Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Something from the Woodman

I don't care who he sleeps with, if Woody Allen writes something, I'll read it. Thanks to my friend Art for alerting me to this piece in the New Yorker about Bernie Madoff getting some comeuppance from some former clients, reincarnated as lobsters.

Wait a minute: Jews as shellfish? That's not kosher!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

College Hockey: Way better than March Madness

The NCAA hockey tournament is being shown on ESPN2 and ESPNU this weekend. I am writing this shortly after UNH scored with .3 seconds left to sent their game with North Dakota into OT. The same thing happened last night, when Minnesota-Duluth scored with less than a second, and then went on to win in OT. Meanwhile Air Force knocks off powerhouse Michigan (I once broke my collarbone on the rink the Wolverines still play on), and another #1 seed Denver loses in the first round. This is truly March Madness.

The NCAA hockey championship is a true gem. Intense games, great comebacks, upsets, and, well, it's hockey, and there is no better sport than hockey. Yes, the hoop tourney is great, plus everyone is in at least one pool for it. But, I'll take the hockey tourney over any other college sport.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Will Homer Simpson move to Grand Rapids?

If you think that we Americans aren't fat enough, then you'll want to visit Fifth Third Park in Grand Rapids, MI to enjoy the 4800 calorie Fifth Third Burger. 5/3 of a pound of beef on a one pound roll, with chili, cheese, Fritos and other stuff. If you want your kids to have secure jobs, I'm thinking cardiologist.

Is this a great country of what!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why don't we care about the World Baseball Classic?

I watched the last few innings of the final of the World Baseball Classic last night. It was a great game, with Japan beating S.Korea 3-2 before a crowd of rabid fans from both countries. It looked like a great atmosphere, two teams who are intense rivals from countries with a history of not being the best of friends.

Both teams had their best players in the game. The night before, when Japan beat the US to get into the final, the US fielded a team with a career utility player at first, not Ryan Howard or Mark Texiera, and right field manned by Ryan Braun,one of the worst fielders in baseball. In very few positions could you argue the US had sent it's best players, because most US player just didn't care, as, apparently, most US fans didn't.

So, the question is: Why don't Americans care about international competition? Oh, sure, we pay attention to the Olympics, but even then only when we are spoonfed the American athletes who are winning medals. Are we so ethno-centric that we don't think the rest of the world matters? I'd say that is pretty much the truth. To the rest of the world, patriotism is cheering on your national team, particularly in the World Cup, against the rest of the world. To Americans, it means ignoring the rest of the world. So we miss out on these great moments. What a pity.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some sense about deficits.

When the GOP is out of power, they are deficit hawks, hoping to make political points against those "tax and spend" wasteful Dems. But, put them in office and they spend like, well, Democrats. Cheney once said "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter". And the Dems, not known for fiscal restraint, pretty much do the same thing.

So who is right? Well, here is some real common sense talk about deficits from Economist Robert Frank in today's NYT. His point is that, when the economy is in the dumper as it is now, a big deficit is a wise thing. When it is doing well, then it depends on what the money is spent. I'm sure everyone in DC will read this column and ignore it, as they usually do with good eco advice.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just a couple of things.

So, I'm watching March Madness today, and it occurs to me how we can solve all the conflicts in the world. We draft Oklahoma star Blake Griffin, and send him to spot where people aren't getting along. With his meanest game face, he would then yell at the misbehavers "Hey, cut the shit!". I can't imagine that people wouldn't listen.

I recently showed my classes the recent CNBC special "House of Cards", an extremely well done explanation of how the financial and real estate industries got so screwed up. It was on a few weeks ago, but if you missed it, you can watch it below thanks to Hulu. Have I mentioned I love Hulu?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Cramer-bashing

OK, Jim Cramer is not the face of evil, but it is fun to abuse him none the less. And there is no doubt his ego can stand it. So, if you haven't had enough yet, check out his profile on Dickipedia. Best quote:

..he hosts CNBC’s "Mad Money," a show built around the assumption that you can make a boring subject interesting merely by screaming like a chimp on fire.

Thanks to Ed Ayres for pointing this one out.

Stewart to grill the BOSS and other stuff....

The Crazy Right (ie Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, et al) would have you believe that the New York Times is the leader of a left wing conspiracy to destroy America. Of course, they also believe that w was a great President and that Saddam was behind 9/11. So, again, here is proof that the Times actually is in favor of good policy: Another editorial in support of free trade.

There is a danger that the populist wave sweeping the country will move us away from the gains of trade made over the past decades. Smoot-Hawley II, as I am now calling this movement, will only make this Great Recession worse, just as the original did to the Great Depression.

Last Thursday Jon Stewart grilled Cramer to a crispy crackle. Tonight he takes on Bruce Springsteen. Look for a little less grilling, and a lot more genuflecting.

Finally, I can tell you Obama is wrong on one thing for sure: Memphis, not UNC, wins the big dance, and I buy a 48 inch flat screen with my pool winnings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cramer v Stewart

I haven't commented yet about the showdown between Jim Cramer of CNBC and Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. It was an interesting event. First, Stewart stopped trying to be funny during the interview, and grilled Cramer on why guys like him and his co-horts at CNBC are cheerleaders instead of journalists. Also, since guys like Cramer do understand what goes on inside the financial biz, he wanted to know why they were not alert to the dangers of the crazy leverage and derivatives whose crash caused the panic.

Cramer was put in a tough spot. He is just one guy with a show on the network, not the managing editor, but he was now forced into explaining the behavior of the network. He was surprisingly humble and contrite, which was a good idea since he knew that Stewart had enough video clips to make him look like the world's biggest deuchbag.

My friend Budd Bailey, who is in fact a real journalist, has a nice explanation of the role of journalism in today's world. See the link at the right.

Bernanke on TV, and a dark thought about college hoop

In case you missed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on 60 minutes last night, go watch it here. This is a rare interview with the Fed Chairman, and a welcome sign that he intends to make the Fed more transparent. Also, you will learn that as a youngster, Bernanke worked at famous tourist trap South of the Border. I can see a new billboard rising on I-95 "Pedro Says Add Liquidity with a margarita at South of the Border".

With the college hoop conference tourneys just finishing, I had the kind of dark thought I am prone to. I am not, by the way, saying this has ever happened.....BUT, it seems to me that there is an incentive in the system for a top seed to lose to a "bubble" team. Why? Well, the NCAA doles out the money for March Madness at a fixed rate for each game played in the big dance. That money is then put in a pool for each conference, and divided equally among the teams in the conference.

So, say you are a top seed in the conference tourney, and you know for sure you are going to the Big Show. If you lose in the semi-finals to the Cinderella team from your conference, it could mean that your conference now gets another bid. That means at least and extra $250K for your conference, part of which is yours. And you get to rest up for the NCAA's, which is what you care about anyway.

Again, let me re-iterate that I have no evidence this happens, and I imagine that almost every athlete in the world takes the floor with the intent of winning any game. You don't make it to that level without being extremely competitive. But, it sure seems like there is an incentive for collusion in there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Newspapers, Trade and Sugardaddys

It seems another daily newspaper bites the dust every week, making the long term viability of papers questionable. The trend seems to be that papers have declining ad revenue, so they cut costs by dropping features, or putting them on the internet only. That makes consumers read it online instead of paying for a paper, leading to lower ad revenue, leading to more cost cuts.....you can see where this is going. Pretty soon, we are all reading papers online only, as the people who read the paper version keep dieing. Today's NYTimes has a story speculating on what city will become the first "no-paper" town.

For those who like the internet and newspapers but don't want to go to the trouble of buying and recycling them, I discovered, thanks to Freakonomics, a thing called rayogram NEWScan, which displays the the front pages of a variety of papers from around the world. Great way to keep up on the big stories.

Because of NEWScan I saw this story in the Detroit Free Press. It seems the "Buy American" provisions in the bailout package make it tough for Detroit, since they get many of their parts from foreign suppliers. So, the choice is the make GM and Chrysler buy American to get aid, which will make their cars more expensive and less competitive, or to let them send the aid money to foreign parts makers. Kind of a sticky situation the politicians get themselves in when they try to "fix" things. As all my students know, TRADE IS GOOD! So crippling our economy with tariffs and other trade restrictions will only make the economy worse, not better. You won't find any economist who will tell you the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was a good idea.

So this morning I turn on CNBC when I get up, as I always do, and as I am half paying attention while pulling my pants on, I see what appears to be and ad for an internet service that will hook up old guys with money with young girls who want money. I thought they must be playing an SNL skit, but, NO, there really is a site called SugarDaddyForMe.com. You can register as a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Momma, or as a Sugar Baby. Absolutely shameless site where rich guys can hook up with golddiggers. I wish I were clever enough to be making this up, but I'm not. I wonder if my friend Billy has registered yet.

Finally, and on a more sensible note, I had written a few weeks ago about the Giants use of "dynamic pricing" to adjust ticket prices based on likely demand. Bloomberg reports now that the Indians are also going down that road, but in a bit of a different matter. Since empty seats buy no beer and hot dogs, flexible pricing like this is extremely rational, and long overdue. It ain't a $50 ticket is no one will pay $50 for it. Ask the scalpers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cramer v Stewart

I am a huge fan of the Daily Show. I've always loved topical humor, dating back to a show called "This Was The Week That Was" that existed when I was a kid. Back when I was in a sketch comedy group, I got to write stuff like that myself...."Presidential Candidate Condoms" being one of my faves. Jon Stewart and his gang do a great job of scewering stupidity and arrogance from any source, be it right, left, or the media itself.

You may have seen bouncing around the internet the video from earlier this week when Jon Stewart blasted CNBC's talking heads for getting everything wrong about the economic downfall. He particularly picked on stock picking clown Jim Cramer, who does a show that is quite amusing, but often full of bad advice. Stewart showed a bunch of CNBC folks making predictions that were way off, but Cramer took it personally and fired back, going on all the other NBC owned outlets whining about how unfair Stewart was.

Bad idea. A good comedidian with a team of writers will kill you every time. The next night, Stewart had more clips of Cramer, saying things like "Buy Bear Stearns" just days before it went down. Pretty damning stuff, but Cramer was really asking for it.

So tomorrow, Cramer will be Stewart's guest on the show. Should be interesting, but probably not the screaming match some are hoping for. For one thing, Cramer does have a sense of humor, and probably now realized he screwed up by complaining. Secondly, no matter who he has on, Stewart always treats his guests respectfully, whether he agrees with them or not. He is the opposite of Bill O'Reilly, which is how he is always able to get a wide variety of people on, like conservative pundit Bill Kristol, who he jovially harpoons a few times a year over his mistakes (he always plays a clip of Kristol saying there is no way the Sunnis and Shia in Iraq would not get along).

Definitely don't miss TV, but probably more for the laughs than the "smackdown" some would like. If you want a tussle, you should go to hockeyfights.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More on the stupidity of the war on drugs.

I like to show my classes that, using what we have learned in class, we could legalize and tax currently illegal drugs to the same point that they are used now, and it would save us billions and be far less destructive to society. Amazing that I get little argument on this, yet our gutless politicians continue with the same expensive process.

So, it makes me really feel good when The Economist, in a long editorial, comes out if favor of drug legalization, using pretty much the identical arguments I have been using on this topic for about 25 years now. This is in fact their cover story. You can read the editorial here, and the other drug related stories on the drug war, the coke business, levels of prohibition, and drug education.

I hope I live to see the day when we take our heads out of our asses, look around, and see some light on this subject. It will be a shame if Mexico is the next victim of this stupid, un-winnable war.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cheer UP! It's almost baseball season!

At the behest of a couple freinds who are nominated in various categories, I was filling out the "Best of Boulder" survey that the Boulder Weekly does yearly, when I came upon a question "Best place of worship". I could think of but one answer: Coors Field, because the only true church is the Church of Baseball!

Spring training is in full swing, the World Baseball Classic is underway, and it won't be long until my favorite religious holiday, Opening Day. There is a delightful story in Sports Illustrated this week about 2 Indian athletes who won a contest, and were signed to pitch by the Pirates. We're not likely to see them in the Show anytime soon, but it's a great story.

Also, my friend Mark McAvoy wrote a song about his love of baseball. I can't figure out how to upload it to my blog, so if you want to hear it, email me and I'll forward a copy.

So hang in there America. Times may be tough, but we still have baseball!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

FDIC on "60 Minutes"

Here's something that might make you feel better about our financial system. Just watched a story on "60 Minutes" about the what happens when the FDIC takes over a bank. It is good that this story reminds people that no one has ever lost a dollar in an FDIC insured account. Creating the FDIC was perhaps the best thing FDR did during the Depression. Without it, we would surely have had the type of bank runs and panic that helped destroy the economy during the depression.

Are you effing kidding me?

The above headline is one that often appears at the top of emails that go around from my friends back in Buffalo during the football season, as we watch the Bills do things like mismanage the clock, decide to pass when a running play would put the game away, or not fire the coaches who committed those offenses. It is also what I said last night when I came home to discover that the Bills had signed Terrell Owens. Haven't we suffered enough? This is the kind of guy you want to see on the team you hate the most (Cowboys anyone?), to make them even more hateable, not on the team you love. He's a selfish distraction, a great talent who squandered his chance at the Hall of Fame by being a jerk.

My gut reaction is that I can no longer root for these guys. I've been trying to shake my lifelong Bills addiction. Maybe TO will do the trick. There are a lot of other things to do on Sunday.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More about guns in my hood

Saturday I wrote about the bullet that had hit the structure in which I live. Since then, the police and the DA had a look at the situation, and despite the fact that a law was clearly violated, decided to not to cite the shooters. Could it be because the the shooters were also cops? I can't imagine, in a city that rigorously enforces so many crazy laws, that these guys are going to slide. You can read the story here, and as usual with a Camera story, the comments are way better than the story.

The guys who were shooting for "fun" were firing things like AK-47's within a couple hundred yards of a populated area. My question is: Does shooting such a gun make your penis bigger?

Jason and Cindy, who's house was hit, have 2 dogs, so I can imagine how protected they will feel the next time they get a ticket for some dog-related violation. Perhaps the Boulder police are too busy breaking up frat parties and arresting naked pumpkin runners to worry about a little thing like gunfire in residential neighborhoods.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Look for more of this....

Over the weekend, Manchester United keeper Ben Foster watched video on an Ipod before the penalty kick shootout in a cup match. This allowed him to see where one of his opponents usually shoots, and make a key save to win the game. Look for Ipods soon in the gloves of backup goalies in the NHL.

New resume entry: Chili Judge

I had the pleasure of being a "celebrity" judge in a chili cook-off in Niwot on Saturday. They wanted Banjo Billy, but since he's out of town, they had to settle for me. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Before the event, I had this nightmare that the first chili we tasted would be the one that sent Homer Simpson into the desert talking to coyotes. But, only one of the 17 very different versions of chili we tasted was hot enough to get us screaming for water, and it was the last one. In fact, 15, including the hot one, of the cups brought to us were damn tasty. Of the 2 that sucked, one had the "taste of an electric fire", as pointed out by a fellow taster (it also, we think, contained tofu), and the other tasted like dirt. It really was a fine hour of eating, with a team of nice ladies providing us with water and sorbet, and generally treating us as if we were doing some horribly difficult job, instead of enjoying a bunch of tasty food. The payback, of course, came later. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say I did not have a peaceful night of sleep.

One of my fellow judges was Pete Wernick, otherwise known as Dr. Banjo. He is one of the country's premier banjo players, a member of a legendary bluegrass band called Hot Rize, and worked with Steve Martin on his recent album. He's also a very nice guy who I had a chat with after we were done. He commented on how bluegrass crowds now like to dance, which they didn't do when he was young. I asked him about the effect of Bela Fleck on his profession, and he more or less said that although the Flecktones are not necessarily playing bluegrass, his appeal to young audiences and popularity made the banjo much cooler than it used to be.

I told Pete that people often expect me to be playing the banjo on the Banjo Billy bus, but instead I have some Flatt and Scruggs on my mp3 player that I play. When he heard me say that, he clapped me on the back and said "There you go!". Always nice to talk with people who appreciate the classics.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Let's keep thinking like this...

According to today's NYT, states are starting to consider legalizing and taxing marijuana, and also taxing porn and prostitution. If we start to face up to how stupid our laws against "sin" are because of this recession, then the economic suffering will be worth it.

Greg Mankiw, whose text books I use in my classes, and briefly worked for w (I imagine he left because he realized the bushies were not interested in doing any real thinking) has formed a "Pigou Club" on his blog. Arthur Pigou was an economist who developed the idea of "externalities" (side effects of economic activity, like pollution), and proposed taxing certain things to account for the cost to society that is not built into the cost of the product. In other words, when you buy gas and burn it to move your car, there is a cost to everyone else in society because you have polluted the air, but that cost is not included in the product.

Pigovian taxes are a far more sane way to deal with things like drugs and prostitution than our current system of making them illegal, then paying a fortune to try to enforce the unenforceable laws. But, since our politicians are afraid of being "soft on drugs", we keep doing more of the same, with a huge price to society, little success in deterring drug use or prostitution, and horrible side effects like the destruction of the Mexican legal system. So, since governments are going broke around the country, maybe the upside will be that they will stop trying to enforce bad law, and wouldn't that be a great gain from a bad situation.