Archive for December, 2008

Predictions for ’09 (and a review of my ’08 calls) …

In my most recent question column earlier this week, I asked for readers’ predictions for the upcoming year … aside from Genghis bravely predicting that Obama would become POTUS, I didn’t get too many responses.

So I’m going to ask for your predictions again, while repeating some of the predictions I made and adding a couple of more, before I revisit some calls I made this year.

First, the predictions for 2009. I’m sticking mostly to economics, with a few foolish forays into other areas (I was going to make a call that Prophet would finish his Top 10 2008 Albums list next February, but I see now he’s picked up the pace):

Economy

  • Unemployment, now at 6.7%, surges past 9 percent and falls just short of double digits
  • Gold now at about $845-$850, revisits all-time highs at $1000 an ounce, probably later in the year
  • Obama puts alternative energy initiatives on back burner at first, but then gets more involved as light crude oil, now at about $36 a barrel, rebounds first to $55-60 in short-term and then approaches $90 sometime next year. Gas prices again become a political issue.
  • ‘Class’ replaces ‘race’ and ‘immigration’ as the next big battleground in America. We see several examples like the factory sit-in we saw a couple of weeks ago. At least one of these protests turn violent and leads to a fatality. Unemployment benefits get extended again, and numerous other populist measures, including foreclosure relief, get passed by Washington.
  • The market has another down year, probably more than 10%, but stages a pretty decent rally early in the year, with the Dow hitting 10,000 again. IPOs remain few and far between, but Facebook does end up pulling off one of the few big new public stock offerings of the year next fall. The stock does well in the short-term, leading to another mini-rally.

Politics

  • The Obama inauguration attracts more than 3 million visitors, and the combined TV audience for his speech exceeds that for the Super Bowl, drawing more than 100 million viewers. There is at least one announced assassination attempt that is thwarted.
  • Biden was right after all and some terrorist organization or rogue state tests Obama’s resolve by the summer. We have the first attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 and it’s possibly a multi-city attempt that mimics the chaotic action in Mumbai. (Please god I hope I’m wrong on this one).

Sports

  • The Panthers meet either the Patriots or the Colts in the Super Bowl and win it all.
  • The Red Wings win the Cup. The Celtics repeat. (These are huge guesses).
  • The Yankees win the division, but flame out in the first round of the playoffs. Girardi is fired by the end of October. The Angels get to the World Series and play the Dodgers in an all-SoCal World Series. Angels win. My beloved Cards come in 3rd place in the NL Central division, which the Brewers win.

So should anyone listen to me? Probably not. My track record this year for predicting events was so-so. I was generally dead-on with economic trends, as I have been very negative for over a year now. On February 11, before I started blogging, I wrote an email to Jim Cramer, stating that we are heading into a ‘severe economic downturn that will last longer than most people are predicting,’ adding:

We are still in the early throes of this current crisis. We still haven’t seen any bankruptcies. Foreclosures and defaults have been at a minimum. The job market has only just begun to show signs of strain. The pain will of course spread to the rest of the world, which is wallowing in our debt and weak dollar, causing a global slowdown. Much more damage will be done, many more shoes will drop.

In a July post on pessimism, I predicted 50% odds for a multiyear recession, and 10% chance for a depression, fairly bold but probably not high enough odds for either. When the Lehman bankruptcy occurred on Sept. 14, I warned this wouldn’t be the end of the story and a systemic collapse was possible. When the Treasury first presented its bailout plan, I said there would be bumps along the way and that other industries would quickly be lining up for money, including the car manufacturers.

When it came to the financial markets, the record was much more mixed. I probably made my best call of the year on July 4, calling oil a bubble about to pop on the exact day it hit its high price for the year ($140+). Despite talk of new rules against speculation and for offshore drilling, I also correctly pointed out that the main reason for oil’s fall would be a rapidly weakening global economy. However, in that same piece, I said there’d likely be one more big run higher and that oil was not going to be heading to $50 anytime soon (It’s now in the $30s. Oops).

My calls for short-term bottoms and tops in the stock market were generally correct, but often early by a matter of days or even weeks, which makes a huge difference if you actually wanted to trade on the information (which I would NEVER recommend, as you have probably realized by now I like to talk out my ass a lot).

For instance, on Oct. 8, I called for a short-term bottom in the market, but it didn’t start happening until the next week. In a follow-up post on the 13th, I thought the rally could have some legs (somewhat true) with the Dow possibly hitting 11,000 (way untrue), but that we would revisit our earlier lows ‘in the next few months, if not sooner’ (true) and that we’d hover around the Dow 8K-9K for a year or more (to be determined).

I didn’t make many political calls, but wasn’t so impressive here either. In July, I predicted an Obama victory and said ageism would prove to have a bigger impact than racism (hard to judge the latter call, but I think it was a pretty good one).

On Sept. 3rd, I said McCain’s Palin could backfire but was the only thing he could to generate even a trace of the excitement of the Obama campaign.

On Sept. 24th, I called McCain’s announcement that he was postponing his campaign to focus on the economy as ‘just silly’ and ‘annoyingly hyperbolic.’

When the bailout was being debated and strongly questioned in Congress, I said it would surely pass; It was vetoed. To be fair, after the bill was vetoed, I did correctly predict a new bailout proposal ‘very similar’ to the rejected one would pass.

And in sports, the only prediction I made was a hopeful and ultimately correct one that St. Louis Rams Head Coach Scott Linehan would be fired after the bye week. Unfortunately, Linehan’s firing didn’t lead to ‘watchable football’ as I had hoped.

OK, now it’s YOUR turn. Go out on a limb. Make some calls. Trust me, if you’re right, you’ll look like a genius, a seer, a visionary. And if you’re wrong, no one will remember (at least not ’til I revisit these predictions next year)

Questions roasting on an open(-source) blog …

Questions: The Happy Holidays Edition – (As always, check out dagblog.com for answers)

1) Christmas Songs

When I was in music class in elementary school and holiday season came around, I did this thing I’m kind of ashamed now: I would refuse to utter the word God or Jesus in any Christmas song lyrics as part of some lame Jewish protest I was conducting. Sometimes, I extended the ban to borderline words like holy; with all the pauses, I remember Silent Night being a particularly troublesome song to get through.

I understand why I did it; the songs made me feel uncomfortable to sing, but really, what was I trying to prove? I certainly wasn’t making any conscious church/state separation statement. And I am actually one of the few who LIKE Christmas songs. Well, some of them. Anyway, as part of my repentance, let me ask you, what’s your favorite Christmas song? Let’s sing it together …

2) Christmas Lights

Christmas songs I can stomach, but I totally dig Christmas lights. They sure seem like a pain in the butt, though. Let me ask a few questions about them for the Christmas celebrators out there. Did you have lights around your house growing up? Do you do them now? Are they really worth the hassle? Are they easier to take down than put up – If so, why do people leave them up so long? How about the really gaudy, cheesy displays, with the flashing lights, the robotronic Santas and the detailed manger scenes, are those awful in their cheesiness or awfully awesome in their cheesiness?

3) Best gift

Have you been seeing all these Lexus car commercials on right now, the ones that all compare getting a Lexus to an incredible childhood gift?? If not, turn on a TV, I guarantee one is on right now.  What was your favorite Christmas/Hanukkah gift growing up?

4) Come, Sit on My Lap

Now that we’ve got you in the gift-receiving mood, sit on my lap, and tell Santa Deadman what you want the most for the holiday this year. Unfortunately, the economy sucks and Santa’s had his ass kicked by the market, so he won’t be getting you squat, but assume money was no object and you could have anything you wanted. But it has to be an actual physical item – no world peace requests, Orlando. So. what do you want (Non-Christians, feel free to answer as well)?

5) No, really, come sit on my lap

Ok, now let’s just consider sex and romance … what would be the one thing you’d want that would make that part of your life more fulfilling? Let your imagination run wild (Catholics, try your best to answer)…

6) The Ball or The Parade

They’re both New York holiday institutions, but assuming weather wasn’t a factor, would you rather attend The Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Times Square Ball Dropping, and why?

7) New Year’s Resolution

Do you make New Year’s resolutions, either formally or informally? Whether you do or not, what’s the one thing you hope to accomplish next year?

8) Prediction Time

Gimme a prediction for next year, about anything you know something about … but make it at least somewhat serious and pretty specific so we can come back next year and see if you’re prescient.

And because I’m out of holiday questions, a couple lingering non-thematic questions

9) Tipping

So at the place where I get my hair cut, I end up tipping the hair washer woman almost the same amount as my hairdresser because she does such a freakin’ good job at it (a good scalp massage is like getting a quick sneak peek at heaven) Do you think the hairdresser knows I tip the woman a lot, and do you think it’s OK to do that even though the hairdresser clearly does most of the work (I still tip him about 20%) … Also, as a related question, I find myself tipping more and more people: Do you agree with me that tipping in general has gotten out of hand??

10) Pigeons

OK, this is really random, but the other day I was walking home, and this guy throws a bunch of bread crumbs on the ground. At first a couple of nearby pigeons come over and start chowing down. But within a couple of minutes, it was total mayhem as pigeons (and other birds) descended from seemingly everywhere to get a piece of the unexpected feast.

Why is that? Did they all see the man throw the crumbs down (I don’t think so because there was a delay)? Do they smell the crumbs? My guess is that the first pigeons on the scene emitted some sort of scent or low-level call that attracted other birds, but why would they have evolved that way since it clearly was bringing unwanted competition to the dinner table?

MOFT: Episode 4 (Weather.com’s short-term forecasts)

I’m keeping this one short but My One Favorite Thing this week is Weather.com’s short-term forecasting, offered in hourly and even fifteen-minute intervals. (Here’s an example for New York, NY)

OK, this MOFT may not seem as life-changing as great-tasting, sugar-free, crystal-meth-like gum (oh be quiet, Orlando, you know you’re still jonesing for your next pack), but these short-term forecasts are stupid awesome for a couple of reasons.

1) The short-term forecasts are eerily accurate.

I know, it may not seem all that impressive for weathermen to get the next 72 hours down correctly, and even their ability to dissect it all into precise 15-minute intervals may not seem like much, but I’m used to weathermen being wildly, notoriously wrong with their forecasts. I don’t know about you, but there was a time while growing up in St. Louis when I wondered if meteorology had any more validity or predictive accuracy than astrology.

But with this little invention, they’ve re-injected science into the equation, put the -ology back in meteorology and restored the sadsack reputation of the weatherman community (C’mon, be honest: At some point in your life, you’ve looked at a meteorologist on the TV and wondered: What numerous other vocations did this person previously fail at before becoming a meteorologist? I mean, who grows up and wants to be a meteorologist?!?)

2) The forecasts are helpful.

Oh sure, they may not do you that much good if you live in some fruity-tooty place like Los Angeles, where the weather is always friggin’ beautiful and beachy, but for a wild and wooly place like New York City, where you can get 6 inches of snow and bitter cold a mere two days after enjoying a mid-December, 60-degree afternoon delight, these forecasts are insanely useful.

Twice this past week, I’ve used the 15-minute forecasts to plan for my nighttime dog walks. I even stayed up an extra 1 1/2 hours one night so that I could walk him after weather.com said the rain was going to stop (Before you suggest I am cruel for making my dog wait to go potty, realize he hates the rain almost as much as I do. There is nothing worse than dog walks in cold rain, and the dog and I both know it).

How cool would it be if you could get this kind of precision in other areas of your life? Hey Genghis … say you’re on a date, getting the check, and wanna know if you’re going to be kissing the girl 45 minutes from now or walking home alone … just check the Match.com short-term forecast. Maybe you’re Mortimus and watching the Jets struggle to score (like Genghis!) against the lowly Seahawks, and wondering if your beloved franchise is indeed THAT cursed … well, just check the ESPN.com 15-minute forecast and begin making your plans for excessive drinking and suicidal thoughts early (maybe Genghis will join you).

Or maybe I’m just overly impressed because in my chosen field, the stock market, it’s virtually impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the next year let alone the next 15 minutes, and this kind of info would be better than getting a massive government bailout.

Let’s Get (A Real) Physical …

Earlier this week, I went to my doctor to get a physical.

What a joke.

Nurse came in, took some blood and, because I have a heart condition, administered an electrocardiogram (EKG). After a few minutes, doctor entered, looked in my ears and mouth, listened to me breathe for a bit, asked me a few questions about my general health and the back/leg pain I was experiencing last time I saw her, and then sent me on my way to deposit some urine and check out. All in all, it took less than 25 minutes from the time I entered the doctor’s office to the time I paid my rather exorbitant $35 co-pay, and that’s including the waiting time.

Sometime early next week, I will get the results back from my blood and urine tests, and the numbers will all likely come back within the ‘normal’ ranges, suggesting I am the rather healthy 35-year-old male I appear to be.

But the question will remain, am I really healthy??

I firmly believe we will one day soon regard the current diagnostic procedures and preventative methods of our health system as incredibly rudimentary and insufficient. I mean, people tend to get their cars checked out with much greater detail and frequency than they do their own bodies. Airlines inspect their airplanes after every flight, and the most we do is get a doctor to take a quick look-see at us every so often (and maybe get the occasional mammogram or colonoscopy when we get a lot older)?

It makes no sense. The no. 1 killer in the world is cardiovascular disease, and cancer is expected to overtake the top spot by 2010, according to the World Health Organization. In both diseases, early diagnosis is an extremely important factor in determining whether treatment is successful, and yet symptoms often don’t appear until it is too late. How many people have you known or heard about who seemed perfectly healthy, only to find out later they suffered a heart attack or developed late-stage cancer?

We spend billions and billions of dollars every year on cures and medicines for all sorts of diseases, many of which end up being ineffective … when an earlier diagnosis would often result in much simpler, cheaper and more effective treatment options.

If only we could develop a safe way to comprehensively examine our internal systems on a regular basis, to see if tumors are spreading, arteries are clogging, etc.

Oh but wait! We pretty much have done just that…

Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, or MRIs, actually do take detailed, accurate pictures of a person’s entire insides. Unlike X-Rays or CT scans, which use radiation to complete a similar function, MRIs are generally considered safe (if a bit difficult to endure for anyone who’s even slightly claustrophobic). Yet despite the MRI’s impressive capabilities, they are still only used after symptoms present themselves and even then with some reluctance because of their high cost.

Around a decade ago, private clinics started popping up all over this country, offering full-body scans using either CT or MRI technologies. Given Americans’ obsession with fighting aging and staying fit, you’d think these clinics would have done quite well. Yet they started going out of business almost immediately, thanks in large part to the high cost of the machines (several million dollars) and the uninsurable exams ($600 to $3000), as well as some extensive negative lobbying by traditional health care providers, including an HMO industry that was likely very worried they would one day be asked to reimburse patients for these tests.

The full-body scans were unnecessary and dangerous, most health-care experts argued, saying that in addition to the radiation of the CT scans, the tests can’t accurately diagnose all diseases, resulting in a lot of false negatives as well as false positives.

False negatives can certainly lead to unhelpful patient complacency, but since cost is what drives almost every medical decision nowadays, I’m guessing it is the false positives and all the subsequent expensive and invasive follow-up tests that most disturb the insurance companies.

But meanwhile, the technology in an MRI machine has since gotten a good deal more powerful and effective. Could it be that the early diagnosis of treatable diseases would end up saving the health industry money in the long run?? Has anyone done a detailed study on that cost/benefit equation?? And what, exactly, is the ‘cost’ of a life, anyway? Shouldn’t that matter??

A German university did a study a few years back where they gave full-body MRIs to 298 ‘healthy’ patients and found something ‘relevant’ in 169 cases, 75% of which were confirmed by follow-up exams. Among the problems discovered included twelve colonic polyps, nine pulmonary lesions, and two previously undiscovered heart attacks. Twenty-one percent of the patients demonstrated atherosclerotic disease, while 12 percent had peripheral vascular disease.

Only one false positive was found in the study. And yet the researchers still concluded that full-body MRI scans ‘should not be performed outside of a research setting due to the uncertainty of whether the benefits outweigh the risks.’

Like I said, what a joke.

What goes up, must go down …

I believe in balance. In yin and yang. I believe in cycles. In symmetry. I believe big wild parties end with big, nasty hangovers. I believe that what goes up, must come down.

Unfortunately, our government does not agree.

I have railed time and time again on this blog about the scattershot and shortsighted nature of our economic response so far to the current financial crisis. In short, and with few exceptions, said strategy has consisted of spending as much money as possible to bailout and stimulate every sick, depressed segment of our economy, with a particular focus on those segments that cater to the rich and connected.

The policies of the incoming Obama team will only accelerate this process, albeit with a more tilted and welcomed focus on some of the not-as-rich-or-connected folks. There is talk of a new $1 trillion stimulus package being created early in the Obama presidency.

The Fed is fully aboard the stimulus party as well, yesterday slashing the fed funds target rate to basically zero and committing to buying mortgage assets to ensure long-term borrowing rates move lower in an attempt to stabilize and boost the housing market. There is even talk that the government will FIX interest rates at a certain level to ensure they accomplish that goal, though for now it appears the mortgage market is responding to the unprecedented stimuli.

Look, no one likes to see suffering. People out of work, going bankrupt. Home prices falling. Factories closing. Cities failing. It’s nasty, nasty stuff. For politicians, it tends to lead their own unemployment. And for economists, it’s a scary scenario as well, because it almost always results in deflation, a pernicious problem that tends to have long, strong roots once it sets in.

But did the Fed or government do anything when times were so good, when the price of housing was soaring to the moon and consumers were levering up to the hilt and taking on dangerous levels of debt???? Aside from nominal increases in interest rates, I don’t remember any concerted effort, and certainly nothing approaching the desperation we’ve seen recently, to try and tame the animal spirits and gently guide the economy into a soft landing.

In my opinion, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have bubbles without crash landings. We have stemmed the worst of the credit crunch and liquidity crisis – interest rates have fallen, banks are lending a bit again (at least to each other). It is now time to let the market work its way through this mess and find its equilibrium level. Yes, it will likely overshoot on the downside, just like it did on the way up. Yes, it may take longer to find that equilibrium level than we’d like. But you gotta take the yin with the yang.

I’m not saying we should sit on our hands and watch helplessly as the economy craters. By all means, spend money to reinvest in our roads and infrastructure; on new technologies, including alternative energy; on education, including the retraining of displaced workers; on strengthening the country’s safety net to ensure that those hit hardest from the economic collateral damage don’t suffer unduly.

But realize that all this profligacy will have consequences down the road. We are already staring down the barrel of the worst demographic situation in decades – as the baby boomer generation is getting ready to retire en masse, placing a huge burden on this country’s resources as they move from being net producers to net consumers.

When times were better and tax revenues were flush, our government did nothing to reduce our budget deficit in any meaningful way or address long-term systemic issues threatening the economic health of our nation, like Social Security and Medicare. Yet it now has no problem dramatically increasing our country’s burdens and obligations in order to try and avoid the bad end of the business cycle.

The only thing all this spending will do is take away the oomph from any subsequent recovery. We’ll see a weaker dollar, higher inflation, bigger deficits, and higher taxes down the road. At least some, and maybe a lot of this money will be misplaced, leading to bubbles and wasted investments in other unforeseen areas.

But frankly, the prospect that most of this stimulus will be wasted, a misguided attempt to set an artificial floor on the economy, is actually not the worst-case scenario (though it is the most likely). My biggest concern is that the stimulus works too well and our animal spirits are revived before they’ve had a sufficient chance to reset. If that happens, we’d only be setting ourselves up for a bigger, more painful crash down the road.

Questions: The Ipod Shuffle Edition …

Partly inspired by Prophet and his ongoing top 10 albums of 2008 series, and partly because I’m otherwise uninspired, I’ve decided to take a different tact for this week’s questions: I am going to press shuffle on my IPod Nano and create a question somehow related to each of the first 10 songs that come up. I will also be giving some very quick commentary on the songs.

I am uncertain how well this process will lend itself to thought-provoking questions, and I will certainly be risking great personal embarrassment by exposing my music collection to the dagworld at large, but I am game if you are.

I reserve the right to skip any song that has no lyrics, has nonsensical lyrics, or is just too damn mortifying (even for me, who may be the most shameless person I know). Power on … press shuffle … and here we go …

1) Gone Daddy Gone. Gnarles Barkley. A fine opener. Good, fun beat. Like almost all Gnarles songs, doesn’t overstay its welcome. My rating 8/10.

Lyric: Beautiful girl lovely dress. High school smiles oh yes. Beautiful girl lovely dress. Where she is now I can only guess?

Q: What percentage of former lovers have you kept in contact with?

2) Cry Baby, Janis Joplin. Has any singer been more fierce than Janis? Look at the lyrics alone, and it seems like she is playing the weak woman, basically begging a man to come back to her … and yet with that voice, you can’t help but also hear the implied threat – ‘You want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about!’ 7/10.

Lyric: I know you got more tears to share babe,  so come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, and cry, cry baby.

Q:  How often do you cry.  When was the last time you cried?

3) Circle Game, Joni Mitchell. Kind of funny that Joni comes right after Janis. They both have such powerful instruments with their voices yet use them in such different ways. I love songs – or any art, for that matter – that inspire melancholic, nostalgic thoughts, and this one does that for me. It’s a simple, beautiful melody. The lyrics and metaphor are a bit cliched, perhaps, but it doesn’t bother me one whit. 8/10.

Lyric: Take your time, it won’t be long now ’til you drag your feet to slow the circles down.

Q: If you could pick one year to be forever, what age would you choose and why?

4) Handsome Devil, The Smiths. Some songs I’m not sure how they got on my IPod. The beat’s OK but doesn’t do much for me, and the lead singer’s voice is a bit grating. But damn, the lyrics are nasty, so I have to give it some props for that. 5/10.

Lyric: Let me get my hands on your mammary glands, and let me get your head on the conjugal bed.

Q: What was your first experience with porn? What were your thoughts about it?

5) Believe, Cher. OK, this is one that comes very close to being too mortifying, and if I had any real shame, I’d never admit I had this song on this IPod. I sure as hell wouldn’t admit that I can’t help but wanna dance when I hear this song or that this ain’t even close to being the only Cher song on my Ipod. The computerized voice vibrato effects on this number are particularly gratifying. Really. 6/10.

Lyric: Do you believe in life after love?

Q: Well, do you? More specifically, the last time someone broke up with you, did you ever, even for a moment, think you wouldn’t be able to deal? How long did it take for you to get over it?

6) Think I’m in Love, Beck. This may not be one of Beck’s best songs, but it’s definitely one of his more approachable, comprehensible ones. Good beat. Like the violin transition about halfway through and at the end. No one does awkward, desperate romance better than Beck. 7/10.

Lyric: I think I’m in love, but it makes me kinda nervous to say so …

Q: Have you ever had feelings for someone, a friend perhaps, and never told them? Do you regret it?

7) Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Guns n Roses. Axl & Co. do a fine job with their cover of this classic Dylan song, revving up the guitars and rockness factor while otherwise staying mostly true to the original. Could do without some of the bells and whistles, like the gun sound effects and answering machine message, but you gotta love the way Axl belts out ‘Door-oor-oooor.’ 6/10.

Lyric: It’s getting dark, too dark to see. I’m feeling like I’m knocking on Heaven’s door.

Q: Do you want to be conscious when you die, to feel life leave you, or would you rather be unaware?

8) What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong. OK, it’s treacly, and trite, and we know the world isn’t always wonderful, or maybe even usually. But like Obama and his soaring rhetoric of hope and optimism, I believe in what Louis is selling. Ooooohhhhhh, yeeaaaahhh. 7/10.

Lyric: I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do? They’re really sayin’ ‘I love you’

Q: Do we as a general rule say I love you too often, sapping power from the phrase by using it too freely, or do we not say it enough, and by being so reserved not let people know how much they matter to us?

9) Let it be, Beatles. Just a beautiful song. Lovely piano playing, and god, Paul can sing. When I was in St. Louis for the Thanksgiving holiday, our family saw this Beatles retrospective at a local playhouse, and it was hilarious watching them try to recapture the Beatles’ magic. Beatles cover bands should be banned but Beatles cover bands with a fat and old Paul should be fined and/or jailed. 9/10.

Lyric: And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, There will be an answer, let it be.

Q: What’s your favorite Beatles song?

10) Black Acres, Elysian Fields. A sexy, sultry song to close it out. An entrancing bass beat, with beautiful violin and piano throughout. You can’t help but feel a little Randy (or in my case, a little Keri Wink) when the lead singer raspily declares, ‘Touch me now, Touch me, Black Acres are Claiming Me.” 8/10.

Lyric: He holds me up like a babe, pressing close. I can’t behave. I need to have this little death.

Q: If orgasms weren’t free, but could only be had by buying them on the open market, how much would you pay for one? How many would you buy in a week?

OK, this was fun, Will have to do it again sometime. Remember check out this post at dagblog.com for answers to these questions …

MOFT: Episode 3 (Ice Breakers’ Ice Cubes Raspberry Sorbet Gum)

My One Favorite Thing this week is Raspberry Sorbet-flavored Ice Cubes gum from Ice Breakers. It’s a fucking party for your mouth every time you pop one of these babies in.

I’ve never seen crack cocaine or crystal meth up close and personal, but this gum looks like what I envision you’d get if you combined those two drugs, all white and shiny with tiny little red speckles of mad flava baked in, and probably twice as addicting.

As a bonus, the gum comes in this very cool, totally impractical box (you ain’t taking this gum with you anywhere) that you flip open every time you want a piece and makes you really feel like you’re indulging in something special.

It’s sugar-free, so unlike with that crystal meth, your teeth are safe with this habit. The sugar substitutes in there (malitol, mannitol AND xylitol – shit, maybe this is some crystal meth/crack combo) do, however, pose a problem: I think the gum is making me gassier. Sugar substitutes definitely get my stomach churning normally, and at the rate I’m popping these things in my mouth, it’s become something of an issue. Not so much of an issue that I’m curtailing the habit, mind you, but it is certainly making it more difficult to abide by my fart-free rule when I’m with the girlfriend.

And don’t forget, if you’re a dog owner, keep the gum away from your pooch (Even low doses of xylitol can kill a decent-sized dog within 30 minutes – we once had an incident when our cocker got into an entire pack of a different sugar-free gum with xylitol, and we had to feed him hydrogen peroxide so he would vomit the stuff up. Makes you wonder how safe xylitol can be for human consumption – again, not wonder enough to curtail the habit, mind you).

To ask or not to ask, these are the questions …

I certainly hope this Hamlet-inspired edition of the question column pleaseth the millions and not be caviare to the general … remember to check out this post on dagblog.com, where we’re building a nice little community and getting some great answers on these columns and a lot of other interesting discussions, too …

1. Something is rotten in the state of [Dagblog] …

Let’s just say you knew someone who always had fairly bad body odor. Would you tell them and how would you approach the subject? (No, Genghis this isn’t about you; I enjoy your particular scent. But I once had this problem with a dormmate in college, and I feel bad that we never said anything to the poor chap.)

2. A dream itself is but a shadow …

So the other day I found this video tape of a high school video I made for an English class extra credit assignment I did with a couple of friends. While watching it, I felt like I remembered events from that day of filming, but how much of my ‘memory’ do you think was real and how much was me thinking I remembered the day because I was watching the video? In other words, do you think we have our entire lives stored in our memory banks, there for retrieval if we could only find a trigger?

3. O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain …

Do you think Sarah Palin runs in 2012? If so, how far does she make it – early primaries, late primaries, nomination, White House?

4. When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions …

What was the saddest moment in your life (Mine: Visiting my grandfather in the hospital after his stroke … That was my first true understanding of death and dying)?

5. To be honest as this world goes is to be one man picked out of ten thousand …

Have you ever cheated? At what? Have you ever been caught?

6. Doubt that the stars are fire; doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love …

Is romantic love anything more than chemicals and hormones in your brain firing through a certain mechanism that gives you pleasure? If it is, what else is it? If it isn’t, does the fact that you feel that way make romantic love any less meaningful? What about other forms of love (child-parent, friend, etc.?) … are those, too, purely biological and chemical emotions?

7. We go to gain a little patch of ground, that hath in it no profit but the name …

If you had the means, do you think this is a good time to buy a house?

8. Neither a borrower nor a lender be …

OK, we know there is blame to go around on all sides, but if you had to give a percentage to it: How much blame for our current economic mess lies with the people who took on too much debt and signed ridiculous mortgages without reading (or caring about) the fine print and how much lies with the banks that made the loans?

9. This above all: to thine own self be true …

When you were a young child, what did you want to be when you grew up? If you’re not that now, why not?

10. The rest is silence …

Which option do you think best describes what happens after you die: a) Nada/You become fertilizer b) Heaven/hell/purgatory (some sort of traditional unearthly afterlife) c) Reincarnation d) Other (please explain)?

MOFT: Episode 2 (The Flip Mino Video Camera)

So I still happen to be digging Geo Challenge – I don’t even want to think about all the hours I’ve spent on Facebook Playfish games this year. I think they somehow figured out how to put crack cocaine in their code and time-capsule release it over the wires on the Interweb and through the speakers on my computer. I think in some states, Playfish and I would be common law married about now.

But My One Favorite Thing this week (or at least my My One Other Favorite Thing – the much more enjoyable-to-pronounce MOOFT) is the Flip Mino video camera. What a clever little device. I used it a ton on my trip home, including capturing the touching moment when my girlfriend and i first surprised my parents, as well as the night when I hung out with some old high school friends and their kids. The Mino was made for those types of events – short experiences when you either don’t want to lug around a more substantial or expensive video camera or when you want to be somewhat surreptitious that you’re taping things.

I bought the video camera on Amazon after much hesitation for about $140. I thought it could come in handy, but I wondered if I would use it enough to justify the expense. I must say that I think I made a wise purchase. In the past month, I’ve filmed parts of two birthday parties, a poker game, a historic vote, a football game, a bunch of scenes of my dog being super cute, and various other notable events. I love the fact I’m building a collection of memories that I will be able to watch in the future.

The Mino feels good to hold in the hand, and operating the device, especially the responsive touch-sensitive control panel, is both easy and enjoyable. It holds an hour of video and the battery lasts a very long time. It has a nifty USB plug attached (but normally hidden) which charges the device when connected to a computer as well as launches a software program that allows you to save and work with your clips.

The video imaging software is basic but relatively easy to use (though certainly not as seamless or genius a piece of software as ITunes). You can share videos with others via private email or by uploading (compressed versions) to public Web sites. You can edit videos for length and also make very simple movie mixes with the free version of the software, but for more indepth options you’ll have to upgrade to the rather costly premium version (which I think is sheer nonsense – Pure Digital, the makers of the Mino, ought to realize that software differentiation and functionality will be key if they are to be anything more than a flash in the pan).

As far as other suggested improvements, I’d like a bigger LCD screen in the front (or better yet, a small screen on back with the lens so you can see what you’re filming when you’re pointing the camera at yourself). A headphone jack on the device would be convenient for playback. Also, I’d like a way to customize the length of the auto shut-off option as several times I’ve attempted to capture a fleeting moment only to realize the device powered down. I also wish it had a better zoom functionality (limited digital zoom is all that’s there).

Technically the video and audio is pretty darn good, more than sufficient for Web viewing, and ok for TV as well, which you can do with an included cable. My device isn’t high def, tho they just came out with a new Flip camera that is HD (it’s more expensive and a bit bigger and heavier, and taking a bunch of HD videos would quickly eat up a lot of space on a hard drive).

Obviously, a lot of digital cameras and even mobile phones take video but the simplicity and features of the Mino make it a compelling stand-alone product. Right now, Apple can’t even do pictures well with its iPhone, but I’m sure eventually they’ll find a way to effectively converge video functionality so that the Mino becomes obsolete.

In the meantime, however, I highly recommend anyone interested in a portable, fun, easy-to-use, fairly inexpensive video camera that is perfect for taking short video clips and then sharing them on the Web with others take a look at the Mino.


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