Monday, December 17, 2012

My Annual Xmas Poem, Read by ME!

In case you have forgotten how to read, or, like me you are old and can't ever find your reading glasses, here is this year's Xmas poem read by me.  Happy Solstice!

My Annual Xmas Poem

It's that time again, time for me to offend old friends and new with my annual Xmas poem.  Last year's poem was written from my perspective.  This year it is not, as you will be able to tell by the brand of beer the narrator has in his fridge.

An Idiots Xmas

Twas the night before Xmas, I was in a bad mood
For my house was quite empty, no TV, no food
No tables nor chairs for resting my bum
I’d gone and done something that’s clearly quite dumb
12/21 should have been the last day
For people on earth to work and to play
Now this year my Xmas will be pretty rough
Cuz I’ve given away all of my stuff.
I’m living on Budwieser, ramen and Chickletts
Investing what I have left in lottery tickets.

I was bumming about the big Mayan lie
When I saw something strange up in the sky
Then on my roof I heard a loud boom
And down through the chimney and into my room
Crashed a guy I believed in with never a pause
There on my carpet stood old Santa Claus
With red suit, black boots, white beard and all
He looked just like when I’d met him down at the Mall
I said “ Santa, I’m so glad to see you this year”
He said “Shut up schmuck, do you have any beer?”
I went to the fridge and grabbed a Bud Light
And gave it to Santa, full of delight
He looked at the can and shook his white head
“You call this a beer?  God your brain is dead!”

He sat on the floor, and took a big drink
I hoped he would give me a friendly wink
But instead he said “Look, kid, I’m visiting you
Cuz you must stop believing stuff that’s not true
Not just the crap from some crazy Mayan
But all the mechegas that you’ve been buyin’.
You bought the predictions of Harold Camping
And in seach of Sasquatch you’ve been out tramping
You visited Scotland to look for Loch Ness
And Homeopathy’s made your health a mess.
You believe in astrology and ESP too
And alien autopsies at Area 52
And that the earth is 6000 years old
You accept any crazy shit that you are told!

I slumped on the floor and let out a sigh
I had to respond to the big jolly guy
“But Santa,” I said, “I’m sure there is proof
There is stuff on the internet that shows the truth
Of witches and ghosts and reincarnation
And that Obama was born in some other nation
And that antioxidents can cure all ones ills
And there’ll be a Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills”

Santa finished his beer and looked down at the floor
I hoped he was done, but no, he had more
“I can only assume your brain has been hacked
You can’t tell a rumor apart from a fact
You invested with Madoff, you stupid chump
And believed stuff you heard from Donald Trump
You think folks can fly like in the comics
You even believe supply side economics
Your lack of good sense I find quite vexin’
Why, you’re so stupid you could be a Texan!”

I was so sad to see that Santa was pissed
I said “Perhaps you’re right, some things I have missed
 but like most Americans, I’m dumb as a stick
Real or counterfeit, how do you pick?”

“Science” said Santa “Would be a good start
And think with your brain, and not with your heart
It you can’t prove it’s true, then give it a pass
Try taking your head out of your ass
Do research and make sure the pieces all fit
Because the world is full of bullshit
Here’s my one wish for this holiday season
Give yourself over to knowledge and reason
And now here’s something you might find funny
there really, for sure, is an Easter Bunny!”

Then Santa stood up and gave a big clap
Reached out his hand and gave me a dope slap
And he was gone before I could retort
So I just sat down to read The Drudge Report.
OH, one more thing, I’ve left a loose flag
Yes, Jeff Pliskin, Paul Ryan’s a douchebag!

Well, there it is, always inspirational.  Hope you enjoy your Solstice, Xmas, Hannukah, Kwanza or whatever, and may your New Year be awesomely groovy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I Am Voting For Obama

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I will be voting for Obama next Tuesday.  My conservative friends back in Clarence, NY all think I am a raging liberal, which I am not, mostly because I never bought into the GOP history of the town we grew up in.  In fact, I find both parties mostly repulsive and incompetent, but the GOP ideas are far more backward, dangerous, and threatening to liberty and equality in this country.  I thought I would lay out some specifics on why I am voting for Obama.....which mostly boils down to "Because he is not a Republican!".


Neither party has any history of doing anything sensible when it comes to economics, and I don't expect them to start now.  The Democrats are addicted to throwing money at problems, then refusing to stop or change programs that are no longer workable. The GOP is addicted to tax cuts, to the extent that they will gladly let education, health care, and infrastructure die in the name of Grover Norquist purity.  If Romney were serious about cutting tax rates and doing away with ALL deductions, he would be worth paying attention to.  However, he has refused to specify which deductions he would have to kill, because the only way his plan is revenue neutral, as he claims, is if he does away with tax-free health insurance from employers, and with the mortgage interest deductions.  This is a good idea, but this waffling weenie does not have the guts to either say or do this job.

My fear is that a Romney presidency would allow too many of the dangerously destructive economic ideas of the right to become reality. As a society, we must invest in human capital, and we must have infrastructure that allows us to conduct business, and Obama is correct when he said "You didn't build that".  Romney spent a full year sucking up the right wing nuts in his party who think tax cuts are more important than good roads and bridges, and these guys are just wrong.  In addition, Romney's main economic advisers are the same guys, Hubbard and Mankiw, who worked for W., and we know what an economic miracle they produced.

Certainly, we need to deal with the deficit, particularly the ticking bomb of future entitlements.  Simpson-Bowles was a good start but Ryan voted against it, and Obama ignored it, and Romney had taken every position under the sun.  So, on economics both candidates get a fail from me!


Here is the sensible way that immigration should be handled:  As a free market issue.  Neither party wants to do that.  The GOP's desire to run all immigrants back to where they came from is clearly based in the underlying racism of the party, particularly the Tea Party.  Meanwhile Obama has deported more people than any other Prez.  But at least Obama has had the good sense to allow children who were brought here by their parents illegally, and who we have already paid to educate, to stay in the country so we can get the benefit of their skills and knowledge.  The GOP, Romney included, has their heads extremely far up their asses, and apparently sees nothing but brown people who don't speak English invading their towns.  Romney even proudly has the guy who wrote the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws on his list of aids.

Restrictive immigration policies are bad economic policies.  That is a truth that this country needs to accept!


This is, and has always been, the main reason that I tend to hold my nose and vote for Democrats.  As long as the Religious Right is driving the social bus in the GOP, the party is unworthy of serious consideration.  And the GOP is getting worse in this regard, not better.  Social conservatives are wrong about everything.  There is no God or Christianity in the constitution for a reason!  These idiots want to teach creationism as science, replace policy with prayer, and treat people who are different like second class citizens.  The Dems positions on these issues has not been great either, but they almost kept God completely out of their platform, which is where the fictional character belongs.  And to Paul Ryan and all the other assholes who claim to be followers of Ayn Rand AND good Christians....CAN YOU STUPID FUCKS NOT READ?  She was a committed and outspoken Atheist!


Of the many things that George W. Bush fucked up, this was where he was worst.  It is not the job of the US to tell everyone else in the world how to behave!  But that was Bush policy, and that would also be Romney policy.  In addition, we already spend more than the rest of the world combined on military spending, much of it as make work jobs to build weapons the military no longer needs.  We don't need to spend more, as Romney clearly believes.  And we don't need to start more wars, as Romney also seems to believe.

Foreign policy is a tricky, complex issue that even well informed Americans have trouble comprehending.  What the GOP calls Obama's "Apology Tour" was a much needed effort to show the rest of the world that we were not going to behave like the arrogant idiots who ran this country for the previous 8 years.  Bringing back the NeoCons, who are advising Romney, will be a step back to the destructive, expensive policies of w and his band of morons.  We can not afford that!


This band of ignorant buffoons poses the greatest threat to the progress of this country in my lifetime.  Schooled only in Rand, Hayek, and the Bible, these idiots seem to think the 19th century was a really great time to be an American, and want to take us back there.  Any politician who would seriously even talk to this group of yahoos is unworthy of anyone's vote.  They have become the heart of the GOP, and Romney is now trying to run away from the year he spent sucking up to them to get the nomination.  Maybe Mitt would govern as the moderate who didn't do all that great a job in MA, but who knows.  The bottom line is, an Obama presidency is the best insurance that we have that none of the horrible ideas these guys spout come to be.  Just their positions on immigration and money (the gold standard is second only to Communism as the dumbest economic idea I can think of) are enough to impoverish the nation.

That's my thinking.  What's yours? The President can  not magically manage the economy to make unemployment go down, and if you think he can, then you are probably too stupid to be allowed to vote.  But, the President can steer the country toward long term good, or bad.  We had 8 years of horrible with George W. Bush, and Romney seems to want to return to too many of those policies.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Few Words About Social Security

A few weeks ago my friend Maggie put one of those billboard thingys that you often see on Facebook on her page.  It had to do with Social Security, and it seemed to me to be very simplistic, so I said that in response, to which Maggie replied "Oh do explain, professor".  So, for Maggie and everyone else, here is a brief explanation of the facts and myths of Social Security, and my opinion on how me might "fix" it.

Myth #1 Social Security is a savings account set aside for you.  Social Security was designed as a "pay as you go" system, where money is taken from workers today and given to retired folks.  While you work you pay in, and when you reach 65 you can sit on your ass at the early bird special and collect.  Many are confused I think by the statement we receive every year.  So, to say it is "not an entitlement" is not really true.

Sorta Myth #2 There is a Social Security Trust Fund.  In the 1980's, when the folks in Congress were a bit less dim than they are today, they actually looked at the problem the Baby Boom generation was going to create for Social Security.  So, they increased the amount taken out of our checks, and until recently Social Security took in more than it paid out.  The problem is that the extra money, according to law, was loaned to the rest of the government.  Remember Al Gore saying "Lockbox" about 200 times during the 2000 election?  He was talking about some way to sequester that money so it would be there.  Now, the situation is that officially there is this trust fund, but it has all been loaned to the Federal Government, which means that it must be repaid by taxpayers.  So we owe ourselves a shitload of money.

Myth #3  Social Security is Broke.  This is technically not true. Under current rules it has enough money in that "trust fund" to pay benefits for about 20 years ( the actual number depends on whose projections you look at, and projections that far ahead tend to be inaccurate).  And it could pay lesser benefits for many years beyond that.  So when people say "Social Security won't be there when I retire" it is pretty much nonsense.  The problem is that we now have so much Federal debt, that the burden of paying it off along with paying social security and medicare in the future will mean the government won't be able to do anything else.  But it is not SS that is broke.  It will, though, under current rules, not be able to pay the benefits it now pays (adjusted for inflation) in the future unless something is done about it.

You May Not Know This But....

  • When SS was created in the 1930's and the retirement age was set at 65, the life expectancy was around 65, which means about 50% of people would never collect a cent.  Today it is close to 80 years.
  • Because of the baby boom and social changes, the number of workers paying into the system for each retiree has dropped from 16 in 1950 to about 3 today.
  • At a bit over $110k per year of income, they stop taking social security taxes out of your paycheck.  If you have never made that much money, or don't work in payroll, you probably are not aware of that.  So, if you make $110k per year, you  and your employer (or just you, if you are self-employed) pay the same amount into SS as Lebron James, Bill Gates and Lady Gaga.  So SS is a regressive tax.
How I would "Fix" it...
  • Raise the age.  A year or two of paying in versus taking money out is a substantial amount of money.  And clearly, folks who are 65 today are in far better health than those in 1938.
  • Raise or do away with the income cap for paying the tax.
I'll be honest: I haven't done the numbers, but I am pretty sure those 2 fixes would go a long way to allowing future retirees to receive the same benefits as the ones today do.

Now, anyone want to get into Medicare's problems?

Monday, July 2, 2012

NO, I Did Not Forget What A Paragraph Is!

For some reason Blogger has decided not to put the paragraph breaks that I used into my last two blog posts. Fucking great work guys! Sorry they look like shit and are hard to read.

What I Learned From Our Little Fire

With the fire that started last Tuesday on the mountain near my house under control, thanks to the great efforts of a bunch of fire fighters, it is kind of amusing to look at the way it affected me and my neighbors when we got a "pre-evacuation", reverse 911 call at around 5:30 that evening.

 I was working on the Banjo Billy Bus that day, and at about 3pm I saw a plume of smoke coming up over the mountains. It was clear that the fire was on the other side of the mountain, so I was not terribly concerned. By 5pm, when I again was where I could get a view of what was going on, I could see that my neighborhood on the southern edge of Boulder was now covered in smoke, enough smoke so that it was now impossible to tell exactly what was burning. Oh, and did I mention that it was an extremely hot and windy afternoon, the kind that is perfect for spreading a fire? As a matter of fact, those very same conditions caused the fire in Colorado Springs to blow completely out of control that afternoon and destroy about 350 homes.

 As I finished my tour in downtown Boulder my phone rang. My step-brother Jim, who lives in Superior about 8 miles from me, was calling to offer help and a place to stay if I needed it. At this point all I know is that there is smoke over my house, and I had seen some neighbors heading home early while I was finishing my tour. "Do you know something I don't know?", I asked. He said he had heard there were pre-evac calls. So now I am in a hurry to get home, and the "pre-evac" call comes a few minutes after Jim's. The call says to prepare for possible evacuation. What the HELL does THAT mean?

 It turns out it means a lot of different things to different people. To me if meant trying to figure out on the way home what I absolutely would be screwed if I lost. When I got home, adrenaline pumping, I grabbed a bunch of files from my file cabinet (financial stuff, stuff I'd written long ago, my REAL birth certificate) and threw the in a suitcase and put that in the car. Then I took pictures of everything in the house. Then, I had a sandwich while I tried to think of what else, other than some clothes, I had to take if I had to go. Sad thing, or maybe happy thing, is that I just don't have that much stuff I can't replace. Some of my neighbors, by the way, either grabbed all their stuff and left, or loaded their cars and had them parked, facing out, ready to go.

So, now it's about 7:30, I've done all I can think to do without a real evacuation order and......what? I thought I'd relax and watch some TV, like maybe CH 7 in Denver which had switched to full-time coverage of "Colorado Burning", dumping their regular programming. And what do I see trying to "relax"? A bit about the fire near my house, but nothing new. Mostly they are showing bunch of horrible video of the Waldo Canyon fire that now threatened to burn Colorado Springs and had caused evacuation of the Air Force Academy. And the tale of how that fire got whipped from small to disastrous in just minutes. Oh, and every ten minutes they cut to the weather guy, who to me is saying "It will never, ever, rain again in Colorado, high winds are coming, and we are all doomed". Thinking back on it, there is a good chance that is not what he actually said, but that's what I heard. But it was all very relaxing!

 The other form of entertainment was standing outside on the street with my neighbors and staring up at the mountains, looking to see if there are any flames on this side of it, and cheering on the slurry bombers. There were. Near the top, but still, remember the weather report said wind and no rain. We were doomed!

 And that's what I learned from the fire....that it is impossible to relax when you think that you may have to run from your home at any minute. Even though logic told me that the fire was on the other side of the mountain, and we had watched the slurry bombers laying fire retardant on our side of the mountain, and any fire would have to go through a lot of sprinkler systems to get to my house, I could not relax. I did fall asleep, mostly because my adrenaline rush finally wore off. But then I woke up in the middle of the night and looked out my window at the mountain, where I could see flames.

In the history of Colorado wildfires, this 300 acre fire is nothing. But it freaked us out here in Shanahan Ridge like our pants were on fire. Which makes me really feel for the people who live in areas where fire has actually attacked. Imagine the weeks of this some people have to live through. It also gave me even more respect for my friends Dave and Maggie, who run the murder mystery company I work for. When the area of the mountains west of Boulder was on fire in September of 2010, they not only kept their shit together, but they managed to grab all the stuff that the murder company would need to do the show we were scheduled for at the Boulderado that Friday. And they were sure their house was on fire when they left. When they called me on Wednesday after they had been evacuated to ask for my help in making copies of something for the script, I was shocked that the show would go on. Hearty folks, those mountain people.

Later this week I hope to write a bit more about how bad the fire threat is, why, and how unprepared we are for this. There has been a lot of good stuff written in the Denver Post about it recently. But now, with smoke no longer rising over the mountain, I think I'll relax.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Political Ads Appeal to our Lazy Brains

Sometimes, a bunch of stuff from different sources comes together in my brain. My "slow" brain, that is. I recently started reading "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, which is based on the idea of two types of thinking which he calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 operates quickly and automatically, with very little effort on the part of the thinker. You see a guy in a red shirt and your brain goes "red shirt" without much thought. Or you can add 2+2. System 2 gets involved to in more in-depth thinking and problem solving. It requires more effort and concentration. If you had to multiply 123x456 in your head, you need system 2. There is some interesting research in his book about what happens when the two different systems are at work that is far too extensive to go into here. But one thing that is interesting is that the two systems arrive often arrive at different answers. A popular example is solving this problem:
A boy buys a bat and ball for a total of $1.10. The bat cost $1 more than the ball. What did the ball cost?
If I made you answer that in 2 seconds, there is a good chance you answer it with system 1 and say "10 cents". However, if I give you a minute to think about it, and you are not too lazy to use system 2 to think about it, you will come up with the correct answer of 5 cents. Some people, however, would be too lazy to bother to switch on system 2, and stick with the wrong answer. Last night I was reading "TF&S" right after watching Jeopardy, during which I was bombarded at every break with ads from Obama and Romney providing conflicting, shallow and misleading information about Romney's performance as Gov. of Mass, during which I posted on Facebook about how they must assume we are idiots. As I read, what goes on with political advertising became apparent, and was reinforced this morning when I read Director Brooks Jackson's piece "Why the Truth Still Matters". Political ads are designed to work on System 1. Almost all political ads take selected facts about a candidate and make those appear as if that is the candidate's entire story. Okay, those are the closest to honest ones. Others, mostly being run now by the Superpacs, take things completely out of context, or just outright lie. Either way, the 20 second ad that says "Romney, job creator", which during Jeopardy in this swing state is followed by "Romney, job destroyer" are trying to plant that connection in your head, and assume you will not apply system 2 thought to the situation and actually think about what was said. And they definitely assume you are too lazy to look up the real facts. I guess there is nothing surprising about that, except that when it happens when I'm watching Jeopardy I really have to wonder who is placing the ads. The whole point of the game is to get your system 2 brain operating at full capacity and full speed. It is not a system 1 type of show. So, why are they wasting their money insulting those of us who enjoy the brain exercise of Jeopardy with their ads. Do they really think Jeopardy watchers are so dumb and lazy they will buy this bullshit? Or do they just have so much money to spend they need to put ads somewhere? Maybe I am just exhausted from living in a swing state all these years. Those of you who live in safe states, consider yourself lucky, even if your guy is going to lose in your state. At least you don't get this constant barrage of crap that makes you hate Democracy by November! Meanwhile, I am looking forward to finishing the book, and maybe it will explain how Jeopardy contestants are able to think the way they do. Or maybe former Jeopardy contestant Budd Bailey can explain it to us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vacationing in Louisville?

Everyone knows that America's great vacation spots are the Grand Canyon, Disney, and Louisville,KY! Ok, most folks wouldn't have the last one on the list, and maybe the last 2. I am not going to defend Disney, but I was recently in Louisville and had a great time. Doing what? Well, for starters there is Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, and one of the last race tracks in America that is kept in decent shape and appears to have people attending it. If you like sports and alcohol, and who doesn't, then you know that having a mint julep at Churchill Downs is one of those things you JUST GOTTA DO! Cashing a winning ticket would have been nice too, but I'll have to go back for that pleasure.
But the fun in Louisville does not end there. Anyone who played baseball at all has swung a Louisville Slugger, and they still make all their wooden bats in a brick factory in downtown Louisville. And you can take a tour right through the actual working factory. You can also go into their batting cage and swing the same bats they make for major leaguers. Funny, they don't seem to get the same results when operated by mere mortals, but the man who runs the batting cage is polite and manages to avoid least he did until we left! Just around the corner from the bat factory is the Muhammed Ali Center. This might have been worth the trip to Louisville by itself. It is a multi-media experience guiding you through the life of probably the most interesting and influential athlete of the 20th century (Jackie Robinson would be the only other person in that conversation!). From Ali's early life in Louisville, to his boxing prowess, his conversion to Islam, legal troubles, and classic fights, you could easily spend the whole day in there. They even have Ali's Rolls Royce. And you can shadow box with The Greatest. In fact, my friend Art has a picture of me cowering as Ali's shadow pummels me. This is an outstanding tribute to an amazing man. Not far from Louisville is the state capital of Frankfort, which is also right in the heart of Bourbon Country. We only had time to visit one distillery, Buffalo Trace. We got a great tour, and got to sample some excellent whiskey. And our tour guide actually said "new fangled"! Did you know it is all just crappy white moonshine until it has been aged in the barrels? Unfortunately, we did not get to sample any of their Pappy Van Winkle's brand, which is very rare and sells for over $500 on Ebay. Ok, you might now say, Louisville sounds cool, but what the hell were you doing there? Well, every couple years I do a "Boys Trip" with my 3 best friends from college, Art, Steve and Gordon. And Art is now President of a company that owns a very successful minor league baseball team in Dayton,OH that he has been telling us we have to visit. We figured we wouldn't find much to do in Dayton other than that, so we went to Louisville first. Then, we drove north and were treated like royalty by the nice folks at Fifth Third Park in Dayton. It is a damn shame that the Reds have sent none of their best prospects to become Dayton Dragons this year, because the folks who work for the team, and the fans who sell out the park every night deserve better than the players we saw, who are likely to be selling Lady Kenmores pretty soon. The only disappointment was that we didn't get the chance to stick a Reds game in the agenda. They were out of town. Oh well, maybe that will be an excuse for a future Boys Trip.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I must be old because I listen to podcasts instead of music.

If you see me at the gym, or on my bike, I will probably have headphones in my ears. You might expect I'm listening to the Allman Brothers, or Coltrane, or Lady Gaga, but I'm probably not (DEFINITELY NOT Lady Gaga!). I'm probably listening to a podcast of some kind. I have found a bunch of podcasts that are either entertaining, informative, or both, and I thought I would share them with you.

Let's start with the NPR stuff. Chances are you are already familiar with "This American Life", "Car Talk", and "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me". I used to try to plan my weekends around listening to "Car Talk", but now I don't have to. You can download the latest show from each of these on the Monday following the weekend.

As if having NPR podcasts on my MP3 is not geeky enough, I listen to several real nerdfests. The authors of "Freakonomics" have turned their books into a multi-media empire. About once a month they do an hour-long show, and have shorter pieces in between. But they can't come close in econ-geekiness to "Econtalk". Each week George Mason U. economist Russ Roberts hosts a chat with another economist. Despite being a Hayek-utopian, Roberts is a great host, in that he makes sure that his guests speak in a language anyone can understand, and when he disagrees with them he does so politely and asks them to explain themselves like a gentleman. He is the anti-Bill O'Reilly.

The geekdom does not end there. English economist Tim Harford does a podcast called "More or Less", where he actually looks at the numbers behind things that people believe are true. And for real science, as opposed the the dismal kind, I enjoy "Radiolab". Their work often appears on various NPR shows, but you can find hour-long shows about science and discovery, along with "shorts" on an irregular basis from these wise guys.

If you asked questions at Sunday School that made the teacher squirm, you might be interested in "Free Thought Radio", from the fine people at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who are devoted to the separation of church and state. A more entertaining Athiest, and a newcomer to podcasting is Penn Jilette, of Penn and Teller, who does a show each Sunday called "Penn's Sunday School". And the great Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame, does a show called "Le Show" each Sunday. He's not an Athiest, or if he is he doesn't say, but he does ask a lot of difficult questions about stuff going on in the world.

Finally, there is "WTF with Marc Maron". Maron usually interviews other comedians. Since becoming a professional comedian is a really hard route to take in life, his guests usually have some very funny, or maybe horrifying, stories about their lives to tell, and do so in an amusing way.

There you have some suggestions of ways to be entertained and informed when your hands and eyes are occupied. Check them out. And let me know if I'm missing anything good. I'm going out in the yard to pull dandelions and listen to Econtalk.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Troubles me about the Treyvon Martin Case

Last November I was visiting my sister at her condo in Florida, and one day we were at the pool sharing the Tampa Tribune. Being old people, we had purchased the print version or the newspaper. At one point she hands me the local news section of the paper, and I said "I'm not all that interested in local news here". "Oh, you should read this. You are in Florida, and there is always something really crazy in the local news" she replied.

The killing of Treyvon Martin has now become another out of control news story, with the usual bloviators from the right and left trying to convict either Zimmerman for murder or Martin for....well, I guess the argument is that he was no angel because he's been in trouble at school, and therefore it was OK for him to get stalked and killed.

There are 2 things about this case that really trouble me. The first is the "Stand Your Ground" law that Florida passed in 2005 making this entire controversy possible. No surprise that the NRA, whose motto is "America is safer when we all shoot each other", was behind getting this law passed. It states that you needn't retreat before using force if you feel your life is threatened. It was sold as allowing victims of domestic violence to fight back, or shoot, when they are threatened, instead of having to run.

Now, I am all for shooting anyone engaged in domestic violence, but the Martin case shows the unintended consequences of this law. And, it raises the question "Where is the line for feeling threatened?". Can you shoot someone who looks at you funny on the street? How about if they look scary and they cross the street and are now on your side of the street walking towards you? Surely, you might feel your life is in danger, so fire away! And say you are frightened of people of other races. Can you just hunt one down and kill him for being in your neighborhood? The Sanford police say yes. Just open fire, say self defense, and the cops will buy it, and you won't even have to stand trial. That bothers me.

Which brings me to the other problem with this, more specific to this case. Even if Zimmerman's story is true, which may not be the case, he still caused this altercation. Martin was walking down the street. There is no indication he was looking for any trouble until he became upset at Zimmerman following him. And Zimmerman did exactly the opposite of what the 911 people told him to do. Yet, the police just buy his self-defense story? Seems he should have received a lot more scrutiny, considering he had ignored police orders.

Which brings me to this question: What if Martin had also had a gun, and he had decided his life was in danger because this white guy was stalking him? He is in the south, where white guys have been known to kill black guys for being black, so not really a stretch. So, if Martin had shot Zimmerman and said "this white guy was following me and I thought he would tie me to his car and drag me to death", would he have gotten the same free pass from the cops? I am guessing not.

The real crime in this case is the Florida law, and the NRA is the criminal. My guess is the right wing nuts are so desperate to make Martin look like some kind of evildoer to divert attention from their beloved promotion of gun violence. These are, after all, the same people who think having guns in bars is a good policy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Who is swayed by a robocall?

There you are, cold brew in one hand, remote in the other, switching between the hockey game, the basketball game and Dancing With the Stars when your phone rings. You drop the remote (always save your beer!) and answer it, to hear an obviously recorded voice say "Hi, this is Mr. Personwethinkyourespect, and we'd like you know that Glenn Locke is in favor of skinning live puppies, and you should vote for Budd Bailey in the coming election. Budd Bailey does not skin live puppies". Your reaction to that call, of course, is to say "Well, that does it. I was going to vote Locke, but now I'm voting for Bailey". And Bailey wins the election over the clearly more qualified and better looking candidate. Right?

Not likely. If you have Caller ID, you likely didn't recognize the number and didn't pick up. Or, if you did answer, you probably hung up the minute you recognized that it was a recording and not your lawyer calling with the results of that paternity test. And if you did listen to the message, your response was probably "What kind of an idiot does Bailey think I am. That bastard! I almost spilled my beer".

The other day I heard someone discussing the GOP primaries, and there was talk about Romney and his PACs using his money to bombard voters with ads and robocalls. I thought "what kind of moron responds to a robocall?". So, I googled robocalls in a couple of ways, looking for some evidence that they work. What I seem to have found is that the limited amount of science done on this (if you are a Republican, science is where you do research to find out what the facts are) show that robocalls either seldom, or never work. Now that I am writing this, I will look to see what the impact of negative political ads are.

So, if the research shows they don't work, why the hell would a politician waste his scarce resource on robocalls? Are they too stupid to read the research? They are politicians and therefore not in touch with too many actual facts, so I guess that is possible. Certainly, robocalls are pretty cheap. But cheap is still expensive if it doesn't help your cause, or, as with me, makes me less likely to vote your way. Is paying to insult the intelligence of voters really a good idea? If anyone knows a politico who can answer this, please have them, make the email me. Because the Stanley Cup playoffs are starting soon, and I won't be putting down my beer or remote until they are over!

Full disclosure,by the way, I used to be in the telemarketing business. I worked for 2 different telemarketing companies from 1984-1993. Didn't make the calls, I just pimped for the people who did. And yes, we used people. We actually investigated robocalling with some of our clients, but they were concerned about offending their customers. Needless to say, none of my former clients are running for President.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some things on my mind.

POLLS I saw a poll today from Pew that said Obama would kick Romney or Santorums butt by double digits in a general election, and that his approval rating was 56%. Previous polls this week said his approval was dropping, and a general election would be close. Meahwhile, Nate Silver, who was pretty damn accutate about the 2008 election, and now can be found at his 538 Blog at the NY Times, didn't have Santorum winning either MS or AL last night. What gives?

Well, unlike most other things, technology is ruining, not improving, polling. First, many people no longer have land lines,which makes them hard to reach. Or, they have caller ID which makes them hard to reach. And people are too damn busy to answer a bunch of poll questions. I believe that leaves pollsters with lonely old ladies to talk to. It is actually amazing that these guys are even close. Getting a representative sample of the voting population has to be damn near impossible today.

Silver, by the way, is not a pollster, but an aggregator. He takes the data from all the polling sources and combines them, with adjustment for timing and bias. This idea seems to make sense, as he is using thousands of responses, instead of 1000 or fewer an individual poll would have. But he is having a hell of a time getting the primaries right. Meanwhile, every poll is reported by all the news sources because.....well, they need something to talk about.

Can't anyone just say "I have no idea what is going to happen"?

GAS PRICES: Okay first, quit your fucking whining you spoiled Americans! You have the cheapest gas by far in the developed world. Second, there is little the President, either Obama or the guys who want to replace him, can do about the price. And if you throw out the things that are just plain stupid to do, like a price ceiling or emptying the strategic reserve, there is nothing.

Gas prices have gone up because world oil prices have gone up. World oil prices have gone up because of increased world demand, and because of political unrest in the Middle East. Drilling every possible well in the US won't solve the problem, and won't even help in the short run.

And for the GOP "Drill Baby Drill" idiots, here is a fact you don't want to admit: US oil production is higher now than when Obama became President, not less. And another question for the GOP presidential candidates: What will the price of gas be after you start that war with Iran that you are itching for?

NCAA HOOP March Madness is here, and it leaves me with a dilemma similar to my feelings about XMAS. I love the tourney, hate the NCAA. It is a monopoly and should be illegal. It has a set of rules that rival the US tax code in complexity and lack of good sense. And the idea that the players not only don't get paid, but that their images are used to make money for others is outrageous, if not just plain criminal.

So that means I will ignore the Big Dance for moral reasons, right? No, I will be heading to the sports bar for lunch tomorrow and Friday to watch 4 games at once. But I'll feel dirty doing it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What Do Economist Think About That?

Oscar Wilde once said "If you laid all the Economists in the world from head to toe, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion". I am not going to get into which economists Wilde may have been interested in laying,although Keynes was known to play for Wilde's team at times, if you know what I mean. What I am going to do is show you a place where you can find what an assortment of academic economists from the country's better universities think about various subjects in public policy.

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which has produced many great minds, such as those of Art Matin and Steve Ross, has a project called the Initiative on Global Markets, or IGM Forum for short. They have assembled a panel of Economists who blog about various subjects. They also regularly poll the panel on various subjects of public policy. You can find their web site HERE. If you go to the tab that says Economics Experts Panel you will find a list of questions, and the data on whether this group agrees or disagrees with a statement. Below that you can see how each member voted, and some often amusing comments.

Bored yet? Yes, I'm an Econ geek but I found this fascinating. I think if Mr. Wilde were around today he would find it surprising, as these folks seem to be in agreement on a lot of topics. They hate the idea of returning to the gold standard, and they hate the war on drugs. They think China is keeping it's currency undervalued. They think taxing things that we'd like less of, like traffic congestion and carbon, is a far better way to approach the problem than a bunch of rules. In fact, there are few things on the list on which there was a great deal of disagreement. Too bad Hakek and Keynes aren't alive to create a lively argument.

The panel they have seems to fairly represent the conservative schools like Chicago and Stanford, and the liberal ones like Harvard. It's a small but distinguished group.

The question now is, why are you still reading this. I gave you a link to a fabulous source of interesting information. Go check it out. It may change the way you think about things.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Fun With Mormons

Everyone but Newt Gingrich knows that Mitt Romney is going to win the GOP nomination, despite the endorsement of Trump (can Obama get any better news?). Which means that we will hear a lot of discussion over the next 8 months about whether Mormons are Christian enough to be considered real Christians by the real Christians, you know, the ones who love Jesus but ignore everything he said. In other words, the Republican base.

As you probably know, I am an athiest. So, you are probably now expecting me to make fun of Mormons for their funny underwear and other beliefs. And, of course, it's all silly, but I can do that about any religion. And if you are Christian, you know that is not what Jesus would do, so why would you want me to?

No, I am going to tell you about my first encounter with Mormons.

Growing up and living in the Northeast until I was 37, I never had much exposure to Mormons. I knew they didn't drink or swear, 2 things at which I have always excelled. So, I had a negative image of Mormons as a bunch of stuffy, unfun, boring people. Certainly not the kind of people I could hang out with, or have fun with. You know, like Mitt Romney.

In 1989 my college friends Art, Steve, Gordon and I went on a rafting trip on the Salmon river in Idaho. I will leave out the details about how awesome and life-changing this trip was for me, but, well, it was awesome and life-changing.

None of our group had spent any time around Mormons, and I think it is safe to say that my friends had the same image of them that I did. And, when we booked this trip, we had no idea that the company was owned by a Mormon named Verle, and that 3 of our 4 guides would be Mormon college students. So, here we find ourselves on this trip with the owner, 3 Mormon guides, one of the guides Mormon Mom, and another woman who was also of their tribe. Nightmare right?

No, it was not. The Mormons on this trip were FUN!!! We had 5 fantastic days on the river with these people. And we drank beer and smoked pot at night, and invented new ways to combine obscenities when we fell out of the boat in a rapid. But the Mormons were cool about the whole thing. More than cool, they were fun. Good guys. We all got along great. At one point, the mom was undecided about whether or not she should hop out of the boat to cool off in a calm part of the river. So I just pushed her in. That night we had a "talent" show, and she asked me to help her tell a story. I quickly discovered she wanted my "help" as a way of pummeling me and getting revenge for pushing her in. Pretty cool!

Does that mean I will vote for Mitt? No, it doesn't. But there is a lesson in there for all of us. Don't judge a whole group of people based on your own ignorance. People are people. Some are nice, some aren't. No matter what else they are.

And now you are probably wondering if the Mormon guides wore their special Mormon underwear on the river. Sorry, some secrets can not be revealed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Rooting for QB's Shows Our Biases

With the Superbowl approaching (I predict a Giants win, although I will root for the Pats)and Tebow fever cooled off a bit, I've been thinking about how my own biases shade the conclusions I draw about QB's, and how this spills into how people see the world.

Back in the late 20th century, the Buffalo Bills had an unconventional QB named Doug Flutie, who had been a legend in college, but was judged by the football establishment to not be suitable for the NFL. So, he had gone to the CFL and kicked ass for a few years, then was signed as a backup by the Bills. The Bills starter was Rob Johnson, big, strongarmed, the prototype of what an NFL QB should be. Only, the Bills started out horribly, in large part because Johnson was not smart enough to play QB in the NFL. When his slow brain caused him to get sacked enough times that he became injured, in came Flutie, and the Bills started winning. For the next 2 years there was a controversy between Flutie, who was too short and didn't have the arm, and Johnson, who looked like a QB but sucked.

Being a short person myself, I was always on the side of Flutie, and certainly the wins and losses of the 2 QB's made it clear he was the better player. So, I overlooked many of his deficiencies. I still have a box of Flutie Flakes. And, while I still believe he was the better of the 2 QB's, that is not saying much, as Johnson never lived up to expectations. Clearly though, my reaction to Flutie was in part due to my identifying with him as a little guy.

This season in Denver, and unconventional QB took over a strugging team and they started winning, just like the Bills did under Flutie. But Tebow is a demonstrative Christian who prays when he scores, and I am an athiest sickened when athletes praise God when they win. (Kudos, though, to Stevie Johnson for blaming God when he dropped a pass last year. Based on his play this year, God must still be pissed at him).

So, what did I see when I watched Tebow. A guy who threw funny, who couldn't find an open guy, who missed open recievers by so much that his passes couldn't even be intercepted. The Broncos won because their D had suddenly become airtight, keeping the team in the game while Tebow sucked until he could pull off a 4th quarter miracle. Meanwhile, a lot of other people saw a winner, a great leader, a super hero inspired by God.

While I don't think Tebow will have much of a career in the NFL, I will certainly admit that my opinion is somewhat shaded by my dislike of on field praying. Am I more likely to see the weaknesses in Tebow than I was in Flutie? You betcha. I could tell you to just look at Tebow's stats and you'll see that he sucks. And it's true, except that W-L stat, that says he's a winner.

The problem with the world is that this is how we look at all sorts of things that are way more important than football (yes, there are some things!). If you are a conservative, you look at our struggling economy and say that it hasn't recovered because the stimulus made it worse. If you Paul Krugman, you say the stimulus kept us out of another Great Depression, and should have been bigger. And both sides have educated people who can make rational arguments for their opinion. How they see it is shaded by their bias.

I try to be fair and look for truth, but I have biases. In the interest of fairness, I encourage you to watch the Keynes-Hayek rap, and tell me both Economists don't make sense.