Of Interest

Yesterday (the 30th) I worked on getting my tablets reconnected to the house Wi-Fi. Something was screwy, but made connection again. I turned the Tablet on and an occasional message about ready the Bible for 5 minutes everyday. I usually say not now, but something compelled me to do this. I clicked on the Bible App and this was the first item up. Didn’t search for it, it was just there. So, I read it and about crapped myself.

Matthew 24

Jesus left the temple area and was going away, when his disciples approached him to point out the temple buildings. He said to them in reply, “You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains.

Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come. “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the sabbath, for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect they will be shortened. If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. So if they say to you, ‘He is in the desert,’ do not go out there; if they say, ‘He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Why should they work?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Labor-Market Dropouts Are Staying Out
Low Workforce Participation Rate, Amid an Improving Economy, Nags at Economists
By Josh Zumbrun | December 28, 2014 2:10 p.m. ET

A U.S. economy that suddenly looks healthy—50 straight months of job gains, best quarter of growth in 11 years—is falling short in a key area.

It’s not luring back many of the millions who dropped out of the labor market during the down times. That failing nags at many economists.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen monitors the declining share of Americans working or looking for work as a measure of slack in the job market. She has cited the low labor-force participation rate, as the measure is formally known, to justify the Fed’s long easy-money quest to stimulate the economy and boost wages.

A more buoyant economy and tightening labor market were supposed to draw in those now sitting on the margins. But the probability of a worker re-entering the labor force continues to slump. Over the past three months, an average of 6.8% of those outside the labor force either found a job or began looking for one. That means people are entering the labor force at the lowest pace in records since 1990, down from more than 8% in 2010.

So even as the labor market has strengthened, the chance that a jobless worker will ever return to the workforce has decreased.

More at the link.

In the meantime, SNAP (or food stamp) usage has skyrocketed, more than 10 million people have been added to Medicaid (9.8 million just since October of 2013) and hundreds of other government programs to provide a living for people without jobs have seen huge increases. The federal government currently funds 126 separate programs targeted toward low-income people. Welfare has become away of life, and until welfare is dramatically curtailed, a few million people are willing to make the Faustian bargain of agreeing to live poorly in exchange for the government saying that they don’t have to work to not starve to death.

The only way to get the labor participation rate back up is to make it necessary to work, or starve.

Click to enlarge

The Cato Institute released a study in 2013, The Work versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013, by By Michael D. Tanner and Charles Hughes. Among their key findings:

  • In 18 states, the total value of welfare benefits has declined in inflation adjusted terms since 1995. However, this is due to the changing composition of what we included in the package of benefits (largely reflecting a reduction in the number of people on welfare who receive public housing assistance) rather than a real decline in the value of components.
  • Despite this decline, welfare currently pays more than a minimum wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Because of increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the creation of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), as well as the adoption of state-level equivalents of the EITC, it is possible for an individual leaving welfare to take a job paying slightly less than welfare without a loss of income in 39 states. However, that difference is small and not likely to offset the value of leisure.
  • In another 12 states, an individual leaving welfare for a job paying the same amount as welfare would see a decline in actual income.
  • In 33 states, the equivalent wage value of welfare has increased since 1995. The state seeing the largest increase, by a large margin, was Vermont. Other states with significant increases include Hawaii and New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia.
  • In fact, in 13 states, welfare pays more than $15 per hour. The most generous benefit package was in Hawaii, although that may be distorted by the state’s high cost of living. The second highest level of benefits was in the District of Columbia, followed by Massachusetts.
  • In 11 states, welfare pays more than the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher. In 39 states it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary. And, in the 3 most generous states a person on welfare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer.

With results like those, why should people who have been out of the workforce and living on various government assistance programs do something really radical like try to find a job? In November of 2013, the average hourly wage in the United States was $24.15 per hour; In Hawai’i, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, welfare paid more than that! Once you start adding in the costs of working — maintaining transportation, fuel, work clothes, lunches at work and the like — the cost of working at the average wage makes it more sensible, economically, to leech off of welfare.1

Not that people who have been out of the work force for an extended period of time are going to find jobs which pay the average wage; they have fallen behind, and will have to work their way back up. Starting with Louisiana, at number 34 on the list, the hourly wage equivalent is over $10.00 per hour, $2.75 above the federal minimum wage.

Welfare was never intended to be a way of life for people; welfare was meant to be a temporary helping hand for people who had suffered some misfortune, until they could get back on their feet again.2 But, despite the attempt in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which required recipients to begin working after two years of receiving benefits, and capping total benefits at five years, those provisions have been largely “gotten around.” The New York Times wrote, in 2012, that the welfare reform act worked well during good times, but that, during the recession, was a terrible burden, yet the stark numbers of people who have left the work force and are not even attempting to find work tell another story: it’s been easy enough to survive without working that a significant number of people have not felt sufficient pressure to try to get jobs.

It’s as clear as it can be: our attempts to help the unfortunate have had the (supposedly) unintended effect of creating a permanent welfare class, and the only way to end that is to restore strict controls, and strict, enforced time limits on eligibility. After a certain number of years — the two and five year limits in the 1996 welfare reform act seem reasonable to me — people should simply not be eligible for government assistance, period. If that means they go hungry, then they go hungry; if that means they go homeless, then they go homeless. As cruel as that sounds, such is apparently the only motivation to get some people to actually work for a living.
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  1. The infinitive “to leech” was deliberately considered and chosen.
  2. The educated and hard-working professionals who designed our welfare programs were simply unable to conceive of the idea that some people would willingly agree to live in a survivable poverty to not have to work. Those professionals would never behave that way, and were too ego-centric to understand that not everybody else thought and behaved the way they did.

We told you so!

From The New York Times:

As Medicaid Rolls Swell, Cuts in Payments to Doctors Threaten Access to Care
By Robert Pear, December 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — Just as millions of people are gaining insurance through Medicaid, the program is poised to make deep cuts in payments to many doctors, prompting some physicians and consumer advocates to warn that the reductions could make it more difficult for Medicaid patients to obtain care.

The Affordable Care Act provided a big increase in Medicaid payments for primary care in 2013 and 2014. But the increase expires on Thursday — just weeks after the Obama administration told the Supreme Court that doctors and other providers had no legal right to challenge the adequacy of payments they received from Medicaid.

The impact will vary by state, but a study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, estimates that doctors who have been receiving the enhanced payments will see their fees for primary care cut by 43 percent, on average.

Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at the Urban Institute and co-author of the report, said Medicaid payments for primary care services could drop by 50 percent or more in California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, among other states.

In his budget request in March, President Obama proposed a one-year extension of the higher Medicaid payments. Several Democratic members of Congress backed the idea, but the proposals languished, and such legislation would appear to face long odds in the new Congress, with Republicans controlling both houses.

More at the link.

The article continues to note that Medicaid rolls have surged, with 9.7 million people added to Medicaid since October of 2013, bringing total enrollment to 68.5 million, resulting in more than 20% of Americans being covered by Medicaid. Let’s be clear about this: as we have previously noted, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is nothing more than another huge welfare program, because Medicaid is simply the government, federal and states, paying directly for people’s health care, and that means taxing away money from people who earned it, to give it to people who did not.

And to what end?  Investor’s Business Daily noted that, under Obaminablecare, Medicaid cards were being handed out, but new Medicaid patients were having difficulty finding physicians who would accept them.  The previously cited New York Times article pointed out that Medicaid acceptance rates among physicians had increased somewhat, when the payments were raised to equal the (still too low) Medicare rates, but with the impending cuts in payments, that will be reversed. The Motley Fool reported that the PP&ACA is pushing doctors out of private practice and into “corporate medicine,” meaning managed care companies and hospitals:

A 2011 survey by the Medical Group Management Association showed almost 75% more doctors employed by hospitals since 2000. Less than half of all U.S. doctors now work in private practices. An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed acceleration of this trend to Obamacare.

It’s hardly a surprise, and I doubt that this was unintended: physicians in private practice have to be concerned with radical things like getting paid for their services and making a profit, while larger corporations, which are still concerned about these things, can spread around losses — services for which they are paid less than the service cost to provide — over the entire scope of their operations, along with consolidating business expenses, and still hope to make a profit. Obaminablecare has as an unstated but nevertheless real goal pushing physicians into positions as employees rather than as professionals in private practice.

The PP&ACA will ruin the quality of medical care to which Americans have become accustomed; and that was inevitable: you cannot add thirty or forty or fifty million people to the health care system without either increasing costs or decreasing the quality of service, or both, and both are what is happening, right now.

In 2009, we told you that the best thing we could do for the economy was nothing at all. It looks like we were right.

From The Times of India:

Japan’s Abe unleashes stimulus plan to spur growth
AP | Dec 27, 2014, 06.53 PM IST

TOKYO: Japan’s cabinet approved 3.5 trillion yen ($29 billion) in fresh stimulus on Saturday for the ailing economy, pledging to get growth back on track and restore the country’s precarious public finances.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is wrapping up his second year in office hard-pressed to salvage a recovery that fizzled into recession after a sales tax hike in April.

The stimulus plan endorsed by the Cabinet includes 600 billion yen ($5 billion) earmarked for stagnant regional economies. It also lays out Abe’s vision for countering longer term trends such as Japan’s surging public debt and a declining and aging population.

“A strong economy is the wellspring of Japan’s national strength,” said a summary of the plan released by the government.

It pledged to restore vitality to local regions to enable young Japanese “to have dreams and hopes for the future.”

More at the original, which continues to note that Japan’s government debt is already twice the nation’s gross domestic product, and that Mr Abe’s government is promising to balance the budget by 2020. Just last year, Bloomberg reported that Mr Abe’s government had proposed a record budget, and record budget deficit, and that the sales tax increase then scheduled to being in April 2013 would increase government revenues, but “is forecast to push the economy into contraction.” The sales tax went into effect, and the economy, as predicted, contracted.

Japan’s economic problems are far worse than those of the United States, but, 5½ years after President Obama got his stimulus plan passed, our economy is still not doing particularly well. As we have reported several times before, the lowered unemployment rate, the U-3 “big number,” has masked the very large U-6 unemployment rate.1

With that in mind, I am going to refer back to what I wrote on January 28, 2009, on the old site:

One of the underlying notions concerning the stimulus proposal is the idea that the government controls the economy, but it quite simply does not.  If the government could control the economy, we’d always have good times.  But the very regrettable history is that the more control the government does exercise over the economy, the poorer that economy is: that’s why the Soviet Union is no more.

There are slightly more than 300 million people in the United States, and the vast majority of them, including children past the age of three or so, wind up being decision-takers of some sort in the economy.  (Children three years old might not have their own money, but they can certainly plead with mommy to buy this cereal or that toy advertised on Barney.)

The government, which naturally thinks it’s smarter and wiser than the common people, would, in this case, borrow hundreds of billions of dollars, and try to direct it in ways that the government thinks wisest; you’ll pardon me if the fact that I’ve studied the Soviets’ various Five-Year Plans, and been impressed with the thought behind them but very unimpressed with the results.  One thing is certain, if President Obama’s Five-Year Plan stimulus package is passed: the deficit will soar — again — and the national debt will rise.

The stimulus plan reminds me of a trip to the dentist.  When the dentist has to do some drilling and gives you Novacaine, he isn’t preventing the pain; he’s just delaying the pain until he’s done with his work.

And so it is with this stimulus package.  At some point, we’ll have to pay for it, and that’s the pain.  I’m beginning to think that we’d be better off just going through the pain now, and getting it over with.

The voters elected Franklin Roosevelt because of the Depression, and our 32nd President put forward and got passed all sorts of alphabet soup government programs, but still, the Depression persisted.  We got out of the Depression due to the stimulus package passed by Hideki Tojo and Adolf Hitler, creating massive employment opportunities in the Army and new armament industries, and creating a demand for many goods that were not used in the civilian economy and which were rapidly expended, creating even more demand for replacements.  Somehow I don’t think we want to go to the extreme of having the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor again!

The question is: had World War II not arisen, when would the Depression have ended — and would the New Deal have hastened its end, or prolonged its length?  There’s no control group we can use to measure the results.

What has government done in the past to deal with recessions?  Ronald Reagan put a big tax cut in place, and we came out of the recession.  The elder President Bush agreed to a big tax increase, and we went into a recession.  But then President Clinton added another huge tax increase, and we came out of the recession.  We went into recession again at the very tail end of the Clinton Administration, and the younger President Bush got a big tax cut, and we came out of the recession.  But then, with those same tax cuts in place, we went into another recession in 2008.

Take your pick: both tax cuts and tax increases have preceded recessions, and both tax cuts and tax increases have preceded recoveries.  Maybe, just maybe, changes in taxation have nothing to do with whether the economy goes into recession or recovers from one.

This recession was preceded by the same thing that struck in 1988: housing prices were bid up far in excess of inflation.  The housing market collapsed, because people were afraid of losing their jobs and the prices had gotten so out of tune with the rest of the economy.  It seems worse this time, because new financial instruments have spread around the pain of a falling housing market to a wider group of people.

That, friends, has nothing to do with the government; that has to do with the individual decisions of a couple hundred million economic actors in our country.

I honestly think — and remember, I’m in the construction industry — that we’d probably be better off doing absolutely nothing.  Let the economy adjust, as the economic actors in the United States take their individual economic decisions concerning what’s right for them.  There will be pain, but the economy will recover.

But, doing it my way means about a trillion dollars less, per year, added to the national debt.  We can avoid that future pain, if we’ll take our medicine in the present.

I didn’t get my way, of course, and the Congress passed the 2009 stimulus plan. I had noted, in a comment on Sister Toldjah:

Am I the only one who thinks that maybe the best thing the government can do for the economy is to do nothing at all?

The economy will recover, because the economy always recovers; that’s just part of the business cycle. But President Obama would add spending programs that would push the deficits to above a trillion dollars a year, far as far as the eye can see. That can’t be good.

Let me put it very bluntly: I was right in January of 2009! The stimulus plan was passed, and completely failed to produce the results the Obama Administration claimed that it would. It was supposed to hold the U-3 unemployment rate to a maximum of 8%; U-3 unemployment hit 10.0% several months after the stimulus plan was passed. Our economy was supposed to be humming along in just a couple of years; even today, economic growth has been sluggish, with some decent quarters and some not so good quarters, incomes for working and middle class Americans have stagnated, and welfare rolls have increased dramatically.  Despite what the official economic numbers might say, polls indicate that 72% of the public believe that we are still in a recession. Despite the wholly misleading official unemployment number, there are fewer full-time jobs than before the recession began.

We did just what the Democrats said we should do, and it failed! Now, Prime Minister Abe is going down the same road in Japan, and he will fail, too.

When The First Street Journal tells you something about economics, you should listen, because we have a record of being right.
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  1. The U6 unemployment rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (the more familiar U-3 rate), but also counts “marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons.” Note that some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U-3 could be working as little as an hour a week. And the “marginally attached workers” include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work. The age considered for this calculation is 16 years and over

Rule 5 Blogging: NYPD

It’s the weekend and time, once again, for THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL’S version of Rule 5 Blogging. Robert Stacey Stacy McCain described Rule 5 as posting photos of pretty women somewhat déshabillé, but, on this site, our Rule 5 Blogging doesn’t put up pictures of Paris Hilton in her summer clothes, but women, in full military gear, serving their countries in the armed forces. The terribly sexist authors on this site celebrate strong women, women who can take care of themselves and take care of others, women who have been willing to put their lives on the line in some not-so-friendly places, women who truly do have the “We can do it!” attitude.

This week, we depart from the military, to honor the New York Police Department! Click any photo to enlarge.

military_woman_usa_police_000002

Continue reading ‘Rule 5 Blogging: NYPD’ »

From Around the Blogroll

From the Associated Press:

Police Outside Cop Funeral Turn Backs on NY Mayor
By Jonathan Lemire and Mike Balsamo, Associated Press | Dec 27, 2014, 11:30 AM ET

New York City — Hundreds of officers standing outside the church where a funeral is being held for a New York City policeman killed in an ambush shooting have turned their backs on the mayor as he spoke during the service.

The reaction Saturday follows comments from police union officials who said Mayor Bill de Blasio contributed to a climate of mistrust toward police amid anti-police protests.

Inside the church at Officer Rafael Ramos’ funeral, mourners gave de Blasio polite applause before and after his speech.

The mayor said hearts citywide were aching after the shootings that left Ramos and his partner dead.

The police union president and others turned their backs on the mayor in a sign of disrespect at the hospital after the Dec. 20 shooting. Lynch blamed de Blasio then for the officers’ deaths and said he had blood on his hands.

Even at this somber event, many of the police officers in New York could not decline this opportunity to show their disrespect for Mayor de Blasio. I can’t say that I blame them. The Mayor’s public siding with the protesters following the decision of the grand jury not to indict any of the police officers in the botched arrest which led to the death of Eric Garner, along with his statement that he told his son, who is half-black, to be careful in his dealings with the police, certainly fell right in line with his liberal beliefs, but, as is almost always the case, liberal beliefs, when put into governing authority, backfired.

And now, onto the blogroll!

Movie Review: Christmas Icetastrophe

There’s nothing quite like the SciFi SyFy Channel for terrible movies, so we wound up watching Snowmageddon and Christmas Icetastophe. The New York Times didn’t think too much of it, either:

Making Icicles of Everyone
‘Christmas Icetastrophe’ on Syfy Defies Tradition
By Neil Genzlinger, December 19, 2014

Tiera Skovbye in “Christmas Icetastrophe,” about an asteroid hurtling to Earth, Christmas night on Syfy. Credit Cinetel Films

Warning: Humans may be enjoying time off starting right about now, but asteroids don’t give a hoot about the holidays. They just keep right on hurtling toward Earth with devastation on their minds. Be ready to seek shelter, because one of them breaks through the atmosphere on Saturday night, and even a guy in a Santa suit isn’t safe.

Yes, it’s time for another Syfy holiday-themed disaster movie. This year’s title is “Christmas Icetastrophe,” and it is just as mindlessly ridiculous as 2012’s masterpiece, “The 12 Disasters of Christmas.” The problem in 2012 was a killer ice storm. In 2014, it’s an asteroid that crashes into a small-town holiday celebration and ruins Christmas for just about everyone.

Victor Webster, who has experience with nature gone wacky thanks to his appearance in “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators,” a 2013 Syfy creature feature, is Charlie, a father and all-around good guy who becomes an anchor of sanity when the asteroid strikes and causes bizarre flash-freezing of the air, bodies of water and bodies of people. Jennifer Spence, who probably already knew a lot about celestial debris from her time in “Stargate Universe,” plays Alex, a graduate student who has been tracking the inbound asteroid.

While most of the locals run around like idiots, Charlie and Alex combine forces to try to figure out why a simple asteroid is causing all heck to freeze over and whether anything can be done about it. Perhaps you’re wondering about the science of all this. Could a meteorite embedded in Main Street U.S.A. actually cause a nearby lake to freeze in a matter of seconds while Charlie and Alex try to race across it in a speedboat? Perhaps not, but it makes for an amusingly cheesy special effect.

It was just so, so bad that we had to sit through the whole thing. The older Miss Pico was a bit wrong, though: she said that, since the astrophysicist character was a woman, she’d be only close to correct on how to save the planet, but it would be the rugged male lead character who’d figure out the final bit and save the world. Turned out that, of course, the man did have to do the work, but the female astophysicist got the solution completely correct, and when the lead character’s arm started freezing up just an inch away from reuniting the two halves of the meteorite, she was there to grab him and force through that last inch . . . at the risk of her own life, of course.

We were having a good old time laughing at his movie. Why, when people were freezing and complaining about the cold, did they have the hoods on their parkas down, except, of course, to look better for the cameras? And while you can always tell which characters are going to die in these movies, we did get one wrong. The town mayor, who’s depicted as a self-centered [insert slang term for the rectum here], and who survived one freezing wave by slamming the door behind himself as he hid in a boiler room, thus trapping the people behind him in the wave, lived because he committed the One Noble and Selfless Act of going out, by himself, in the snowy mountains, to look for the Hero’s son and his daughter, who were lost outside.

Ice Quake followed Christmas Icetastrophe, but by then it was 11:00 PM, so I headed to bed . . . but not before setting the cable box to record it! :)