Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This Should Be Front Page News

It sucked that the country had to bailout the banks, and that we had to spend money to stimulate the economy. But anyone who is not a complete idiot (Tea Partiers!) knows it was necessary to avoid another Great Depression.

Don't believe me. Well, some real economists did the work. Read about it in a THIS NY TIMES STORY.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Trip to Walmart, and Why You Should Emtpy Your 401K

My cell phone stopped working yesterday. It got wet when Kip and I got rained on during an otherwise excellent hike in Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday, and just stopped working correctly.

Being a cheapskate, I have a pre-paid cell phone. Before you snicker, realize that I pay $100 per year for my cell phone service, get and make all the calls I feel the need to, and send text messages. No hidden charges or other crap. $100 a year!

So, I went to Walmart to buy a new T-Mobile phone to put my sim card in. Now, living here in Boulder, a trip to Walmart is a big deal. We don't have one here in the People's Republic. Many Boulderites have decided that the Walmart is the root of all evil, and blocked an effort to build one about 10 years ago. In fact, the only thing I think I am less likely to see in my lifetime than a Walmart is a stature of George W. Bush.

I had to go 10 miles to Lafayette to visit a Walmart so I haven't been in one in years. Let me just say, there are a couple nice things about Walmart. First, I felt so thin!!! Everyone here in Boulder is young and skinny. At Walmart, the folks make me look studly. Gotta like that! Also, the have everything. Not only did I get the phone I needed, but I picked up some veggies, milk, and razor blades.

Speaking of things that are everywhere in America but Boulder, we also have very few Christians here. Well, at least not the kind who believe the whack-jobs who preach on TV. So, I had to find the truth about the date of Jesus' return in the Colorado Springs Gazette, because "The Springs", as we call it, is crawling with right-wing Christian whackos.

Well, the date, at least according to THIS STORY is May 21 next year, which will set off Armageddon and the Rapture and the end of the world. So, we only have a bit more than 9 months to empty our retirement accounts and have some fun, before those of us who don't believe the right crazy shit will be sent to hell. Might as well have had a good time before we go! So, don't just sit there reading this, start emptying that IRA and planning a party.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yes, the Democrats suck, but the alternative is even worse!

Having the Democrats in charge of Congress and the White House has not done much to fix what's wrong with this country. In part, this is because the Dems are no where near as united in their policy goals as the GOP was when they spent 6 years destroying the country while they were in power. And, in part, is because the Dems also harbor some policy beliefs that are as stupid as the GOP's. And of course, just like the GOP, they are all politicians, dedicated to saying or doing anything to get re-elected while catering to the special interests who line their pockets.

(Interesting aside: In the test books I use, written by N. Gregory Mankiw, there are many homework questions that involve analyzing a quotation by a politician. In all of these questions, the politician, no matter who he is, or what party he represents, has said something that is completely wrong in terms of it's understanding of Economics!)

So yes, the Democrats are horrible at running the country. But remember this: The GOP is much, much worse. The Democrats have not started a war. They have not set out to deregulate everything so that Americans are less safe. They have at least done something about our fucked-up health care situation, although nowhere near enough. But remember, the GOP was fine with our overpriced, unfair, ineffective system as it was.

If you want a reminder how bad the Bush years were, and those are still the policies that the GOP wants to enact, then read THIS COLUMN BY NOBEL WINNING ECONOMIST PAUL KRUGMAN!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Predictions I made coming true.

Back in the middle of the last decade of the 20th century, when the internet was first becoming important, I postulated to a friend that books in print would soon become a thing of the past. I suggested soon they would be downloadable, that we would soon be reading books on our computers, saving the cost of printing and shipping. The friend I was having this conversation with responded that it would take too long to download a book, it would take up a lot of space on a hard drive, and who would want to sit in front of their computer and read.

At the time I had to concede that he was right. Certainly neither of us envisioned at the time developments like the Kindle and high speed internet service (back then I believe I had a 1200 baud modem on my computer). Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that is now selling more ebooks than hardcover books. Certainly, my prediction has far from come true, some 15 years later, but we are a lot closer to it than I would ever have imagined we would be after my theory was so completely shot to pieces back in the mid-90's. Meanwhile, has made a business by selling audio books for download to listen to on your mp3 player. No doubt, the "book" as we grew up with it is definitely under threat, and not just from the fact that too many people are now too stupid to bother reading one.

Okay, so that prediction of mine didn't completely come true, but I got some of it right. Another prediction that I made about that the existence of the sports bar would cause men to evolve several new, independent sets of eyes, so that they can watch all the football games at once while still being able to locate their cheeseburger and beer. It was believed that humans had actually stopped evolving long ago (at least long ago by human standards). But the New York Times today reports that scientists have found evidence of evolution in our species over the past several thousand years. No doubt, by the year 2525, if man is still alive, he will be able to watch the entire NFL schedule at once, maybe even while paying attention to the sermon on his megachurch TV station (One would hope we would evolve enough intelligence to not be that gullible in 2525, but the future in the film "Idiocracy" looks more likely.

Make sure you keep reading this space to catch all my brilliant visions into the future!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

BP, Black Swans, and Nuclear Energy

The Gulf oil spill is a black swan, not because swans have become covered with oil, but because it is something that happened which, until it did, seemed so unlikely. At least it seemed that way to most of us. Had we known how reckless and irresponsible BP management was, we might have thought differently.

In fact, the BP's management treated the odds of failure in each portion of their drilling as so remote that they consistently took the least expensive, least safe option in drilling their well. The problem with this is that if you have a choice between a method with a 5% likelihood of failure, and a 1% chance, it may seem far more cost effective to go with 5%, since removing all risk of failure in anything can be very expensive. But when you are doing this on choice after choice in something as complex as deep water drilling, where failure of any function can be catastrophic, you keep adding to the odds of the type of disaster that happened. Simple math: if you have one thing that can cause a disaster with the odds being 5%, it is not the same as having 2 things, each of which can cause a disaster and has odds of failure of 5%. In the second instance, the odds are now close to 10%.

If you look at the information that has come out about how BP treated risk management, they seem to have not understood this.

Now, let's talk about nuclear energy. As we look for ways to create more electricity while reducing carbon emissions, nuclear energy had to enter the conversation. It is a very clean way to produce energy, at least as far as climate change causing carbon emissions are concerned. However, in order for nuclear energy to be safe, it requires responsible risk management, as a BP-like failure at a nuclear plant could be far more of a disaster, ala Chernobyl. That would mean, if we were to choose to build more nuclear power plants, we would have to have extremely effective safety regulation by the government.

Now, assume we have a bunch of nuclear power plants, run by big energy companies friendly with a corrupt administration who hates government regulation, like the one we just had in Washington. Of course, we don't have to worry because the free market will ensure that the companies running the plants will make sure to do it safely, not in a way where incentives cause managers to cut corners to increase their bonuses, right? That's what the Bushies thought would happen on Wall St., and in our food supply, and in the "awl bidness", as they would pronounce it. (By the way, I am quite disappointed in the Obama administration for not un-doing every Bush policy, top to bottom, on day 1!)

See the problem. If we had a large nuclear power industry with a Bush-like administration, it wouldn't before we'd have the nuclear disaster in this country that we are so afraid that terrorists might create.

Which brings me to a funny thing about the conservatives: they were willing to trash the constitution to make the likelihood of another terrorist attack zero, but not even willing to do the jobs they were legally required to do to protect citizens from disasters caused by a reckless private sector.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How scary is this?

Sorry, haven't written much here lately. It's summer, and my brain is not on serious stuff. But you can enjoy this insane video encouraging Glenn Beck to run for President.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I'm going with the octopus

First let me ask this question: With the World Cup final game taking place on Sunday, baseball in mid-season, and the Tour de France going on, why is does ESPN think that the only sports story in the world is who Lebron James wants to play for? The reason to care is to know what NBA team to root against next year, as another spoiled millionaire abandons his home town.

As for the World Cup final, well, who what sporting event would be complete without some crazy predictions. Your choice for the world cup is the German octopus, or the parakeet in Singapore. Both animals analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each teams players and coaches. The octopus is going with Spain, the parakeet Holland.

I am going with the octopus. Spain looked pretty impressive against an excellent German team the other day, while the Netherlands, despite the score, had their hands full with Uraguay. And these guys have already shown they know how to win a big tournament, the Euro championship in 2008. Also, the fact that so many of the Spanish team play together at Barcelona year round (please, somebody, get La Liga back on the Dish network!) makes me think they go home with the hardware.

I just ask one thing from this game: a goal in regulation time. Please, no more penalty kicks to decide the winner!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Some Football Economics

I have written in the past about Economics and American football (to recap: football coaches are a bunch of frightened little girls in tutus afraid to take a sensible risk) but today there is a story in the Economix blog of the NY Times about eco and what we should call football. Enjoy it while you watch what I expect will be a great match-up between Espana and Germany, a re-match of the 2008 European Cup final. Read it HERE.

The winner gets to play the Dutch, who are from Holland and live in the Netherlands (anyone who knows the history of why we have so many names for these people please comment!, and will have their work cut out for them against a very talented team. If you have stopped paying attention to the Cup because the US is out, you are missing out on a some great football.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo

Okay, so I'm ignorant. I don't spend enough time keeping up on modern fiction. When I saw a book, and now a movie called "The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo", I just put "girl" and "dragon" together and assumed that it was a chick fantasy thing about a girl and a dragon.

Wow, was I wrong. The film, in Swedish with English subtitles, is playing here in Boulder, and is certainly the best film I've seen in a while. Suspense, mystery, a story that leads everywhere. There is a lot going on here, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. A bit long at about 2 1/2 hours, but you don't notice because so much is happening.

Stieg Larson has written 3 books with the main character, and it appears the other 2 are also being made into films. I haven't read the books, and likely won't be able to, but if you have, let us know if they are as good as or better than the movie.

Either way, check it out!