Friday, January 30, 2009

How big was your bonus?

Yesterday, President Obama was reportedly "irate" after hearing about big bonuses which were paid out to big bank executives last year, calling it "the height of irresponsibility" for employees to be paid more than $18 billion in bonuses while their crumbling financial sector received a bailout from taxpayers. "It is shameful," Obama said from the Oval Office. Now, while I am a free market person, who believes that the bailouts should not have happened and companies (no matter how large) should have been allowed to fail (i.e., reorganize through bankruptcy), I have to agree with the President. The whole idea of a bonus is to reward employees and executives for a successful year by sharing in the profits. Clearly, last year was not a profitable year for most companies, except Exxon Mobil (future blog topic). The banking and financial industry had disastrous years last year both in profits (read losses) and stock performance. So how could they justify a bonus to anyone? Last year the company I work for sent out a memo to all managers stating that there would be no bonuses this year due to our financial performance which was worse than expected. So no one got a bonus, not even the president of the bank. And that's what should have happened at Merrill Lynch, Citibank, Bank of America, and the rest of the big financial institutions that spread the wealth around in a way that President Obama never intended. Let's hope that his administration will curtail such bad behavior in the future. Like he said, "There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time." Couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gas Stimulus Benefit

Well, our area, like many others around the country, got pelted with snow on Tuesday evening. In my location, we had 6 inches of the powder which added to the 2 inches already on the ground from the night before. As I mentioned in my blog on Tuesday, driving conditions weren't bad, but by Tuesday night things had changed considerably. The additional snow that fell, coupled by the non-existent snow plows in most areas, made for very challenging driving to say the least. My current vehicle, a Dodge Durango (rear wheel drive) was fine once I got going and built momentum, but getting started was a different story. Pulling out of a local restaurant after dinner with my wife and family, was like skating on ice. Can you say, fish-tail? Luckily, we made it home in one piece. The next day (Wed), schools were of course closed again, and due to this fact, plus the excitement of the drive home the night before, my wife decided to stay home with the kids. I choose to take her vehicle to work (a Lincoln Navigator) instead of mine, since hers is a 4-wheel drive. I had a feeling (a correct one) that the morning commute would be an adventure, due to the new snow and the unplowed roads. What a difference All Wheel Drive makes! While most cars were in the one lane than had visible tracks to follow, I passed them all with ease in the snow packed but unplowed and very sloppy right lane. This made me thankful of our decision last summer to purchase this Lincoln (a used 2004 model). Last July when we bought it, we felt we got a great deal, but lamented that gas prices were so high (nearly $4 per gallon, remember that?). Since then, as you know, gas prices have dropped steadily to well below $2 per gallon (we are now in the $1.60-1.70 range in St. Louis). This tremendous drop in gasoline prices has served as a huge, stimulus "package" for all driving Americans. "That $2 drop roughly equals a $240 billion tax cut for consumers, economists say", says Mark Huffman at partner blog I know we are saving anywhere from $30 to $40 dollars every time we fill up, when compared to last summer! So while President Obama and the GOP wrangle over what to include or not include in the proposed $1 Trillion dollar economic stimulus package, thank your lucky stars that you've already got a huge stimulus in the form of lower gas prices! I wonder how those Toyota Priuses handle in the snow?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Snow day driving fun!

Today is another snow day. The kids are off school and the area is bracing for up to 2 more inches of snow and sleet again this afternoon. Depending on what part of town you live in, you could have anywhere from 1-3 inches of snow on the ground, with another 2-3 inches to come later. As usual, the local TV stations played up this storm as a severe threat to the area, and tried to convince those gullible viewers that they might be trapped in their homes for the better part of the week. I'm sure the local grocery stores have already sold out of milk, eggs, and bread, and perhaps some ice pellets, as the panicky shoppers buy into the story line. Let me recap, 1-3 inches on the ground, 2 more inches to come later. Hardly a blizzard. The morning traffic reports have already told of accidents in the highways and byways as hapless drivers make their way to work in less than favorable driving conditions. The problem is some people drive too fast for the slick road surfaces, but far too many, drive too slow, which is also troublesome. The key is to maintain a steady pace that is with the flow of the others. Keep extra distance between yourself and the car in front of you, and do not panic if someone hits their brakes. As a recent owner of a motorcycle, I am aware of the safety courses available for new riders, but I think there should also be driver safety (read defensive driving) courses for automobile operators also. Trial by error has no place on the roads where other people's lives are concerned. There is a growing debate over banning cell phones in cars, but not knowing how to drive in severe weather conditions is worse in my mind. Well, time to hit the road and see the action for myself!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hold the mayo!

There was an article in the Sunday paper this weekend titled, "Ordinary objects; super uses", which gave a list of 112 uses for household products like aspirin, baking soda, and aluminum foil, that are not what they were originally designed for. This is not an unusual column to be found in times of economic uncertainty and recession, however, a few of the items listed, along with their uses, were kind of baffling to me. For example, there were 4 things that you could do with beer. Now, I'm sorry, but living in St. Louis the home of Budweiser, the only thing you do with beer is drink it. Anything else should be punishable by law. Who would want to waste a perfectly good beer by mixing it with an egg and using it as a hair conditioner? I would think you could buy a bottle of hair conditioner for less than a bottle of beer. Speaking of hair care. As an alternative to beer, there was a recommendation to use mayonnaise to condition your hair! Mayonnaise? That's got to be even more expensive than beer. And who in their right mind would want to slather mayo in their hair? Not me. OK, there were a couple of neat ideas. Throw a couple of Alka-Seltzer into the toilet and wait 20 minutes and flush and presto, you'll have a clean toilet. Who likes to clean toilets anyway? Ok, gotta try this recipe, throw a used banana peel in with the roast. Not! Who wrote this thing? Someone who says, Soda Pop. Hmm, must be from Michigan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

You paid how much?

In a sports news item of the day, it has been reported that the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field stadium, will be sold to a man named, Tom Ricketts. Mr. Ricketts is a billionaire who made his fortune working at the Chicago Board of Trade, and his own investment bank called, Incapital, LLC. An avid Cubs fan (obviously) who supposedly met his wife in the bleachers of Wrigley Field, Mr. Ricketts will pay the sum of $900 million dollars for the team and stadium being sold by the Tribune Co. Now, the question is, is this a good deal or not a good deal? On the one hand, Mr. Ricketts is buying a team that has not won the World Series in over 100 years (since 1908 to be exact), and has not even been in the World Series since 1945! As a St. Louis Cardinals fan I would like to remind my readers that the Cardinals have won 10 World Series Championships, with the last being as recent as 2006. So, this man is buying a team with a rabid (although delusional) fan base with a losing tradition. On the other hand, in the unrealistic world of major league sports which apparently does not go through economic recessions like the rest of the world, the Cubs franchise which again is being purchased for $900 million dollars, was recently valued at $1 billion dollars. So, Mr. Ricketts is getting a discount of $100 million. Pretty good! Also, this team that is being sold for $900 million in 2009 was purchased by the present owner at a mere $20.5 million in 1981. So the Tribune Co. made a return of 156% per year for the last 28 years and is still needing to sell this team to make up for losses from it's other businesses, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Hartford Courant and other dailies as well as 23 television stations. Wow! Things must be really, really bad in the newspaper business. So, time will tell if Mr. Ricketts got a good deal on the Cubs or not. One thing is for sure, I would not bet on them to win the World Series this year!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's your plan?

I read an article today on a popular personal finance website titled, "Getting Your Finances Ready for Obama". I had to laugh. It has become trendy to try to find market niches and stock tips based on perceived policy moves by Presidents and administrations. Of course there are long term trends that should be noted, such as market behavior by consumers, population shifts, and demographics. The Baby Boomer generation obviously did a lot for many different industries, as did the rise of personal computers and the like. But lately, the focus has turned from long term to short term. People make decisions based on the next 12 months, not the next 12 years. Saving and investing is no different. Most magazines, financial publications and websites will tell you how stocks and mutual funds did over the past 5 and 10 year periods, but people make their buying decisions based on the past 12 month or year-to-date performance. This is true not only in bear markets, but bull markets as well. I can remember talking to clients in 1999 who only wanted to buy a fund that had a return of 100% over the past year! Of course last year, you were lucky to find a fund or stock that had a positive return at all. The real problem for most people is not the stocks or funds they own, but the amount of new money they are putting in them. How much are they saving? How much are you saving? The United States has the lowest savings rate of any Industrialized nation. A rule of thumb for most people is to save 10% of your income. If you start this early on, with your first job, you should have no problems saving enough for retirement. In the last few years, the Government has tried to help out people who did not save enough early on, by creating a "catch-up" provision for people age 50 and older, so that they can put more money into their 401(k) and IRA plans than what they would normally be able to make. Now, because we are in a bad recession, many people are finding that their employers are cutting their 401(k) matching contribution. That puts more pressure to save more but it must be done. For most people, this will mean making some tough choices to cut expenses from their family budgets. They need to decide what is a real "need" and what is a "want". This is the real way to get your finances ready for Obama. Plan for your future retirement yourself by saving more and spending less. Don't let the government plan it for you, unless you want to join the food stamps crowd. Maybe Geico has it right. Look how much I saved on my auto insurance! I better call my agent...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

100 Days

Well, now Barack Obama is President Obama. No longer President-elect. No longer a transition to power. The oath of office has been taken (although stumbled), the speech has been made, the Inaugural Balls have been attended (all 10 of them), and now it's time to get to work. The history of the Presidency has shown a high interest in analyzing the first 100 days in office. At least since FDR, this has been done. It seems to be a barometer for how the remaining 3 years and 265 days will play out. This new President, while seemingly up for the challenge, has placed some big goals ahead of himself. To be sure, he takes over an office and an economy that has a black eye to say the least. Wall Street was not too enamoured with the Inauguration celebration yesterday, as the market sank over 300 points and the Dow stands at 7949 on President Obama's first full day in office. The futures are up this morning though, maybe the traders felt better after watching the video clips and news feeds on the progress the new President and First Lady were making on hitting all the balls (no pun intended) last night. The economy will be and should be job number one (after he gets the rest of his cabinet confirmed). He made note of where we stand in his inauguration speech when he said, "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered." What the nation needs, Obama said, "is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly. ... This is the price and the promise of citizenship." So there it is. Time to get to work. Time to roll up our sleeves. Time to quit whining and get over it. Time to start saving more and spending less. I, like most all Americans am ready to see the economy pull out of this recession and the markets go from bear to bull. Let's hope Wall Street concurs, and corporate American will listen to new ideas and forget business as usual. People say they want change, and they are ready for change. Let's see what changes in the next 100 days. Let's see how long the honeymoon lasts.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Today is all about Barack Obama and his inauguration. Today he becomes this nation's 44th President. It should be an exciting day to see all the events unfold. Of course it will be a bittersweet day for President Bush and his wife, Laura, and they leave to head back to Texas. But Washington is all a buzz about the inauguration. Millions of people are expected to be in attendance, although I don't know how much most of them will be able to see. I guess a lot of people will like to be able to say that they were there. It will also be interesting to see how many people use this occasion to go into work late, or work from home if they can. If those not lucky enough to do that have access to the internet (without being blocked by IT) they can catch parts of it on their computers at their desks and workstations. Needless to say, there will be hundreds of soundbites, video clips, and UTube posts, with the most important or moving parts of the ceremony, and inaugural balls to follow in the evening. My prayers go out to him and his wife, Michelle, as they embark on this journey for the next 4 years. I hope his plans, policies, and ideas will help heal this country and those hurting by the current recession and aftermath of last year's stock market crash. All eyes are on you, President Obama. The first 100 days and beyond begins today! Enjoy this moment, the real work begins tomorrow! Now then, what did the kids do with the remote?

Monday, January 19, 2009


Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down him
So let it be
So let it be

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thundercloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Let it rain
Rain on him

These lyrics to the song MLK by U2, are very interesting now, as we get ready to usher in a new president tomorrow, a president who is African-American. I wonder if Martin Luther King, Jr. ever thought that this could happen in America. Now his dreams have been realized. Of course there is more that can and needs to be done to erase prejudice, racism, and bigotry in this country, but we are moving forward. President-elect Obama will help make Americans see people of color in a new light. Perhaps not with rose colored glasses, but at least with better focus and sharpness. We are all of one race anyway.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Water Experiment update

I've been getting a lot of inquiries from my readers about how my water experiment is going, so I thought I would use today's blog to give you an update. Today is the 16th day of the new year and so far I have not had one soda. Oh, a little background for my new readers and any guests who might be reading my blog for the first time. My New Year's resolution this year, like many people, was to lose weight. But I chose to go about it a little differently. I have always hated diets and have found them too complicated or too difficult to carry out for long periods of time and have concluded that that is why most people abandon them after a short while. My idea was to make losing weight simple and easy. So I created The Water Experiment. I thought of an area in my diet and non-healthy lifestyle, that I could improve or eliminate. I chose to give up sodas for the entire year (just sodas) and replace my soda consumption with water. I figured that water was good for you and obviously better than sodas, even diet sodas, which I have also disliked (except for Diet Dr. Pepper). The results? So far, after a little over two weeks into the year, I have lost 5 pounds. In addition, I have concluded that I am also saving a fair amount of money, at least a dollar or more a day, by not purchasing sodas at the restaurants I visit. As a public service to my readers, I have also been keeping a list of the eating establishments that encourage (or at least do not discourage) water drinkers by giving them regular drinking cups. In addition, I have been keeping a log (kind of a blacklist) of those dining places that make water drinkers feel unwelcome or cheap, by giving them "special" water cups instead of what the soda drinkers get. So here now is the list of what I call Water Supporters (note, some of these places my not be in your area as I live in St. Louis, MO):

Burger King
Taco Bell
Jack in the Box
The Pasta House
White Castle
CJ Muggs

Now, here is the list of who I refer to as Water Discriminator's:

Einstein Bros Bagels
St. Louis Bread Co.
Panara Bread
The Fatted Calf
Lion's Choice

I will say that at St. Louis Bread Co., I did ask the cashier for a regular cup and she gave me one, so negotiation can be effective on a case by case basis. On the other hand, Bread Co. has the smallest "special" water cups and they place them by the soda machine to make you feel even more "not part of the plan"! Obviously, I will continue to keep updating my lists and will eventually put them on my blog permanently (on the right-hand column). Well, that's a wrap for now. I have to think about where I will go to lunch today...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Surprise Profit?

A breaking news item that just came over the wire exclaimed: JPMorgan Chase posts surprise profit! That got me thinking. How could a profit be a surprise? Isn't that what companies and banks are supposed to do, make a profit? Further investigation revealed that the "surprise" was how much profit they made in the 4th quarter last year. $702 million dollars profit. Wow! That seems like a lot, except when compared to the 4th quarter of 2007, $2.97 billion, yes Billion with a "b". So again, why was this a surprise? Don't they have accountants who know this? Well, the real surprise it seems is that it beat what the "analysts" expected them to bring in. So even though having their net income fall 76% over the same period as last year, which would be considered a bad thing, since it's better than what the analysts expected, it's considered a good thing! Make sense? I didn't think so either, but that's how Wall Street works. Big ups and downs in the market usually are because something happened that wasn't expected. The market likes to be right. When it is right, it's usually a decent day. When it's wrong, bad things can happen. Of course, they can be wrong because their expectations were too low, and that could be good for the markets, as in big up days. People don't mind those. What nobody likes is to be wrong because their expectations were too high, or because news came in that was disappointing (and not expected). Those can kill the markets, and unfortunately is what we saw far too often last year. But fear not, the sky is not falling. Don't believe the hype and negativity you hear on CNBC. They thrive on bad news. Bad news sells ads. Good news does not. Take these headlines:

"Bankruptcy Cases Flood Courts at Fastest Rate in History"

"Investors Should Sell Everything"

"Consumer Confidence Dives to 17-year Low"

"Retail Sales Worst in 30 Years"

Sound familiar? Stuff you've heard and seen a lot lately, right? These are actually headlines from 1991. Yes, 1991. Now where did the stock market and the economy go from 1991? In October of 1990 the Dow was at 2365. It's over 8000 today. The point is, we've seen bad times and bad markets before. Hang in there, it's a bumpy ride, but you can come out of this alright if you're patient and don't over react. By the way, JPMorgan Chase is up today!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No more free pens!

Amid all the disturbing news about the global recession, stock market crash, and unemployment numbers comes this: No more free pens for doctors! Now if there is one group of people that tend to be insulated from economic downturns, I would say doctors would be one of them. Think about it...people get sick no matter if its a good economy or a bad economy. And when people get sick they go to the doctor to get some medicine. Most people are not too worried about doctors missing a meal or their next mortgage payment. The vast majority, although they do not know how much doctors make, assume that they pull in six figures and would put them in the income level that President-elect Obama said should expect a tax increase this year. So why all the fuss about free pens? Surely doctors do not need free pens, they can buy them by the box. And who buys pens anyway? I cannot tell you the last time I bought a pen. A Sharpie yes, but not a regular ballpoint pen. At the desk I am sitting at right now, the drawer is full of pens, probably 50 or so, that came from points unknown. Pens are things that get borrowed but never returned. Sometimes on purpose, but usually by accident. You see a pen on the table, pick it up to write a note, and slip it into your pocket, and walk away. I work at a bank so we have lots of free pens lying around. In fact, we want you to take our pen, because it has our bank name on it. That's called advertising. In fact, this is how doctors got all their free pens, from drug reps. These are the salespeople that call on doctors to try to get them to use their drugs when writing out prescriptions for their patients. The article I read said, "But as of Jan. 1, all "non-educational" gifts to doctors are banned according to a voluntary ethics policy written by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade organization made up of the largest drug companies." What's probably more important to them is that they will still be able to receive drug samples and even more important, free lunches, from their drug reps. So this gave me an idea. Since I work at a bank and am always looking for new clients (especially people who have lots of money), and we have lots of free pens to give away, I think I'll start calling on a few doctor's offices in my area and see if they need any "free" pens. Heck, I'll even buy them lunch! Good thing I have an expense report.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Best job in the world

I read an article this morning that was titled, The Best Job in the World. It's apparently a real job opening in Australia for a position as an "Island Caretaker". The job description is as follows: "The "island caretaker" will be expected to stroll the white sands, soak up the sun, snorkel the reef, "maybe clean the pool" — and report to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries and video updates." And the best part is this, the winner (yeah, this sounds like a contest) will stay rent-free in a multimillion-dollar three-bedroom beach home complete with pool and golf cart! Sound good? If you want to apply, go to and submit your application. OK, a few problems with this, "best job in the world"! Number one, while it pays a salary of $105,000 the job only lasts six months. Two, you would have to relocate to Australia. Three, what do you do when your six months is up? It sounds like a great idea for someone who wants a six month vacation and who has the capability to go on a sabbatical from their real job. And if you did get this gig and quit your job to go down there, are you sure you will be able to find another job six months from now? Especially one that pays $105,000 per year? I think this is really a neat marketing idea someone came up with to promote Hamiliton Island in Australia. Here are a couple of jobs that I think would be the Best Job(s) in the World:

1. CEO of Merrill Lynch - work 3 months and then leave with a $30 million golden parachute

Now this would be kind of hard to get because, you need to be a CEO to qualify, have some good connections, and some really good luck. But hey, the benefits are great!

2. Bullpen catcher on any major league baseball team - work Feb through Oct and get $100K plus meal money and travel and stay in best hotels in America.

This is what I always considered a great job if you could get it. Now, you would still need some luck, some baseball skills and good connections to get this job, but if you could, this is a stress free job with loads of perks. Think of all the autographs and goodies you would get hanging around with major league baseball players! And you basically would never have to buy a meal for most of the year. Plus, you get to watch 162 baseball games from a really good seat (in the bullpen) for free! This is a dream job. Well, back to reality. Time to take a shower and head for the quarry (bank).

Monday, January 12, 2009

A flying car? Put me down for one!

As I perused the news items of the day, as is my morning routine in order to educate myself on current events and to find things to wax eloquent, I noticed two interesting stories that seemed to contradict the general landscape of where we find ourselves in 2009. The first story I read was about a push from a national advocacy group to recommend that cell phone use in automobiles be banned completely. That means not only hand-held but also hands free types, including bluetooth. The reason for this push is continued evidence that cell phone use while driving is causing more and more accidents, and is now being compared to drunk driving for the lack of ability of drivers to focus on driving while engaged in a cell phone conversation. Now I have to admit that I often drive while talking on my cell phone, I have even sent a text message or two (even more dangerous) but usually this is while at a stoplight or in a traffic jam. While admirable, I think that in reality it will be very hard to enforce this type of law. More and more people will go to Bluetooth devices which are getting smaller and smaller (thus harder to detect) and auto manufacturers are already building hands free cell phone capability into their car audio/visual and GPS devices. How would an officer be able to tell if someone is talking to someone on their hands free car phone device or if they were just talking to themselves or singing along with the song on the radio? The second story I read (with more interest) was a story about a new car being developed, that could change into a plane (within 15 seconds) and fly. Really? A car that could fly? That is really cool! This would be like George Jetson going to work in his little flying capsule thingy. In fact picture looked a lot like Mr. Jetson's flying vehicle. Kind of a cross between a Volkswagen and a Piper Cub! Now this is not something that is going to be coming in 5 or 10 years from now, they have the prototypes now and are in the testing phase, and are scheduled for delivery in 2010. That's next year! In fact, you can go to their website at and place your $10,000 deposit today. For "only" $200,000, you can have one of these little flying machines and starting buzzing around town yourself. So that got me thinking, if people are worried about increased accidents resulting from inattentive drivers talking on their cell phones, what will happen when people start landing their cars on the highways and interstates around the country? What kind of license will you need to have? Well, some more laws will have to change first. According the the article I read, Alaska is the only state where it is legal to take off and land a plane from a highway. Well, since we are in a recession, I doubt too many people will be sending in their deposits for these anytime soon. Except for maybe lottery winners. Yep, now that we are in tough times in America, more and more people are playing the lottery now. That makes sense doesn't it? Sounds like a future blog to me...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Winter Blues

Well, now that the excitement and freshness of the New Year has worn off a little, reality sinks in...we're still in the middle of winter. With daily temperatures in the 20's and 30's, just a quick walk outside will remind you of that. Throw in a cloudy day and a stiff breeze (think wind chill factor) and it really hits home. As a child I always liked winter. Snow days to make snowmen and snow angels, plus the added bonus of no school if there was enough of the white stuff. I remember playing outside in the frigid cold of Ohio for hours, and not coming inside until my lips turned blue or my gloves got wet, unless I had to go to the bathroom. Winter was fun! Having snowball fights with the neighbors and building snow forts was what winter was all about. The past few years living in St. Louis, I've noticed that we don't seem to get as much snow as we used to. Not that I mind that much. Oh sure, I would like to see some for the kids to play in and experience, but now that I am an "adult", snow means traffic jams and scraping ice off windshields. If I am not on a ski slope somewhere, I really don't want to see much snow. Another thing I've noticed about getting older is my tolerance of the cold. It used to be I could handle any temperature. I survived the Blizzard of '76 in Toledo, Ohio and remember sub-zero temps for weeks, along with 3 feet of snow and snow drifts as tall as our 2 story house. Now if it's below 32 degrees I make a dash for the safety of my car and the blast of heat from my dashboard (which can't come fast enough). In addition, I now must confess that I sleep with my socks on in the winter to keep my feet warm! Back in the day, it was my boxers and nothing else. What has happened? Has my skin gotten thinner? I have gained many pounds since high school so you would think that my extra padding would help in this area but it doesn't seem to. I guess this is one of the mystery's of life. Oh well, time to get another cup of coffee...I wonder how many days until spring training begins?

Thursday, January 8, 2009


This is the time of the year when lots of people like to make lots of predictions. The so called experts make their expectations known on everything from who will win an Oscar, to how much will the stock markets gain (or lose), to who will win the World Series. What's really interesting is how much stock (no pun intended) people put into these predictions, and even more interesting is that no one is really held accountable if their predictions fail miserably. For example, last year, all the experts predicted a positive, although not spectacular, year in the stock markets. Of course what we got was the worst year in the markets since 1931, a recession, many failed companies, etc. But again, no one held them accountable. When asked what happened, they said, well no one could expect the unraveling of the markets like we saw, especially because of the government intervention that took place, which was unprecedented. Unprecedented is a word experts will use to say that they were wrong, but it wasn't their fault. Guess what? They are predicting an up year in the markers, this year too! Now with something like the Oscars, I think this is so subjective, that you might as well pick the winners out of a hat. What really is the question I always have is, who watches most of these movies, and who decides who is nominated? Because with the Oscars, it's all about being nominated. You can't win if you're not nominated and just being nominated seems to be a big deal. How many times have you seen a movie trailer and at the end when they give the names of the stars they say, "...nominated for 5 Oscars!" That means, they never actually won an Oscar, but they were nominated! And finally baseball...when the sportswriters and TV analysts give their predictions for who will win the next World Series, it's always based on who is the best "on paper". Now what we know is that almost always, the best team on paper usually doesn't win. Why? Because injuries can devastate a team's performance. If you lose one or two of your top players, you are doomed. Take the 2007 and 2008 St. Louis Cardinals. They lost their top pitcher, Chris Carpenter for most of both of those seasons, and even though they also have Albert Pujols, could not make the playoffs. On paper, they were a top team that was supposed to compete in a weak division with their rival Chicago Cubs, but it just didn't materialize. So what to make of predictions? Take them with a grain of salt. Use them for entertainment purposes only. Our local newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year "predicted" that Barack Obama could not win the presidential election. Wrong! Mark Twain once said, if you are going to make a prediction, make a bunch of them. Chances are one might be right! So far this year, my wife has predicted that I would lose 12 pounds on my water diet experiment. One loyal reader predicts I will lose 5. My goal (prediction) is 20! Who will be right? We'll see on Dec. 31st. So far, I have lost 4 pounds already! I better send Oprah a message and tell her how she can lose the 40 pounds she has tacked on recently!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Water Discrimination

Now that I am one week into my New Year's resolution, which I call The Water Experiment. I have made a couple of observations. First of all, drinking water is not so bad. I actually do not miss the soda at all. I was actually getting to the point where some sodas were tasting too sweet to me, particularly Diet Dr. Pepper. I knew if I was going to make this work, I would have to go cold turkey, so I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been so far. The second thing I have noticed is what restaurants and fast food joints do when you order water. Now, as I discussed yesterday, food establishments make lots of money selling soft drinks, and they make nothing providing water, so one shouldn't be too surprised that they don't jump for joy when you order water with your meal. The interesting thing is how some restaurants make you "feel" when you order water. For example, I have noticed that almost all fast food places give you the smallest size cup for water. No problem. I can handle that. If I need more, I'll just get up and get a refill. But some places give you a "special" cup for water. You know, one of those flimsy clear plastic cups that squeezes in too easily and tend to be top heavy (thus, more likely to tip over and spill). Even worse, these "special" cups do not accept the lids that are provided for normal cups, so you can't take your water with you when you leave. At least unless you want water spilled in your vehicle. Now I think they do this so that they can tell if you are really getting water from the soda fountains or trying to steal soda with your free water cup. I am sure that some people (think teenagers) steal soda with their water cups, but I would think that the vast majority do not. To punish someone by giving them the "special" water cup is a bad idea. I have decided to make a mental note of places that do this and try to avoid them in the future. Now at many sit down restaurants, this is not the case. Waiters and waitresses for the most part do not make a big deal about you ordering water, as long as you get a good meal to go with it. You see, what they are thinking is: smaller bill, smaller tip. But I think that if restaurants really want to encourage people to order the "healthy" food selections, then they should expect people to also order "healthy" drink selections, i.e. water. Here's a tip, if you are at a nice restaurant and want to make your drink look like a "real" drink, order your water with a lemon or lime wedge. In the coming weeks I'll have a few more water tips to share, along with my black list of restaurants who are Water Discriminators. Maybe we can get a little grassroots change to happen. These next 4 years are supposed to be all about change right?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Water's free, man!

One of my favorite commercials was for a product that I don't remember. Aren't most commercials that way? Everyone looks forward to the Super Bowl for the new commercials that are debuted because most of them are very funny or at least memorable in some way. For years the advertising team at Anheuser-Busch led the way with their wacky and far out entries. Who could forget the Bud-Weis-Er frogs or Spuds Mackensie? Wonder what will happen this year, now that A-B is owned by InBev? No, this particular commercial showed some people hiking near a stream and it was supposed to be back in the 70's, and one guy says to another guy, would you like to buy a bottle of water, and the other guy says, "Water's free, man!". The idea was, who (back in the 70's) could envision a day when people would pay for a bottle of water. Something that can be poured from a tap for free? Yesterday I talked about the high prices charged for sodas at restaurants. Water is not much different. Some restaurants and fast food joints are selling bottled water along side their normal soda offerings. And vendors at football stadiums and baseball parks around the country are commanding as much as $4 a bottle for water! Yes, $4.00! I read recently where now many local government offices around the country are getting rid of bottled water. Mainly because of efforts to be seen as "green", or environmentally "friendly". But here in St. Louis, Missouri, we have what has been tested as the "best tap water in the country"! This was once the main reason to buy bottled water, taste, because many local communities had bad tap water that either didn't taste good or had questionable minerals and other chemicals or toxins in it. Others claimed that they preferred to buy bottled water because of the convenience of the resealable containers, but you can buy any sports bottle and fill it with tap water, or just re-use the bottled water container when you're done. It has even been suggested that some companies actually use tap water in their bottled water! Fresh mountain stream? I doubt it. I say, give tap water a try, why spend extra money on a label? Water (is still) free, man!Check Spelling

Monday, January 5, 2009

Unintended consequences

While I set out on my New Year's Resolution to lose weight by conducting an experiment: can I lose weight by giving up soda?; it occurred to me that there might be another benefit. Saving money! Now that our country is in the midst of a major recession, people are finding ways to save money on everyday expenses. While gas prices continue to drop, most other commodities have not followed in oil's footsteps. Cost of living increases is something that most people do not think about all the time, but when you get a price increase for something, it makes you think. Take stamps. Over the years, the price of a stamp has risen from say, a nickle, to 42 cents. I don't remember paying a nickle for a stamp, but I do remember paying 32 cents not that long ago. What about cars? Back in the early 80's a new car would set you back about 10 grand, and now you are lucky to find one for less than $25K. That's some serious inflation! But have you ever thought about the price of a soda? I remember when you could get a soda at a restaurant for 50 cents or less. Today, most places charge over a dollar. Fast food joints will charge anywhere from $1.29 to $1.99 depending on size. Sit down restaurants will routinely charge $1.99 and I've noticed many that charge up to $2.99 for a soda! This is one sneaky way that restaurants keep their menu prices down. They make it up on drinks. They know that most people want to drink something with their meal, and many prefer sodas to wash down their food. So an unintended consequence of my water diet experiment will be saving some cash on over priced sodas. I just wished they would give you a regular cup when you ordered water!

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Resolution

Many people begin the new year by making a resolution to do something new or different in the coming year, as a way to improve themselves. For most, it's a new diet, a new health club membership, or a promise to start a new exercise regimen like running or walking. For some, it could be as easy as planning to read more or play less video games. Then there are those who dare to do something really hard, like quit smoking. Very few people actually attain their goals. By February, the majority have already quit or given up their new year's resolution. Why? Why do most people fail at this? I think it's because they do not write down their resolution and share it with others. So if they quit, who knows? Who cares? Now again, like most people, I make new year's resolutions, too. But this year I thought of a new twist. Now that I have a blog, I can share my resolution with everyone. And it's a written record that I will see almost every day. In fact, to make it even more visible, I am going to keep a daily log of my progress! So what is my resolution?
I have never been big on diets. I don't think they work because they are too hard or have too many weird rules. Who wants to count calories, ditch their bread, or eat nothing but grapefruits or lettuce? And who want to buy a whole bunch of pre-packaged food that will hog up your pantry and is over priced anyway? So my idea is this...I will diet a new way, an easy way, and a way that will make it easy to tell the difference, because there is only one thing I am going to do different. Drink water! Yes, I'm going to call it the Water Experiment. As a regular consumer of soft drinks, mainly Coke, Mt. Dew, and an occasional, Diet Dr. Pepper, my strategy is to drink water instead of soda. For the whole year! Whenever I go to a restaurant or fast food joint, I will ask for water instead (with a lemon)! This will be the only thing I change. I will not change my eating habits or my exercise (or lack there of) routine. Only water! I began yesterday, New Year's Day. A day when I would usually drink a soda or two (or three) as I watch football games and visit with my extended family. So to get myself motivated and on target, I am going to keep a daily log of my progress. You can see it on the right hand column called New Year's Resolution meter. I will now post my beginning weight and make my first entry into the meter: 198 lbs! OK, this is a few pounds more than I guessed before I weighed myself yesterday, and many, many pounds over my high school weight when I ran track. My wife expects me to lose 12 pounds. My goal is 20. So let the games begin!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

All is quiet on New Year's Day

Happy New Year! I want to wish everyone in the blogosphere a very happy and prosperous New Year in 2009. The new year is always refreshing because it is a time when everyone resets their clocks and gauges for the next year ahead. Bad times and stock markets are erased and we set everything back to zero. The stock market is set back to 0%. Our health insurance deductible is set to zero dollars. The year begins fresh. New year's resolutions are made and the clock begins ticking on how long they will last. Kick a bad habit; lose some weight; get back in shape; get out of debt...these are the most common types that are doomed for failure. But hey, it's a new year! Why not try again? This time it might be different! Ok, so let's kick back and relax. Turn on the Rose Parade and get ready for some Bowl games. Maybe visit with some friends and family on your day off. Eat some good food and pie (the diet can start tomorrow)! Maybe take a nap later on...

Well, if you partied too hard last night you might fix your self a Bloody Mary, or try a Mimosa! Come back tomorrow and I'll fill you in on my New Year's resolutions!