathroom" about 90 minutes into the San Diego to New York flight because the flight attendant complained that the "jump seat" she was assigned was uncomfortable, the lawsuit said.
Mutlu was traveling on a a "buddy pass," a standby travel voucher that JetBlue employees give to friends, from New York to San Diego on Feb. 16, and returned to New York on Feb. 23, the lawsuit said.
Initially, Mutlu was told a flight attendant had taken the last seat on the plane, but then he was advised she would sit in the employee "jump seat," meaning he could have the last seat, the lawsuit said.
The pilot told him 1 1/2 hours into the five-hour flight that he would have to relinquish the seat to the flight attendant, court papers say. But the pilot said that Mutlu could not sit in the jump seat because only JetBlue employees were permitted to sit there, the lawsuit said.
When Mutlu expressed reluctance to go sit in the bathroom, the pilot, who was not named in the lawsuit, told him that "he was the pilot, that this was his plane, under his command that (Mutlu) should be grateful for being on board," the lawsuit said.
When the aircraft hit turbulence and passengers were directed to return to their seats, but "the plaintiff had no seat to return to, sitting on a toilet stool with no seat belts," court papers say.
Sometime later, a male flight attendant knocked on the restroom door and told Mutlu he could return to his original seat, court papers say.
Well, that puts paying $5 for a snack box all in perspective, doesn't it?
TIMES ARE TOUGH in California. The economy is in rough shape, statewide unemployment now averages 6.2 pc and has hit double digits in several locales, and the Government is facing a budget shortfall that could hit $20 billion. As a result, this has prompted the Government to take strong action to turn around the state's fortunes.
Of course, this being California, the strong action in question involves frantically looking for new ways to extract tax money from the wretched populace. Among the proposals so far are: a 25 cent tax on plastic bags; extending the 8 pc sales tax to on-line music downloads, a 30 cent tax on beer bottles (raising the price of a case by $7.20), and turning poor senior citizens into serfs in exchange for a property tax break. But perhaps the most stunningly ill-conceived idea threatening to escape the Assembly is a 25 percent gross receipts tax on all facets of the adult-entertainment industry: strip clubs, movie studios, risque stores, pay-per-view movies in hotels, you name it, it would be taxed. (A hearing on the matter is being held today).
Faced with the prospect of being shaken down by the Assembly -- the biggest pimps of all -- those in the industry are understandably panicked. Their lobbyists are warning the proposed levy is so onerous it will prompt the industry's mass exodus from the state. The Whittier Daily News, in Whittier, Calif., spoke with one of those lobbyists, who was not at all happy with the proposal:
"If you see this tax pass, I think you would see an exodus to Nevada or Oregon or some other state," said Matt Gray, a lobbyist for the Association of Club Executives, a group representing the adult entertainment industry. ...
Gray called (Assembly Bill 2914) the "most dishonest" piece of legislation he has ever seen in his life, suggesting it smears the reputation of the industry. The text of the bill suggests that adult entertainers are a blight on local communities, saying they "impact the character of neighborhoods, or curtail and prevent the development of properties in their general vicinity."
Gray estimates the industry employs about 50,000 people in the state and generates about $4 billion a year.
When Mr Gray spoke, the proposed tax was a mere eight percent of gross receipts. One can only imagine what he thinks of it now. As for me, I have to wonder what the Assembly was thinking in even allowing this miserable idea to see the light of day.
After all, let's review the facts here. Fifty thousand jobs and $4 billion in revenues. That's not exactly a drop in the bucket -- especially when one considers how much of that money comes into the state from customers who live outside California. Were the state to enact such an onerous gross receipts tax on the industry, it's fair to say most of the industry would find a more hospitable place to do business. As amazing as it might seem to Sacramento, California isn't an island unto itself -- people can and do leave as a result of decisions made there.
The obvious candidate for the industry's relocation would be Nevada, which has no corporate income tax (California's is 8 pc or so) and has built much of its economy around allowing people to do things they can't do in California. Plus, if one considers how much of that $4 billion gets spent, it conceivably would mean California enjoys an economic benefit of at least $15-$16 billion from that activity. If you take out that economic activity and the people, it will have a ripple effect that will only exacerbate California's economic problems. It won't help the housing market in the San Fernando Valley either.
Now, some may argue that I'm treating the idea far too dispassionately: after all, many people don't care much for the industry given what it does. However, the moral questions related to it -- on which I am a neutralist -- are an entirely different matter. I am interested solely in the economics of it all. Really. Honest.
As it happens, though, the economics of the industry explain why I haven't been to a strip club in seven years and have no plans to return. You see, the adult-entertainment industry is the sole business on Earth where zero-sum economics applies, and the customers are those on the losing end of its transactions. On an intellectual level, it annoys me to be on the losing end of zero-sum transactions.
Also, although I consider myself quite savvy when it comes to commercial negotiations, I also know when I'm hopelessly outclassed. This was made clear to me on my last visit to a strip club, seven years ago in Nevada. I was with a friend, who shall remain nameless, and we had gone to a club on what appeared to be a rather slow night. My friend and I each got a lap dance and being gentlemen we tipped well.
I can assure Loyal Rant Readers that not ten minutes after this, it seemed as if practically every girl in the club approached us and inquired if we would like another lap dance. I mean, it was an all-out assault on our wallets -- and it nearly worked, too. But after fending off the sixth or seventh inquiry, my friend and I looked at each other and his reaction -- "Let's get the hell out of here!" -- summed up my thoughts exactly. We got the hell out and went back to our hotel to regroup.
Perhaps ironically, this is a big reason why I think the industry will be able to escape Sacramento's clutches, at least for now -- the people in the business are so skilled at sales and marketing that they'll run circles around the legislators trying to tax them out of existence. One can only hope that in the process, they'll get some very important economic lessons across to the gang of idiots in Sacramento, because the lessons are applicable to all businesses and all sectors of the economy. Sadly, the other sectors of the economy don't have pretty girls to speak on their behalf.
JUST AS THINGS SEEM to have been going well for the financial markets, and world-destroying disaster averted, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has made the most impolite suggestion that we may be in for that most awful of Dr. Strangelove-type situations -- the bear rally. Mr Evans-Pritchard is a natural bear, so gloom does not exactly come as a shock, but when even he says the data frightens him, I take notice. It would appear that despite our recent harrowing of the credit crunch, there are still a few financial bombers heading towards Vorkuta.
One of these, of course, is the price of oil. I must admit surprise, with crude prices at $126 per barrel, that the Government has not taken concrete steps to address this, either overt or in secret. After all, we have 702.7 million barrels -- 280.5 million of which are "sweet" -- of crude oil in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, worth some $88 billion. We continue to add a couple million barrels to the SPR each month. Why the Government has not used this stockpile as a billy club amazes me.
I do realize we need the SPR just in case we wake up one morning and discover the People's Liberation Army has landed on Oahu. Still, if we released oil from the SPR during the supply shock from Hurricane Katrina, you would think we could do the same now and fry the speculators who have driven up the price of oil, ostensibly on supply concerns.
Of course, we know from past history that flooding the market with scarce goods doesn't work, if the injection of additional supply is limited and temporary. It could be the Government has already considered this, and accordingly held back from taking action. But although oil supplies may have been seen as tight, they are still perfectly adequate at this point. Thus, although it might not work and oil prices could remain high as ever, I'm not exactly seeing the downside of giving it a try.
The only objective here would be to convince the speculators the run in oil is over. If you could do that, and the speculators quailed as visions of the profits were replaced with nightmares of their losses, you would see a trickle, then a stream, then a flood out of oil.
It wouldn't even need to be a big deal. In fact, not making it a big deal -- at least to start -- might be the way to go. After all, if everyone knows about it, then the collective market could conceivably write it off. So it would be better for the Government to go after the speculators at their own game. You'd want to bury the news as best you could; conveniently leak advance news of it to certain players but refuse to confirm it; start the rumor mill going the opposite way for once. Then, once there was sufficient turmoil, bang! Blow open the flood gates!
But wait, you say. Wouldn't this go against those notions of fair play and caveat vendor that presently rule American capitalism? Yes, it would -- but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, and the blaze we're fighting is not only out of control but heading towards population. Besides, the Government's so-called Plunge Protection Team reportedly has vast powers to intervene in the financial markets, an image the PPT has itself undoubtedly quietly encouraged. So I'm not exactly seeing a moral conundrum here, particularly since the very nature of financial speculation is cut-throat and ruthless. With each passing day, though, I am seeing the virtue of giving it the old college try.
SO THERE'S GOOD NEWS and bad news. First, the bad news: the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, are now 1-5. Next, the good news: they're playing a hell of a lot better than they were, because they only lost their most recent game -- against the now 6-0 Florida Firecats -- by six points. The final score was 49-43, and from what I saw of the game, the team played pretty well.
True, I only was able to watch the first quarter and listen to the second quarter on the radio, as I had a previously scheduled engagement later in the evening. Still, I thought the team played a lot better than it did in the first few games of the year, and I came away from it feeling a lot more confident than I did just one week ago. After all, there are still ten games to go, and we could still make the playoffs with a good late run. It would be especially sweet if we were able to knock off the -- God help us -- Tulsa Talons this Friday. The Talons are now 7-0. They are the defending champions. They can be beat.
We know this because Tulsa had a hell of a time beating the Rio Grande Valley Dorados (McAllen, Texas), and only beat RGV 45-40. RGV is now 2-4, so it's not as if they were a powerhouse team. We're going to play Tulsa at home too, which should give us an advantage -- and a considerable one if the crowd stays in the game. The Wolves have to be in top form in order to beat Tulsa, but I think we're well-positioned to make that a real possibility.
On a related note, despite the 1-5 record, the Wolves continue to have an above-average attendance at the games. Our average attendance is 5,868, compared to the overall league average of 4,584. That puts us 6th out of 29 teams. Not bad at all!
Now, for some other arena-football related news:
The af2 league -- in what should be a model for sports leagues everywhere -- offers live streaming broadcasts of all its games over the Internet. This allows fans to watch their teams play away games. Now that I bought my new computer, I am quite pleased to report the service works extremely well. The broadcast, although not television quality, certainly exceeded my expectations and allowed me to follow the action just as if I was there. You can also choose whether to listen to your team's audio feed or the home team's audio feed, which is pretty darned slick. Not only that, the service is entirely free -- and that makes it all the better.
BEFORE I WENT TO SLEEP last night, I was reading the financial news on the wires and stumbled across a rather alarming article from the Associated Press. This article, which Associated Press business writer Joe Bel Bruno wrote, reports that many brokerages, seeing options trading gain in popularity among investors, are encouraging their customers to accordingly start getting involved in options.
My reaction to this news can be summed up in one word -- and that word, said very loudly and in slow motion, is: Noooooooooooooo! This is not because I think options are an inherently bad thing -- they do have their uses -- but because I don't think they're a good fit for most investors, particularly small investors or those investing with a focus on the long-term. But let's look at Mr Bel Bruno's article to get a lay of the land:
For Kim Snider, it only takes one word to send participants in her monthly investment workshops into a near panic. The Dallas-based financial adviser gets the same reaction, without fail, every time she suggests using options as a way to protect stock portfolios and make money.
"Peoples' eyes roll to the back of their heads; they are absolutely horrified," she said. "There is still a pervasive myth that options are complicated and risky."
That might be quickly changing. The options market once baffled investors who felt using puts and calls to bet on stock moves was tantamount to a Wall Street craps game. These days, online brokerages and financial advisers are pitching more investor-friendly ways to use options -- and that's led to a significant growth in their popularity. ...
One reason for the options boom is that more individual investors are managing their investments online; options are more readily available on the Internet than when they were sold through brokers in the past. Options also feed on Wall Street volatility, which has gone up significantly in the past year.
"There's been a tremendous adoption wave among self-directed retail investors of options trading," said Don Montanaro, chairman and chief executive of Boca Raton, Fla.-based brokerage TradeKing. "The savvy and wisest investors realize they'd gone through a whole market cycle where they adopted taking care of their own investments online, but did so with a limited amount of plays. People only knew how to buy and sell stock."
For the most part, Montanaro said education has been the biggest priority in persuading his customers to use options as a tool. It's little wonder, because options contracts -- which turned 35 this past week -- were once exclusively traded by big institutions inside of Chicago's boisterous futures pits.
TradeKing customers last year were mailed a step-by-step "Options Playbook" that helps instruct them on how and when to employ the investments.
Now, let's look at how Mr Bel Bruno describes options trading:
The basic premise of stock options contracts is that investors bet on a stock's direction and price within a specific time frame. For instance, investors who predict Google Inc. shares will vault $100 to $600 can lock in such that wager and hope it rises.
At the end of the contract, that would give them the right to pay only $500 when everyone else is forced to buy at a higher price -- giving them an instant profit. However, stocks could easily move the other way and leave investors forced to cover the difference. Options are also used on other investments, such as commodities.
I know some of my readers will have immediately noticed the mistake in Mr Bel Bruno's example of how options work, and I would submit it as Exhibit A as proof for why only sophisticated investors should consider using options as part of their investment strategies. I mean, if the reporter writing the story can't adequately describe them -- or, more likely, the copy desk made an error in boiling things down -- that should be a warning sign as to the complexity of these things. (A discussion of their complexity follows -- if you're not interested, scroll down past it).
OPTIONS: The Craps Table of the Investing World,
Without the Spectacle of That Guy Shouting for a Hard Eight
That said, Mr Bel Bruno got it right in the first sentence of his description: "the basic premise of stock options contracts is that investors bet on a stock's direction and price within a specific time frame." This is true. But Mr Bel Bruno's description of a "call option" -- the most basic of options transactions -- wasn't spot on.
A "call option" gives one the right to buy stock at a given price within a certain time frame. For instance, Google is now trading at $573 per share. You think the price is going to go up. However, you don't have the capital to buy Google shares, because they're trading at $573. So, what you can do is buy a call option (or options) to place your bet accordingly.
Let's say you think that, by September, Google will rise to $650, and as a result you buy two call options. These options are now trading at $26.70 per share, which is how options contracts are priced. An option contract covers 100 shares. Thus, your two call options will cost you $5,340 ($26.70 x 100 x 2), plus commission -- at my brokerage, these are nominal: it would cost about $10 to buy this, which isn't bad at all.
Now, let's say in June, Google announces its latest secret project will revolutionize, I don't know, the way people buy coffee. The price of Google now jumps to $670, and the price of your options jumps accordingly -- let's say to $70 or so. $20 of that price would reflect the value of the option -- since the option is $20 above its "strike price" of $650 -- and $50 would represent investor sentiment that Google would go even higher, thus making the option even more valuable. On the underlying value of the option, you would be up $4,000 -- and if you sold right away, you would make $13,990 ($14,000 - $10 commission).
But -- and this is a very big but -- let's say you hold on and the price of Google drops to $610 in August based on, I don't know, trouble with the coffee-buying project. Your option is now inherently worthless, because people can buy the stock for $610 and not turn to you to buy it for $650. Since there's only a month left before the option expires, and market sentiment has turned against Google, the price of your option falls to $15. You're now down $2,340. ($15 x 100 x 2). And if you hold on until the option expires -- and it's still not in the money, you're out your entire investment of $5,340, with no chance to get it back. It's done, gone, an ex-parrot. Stick a fork in it.
Given this, it might have made more sense to have taken your $5,340 and purchase eight shares of GOOG, which although not as exciting still would have given you a profit of $296. (8 x ($610-$573)). Plus, of course, you'd still have the shares, which you could hold as long as you wanted.
This is a very optimistic scenario I've set out, as you can imagine. After all, if you bought the options at $26.70, and Google tanked for the next month, not only would you be out of the money, the speculative value of your options could plummet as well. You'd then have to rely on the stock recovering to make any money. If the option expired worthless, you would not have to cover the difference -- Mr Bel Bruno's mistake -- but you would be out a lot of money. (There are cases in which you would have to cover the difference -- a highly risky strategy known as writing (selling) "naked calls," in which you didn't have the shares to write the option but did so anyway, requiring you to pony up for them when the option expires. But most people writing options have the shares to cover them -- although one could also argue this is dumb).
PUTS, NAKED CALLS, and MORE:
Being that Joyless, Rotten Bastard at the End of the Table
Who Bets the Don't Pass and Profits From the Misfortune
of Everyone Else Playing
Now, the call option is the most basic option to understand. You can also buy a put option, which is the opposite of a call option: you're essentially betting the stock price will go down. (It's similar to short selling a stock).
Getting more advanced, you can sell ("write") a call option, either with (a "covered call") or without (a "naked call") holding the underlying shares. This is extremely risky. If you hold the shares, and the option goes "in the money" for the holder of the option, you'll have to sell your shares at the strike price. Using our above example, if you sold (wrote) a call option on GOOG at $650, you would have to sell your 100 GOOG shares at $650 if the shares went above that, meaning you'd be out whatever profit you could have realized from the higher price. If you didn't have the shares, you'd have to buy them at whatever price they were at, which would leave you in a world of hurt. You can also sell puts (again, covered or naked).
The basic idea behind this strategy is that you would gain income from the options -- using our above example, you would make $5,340 through writing two GOOG call options -- but only if the options were out of the money when they expired. If the price of GOOG shot up to $700 per share, you would lose out on $50 per share when the option was exercised, because you'd have agreed to sell your shares at $650. That would leave you with lost profit of $10,000; after subtracting your option income, you'd have lost $4,660 on the deal. If you wrote a "naked call," you'd have to come up with $140,000 to cover the 200 shares of Google you'd agreed to make available to the option holder. I don't know about you, but for me this would really suck.
There's one other strategy I'll discuss before moving on -- that's known as a "married put." Let's say you own 100 shares of GOOG at $573, and you buy a put option at $550. The value of your shares is worth $57,300. The cost of the put option, which expires in September, is $3,920. If GOOG shares fall to $500 in August, you'll make at least $5,000 on the put -- and probably a lot more -- which offsets your equity loss of $7,300 in the stock itself. The idea is to hedge against loss in the value of your underlying equity position; however, the flip side is that if GOOG goes up, you'll have wasted $3,920 on your put, which will be worthless.
IN SUMMARY: Why Options Are
Not the Right Option for Most People
At the start of Mr Bel Bruno's article, there was a quote from a financial adviser who said it was a "myth" that options are complicated and risky. Well, it ain't no myth: they are complicated and they are risky. Nearly everyone should stick with investing -- not wildly speculating on future events that may or may not happen. There are plenty of ways to wildly speculate on things without putting your hard-earned investment capital at risk. Remember, it took a lot of hard work to earn that capital in the first place -- risking it on options doesn't make all that much sense.
But Bennnnnnnnnnnnn, some of my readers are saying. What if I just use them as a hedge against my shares falling? Well, what about it? If you're investing for the long term, then swings in market prices shouldn't concern you all that much. More importantly, though, you're eating into your returns by wasting money on options. If the worst doesn't happen, and the stock you buy goes up, you'll make money -- but not as much as you could have, because you had wasted money on buying your hedge, which would now be worthless as a result of the stock price going up.
As for the brokerages -- well, of course they want their customers to buy options, because that boosts their bottom lines. After all, with commissions for most vanilla stock trades practically nothing, allowing customers to trade in options means more business for them. Companies such as TradeKing don't send out "educational packages" out of the goodness of their hearts -- they do so because they think it will mean more revenue.
Finally, readers undoubtedly noticed in Mr Bel Bruno's article the historic comparison of options to a craps game. Folks, the comparison was made because it's true.
Speaking of history, craps itself is a simplified version of an old medieval dice game which had the very appropriate name of hazard. Hazard. Keep in that in mind the next time someone at a cocktail party starts babbling on about how much money they made with options. That someone may have avoided the traps for now. But over time, I would suggest most people speculating on options will find out the hard way that the house always wins.
ADDENDUM: Futures Options, or:
How to Lose Less Money on Commodities
Oops -- almost forgot! One place where using options makes sense is when one speculates on the commodities markets, but only because it's slightly less crazy than screwing around with commodities in the first place. If options are the craps games of the investing world, then the commodities markets are the pai gow tables. You know, those tables where the Chinese play dominoes based on an incredibly complex series of rules and traditions that no one unfamiliar with the game could ever figure out unless they spent months at it.
Anyway, futures options -- also known as "futops" -- are a way one can limit one's losses speculating in commodities, because you'll only lose the underlying value of the option when you inevitably end up down-limit on pork bellies or something. Of course, in screwing around with commodities, you're violating Rule No. 4 of Basic Investing Principles, which is: "Don't Screw Around with the Commodities Markets, Because They Can Make Your Life a Living Hell." So just as you would smartly avoid speculating in commodities, you should smartly avoid speculating in futures options based on those commodities. Still, if you must lose all your money in commodities, you could lose it slower through using futops as opposed to actual positions in the commodities themselves.
WHEN IT COMES TO SPORTS, the easiest part of the business -- as most folks in a front office would gladly tell you -- is actually playing the game. Success requires great sales and marketing work, smart personnel management, an eye for controlling costs while still producing an excellent product, and a hell of a lot of sweat equity. I am convinced that sports teams whose owners think the business is like running a bank won't do all that well, while sports teams whose owners realize their business involves competing for entertainment dollars will do quite well, and perhaps even great.
But let's get focus on one point -- the selling. If you want to succeed, your sales and marketing operation is key. Thus, it quite frankly stuns me just how many sports teams out there operate with names that can be charitably described as stupid. Yes, stupid.
I mean, we've all come across sports teams with stupid names. If you're like me, you wonder a few things upon hearing the names, such as, "What the hell were thinking?" and "How the hell do the fans root for the team without bursting into gales of laughter?" That's to say nothing of the opposing players. This might earn the home team a touchdown or goal or two, when the defense gets distracted at having to play the Local Yokels, but it sure won't earn them a bit of respect.
Before I get any further, though, I should note that all the teams I root for -- in order: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Michigan Wolverines, the Manchester Wolves, the Grand Rapids Rampage, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- all have excellent names. As a fan, this boosts my loyalty to the team, something I could not have pulled off if I was rooting for, say, the Colorado Crush. (The Crush have such a bad name that it got mocked in The Onion).
Now, the worst offender when it comes to bad team names -- inexplicably, I might add -- is the Women's National Basketball Association. Why the WNBA's names are so amazingly bad, I don't know, but out of 14 teams in the league only ONE has a semi-decent name, that being the New York Liberty. Whatever one thinks of that name, one must agree that it is far superior to say, the Atlanta Dream, the Chicago Sky, and the Seattle Storm. I mean, come on. The Atlanta Dream? Even the "Lady Hawks" -- which I am not suggesting, I would note -- would be a better name than that.
I have to think the amazing prevalence of bad team names in the WNBA has hindered its success -- just as stupid team names hindered the success of the XFL. (The New York/New Jersey Hitmen? But what about Connecticut? And the Hitmen -- yeah, that's a team everyone can get behind). Now, obviously, a dumb team name isn't going to hinder a well-run organization, just as a great name (Minnesota Fighting Pike!) won't automatically lead to success. But in honor of team names That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, here's my rundown of the Worst Sports Team Names of All-Time.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are so many bad team names out there that limiting my list to just, oh, let's say 15, will provoke cries of outrage from readers. So here are my list of honorable mentions, and their leagues:
New York/New Jersey Hitmen (XFL), Memphis Maniax (XFL), Atlanta Dream (WNBA), Chicago Sky (WNBA), Detroit Shock (WNBA), Staten Island Stapletons (NFL), Arkansas GlacierCats (WPHL), Cape Cod Freedoms (NEHL), Tampa Bay Strong Dogs (ABA), Roanoke Dazzle (NBA D-League), and the Toronto Ontarios (NHA).
Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the Grand List:
15. WISCONSIN BLAST
This professional basketball team, which competed in something called the International Basketball Association, was based in Appleton, Wisc. Despite this, the "Wisconsin Blast" was the best name they could come up with. I don't know about you, but when I think of the phrase "Wisconsin Blast," I think of the Sunday morning torture innumerable frat boys suffer through after downing far too much Milwaukee's Best the night before.
14. OHIO GLORY
A team that played for one year in the World League of American Football, the Ohio Glory finished their 1992 season 1-9. What was their team fight song? I imagine it went something like this:
We don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
the whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan --
we don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
'cause we're from O-HI-O.
13. ROCHESTER SKEETERS
Another IBA team, the Rochester Skeeters were apparently named with the idea that even if the team didn't perform all that well, it would still be really annoying. Why the team was named after mosquitoes in a place where the ground is only free of snow for two months out of the year is beyond me, but there you go.
12. LANCASTER RED ROSES
Back in the days of the early 20th century, there was actually a baseball team called the Red Roses in Lancaster, Pa., that faced off against the nearby White Roses of York, Pa. Given the rivalry and the history behind the original War of the Roses, the team name was an inspired -- almost genius -- choice. Furthermore, given the state of education back in the day, most people would actually have gotten this -- unlike today, when people would think Dennis Miller had somehow been allowed to come up with the team's name.
But I'm not talking about the baseball team. I'm talking about the CBA team from the Forties, which clearly tried to piggyback on history with the name choice. It didn't work -- and without a rival in York, the team name instead made the players seem like a bunch of pansies.
11. LOUISVILLE ALUMNITES
What the hell is an Alumnite, you're asking? Beats me, but I daresay this was the first basketball team to ever get named after a shaving product. This may have been why the team -- and the NPBL in which it played -- folded before its season ended back in 1950-1951.
10. ANAHEIM AMIGOS
Ole! This ABA team was named in that fraught-with-danger sports tradition, the Name That Team Contest. Amazingly, the team ownership went along with this name, despite the fact that it would undoubtedly annoy a good portion of its fan base. Also not helping matters: the mascot was a stereotypical "Mexican bandit." The average attendance of their games was 1,293, according to Wikipedia.
9. (tie) ROANOKE STEAM/RICHMOND SPEED
These two af2 teams, now mercifully defunct, violated the Cardinal Rule of Sports Team Naming Conventions: don't name your team after some lame-o physical force, especially if that makes the team sound like an WNBA team. Why Roanoke has issues with naming teams -- see above -- is beyond me, but they might want to do a better job with their marketing in future.
8. HOUSTON THUNDERBEARS
I'm sorry, but ThunderBears reminds me too much of this.
7. DANBURY TRASHERS
Since the team was sponsored by a trash-hauling company, you can't exactly blame the marketing guys for this one. In fact, I'd venture to say the marketing guys tore their hair out at having to come up with a team name and appropriate mascot for the owners, who should have stuck to hauling waste. According to the team's Wikipedia page, the mascot was a trash can wielding a hockey stick.
6. LOS ANGELES XTREME
The winner and champeen of the XFL's only season. Sadly, nobody told the XFL guys that -- how to put this -- it's completely and incredibly lame to use the letter X in an attempt to impart coolness. Despite this, there are several sports teams that have done this. As for the Xtreme bit -- although "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" didn't arrive until a few years after this, it should have been pretty clear that using the word "extreme" can only be used in a cynical or sarcastic sense, as in: "So -- not -- extreme!"
5. MINNESOTA FIGHTING SAINTS
I'm sorry, what? The Minnesota Fighting Saints? I don't care if they played hockey in the Seventies -- it's the sports equivalent of UHF's "Gandhi II" sketch serving as your team name for all time. ("No more Mr Passive Resistance!")
4. SOO MICHIGAN REALTORS
Someone please tell me the team's star player wasn't known as "Six Percent." Please. I'm begging you. I mean, can you think of any team name less likely to get your fans fired up about the squad? (I've got three, actually, but we'll get to those). What was the mascot for this Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team? A guy in a suit with a bunch of paperwork? I guess we should be thankful they weren't a baseball team, because the jokes about closing would be too much to bear.
3. PEORIA PRANCERS
Nothing brings to mind Eddie Shore and Old Time Hockey like a team named ... the Peoria Prancers. Holy God! What were they thinking? Think about it -- it's minor-league hockey. Your natural audience is a blue-collar crowd who shows up to see grown men beat the hell out of each other, and you name the team the Prancers? What was the mascot, a rotating collection from My Little Pony?
To the team's credit, though, the Prancers nickname only stuck for two years in the early Eighties. Someone apparently got out the epsom salts and the owners changed the name to the "Peoria Rivermen." That's not a great name either, but at least it doesn't conjure up images of tea parties and Care Bears.
2. SACRAMENTO ATTACK/MIAMI HOOTERS
Now here's genius for you: not only did you have the team with the worst name in the Arena Football League, you moved the team and found an even worse name. Was there no one with an IQ of 80 in the ownership group that could have said, "Say, I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but couldn't this new name complicate matters in terms of attracting families with children to the games?" I don't care if it was a sponsorship agreement: as amazing as it might seem, there are times when not being stupid trumps a lot of money.
Miami Hooters. My God. It's worth noting, by the way, that average attendance fell from about 9,000 in the first year to about 6,250 in the third year, according to ArenaFan. Fortunately, after 1995, the team got an actual decent name and continued to play on for several years.
1. OMAHA BEEF
In South Park, the kids' football team is named the "South Park Cows," who famously play the Middle Park Cowboys. Tell me how this is different. You can't, because it ain't. I mean, if there's nothing that suggests an immobile offensive line, a slothful defense and a quarterback who spends more time flat on his back than Jimmy Clausen playing Michigan, I don't know what does. I don't care if beef's an Omaha specialty, this is ridiculous.
Even worse, the beef analogies exist throughout the whole bloody organization. The mascot is Sir Loin. Yes, Sir Loin. That's somewhat alarming. More alarming is that the cheerleaders are called the "Omaha Prime." God help them -- if somebody from the University of Nebraska's Women's Studies Department picks up the sports section, there's going to be trouble! Or at the very least, two or three doctoral dissertations. ("Patriarchy, Indoor Football and the Continued Sexist Objectification of Women in Minor-League Sports.")
That said, unlike many of the teams I've listed, the Beef are doing quite well and have spent several years in the United Indoor Football league. I just hope they've got a backup name just in case. How about the Berkshire Hathaways?
I MUST SAY I was rather pleased to see an article, in today's edition of The New York Times, which reports on the emerging popularity of the "steampunk" subculture. Living in the provinces as I do, I had not realized that steampunk -- which combines modern-day technology with the fashions and mannerisms of the late 19th century -- had made the move from science-fiction literature to an actual subculture. But that said, I approve of it.
I realize this may come as a surprise to Loyal Rant Readers. After all, I have settled well into my chosen lifestyle, that of a traditionalist, curmudgeonly Midwesterner, albeit one with certain decadent weaknesses (like sashimi) internalized during a period of high living in my twenties. Consequently, my idea of fashion involves buying a new power tie. But as a traditionalist, curmudgeonly Midwesterner -- one who often looks upon the foibles of this modern age with a mix of cynicism, shock and despair -- I find much to like about steampunk culture. For one thing, there's this quote from Mr Giovanni James, a devotee of the subculture:
"“I’m so sick of baggy pants hanging off your bottom,” he said. “This is more refined. It goes back to a time when people had some dignity. It’s a new day.”
I mean, I don't know about you, but in my book, any subculture which encourages stylish dress -- along with wearing neckties and bowties as a matter of course -- can't be a bad thing.
Also, on a related note, I understand that a certain subgroup of young people in New York are eschewing modern mores for the joys of family life -- to the point where one magazine has dubbed them "New Victorians." Why, there might just be hope for the kids yet.
SOMETHING HAS GOT TO BE DONE. I mean, no one should have to go through that in this day and age.
A QUICK QUESTION: if a four-watt glass light bulb in Livermore, Calif., can burn for 107 years straight, why can't we create other durable goods with the same staying power? I mean, really.
So perhaps that's wishful thinking. Still, it's amazing to think the thing just keeps burning -- it's been going strong for nearly a million hours now. That's roughly 100 times the life of a typical incandescent light bulb. Maybe there's something our engineers could learn from this.
Alarming corollary: the light bulb has its own Web site. Not only that, but the Web site has received so many visitors that it has crashed.
ACCORDING TO The Los Angeles Times, Border Patrol officers working California's southern border are arresting and deporting illegal immigrants as the immigrants are heading back to Mexico.
Did I not get the memo or something?
I mean, I don't know about you, but it seems to me that if you have legions of illegal migrants trying to get into the country every day of the year, and you have legions of illegal migrants already in the country, it might make more sense to devote attention to those groups before focusing on the folks that are going back home. I mean, call me crazy, but an illegal migrant leaving the country and returning to his nation of origin isn't much of an illegal migrant.
Now, the Government does have a rationale for this practice -- according to the Times, the Government believes it a "productive way to stop dangerous criminals, drug shipments and money launderers."
I do wish the Times had gone into more detail about that point, because it might have helped justify why the Government is doing this. Certainly the money-laundering aspect of things makes sense, because we know that narcotics cash is smuggled across the border into Mexico. The criminal aspect also makes sense, if the Government is searching for dangerous criminals whom it believes are heading to Mexico. The drug shipment aspect seems a bit much, because the drugs would be going the wrong way, but then again, I am not a policeman.
Still, even if that was the case, wouldn't it make sense to just conduct searches of the vehicles as a matter of policy and then arrest only those who were actually caught trying to smuggle cash or escaping justice? Arresting illegal migrants who are spitting distance from their home country just doesn't seem very efficient.
SOMETIMES, IN MY MORE charitable moments, I feel a twinge of pity for the poor scoundrels who have volunteered themselves to produce articles on personal finance matters for Yahoo! Finance.
For those of you unfamiliar with the site, it serves as a news aggregator about happenings in the financial markets, and it does a good job at this. However, it does less good of a job at producing original content. Much of the content, at least from what I can tell, comes in the form of commentary, opinion and light news articles from a stable of experts, who write these articles with varying degrees of competence. A few of the writers -- Harold Maass and Ben Stein -- are actually quite good at what they do. Most of the contributors, however, write such absolute drivel that I think Steve Ballmer held them up as Exhibit A for why he wasn't paying $37 a share.
I don't necessarily blame the writers for this, as I don't know what exactly they are told to produce. However, there is clearly a mismatch between what the site's managers think they should produce and what the site's readers expect them to produce. This is most often seen in the user comments left in response to the articles, in which readers will regularly blast contributors for writing things any functioning adult should figure out on their own. (This may be true, but one can't necessarily fault the writer if he is told to write for a general audience).
Readers' responses to a recent column from Mr David Bach exemplify this reality. Mr Bach, a former executive with Morgan Stanley, writes about personal-finance matters in a column known as "The Automatic Millionaire." This week, Mr Bach wrote a column on travel that ... well, let's just say it left a lot to be desired, because there were such amazing howlers in it that it gave the impression Mr Bach has himself not traveled past the Triborough Bridge. These included the typographical error that identified Hungary as a city and the assertion it would take four to five days to drive from Los Angeles to Seattle. (This would only be the case if one drove a Model T, and even then, one might make it sooner).
Typical responses to the article were as follows: "I feel stupider after reading this article," "More useless drivel from this putz," and "Pretty good article, but he forgot to mention one of THE BEST money saving tips when traveling: PICKPOCKETING!" But perhaps the best was:
I'm planning to save a bundle on my family vacation this year with David's tips. We'll go to a third world country called the United States. Instead of pampering ourselves, we'll walk to all our destinations, cook our own meals and go somewhere that is cheap and close (say western Kansas) even though it is completely unappealing. We'll sleep in our car at rest areas and hire a couple hobos to take us on a tour of a downtown. Boy won't my wife just be so happy that we saved all that money. I might even be able to afford the ensuing divorce.
Now, with such forceful blowback, one may wonder just what Mr Bach wrote to garner such condemnation. In Mr Bach's defense, some of his tips were actually somewhat useful -- try alternative travel Web sites, or consider alternative lodgings that might prove cheaper. However, others were of limited utility: for instance, train travel, although I much approve of it, is slower and often not cheaper than air travel. Some of Mr Bach's ideas were just downright odd: for instance, the one about paying locals to offer tours of their areas. I don't know about you, but if you ask me, you can just go exploring for fun and not pay anyone anything. Also, they won't be insulted at your cheapo offer.
The idea of paying for a hotel kitchen on longer-term trips also didn't make much sense, at least to me; there are ways around the restaurant problem that are cheaper. And the bit about staying close to home also didn't seem to really fit in with the idea of a vacation. As Mr Bach wrote:
When the cost of gas, the rigor of air travel, and the hassle of packing up the kids is just too daunting, consider staying home and discovering nearby attractions you may never have seen.
Tape a map of your metro area to a dartboard. Once a month, throw a dart at the map. Wherever the dart lands, that's where you go that weekend to explore, even if you've been there before (the obvious exception is areas that might be dangerous). You can still make some amazing discoveries in your own backyard, spend quality time with family, and recharge your batteries -- not to mention save a bundle of cash.
Don't do this. When I was living in Los Angeles, a colleague of mine who was heading out of town on a long weekend had his car break down, and he got stranded in Fontana, Calif. Let's just say the weekend in Fontana was not the optimal way for the guy to spend his vacation. Besides, the kids probably wouldn't be enthused if you suddenly announced the family was going to vacation in ... New Rochelle, N.Y. Or Pacoima, Calif. Or Jeannette, Pa. You get my drift.
However, as a travel enthusiast myself, here are my clever ideas for saving money while vacationing. I have divided them into two categories: Travel for the Single Guy and Travel for the Single Guy Who is Traveling With His Girlfriend. These separate categories are warranted because -- well, let's face it, a single man traveling alone can cut certain corners he wouldn't dare dream of doing if traveling with a woman. Conversely, while traveling with a lady, a man may want to entertain spending notions he wouldn't even consider if he was traveling alone. So let's get into them, shall we?
TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE SINGLE MAN:
1. Stay with friends for some or all of the journey. Hotels are expensive. Staying with friends is free, even if etiquette dictates you buy your friends at least one meal for the hospitality. Another option, instead of buying your friends dinner, is to help with the dishes.
2. Your hotel is a place to sleep. There is no sense spending oodles of money on a room when you're going to spend eight hours at most in it per day. Instead, go as cheap as you can on the hotel, while making sure it still has certain fancy options, such as working door locks and hot running water.
3. Eat cheap. Although travelers should always endeavor to eat at sit-down restaurants for their daily bread, this does not mean one has to be extravagant. If you're clever, you should be able to get a really good breakfast for like $5 or perhaps $7. This will allow you to take a light lunch (again, for about $5 or $7), and then get a decent dinner for less than $15.
4. On a road trip? Stop by Meijer or something. There is no point in stopping repeatedly for soft drinks and snacks while on your road trip. Stop once at a Meijer and pick up a cheap twelve-pack of soda (I like Diet Squirt myself) and a bunch of snacks. This will run you like $20 and provide plenty of sustenance for the trip. If you're clever, you can get breakfast stuff on the go or a cheap dinner as well, saving yourself bunches of money that you can spend instead on football souveniers.
5. Renting a car isn't such a bad idea. Car rental prices are so cheap that you can hire a car for as little as $20 or $30 per day. If you're putting bunches of miles on it, you'll still come out ahead on the deal compared to using your own vehicle once you factor in depreciation. For instance, on my recent trip back to Michigan, I drove about 800 miles. If you figure depreciation for a typical auto is 15 cents per mile, that works out to $120. My car rental cost was $144, meaning I essentially got the car -- a nice, new car with satellite radio -- for free.
6. Use loyalty programs. This goes hand-in-hand with Item No. 1 below, but when you're traveling alone, loyalty programs are a great way to build up credit for when you're traveling with your girlfriend and want to splurge without spending additional money.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE SINGLE MAN
TRAVELING WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND
1. Now is the time when you use your frequent flyer miles. There are two acceptable routes here. It is a good idea, for instance, to use your frequent flyer miles to buy the tickets outright. However, it is a better idea to use your frequent flyer miles to secure upgrades to first class. It can be difficult to actually buy tickets that you want with miles, so the upgrade option may well prove a better use of them. Plus, you're flying first class and your consumer acumen will impress your girlfriend accordingly.
2. Travel off-peak. For most young men (and younger women), the value in traveling comes in the traveling. It is not until you are older that the actual time of the travel becomes noteworthy amongst your peers. Simply put, going to Europe or the Caribbean is cool enough. The timing is less important. So save a bunch of money by going during the off-season -- if not the height of the low season, at least off enough so that you'll be able to snag some serious discounts.
3. Plan artsy/romantic things to do. These often do not cost a lot of money, but often your girlfriend will like them, which consequently means she will go along with your clever ideas, such as spending the whole day on Sunday watching football. Also, as I said, they don't often cost much. So plan ahead -- take in a museum or find some romantic movie or go for a walk on the Santa Monica Pier. The list of ideas is endless and dare I say it, you'll enjoy it as well.
4. Plan some of your eating out ahead of time. Plans change, of course, and you might have to scuttle some of the ideas you come up with under this one, but there's no better way to control expenses and wow your girlfriend through getting reservations at an excellent restaurant you've scouted out beforehand. Consider using a service like opentable.com to plan accordingly.
5. Stagger your hotel reservations. Hotels are expensive, but there is no reason to pay more for a hotel than you must. It may make sense to spend most of your trip at a mid-priced hotel and then spend the last day or two in some place really fancy, like a suite with an ocean view. This goes especially if you can finagle some great deals on your hotel stays -- do some searching around.
6. Black lingerie is proof from God that He loves us and wants us to be happy. I'm just saying.
Anyway, there are my Travel Tips for the Single Man. Hopefully, you have found them helpful and not just regurgitation of things any idiot could have figured out on their own, because it certainly would be embarrassing if that was the case. Also, I would like to apologize to Benjamin Franklin for borrowing a quote of his for the last item, although knowing Franklin's reputation, I doubt he would disagree with that statement.
WELL, HERE'S THE MARKET REPORT of the Day, from none other than the Fox Business channel, which breathlessly reports: "Wall Street Defiant in the Face of $122 Oil."
Yes, that's right -- defiant. You know, because a rising market is as American as motherhood, apple pie and National League baseball.
The report goes on to express wonderment at the market's rise on a day when oil prices were at $122 a barrel and -- wait for it -- Goldman Sachs forecasted a potential price spike to $200 a barrel in the not-too distant future. You know, because Wall Street investment houses are always spot on with their forecasts about the commodities markets. Also, the markets solely respond to oil prices when they decide to go up or down.
I much prefer the reporting job the Associated Press did about oil prices. It's actually a decent report. Instead of babbling on about oil prices so high the American people will resort to wearing barrels instead of buying them, the AP looks at facts of minor import, such as: a) this isn't exactly a new prediction from Goldman Sachs, b) Citigroup, in so many words, came out and said Goldman's analysis was crap. The Rant, accordingly, gives a tip of the hat to the AP for digging beneath the surface of the matter.
APPARENTLY IN CONNECTION with the impending execution of a Georgia man who murdered his girlfriend in 1987, ABC News published a story on the last words of prisoners before they are dispatched to face the ultimate Judge.
The story found the last words of the condemned varied widely in tone. Some expressed anger and hatred, others asked for forgiveness, still others expressed sentiments that can only be described as odd. Then there were those few who, according to the news agency, had the audacity to maintain they didn't actually commit the crime for which they were being executed:
Some, in their last moments, defy reason or compassion.
Granville Riddle, for example, was the 295th person put to death in Texas and until his very last breath argued his good character.
"I would like to say to the world, I have always been a nice person," said Riddle, who was 19 when he was convicted of murdering an Amarillo, Texas, resident with a tire tool during a break-in. "I have never been mean-hearted or cruel."
And a few, either from a perverse taunting of society or a plea for a posthumous exoneration, insist on their innocence.
"There have been those who have said that they're innocent, but in the last 40 (executions) or so that's generally been a small percentage," said (Virginia Dept. of Corrections spokesman Larry) Traylor. "The larger percentage say nothing or ask God for forgiveness."
Stories like this, which delve into the psyche of the most desperate and wretched, are admittedly interesting but in a rather disturbing way. After all, these are hardened criminals; people who committed crimes so horrific they were ordered to face the ultimate penalty as a result. In that regard, taking interest in what they believe seems unseemly at best and callous at worst. What, after all, of their victims, who did not have the luxury of giving a final statement or receiving a final meal?
However, if there is any benefit to this story and those like it, it is that they reaffirm the humanity of those being executed. That's something I think is incredibly important for everyone involved -- the prisoner, the family and friends of the prisoner's victim, and society as a whole.
For the prisoner, of course, it is his last chance to not only make what little amends he can, but also to save himself as he stands at the precipice between hellfire and salvation. At this last hour, when all is lost, the consequences and gravity of this final spiritual act must not be written off as a meaningless gesture. For if Christ on the Cross could grant Dismas salvation, could not He do the same for the prisoner truly seeking absolution for his sins? Along those lines, would not the guilty who react to their impending doom with unrepentant and seething hatred -- or alternatively, the preening arrogance of Capaneus -- accordingly seal their fate in the final moments of their existence?
I recognize there are those who would consider my argument poor form: why should one give a damn about the prisoners, when they have done so much wrong and caused so much pain? It is a fair point, and I do not suggest that one ought feel sorry or charitable to the men in this position. They have done what they have done, and now they must answer for it. But even as one prepares the final accounting, one must not lose sight of the prisoners' humanity, no matter how twisted and evil they may have become.
For if we lose sight of that, then we consequently diminish the wickedness of their acts. Occasionally, we read stories about animals who attack people for whatever reason -- a circus lion who attacks its handler, or a dog that mauls some innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although these incidents often result in tragedy, we do not blame the animals for what they have done. That's for good reason. Animals do not have the intellect nor the moral compass to realize the implications of their actions. They have instincts, but they do not have souls.
But men, even the most wicked and evil among us, do have souls. If their last words and last deeds provide some window into their psyches before they are extinguished, I can only think that will bring some closure to the family and friends of their victims. If a prisoner is repentant, perhaps his victim's loved ones will be able to credit that towards a final settling of the account between them and the wretch, and perhaps it will help them cope with the immense losses they have suffered. If the prisoner is not, perhaps his immediate demise will help them begin to heal.
As for the rest of us, well, perhaps we will look at these situations with the gravity they deserve -- for the prisoner and for the victim and their loved ones. They are matters I think get dealt with rather cavalierly in this day and age: the crime and punishment becomes almost ancillary to what people really want to talk about, which is moral panic. One can see this in any on-line discussion about crime and punishment, where outrage about the crime in question quickly devolves into a griping session about myriad societal problems, ranging from parental ineptitude to immigration policy and the workings of the judiciary. I do think it would behoove us to stick to the matter at hand when discussing these things, for it is unseemly for matters of grave import to devolve into debating competitions, as if one was arguing about whether to approve a municipal bond issue.
This is, as it happens, one reason why I am not particularly a fan of lethal injection as a means of execution: the manner of execution diminishes the import of the act. Readers who read Kafka in their college days may recall the outrage which Joseph K expressed as he was himself dispatched -- his fury at being put down "like a dog!" Of course, we euthanize house pets through lethal injection. To do the same thing to a human being is degrading: not only to the prisoner himself, but just as important, the acts the prisoner committed to warrant facing the ultimate penalty. It would be far better if we returned to using means of execution that not only treated prisoners like human beings, but also their victims.
There are, of course, many ways to die; some worse than others -- some much worse than others. I do not think we need return to the era of the electric chair and gas chamber. But I can't see why a firing squad or hanging is somehow cruel or unusual, for they are acts in which men face justice at the hands of other men, and with them comes a reckoning as clear as the new day's dawn.
DUE TO A CATASTROPHIC FAILURE of my old computer -- it is dead, kaputski, an ex-parrot, etc. -- The Rant will be on a temporary hiatus while I restore my system. The good news is that true data loss associated with the failure was minimal, and I have somehow managed to restore not only my e-mail connection but also locally-based stuff associated with my blog in a surprisingly short amount of time. The bad news is I have a lot of stuff I need to set up again from scratch. So as a result, things here will be a bit quiet until I can bring everything back.
As for my new computer, it rules. Although I have learned a couple of lessons from this. The first is that paper records, although scorned in this day and age, remain invaluable. The second is that I should probably "upgrade" my computer more frequently -- my old one WAS six years old, after all. Anyway, that's the update.
THE PLAYOFFS? Don't talk to me about the playoffs! You kidding me? I just hope we can win a game.
-- Jim Mora
I AM SADDENED to report the Manchester Wolves (1-4) lost yet again this weekend. Not only have they lost four games straight, they lost their latest home game to the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds, who at 0-5 coming into the game were the worst team in the entire af2 league.
True, I know the Wolves are suffering from injuries. Our starting quarterback was out with a separated shoulder; our best cornerback has been out with a concussion; we have a one-time lineman, whom we're due to sign again soon, who just had hernia surgery. That said, these are three (3) out of twenty (20) players, and we can't win games if the other 17 don't perform up to par.
Things aren't entirely bad, of course. Our line play today seemed to significantly improve -- although I wonder how much of that was actual improvement as opposed to better circumstances, i.e., not playing a very good opposing squad. But our defensive backs continue to perform subpar and today, that just killed us, along with various blunders our backup quarterback made. It's tough to win games when basic facets of the game -- such as the snap from center to quarterback -- are not executed with perfect precision. It's also tough to win games when your defensive backs -- although they had brief moments of glory today -- blow their coverage assignments, as annoyingly happened more than once. As for penalties -- don't get me started on the penalties. Penalties are prima facie evidence of ill-discipline.
Still, today was a day in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Consider what happened near the end of the first half. The score was Daytona Beach 22 - Manchester 20. Daytona Beach, in its own territory and facing a fourth down, decided it would attempt a field goal. The kick was blocked, flew into the air and into the arms of one of our defensive backs, who proceeded to run it back for a touchdown to great acclaim. Now that Manchester was up 26-22, the Wolves smartly decided to go for a two-point conversion. Unfortunately, our quarterback's pass was intercepted, and Daytona Beach's player ran it back all the way for a safety. Ugh.
The frustrating thing about this game was that it was a game we should have won and needed to win. We could have beaten this team. When you get off to a slow start in a season, you need to win games against weak opponents to help ride out the games against strong ones. But we blew it. We blew it so bad, in fact, that the af2 highlighted the game and Daytona Beach's upset on their Web site, adding insult to injury.
It certainly isn't going to get any easier, either. Next week, we get to play the hated Florida Firecats down in Florida. This normally would not be too bad, except that Florida is one of three undefeated teams in the 29-team af2. The week after that, back at home, we get to play the Tulsa Talons, who at 6-0 are the best team in the entire league and the defending ArenaCup champion.
I know hope springs eternal, and I am hopeful Manchester will be able to right the ship soon. But this is shaping up to be a rather tough year.
Hopes Shipment of Fine, American-Made Combs
Will Assist Johnson, New London Mayor
London "Gobsmacked" at American Generosity
Report: Livingstone Blames Americans, Israelis, Indians,
Saudis, Immigrants, Fascists, Media, and Quangos for Loss
By LORD GREEN of Weston-infra-Mare
Far East Economic Rant
LONDON -- Domestic and foreign observers hailed news that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would express-ship a pallet of "high-quality, made-in-America hair combs" to City Hall in London in time for new London Mayor Boris Johnson's inauguration as the city's chief executive.
The shipment of combs, which observers expect will also include quantities of hair brushes, hair spray, pomade and other quality American hair-care products, was reportedly due to leave Andrews Air Force Base about 2 a.m. British Summer Time. The good-will gesture is seen as indicating warmer relations between the U.S. and Britain, although some have grumbled the move is unneeded.
"There's nothing wrong with Boris Johnson's hair, just like there was nothing wrong with English houses before the introduction of central heating," said local Conservative voter Posonby Runciman, OBE, as he prepared to motor into central London. "Next thing we know, the Americans shall start parading around our streets like an occupying army! This, my dear sir, cannot be borne!"
Other Londoners shared this view.
"Right! What do we need with some stinking Yank combs anyway?! British combs'll work just fine, even for a customer like Boris!" said Ted Farnham, an unemployed file clerk who gave his occupation "as a supporter of West Ham United."
"The Yanks can take their bloody combs and sod off," Farnham said.
BORIS JOHNSON, the Conservative MP for Henley-on-Thames, is shown here in an unretouched image captured from television. Johnson was elected Mayor of Greater London on Friday, beating incumbent Mayor Ken "Red Ken" Livingstone. As a goodwill gesture, the United States is express-shipping a pallet of combs and other military-issue hair-care products to London for the new mayor, as Johnson's hair has proven impervious to every hair-care product and device in Great Britain.
The American Government is reportedly sympathetic to Londoners' views, and does not wish a repeat of an "admittedly unfortunate" incident in 1995, when newly-elected Paris mayor Jean Tiberi was express-shipped a case of Mitchum deodorant.
"We simply want to reach out to our English friends in a spirit of good will and friendship," said Les Slote, third secretary of the American embassy in London. "We very much value the support and assistance they have shown us over the years, and we thought this would be a nice way to show our appreciation. I mean, yeah, we could have paid for some dentists to come over and take NHS patients, but this was a fast and easy way to show our support for the new mayor."
"Also, we congratulate -- uh, Chelsea Football Club, whatever that is -- on its excellent season and hope they reach the top of the, er, league table," added Slote, reading from his notes.
There was no immediate reaction to the donation from Her Majesty's Government, which was reeling from an "absolutely disasterous" round of local elections. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had reportedly retreated to the Government's stronghold at Belbury with his chief advisors, John Wither and Augustus Frost, to plot a future strategy, which will reportedly revolve around the concept of "elasticity in Government."
Meanwhile, outgoing mayor Ken Livingstone was reportedly engaged in a tirade in his office at City Hall, in which he blamed the Americans, the Israelis, the Indians, the Saudis, immigrants, fascists, the media and "particularly the incompetence of his quangos' get-out-the-vote efforts" for his loss.
EARLIER THIS EVENING, I was thinking about how to pay for college for the kids I don't have with the wife I haven't yet met. This may seem strange, but I find it useful to engage in theoretical planning exercises once in a while, because it helps keep me focused on certain realities of life. After about ten minutes of running various scenarios in my head, I came up with a solution -- start saving when the test strip comes back blue. Problem solved.
Soon after I ran through this exercise, I stumbled upon an essay which a Texas physician wrote regarding the modern American man and how he views his obligations towards work, family, finances, and so on. Dr Melissa Clouthier argues that men in general need to act more like, well, men. In her words, "men need to butch up."
As Loyal Rant Readers may well expect, I am in general agreement with this argument, although my outlook may be a bit different than Dr Clouthier's. But to do full justice to her argument, I think I should address it point by point. Dr Clouthier starts out by writing:
Men. What the world needs more of is manly men. I've blogged about this before, but it's worth repeating. A girlfriend of mine told me that her three best girlfriends all have husbands that stay home while their wives work and the men sit around complaining about their wives. That just seems wrong somehow.
Seems wrong? Oh, come on, now. Unless the men are taking care of the children full time and keeping house along with it, it's entirely wrong and pathetic. There's absolutely no excuse for a man to be idle while his wife is out earning the couple's living expenses.
Dr Clouthier continues on by writing:
This post is going to be so politically incorrect that a good chunk of even my most traditional readers might not like it, but I'm kinda thinking out loud here for a minute. Do you guys think that by women entering the workforce, that women have had the same effect on the man's role as say welfare has?
I mean, a generation ago, a man wouldn't look down on his woman for not working outside the home. Taking care of the house; cooking, cleaning, caring for the children and basically being the center of the home was what a woman did. It was enough. No one would consider her to be slacking. In this generation, women suffer a vague, and sometimes, explicit, unease about doing that job. She is viewed as not pulling her weight because she's just a housewife.
And it's not just women judging women. Men, too, want their women to work to take the pressure off. A man is simply not interested in carrying all the financial weight and why should he have to? Women are equal now. Equal means doing the same thing--working and living like a man. Feminism means, and it's men that I've seen to be the biggest feminists, being a good man and bring home the bacon, frying it up in a pan and doing it again and again.
But it seems like an unintended consequence has been resentment. Women have excelled in the workplace. They can take care of themselves. They do leave their babies to work. Meanwhile, some men (not all, of course) have gone the other way. They no longer work as hard because they just don't have to. On the one hand, they don't have the financial pressure of their father's generation, but they also don't have the self-respect, work-ethic and noble purpose of their father's generation either.
Now perhaps I'm just old-fashioned, but I can't imagine looking down on my wife -- whom I haven't yet met -- if she wanted to stay home and raise our family. She would be, after all, raising the family and keeping house, which is no small feat. Meanwhile, I would have the luxury of getting to go out and work -- which involves fun things like eating out and talking with other adult human beings. If anything, I would do everything I could to make that a reality if that was a choice she wanted to make.
I can also say I would feel horribly guilty if my wife felt she had to work in order to meet our expenses. That's not the same situation, I would note, as the idea of my wife working because she wanted to do so. That's entirely different, and if she wanted to work, well, we'd just handle things accordingly -- just as we would if she stayed home and I had to do the providing bit.
As for men wanting their wives to "take the pressure off" -- perhaps it's just me, but I don't think I know of any man who personally looks to his wife as the financial savior of their relationship. Perhaps I just look at things differently, but to me, the first answer to Not Having Enough Money is reducing expenses, and only then looking at ways to earn extra income. A man provides for his wife and children first and then indulges his whims afterwards; that's how things are supposed to be done. If that means I have to work longer hours or moonlight to provide for the family, well, that's what I do.
This is not to say the circumstances Dr Clouthier mentions do not exist -- they do. Why this is, I don't really know. We know the family has become weaker over the decades and I suspect that has played a big part in it. I know in my own case, though, that my family has had a very strong influence on me. When your father and all your uncles work like the devil at their jobs -- especially Uncle Bob, who famously returned to work the day after his appendectomy -- those ideas about your responsibilities are passed down accordingly. (I haven't had a 14-hour day in a while, but when I do, I refer to it as a "Dad day.")
Along those lines, I wonder about the resentment angle Dr Clouthier mentions. In terms of the workplace environment, I certainly don't see it. When I was growing up, I was taught that it didn't matter who my competition was or what advantages they might have -- my job was to succeed regardless. At home, though, maybe it's a different matter. Men certainly have that provider instinct internalized in them, and I certainly think some men would be resentful if their wives demeaned their contributions (or lack thereof).
But it seems to me there are two solutions to this problem. If one's wife's reaction is unreasonable, then marriage counseling is the answer. If one's wife's reaction is reasonable, then the answer is for the man to contribute more. If a man is not working and his wife is doing so, and his wife also keeps house, then the man should go out and get a job -- even if it really sucks. Also, along with getting a job, he should help out with the vacuuming or something.
Dr Clouthier continues:
It seems to me that a man needs to be needed and when that feedback loop is cut either by the government, or even by a working woman, he can (not always) lose his drive and desire to work and succeed.
Societally, it seems like men don't value or seem to be valued for manliness. A strong, hard-working, driven guy has been replaced with a soft, unmotivated, aimless man who can't make a declarative sentence or find the will to do what needs to be done. Basically, too many men have become pansies.
Yes, a man needs to be needed. But the fact his wife is working shouldn't cause him to lose his drive or desire to work or succeed. That's a rather poor excuse, if you ask me. And as for society -- who gives a damn about what society thinks? My loyalties are first to my family and then to my friends and then to the church and only then -- a distant fourth! -- this concept of "society."
When all is said and done, the pursuit of manliness starts with the man himself wanting to pursue it. Oddly enough, I saw this principle best exemplified in a children's cartoon some years back. The idea can be summed up as follows: "Help wanted? Inquire within."