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« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »

December 31, 2007

New Year's 2008 - Bluff, UT

Where they have a large bonfire each year for New Year's. Down in the hotel lobby, eyeing the bonfire that was throwing sparks high into the air, and enough smoke to rival the fireplaces in John Edwards's house, I asked if it, ah, ever got out of control.

"Nah, Jim here's the fire chief."

Well, I guess that's that, then.

Here are the pix from Day 2. Just in case you're wondering, yes, I drove down the Old Comb Ridge track. Helluva ride. Dog thought so, too, wondering when it was all going to end. And yes, I mean that just how it sounds.

On The Road Again

So, in-between jobs again, I decided to take the road trip early, when I knew I'd have the time, rather than later, when I'd fret that I couldn't afford it. Eventually, I'll compile these into a Road Trip section, but for now, without commentary, here's the photo haul from Day 1:





December 14, 2007

Bureaucratic Efficiency

No, really.

This morning, I went to go get my emissions tested and my Jeep re-registered. This was supposed to have been done several months ago, but I let it slide. Then, as a contract web developer now (whose contract is ending a few weeks), any diversion to the now-inconvenient MVD for a few hours would be expensive, so I continued to let it slide because I couldn't afford the time off. This eventually devolved into Commuting Roulette, and it had to come to an end.

So this morning, it did.

Now part of the reason I took so long to perform my Civic Duity - although I drive a Jeep, not a Honda - was that I had heard horror stories of people waiting for hours, nay, days, nay weeks, at the MVD to register their cars. When I arrived there from the emissions testing service, I expected to find DIA of October 1997. Spouses would come by with hot meals, reliving in irony Charlie on the MTA, since we would be there in order to avoid public transport. These would have been replaced by relief caravans by now, of course. Crowded tent cities (Rittervilles, they would be called) would have sprung up, people huddling around sumdge pots in the parking lot, grumbling and demanding higher taxes to pay for more efficient computers that would be set aside from ordering baseball tickets.

Inside, things would be mayhem. The more affluent among us would be crowding the outlets with our laptops and cell phones, deperately reassuring our bosses that today, yes, today! would be the day that we would finally show up for work. Those who had been waiting inside, each night seeing the employees leave, each morning raising their hopes anew as they unlocked the doors, would be near the breaking point. A black market in tickets would have developed, with citizens re-enacting scenes from the commodities trading pit at the CBOE, the wealthy buying their way out (no waiting for you, Ms. Stryker!), the poor, condemned, like William Shatner in a small-town diner, to ask, plaintively, "Will today be the day I can re-register?"

Instead, crickets.

Well, ok, not crickets because it's December and it's snowing and the crickets are all dead, but...snow crickets. Tumbleweed through the reception area. Red LEDs flashing, "Now Serving 19." My ticket number: 20. And immediately, "Now Serving 20" A cheerful woman, no doubt the gal who had seen Wag the Dog and gotten a bright idea to reduce workload, had me in and out in, literally, three minutes.

When I asked where all the people were, she smiled knowingly, and blamed the snow.

December 6, 2007

ESPN's Full-Court Press

Probably the worst thing that could happen to any of the ESPN commentators is for the NCAA Division I presidents to adopt a playoff system, because at that point, they'd actually have to talk about the games. With the exception of John Saunders and Colin Cowherd, there's been a relentless drumbeat pouring forth, designed to browbeat us into submission and to accept the inevitability of a playoff in Division I.

In the aftermath of last weekend's games, you heard one talking head after another proclaim that now, now!, we'd finally spend time talking about how to adopt a playoff. As though they hadn't been doing that since before Appalachian State took Michigan out to the woodshed behind the Big House. On Sunday mornings, when John Saunders led off whichever segment it was asking about that week's upsets, the only over-under that mattered was how many words it would take Lupica to start whining about not having a playoff.

What garbage.

I loathe the thought of a playoff. I like the bowl system. I like the idea that volunteers spend weeks pasting certified organic material on chicken-wire, and then get up at 4:00 in the morning on the only cold day of the year in southern California to send their creations off down Colorado Blvd., giving free advertising that the people at the Norton Simon museum could only dream of, just to promote their fair city of Pasadena, and that they cap off the day's festivities with a football game.

I like the idea that New Orleans, and Miami, and Orlando, and Boise(!) all do the same thing. American civic boosterism is as old as the advertising brochures for Jamestown, and God love it.

I like the idea that every game matters, and that there's at least one sport in the country where we end the year with an argument rather than a coronation, which some years, the winning team doesn't really deserve, anyway. When Golic, who knows as much about college football now as George Washington would know about modern campaign fundraising, says that not every game matters. that LSU-Tennessee sure wasn't going to matter, because we all knew that once Oklahoma beat Missouri, it was going to be West Virginia - Ohio State, and wouldn't that be a tragedy.

The fact is, these guys just like to gripe, but they've been doing it so long, they've lost the tune, even though they still know the words. When they didn't like the polls, they pushed for computer rankings. When the computer took LSU and someone else over #1-voted USC a few years ago, they screamed about that. Now that he polls matter more again, they're off about how the pollsters don't know what to do. As I said above, if the college presidents actually devised a system, half these guys wouldn't know what to talk about.

I am not a fan of the BCS, but only because the current system robs the New Year's bowls of their meaning. If we're going to bow to the idea of a national championship, then go to what's been called a "Plus-One" system, where the two finalists are chosen after New Year's. I mean, hell, they're playing the title game on January 7th, anyway. Make it the first Monday night after the 7th, and then the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl mean something again. (The Cotton Bowl? Oh right, well, look, when your conference goes out of business, even all those New Year's memories of Keith Jackson can't save you.)

The old system wasn't perfect, and there's a reason things changed. BYU won a national title by going 13-0, playing absolutely nobody, beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl on Christmas, and being the only undefeated. Virginia got a Sugar Bowl bid in October and then lost 3 of their last 4 games.

Shabbat makes following college football hard. At least it did until ESPN and ABC started grabbing every week's big game and puitting on in prime time Saturday night/ They never would have done that with a playoff, because at least one of the teams playing would be going to the tournament regardless of the outcome. Have a tournament, and the Bowl games shrivel away, which would make Stephen A. Smith happy, but then you'd never see Boise State run a jaw-droppingly perfect hook-and-lateral against Oklahoma, or see Hawaii beat Georgia.

Tournaments are for small minds. Bowl games are for New Year's.

CFA'd Out

Which is just as well, because the exam was Sunday.

The exam pass score is a 70, which is tougher than it seems, especially when you realize that only 40% of the examinees pass the thing. For some reason, the CFA Institute hasn't deigned to sign a contract with a computer testing center. I was able to get my brokerage licenses more or less at will, since I could take them on the computer and have them scored immediately. The Level I, despite being multiple choice (or multiple cherce, if you're from Brooklyn), uses those little pencil-bubble sheets that tolerate neither stray marks nor incomplete fills. The Level II is essay question, and to keep the monks in shape for that, they have them grade the Level I by hand and I should know in about 5 weeks whether or not I passed. So the monks can have time off for Lent, and also watch the World Series, they give the Level I twice a year, then pick the best, most reliable monks, and have them grade the Level II and the Level III in June only.

Now I know that I either passed or failed on my own merits. No pulling a Baltimore Ravens and blaming the refs if I failed. But there are a couple of points to make. First, about the econ section. The MBA program I attended neither required nor taught econ. And the econ study book (provided by the CFA Institute itself) was noticeably lacking in sample questions on the subject. This is a real problem, since a great deal of words in economics jargon mean more or less the exact opposite of their common, everyday dictionary definitions.

Now the CFA does provide sample exams. At $50 a pop. Naturally, I bought all five, so I could trade 'em with my CFA pals. They're on line, they grade them right there for you (apparently the monks are too busy at Matins), and tell you what sections you need work on. But then, they disable the browser's Print and Select-All functions, even though they only let you take each exam once. For $50, you would think they'd understand that you want to take them home, so you can take them again and again. Of course, you can still do a View-Source and paste them into a text file, then edit them to allow printing, and print them from the browser.

Not that anyone would actually do that. Oh no. Of course not. Cough.

The sample exams are actually helpful. They advertise them as having real questions from past exams, and then it turns out that they have real questions from the exam you're about to take, too. There's no question that going back over the tests a few times drilled into my head the right answers for somewhere between 10 and 20 questions.

In any case, the worst thing you can do is to go back and start figuring out the answers to the questions you remember. That way lies madness. So here I sit, checking out job listings with more attentiveness, hoping that I'll be signing up for the Level II in June, rather than the Level I again.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud