Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

I had an object lesson in this today. We were entertaining friends at home when the phone rang. I was asked to come over to my sister-in-laws house. They had a Santa costume and wondered if I’d be willing to “play Santa” for one of their grandsons, a five-year-old. I was all “we’ve got company and my sinuses are bothering me” inside but I thought what the heck, it’s for Sam. Sam is a little ball of fire disguised as a small boy. He always seems to be getting into mischief, even at five, but he’s a good kid, just full of energy.

So when I walked into the house in full dress Santa costume, and said, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Where’s young mister Sam? Is he here?” you’d think he’d won the lottery. His eyes got as big as possible and he rushed over to give me a hug. We sat down and he got on my lap and promptly forgot everything he wanted for Christmas, except a monster something. Fortunately,, as I told Sam, the elves had completely packed my sleigh with as much as it could possibly hold and there wasn’t enough room for all his presents, which was why I had to track him down and his grandpa’s house.

I have no idea what the elves (mom) had packed in the present for him, but it was enough for two more hugs and a “golly, mom” when he opened it.

Best. Christmas. Ever. The expression on his face was worth the fake beard and hair and the hot costume. Yeah, I know we’re really supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ – the reason for the season – and all, but putting some wonder in the eyes of a small child ranks way up there too.

A good read

Robert Reich is useful valuable for several reasons. He’s a highly intelligent economist and former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is capable, with just a few paragraphs, of getting conservatives and libertarians foaming at the mouth in seconds. If that wasn’t enough all by itself, he can make you think. In a post on Monday, he doubts

that American consumers will eventually regain the purchasing power needed to keep the economy going full tilt. That seems doubtful. Median incomes dropped during the last recovery, adjusted for inflation, and even at the start weren’t much higher than they were in the 1970s.

And he’s right. We in the middle-class have lost purchasing power. Our incomes may be higher than we’ve ever (ok, those of us still with jobs) seen, but the sad reality is that the cost of everything else has gone up substantially more than our incomes have. As it became harder and harder to make ends meet, it not only became a good thing for women to go to work, it also became necessity. It takes two incomes for most of us to pay for life.

Middle-class families continued to spend at a healthy clip over the last thirty years despite this because women went into paid work, everyone started working longer hours, and then, when these tactics gave out, went deeper and deeper into debt. This indebtedness, in turn, depended on rising home values, which generated hundreds of billions of dollars in home equity loans and refinanced mortgages. But now that the housing bubble has burst, the spending has ended. Families cannot work more hours than they did before, and won’t be able to borrow as much, either.

Along the way, we’ve redefined what’s necessary. Everybody has a cell phone, maybe two, and computers and cable or satellite TV, and music players and dvds or blu-rays, and a gym membership or NetFlix and a digital camera and cars for every driver and on and on. In the 70s, if my telephone bill went above $20 a month it was rare. I pay more than that for dial up access. Counting work and personal phones and cell phones and everything else that comes on all the different kinds of phone bill, it zooms past $100 now.

The second assumption is that, even if Americans had the money to keep spending as before, they could do so forever. Yet only the most myopic adherent of free-market capitalism could believe this to be true. The social and environmental costs would soon overwhelm us. Even if climate change were not an imminent threat to the planet, the rest of the world will not allow American consumers to continue to use up a quarter of the planet’s natural resources and generate an even larger share of its toxic wastes and pollutants.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday

It’s been a determining factor in the appeal of NASCAR, There’s a huge overlap between NASCAR fans and American car buyers. That’s why the sport exists. It may not for long. Sure, it’s followed by millions, but you have to remember at the end of the day,NASCAR is funded, not based on fans and merchandise (though there’s plenty of both), but on an influx of buckets and buckets of dinero from Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

There’s an article in The Big Money that suggests it may be time to give NASCAR the gas, and it’s not talking the OPEC kind but the cyanide kind. It’s time to stop putting the pedal to the metal and time to put the old dog down.

as the economy has gone down the toilet, the NASCAR bubble would be one of the first in the sports world to burst. As fewer and fewer domestic autos have sold, interest in NASCAR has declined as well. Meanwhile, the economic crisis has buffeted stock-car racing beyond the travails of the Big Three. According to AdAge, 12 of the sport’s 42 full-time rides lack a sponsor with the Daytona 500, the traditional circuit-opener, just two months away. Mergers and cutbacks are the talk of pit road. Race teams have pink-slipped seemingly half of Mooresville, N.C., the home to the majority of the teams. The carnage has totaled roughly 1,000 employees, with many more bracing for the inevitable. Someone who still has a job—for now—with a smaller-level race team put it to me simply: “We’re fucked.”

The sport can’t escape the fact that the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels are technologies on a steep downslope. With hybrids and electrics on the way in, it’s hard to see where gas-guzzling, emission-belching stock cars fit in. Unlike the Indy Racing League and Formula 1 (open-wheel racing circuits famous for the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, respectively), NASCAR has yet to implement alternative-fuel programs—hell, it only switched to unleaded gasoline last season!

Gas guzzling has probably come to an end of the road. Unlike Indy cars and Formula 1 racing that are more science experiments than “car” racing, NASCAR’s road has gotten a little potholed recently. Toyota is in NASCAR now but how do you think the fans will take “And here comes Earnhardt down the final stretch in his Prius setting a new record of 6.3 gallons for 500 miles!” Yeehaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Since some parts of the country are below zero

I see no reason why the Federal Reserve Bank shouldn’t do the same thing and just drop their rates below zero too. After all, the curent rate is 1% and the last 1/2% cut did absolutely nothing to the credit markets, might as well as go for broke and start paying banks to take money. It’s not like they’re being effective anyway…..

The poll results are in

Sixty percent think it would be good for the economy if GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. Sixty.

According to an ABC News Washington Post poll, it seems that 55% of us continue to think the Big Three automakers made their own bed through bad decisions in the front offices and deserve to go into bankruptcy. Nor do they seem to think that bankruptcy would make the economy worse. The numbers are even higher there – 60% say it would make no difference or be good for the economy if they had to restructure themselves under bankruptcy laws.

Democrats tend to think it will hurt the economy  42%, and support federal aid (52%), but almost 3/4 (72%)think it is also Detroit’s own bad judgement and not a result of the bad economy. On the Republican side, 69% are against the bailout and half of those polled “strongly” oppose the bailout. There is more strong opposition to the bailout than strong support. Independents oppose the plan as well, 57% against and 41% in favor. Union households, interestingly enough, are not dramatically more in favor of the bailout plan than non-union.

Well, this isn’t good

Chrysler suppliers are requiring cash in hand before they will deliver parts to the automaker. It’s not normally done that way. From AutoNews via Jalopnik.

Because parts may not conform to quality requirements, may fail in testing or may become damaged in transit, payment for parts is not done on arrival. Instead, payment is done after an agreed upon delay, normally anywhere between 30 and 90 days. Some of the more abusive customers stretch the delay all the way out to 180 days.

Rather than risking non-payment or bankruptcy-related delays in payment, Chrysler suppliers are now providing parts on a COD basis. Since all auto makers buy parts they don’t make, this is a big deal. Lots of car pieces and parts come from outside suppliers, whether the parts go into a Ford, A Chrysler, or a Nissan.

AutoNews indicates this is related to the failure of a bailout of any sorts to come through although I wonder if that would really matter. Chrysler and GM are both in big money troubles. Even if they had a guarantee from a bailout, it would still be risky to allow them even 60 or 90 days to pay. Seems perfectly normal that suppliers would get antsy.

GM has also announced they will be cutting production by 30% for the first quarter of next year.

Bowl tickets

If you want bowl tickets to the Music City Bowl, here’s the link for ticket purchases. You can also call 615-322-GOLD if you have a home phone with letters on the numbers.

I don’t know if this notice has been made public yet ot if I got it as a Vandy alum ahead of the rest of the world. Whichever it is, enjoy!