Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Presty the DJ for May 31

We started with jazz yesterday, so it's worth noting that today is the anniversary of the release of the first jazz record, "Darktown Strutters Ball":

Ray Stevens' "Gitarzan" reached number eight today in 1969 ...

... the same day John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded "Give Peace a Chance":

Johnny Paycheck, who sang something everyone who's ever worked for a living wanted to say at at least one point:

Mick Ralphs played guitar for Mott the Hoople ...

... and Bad Company:

John "Bonzo" Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin:

This Corey Hart is not the Brewers' centerfielder but the two-hit wonder of the 1980s:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Presty the DJ for May 30

Two more Beatles anniversaries today: "Love Me Do" hit number one in 1964 ...

... four years before the Beatles started work on their only double album. Perhaps that work was so hard that they couldn't think of a more original title than: "The Beatles." You may know it better, however, as "the White Album":

Birthdays today start with Benny Goodman, who asks us to ...

Guitarist Lenny Davidson, one of the Dave Clark 5:

Drummer Nicky "Topper" Headon of The Clash:

Since we've already mentioned one woodwind player, we should mention another — today is the anniversary of the death of saxophonist Paul Desmond, who collaborated with Dave Brubeck for this classic:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Presty the DJ for May 29

This is more a pop than rock anniversary: One of the two funniest songs Johnny Cash performed, "One Piece at a Time," hit number 29 today in 1976:

Birthdays start with Gary Brooker of Procol Harum:

Bassist Mike Porcaro of Toto:

Drummer Mel Gaynor of Simple Minds:

Here is a varied career: David Palmer played drums for ABC ...

... and AC/DC:

Today is also the anniversary of the death of Jeff Buckley, who drowned today in 1997:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Presty the DJ for May 28

Paul McCartney must like releasing albums in  May. Today in 1971, he released his second post-Beatles album, "Ram," which included his first post-Beatles number one single:

Birthdays today include Papa John Creech of the Jefferson Airplane:

Gladys Knight:

John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival:

Roland Gift of the Fine Young Cannibals:

Kylie Minogue:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Presty the DJ for May 27

Today in 1975, Paul McCartney released "Venus and Mars" (not to be confused with "Ebony and Ivory"):

Birthdays include April Wine drummer Jerry Mercer:

Left-wing singer Bruce Cockburn:

Bass player Pete Sears of Jefferson Starship:

Neil Finn played for Split Enz ...

... and Crowded House:

Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Venturing capital, or, If not this, then what?

When people on opposite sides of the ideological divide are skeptical about something, you too should be skeptical. (When they agree on something, you should also be skeptical, but that’s a subject for another day.)
Milwaukee Magazine’s Bruce Murphy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Patrick McIlheran are similarly skeptical about the venture capital bill in the Legislature. So is Thomas Hefty, who has for years campaigned for a better business climate in this state.
One reason for our business climate problems is the small amount of venture capital — money invested in companies that usually fit in the “high risk/high reward” investment category. Promoting venture capital was part of nearly every economic development study conducted in 2010 in advance of the election.
The program is called the Jobs Now Fund and represents part of the $400 million Wisconsin Jobs Act. It aims to jump-start job creation in Wisconsin by promising $200 million in future tax credits in exchange for $250 million raised from insurance companies.
The money would be invested in Wisconsin businesses through management companies known as certified capital companies, or “CAPCOs.” …
In written testimony submitted for the hearing, Tom Hefty, the former chief executive of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Wisconsin, called the program “the largest special interest Wisconsin tax cut in history masquerading as an economic development initiative.”
The $200 million in tax credits would never have to be repaid to the state. The payback, supporters say, would come from the job creation and business growth that would result from the investments.
There is no question this state needs more business investors. Not only have we lagged the national average in personal income growth for the past three decades, but we are low on business start-ups as well. (And for all the left’s braying about the evil “rich,” Wisconsin has very few people who could be defined as really “rich,” which helps show the state’s economic problems as well. The fact that the really “rich” can be named by those who pay attention to such things shows we don’t have nearly enough of them.) The question is how to encourage business investment, particularly in the fast-growth companies that were meant for venture capital.
Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still explains how the bill would work:
 The bill would create two funds totaling $400 million under the umbrella of a new Wisconsin Venture Capital Authority. The complementary funds — the Jobs Now Fund and the Badger Jobs Fund — are designed, respectively, to address Wisconsin’s short-term and long-term investment needs.
The proposal builds on the success of the widely acclaimed and often duplicated Act 255 Tax Credits, which were passed in 2005 and enhanced in 2009. Those tax credits have helped enhance early-stage investing in Wisconsin — but largely at the “angel” capital level, thus creating a need for follow-up investing by venture capital firms in emerging companies.
The credits helped spawn angel networks across Wisconsin, and those networks have dramatically increased both the number of deals and the dollars invested in those deals. But many angels are tapped out. They need “exits” — company mergers, acquisitions or venture investments — to recoup their money. And the companies in which those angels have invested are struggling to survive.
Senate Bill 94 would create the Wisconsin Venture Capital Authority and two funds:
The Jobs Now Fund is envisioned as rapid-response fund. It would issue $200 million in tax credits to insurance companies over time in return for investments in certified capital funds. The tax credits would be for 80% of the value of the investments made, so $200 million in credits could attract $250 million in investments. The credits could not be claimed for a minimum of five years, so the money would be put to work well before the credits are paid. It would invest only in Wisconsin companies that meet specific guidelines. In other states, this approach is called a “certified capital company,” or CAPCO, approach.
The Badger Jobs Fund is the longer-term tool. It would invest in qualified venture capital funds on a “fund of funds” basis. The authority could issue up to $200 million in private placement bonds for the Badger Jobs Fund, with the bonds supported by investment returns, the incremental growth of state tax collections from financed companies and contingent tax credits. Bonds would not be a debt of the state, and no more than 15% of the funds could go to any single venture capital firm. For every $1 a qualified venture capital fund receives from the Badger Jobs Fund, it would need to raise $3 on its own.
Murphy goes so far, commenting on the Journal Sentinel story, as calling the Jobs Now Fund a scam:
… the law allows the CAPCOs to keep all the money invested in them by the state, plus 80 percent of the profits generated.  Critics have called it a “massive corporate giveaway,” [reporter Kathleen Gallagher] writes.
One new point in her story is a Minnesota study of Wisconsin’s earlier CAPCO program, which found that rather than increasing it may have actually displaced the total amount of venture capital funding in Wisconsin. …
The language of the bill is quite convoluted, and most legislators never understand it.  I’d love to hear a detailed explanation of the Wisconsin bill by its sponsors, Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel).
The CAPCOs have a set game plan and typically grab all the state funding before any real venture capital companies can get a dollar of it. “Local venture capital people often support the bill because they think they’ll get the money,” says [Rutgers University Prof. Sass] Rubin. “But they never do. It’s a con.” …
Rubin cites an earlier law passed in Wisconsin, a 25 percent tax credit for angel investors, as a far more sensible way to go. “It’s just enough money to encourage investment, but you’re not screwing up the market and becoming the only reason they invest.”
Rubin’s aforementioned position happens to dovetail with a previous Murphy column that describes CAPCOs thusly:
Wisconsin previously passed a CAPCO bill in 1998 which created a $50 million venture capital fund.  Normally, experts say, a venture capital fund attracts money from investors, invests it in start-up companies and then returns the principal plus 70 to 80 percent of the profits to the investors. But under the CAPCO model, the state was the investor and got nothing back: None of the profits flowed back to it, and none of the principal was returned.
The state Legislative Audit Bureau found it cost $90,000 per job for that CAPCO program. That’s an outrageous cost, but actually better than the experience in most states. Florida spent $150 million and lost 150 jobs. New York spent $280 million but lost 88 jobs.
A study done for the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds found that state subsidized CAPCOs  gained  “10 times the return” of unsubsidized companies.
One problem is that your favorite lefty (go here and find the list under “Left” for starters) inevitably describes anything that promotes business development, including business investment, as a giveaway for the “rich.” The same people President Obama has been ordering to hire more employees are the same people accused of trying to run the state (the Koch brothers, owners of Georgia–Pacific, one of this state’s largest employers), ruin the state (any business that objects to the overregulation of the Department of Natural Resources), or rob the state (any business person who complains about the state’s tax hell, as in the fourth highest state and local taxes in the U.S.).
Tax credits for business should not be used because businesses should not be taxed on their income. The benefits of a profitable business — employees being paid, customers being served and contributions made to their communities — are sufficient to our society if a business was not taxed on any of its income. And businesses don’t pay taxes anyway; every tax assessed on a business — corporate income taxes, personal property taxes, payroll taxes, and taxes to fund Unemployment Compensation, among others — is part of what the business charges for its products or services. Every dollar of cost government dumps upon a business means one less dollar that can go into employee salaries, into owner dividends (and half the households in this country are in the stock market, directly or indirectly), or back into the business.
McIlheran identifies the specific problem and the general solution:
The plan would offer $200 million in future tax credits to insurers not because anyone likes them but because they’re giant pools of investment money. They’d put up the cash, $250 million, that other management companies would parcel out to entrepreneurs, and the tax credits would ensure they wouldn’t lose their shirts. The credits are a lure, nothing more.
Still, why the special inducements? Why the tax gimmicks, which are what high-tax, regulatory hells offer? Why not stick with the program of making taxes more reasonable generally and regulation more rational for all? Sen. Glenn Grothman called it “the most dubious giveaway I’ve seen since I’ve been in the legislature,” and Tom Hefty, Mr. Business Climate, calls it suspect. Experts get quoted by the Journal Sentinel as saying it’s a deal of dubious worth.
Hit the brakes. Read the prospectus carefully, as they say in those ads, because if forgoing future tax revenue is to be considered an investment in luring capital to Wisconsin start-ups, it isn’t an investment that state lawmakers have spent enough time examining.
The “tax gimmicks, which are what high-tax, regulatory hells offer,” were the preferred approach of the Doyle Administration. They worked well for the companies that were able to take advantage of them. They were better than no tax incentives at all, but the state’s business climate certainly did not improve during the 2000s. Had the state’s business climate improved at all, then the trend of per-capita personal income growth trailing the nation’s, which started during the Patrick Lucey administration (for those ignorant of Wisconsin political history, Lucey was governor in the 1970s), would have ended during the Doyle administration. It hasn’t.
There is also a potential problem with any kind of state-sponsored venture capital approach that has been demonstrated  by the alternative energy industry in the past few years. The Obama administration has offered huge amounts of tax credits to encourage use of wind and solar power and other green energy technology. People and businesses take advantage of the tax credits, and then when they expire, business drops off the face of the earth, so to speak. And one should hesitate when the government anoints a preferred business sector (in the present case, any business with the word “green” in its title), because government operates on politics and not on what is the best potential investment.
I do not believe the proponents of this bill are trying to perpetuate a scam on the state. I think there are reasonable objections to what they propose that are more meaningful than the reflexive anti-business attitude we’ve seen in this state for far too long. It is, for one thing, easier to pass one bill than to pass an entire program, contained within several pieces of legislation, to eliminate business taxes, cut personal income taxes, reduce regulation and defang the regulators. That is what needs to happen in Wisconsin.

Presty the DJ for May 26

Another Beatles anniversary today: Their "Beatles 1967–1970" album reached number one today in 1973:

Levon Helm, drummer for The Band:

Verdan "Phally" Allen, keyboard player for Mott the Hoople:

Gary Peterson of guess who? The Guess Who:

Stevie Nicks:

Lenny Kravitz, who though he records in this century sounds as if he recorded about 40 years ago:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Au revoir

Less than three weeks ago, a group of Ripon families invited 27 French students into their homes.
Even though it seems like they just got here, they left Tuesday morning. I have rarely had an experience where time went by that fast.

You've read about the activities they've done, including an unscheduled activity Sunday night — a tour of our basement bathroom/tornado shelter during a tornado warning. (The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes in Kingston and Markesan, which were headed in this direction Sunday night.)
One thing I can report is that apparently the entire candy supply of Ripon as of Monday night left for Paris Tuesday. Moritz stuffed his suitcase full of Nerds and Pop Tarts, in exchange for the French chocolate he presented his host parents.

Moritz's last day in Ripon started with breakfast — a really large breakfast ...

... followed by a going-away ceremony at Murray Park/Quest Elementary School:

And then they departed for Mitchell Field in Milwaukee with a police (and K-9 dog) escort.

Based on interviewing the kids Sunday for the Ripon Channel Report, the baseball game was high on the popularity list. They went to things they perhaps didn't think they were going to — in several students' cases, the Cub Scout Pack 3735 year-ending carnival — but the kids all proved their adaptability by hanging around with each other while their host families engaged in activities more age-appropriate, perhaps, for those younger than the French students.

I can't personally attest to this since I didn't do any foreign-exchange activities as a student, but I've never heard anyone who did regret the experience. And truth be told, hosting Moritz for nearly three weeks wasn't an imposition at all; that's how well he fit in.

There were genuine tears among the students and a few of the host parents Tuesday morning. There certainly are ways to keep in touch — the Internet, Skype, cellphones, etc. — but one reality of life is that you never really know what the future will hold. I think we'd all like to keep in touch. Whether host families and their guests actually will be able to keep in touch remains to be seen. But I think it's unlikely anyone involved will forget the French Adventure.

Presty the DJ for May 25

Two unusual anniversaries in rock music today, beginning with John Lennon's taking delivery of his Rolls-Royce today in 1967 — and it was not your garden-variety Rolls:

Ten years to the day later, the Beatles released "Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962," which helped prove that bands don't need to be in existence to continue recording. (And as we know, artists don't have to be living to continue recording either.)

Meanwhile, back in 1968, the Rolling Stones released "Jumping Jack Flash," which fans found to be a gas gas gas:

The short list of birthdays includes Mitch Margo of the Tokens ...

... and Klaus Meine of the Scorpions:

Another edition of Same Song Different Artists:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To vacation, or to work

My definition of seasons is closer to the meteorological definition than the calendar definition. But not completely.
I have determined that, in Wisconsin at least, summer runs from the Memorial Day weekend to the Labor Day weekend, fall runs from after Labor Day to the Thanksgiving weekend, winter runs from Thanksgiving to Easter, and spring runs from Easter to Memorial Day weekend. (Which means that we had a really, really, really long winter this year, but you knew that already.)
That means that summer is beginning at the end of this week. School is a couple of weeks away from ending for the school year, depending on how many snow days you’ve had.
That brings thoughts of vacation for kids. And for the news media, that brings stories asking why Americans have so little vacation compared with other countries. CNN.com frowns:
Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world — much less than what people in many other countries receive.
And even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached.
Some U.S. companies don’t like employees taking off more than one week at a time. Others expect them to be on call or check their e-mail even when they’re lounging on the beach or taking a hike in the mountains.
(One wonders what CNN’s vacation policy is for its employees.)
This question has economic impact in Wisconsin. The license plates may say “America’s Dairyland,” but tourism is one of the state’s top three employers, and most of that tourism spending is coming up. (For proof, watch Illinois travelers try to navigate around the U.S. 41 construction in Oshkosh this weekend.)
This kind of story presents enormous opportunities for America-bashing among Americans. Someone namedNomadic Matt, writing about why Americans don’t vacation overseas, managed to bash government, the media and ourselves in just two paragraphs:
Americans are just scared of the world. I mean really scared. Maybe even petrified. In this post-9/11 world, Americans have been taught the world is a big scary place. There are terrorists outside every hotel waiting to kidnap you. People don’t like you because you are American. The world is violent. It’s poor. It’s dirty. It’s savage. Canada and Europe are O.K. but, if you go there, they will still be rude to you because you are American. No one likes us.
Even before 9/11, the media created an environment of fear. If it bleeds, it leads right? Prior to 9/11, the media played up violence at home and abroad. Pictures of riots in the foreign streets, threats against Americans, and general violence were all played up to portray a violent and unsafe world. After, 9/11, it only got worse. Politicians now tell us “they hate you” as former NYC mayor, Rudy Guiliani, did during his campaign. It’s US vs. THEM!!!
Those two paragraphs border on parody, but they’re not without some validity. It is true that Americans are much less multilingual than other countries. (Our French foreign exchange student, who leaves today, speaks at least four languages.) Government’s efforts to protect us from the next 9/11 — the Patriot Act, color-coded terrorism warnings, the fourth-degree sexual assault gang known as the Transportation Security Administration — have not made Americans feel safer,  have they? For whatever reason(s), the adventurous spirit that propelled our ancestors to leave their homes for an uncertain future in the New World has been replaced by a desire for familiarity and security, financial and otherwise. (Of course, the prevalent attitude in Europe seems to be that every American has shot at least one other American in the past 12 months, so fear based on ignorance is not unique to this country.)
Americans are accused of believing the world revolves around this country. That’s because … the world doesrevolve around this country, like it or don’t. Combine military, economic and political power, and the U.S. is still number one, like it or don’t. The number of people trying to move to the U.S. far outweighs the number planning on permanently leaving.
Nomadic Matt refrains from America-bashing long enough to point out:
Most family vacations in America are to other parts of America. Why? Because the U.S.A. takes up a whole continent and we have all the world’s environments in our states. Need beaches? Head to Florida. The tropics? Hawaii. Desert? Arizona. The cold Tundra? Alaska. Temperate forests? Washington. This attitude is best summed up by a response I got from a friend in Iowa: “Why would you want to go to Thailand? It’s far and scary. If you want beaches, just go to Florida.” Americans simply don’t see the need to go anywhere else when they can do it all in their country …
One difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world is the latter’s dependence on mass transit. In this country, the largest percentage of vacations are by family car. As much fun as, say, buying a Porsche and opting for European delivery would be, the number of Americans who drive on an overseas vacation is quite low. (Probably due to the stories others will tell you about the quality, or lack thereof, of other countries’ drivers.) So if you travel outside the U.S., you are dependent on the train or bus travel schedule, in addition to the airlines’ travel schedule. (And those who fly on business will tell you the more you fly in the post-9/11 world, the less you like the experience.) A lot of Americans prefer transportation independence.
More generally, part of the reason Americans vacation less, I believe, is genetic, believe it or not. Our ancestors came to this country to better themselves. Those Europeans then and Latin Americans,  Asians and other minorities now who come here believe they will have better lives here than where they came from. What that does equal? Work, including more than one job in many cases. Those not interested in improving their lives (perhaps because they felt their lives were pretty good anyway) never came here.
Related is the concept that Americans like to work. One reason to go into business is to make more money (you hope); another is to be more in charge of your own destiny. Another is to be able to do what businesses do in the places where they have facilities — serve their customers, employ people, and contribute to their communities. As the CNN story admits:
Working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success, wrote Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, the study’s author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“Americans maximize their… [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure,” he found.
I assume that part of the harrumphing about us not-enough-time-off Americans has to do with your attitude toward not just work, but your current work situation. (I came to the conclusion that most journalists are anti-business because, well, as a work environment journalism puts the “fun” in “dysfunction,” and journalists probably assume that most workplaces are like theirs.) If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, or if you’re in an undesirable work environment (however you define that), or if you feel undercompensated (however you define that) for your work, then you’d probably prefer to be anywhere else other than work.
One reason I have not been sympathetic to public employee unions in their attempted coup d’etat to reverse the Nov. 2 election results is because of the number of business owners I know. Most businesses don’t have many employees, and making a profit (the most important thing, the thing without which nothing else happens, for any business) is hard. Unlike public-sector employees, business owners’ work hours vastly exceed 40 per week. They work nights and weekends and holidays. Their employees get vacation time; they often don’t, or if they do, they are the ones emailing and calling back to the office.
Another reason for lack of vacationing that parents figure out is the cost, in numerous ways, of vacations. Much, but not all of it, is financial. On the one hand, for parents to go off on their own vacation and leave the kids with someone else seems irresponsible. But given the bickering that takes place among our children on a typical day, to be blunt the idea of listening to their arguing for several days with no alternative outlet for the adults — you can’t tell the kids to go outside when you’re in a van between destinations — doesn’t sound very appealing. (How my parents put up with that with my brother and me is beyond my ability to comprehend.) Even if the kids get along, based our experience from a three-day wedding trip to Indiana last year, American military units have an easier time deploying than our family does going anywhere overnight. Vacations are really for the kids, not the parents; put another way, parents never get real vacations until the kids leave home.
In the current economy, the tourism industry has promoted the concept of a “staycation.” Even before today, I’ve taken weeks of vacation without planning on a major trip. And other than not having to get up to go to work, I can’t endorse the concept, seeing as how that kind of “staycation” inevitably involves doing things you haven’t previously had time to do (usually some kind of house project), or taking the kids someplace you wouldn’t otherwise choose to go.
The stereotypical school summer vacation — days where nothing other than lunch and dinner is on your schedule — is disappearing for kids, too. Those who believe Americans don’t get enough vacation time are countered by those who believe that American students aren’t in school enough. Chinese students are in school about a month longer than Americans, and the Japanese school year runs from April to March (with breaks between trimesters). Throw in where American students’ test scores compare to other countries’ students, and the conclusion is that more time in school would equal better test scores. (That is an assertion not necessarily proven by evidence, similar to the assertion that more money spent on schools is supposed to lead to better results.)
Our kids’ summer schedules include summer school, baseball, Scouting summer camps and trips to grandparents. (All except the first by their choice, I point out.) Wisconsin summers are so short that if I were to travel outside the U.S., I would (1) want it to be during a period of usually crappy weather here (2) in a place that has better weather than here. And that runs smack into school for the kids.
Economists will tell you that there are always trade-offs. Having children is the largest trade-off, a trade-off the scope of which no parent-to-be realizes. That trip where you and your significant other jet-set yourselves through Europe? Not happening in your lifetime, mom and dad. Home ownership is much more valued in this country than in other countries; the trade-off is that frighteningly large number that represents the sum of 360 house payments. And many trade-offs are trade-offs you don’t even realize you’re making at the time. While I would never argue against the value of going to college, there is that matter of post-graduation student debt, which encourages graduates into the work world as soon as possible.
And what if you actually like your work? (I wrote three years ago that you should never love your job, because your job doesn’t love you.) Supposedly on our deathbeds we won’t regret not having working more. But many business owners I’ve met over the years don’t believe they’ve worked a day in their lives; that’s how much they enjoy doing what they do — serving customers, seeing the people they’ve hired grow in their skills and accomplishments, being able to make a positive difference in their communities, and so on. Employment is a two-way street — no one is entitled to a job, and certainly not a particular job; but no employer is entitled to a specific employee either.  Each has to agree to meet the needs of the other; when that doesn’t happen, either an employer excuses an employee from further work, or an employee leaves for a better opportunity.
If you think you get too little vacation time, maybe the problem isn’t in your vacation time, but in your work.