Archive for February, 2009

Tubby McPortly Cat…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, February 2009


New Buzz: Derivative Society…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, February 16, 2009

We’ve become what I like to call a Derivative Society. (Did that sound impressive? I hope it sounded impressive. I added the “what I like to call” bit to make it sound impressive. And also to throw you off the trail because I haven’t really thought the whole “Derivative Society” thing through entirely. It just popped in my head, and I thought I’d write it down because I gotta get back to work, and I honestly don’t have a lot else to say about this week’s comic.)

Derivative Society. What I mean is that we are saturated with information. Media provides us with news and analysis way, way beyond our capacity (or desire) to consume it all. We are overwhelmed. But instead of using our awesome technological powers to gather and report information to add clarity, we sweep past the basics and drill deeper and deeper looking for hidden treasures. Not because it is at all helpful. But just because we can. We analyze the analysis of the analyzer’s analyzation. Which is asinine.

“Is the economy moving forward or is it moving backward?” is the simple question we could ask and the simple question that could be answered. Instead we are more interested in the derivatives: How fast is the economy changing? Are we accelerating out of going backward? Are decelerating out of going forward? Is this decelerating beginning to accelerate? Or is it decelerating at an increasing deceleration? Are crude oil prices going up or down? Who cares? Are the stocks of gas refineries in the Pacific Northwest enough to meet anticipated demands of the 2011 summer driving season? Now that’s sounds interesting! Let’s base the current price of gasoline on that!

So we’re left now with a stimulus package that was declared dead even before it was written. There’s no time to let anything actually work in a Derivative Society. We’ve already thought it all out. The only thing that can save the economy now is news of a future stimulus package. But once we anticipate what it might contain, that won’t work either.


Look, Mom! I’m on…

I was working yesterday morning when my cell phone rang around 10:00. I didn’t recognize the area code and debated whether to answer but did using my best “are you a telemarketer?” voice. Turns out it was a reporter from CNN who was writing a story on a cartooning issue. Luckily I had been following the story on a cartoonist blog site, so I was able to give a semi-informed opinion and point her toward further information. Here are some links.

Interesting (and scary) how interconnected the world is so that (1) my name would come up as a reasonable person to talk with about a national issue, (2) that the flames of the blogosphere can burn so many so quickly, and (3) that this is already very old news.

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Casinos and Good Investment Advice…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, February 9, 2009

It wonders me that some people go to casinos fully expecting to win. I mean, honestly, you’d think the opulence, the lavishness, the over-the-top showiness would be an obvious tip off that somebody is making money, and odds are good that it’s not going to be you. But then, up until very recently those very same indicators were on display through the lifestyles of many, many Wall Street investment bankers — somebody was winning and it turns out it wasn’t you (or me). So much for obvious.

After a 10 year battle, it looks as if West Michigan is going to get its first Indian casino. Hooray, I guess. The Indian tribe and the community where it is going to be built certainly had the law on their side. The delay was largely a strategic tactic by some powers in Grand Rapids to allow the redevelopment of its downtown to establish itself without a casino’s competition. It did, and so it was really a win for them, too.

I myself won’t be going to the casino. And like everybody else, I’m rethinking the whole invest in the market thing. Happily, it looks like these types of decisions will pretty much be out of my hands for the foreseeable future. With three kids heading to college soon, we won’t have any money anyway. (And that may turn out to be the best investment.)


Comparing Stimulus Plans…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, February 2, 2009

Grand Rapids has a relatively new convention center downtown called the DeVos Place. It was years in the making — a complex effort of moving existing buildings (including a courthouse and the police headquarters), building a support structure of hotels and restaurants, and mixing public and private funds in a responsible way. A couple of weeks ago it hosted a convention for the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA), which was perfect for the facilities and our medium-sized city. By all accounts, it was a huge success. One of many successes the DeVos Place has had and expects to have.

Flint has no convention center, but at one point in the 1980s it built a big Hyatt Hotel downtown. It was a similar private/public effort designed to draw business into the city. By all accounts, it has been a disaster. Recently, plans have been announced to UofM Flint to buy the bankrupt building and convert it into dorms. We’ll see.

My point? All this frenzied chatter about the merits of one stimulus approach over another (infrastructure! tax cuts! regulation! bailing! injecting! refunding!) matters very little if there isn’t sensible, thoughtful, transparent coordination among the government and private sectors involved in implementing them.


So Here I Am Writing a Blog Entry…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, January 26, 2009

All right. This has nothing to do with anything, but it is kind of weird/funny, so I’ll tell you about it. The other night I had a dream. I was running a basketball practice. (I’ve been coaching my son’s 5th/6th grade team this winter, so my brain idling away the night with thoughts of hoops is not at all unusual.) The practice was in a largish room, but it definitely wasn’t a gym because there were various pieces of furniture and a door to a hallway. I was walking the boys through a new offensive set. I was very excited about this because I believed it would no doubt get us some easy baskets. I had devised it myself. Super genius.

The play and its positions weren’t terribly unique. The thing that gave it an edge was that one of the players …was to be a live alligator. That’s right. Full-grown adult alligator. Conveniently, I had brought one with me. So we started walking through the play. The alligator began at the top of the key and swung around the left side. I turned to instruct some of the boys where to go and got distracted for a moment. When I looked back around for the alligator, it was gone. I said, “Where’d the alligator go?” And the boy on that side point to the door — left ajar the approximate width of a full-grown adult alligator.

Well I was kind of mad. I mean, geez-lousie, doesn’t it kind of go without saying that if you are practicing basketball in a large room with an alligator that you should naturally shut the door so the alligator doesn’t walk out? Do I have to spell out everything for these boys? But, kids make mistakes and instead of tearing into him, I decided time was probably better spent looking for the alligator.

So I told the boys to stay put and I walked out the door. As I entered the hallway, it occurred to me that I was inside a children’s hospital. Actually, I had known this previously but really wasn’t considering it until the alligator got loose. My anxiety level ticked up, but I was still confident that I could find the alligator. I mean, what else in a children’s hospital even remotely looks like an alligator? It’s gonna stick out. I strolled on down the hall looking as inconspicuous as possible in my gym shorts (which my daughter says are waaaaay too short) and whistle and high-tops. I went into rooms and looked under beds and in closets and dark corners. Then it began to dawn on me that I didn’t necessarily want to find the alligator — especially by thrusting my head under a bed.

I was making my way back to the large room and now thinking it odd that I hadn’t heard any screams. There really ought to be screams when an alligator is loose in a children’s hospital. Children’s hospital! Holy crap! Children’s hospitals are just full of slow-moving, bite-sized people. I’ve seen alligators eat whole hams, and I would think sick kids are basically talking hams to an alligator. I couldn’t remember if the alligator has been fed lately. Heck, I couldn’t even remember where I got the darn thing. Suddenly the most awful thought hit my head and my innards twisted into a hard knot: I might get in trouble for this! No, wait, no, no, no yes. Yes… Yes definitely. Bringing a live alligator into a children’s hospital is in fact something that would frowned upon.

I was standing by the door mulling this over. “Had anybody seen me bring the alligator in? Was it possible for me and the boys to slip out before somebody found it? But shouldn’t I say something before somebody gets attacked? Yes, but that might be okay because we’re in a hospital — there are people right here who are really good at reattaching things. Hmmm, no, I gotta call 9-1-1. Right. How am I going to phrase this?”  …then I woke up.

Ta-da! I’ve now used this cutting edge technology to share with you and the world a very odd story, which in no way is going to move our economy forward. My work is done here.

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