December 2009

There has been a lot of debate about the effectiveness of President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus program and the people at website have given us a little insight into where some of that money has gone.

1.  $9.3 million (!) to fund the design and development of a “coordinated colony of robotic bees“!

2.  A $54 million project to relocate one bridge for the Napa Valley Wine Train (!) in order to mitigate the possible impact of a “100 year storm event”.

3.  A $712,883 research grant to develop “machine-generated humor“. Project will design artificially intelligent “comedic performance agents”, and will “deploy them both on and off-line for the enjoyment and illumination of everyday citizens”.

4.  A $225,000 study at Ohio State University on the relative and combined impacts of air pollution and a high fat diet on obesity development.

5.  An academic study comparing outcomes of the concurrent and separate use of malt liquor and marijuana ($389,357).

6.  $10,346 for a heating and cooling company to provide “escort services” for other companies performing a laser scanning survey at a courthouse in Honolulu, Hawaii.

7.  Funding a $447,492 Univ. of North Carolina study on the development and use of “African American English” amongst 70 adolescents.

8.  Funding of a $168,300 SBA loan to the Escape Massage parlor in Midlothian, VA.

9.  Funding of a Dartmouth College study involving “sexual arousal in anesthetized female rats” ($9,870).

10.  A $427,824 research grant to design better video games for senior citizens based on their unique “game-play needs”.

The president hoped the stimulus money would get the economy back on track and keep unemployment below 8% but instead it has become another symbol of politicians feeding at the federal trough at the taxpayers expense.

After living my entire life in the Washington, D.C. area it has become easy for me to become a little jaded when it comes to believing that public servants will actually show some kindness and understanding to someone in need.

Yet that is exactly what happened just a few nights ago to one of my co-workers.

While he was working late into the night, he decided to leave the office to go check our company mailbox outside to see if we had received any magazines that day.  After he came up empty handed he headed back into our office building only to discover that they last remaining elevator that was functioning was no longer working.

Now he could have just called it a day, and since it was past 11 p.m. no one would have blamed him, but since he thought the trip to the mailbox would be a short one he left both his wallet and his coat in his office.  So now he had no money, identification and more importantly no coat to shield himself against the 20 degree weather.

He did have his cell phone so he started calling a few of his co-workers starting with me, but I missed that call.  After coming up empty handed he then called the fire department thinking that they would have some master key so he could use the stairwell which is normally locked.  No luck there as it was not an emergency and the only master key the fire department was likely to have would have been an ax which probably wouldn’t have pleased  the landlord if they had responded.

Not knowing what to do next he walked a block or so to the nearest Metrorail station where he spotted a police officer.  He explained his predicament and the officer asked where he lived and after a few minutes pulled out a $20 and handed it to my employee.  My employee was very grateful and asked for the officer’s phone number so he could call and pay him back the next day but he was waved off with the officer telling him to consider it a Christmas present.

Maybe my employee being foreign born cut a sympathetic figure, with his accent and the fact he had no winter coat on,but I am grateful for that kind police officer who late on a chilly night in the District reached out to help a fellow human being and spread some Christmas cheer in what can normally be a very callous city.

For as we read in Matthew chapter 25;

35 For I was an ahungred, and ye bgave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a cstranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye avisited me: I was in bprison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee asick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have adone it unto one of the bleast of these my cbrethren, ye have done it unto me.
In one simple act that police officer not only spread a little cheer but magnified His Father’s will.
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Redeemer let us not forget His ultimate sacrifice so that affords us the opportunity to live on the earth today.
Merry Christmas!

Normally right after Thanksgiving the cards come flooding into our home.  Many are pictures of friends and their families, some are e the standard festive card with a small personal message scribbled inside and others are letters that often include scanned photos of friends and family far and wide.

But this year the flood has turned into a trickle.  To date we have received so few cards that my wife is looking for cards from last year to place in front of our relatively small fireplace mantle.

Our experience apparently is not out of the ordinary though.  An article in the Washington Post chronicles others in the D.C. area who are wondering what happened as well.

Is it juts our collective imagination or is this a real phenomenon that signals a new trend?  According to the Post it’s real alright.  Mail volume is down some 10% compared to a year ago and that can be largely attributed to the decline in Christmas cards being mailed.

Now I have to admit that I am as much a culprit as I am a victim if not more so.  To date I have sent zero Christmas cards.  Yep, I’m definitely a  Grinch and a Scrooge this year.  This is down from the 50-60 cards I used to send when I first got married nearly 25 years ago to 25-30 that I recall sending last year.  But I still have time to fix my miserable record and I plan to do so this week.

Yes our lives are busy and social media seems to have consumed many of us to the point that it now is becoming acceptable to send e-cards and use Twitter and Facebook to wish our friends and family a Merry Christmas.  It’s not very personal but it is efficient.  In one fell swoop I can send a Christmas greeting to over 2,400 people and all it would cost me is my time.  It’s very tempting to say the least.

For me I can’t help but feel a little conflicted.  As a child growing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s I watched my father very meticulously send out some 100 plus cards every year to people all over the world.  He had a very thick notebook that contained the name and address of every recipient.  At the bottom of the card he drew a line.  Above the line he wrote the year a card was sent.  Below the line he recorded if a card was received.  If a person didn’t reciprocate with a card he was thus unlikely to receive one the next year.  When you are sending out as many cards as he was the only way to remember to whom he sent and received cards from.

I can still remember logging in the cards received which since the notebook wasn’t completely alphabetized took quite a bit of time and while it may seemed fun while I was a child I certainly don’t miss those days.

But I never thought I’d see the day where Christmas cards would become irrelevant.  As I said earlier our busy lives and the onslaught of social media probably plays a part but I wonder just how much the recession affected the sharp drop in card mailings this year.  After all we still have sky high unemployment, foreclosures continue unabated and the outlook isn’t really that bright in the year ahead so I guess it’s hard to be too cheery.   The other part of this equation is the cost of the cards themselves.  A box of cards fully priced will normally run about $1 or more per card.  Factor in postage and if you are sending out a lot of cards it adds up fast.  Even at the peak of when my father was sending out 100 plus cards a year I bet he didn’t spend more than $100 for cards and postage including the ones he sent overseas.

In any event I hope that this is only a blip on the radar screen.  I know I have been lazier than usual but my close friends can expect a card in the next few days, while my Facebook friends will have to settle for a cheaper electronic greeting.

Whether or not you send a card this year don’t forget to let your friends and family know how grateful you are for them.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Obama administration has been spending a lot of taxpayer money in an effort to stave off a financial and political collapse with very little to show for their largesse.

The latest example of the White House’s failure to grasp the real problem with the economy comes from the $50 billion being expended to help individuals obtain mortgage relief under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

To date a whopping 650,000 people have been placed in trial modifications though only 2,000 have been made permanent.

The Obama administration decided this week that this was a far cry from what they had expected and issued a warning to mortgage companies that they need to get on the bandwagon to make more of the trials permanent or else.

That’s all well and fine if you believe as the administration does that the slow pace of permanent re-fi’s is the fault of the mortgage companies alone and that it’s okay for the government to bully private firms into submission.

But upon closer inspection it turns out that the mortgage firms have tried to help homeowners but many of those that had applied failed to meet the terms of the program.  Banks report that in some areas they have received less than 20% of the necessary paperwork required for a modified loan and even when payments are reduced many borrowers failed to make even one of the three required reduced payments to qualify for a permanent reduction.

There is plenty of blame to go around, mortgage companies who are reluctant to act if a borrower is current on their loan, onerous government paperwork and homeowners who overpaid for their homes and think that they deserve a bailout and that the government won’t make them homeless.

Yet the real problem is that many of the troubled homeowners lost their jobs and have been living off of unemployment benefits or the generosity of family and friends hoping that the economy would turn around. They can’t pay a mortgage if they don’t have any income.

The president held a jobs summit with some business leaders and liberal economists yesterday to explore ways to create jobs and get the economy back on track.  But the White House excluded both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business two groups that know quite a bit about job creation and growth because they aren’t political allies of the president.

In the end the president came away with some feel good talking points and left the impression that he was concerned and wanted to solve the worst unemployment crisis in over a quarter century though by excluding some very important voices he did just the opposite.

As a result of this half-hearted effort taxpayers will have wasted another $50 billion as foreclosures will continue to march on.