Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Uncle Sugar is in the Student Loan Business ... All by His Lonesome

Today, President Obama signed into law a new plan that eliminates private loans for post-secondary education (college and such).

Here is a not-so-middle-of-the-road excerpt from the New York Times:

The bill includes some landmark changes, like automatic increases, tied to inflation, in the maximum Pell grant award. But for individual students, the increase in the maximum Pell grant — to $5,900 in 2019-20 from $5,550 for the 2010-11 school year — is minuscule, compared with the steep, inexorable rise in tuition for public and private colleges alike.

Aside from the incorrect useage of the word inexorable (more on this in a sec), which means unrelenting or merciless, this bill (as the NYT nicely summarizes) will have automatic increases tied to inflation.

So, let me get this straight. Colleges will have NO incentive to lower tuition because people will always be able to borrow enough money to cover the cost? Wow, sweet deal for universities. Bad deal for kids who can now 'afford' to go to college and graduate with even more debt!

Back to the 'inexorable' rise in tution ... the authors take a bit of editorial license in assuming that there is no way to prevent the cost of tuition from rising. Of course, when you have a market that is distorted (like that of college education), prices will rise as the market incentives push it that way. But, to say that there is no way to fix it or label it as 'without mercy' personifies it in a way and excuses the authors from providing any argument about why the bill is not the best of different alternatives.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Family Photo Day

Ever since Gramma Rosie got the kids Buckeyes sweaters from a little boutique in Lebanon, Ohio, Noel has been itching to get some MFPs taken (MF standing for Meaningful Family and the P is for Photos, of course).

Today was the day. Reminiscent of my grandmother taking me to the department store for my photo, the Indy Hubers loaded up the Pilot and trucked on over to JC Penney for a sitting. Armed with a coupon for a free sitting and head covered in hair gel (to hold what remains of my hair in place), I was ready.

We were met by Rachel who was full of energy on a quiet Saturday morning. She immediately took a liking to Mason and Mallory, and vice versa. She was efficient in getting us in and took plenty of pictures. She was playful with the kids and professional with mom and dad. We lucked out in getting her for a photographer.

As you can see, the photos turned out well (despite me as some of the subject matter). My personal favorite is of the two kids standing. Hope you enjoy.

And no Huber family photo op would be complete without the 'silly photo'. I don't know if it made the kids happier or Rachel happier. Either way, it is worth a laugh.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Skate Night

Saturday night the Stonegate Dad’s Club hosted a roller-skating party for the families of the school. I got a tip from the PTO president and coordinated the event.

There were a couple dozen kids there, mostly from age 5-8. The moms and dads were just as unsure on skates as the kids and that put everyone at ease.

I was never much for roller skating. To this day, I believe that there is at least one nerve that did not fully connect between my brain and my feet. Whether it is soccer, skating or dancing, the message gets lost between my brainstem and my ankles. None-the-less, I knew that many people do enjoy skating so it was a pleasure to organize the event.

Mason was unsteady at first. And by unsteady, I mean he held onto my arms while his legs and skates went every direction. In about 10 minutes he graduated to what looked like a new-born calf walking for the first time and in about a half hour, he was on his own. Never in my life have I been as good a skater as he was after 45 minutes.

Some of the kids were not as impressed with the skating. As Mason and I took a break to enjoy a Slushee from the concession stand, we sat next to a parent with her child. She explained to her daughter:

Mom: Every Saturday when I was in 4th, 5th and 6th grade, we went roller skating every Saturday.

Daughter: Why would you do that?

I don't think that reflected the mood of the group as the parents tired out but the children did not. During the last song, there were still 15 or so children on the rink (and substantially less parents).

Thanks much to Rock N Rollers for hosting. We appreciated the hospitality.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Mason and Mallory never tire of watching this ... and neither do I.

Unappreciative Harvard Freshmen

Prof. Greg Mankiw, recommended Milton Friedman's book Capitalism and Freedom. Apparently, some of the freshman in his class like the book but don't appreciate Friedman's style.
Friedman was one of the most important economists during the second half of the twentieth century. In this book, he explains his approach to economic policy, which includes more emphasis on personal freedom and market mechanisms and less emphasis on centralized governmental solutions. This book is always one of the favorites of students in my freshman seminar. Both those who agree with it and those who don't appreciate Friedman's straightforward, logical prose.
That, or Prof. Mankiw is in need of a comma.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Military Operations

In a blog post in today's USA Today, author Lionel Beehner, discusses names of Military operations. He writes of how some of these names are created naming some of the better, and worse, operation names throughout the years.

Some names are inspiring (Operation Noble Eagle), others less so (Operation Productive Effort). Some sound lifted from a bad '80s action flick (Operation Haven Denial), others literally are lifted from a bad '80s action flick (Operation Red Dawn). Some, like the 1983 invasion of Grenada, channel a mad man's diary (Operation Urgent Fury); others, like our 2006 southern Afghanistan invasion, sound vaguely kinky (Operation Mountain Thrust). Even the operations given foreign names, such as Operation Tawakalna Ala Allah (roughly "God help us"), do not inspire confidence.
This got me thinking about my military days and especially my time as the operational planner. As the S-3 Air (as the position is formally called ... just call me 3-Alpha) for my task force, I was charged with creating names with corresponding numbers for all of our operations. Some commanders are big into picking the names; my boss was not. The Operations Sergeant Major was supposed to create a numbering system but we didn't have one so that fell to me, as well.

Even at Fort Hood, I knew we were going to conduct a lot of missions (based on my experience from Bosnia and Kosovo). So, I had to think of a system that would be easy for me to create numbers and names for these operations.

Enter 1st Lt. Dave Irwin (pictured here) and his 50th Anniversary issue of Playboy.

It turned out that the fine folks at Playboy were nice enough to catalog all of their playmates from issue one in December 1954 with Marilyn Monroe as the centerfold up through (what was then) the current playmate. Darn nice of 'em, huh?

And there I had it. I had my list of names and numbers. Our deployment order was Operation Monroe (54-12). It continued from there. About three months into the deployment, my brigade commander, Col. Abrams (yes, son of Creighton Abrams), asked me in a briefing about our naming convention. He was that impressed.

One of the operations named after Joanie Nicely (Operation Nicely 56-08) made U.S. News and World Report (I can't find a link to it as it was published in 2004 ... still looking). The title was called "On a Mission called Operation Nicely". I remember the young reporter. She was way out of her depth; sitting in the abandoned warehouse turned tactical operations center in the heart of Sadr City. She assumed that the name was sarcasm; that we were going about our operation 'nicely'. Only if she would have asked ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Buckeye Basketball

My Buckeyes finished the regular season and the Big Ten tournament with a strong performance. They routed Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game after playing Illinois in a double overtime game.

Of course, neither game wouldn't have been played if not for Evan Turner's Player of the Year-type shot against, who else, Michigan. Enjoy the video below:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another Fine Trip to the Indianapolis Childrens Museum

My brother Greg and his two eldest (Ashton and Sammy) came up from Cincinnati for a visit today. Ashton is six weeks Mason's senior and Sammy, 4, has the personality of a six-year-old so everyone got along famously.

We met Greg and sons at a rain-soaked Childrens Museum for a fun day of running around, not listening to mommies or daddies and seeing who could get the wettest at the Science Works water table.

Enjoy the photos from today's event.

Dale Chiluly's glass art that dominates the open rampway to the exhibits.

From left to right: Sammy, Ashton, Mason and Mallory (and the Museum dinosaur in the back)
Mommy and Mason at the water table.

Ashton, Sammy, Mallory and Mason looking at model trains.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Dragon Tank

Please write your congressman or congresswoman. Do not let President Obama cancel the latest in military technology. See the video for details.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What the Children are Learning at School



(For those of you that get the email feed, go to the blog for videos!)

Making in Easy to Understand

This is why Greg Mankiw is a Harvard professor. He makes it easy for the rest of us to understand. From his blog today on the problem with deficit neutrality:

Imagine you have a friend who has a budget problem. Every month he spends more than he earns. His credit card bills are piling up. He is clearly on an unsustainable path. Then one day he comes to you with an idea.

Friend: I am going to take off a few days from work and fly down to Bermuda for a quick vacation.

You: But isn't that expensive? Won't that just add to your growing debts?

Friend: Yes, it is expensive. But my plan is deficit-neutral. I have decided to give up that half-caf, extra shot caramel macchiato I order at Starbucks twice every day. I really don't need that expensive drink. And if I give it up for the next three years, it will pay for my Bermuda trip.

You: Well, then, how are you going to solve the problem of your growing debts?

Friend: I am going to figure that out as soon as I return from Bermuda.

You: But in light of your budget problem, maybe you should give up Starbucks and skip the Bermuda vacation. Giving up Starbucks could be the easiest way to start balancing your budget.

Friend: You really aren't any fun, are you?

This conversation is meant to illustrate why claims of deficit-neutrality in the healthcare reform bill should not give much comfort to those worried about the U.S. fiscal situation. Even if you believe that the spending cuts and tax increases in the bill make it deficit-neutral, the legislation will still make solving the problem of the fiscal imbalance harder, because it will use up some of the easier ways to close the shortfall.
The remaining options will be less attractive, making the eventual fiscal
adjustment more painful.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Protesting at a Soldier's Funeral

The CNN lead story this evening is that the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether or not a group has the legal right to protest at a soldier's funeral.

For the record, I find the behavior that the Westboro Baptist 'Church' (and I use that term loosely) horrific. But, sadly, I believe their speech should be protected no matter how deplorable or depraved. It is the ultimate irony that they would be shouting such terrible things at the ceremony to honor the very person who gave them that right (Ain't America grand?). These folks don't know just how good they have it. It reminds me of the conversation between the Iranain and the American discussing their freedoms.

American: I can stand in front of the White House and hurl insults at Barack
Obama all day.

Iranian: So what? I can stand in front of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's house and hurl insults at Barack Obama all day, too!
While I support these folks right to protest and yell horrible things, I would also assume that no jury in their right mind would punish the father of a slain soldier for punching this guy square in the mouth.

As an aside, my favorite comment left on the site is from someone with the screen name of SickoftheBS. He (or she) writes:

Pastor Fred Phelps and his loser followers are going to burn in hell. Someone should burn down his church. I can't stand christian extremists, LOSERS.
Christian extremists, no. Other extremists seem to be okay, though.

A Tribute to Rube Goldberg


Question from Grandfather

My grandfather recently posed a question to me in an email. He wrote:

I would like to hear about the program for your Master's degree. My experience in grad school was that many of the professors felt that their course was the only one we took so they seemed to load us up on things to do outside class. This is not a problem for you? What do you experience?
(He also went on to say that of his more than two dozen grandchildren, I was, by far, his favorite. Furthermore, of his great-grandchildren, Mason and Mallory were at the top of that list, as well, but I left that part out as it is not relevant)

I would say that the faculty completely respects our time. As a distance learning program, 100 percent of the students in my cohort have full-time jobs (in addition to spouses, children, etc). They seem to understand the competing demands in our lives. Through the technology we use, the professors routinely poll us as to the best time to conduct virtual office hours or conduct live lectures.

So do they ‘load up’ on us? Only to the point where we learn the material. Many of the classes have group assignments so we can ‘divide and conquer’ and rely on each other’s skill sets to enhance our learning. For example, I just got off of a video conference call with my Econ C530 group and one of my team members is a financial analyst. He led the discussion on net present value and answered many of our questions. I believe the three of us would have struggled had it not been for the fourth’s subject matter expertise.

The professors themselves are available anytime through email (with a response time between two and 24 hours). My econ professor offered to meet with me in person (as I am local to Indianapolis) should I have trouble with some of the concepts (and by concepts I mean calculus … what a derivative of a function, you ask? Me, too).

So far, I have been completely satisfied with the workload in my first two classes.

Great Bumper Sticker

(Hat Tip: Greg Fulk)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Separated At Birth, Part II

A while ago I posted that I thought that Kevin Gillespe of Top Chef looked like Yukon Cornelius of Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer (to which my mother replied, "Doug, do you have too much time on your hands?").

Evidently, I do. I found a website that features goofy look-a-likes. You can view the world edition of my separated at birth here.

Monkey Joe's

Mason helped his buddy Thomas celebrate his birthday today. Thomas had his birthday party at a place called Monkey Joe's. For those uninitiated, it is a space full of 'bounce houses' where kids can turn loose with minimal risk of hurting themselves and/or others.

The children had a great time and wore themselves out (which is the whole point, isn't it?). By the time they sat down for pizza and cake there were many rosy cheeks and thirsty mouthes.

Thanks much to Thomas and his family for inviting us to such a wonderful event.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Numb to Numbers

I read a study a while ago (I wish I could find it so I could like to it ... sorry). But it made the point that professional poker players lose sight of the stakes they are playing for. There isn't an understanding that they will push a down payment on a home across the felt. When dealing with numbers that big every day, they lose meaning.

I bring this up when I think about Jim Bunning, the Republican senator from Kentucky who made a stand last week to force the government to pay for what it spends (a novel concept, I know). He did this to force congress to follow the Pay-go rule they just passed.

I think that our esteemed representatives are much like the above-mentioned poker players. Jim Bunning asked his colleagues to pay for the $10 billion that they wished to spend on unemployment benefits. This very important assistance had complete, bipartisan approval and was sure to pass. I don't believe any of those senators comprehend the money they are spending any more. Let's take the $10 Billion as an example. I will now switch from using descriptors (billion) to using the full numbers to show the number of commas and zeros.

Let's take a look at the numbers:

The Senate would like to spend $10,000,000,000 to pay for unemployment benefits. (The net worth of 10,000 millionaires).

What does it cost to borrow $10,000,000,000? The government can 'borrow' money in a variety of ways (actual borrowing, not firing up the printing press). Treasuries and bonds are the more common types. Johnny taxpayer (or the CHinese government), hands over hard-earned cash on the promise that one day, Uncle Sam will pay them back with interest. The rates on these instruments vary but for the sake of argument that the rate is 2 percent and the term of the loan is 30 years.

Given four variables:
Present value: ($10,000,000,000) - this is negative, as we are borrowing it
Future Value: $0 - we plan on paying it off...eventually
Interest Rate: 2.0%
Number of periods: 360 - the number of payments (=12 months * 30 years)

Now we can figure out the payment per month. The payment works out to $36,961,947 (I rounded down to the nearest dollar). But, you ask, how much does it cost Tommy Taxpayer in interest? Good question. The total interest is $3,306,301,017.

Switching back, it will cost just over $3.3 billion in interest alone to pay for this.

To you and me, that is a staggering amount. For the congress-folk, that is a mere .4% of the stimulus package (doesn’t that make it sound like a trivial amount?)

Since Sen. Bunning has decided not to run for re-election, it has freed him up to act more independently. I’d like to think that he made his point.

Below is a loan calculator. You can put in some amounts to calculate what it costs to borrow large amounts. For example, put in 787,000,000,000 (the stimulus package). After you wipe the tears, you will quickly realize that America cannot keep borrowing this way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Get Out Of Our House

I heard about this on the radio the other day.

Spend five minutes on goooh.com (yes, it is safe for work). The idea is well worth the read.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Grandma and Grandpa Visit

Grandma and Grandpa Florida (that's how they are known) came to visit over the weekend. We had a wonderful time catching up and watching Mason lose his mind in a matter of minutes, transforming from (somewhat) mannered 6-year-old to screaming, non-sensical street performer (But, daddy, I have a new audience now!).

Mallory, on the other hand, just couldn't keep up, as much as she tried. Keeping up with her older brother is challenging enough but when he kicks it into high gear ... fughetaboutit. She took short naps, fearing she would miss Mason's latest time-out.

Uncle Allen, Henry and Baxter came to visit on Saturday. Noel cooked a turkey (and three casseroles, a gooey pumpkin cake thingy, pototoes, stuffing, etc). I watched helplessly as she and Roger (Grandpa Florida) deftly manuevered around the kitchen. I did my best to eat too much and then fought the urge to pass out on the couch.

Thanks to gramma and grampa for making the trip from Florida (and braving the cold).

Sorry I can't write more, I must go deprogram my children.

Privatizing the Post Office

I have blogged about this topic before (in passing) and I think it deserves another look. That is, of course, privatizing or, (better yet) getting rid of it all together. There is one small problem, however. It is against the law for a company to deliver a 1st class piece of mail. That's right, not legal.

This post comes on the heels of the post office's trial balloon about suspending Saturday delivery. I am sure there will be no corresponding decrease in price as there is set to be an $8 billion (yes, folks with a 'b') budget short fall this year. The post office is semi-private and is not funded by the government. But, it is the second largest employer (behind Wal-Mart and not including the federal govt as a whole). According to the AP, the payroll every two weeks is $2.1 billion (again, with a 'b').

So what about the 600,000 people that would lose their jobs if the post office went away? The fact is that mail still has to be delivered. Many of those people would just start wearing a different uniform (probably brown). Those folks would bring you your mail more efficiently that it is being done now. (Raise your hand if you like going to the Post Office)

Unfortunately, this is one issue politicians will never touch. There is no upside for them and tremendous downside.

One can dream, anyway. And on Saturdays I can dream a little longer since I won't be going to the mailbox.