Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Get Off My PE Ratio !!

How much would you pay to receive $1.00 a year from me?  Would you pay $2?  Would you pay $200?

If you paid $2, you would be paying two times the annual revenue?  If you paid $200, you would be paying a hundred times revenue.  This is the same concept as the "price-earnings (PE) ratio."  How much would you pay for a stock that earns $1 per share per year?

Would you pay more when you are feeling optimistic?  Is this decision driven by both economic and emotional reasoning?  Now, take a look at this graph:

Chart of the Day

You can see that investors have historically been willing to pay a maximum of 20-25 times annual earnings per share (EPS), as evidenced by the red line.  Also, during the internet bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the PE ratio stayed well above that red line.  For a brief period of time during the early days of the financial crisis, the PE ratio spiked but only because earnings suddenly plummeted.  Of course, it didn't take long before the PE ratio caught up with the falling EPS.

Now, notice the current level of share prices being about 15 times the earnings per share (EPS).  This means the stock market is inexpensive or under-priced.  Normally, I'd be buying stocks at a time like this.  However, this is a clear reflection of the three wet blankets, i.e., the election, the fiscal cliff, and the European financial crisis. 

Remove those wet blankets, and watch the market soar!  Going from a PE ratio of 15 to 22 times, the stock market could rise a whopping 46%.

Will somebody please get these wet blankets off my PE Ratio!

Got Googled ?

Like a high-maintence ex-wife, it was almost pleasant when Google took down this blog last week.  At first, I enjoyed the freedom from maintaining it . . . but soon started missing it. 

The late Charlottesville billionaire, John Kluge, once described his last ex-wife as being his favorite ex-wife.  I've written one award-winning book and am working on another.  I've written countless columns and even won an award for that.  But, this blog is my favorite avenue for writing. 

Blogs are often described as a "flow-of-consciousness,"  but I see it more as a "flow-of-observations."  I try to focus attention on some of the 130 economic reports issued each month and explain them.  I try to identify market trends without giving investment advice, because that is illegal.  Lastly, I try to expose a sardonic existential perspective; to demonstrate it is perfectly normal to distrust "systems" and to enjoy irony.

So, I'm glad Google has released my hostage-blog and glad to be connecting again.  But, I was kidding about missing that ex-wife . . .

Monday, October 22, 2012

Google, Goldman, and God

I'm not sure which company I dislike the most.  One gleefully shreds our right to privacy, and the other bets against its own clients.  On the other hand, Google also makes a world of information available to average users, and Goldman Sachs has a truly great group of investment strategists.

In their latest commentary, Goldman expects U.S. growth to be 2.2% this year, dropping to 1.9% next year.  In Europe, they expect actual GDP contraction of 0.5% this year and anemic growth of 0.2% next year.  In China, they expect a still-robust 7.6% growth rate this year, rising to 8.0% next year.  The big news is that they do expect some minimal growth in Europe next year, which would be a leap of faith for me.

Interestingly, Goldman accuses the Fed of "out-doving" other central banks with more quantitative easing (QE3), which will weaken the dollar, fuel commodity inflation (including gold), and will limit stock market growth.  I also expect creeping inflation, which favors commodity prices and often limits stock market growth but not always.  There is a tsunami of money on balance sheets and in retail investor accounts that need to be invested somewhere.

Looking into 2013, Goldman prefers U.S. stocks and dividend-paying stocks outside the U.S., and I agree.  They don't expect the Fiscal Cliff to be a significant long-term problem, and I hope they know something I don't!  As they believe QE3 will stir inflation, they are extending the average length of their bond portfolios as rates begin to rise.  I'm not prepared to "fight the Fed" on this, which has promised to keep the anchor short-term rates historically low.

Of course, there are other companies that make information available (Microsoft's Bing, for example) and other companies that do investment banking as well as Goldman does.  So, I remember what I learned in the Army . . . "kill'em all and let God sort'em out" . . .  OK, just kidding . . . "bankrupt'em all and let God bail'em out?"

Friday, October 19, 2012

Happy Silver Anniversary

What were you doing 25 years ago today?  I was at a real estate loan closing in Texas.  That's when the stock market crashed . . . losing 22% of its value in one day -- still the all-time greatest one-day loss.

Of course, it was terrifying, especially to those who didn't believe it was only a temporary loss, which it was.  But, could it happen again?

Of course, it could.  In fact, I am more worried about a technology or "fat finger" glitch now than ever before.  Don't forget the "flash crash" in May of 2010, when the Dow dropped almost a thousand points and then regained most of that loss -- all within one hour.  While it is unlikely that the market could suffer a complete collapse from a technological glitch, much work remains to be done before that possibility can be eliminated.  Indeed, some market analysts suspect a reason that retail investors are largely not invested is that they are waiting to catch some bargains when the collapse occurs, but I suspect that is not the case.  People are simply scarred by their memory of Lehman in 2008, of  the market low in March 2009, as well as 1929.

Of course, like any anniversary, today should be celebrated!  We survived that crash and then went on to set many, many new market highs.  Paraphrasing Warren Buffet, I don't know where the market will be next month, but I do know where it will be in ten years . . . up!

Most of my portfolios have a large position in cash and short-term bonds, which removes much of the variability for now, but only a few are completely out of stocks (which I don't recommend).  As anxiety rises, the allocation to low-risk assets should also rise.  I expect to increase stock holdings substantially within the next three months, but it is too early to make that decision now.

For now, celebrate that you survived and didn't have to change your standard of living, even after the biggest one-day loss in history . . . of course, this is capitalism . . . thank God!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Presidential Entertainment Show

One of the advantages of waking up every morning at 4:30 is that I get to sleep during any presidential debates the night before.  The debates are way-too-late for early risers on the east coast.  But, I already know Obama won it, because MSNBC is happy this morning, while Fox News generally calls it a draw.  Even Karl Rove called it a draw.

My question is when did the debates become so important that they are "must-see-TV"?  Aren't other things more important?  What about their political philosophies?  What about life experiences?  Do debate skills equate to leadership skills?  I'm sure they're both "good guys"  already, but no debate can reveal that anyway.  Televising meaningless entertainment into American households is obviously not required by the Constitution.  So, what is the point?

Theoretically, there is the possibility that some substantive issue might be discussed that would convince an undecided voter to determine their vote.  Yet, the most pressing issue is the Fiscal Cliff, and it apparently was not even discussed.  So, what is the point?

Plus, how can any rational person really be undecided?  Do they have no core beliefs?  Do they not have any way to hear the news?  Do they not have the ability to make the most mundane of decisions?  Or, do they just feel self-important by telling others they remain undecided?

The next presidential debate is next Monday night, and I hope to be sleeping well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Ultimate Paratrooper

No paratrooper has ever forgotten that feeling of jumping into nothing and then dropping rapidly.  It has been over 40 years since my first jump, and I can still remember every second of it.

So, it is not surprising that I missed my tee time on Sunday afternoon, as I stood transfixed, watching the historic jump of Felix Baumgartner from over 128 thousand feet, from the edge of space where the arc of the Earth was clear.  We now know the human body can withstand greater speeds than expected.  We now know the human body can travel even faster than the speed of sound, outside an aircraft.

As a former paratrooper, I marvel at his courage and his contribution to science.

As an economist, I marvel at the creeping influence of advertising.  It has driven the TV industry from the beginning.  It now drives the sports industry.  It is driving the development of the internet.  It is destroying our right to privacy.

How ironic is it that the cost of Mr. Baumgartner's historic contribution to science was underwritten by an "energy drink" maker called Red Bull.  I suppose it was good brand advertising to sell their non-prescription product, which helps people stay awake -- something Mr. Baumgartner obviously didn't need.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Q3: Approaching the Fiscal Cliff

To see my latest quarterly column for Inside Business, please click on the hyperlink
 or copy/paste it into the URL box: 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What's the End Game?

Imagine what would happen in the United States if inflation rose from 21.5% last year to an officially estimated 25% next year but is really approaching 70%.  Imagine if our economy grew 2% last year (which it did) but was expected to drop by not less than 0.9% this year.  Imagine if the dollar lost a third of its value over the past month alone!

Even a country with a strong democratic tradition could not survive.  Any nation with a "tin-horn dictator" (as Ronald Reagan used to say) certainly cannot survive.  In fact, the riots have already begun!

Iran is going down but how?

Just as Ronald Reagan crushed the old Soviet economy with an arms race, George W. Bush began slowly crushing the Iranian economy years ago, and President Obama then increased the pressure.  It worked!

Last week, shipping giant Maersk Line announced they had terminated their business with Iran, "making its isolation from the world almost complete."  The president of Iran has begged his people not to sell their national currency, the rial.  Even more economic sanctions were announced by the European Union just last Friday.

We are often told to be careful of what we wish for, because we may get it.  We are getting the collapse of Iran, as we wished.  However, I'm betting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a sane man and, knowing he is on his way out of power, would be even more willing to close the Straits of Hormuz or to drop the bomb on Israel.

I often stress-test the portfolios I manage for possible world events and have recently been more concerned about the Fiscal Cliff, the European Financial Crisis, and the election.  The collapse of Iran must now be factored into any stress test, and I will.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Bold Prediction

Do you have some time?  I'd like to tell you the many complaints I have with the Simpson-Bowles Plan to fix America's fiscal problems.  In fact, you should put your feet up, as this may take all day . . . OK, never mind!  If you've been reading this blog very long, you already know how I think about the rapidly-rising cost of entitlements, and I won't need to explain the reasons I don't like the plan.

Nonetheless, I pray Congress adopts it immediately!

You'll recall the Republicans abandoned the Simpson-Bowles Plan, because Grover Norquist insisted it is a violation of the oath to make zero compromises on tax increases.  Democrats abandoned it, because there were strict limitations on the growth rate in spending for Medicare and Social Security.

But, the biggest problem with the Simpson-Bowles Plan is that it is NOT perfect.  Still, here is my bold prediction:  If the President, Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, and House Majority Leader walk out on a stage and all announce their support of the Simpson-Bowles Plan . . . the Dow Jones Industrial Average will soar a thousand points - IMMEDIATELY!

Throwing off this heavy, wet blanket will put the U.S. budget on a sustainable fiscal plan over time.  There will be plenty of time to make it "perfect" later.  But, right now, America needs certainty more than it needs perfection.

More certainty will help this economy far more than any stimulus plan, in both the short-run and the long-run.   Greater certainty will come,of course, when the tax code is revamped, but all we need now is the certainty that our long-run fiscal health is assured.  That is all the stimulus we need.

If the Republicans want to help, they will remember growth will help everybody in the long-run, even if some (like myself) pay more taxes in the short-run.  My income will go up more than my taxes will go up.  If the Democrats want to help, they will remember that the recession created by going over the Fiscal Cliff will hurt the poor far more than the rich.  If the Democrats want to help the poor, they will support the Simpson-Bowles Plan, and I pray they do it immediately.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Progress In The Weeds

Like an aircraft carrier taking a long time to change directions, we are seeing some real progress by Europe to fix themselves.  In Portugal, workers will now contribute 18% of their salary to their "Social Security," up from 11%.

In Italy, companies are now allowed to do the unthinkable -- actually layoff employees when the economy tanks.  (It is hard to imagine a company not having the right to reduce employment expenses.)  Further, severance pay cannot exceed 18 months.

In France, maximum severance pay has been reduced from 45 days per year of employment to only 33 days.  While still very generous, it is a step in the right direction.

Increasing revenue by increased taxes or improving labor productivity by loosening labor regulations are all important steps in the right direction, but don't look for a light at the end of the tunnel yet.

As in the U.S., I'll believe Europe is on the rebound when they finally begin to stop the growth in their entitlements.  That is the 800-lb gorilla on two continents.

Congratulations, Europe . . . now, get back to work . . . please!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pet Peeve

Every year, Dr. James Koch of Old Dominion University delivers his "State of the Region" presentation on the local economy.  Yesterday, I attended that presentation, and, as usual, it was excellent!

There was one table of data, however, that really bothered me.  From 2001 through 2010, the average non-government employee in the U.S. saw his or her wages increase 20.7%.  We were more fortunate in Virginia, where our non-government wages rose 27.1%.  For employees of the state or local governments, their wages rose 36.7%.

That means employees with lavish benefits and outrageous job security saw their pay rise faster than employees without those benefits and zero job security!

Wait -- it gets worse . . . employees of the Federal government saw their wages rise 42.8%, and that was during a mostly Republican administration.  Something is wrong here!

Lastly, while I yield to no one in my respect, adoration, and appreciation for combat veterans, I fail to understand why the pay for service members rose a whopping 93.2% during the same period.  Of course, it may be necessary to increase pay to get enough bodies to fight two simultaneous wars for a decade, but does the paper-shuffler in Virginia deserve the same pay raise as the infantryman in Afghanistan.

Something is wrong here!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy Birthday to . . .

Today is the fifth birthday of the all-time high in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was 14,164.  That is only 4% above where we are now.

Now, think about the economy five years ago.  It was much stronger.  Unemployment was low.  Home prices were rising.  Everything was good!

So, does the stock market reflect the state of the economy?  The conventional wisdom is that the stock market predicts the state of the economy six months later.  Maybe . . . in normal times!

Five years ago, the economy was drunk on private debt.  Mortgage lending was growing rapidly.  Credit card balances were dangerously high and rising.  Everybody believed in the American dream.

Today, the economy is drunk on public debt.  Government borrowing was rising rapidly throughout the Bush Administration and is rising even faster during the Obama Administration.

Still, why is the stock market so high, relative to the state of the economy?  There is ample evidence that retail investors are sitting in cash, which is not bad, or in long-term bond funds, which is very bad.

The most common explanation is the Fed has produced a tsunami of money with quantitative easing, and it should not be surprising if much of it winds up in the stock market.  Certainly, that explains part of it.

There are also reports that as much as 75% of daily trading is high-frequency trading, which is driven by computers.  This gives me a free-floating anxiety, because I cannot point a finger at the exact problem, but I do remember the "flash crash."

While I'm happy the market is up, I worry that computers are simply driving the money created by the Fed and is unrelated to the economy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Generous Spirit . . . or not ?

A year or so ago, a good friend recommended a book entitled "Philanthrocapitalism" by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green.  At first blush, it chronicles the growth of very good things done by very rich people, but it is much more.  Very rich people have made very large donations to various charities for generations, but the latest stage in the evolution of charity is giving more than mere money to good causes.

One reason for this change is the huge increase in the number of  multi-billionaires.  Another is the impotence of governments who have limited their options by spending their treasure on entitlements.  Lastly, the ineffectiveness of charities in measurably improving the human condition has spawned a whole new industry of consultants to improve their effectiveness.

The very rich can bypass the impotence of government and the ineffectiveness of charities by becoming change agents themselves.  The best-known examples are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, whose foundations spend $4 billion annually, but there are many others.  However, they give far more than mere money.  They give management expertise, connections, and -- most importantly -- accountability.  Efforts or charities that don't produce the desired results stop receiving funds immediately, without asking any bureaucrats or taking any votes.  Makers get rewarded, and takers get cut off.

While I applaud this and hope it accelerates, especially with the merely-rich at the local level, I have been trying to fit that concept into the Ayn Rand philosophy of no monetary contributions to charity.  She even wrote a book entitled The Virtue of Selfishness.  Self-interest, she said, is a person's only interest.

Basic Austrian economics states "if you want more of something, subsidize it -- if you want less, tax it."  It is the same concept as not feeding stray cats.  The more money you give to charity, the more poor people you create.  Is that true?

On page 271, there is an interesting anecdote about how Gates has been praised for his generosity and, at the same time, condemned for still keeping billions for himself, while living in a 66,000 square foot mansion worth $100 million.  (The notion that the rich should give away everything must surely cause Rand to turn over in her grave.)  If one will be criticized for the largest charitable contribution in history, what is the point?

One of the problems with financial planning and tax policy discussion is that it assumes everything revolves around financial decisions.  There really is more to life than taxes or financial planning.  I know the pittance I drop in the offering plate at church makes me feel good, with the knowledge that the church will be there for people who need spiritual help.  I know the time I spend at Rotary, painting houses for the poor or elderly is time well-spent.  Or, delivering Meals-On-Wheels each month.  On October 27th, I will spend the day providing financial counselling pro bono for the poor.  Ayn Rand would not approve of my church donation and probably would not approve of the rest either, but she would accept the fact that I do it for the right reasons -- it simply feels right to me, and I sleep better, which is definitely in my self-interest!

At any rate, for a thoughtful analysis of the latest evolutionary step in charitable giving, I highly recommend this book.  I suspect the next evolutionary step will be philanthrocapitalism at the local level by the merely-rich . . . or at least, I hope so!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part II

I have been in love with Ayn Rand all my life, even though she has been dead for thirty years.  A novelist turned philosopher, she is the intellectual mother of notables from Alan Greenspan to Paul Ryan.

Her last work and greatest seller was Atlas Shrugged.  It tells the story of successful people who keep disappearing mysteriously.  As it turns out, these successful people are sick of the government taking their ideas, their profits, and their genius.  They are gathering in a remote gulch and hope to later save the nation.  Their leader is John Galt.

Many have argued that Atlas Shrugged is second only to the Bible in terms of influence.  I think they are right. It has provided the intellectual fire for those people who worry about jack-booted storm-troopers in black helicopters.  Reflecting her own escape from Russia during the Bolshevik revolution (when the un-elected central government did indeed become an instrument of oppression), Rand has now created three generations who live in fear of the government - even one that is elected by the people.

But, those are people who have not read her many other works.  The theme of those works is not that government is evil, but that every person is responsible for himself and should stand up against conformity or public opinion.  That is the Ayn Rand I still love!

Two years ago, a movie was made of the first half of Atlas Shrugged.  While the fight to get that movie made is in itself worthy of another movie, critics panned it, and theater-goers stayed away in droves.  (I confess I also thought it was a bit shrill and plastic, with characters as shallow as finger-nails.)  Still, it is good news that the second half of the book has now been filmed and will be released October 12, 2012.  I'm confident it will be better than the first.

If you see it, don't forget that Rand was only distrustful of the government but didn't despise it.  Her message is not to stand up to the government but to stand up for yourself . . . now, go see the movie!  I'll see you there!!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Paging Joe McCarthy . . .

Nothing kills success like excess!

Senator Joe McCarthy was the Republican senator from Wisconsin during the early 1950s, at the height of the "Cold War."  He became a respected national leader, with his obsession that our government was full of closet Communists.  By simply asking if someone was a Communist, that person then had to prove the negative -- that he was NOT a Communist.  It is a simple political trick to make somebody defend themselves.  Eventually, after destroying the careers of many honest government employees, his career was itself destroyed with the classic question of "have you no sense of decency?"

A few years ago, Donald Trump made the President's birthplace a big deal, by simply saying he didn't know where Obama was born.  People are still burning up brain cells and life expectancy chasing this rainbow.  Senator Mitch McConnell famously called the President's religion into question by simply saying he didn't know if Obama was a Christian or not.

Yesterday, in "the tweet heard round-the-world," one of America's most respected retired CEOs, Jack Welch, linked his lack of understanding about the Jobs Report with his lack of trust in the President, slyly implying that Obama's Chicago pols (Read:  Al Capone) were manipulating the economic data.  Last night, I saw him reveling in attention on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC.  Enough already!

In April of 2010, I spent two days in Washington at a seminar on "Economic Measurement."  With the growth of econometric modeling (like the Jobs Report), there is greater emphasis on the measurement of economic data, which are inputs for the models.  There were at least a hundred economic nerds listening to very detailed analysis of problems in collecting job information every month on over 100 million workers.  Some classes were taught by the many people who actually produce the Jobs Reports.  There are lots of problems in collecting the data.  There are lots of problems in the manipulation of that data. There are lots of arguments about statistical techniques.  But, there is no effort to hide any of those problems.  In two long days, I don't recall the subject of partisan politics one single time.

If Mr. Welch has any real burning interest in understanding the numbers, he could attend the next seminar.  Or, he could simply impugn the work of those economists by linking them to sleazy Chicago pols.

Of course, there are legitimate problems with any economic report, which I can easily detail, but that doesn't mean they are politically motivated.

There are many good and valid reasons not to vote for the President, which I can also easily detail, but this is ridiculous.  It is cheap over-reach by a respected business leader.  Mr. Welch should apologize.

Nothing kills success like excess!

Friday, October 5, 2012

September Jobs & Conspiracies?

The September Jobs Report was released this morning.  While it was a good report, it was certainly not a great report.

The rate of unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest during the Obama Administration, but only 114 thousand jobs were created.  The level of both unemployed and under-employed remains at 14.7 percent, which is a huge waste of human capital.

But, there are some interesting internal dynamics.  Take a look at the blue line, which is overall job growth.  It has been rising since 2010.  Now, take a look at the gold line, which is job growth in the private sector.  It has been rising even faster.  Lastly, take a look at the red line, which is job growth in the government sector. It is retarding the growth rate for overall employment.

Certainly, I'm not arguing that government needs to add jobs, especially if we have to borrow money from the Chinese to pay their salaries.  Still, it is sad we cannot afford another WPA-style program to take advantage of that huge wasted resource of people.

Chart of the Day

An amusing side-note that should not be surprising during fierce partisan campaigning is the widespread suspicion that "the books are cooked."  Somehow, it is hard for me to believe that some tenured bureaucrat tucked away with both ridiculous job benefits and job security would risk going to jail by fabricating data to help his political bosses.  Besides, the final numbers are determined in two different ways (the household survey and the establishment survey) by two different groups of people.  How can you get so many people to keep their mouth shut about such a conspiracy?  And, frankly, the Jobs Report was not that good anyway!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Big Tent

While the Democratic Party may offer a big tent for many ethnic groups, the Republican Party offers a big tent for many schools of economics.

The Democratic Party is home to most Keynesian economists, with a smattering of Austrian economists.  The Republican Party is home to most Austrian economists, a few Keynesian economists, all Supply-side economists, all Monetarists, and most Libertarians.  It can be an unhappy alliance.

Austrian economists place great importance on balancing the budget EVERY year.  Keynesian economists believe it is okay to borrow money one year IF it is promptly paid back.  Supply-side economists embrace deficits in the short-run by increasing economic growth via tax cuts.  Monetarists believe the economy can be controlled by the Federal Reserve's control over money supply and interest rates.

Libertarians are somewhat unique in that it is often difficult to separate their political philosophy from their economic philosophy, but it is fair to say they believe the Fed should be dismantled and that America should return to the gold standard.  (Of course, this drives the Monetarists crazy!)

I was amused watching Mitt Romney trying to get his arms around the big Republican tent of economists during the first debate.  He embraced the Austrian economists and the Supply-siders, without offending the Monetarists or Libertarians.  Tough job . . . Good job, Mitt!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cheering The Other Team

Historians remind us that the United States has faced political gridlock in Washington before.  Political scientists remind us that gridlock is not always bad, if it keeps the government from doing something bad.  Clearly, all that is true, but we have never faced gridlock from such a weak, vulnerable position, which worries me.

I'm not talking about the Fiscal Cliff, which is coming at us quickly.  That is only a symptom of gridlock, which is the underlying problem.  It has been well over a year since we lost our AAA credit rating from S&P, and Washington has been unable to do anything about it.  Don't forget the reason we lost it was NOT because we didn't have the resources to pay our debts.  It was because we had become ungovernable, due to gridlock, at least according to S&P.

The Fiscal Cliff is a train coming at us, and getting off the track is far more important than whether we get off on the right side or the left side.  We need to get off on one side or the other and do it now!

Portfolio managers cannot allow themselves to become too partisan.  We must be agnostic.  Political sloganeering is intellectual pollution and must be avoided.  Of course, we still have our beliefs and political preferences, but those preferences merely inform our investment choices and don't drive them.

Despite the best efforts of some sincere Senators to cobble together some compromise before year end, the most likely outcome is that the "can will be kicked down the road again."  That is not a solution, nor even a bromide.  It just prolongs the uncertainty, which is another separate, distinct problem.

Remember:  the longer we spend falling down the Cliff, the worse the recession will be.  America would be so much better if we could deal with the issues now.

That's why my hope is that one party will make a political sweep of the election, winning the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives . . . even if it is not my party.  It would break this dangerous impasse at a vulnerable period, and we can always get back to petty bickering in two years.

In other words, my first choice is for my party to sweep everything, but my second choice is for the other party to sweep everything.  The status quo of gridlock is my last choice.

It is counter-intuitive to support "the bad guys" in a sweep, but it would still be an improvement over gridlock!

Monday, October 1, 2012

An Unscientific Survey

Existentialists have a "thing" about anything they consider absurd.  Calling something or somebody absurd is about the worst thing you can say.

This was the weekend of the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach, and my Rotary Club operated the beer concession to raise money for our charitable foundation.  As we learned, the most important part of selling any alcoholic beverage is paying homage to whatever Richmond says about saving children from the ravages of beer.  No amount of overkill is too much.

Therefore, we had to check the ID for each person, no matter how much gray hair they had, no matter how stooped with age they might be, no matter how many wrinkles on a weathered face.  There were no exceptions.  There can be no exceptions.  No amount of overkill is too much!

Anyway, I expected people to complain this was absurd, but they were remarkably docile about it.  In fact, of the hundreds of IDs checked, only one person reacted to the absurdity of it.  (He was a man of about 50-55 years old.  Still, there were no exceptions.  We examined his ID even more closely than others.)

But, does that mean less than 1% of people are existentialists?  No, I suspect it is much higher, as even existentialists can become sanguine and prioritize degrees of absurdity that really matter.  They learn to obey the law, if not respect it.

An immature existentialist would sarcastically report that no children were mistakenly confused as adults and mistakenly served "the devil's brew."  America is indeed safe!  However, a mature existentialist would simply smile and enjoy the absurdity of it all.