Driving 55

It was 37 years ago today that the Federal government mandated one of the most ignored regulations in U.S. history — the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit.

The purpose of the so-called “double nickel,” we were told, was to save gasoline. The country was in the midst of the “energy crisis” and forcing drivers to slow down would save millions of gallons of gasoline… or so we were promised.

Disobedience to the new rule was almost universal. For many drivers, it became a contest to see how much over the speed limit they could go before law enforcement officials would stop them for speeding. In the wide-open spaces of the West, that number approached three figures.

This “temporary” regulation was finally revoked in 1996. In the 23 years it was the law, scofflaws paid many times more money in speeding tickets to various governments than the combined savings on gasoline.

–Chip Wood

The Worst Books Ever Written

Have you read a really bad book lately?  No, I don’t mean one of those “beach books” with poor plotting, inane dialogue and pitiful characterization. Lord knows there are plenty of those out there.

No, I’m talking here about some really dreadful books. The ones that helped produce the world’s most ruthless dictators… slaughtered millions of innocent civilians… and created the most misery.

A couple of years ago, Human Events (one of my favorite conservative news-weeklies) asked a group of scholars and public-policy leaders to compile a list of the 10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles. They then voted on all books nominated, with the worst (No. 1) getting 10 points, the next getting nine points and so on down the list.

A whole bunch of terrible titles got an Honorable Mention. (Or maybe that should be a Dishonorable Mention.)  But here are the Top 10 — the books the scholars credited with causing more harm to mankind than anything else written in the past 250 years.

1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
There was near-unanimity on the book that deserved the No. 1 slot. The Communist Manifesto received almost twice as many points as the title that captured second place. And is it any wonder?   The “dictatorship of the proletariat,” as implemented by Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, led to the wholesale extermination of more than 200 million people.

I’m not talking about the victims of war here, but the systematic slaughter of entire populations as a means of consolidating and preserving state power.  Of course the “withering away of the state,” as promised in the Manifesto, has never occurred anywhere communism has been tried. That was nothing more than boob-bait, as H.L. Mencken rightly observed, designed to seduce credulous idealists and immature college students.

2. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) was originally published in two parts in 1925 and 1926, after Hitler was imprisoned for leading the Nazi Brown Shirts in the so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” that tried to overthrow the Bavarian government. In it, Hitler explained exactly what he planned to do once he seized power — murder the Jews, wage war against France and then Russia and establish a thousand-year reign (his “Third Reich”) for the Aryan race.

What a pity that authorities dismissed him as an insignificant annoyance, instead of the evil genius whose efforts would lead directly to World War II, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, and the slaughter of millions of Jews. They released him from prison instead of saving all of us from a lot of suffering.

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao Zedong
This tract, also known as “The Little Red Book,” was ostensibly written by the Chinese Communist dictator in 1966, 17 years after he seized power in China and founded the “People’s Republic.”  More than a billion copies were distributed in China as part of Mao’s “cultural revolution.” 

But believe it or not, Mao’s “Little Red Book” found its greatest popularity among Marxist college professors in the West, who couldn’t get enough of such anti-American pap as this from Chairman Mao: “It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism.”

4. The Kinsey Report by Alfred Kinsey
Kinsey and his staff conducted extensive surveys of American sexual habits, including incredibly explicit one-on-one interviews, in the 1940s. The results appeared in two books — Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948, and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, published in 1953. Together, the two became known as The Kinsey Report.

Kinsey, a zoologist at Indiana University, acknowledged that part of his purpose was to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy. One reviewer later noted that Kinsey’s first report “stunned the nation by saying that American men were so sexually wild that 95 percent of them could be accused of some kind of sexual offense under 1940s laws.” 

His second report went even further, describing “sexual activity involving girls younger than age 4 and suggest[ing] that sex between adults and children could be beneficial.”

5. Democracy and Education by John Dewey
Here’s a name that isn’t mentioned much anymore, but Dewey’s influence in the first half of the 20th century was enormous. In this 1916 work, Dewey (the “father of progressive education”) denounced education that focused on traditional character development and the accumulation of “hard” knowledge (i.e., facts).

Instead, the secular humanist advocated teaching “thinking skills,” with little concern about what is “right” or “wrong.”  We are still paying the price for such idiocy today, nearly 100 years later.

6. Das Kapital by Karl Marx
When he died in 1867, Marx had completed just the first volume of a planned three-volume study. His benefactor Friedrich Engels finished the other two volumes from notes Marx left. In his magnum opus, Marx portrayed capitalism as merely an ugly phase in human development, in which capitalists exploit labor by paying the cheapest wages possible to amass as much wealth as possible. (Sounds like a Barack Obama speech today, doesn’t it?)  Such injustice would end, Marx said, in a worldwide proletarian revolution.

7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
In this 1963 bestseller, Betty Friedan, the first of the angry feminists, disparaged stay-at-home motherhood as “a comfortable concentration camp.” Friedan later founded and was for many years the president of the National Organization for Women.
Friedan was no mere liberal activist, however. As David Horowitz notes, “from her college days and until her mid-30s, she was a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column, and for a time even the lover of a young communist.”

Friedan’s unattractiveness was much more than skin deep; her ugliness went all the way to the bone.

8. Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte
I’m not sure how this one made it to Top 10. Like you, I can think of lots of books that have done more damage — starting with Dr. Spock’s baby book, which told generations of parents not to spank their children. Still, this six-volume study, published between 1830 and 1842, is generally credited with creating the field of social studies, or “sociology” (a word Comte coined).
The son of a royalist Catholic family that survived the French revolution, Comte turned his back on theology, bragging that, “I have naturally ceased to believe in God.”  Comte taught that man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be, without any reliance on a Higher Power.

9. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
An oft-scribbled bit of college-campus graffiti goes, “God is dead — Nietzsche,” followed by “Nietzsche is dead — God.”   Nietzsche’s contention that “God is dead” first appeared in his 1882 book, The Gay Science, but was expanded and popularized in Beyond Good and Evil, which appeared four years later.
In it, the German philosopher argued that all men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside all obstacles to their ambition, including religiously-inspired moral rules. Not surprisingly, the Nazis loved Nietzsche.

10.  General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes 
Lord Keynes was an interesting contradiction. A member of the British elite (he was educated at Eton and Cambridge), he did more to popularize ever-expanding government than any other economist of his era.

Keynes became immensely wealthy through his investments, yet argued in favor of deficit spending and government borrowing. Long before Richard Nixon famously said, “We are all Keynesians now,” Franklin Roosevelt used Keynes’ arguments to justify the massive growth of government. As a result, today we have a $3.5 trillion Federal budget and a $13.8 trillion national debt. Thanks, Lord Keynes.

Dishonorable Mentions
Want some more really bad books?  There are 10 titles that garnered a substantial number of votes, but fell short of the top 10. In order they are: The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, What Is To Be Done by V.I. Lenin, Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, On Liberty by John Stuart Mill [I don't know why this got included], Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner, Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel, The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault and Soviet Communism: A New Civilization by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

So there you have it — 20 books that have caused unimaginable suffering, horror and devastation in the world. While some of them have (deservedly) disappeared into the trash cans of history, you will still find most of them praised and promoted on our college campuses today.

And allow me to add one more: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Inheritance, by Barack Obama (and William Ayers). This book is credited with helping to launch Obama’s Presidential campaign. You can see where that has gotten us.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Presidential Disrespect, Ambassadorial Pat-Down, Spending And Charity

*They said WHAT about their leader? Seems a whole bunch of Democrats in Congress are upset with President Barack Obama about his compromise with Republicans over extending the Bush tax cuts. Heck, even Obama seems upset with Obama! But not to the extent of some Dems in the House, who chanted “Just Say No!” when they caucused. In fact, one even yelled out, “F*** the President.” Imagine the outcry if a Republican had done this.

*No way to treat an ambassador. Did you hear that India’s ambassador to this country was subjected to a very intimate pat-down by Transportation Security Administration officials when she tried to fly back to Washington, D.C., last week? Meera Shankar had flown to Jackson, Miss., to deliver a speech on international relations at the university there. When she tried to clear security for her return flight, TSA officials subjected her to the same humiliating searches many Americans have endured. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security said their people acted properly.

*More proof of government’s irresponsible spending. Households and businesses in America not only didn’t borrow more in 2009, they actually started paying off debt. That’s not true of government at any level. According to the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report, households reduced their debt by 1.7 percent in 2009. Businesses did even better, reducing their debt by 2.3 percent. State and local governments, on the other hand, increased their debt by 4.9 percent. Uncle Sam was the biggest porker of all. Federal debt grew an alarming 22.7 percent in the same period.

*The most generous Americans. I’ve written before on how amazingly generous we Americans are. No other country begins to match our charitable giving. But here’s an interesting addition to the data: It turns out that the most religious among us are also the most generous. Among the top 20 percent of believers, 94 percent gave to charity within the past year. Their total giving averaged $3,000 per person. The most secular 20 percent of Americans were also generous, but not nearly as much. Some 64 percent gave to charity in the past year, with average giving of $1,000. And one last point: While giving nationally has fallen 11 percent since the financial crisis began, charitable contributions to religious groups have dropped only 0.1 percent. That’s quite a difference.

–Chip Wood

Of Flying Machines And Speeding Computers

On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright took a short flight for a man, but a giant leap for mankind — as his strange-looking flying machine took off at Kitty Hawk, N.C. As brother Wilbur watched, Orville stayed aloft for 12 seconds, traveling a little more than 120 feet.

Wilbur and Orville made four flights that day, the longest one measuring 852 feet and lasting a full minute. They marked mankind’s first flights in a heavier-than-air machine — something that previously had been considered impossible.

And speaking of doing the impossible, less than a century later, Intel announced another kind of record. On Dec. 17, 1996, the company revealed that a computer it had assembled, using more than 9,000 Pentium processors (and costing $55 million), could perform more than 1 trillion calculations per second. That was two-and-a-half times faster than any computer that existed at the time.

To put it another way, it would take the entire population of the U.S., using hand calculators, 125 years to perform as many calculations as Intel’s computer could do in a second.

Today that machine would be considered slow.

–Chip Wood

The Transportation Security Administration Gets Up Close And Personal

Trust Jay Leno, America’s humorist, to get a laugh out of it. The Tonight Show audience howled when he said, “It was bad enough when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents would go through your underwear in your luggage. Now they’re going through your underwear while you’re wearing it.”

A friend of mine also tried to make light of the situation. After a recent trip he remarked, “I was patted down so vigorously, I didn’t know whether to leave a tip or lodge a complaint.” But in truth, there’s nothing funny about the new and aggressive screening that many travelers have encountered at the airport this holiday season.

It all began when those wonderful folks at the TSA purchased the latest in full-body scanners. The machines — which require you to not only take off your shoes, but also remove your belt, empty your pockets and stand with an arms-over-the-head, “I surrender” posture — are so sophisticated that they can (and do) take photographs of what you would look like if you were standing there virtually naked.

This has led to some inappropriate comments on the part of security personnel. One male TSA screener was overheard saying to another, “Did you see the garbanzos on that lady?” His buddy replied, “No, but I’ll catch them on the rerun.”

While the TSA assures us that the powerful X-rays used in the new screeners are harmless, many medical authorities disagree. At least one expert says the radiation is 20 times more powerful than what the TSA claims. Apparently the radiation to your neck and face is strong enough to increase the danger of skin cancer. As a result, the pilots association advised its members to refuse to go through the machines.

So it comes as no surprise that there has been a huge outcry raised against the machines and the people who operate them. This led to the TSA to offer an alternative: If you refuse to go through a scanner, you will be subjected to a very aggressive, full-body pat-down. And by “aggressive,” I mean that your genitalia (and, if you’re a female, your breasts) will be touched. While trying to defend the agency, Senator Claire McCaskill had the audacity to refer to the TSA procedures as “love pats.” Hope that costs her some votes next election.

Let me interject what is definitely not a rhetorical question here for your consideration: What sort of person would want the job of being a TSA security watchdog? I don’t know what psychological screening they undergo — if you do, I wish you’d tell us. But just imagine the sort of person who would respond to the following advertisement:

“HELP WANTED: Must be willing to subject adults and children to all sorts of humiliating orders, including full-body pat-downs and invasive photography. If anyone resists, you must tell them, ‘You must comply or you won’t fly.’ Whatever happens, you will have the law — and numerous fellow employees — to back you up.”

I can’t imagine anything that would be a more overt appeal to perverts and petty tyrants. Can you? In fact, given the enormous possibility of abuse, I’m shocked we haven’t heard more complaints about over-zealous officials abusing their authority.

It’s no surprise that many Americans are resisting and protesting. One of the latest is a young man named John Tyner, who secretly recorded his encounter with security personnel at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. When he discovered that the new, invasive, full-body scanners had been installed at the airport (despite the TSA’s Website saying they weren’t in use there), he refused to submit to the machine.

He was then told that a TSA agent would have to conduct a kind of “groin check.” His reply has delighted more than a million people who watched the encounter on the clip he posted afterwards on YouTube: “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.”

Of course, in this day and age, it is far more likely that Tyner would be the one who was arrested. When he said that he’d refuse to fly and would go back home rather than submit to the new procedures, he was told that he would be “subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine” if he left the secured area.

Why is all of this necessary? Actually, as commentator Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, it’s not. “This has nothing to do with safety,” he declared. “95% of these inspections, searches, shoe removals, and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling.”


In the face of rapidly growing opposition to its measures, the TSA launched a massive public relations campaign of its own. Suddenly, TSA Administrator John Pistole was everywhere — the morning TV shows, the afternoon gabfests, a long editorial in USA Today, an even longer interview in the Wall Street Journal. In every case, the defense was the same: We’re doing this for your safety.

I was reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous observation that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

If the object is to prevent a suicide bomber from getting aboard a plane, here’s an idea for the TSA: For a fraction of the cost of one of those full-body scanners, how about hiring the local bomb squad to build one of those solid-steel containers they use to detonate suspected explosives? Make it large enough to hold a full-sized adult.

If you have even the remotest suspicion of someone in line, tell them they have to pass through the new security facility. Assure them that “It won’t take nude photographs of you. But it will detonate any explosives that are hidden on your person. Okay, sir or madam, please step this way.”

While we wait for such a common-sense approach to be adopted, here’s another idea to consider. Ron Paul, my favorite maverick representative, introduced legislation in the House of Representatives last month to affirm that “security screeners are not immune from any U.S. law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.”

Now there’s an interesting idea: Make our would-be masters subject to the same laws as you and I are.

Hmm. Next thing you know, someone will suggest that politicians be subject to the same security procedures we are. And maybe even the same retirement benefits.

Nah, we’ll never get that tough with them.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

Bankruptcy, Memorabilia, Regulatory Hurdles And A Hearty Appetite

*One heck of a payday. Have you seen how much money the lawyers handling the liquidation of Bernard Madoff’s firm are being paid? The Manhattan Bankruptcy Court has approved payment of $5,010 a day for trustee Irving Picard. That sounds like a lot — until you learn that his law firm, Baker & Hostetler LLP, is receiving $283,179.45 a day for the work the rest of the staff is doing. Wonder if that includes Sundays and holidays?

*And one darned expensive glove. There was no belt-tightening at an auction in Beverly Hills for celebrity memorabilia. A lone white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his “Bad” tour in the late ’80s fetched $330,000. A hat he wore on stage commanded $72,000. One ghoulish collector paid $18,750 for two empty prescription bottles that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. A military-style jacket that John Lennon wore in a Life magazine photo shoot in 1966 sold for $240,000. And you know what? I wouldn’t want to own any of them.

*Why there are so few new jobs.
Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says that businesses considering hiring new workers face a “regulatory tsunami” from the Obama Administration. The hurdles include 200 new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, 100 new regulations from the Department of Labor, 183 new agencies under Obamacare, and 540 rules and 170 new reports under the new financial regulation bill. Combine that with the vast uncertainty about what their tax rates will be next year, and is it any wonder that most companies are playing wait and see?

*Be glad we don’t “eat like a bird.”
Researchers say that if a human burned energy at the same rate as a hummingbird, he’d have to eat 1,000 Quarter Pounders a day. Or consume 40 10-pound sacks of potatoes. That’s sure a lot of French fries.

–Chip Wood

The Date That Will Live In Infamy

Yesterday was the date that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would forever “live in infamy,” thanks to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The U.S. government wasted no time in retaliating. Less than 24 hours after receiving the news in Washington, Congress declared war on Japan. And thus began World War II — the bloodiest and most costly war in history.

Investors reacted negatively. The Dow fell 3.5 percent on Dec. 7, from 116.6 to 112.48. It fell three more points the next day. In fact, the stock market lost more than 20 percent from Pearl Harbor to the eve of the first U.S. victory in the Pacific, at Midway.

Twelve years after the crash of 1929, the Dow was still barely one-fourth of its 1929 peak. But consider: Those numbers are about one-one hundredth of where the Dow is today.

–Chip Wood

‘Tis More Blessed To Give

My children were shocked last week when I told them what I wanted for Christmas this year.

I asked for a pig. Or a goat. Or some chickens. Or maybe even a heifer. Oh, not for me, but for someone in Bangladesh or Darfur or some other impoverished country where some barnyard animals could truly change a family’s life.

If you’re like me and have trouble giving your children a gift suggestion that would be meaningful for them and appreciated by you, may I make a suggestion? Why not ask them to give a gift to someone else in your name?

I have been very impressed by the work being done around the world by Heifer International. You will be, too, if you go to their website here. Another organization that has earned my support is World Vision. Their motto this year says it very well: “Sponsoring a child is the greatest gift you can give this Christmas.” Check them out here.

Or how about helping someone start a business? In many parts of the world a loan of just $25 or $50 can be truly transforming. And please note that I said “loan,” not “gift.” There are many wonderful organizations around the world that supervise such tiny loans; it’s called “microfinancing,” and it can also change lives. Go online, Google the word and pick a group whose mission and accomplishments you like. Then send them some money.

My friends can’t say enough good things about these three microfinancing organizations: Grameen Foundation, Kiva and Project Concern International. Please check them out and, if you feel so inclined, send them a check so they can expand their marvelous work.

The numbers can be astounding: Kiva has helped loan more than $175 million to about 450,000 people in more than 100 countries around the world. Eighty-one percent of the recipients are women. And their payback rate is an astounding 98.99 percent. Grameen has made more than a million loans with similar results. I hope you will help them do even more.

For nearly 200 years, Americans have been known for their incredible generosity. We give away more of our wealth than any other nation that ever existed. And no, I am not talking here about foreign aid, our military presence or any other governmental program. I am referring to the staggering amount of time, money and goods that we contribute privately. As I said, we are the most generous, caring, giving people who have ever lived.

But unfortunately, for many reasons, our giving has declined dramatically in the past couple of years. The nation’s 400 biggest charities reported an 11 percent drop in donations last year. That’s the worst decline since the Chronicle of Philanthropy began keeping records 20 years ago.

Part of the decline is no doubt because of the financial crisis we have suffered; many of us simply don’t have the same resources we once did. I suspect that an even bigger explanation is our worries about the future. If we believe our savings won’t earn as much, our taxes will go up and our jobs are not as secure as they once were, of course we’re going to become more conservative in our spending and in our giving. That just makes sense.

But as a result, some truly wonderful groups doing amazing good around the world have had to reduce their efforts. This holiday season, please give one of them some help. In fact, if you have a favorite charity that needs support, go to the comments section at the end of today’s column and tell us about it.

If you still need a gift idea for someone near and dear to you, let me mention one that won’t cost very much yet could yield many hours of enjoyment. It’s a delightful travelogue called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Let me assure you, it will make a wonderful present for every armchair traveler on your list.

What sort of places can you visit vicariously in 1,000 Places? How about the world’s largest oasis? It’s the Okavango Delta in Botswana, southern Africa. And as author Patricia Schultz says, “If you see 10 percent of what sees you, it’s an exceptional day.”

Or sail the Grenadines. It’s 32 islands and hundreds of tiny cays, strung like a necklace of gems across 40 miles of some of the clearest, calmest, blue-green waters in the Caribbean. Or tour the covered souks of Aleppo, Syria, where the labyrinthine streets seem straight out of A Thousand and One Nights, and frankincense and myrrh are still sold in open-air markets.

The more athletic can hike the Tasman Glacier in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand, or climb the Tuscan hills to one of Italy’s most charming walled cities, San Gimignano.

There’s a comprehensive index at the back so you can quickly look up a particular place. In addition to a general index, the publisher has very cleverly added subject-specific indexes — the best beaches, festivals and special events, culinary experiences, destination restaurants, castles and palaces and glories of nature, among others.

One of the biggest surprises I found in 1,000 Places was how many of the 190 destinations in the United States were places I had never heard of. But thanks to good luck and lots of traveling, I can put a check mark next to many of the destinations. And I heartily concur with the inclusion of each one, from the very obscure (the Million-Dollar Highway that runs between Silverton and Durango, Co.) to the obvious (Walt Disney World in Orlando or the Bellagio in Las Vegas).

This column is taking me a long time to write, because I keep stopping to read about another marvelous destination… or two, or three… every time I pause to check something. So let me wrap up my enthusiastic description of the book by noting that 1,000 Places to See Before You Die is 974 pages long and costs $19.95 in a trade paperbound edition. At two cents per description, the book is one heck of a bargain. But stick around and I’ll tell you how to get it for even less.

Book Bargains Abound
I’m sure you’re already familiar with two of the best sources on the web for just about any title that’s ever been published — Amazon.com and bn.com, the Barnes and Noble website. You’ll find hundreds of thousands of titles, both new and used, on both. (By the way, Amazon has a special on 1,000 Places. You can get a copy for $11.97. Or just $9.99 for an e-version.)

I’m a big fan of both sites. But are you familiar with an even bigger and more addictive source for used books of every variety and description? It’s called abebooks.com. And every book-lover should mark it as one of their favorites.

I first discovered AbeBooks several years ago. At the time, it consisted of several hundred used bookstores, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, and had something like 40,000 titles listed. Today AbeBooks consists of more than 10,000 used bookstores from every corner of the globe. And it brags that it has more than 50 million titles in its online inventory. What a book browsers’ delight!

Out of curiosity, I just went to Abebooks.com and looked up 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I found 381 offerings, starting at just $3.64 with free shipping. The most expensive version was $172.40 and no, it isn’t printed on gold.

Among the many miracles that the Internet has produced for me, I put AbeBooks near the top of the list. It’s an amazing resource. If you’re a booklover too (and you must be, if you enjoy this column), go to abebooks.com and look for some titles you’d love to add to your collection. Chances are you’ll be happily surprised by the number of choices you’ll have… and the money you can save.

And remember, nobody ever returned a book because it didn’t fit.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

A Generous Boss, Lehman Brothers, Psephology And Obama’s Jobs

*Now here’s a generous boss. It seems appropriate to follow up this week’s Straight Talk with an item about Clive Palmer. The Australian mining magnate has had a very good year: A nickel refinery he bought for $10 million earned him $200 million in profits. So he decided to throw one heck of a “thank you” party for his 750 employees. The festivities included an all-expenses-paid holiday trip to Fiji. His top 50 employees also got a brand-new Mercedes sedan. “These people have made a lot of money for me this year,” he said, “and I thought I’d give some of it back.” As our friends Down Under would say, “Good O!”

*Now, this is way beyond generous. In case you missed the news, in the two years since Lehman Brothers was forced into bankruptcy, the lawyers, consultants and other experts handling the disposition of assets have collected… are you ready for this?… more than $1 billion in fees. Maybe crime doesn’t pay; but bankruptcy sure does.

*I learned a new word. No, it’s not a curse word because of the item above. The word is “psephology.” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s pronounced "see-FAH-luh-jee". And it means the scientific study of elections. My new word was very useful last month. And I’m sure I’ll have many more occasions to use it between now and November 2012.

*Each job cost us how much? A new study by the Mercatus Center, one of my favorite think tanks, reports that, “Each job that President Obama claims to have created with his stimulus plan works out to have cost taxpayers $282,000.” That should make all of us want to swear a bit.

–Chip Wood

The Election Of 1824

You think some of our recent elections have been controversial? Consider what happened in this country 186 years ago today.

In the heated election of 1824, four candidates ran for our nation’s highest office. Although Andrew Jackson won more states, more popular votes and more electoral votes than anyone else, it wasn’t enough to clinch the race.

Then a deal was struck. Henry Clay, the fourth-place finisher, agreed to throw his support to the guy who came in second. That just happened to be John Quincy Adams, son of our second president. Clay’s support was enough to confirm John II as the winner. He promptly named Clay as his Secretary of State.

Of course nothing like this could ever happen in this day and age, could it Hillary?

Jackson got his revenge four years later when he won election outright. “Old Hickory,” who is credited with creating the modern Democrat Party, served eight tempestuous years as the nation’s leader.

–Chip Wood