Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Dumbing Down of Beer Pong

Back when I was a young drunk, we used to play beer pong. It was very popular in colleges around the country in the 70's. The rules were generally thus: 2 players on each side of a ping pong table, each with a beer in front of them. The object of the game was to hit the ball into an opponent's cup, forcing him to chug. Hit the cup, it's a sip. No goaltending, and if you spill your own beer you chug a new one. Generally, it was played like ping pong with the ball hit back and forth.

This was a game that required some skill, as it is rather difficult to dunk a ping pong ball in a beer (or a pan, as I once played it on the beach in Canada). Games would be active, competitive and long. My favorite story is that, after a particularly long summer session of beer pong, a friend who was an avid tennis player reported having a dream of playing tennis with oil drums of beer on the court.

Today, beer pong is still popular with the kids, but the game has been dumbed down for a generation that grew up with all their games organized and everyone getting a trophy. They throw the ball into cups across a small table. I'm pretty sure a drunk chimp could do that. It's the Fisher-Price version. NO skill, no wonder the Chinese are kicking our asses!

Friday, May 29, 2009

A couple of sports things

1) We have a rematch of last years NHL finals. The Pens young stars look a bit more mature this year, and the Wings are a big banged up. I would like to believe this means the Pens have a chance, but the Wings just seem too damn calm and smart to lose. My neighbor Paul, who lives in Boulder but has Pens season tickets is hoping for a Karma thing, relating to Hossa leaving the Pens for the Wings.

2) On Wednesday, most of the US sports world cared mostly about the Nuggets-Lakers game. But Wednesday was a great day for sports, and that game was the worst game of 3 contests I watched that day. In the afternoon, Barcelona beat Man U 2-0 in a great football match, with Lionel Messi, the smallest guy on the field and best player in the world, scoring on a brilliant header. And here in Boulder, the Irish pub and the sports bar around the corner were both packed for the game. Then, the Wings and Black Hawks go to OT. Watch out for those Hawks next year. They can really skate.

3) LeBron James looks like the big kid in class kicking ass on the the NBA. This guy is a monster and seems to keep getting better. He's Micheal Jordan in George McGinness' body. Even Budd Bailey couldn't cover this guy!

4) If you haven't seen this amazing Fred Astaire golf video yet, enjoy. After watching it, I tried to find out what Fred's handicap was, and the info is inconclusive. One guy said 22, which is unlikely when you see this long smooth swing, another said he was a "low handicap". How come they don't make movies like this anymore?
Thanks to Kip for sending this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Moreo on the future of news

I am a bit behind on my reading, so I am recommending an article from last week's Economist about the news business. Great story on how not only newspapers are in a state of flux, but the entire way that people consume news has changed and continues to change. Some changes, like the easy availability of stories from around the world, are great. In fact, most changes have been great for the news-seeker, bad for the news-business.

The scariest fact in the story is from a poll by the Pew Center. It says that the share of 18-24 year olds who got no news at all the previous day rose from 24% to 34% over 10 years. Our youth are apparently too busy text messaging important things like "lol" to each other to even use the Google to find out what is going on.

This is not news to me. If you go back in this blog to Jan. 29 2008, you will find the results of a survey I gave my students about stuff going on in the world. Only 15 out of 57 could name the Gov. of their own state. None could name the Secretary of the Treasury, and fewer than half the Sec. of Defense, the low profile Condi Rice! It's frightening.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How tough are these military guys?

Today is the running of the Bolder Boulder 10k race, a very big deal here. Unfortunately, my knees told me not to run long distances a few years ago, so I no longer participate. But, I did head out for a bike ride this morning, while many of the 40k+ runners are heading to the start.

As I stopped for a red light near my house, a soldier was walking along, dressed in full combat kit....helmet, boots, back pack, even putting on protective elbow pads as I came up next to him. I asked if there was some kind of battle going on in town I was not aware of. He replied that he and his unit were doing the BB in full gear.

Now I have run this race before, in shorts and good running shoes, and a 10k race is a pretty good work out. I can't imagine doing it with an extra 50 pounds of stuff on, long pants, and army boots. Exactly how tough are these guys anyway? Sure glad they are on our side!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Banjo Billy Bio

Banjo Billy has a new web site, which will include bios of all of us "Banjites", as we have decided we are called. Most of the other folks haven't written theirs yet, but I thought it would be fun to write mine and hopped on it immediately. If you want to read it, go here, and check out the rest of the site while you are there.

And eat some Spam this Memorial Day weekend. Remember, it won us the war!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Great Dilbert

You should read Dilbert every day. More wisdom in 3 panels than in the whole NY Times and WSJ put together. Unfortunately, the design of this blog site won't shrink it when I embed the strip, so to read the third panel go to (unless, of course, you have a newspaper handy)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Louisville Street Faire

If you are reading this in Colorado, or plan to visit Colorado this summer, you should check out the schedule for the Louisville Street Faire. This Friday evening event has been going on for several years now, and it is one of the great deals on the Front Range. Admission is free, the bands are mostly great, and you can enjoy an adult beverage with your music, unlike Boulder's over-rated Band on the Bricks.

How this small town manages to book the acts they do for this event is some sort of miracle. The Subdudes have been there almost every year, playing for free, which is about $30 less than you should pay. A every year there are 2 or 3 other national quality acts playing for free....well, admission is free for you and me, but the band is getting paid!

Most impressive this year is the first act, on June 12, Long Tall Marcia Ball. I've seen her at Jazzfest, I've seen her in fact a bunch of times in Nawlins, and a few other places, and she is one of the great performers you will see. So, if you are looking for me on June 12, or probably any Friday night this summer, I'll be in downtown Louisville.

Oh, and for those of you outside the area, I am talking about the town of Louisville, CO, where, unlike the one with the famous horse race, they pronounce the "s".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Baseball Irony

Stole this from The Sports Economist, who stole if from the NY Post:
Reader Gary Cicio, NYC podiatrist, did the research, and asks us to choose one of the two options to see a Mariners-Yankees game this season, and from the very best seats:

Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.

Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.

And the views are better in Seattle too! And you could take a boat out in Puget Sound and watch whales. Not a tough call!

Monday, May 18, 2009

What I learned in school today: Games good, twitter bad!

Classes are out, but our school is having a "Teaching with Technology" conference this week that I plan to catch some of. A lot of it is focused on teaching on-line courses, which I really have very little interest in doing. I teach because the dynamics of a classroom full of people often makes for a fun experience, fun enough to make up for the annoyance of bored students sleeping or texting. But there are other session that are about using stuff to aid classroom learning that might be of value.

So, here's what I learned:

GAMES GOOD! There was a session about on-line games that can be used to liven up a classroom, while educating at the same time. Some of them I have to play a bit, but I instantly fell in love with a game called BUDGET HERO, which is available here from America Public Media's Marketplace. Want to fix the Federal Budget? Want to move us to a society more interested in health care, or the environment? Want to see what is going to happen to Social Security and Medicare in the years to come. Go check it out. Very cool, fun and easy to use. And, for those of you who read this who are former students, I apologize for not finding this earlier.

TWITTER BAD! Another session was on the use of Twitter. If you haven't heard of Twitter, you must live in a cave. When I first heard of it, I thought it was stupid. Millions of people fervently writing about picking up their dry cleaning....who gives a shit. And it has gotten so much publicity lately, what with Obama tweeting, and Oprah getting her legions of drones to sign on and crash the site, I thought I should at least learn more about it. Here's what I learned: 1) It wasn't working when the class went to sign up. 2) It can probably be useful for some purposes and 3) Who the hell has the time to do this all day. Conclusion: Life is too short to be wasted with this kind of nonsense. Like most things that suddenly become really popular (NASCAR, Brittney Spears, AMerican Idol), I don't get it, and I choose not to participate.

More on Fleixible Ticket Prices

A while back I put up a link to an SI story about the SF Giants experiment with flexible ticket prices. The NY Times has a longer story on the same thing today, for those of you who share my interest in sports and economics.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cap and Trade vs Tax

It looks like the Obama administration is going to move forward with a "Cap and Trade" system as a means to control carbon emissions. There is an interesting story in today's NY Times about how Cap and Trade became the acceptable way to address pollution.

If you are not aware, the US has been using a Cap and Trade system to control sulfur emissions causing acid rain in the late 80's. This was proposed by the first (or, should I say, better) Bush administration, and passes through Congress with bi-partisan support.

The interesting thing about Cap and Trade is this: Economists think a tax is a better idea, but politicians prefer Cap and Trade, because the word "tax" will kill them politically, and they also create a goody to hand out with Cap and Trade. As I tell my students, bad politics trumps good economics every time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is beer "bad stuff"? Is King Corn?

My friend Budd left a comment on my post about taxing soda a few days ago, asking if beer isn't "bad stuff", and therefore should be taxed. As Budd, and anyone who has known me for about 5 seconds knows, I love beer. But, I have to admit that it is not good for me, except that it makes me happy, and there has to be some health value in that.

The reason Budd's question warrants an answer is that we know that alcohol is bad for us. So, what do drinkers pay? Extra tax, to diminish the amount they drink. Cigarettes get the same treatment. So, if we know soda, and twinkies, and bacon double cheeseburgers are bad for us as, why not tax them too, and use the money to fund a decent health care program. The tax alone would improve our health. In Economics we call this a "Pigovian Tax".

This brings me to a movie I saw last night called "King Corn". It is a documentary (available on Netflix) about how our idiotic farm subsidy program has, since 1972, caused corn to become the major influence in the American diet. Two guys just out of college lease an acre of land in Iowa and grow corn on it, then trace the paths the corn might take. It seems that the corn we mass over-produce is of low nutritional quality, and is in out meat, as well as anything that is sweetened. Many nutritionists blame it for our national obesity problem. The film is interesting and entertaining, without the snarkiness you might find from the likes of Micheal Moore.

It is obvious that instead of subsidizing high fructose corn syrup, we should be taxing it. Instead, the novice farmers in "King Corn" can only turn a profit because of the cash they get from the taxpayers. Which raises the question "Are we out of our fucking minds?". We are using taxpayer money to kill ourselves. Why not subsidize Al Queda?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Great comment by Jon Taplin

If you have been visiting this blog for a while and have yet to be turned on to Jon Taplin's blog (link on right), then you should go read it now, because it is a lot better than mine(but with fewer jokes). Taplin is a smart guy with an interesting background, including experience on Wall Street and in Hollywood. He is currently writing a book about the "interregnum", a point he sees America at currently, between the conservative government we've had since Reagan, and.....well, something else.

Anyway, I am stealing a quote from Taplin's blog today that is so sensible it needs no introduction or comment. Let's just say I agree:

Driving along I-15 east of Barstow, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of desert scrub land. It’s 105 degrees in the shade so nothing can grow but cactus and it’s too harsh for grazing cattle or sheep. The wind blows fiercely and it just seemed obvious that Obama should create the Southwest Desert Authority and erect a vast solar and wind farm. There are plenty of high tension electrical lines, there’s a rail line so the huge wind turbines could come in on freight cars and towns like Barstow which have been hit hard by the recession could become the center of the new clean power industry. There is in fact so much potential energy out there in the vast desert of the Southwest, that the only question is how to store it. If we are not spending millions working on this solution for storing energy, we’re really missing something.

Sometimes it is so easy to be brilliant.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taxing Unhealthy stuff to fund health care

The WSJ reports today on the beginnings of a great idea: Taxing unhealthy stuff to fund health care. From the Journal:

Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to help pay for an overhaul of the nation's health-care system.

The taxes would pay for only a fraction of the cost to expand health-insurance coverage to all Americans and would face strong opposition from the beverage industry. They also could spark a backlash from consumers who would have to pay several cents more for a soft drink.

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs. At least a dozen states already have some type of taxes on sugary beverages, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Don't stop there! A comprehensive program of taxes on bad stuff would make us eat healthier, and provide funds for health care provided by those who are being the least healthy. And then, let's legalize drugs and tax them for the same reason, instead of wasting billions a year on a war we can't win. There is enough money there to finance a health care program, and make us maybe as healthy as the French, who pay about half what we do in health care but live longer.

Of course, we should also do away with taxes on beer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

New material from the Standup Economist

Yoram Bauman has been calling himself "The Standup Economist" for a couple years now, and I have been showing a video of his in class to amuse my students for about 3 years. If you happen to be familiar with Greg Mankiw's text books, that video is hilarious. Otherwise, probably not so much. But he has a new video on YouTube that you can watch below that is a lot more accessible. This guy is very smart, and his jokes are highly intelligent, which means his odds of making it in this country as a comedian are almost nil. But I know the folks who read my blog are smart enough to enjoy this.

Awkward Family Photos

Mother's day just passed, and its graduation season, so that means Americans will be snapping billions of ridiculous, goofy, stupid photos. Thanks to Dave Barry's newsletter, I discovered this site, Awkward Family Photos. This is frickin' hilarious. Make sure to click to the second page for the family in anatomically correct bunny suits. Priceless.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Externalities of the Banjo Billy Bus

We were discussing "externalities" in my microeconomics class the other day, and the time is upon us when I will soon be spending a few days a week on the Banjo Billy Bus, telling ghost stories and bad jokes to tourists from around the world. While those two things may not seem connected, it suddenly occurred to me, while I sit at home attempting to watch hockey and basketball at the same time, that the goofy bus I work on has both positive and negative externalities.

For those of you who don't remember your Eco classes, an externality is sort of a side effect to economic activity, something that effects those who are not involved in the transaction. For instance, education has a positive externality because society in general benefits from a better educated population. So, a student who pays for an education not only helps himself, but all of us. Pollution is a negative externality. When I drive my car, I get the benefit, but you pay part of the cost because I am polluting your air.

So, what externalities does the Banjo Billy Bus create? Well, the negatives are obvious. The bus burns diesel fuel, which means it is not only polluting the air, but is pretty frickin' loud. And sometimes the guides forget to turn the mike down, and the extra noise pisses off the folks in the neighborhoods we drive through. And we occasionally block a road and slow down traffic.

On the positive side is the entertainment factor provided to the folks who see the bus go by. People on the street love to wave or scream at us, or even moon us. They aren't involved in the economic transaction....the folks on the bus paying for a tour....but they do get some pleasure when we go by. They often get a smile when the driver uses our funny horn to bark or whistle at them. I'd say that makes us far better citizens than the other vehicles going through town. They don't entertain anyone.

This kind of thinking is what happens when both games go to intermission at the same time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What is education really?

The sports media is all abuzz that Jeremy Tyler, one of the best high school hoopsters in the country, has decided to forgo his senior year of high school and play ball in Europe for big money instead. The empty chattering heads on ESPN yesterday all thought this is a horrible thing....he will miss his prom (I didn't go to mine!), he won't have a high school degree, he will miss that important one year he would otherwise spend playing in college to make other people rich. What they really mean is, "Oh, No, he is upsetting the US basketball monopoly".

Think back to your senior year in high school. Did you learn much in class? Would you likely have learned more from, say, working in a foreign country? In fact, wouldn't it be beneficial to most Americans to spend some time abroad, learning to understand the rest of the world? We might make fewer dumb foreign policy errors if we knew a bit more about others. Is someone really trying to tell us that learning another culture and language has less value than sleeping through 4th period English Lit?

And, this kid has obviously got the skills and the interest to make basketball his career. Where is he going to learn more: playing against pros or kicking the crap out of high shcolers half his size, the dominating inferior competition in college for a year?

I obviously think there is great value to formal education, or I wouldn't be teaching. But it is certainly not for everyone. Tyler is going to learn far more about both life and basketball by going abroad and playing, particularly if he has a tough time over there. And he's going to be paid for it. I don't see how this can possibly be a bad move for him. When he is drafted into the NBA in 2 years, he will be a far more educated person and player than those who took the traditional route.

What the people here who say this is awful really don't want to see is our current monopoly system crumble. If kids find out they have options other than a year of making a college coach rich, this could ruin the whole plantation system of big time college sports. And wouldn't that be a shame for all those who profit big from "March Madness"......none of them players, of course!