Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts on the Stock Market

Here’s one.  Invest your money wisely.  That sounds good, but the trick is knowing how to do it.  I can’t tell you how to do it, but I can tell you some things not to do.  For example, don’t buy shares in a company because one of your friends has a daughter high up in the company and the daughter says the company is doing great.  And, don’t buy on impulse, such as when you have a friend who has a daughter, blah, blah, blah.

I have a close friend that I used to work for.  His name is Del O’Roark and he plays a large role in managing his money.  He recommended a book on the stock market to me and I ran right out and bought it.  It was not easy reading.  It talked about “correlation coefficient,” and “R-squared.”  I was clueless.  I decided it was best to skip over the formulas.  I finally concluded that if you want to make money in the market, you need to be smart and lucky.  But, if you can only be one, be lucky.

Then, after I talked to Del about the book, he goes out and buys me another stock market book.  Since it was a gift, I felt like I had to read it.  I haven’t finished it yet, but I am satisfied that when I do complete it, I will not be twice as smart as I was after reading the first one.  I hit diminishing returns 30 pages into the first book.

I am relating a lot better to the second book, because it sets out a lot of dumb things people have done through the years, like investing in internet companies.  That was me.  I was right there, all excited, listening to things like, “The only thing wrong with the stock is that it is listed on the big board rather than NASDAQ.”  “The price/earnings ratio is obsolete.”  “You can determine a web company’s value by the number of hits it’s getting.”  I bought one internet stock and it proceeded to lose a third of its value.  Thus, I concluded, if it was a good buy earlier, then now, its a great buy.  So I bought some more.  Such a deal.  And I’m a conservative guy.

After the internet debacle, I decided to stick with blue chip stocks.  I put my money in a solid pharmaceutical company that had paid dividend and grown for years.  Merck.  They had this great pain killer called Vioxx.  I am not convinced that Vioxx is as bad as some people say, but it really doesn’t matter what I think.  I had had Merck for some time and it had done really well.  After the Vioxx fiasco, I sold and broke even.  In sports, there are good ties and bad ties.  This was a bad tie.

By now, you have realized that the wisdom you were hoping for is not forthcoming.  But, here is a morsel.  Anytime you can put money away that comes off of your taxable income, like an IRA, 401(k) or some pension plan, please do so.  It will grow.  Also, buy low and sell high.

A-Rod Helps Baseball Discover Etiquette

I was watching Monday Night Baseball on ESPN.  It was the Yankees and the White Sox, and after Johnny Miller and Joe Morgan discussed the A-Rod play from the previous Thursday, Joe posted on the screen the “Baseball Rules of Etiquette.”  I’ll bet they wrote them out that afternoon.  It is the first time in my life that I have heard of the “Baseball Rules of Etiquette.”  Holy Cow!

One rule was kind of obvious, you aren’t supposed to spike the shortstop or the second baseman to break up a double play.  I don’t think you should spike anyone under any circumstances.  But, they put the list together rather quickly and probably didn’t think of that.  Alex Rodriguez, while running from second base to third base, with two outs, hollered at Howie Clark, Toronto’s third baseman.  Clark was camped under a pop fly third out.  When he heard A-Rod, he thought someone was calling him off the ball.  He stepped aside and the ball dropped, leading to more Yankee runs.  A-Rod’s action made Joe’s etiquette list.  Baseball etiquette now demands that a base runner not holler at a fielder.  Maybe it is OK if its a ground ball.  Maybe not.  I think Major League Baseball needs an Etiquette Committee to resolve such issues.

What in the world is going on.  Baseball players have always tried to get away with whatever they could.  We are not talking about the “Gentlemen of the Diamond,” it’s the Boys of Summer playing a game.  If a fielder swipes at a tag and misses the base runner by a good foot and the umpire calls the runner out, should the fielder notify the umpire that he missed the tag?  What is the proper etiquette?  Golfers call  penalties on themselves.  I submit that if the fielder did notify the ump, he would be banished from the clubhouse.  One of the first things you learn in Little League is don’t ever help the umpire.

Another item on Joe Morgan’s list is a batter should never look back at the catcher when he is giving signals or giving a target for the pitcher.  Batters do it all the time, but at their own risk.  If they get caught, they become the target.  That’s called “self-policing.”  Of course, a runner on second base will try to steal the catcher’s signals and also, notify the batter whether the target is inside or outside.  The runner would not point or do anything obvious.  He will make a subtle signal.  Self-policing can come into play here, also.

Everyone seems to agree that in a close play at home plate, there is no etiquette to be found.  If the ball beats the runner, then the runner will try to blast the catcher (who may be distracted catching the ball) hoping to dislodge the ball.  It’s OK to knock the catcher over as long as you don’t holler at him while you are giving him a concussion.  The other scenario is that the ball is late, so the catcher blocks the plate so the sliding base runner can’t touch home plate.  In that case, the runner has a right, even an obligation, to knock the catcher ass over tea kettle.  But, no hollering.

I wonder if all this silliness would have taken place if it had been someone else rather than A-Rod.  He is something of a Lightning-Rod.  I hope the game doesn’t change.  They should bury the etiquette list.  Let’s keep stealing signals, decoying runners and stalling so that the relief pitcher can warm up.  When the other team’s outfielder is running back to catch the ball and is just about to hit the fence, I will be yelling, “plenty of room, plenty of room.”  My only concern is to make sure he hears me.

Country Music

I really like country music.  I didn’t grow up with it, and, in fact, I didn’t care for it as a youth.  I thought it was too twangy and too corn-ball.

I remember when I was a kid going on vacation in the Ozarks, in Branson, Missouri, when Branson’s downtown area was one block long.  One of the popular country songs went like this.  “Oh, I was looking back to see, if you was looking back to see, if I was looking back to see, if you was looking back at me.”  Anyway, even though I committed the lyrics to memory, I left Branson satisfied that there was no social redeeming value to country music.

In the late Sixties, I was stationed in Germany.  The only English speaking radio station was Armed Forces Network (AFN)  which could be heard throughout the then Federal Republic of Germany.  If you were in your car and wanted to listen to an English speaking station, you listened to AFN.

I was assigned to the 4th Armored Division Headquarters in Goeppingen, which was about 30 miles East of Stuttgart and about 100 miles from most of our Division troops.  All of our troops had relocated much farther to the North and East.  That meant that I was usually traveling two or three times a week to see my “clients.”  I was defending soldiers in criminal cases.  Between 4:00
and 5:00 PM, AFN played country music.  The show was called “1605 to Nashville” (1600 hours is 4:00 PM in our military world).  At 1605 hours, I was usually driving home from some military unit and AFN was force feeding me country music.

Someone told me that if you played a country song backwards, the good-old boy gets his pick up, girl friend and hound dog back.  Well, the truth of the matter is that country songs do tell stories.  Some good and some so-so, but they do keep you awake!  Even though I was tired after a long day, listening to county music kept me wired.  I understand why all those truckers humming down the Interstate are listening to country music.

By the time I left Germany, I was sold on country music, at least while I was driving.  Then along comes Garth Brooks with “Friends in Low Places.”  I’ve played it for some of my friends who don’t like country music and by the end of the song, they were smiling and singing along.  If you have never heard “Friends in Low Places,” I can’t help you.

There are so many lines from these songs that are classics.  I can’t do them justice, but I will give you a few.  There is a song entitled, “Strawberry Wine,” in which Deena Carter is singing a song about first love and she sings, “I was thirsting for knowledge, and he had a car.”  That says it all!

My favorite group is Sugarland.  The lead singer is a cute, little gal named Jennifer Nettles.  The group has published two albums and both have gone platinum.  In the song, “There’s Got To Be Something More,” she sings, “Armageddon could be knocking at my door, but I ain’t gonna answer, that’s for sure.”  I have previously told you that country songs don’t always rhyme, but the way Jennifer sings “door” and “sure,” they rhyme!  This song is also helpful, because now you know what to do when Armageddon comes knocking at your door.  So don’t tell me that country music is just about honky-tonks, pick-up trucks, cheating and beer in Mexico.  It deals with significant problems like Armageddon.

Miranda Lambert is a feisty young female artist who writes most of her own lyrics.  She has a song and album out entitled, “Kerosene.”  Part of it goes, “Forget your high society, I’m soakin’ it in Kerosene.  Light ’em up and watch them burn, teach them what they need to learn.  HA!  Dirty hands ain’t made for shakin’, ain’t a rule that ain’t worth breakin’.  Well, I’m giving up on love, cause love’s given up on me.”   Yep, you guessed it.  It’s another cheating song.

Imus to the Bank – Wolfo in the Morning

This isn’t a perfect world and this may not be a perfect solution.  But, a fix is definitely needed and I’ll just throw this out as a possible solution.  I propose to have Paul Wolfowitz and Don Imus switch jobs.  That would make Imus the President of the World Bank and Wolfowitz a morning talk show host.

I know, you think I’m wacko, but hear me out.  First, Wolfowitz is too long a name, so we will call his show, “Wolfo in the Morning.”  You say he isn’t funny.  Well, neither is Imus.

There was a time when Imus was funny.  Many years back, Imus was a VJ (video jockey) for VH1.  We had just returned from Germany and video music was brand new to us.  It was really neat.  And, who was introducing the videos?  The I-Man.  When the video was finished, the camera would focus on Imus and Imus would focus on the camera.  There would be 10, 15, 20 seconds before Imus would say anything.  My wife and I thought he was making a silent commentary on the previous video.  We thought it was hilarious.  Later, we found out Imus was blitzed and it was taking him a while to focus.  But, Imus’ drug and alcohol days are behind him and his sobriety is just what you would hope to find in the President of the World Bank.

The President of the World Bank should be able to collect funds from contributing nations.  Imus has plenty of experience at collecting funds.  Anyone who has caught Imus’ show knows he has a nonprofit cattle ranch for sick children in New Mexico.  He was forever soliciting cattle and money for the ranch.  These skills should transfer nicely to the Bank.

You say Imus has offended people.  True, but he offends all people equally.  I think the President of the World Bank, on occasion, needs to be offensive.  Imus’ skills at being offensive are legendary.  We need a tough negotiator.  How would you like to be negotiating across the table from the I-Man?  CBS is about to find out.

Imus is married, so there is only a small chance that he would find a girlfriend at the Bank.  If he did, he certainly wouldn’t ship her off to the State Department.  And, with Wolfowitz on the air, his girlfriend could come back to the Bank.  I haven’t figured out whether she should get to keep her pay raises.  But, I don’t see where she did anything wrong.

As for Wolfo in the Morning, I think he is a natural.  There is no question that he will look better than Imus in a cowboy hat.  And, he wouldn’t spend all his air time hyping his ranch and his wife’s new book (we just have to hope that Wolfo’s girlfriend doesn’t write a book). 

One of the things that made Imus in the Morning work was the high-powered guests he had on.  Imus would carry on intelligent, insightful discussions with his guests (World Bank material?).  Wolfo has held many significant positions in the Government and could call on his distinguished friends to provide intelligent, insightful comments on his show.

Wait a minute.  I just found out that Wolfowitz wrote his doctoral dissertation on water desalination in the Middle East.  That would be more deadly than talking about the ranch.  Let’s just forget the whole thing.

Shower Me With Routines

I looked up “routine” in the dictionary.  I hate people who look up words to win an argument.  That shifts the whole argument.  You are no longer arguing over the word; now you are arguing over what the definition means.  Anyway, routine means “a regular course of procedure,” or “an habitual or mechanical procedure.”  Everybody has their routines and that is probably good.  Things get done without even thinking about them.

When we back out of the garage, I reach up and push the button closing the garage door.  It’s just routine.  Then, after I have turned the corner, my wife asks, “Did you close the garage door?”  I think I did, but I really don’t know.  So I turn around and drive back to see.  Carole and I grew up in East St. Louis, so we never leave anything open, unlocked or in doubt.  Sure enough, the garage door is closed.

People have routines in the morning, routines in the evening.  Golfers have pre-shot routines (which includes envisioning the path of the ball – sounds good,  just doesn’t work for me).  Even pets have routines.  Our dog got a treat at 9:00 every evening.  At about a quarter to nine, she would start starring at us.  We started the routine, but she was never going to let us forget it.  As soon as someone would get out of their chair, she would go crazy.  Her routine was to do tricks before she got her treat.  So she would routinely start her repertoire of tricks without even being asked so as not to cause unreasonable delays.  Switching on and off of daylight savings time really confused our little friend.  Her clock worked better than ours.

Routines won’t hold up in court.  Someone testifies that they always check the lock on the back door before the go to bed.  The opposing counsel asks, “Did you check it the night in question?”  Then, the witness responds, “I don’t specifically remember doing it that night, but I had to, because I do it every night.”  The witness is in trouble, because every juror knows how a person can slip up on a routine.

It is tricky business to change a routine.  My routine in the morning before work was to exercise, eat, jump in the shower, shave, brush my teeth, get dressed and out the door – in that order.  Then, we had the bathroom remodeled and it took a while for the hot water to make it up to the new shower.  I had a little extra time waiting for the water to get hot, so I decided to brush my teeth.  While brushing, I noticed the glass on the shower steaming up.  No problem, I decided to take my tooth brush into the shower.  I stepped into the shower and continued to brush.  All of a sudden, I was having trouble seeing.  My glasses were fogging up.  I took off my glasses, but there was no place to put them (most people routinely remove their glasses before they step into the shower).  In the process of disposing of my glasses, I got water all over the bathroom, stubbed my toe and said a few choice words.  No more!  I’m going back to habitual and mechanical procedures.

Brother Bob

I haven’t written in a while because my wife, Carole, and I made a quick trip to St. Charles, Missouri to visit Carole’s younger brother, Bob.    Ordinarily, Bob and his wife, Sue, would be returning from two months of enjoying the sun and sand in Florida.    But this year, their world got flipped upside down.

In December, Bob went in for a routine check up for his arthritis and mentioned to the doctor that he had felt some discomfort in his stomach area.   The doctor decided to do a CT scan and when the testing was done, it was determined that Bob had pancreatic cancer with tumors on his pancreas and liver.   The first round of chemotherapy was a flop.  It made Bob sick and didn’t slow the tumors down.

Bob is an extremely likable guy.  Bob was a toe-head when he was young and still remains a blond with light complexion.  Mustache, sometimes.  He stands about six foot tall and always has a funny comment to make.   When the doctors reevaluated his case and decided to go with a 24/7 chemo drip (stent in his chest), he nicknamed his chemo fanny pack, “Chemo Sabe.”

At an earlier time, Bob had been an air traffic controller and very dedicated to his job.  But, he was strong on the union and was caught up in the strike that resulted in President Reagan firing a large number of ATCs.   I have always felt guilty that I didn’t call Bob and tell him that I was convinced that President Reagan was serious about firing them.   I don’t know if it would have made any difference in Bob’s decision, but I have regretted through the years not making the call.  What’s the use of having insight if you don’t share it.   I have used that experience as a lesson learned so as not to make the same mistake twice.   Now, I tell people what I think and annoy them.

Bob is great company and has gathered a very large number of friends through the years.  One of his loves is electronic gadgets.   As soon as something new comes out, he has it.  So, when they stuck him in ICU with a 12 inch TV with five channels, he went crazy.  “Where’s my 60 inch Sony?”

I’m not sure about his handyman skills.  Bob was telling me about a painter he knew that was going to do some interior painting for him.   The painter told him that the job would cost $1,000.   But, if Bob wanted to help, it would cost $2,000!

The cancer has been tough on Bob.  A short while back, he had pneumonia and now he is trying to dissolve blood clots in his leg.  They seem to be moving in the right direction and hopefully, in a short while, he will be sitting at his command center in front of his 60 inch Sony.

Slug Lines – “Slugging” It In and Out of DC

In the Greater DC area, thousands of people use slug lines daily to get to work.  In order for a driver to use the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, he or she has to have at least three people in the vehicle.  If you have less that three, you find yourself a Slug or two waiting at the slug line.  It’s a
win-win situation.  Slugs get a free ride into (and out of) the city, and the driver escapes the snail lanes on I 395 and is permitted to zip along in the HOV lanes.

I live in Springfield, Virginia and have been picking up Slugs for years.  I don’t know where the name came from.  I always associated it with putting slugs in a juke box or a vending machine to make it work.  Slugs were the same size as coins.

No government agency or official administers the slug lines.  We are convinced that if the government got involved, the system would fail (they would also change the name to something more official sounding).  In Springfield, we used to pick up Slugs in the Long John Silver parking lot.  LJS closed their store, and put up an eight-foot chain-link fence to keep out the slug line (liability concerns?).  The next day the slug line had reassembled next door in the Circuit City parking lot. 

The Slugs form two lines, one for drivers going over the 14th Street Bridge and one going over the Memorial Bridge.  You drive up to the front of the queue and say something like “two for 14th and K.”  The message is passed down the line and two Slugs get into your car.  There is also extensive slug-line etiquette, but you will be pleased to know that I don’t intend to address it.  If there are more drivers than Slugs (it is a fluid process), then the drivers get out of their vehicles, form a queue, and wait for the Slug to appear.

We picked up a young woman who had been in the United States for only three months.  She told us that the slug line saved her a lot of money, but she wasn’t about to tell her parents in South Africa.  She said, “If I told my parents that I traveled to work by climbing into cars with people I do not know, they would demand that I come home.”

At the end of the workday the slug lines form in the District.  One of the more popular locations for Springfield is 14th and Constitution.  A few years back, a new Chief of Police arrived in DC and decided that picking up Slugs on 14th Street was delaying traffic (it probably was).  So he dispatched some of DC’s finest to disband the slug line.  The police waived cars on and disbanded the line.  That lasted for two days.  Tom Davis and other Northern Virginia Congressman threatened to hold hearings on the Hill to determine why the Chief was mistreating Slugs.  The Chief then acknowledged that there was justification for having a slug line, but he intended to find a better location.  I guess he is still looking, because we are still at 14th and Constitution.

We were coming home one night and there were just the two of us.  Terry worked with me and she would hitch a ride some evenings.  When we arrived at 14th and Constitution, there were no Slugs.  It is three lanes in each direction and so I put on my flashers and waited.  We then saw a woman working her way across 14th Street, obviously heading for the slug line.  Traffic was creeping and she crossed in front of a car that didn’t see her.  There was a screech of brakes and the woman jumped clear.  As she got into the car she said, “I thought he saw me.”  Then Terry said, “That was close, and if he had hit you, no telling how long we would have had to wait.”

Getting a Slow Start

I don’t know whether I am technologically challenged, or technically challenged or just challenged.  Probably, all of the above.   But, I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t understand the tutorial.

I am determined, however, to have a blog and the fact that you are reading this indicates that I am making progress.

The blog site started me out with an authorization code that had 31 characters, and my first task was to convert the authorization code into a handy-dandy password.  It took me two days (with the help of support service) to accomplish the fete.  I kept getting a message that said,  “Authorization is denied because you have an incorrect customer number.”  They gave me the customer number.  I was looking at it in their email.  That customer number was the only thing I knew was right.  The next day, the support service technician told me to ignore the message.  Not a warm fuzzy, but when I resubmitted the password, it went through.

I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with our computers.  The more frustrating the computer becomes, the greater the joy when it does what you want it to, even if it is just changing the password.  I think I am going to get to know many of the support service technicians on a first name basis.