Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Very Lucky Man

My weekend might be considered rather dull by some, pedestrian, even boring by others. We stayed in town. Both kids were away in Nashville and Winston-Salem, their new homes. There was nothing on the calendar and no plans of any kind. Now it’s Sunday evening and I write to celebrate.

After a very long and demanding week, Friday night would be date night with Pam and my sister and her husband. We went to see The Descendants which I reviewed on this blog and which was dreadful beyond imagination but at least provided lively dinner conversation. We went to T.J.I. Fridays and had a nice meal. Saturday morning, I went to the gym for a workout. As is my custom on Saturdays, I then gave Molly a bath. After lunch at Big Al’s I went over to Office Max and purchased a new chair for my office. I lugged it from the store to the car and then to my office with much exertion and gnashing of teeth, then assembled it and put it in place.

Pam then tried a new recipe involving chicken, sweet potatoes, Cajun spices and lime juice. It was the sort of dish that sounds much better in writing than it does in fact. After looking at the result on the stove top we sampled it and came to the unanimous conclusion that we suddenly had a taste for Leonardo’s Pizza.

Mixed in throughout the weekend we played many brutally competitive games of “Words With Friends”. She beat me several games and I prevailed in several others. She plays on her iPad, I on my iPhone. This gives her a distinct advantage that she refuses to admit. Regardless, we are very evenly matched. Twice over the weekend we have snuggled together on the sofa to watch episodes of Downton Abbey, the fabulous PBS Masterpiece Theatre production. We have spent time in long discussions of home decorating ideas for this year. We have talked about our kids and their futures. We have taken naps. We have gone to church, and then to lunch out afterwards with a dear friend.

Nothing I have written would make a good plot line for a movie. If I did not pause here to make a record of the weekend it would soon be forgotten. But it has been a time of great contentment for me because I spent it with the only person in the world who has the power to transform ordinary into memorable. Spending two quiet days and nights with her is a comfort. We have been married nearly 28 years and it hasn’t all been this quiet or comforting. Raising kids is a chaotic, arduous grind of a thing, but eventually it relents. Then there’s just the two of us, in this big old house playing words with friends, watching British television, and having the chance to celebrate having survived it all with our love intact.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Movie Review...The Descendants

Last night I went to see the Academy award nominated movie, The Descendants. There had been much buzz on the internet and elsewhere about the fine performance by George Clooney and so I agreed to go, since there were no competing movies featuring Nazis getting killed. ( I have very simple cinematic taste). I must here confess that going in to this film I already loathed Clooney, he of the over-inflated sense of his own brilliance, and super-charged Socialism, so I worked hard at separating the actor from the character he portrayed. Lucky for me, they were both equally despicable.

Clooney plays Matt King, a trust fund lawyer, father of two girls and husband to a woman recently sent into a mortal coma by a boating accident. The plot revolves around his relationship with his two girls as they deal with ultimately having to pull the plug on Mom. In a conversation with his oldest daughter King discovers that his dying wife had been cheating on him, thus complicating the grieving process for them all. Hovering around all of this dying and decay is the story of a huge parcel of land that the King family has owned in trust for 150 years that is about to dissolve. Matt, as sole trustee has to make the decision on behalf of a slew of cousins eager to profit handsomely from the impending sale. There is much hand-wringing about the proper relationship between land and indigenous Hawaiians etc. I assume that this plot twist was added by Clooney himself since what good is it to make a movie unless you get to lecture people about the evils of greed and the plight of the dispossessed… but I digress.

Clooney’s character is supposed to be sympathetic. We are supposed to feel sorry for him, what with his having to deal with watching his cheating wife decomposing and all. Then there is his estrangement from his daughters, his apparent lack of friends, and the pressure he feels from all of Hawaii who we are told await his land decision with much alarm. But, all I wanted to do is smack him in the face , then give both of his bratty girls the mother of all spankings. Matt King is to cinematic fathers what Hannibal Lecter was to cinematic psychopaths….the worst of the worst.

First of all, he clearly knows nothing whatsoever about his girls. The most honest moment in the entire movie comes when King in narrator voice admits that he…”is the understudy parent”. He cluelessly talks on the phone while his youngest throws furniture into the pool. When his girls incessantly drop F-bombs in conversation, he lamely and without the slightest conviction asks them to “watch your language”. At one point about 5 minutes after he himself has dropped an F-bomb, he incredibly asks his kids where they learned such raw language. His ten year old routinely shoots him the bird. His oldest daughter, to whom he seems to be a total stranger, openly belittles his every move. At one point this pathetically inept excuse for a father is reduced to seeking parenting advice from the 18 year old pothead boyfriend, the only character in the entire movie with an ounce of credibility. The fact that King was unaware of his wife’s infidelity comes as a shock to NO ONE who has paid any attention to the first 20 minutes of this interminable film. One starts to wonder what exactly this idiot has been doing with his life for the last 20 years. He was detached and distant from his wife, his oldest daughter has been sent off to a $35000 a year boarding school, and he is barely on speaking terms with his 10 year old. He spends his days in shorts and Hawaiian shirts at his law office doing God knows what. This is the type of character that Hollywood adores, a father with no conviction, stumbling through life, completely powerless against the arbitrary slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In 2012 there will be no taking charge, no determined effort to redeem himself, no heroic attempts to reform his wayward children, no renewed desire to be a real father. We have to settle for the three of them eating ice cream on the sofa staring forlornly into the unseen TV screen. Three emotionless couch potatoes with blank faces as the credits roll.

I paid $21 for the two tickets, then $16 for burnt popcorn that wasn’t salty enough. That’s one hour and fifty five minutes of my life that I will never get back. Sigh….

Friday, January 27, 2012

Trying To Prevent My Head From EXPLODING!!!

I am not a Mitt Romney fan. He is a wooden Ken-doll country club Republican who is slightly creepy. However, when I hear liberal politicians, the news media and especially Republican presidential candidates attack him for paying “only” 15% federal taxes on his 22 million dollar income…I feel as though my head will explode. So, after hearing about as much of this economic illiteracy as I can stand, I offer the following primer.

The people in this country who know the very least about economics are politicians. But even they have generally held the consistent view that it was in the best interest of the Republic not to have its citizens putting their cash in Mason jars and burying it in their back yards. So for at least 70 years or so we have agreed that money placed at risk in the market would be taxed more favorably than earned income through labor. This is because money so invested funds risk-taking, job-creating enterprises some of which fail, but others of which become Apple computer. We have in the past and certainly will in the future disagree on exactly how much this incentive should be, but that there should be an incentive seems to be one of the few things our political parties have agreed on. Current law taxes long term capital gains at a maximum of 15%, while taxes on ordinary income are progressive and max out for those earning more than $388,000 at 35%. Now to Mr. Romney. When he worked at Bain Capital, he chose to take a relatively small guaranteed salary. He decided to bet on his ability to succeed at his job as a venture capitalist. Had he been a bust, he would have only earned that salary. Fortunately for the Romneys, Mitt did very well and even though some of his projects bombed, others were spectacular successes that ended up rewarding him to the tune of roughly $22,000,000. Since these earnings took several years to come through, they were paid to him in the form of capital gains, thus the lower rate of 15% was paid on that income. For this outcome he is being characterized as some sort of villain for betting on himself and winning.

Although it made me feel like a scumbag, since it’s none of my business what’s on Mr. Romney’s tax return, I did go to the trouble to sift through the document. I discovered that in addition to the roughly 15% income tax that he paid, he also donated nearly 25% of his income to charity, most going to his church but lots of other donations going to a wide range of charitable causes. By contrast some of the biggest complainers about Mr. Romneys’ wealth are the very people who gave nearly NOTHING to charity, church or otherwise. Our President has given 1% to charity, former President Clinton what with his 70 million dollar income over the past few years has given an equally embarrassing amount. Even though between taxes and charitable giving, Mr. Romney parts with over 40% of his income, it’s Mitt Romney who is taken to task for not paying his fair share. Really?

By all means, argue about fairness. But why demonize success? Romney placed a bet on himself instead of taking a guaranteed outcome. That’s the American way and he was handsomely rewarded. He also filed a perfectly legal tax return and paid the full amount of taxes due, on time, under the law. If it’s the line of work he was in (private equity ) that troubles you, then consider this. Without private equity firms and venture capital, practically nothing that you are reading this blog on would be in existence. People are willing to take chances in the capital markets on unknown companies with new ideas because of the promise of great return, and I for one am glad they do. All of us are beneficiaries of somebody investing a lot of money at great risk of losing it in order to underwrite some geek in a garage somewhere with a great idea. That’s why capital is taxed more favorably than labor. Those who do should be praised, not pilloried.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Confusion and Bounty of Capitalism

I needed some shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste. Since the CVS was close to my office I would go there. It was a 2 and a half minute drive from my garage. The front door was motion sensitive and opened when I got close. Once inside I found the shampoo aisle which was parallel to the body wash aisle. As far as the eye could see there were shelves packed neatly with every major brand and even some I had never heard of. It took me a while to find the kind I use, but it was there, right where it was the last time I was in. Just before I reached for the body wash I stepped back and looked up and down the aisle marveling at the choices that confronted me. There were over thirty competitors for this $3.45 purchase. It was shampoo and body wash, a rather pedestrian purchase requiring very little planning and forethought, and yet here were hundreds of possibilities. I wondered where they all came from, and how did they all get here? I was glad for the abundance, since there was no telling what it would have cost me had there been only one brand. Visions of old Soviet- era state stores with empty shelves came to mind. But, a nagging thought came also to mind as I paid by sliding my debit card through a little machine at the front counter. I took my receipt from the clerk and then took one last look down the shampoo aisle. Why does any market need thirty different shampoo manufacturers? Obviously there IS a market in this country large enough to support thirty different brands of shampoo or they wouldn’t all be crowded together on the shelves. But, is that the best allocation of resources available? Why so many shampoo options but so few razor options? I’ve been shaving for more or less 40 years and there have always been basically two choices…Gillette and Schick. If I misuse shampoo I might get nasty split-ends but if I get a hold of a bad blade I cut my neck all to pieces, and yet I have thirty kinds of shampoo but only two razor companies?

After leaving CVS I stopped by Uppy’s to fill my tank with premium unleaded gas. I was running on fumes so to fill my 16 gallon tank cost me over fifty bucks. The price per gallon was something like $3.40. I remember when gas used to cost half as much not so very long ago. But when I think of where this gas came from and what it had to go through to get to this pump, it’s breathtaking. It was pumped out of the ground as crude oil somewhere either in the middle east or off shore out in the ocean in very dangerous conditions. Then it was hauled at great expense to a refinery somewhere in Texas probably and sent through a highly complex, expensive and dangerous procedure before it was in a form that could then be hauled across country by tanker trucks to distribution centers and then to the shiny clean station right down the street from my safe and clean subdivision. On the other hand, the six bucks I had to part with to buy the gallon of 2% milk at Martins after I left Uppy’s came from a cow somewhere probably no further than 100 miles away. It required very little geo-political risk to produce, virtually no risk to refine, and didn’t have to travel halfway around the world and back to land in the dairy case at my grocery store. And yet, it cost me nearly twice as much as the gallon of gas I just pumped into my car. Why don’t the Occupiers start raising hell about “BIG DAIRY” like they do “BIG OIL”? I suppose it’s because oil pollutes the environment, while cows don’…er , wait a minute.

Although Capitalism can be very confusing, it should be noted that this particular shopping trip took me a total of 17 minutes to complete, an efficiency of time largely unknown in the undeveloped world. Because it didn’t take me two days and hundreds of dollars in bribes to complete this simple shopping trip, I had plenty of time to further enlarge my carbon footprint, by writing my thoughts on this blog. I am told that as a responsible citizen of the world I should feel some level of remorse for this my good fortune. I do not. Tomorrow, I will step out of my bathroom with shiny hair, a pleasant body odor, and clean teeth. After eating my bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and 2% milk, I will drive to my office with the confidence that comes from a full tank of gas. For all of this I am exceedingly grateful. Zero remorse.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Very Bad Day and the number "3"

There has always been an unsolved mystery concerning my life. I have no explanation about this phenomenon that satisfies. The mystery of which I speak involves the number “3” and the 24 hour day, to wit, how bad things always seem to happen in threes and all in one day. I often go months between such days, enduring nothing more than minor irritations or temporary setbacks. And then, out of the cosmic blue comes a day of epic reversals worthy of a Greek tragedy….Thursday, for example.


My day was heavy with client appointments so I had set my clock for 5:45. When my eyes opened I saw the blurry outline of 6:46 pulsing in digital blue-green. Although this was not one of the “3”, it did usher number one onto the scene. It took ten seconds or so for me to grasp the gravity of the situation…that my alarm clock had refused to alarm. Once fully engaged with the days’ first reality, I lurched upward awkwardly in a startled spasm of movement. It was then that I realized that I had an horrendous crick in my neck. Apparently I had spent too much time sleeping in poor posture while dreaming about a rabid feral cat who had hidden under the downstairs sofas and would launch himself at my ankles whenever I walked by, which in my dream was every 30 seconds. Terrifying! After a long and very hot shower and three advil, the neck was no better, so the rest of the day would be spent with my head tilted forward weirdly, like a deaf old man straining to hear his wife tell him to stand up straight.


Once at work, there were 9 voicemails waiting since I had been out of the office the previous day. Whenever I see the voicemail box that full, I always fight back a brief wave of nausea. Who knows what bad tidings await behind that sinister blinking light of indefinable color? It’s never as bad as I first imagine, in fact, sometimes the news is good. This batch was fairly benign. There were a couple of administrative foul-ups, a couple of clients returning my calls, and my pharmacy reminding me to pick up my blood pressure medicine, a subtle yet annoying reminder of my mortality. Then it was time for the first order of business. I needed to call several of my clients to set up times for their annual review appointments. The first would be one of my biggest clients, a man and his wife who had been with me for more than eleven years and with whom I had a good relationship. In fact, of all my book of business, I considered this guy to be one of my top 5 success stories. In the financial business sometimes timing works against you. Someone becomes a client at the top of the market and by that quirk of fate his time with you doesn’t go so well for a couple of years. For others, they come to you at the perfect time and for the first few years of your relationship they are convinced that you are a genius. With this man, I had done truly remarkable work. My advice had resulted in many happy returns. In addition, I had talked him out of many of his own ill-conceived ideas that would have led to disaster. So when he calmly informed me that he had made the decision to give all of his assets to another advisor with family connections, I was stunned to silence. I finally managed a, “Are you serious? Wow…”. After several minutes of trying to talk sense to him I resigned myself to the injustice and stupidity of it all.


Literally 10 minutes after hanging up with my disloyal, cowardly, and ungrateful now former client, I get a phone call from my sister telling me that my brother had just been rushed to the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland for emergency stomach surgery. With my neck now in full throb, I proceeded to track down the latest information on his condition. Seems that he had been having stomach pain for a week or so and had gone to the doctor on this, his day off, to find out what the problem might be. A cat scan was done and the results revealed a bleeding ulcer that had recently become a full-fledged hole and so he was rushed to the hospital and had been placed on an operating table at 1:30. My only brother at age 63 was getting cut open, and I wasn’t able to be with him, couldn’t even talk to him.

So, my day was complete. My head was propped up at a painful angle on my cricked neck, I had lost a large and profitable client undeservedly, and my brother was undergoing emergency surgery, all in one mysterious 24 hour day. It is famously said that into every life a little rain must fall. In my life it always comes one day at a time in blinding sheets, high winds, and flash flooding.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Restaurant review and cultural confession

My children delight in pointing out the many flaws in my “nativist, xenophobic” attitude towards other countries. Whenever I refer to Germans as “Kr****ts” or Japanese as “N**s”( usually while watching WWII movies) they both roll their eyes and exchange knowing glances. Poor Dad is hopelessly racist, and needs to get with the “we are the world” program. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of cuisine. Whenever the family has suggested going to a new Indian restaurant, for example, I have always let out an exaggerated moan and turned up my nose. This has always been followed by the usual accusations of provincialism or, “ Dad, you’re SOO meat and potatoes” or some such internationalist nonsense that their heads have been filled with by the university education that I paid for. Never mind the fact that I adore German beer, eat prodigious amounts of Mexican food, and am a regular at Yen Ching. The fact that I have drawn a line in the sand at the Curry Palace somehow makes me a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

Well, in a moment of weakness last Sunday, I consented to have lunch at Anokha with the family and the Forts. This is an Indian restaurant that my wife loves. Since Leigh Ann and the girls were coming, I would have to overcome my fears. Since the Forts spent many years as missionaries in Zimbabwe eating grubs and raw turnips, I would have to suck it up and do my best not to look like Barney Fife trying to choke down a plate of tofu. Now I will have to endure a lifetime of “ I told you so”. The food was ridiculously delicious.

I was expecting to walk into a dimly lit dump that reeked of curry, where everyone sat on dusty throw pillows, drinking chicory coffee from tiny porcelain cups. Some old guy with a white goatee a foot long would be over in the corner smoking a hookah pipe, and I would have to ask the waiter to repeat everything three times. Wrong on all counts. The inside of Anokha was beautifully decorated, and expertly lit. The only goatees to be had were found on the middle management Dad with the three blond kids in the corner. On its website Anokha represents itself as “a groundbreaking restaurant across from the hip Short Pump Town Center serving signature Nouveau Indian Cuisine”. Although I wouldn’t classify the mall as “hip”, whatever Nouveau Indian Cuisine is…count me in. I ordered the Tandoori shrimp and chicken Malai Kebabs from a waiter, who with impeccable grammar asked me to repeat myself several times. I finally pointed to the menu whereupon he smiled..”Yes. Number 9. Good choice.”

My first bite of the chicken dipped in the beautiful burnt yellow sauce was like being assaulted by all twelve bottles from the spice rack at home. Although I had requested the “mild” version, very soon my mouth was on full simmer and my eyes had begun to water ever so slightly. It was an absolutely perfect level of kick and I was thankful that I hadn’t ordered the medium. The shrimp was a triumph and my only regret was that there were only three of them. Once all the meat was gone I began to sop up the generous sauces and rice that remained with warm naan, which is this heavenly yeasty flat bread that’s salty and moist, and looks like it was baked in a frying pan. Just like homemade rolls at my Mom’s table, I could have made a meal of them all by themselves. I was charged an insanely cheap $11 for this feast. Five days later I was back for dinner. The Tandoori chicken Tikka I had was over the top fabulous, and the chunk I took home tasted even better heated up in the microwave for lunch the next day. My multi-cultural dining experience was a raging success.

So, now I must endure the eternal internationalist condescension of my two smarty-pants children who will never let me forget that I once turned my nose up at Indian food, blinded as I was by my nativist upbringing. Kaitlin herself told me this not an hour ago, as she loaded up her belongings in the Honda Civic that her Japanese-slurring father bought her. When Patrick reads this he will no doubt laugh uproariously, and then drive over to his friends’ house in the Volkswagon Jetta that his jingoistic German-slurring father bought him.

Actually, there does not exist on this planet a father more proud of his kids than I. In many ways they are far smarter than I was at their age. Their views on many things are in fact more enlightened than my own. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on what constitutes xenophobia. A healthy suspicion of our rather recent historical geo-political enemies is in my view no vice. Not being willing to overcome Hollywood stereotypes to try Indian food was pretty lame in retrospect. They were right, I was wrong.

There. I said it. Happy now??

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday observations on Tebow, and other stuff

It’s Saturday morning and time for a few random observations of the world around me. The headline of the day is the Friday night massacre visited upon several European nations by the ratings firm of Standard and Poor’s who stripped the Triple AAA ratings from France and Austria, lowered Italy and Spain a notch and declared Portugal and Cyprus to be no better than junk. Now we will have to endure dire predictions of market meltdowns come Monday morning by all the talking heads on Sunday morning television. What an exquisite way to spend one’s weekend.

Tim Tebow is about to do what no football player has ever done. He has inspired my wife to actually want to watch a game. Along with perhaps 40 million others, she will be tuned in tonight to witness the game between Tebow’s Broncos and the New England Patriots. If the predictions hold up, it will be the most watched playoff game of all time. To say that Tebow has transcended the sport is to damn him with faint praise. He has become the most captivating and polarizing figure in all of America. Those who denigrate his football skills miss the entire point. Tebow is proving that football is on some level a game of emotion and sometimes the best player doesn’t turn out to be the most highly skilled. There is something mysterious about the guy, no, not his faith, but rather the mystery of the connection between charisma, leadership, and will on the one hand , and technical and athletic proficiency on the other. We all know that you can’t succeed at the highest level in professional sports without elite physical gifts. But Tebow is reminding us all that intangibles also play a roll. The know-it-all talk show hosts arrogant enough to think that all you need to know can be learned at the NFL combine have been reduced to blithering idiot status. And for me, that’s been half the fun.

Now that the SEC has won its sixth straight National Football Championship, those who still claim that it’s all because of media hype are irredeemably lost in a parallel universe. “Oklahoma State scores touchdowns, not field goals..”…was one of the greatest comments ever the day after the LSU v. Alabama game, by an SEC hater. OK, here’s a news flash for football fans who have grown up playing Madden….great football is played on BOTH SIDES of the ball. It is possible for a teams best athletes to be on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. And when that happens, teams don’t march up and down the field like its parade day at West Point. In the National Championship game practically every player who will end up in the NFL played defense, not offense. Trent Richardson and maybe a couple of offensive lineman might make it, but NFL scouts were salivating over the amazing athletes in the secondary of both teams. What makes those defenses even more amazing was the fact that they performed at that level despite playing in an era where rule changes have given every advantage to the offense. Another beauty I read was…”LSU and Alabama don’t play great defense,, they just suck on offense!!” Yes. Which explains why LSU averaged 40 points a game against every other team on their difficult schedule NOT named Alabama. Get over it SEC-haters. Six in a row isn’t hype.

If the Washington Nationals sign Prince Fielder to a break the bank contract, they will live to regret it and doom their franchise to continued mediocrity. The Nationals are young and talented with a terrific farm system and great young pitching. Don’t weigh down the ship with a high priced slugger who can’t pitch!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sick, and on a Dayquil bender.

I’m on a Dayquil/Nyquil bender. I’ve been swallowing those hard plastic pills now for two days every six hours like clockwork. In the day time it’s the rusty orange ones. At night it’s the Christmas green ones. The box says it’s for “multi-symptom relief of cold and flu”. All I know is that about the time the six hours are up, I start to feel as if I’ve been run over by a very large vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed, driven by Satan himself. Then I fight the child protection packaging that this miracle drug comes in for about five minutes. The pills come bubble wrapped and then plastered with some sort of demonic epoxy to a hard plastic and foil backing. There’s a little mark in the middle of the package that suggests that perhaps it holds the key to entry. My spastic fingers, aching from the hit and run, Lucifer-driven semi, struggle mightily to rip the thing open. One might ask why I don’t just pick up a pair of scissors and cut the thing open. In such a weakened condition, I do not trust myself with sharp objects, THAT’S why. I notice on the top lid of the box there’s a PARENT WARNING. It suggests that I visit a website called “” to help me stop teen medicine abuse. Hmmm…

Once the pills are freed I hold them in my hands for a minute and stare at them with fiendish expectation. For an instant, I feel a great kinship with drug-addicts the world over. I know that once I choke these babies down sweet relief will be on its way in approximately 25 minutes. I use the word “relief” very broadly here, since even fully medicated, I feel like a common expression for barnyard manure. But with the help of my “Quil-Fix”, at least my eyes aren’t swollen shut from non-stop sneezing, at least the steady stream of fluid that was draining directly out of my nose unto the carpet has stopped it’s flow, and at least I can no longer feel every muscle in my body twitching in unison. However, like with all wonder drugs, there are side effects….

The Dayquil box says “non-drowsy” in the corner. What it should say is..”non-coherent”. After I popped my most recent dose, I headed into the office to quickly retrieve my laptop and a few files so I could work from home today and not infect my partners. Once there I was overwhelmed with confusion as to why the heck I had come in to the office. Something about a computer, or maybe I should use the bathroom while I’m there or maybe I needed a cup of coffee. I sat down at my desk and looked at my calendar and was disturbed to see no appointments scheduled all day long!! What the heck kind of lazy slob had I turned into anyway? Then I remembered that I had rescheduled them all since I was sick and had planned to stay home today and sleep it off. Well, if that’s true, what the heck was I doing at work? What an idiot?!

Back at home, I sit at my desk and stare blankly at a list of 8 clients with whom I need to to schedule annual reviews. Do I trust myself to complete this task without incident? Thanks to my Dayquil cloud, there’s a chance I might say something inappropriate:

Client: Hello?

Me: Hello Bob, this is Doug. It’s that time of year again, time for your annual review.

Client: Wow, time sure flies. How did we do this year?

Me: Honestly, it was another disappointing year and if things don’t turn around soon, you’re screwed. Oh, and about those plans of yours to retire at 62?..ain’t happenin’.

Maybe I’ll make those calls tomorrow. Tonight I will sleep well thanks to a little help from Nyquil. These shiny, jolly- green miracle workers do everything that their burnt-orange cousins from the day do, with the added bonus of knocking me out until morning. Yes, there are a couple of side effects. The first is that when I do wake up, there’s not a single drop of fluid left in my body. The inside of my nose is like a lunar landscape. My eyelids are glued shut and my lips are shrunk to half their size. But that’s a small price to pay for a nights’ sleep. The second side effect? I can't remember.

So, here’s to you, Vicks, a subsidiary of Procter and Gamble, and your manufacturing facility in Canada, for getting me through these past two days, er.,, eh??

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ignorant and Helpless. Yep, I got a new cell phone!!

My wife and I gave each other the iphone 4S for Christmas. I have spent the past couple of weeks fiddling with this remarkable device. This is not a plug for Apple. I’m sure some of its competitors have equally amazing products. But as incredible as this thing is, it has left me feeling strangely ignorant and helpless.

The first mobile phone I ever saw was the size of a bread box and set heavily between driver and passenger in my friend Al Thomason’s truck back in the early 80’s. The receiver was tethered to the black box by a thick and very short cord. I remember thinking how cool it was that Al could make and receive calls without having to spend 10 cents at a pay-phone. Thirty years later a machine no larger than a playing card and no thicker than a slice of Wonder bread allows me to not only make and receive calls to anywhere on the planet, but also reminds me to pick up a loaf of bread at Martins on my way home from work, and if needed, it will guide me to Martin’s with turn by turn directions spoken by a silken-voiced digital-diva named Siri. I can have a conversation with my son in Nashville in “facetime” and his face pops up on the screen. I remind him that by the looks of it, he needs to clean his room. I check the balances of my bank and investment accounts while standing in line at “will call” to pick up the concert tickets that Siri purchased for me two hours ago. Suddenly a picture of my wife flashes on the screen modeling a snappy dress she’s thinking about buying. From the dressing room at Macy’s she asks me if the dress makes her look fat. I quickly and deftly inquire from Siri how I should respond to such a provocative and dangerous question. Siri pleads ignorance.

My new phone does more than the first desktop computer I bought 25 years ago. It has more technical capabilities than anything I’ve ever owned. I can do everything required in my job as a financial advisor with this phone from a beach in the Caymans. How much did it cost me? Because of the” new every two” promotion with Verizon, a little over $200, or roughly 15% of what I paid for my first computer. Thank you Steve Jobs, and thank you capitalism.

So, why do I feel so ignorant and helpless with all of this liberating technology pulsing in my hand? It’s simple. I have no earthly idea how any of this magic takes place, and within 30 minutes of turning this thing on, I realized that I could never be without it. I will forever be at the mercy of the techno-geeks who dream up these gadgets, forever dependant on the unseen wizards who fix them when they break, and constantly awaiting the next innovation that will make my current model obsolete. In the meantime, I no longer need my sense of direction, I have mapquest. I no longer have to go to the bank and interact with those annoying tellers, there’s an app for that. Go to the library? Are you kidding, Google does all my research for me. Buy a book at a bookstore? Duh..KINDLE! Carry my Bible to church? Too bulky, besides, its right there on my phone, in 16 different versions. I have access to the accumulated wisdom of the world in a machine that slips neatly into my pants pocket and politely vibrates when I remember to put it on silent.
It occurs to me that in the digital age, no one really needs to know how to do anything anymore. All we need to know is how to press play. If suddenly a solar storm were to wipe out all of the electrical underpinnings of our technological colossus, the western world would be transported instantly back to the middle ages. We would all be huddled around fires in tattered clothing within a year because nobody would know how to sew, build a house, grow a garden, fashion weapons suitable for hunting game, or harness the power of water. We would all be bent over gazing into the dark empty screens of our “smart” phones wondering where Siri went.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Attention all Hokie Fans!! Read this before the big game tonight!!

Tonight, Virginia Tech once again plays in a nationally televised bowl game with a huge pay day against a famous football program, this time, Michigan. Those of us who live in Virginia but have not partaken of the Blacksburg Kool-Aid wonder why Tech keeps getting invited to play in these type games. The 2011 edition of the Hokies was no different than any of the others of recent years. They play a cupcake schedule in a cripple conference, beating up on Division 1-A teams and perennial losers like Duke and East Carolina. The only tough team on their schedule clobbers them by a combined score of 62-13 over two games …and yet…here they are about to cash a 15 million dollar check.

Frank Beamer is nothing if not a marketer of his program, so my hats’ off to his powers of persuasion, or his stash of incriminating photos that he’s been using to blackmail the NCAA all these years. Even the most unapologetic Tech fan is aware of his almost statistically impossible record of futility against top 5 teams. But few know just how ugly the losses have been. Here’s a random sample of some of the “squeakers” that Tech has endured:

40-7 loss against Clemson in 1988
41-14 loss against Florida State in 1988
43-23 loss against Miami in 1992
21-2 loss against Miami in 1993
46-29 loss against Florida State in 2000
27-7 loss against Miami in 2005
48-7 loss against LSU in 2007
40-12 loss against Stanford in 2011

In Beamer’s defense, Tech had been losing consistently against top 5 teams long before he showed up. Beamer’s record is only 1-19, but throw in his predecessors and it jumps to 1-27 or some such thing. Which begs the colossal question…why do Tech fans believe that they are an elite program? There is no answer. Tech fans will go on for hours about how they “own” Virginia football and the ACC. Which, is kind of like saying you’re the sexiest girl at the leper colony. I bring all this up simply to say this….
The Hokies sure better win this game tonight!! Everyone in America knows that you guys don’t deserve to even be in this game when Boise State had to settle for a 2 million dollar loser bowl somewhere in Idaho. And yes, Boise State plays a cupcake schedule too, but when they get their chances on the big stage ( Oklahoma, Georgia, and er..Virginia Tech ) they actually win! So, you guys better win tonight. This is Michigan, not some top 5 powerhouse. We aren’t talking Alabama or LSU or even Stanford. This is Michigan, from the Big Ten, a conference nearly as pathetic as the ACC. You HAVE to beat Michigan Hokie nation, if for no other reason than to be able to show your faces in polite company through the spring and summer until the big game against Austin Peay next fall.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Predictions!!!

January 1, 2012. Time for my all-knowing, all-seeing, stone cold, lead pipe cinch predictions for the new year. Back in August I wrote a prediction piece that didn’t fare too well. The Redsox and the Phillies didn’t , in fact, play in the World Series, and John Boehner was not actually killed in a tragic tanning bed accident. But I was right about the Kardashian wedding going belly-up less than 4 months in, so I have THAT going for me. This is the real deal. I’m ready. I feel especially clairvoyant. Who does predictions in August anyway? So enjoy and take full advantage of the heads up. Come back a year from now and tell me how right I was. Oh, and bring me a check for 10%.

1. 2012 will end without peace in the Middle East.

2. Kim Kardashian will become a born again Christian on live television, in an emotional display of repentance and contrition at Joel Osteen’s church. Four months later she will announce that she is renouncing her Christian faith to become a Transcendental Prophetess.

3. In a gesture of political goodwill, President Obama will present a brand new Chevy Volt to Speaker John Boehner. Two days later the car will spontaneously burst into flames inside Boehner’s garage in Georgetown. At the funeral Obama will praise Boehner’s commitment to the environment.

4. The New Orleans Saints will win their second Super Bowl title in the past three years by beating the Baltimore Ravens. Drew Brees will win the MVP and promise to do something about that hideous birthmark on his face.

5. The Miami Heat will win the NBA title after Lebron James comes down with a mysterious case of trench foot. In James’ absence, Dwayne Wade averages 39 points per game throughout the playoffs.

6. Gloria Cain will begin divorce proceedings against her husband Herman, citing his inappropriate relationship with Siri from his I-phone as “ the last straw”.

7. Despite much sound and fury to the contrary, the United States government will spend more money in 2012 than it did in 2011.

8. Mitt Romney will win the Republican party nomination, becoming the first Mormon to be so honored. He names Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. In a bold move designed to prove that he does, in fact, have a sense of humor, they arrive at the Republican convention center in Tampa riding two bicycles, wearing white shirts with skinny black ties.

9. President Obama dumps Joe Biden from the ticket for 2012 replacing him with Hillary Clinton. This political power couple runs for reelection under the slogan…” It Could Have Been Worse”.

10. After losing the Republican nomination battle, Ron Paul runs as a Libertarian independent. In a move designed to appeal to blue collar workers, he names Mike Smith, a mechanic from Buffalo, as his running mate, saying, ”If Joe Biden can be Vice-President, how hard can it be?”

11. President Obama loses his bid for re-election to Mitt Romney. After analyzing the exit poll data, liberal political commentators are unanimous in their conclusion that he lost because he was black. Michelle Obama goes back to being ashamed of her country.

12. Charlie Sheen will get his own realty television show. It will be aired from 2am to 3am on Thursdays. It will be called “Occupy Winning” and will receive 11 Emmy nominations, despite getting cancelled after only 7 shows.

13. The Dow Jones industrial average finishes 2012 up nearly 15% at 14000, surprising practically every financial analyst on every financial show on television. Jim Cramer files for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

14."Occupy Wall Street…the movie”, starring Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin , Whoopi Goldberg, and a thousand extras from homeless shelters all over the country, opens to critical acclaim and empty theatres. Despite its dismal failure at the box office it receives an Academy record 17 Oscar nominations