Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Wonder I Always Feel Dumb!

Forbes Magazine released their list of the best and worst educated cities in America this week, and it turns out that I've been surrounded by smart people for much of my life. Number 1 on the list is my current home of Boulder, Number 2 is Ann Arbor, where I got my MBA, and Number 7 is the Southern CT, including Stamford, where I lived for 3 and 1/2 years, until I could no longer stand being surrounded by Yankees fans.

It is quite an experience to live in a town full of smart people like Boulder. Your bartender is likely to be conversant in far more than local gossip and sports trivia, your waiter might be working on a PHD (yet unable to get your order right the first time), and the guide on that silly bus that looks like a hillbilly shack has at least one Masters. And the woman who walks dogs for a living in my neighborhood has a PH.D in Anthropology.

When I go to the rec center to work out, the conversation is not usually about muscles or football, but politics, literature, or the feasibility of alternative energy. Where I go for happy hour, you can find a guy who is designing a new city in Africa, and a guy who graduated #1 in his class at Johns Hopkins. You get smarter just be having a beer in this town.

Of course, if I was actually getting smarter, I would be able to stop rooting for the Buffalo Bills! No such luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Best Thing About XMAS

What's the best thing about Christmas? No, it's not the barking dogs version of "Jingle Bells". Nor the fruitcake. Not even 4 hour airplane rides jammed with disease riddled overweight Americans and their screaming infants.

No, by far the best thing about Christmas is Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide, full of the kind of gift-giving ideas that might otherwise be overlooked. Every golfer will want the Uroclub, and what new parent can do without the Restroom Baby-hanger. And I'm just hoping that someone will get me the talking fly swatter.

At my age, with no kids, having to travel across the country, I am far more annoyed by Christmas than excited. But I still look forward to 3 great holiday traditions: Getting drunk with my friends at Friday's on Christmas Eve, bowling on Boxing Day, and new material from the great Dave Barry.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The end of insanity?

My favorite definition of insanity is 'doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". There are no two better examples of this than the US policy toward Cuba, and our ridiculous war on drugs. Both have gone on for a long time, been expensive, destructive to ourselves and those in other countries, and not even come close to achieving their goals. The New York Times today has an article about a report being released that recommends we stop the insanity.

Our policy towards Cuba is an outrage. Not only has it been a complete failure in its goal of bringing Castro to his knees (oh, wait, he will be dead soon, so I guess we win), but it has impoverished the entire country, and helped deny those who might wish to overthrow him any of the assets they might need to pull that off. It is based on sucking up to the formerly powerful monied Cuban exiles in Miami, who are supposed to deliver Florida's electoral votes to whichever candidate promises to be tough on Castro and get their families stuff back when Castro is gone (ain't gonna happen!). This MUST end. In fact, it should be reversed. The best thing we can do to get Cuba out of communism is go there in large numbers, spend money there, let the people see that Americans are good people, and live a great lifestyle that communism can't provide. As we spend money there, a middle class will develop, and they will get rid of communism. I'd even put a major league baseball team in Havana.

Meanwhile, the war on drugs continues, wasting our tax dollars to tell people they can' do what they want with their own bodies and lives, causing violent crime in our cities, and throughout the Americas, and destroying our constitutional rights with it's intrusions. The reports of drug murders in border cities like Juarez are astounding. Yet, the number of addicts in this country has not declined in 20 years. There has got to be a smarter, cheaper way to approach this.

If Obama wants to bring real change, he will read this report and act on it. Let's stop the waste, the stupidity, the violence, and mostly , the insanity of carrying on with programs that have been nothing but expensive, wrong-headed disasters.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ben Bernanke is "House"

Every week on the popular Fox show "House" a patient is brought in with a series of symptoms that make no sense to normal doctors. The misanthropic Dr. House and his team try to diagnose and treat the patient, but they are invariably wrong at the start, causing the patient to get even worse. The team of docs each offers unique cures. Meanwhile, the patient is lying about where he's been, what he does, and who he does it with. The situation deteriorates, the patient wretches, convulses, even sweats blood. By 45 minutes into the hour show, the patient is near death.

Does this sound familiar at all? It sounds exactly like what is happening in our economy today. The sick patient comes in beyond normal help, with unusual symptoms like over-leveraging, sub-prime mortaging, deflation, recession, and a manic-depressive stock market. Dr. Bernanke and his team, who know that not treating the patient at all will cause severe pain, have no textbook treatment for this new disease, so they decide to treat everything. Unique cures are offered by the bad assets, save the mortgages, inject capital, leaches....but the patient continues to get worse, it convulses and has seizures. Is it now somewhere between 8:30 and 8:45 (that's mountain time....check your local listings) in our episode of "Economy House"?

The good news is that House, or a member of his team, usually has an epiphany while doing something unrelated to the patient's treatment. The patient is then saved, and lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, as one of my students pointed out this morning when I first used this analogy, some of the patients on House don't make it.

By the way, if you haven't watched "House", I do recommend it, if only for the outstanding performance of Hugh Laurie as House, perhaps the most unlikeable main character ever on an American TV show. Where did he learn to be such an awful person? Perhaps by appearing in the classic Britcom "Blackadder", where Rowan Atkinson hilariously portrays the evil title character. See Below:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

They stole my joke and made it real

Back in 1992, I was in a improv/sketch comedy group called The Players in Stamford, CT. One of the bits I wrote for our first show was an ad for Presidential Candidate Comdoms, each with the picture of your favorite candidate on the end. I don't remember the whole bit, but I do remember that the Bill Clinton condom was "for heavy duty use", and the Ross Perot "for when you're in, and out, and in, and out, and in....". The condoms were to "help you do what they'll do to the whole country if they get elected."

So, I'm watching The Daily Show last night, and the great Lewis Black is on with a bit about all the Obama crap that is now for sale, like commemorative plates. This included Obama condoms. But, unlike my skit, these are actually for sale. Watch the news clip below.

What should also be for sale is the W condom, for when you are on the bottom, because nobody F..'s UP like George W. Bush.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An insider view of the Detroit Bailout

Nice little article here from the Daily Beast by Walter McManus, a U of Michigan Economist who covers the auto industry and used to work in it. I particularly like his idea that Detroit management is individually smart but collectively dumb.....certainly no doubt about the second part.

Oh, and I believe that Budd Baily and I once had dinner at the Waffle House in Gainesville, FL that he mentions, while listening to "Your Cheatin' Heart" on the juke box. And if the Waffle Houses did go out of business too, would that be a great loss?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can I get some of what this guy is smoking?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the head of the UAW thinks that the fact that US auto industry is in trouble is not their fault.

"This industry is in a crisis situation not of its own making," Ron Gettelfinger said in an interview Saturday afternoon with The Wall Street Journal.

The UAW president said the industry's predicament is a direct result of an unprecedented drop-off in auto sales that started with high gas prices this summer. Eroding consumer confidence to make big-ticket purchases was fueled by a credit crunch that limited customers' ability to buy a new car or truck and forced the companies to spend more money then they were bringing in, according to Mr. Gettelfinger.

Right! That's why Toyota and Honda are also near bankruptcy......oh wait, THEY AREN'T!

The auto industry, and by that I mean management and unions, is making a last ditch attempt to have the taxpayers support their unsustainable business model. After they have repeatedly resisted efforts to raise fuel economy. After they created a business model based on $1/gallon gas forever. While paying union members to sit on their ass and do nothing when not needed. And they want us to support this lunacy?

Our new President loses all my support if he falls for this crap, but since the unions helped get him elected, I fear he will prove what I said at happy hour on Friday to some true Obamalievers (at considerable physical risk)....that he is just another politician.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Manny must be crazy

The Dodgers offered Manny Ramirez, who is 36, $45M over 2 years, and Manny turned it down. Now the Dodgers have taken the offer off the table.

Manny may not be paying much attention to the world around him. The economy is crashing, and those financial firms who ponied up the big bucks for the luxury suites that help pay his salary have gone under. Meanwhile, as the NY Times points out today, with the US auto industry near bankruptcy, a huge chunk of ad revenue to all sports is threatened. Where does Manny think more $ is going to come from? And who is crazy enough to pay an aging hitter, even one as good a Manny, who has a habit of not giving his all and being a butcher in the field, more than that? Even the Yankees aren't that stupid.....maybe I should put a ? at the end of that?

Call them back and say "Si" Manny, before it's too late.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Great read from Micheal Lewis

If you are a baseball fan, you know Micheal Lewis as the author of "Moneyball". He first became famous, however, for "Liars Poker", about his brief stint on Wall Street in the 80's. He has written a rather long but excellent article in Portfolio about the sub-prime mortgage mess.

Here are just a few quotes from the article to tantalize you;

In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.

big Wall Street investment banks took huge piles of loans that in and of themselves might be rated BBB, threw them into a trust, carved the trust into tranches, and wound up with 60 percent of the new total being rated AAA.

We always asked the same question,” says Eisman. “Where are the rating agencies in all of this? And I’d always get the same reaction. It was a smirk.”

Very scary stuff! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Freidman on Detroit

In case you missed it, Thomas Friedman does a great job of summing up the US Auto Industry situation today. Friedman is a big believer in the power of innovation to make the world better off......which means he thinks Detroit is full of bone-heads. Read his column here. Oh, and if you were someone looking for a stocking stuffer for a tall, thin guy for xmas, Friedman's new book might be a good choice.

There is a comment on the previous post asking how I like the Daily Beast. This is a fairly new site that is, I think, trying to be the future of what will replace the newspaper when they die. It provides a front page full of summaries of various articles from a variety of sources, and video clips as well. And, it has it's own unique content. It got a real boost a few weeks ago when Chris Buckley moved his weekly column there after his dad's magazine gave him the boot for endorsing Obama. It's definitely worth checking out, but it may lead you to waste all day reading the stories it has collected.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A few post-election thoughts.

Isn't it great to turn on the TV and watch ads for beer and boner pills again! If we could ban cigarette ads from TV, why not political ads....they are far more toxic!

This is totally tasteless and inappropriate, but I bet if the Daily Show weren't on vacation this week they would have been able to pull it off: I couldn't help thinking yesterday, while watching the Obamas show up at the White House, how hilarious it would be to have had the theme song from "The Jeffersons" playing. "Movin' on up...."

So, it appears that everyone on the McCain team is now bashing Palin. Makes you wonder then, who was it in the campaign who thought it was a good idea to put her on the team. Someone had to be in the room saying "We need this woman to appeal to the base. So what if she doesn't know anything." Are we going to have to wait for the books to come out?

I imagine I am not the only one suffering from news burnout right now. From the conventions until last Tuesday I was reading 3 papers online, plus the WSJ in the bathroom, plus 2 polling sites, plus checking Intrade, and also the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. Now, the trill is gone, and I'm back to the front page, the sports section and the comics.

And, if you haven't had enough election results, The Economist, the world's greatest magazine, allowed it's readers from around the world to vote, and set up a worldwide electoral college. See the results here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Faced banker talks about the bailout.

Our murder mystery company did a show for a birthday party last night. The bill was paid by a very nice guy who runs a small bank here in Colorado.

After the show, we had a talk about the state of the financial world. He also filled me in on the details of how the bailout is playing out in the banking world. He says that the government is forcing his bank, and other banks in good shape, to take money in return for 10% of his stock, and limiting what salary he can take. However, since his bank is in good shape, the money is being put in his hands with the expectation that they will then buy up some weak banks, after which the government will buy the bad banks bad assets.

Does that sound convoluted to you? Because it sure does to me. I thought that bailout money was supposed to encourage more credit availability. Of course, before this conversation, this guy had spent 3 hours enjoying the open bar he was paying for, that was about 5 feet from his seat for dinner, so I'm not sure he was doing as good a job of explaining this as he would like (which is why I am not using his name here). The dude was pretty faced.

I'm not sure what to make of this. He did say that they wanted to do this instead of re-creating the RTC, which bought up all the banks during the S&L problem almost 20 years ago. He seemed to think the RTC was a better idea, and that he is getting screwed for having to take on the money and restrictions, when his bank is sound.

The good news is, the economy hasn't hurt this dude too much. He probably paid about $4k for the party, and presented his girlfriend, the birthday girl, with a beautiful full-length mink. I really wish I hadn't spilled that glass of red wine on it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

They can't be saved!

There is a lot of talk about bailing out the US auto industry, and it is just crazy. The have already been granted $25B in government loans, supposedly to be used to switch to more fuel efficient cars, with at least another $25B on the way. But today, Ford and GM both announced losses in the 3rd quarter, as expected, along with the fact that THEY EACH BURNED THROUGH ABOUT $7B IN CASH!!! And, since they are private, we don't even know what horrible numbers Chrysler is putting up!

Based on these numbers, and the weakness of the formerly Big Three before the economy went totally south, I don't see how $50B in loans can turn this situation around. They will take our $50B, and be back with their hat in hand next year, and the year after that.....until they finally go bankrupt. Let them take their medicine now, restructure, and maybe turn themselves around. Giving companies this badly run our money is just insane!

OH MY GOD....Sarah Palin is at my door wearing only a towel! I think she wants to borrow a map of Africa.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama Destroys Economy!

Obama gets elected, the stock market tanks.....must be his fault. IMPEACH!

I'm guessing maybe Obama woke up yesterday morning, realized the state that the world was in, and said to Michelle "My God, what the hell did I do!" Getting elected is going to seem easy compared to he job ahead of him.

Andrew Young had a great line on Colbert last night. He said that the world was so screwed up that nobody else wanted to run it, "so you dumped it on us".

Finally, it is still unknown whether Al Franken won his senate race in Minn. Minnesota elected a wrestler as Gov., and this country has sent legions of bad actors, football players, and baseball players (anyone seen a recent interview with Jim Bunning....he may be the dumbest man I've ever seen!) to Congress, yet comedians are, as Woody Allen once said, not allowed to sit at the adult table. This is crazy. I guarantee that it takes twice the mental abilities to be even a mediocre professional comedian (like Franken) as it does to be an actor or athlete. And wouldn't the possibility of a spit take during a speech be a bonus!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Land of Opportunity

I never thought I would live to see a President who was not a white male. I was a kid when blacks were fighting for their civil rights, 12 when Martin Luther King was killed. Though it was clear that each generation was less racist than the previous one, I still never thought there would be a black President in my lifetime. Despite the big leads in the polls, I still had my doubts about the outcome of this election.

No matter what you think of Obama, or who you voted for, this is a proud night for America, a night when we can show the world that we do live up to our principles, that all men are created equal, and that this is truly the land of opportunity.

And if you are a conservative lamenting this outcome (Dad!), you can take from this, as I heard Bill Bennett say this evening on CNN, that no group can now claim an excuse for failure.

It's been hard to say this during the last 8 years, but tonight I am extremely proud to be an American.

Now, Mr. Obama, the pressure is on. You have a Democratic Congress to work with, so you should be able to get done what you want. Don't screw it up like your predecessor!

Interesting perspective at The Big Picture

There is a very interesting perspective on market behavior over at The Big Picture today. Are the markets rallying today because it signals the end of the Bush years? That appears to be what they think. Take a look at the charts.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Politicians: The Smart Investment

A student of mine today told me that he made a bet (didn't say where) on McCain to win the election, getting 170 electoral votes. Said that was the Vegas line. I was not aware Vegas was taking action on such things, but that seems like a pretty good bet. The leading polling analysis sites have him losing pretty big, but covering the spread. I wonder what Hank Goldberg thinks of that line.

Meanwhile, had you been a wise investor, you would have taken your money a year ago and invested in either of our Presidential candidates. Obama is currently trading at about $9.10 on an contract you could have bought a year ago for $.80 on Intrade. The contract pays $10 if he wins. And a similar contract on McCain could have been purchased for less than $.40. Right now it is selling for around $1, but had you sold it after the GOP convention, you could have gotten over $5. McCain's chart for the past 2 months looks even worse than the Dow's.

Either way, you would be far better off than if you had your money in the stock market, or gold, or real estate, or bonds, or......well, you get the idea. So why didn't we see any of the so-called experts on CNBC say "We've purchased a diversified portfolio of candidates", or "We're long Obama, short Guliani". THAT would have been good advice!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Return of the Good John McCain

In case you missed it, you can watch John McCain on SNL last night below. This is the guy that I like, with a sense of humor, a fun guy. He really seems to be enjoying himself here. If this is a last ditch desperate effort to win the election, it is a lot better than the fear-mongering negative ads, and having the Hockey MILF talk about who Obama had lunch with 5 years ago.

Oh, and when I went to Hulu to get the video, an Obama ad played!

In other show biz news, I saw the movie "W" last night. Strange choice by Oliver Stone. It obviously wasn't intended to be historically accurate, as he inserted a bunch of w's famous malapropisms into private conversations. Yet it wasn't a parody. And some of the casting was week, particularly Jeffrey Wright, who completely lacks Colin Powell's presence, and Thandie Newton, who was horrible as Condi Rice. Richard Dreyfus, however, was brilliantly creepy as Cheney, and Josh Brolin made you forget he was acting as the Great Decider.

Finally, you will see Tina Fey again as the Hockey MILF on SNL. But, you should really be watching her excellent show "30 Rock". Catch old shows at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Won't we all miss those political ads?

It's almost over. By that, I mean the barrage of negative ads, people accosting me with stickers, and ridiculous robo-calls. It is not so great living in a swing state!

My, how quickly things can change. Earlier in the year the Federal Reserve was raising interest rates, worried about inflation. Now, the fear is even more dire: DEFLATION! Sounds like it would be great if prices all went down, but it is far more dangerous than a bit of inflation. Read the story in today's NYTIMES.

Halloween here in Boulder is a huge deal. I was performing in a murder mystery at the Boulderado in downtown Boulder last night, playing a ventriloquist. So, before the show, the dummy and I went out and walked around the Pearl St. Mall for a while, in character. What a riot! If you wanna see a confused face, watch a 4 year old go face to face with a ventriloquist dummy. And after the show, I managed to catch the Naked Pumpkin Run. Halloween is definitely the best holiday!