Robert's Blog

This is my "personal" blog. I guess that's a neat way of saying that the content is all over the place. Some posts are about my family. Others are about general goings on in my life. There's also a smattering of music, travel, politics and a few rants about customer service. The usual disclaimers apply.

Forty

Juliet made me a nice dinner and some yummy cupcakes which are featured in the video below. Mia created a card. Rosetta did her first drawing. And Juliet made a great photo book from a Halloween trip to Amagansett in 2006. I'm a very lucky guy.

The Hardest Thing

Today is Veteran's Day. A day when we honor those who have served in our nation's military. Some of my most vivid memories of military service involve the hardships I endured along with the members of my unit. We were tired, cold, scared, hungry, dirty, wet more than we wanted to be. And that was only during the 14 weeks of basic infantry training. Over the next four years I learned of many of the sacrifices that the men and women of our armed services make every day. But that was also during peacetime. 

Spooky Cookie

Halloween CookieHappy Halloween! Juliet made these great gingerbread cookies for the occasion and I had to take a picture before I devoured it.

This morning we went to a party at my office. Mia was dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Rosetta was in a chicken suit. I'll have some videos to share soon.

The Last Time I Saw The World Trade Center

The morning of September 10, 2001 I caught a Continental Airlines flight out of LaGuardia Airport in Queens. I was heading to Houston since I had been working there on a long term consulting job. At the time I was actually living in Austin, TX but had recently decided to move back to New York to sublet a friends apartment on Hudson St.

Monday, September 10th was much like September 11th in that the sky was clear blue as we took off around 7AM. Whatever I was thinking I stopped as the plane banked south and I saw that I would be privy to a solid view of the Manhattan skyline. I have flown into and out of NYC many times and I always admire the skyline if I've got a window seat. My eyes tend to set on the Empire State Building and then drift south towards the next major recognizable structure which was always the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That's exactly what I did on 9/10/01. The sun was hitting the towers and they looked proud, standing tall, acting as a gateway to the city. In a few seconds the towers and city were out of sight and my mind drifted to other things.

The towers seemed to be stalking me in the days leading up to my departure. I was showing some friends from New Zealand around town and we spend a decent amount of time downtown. I remember crossing a street in the Soho area in the late afternoon on Saturday the 8th of September. As I hit a north-south cross street (I forget which one) I looked left and saw one of the towers hit with a blast of orange from the setting sun. We all stopped to look for a moment to admire that. Someone snapped a picture I believe. I'd love to have that pic right now. Then on Sunday we laid down on a patch of grass near Battery Park City and there they were right behind us.

I have lots of World Trade Center stories. Back in 1998 I remember going to Andersen Consulting's "Anderprom" which was a ridiculously over the top party for New York area employees. The party was across the road at the World Financial Center. But individual consulting practices threw parties. And the one I went to was at Windows on the World. We were sky high drinking champagne and eating hors d'ourves. After the party we went back to the bar they had up there (called Top of the World I believe) and I remember the Port Authority kicking us out after closing time since they were going to be shutting down the elevators.

I have lots more World Trade Center memories. I was too young to remember all the controversy over the construction of the towers. Evidently people said they were too big, too ugly, too whatever, etc. I always thought they were impressive even from my earliest memories. When they opened the towers to visitors in 1973 my Mom took myself and my brothers to the observation deck. We were some of the first people ever to experience what were then the largest buildings in the United States.

I miss those buildings. They should be rebuilt as they originally looked. They won't be rebuilt but they should be. I miss the people too. I didn't lose any family members or any of my closest friends. But there were people I knew, people who I had recently spent time with, people who I went to school with and people who I worked with who were killed in the attack. And just about everyone I knew from home knew someone who died on 9/11. The months following were tough on everyone I knew.

So that's a bit of my story. I think its important that we remember the buildings, the people and all the good things. I'm sure the folks who experienced and knew people on the planes and at the Pentagon feel similarly. That way the creeps who were behind the terrorists attacks can't win...ever.

The End Of Summer

Mia_IceCream_Truck.jpg

When Freedom Rings

Three months ago I wrote a post titled Three Americans Held Captive, that highlighted the plight of Roxana Saberi (held in Iran), Laura Ling and Euana Lee (held in North Korea). All three had been arrested for alleged crimes against the governments of the countries where they were held. Thankfully all three have been set free and have returned to the United States.

I don't think that the release of these women indicates any kind of a warming of relations between the U.S. and the totalitarian regimes in North Korea and Iran. Rather, it merely indicates an attempt to manipulate public opinion by the regimes involved. Sure, they appear benevolent once the prisoners are released. But what of the arrests, show trials and imprisonment of these women? Will they have to answer for that? Probably not. And that's the sad part. Because countries like Iran and North Korea know that they can get international attention, and maybe even generate a bit of sympathy, by getting their hands on an American for a few months.

Sometimes the prize for the totalitarian regime is a juicy one. President Clinton rushed to North Korea for a photo op and private talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in return for the release of Ling and Lee. To Clinton's credit he looked suitably ill in the photos. No smiles and slaps on the back for Kim Jong. President Obama could learn a thing or two from Bill's approach to photo ops with vicious dictators. I can't imagine President Clinton not going when asked to help free a pair of Americans imprisoned over there. Even still, it's a high price to pay because it gives a shot of legitimacy to a very dangerous regime that is prone to launching missiles over the heads of the Japanese and is widely thought to be in nuclear cahoots with Iran. The visit by such a high level emissary is akin to ransom. And when you pay a ransom once then kidnappers tend to get a little braver due to the prospects of future ransoms.

We've been there before with both Iran and North Korea. How could I forget the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979? I was ten years old but I remember seeing many news stories about the situation. I even remember seeing the news story about a failed rescue attempt.  Bill Richardson paid a couple of visits to North Korea in the mid-1990s to free Americans from that regime, including one visit where he reportedly paid at least $5000 to the North Korean government. Ransom indeed.

When I read these stories about Americans taken hostage with all the associated machinations and compromises that occur in order to free them I am reminded of how nice it is to live in a free country.Freedom to walk the streets, buy a bottle of wine and cross the border into the next state or country are nice things. I'm glad to have them. I'm sure that Roxana, Euana and Laura have been reminded of that too.

The beat goes on. Perhaps President Clinton should keep his bags packed. Three Americans hiking near the Iran-Iraq border were recently detained by authorities in Iran.

Americans And Whining

I think it's true that in the United States we've become a bit of a spoiled lot of people. Phil Gramm got slammed last year for saying that the country needed more leadership and less whining. I'll buy that. These are amazing times we're living in. 

I recently heard a list of the things that a person could buy today if they worked a minimum wage job for the summer. Now I realized that this doesn't apply to someone who has to make house payments, pay insurance bills and generally sustain a family. But think about a teenager who lives at home with their parents. What could that kid buy after a summer worth of work today versus a similar job in the 1930s?

I'm Not Spending

Last night the U.S. House of Representatives passed the largest spending bill in the history of the world. On Monday morning the President will sign the bill into law and kick off what I call stimulus-a-go-go. You see there's this sound I'm hearing. It's the sound of a thousand wing tipped lobbyists rushing down Pennsylvania Avenue to get in line to spend that money. Depending on your political affiliation you may think that's a beautiful thing or it may make you sick to your stomach. I'm inclined to the latter position.

I don't have much confidence that the spending plan will do much to improve things for the average working person I do know that government money, which is our money, will be spent in large quantities. Where it will end up going to is something that no one can guarantee for sure. It will go somewhere and it will be spent on something but that does not mean that the overall economy will benefit from these expenditures. I'm a big believer in the possibilities of unintended consequences.

For example, our legislators will spend billions of dollars on alternative energy projects. The intention in this act is to develop technologies that will allow for carbon free power generation. But some (probably most) of the money invested in such technologies will be wasted on things (like ethanol for example) that do little to generate cleaner energy and wean us off dependence on foreign oil.

Another example of unintended consequences involves how people will spend their stimulus benefit money over the next couple of years. Politicians want people to take their minuscule tax cuts ($800 a year for a married couple) and spend them in the economy. They want people to take the money they earn from their jobs and spend it on televisions and cars and houses and exorbitant college tuition for their kids. All of those actions would help to "stimulate" the economy. But what if people don't do that?

What if most people decide that any extra or new money that comes their way should go to paying off debt? What if those people who have no debt decide to bank that money for the future? Then the economy won't be stimulated. It's possible, and I think very likely, that this is what transpires. You see, paying off debt and saving money is the smart thing to do when the government insists on sinking the federal coffers deeper and deeper into debt. So in attempting to "save" the economy our elected officials who voted for this bill are aggravating America's addiction to debt. And they are advocating a position that keeps American citizens in debt.

I'm going to be one of those people who doesn't spend their money during this period. Sure, I'll be
spending on necessities and some discretionary items. But I'm not spending money any time in the forseeable future on luxury or big ticket items. No new cars, no televisions, no big vacations, no marble
counter tops, etc. etc.

The thing is that I have money to spend. The only debt our family currently carries is our mortgage. So we can afford to spend on the things I mentioned above. But we're not going to because I think that debt is a risky instrument to use. And even though we wouldn't be going into debt by spending on those things the actions of our government are pushing each of us deeper into debt on a daily basis. So my lack of spending is a hedge against the effects of the debt being run up by the government. And I have no idea what those effects will be.

So we need to save for future necessities such as medical expenses, education for our children, retirement, car break downs, home repairs and all those other things you may need to do and need money for. I don't know what shape the economy will be in when I need to pay for these things and I'm not going to chance that we'll be caught short while the government is ratcheting up the deficits.

I suspect that there are a lot of other people in my position who feel the same way. And since the people who have the best chance to stimulate the economy don't have the confidence in this plan I'm going to be in a defensive posture fiscally for the foreseeable future. Many others will do the same which means that the government's attempt to pump up the economy is likely to have little effect on GDP growth.

Many people will likely question my approach at this time. Why not spend? Why not be patriotic and put some "skin in the game" as our President likes to say? Because I'm greedy (you read that correctly) due to the responsibility that I have to take care of my family. The needs of my family come first. And by taking care of my family and working so that we will have prevents us from having to rely on the government. Which also ensures that we'll be able to live in dignity as opposed to the indignity of having to rely on the government to provide for our everyday needs.

I do hope that the "stimulus" plan works in a positive way. But even if it does all we are doing is passing along the debt to future generations so that people can continue to resist the change in our fiscal policies that are urgently needed at this time.

I leave you with a video of the economist Milton Friedman who addresses the issue of greed in an interview with Phil Donahue from 1979.

Happy New Year 2009

Wow, 2009. I remember when Prince sung about partying like it was 1999. We're ten years past that now. Party like it's 2009?I know a lot of people are hung over coming out of 2008 with the financial crisis, recession, presidential election and now war between Israel and Hamas. I believe that things will get better though.

Holiday Greetings

We're getting some serious snow here in Albany this weekend. I guess that you could say it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Check it out below.

December Snow

It got us in the mood to record a holiday greeting in front of the Christmas tree.

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