Apr. 30, 2006

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things here, but why are we even having a debate about illegal immigrants from Mexico?

If you want to come to America in pursuit of a better life, then I’ll be the first one to welcome you, on one condition: you need to sign the guestbook upon your arrival. See, we have laws about living here permanently. Like you, my ancestors came here with next to nothing, but they became U.S. citizens. What gives you the right to ignore the same rules?

The issue has become so ridiculous that people are ditching the phrase “illegal immigrant” in favor of the more benign-sounding “undocumented worker.” Sorry, but changing the term doesn’t make the act any more legitimate. (If I decided to operate a vehicle without a license or car insurance, would that make me an “undocumented driver”? No, I’d be charged with a crime and punished for it.)

So, you can organize huge protests and wave the Mexican flag until your arms fall off, but you won’t get any support from me. I’ll respect your cause when you respect our laws. ¿Comprende?

By the way, you’re not going to win any friends by composing a Spanish version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” either.

[ No. 249 ]

Apr. 26, 2006

Thanks to my friend Martin, who had generously offered me a free last-minute ticket to a weeknight Phillies/Rockies game, I had the opportunity to witness another proud moment in Philadelphia sports history.

During the Phillies’ uneven but satisfying 9–5 win over Colorado, our group of four had commented that the ballpark crowd (as seen in my camera-phone picture below) looked pretty sparse, but we had no idea how right we were.

Citizens Bank Park: Lowest. Attendance. Ever.

Turns out that the paid attendance of 19,182 represented the smallest crowd to see a game at Citizens Bank Park since it opened two years ago. And according to the Inquirer game recap, it was already the fifth time this season that the Phillies had sunk to a new low in terms of attendance.

It certainly didn’t help that, on the same night, nearly 20,000 other sports fans were watching the Flyers’ playoff game across the street, and we’d heard that the circus was in town as well. But the lack of fan support is both embarrassing and unsurprising — the Phillies have remained under .500 through their first 20 games, and yet another mediocre season is underway.

[ No. 248 ]

Apr. 24, 2006

Just when I thought I’d seen everything on the road…

This morning, while driving along Route 422 West to an off-site meeting, I was enjoying the fact that I wasn’t stuck in the miles of traffic heading the other way when, naturally, the cars in front of me slowed to a halt as well. Just as I began to complain aloud in my car, I discovered the reason for the hold-up:

A large white swan slowly walking from the left-hand shoulder onto the grassy highway median.

I hope the poor bird managed to get out of there safely — after all, 422 isn’t the safest place for humans enclosed in two tons of metal and glass, either.

[ No. 247 ]

Apr. 17, 2006

Lessons learned from filing my taxes earlier this month:

  1. The process is so insanely complicated and time-consuming that it has become a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I’m no constitutional scholar, but to me, the tax code certainly seems to violate the Eighth Amendment on an annual basis.
  2. Don’t bother with investing in individual stocks — they’re not worth the hassle during tax season. Trust me on this.
  3. Over the course of 2005, I sold all of my stocks, which I had held for several years. It was bad enough that I earned a measly net gain of $99 on those investments over all that time, but I also had to pay 28% in taxes on that meager amount and complete two more forms: the 1040 Schedule D (“What did you buy? When did you buy it? What did you sell? When did you sell it?”) and the grisly 1040 Schedule D Tax Worksheet (“If line 14 is smaller than line 13 and also a prime number, enter the larger of lines of 15 and 16 on line 18”).
  4. Those mere pieces of paper reduced my will to live. And I’m good at math.
  5. Whenever you move, check to see if your new address has any impact on your local tax liability. After living in West Goshen Township for six years and paying 1% of my gross earnings in local taxes each year, I assumed that I would continue to owe the same percentage after I moved to Tredyffrin Township in June 2004. But I only recently learned that Tredyffrin has no local income taxes, and it looks like I’ll be getting some serious money back.
  6. A full year’s worth of mortgage interest and real estate taxes = lots of wonderful itemized deductions. I smell refund!

[ No. 246 ]

Apr. 15, 2006

Imagine my surprise when I heard on the radio that, according to a new study from Money magazine and, a career as a software engineer is No. 1 on the list of the best jobs in America.

I’ve worked in IT for nearly 10 years now, and I’ve been pretty happy in my career, for the most part. I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction from many challenging and creative projects, I’ve rarely needed to work long hours at the office, and I’ve been fortunate to make a comfortable living, too. But despite all of those perks, I never would have guessed that it’s the best all-around gig out there.

No job is perfect, and I’ve had my share of stress at work recently, but this news story reminded me that I have it pretty good, overall.

[ No. 245 ]

Apr. 10, 2006

Over the weekend, I finally caught a rebroadcast of Lincoln, a documentary on the History Channel that I had wanted to see when it first aired in January.

I’m not much of a history buff, but the movie was fascinating. Abraham Lincoln endured an unimaginable amount of suffering in his lifetime — his mother died when he was nine, his father was abusive, he suffered two nervous breakdowns, his wife was likely troubled by mental illness, and two of his four sons died in childhood. But those harrowing experiences seemed to provide him with the superhuman emotional strength that he needed to lead the Union to victory in the Civil War. Lincoln saved our country — perhaps not in spite of his pain, but because of it.

But despite his troubles, Lincoln maintained a great sense of humor. It wasn’t mentioned in the film, but legend has it that, when Stephen Douglas referred to Lincoln as “two-faced” during a debate in 1858, Lincoln replied, “If I had another face to wear, do you really think I would be wearing this one?”*

Two other thoughts occurred to me as well:

  1. It’s probably no accident that the documentary was sponsored in part by Lincoln Mercury.
  2. Given that Lincoln’s life was full of disappointment and self-doubt, it seems very fitting that the Philadelphia Eagles (a team that hasn’t won a championship in 45 years) play their home games at a stadium called Lincoln Financial Field.

* Update: My friend Tony sent me an e-mail with some additional humor from our 16th President:

He was a funny guy at times. Here are my personal favorites…
Someone told him that Grant was a drunk. He responded something like this: “Find out what he drinks. And send a case of it to all of the other generals.”
McClellan had a huge army, but would not use it. Lincoln wrote to him, “Since you don’t seem to need the Army at this moment, would you mind if I borrow it for the weekend?”
“Better to be silent and be thought a fool, then to speak and remove all doubt.”

[ No. 244 ]

Apr. 8, 2006

Apparently, there’s a PowerPoint presentation that’s making the rounds in many TV studios in Hollywood. It’s a dazzling slide show of best practices and exciting new trends in the industry, and it includes the following bullet point:

First, there was the CBS drama Numb3rs — there’s a number within the word numbers, get it? And now we have the Fox reality show Unan1mous — since only one person can win the jackpot. See how they did that? Clever, huh?

In a word, no. In fact, it’s incredibly stupid.

The titles are hard to read, even harder to type, and look like text messages that someone tapped into a cell phone after a few too many beers. Therefore, esteemed TV executives, please stop wasting your time on creating cute alphanumeric show titles and focus your energy on creating show content that doesn’t completely stink for a change.

However, although this might appear inconsistent on my part, I don’t feel as strongly about Web site names that contain an embedded numeral. Specifically, I will grant an exception to 5ives, a hilarious collection of half–Top Ten lists by Merlin Mann (whose main claim to fame is the useful and surprisingly entertaining site about personal productivity, 43 Folders).

[ No. 243 ]

Apr. 3, 2006

When I heard over the weekend that the Phillies had set a new franchise record by winning 19 preseason games, I felt cautiously optimistic that the 2006 squad might have some momentum heading into the regular season.

But then, of course, reality set in. In their home opener against the Cardinals earlier today, the Phils gave up eight runs (or a “snowman” — as my friend Larry likes to call it) in the top of the fourth inning and eventually lost, 13–5.

I know, it’s just one game, and there are still 161 games left to play. But this opening loss is not a good sign.*

* Update: Somehow, I actually underestimated the early-season carnage. Thanks to a sweep by the Cardinals and a loss to the Dodgers — and all of those games were played at home, mind you — the Phillies have started the 2006 season at 0–4, their worst start in 19 years.

[ No. 242 ]