Monday, June 30, 2008

A few thoughts on Economics

One of the things I try to impress on my students is the economy is a global animal, not an American one. Things going on all over the world effect us, and vice versa. In other words, Economics is global.

BUT, Tip O'Neil once said "all politics is local", and he is probably correct as well.

SO, if politics is local and economics is global, is there any surprise that politicians across the world constantly make such bone-headed economic decisions?

AND, if you think the US Economy is not in trouble, think about this: Bill Gates is now unemployed!

A Great Week for Soccer, and why Italy's Economy Sucks.

The UEFA Championship final game played yesterday between Espana and Germany was a beauty, with Spain clearly the more talented, creative team. And Spain actually won without the disgrace of going to penalty kicks. Best of all neither the hated Germans, who used to be boring but now play a positive game, nor the reviled Italians, who still play every game as if 0-0 is a victory, won the cup. This, and the outstanding play and many exciting finishes, can only be good for the beautiful game.

My friend Budd Bailey was here a few weeks ago and left me the book "Once in a Lifetime" about the defunct NASL and it's efforts to make soccer popular in the US, a battle that has been fought by lovers of soccer for decades, and maybe the tide has turned. Certainly, futbol is not about to replace football (we need to change that name....come on, "football" hardly describes the game we play here!) as our most popular sport, but you can't say America doesn't care (outside the sports media, that is). I wanted to watch yesterday's game around people who cared, so I went to Boulder's Irish pub, but it was jammed 15 minutes before kick-off. So I tried the sport bar around the corner, and it too was jammed. Fortunately, there was one seat left at the outside bar. Packed bars to watch a soccer match that has no local or national interest at all! Amazing!

On another soccer related note, the Italians had me thinking about the horrible way they choose to play soccer, and their horrible economy. Italian football is a negative game, played to defend, defend, defend, and hope to win 1-0 on an opponent mistake. It sucks. It is why people hate soccer, and why everyone who is not Italian roots against them in every big tournament. Only when forced to, such as against France when they HAD to win, will you see Italy go forward. This is a horrible shame, because the France game showed that they have the talent to play a beautiful game if they want. And, as came out a few years ago, the Italian league is corrupt and run to the benefit of a few rich clubs.

Now, think about the Italian economy. It is mired at the bottom of the table of economic growth in Europe. Italy is still stuck with ridiculous labor laws, similar to those scrapped by the movers and shakers of Europe. They have a Prime Minister, Burlusconi, who is completely corrupt, self-serving, and only passes laws that are designed to keep him from prosecution for his many crimes (any surprise he is a good friend of Bush?). Unions stomp on any economic liberalization. In other words, they don't go forward, just like their soccer team. Creativity and imagination is stifled in favor of the status quo (nil-nil?), just like their soccer team.

Franklin Foer wrote a great book a few years ago called "How Soccer Explains the World". There was no chapter on how soccer explains Italy's economy, but if he ever plans to write a second volume, I think there should be. It's point would be that a bad football strategy and a bad economic strategy are both big losers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Has the Journal become Fox News Bizpaper?

I've been reading the Wall Street Journal for about 35 years now. I have always considered it an outstanding paper, certainly the standard in business news. It's editorial page is run by right-wing crazies, who have supported every idiotic policy of Bush, and rationalized every Bush lie, incompetence and corruption. But that was on the editorial page, where it belongs. The rest of the paper was a bastion of excellent and fair journalism with no political agenda.

That was before Ruppert Murdoch took over. In recent weeks I have noticed the front page seems a likely spot for stories of political corruption only if the story involves Democrats. Today's front page has a story about the indictment a real estate developer with some small connection to Bill Clinton. Pretty small potatoes story compared to what is on page 3, and page 1 of every other paper in the country. That, of course, is that an investigation concludes that the Bush Administration has politicized the hiring or civil service jobs in the Justice Department, which is illegal. Hmmmmmm. Oh, and a few weeks ago when the Senate released it's report stating that the Bushies had intentionally mislead us leading up to the Iraq war, the story did not make the paper at all (ok, maybe that wasn't news, since we all know by now that is what happened).

It's becoming clear that Murdoch plans to make the Journal as fair and balanced as his Fox News channel....and by the way, Fox calling itself "fair and balanced" is why I call my 5'6", 185lb self "tall and thin". As if giving career liar, scumbag and criminal Karl Rove, a man who has done more to destroy this country than Osama Bin Laden could ever dream of, a weekly column wasn't bad enough! Now, the crazies are running the whole show.

My 35 years as a Journal subscriber comes to a close this year. I'll still read the paper, on line, for free at at school. But I'm not giving that bastard Murdoch any of my money!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Great George Carlin!!!!!!

I just came home and turned on my computer to find out about the death of one of my comedy heroes, the Great George Carlin. I won't write a tribute....they'll be everywhere...other than to say that he was without a doubt the greatest stand-up comedian EVER! A brilliant and sick man, or maybe brilliantly sick. Either way, he could make you laugh and feel smart for doing it. And if you meet anyone between 65 and 40 who doesn't know what the "7 words you can't say on TV" are, don't bother with them, they must be complete geeks!

Those who know me well know I dabble in the art of comedy. But, I've never done stand-up, and I have Carlin to thank for that. I always figured I could never be as good as he was, so I'd do other things.

Thanks for living George!


Tim Russert, Ebay and me

You would have to live in a cave on another planet not to be aware of Tim Russert's death last week. I'm not about to write another tribute to him, other than to say that on the same day I read glowing tributes in both the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. I imagine that would please him. It's a shame he didn't live to see the Bills win a Superbowl!

Last summer my sister had surgery, and I stayed a week with her to help her out. After she discovered she was going to live, and perhaps aided by her pain meds, she got on the internet and started spending money. One of the things she bought was a caricature of Tim Russert that came with an autographed neck tie. She bought this for me, via a charity auction online. Now, I've always liked Russert....who didn't?....but never was a fawning fan. When the package arrived, it sat around a while until I decided that the drawing wasn't very good, certainly not frameable. So, I disposed of it and kept the tie.

When Russert died, I put the tie up for sale on EBay. My friend Budd Baily happened to be visiting from Buffalo at the time, and described this a "ghoulish". Maybe he's right, but here is how I see it: Via EBay, the tie got into the hands of the person who valued it the most. I don't know anything about the person who paid $81 for this tie (can you imagine if I wasn't a moron and had kept the drawing?), but he clearly values the tie more than I, and now he has it. Good for him, good for me.

So, am I a ghoul for profiting from a fellow Bills fan's death, or am I a good guy for getting a mommento of this beloved man in the hands of the person who valued it most? I know what economists would say: Utility had been maximized!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Clever stuff on Colbert

A few weeks ago John McCain gave a badly received speech in front of a green screen. Stephen Colbert challenged his audience to make it exiting. Here is what he showed last night. Love the last one

No wonder Yanks-Sox games take forever

I read this interesting article at Hardball Times yesterday attempting to discern if pitchers who work fast really get better defense behind them, as many believe. The data do not support the belief. However, what I found interesting is that the teams whose pitchers work slowest are the Yankees and Red Sox. I've always felt that their games seem to last forever, and, considering those 2 teams get more coverage than any others, they are killing baseball with their slow pace of play. But are the pitchers to blame, or the hitters who refuse to hit? The Yanks and Sox have to lead all of baseball in at-the-plate adjustments. Jeter, Giambi, and Ortiz take a lifetime between pitches, even if they never swing the bat. So, since the Sox and Yanks play each other so often, is the long delay between pitches caused by slow pitchers, or by them having to way for the hitters to stop adjusting their batting gloves.

By the way, that brings up my easy solution to speed up play in baseball: Ban Batting Gloves! Derek Jeter has to waste 5 minutes a game alone adjusting his!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sorry Budd, but I gotta steal this....

I was just reading my friend Budd Bailey's blog (see link at right) and he had this hilarious video that I just have to steal. The look on the player's face is priceless!

Sorry Budd, but this is too good not to share!

How HAS the NHL done it?

Those of us who love hockey don't understand how the rest of the world doesn't. Anyone who watched last night's Wings-Pens game saw a great mix of skill, speed, violence and desperation. 2 great teams playing their asses off. Compare that to the typical NBA playoff game, where 8 guys stand around while one guy dribbles and another guy can you even compare it.

Yet the NHL is now less popular not only than the NBA, but NASCAR and even possibly soccer, which has much more TV exposure than the NHL. So, the question remains, how DID the geniuses in the NHL manage to keep so many people from falling in love with a great sport?

Why People Hate Economists

The other day I was running some errands around town on my bike, when I ran into Tom, another Economics teacher from my school. He told me that he had recently read a study that showed you actually cause more energy to be consumed by riding your bike than driving (although he didn't buy the idea completely).

How could this be? Well, if you ride your bike 10 miles, as I did that day, you burn a certain number of calories ( I believe about 400 is a decent estimate). That makes you hungry, so you eat more than you would have if you had driven. Since the food we eat here in America is so energy intensive to produce, it is more efficient to feed your car fuel than yourself food. Tom, by the way, also enjoys cycling, so he seemed torn between the depressing nature of this study, and his delight in the Economist's art of looking at all the benefits and costs.

I have 2 responses to that thinking:

1) The idea of increased food consumption is only true if you assume I would not have exercised and burned those calories some other way, perhaps in a gym on a machine that required electricity. And I would have. Therefore, no incremental eating. By the way, without ever doing the numbers, I had pondered this issue myself before ever having this conversation with Tom....on a long bike ride.

2) No wonder people like Hillary go around dissing Economists. The Economists job is to look at all the costs, which often leads us to learn that things that look like good ideas aren't, like ethanol. Harry Truman once said he wanted to meet a one-armed Economist, because they are always saying "On the other hand....". Ah, the Dismal Science.

As an aside, today was the first day of my summer class. I was discussing how, economically speaking, the world is now extremely connected. On my bike ride home (Tom did not deter me, as I would rather spend my money on food than gas!) I thought about the problem between Politics and Economics. Tip O'Neil once said that "All politics is local". Yet all Economics is global. And that is why politicians make such horrible economics decisions!