Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Christmas Nazis

     I'd like to say I have nothing against Christmas, but that's not entirely true. I resent it a little bit. I feel like I can't really admit this, though, because I'm Jewish and I don't celebrate Christmas anyway. It probably requires a devout Christian to stand up and say, "OK enough with the crappy music piped in through the mall, enough with the crass commercialism, enough with the stupid notion that if you don't send everyone you've ever met a card you're a bad person. That's not Christmas." It probably requires that sort of person, so I won't say it. My job is to say, "Of course I don't mind being bombarded with lousy music, pushy salespeople, people asking me if I've got my tree, or when I as a kid, asking me what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me. I love the season because it brings out the best in people, plus the lights are so pretty."
     That's what I'm supposed to say. I think. Except that it's bull. I know most people love this season - they approach it and turn into kids again. Except I guess most people weren't very good kids. The fighting in the stores is the least of it. The gluttony of the month is disgusting and the lack of personal self control is appalling. The manager of my company gym told us today that the average American gains 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Even the Canadians who celebrate Thanksgiving 2 months earlier don't gain that much!) Think - an average of 7 pounds. That means there are plenty of people out there gaining 10 or 20 or 30 to make up for those of us who aren't stuffing our faces. Then of course there's the inevitable intolerance.
     You know what I'm talking about. It happens every year. It even happened this year at Easter. People stop being happy and start being angry. I think they forget that Christmas is a one-day holiday. They demand that stores and people they meet on the street celebrate Christmas all month long. If a cashier doesn't wish them a "Merry Christmas", they blow up. If a store sign says, "Happy Holidays", they write an angry letter. Forget that the owners may not celebrate Christmas. Forget that not all of their customers celebrate Christmas. Forget that they may not even be in a holiday-related store. They're not looking to celebrate Christmas early - they're looking to force everyone around them to pretend to celebrate.
     Someone I know (who shall remain nameless) works for investor relations for a large company. That person showed me a letter send to the company from a very angry man about the use of the words, "Happy Holidays".
"I would like to provide feedback on the customer profile of the vast majority of your customers. I would like to repeat, ?The vast majority of your customers?. Everyone I know is offended by companies trying to take CHRISTMAS out of CHRISTMAS. I suspect that sales would flourish to retailers that aren?t afraid to call it what it is, CHRISTMAS. I also believe that retailers will find shrinking support for those who are attempting to secularize our culture. Since we celebrate CHRISTMAS on December 25th, I personally won?t buy gifts from companies attempt to disguise it as something other than Christmas. They are, in fact, Christmas ornaments, they are Christmas trees."

     Uh, OK. It's interesting that the demographic that is the first to say we can't tell corporations it's not alright to pollute is also the first to tell them how to recognize their religion. But let's go over this one more time. Just because the majority of this company's shoppers celebrate Christmas, it doesn't mean they are obligated to tell everyone "Merry Christmas". If that were the case, would companies have to tell you in the evening, "Have a good dinner?" How about, "Hope you have a good bowel movement when you get home"? "I hope you have good sex with your spouse tonight?" Most people do those things when they are at home. Why isn't this guy pissed off that the store doesn't tell him that? Or is it just the religion part that gets his panties all bunched up in a wad? Then why isn't he threatening to boycott them if they don't tell him, "Enjoy church tomorrow" on Saturdays?
     It's not just the lone wackos writing letters to corporate offices though. If that were the case, this would be a pretty stupid article I'm writing. It's mainstream right-wingers like Neal Boortz who keep propagating this bizarre idea. In this blurb, he basically echoes the nut in the letter above (Or could it be the other way around..... hmmmmm) when he says that 85% of Americans celebrate Christmas (I think it's more) so everyone has to say, "Merry Christmas". Somehow the citizens of America have turned "equal protection for all" into "if I have more votes, I win and you lose". Life has become a football game. But while Presidential elections have to have a winner and a loser (2004 had 2 losers), not everything else does. If you're ordering 4 pizzas for a bunch of friends and a 3/4 of them want pepperoni, you don't have to put pepperoni on all 4 pizzas just because you have a majority. That wouldn't even qualify as selfish, because it just doesn't make any sense and it wouldn't benefit you anyway. The best way I can characterize it is evil - you just want to see someone lose.
     So if you're shopping, and some of the people don't say "Merry Christmas", don't be evil just because you have a majority. There are other people out there who don't need to "lose". If you really believe that everyone has to conform to your beliefs in order to make your world bearable, well, Happy freakin' holidays, jerk.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What's the Point?

     I was "back home" in South Florida all last week for the Thanksgiving holiday. If there's one thing South Florida has a lot of, it's old people. Between the downed trees and powerlines, the oppressive heat and humidity, and triptophan sleepiness, there were lots and lots of old people. Most of them seemed to be driving on the roads and highways at 5 miles per hour. (If you're on the metric system, that's equal to "slow as crap")
     My grandmothers are old people, too, but I'm rather fond of them, so I won't make fun of their driving. My grandmother's boyfriend, however, is another story. She met him in the Independent Living community she lives. At 90 years old, I applaud her for being social. On the other hand, he's an annoying old man and when I visit, I wish I could spend time with my grandmother alone. That's just me being selfish.
     But about his stories. I was in the car with him going to Thanksgiving dinner and he talked non-stop for an hour. It was all about his son and how rich his son was and about how he gambled in every casino in Vegas and how the guy at Caesar's knew him and comped him for everything. He even pulled out his wallet to show me card from every major casino. They were the elevator keys for the "club floor", whatever that is. I was in the car with him going to Thanksgiving dinner and he did not stop talking once during the hour-long car ride. Thankfully (it was Thankgsiving), he was talking to my grandmother, not me, but I had a hard time shutting him out. Most of it was bullshit, pointing to a building and making something up about it. "See that building? Blah blah blah blah."
     But when he's talking to me (or my sister, or my parents, or the other people in the independent living center), he tells us how rich his son is, about the nightclub his son used to own in Atlanta until the schvartzes made the place undesirable, about how he himself gambled at every casino in Vegas and how the guy at Caesar's knew him and comped him for everything, about his elevator key card for the "club floors" which he still keeps in his wallet "just in case", about how Steve Wynn begged him to come gamble in his new casino. Most of his stories revolved around what an awesome gambler he was. Now the man's a few short steps from the grave, he's living alone in a retirement home, his son hasn't spoken to him in 10 years. What was the point? So he could brag to his 90-year old girlfriend's grandson?
     There are a lot of things I'd like to do in this life. I want to travel the world, buy a yacht, own a mansion or two, invent a better mousetrap, run a company, be a famous columnist ... Being a big macher at Vegas casinos would be pretty cool. But if that's the biggest accomplishment of my life, shut me up. And if I have nobody to share those stories with except random people in the retirement home cafeteria, shoot me. Because I'll have completely wasted my life anyway.
     I've been fortunate in my life so far to be spared from a lot of death. I've known a few people who have died, but baruch hashem they've all been old and lived full lives. But I would think that assuming you have an unlimited amount of time is stupid. If you were to die at 30 or 40 or 50, what would you leave behind. It doesn't matter whether or not you believe in an afterlife. What did you leave here? When you're gone, will anyone ever remember you were here in the first place?
     So imagine you A) have no children, B) do nothing during your life that could not have been done by someone else, and C) make no impact before or in the act of your death (like donating the contents of your will to your alma mater). Were you ever really here? And if your answer is yes, then why? Why did you take up my oxygen? Why did you put garbage in my landfills? Why did you waste the valuable real estate it took to bury you?
     And forgetting death, once you no longer have the ability to work enough to fund your casino trips, or maybe once your knees have gone enough to keep you from hiking in Europe, or maybe once your heart has gotten bad enough that you can't travel, what then? For your own sake, do you want your last 10 or 20 years spent bragging about what an awesome person you were when you were young? Now that's a depressing thought.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

And To Hell With Georgia!

     I'm in Florida for the Thanksgiving Week. I might post, but I doubt it - I've been running around visiting family I see only once a year. Everyone eat lots of turkey, get good deals on Black Friday, and root for Georgia Tech over the inbred rednecks, er UGA fans, on Saturday at 8:00 pm on ABC. (For those of you who will get the Notre Dame game instead, root for Stanford)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Confirm This

     Some of the biggest headlines and political controversies over the past 6 months have been over confirmation hearings of judges. In April, all the politicians could talk about were filibusters or a "nuclear option". But the Republicans not only control Congress, they control it in a way no party has ever controlled it. Because the Republicans would rather cut off their balls than vote contrary to the President, Republican Congressmen are about as worthless as Presidential Electors. (I'm comfortable saying "balls" because only 28 out of 286, or 9.9% of Republicans in Congress are women. Only 22% of Dems are women, FWIW.) So what options to Democrats really have if they don't like a judge?
     In normal times, even if there aren't split majorities in Congress and the White House, some members of each party will cross the aisle to vote against the President's pick. Integrity used to count for something, after all, and each of these Senators and Representatives were elected by local people in their home districts, not selected by the national party office. Extremists of any persuasion were rarely appointed and almost never approved. But today, Republicans are certain to approve anyone that makes it to the floor for a vote. By a unanimous vote. (You know who also used to win by unanimous vote? Saddam Hussein. But I digress.) So what's a Democrat to do without a majority when an incompetent or extremist like Darth Miers or Scalito is nominated?
     As it turns out, Dems have a few options. They can vote "No" and complain loudly, either on C-Span or their local news. This option is called, "Preaching to the Choir, but they get to maintain their integrity. They can filibuster, but this option has 2 problems. One is that Americans are not comfortable with the idea of a minority blocking the will of a majority. Despite being one of the pillars of American society from Day 1, it remains unpopular. A filibuster, of course, doesn't allow a minority to pass unpopular legislation. It just keeps majorities from doing so. And there's a limit on the power of a filibuster - minorities in the Senate must have at least 41 participating members - hardly a tiny fraction of the 100 member Senate. But because of its unpopularity, it would be unwise for minority Dems to use this tool too often. Clearly a filibuster would have been used in case Harriet Miers had not resigned her nomination, since she was so unpopular and unqualified. But the Democrats' beef with Scalito is that he's too partisan. They just don't like him. And if they choose to filibuster him, Senate Republicans might just remove filibusters altogether, making the need to ever compromise again on anything non-existent.
     So Scalito will most likely be confirmed, barring some revelation of his past in which his wife had an abortion or he accidentally used Jesus's name in vain. So why are the Democrats not using Option #3 - using the confirmation hearings to trash him, trash the Republican opposition, and trash Bush, but not hindering the actual vote? They're wasting their everloving time asking him about precedent and abortion memos and conservative rulings. He's getting confirmed anyway and you know the answers, so why bother asking stupid questions that put even the producers of C-SPAN to sleep? Dems need to ask questions in the vein of, "Are you sorry you beat your wife?" - questions with no good answer designed for public relations value only. Show a little backbone, for goodness sake. (Note: I don't condone asking the man if he's sorry he beats his wife, unless it's actually true) I mean, you have one shot at national press before you shuffle back off into obscurity. Make the American people believe that you believe in something, because for some reason the Rush Limbaughs and Karl Roves of the world have convinced Americans that the people who stand for civil rights and the environment and diplomacy and charity and responsibility don't stand for anything anymore. You're going to lose this battle. Don't quit the war.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What Does Democracy Mean?

     One of the troubles with Democracy (and the reason that the United States is not one, is that true Democracy often turns into a tyranny, of sorts. Democracy is mob rule, and while I wouldn't deign to question the collective wisdom of mobs, it tends to be unworkable in the long run. Maybe this is just my low opinion of human nature coloring my words. But the Truth is that the United States is a Republic with a tinge of Bureaucracy, not a Democracy. In a Democracy, we would be voting on laws, not electing members of Congress who would be doing it for us. We would be voting for the head of the FCC, the head of the FDA, the head of the FBI. We would be voting on whether to allow Vioxx to be sold, and whom to. We would be voting on whether Janet Jackson's breast violated decency standards. In other words, in a nation of almost 300 million citizens, we would be voting all day, every day. But since we're a Bureaucratic Republic, we allow our elected and unelected representatives to do the work for us. There's a level of trust there, whether or not we like it.
     Still, a Republic is very much like a Democracy, if only on a superficial level. We still come together to vote, except we choose the people who will make decisions, and we choose them every few years, so nobody rules absolutely. We have checks and balances and we've made government as inefficient as possible so that nothing gets done unless it's really important. We've limited our Democratic rights to those involving choosing our representatives. So it's very important that we retain those rights.
     That's why a recent news story is puzzling to me. On Monday, a new poll was released showing that President Bush was enjoying his lowest approval rating ever at 37%. By historical standards, it's bad but not fatal. Clinton's low was 37% in 1993 and Reagan's low was 35% in 1983. Of course, that assumes that Bush's popularity has bottomed out. If it went lower, he could be in real trouble, keeping company with his father (low of 29% in 1992), Jimmy Carter (28% in 1979), and Richard Nixon (24% in 1974). Be that as it may, Bush is still the President (as so many "W" stickers like to point out) and we do live in a Republic, so he's got three more years to govern. But it's mystifying to me why "The White House has said it doesn't pay attention to poll numbers and the figures do not affect policy." Why shouldn't poll numbers affect policy? The American people elected him, don't they deserve to at least have their opinion respected? When Clinton had his lowest rating in 1993, it was due in large part to his attempts to nationalize health insurance. He quickly dropped the effort when it became clear that the American citizenry did not want it. What exactly is so bad about respecting the American people now?
     I'm not suggesting that Bush waver between policy when his approval teeters from 52% to 51%. That would be poor judgment and weak leadership. But when his approval dropped 20 points from 57% in February to 37% today, that's getting the sense that 300 million people (or at least 189 million people) are unhappy. If Democracy means anything, why is it a point of pride for him to ignore the people?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How to Search the Internet(s)

     I'm taking a break from "Tax Week" because, frankly, even my Accountant wife is getting bored. I can only imagine how the rest of you feel. But don't worry - I'll be back tomorrow for all of your insomnia needs.
     Like many bloggers, I have a web counter that tracks how many people visit my blog. It also tells me what city the visitor is from, how many pages the visitor has looked at, and what web page referred the visitor to me. If you used a search engine to find me, I can see what words you used to do it. I've read a lot of blogs that poke fun at the crazy ways people find them. It is pretty interesting. I mean, why did the person searching for "top snobbiest schools" (9/9) or "investigative reporters channel 19 scott taylor cleveland oh" (10/19) land on The Truth by Scott? And how on earth did I ever get near the top of the search for "cat"?? (10/20)
     Some I understand but are just funny. "cnn liberals to pay back 1.14 million" (11/7) and "capitalism will be wiped out" (11/8) and "american red cross scandle" (10/5) are obviously from someone who just listened to Rush or Neal. And why the hell are people still searching the web for news on Natalee Holloway?? You think if they found her body, it wouldn't make the front page.... oh wait. You assuredly don't read newspapers. Well, MTV news would still let you know. Since I've started tracking my stats on August 26, 58 people have come to my page looking for "natalee holloway", "natalie halloway", "natalee haolloway", "natalie halloway poker", "intrigue natalee holloway". But some of these people really drive me crazy with their stupidity. Someone searched for "truth natalie holloway" on November 1. Oohhhhhhh - the Truth! If the web had only know you wanted the truth about Natalee the whole time, it would have told you what happened to her! Doh! Someone else searched for "updates on the natalie holloway case in aruba" on September 9. Besides not spelling her name correctly, did the searcher think the web would understand that "updates" means "don't show me stuff I've already seen before"? I mean, there were "updates" the day after she went missing.
     So this leads to me having to teach the internet how to perform searches. Finding information is a little different here than it is in other parts of reality (which you may just be visiting. In that case, welcome). The internet does not speak English. When you ask "did natalee's cellphone work in aruba" (10/17), Yahoo will look for the word "natalee's", certainly, but it will also spend time looking for the word "in". Yahoo does not understand your question. There is no hamster on a wheel inside your monitor that understands the question. And even if you had put that phrase in quotes (which you didn't), why do you think someone who had the answer you were looking for would post the exact same words? Searches on the internet require key words. In this case, I might have searched for "natalee 'cellphone service' aruba" and maybe done more searches replacing "cellphone" with "wireless" or "mobile" or "telephone".
     How about "natalee halloway -latest information on the case" (9/7)? This one's great. What the fudge did the searcher think he was doing with the dash? A dash in a search engine means "not". Basically they searched for a web page that had the words "case information holloway on natalee the" and did not have "latest". That's sure to be a winner.
     I'll leave you with a few more gems that I've collected over the past couple of months.
  • the truth hurts bush -- I agree, but I doubt this combination of words will find you what you're looking for

  • pics of injusticeness -- I'm pretty sure George W. did this search, or at least he invented the word "injusticeness"

  • inheiritance taxes -- I like the play on words here - heir and inheritance combined

  • both sides of the smoking-in-public-buildings issue -- both sides you say?

  • +1,canada "haig" -- I have no clue what this was supposed to find

  • how many members of congress aren't white men? -- beating a dead horse, but STOP WRITING AS IF THERE'S A LITTLE SEARCH ENGINE ELF HIDING IN YOUR MONITOR!

  • "the witches" by roald dahl unconstitutional -- I'm not sure this searcher really understands what "unconstitutional" means.

  • tsunami how bad was it 2005 -- Isn't it great how the web knows exactly what you mean when you say "it"?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

More Tax Week

Or "How I Bored my Readers to Tears, Part II"

     I'm not going to make a secret that I'm one of those crazy, nerdy people who enjoy taxes. Not paying them, exactly, but understanding the nuances and motivations and real-world effects. Still, if you're one of the other 99.999% of Americans whose eyes glaze over when someone mentions "itemized deductions" or "deferred capital gains", you're the target audience of a government panel empowered to make decisions about the future of the IRS. Because they're hoping you are going to pay attention so little to their proposals that they'll be able to get away with anything.
     Yesterday I talked about one of their proposals - a change to the mortgage interest deduction. Today I want to address another proposal - the one to change how dividends are taxed. And while I generally approved with the mortgage recommendations, I don't exactly feel the same way about the dividend recommendations.
     The President's tax panel proposed making dividends from domestic earnings tax free. Yes, that's right. If you're a trust-fund baby, you might pay no income taxes whatsoever. How's that for a kick in the pants? (And by pants, I mean ass) Not only do poor and middle-class people have to spend 40-80 hours a week working to make enough money to live, they may also soon get to pay all of the income tax collected. What a great deal! Hey, it's your own damn fault for not being born rich, you slacker hippie! Get (another) job!
     OK - nobody else but me is saying this, as far as I can tell. But lets dig in a little further. Currently most companies pay a very small amount of dividends relative to their share price. UPS, for example, pays like 35 cents every three months per $75 share. The old (2003) reason for cutting dividend taxes down to 15% was because Bush claimed money was being "double-taxed", a phrase that has about as much real meaning as "liberal" and "activist judge". People, your money isn't being "double-taxed". It's being taxed hundreds of times! You earn it, it's income-taxed. You buy a house with it, it's sales-taxed. You hold onto the house, it's property-taxed. You sell the house, it's capital gains-taxed and the buyer pays sales tax. And the whole stupid cycle starts over again. That's what taxes are - a mechanism to give money to the government so it can operate. Some people pay more taxes than others. Maybe it's because they make more money than others. Maybe it's because they engage in more activities that are taxable. Maybe they just have a bad accountant. It's just life, and if you don't like it, email me and I'll send you the name of a good anarchist group in your area.
     Anyway, back to dividends - the trouble with the "double taxed" idea is that many corporations pay little or no income tax, even when they make a profit. If you think you found a nifty tax loophole last year, you wouldn't believe some of the loopholes corporations slip through. So if you remove tax on dividends, much of this money will be "never taxed". And that's a real problem. Because it's not like the government uses a debit card to buy things. It uses a credit card. Getting less tax doesn't mean it is spending less. And therefore it has to get the tax from somewhere else. Who benefits most from a tax cut on dividends? The wealthy. When tax revenue has to be found to replace dividend tax, do you still think the wealthy will be paying as large a proportion?
     Here's the scarier thing: my salary is a corporate expense. When my company figures out its profits, it subtracts my salary first. Then it gives dividends to shareholders from its profits. Say I owned a bookstore with 5 employees working for me. I would pay the 6 of us a salary and we would all pay income tax. Now imagine in 2006 I give all of us "shares" of the bookstore and instead of paying us a salary, I declare a huge dividend that just happens to be the same as the salary we used to get. Except now it's tax-free.
     I know - at first I thought that was awesome too. But then I started wondering, "who is going to get stuck with the bill?" Well, that will be the people unable to get such a sweetheart deal. They're the ones making $9 an hour at McDonalds or $30,000 a year at a public school. You can bet CEO's will quickly get private stock in a small subsidiary of their employer that pays $3 million dividends.
     And lets ask why dividends should be taxed lower than salary anyway. Is it more productive for Americans to spend their time day-trading or producing? Are dividends more desirable than bank interest? More than a teacher's salary or an engineer's salary? Do we really want investors demanding that companies give away all of their profit as dividends instead of investing in expansion that would power America's future?
     Dividend Tax Cut proposal Final Grade: F+

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tax Week

     One great thing about reading news on the web, as opposed to watching it on television, is the inadvertent juxtaposition of certain headlines. You'll almost never see this sort of analysis on "Fox & Friends", but it's so amazingly simple when it's laid out before you. For example, in late August of this year, on the same web page, I saw one headline that mentioned an upcoming summit on climate change and global warming and another headline talking about the fourth most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic (at the time - Katrina was later surpassed by Rita and Wilma). Funny, huh? I'm not blaming Katrina's wrath on Bush's coziness with the energy industry. It's just hard not to appreciate the appropriateness of the timing. God may not play dice with the universe, but He certainly knows how to play jokes on it.
     Anyway, last week, the "big news" was that a tax reform advisory panel appointed by Bush made certain recommendations about revamping the tax code. Mostly they were tasked with trashing the Alternative Minimum Tax and finding money to pay for it. There's a lot to talk about, and it's interesting even if you don't work in finance. We'll discuss a lot of it during TAX WEEK, aka November 8-11. One of the proposals suggested was to alter the mortgage interest deduction. Interestingly enough, a headline on the next column on read, "Housing Gets Less Affordable for Americans". Hmmmm.
     While I disagree with much of the panel's motivations, I actually think they have some very good ideas. The biggie change would be that instead of deducting interest on any mortgage up to $1 million, the maximum size of a deductible mortgage would range from $172,000 to $312,000, depending on the market. I hate to sound like a Republican, but for the record, a $300,000 loan isn't terribly extravagant. I live in one of the cheapest metro areas in the country (although you can find way cheaper homes if you move to rural Idaho), and the average "starter home" is like $224k. Of course, a lot of that price is related to low interest rates. The point is, this is HUGE. It makes owning a house more of a purchase and less of an investment. It effectively raises your interest rates for houses above the panel's recommended value. In one sense, this is good news for the economy, because instead of sinking wealth into overinflated property, people can invest it in things that will get businesses going. On the other hand, it's a tough blow for those people who enjoy having twice as many bedrooms as family members and a finished basement the size of their parents' whole house. Still, the whole point of a mortgage interest deduction is to spur home ownership, not subsidize luxury home ownership. One of my major concerns is that the panel (or Congress?) will be setting that maximum value in each market. A $250,000 cap in Alabama might be plenty for a McMansion, but if you give New York City anything less than $500,000, it will be extremely unfair. In Manhattan, a nice 1-bedroom apartment goes for $450,000. The fear is that maximums could be politically motivated. What if a Republican Congress wants to punish Blue-State New Yorkers and Californians?
     An interesting twist on the panel's proposal is changing the deduction to a 15% credit. What does this mean? It means everybody gets to remove 15% of their interest from their taxes. Everybody, regardless of whether their normal tax bracket is 10% or 30%. This is such a progressive proposal I'm shocked it came out of a Republican administration. Again, I feel like a Republican when I say that 15% is not high enough. Married couples making a combined $60,000 are out of the 15% bracket. That's hardly wealthy.
     Overall, however, I'm pleasantly surprised by this proposal. If Congress can somehow convince me that they can objectively set maximums in high-cost areas, I'll be very happy. I can adjust to getting a lower tax break if it means a fairer tax plan overall. I don't like the idea of shifting the upper-class's burden to the upper-middle class, but I expected nothing less of Bush. At least this proposal doesn't shift the burden to the lower-middle class or the poor.
     Mortgage Interest proposal Final Grade: B

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy October!

     Happy October! Wait, it's November? What the hell happened to October? I was, um, abducted by aliens and returned to Earth on Halloween with no memory of what they did to me. Well, now that I've certainly lost my 3 regular readers (Sorry, Mom! - no, I'm just kidding. I would likely die of embarrassment if my mother read this), it's well past time to start writing again.
     So what happened to me? Well, the easy answer is that I've changed jobs and indeed careers in the past month (although I still work for the same company). Where before I had maybe a half hour's worth of real work to do a day, I've actually had to neglect reading my favorite blogs for a long time. Now I'm learning a lot and I don't have as much time to read the entire internet from start to finish each day, but I'm going to make it a priority to write something, even if it's not the 1200-word researched treatise on ... whatever.
     The harder answer is that this blog has launched a second "mini-career" for me. I've started writing a bi-weekly column for a local magazine. (Thanks to Mike Todd for the inspiration and encouragement. He was also the first random internet person to comment on my blog with encouraging words, leading me to start writing for a wider audience than just Ben and my own ego.) Anyway, as exciting as the opportunity is, writing has now ostensibly become a chore, and as my aforementioned mother and my wife can tell you, I avoid chores like the plague. It has also become like homework - when I was facing a deadline to get three columns in at once, I felt guilty about writing about anything other than the columns. No more - well, I hope no more. But I feel more confident I can pound out a 900-word essay in a few hours if I need to. I used to do it every weekday, after all. By the way, if you're really interested in reading the column, email me to ask. It's fairly personal, so you'll excuse me for not advertising it to everyone.
     Anyway, if anyone is reading this, welcome back. There's certainly no shortage of news to talk about. I had been starting to feel like all I was doing was getting in arguments with fundamentalists about why they felt so insecure about their religious beliefs. (It would usually end with them telling me I hated God or I was discriminating against religion) Now I have all kids of things to get into arguments with them about, including more news from the 19th century... I mean Kansas... and beer on Sunday and things like that. Plus the President's henchmen have recommended shifting more tax to the Middle Class and the war on intellectualism has found a new battleground at the University (sic) of Georgia. I can't wait. See you tomorrow!