Compared to 5 and half years ago- we’re now back to where we started. Compared to ten years ago, stocks have averaged only a .6% increase in value. And for giddy investors there’s always this helpful MarketWatch headline: Legendary Hedge-Fund Manager: This Will End Badly.
What are the markets so exuberant about anyway? Unemployment at 8%? Adjusted for inflation, your take-home pay buys 8% less than it did in 2007. Last time we hit record highs on Wall Street your home was worth 26% more than it is today and that’s counting a recent housing rebound. Some 14 million homeowners still have property that’s worth less today than when they bought it. Mark Gongloff has all the stats in this piece in the Huffington Post.
Perhaps the markets are responding enthusiastically to that newfound spirit of compromise on Capitol Hill? Oh- that’s right, we’re still careening from one manufactured budget crisis to the next.
All these reasons for the stock market not to be happy worry me. It’s a nice fantasyland if you’re lucky enough to have a 401k or an IRA- but if you don’t- this little roller coaster ride means nothing except that a bunch of rich people are doing better than you…and even at that- they’re only standing still.
Hate to be the skunk at the garden party, as they say. And I’ll take the rally since the alternative really sucks. But careful out there…irrational exuberance has bitten us in the derriere before.
She was six months pregnant when, at age 37, she took the job as the CEO of troubled internet giant, Yahoo. How’s she going to manage that, the world asked as it marveled at the brilliant young woman who had just become the youngest female top executive officer of a Fortune 500 company.
Well, it turns out she came to work a mere two weeks after the birth of her baby last autumn. That’s how she handled it. And now we learn, after announcing the end of telecommuting at her company last week, that you can go back to work just days after you give birth- if you build yourself a nursery in your office and bring the kid in with you.
Business Insider, which broke the story about Mayer’s nursery, interviewed the husband of one of the female telecommuting Yahooo employees who now has to trade her home for a cubicle every day beginning June 1st.
“I wonder what would happen if my wife brought our kids and nanny to work and set ‘em up in the cube next door?”
A lot of folks are critical of Mayer’s anti-telecommuting move arguing it’s a step backward in the evolution of humane, family-friendly working conditions but some former Yahoos think she was right to do it because many employees there have been abusing the privilege and had not been particularly productive. Some argue she’s clearing the deadwood and getting them to step down, which is a much cheaper move than paying severance for laying people off.
Then again, some predict it’s the weakest employees who will show up to their cubicles come June 1st and the smart ones who will get recruited by other internet companies who will let them keep working from home.
The real problem here is that Mayer has opted for a one-size-fits-all option. One of the arguments Yahoo’s HR director made for banning telecommuting is that a lot of good ideas get discussed in casual meetings and hallway conversations. Ok- then make the creative and business development types come in to work. But a pure tech-geek who writes code all day? I’m guessing they’ll be working for Mayer’s former employer, Google, by the end of May.
By the way, on its news page, Yahoo has reprinted a Christian Science Monitor article favorable toward the company’s anti-telecommuting move. There’s no mention whatsoever of Mayer’s office nursery. Which is their editorial right. It’s also their right to make employees come to the office if they want to continue to get a paycheck. Who knows, maybe it’s exactly the right thing for Yahoo to do.
But what may be right for Yahoo may not be right for every other business in America. There really is a lot of research that shows telecommuting employees have high productivity rates. And there are certainly a lot of children in America who could use more time, not less with a parent around- even if that parent is working out of a home office.
CNN is taking no prisoners. A breathless anchorwoman just told me the Cable News Network is covering the arrival of the crippled Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, by sea, air and land. A CNN-chartered helicopter is flying over the vessel. I assume there’s a rented CNN boat. And of course CNN and six billion other news organizations will be awaiting the poor passengers when the cruise from hell finally comes to an end in Mobile, Alabama.
Imagine surviving the heat, the cold, the darkness, the onion sandwiches for a week after the ship’s engine blew and now you have to swat away microphones like they were a swarm of aggressive gnats.
There will, of course, be the award-winning journalism taking the form of unique questions like: “Excuse me, sir, how did you survive the urine-soaked mattresses?” “What’s it like to do #2 into a plastic bag?” “How would you describe the smell, kind of like sewage and rotten food?”
For some reason that escapes Mobile, Alabama Mayor, Sam Jones, Carnival has rented 1,200 hotel rooms in New Orleans for the exhausted passengers- readying buses that will cart them for two hours so they can spend one night and then board an airplane that will take them to Houston/Galveston, where this trip from hell started. Mayor Jones points out that Mobile has hotel rooms too and they only take five minutes to reach.
And isn’t it just a tiny bit ironic that after spending a week smelling that much sewage, that you’d end up on Bourbon street which has its own unique aroma following the Fat Tuesday celebrations of just 48 hours ago?
While I would not wish this past week aboard the Carnival Triumph on even my most dreaded enemies, I do have to point out that these folks did avoid a fate that befell 32 passengers of the Costa Concordia, another infamous cruise trip from hell- nobody died.
Anyway, there’s this great scene in the movie adapted from the John Irving novel, “The World According to Garp,” in which Garp, played by Robin Williams, is house-hunting with his wife. They watch incredulously as a small plane crashes right into the roof of the house they’re visiting. Garp turns to his wife and announces they’re buying the house. As she looks at him with a disbelieving face, he says- “What are the chances that is EVER going to happen again?”
Armed with that basic philosophy, I’m seriously thinking about taking a cruise. I’m thinking there’s bound to be an industry-wide slash in fares and what are the odds there’s going to be another cruise ship incident in the next week or two? I mean what are the odds another engine will blow, or another cruise ship captain will ground a vessel or that the Norwalk virus will spread like wildfire from cramped cabin to cramped cabin?
On second thought, my comfy couch and the next episode of Downton Abbey is looking like a much safer bet.
I’m not exactly sure which is more provocative- Texas Republican Congressman Steve Stockman’s invitation to Ted Nugent to attend the State of the Union address or North Korea conducting a nuclear test to go along with a recent successful missile launch.
I’m going with the nukes.
This new North Korean dear leader, Kim Jong Eun, seems, regrettably, to be much more competent than his father or his grandfather. The North Koreans put a satellite up in space just a few months ago and despite initial reports that the polar orbit of the device was slightly off, it seems like they actually had a successful rocket launch and deployement. You can keep track of that North Korean satellite here (click on KWANGMYONGSONG 3).
This nuclear test which was ominously detected as a 4.9 earthquake in North Korea around 10pm, ET last night- was conducted in a horizontally carved out tunnel in a remote North Korean mountainside. There is no way to verify claims by the North Koreans that it was a lighter, smaller, miniaturized type of nuke that could be used as a warhead on a missile. This is not good news any way you look at it.
Last week, the North Koreans released a bizarre video complete with Michael Jackson’s “We are the World” in the background, that ended with shots of a destroyed New York City that were actually edited in from a scene in the video game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. At the time of its release it seemed funny and the film a pathetic statement about the state of North Korea’s propaganda machine. But that was before they proved capable of setting off a nuclear blast as strong as a 4.9 earthquake.
I’m not sure how you further isolate a country like North Korea that is already the most isolated, poverty-stricken nation on the planet. But between successful missile launches, crazy videos and real nuclear explosions, they appear to be, officially, a regional menace. The Chinese did not want the North Koreans to conduct this nuclear test, so one would hope the Kim Jong Eun’s largest sponsor will try to do something to keep these guys in check.
As for Congressman Steve Stockman, who has threatened to file articles of impeachment against President Obama for proposing new gun control laws- his invitation to rocker/crazy-pro-gun-guy, Ted Nugent has been accepted.
After the State of the Union speech is completed, reporters all flock to Statuary Hall to get the reactions to the big speech and, apparently, Mr. Nugent will be holding court there along with lawmakers. He should be quite interesting. Among Nugent’s spicier quotes (some of which led to interviews with real Secret Service agents):
If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.
Our president, attorney general, our vice president, Hillary Clinton — they’re criminals, they’re criminals…we need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.
Obama, he’s a piece of sh*t. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary [Clinton], you might want to ride one of these [brandishing two automatic rifles] into the sunset, you worthless b*tch.
Ted Nugent at the State of the Union speech- another great chapter in the moderation of our public political discourse.
A most entertaining Super Bowl, indeed. For the first time ever, both the game and the commercials were overshadowed by…the power outage. The half-hour interruption of the Super Bowl just after the start of the 2nd half is officially a hot potato as multiple people and agencies and companies deny it was their fault and point fingers at one another.
“Wasn’t us!” said Entergy, the local power company providing electricity to the stadium. The stadium people are now saying it was all due to their safeguards that worked really, really well. “A piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system,” tripping a breaker and adding “backup generators kicked in immediately as designed.”
The world was atwitter with all kinds of theories. It was Drew Breese and the Saints getting their revenge against the NFL for the harsh penalties imposed in connection to bounty-gate. It was Beyonce, whose high-powered, high-tech half-time show somehow fried the electrical grid.
I officially endorse the Puppy Bowl conspiracy. It was those dogs and cats and hedgehogs over at Animal Planet whose appetite for their spectacular ratings earlier in the afternoon, led them to take out the actual People Bowl over at CBS.
But I digress. How about them commercials? Some instant poll found everybody liked the baby Clydesdale spot of the horse running back to a trainer from the horse’s colt days, all edited to tug at our heartstrings with Stevie Nick’s “Landslide” playing in the background.
The Dodge Ram “Farmer” spot proved to be really appreciated. A beautifully written speech from a generation ago by the late, great ABC broadcaster, Paul Harvey, on the down home qualities of America’s farmers.
And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer. God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.
Most of the Doritos ads were pretty cool; cross-dressing is always a guaranteed winner for taco chips.
I laughed hysterically at the VW ad featuring the dude from Minnesota with the Jamaican accent- “land of the ten tousand lakes, mon.” I learned later it was apparently politically incorrect to like that ad.
My informal polling found the GoDaddy commercial with the model kissing the nerd with the horrible complexion to have been something that should never have been produced much less shown on national television.
And what was that Coke ad where a bunch of different people are inexplicably competing against one another in a desert chasing after a carbonated beverage? We were all supposed to vote or something on who would win. All I know is it made me hate Coke.
And then there was Beyonce. Honestly, I liked her Super Bowl press conference where she sang the national anthem, better than her actual half-time performance but she was beautiful, talented and high-tech and several people I was with were touched when her old Destiny’s Child co-stars appeared with her. There’s also a whole twitter meme about how she shorted out the entire Superdome with her sheer energy and ferociousness.
Oh- and what a game! The 49ers made it really close and tense and only one of the greatest goal line stands in history preserved the win for the Baltimore Ravens. Ray Lewis got his perfect retirement gift and even Ray Lewis-haters had the opportunity to send snarky tweets making oblique references to the murder charges he had to fend off 13 years ago.
Thanks Super Bowl, XLVII- you big lug you. I laughed. I cried. I ate large quantities.
I love that woman. Not in a creepy Brent Musberger/Katherine Webb sort of way. In a marveling, how-could-anyone-possibly-be-this-classy sort of way.
First of all, I never had a problem with the so-called lip-syncing scandal on Inauguration Day. If it had been an absolute, total lip-syncing incident, Beyonce pulled it off so well, who the hell cares. I believe it was CNN’s Anderson Cooper who, echoing these sentiments, mentioned that had he been alive, Francis Scott Key, himself, would have sent her a dozen roses for that incredible rendition.
But in fact- she did sing along with her pre-recorded track- because she’s a perfectionist and between the cold weather and the fact she didn’t get to rehearse with the U.S. Marine band, it was just the prudent thing for a perfectionist to do. We know this without a doubt now because she told us so at her Super Bowl press conference today.
If you missed it, it was an unmitigated master stroke.
Beyonce came for out for the news conference, asked everyone to stand for a moment and then belted out an a cappella version of the National Anthem that left everyone in attendance both stunned and then cheering wildly. Then when she wrapped up the performance, she looked at the roomful of reporters and asked, “Any questions?”
Uh, no, mam.
She confirmed she will not be lip-syncing for the 12-minute Super Bowl performance coming up on Sunday and admitted she’s a little nervous.
She has nothing to worry about.
I was just minding my own business. I got home Friday night, looking forward to the weekend and the NFL playoff games Sunday. Little did I realize I was about to be the not-so-innocent bystander in an epic battle between the virulent flu germ of 2013 and my trusty but subtly aging immune system.
Like the volleys into Fort Sumter 150 years ago that continued for 36 straight hours, the flu virus launched its assault on Saturday afternoon. There was this cough that came out of nowhere. Not cool. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since early October- I thought I was done with this lung stuff. Then the beginnings of the fever hit. The trumpets were sounding. My immune system soldiers were desperately rallying against the foreign invader.
The war escalated on Sunday. By the time the 49ers had rebounded to defeat the Falcons a 100 degree fever had tipped into 101 territory. I should have known this flu meant business because my sure-fire recipe for nipping this kind of crap in the bud- two shots of Nyquil- did absolutely nothing the night before. I switched to a new weapon- Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu. You would think a product with “severe” in the name, would mean business. The flu bug laughed. It picked up Mr. Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu by the lapels and threw him out like a beefy bouncer at a night club tossing a drunk into an alley.
By the time the Baltimore Ravens upended Tom Brady and the Patriots, the health picture looked bleak. The thermometer read 101.8. And the invasion had expanded. My girlfriend Millie was now coughing and quickly hitting 100.
It was Sunday night and Monday was Inauguration Day. In 36 years in the journalism business, I have never missed an Inauguration Day. In one form another, I’ve been in Statuary Hall covering them, or writing newscasts about them, or running a newsroom that was covering them. Nothing was going to stop me from missing this one. I would come into the newsroom, and if I still felt bad, I’d go home a little early. This, of course, would be a totally selfish and egotistical move on my part that could easily have spread the flu to many others.
By 4:30am Monday it was case closed. The battle was still raging. The thermometer flashed 101.6. The flu had won. The inaugural streak was over. I would watch it helplessly beneath a mound of blankets.
Turns out that was the high-water mark for Mr. Flu Virus. For me, anyway. Meanwhile, Millie was exactly 24 hours behind. With my war deescalating and hers just heating up, I was now in the role of caretaker. The worst moment came Monday night when she hit 102.2. I quickly googled “fevers of 102.” Not something you want to have for more than a day. But also not an emergency like hitting 104.
Millie pronounced that she was officially in mortal fear. She said, accurately, “Thousands of people die from this every year!” I went into all-business mode. I presented two Advil tablets and an orange juice. “Take this now. You are not going to die. You’re not 88 years old. You’re a healthy woman in her 40s. There is also no mystery what the cause is- you have the flu.”
We added some wet towels to the equation. Within an hour we got her down to the 101’s again and eventually to 100.5. I felt a little like Florence Nightingale.
The fever’s gone and I’m marching back to work in the morning but I have to say, every muscle in my body still aches as if the flu and my antibodies had just spent three days in a no-rules, anything-goes fight with knives and broken bottles.
This story is being replicated in millions of households in 48 states at last count. I have no idea why Hawaii and Tennessee are the only places not reporting a flue epidemic but either one of them is looking like a pretty good place to hang out right about now.
I’ll admit to being an intermittent Yankee fan through the years. It’s what happens when your own hometown doesn’t have a baseball team for over three decades. But now that we have this very cool ball club called the Washington Nationals, it was outrageously wonderful to learn yesterday that we had stolen last year’s closer for the Bronx Bombers.
That’s right, Rafael Soriano, the guy who stepped up for the great and injured Mariano Rivera last season is now going to be wearing a curly W on his hat. Analysts have been writing that the Nationals sent a statement by agreeing to pay so much money for the best free agent relief pitcher on the market. The statement being, basically, “Screw All of You.”
See, the traditional baseball world made up of general managers, managers, owners and ornery old scouts who still spit tobacco products- doesn’t like the Washington ball club very much. They think we were crazy to sit Stephen Strasburg just to protect the young kid’s arm a year after Tommy John surgery. They see arrogance in Washington GM, Mike Rizzo’s approach because shutting down your star pitcher implies you’re keeping him healthy for all the future division titles, playoffs and World Series wins you’re going to be piling up.
Many in the traditional baseball world are also just plain crazy jealous. In Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats lucked into two of the most remarkable players to come down the pike in about 20 years. The baseball establishment liked the Nats better when they were a doormat; a sorry little team from a rich but fickle market that used to have to pay a King’s ransom for any marquis talent (see Jason Werth).
But after a 98-win season and the realization that 87-year-old Nationals owner Ted Lerner is, in fact, one of the richest men in the world and certainly the wealthiest owner in the sport, suddenly old DC doesn’t looks so bad as a destination for premier talent.
But the fun part about stealing a Yankee is that back in our old insecure days, that’s what we beleaguered Washington fans thought was surely going to be the fate for our diamonds in the rough. That sometime in 2016 or 2017, Bryce Harper was going to be wearing pin stripes instead of the curly W- that it would be just a matter of time before Stephen Strasburg would someday be the opening day pitcher for the Yankees.
And now we have the Yankee closer- a decision that no doubt was actually made shortly after a chilly October night at Nationals Park when young relief ace, Drew Storen, picked the worst possible moment in the world to collapse. Blowing a six run lead in the deciding game of a playoff series is something you remember. And vow to never repeat.
Drew will get his chances in 2013, but it will be the Yankee closer, the 33-year old veteran Rafael Soriano who will be shutting the door on most nights. Young Drew will learn. But right now, it’s time for the formerly forlorn Nationals to rule the baseball world. And to their detractors: here’s a little tobacco juice in your eye.
The Washington Redskins did the right thing when they sat RGIII against Cleveland, the week after the Baltimore game in which he injured his right knee. They did the right thing in the weeks that followed by altering their offensive game plan to fit RGIII’s new and temporary limitations. Now Coach Mike Shanahan is getting buried in criticism for not having pulled the kid in Sunday’s playoff loss to Seattle despite being obviously injured. I think some understanding of both men is in order.
What if the kid had been able to rally the Skins to a game-tying touchdown? Would the critics still be piling on Shanahan? Doubtful- which says to me a lot of this outrage is less about RGIII and more about a decision that may have cost the Redskins the game. And the outrage comes chock-full of hindsight. Who knew a bad snap from center would cause Griffin to awkwardly hyperextend the knee again on the god-forsaken mud hole that passes for turf at FedEx Field?
From a competitive standpoint, I think most will agree RGIII should have been pulled in the 2nd half after a 9-yard run out of bounds in which he basically dragged his right leg along like it was hanging by a thread. That looked alarming. But Shanahan is nothing if not loyal. The most compelling argument RGIII made at half-time to convince the coach he should keep playing was his insistence that he had earned the right to stay in there and give it his best shot. To me that’s indisputable. The kid, through most of 15 games did everything humanly possible to earn the right to stay in there.
But was it misplaced loyalty? Does the Head Coach have an obligation to overrule a competitive player who will always say he’s healthy enough to play whether he is or not? Yes and Shanahan admits it. He says he trusted his gut on this but that his gut isn’t always right and that he would, indeed, second-guess himself over the decision.
Even RGIII admits he endangered himself when he continued playing after having tweaked the knee just before his 2nd TD pass in the 1st quarter. But this was the playoffs. You think RGIII was the only player out there playing hurt? When Kirk Gibson came in to pinch-hit for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th inning of a World Series game when Gibson could barely stand, much less walk, did people think that was abusing the athlete? Of course not. Because he hit a homerun that won the game.
It turns out RGIII is not indestructible but is, in fact, all too human. Both in his stubbornness and his physical health. Mike Shanahan is human too. I would argue, if anything, he put his loyalty to his QB above the strategic dynamics needed to win that game. And in retrospect- yes- he made the wrong decision. But I don’t think he deserves to be vilified or fired for it.
Everyone will learn from this and especially RGIII and Mike Shanahan, There is a point where steely determination and sheer grit begin to provide diminishing returns. RGIII will learn to be a little less reckless. Coach Shanahan now knows there will be times where he’ll have to stop RG from being his own worst enemy.
What I can’t stop thinking about, is the cruelty of fate and the vulnerability of even the most talented and ferocious of athletes. I will never forget the Skins game against the Minnesota Vikings this year when Griffin scored on a 78 yard touchdown run. His Olympic-class speed was breathtaking to behold. It was the longest scoring run by an NFL quarterback in 16 years. Griffin piled up 138 yards rushing that day.
And then I picture the botched snap from center on Sunday when the same gifted athlete could not bend down and pick up a dropped football without collapsing in a heap on the muddy turf.
Because of his work ethic and desire, however bad this knee injury turns out to be- it will be overcome. He may never be able to run again like we saw with astonishment this season- but he will be back and 80% of Robert Griffin III is way better than 100% of most others.
But painful lesson, indeed, for both he and his coach. None of it should take away from the amazing, ridiculously unexpected result of this Redskins season when a 22-year-old man/child led a 3-6 team to a divisional title through guts, leadership, and, yes, ironically, the kind of unflinching toughness that ultimately cost them in the end.