Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Excellent Op-Ed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels about the coming disaster for high tax and spend states like New York, New Jersey and everybody's favorite basket case California.
Daniels has said he is not interested in a Presidential run, but Democrats would be wise to keep an eye on him and stop spending so much time going after Palin and Gingrich.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 12:39 PM
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Scottish Lass and her mum are out at the beach with me and the beagles. She's in New York for a week to help with wedding planning, but they are taking a break to relax out here for a couple of days.
So we began talking about the service and the music we will have at the church. Now, two types of music that completely rock me to my core are hymns and bagpipes. There are a few hymns (e.g., "Eternal Father") that I simply cannot get through without tears welling up. That's because some of my most powerful musical memories are sitting in the enormous sanctuary of St. Thomas Church (where the ceremony will be) and listening to the earth-shattering organ and the high-floating voices of the Choir. I am certain that my love of harmony and counterpoint comes from those experiences. When the great organ moves the harmony under the melody, I am rocked to my core. When the choir sings the descant, I am frozen with joy.
So I was playing my favorite hymn, "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," an old tune beautifully harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams, for Scottish Lass and she agreed that it was beautiful. I couldn't respond, because I already had tears in my eyes.
A few minutes later, SL's mum and I were looking at You Tube to go through potential tunes for our piper (a university friend of SL's dad) to pipe us out of the church. Even though it wasn't appropriate for our situation, she asked to look up "Highland Cathedral." Oddly, this is a tune that was written for bagpipes by two German musicians, but it has quickly become beloved in Scotland and has been proposed as a possible Scottish national anthem. That would be even more bizarre if it happened because it would mean that both the English and Scottish national anthems would have been composed by Germans. Then again, the Windsors are all Germans anyway, so maybe it makes sense.
Well, within about thirty seconds all three of us were looking at each other, unable to speak, with tears in our eyes. I can understand why mum was so choked up. Although they moved to Australia over twenty years ago, they are still deeply Scottish and the words to the tune must be heartbreaking:
There is a land far from this distant shore
Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar
There is a land that will live ever more
Deep in my Heart, my Bonnie Scotland
Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar
There is a land that will live ever more
Deep in my Heart, my Bonnie Scotland
I don't think I will ever forget the moment.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 3:32 PM
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The Obama Administration is now blaming the GOP for the fact that their health care "plan" (if you can describe five separate and contradictory bills as a plan) is going down in flames. That's rich.
If you have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, a massive majority in the House and a President who, we are told, is massively popular, the idea that the minority party is blocking your bill is pretty hilarious.
The reason this has been a debacle is the same problem I have been pointing out here since Obama was elected (and before). He's never run anything. He has no plan and no strategy. He has outsourced bill writing and policy detail to Congress and, as a result, he doesn't even know what he is out on the trail selling. He has mistaken his personal popularity (which is pretty much gone now - he has the worst approval rating at this stage of any modern president) for political power. His single tactic, claiming he won and everybody should shut up, is not only ineffective, it makes him look small.
Despite the caricature of Reagan as some kind of idiotic oaf, Obama would do well to have a look at the way he organized his first year in office. You can disagree with his policies, but Reagan and his team showed up with a well-defined legislative plan and, more imptortanly, clear and concise points to make in the public debates. The White House was in control of both the message and the political process, presumably because Reagan had some actual executive experience as governor of California. Obama controls neither now.
What is depressing is that there are a number of steps that could be taken to improve our coverage and care that do not include creating an giant, expensive government health care program. Just try finding health insurance with high deductibles and limited or no coverage for regular office visits. For the young and healthy, this would be the most logical plan, but you can't get it due to our Byzantine insurance regulations. I know because I've tried to find it for me and my employees. The lack of such an option is a big reason why so many of the uninsured are uninsured by choice. I have several friends who would rather roll the dice than pay an absurd premium just to have $15 office visits when they don't need to see a doctor at all in most years.
If Obama were smart, he would go for the low-hanging fruit, claim (rightly) credit for reform and build to bigger things. But somehow he has conceived that everything he does must be massive, complete and executed in his first year. It's a strategy that is killing him and a primary reason why he is about to sink below 50% approval after having been in office for less than 8 months.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 11:25 AM
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Thursday, August 06, 2009
SL has been a dynamo on the wedding planning. We are lucky to have a friend of SL's father who will be our piper.
All of which reminds me that bagpipes are pretty much the coolest instrument ever invented.
On a side note, planning the music for the ceremony reminds me to implement what I think should be a Constitutional amendment banning Pachelbel's Canon and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from all weddings.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 12:17 PM
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
So, last Wednesday the Misanthrope took his ES-175 and his Pod X3 Live and went off to Smoke & Mirrors to play on a track by House of Blondes.
I've really come to enjoy working as session guy on recordings for other people. A few weeks before, I was over with George Vitray working on the Via Skyway recording and it was one of those great nights where you just click into a groove with the work quickly and get a ton of ideas down. That night, we ended up laying down some cool guitar parts on 4 tracks in just over 5 hours as the stars aligned and George and I found agreement very fast. It was immensely satisfying.
The House of Blondes session was also very satisfying, but it was different kind of work altogether. Whereas with Via Skyway, George had left big blanks for a guitar-based sound to the tunes, the HoB was, in a certain sense, almost complete when I got there. The basics of the song, acoustic guitar, bass, voice, were all there already. There was no need for complicated guitar arrangements and certainly no place for soloing. The song was a delicate, longing, tragic song and John Blonde was already delivering it with the vocals.
When I got to the studio, I told John that the only thing I was hearing was some kind of atmospheric sound in the background, not any obvious guitar playing. He agreed and we thus launched into a four hour odyssey looking, first, for the right sound and, second, for the right way to fit that sound into the song.
Coincidentally, the last time I played on a House of Blondes tune, "Glow Brighter," I ended up suggesting a similar background atmospheric sound that I had stumbled upon because I had been paying a slide solo. (The sound is created by putting the slide on the 12th fret and then picking behind the slide, on the side of the fretboard. This creates a shimmering, floating harmonic that can be "wiggled" by gently moving the slide in a vibrato.)
Finding the sound was fairly easy. I used a mixture of Fuzz Pi, Phaser and Analog Delay with feedback turned all the way up to get a floating, grinding sound. The challenge was (a) getting that grinding sound to grind in rhythm with the track and (b) play the sound so that the chords just appeared, as opposed to bursting out and sounding like a guitar.
George was the key man on (a) as we used the tap function on the delay to get me into synch. That moved us forward quite a bit. I stumbled on the answer to (b) by accident during a take. I had been playing on the downbeat and the chord would ring out on the two. When I waited and played on the two, and the chord popped up on the three, the whole thing fell into place. It is funny to think how playing a part that is incredibly simple can turn into such a challenge because you need to learn to control a crazy new sound you have created with effects.
At any rate, we got there and I thought it was pretty cool. Chrispy, John and George all have excellent ears. More importantly, all of us were in agreement that the best way to try an idea is just to try it. I think we've all been in situation where an idea is suggested and then minutes are wasted debating it. With the four of us that night, we just tried everything that was suggested and it helped us get to the goal line.
It was a very cool night. I can't wait to hear the final result.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 8:45 AM
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
White House is now backing away from Obama's campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anybody making less than $250,000 a year. (BTW, just like I said they would.)
What makes it so fantastic is that Axelrod is talking about taxing health benefits, which is something that, you guessed it, Obama was berating McCain for suggesting during the campaign. He even produced commercials slamming McCain for this idea.
Really, it beggars belief that anybody believes a word that Obama says.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 9:16 PM
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Germany. Scene of Obama's "citizens of the world" speech last summer. Land of Obama popularity.
I was quite surprised by this article. Although I agree with the points it makes about Obama's fiscal insanity, I was shocked that the mood had turned so fast on him in Germany.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 10:39 AM
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Update: Here's the link that didn't publish. Rasmussen poll showing that Republicans are now more trusted on the economy than Democrats. Considering the disgusting spendfest that the Republicans engaged in until 2006, I'm shocked that they have been rehabilitated so fast. Like I said, "Wow."
I was even more stunned when I saw that Republicans have pulled even with Democrats on the generic Congressional ballot poll. Considering the hole the Republicans dug themselves, this is a remarkable development. It also seems clear that Republicans are going to take back the statehouse in New Jersey and Virginia this year.
The cycles turn very fast.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 7:16 AM
Monday, June 08, 2009
Once again, the Chinese are showing that they are not fools when it comes to buying U.S. debt. As I have been saying over and over and over, if our creditors stop allowing us to use our currency to borrow for the massive Obama deficits, we are in for a world of hurt. The fact that this shot across our bow comes only a week after Geithner was laughed at in Beijing for suggesting that China's dollar-denominated assets were safe should give us all pause.
In related news, Obama is out talking about how he is going to ramp up the stimulus spending to create 600,000 jobs. Let's leave aside the fact that those will necessarily be short-term jobs. What I cannot understand is why this is only happening now when we were told in February that Congress needed to pass the stimulus package without reading it because action was needed then. But Obama had to make some kind of announcement because unemployment is already rocketing past the worst case assumptions for his budget plan (and, incidentally, the bank stress tests), all of which makes even more massive deficits than projected more likely. Remember that this is the Obama who was calling for a "net spending cut" in the campaign.
Of course, this doesn't even include the trillion or so dollars we will need for the new healthcare plan. How will that be financed? Most likely through a VAT, which is nothing more than a stealth tax increase on the middle class. And the concept of taxing health care benefits is now popping up, something that Obama categorically dismissed in the campaign. But hey, why criticize the guy for doing the exact opposite of almost everything he said in the campaign?
It's going to be an interesting summer.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 12:26 PM
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Congratulations! $1.2T in "quantitative easing" from the Fed has bought us an exciting two months of cheap mortgages rates.
Sadly, that all ended today as the bond market woke up and smacked old "It's Not My Fault, Bush Made Me Do It, Did I Mention I Don't Look Like Other Presidents?" Obama in the face.
I cannot emphasize the recklessness of Obama's policies enough. The Chinese are already stockpiling commodities because they don't want to keep buying U.S. Treasuries when Obama is borrowing $0.50 of every dollar he spends. That's why Tiny Tim Geithner is on his way to China to smooth the waters.
People, this is madness and it is becoming clearer and clearer how it's going to end.
If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 9:52 PM
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Well, it looks like our friends in the international finance community are starting to wake up to the fact that Obama and Tiny Tim Geithner are planning to inflate their way out of the fiscal insanity they are planning. Let me suggest that Obama is going to have a wee problem funding his insane budget deficits (which are already built on crazy assumptions for Q3 and Q4 growth) if we don't have access to the printing press.
Obviously I have never been a fan of Obama, but the budgets he is proposing, the incredible amount of borrowing they will require and the very real chance the the U.S. will lose its AAA credit rating are beyond even my worst nightmares for him. And that's just the normal Federal budget. The endless string of guarantees he is issuing to all sectors of the economy are a recipe for disaster.
His nonsense about "inheriting" this mess can only go so far. The financial crisis pre-dates him, but the decision to have the Federal government backstop everything in sight while spending like Eliot Spitzer at a whorehouse on Easter Sunday is all his and it is mind-boggling.
Heckuva job, Barry.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 12:15 PM
Monday, May 04, 2009
...it's almost as if the Chinese have figured out that he only way out of Obama's insane deficit spending is to completely devalue the dollar and crush the holders of Treasuries.
I still continue to be entertained by the Obama supporters who somehow see no problem with racking up record deficits and piling on a load of debt that will burden us for generations (or at least until we inflate ourselves out of it, which is what will likely be Obama's plan). This country needs some fiscal sanity and Obama and the Congress have moved us so far from fiscal sanity that we should all be deeply concerned. And, no, you cannot argue against this by pointing at Bush. His spending plans angered many conservatives (including me), but they are nothing compared to what Obama is proposing.
It's truly scary.
UPDATE: Good Op-Ed on our inflationary future from yesterday's New York Times.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 11:00 AM
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
From the Wall Street Journal article on Obama's big investigation into Monday's boneheaded photo shoot over New York harbor:
Despite the cost of an Air Force One flight, both White House and Air Force officials said the flyover also served as a routine training mission, allowing the 747's pilots to log sufficient flight hours.
"The crew on these aircraft have to maintain their proficiency," said Gary Strasburg, an Air Force spokesman.
Wow. I mean, just, wow.
That has to be the most ridiculous justification I can imagine for this stupid stunt. I cannot even begin to think what proficiency requirements call for dicking around in a 747 at 1,500 feet over New York harbor. There are certainly none that I have seen.
I fly through that airspace all the time (with a clearance from Newark Tower) and you just never see big jets at that altitude in that area. This is the kind of thing that PR hacks throw out because they know that very few people know enough to challenge them. I am flabbergasted.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 11:46 PM
A few weeks ago, I saw a documentary called "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills." It was a pretty frightening documentary about the prosecution of three teenagers for the grisly murders of three small children in West Memphis, Arkansas. It was made for HBO in 1996, but if you haven't seen it, I recommend it.
One of the central issues in the film and the trial is the fact that the three boys love Metallica and were generally somewhat alienated teenage boys. They wore a lot of black t-shirts and jeans and one of them sported a black trench coat, although the events in the film pre-date the Columbine Massacre so there was no baggage attached to that item of clothing yet. The soundtrack to the film features two Metallica songs, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and "Orion."
I confess I have never listened to Metallica. I remember my cousin Mike wearing a Master of Puppets t-shirt at Thanksgiving in 1987, which caused some consternation among the adults. After college, I remember the video on MTV for "One," but I was not a big fan of thrash and I remember being pretty annoyed by "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman" playing every ten seconds a few years later.
At any rate, I decided to check out Master of Puppets after seeing the film and I've got to say it's a great record, particularly "Battery" and "Disposable Heroes." So, I've been listening to it quite a bit on my runs. (This year's planned event is a marathon, Philly or New York, something I've been meaning to scratch of the "To Do" list for years now.)
Kirk Hammett's guitar playing has some very impressive moments on the record, although I confess that I find most metal solos pretty boring. Still, he manages to put some fresh ideas into his playing and there was a moment in "Welcome Home (Sanatarium)" that brought huge smile to my face. It's impossible to know, but I am virtually certain that Hammett is quoting the end of Steve Hackett's guitar solo from "The Knife" on Genesis Live. The quote happens at 2:25 of the Metallica song.
I recognize the phrase because (a) I always thought it was a very cool lick and (b) I quoted it myself on the Moneyshot song "Bliss" in 2000. If I'm right, I think it's hilarious that this thing pops up in the most unusual places. I'd love to ask Kirk Hammett if that's where he got the lick.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Fell off the radar for a while there in a flurry of activity and some travel. I had been hoping to post on some of the things I'd been doing, but it's started to pile up so much that I don't know if I'm going to be able to do a post for everything. So, here's the summary of Misanthropic activity
1) Trip to Chicago - Went there for a friend's 40th birthday and I was just blown away. Chicago is an amazing city with an incredible architectural heritage. I spent a blissful (if cold) Sunday afternoon walking around and enjoying the magnificent early skyscrapers. A truly remarkable place and, being a native New Yorker, I am a world-class snob when it comes to cities. Not too many memories of the evenings there, however, as the weekend was incredibly gin-soaked.
2) Trip to New Orleans - More a of mixed feeling towards NOLA. The French Quarter is just a horrific frat-boy cesspit and if I never have to spend any time there again I will not be sad. That being said, the warehouse district had some insanely good restaurants and our Saturday afternoon in a beer garden in the Garden District with a table covered with newspaper and freshly cooked crawdads was probably the highlight of 2009 so far. Also, casinos are consistently the most depressing places I have ever been.
3) Jazz - Lost a little steam on the jazz guitar front as work got very busy, but suddenly regained the desire in the last few weeks and had a simultaneous breakthrough. I had been frustrated that it was all sounding a bit "Ramada Inn Lounge," but my teacher gave me some great harmonic tools and things have started to get better. Also, I've come to realize that my tastes in jazz fall more on the Bill Evans side of the line (if there is one). Jazz is kind of like a mash-up between the swing and soul of the blues and the complexity and harmonic breadth of modern classical music. The blues never really moved me, but the gorgeous, harmonically rich playing of guys like Evans really reaches me. Also, I've discovered how much I love Thelonious Monk. The poor Scottish Lass is getting tired of hearing me whistle his tunes all day. If any bassists, drummers or piano players are interested in getting together to explore some standards, give me a shout.
4) Trip to North Carolina - I went to visit my older, nicer brother (ONB) and my awesome nephews. I flew myself down and back, which was an adventure. On the trip down, I climbed into the clouds about 30 seconds after takeoff and didn't see anything but grey for four hours until I descended into the Salisbury airport. ONB and I took the two oldest nephews to Raleigh to see their first NHL hockey game and, much more importantly, their first New York Rangers game. It was pretty weird watching professional hockey in North Carolina. The fans were incredibly quiet throughout. I tried to get things going by screaming "Potvin Sucks!" a few times, but the only people who got riled up were fellow New Yorkers. I refrained from "Buy a Porsche Hextall" out of respect for the little ones. On the drive to and from the arena, we listened to Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin on my oldest nephew's iPod. The torch is passed and the cycle begins anew. Also, the fingers on my left hand almost went numb from playing Rock Band for hours.
On the way back, I had a somewhat frightening but also educational experience. It was the day after a huge storm had moved through the mid-Atlantic states. I was flying northeast, towards Richmond, at 7,000 feet. I started to notice that I was pitching the plane up and losing airspeed to maintain altitude. Soon, I was adding power and was pitching up nearly 10 degrees just to hold altitude. I was considering declaring an emergency and finding a nearby airport at which to land because I was convinced that I was on the cusp of engine failure. It was then that I heard pilots around the region reporting to ATC that they were experiencing significant downdrafts and having the same problems maintaining altitude. The was an enormous low over New Jersey and it was sucking all the air around it into the center, like a drain. At Richmond, I was at the edge of it. This continued for a while, but it eventually stopped around Delaware. On the flip side, I would sometimes experience huge updrafts that had me 4 degrees nose down with the power reduced and still doing 170 knots of groundspeed (incredible for a Cessna 182). It was a hairy trip. Around Cape May, ATC forced me to descend (I was on an IFR flight plan) and I flew the last hour of the trip at 5,000 - right in the middle of a craptacular layer of clouds. I love flying, but I was getting tossed around in there and I couldn't wait to get on the ground. When I got home, I poured myself a generous martini...at 11:45 in the morning.
4) Obama/Geithner/Etc. - Don't even get me started. Just have a look at this (from noted right-wing nutjob front The Washington Post) and tell me that you think this a "New Era of Responsibility." I'm sure our kids will thank us for the unbelievable level of debt Obama intends to saddle them with. Hopey Changemas! Also, is it just me or can you almost hear Chavez, Castro and Ahmadinejad chortling silently as they listen to Obama play nice and expect them to give him something for it. Welcome Back, Carter. [BONUS: Can you really believe that the Swine Flu has returned for the Second Coming of Carter? It's just too wonderful a coincidence to go unremarked.]
5) MagDog - The chemo was not working, so it was looking like the time had come for the last ditch approach - radiation. We went to the vet and they did a scan to see what they could do. The problem with radiation is, of course, the damage to surrounding tissue. Things are more precise these days, but the larger the tumor, the greater the potential for damage. So, it was looking bleak and I was getting prepared for the worst. The vet suggested a surgery to debulk the tumor would increase the chances at efficient tumor kill from radiation and also reduce the exposure of healthy tissue to side effect. After consultation, the surgeon told me that they could do a minimally invasive procedure to remove some of the tumor, although there appeared to be parts of the tumor that were not treatable with surgery. We went forward. In an amazing turn of events, the surgeon reported that when she got into the chest cavity, the tumor was only attached to the pericardium by a tiny, 1 cm stalk. As a result, we was able to simply cut it off at the base and remove 95% of the mass. This isn't a cure, by any stretch, but it does greatly improve the odds for successful radiation treatment. Keep your fingers crossed that we can drive that final bit into remission. Thankfully, MagDog is otherwise totally healthy with perfectly normal heart and lung function.
6) Summer - I'm planning to decamp to the beach for the summer starting just before Memorial Day.
7) Netflix recommendations:
a) Summer Heights High - Dark humor like the UK version of The Office. Helps to have a woman who lived in Australia for 10 years at your side when watching for some translation
b) The Staircase - Documentary on a North Carolina murder trial. It will shake you.
c) Murder on a Sunday Morning - Documentary on a Florida murder trial. Also riveting.
8) My Bizarre Obsession with Ghost Hunters - On the fateful weekend when Scottish Lass broke her ankle, she and I were sitting in the hotel room and we stumbled upon a very creepy show about a group of "paranormal" investigators at an abandoned mining camp in the West. We thought this was "Ghost Hunters" and it scared the bejesus out of us, so we put some Ghost Hunters DVDs in our Netflix queue. It turns out that the show we saw was something different (it was actually "Ghost Adventures") because it was nothing like the Sci-Fi Network show, but that didn't stop me from developing a slightly deranged love of Ghost Hunters. Now, I should be clear that (a) I think the show is just entertainment although (b) I did have an apartment in New York years back that seemed to have a ghost. What I love about the show, however, is the incredible earnestness with which the TAPS team says things like, "One of the theories is that an entity, when it wants to manifest, has to draw energy from the surrounding atmosphere." Ah yes. I believe that theory came out of the pioneering work of Max Planck? Or was it Rutherford at Cambridge? So much science.
And that's the appeal of the show. The team, to their credit, does tend to find perfectly natural explanations for all manner of phenomena. But their skepticism founders when they start talking about "science." They use some of the equipment and terminology of science, but they have no idea what most of it means or what it is used for. It reminds me of the opening allegory in "After Virtue," by Alisdair MacIntyre, where he posits a post-science world where men are trying to re-create science without fully understanding the original meaning and intent of the terms. And yet, I cannot stop watching the show. Scottish Lass is getting concerned because I spend so much time laughing at the "reasoning" in Ghost Hunters, but the show is both so good-natured and hilariously earnest that I have come to feel real affection for the guys on the team. (Not Brian, though, he's just a jerk.)
So, that's the update.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 1:14 PM
Friday, March 06, 2009
Once again, Krugman and I are of the same mind.
I think it is high time that Obama got rid of Geithner. He has lost all credibility and is rapidly becoming a liability. The markets are not reacting to things that happened under Bush. Obama is providing no clear view of what he plans to do about the financial crisis and that is panicking investors. Geithner is making it worse with his dithering. And the Obama budgets are offering eye-popping deficits and debt.
This needs to be addressed immediately.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 11:33 AM
Thursday, March 05, 2009
The nation is facing a severe economic crisis and the Treasury Department is still not staffed properly. The markets are delivering a massive vote of no confidence in Geithner and he continues to function with a skeleton crew. Today, Geithner's choice for his top deputy withdrew from consideration for the job. The Obama Administration is far, far behind previous administrations in getting Cabinet members appointed and confirmed and getting key departments staffed and operated and it is preventing the proper functioning of those departments. It is unclear why Obama is proving so inept at getting people into place, but Geithner is never going to regain the trust of the markets if he doesn't have access to a staff adequate to the task at hand.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 7:04 PM
Monday, February 23, 2009
Hard to disagree with this take on the ridiculous stimulus package that was shoved down the throats of the American taxpayer in what has to be one of the most disgraceful moments in Congressional history. How the largest spending bill in American history was passed without a single member of Congress even having a chance to read it will either be an embarrassing history lesson or the first chapter in a very dark story about the way Obama runs his administration.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 5:30 PM
Saturday, February 21, 2009
A fascinating article in the Times today about the way that certain cars on certain subway lines make a series of pitches as they are leaving the station that happen to match the opening of the melody for "Somewhere" from West Side Story. I had noticed the pitches before, but had never tied them to the song until I read the article.
This kind of thing seems to happen a lot in New York. In the basement of my building, near the laundry rooms, there is some kind of pump or burner or other machine that happens to create a sound that is an almost perfect reproduction of the end of "Randy Described Eternity" from the Built to Spill record Perfect From Now On. There's also an ATM near me that appears to play the first three notes of the "Eroica" symphony when dispensing cash (I even checked and it is not just the right intervals, but the right pitches.)
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 1:55 PM
Friday, February 20, 2009
Saab, which is owned by General Motors, filed for bankruptcy today. From what I gather, the brand is unlikely to survive as a stand-alone company and the prospects for a sale are not bright in the midst of the current recession. It's a shame because GM took a great, slightly kooky brand and essentially ran it into the ground.
My first car was a maroon 1986 Saab 900. I bought it in 1998 from a friend of a friend. Having lived in New York my whole life, I had never really needed a car. In fact, looking back, I'm not exactly sure what it was that spurred me to buy one at that time.
I got a very good deal. The former owner was the only owner and he had kept good care of the car. Well, except for one strange quirk. He used to park the car on the street and wanted to make it less attractive to thieves. So every few days he poured a bucket of dirty dishwater on the hood. I'm not making this up. The result was that the car had a decent finish (for a 12 year old car) everywhere except for the hood, which looked dreadful. But the car was cheap and ran great. Most importanly, it had a sweet Blaupunkt stereo system with a 10 CD changer.
When I bought the car, I had never driven a manual transmission before. I think I got about halfway across East 66th Street before I realized I had the hand brake on. My heart rate would shoot up every time I had to start from a dead stop, which was about every 15 seconds in New York traffic. This was par for the course for me, however. The first time I ever drove a car, it was in New York and I pulled out into traffic on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street. Talk about being thrown into the deep end.
Over time, I learned the ways of manual transmission. About five days after I bought the car, I drove two friends from England up to Ithaca to visit our friend Pete. I may never live down that journey. On the way up, I had no idea that you had to downshift when going up hills. I remember thinking, "Crap, this car sucks! It has no power!" All the while, my friends were chuckling away. This was also the genesis of the car's name, Bessie. As we were going up hills, I would pat the dashboard and say, Come on, Bessie. You can do it."
That trip also introduced me to hill starts, which are basically every start in Ithaca. There is a stretch of road just outside Ithaca that, I am sure, still has an enormous black skid mark from my panicked attempt to prevent the car from backsliding. I don't think my friends stopped laughing for the next five years about that one.
Eventually, I mastered the art of driving a stick shift and put miles and miles on the car. I learned a lot of lessons. For one thing, any time you drive into a garage for a repair, it's going to be a couple hundred bucks minimum. I learned to do the alternate side parking shuffle on Bank Street, a ritual that has to be observed to be believed by non-New Yorkers. I park in a garage now, but I still crack up when I see all those drivers sitting in their cars at, say, 11:05, waiting for the street cleaner to come by so they can reclaim their coveted parking spot.
So many memories. Driving people and gear through an ice storm to a gig on Staten Island. In fact, that drive is where I first got to know Stink Rock well.
As time went on, I got a little more flush and decided to look into buying a new car. I had loved Saabs because of their kooky styling, which was unlike anything else on the road. Sadly, GM had bought Saab and changed the styling in, I think, 1993. I didn't love it, but I went into a dealership to ask the guy about a new 900. Amazingly, he talked me out of buying! Apparently, when GM bought the brand, they stopped using the original engines, which are legendary for their longevity, and plugged in a bunch of GM parts. The salesman told me I probably had a better engine in my 1986 than I would get in a brand new 900. When a car salesman is trying to talk you out of something that puts money in his pocket, you listen.
Bessie met her end on September 11, 2001. She was parked on a little alleyway off of Warren Street that I had discovered had no parking regulations at all. (Gansevoort Street used to be like that too, which is hard to imagine now that the Meatpacking district has become so gentrified and crowded.) I had just moved from the old apartment, on Warren, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, to a new apartment at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, two blocks south of the World Trade Center. When the towers came down, they covered everything. Bessie was not actually damaged, but the City decided that any cars within a certain area were too contaminated with asbestos and other toxic materials to release. So they moved her to Fresh Kills where she was crushed. I still have the photo they gave me of her when they brought the bag with the contents of the glove compartment and trunk.
She was a great car. In fact, she was so well known in the neighborhood, that I would sometimes find little pieces of paper saying things like, "Hi Bessie!" tucked under the windshield wiper. So the story of Saab's possible demise took me back to a very different time, when I used my little junker car to drive equipment to gigs and to see friends and was exhilarated to have the freedom of my own wheels for the first time in my life.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 11:10 AM
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Obama appears to be moving towards the "Swedish" model in response to the banking crisis - nationalize the banks, wipe out the shareholders, write down the crappy assets and then relaunch.
If he goes this route, I will be very impressed and will be the first to praise him. He understands that we need to take the pain on these banks. Equity holders should be wiped out. That's the risk of equity and these banks are insolvent. Debtholders should be crammed down. That's the risk of debt. Above all, the government must stop feeding capital into these banks piecemeal.
Good for him. He seems to recognize the nightmare that Japan created by propping up banks that were effectively dead.
This makes his approach to the stimulus package even more bizarre. Japan, which just announced a massive drop in GDP, is the poster child for government "stimulus" spending that achieved nothing. I just wish he had taken that lesson to heart as well.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 7:23 PM
John McCain was not my ideal candidate, as I've said many times here. For one thing, I think he missed his shot in 2000 and was too old and too tired to make an effective play in 2008. The age concerns around a McCain Presidency were legitimate. I used to joke here that one of the reasons I liked McCain was that he was slightly crazy, which would be a deterrent against aggression from other countries - they'd never know what would set off his crazy Vietnam flashbacks and launch the nukes.
And I also found McCain's "maverick" schtick to be a bit tiresome at times. While I think he had a far more legitimate claim to actual bipartisan achievement than Barack Obama, McCain also had a tendency to overplay the role in a way that seemed more about gratifying his ego than achieving something concrete.
That being said, there were a couple of things that McCain hit on during the campaign that have turned out to be remarkably prescient.
When McCain called for the resignation of SEC chief Chris Cox after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he was lambasted for what was perceived as a political stunt. The thing is, McCain was dead on. As the Madoff scandal has shown, the SEC was horribly inept in doing its job. The testimony of Harry Markopolos last week was a devastating indictment of an agency that was accomplishing almost nothing under Cox's reign (which started in August 2005). The SEC was rotting under his watch. We just didn't know quite how bad it was until Madoff.
The other item that McCain had dead right was the evil of earmarks. Obama dismissed this in debates as a small component of the budget. He had to take this position because he had taken home quite a lot for Illinois in earmarks. The "tiny percentage" argument de-fanged McCain and made him seem like he was focusing on small potatoes. The problem is, McCain was right. The direct spending on earmarks themselves was never an enormous number, even though it was certainly substantial enough that voters should have been angry about the waste. The evil of earmarks is that they are essentially a way for legislators to bribe each other into voting for even bigger bills using taxpayer money. There is no greater example of this than the extraordinary process that Pelosi and Reid (and, through a default on any leadership, Obama) used to ram through the largest spending bill in American history with no review and only the bare minimum of debate. The genius of the Pelosi/Reid process was to essentially make the entire bill a gigantic earmark. Why waste time negotiating with individuals and supporting earmarks to push the thing through? Just throw every pet project under the sun into the mix and you save time. After 6 years of overspending under Republicans and 2 years of overspending under Democrats, we cannot afford the boondoggle that Obama signed today. But the problem of earmarks, derided by Obama in the election, greased the wheels to make it happen.
McCain was dead right about that.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 4:29 PM
I had planned a nice ski weekend at Mt. Snow with the Scottish Lass for both Valentine's Day and her birthday. Neither of us like Valentine's Day much, but her birthday is the day before, so we tend to do a combined celebration. I made reservations at the main lodge with a ski-in/ski-out room and lift tickets for the three days.
The drive up was a snap. We made it in just over four hours and arrived at about 11:30. The room was very nice, literally right next to the main summit lift. And it had a gas-powered fireplace that was very warm and lit up at the flick of a switch. We were exhausted but very pleased and then proceeded to scare the liver out of ourselves by watching part of an episode of "Ghost Hunters." As we were going to sleep, I turned to Scottish Lass and said, "Don't worry. Why would you think anything evil or supernatural would happen in a snowbound hotel in the mountains?"
I'm not a skier. I've probably skied a total of ten times in my life and I don't think I had skied before this weekend since 2002. So I was actually a little nervous as we reached the summit. Thankfully, it worked out fine. I remembered how to cut and turn and after a couple of quick runs on the easy trails, we started on the blue/intermediate runs. Things were going splendidly. The sky was crystal clear and it was in the high 20s on the mountain. There was a little bit of ice, but generally the conditions were good and the slopes were not as crowded as one might expect for a long holiday weekend.
Unfortunately, at about 2:30 that first afternoon, things started to turn for the worse. We were skiing down a trail called Big Dipper which had some significant ice and some bare spots. I had gotten ahead of SL and so I stopped at the next big drop to wait. When I saw her coming, I turned and chatted to a couple that had just stopped near me. It was then that I heard a panicked yelp. SL was down and not moving. I took off my skis and walked back up the mountain to her and she was clearly in pain. Her left ski had caught an edge and the binding had not released, twisting her left ankle violently.
We called the ski patrol and they put her in the stretcher-sled and took her down the mountain. I was very relieved when they showed up because she had started to shiver severely. When we reached the First Aid station at the base and got her boot off, it was clear that she hadn't broken anything. The best guess is she had hyperextended some ligaments or possibly had a small tear. She couldn't walk on the foot, so I gave her a piggyback ride back to the hotel room.
And that's pretty much where we stayed for the next two days. She had been hoping that she would wake up the next day and feel better, but I knew that she was done skiing for the weekend.
Using the hotel wheelchair, I was able to get her out to the car for a very nice drive around the nearby Vermont villages on Sunday, but since we couldn't actually get out and walk around, it was somewhat frustrating. It's truly remarkable how drastically things change when you have an injury like this. Just getting from the bed to the bathroom was a chore for her. I felt awful for her because I am imagine she is feeling very frustrated at her lack of mobility. Last week I had that horrible stomach virus for two days and I was going crazy because I couldn't get out of bed.
We're back in NYC now and she has crutches, so her mobility is increased. She is going to the doctor today for a full exam, but I suspect that this injury is going to take a long time to heal.
Now that we are settled and the initial injury has passed, I have to look back at one moment and laugh. The Scottish Lass is, obviously, British and her reaction to the injury and the pain reminded me of nothing so much as the scene in European Vacation where Eric Idle is mauled on his bike and keeps apologizing and saying that there is nothing wrong at all. She may not be English, but the general reaction was very similar. We were sitting on the side of a cold mountain and she couldn't move her leg and yet she kept saying she was fine and that she was sorry that she had fallen. When I first tried to summon the ski patrol, she tried to stop me and tell me that she would be fine. It was obviously serious at the time, but, looking back, it was such a hilariously British moment. I half expected her to say to the ski patrol, "I'm really sorry that I fell on your mountain."
Friday, February 13, 2009
Although I would guess that the chances are still pretty high that the horrible, misguided "stimulus" bill will still pass, the voting math in the Senate just got more complicated with Gregg's withdrawal. It would appear from his withdrawal statement that Gregg is not a supporter of the bill, so he is not likely to vote for it. Ted Kennedy is apparently returning to Florida and will not be present to vote. That means that Reid only has 60 votes with the three Republicans he has managed to swing over to his side and all three of them have said that they do not want to be casting the deciding vote. Could one of them waver and drop their support? Possibly, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.
If this were to happen, however, the Republicans could put themselves into a very sticky predicament. On the one hand, they would have stopped an absolutely awful bill from being pushed through Congress in a very unorthodox and secretive way. The blow to Obama would be immense (albeit self-inflicted) and certainly politically satisfying, but the politically satisfying is often bad politics. That's because, on the other hand, Republicans would now be stuck with the label of having obstructed "action." The President has made a cartoon of the opposition, pretending that Republicans just want a lot of tax cuts and never want to spend a dime and that plays well in many places. If the Republicans just stop the bill and do nothing, they will have won the battle, but lost the war.
The key would be to offer up a realistic alternative and try to start picking off Blue Dog Democrats. That would be an enormous coup. I think the best alternative would be the introduction of a much, much smaller spending bill with all of the cash being deployed in 2009. Such a bill could also include a short-term tax break, such as the payroll tax holiday, that has broad support. The longer-term spending and infrastructure projects would then go through the normal appropriations process where the Republicans would be well-advised to make some compromises and support a few projects that they might not agree with ideologically, but which will attract some Democratic supporters.
I find the whole scenario very unlikely, but if the Republicans do get into a position to block this train wreck of a bill, they are in serious danger of overplaying what is currently a winning hand.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 10:24 AM
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Does the fact that Obama pre-selected his questioners before his "press conference" give his supporters any pause at all? Without wandering too far into the fever swamps, isn't there something a little disconcerting about a President who is essentially staging press conferences with no chance for open questioning by reporters?
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 10:13 AM
The handling of the so-called "stimulus" package has been a debacle since day one. Instead of a thoughtful debate about a spending package that might have positive effects on the economy (I'll play along with the idea that this is possible, for the moment), Pelosi drew up an unholy mishmash of a Democratic wish list with a number of blatant payoffs to Democratic support groups. I wouldn't expect much more from Pelosi, who is quite possibly the worst Speaker of the House in modern political history. What was shocking was the passive approach taken by Obama to this disaster of a bill. At a time when I would have expected candidate Obama to say, "Let's take the time to do something thoughtful and intelligent," he switched gears completely and became Doomsayer-in-Chief to support a bill he took almost no role in crafting. The man who promised voters in the debates that all of his new spending plans would not increase the deficit, who promised voters that he would scrub each new spending bill "line by line" to make sure it had no waste, is about to run the largest government deficit since World War II and he has been in office less than a month. On top of that, he scared our largest trading partners by allowing a "Buy American" provision in the early drafts of the bill that sparked serious warnings of a disastrous trade war. Perhaps Obama should familiarize himself with the Smoot-Hawley Tarriff for some historical context.
Obama was supposed to be the anti-Bush. He was supposed to be intellectual, dispassionate and reflective. I would have expected that Obama to have slowed down Pelosi and her crazy bill, perhaps splitting it into a smaller, directed short-term stimulus package that was more defensible as real stimulus and a larger appropriations bill that would be passed through the normal legislative route. If he had taken control and done that, he would have scored a major political coup. I think he missed a potential for a defining moment in his Presidency. What he offered up instead was a feckless performance, some disgraceful scare-mongering worthy of Bush and a lot of silly straw man arguments.
Republicans were not arguing that tax cuts solve everything and it was disappointing to see Obama lie about this in making his case. What most were arguing was that this spending package is too large and involves too many items that are unlikely to be spent in any time to have an effect on the current recession. Why not create a smaller emergency spending bill as a stimulus and then move some of the other proposals, such as infrastructure repair, through the normal appropriations process? There is no question that the Republicans tarnished their ability to argue against spending during the early Bush years, but that doesn't mean that it is now a good idea to spend the government into virtual bankruptcy.
Obama still enjoys high approval ratings that will likely last for a while longer. He burned a little of his political capital supporting this bill, but he has a lot to spare and he won't be hurt by this misstep until the effects of this insane debt festival start coming due. And they will come due. At some point, the only way to get out of this debt mess will be to inflate our way out and that is going to be an incredibly ugly sight.
Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, have hurt themselves badly. In the Rasmussen generic congressional poll, where Democrats have been beating the Republicans like rented mules for years now, Republicans trail Democrats by only one point. It's still a long way from the midterm elections, but there are some other signs that the Democrats are setting themselves up for an epic fail at the Congressional level. Chris Dodd's once-safe Senate seat, for example, is starting to look decidedly shaky over his stonewalling on his sweet mortgage deal with Countrywide. But above all, Pelosi and Reid have handed the Republicans an enormous stick with which to beat them.
Bush is no longer the President. The Democrats cannot blame him for everything anymore, especially given that they have controlled Congress since 2006. And it astounds me to hear defenses of the stimulus on the basis that Bush was so terrible. I wasn't aware that the answer to an 8 year spree of spending beyond our means and loading ourselves with debt was to spend even more beyond our means and load ourselves with even more debt.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 9:37 AM
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
...whatever happened to Obama's tax cuts for 95% of Americans?
NOTE: A couple of people have given me the "give Obama a break, he's been in office for two weeks" response to this. Well, duh. My comment is not about his lack of speed in offering up a tax break for 95% of Americans. The comment was meant to point out that with the level of spending in this stimulus bill that Obama is pushing so hard down the throats of the American taxpayer with a bunch of scary speeches, he is going to create a debt hole so huge for this country that there is no way anybody's taxes are going down. Of course, some of us pointed out during the election that it is simply not possible to eat your cake and have it too. Obama claimed that his massive spending proposals (which, by the way, would have to be on top of this boondoggle) and his supposed tax cut wouldn't drive up the deficit. Well, Obama is now pushing a spending bill that the CBO thinks is so ill-advised and so bad that it will negatively affect the growth of the American economy for at least a decade.
So, guess what? There is no tax cut on the way for 95% of Americans.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
ANOTHER Obama appointee is withdrawing for failure to pay taxes????
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that it is outrageous that these jerks feel entitled to simply not pay their taxes. What does this say about Obama? The man made a big, big deal about his ethics and the way he was going to clean up the mess in Washington, but does he have anybody who can properly vet his appointments? Richardson? Geithner? Daschle? Can Obama even manage to pick somebody who doesn't have severe ethics problems?? And the best part is that Nancy Killefer was supposed to be the "performance czar" who made sure that the government was efficiency. Of course, it's a joke that a management consultant from McKinsey would actually improve anything, but at least he could find somebody honest enough to pay their taxes.
I figured Obama would run into some problems at some point, but this, combined with a pork-laden "stimulus" bill hated by the majority of the country, is a pretty spectacular flameout after two weeks in office.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 10:49 AM
For on this date, I say something I rarely say.
Hooray for the New York Times. Today they called for Tom Daschle to withdraw his name from consideration as Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Daschle is an absolute train wreck of a nomination. Does anybody really believe he didn't realize that a car service he used 80% of the time for personal use was a taxable benefit? Or that he just innocently overstated his charitable contributions and "misplaced" the proof? Or that he claimed deductions for contributions to groups that did not qualify?
That's just the tip of the iceberg. More worrying is the fact that Daschle has effectively been an unregistered lobbyist for the past four years. He's not an attorney, so what was he doing at a law firm that does legal work and lobbying? Given the number of exceptions to his "no lobbyist" rule, you have to wonder if Obama really does understand that you can't just run a government on symbolic gestures. It doesn't mean anything if you ban lobbyists and then make a billion exceptions.
Daschle must withdraw or Obama's credibility will be taking a serious hit.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 9:21 AM
Friday, January 30, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
California defaults on its tax rebates. It's going to be ugly watching it the state go down in flames because pretty soon nobody is going to lend it any money.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 9:58 AM
Saturday, January 24, 2009
President Obama demonstrates his skill at reaching across the aisle and making allies in order to get his legislative agenda passed. While this may be emotionally satisfying for Obama fans, it is just plain stupid politics. Obama has no experience running anything where the entire staff is not on his side. I fear we are in for some learning-on-the-job episodes in the next few months.
One of the things I cannot stand about Obama is his constant insistence that any disagreements are just "petty partisan politics." Perhaps as he grows a little into his new role and gains some maturity, he might begin to apprehend that some disagreements are based on serious differences of opinion. It's not petty partisan politics that is leading many to look at his proposed "stimulus" and argue that it is not set up to stimulate much of anything.
What's frustrating is that I agree with Obama that there needs to be an investment in upgrading certain portions of our infrastructure. The problem, at the moment, is that the country is broke and it is intellectually dishonest to suggest that these programs will stimulate economic growth.
Thankfully, there will be no lobbyists in his Administration. Oh, except or his pick for the Number 2 slot at Defense.
This is going to be a long year.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 1:59 PM
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
So, I've been moving forward with the jazz studies and I am pleased to say that I have gotten some nice rewards from it already. I'm not actually a tremendous fan of jazz, but I really like the complex harmonic explorations and I've been enjoying learning some of the extremely creative ways that jazz composers and improvisers have spiced up simple diatonic chords over the years.
Having reached a point where I feel like I am starting to "get it" as far as improvisation and chord soloing, I decided to backfill a bit by reading a book called "The Jazz Theory Book" by Mark Levine. A lot of the early sections cover areas (scales, modes, chord construction) I've known about for years, but it's been interesting to hear the way jazz musicians took us from I-vi-ii-V to I-VI-ii-V. What has been especially entertaining, however, has been reading about the ludicrously self-righteous debates that went on over theory during the bebop era. A sample of the silliness:
Before the bebop era, most jazz musicians played the 4th of the major chord as a passing note only. Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, and other pioneers of bebop often raised the 4th...in their improvising, chord voicings, and original tunes. It's hard to believe now, but the raised 4th was a very controversial note during the 1940s. People actually wrote letters to Down Beat magazine about it, saying things like "the beboppers are ruining our music" and "jazz is dead."
That's right. People were arguing whether or not it was okay to play, for example, an F# over a Cmaj7 chord. This is the kind of preciousness that spurs three-state killing sprees.
I have now seen the intellectual grandfathers of the current crop of sanctimonious "indie-hipster-music-geeks."
In their honor, I am going to play #11 all night over every major chord.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 6:13 PM
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Misanthrope saw his older, nicer brother this weekend. Let's call him "Fill."
At any rate, Fill was in town as he was interviewing for a job in Delaware (Motto: "We Know It Seems Weird But, Yes, We WERE A Slave State") and figured that he would swing through the Big Apple. It's the 300th anniversary of our high school, so Fill also went to homecoming to pick up a medal for...um...winning the "Best Senior Athlete" trophy 25 years ago. I'm not sure what the whole thing was all about either, but my brother still takes great pleasure in knowing that John McEnroe, who was a few years ahead of my brother at the school, didn't win it.
The more exciting part of the weekend was the transfer of my old Rickenbacker 330 to Fill for transportation down to North Carolina. I am loaning this cherished piece of Moneyshot history to my 12 year old nephew. Fill has three sons and the eldest two are just at the age where they are starting to get into rock. The middle boy is already playing drums, having received a starter kit this Christmas. The oldest now has an electric guitar. I'm just waiting for the youngest to be big enough to hold the bass and they will be ready for Uncle D-Funk (their name for me) to teach them side one of 2112.
Posted by Dave Cavalier at 3:55 PM