A Costly Solar Flame-Out

Federal stimulus efforts to encourage “green energy” businesses took a shot to the chops today when Solyndra, a California solar energy company, declared that it will file for bankruptcy protection.

Solyndra had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees and was one of 40 concerns that was supported by a Department of Energy program designed to encourage green energy projects.  Today, however, the company suspended its manufacturing operations and laid off more than 1,000 workers.

It is not clear how much money the federal government will lose as a result of its support of Solyndra, and some no doubt will argue that such losses, whatever they may be, are simply a necessary cost of trying to develop “green energy” alternatives in the United States.  For others, however, Solyndra’s failure is a sobering lesson that even significant federal support doesn’t mean much if a company cannot hold its own in the rough and tumble world of the global economy.  In this instance, Solyndra apparently couldn’t compete with foreign manufacturers who sold comparable products at cheaper prices.  This story also raises more fundamental questions:  why should the federal government be supporting certain companies and industries at all, and when they do who is deciding whether the investment of our tax dollars has a prayer of earning a meaningful return?


The Message In An App’s Popularity

What does it mean when an “app” is popular?  Does it convey a deep message about social trends?  Or, does it only indicate that some iPhone and iPad nerds liked the concept, or the price, or having a hot new “app” to yak endlessly about?

It may be worth asking that question, because the “Obama Clock” app has quickly shot to the top of the “app” charts.  The “Obama Clock” app includes a running countdown, in days, hours, minutes, and seconds, to the next presidential inauguration.  It also provides updated information on President Obama’s approval rating, the unemployment rate, the per-gallon cost of gasoline, and movement in a housing price index.  The “Obama Clock” app is at the very top of the “reference” app sales — where it competes with the likes of the world atlas and other informational apps — and is in the top 50 apps overall.

It probably isn’t a good sign for the President that the “Obama Clock” app has done so well.  It’s not like the information reported in the updates is good news that reflects well on his performance.  Still, I wouldn’t read too much into the app’s popularity.  A stampede of purchases by conservative iPhone users — the app costs only 99 cents — could easily skew the results.  And the President and his reelection team can take comfort in the fact that the “Obama Clock” app still trails SPY mouse, Angry Birds, and Fruit Ninja.  If the President were up against SPY mouse in November 2012, he might have more cause for immediate concern.

Let The Games Begin!

On Saturday, a bit before noon, the Ohio State Buckeyes football team will take the field for the first game of the 2011 season.  When The Best Damn Band In The Land marches down the ramp to the cheers of more than 100,000 fans, it will mark the end of what has seemed like the longest off-season in college football history.  I’ll be thrilled when that happens, and I’m confident that countless other members of Buckeye Nation agree with that heartfelt sentiment.

I’ll have a bit more to say about the 2011 version of the Buckeyes later.  For now, I just want to say how wonderful it will be to focus on what happens on the field once again.  I’m ready to get seriously into the minutiae of college football and the strangeness of talking about the Legends and Leaders divisions of the Big Ten.  (Let’s see . . . which one is Ohio State in, again?) I want to talk to my buddies about the freshman phenom, the senior who is under-performing, the stud defensive lineman, and the safety who hits like a ton of bricks.  I want to debate play-calling and controversial penalties.  I want to focus on the fact that Nebraska is now part of the Big Ten, and argue about who should be ranked number one.  Those are the things that make college football the greatest sport of all — not the off-the-field noise and controversy.

I say, let the games begin!

Snakes In The Trousers

Lately there have been a series of curious stories in the news about people trying to smuggle rare animals and birds by storing them on their persons.  Such conduct violates the Lacey Act, which prohibits the smuggling of exotic animals.

The weirdest attempt, in my view, was by a man in Miami who tried to board a plane with seven — seven! — snakes in his pants, as well as three tortoises.  The guy had the snakes and tortoises in nylon bags in his slacks.  It is not clear whether the creatures were drugged so that they would remain immobile during the flight.  In any case, the man’s illicit pants cargo was detected by an advanced imaging technology machine as he went through security.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to try to smuggle seven snakes and three tortoises in your pants, but just imagine what it would be like to sit next to the guy on the plane and notice his unusual trouser activity if all of those animals suddenly started moving around.

The Feds, Below The Mendoza Line

Cristobal Rigoberto (“Minnie”) Mendoza played for the Minnesota Twins in 1970 and hit .188 for the year.  That threshold of futility has come to be known in baseball as the “Mendoza Line.”  If you start the season in a slump and begin to pull out of it, crossing the Mendoza Line and getting above .200 is the first step back to respectability.  If it’s mid-season and you cross the Mendoza Line going in the opposite direction, expect to find a ticket to the minors in your locker.

When it comes to public perception of business and industry segments, lawyers probably set the Mendoza Line.  For whatever reason, most people don’t like lawyers.  In the media, lawyers are often depicted as conniving, duplicitous, arrogant, money-grubbing, and unscrupulous, which are not exactly endearing characteristics.  As a lawyer myself, I think the common characterizations of lawyers are profoundly inaccurate, and I regret that the general reaction to my profession is so negative — but there is no denying the statistics.

I therefore found it interesting that, in a recent Gallup Poll, the federal government crossed the lawyer Mendoza Line and ranked the worst in terms of public perception of 25 different business and industry sectors.  Lawyers were viewed positively by 29 percent of respondents and negatively by 45 percent, for a net score of -16.  The federal government, in contrast, was ranked positively by only 17 percent and negatively by 63 percent, for a net score of -46.

If I were in the federal government right now, I’d be looking for that ticket to the minors.


Please Say it Ain’t so O(bama)

So now that I have a laptop at home and I am semi-retired I spend most of my daylight hours reading by the pool or working at the Windward Passage and when I come home at night I like to surf the internet.

Tonight while surfing the internet I was quite disturbed when I came across the following article US-troops-may-stay-in-Afghanistan-until-2024.html. If this article is in fact true it looks as though we are in talks with Afghanistan to sign a contractual agreement that would supposedly allow American military trainers, American special forces and American air power (estimates of 25,000 American soldiers) to remain in Afghanistan until 2024.

One of the biggest reasons I voted for the current president and the change he was offering was because I was hopeful that he would get us out of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan once and for all. My thinking was there was a much better chance of that happening with Obama as president as opposed to McCain. To my dismay this hasn’t happened yet.

From what I have read our current cost right now to support 100,000 troops in Afghanistan is $1 billion per day. So if we agree to  keep 25,000 American troops in Afghanistan until 2024 you can do the math, we’re talking about a lot of money that we quite frankly don’t have.

I think the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said it best when he said “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from a permanent military presence. It needs economic help and it needs peace, military bases are not a tool for peace”. Well said Mr ambassador. When I see a picture like the one above I am outraged that we are doing what we are doing, isn’t anyone else outraged ?

Can any Republican, Independent or Democrat, anyone for that matter give me a logical reason as to why we need to be in Afghanistan for thirteen more years ? Bin Laden is dead and we need to get the heck out of there as soon as possible. If this deal is signed I will have no choice but to write in Ron Paul for President in 2012 since he is the only candidate who has promised to bring all of our troops home.

Skeeter In The House

We have a new dog in the house.

Her name is Skeeter, and she is a seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  In a few days Skeeter will be going to live with Kish’s Mom, who was heartbroken when her longtime canine companion, Effie, died a few months ago.  Our hope is that Skeeter will be good company and help Faith get over her loss.

Skeeter seems like an ideal choice for this important assignment.  She weighs less than 20 pounds, likes people, enjoys sitting on laps, and has a sweet and gentle disposition.  I make the latter observation based on the fact that Penny impolitely gobbled up Skeeter’s food, and Skeeter didn’t really seem to mind.

The President’s Name Plate

President Obama visited FEMA headquarters over the weekend to check out how preparations for Hurricane Irene were going.

Oddly, somebody at FEMA thought it would be a good idea to make a name plate for the President and to place it in front of him as he sat at a conference table.  You see it in the photos that were taken during the President’s visit.  It says “Barack Obama President of the United States.”  I assume it was made by somebody at FEMA because it looks just like the name plates that were made for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA’s administrator.

Doesn’t it seem weird that somebody at FEMA made a name plate for the President of the United States?  President Obama is one of the most well-known figures in the world.  Is it even conceivable that somebody in that room wouldn’t have known who he was if the name plate wasn’t there?

It seems demeaning to put a name plate in front of the President of the United States, like he is just a random guy in  a blue shirt who needs to be identified.  I guess we’re just lucky that someone didn’t stick a “Hi!  My name is Barack” name tag on his shirt pocket.

Oh What a Night

No ordinary Sunday night for some members of the Webner clan which included special guest BJ. We all went by limousine to Cap City diner compliments of Agnes then off to the Ohio Theatre to see the Jersey Boys.

Jersey Boys is the wonderful story of blue collar kids – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their personal struggles as seen through the eyes of the four original members of the band. We had seats in the Orchestra Pit second row so we were no more than a few feet from the actors/musicians which made the show all the more interesting.

We lucked out and got to see understudy Courter Simmons who the people I talked to said was better than the “regular Frankie”. He really had an amazing voice and when he sang his solos you could really feel his passion. I noticed tears in his eyes a few times. Of course the shows includes all of the Four Seasons hit songs.

Here’s a clip from the Jersey Boys show in London – check it out if your a music lover, but if you had a couple of the Four Seasons albums like I did in the seventies this show is a must !

Goodnight, Irene, Goodnight

Hurricane Irene has come and gone.  The storm hit the Carolinas, then weakened by the time it moved north to New Jersey and New York.  Still, it likely produced billions of dollars in damage, due to flooding and high winds, left millions of people without power, and is being blamed for more than a dozen deaths.

With cities along the East Coast still wet from Irene’s rain and storm surge, the post mortems have begun.  The main topic for debate seems to be whether politicians like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie overreacted when they ordered evacuations, closed roads and transit systems, and issued blunt warnings about the potential harm to people who tried to ride out the storm.

Because the storm was not as devastating as some feared it might be, it’s easy to second-guess the decision-makers.  In my view, however, it’s better to err on the side of caution under such circumstances.  No major hurricane had targeted New York and New Jersey for decades.  Storms are, by definition, unpredictable.  And no one wanted to see a repeat of those memorable post-Katrina images of people huddled on rooftops or wading through hip-deep water.  I think the mayors and government along the east coast made the right decisions.

Can’t we just be happy that we avoided the catastrophic consequences that would have occurred if a major hurricane had hit our east coast population centers head on and at full force?

Surf Chicago

Saturday afternoon, Richard, Kish and I took a long walk along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago.  What we saw was not the Chicago I’ve come to know during my many wintry visits.

It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the 80s and bright blue skies, and the shoreline was hopping.  There were hundreds of bikers, joggers, and walkers using the paths, and when we got to the Oak Street Beach it was like we had been teleported to Florida. Sailboats and motorboats bobbed in the surf, palm trees bowed and swayed in a strong, warm breeze, and the beach was packed with swimmers, sunbathers, occasional dippers, and drinkers. Dozens of people were savoring cold adult beverages at the Oak Street Beach bar and grill.

The surf crashed against the break wall next to the beach and the spray felt cool in the summer air.  I’m sure the water was cold, but there were lots of people in the lake and they all looked to be having a good time.  If you’ve got a Great Lake — even one that is only swimmable for a few months — why not make maximum use of it?  I’m sure it makes living in Chicago a bit more interesting, and a bit more fun.

Dissing The Benjamins

On our quick trip to Chicago to drop some things off to Richard this weekend, we stopped to gas up at a station somewhere in rural northern Indiana.  As I was paying at the pump, this sign stopped me in my tracks.  What’s wrong with $100 bills, and why would my paying with one affect my safety?

As it happened, I didn’t have any $100 bills.  In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I had a $100 bill in my wallet.  Usually I don’t carry any currency larger than a $20 bill.  Still, if I had a $100 bill, why shouldn’t I be able to pay with it?  How is it unsafe?  What, would the cashier rob me if I flashed a c-note?  Are the other customers at this rustic gas station such a bunch of felons that the sight of a $100 bill is going to provoke them into a frenzy of theft, whereas a wallet with a few twenties wouldn’t?  Is there some problem with the dye used in the portrait of old Ben Franklin?

Most fundamentally, I thought part of conducting a business in America means you have to accept American currency.  I could see declining a $1000 bill and saying you don’t have enough money to make change.  But a $100?  No way!

Old Blue, Adieu

This weekend Richard assumes ownership of Old Blue, a jacket with a curious back story.

Kish bought this Eddie Bauer jacket for me about 15 years ago.  I call it Old Blue.  It’s a perfect jacket for many months of Columbus weather — waterproof, and not too heavy.  For some reason, however, Kish has grown to loathe it.  If I put it on she grimaces and begs me not to wear it.  She regularly threatens to throw it out, and at times I fear for Old Blue’s safety.  Who would have thought clothing could inspire such passion?

Fortunately, there is a solution to the problem of Old Blue.  Richard, being a man of good taste, also likes wearing Old Blue, and has asked if he can have it in Chicago.  Of course, the answer is yes.  So this weekend I bid farewell to Old Blue, a garment that served me long and well.  May you thrive in Chicago, Old Blue, far away from the palpable disdain of my lovely wife!


Latin Jazz Lameness

In April, the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences voted to reduce the number of categories for which “Grammys” are rewarded, from 109 to 78.  One of the categories that will be eliminated is “Latin Jazz.”  The artists who formerly competed in that genre-specific category will now have to compete in a more general category, like “Best Instrumental Jazz Album.”

This being modern America, how would you expect “Latin jazz” artists to react?  Would they all respond graciously, suck it up, and simply resolve to compete in the more general category?  Nah!  At least four of the “Latin jazz” artists have filed a lawsuit in New York state court, arguing that the decision harms them, devalues their music category, and makes it harder for them to gain recognition.  The lawsuit claims that the careers of the artists will be hurt and that they should have been given a chance to offer input on how the changes to award categories would affect them.

What a bunch of whiners!  Don’t they realize that nobody pays attention to awards like the Grammys precisely because there are so many ridiculously narrow categories?  Perhaps the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences should just nominate every “Latin jazz” artist, give them all a “participation trophy,” and send them home to their Mommies.

At Summer’s End

Time for an update on our patio flower beds, about three months after planting.

The red Salvias were the munching favorites of our furry backyard creatures, but have come on strong in the last few weeks.  The little Celosias didn’t do grow appreciably and were routinely pulverized by any heavy rainstorm.  The Marigolds did well, as expected, and put forth lots of bright orange blooms.  The Zinnias did best of all — growing like crazy, adding huge gouts of spilling yellow color to the beds, and giving the patio a nice, wild garden feel.

Zinnias will definitely make the cut next year.  Celosias, not so much.