Happy New Year One and All

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I adore my wife. I really do. Besides putting up with me, she’s a lot of fun to be with. And last week I wasn’t with her at all because she was in NYC for 10 days and 9 nights on business. Chris is an event producer. When she does her job well, which is always, you won’t even notice her work. And that’s kind of her goal or at least one of them. She produces events for celebrities, foundations, corporations and charities. Last week, she was away producing an event for her client, Microsoft. She loves working on this project. She loves the people, she loves the cause and she loves spending time in New York. (Selfishly, I hate this event!)

For the past two years, Microsoft, in partnership with the USO, has done a 3 day event around Veteran’s Day called “A Salute to Our Troops.” It’s an amazing program that culminates with a Radio City Musical Hall performance by the Rockettes. I went to last year’s event and it is truly wonderful. This year, building off of the prior year’s success, more top military brass attended. This made Christine’s job slightly more complicated because of the additional security. But as usual, she handled this added charge with discretion and quiet excellence. In that way, it is difficult to notice how well she does her job. I know because I see how much work goes into making things seem seamless. Last week, a few other people noticed Christine’s peerless performance. Independently, she was given three challenge coins; one by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, Vice Chief of Staff, General Pete Chiarelli, and another by a member of the Protective Services Battalion, otherwise known as the Secret Service. Today, a challenge coin is given by the military, to signify excellence of service but their tradition originally began as a drinking game of sorts. (Read more about challenge coins here.) I am not surprised that Christine’s hard work was recognized by members of the military. Who better than them to recognize precision and excellence. I am so very proud of Chris.

I thought I would call your attention to two completely unrelated items that caught my eye this week . The first one is a photograph of Barack Obama that appeared on the Huffington Post the day after the election. When I saw Obama take the stage in Grant Park in Chicago after being elected I noticed his bearing seemed completely different. I noticed relief and exhaustion on his face. The authors of the Huffington Post story saw power, joy, grief and fatigue. It’s a powerful image of Barack Obama’s finest moment to date. Here’s what the authors had to say about Barack Obama as he took the stage after being elected President of the United States.

When Obama took the stage, we saw a man embodying a complex array of feeling. He looked tired, of course, and who wouldn’t be? A ten-year-old in the room, who hadn’t heard of the death of Barack’s grandmother, said “He looks sad.” It takes a deeply integrated person to let his grief be visible on a night of overwhelming victory. This is a key to his personality, and bodes well for the future of his presidency. It takes enormous strength to let your vulnerabilities rest so comfortably in yourself that they can be readily seen.

There was one emotion we’re glad was missing from Obama and the crowd in Grant Park: any sense of triumphant glee. We couldn’t help wondering if it would have been present in McCain’s supporters had the tables been turned. John McCain had to silence a few boos and jeers from his audience, but by and large they just looked sad, tired and meek.

Finally, we were deeply moved by Obama’s body language at the end, in the easy way he brought forth the other members of his and Biden’s family to share the stage. He seemed to melt into them, as if he knows deep in his bones that none of this is really about him as an individual ego. There’s a huge difference between needing to be the center of things and simply being in the middle of things. Somehow, despite all the adulation and glory (as well as the relentless attacks mounted by the other side) Obama still knows what he’s known all along: he’s one of us.

The second item is not nearly filled with the gravitas of the first item. This week in Kappa, Illinois a young golfer named Curt Hocker had…wait for it….5 holes-in-one in one week, including two in one round. According to a Golf Digest study, the odds of making one hole-in-one range from 5,000 to 33,000 to 1 but making 2 in one round the odds skyrocket to 67 million to one. Unbelievable. But here’s where the story gets a wee bit sticky for me. Hocker, also recorded 2 double eagles in the same round earlier this summer. A double eagle is three under par on one hole. For example, in order to score a double eagle on a par 5, one would need to hole out in 2 shots. It’s not impossible but check out these odds. Getting 1 double eagle is quoted at 6 million to one. There is no quote for two in one round. Here’s more perspective…Between 1983 to 2003, there were 631 aces on the PGA Tour but just 56 double-eagles – and never more than 6 in one year. Curt Hocker, congratulations but I hope you don’t mind if I am a little bit skeptical.

It’s difficult to believe that Halloween with its goblins and witches is upon us already. But imagine a place where you can encounter ghosts and the paranormal not just in October but every month.  Due to it’s somewhat bloody history, ghosts are not unusual in Scotland. However, they are positively commonplace in St. Andrews and the County of Fife.

I’m sure you need convincing.  How about the “ghost car” driven by a malevolent looking man that speeds down the “A7″ causing reoccurring accidents?  You need more don’t you?  Of course you do.  There’s always the assassinated Archbishop of St Andrews, James Beaton, who rides down Strathkinness Road in a phantom coach drawn by four large horses.  The murdered Prior who can be observed on moonlit nights watching over the Tower of St. Rules might convince you. Or the “white lady” would definitely scare your hair straight.  It’s not unusual for this “ghosty” woman to run right through you by the square tower.  I know I’m not making a strong case for you but name one other country who recognizes the Ghost Tracking profession.  A few years ago, one of our friends in St Andrews awoke to a wee, ghoulish, girl at the foot of her bed…on a regular basis.

About two years ago, I was at our home in St Andrews while Christine was in Boston. One Sunday afternoon, I called Chris from the drawing living room while making myself comfortable in a big winged back chair. Five minutes into our conversation I heard the unmistakeable sound of hoovering vacuuming from the next floor. Chris heard the startle in my voice and asked what was up. “I thought I was in the house alone. Someone is upstairs,” I hesitantly remarked. I shifted in the chair, mistakenly thinking that somehow I would hear better. But there was no doubt that someone was vacuuming. I got out of the chair and moved toward the living room door. Chris was still on the phone with me. The sound was definitely louder and coming from the 1st 2nd floor landing. “Chris, I can’t explain this. I have to go upstairs,” I told her in a completely unconvincing tone. And up the stairs on tiptoes, I went. The stairs are carpet covered stone and there was minimal noise squeeking out from under the weight of me. Chris asked what was going on but I didn’t dare respond. It was unnecessary because she could hear the vacuuming too. When I reached the midway landing, the noise stopped…dead. I bounded up the remaining stairs and looked in the rooms. Nothing. Then, I opened the linen closet and found the hoover still hot from finishing its chores. Gulp.

Next time I will tell you about the case of the missing cushions pillows.

See for yourself, visit St. Andrews.  Have a ghoul on us.

First, it was London Bridge that was sold to unsuspecting, dolt businessmen in Lake Havasu City, Arizona who thought they were buying Tower Bridge. Later, British Telecom, during their privatisation, began selling off the ubiquitous British red telephone boxes before someone realized that they might be culturally significant. Today, London’s black cab is being manufactured in Shanghai. And now…the greatest horror of all… pubs are closing at an alarming rate in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Public houses or pubs, were the hub of village life in the United Kingdom for centuries. In many respects, they helped to define British life. Families and friends gathered in pubs to celebrate life, laugh, commiserate, eat and mostly, to drink ale. The family dog could always be found in front of the pub’s well-used fireplace. This way of life, an important aspect of British culture, is on the way out. Today, 35 pubs a week close across England. Over a 1000 English villages are now without pubs where at one time, those villages had 2, 3 and sometimes 4 pubs. There are projections that in Scotland, 12% of its pubs will shutter in 2009. Ireland has closed 1500 pubs since 2001. On top of all of this, the pub closures are costing thousands of jobs.

There are many reasons for this pandemic but the biggest reason of all is pure economics. If you read my fellow blogger, Katie from Long Aye-Lander, she wrote a post yesterday about the cost of beer in the supermarkets versus the price in a pub. As Katie points out, you can buy a can of Skol lager for 23p or less than 39 cents in the supermarket. Admittedly, Skol isn’t fantastic but compare 23p/39 cents to £3/$5.70 for a pint in a pub. Her Majesty’s tax collectors add approximately 30% to the price of a pint in a pub dependent upon the percentage of alcohol in the beer.

The government has made a well meaning move to focus on health throughout the U.K. but combined with pub economics and the smoking ban, pubs are now in more trouble than Tom Cruise’s acting career. The government has come to realise that with every action there is a reaction and now they have taken up the cause for the pubs. Can it be long before all hell breaks loose? Where will I get my McEwans 80/?


This week, and it’s only Tuesday, has been a right mess. I almost don’t know where to begin. Today’s topics range from the bailout to the debate to the President to oh, God, I don’t know what else. It’s like me cleaning out my closet. I take one look inside and call for Chris’ aide and counsel. “Hon, what should I do with this Rastafarian wig? How about this sweatshirt?” Lets just begin.

☞Every single one of our politicians has taken an idiot pill or two. How can our country be left swinging in the wind because some feathers were ruffled or because someone didn’t get an element of what they wanted? I blame everyone bilaterally and unanimously. Everyone always says Congress is completely messed up but my guy is great. No. He/She isn’t. None of them are. Throw all da bums out.

☞There’s no better time to share this Aye Wonder’s quote of the week with you. (You have likely heard a variation of this but this quote is the root.)

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. ~Lord Acton in 1887

Can I get an amen?

☞One of the folks that you see commenting around here on a regular basis is Lou from the LouCeeL blog. He began writing a novelette back in the middle of August about a wiry, young hitman named the Kid. The dialogue is fantastic as is the story and I would urge you to give it a read. The final episode is today with an epilogue due on Thursday but I am sending you back to the beginning if you click here. Lou really has a knack for creating the environment with fast paced and vivid dialogue. See if you agree.

☞I thought last week’s debate was a sleeper. I did think Obama won but not necessarily because of what he said. I thought his comportment was graceful, unflappable and dignified while McCain’s was uneasy, erratic and contemptuous. But maybe that’s because I have stopped liking McCain. I will say this; I thought McCain showed a good grasp of foreign policy but, and this is critically important, his understanding was very much driven by the past. I want the next President to look to our future. Everything we do now is wrong. Hasn’t anyone learned that yet?

☞I still talk to many friends still involved with the money management business. There’s a lot of hand wringing going on. It’s understandable. If I could offer one blanket piece of advice, I would tell them to go back to basics. The companies matter. Focus on building portfolios, one great company at a time. If you are a good stock picker, you will thrive in this environment. But repeat after me; I will not buy or sell short any derivitive instruments. Ever.

☞One of my favorite musical artists is Chris Rea. Rea is not well know in the U.S., though he did have one Top 40 Hit here, Fool (If You Think It’s Over). In the U.K., Rea has had enjoyed 12 Top 40 hits though even there you would hardly say he is beloved. In 2001, Rea almost died from an acute bout of pancreatis. He was given a 50/50 chance of survival. On his death bed, Rea promised himself that if he recovered he would return to his original blues roots. 18 months later, Rea delivers the 11 album, 137 song epic set of a variety of different blues guitar disciplines. History will treat this album as a masterwork. Since his near death experience, Rea has been prolific, delivering 19 albums. On his newest album, Fool If You Think It’s Over, Rea reweaves a basket of his old hits. This week’s song and one of my favorites is the appropriate, Road to Hell.

☞I have to say that I do not expect Sarah Palin to unceremoniously crash and burn on Thursday night in her debate against Joe Biden. But I am frightened as hell that she has the potential to be the President of the United States. It’s like taking a Little Leaguer and promoting him/her to the Major Leagues to face 95 MPH fastballs. It just doesn’t happen.

☞I think some of you are going to love this. If you’re an American living in say, Kiribati and you would like to watch the latest episode of Ugly Betty, what do you do? ABC bans other countries from watching their content. Or what if you’re a Brit living in say, Montana or Brooklyn, how can you watch your favorite shows on BBC? They also ban incoming connections from other countries. Here’s your answer. Go to the Anchor Free website and download Hotspot Shield. Install and run the program and the next time you visit mother BBC, you will be watching Judge John Deed in a flash. It just took me 2 minutes.

☞Thanks to all who took the time to read my letter last week. I care deeply about the future of this country and partisanship will no longer get the job done. It’s time we start thinking about the solutions and not the problem. Sorry for bringing up politics again and religion but Barack Obama makes a very good point about abortion that I’d like to share. If you are against abortion or for it, it doesn’t matter. Let’s try to minimize or stop unwanted pregnancies. It’s simple, yes but to me, it seems like a viable solution for everyone.

Aye Wonder.

And so should you.

You Are What You Listen To

One of my most passionate interests is music. I’d rather listen to music, either passively or actively, than most anything else. If it were a choice between hitting play on the new album by the Glasgow band, The Fortunate Sons, and clicking on the television to watch How I Met Your Mother, my finger would hit play faster than Usain Bolt running the 100-meter for the Gold Medal.  My iTunes library is now at the almost unmanageable size of over 71,000 songs and 11,000 albums but everything is categorized appropriately and backed up in triplicate. Last.fm manages and keeps track of my listening habits. I like knowing that information after the fact. Yesterday, I took a peek at my last 12 months of listening habits. Here are my top 10 bands and the top 10 songs I have listened to over the rolling 12 months.

1)    Tom Waits
2)    The Beatles
3)    Chris Rea
4)    Chet Baker
5)    The Rolling Stones
6)    Elvis Presley
7)    Bob Dylan
8)    The Apples in Stereo
9)    Paul McCartney
10)  The J Geils Band

Boring! There is nothing telltale there. How about the top 10 songs?

1)    Bright Eyes – First Day of My Life
2)    Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova – Alone Apart
3)    Bitter:Sweet – The Mating Game
4)    Stone the Crows – Keep on Rollin’
5)    Arab Strap – The Week Never Starts Around Here
6)    Stone the Crows – I May Be Right, I May Be Wrong
7)    La Lupe – Fever
8)    Ozomatli – Believe
9)    Angus & Julia Stone – Paper Aeroplane
10)    Frankie Miller – Caledonia

This is really strange. My top 10 songs over the past 12 months do not include 1 of my favorite top 10 artists. I can’t make heads or tails of this. I wonder if the BBC can?

Two weeks ago, the Beeb reported a story about how musical tastes and personality are related. A professor from Heriot-Watt University studied 36,000 people worldwide in order to empirically prove what has always been suspected. Who would have guessed that listeners of Mozart and Metallica have similar personality characteristics? You can read about the study here.  What it says about me is as unclear as the two tables above.

Hovis Bread

This is one of the most beautiful television ads you will ever see. It is for Hovis Bread, a UK company, and the ad represents 122 years of Britain’s history rolled up into a 2 minute video. Magnificent.


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Three yards of black fabric enshroud my computer terminal. I am mourning the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense.

His obituary reads as follows:

Common Sense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium right after the deregulation of the financial industry. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape.

Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering. Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S.

A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet. C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men’s movement, body piercing, whole language and new math.

C.S.’s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus. In the following decades his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf. His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of Scope mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last. Services will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought.

Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace.

If you would like to read Common Sense’s life story, you can buy it here.

Happy first full day of Autumn. So much for the golf season around the Boston area. I’d bet we have no more than 45 days left of playable weather. It’s bad enough that the season is shorter than Verne Troyer, does it have to go by so so quickly too? Ah well, we have the New England Patriots to look forward to. Ahem….NOT!!! Let’s get right to RTT.

☞Imagine not having accountability in your life. From now on, everything that you do is not subject to discussion, reaction or retribution. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? The next time your neighbor’s dog soils your lawn, you can go over to the neighbor’s house and punch him in the nose. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you. Or you can take out a loan for twice as much as your house is worth, take all of your liquid assets and invest it in a slide rule factory. Don’t worry if it fails, you are not on the line for the money.  This type of behaviour would cause confusion followed by chaos and lawlessness. Well, that’s exactly what the new $700 billion bail-out law is about. Read these pertinent 32 words:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Are you kidding me? No one is accountable for the $700 billion. No one is accountable for where the money ends up. Come on. We’re not stupid. If our Congress agrees to this, we might as well just surrender to the Chinese. I am not even addressing here what would happen if the underlying asset of this bail-out, real estate both commercial and residential, experiences a further erosion in value? Tough times, indeed.

☞Cheery today, huh? How about this instead: last week, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, mocked Lehman Brothers’ woes as a symbol of the demise of capitalism before he was told that his government owned $300 million of debt instruments that Lehman had agreed to back. Better to keep your mouth shut.

☞We need music. And today, I am leaving you with two songs. One is a classic by Nat King Cole, the timely Autumn Leaves. The other song is from The Lucksmiths from Australia, a band that has been around for awhile but one that I am just getting to know. The Lucksmiths write catchy indie pop songs with comic lyrics. This song is called Now I’m Even Further Away from the album Warmer Corners.

☞By the way, last week’s song from the newly reconstituted Queen got mixed reviews. It’s hard to imagine that band without Freddie Mercury. Do you think they should have come out under a completely different name? Maybe, King?

☞I mentioned last week that I was looking forward to reading Bob Woodward’s new book, The War Within. I am six chapters in and it is a damning piece of evidence against the Bush administration. It’s like the first point in today’s RTT. Bush is given information and intelligence and then says, I’m going to do what I want to do anyways. It’s the modus operandi of this administration.

☞I like Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas. He is a constitutionalist who ran for the Republican nomination for President. His ideas are incredibly sound but unfortunately, he has been portrayed as a bit of a wing nut. He’s not a wing nut at all. This guy is more consistent than a tidal chart. Recently, he was asked by Phil Gramm to consider endorsing John McCain. Here’s what he had to say.

☞Speaking of constitutionalists, here is this week’s Aye Wonder quote of the week from another one of those wing nuts:

To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones. ~George Washington

☞Every year, the Magazine Publishers of America announce their nominees for best magazine cover of the year. It’s always entertaining. For a laugh or two, take a look here.

☞There are two types of businesses that do extremely well in a recession, bars and coffee shops. Can you think of anything else that will do well in this next economic cycle?

☞We used to have a guy here in Boston that played for the Red Sox named Manny Ramirez. He is a bona fide wing nut and whenever he went off the reservation we would all say: “That’s just Manny being Manny.” I think Barack Obama has one of those too, his Vice Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Joe cannot keep is mouth shut. He appears tougher than a $5 steak but masks it with his mouth. And when he’s constantly opening his mouth to change feet, they say it’s just another example of Joe being Joe. My God, shut up already Joe.

☞I want to give you fair warning on this. On October 28th, one week before the election, I plan on posting my own letter to America. I’ve been working on it for two weeks. It will be political. It will be my opinion. Some of you may like it and some of you may not. I consider that our country is at an inflection point and this upcoming election may be the single most important decision we may ever make collectively. The election should not be about who we like, it should be about who we think is best capable of extricating us from this gigantic spider’s web of problems we have.

Aye Wonder.

And so should you.





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