Exactly one month ago today, things weren’t going very well for me. Nothing terribly serious, mind you — just a healthy dose of uncertainty and frustration in some areas of my life. But I decided to use the occasion of my 33rd birthday to earnestly express hope for a better year ahead.
Well, sometimes, things can turn around in a hurry. Earlier this month — within just five business days, in fact — I received a generous promotion and a new assignment at my current employer. Effective next week, I’ll join a newly formed IT group that has a lot of interesting projects on the horizon.
In most workplaces today, given the relentless (and increasingly unrealistic) pressure to reduce budgets and headcount, it has become a major accomplishment to simply stay employed at one place for more than a few years. So I’m really grateful for the chance to try something new and receive more income at the same time.
(Would it be too much to ask for the dating scene to improve as well?)
[ No. 394 ]
Once again, stupid consumers and greedy financial institutions are completely wrecking the economy for the rest of us.
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, millions of investors couldn’t resist the lure of dot-com stocks, and some even quit their jobs to become daytraders in a futile attempt to time the market. Around the same time, accounting scandals at several major companies shook our collective faith about the actual results from every publicly traded company on the market.
In addition to investors’ irrational exuberance and companies cooking the books, the devastating economic impact of 9/11 helped to send the stock market into a sickening nosedive — excluding dividends, the S&P 500 lost an astounding 40.1% of its value during calendar years 2000–02. (To be fair, that downturn followed an absurd run-up of 219.9% during the boom years of 1995–99.)
Now, we have another huge problem. This time, it’s in the housing market, but foolish investors and money-hungry institutions again share the blame.
Hundreds of thousands of investors are foreclosing because they can no longer afford the adjustable-rate and interest-only mortgages that they’d opened, and many of the financial institutions that recklessly handed out those subprime loans are going under. Consequently, according to a frightening AP article, thousands will be forced out of their homes, thousands more in the housing and mortgage industries will lose their jobs, and all of them will contribute less to consumer spending, which is the primary engine of our economy.
So far, the crisis has only wiped out most of the stock market’s gains for the year; as of this writing, the S&P 500 is up 1.6% year-to-date. But given the sheer volume of dumb decisions in the real-estate market, I have a feeling that this financial storm is far from over. I’m just thankful that I don’t have to tap into my retirement investments for another 25–30 years.*
* Update: My friend Tony writes:
Before you get too depressed about the S&P 500, take a look at the 5- and 10-year chart. It brings it into perspective! I’m bullish for 2009 and 2010. Once these credit problems get squeezed out of America’s loan portfolios, we’ll see the ship right itself.
Tony makes a good point here. With all of the recent doom and gloom on Wall Street, it’s easy to forget — or, ahem, mention in one’s blog post — that the S&P 500 index has delivered an impressive 61.2% return during calendar years 2003–06. That’s roughly 12.7% per year (a much higher return than what one should expect on an annual basis), so we’re probably overdue for a little market turmoil.
History certainly tells us that we should indeed feel bullish if we’re patient and keep a long-term perspective. I guess I’m just uneasy about wild mood swings in the market, and that goes for huge advances, too. The mere possibility that the Fed might cut interest rates caused the S&P to leap nearly 3% in one day on Nov. 28, and that’s as much of a gross overreaction as the terrible losses that preceded it.
[ No. 393 ]
Congratulations to the 2007 National League MVP award winner: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins’ clutch hitting, solid performance on defense, and 41 stolen bases were major reasons for the Phillies’ first NL East title in 14 years earlier this fall. And given the rash of scandals that have collectively rocked U.S. professional sports this year, it’s a blessing that Rollins is a class act both on and off the field.
Way to go, Jimmy!*
* Update: I’m not sure why I failed to document this previously, but Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was named the 2006 NL MVP last year. So, some belated congratulations are in order for Howard, and it’s pretty amazing that Rollins is the second consecutive Phillie to capture the MVP award!
[ No. 392 ]
We have almost a full year to go before the 2008 presidential election, and not surprisingly, none of the candidates in either party are even mildly inspiring.
Leave it to The Onion to summarize our collective premature fatigue over the race for the White House in a brilliant article:
The accompanying graphic speaks volumes:
The result for Pennsylvania in the map is completely accurate — I don’t have the patience for an 18-week race, personally.
[ No. 391 ]
Image credit: The Onion
I’ve made reference to the following shirt on many occasions, so I thought I’d finally give credit where it’s due.
You can thank Heather Armstrong of Dooce for my latest catchphrase:
No disrespect to any vegetarians out there, seriously. But as an old friend of mine once said, “If God didn’t want us to eat meat, He wouldn’t have made it taste so good.”
[ No. 390 ]
Photo credit: Dooce daily photo, Dec. 12, 2006
Bob kicked off the evening with an interesting Q&A session with one of the hosts from XPN, then took some questions from the audience. After a brief break, Bob returned to the stage and played an impressive solo set.
- Wishing Well
- Hear Me Calling
- Hoover Dam
- See a Little Light
- No Reservations
- Hardly Getting Over It
- Again and Again [new]
- I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand in My Light Anymore [new]
- Lonely Afternoon
- I Apologize
- Celebrated Summer
(Bob mentioned that the first of the two new songs will appear on his forthcoming album, District Line, due in February 2008, and the second one will be featured on his subsequent release in 2009.)
I was thrilled to watch the show from front-row seats, although we didn’t stick around for the screening of his new concert DVD, Circle of Friends (after all, it was a school night). But I was pleased to meet Bob again in person after the show and picked up an autographed copy of the new DVD.
[ No. 389 ]
I met up with several friends from last week’s tailgate to brave the chilly, damp weather for a pregame cookout in a parking lot across the street from Lincoln Financial Field. At noon, we made our way into the stadium to watch the game. It was pretty surreal to watch Penn State play in Philadelphia, especially since the atmosphere resembled a home game — I would guess that about 90% of the fans were there to cheer for the visiting Lions.
It’s hard to complain about a 31–0 win, but Penn State didn’t play particularly well, and although Temple has shown signs of improvement this season, the Owls squandered numerous scoring opportunities. Also of note: after each Temple first down, the loudspeakers blasted an ear-splitting screech of an owl. After a while, each time Temple moved the chains, most of the PSU fans around us instinctively covered their ears.
A brief post-game tailgate, as well as a fun (and much warmer) gathering at the house of our friends Amy and Rob, wrapped up the day.
[ No. 388 ]
Last October, some friends and I started meeting up in the city about once a month to participate in Quizzo, a weekly trivia competition held at a number of bars in the area. Under the format led by local emcee Johnny Goodtimes, the contest consists of four rounds of 10 questions each, and teams submit their answers in writing. The winners usually take home a $25 gift certificate toward their next visit to the bar that had hosted Quizzo that night.
Our team, named the No Talent Ass Clowns (a tribute to the eternally hilarious movie Office Space), has competed in several rounds of Quizzo since last fall, and we’ve been very frustrated by almost always finishing in second place. But after a Quizzo hiatus over the summer, we returned to O’Neals Pub in Queen Village last night, and our team of eight finally broke through to win the title!
Ah, sweet victory.*
* Update: Johnny Goodtimes posted our team photo and the final score on his site a few days after our triumph. Turns out that we won by just four points — a razor-thin margin of victory, considering the final round of questions were worth five points each.
[ No. 387 ]
Much like last year, I joined about a dozen friends from our extended shore house group for a lively weekend of Penn State football, tailgating, and revelry.
Friday. Took a vacation day in order to beat some of the traffic and completed the three-hour trip well before sundown. Checked into the Super 8 (later amusingly called the “So-So Ocho” by my roommates) and made my way into downtown State College.
Met up with my friends Melanie and Greg for some beers on the outdoor patio at Cafe 210 West and a leisurely dinner at the Allen Street Grill. Joined by a few more friends later in the evening at the Rathskeller, where we enjoyed absurdly cheap pitchers of Yuengling from the comfort of a large booth.
Saturday. Woke up before 8 a.m. in order to get the tailgating preparation underway. Startled by the frosty mid-morning weather (temperatures were in the upper 20s). Set up our tent and grill in a grassy lot south of the stadium, where I met up with my friend Larry from D.C., who had made a day trip to see the game.
Arrived at our seats in Beaver Stadium a few minutes late; fortunately, the weather had warmed up by then. Won about $20 from some friends-of-friends by betting whether each of Penn State’s offensive plays would yield over or under 3½ yards. Watched an entertaining, back-and-forth game against Purdue, a contest that PSU ultimately won, 26–19.
Resumed the outdoor cookout after the game — three cheers to our tailgate masters, Betsy and Fran. Later, returned to the Skeller* and held court at the large table by the front entrance for several laughter-filled hours. A few late-night slices at Brothers Pizza closed out a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Sunday. Enjoyed a decent breakfast at Corner Room and completed the traffic-free but admittedly sleepy drive home.
* Update: My friend Matt passed along the following photo from our second night at the Rathskeller:
That’s Matt on the left, our friend Mike is on the right, and I’m in the middle, flashing my Winky Shotgun pose. Can you tell I got a little sunburned at the game?
[ No. 386 ]