Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boulder Jury Strikes a Blow Against Evil Insurance Co.s

If you don't think our health care system is completely warped, take you head from between your butt cheeks and read this story from today's Boulder Daily Camera

A local woman was in a car accident, and her insurance company dropped her and refused to cover her injuries because she had neglected to mention a totally unrelated trip to the emergency room that occurred before she was insured, or in the accident. To it's great credit, the jury awarded the woman $37 million in damages, 5 times what she asked for, and about 200 times what it would have cost the company to live up to its obligations.

That we even have these situations is a waste of everyone's resources. We, as a society, need to get out heads from between out butt cheeks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The GOP called.

Somehow, I am on the Republican Party's fundraising list, which is quite hilarious in so many ways. First, no matter how much money I ever have in my life, I will never donate it to any political party, at least not based on what they are doing to this country now. In fact, I would piss on my $ and light it on fire before giving it to politicians who will use it to run ads full of lies and spreading of hatred. I have only donated to 2 political campaigns in my life, and those were the campaigns of friends who were running for local offices.

But, please don't tell the GOP what I just said, because I love getting their calls. They called yesterday, to tell me how I had to give them $200 so they could elect more Republicans to stop the "Obama/Pelosi" agenda. The conversation then went something like this:
Me: Then what is the Republican agenda, other than saying "no" to everything
Her: We are going to stop Obama.
Me: So I should help you get Republicans in power because of the great success of the first 8 years of this decade
Her: We are going to stop Obama
Me: But didn't the Republicans policies get where we are today? You want me to support more of that ( I am pretty sure I added some f-bombs in there to see how long she would go)
Her: We have to stop Obama
Me: But the Republicans fucked everything up!
Her: We have to stop Obama
(NOTE: Every "stop Obama" was stated slightly differently)

Finally, I was amused enough, and started laughing and said "You must have a really good decision tree system. You have a new way of repeating the same comeback to my objections". This just confused her completely, so I just laughed some more and said "look, I am definitely NOT giving you any money" and hung up.

Great fun, and I got a clear view of the vision that the GOP has for the country: Stop Obama, so we can go back to the good old days of the Bushies destroying the country.

Here, is what I guess their strategy is: They want to stop Obama from passing anything, particularly anything that might help the economy in the short run. Then, they will blame the Dems for not fixing everything in 2010, and hopefully, 2012. Then, they can go back to making America a great place to do business, particularly for polluters and white collar criminals, but not to live.

Yes, the Democrats suck, but the only worse is the GOP!!!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Supremes Kill Corporations' Tax Argument

Corporations, unlike partnerships or other forms of business, are taxed before their earnings are distributed to the owners of the company. A stockholder pays taxes on dividends they receive, or on capital gains if they sell stock, but not on the per share earnings. However, he company itself pays taxes based on its income.

Many have argued for many years that this is wrong, that the owners are being taxed double. In other words, the company pays income tax, and so does the stockholder when he receives his part of the earnings, thus the owners of corporations suffer double taxation. The argument is that corporations should be treated like a partnership for tax purposes, passing the earnings per share onto the taxable income of stockholders. I have never bought into this argument for several reasons. Primarily, corporations use the facilities that taxes pay for in this country....police, roads, courts, national defense....just like the rest of us "citizens", and since corporations have the rights of citizens, they also have the responsibilities.

The Supreme Court pretty much killed any logical argument that the "double taxation" crowd had. Since they have affirmed that corporations are citizens with the right of free speech, then they must also be citizens with the right to pay taxes. The campaign finance laws did not impede the free speech rights of individuals, just corporations. So stockholders already had the right to spend their money on campaigns. It only makes sense then, that if we are granting corporations all the rights of real people, they get to join us in paying taxes as well.

Speaking of the rights of citizens, Jon Stewart pointed out the other night that corporations now have more rights than gay Americans. They can marry (merge).

Monday, January 25, 2010

AT the risk of sounding like a 14 year old....

I find THIS STORY amusing. A magazine about Canadian history called "The Beaver" is changing it's name because it is blocked from too many internet sites.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big Fan

After a day of watching football, I watched the indy film "Big Fan" tonight. It's a rather dark look at sports fandom, starring Patton Oswalt as a Giants fan who is so devout he puts the team ahead of ....well, you won't really believe it until you watch it. And I do recommend you watch it.

If, like me, you are a sports fan who has probably cared too much about the success of a bunch of complete strangers because they wear a certain jersey, "Big Fan" will amuse you while also making you feel extremely uncomfortable. The film is a real shot at the sports-talk radio culture. There are certainly a lot of guys who listen to this stuff all day, and have to get in their "take" (as Jim Rome would call it). In the case of "Big Fan", his take is the only high point in an otherwise dreary existence. The main character has made this sports and talk radio world the center of his life. While I have never called a sports talk show not hosted by a close friend (perhaps Budd Bailey would like to comment on that!), I couldn't help thinking I was something like this complete loser of a main character. This very afternoon, while watching football at the bar, I had a very serious, thoughtful conversation with my friend Clint about why Todd Helton should bat second for the Rockies.

This reminds me of a sketch I wrote for my old comedy group back in CT. A guy, played by yours truly, is watching the game while his girlfriend wants to talk about their relationship. She mistakes his yelling at the game as his response to her questions. His only real response to her is when she asks how he feels as the game goes to commercial. His response: "I feel like another beer". At the end of the scene, she is rushing off to call her mom, certain that they are engaged, while he celebrates a Giants win (sorry Bills fans, but had to set the scene in the NY area). One of the favorite pieces of mine that I've written....oh who am I kidding, it wrote itself!

Anyone who has ever yelled at the TV during a game should watch "Big Fan" (It is available for immediate play on Netflix). Then, maybe we should all go for a bike ride on Super Sunday!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The sad decline of the WSJ

I have been reading the WSJ since I was forced to buy it for a macroeconomics class in college. While I don't require my students to read it, I have always recommended that they do, telling them that, although the op/ed page is run by the insane, the news part of the paper is....or notch. (In fact, I recently told a conservative friend of mine that WSJ doesn't need comics as long as it has the op/ed page).

Then, Rupert Murdoch bought it. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the right wing slant of the op/ed page was creeping into the front page headlines. I stopped subscribing to it ( I can read it online for free through school), not wanting to give a man like Murdoch, who has done so much to destroy America (by having his media outlets blindly support the stupidity of the Bush administration) my money. I was not sure that my dislike of Murdoch wasn't just causing me to believe this, but today Barry Ritholtz writes about the same thing I have noticed. What a shame.

You can read Ritholtz take on the Journal HERE.

What a bad week in politics

The victory in the Mass. senate election of Scott Brown was bad for America, giving the GOP the ability to say NO to anything Congress might pass. Since the GOP has no answers to any of the world's problems, some of which they had a big hand in causing, they have taken the political strategy of making sure nothing gets passed that might actually make things better. Then, of course, they will claim the Dems are responsible for all the world's problems. Good strategy, except for the part where none of our problems gets fixed. But they could care less, as long as they can get back in power.

And now the GOP will gets some more help from the right wingers now in power on the Supreme Court. To deny corporations the opportunity to buy elections and/or politicians by using their considerable resources to advertise unfettered regarding elections was not to deny them free speech. There was no law saying corporations or their representatives could not speak on political issues. It just prevented them from using their money to be the only voices heard.

Today' NYT editorial, which you can read HERE, does a much better job of explaining the horrors we can now expect as a result of this "judicial activism"......something the conservative always said they opposed. Yet, there they were, overturning laws that have previously been upheld, and which were passed with great public support by Congress.

So, if you thing that those poor corporations aren't getting enough say in our government, well then, that has just been fixed. It is obvious based on the handling of the financial crisis that the opposite is true, and it is about to get worse. Congress has shown little enough interest in fixing problems in ways that might upset any potential corporate donors. We can now forget about any rational fix of health care or the financial system. We thought we were rid of the Bush administration, but the damage he has done with his extreme right wing court appointments will be haunting us for years. The court will carry on the Bushies work of returning this country to the robber-baron culture of 100 years ago (the good old days that conservatives talk about!).

Maybe Congress can pass a law that politicians need to wear the logos on their suits of their corporate benefactors.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A couple of funny things

Yoram Bauman, "The Standup Economist" has a book out. A comic book. About Economics. Really.! It's called "A Cartoon Introduction to Economics" and is available at Amazon and BN for only $12.11 cents. Based on the price, Bauman does know his comedy, as the price demonstrates his understanding that prime numbers are funnier than other numbers. You can check out some sample pages HERE.

On an even sillier note, in return for introducing me to the opera, I decided I would show Kip the Gilligan's Island episode where they perform "Hamlet" as a musical to impress Phil Silvers. Then, she said she wanted to watch the pilot. So, we watched the pilot, a show I had never seen before, with a completely different Professor, Ginger and Mary Ann. OH, and a theme song that is not the one we all know by heart. Weird! I wonder it this ever actually appeared on TV. If you want to check it out, you can go HERE

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My trip to the Opera

Thursday I wrote about Economics books, Friday about football, so it only makes sense that today I should write about the opera.

Yesterday I went to a local movie theater at 10:30 in the morning to watch the HD broadcast (is it really a "broadcast" when it is received in so few places?) of the live matinee performance of "Carmen" from the NY Met opera (not to be confused with the NY Mets......otherwise the actors would have made errors all day and one of them would have torn an acl!). Needless to say, attending this was not my idea. And I will admit that I was not at all sure I would enjoy an almost 4 hour performance in a language I do not speak. So, I will say that I am pleasantly surprised to tell you that I enjoyed this performance a great deal.

If there is opera music you are familiar with at all it is probably the music from Carmen. Hell, the castaways on Gillgan's Island even sang "Neither a Lender nor a borrower be" to the music from Carmen. I am sure that familiarity helped me enjoy the production. However, it was an impressive show in many ways. The music and vocal performances were outstanding, and the whole production quite mesmerizing. In addition, the HD cameras give you a view of the action that you would never get if you were at the Met watching (If you were a member of the Mets watching, you likely would have stumbled over the person next to you getting to your seat and torn your ACL). Kip had seen 4 operas this way in the past few months, and says this was her favorite.

Now, you are probably thinking, I bet you were the only ones at the theater. Not true. In fact, these programs sell out quickly in this area, and you have to get there about an hour before it starts so you don't have to sit in the front row.

You may have noticed a variety of strange listings in recent months if you have checked movie times on line. A company called Fathom Events is responsible for bringing a variety of one-time events to your local theater. In December, I went to see "Riff Trax Live" in this format, and along with the opera you can also watch things as diverse as a upcoming performance of "Prairie Home Companion" and some kind of babbling non-sense from Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. I'm guessing the same folks aren't buying tickets to both those shows.

What does a well rounded guy like me do after attending the opera? Of course, I headed to the brew pub next to the theater to enjoy a beer and watch the end of the hockey game. And I'll still take hockey over opera, but man can not live on ice alone!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Non-stop NFL action? Hardly

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about what actually takes place during an average NFL telecast. According to their research, and the research of others who have looked into this and were consulted by the WSJ, the average game contains, get this, 10 MINUTES AND 43 SECONDS OF ACTUAL GAME TIME! That's right, and NFL game is 11 minutes of action (or 13, if you like the other experts WSJ consulted) crammed into only 3 hours of your life. About an hour of that time is taken up by TV commercials.

People find out I am a soccer and hockey fan, and they declare those sport boring, because they often have low scores. But when I watch a hockey or soccer game, I know I will actually see 60 minutes of action, when the ball is in play. When I watch a football game, I am always sure to have something to read and the remote handy. And this is one reason I have always disliked attending NFL games: there is just too much time in the stadium when nothing is happening. And, at the game, I have no remote.

The chart above shows the breakdown of game time that WSJ discovered. You can read the whole story (if you are a WSJ subscriber) HERE
Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video below

Maybe this is why everyone watches the Super Bowl to see the ads!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Superfreakonomics and other Eco books

If you read "Freakonomics" a few years ago, then you definitely want to read "SuperFreakonomics" now. And if you didn't, you want to read them both.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner will not tell you how to fix our economy or what caused the financial system to collapse (for the second issue, I recommend "Bailout Nation" by Barry Ritholtz). Instead, they take a look at real data that reveals interesting and important things about individual decisions and very "micro" issues.

If you've heard anything about the book, it may be that their chapter regarding climate change pissed off a lot of people. They take an extremely unconventional look at what is causing it and how to fix it. They talk, in fact, a lot about cheap and simple fixes to problems, starting with doctors' discovery that they spread less disease if they wash their hands.

There is also some very interesting info about prostitution. Did you know that 100 years ago prostitutes charged more for oral sex than the standard kind, but today they charge less? If you did know that, I don't want to know how you knew. But you will for sure be amused by the last chapter about monkeys and money. Oh, and don't forget to check out the Freakonomics blog, which usually has some interesting stuff, and can be reached from the link on the right.

This summer my friend Drew, a young fellow Banjo Billy employee with a keen interest in learning, asked me to recommend some books to give him a general understanding of The Dismal Science. If you are looking for this type of knowledge, then pick up Todd Bucholz "New Ideas from Dead Economists". It was written several years ago, and won't tell you what we should do now, but it is an excellent explanation of the history of Economic study and the various schools of thought involved.

So, there you have it. Some good books to curl up by the fire with for the winter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dave Barry's Year in Review

In case you don't regularly read the Miami Herald, you may have missed Dave Barry's Year in Review. New stuff from Dave is pretty rare, so be sure and read it HERE.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ignorance is Profitable!

As a teacher, I consider ignorance to be my enemy. That is why I teach. The damage that ignorant people cause to the world is enormous, and the examples are many: religious fundamentalists blowing themselves and others up, "birthers" and "tea baggers", gay bashers, racists, Creationists....I could go on and on. And it's profitable. TV shows about celebrities, daytime talk shows, and the entire Fox News network depend upon ignorance for their profits.

Well, I finally found a small way to profit from it myself. My friend Mark runs a bowl game pool every year where you pick the winner of each of 25 bowl games, then rank them 1-25. If the team you put 25 next to wins, you get 25 points. Not being much of a college football fan (it is a sport I consider a complete fraud) I have always done horribly in this pool, usually being eliminated from any chance of winning before New Years Day.

This year, I took a different approach. Rather than using my little bit of knowledge, which we know is a dangerous thing, I went with 0 knowledge. I had my girlfriend Kip, who knows nothing about football, pick the winners, in the hope that no knowledge would be a good thing. And I just kind of sprung it on her one day so she wouldn't try to learn anything (she loves to learn stuff). Then, I did the numbering, based on the Vegas odds.

The result? Well, it looked a bit shaky there in the second half, but we watched the game last night knowing that if Alabama won, so did we. I can't wait to tell everyone in the pool how I won (they see my name on the sheet with picks), and how I was explaining to Kip during the game things like a "fair catch" and the refs penalty signals. Many of these guys are college football junkies. A few even played at CU, and I'm one of the few in the pool without CU season tickets. On second thought, maybe I should keep my mouth shut so I don't get beat up.

A few years ago, I tried this with Fiona on the NCAA basketball pool. But she actually went out and did research (she is a librarian after all) and ruined the process. So, last night as the game finished I told Kip to please avoid watching any college hoop for the next 2 months.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Avatar" in IMAX 3D

Before I went to see it yesterday, I didn't understand why anyone who had the choice would see "Avatar" in any format other than IMAX 3D. Here is a film that has been talked about in terms of groundbreaking visual brilliance, with the story and characters barely mentioned.

So, having seen it in that format yesterday, I even more strongly believe I was correct. Visually, the movie is breathtaking, and I can't imagine I would have been able to sit through the 2 hours and 40 minutes of a story that was, well, plucked pretty much from any of a million films previously made, without the magical beauty of the 3D and IMAX enhancement. Several times I reached out to swish away a floating seed that seemed to be over the head of the person in front of me. It was the most amazing visual experience I have ever had in a theater, at least since I saw my first porn movie when I was in high school ("The Sinful Dwarf"...really!).

I can't imagine anyone will buy this on DVD. The story is sophomoric, the acting lame, the script written by hacks. Do not see "Avatar" if you can't see it in 3D!!! But pony up the extra couple bucks and see it the way it was meant to be viewed.