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Who's Rich? Who's Middle Class?

[My story in today's paper.]

Who's rich? Who's middle class? How can you tell the difference? By the "upper class," do we mean the yacht-club set, the ascot-wearing folks with the Thurston Howell III lockjaw diction and the monogrammed jodhpurs? Or does the upper class include all those harried, two-income suburban families who somehow burn through 200 grand a year and fret about orthodontic bills?

Class, always an awkward topic in the United States, made a rare cameo appearance at a recent candidates debate in Las Vegas. The two front-running Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over tax policy and quickly got entangled in the question of whether someone making more than $97,000 a year is middle class or upper class. That's upper class, Obama said. Not necessarily, suggested Clinton.

The Democrat generally considered to be in third place, former senator John Edwards (N.C.), didn't join in this particular discussion, but from his initial announcement almost a year ago in New Orleans, he has been the bluntest of all the candidates in describing a country divided between the haves and the have-nots.

Discussions about taxes usually have a class subtext. For instance, Republicans generally want to preserve or expand President Bush's tax cuts, which lowered marginal rates across the board but gave the largest benefits in real dollars to the richest Americans.

Government statistics show that most households' income has declined, in inflation-adjusted dollars, since 2000. Many workers' jobs have been outsourced to other countries, even as a new class of tycoons, the managers of hedge funds, has found a way to pay only a 15 percent marginal tax rate.

Still, if there are political opportunities here for Democrats, there are also hazards. Candidates don't want to lose votes by advocating a tax hike on the not-really-that-rich. The basic question: Who, exactly, can afford to pay more? Who is rich?

The exchange between Obama and Clinton began when the senator from Illinois said he was open to adjusting the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax. That's the tax that the government prefers to call a "contribution" to Social Security. Under current law, a worker pays a flat percentage (and employers match it) of wages up to $97,500. Wages beyond that aren't taxed.

Clinton responded by saying that lifting the payroll tax would mean a trillion-dollar tax increase, adding that she did not want to "fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors."

Obama replied: "Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 a year. So 6 percent is not the middle class. It is the upper class."

Clinton: "It is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors."

Obama doesn't want to lift the payroll cap entirely, according to one of his campaign's senior advisers. Rather, Obama has said he would consider a "doughnut hole" arrangement, in which people would not have to pay any additional payroll tax until they had made at least $250,000 or $300,000. The adviser said of Obama: "He has always said that the people he expects to pay their fair share are households with income above 250,000."

Clinton has cited that same figure, saying households with income above $250,000 can pay the marginal rates set in the 1990s when her husband was president. She would also give married couples with estates worth less than $7 million an exemption from the estate tax, known in conservative Republican circles as the "death tax."

"In America, we've never liked the idea of massive inherited wealth," Clinton said last month in New Hampshire. "Part of the reason why America has always remained a meritocracy where you have to work for what you get, where you have to get out there, make your case to people, come up with a good idea, is that we never had a class of people sitting on generation after generation after generation of huge inherited wealth."

Kevin A. Hassett, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Democrats' attitude toward wealthy Americans could be a liability at the polls. "If the Democrats are sort of willing to lambaste the wealthy and seize their money, then it means they have a fundamental disrespect for private property," he said.

But, according to Gene Sperling, an unpaid adviser to Clinton: "It's not about attacking anybody or class warfare. It's about setting priorities in a fiscally responsible way. It's about asking: Is the most recent tax cut for those making over $250,000 more important to the well-being of the country than universal health care?"

As for how people see themselves, location is key. Is Clinton right that firefighters make the kind of money mentioned in Las Vegas? Yes, sometimes, in some places. According to the Web site, the base pay of a New York City firefighter with five years' experience is $68,475, but with overtime and holiday work, the same firefighter can make $86,518. A city fire captain can make $140,173 with overtime. Most school superintendents in New York state make more than $100,000.

Online calculators allow anyone to make an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such Web site calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa.

The three richest large counties in the country are in the Washington suburbs: Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of people in the core counties of metropolitan Washington live in households with incomes of at least $100,000 a year.

Median household income in America in 2006 was $48,201, which, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1999.

Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at New York University, thinks that the middle class in a major city includes people in households with incomes from $40,000 to $100,000. From there, up to $200,000, people are "upper middle class." They all have difficult financial issues to contend with, from health-care costs to college tuition.

"Financial stress: That's the key ingredient," Wolff said.

People making $200,000 to $350,000, he says, could be considered rich, but they still have to slog to work every day. To be really rich, in Wolff's scholarly judgment, you need not only an income upwards of $350,000 a year -- which happens to be right about the point where today's top marginal income tax rate of 35 percent kicks in -- you also need at least $10 million in accumulated wealth.

"These are people who can basically live off their wealth and don't have to work. You're talking about the top half of 1 percent," Wolff said.

Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, said that no one knows the exact parameters of the middle class, but that in general they are defined by what he calls an "aspirational package."

"The middle-class aspirations include a decent home in a good neighborhood with a good school, and the ability to save for college and to make sure that your children have the opportunities to put themselves on a path to match or exceed yours," Bernstein said. "If you're upper class, you think about whether you want to move your horse from one barn to another barn."

Robert Frank, who covers the rich as a full-time beat for the Wall Street Journal, said being rich comes with certain requirements:

"You have to have at least two homes," said Frank, author of "Richistan," a book about wealthy Americans. "You have to have a household staff of some kind, and/or a personal assistant. You send your kids to private schools. You give to charity and attend charitable events. And you travel. You travel globally. You go to Europe at least once a year, and perhaps Asia."

Or even conquer gravity itself, he said.

"The new status symbol for the rich," Frank said, "is going to space."

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 26, 2007; 7:51 AM ET
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Good morning Cassandra. Good morning Martooni.

Posted by: daiwanlan | November 26, 2007 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Excellent prognostication, RDP.


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Good morning to you, too, daiwanian. :-)

And the same to everyone else.

I think Joel missed something regarding rich and poor -- people of all brackets living beyond their means. In theory, credit allows one to increase their purchasing power by 3 to 4 times their earnings. So you end up with families who make, say $80K a year, living in a $250K home with two $20K vehicles in the garage, lots of bling like high-def wide-screen plasma TVs and all that, but don't have two nickels left to rub together at the end of the month.

It's not how much you make, but how wealthy people think you are.

I'm no saint when it comes to money management (just ask Mrs. M.), but it seems to me that much of the financial woe in this country is because very few people spend less than they earn and save the difference.

Speaking of earning... off to make the doors. :-)

Peace and sawdust...

Posted by: martooni | November 26, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't know where merely rich gives way to filthy rich, but I do know that Sir Paul's soon-to-be-ex-wife doesn't like 'em (sez this very publication -

"Heather Mills McCartney... denounced the world's rich as misers and snobs Wednesday.

"Mills McCartney delivered the critical comments during her 90-minute speech to the debating society of Trinity College Dublin."

[And apparently, 'Paul McCartney' is the answer to the question, 'Who do I have to [service] to be able to give a speech at Trinity College Dublin, anyway?']

Posted by: byoolin | November 26, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Martooni is very right. It isn't how much you make, it is how well matched your lifestyle is to your income. I know people who make close to $200K who are in trouble because they have overextended themselves.

The secret is to keep your standard of living well below your income so that you have a little breathing room. Of course, that assumes that you make enough so that this can be done without taking up residence in a cardboard box over a steam grate.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The boss mentioned my birthplace, Ames, Iowa, and said that I could live as comfortably there on $68K as I am here, making $97K. I'd move back there in a heartbeat, but what does a died-in-the-wool-Navy/maritime-guy do for a living in Iowa?

Happy leftovers, everybody.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 26, 2007 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Something tells me that today is not going to be a warm and fuzzy day in the Boodle.

"'...And you travel. You travel globally. You go to Europe at least once a year, and perhaps Asia.'

Or even conquer gravity itself, he said.

'The new status symbol for the rich,' Frank said, 'is going to space.'"

IMO, the real trick is going to be figuring out how to set up permanent residence there. Last time I checked, nobody living up there had to pay any taxes whatsoever.

That's a hell of a loophole, and the view is better than from a Monte Carlo hotel.

No problem finding land to buy in NEO, either, though I suggest prospective residents take the space junk policy rider.


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Don - I know what you mean. My income would make me a Prince in PA Dutch country, where my in-laws live. Not so in Fairfax County. But there aren't many job opportunities for what I do in Amish Country. Trust me, I've asked.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

What the NYT forget to point out in their Costco article is that you can't shop at Costco if you're poor. Yeah, the prices are low on a per-pound basis, but you've got to be able to afford to buy the big, multi-pound packages--and have somewhere to put it all.

When my kids were small and my husband was in grad school, the only way I could shop at Costco was if my mom took me there and split the stuff with me. And I piggybacked on my parents' membership as well.

There are ten Costco locations within the 10007 zip code of Manhattan. There are plenty of New Yorkers shopping there, too.

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Whoops, meant to add that I liked Joel's use of "lambaste," spelled in the Classic style.


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Excellent prognostication, bc.


Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm. I am in the category of "owning two homes" but it's not by intention or desire. Actually, it's two houses -- only one is in use as a home. Wanna buy a piece of suburban splendor? We have one house too many, and it's eating away at the bank account.

According to Obama, I am in the upper class. Yet, I have no horse, nor prospects to own one, nor do I own rolling hills and sweeping vistas (I have a hillside, and a partial vista of a tot lot and a stream). We already have too many pets, anyway. I look at prospective college costs, and tell the ScienceKids what my parents told me: "Be smart. Scholarships are the only way you'll be able to afford college." My expectation, at this point, is that I will be unable to afford to retire. Which is too bad, because I wanted to go back to grad school and become ArchaeologyTim. Or would that be IndianaTim?

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 26, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I shopped Costco a lot when the kids were younger. I saved money on breakfast cereal alone. We should have had shares in a Cherrio factory. The only reason it worked was that I had a 6 foot closet that served as a pantry. The hard part was avoiding all the rest of the stuff they sell.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 9:28 AM | Report abuse

This article extends a notion Joel made during his "diavlog" about being both affluent and financially strapped. A large part of this seems to be expectations regarding one's offspring. I refer not to things like designer clothes, but rather to band, fancy school field trips, and other "enrichment activities." Not only were many of these things not expected when I was a kid, they are a lot more expensive than they used to be. Have you priced a nice saxophone lately? And the expectation of the band program is that your child *will* have a nice one.

And while it is easy to point out that when I was a lad I had an after-school job, it is also true that, in Fairfax at least, the educational system has conspired to make a college-track high school curriculum so onerous that after school jobs are difficult. Not to mention that the number of such jobs suitable for a high school student are dropping precipitously.

True, one could lay down the line and refuse to subsidize extracurricular activities. You can insist that life without a week long biology trip is still worth living. But in doing so you really do run the risk of lowering their expectations for themselves.

So you end up with what is known as a high cash flow.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Don, in Iowa you grow corn. If that doesn't appeal to you, I suppose you should stay where you are. Hey, I'll be there with you!

Since I've retired, my gross income dropped by about half, although my net is about the same. I was only taking home about half of my gross because I was saving a bunch. Not having the liquid savings has been an adjustment for me. However, I'm surviving without having to go back to work, and that makes me happy. The reason I could retire is that my former employer includes retirees in its medical insurance pool. I am fortunate.

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I have three homes. Two of them are vacation homes, of course. One is parked in the driveway and serves double duty when there is lumber or fertilizer to be hauled and leaks a little in a hard rain just where the camper shell meets the tailgate. The other vacation home is folded and rolled up in a bag in the basement.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I've been living beyond my means for several decades now. I live in a townhouse, have two car payments, and send my kid to public school. If that is rich, I'll gladly exchange perks, salary, and bennies with Senator Obama. My wife is a public school teacher which is the bump in salary that sends us over the edge into fabulously well-to-do.

Our one extravagance is travel. We went to China last year and are going to London this year. While that sounds ritzy, it's far less glamorous than it sounds.

I subscribe to the can't take it with you theory of financial planning and sympathize with the grasshopper in that old fable. Perhaps its from reading too many Travis McGee books as a teenager.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

The trick, yellojkt, is to die as you spend your last dime. (The only sure way to accomplish this is to use that dime to buy a bullet.)This is the nightmare of every elder- that the money will run out before the time is up. I have been listening to Rudy G and the others rail about "socialized medicine" and have been itching to hear someone ask the question, "If you think socialized medicine is so bad, how soon after your election do you plan to do away with Medicare and Medicaid?"

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I like Bernstein's definition of wealth. I'm certainly worrying more about the future of my kids than thinking about horses' stabling. Mind you, horse ownership is a good way to slip down in middle class from upper-middle-class. It reminds me of Yoki's roommate at Queen's who was fretting about having her horses and stable hand moved somewhere nearby so she could keep her horsemanship up to the level.
Same here RD Padouk, I would be a rich man in Baie-St-Paul. I could easily own two houses and one cottage out there for the price of my 1968 built 1800 sq. ft. high-ranch bungalow. But I'm not very good at logging.
I note here that the 35% marginal tax rate does not apply to the über-rich a.k.a. hedge fund managers, they pay only 15%. On the Canadian side my marginal tax rate (federal and provincial combined) went down to 47% last year, from a high of 52% 6-7 years ago. That is without counting the 15% combined GST/provincial sales tax if you decide to buy something with your money.
bc, Doug Flutie is the best QB to have walked on a CFL football field. He really digged the wide field and knew what to do with the 12th man. But having superstars like him in the CFL almost killed the league. Only two teams (TO Argos and BC Lions) had the gate and TV revenues to afford the salaries these guys commended. The marquee player exception allowing one mega-salary to be counted out of the salary cap had to go. And then the salary cap had to go down as well since only 3-4 teams could afford to reach the salary cap. I liked Flutie a lot but basically, he had to go. At the time our "local" American TV network stations were from Watertown, Rochester or Plattsburgh so we got to see him play for the Bills anyway.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 26, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse


I heard about that HMM speech as well, and my first thought was, "OK, so she's expending a lot of effort to be someone she denounces?"


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm also on the SciTim never gonna retire plan. That conflicts with my career goals of getting a PhD in English Literature and becoming an antiquarian book dealer.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Looking around the hallways I sometimes suspect that people never actually retire from this place. Which makes me wonder just what happens to them. Hmm. Better look into that.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

...[Robert Frank] being rich comes with certain requirements:

"You have to have at least two homes," said Frank, author of "Richistan," a book about wealthy Americans. ... You give to charity and attend charitable events.

[Rant coming....] Last year's Copyright Texas was a free event, held downtown in an aging hotel, and open to all comers and all income levels. The authors who spoke were Greg Curtis, Joan Cheever, Karen Olsson, John Taliaferro and Lawrence Wright.

The San Antonio Public Library Foundation made this year's event a charitable event. IIRC, about 200 people attended paying $150. The same old monied people, such as a former mayor, attended--to hear a new roster of authors including our local David Liss; Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly magazine, and Beverly Lowry, author of "Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life." Surprise guest or attendee was actor Tommy Lee Jones.

I think making this local literary event a paying proposition is a crying shame.

Posted by: Loomis | November 26, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

RD, I'm pretty sure your guys go find houses to haunt.

Our guys, we just put a tag on 'em that says "Abandon in Place", then we get on with work.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 26, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

In this area, a family with two GS-14s at mid-grade would be considered "wealthy." I'm in this group, and, while I'm much more comfortable than I was 20 years ago, I sure don't feel wealthy. We bought our house in the pre-real-estate-bubble days and drive inexpensive vehicles, which leaves us with enough that we can actually save for retirement. I don't think we'd be able to say that if we had kids, though. With the expectations these days, (refer to RD's post) it would be very, very challenging.

I keep promising myself that some day I'm going to add up the taxes we pay (federal, state, Social Security, real estate, car). My sense is that the answer will be (I'm going to use a technical financial term) "a lot." Mind you, I'm not one of those anti-tax zealots. But sometimes I do wonder where it all goes.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 26, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Hereabouts the elderly are monitored by the facilities management office. When the emails complaining about heating and cooling cease, the building manager calls for an ambulance.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

RD padouk, they don't retire; they become consultants. In my old job one day a guy would put his/her uniform on a coat hanger on a Friday and come in Monday as a so-called double-dipping civilian, as military pension is payable right away. 15-20 years later they would retire from the public service and come back as triple-dipping consultants. The cafeteria at that place looked like a retirement's home dining lounge in the first few years I worked there. Then the budget and manpower was cut 40% (the government's of the time peace dividend - although there had been no great cold war expenses).

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 26, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Raysmom - We survive on just one of those salaries *with* kids, but my in-laws help. Not with money, per se, but other stuff - like letting us vacation in their condo for free.

Further, my wife had a great job for several years before we reproduced, and we stuck most of her income in some nice mutual funds. Plus we bought our home pre-bubble as well.

And. most importantly, I don't golf.

The point of all of this is that, with the obvious exception of extreme poverty, it is impossible to point to a given income and say that person is wealthy, while another is not.

The devil really is in the details.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The important thing, of course, is not to have consumer debt. The rates on credit cards are what kills budgets. If you save and then buy, you can have just about whatever you want, in time. This concept is contrary to the American Dream.

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Slyness - you are absolutely right. The secret is to be patient. And it makes the eventual purchase so much more enjoyable.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm forced to be patient after the fact...

With interest...


But I'm getting better. I think I'm going for a walk...


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Ai Chihuahua!!!


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Count me in on the "Work to the Death" plan as well.

At least I won't ever have to worry about where I'm going to live when I retire.

*Tim, once you get the house situation squared away and the kids are a little older, maybe you can consider going for that degree in Archaeology. It'd give you a nice leg up to start that second job to cover taxes...


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Our combined income is knocking on the AMT door, if the law isn't amended. If the latter is the case, our tax bill is likely to wipe out the most liquid of our assets.

Posted by: jack | November 26, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Obama really irked me with that $97,000 is rich stance. It's not even close. Event 200 grand jobs are hard working and high responsibility, with more choices, but still financial stress.

This article lays it out pretty well. Warren Buffett had it right: Why am I, the second richest man, paying 15% tax, and my secretary, making 60 grand, pays 28%?

THAT'S the outrage. The truly wealthy owe the nation plenty.

Time to pay up.

Posted by: johnnyr | November 26, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Scotty, that's terrible news about Taylor.


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

SciTim, it may make you feel better if you call the other house a vacation property.

Or maybe a "family heritage property". Look kids! That's where your dad used to rake leaves, lo those many weeks ago.

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 26, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Without putting much serious thought into the necessary parameters, I'm a fan of a flat tax. Assume two parameters: a per-person deduction, and a flat rate to apply to whatever is left after the deduction. Fit two constraints: the net tax paid at the median income level should be unchanged, and the total revenue from taxes should be unchanged (at least in the first year). This will define the two parameters in the taxation scheme, which will leave poor and lower middle-class people paying, quite possibly, no tax at all. Upper-class people (economically upper, that is), whose income is almost entirely disposable have to pay a high rate for all that extra money that they can choose to dispense in inefficient and self-indulgent ways.

I am willing to entertain additional modifications to this scheme, as philosophically appropriate. Keep in mind that I have no serious expectation of this scheme ever being enacted in reality. The mortgage-interest deduction, alone, would kill it -- there's no reasonable way to implement the mortgage deduction in my plan, yet the pricing of housing is so inflated by the deduction that it would be complete economic disaster to take it away.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 26, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Hmmmm. I suppose you could phase out the mortgage-interest deduction over a 15-year period. Most of the interest is paid in the first half of the loan, and the standard loan is 30 years, so it could work. Own a house already, you can deduct 100% of the interest. Buy a house this year, you get to deduct 93% of the interest. Buy a house next year, deduct 87% of the interest; and so on, until there is no deduction for interest. Housing prices will take a hit, spread out over 15 years, and real estate agents will have to drive older cars for a while. Once that deduction is gone, we can start talking about serious tax reform, starting 15 years from now.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 26, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

That Warren Buffet remark doesn't even address the FICA rate which is what both Hillary and Barack are eying. Below 97k, the marginal rate is 43% including employer contribution. Since "rich people" make a lot of money from investing which isn't subject to FICA, any fiddling with upper limits or donut holes will still only hit the wage workers and let the plutocrats off.

And Congress is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the AMT since both parties hope that taxpayer outrage will hit the other guy harder. Everyone is in favor a flat tax until they realize their taxes go up.

Don't even get me started on the marriage penalty tax. I can't write-off my wife's student loan interest on the masters degree she needed to stay employable under NCLB because *I* make too much money.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

SciTim - I agree that there is something attractive about the flat tax. The problem, as I see it, is that taxes are more than just tools to raise revenue. They are also tools for socially policy. Higher taxes on the very rich help buffer the inequities of unfettered capitalism. We use taxes to encourage behavior we want, like home ownership, and discourage behavior we do not want, like, ideally, carbon emissions. So I don't object to complex taxes, I just want them to truly improve the general welfare.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

SCC "social policy." Socially policy sounds like what you advocate after too many martinis.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

That's right, RD, taxes are social policy. We all (most of us?) approve of the public goods paid for by taxes which include, on a state and national level, law enforcement, military, common education (elementary through high school), fire protection, zoning and city planning (ever live in Houston?), roads and infrastructure, utilities and water infrastructure. Right now the benefits for the lower tax rates seem a trifle skewed.

I am also in the Work for Life club. At least I don't have to worry about what to do in my retirement.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 26, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I think Obama is closer to the truth of the matter, than Clinton is. If you have a poverty level for an idnividual of $10,000 surely $97,000 is above middle class.

If you want interesting, google poverty line and check out what the US Census Department has listed for figures. Very complex, as is the issue, as is the point about where does middle class begin. Depends on a lot.

I will be working till death, I'm certain. I just hope I will be able to move to a job that is less stressful before I die.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

The most interesting fact to me is that the 3 richest counties in the US are in the DC suburbs. What does this say about the business of government? Where does all this money come from?

Posted by: CC | November 26, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I unleashed a mild diatribe and went to google up a figure and lost the comment. The short version is that under the AMT my wife and I will owe something on the order of 2.5 - 3K. The AMT is slated to affect some 42 - 50 million tax payers this coming year. The last time I checked, a thousand million is a billion. The AMT will generate big bucks. So much for the administrations Keynesian view of the tax world. I can't recall many things that trickle down that are of much benefit, excepting the rain.

Posted by: jack | November 26, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Good point, CC. Though is this median, or average income?

That's going to make a huge difference. It sure did in Toronto, where median income makes Toronto the city with the highest rate of poverty.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The thing that chaps me about the AMT is that I have to calculate the taxes twice! And the AMT calculation is particularly complex. Even with Turbo Tax you have to know answers to questions like, "Did you have any qualifying passive loss activities during the year?" I needed help screens for the help screens.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 26, 2007 12:11 PM | Report abuse

But if the alternative is to be as broke as I once was, I'll take the AMT every time.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 26, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Why are the three richest counties in the D.C. suburbs? Lobbying and consulting. They don't call them "Beltway Bandits" for nothing. I also suspect that some of the "wealth" is in the form of housing stock. I lived in central Oklahoma for 11 years and sold my house for exactly what I originally paid (economy went in the crapper). We've owned our house in Alexandria for 17 years and it's assessed at 500% of purchase price, down somewhat from recent years. The two houses are the same size and the one in Oklahoma is 20 years newer. Property taxes are 22x what we paid in Norman.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Raysmom, that's when I threw in the towel and found a good accountant.

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Whaddaya mean, "everyone" is in favor of a flat tax, yello? *I'm* not in favor of one. I *like* the graduated tax. (It's the loopholes and many other problems I don't like. But in principle I don't have any problem with it.) So do many others. Don't make me come up there and smack you around.

SciTim, you seem to think real estate agents make lots of money. On average, I'd say they do "OK" if they work full-time at it (only about 20% of them do). Like any otgher profession, there's a handful at the top who do VERY well, but most are in the middle range. I'd estimate between, say $40k and $80k a year. I think a lot of the problem is that many people have the *highly* mistaken notion that because the commission on a house is 6 or 7 percent, that the real estate agent gets to keep that amount. The truth is, that 6 or 7 percent (and sometimes 5 percent, and I've heard of 4 1/2 once in a while) is a four-way split. So the "average" real estate agent gets about 1.5 to maybe 1.8 percent of the cost of the house--not 6 percent. (I'd roughly estimate that about 90 to 95 percent of agents get only 1.5% of the price; only a handful make more than the 1.5 split.) And out of that 1.5% commission, the agent has expenses, which can be sizable, sometimes up to 20% of their gross. (The ones who make the money are the developers and sometimes some builders, plus the people who OWN the real estate companies--but not their agents. That's where the split goes.)

(Having been married to a real estate agent for 25 years, I can attest that the average person, John and Jane Doe, know less about how real estate agents *really* work than they know about any other common profession. And most of what people *think* they know about REs is pretty much wrong. The thing is, they don't really have any great need to know, most of the time.)

Regarding the kit, it touched briefly upon the subject, but I don't think it paid nearly enough attention to it, which is the question of geography -- the DC versus Ames, Iowa idea. To me it is completely pointless to discuss whether $97k is rich or MC unless there is a geographic rider with it, because there is so much variation. In any event, I don't think $97K is "rich" anywhere -- but it is a lot more comfortable in some places than others. And it depends VERY significantly (IMHO) on whether you have kids at home or not, and whether you are carrying their college tuition bills, etc.

The other problem is that "class" isn't directly synonymous with money and income. "Class" is often about other issues as well, such as "taste" in culture, food, fashion, lifestyle, and all that other intangible stuff. I suspect Britney Spears has significantly more money than any person in this Boodle -- but she has less class than anybody on this boodle by a country mile. "Nouveau riche" is one thing-- but there are whole big segments of "the rich" -- mainly rock stars and athletes -- who have millions of dollars, but who are basically (you should pardon the phrase) "trailer trash." They're just trailer trash with lots of money, that's all. So we need to define what it is we're talking about.

The expert on non-monetary class questions for my money is Paul Fussell, who has written several books on the subject, the best of which is titled "Class." (Actually, "Class, A Guide Through the American Status System" (1983), and also
"Caste Marks: Style and Status in the USA" (1984) and "Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear" (2002).)

And I'm in the same boat as a lot you: I plan to retire shortly after I drop dead. Although I'd retire this afternoon if I could afford it, and work harder in retirement writing my books than I do now not writing them but just working to pay the mortgage.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 26, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

The whole question of geography is very much on my mind right now, because I'm on the academic job market. (In fact, I should be writing job letters right now instead of boodling. Oh well, it's just one little comment, right?) I don't expect to have any geographic choice whatsoever -- if I'm lucky enough to get an offer, that's where I'm going. But I'm really rooting for the little college towns over urban California. It would be nice to have a better standard of living as an assistant professor than as a struggling grad student.

Posted by: bia | November 26, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Good luck with that, bia. I hear that these days the academy is cutthroat in competition for even the most lowly assistant professor positions.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Trent Lott's resigning...

Busy news day...

*rasied eyebrow*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Someone making $97,000 per year, outside of NYC, is wealthy unless they have adult dependents, and I mean young adults also, as in tuition. Otherwise, a two-person income of twice that, makes them wealthy.

Beware of flat taxes that will not be flat. A certain number of schemers want to declare ALL capital gains as "not income."

Which brings me to my most vexing question, because I tried researching this on the internet just the other day, and could not quite nail down the percentage of total U.S. revenues that comes from capital gains taxes. I consider myself a pretty good and even devious Googler, but this one threw me. I THINK I got an answer of 5% of all total U.S. revenues come from personal capital gains taxes. With the 15% rate being historically low, this is significant but I just can't locate the info.

This leaves out any remediation which might be achieved by actually collecting corporate income taxes, and raising the FICA cutoff, etc.

It also strikes me as inconclusive that our sole method of fighting off the threat of monopolistic plutocracy is taxation, but I accept that historically this is as good a solution as any so far. Our sense of fair play seems offended in some way if either side prevails. This jerry-built compromise seems inimicable to the Utopian American mind. And that's the only bone I will toss to the libertarians today.

Posted by: Jumper | November 26, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

*scraping lint covered pennies from my pocket for payment of dues to the work 'till you die club*

Posted by: jack | November 26, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Yoki. Yeah, I'm going to wait a few months before I let myself think about the likelihood of ending up in a paid-by-the-class, no benefits adjunct position.

Posted by: bia | November 26, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I could have mentioned the anti-trust laws as a portion of the system. But I won't. They are broken.

Posted by: Jumper | November 26, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

"Retro toys may be better for children"

Posted by: Jumper | November 26, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Saw a rumor yesterday that Lott was resigning.

Can't say I'm surprised, but I wonder what happened this past weekend that caused him to decide to resign *now?*



Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I suspect Washington has grown big tech/defense industries in recent years. More high salaries.

I agree that international travel isn't necessarily a sign of wealth. I did a remarkably cheap and educational trip to Taipei last February, taking advantage of off-season air fares (wonderful ANA flight from Dulles to Tokyo) and hotel rates (evidently no one wants to travel before Chinese New Year).

Have a great time in London. At present, I suspect that going to Taipei is a lot cheaper. I've never visited London without encountering something fantastic. David Hare plays. Kathleen Turner and Helen Mirren on stage. Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu in person. A moving performance of Carousel, even if someone was working with a power drill somewhere in the theatre. Finding out that a highly successful London photographer loves Florida and has a Clyde Butcher book in his library. A two-kilogram box of lychees from Madagascar. The Painted Hall at Greenwich. Raleigh's monument, spotted more or less by accident. Eltham Palace, where a caretaker was planning a trip to Washington. The world's oldest potted plant. Codex Sinaiticus. A sumo wrestler padding through the Egyptian collection at the British Museum. Dennis Sever's House. John Soane's House. Daffodils.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I think Lott postponed retirement and got himself re-elected to ensure plenty of Katrina aid for Mississippi. But if he were even vaguely considering retirement once Katrina was taken care of, why did he take the position of whip?

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

CNN's article mentions new waiting periods for former lawmakers becoming lobbyists. The new limits would go into effect for anyone in office next year.

Coincidence? Or just plain coin?


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I guess I should add that we have lots of genuinely, uncontestably rich retired people in our Florida county. Seemingly mostly terribly boring. I do like spotting the occasional Aston-Martin.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

My London trip is a educational enrichment scam that I got suckered into as part of my kid's (very hot, not that that matters) English teacher's scheme to get a free second honeymoon as a tour organizer. It's a packaged group tour that I thought was astronomically priced until the dollar went into free-fall and now looks like a not bad deal. I'm hoping to go off the reservation a little and do some of those great things DotC recommends.

And mudge, I didn't mean you when I said "everybody". My imaginary friends are much more perceptive and astute about tax policy than the rather right wing circles I sometimes travel in.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Yes Dave, there has been a huge growth in defense and technology firms in NoVa. All trying to sell things to the Government.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Rich is what feels rich. I have the benefit of a full pension from my previous quasi-government job, some investments in mutual funds, about $30K so far in the current retirement plan, and SSI to look forward to. Rich? Nah. Yeah, we have that second house in Pittsburgh (which cost us $60K 5 years ago!), but we have a big equity line loan for the expenses we incurred remodeling our current domicile. So even with a $100K+ income, we ain't rich. OTOH, if and when we sell out here and move to the 'burgh (probaly in the next 2-3 years), we will be quite comfortable.

Posted by: ebtnut | November 26, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I think I can retire without any penalty on the pension around 2024. The kids will be between 30 and 37 years old by then. With any luck we should have 1 or even 2 out of the house by that time.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 26, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I actually don't like any of the criteria that Robert Frabk used, at least taken individually. I thought about saying something earlier but decided one rant was enough. But the guy is full of cow patties.

"You send your kids to private schools." Nonsense; what about Catholics who send their kids to parochial schools, even is they have to scrimp to the last nickel to do so? I know a few people who have sent their kids to private school but who aren't rich. And plenty of conserv. Xtians send their kids to religious schools without ever bing close to rich.

"You give to charity and attend charitable events." He11's bells, my wife and I do that. It ain't much and it ain't often...but we do it. The charity event is usually the Melwood annual banquet. $50 a head. So freaking what?

"And you travel." Jeez, EVERYBODY travels nowadays. WTF does this mean? Running down to Tiajuana? A long weekend in Nassau? A Girls Gone Wild weekend in Cancun? Gimme a break.

"You travel globally." OK, zackly how far do ya gotta go to be "global"? I went to London once, for a week. Does that make me rich?

It's just absurd.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 26, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

yello, by all means get off the reservation if possible. London is a bit like a mini-Tokyo. Homework is very helpful (neither city is as chaotic as it appears to a first-time visitor and knowing something about the history is very helpful to knowing the present).

The Guardian has a great theater reviewer. Many of London's "lesser" sights are extremely rewarding, so don't hesitate to skip out of a Must See to find a gem. I was disappointed by my first visits to Westminster Abbey and St Pauls, but further visits paid off. It's worth seeing if you can get into the Houses of Parliament--it's worthwhile just to see the awesome Westminster Hall and the main lobby. By the way, the more I see of Parliament and Westminster, the more I like the way the "new" Parliament buildings (contemporary with the Capitol and sharing the same tile floors) fit in with the Hall and Abbey.

London Symphony usually plays on Sunday evening. Royal Court Theatre is adventuresome and has comfy seats. Then there's St Stephen Walbrook Church in the middle of the City of London, a domed church by Wren that survived. The present-day Altar Table is a very heavy stone piece by Henry Moore that made me a fan of his sculptures.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Yeah DoC, the military industrial complex is always with us. This is probably the only TV market in the country that runs ads for the F-22 Raptor. What do they think, I'm going to pony up $120 million for a stealth fighter with gas prices the way they are?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I love the ads for F-22s and such on the Metro.

Yeah... the person in charge of buying them is getting on the Orange Line in Dunn Loring.

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I was googling for an apropos Tom Wolfe quote, but landed on this Ben Stein article on how being rich isn't all its cracked up to be.

I think he's being tongue in cheek. I hope he is.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

This "What is rich?" question always makes me feel a bit schizophrenic. The median annual household income for our little frozen town is $11,875. I have diddled around professionally for 2+ years and make more than that with the odd research/consulting/grant-writing gig. Mr. F has 26 years in the military and does better on base pay alone than the 97k Obama and Clinton were talking about. Except for that whole risking life and limb thing the Army has been the perfect career. He will retire after 30 years, with a pension, and even allowing for erosion in benefits and increases in premiums retirees pay, health care that is better than most retirees can expect.

What differentiates us from others in our post-military phase is that he won't be seeking a second career and won't have to. Instead of going into "beltway bandit" purgatory he'll be through hiking the Appalachian trail. Martooni said it first, and others have joined in, but it bears repeating-the only true way to accumulate wealth is to live witin your means and save, save, save. When I look at what we've accumulated in retirement savings, other investments, and real estate owned free and clear we look pretty wealthy. However, he is a soldier and I am a teacher and we sometimes wonder what we might have earned if we had pursued other avenues. Not often though, we've both worked since we were 14 and through luck, or good home training, have always saved. We may work until we die, but it will only be at things we enjoy, and for me only in places where I don't have to wear heels or panty hose.

BTW Talk of the Nation is talking about this now. The definition of wealth they've proposed is $400K in annual income or 6 million in assets.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Me too, frosty. Heels always make my butt look bigger and pantyhose are such a pain.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | November 26, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Other gems, all within walking distance of each other: Dr. Johnson's House, the Norman church at Middle Temple (home of the Knights Templar, donchano) and the Roman Temple of Mithras.

Then you can stroll to Clerkenwell and have a look at the Charterhouse, ending up at Royal Festival Hall. Cool!

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Frosti, it sounds like you are truly "rich" in all the ways that matter.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Lots of people around here retire into contracting. Many of them tell me that it is because they can't figure out what else to do with themselves. This, to me, is sad.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

In one absolute sense, $97,000 is a lot of money: if you make significantly less. The median income around here is less than half that. However, I also believe getting into the distinction between "rich" and "middle class" involves questions of geography. A dollar goes farther in Oklahoma (economy is back up, Kurosawaguy) than on the coasts. Folks can sell a house in DC or California, pay cash for a larger place here, have money left over, and (comparatively speaking) live like kings.

I agree with Mudge's concerns about the "rich" categories as quoted in the article. There are plenty of people here who make the median income or less, send their kids to private (religious) schools, give to charities, and go to Mexico or other resort destinations occasionally. They also may have horses.

My definition of "rich" is not having to worry about paying for school, housing, food, health care, and retirement, AND still being able to buy something without noticing the cost. Of course, for me this is a purely theoretical state.

Also, again with Mudge, there are two meanings to "class". One involves money. The other, which may overlap with the first, involves culture.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 26, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I would like to add to Ivansmoms definition of class, it also involves respecting others, you can be rich and cultured but without class.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I think the disagreement over "class" is that we really don't like the term. It suggests divisions in society that cannot be crossed by marriage or even simple friendship. I prefer to omit the whole concept from my thinking.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom and Mudge are so correct in "class" not just meaning money. It's no secret that passing on social capital is as important, or even more important, than passing on money for sustaining generations of relative wealth.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

DoC -- daffodils in England would be rich indeed. One could pretend that one is Wordsworth or one is Dorothy, Wordsworth's sister, or if one's taste incline thusly, one could imagine oneself to be Coleridge.

(And we could say "one" and "oneself" without hearing too much laughter from one's friends.)

Posted by: College Parkian | November 26, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Head on over to Celebritology to see featured our very own Byoolin Boodler; check out the cultural fluss and muss while you are at it.

BTW: Liz Kelly's followers are pretty funny and nice to each other, as the comment threads reveal.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 26, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of retro toys, our middle daughter turns 12 in two weeks or so. Grandma and Grandpa bought her a Schwinn with a sprung front fork, the modern take on what is known in common circles as a cruiser. I think it's cool.

Posted by: jack | November 26, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

This might set 'Mudge rampaging. From the chat with Tony Bourdain:

Arlington, Va.: Is there anything worth watching in the way of cooking shows these days (in your opinion)? (I mean real shows where people actually cook, a la the great Julia Childs.)

Anthony Bourdain: I don't hate Ina Garten. She actually cooks "correctly". You actually learn how to do it right on that show.

I think Molto Mario was a great, instructional series. So, of course, the nitwits at FN cancelled it.

I love Jacques Pepin. I appreciate Nigella's taste in food--particularly pork fat, though she isn't a professional. And while frightened by Giada's large head, I think she cooks pretty well on that show. Oh..and I dig Lidia Bastianich.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

From watching FN lately, I believe that an increasingly important criterion is cleavage. And Mario just wouldn't stoop to that.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Having spent the day washing down sawdust with a jug of paisano, here's what I think "being rich" is:

1. You enjoy your work so much that retirement is not an option you'll willing take.

2. You have people (be it family or friends) who love you unconditionally and you return the favor.

3. You have food.

4. You have a roof.

5. You have comfortable clothing.

6. You have a bed.

7. You're able to exercise your brain and have interested people around to share what comes out of it.

8. Dreams can be realized and made manifest.

9. When it's cold and rainy, you have hot chocolate available.

10. When it's cold and rainy (or snowy, even), you have someone to curl up with at night who wants to curl up with you.

Just my take.

Posted by: martooni | November 26, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, CP. Your commission check is in the mail.

And now for something completely different, and off-topic, natch: a minor survey, if you don't mind helping me...

To preserve the dubious integrity of my li'l quiz, I would ask that you email your responses to the survey to me at byoolin(at)gmail(dot)com. (All will be explained in due course, and I promise not to sell/give/loan/otherwise communicate your email addresses to others for any purpose whatsoever. I may email you back, though, to ask one question.)

Anyway, here's the thing:


There is a group of children outside. One of the children calls out, "car."

What are the children doing?

[Please mail your response to me at byoolin(at)gmail(dot)com. Grazie!]

Posted by: byoolin | November 26, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Who was it that said, "Live long enough to be a burden on your kids."? Works for me! I've always felt guilty about belonging to the work-til-you-die club. I'm glad that I'm not alone. Just gotta make sure that I keep a boodle-friendly job. That way, I'll boodle 'til I die.

BTW, that whole death thing is considerably overrated.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 26, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't recognize any of the names Bourdain mentioned except for Giada and Nigella, neither of which I care much for. I must be out of date with the FN line-up.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Giada's head *is* unusually large.

I suddenly have an image in my mind of Withnail reading about it at breakfast.

Posted by: byoolin | November 26, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I still smile whenever I recall Mudge's comment about Giada: Preparing pasta with a side of cleavage. Mario's show was good--my wife is REALLY unhappy he went away.

Posted by: ebtnut | November 26, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I love Ina Garten. IIRC she started learning to cook and throw great parties as an army spouse. Which reminds me, I am so behind on my Chinese New Year guest list. We are moving away from Mr. F's obligatory entertaining and having the party up here in the frozen north. Wow, I have colleagues, and consitituents to entertain, and peeps who should write checks for our community nonprofit. I must be rich!

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

My first visit to London was at daffodil time. By the time I got to Hampton Court, I'd seen vast numbers of the flowers. Someone mentioned that there was a vast daffodil field at the palace. I wandered over, expecting not to be impressed. Mistake.

A colleague is moving to Gloucester, Va. I need to find a treatise on daffodils.

Retro toys? IKEA sells nice wooden railroad. I have a Matchbox Land Rover Series on the office bookcase.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Good for you, DoC, to see archetypal daffies. I expect some very old species daffies next spring, Van Sion....a very lightly double that my hero Henry Mitchell loved. Of source, dear Mr. Mitchell was not faithful, as he adored a number of daffies:


come to mind immediately.

Hey, I don't get FN on my basic cable. But all this talk makes me think of Graeme Kerr or Graham Kerr, whom we adored as children. Wasn't he Canadian? (Can't wiki this as I am sharing a computer with a colleague; he thinks I am typing very serious, important, world-might-end stuff...)

Posted by: College Parkian | November 26, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Instructions for the ultimate retro toy. Frostson had one he wore out and it was retro in his day.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

CP-Kerr had a heart attack or something and now has a show emphasizing healthy cooking. Alas, the thrill is gone. You'll never get the can of lard out of my hands during pie season.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

He was Canadian. And he was very funny, until he drank himself into liver disease, found religion, and came back on the air all po-faced and boring. Didn't last too long, after that.

He was one of the very first TV cooks to suggest that you could have a good time in the kitchen (not necessarily because of the booze) instead of being deadly serious about it all.

My heart still belongs to Madame Benoit, though.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Ha! Frosti has revealed my weakness! Sock monkeys!

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

The Galloping Gourmet was something I watched a lot as a child, I used to like how he would pop in the food in the top over and removed cooked food from the bottom, being young it took a few seasons before I understood how he did that.

What Yoki said about his post-heart attack show is very true, education but very very dull.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse


You know. For kids!

Posted by: Jumper | November 26, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

My mom still has Madame Benoit's cookbooks. And I can hear Mme. B's voice in my head, selling those "Pan-A-s'n-IC" microwave ovens...

Posted by: byoolin | November 26, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Wikipedia says Graham Kerr regards himself as a Scot, but was born in London. He also had TV shows in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada and the USA. He's been all over the place! He lives in Mt Vernon, WA now - north of Seattle in the lovely Skagit Valley, which is resplendent with tulips and daffodils in the spring.

Posted by: mostlylurking | November 26, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I think Mario's departure explains why FN did the "Next Iron Chef America" thing.


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Binoculars are a great kids toy, for those in between age adventurous sorts. Or magnifying glasses.

And magnets. Kids and grownups can't have too many magnets, and Legos are THE BEST toy ever made.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Frosty, they are great. I'm knitting a sock right now that makes me think of sock monkey's. Dark grey with a cream coloured toe.

Sock Monkey would be such a good boodle handle.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 4:35 PM | Report abuse

dr-you have hit on the best toys ever. I am hoping Mr. F caught my hint about the binoculars I want for Christmas this year. Last year he bought me a Legos Mindstorms Robot kit. I'm coaching a FIRST Lego league team this year so all fall I've had an excuse to bring it out to play.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

A besotten Scot finds Jesus and moves to the States.
We lose too many like that, something should be done. I think I'll send a message to the Hive Queen.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Giada has a big head? Funny, never noticed.

I accidentially deleted the graphic of all the Simpsonized boodlers. Can anyone help?

Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 4:52 PM | Report abuse

A lego league? Is that what it sounds like, a bunch of kids sitting around playing with legos? My ignorance is showing.

Boko, isn't "besotten Scott" kinda redundant, like "French-Canadian"? (I'd better head for the bunker. Just kidding, all you wonderful highlanders and lowlanders. After all, my wife is one, and she definitely isn't besotten.)

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 26, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Legos are great, except when you are padding around at 3 a.m. in your bare feet and find one on the floor. Then, the whole house will be awake!

Posted by: ebtnut | November 26, 2007 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"Online calculators allow anyone to make an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such Web site calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa."

Would you write: "Researchers have analyzed relative costs, allowing an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such researcher calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa."?

I think that your editor would require you to cite the specific researcher. Similarly, you should cite the specific website.

Posted by: npm | November 26, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Every child should have:

a sock monkey
a little red wagon
a toy lawn mower or other push toy that makes lots of noise while delighting child/giver and irking parents
freedom to pull the pots and pans out on the floor and bang on them with wooden spoons
a flashlight of his/her own
a bug box or ant farm
a chance to make rock candy or observe water evaporate and leave salt behind (preferably both)
books, books, books
plastic army men, a magnifying glass, a hot southern sun, and time to experiment
materials to build a raft and a river to test it out

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Hello,friends. It's bad for me today. We have a dirty little secret here, and now it's hit home.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 26, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I/we can do to help?

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Don-FIRST Lego League is actually about legos and robots.

This year's tournament challenge description:


Alternative Energy Resources - Meeting the Global Demand
How do our personal energy choices to do things like heat our homes, fuel our cars, charge our cell phones, power our computers, or even download music to our iPods impact the environment, economy, and life around the globe? Which resources should we use and why? Explore how energy production and consumption choices affect the planet and our quality of life today, tomorrow, and for generations to come. Can FIRST LEGO League teams find the ultimate solution to this global Power Puzzle?"

Teams build robots to do challenge tasks then compete head to head and in presentations of their research on the challenge and an evaluation of their robot's programming. I have a 4th-6th grade team; two boys and two girls who rock!

Here's a link to the MN parent organization.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 26, 2007 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Okay, you guys, I'm trying to stay calm. Really. (deep breaths)

I just switched from Covad DSL (which was providing speeds, oh, just below dial-up, so I ditched them) to Comcast high-speed internet service. Comcast is the only game in town here and in my building. So, I'm using Eudora as an email program and for several years it's been fine. But it's no longer supported by Qualcomm and since I got Comcast, it's no longer working. I've changed the incoming and outgoing server instructions according to Comcast's specifications, and I'm not getting emails (except, of course, for spam) -- at all. I can send out emails on one of my email domain signatures, but not on one of the others (which is also important). I'm NOT happy. At all. (grrr)

So, if any of my fellow boodlers wants to help me out I'd be ever so grateful.


Posted by: firsttimeblogger | November 26, 2007 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Rampage? Moi? Yoki, I don't know how you could suggest such a thing. Anyway, I agree with everything Bourdain said.

(I get a chuckle out of Ina Garten. I think every other show she does has the same following dialog and subtext: "Hi, I'm Ina Garten. Today Jeffrey is at work and I've invited over some of my incredibly gay interior decorator friends for lunch, and we're having....")

I make jokes about cleavage, too, but I think some of you may be just a little *too* focused on it. I happen to like Guy Fieri a lot (especially his Diners/Dives show), plus Tyler Florence (now that he got rid of Jack who was cute but tediously pretending to be dumb as a treestump), and Bobbie Flay, and Emeril. And Alton Brown is a god. And I liked Mario a lot, and ya know what? Not a darned bit of cleavage anywhere.

I think Cat Cora is attractive, but she scares me: she could beat me arm-wrestling. And shot-put. And arc-welding. And she has a killer's eyes. I like Ellie Krieger, and she's as demurr as a parson's wife. And she's slightly nasal, but in a sexy way that I like. I like Sandra Lee's methods and style, except for the last 5 minutes when she goes all Martha Stewart. She's probably the only Food Network star whose thong, garter belt and garters are color-coordinated to match her window drapes and potholders. (Yes, she wears garters and a garter belt. Don't ask me how I know. I don't know how I know. I just know. One can tell these things.) The woman knows how to accessorize. And Rachel's fun and I would have liked to take her to the highly chaperoned MYF hayride in 11th grade, and afterward have impure thoughts. But of the five, Giada, Cat, Rachel, Sandra or Ellie, Ellie's the one I'd marry. You can tell Giada and Sandra are high-maintenance, probably Rachel, too. Ellie's the keeper. No question about it.

The other show I like a lot is America's Test Kitchen, which is on PBS, not FN. The host, Chris Kimball, is a stick, the nerdy kid in school you didn't like--but you learn a lot on that show and Bridget Lancaster really knows her stuff. But his monthly magazines, Cook's Illustrated and Country Cooks are both really top-notch. I read CI cover to cover.

Regarding retro kids toys: Lincoln logs. For boys that's it: Lincoln logs and Tinker-Toys. That's all any kid needs. And maybe an Erector Set. That'll hold 'em until puberty. And then they can start watching Giada and Rachel Ray and having impure thoughts concerning prosciutto.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 26, 2007 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I'd bet that Mario Batali has a much bigger cup size than Rachel Ray.

I had Lincoln Logs, Lego, and Erector sets as a kid. I would have traded them all for my son's collection of K'nex. You can build anything with those.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 26, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Just FYI on the XO Laptop giving program. I have checked this out thoroughly, with help from some students.

You can buy an sturdy, Linux-kitted, lap top for your use, while at the same time donating one to a child in the developing world. The program in-country links children with computers through responsible and effective programs like schools, orphanages, clinics, and youth centers.

400 plus change for shipping. You get a 299 tax deduction also. Check this out.

So, I will enter the laptop world thusly.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 26, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, You know, I just learned recently that Sandra Lee was born and raised in Sumner, Washington about five miles from where I was. Oh, the wasted possibilities.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, "MYF" is for Methodist Youth Fellowship, right? Oh my. That group and God Squad (I kid you not) at Main Street Presbyterian were full of the cool kids.

However, our CYO dances were quite the thing. We had them every Friday night. For MYF and God Squad, well, somehow dancing every week was over the top.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 26, 2007 5:47 PM | Report abuse

That was me....meant to say, Mudge, that Rachel Ray would likely have been at the CYO you would have had to infiltrate or convert or enter in some other clever way.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 26, 2007 5:49 PM | Report abuse

It has been my experience that the ultimate kid toy, it the large empty box, provide crayons, markers, or paint and the kids will find a way to occupy themselves for hours on end.

Cassandra I hope you are OK.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I went to a couple CYO dances in my time.

Those rumors about Catholic Schoolgirls are grossly exaggerated.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Huh? I don't understand what Cassandra is saying. Cassandra, what do you mean?

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Whatever it is, Cassadra we are thinking of you and praying to where you need the prayers directed.

I just went back up and reread martoonis excellent post from about 3 or 3:30. You nailed it.

So much is want, and very little is really need. You are poor if you have to scrape to get the needs done, everything above that is doing pretty darn fine.

Posted by: dr | November 26, 2007 6:32 PM | Report abuse

I've got an erector set.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 6:38 PM | Report abuse

My mom used to keep her pots and pans, with a couple of plastic spoons, within easy reach of the children and grandchildren.

And when she had the grandkids around the house, she included a container of large rubber bands to add to the pot to cook. The little ones loved to stir the "spaghetti."

My parents watched my kids while I was at work, and I loved coming into the house in the evening to find my mom in the kitchen fixing dinner and my little one sitting on the floor, surrounded by pots, banging or stirring--both the baby and the grandmother happy as can be.

There was so much love in that room.

Cassandra... are you OK?

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 6:40 PM | Report abuse

College Parkian,
I had to google Henry Mitchell.

My northern gardening experience is mostly in Wyoming and Portland, Oregon. In the former, salinity and cold were problems in one town, cool growing season in another (but excellent irrigation water). Wyoming was surprisingly good for bulbs. Tulips could be made to think they were at home in Turkestan and an experiment with Camassia went well. Asiatic hybrid lilies thrive, but I've been beaten in that department by a colleague who had a fine time with them in Fairbanks.

Here in Florida, it's time to buy Hippeastrums, let them flower, then install them in the yard.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 26, 2007 6:47 PM | Report abuse

An Etch-a-Sketch could keep me occupied for hours. Come to think of it, it still can.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 6:50 PM | Report abuse

TBG, I have a video of my older child on the front patio, "playing" a pot and singing. She would often go outside and set up a band. Younger child creates roads, forts, house for stuffed animals and cars with videos.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, hope you're ok. Let us know if we can help.

Good article on Bono and his lobbying efforts for Africa:

"It is a little odd and eerie to have an Irish rock star recite the Declaration of Independence like it's a great poem, but it is a great poem. And that poetry is what's missing from political dialogue right now. And this country is parched, parched from the lack of such political lyrics, and I'm going in saying, 'This is who you are.' "

Posted by: mostlylurking | November 26, 2007 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I hope everything is OK with you this evening.

I would add to those that have suggested a cardboard box is one of the best toys ever.

I also used to play with a popsicle stick (usually one I found rather than being fortunate enough to have actually eaten the treat surrounding said stick), pretending it was a car, a spaceship, a pistol, a communicator ("Kirk to Enterprise, we're in trouble. Send down a security detail, and make sure they're wearing red shirts."), a flashlight, all kinds of things. Sharpen one end on the sidewalk, and you have a knife or a sword.

Used to use the popsicle sticks as catapults for pebbles, and as a bat for popsicle baseball with a wad of scrap paper.

And if I found another stick and a wad of used chewing gum on the ground - heaven! Now I have a jet airplane!

I see that 80s rock band Quiet Riot's singer Kevin DuBrow was found dead today at his home in Vegas...

Scotty, I know you're feelin' it too.

The Noize, I mean.


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget another basic toy... the Little Metal Car. My son called them LMCs.

He started with my sister's old Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars but quickly built his own collection since the were pretty cheap, as toys go. He'd spend entire afternoons just lining them up--in traffic or in parking lots... Can you tell he grew up in Fairfax?

We had bought a huge wooden dollhouse for him when he was little and once we'd made the furniture (out of blocks, tp rolls, etc) he spent the rest of the time parking cars on its front porch and roof.

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Before they discovered video games, both of my children really enjoyed these foam blocks. I kid you not. Because they had a high coefficient of friction and were light, you could make the most intricate structures out of them. We bought a double set.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Yep, bc, I saw that article too. *SIGH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 26, 2007 7:30 PM | Report abuse

There sure is a lot going on here tonight.

In reference to the Who's Rich topic, I do have a link to a vintage Tom Shroder editorial on the subject. I'll go find that. In the meantime, boko999, here is the Simpsons collage:

Posted by: kbertocci | November 26, 2007 7:33 PM | Report abuse

TBG, please don't get me started on LMCs.

I still have... far more than I should.
Probably have a half-dozen on my desk at work.

Played with 'em as a kid, wrecked a lot of them, not realizing that my Johnny Lightnings, Matchboxes, and Hot Wheels would be worth some serious coin 40 years later (Why, oh, why did I do that dance on the Gurney Eagle, the Shelby Indy Turbine, the Lotus 49 and Lotus Turbine? What was I thinking? What have I done to the Red Baron and Evil Weevil? Aak!).


Posted by: bc | November 26, 2007 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Here's the Shroder piece, from 1989:

Still relevant, after all these years.

= = =

Regarding simple toys for kids: I vote for just letting the kids go outside. They can do a lot with sticks, rocks, plants, dirt, and found objects. Remember mud pies? Does anybody let their kids make mud pies any more?

Posted by: kbertocci | November 26, 2007 7:40 PM | Report abuse

The ultimate toy that begins at infancy and last a lifetime - a ball; has many variations, take your pick.

Posted by: Pat | November 26, 2007 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Padouk, you just didn't know the *right* Catholic schoolgirls!

Posted by: Sock Monkette | November 26, 2007 8:03 PM | Report abuse

What a day to visit! I hope Cassandra is OK.

Who is rich? I grew up among the very rich. My parents took us to the symphony, the opera, museums, restaurants.

Our toys were considered vintage even then. When we didn't go somewhere dressy, we flew kites, built dams with rocks. We spent weekend nights playing Master Mind, Othello, and Boggle.

We came to the Sates a few times, and enjoyed it tremendously. Our favorite part was the trip to Dalton's to buy books. We'd mail ourselves these packs that would get home weeks after our vacation had ended.

When we got older, we noticed other kids had other toys, Ataris and stuff.And they had alligator shirts, shoes with the swoosh, and cars with electric everything. They also came to the States every year, sometimes more than once a year.

In some ways we lived like the very rich, among the very rich, and in other ways we didn't keep up with the Uribes.

All three of us kids got an education and a contribution to our first homes' down-payment. I don't begrudge my parents any of it, even if I had to admit I didn't know how to play PacMan to my entire 6th grade class. In 1983, that was no small feat.

I was richer than the other kids. My parents cared enough about me to sacrifice a few niceties for me.

Posted by: a bea c | November 26, 2007 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Can someone explain why one needs thousands of centifuges to enrich uranium?
Why not run one a thousand times?

Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Thanks a bea c. I asked the last questions without refreshing the page so I didn't see your response to my earlier plea.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Boko999 | November 26, 2007 8:17 PM | Report abuse

The way I see it on the grand scheme of things, if you have a throne to perch upon and contemplate life's events, and when you are finished you can get up and flush, well, you're doing better than poor.

Now if you can afford to pay somebody else to polish it, consider yourself rich.

Posted by: Pat | November 26, 2007 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm with kbert (and, obviously, boko999) on this one. A little sunscreen, a nearby water supply, free access to any non-sharp tools that may be required and a kid is good to go for hours.

In some ways, my childhood was ideal. When we lived in Switzerland, we had the mountain (complete with rocks, woods and alpine streams [not to mention promenading nuns]), meadows with goats, apple trees and berry bushes, and the lake. We had fishing rods and Swiss Army knives. You can catch and haul some fish up the mountainside, build a dam in a stream to keep them alive, cut some wood, hunt some mushrooms, light a fire, eat your fish and mushrooms (and then practice extreme woodcraft of the 9-year-old variety), put out the fire, hit the berry patch on the way home, be forced into the bath and then eat muesli and fresh wild berries and yogurt for supper, and go to bed in the full knowledge that the day was well spent.

Sometimes the farmers gave us apples, or fresh milk, or just-pressed soft cider. That was an especially good day.

Of course, nowadays, no 9-year-old would be sent out with sharps and hots unsupervised, but it was fine. Better than fine. Almost perfect. We had few accidents. Bro2 got a fish lure embedded in his head and we had to walk into town to the clinic to have it cut out (me holding the rod in just the right position that there was slack in line so as not to hurt him -- why didn't we cut the line???); I fell into the stream and had to make my way down the mountainside freezing to change; Bro1 sledded into a tree and we all had to wait until he came to before going home, but other than that, it was great.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 8:30 PM | Report abuse

What depressing lot of comments. Try living on SSI. I'm coming up on the Seven-OO. The ten cent bullet keeps coming up in my thoughts to spare my much younger wife from obsine medical bills

>I had Lincoln Logs, Lego, and Erector sets as a kid.
Remember mud pies? Does anybody let their kids make mud pies any more?>

I and my brothers had m all. Even when my Dad didn't have'nt a job a as a carpenter durning the raning season. As a kid the best times were the mud ball-grass ball fights. We used to have mud/grass fights with the brothers across the sreeet who's (whom's?)dd had a garage to keep cars running '41 - '44. My dad sold his '34 Buick that tookus across the west from Kansas to Cailiforina with a matress on the to top to buy a '37 Chevy when he got a job on Shasta Dam in 1940. We were in hog heven with a full time job inide the power house where the work wasn't stopped because of the rain (look it it LindaLo, The most rain in the history of Northern Califorina)

Posted by: bh | November 26, 2007 8:34 PM | Report abuse

hahaha, Pat. You should look up Vancouver sound-poet bill bissett; specifically the poem that to me sums up the Canadian experience: A Warm Place to S**t.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, your childhood sounds cool.

My brother once rolled off the roof of our house. He landed in the bushes and was horribly scratched. No way to hide from my parents we'd climbed out the window while they were out. We used to play "fort" up there, and our weapons were plastic spoons. The best catapults ever.

Posted by: a bea c | November 26, 2007 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Oh ya, a bea c. Not all of it was that cool, but some of it was.

The other thing we did in the Alps was wait for the biggest snowstorms; this meant that the snow reached the second-storey eaves, but the heat of the house would melt it concavely on the ground floor. So the trick was to climb out a bedroom window in the middle of the night (around 9:00 pm at that age) and jump off the roof into the drifts, which would then break off and send you sliding down the melted bits, but break your fall. As I recall, that was the occasion of the only broken bones in all our adventures (Bro3 and me).

When I moved to Alberta as a teenager I hung out with some ranch-boys, who were much much wilder than we. They shot gophers and of course, one of them shot a brother clean through the calf. They were all sworn to secrecy, until the flesh-wound became infected and they had to confess. That story still makes me laugh, because I *so* understand the injury, the pact, and the confession.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse

I live just about a mile from where I grew up. When we moved there in 1960, we were on a dirt road and the main road that leads to our road was also unpaved. We wandered... and wandered. On our bikes, on foot. We fished in ponds and creeks and built forts.

We've lived in our current neighborhood since my son was born, but you could say my kids lived in two completely different neighborhoods. When he was little, there were no kids the same age as my son, so when we were home he played inside with his LMCs or outside with his baby sister.

By the time my daughter was old enough to ride a bike, the street had filled with kids her age. She had the same kind of childhood I did... she just didn't wander as far. We live on a dead end (a "cul de sac" to be exact); we have a creek in the back and the neighborhood pool across the street.

What more could a kid want?

Posted by: TBG | November 26, 2007 8:52 PM | Report abuse

A B C, my friends and I got pretty good at archade gvideo games with a little help from a 1/8 drill bit, a power drill from my dad's workshop, 18 inches of thread from my mom's sewing cabinet... and a few quarters. Hahaha! Hours of fun for under a buck in the early 80's with a trick that I'm sure had been around since the 50's.

That's not stealing, is it?

Posted by: Pat | November 26, 2007 8:58 PM | Report abuse

And the old saying still applies: It's all great fun till someone gets hurt.

Medical bills ain't fun!

Posted by: Pat | November 26, 2007 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I gotta say, I am loving all these memories, whether they be of Boodler childhoods or our childrens' childhoods. Please to keep posting.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 9:08 PM | Report abuse

My version of "rich" is enough to work how I want and always have money for medical bills. And for gas. If you can't have perfect health, you better have wealth to support it.

Otherwise, I grew up in a large family with hand-me-downs and I was working since around 8 years old (shovelling sidewalks, newspapers, etc.). Not hard, but I was a kid. I was volunteering or working odd errands over the summer by age 12.

As for RD-- I never could do an afterschool job, that IS bad for grades.
I knew a boy in HS who really needed to work. I never asked the details but I had the sense that his father had died or divorced.

We rode the same bus with this profligate "wannabe male model" (I swear, that sleazy "swinger" on Fraiser looked exactly like him, grown up). Both had the same name.
Poor boy who had to work something like 15 hours a week hated Rich boy, who got 200 dollars a week allowance and usually blew it all on clothing and was incredibly shallow.

Until poor boy talked about rich boy, I wasn't really so aware of how spoiled the kids there were until my interpreter let me know one of the kids in my classes were complaining that his parents wanted him to get a *shudder* summer job to help pay for college. He went on for like a few minutes.

So, while it's good to have a kid do biology camp and all that, summer and weekend work is good as well.

I loved my first full-time summer job-- an internship originally intended for college students but which I was ready to grab when the offer came down the line for high school students instead.

That job beat biology camp anyday, and helped establish that I really did like biology as a career rather than just an academic subject. And I got paid-- minimum wage, but I got paid.

And then I flipped burgers. And bused tabled. And got another internship. And in college, I tutored.

I have always believed I'd work until I died. Now I sometimes doubt that.

However, I'm with Cassandra... when you stop working, you become disconnected from the flow of things.

This is particularly acute for people who have problems meeting people socially, such as deaf people. They need the regular encounters and established relationships to maintain and increase their support network. And money helps too.

This may be why, as RD notices, too many people retire from the military, find themselves quite young, healthy, and in the habit of working, and go into a second career such as contracting or consulting.

The military is a social network into itself, and it must feel odd to lose that, if you don't have something already lined up to keep you busy and involved with life.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 26, 2007 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, not to boodlehog yet again... were you born with the name "Heidi?"

I always wanted to experience a rural childhood. I grew up in town, but we did have cows nearby for a while, parks, and a bike trail, and a nice town. I walked a lot, especially with my dog.

As a matter of fact, because I hated the bus schedules and the length of the ride, I often would just walk the 2+ miles home from the subway after work. I kept it up whenever I felt like it, especially in the summer.

But not if I was sleepy-- I needed all my wits to avoid being hit by cars backing suddenly out of driveways or turning corners because of all the shrubbery shrouding corners.

Enter Wilbrodog. This is probably why I really longed for a rural childhood... fewer streets and traffic. Oh. And ponies, and wildlife of course.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 26, 2007 9:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm hearing some stuff here, that isn't quite right.

I have been working for pay since I was 14. Working to get some parental-approval since way before that (4?). Being happy about happy times doesn't mean that one doesn't work for them or know hard times.

Just sayin'

And clearly Pat and I live in different countries; in Canada and Switzerland it is still good fun when somebody gets hurt, 'cause both countries have socialized medicine.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I mostly worked so I could meet the hot girls who worked at McDonald's. Turned out about as well as those crazy Catholic Schoolgirls at CYO.

And speaking of Canadians, check out the last sentence in this story. Just don't get all smug-like over it.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 26, 2007 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, no. I was born in Ottawa (Capital City of Canada) from two parents born in Napanee. We moved to Switzerland when I was 8 years old, and lived there until I was 12 years old. Then Edmonton, Calgary, Kingston, Montreal, Montreal, Edmonton, London, Prague, Paris, Monatreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Kingston.

Then I went to University, and lived in Kingston, Montreal, Edinburgh, London, Prague, Kingston.

Then I travelled, and worked in Paris, London, Delhi, and Barcelona.

Then I married, and lived in Kingston, Montreal, Calgary, Revelstoke, Calgary.

Now I'm planning a move to Dublin or points west, except that the healthcare system sucks, so perhaps I'll spend some time in Canada and some vacations in Ireland.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Mine was an urban childhood, with retreats to the rural when I went to see my grandparents. We walked to and from school, which was about three quarters of a mile, and to the park, which was three blocks. Everybody watched out for everybody else's kids, so there was no getting away with anything we shouldn't do.

I remember a kid my age who lived down the street would come to borrow my encylopedias. Her family had a boat and a place at the lake. So...who was rich? Family priorities are different, I suppose, but I always felt superior to that child.

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Here's a fun link to call it a day with. Enjoy!

Posted by: Slyness | November 26, 2007 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Man, the Post's website has these strange pictures of Gore and Bush forcibly grinning together, celebrating Gore's Noble Prize.

Great, funny captions could be had. Bush looks like he is thinking two possible things: a) who is this guy and why am I here? or b) Bono likes me better than you.

Posted by: bill everything | November 26, 2007 10:18 PM | Report abuse

kbertocci asked about mud pies ---

my son told me recently that he was bathing his five year old daughter and three year old son before dinner and couldn't understand how they got so much dirt in their hair.

"Oh," says his daughter, "we were taking dirt showers!"

(close enough to mud pies!)

Posted by: nellie | November 26, 2007 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, so, basically, you are a home body?

Posted by: bill everything | November 26, 2007 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Yup. If I understood you properly. Probably not.


Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Mine was a middle class childhood in a small suburb that went from having many open lots and small forested areas to fully housed. It was a wonderful place to grow up with places to explore, a lovely treed area on the hillside overlooking the water was great for tobagganing in winter, lots of ponds to skate on in winter and even the bay when it was cold enough to freeze over. There were parks and marshes and the Royal Botanical gardens all in walking/biking distance.

I do not remember more than a few toys I had as a child but I remember the freedom I had to explore and wander the community.

My kids can still explore all those same areas and parks but the freedom to wonder off and find a secluded shelter on a hillside bank overlooking the water just isn't possible in today's society. If I could my kids just one thing it would be the ability to go out the door after breakfast with the luxery of being able to explore freely the world around them.

Posted by: dmd | November 26, 2007 10:43 PM | Report abuse

dmd, that was beautiful. Thank you.

Posted by: Yoki | November 26, 2007 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Nature: the world's best retro toy, but one that would never pass consumer safety boards.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 27, 2007 12:10 AM | Report abuse

My family was poor when I was growing up but I felt we were middle class and had class. What is middle class and to have class, I know not but I felt good about us.

For half a year, I go to school in the afternoon and the other half, morning. When I was in afternoon session, I was a home alone kid in the morning. My older sister was at school. My parents and other sisters went rubber tapping. My sisters gave me very specific instructions not to leave the house unattended lest a burglar showed up. As if a kid at age 6 knew what to do if a burglar does show up. They scared me unnecessarily all the time. After I finished my chores, I'd climb the trees that were around the house. During rambutan season, I'd sit on the ridge of the roof and had rambutans for breakfast or brunch. I'd always get down the tree before my father got home. Otherwise the tree would suffer. Other times, I'd turn the house upside down but put it right side up again before anyone come home from work. I'm very good at taking things apart. I only don't know how to put it back afterwards.

Posted by: rainforest | November 27, 2007 4:06 AM | Report abuse

I grew up on a multi-acre wooded lot, next to some railroad tracks... Hours of wandering the old road next to the rails, splashing in the stream that ran through the property... Examining the glass insulators from the old telegraph lines that ran along the tracks... Playing ball in the big field in front of the house (now paved over for a new bridge over the tracks). Good times... *SIGHHHHHHHHHHHH*

*off-to-another-day-at-the-races Grover waves*


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 5:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. I cannot talk about this out loud. Just pray for me and my family.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 27, 2007 5:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning Cassandra. I just sent my daughter to the airport to fly back to school. It is a blessing to see you here, as usual. May you have a blessed day.

Posted by: daiwanlan | November 27, 2007 5:57 AM | Report abuse

He11uva way to start the day. Sean Taylor died a little while ago, from his gunshot wound. RIP.

Cassandra, it's good to hear from you. Yu know you have a lot of people here worried about you. Even if you can't talk about it, just keep checking in.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 27, 2007 6:17 AM | Report abuse

My happiest play involved damming little streams. The water always won, but the contest was the thing. That, and making the very best sand castles. One year my brother made an igloo; this was when we lived outside Chicago. That igloo was the most incredible thing to play in ever! And the toys were just our hands, a few of our dad's tools, and our imaginations.

Posted by: Jumper | November 27, 2007 6:23 AM | Report abuse

Mornin' all...

Nothing like a little nostalgia to warm up a chilly morning.

I grew up in the hills of Western PA, so Nature was my toybox. Blackberry picking, toads, tree forts, creeks to fish, hollow trees to stash dirty magazines... those were the days.

My best friend back then was an 80-something woman named Hazel. She taught me to crochet and do word puzzles and play cards.

I also remember sitting in on "rehearsals" by the teenage neighbors' garage band. One afternoon my Mom burst in and grabbed me, then yelled like a banshee at the older kids. Something about "that's not incense!" followed by "you wait until I see your mothers!"

Those were the days.

Peace out...

(and long-haired leaping gnome vibes to Cassandra)

Posted by: martooni | November 27, 2007 6:31 AM | Report abuse

RIP, Sean Taylor... *SIGHHHHH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 7:11 AM | Report abuse

And in other news...

Someone needs to remind our "citizen journalism" friends that journalism is much more than offering your opinion on whatever you think the "real" story is... 'Mudge, please practice your deep-breathing exercises before you read this:


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 7:58 AM | Report abuse

I hope that all who are hurting out there today - Cassandra; family, friends and fans of Sean Taylor, and anyone else out there who is facing difficulties or tragedy - can take some time to think about the good things in life; the happy moments, the triumphs, friendships, kinships, and loves.


Posted by: bc | November 27, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

We used to dam little creeks, too. We lived in the city, but we were very good at finding fields with cows where we could picnic and nobody minded. There was this place we called Rock River, and the very last time we went there, we lost our fancy frisbee, just brought back from Miami by my grandmother. It landed in the creek and floated away before we could catch it. We rock-hopped for a while trying to catch up, but couldn't keep up with the water.

I've been trying to convince my husband that being able to start a fire with a single match and no starter fuel from a can is an important skill to teach the kids. I want them to roast marshmallows with a fire in a clay flower pot. My brother and I used to cook entire meals over flower pots with old pans and aluminum foil.

Posted by: a bea c | November 27, 2007 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Hearing these growing up stories makes me think we all want something a bit wild for our children. Nature-wild and unconstructed. Here is one from my brothers:

They rigged an inner tube, canvass, bungie cord contraption to shoot down part of a mining brother has a dueling scar to show for it.

We had a zip-line in our back yard...such fun but this requires either a change in elevation or strategic trees.

Like Yoki, I took a trip down a snow-melt creek (crik!) one spring. I took my snow suit off and ran into the house to change. I did not want my mom to know about that particular Swiss Family Robinson family move. The snow suit frose against the chain link fence. Neighbor kids came from blocks a way to see it "standing" in the back yard, next to a snow man.

Blessings to us all, bc, sad or happy, fair-to-middling, crushed or uncrushed....I hope that for all here, the upcoming winter season has candles in it, firelight, and some cozy conviviality with friends and family.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 27, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Well said, bc, well said.

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 8:25 AM | Report abuse

What sad news about Sean Taylor. Just terrible.

Impossible to know what actually happened, but home invasions in upscale neighborhoods used to be really common in Miami when I was down there.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 27, 2007 8:27 AM | Report abuse

a bea c,
Loved your 0819 post. I'm in desparate need of a Wolf Den leader for my Cub Scouts. You'd be perfect! Actually, I'd be happy with anybody from the boodle.

Yes, we all should learn how to start a fire with just one match, and learn to cook over it. Starting a fire without ANY matches or other modern tools is a skill that any cave man worth his salt had mastered. Yet practicaly NO modern day man (or woman) has mastered it.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 27, 2007 8:30 AM | Report abuse

From the Miami Herald:

He was arrested in June 2005 on felony charges of waving a gun at people he believed had stolen his all-terrain vehicle. He later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery. Sharpstein said Taylor was the victim and that he should not have been charged.

After the plea, Ryan Lee Hill, a member of the group that Taylor had allegedly accosted, sued Taylor. In the suit, which is pending, Hill claimed Taylor hit him repeatedly in a fight and brandished a gun at him, and said he had lost wages and had medical bills because of injuries.

''Totally garbage and untrue,'' Sharpstein said Monday of Hill's account.

After the fight, Taylor, friend Michael McFarlane and a man named Charles Caughman went to McFarlane's house in West Perrine, according to court records of the incident. Soon afterward, a silver car pulled up to McFarlane's house and someone opened fire, peppering Taylor's GMC Yukon Denali with bullets. Police found 27 bullet casings outside, and at least 15 shots hit Taylor's car. No one was hit, and the shooting remains unsolved.

McFarlane has since moved out of the small ranch home on Southwest 104th Avenue. The current renter on Monday showed a visitor bullet holes that remain over a front window.


Taylor's cousin, Florida State University safety Anthony Leon, said Taylor was trying to shed some troublemaking friends he had grown up with. Leon, who said he spent his morning crying and praying in his dorm room, said Taylor had ``started to calm down.''

''He's been trying to stay away from bad company -- especially for his daughter's sake,'' Leon said. ``Sean wasn't a bad guy at all. He's got his personality on the football field and off it. All he was trying to do was protect his family. And they shot him.''

Posted by: Achenbach | November 27, 2007 8:34 AM | Report abuse

It is always so sad when a young person dies so needlessly. My prayers go out to this young man's family and friends.

Too much senseless violence in this world.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | November 27, 2007 8:47 AM | Report abuse

On a note of hope, the Mideast Peace talks start today on the grounds of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis...

Dialoges and discussion - no matter how heated - is better than suicide bombings, air strikes, katusha rockets, cluster bombs, kidnappings, and threats.


Posted by: bc | November 27, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Good morning and thank you to those of you who answered my little quiz question yesterday. Your responses were delightfully supportive of my thesis.

I'm Canadian and my wife, the Lovely Mrs. byoolin, is American; when we met she knew we 'nucks were a little preoccupied with hockey and in the years since has gained an appreciation of just how deeply ingrained in our blood the game is. Even Canadians who don't care about, dislike, or loathe hockey nonetheless know about it, understand its basics, and have at least one hockey-related story in their pasts.

So we were at my mom's house (in northern Ontario) on the weekend and we got to talking about how much a part of the Canadian identity hockey is when a scene from the tv show Corner Gas prompted my sister to say something that led me directly to the question I asked you yesterday. In the scene, some kids are playing road hockey when one of them yells, "Car!" and they pick up their net and move it aside until the car passes.

My sister said, "*That* is Canada."

I instantly knew she was right, and I said so.

I said that if you were to approach 100 Canadians in a shopping mall and describe the little scene I described in my quiz, virtually all of them would know the kids were playing hockey. I further theorized that if you were to likewise approach 100 Americans, there would be a variety of answers.

So I threw out the question to the Boodle (because it's a much nicer place to be than in a mall) and the Lovely Mrs. byoolin asked it on her blog. Out of the three dozen or so answers we got between us, only one Canadian didn't say hockey, and the Americans gave a variety of answers (stickball, kickball, throwing bricks(!) and others). (Incidentally, Pittsburghers, whom a friend of mine refers to as one of the Lost Tribes of Canada, usually said that the kids were playing hockey, as did one person from Minnesota and one from Massachussetts.)

So, again, thank you, Boodlers, for your participation in my little sociological experiment.

Game on!

Posted by: byoolin | November 27, 2007 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Give peace a chance. Could be our mantra today.

Taylor's dad was the police chief in Florida City. It's one of the poorest towns in the state -- makes neighboring Homestead seem upscale. Taylor's story, even before this, always was framed in terms of whether he could fully emerge from the rough crowd that he'd run with growing up. And the signs were that he had in the last year or so after his daughter was born. It's just so tragic. And it's the latest in a series of tragedies that have hit former UM players.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 27, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

That would be a great mantra for today, and for all days Joel. A very sad story about Taylor.

byoolin, thought that was the point behind your quiz and I searched for a while yesterday to an TV ad that was on a while ago. I think it was a beer commercial about a curling match that breaks out on Yonge Street (yes that is how it is spelt), it is just like road hockey though where the game is interupted by cars.

One of my husbands favorite stories involves road hockey, in his early teens he was approached by a lovely young lady who asked if he wanted to come by her home after school, she mentioned her parents were out, he was interested but remembered the "BIG" road hockey game that was planned for that afternoon (well every afternoon really), he declined her invitation. To this day he just keeps repeating - what was I thinking!

Posted by: dmd | November 27, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Dib dib dib dawb dawb dawb

During the snowstorm a few day's back one the neighbour's kid's inflatabe rings blew into my ditch.
Buddy and I got this season's first 'soakers' getting it out.
I missed getting yelled at by Mum.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 27, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

This is in keeping with the nostagia thread of this boodle, it seems the family of "The Friendly Giant" are not happy with the way the puppets have been treated by the CBC and are pulling them out of the CBC Museum. As much as I loved that show growing up I think this reaction is a little over the top.

Posted by: dmd | November 27, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse


Your husband was obviously subconciously thinking of the day he'd meet you.


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

SCC: subconsciously, of course... :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I have so enjoyed reading about everyone's favorite childhood fun. I grew up in a tiny house surrounded by lots of open space, so spent a lot of time outdoors. There weren't a lot of other kids nearby, so usually it was just my brother and me. One day we discovered that the barn next door had been filled with loose oats. We then spent considerable time climbing into the rafters and jumping into the oat pile. That's one of my few memories of my pre-horse days.

When I was eight, my dad bought me my first horse--an ornery Shetland pony. My parents were by no means rich (I'm not sure we even qualified as middle class), but they had their priorities straight. We did without a lot of things, but dad built a barn with his own hands for the horses that followed. He got me to join 4-H to learn how to care for the horses and ride better. I met other horse-crazy girls, and we'd go on outings around the countryside, often riding double. It just breaks my heart that kids no longer have that freedom to just run amuck.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 27, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

byoolin. I had an overpowerering urge to send 'crokinole' as my answer to your poll.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 27, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

As Ted Forth's biggest fan and it being on-off-topic, here is the ultimate toy nostalgia post:

Kudos to anyone that remembers all those toys.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 27, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I heard an interview with Sharpstein on the radio this morning, it sounded like Taylor was getting his life on a better track.

A shame about another young life that held so much promise cut short.


Posted by: bc | November 27, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Raysmom, you just popped the lid open on a box of long forgotten memories. When I was about 6, my Dad got the bug to go horseback riding, and thought that the rest of the family should, also. My little sister was just an infant, so that left just me and my Dad to go riding. We took lessons at a riding center out in the country of southeastern Wisconsin.

Learning to mount the monsterously huge old grey mare was a difficult feat. Learning to control her when my feet wouldn't even reach the stirrups was just out of the question. A group of us cowpoke wannabes would all practice different riding speeds in a loop in a big barn. I could canter OK, but much faster than that scared the bejeebers out of me. I held on for dear life.

Then we'd all go out for a trail ride. My horse had a mind of her own, so on more than one occasion, she'd head off from the group, and I was powerless to dictate otherwise. I was more embarrassed at the fact that the instructors were peeved at me than I was fearful of falling off. However, it was a very, very long way to the ground from where I was perched.

All in all, it was not what I'd call fun, for me. After a while, the lessons, thankfully, stopped. Today, I'm by no means afraid of horses, but I don't have any urge to go riding. Been there, done that, feh.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 27, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Don, I can't tell you how many similar stories I've heard. Those trail riding places have ruined the experience for so many with those sour, stubborn horses.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 27, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Of course, there was the trail-riding operation that forgot to tell me my horse was blind in one eye. He didn't QUITE impale my leg on that tree, however...


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

dmd. Those commercials with the suits on Yonge St. (like a Wall St., only littler) playing different street games were a riot. The one with the shopping cart races was pulled because it might have encouraged dangerous behaviour.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 27, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Whaddaminit. Weren't those suits on Bay St.?

Posted by: Boko999 | November 27, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

A professional driver always does a walkaround S'Nuke.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 27, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

FYI, I'm in rural Tennessee today, and will try to post a new kit sometime this afternoon.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 27, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Funny, Mr. F and I both grew up with horses. He spending long days in the saddle on a working ranch, I riding for leisure but spending more time on the end of a shovel than in a saddle. Though I had a horse for those pony loving pre and early teen years, it was really Frostdaddy and Frostsister #1 who loved horses. I longed to have a piano and take lessons. Surely Mr. F and I have ruined Frostdottir's life with years of piano lessons and a smallish grand piano of her own. Her plaintive plea each Christmas-Why can't I have a horse? It's just not faaaaaiiiiiiirrrr!

Posted by: frostbitten | November 27, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Try the smoked pork barbecue, Joel. It's excellent.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 27, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

They need a lot of centrifuges because the difference in weight between the U235 hexaflouride gas and U238 hexaflouride gas is minuscule. They are arrayed in series so that ever increasing levels of purity can be reached.

Check out or buy "The Curve of Binding Energy" by John McPhee. Just don't use your real name when you do.

If only we knew someone with the NRC we could ask these questions to.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 27, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I will let yello answer your centrifuge question Boko, but as to what street - well here's the commercial.

Posted by: dmd | November 27, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

A thousand centrifuges to enrich uranium also enriches the centrifuge maker.

Posted by: crc | November 27, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

You gotta love you tube! I loved that. The whole series of commercials was genius.

Posted by: dr | November 27, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

dr... did you see this one?

Posted by: TBG | November 27, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

TBG, that's even worse! I remember exactly what they spoof. Back in the 'day' TV commentating of curling was like golf commenting. Very very quiet, guys talking almost under their breath. And the brooms. Hear that manly slap slap sound? Now that's a game. None of the sissy shshshshsh they have today.

Posted by: dr | November 27, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

My brother and I grew up near a private tennis club and although tennis was not our game, we found all sorts of things to play with tennis balls. We used to drive our parents crazy playing house ball.

Our favorite game was curb ball.Throwing a tennis ball against a curb in the street. A single was any grounder that you couldn't catch. A double was any grounder that got by you without being touched. A triple was a line drive over the sidewalk and a Homerun was any fly that cleared the big dogwood tree in front of the house without being caught. 3 outs per inning in a 7 inning game and 2 fouls where considered an out. And of course everything was in play, cars,trees, the house and even our cat who used to chase the balls around. I wish I had a curb here.... I feel like playing!!!!

Posted by: greenwithenvy | November 27, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Crokinole" - now *there* is a word I haven't seen in 25 years...

Posted by: byoolin | November 27, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Howdy. I can't help but feel there is a logical, even inevitable, connection between the discussion of "riches" and a discussion of childhood experiences. For most of us, who don't have the kind of money to be called "rich", the real measure of riches becomes how we feel in our personal circumstances. Many people believe we had rich childhoods without a lot of money or possessions.

Cassandra, I hope you are well.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 27, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

yello's recommendation of "The Curve of Binding Energy" is good, but even better are two by Richard Rhodes, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and "Dark Sun." The first tells the story of the Manhattan project, but the first 230 pages is an extremely well-written primer on the development and physics and nuclear physics, up until that day in 1933 when Leo Szilard stepped off a curb as the light changed in NYC, and had a flash of inspiration that a nuclear fission was possible and could be made into a bomb. The second book takes off where the first ends, with the building of the hydrogen bomb and the exploits of Edward Teller. Rhodes is such a great writer that nobody need be worried about being (a) bored, or (b) able to understand it. The first one won a Pulitzer, IIRC.

Scotty, I've been reading bull---- like that about "citizen journalism" for 15 or 20 years. It was BS then, and it's BS now. I predict it will have the same long-term effect upon media as did the CB radio. It's the fad du jour: public access narcissism.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 27, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I am curious about a couple of things:
(1) Can you provide a citation -- or have you done a story about -- what the AMT would look like, and it's revenue, if the indexing had been accomplish at the time?
(2) Do you know what the standard deviations are for calculation of income? E.g., would Obama's >$97500, 6% of the population, be two SD's above the median?
(3) Can you provide citations for Wolfe, and for Bernstein? I like both of their concepts, and wonder if Wolfe's number's and Bernstein's psychology match up?

On the calculation of SS contributions: increasingly, non-employee contractors are replacing emplyees per se, and "we" have to pay both the employee and the employer parts (>12%), and raising the cap would be a substantial tax rise.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: palmerpsy | November 27, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

The kids on our street play outside quite a bit--they have a basketball goal and they play football, and when I gave them a couple of old tennis rackets I had been about to throw away, they played tennis for a few weeks (I'm sure the rackets were used for other, more rugged, purposes, and didn't survive long.) Lately, some of them have taken up double dutch jumprope. I really enjoy turning into my street at the end of the day and seeing the kids jumping rope.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 27, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

For Richard Rhodes fans, his latest book was issued in early October, "Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race." I was perusing it in the past month, and I believe he said in his preface that it would take another book to tell the story of how small satellite nations acquired nuclear weaponry, which may lead to his fourth book.

Posted by: Loomis | November 27, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

A colleague just e-mailed me this piece by Bruce Fein, that rightwing constitutional law prof who wants to impeach Bush and Cheney. It was published in *that other* Washington newspaper that must go nameless. I wonder what you guys will think of it. (Fein is often a nutjob, but I have trouble finding anything to disagree with this time around.)

Can the Republic survive?

November 27, 2007

By Bruce Fein

The United States culture is decaying, growing steadily less capable of supporting a republican form of government.

Unless the cultural pendulum swings back toward civic virtue and learning, the United States will plunge to government by executive edict. It will follow the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 B.C.

The result will be chronic follies like post-Saddam Iraq pivoting on the delusion of executive infallibility and the conviction that decisive power is invariably military power.

In "Federalist 55," James Madison observed that, "Republican government presupposes the existence of [qualities in human nature that justify esteem and confidence] in a higher degree than any other form." Those qualities include wisdom, honesty and courage; a subordination of egomania to the common good; moderation; self-doubt and self-discipline; and, charity toward the shortcomings of others. A culture that pays homage to these qualities, as in the time of the American Revolution, gives birth to towering leaders like Cincinnatus, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

As president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 amid petty bickering and maneuvering for political advantage, Washington admonished the delegates: "If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest may repair."

The delegates did not jeer. They did not retort, "We don't have the votes." Instead, they labored to subordinate their parochial interests to the common good and achieved a miracle. A century later, the United States Constitution was acclaimed by Lord Gladstone as, "The most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."

American culture has degenerated since the Founding Fathers into a celebration of vice, ignorance, drivel and self-promotion. Money, beauty, sexual indulgence, athletics and fame are saluted as the summum bonum of existence. Exemplary are the wild enthusiasm for "American Idol," obsession with the tawdry comings and goings of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton and the apotheosis of professional athletes who contribute nothing to preserving government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is inconceivable that a Washington, Madison or Jefferson or Lincoln could emerge from the contemporary culture.

Parents seldom read to children. Students seldom read from inspiration. A dwindling number make it a habit to peruse a serious daily newspaper. Not a single public official or figure in the United States could author paragraphs worthy of the Federalist Papers, Washington's Farewell Address or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The nation has become leaderless amid its arid and brainless culture, like an acephalous church. Think of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and President George W. Bush. The American Revolution would have capsized if they had been its political helmsmen.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid would have accepted the tyrannies of the Stamp Tax and Writs of Assistance because they would not then have had the votes for revolt. Mr. Bush would have quarreled with every indictment against King George III penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence because it contradicted his monarch-like theory of a unitary executive. And none of the three would have possessed the wisdom and courage to understand and pursue government by the consent of the governed and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They would not have known that concentration of power is what invariably precedes destruction of human liberties.

Before the Constitutional Convention gathered in 1787, Madison read voluminously about every federation and confederation since the beginning of recorded history. Like his contemporaries, he believed serious reading and writing were the secret of political maturity and wisdom.

Thomas Jefferson sermonized: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thus, the Founding Fathers mastered John Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone. They knew the fates of Greek city-states and the Roman Republic. They were versed in Petrarch's "Lives," Virgil's "Aeneid," Plato's "Republic" and William Shakespeare's masterpieces.

Authored by Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist Papers brim with historical and literary allusions that bespeak erudition and philosophical wisdom. The authors would have been aghast at President Bush's assertion he does not learn from reading. They would have been shocked at the stupendous ignorance of the typical member of Congress, whether about the Constitution, constitutional philosophy, history, philosophy literature or otherwise.

Read the debates of the First Congress of the United States. Compare them to the debates of the 110th Congress memorialized in the Congressional Record. The deterioration in learning is alarming, virtual disproof of Charles Darwin's theory of progressive evolution.

Diagnosing cultural flaws is much easier than prescribing a cure. Attempting to change culture is more guesswork than science. I would nevertheless recommend beginning with a return to the educational standards of the Founding Fathers. A child should be taught to adulate Socrates and the freedom of inquiry before excursions to the cinema or football stadium.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 27, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, its a very good piece, but I don't think the solution is that far away.

Seriously. Its all there.

'they labored to subordinate their parochial interests to the common good'

Too many governments in democracies become about keeping power by serving interest groups. That is where both your nation and our nation are now.

But if governments stop worrying about keeping power and serving interest groups and sublimate their interests for the good of all people you have success.

It takes one honourable man, who holds that his number one job is to serve.

Posted by: dr | November 27, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't suffice to say "rural Tennessee". You need to provide "east" or "west". Or maybe "middle".

In the years after the Civil War, many states enacted measures intended to protect the public's money from the crooked politicians. No trust at all in the honesty of state legislators, nor governors. Alabama still operates under those sorts of curbs. It was the age of George Washington Plunkitt.

It's kind of neat that Madison's home, Montpelier, is being liberated from two centuries of remodelling and additions.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 27, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Darwin did not advocate "progressive evolution." He postulated adaptation to prevailing conditions, which may include the loss of formerly adaptive traits that no longer are advantageous, no matter how aesthetically admirable. Thus, contrary to Mr. Fein's argument, Mr. Darwin's theory perfectly explicates the present condition.

I have spent time pondering the issue of the balance that must be struck between classical book-learnin' and modern current events-learnin'. There simply is not enough time to perfectly absorb the full body of works by the ancient thinkers, and everything good that was written between then and now, and everything potentially good that is available now, as well as remaining well-versed in the issues of the present day. Something has to go, whether it is a part of our frail human personalities (e.g., our interest in the minutiae of each others' lives), or a decrease in our devotion to maintaining the full canon of our ancestors' works. We must continually winnow the classics down to the classiest and most classic -- while keeping some scholars who can reacquaint us with the forgotten relevance of an ancient thinker as events dictate a return from obscurity.

Most science education and math education, these days, revolves around a recapitulation of the history of the field. History is taught from old stuff towards newer stuff. I think there must be a way to START from modern times and current knowledge and proceed backwards, as needed.

I'll continue to ponder. Right now, I am looking at Mars spectroscopy. What fun!

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 27, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

gwe-Mr. F played a remarkably similar game to your curb ball, but on the front steps of his house, with a baseball. This explains the dashing scar on his chin.

I have often thought we have taken too much risk out of childhood. Our summers with the Frostgrands were full of jumping off the garage with ersatz parachutes, learning to walk on home built stilts and hours upon hours on the water. Frostpop's idea of boating safety was to take the motor off, thinking we wouldn't go any farther than we could row back. We would row out to cemetery point where children our age, and younger, were buried from the great influenza epidemic. Once there we'd scare ourselves silly searching for signs that headstones or bones had washed into the lake. We had some elaborate fantasy game based on Tom Sawyer's encounters with Injun Joe, and plenty of real Indians to play with. (The point was an island in high water years and the graves were battered by erosion. In the '80s they were studied by Hamline University archaeologists and anthropologists and the remaining remains relocated to the city cemetery.)

I feel sorry for today's kids who get all morbid and feel compelled to create giant roadside memorials where their friends, or distant facebook acquaintances, died in car wrecks. I have no idea what it's like to grow up without a family cemetery to visit and play in, where Cousin Frostinlaw kept the diagram of the plots on a window shade behind the seat in his pickup, but I know having one makes all nostalgia for childhood lead back to the place I know I'll end up.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 27, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Fein: "The deterioration in learning is alarming, virtual disproof of Charles Darwin's theory of progressive evolution."

Interesting because historian Joseph Ellis mentioned Darwinian regression in terms of politics at the Texas Book Festival earlier this month, sentiments Fein expresses elsewhere in his article--specifically, both Ellis and Fein opining that current political figures are no Jefferson or Madison.

If you look at the photos on the cover of Matthew Chapman's book, "Trials of the Monkey"--Chapman the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, it's a spoof on the generational Darwinian regression within the family.

Posted by: Loomis | November 27, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Hi SciTim, thank you for this idea:
"I think there must be a way to START from modern times and current knowledge and proceed backwards, as needed." I use this on Wednesday and quote you, as AstronomerTim.

When I teach the science article genre to aspiring scientists and lab-rats, I tell them to start where they are with the newest finding, and place the history in a small but worthy section called one of these:

History and Background

The temptation is to be Biblical and begin with the Big Bang (or God-infuses being with stuffing moment of Genesis) and move forward...the other problem is the begat or beget-by problem...

Adam begat Abel
Abel (oops he died before begatting)
ALSO Adam begat Cain
Cain begat (son of Cain).

and so on.....

Of course, in the introduction section, scientists MUST name-drop their mentors, dissertation committee members, famous science-peeps who might find this article through citation checks..etc.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 27, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Just what I was thinking CP. I work with local school districts helping their teachers write grants, so they can stop hiring grant writers (a bad business plan for a grant writer). The hardest thing to get them to do is to state what they want to do, then work back to tell the story of why, how, and how much they'll need to do it.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 27, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I have to take issue with Fein when he suggests that not a single public official or figure in the US could write paragraphs suitable for the Federalist Papers, etc. There are a few in Oklahoma, and one man in particular I can think of, who could indeed write something as knowledgable, thoughtful, insightful and original as the pieces to which he refers. We just need more of these people, in positions of power. If you just have one legislator willing to stand up and be counted, she'll have to sit down pretty quick. What we need are a solid block of statesmen (and women) -- enough to change political culture and behavior.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 27, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

All of this political talk started this tune cootie:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

Posted by: jack | November 27, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

jack, I'll trade you tune cooties. I've had Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" for a couple of days. The Gilligan's Island/Amazing Grace trick is failing for the first time.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 27, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

What about slot machines at MD race tracks? Statistically, it strikes me as a bad deal, taking away the limited money that is in the hands of people with poor math skills and limited prospects (i.e., poor people) and leaving them even more reliant upon public supports. Maybe it's a wash, economically.

Who will be supervising these facilities? Who will be operating them? They must at least break even, but the only reason to operate them is if they turn a profit -- hence, it can't be "a wash" economically, it has to be a net loss for the public. They must pull in enough money to (a) meet the public need that we are afraid to raise taxes to pay for; (b) support their own operations, including staff and machinery costs; and (c) turn a profit for the owners and the race tracks. Seems like taxation is more efficient and comes from people who actually have some money and can afford to give some up. Plus, there's that whole moral angle.

Is it really appropriate for the state to promote behaviors that can tend to become self-destructive, and to make the poor even poorer? Being poor correlates with being unhealthy and shorter lifespan (doesn't it? I admit, I am just pulling this claim out of my sphincter). Why not just promote smoking with free cigarettes and implement Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal in order to get that wonderful smoky flavor? Or am I going too far?

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 27, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Anybody catch the movie reference in my 02:40?

Posted by: StorytellerTim | November 27, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Copacabana? Oy.

It's warm enough outside to make popsicle stick bombs, or to play kick the can. Anyone free to go outside?

Posted by: jack | November 27, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm still dying to see "Thanks For Smoking" so if that was it I missed out.

Kick The Can was my vote in byoolin's 'car' poll. I used to go to sleep to the sounds of older kids playing KTC until well after dark.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 27, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

*Tim, I'm pretty sure (same kind of statistics you're using) that poor people do smoke more cigarettes, and in fact our government *does* subsidize the tobacco industry, so I'd say you are not the one going too far. It would take a lot to be more extreme than our government.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 27, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

The founders of the American republic no doubt had their minds concentrated by the prospect of British forces "killing people and smashing their stuff", to use David Kilcullen's definition of a "kinetic operation".

Regrettably, the British sack of Washington may have provided a lot more of this beneficial "concentration" than the 2001 attacks.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 27, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Raysmom, try the theme to *I Dream of Jeannie." . . . from a few days back, did I understand you to say you have no kids? Is The Wonder Dog named Ray?

When he returned from the war, my dad bought blocks of land, started a construction company with my grandpop, built houses on them and bought more land. Typically, their houses had 1-2 acres of ground apiece.

A very shallow creek ran through the block we lived on. By the main road, there was a tall embankment on either side of the creek, steeply angled. When the creek had a skim of ice on it, a group of us would sled down one embankment, hit the thin ice, crack through it, then fall into the (not very clean) water when the front sled runners hit the opposing concrete. We loved this, and all went home soaking wet day after day to no questions.

When I was about 10 about half an acre of forest was cut down and left--large trees, stumps, poison ivy, snakes, bugs of all types, all tangled together. By trial and error, we found a way to swing, jump, climb through all of it as if it were a maze. I loved that place!

My allergist's new building is right next to both these places, so it's a real pleasure to go there every other week. I look at the embankment and where the trees were and think, "We musta been nuts!"

Posted by: dbG | November 27, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I have been reminded of this good little piece of work:

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 27, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

There's a real dichotomy here between the thought that went into setting up the property tax scheme and the thought that went into "processing" the ill-gotten gains...

*rolling my eyes*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

New kit, I think.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 27, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I predict an update of that new kit soon.

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I know, Scotty. Isn't that what offshore bank accounts are for?

dbG, you are correct that The Wonder Dog is Ray (short for Radar) aka Puppy, Punkin, Muttonhead, Piddle Boy, S1ut, Meathead.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 27, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Being a scientist, you certainly know that 87 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. (I know, I've mentioned that before.) Your 2:40 post gives a whole new meaning to the term "black hole".

Posted by: Don from I-270 | November 27, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Weren't we just talking about FN?>1=7703


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 27, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I've put up a new kit. Am tinkering with it.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 27, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

It took a long time for me to think of the answer to Achenbach's rhetorical question at the top of this page. But I do know the answer. I agree with Senator Obama, not Senator Clinton. If your income is $97,000 a year and you are NOT rich, it is your own fault, a result of choices you have made. The struggling two-income family in the question has essentially chosen not to be rich, but to spend all their money, instead.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 27, 2007 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Joel Achenbach;

I am glad to see the article about "who is rich" and that candidates are considering a shift in taxation apportionment. I believe we will cause an undue burden on more middle-class people, albeit upper middle-class people, if we continue to define the rich in terms of annual income. We need to shift our focus. Let's tie the tax burden to accumulated wealth. Now, a CEO making $150,000 per year in salary and making another 4.5 million in incentives is no longer considered upper middle-class. Tying the debate to annual salaries, clouds the truth.

We spend as a government a certain amount of money a year. The 2% of the population who controls 30% of the accumulated wealth needs to pay 50% of all taxes, including state and local. They need to pay for the lower 20%, whose jobs they shipped off to foreign markets, while lining their own pockets. Incidentally, this 2% of the population is who pays our elected officials in perks through lobbying. These are people worth millions or billions. I don't care if they are actors, sports figures, CEO's, oil people, entrepreneurs, or doctors, etc. pay up. I am not suggesting a 50% tax rate. I am suggesting they pay 50% of the tax burden. I don't care how it comes out of them.

Now, we deal with the lower rich class (wanna' be's) not the upper middle class making up another 8% of the population and controlling the next 30% of accumulated wealth. Let them pay another 30% of the tax burden equal to the percentage of accumulated wealth they control, leaving 20% of the tax burden for 70% of us to pay. Oh yeah, the real middle class. 90% of us are revenue neutral, 8% of us are a bit worse, and the 2% at the top, who got us into this mess anyway and made billions, can now just pay up.

Incidentally, the 20% (paid by the 70%) represents the state and local taxes. That leaves the RICH to carry the load at the federal level. Look it was corporate policy and government involvement that got us in to this mess in the first place. It is now time they pay up. Did not the scripture say "The King would not forgive the (debt collector) servant"? Remember, the rich wanted to stiffen the bankruptcy laws.

Please, let's free the press and not let the corporations get away with this. All 500 of them. Please, hold their feet to the fire, on this one. There are people earning $200,000 per year, worth nothing and those who have not earned a dime in 100 years worth billions. Hillary is right? Thanks,

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