Monday, December 28, 2009

In case you didn't get what you want for xmas....

Did you get socks and underwear for xmas, but not the really interesting books you wanted to cuddle up with during the cold months? Hoping to read about British Beheadings, manly ways to use feminine hygiene products, or why you vomit? Wishing that could learn more about The Beverly Hillbilies relationship to the bible, natural breast enhancement with mind power, and how to fart proudly? Well then, you need to check out the WEIRD BOOK ROOM. Books on those topics and more. Check it out!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Stress Reduction......kill a snowman!

Got an email from an old friend from high school, Pete Mitchell, who sent along THIS LINK TO CERTAIN HOLIDAY STRESS REDUCTION!

Merry Whatever.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Finally, My Xmas Poem

So they keep moving the last day of school back a few days every year, and I now teach 4 classes a semester, and .......oh, enough with the excuses. I had trouble getting this one together. Hope you enjoy it anyway.
“THE NIGHT BEFORE XMAS” told by someone named Rudolph

Twas the night before Xmas in my dull little town
By the chimney I waited for him to come down
I watched out the window in hope I'd be spotting
The arrival for which so long I'd been plotting
The outfit I wore was designed to be right
To give me success on this fateful night
And nearby and ready I'd laid out my gear
Expecting St. Nicholas soon would be here.

When what in the sky as I'd hoped, should I spy
But 8 smelly reindeer and one big fat guy
Coming with toys on his annual gig
That all over the world had made his name big
But this year Santa's would not be the sole name
That on this night would have worldwide fame
I'd been working for months on my cunning plan
To become as well know as the jolly fat man.

In a flash there came from the chimney a boom
And there was old Santa, right in my room
With his silly red suit, black boots and big gut
He laughed like he was some kind of nut
But his laugh stopped abruptly though his ZZ Top beard
When he got sight of what for him I'd prepared.
My furry brown suit and and well crafted rack
of antlers had seemed to take him aback
His look told me clearly that surprised Santa was
He pointed and said “What is this mishegas?”

I replied “Welcome Santa, glad you are here
For you're giving me a really great gift this year
I'm wearing this suit instead of my pants
because I'll be flying with your ruminants
I've glued this red light on to my nose
To guide you tonight as off your sled goes
this may sound like a crazy way to behave
But to me it will bring the renown I so crave
I'm one of those folks who'll do stuff that should shame us
All in the hope of becoming famous”

Santa just shook his head “Oy, what a putz,
the third time tonight I've had one of you nuts
willing to do something amazingly dumb
Thinking that his chance at fame will now come.
Maybe I'm backward, but I still believe
In getting acclaim for what you achieve

I said “You don't understand, I'm sad as can be
I have yet to secure my own show on TV
Sure I have no talent, but that doesn't tame
My need to attain a great level of fame
And as for talent, well there is no need
when I can get by on chutzpah and greed.
For look at the people around who have shown
You can be famous for being well known
So fame I shall have, just wait and see
I'll be on “Extra” and “TMZ”
My flying with you surely will bring me
A reality show on Bravo or E
Or maybe a talk show, cuz, what the heck
You don't need to be smart, just look at Glenn Beck
No I have no skills, I can't dance or sing
But by Monday I will be guesting on Larry King.”

Santa shook his white head and said “Tish Tish tish
Is this for Christmas what you really wish?”
And he reached in his bag for a pipe made of lead
And with one mighty swing, cracked open my head.
His face filled with rage as I fell to the floor
“I won't help you become a media whore”
And he picked up his foot and I thought “Egads”
As his black boot came crushing down on my nads

“You have no talent but lots of nerve
So you just got for Christmas what you deserve
Balloon Boy, the gatecrashers and Joe the Plumber
And all of the ilk who are even dumber
Have made you believe fame and the big buck
Can be gotten by folks who at everything suck
If you think being famous is really the goods
Think about all that it brought to old Tiger Woods”.
As his sled rose away while I lay there in pain
He yelled “maybe next year I should bring you a brain!”.

Oh, my failure with Santa may to you seem funny
But wait til you see me with the Easter Bunny.

Merry Christmas, or Whatever, to all, and may you not spend your holidays sleeping on a bench in an airport like I did last year.

If you didn't think health care is complex.....

One of the problems with fixing our health care system is that health care is so complex, and what individuals do has an effect on everyone else. As busy Americans, we want the problem solved in some nice little sound bite we can understand. Since that is not possible, we tend to believe any crazy thing we hear or are told, because, well, it just might kill us.

Which gets back to the sentence on the title of this post. If you don't think health care is complex, then you need to read THIS ECONOMIST'S TAKE ON MAMMOGRAMS!.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I didn't write the Tiger Woods thing

Several folks have emailed me a version of "The Night Before Xmas" about the travails of a certain golf pro. I didn't write it. It was no where near up to my standards. It didn't really have a story, and it had no Yiddish whatsoever, and no violent acts involving Santa.

My poem will be up by Monday morning. In the meantime, in honor of the death earlier this year of The King of Pop, HERE is one I wrote about him back in 1996.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dave Barry Fights Dead Weight Loss

I wrote recently about the dead weight loss of Christmas, the economic loss caused by buying people gifts that they don't want. Fortunately for those of us hoping to avoid that economic phenomenon, Dave Barry is out with his annual Gift Guide. I am sure everyone on your list can be made happy with one of these fabulous gifts. In fact, they'll wonder how they ever lived this long without the Nose Shower Gel Dispenser.

My own annual bit of xmas writing will be out in about a week. In the meantime, re-read last years.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger and the Gate Crashers

This week's two big news stories that have no important effect on anyone's lives show a very interesting contrast. On the one hand you have Tiger Woods, who is desperately trying to keep some part of his life private after becoming extremely famous for being extremely talented. On the other hand you have the Salahi's, who apparently have never done a worthwhile thing in their lives but are desperate to become famous.

I guess the grass is always greener. Tiger has been famous most of his life, and is probably jealous of the rest of us, what with our ability to go wherever we want without anyone getting excited. Of course, he hasn't exactly turned down the money that came with that fame. The Salahis likely see the money that fame can bring, and how many other people with no talent have become rich and famous. So, why not them? Personally, I think I would like Tiger's money with exactly the amount of fame I have right now.

Harry Shearer had a good idea for how the media should treat posers like the Salahis on his radio show "Le Show": Give them the fame they want, in big hairy OJ Simpson-like doses, with helicopters over their house 24/7 and paparrazzi in the bushes. Maybe they should have checked with The Balloon Boy's family about how much fun and profit fame can bring, when it comes as a result of just being an idiot. But then, it has worked out well for Joe the Plumber, I guess.

Here's an even better idea for the media than Harry's: Why not stick to covering news that really matters, instead of crap that sells. This couple gets more ink than health care reform, and we'll all be dying with no insurance long after these jerk are no longer flavor-of-the-week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GM's Board Starts to get it.

About 4 years ago a former student who was at CU business school had a paper to write about what GM should do to become profitable in the future. My response was that they needed to re-think everything they do. In order to do that, I suggested doing what IBM did in the early 90's: Get a CEO from outside the industry who will not be tied to the old ways.

When the government took over GM, then had CEO Rick Waggoner fired earlier this year, a many people were upset that they should let this veteran leave, that they needed his experience to get out of their hole. What they needed is more of what they did yesterday, which was to dump their new CEO for being too tied to the old GM.

We are all stockholders in GM now, so we need to pay attention to what goes on there. Keeping guys with 25 or 30 years of leading GM into the crap company it became could hardly be a good idea. GM lacked imagination, vision, commitment to quality, engineering expertise, innovation......pretty much anything that makes a company successful. They were good at putting cupholders in their crap cars. And I guess ONStar is a good idea.

GM has tried to survive by fighting progress and the idea of competition. Getting rid of it's old baggage is a good start. Notre Dame would have had a better excuse for keeping Charlie Weis.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fun Thing to do on Sunday

Here is a fun thing to do today after watching the Arsenal-Chelsea derby:

1) Read Nicholas Kristoff's column in today's NYTimes HERE
2) Explain how a wealthy, supposedly moral society would let things like this happen
3) Explain how the Republicans, who claim to be the party of morality, can consistently resist any changes to a health care system that allows this to happen.
4) Look forward to tomorrow night's Pats-Saints game....hey, we can't suffer all the time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Something Good for Xmas

Amid all the shopping, commercialism, bad music, schmaltz, fakery (Jesus was almost certainly born in the summer, just to begin with) and other horrible things that will take place, there is reason for hope.

For those of your near Boulder, there is the Boulder Ensemble Theater's production of "SantaLand Diaries", based on a story by the hilarious writer David Sedaris, and starring my old murder mystery co-star Geoffrey Kent. If you are familiar at all with Sedaris' work, you know this has got to be funny. For info go HERE.

And for the really geeky among you, the gang at Rifftrax, the guys who used to do the wickedly funny "Mystery Science Theater 3000", are doing a live Xmas show that is being simulcast to a movie theater near you. They will be abusing a variety of short xmas films on Dec. 16, with an encore available the following night. Check it out HERE.

And, for those of you who will be trampled while shopping on Friday, driven crazy by your family, have to fly through Chicago, or will suffer many of the other horrors of the season, enjoy the video below.

McGuckin's, the World's Greatest Hardware Store

I am the Buffalo Bills of home improvement.....incompetent, without a clue, and unwilling to pay the big bucks for top notch talent. So, when little things go wrong around my house I tend to let them go until they really annoy me, then finally suck it up and try to fix them. The latest case is my downstairs toilet, which apparently does not realize it lives in a semi-arid climate because it will not stop running water.

When it is time to fix something, I don't go to Home Depot or any other chain store, because along with being a place of great beauty and deep thought, Boulder has the World's Greatest Hardware Store, McGuckin Hardware. What makes it so great? Easy. They have an army of green-smocked "Als" (you know, from "Home Improvement") roaming the store, happy to help a moron like me. They send you home with the right stuff, and instructions on how to use it. It may cost a bit more than HD, but the advice is priceless. And, since they give you what you need, they save you time and money.

When I went in yesterday to find a correction to my toilet problem, I was expecting I would end up replacing the innards of the toilet for about $15. But when I explained my toilet issue to "Al", he asked in what way it kept running, then sent me home with a $2 plastic part that has fixed the problem. Maybe I could have gotten that part for $1.50 at HD, but I would never have known. So, "Al" saved me $13 and a much harder job. And, he had showed me exactly how to open the top of the device and where to put the part.

A Home Depot opened not far from McGuckin,s a few years ago. I am sure it is hurting them financially. But it would be a shame to see this level of customer service disappear. If you can even find anyone working in a Home Depot it is usually a kid who started last week. So, I am encouraging all my readers, both of you, to go to McGuckin,s and do all your XMas shopping this season, or to THEIR WEB SITE. If they go under, I will surely die when my house collapses!

I hope my Mom enjoys the 3-speed power drill she gets this year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2 Funny Pictures

As I mentioned earlier, I was in a play that had a short run that finished last week. Set in 1915, I played a bad lawyer who screws up the murder case of union organizer Joe Hill. With me in the photo above is Juan, who, although being 22 and Mexican, bravely plays 13 year old Martin Henderson in the play. They gave him the blond wig in an effort to make him look young and Anglo. We couldn't decide which of us look sillier, so you can decide for yourself.

On a totally related note, enjoy this picture of how Americans view the world, courtesy of Barry Ritholtz's blog.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You NEED to watch this!!!

In case youmissed 60 minutes last night, you need to watch this report about the money spent in the last months of peoples' lives. Kudos to Steve Kroft et at for discussing the uncomfortable question of the outrageous amounts of taxpayer money spent, with no question, on people who are almost certain to die within months. Truly scary, and a problem no one wants to deal with, but we MUST in order not to bankrupt the country.

The idiots who oppose health care reform will claim that nothing is being done about cost controls, then yell "DEATH PANELS" when this is brought up. We need to get our heads out of our asses and address these problems today!!!

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Dead Weight Loss of Xmas

Ever get a Christmas gift you hated? Of course you have. Would you have spent that money differently if given the cash instead of the gift? Hell yes! Therefore, gift giving creates what economists call a "dead weight loss".....a loss of welfare based on the fact that money is spent on things people don't want.

I didn't think of this myself. It is the idea of an economist named Joel Waldfogel. He first published his paper on the subject in 1993, and you can read the whole thing HERE if you are so inclined. Waldfogel has now published a book on the subject, called, appropriately "Scroogenomics: Why you shouldn't buy presents for the Holidays".

Hey, they don't call Economics "the dismal science" for nothing! Try giving a handful of bills to your wife or girlfriend and using this to explain that is actually MORE thoughtful than jewelry or a fur......and let us all know how that goes for you, if you are still alive! As if Christmas wasn't hard enough for us guys, now we have to select gifts so good there is no dead weight loss. Oy Vey!

And to my good friend Budd Bailey, whose sister is world famous for her horrible gift selection, well, I guess you can call Jane "The Queen of the Dead Weight Loss!"

More Stupidity from Texans, and other stuff.

If you didn't realize it after 8 years of George W. Bush in the White House, Texans aren't very smart. Nice people mostly, but dumber than a bag of Twizzlers. So I am amused by not surprised when I read things like THIS STORY about how Texas, in their rush to make sure they can discriminate against gays, may have actually banned any marriage in their state. If a conservative Christian Texan were on Jeopardy against a tree stump and cocker spaniel, I am pretty sure the Texan finishes third, but also brings delicious cookies for everyone.

I am currently appearing in a play for the first time ever. There is an article about it (not a review) in the Broomfield local paper. Read about it HERE. While I have been acting and performing comedy for years, this is my first appearance in something I had no hand in writing or creating. Frankly, I am not enjoying it all that much. Too much rehearsing, too little performing, and I don't get the adrenaline rush I get from improvising. The play is a good story that was not well written by the author, and thus needed a lot of editing. I still think it needs a bit more editing to be really good. I have, however, had the pleasure of working with a lot of talented actors who have done wonders with the material.

Finally, if you don't read the comments left here, take a moment now and read Fiona's comment on my previous post. She is currently teaching in Korea, and provides some interesting info on the difference between there and here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Fairer Tax System

Sometimes I have my students get in groups and discuss what should be done about income inequality. The other day one of the groups thought it wrong that policemen and teachers make so little money, and athletes so much.

Clearly, it would be wrong to regulate what an industry can pay people, and inefficient as well. But, we could use tax policy to correct the obvious fact that a police officer is doing far more for society than Lebron James.

I am calling this new tax proposal the "Locke Are You Benefiting Society Tax Code". Here's how it would work. Your tax rate would be determined by how you make your money. If you are performing a vital service to society, such as teaching, cop, serving in the military, you pay 0% income tax. As your benefit to society goes down, your tax rate goes up. Manufacture something, you pay a reasonable rate, depending on what you are making. Create a new product or service that makes our lives better, pay a low tax. However, if you are making your money scamming people, making us dumber, or selling us stuff no one should need, you are gonna be taxed bigtime! And if you are on TV just plain lying to people every night, like Glenn Beck, you can expect a 99% tax rate. Sit on your ass and collect checks from your trust fund, pay a high tax.

So, your local fireman pays no tax, as does your kids teacher. Economics, Science and Math professors pay no tax, while Women's Studies professors pay about 75%. Lawyers who defend the poor and oppressed, low tax rate. Lawyers who scare up complaints for class action suits where the lawyer is the only one who makes money, 99%. Lawyers who defend polluters, 99%, same as the polluters. Entertainers and athletes would pay a fairly high rate, depending on the quality of the entertainment they provide (Paris Hilton and the Buffalo Bills would be in a very high tax rate!).

And by what system, you might ask, would it be decided who pays what rate? Easy, it would be determined by me, your Tax Czar, a job that is vital to society and therefore has a 0% tax rate.

If there is a flaw in this idea, I certainly can't see it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

In Defense of Bill Belicek!

All the sports world is talking about what an arrogant moron Patriots' coach Bill Belicek is for going for it on 4th and 2 on his own 28 last night. And if all the sports world is in agreement, then Belicek must have been right! I believe all the sports world thought Detroit got a hell of deal by trading Chauncey Billups for Alan Iverson last year about this time.

I have written about this before (for links to data go to my previous post HERE). Statistical analysis by people who are interested in real knowledge instead of believing what everyone else does has shown that NFL coaches punt far to often. These big tough screaming guys on the sideline are really a group of frightened little girls. Belicek is one of the few who doesn't automatically do the most obvious, conservative thing. So the danger to sports fans is that all this blasting of Belicek will even further "pussify" the NFL coaching fraternity.....if that is even possible.

Perhaps, Belicek thought this: If I make the first down, the odds of win are about 95%. If I punt, Manning gets the ball with 1:57 to go at his own 30, plenty of time to score against my defense that has not stopped him this quarter. My offense should be good enough to get 2 yards (being the workaholic he is, he might even have had these odds calculated).

Sure, everyone loves beating up the arrogant "genius" coach with no personality and a few Super Bowl rings. But maybe this type of play is why he has those rings. Remember, the Pats won their first Super Bowl by marching down field and scoring from a point where most other coaches would have taken a knee and played for OT.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cool music ssite

Thanks to The Big Picture for bringing to my attention this cool site, Wolfgang's Vault. It has live music performances from a variety of artists. You can listen for free, or buy the download if you want to own it. Haven't had much time to check it out completely, but it looks pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At Least They Aren't Wearing Sequins!

This is just so sad! The NY Times has a story today about a Canadian TV show called "Battle of the Blades". It could best be described as "Ice Dancing With the Stars". In this case, it is female figure skaters doing ice-dancing routines with retired NHL players. Interestingly, 3 of the former players listed are the last players you'd expect in this type of thing.....former goons Tie Domi and Bob Probert, and the hated Claude Lemieux.

It's one thing for D-list celebrities and attention-craving jackasses like Tom Delay to appear in sequins on "Dancing With the Stars". But hockey players? It is all too sad.

The only encouraging part of the story is this line:
The women wear conventional skating costumes — skimpy and spangly — but the men, for the most part, have been spared the Spandex and satin pants, although Domi made his final appearance in a short-sleeved pink shirt.

Tie Domi in a pink shirt. I am just so glad we can't get this show in Colorado!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Health Care Reform My Ass

The health care bill in Congress right now is a giant waste of time. By the time it is watered down enough to pass the Senate, it will be an expenditure bill that will do nothing to fix the problem of out of control health care costs in this country.

There are 2 big problems with health care in this country: It costs way too much and it leaves far too many people vulnerable or completely unable to get health care. We spend 16% of GDP for health care, while the rest of the rich world spends 10% or less, and we get worse results. The folks you hear on TV telling you we have the best health care system in the world are rich and have great is a great system for them. But tell that to the estimated 700,000 Americans who go bankrupt every year because of medical bills.

The current bill, and I haven't read the whole thing, appears to spend money to cover more people, and has provisions that will make it harder for the health insurance industry to screw us. But it completely fails to attack the huge waste in administrative costs (about 25% of private health insurance dollars) or change the system in which doctors get more money for more procedures.

It is not surprising that the politicians don't have the guts to blow up the system and start over, which is what is needed. We need radical change, not a bit of fiddling that is designed not to offend anyone who is currently making their living off our warped system.

Want some good ideas on what we should do? Watch the Frontline show "Sick Around the World" at PBS.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Horrors of Canadian Health Care Exposed

Those promoting the status quo in health care, and the resulting bankruptcy of our society, often site the horrors of the "socialized" Canadian health care system.

A open letter from the Canadian Medical Journal to America exposes some of those horrors. For instance, everyone in Canada has health care coverage. There is no "government bureaucrat" between the doctor and his patient. No one goes bankrupt because they get sick. Canadians have a higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate. Those frickin' canucks must be out of their hockey-addled minds to have designed such a nightmare. You can read the whole letter HERE.

Nobody's health care system is perfect. Ours is just way less perfect than anyone elses!

Thanks to Kerry (my friend Kerry, not the Senator from Mass) for sending this along to me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Interesting stats from 2 different businesses

Why do we need health care reform? One of the many reasons is that health care insurance companies are not using our money to keep us healthy. Particularly people like me, who have to pay for their own insurance, pay out only 74% of the money they take in on patients care, according to a study by Congress. Read the whole story in the NY Times HERE.

On a completely unrelated note, the NY Times soccer blog, GOAL, reports that a new book called "Soccernomics" will do for soccer what Bill James and the "Moneyball" guys did for baseball. Must have been much harder work, considering how few stats there are in soccer compared to most other sports. But, just like the James gang, they are poking holes in long-held beliefs that just aren't true. Will it change soccer? Maybe, but remember, despite the numbers, we still see too many sacrifice bunts and speedy lead-off men with horrible on-base percentages in baseball.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Watch these 2 videos back to back

I have been showing my Macro Eco classes the CNBC documentary "House of Cards", which is an excellent show about how the credit and housing bubbles built into the crash that started last year. Two main factors: Easy credit and a belief that prices could only go up.

This morning I finally got around to watching "The Crash of 1929", which aired last Monday on PBS. Watching this after just sitting through the CNBC documentary, well, it was almost like watching the same show, except the CNBC show didn't have old photos in black and white. But the story of easy credit and blind faith is almost the same.

I recommend watching them back to back.

You can watch the PBS show HERE, and the CNBC show HERE. Enjoy the Great Recession!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

From the "Only in Boulder" Department

It isn't too rare in this town to see something strange going on around town which elicits the response "Only in Boulder". To those who think Boulder is an evil place full of commie pot-head freaks, this is a pejorative statement. But to those proud commie pot-head freaks with advanced degrees and high IQ's who live here, well, we say it proudly.

Last night I was doing a tour on the Banjo Billy bus and pulled into the parking lot at the Justice Center around 6:30. My intention was to tell my tour guests the story of William Tull, the only man ever lynched in Boulder, whose ghost haunts the path along Boulder Creek. However, I never got around to it. When we pulled in, there were about 30 people with a boom box and costumes performing the dance from Micheal Jackson's "Thriller" video. I certainly wasn't going to compete with that, so we all just enjoyed the show. Turns out they were rehearsing for their plan to perform it on Pearl St. about an hour later, which you can watch below.

I told my riders that Banjo Billy had arranged for that bit of entertainment. Maybe they believed me, because they tipped really well!

Oh, and from the "This is Colorado" department, today, 3 days after posting that snow-filled picture below, I was riding my bike in shorts. I love this place!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where is Jimmy Griffin when we need him?....and other thoughts

Some random thoughts on a snowy day in.....October?

We have received almost 2 feet of snow here in Boulder since Tuesday night, closing schools and canceling important things like Banjo Billy Bus tours (I was supposed to drive 2 today). Yesterday it snowed hard all day, which reminded me of Jimmy Griffin, Buffalo's crazy Mayor back in the 1980's. When a big blizzard hit Buffalo, Jimmy got on the TV and told everyone to "Get a couple of six packs and stay home". Can you imagine the uproar today if a public official were to say that? In fact, it was damn good advice (although, where is the beer going to come from?) and one of the more sane things "Hizzoner" ever said. He also once said that Buffalo's population had declined so much since it's peak in the 1950's because of all the abortions.

Being snowed in last night, I had the pleasure of trying to watch game 1 of the World Series, the Avalance-Flames game, and the Nuggets season opener. Made me think how this is the best time of year to be a sports fan. The Series is going, hockey has started, the NFL is in mid-season, and now the NBA. And, for those of you who care about college football, there is that too. Oh, and we have the EPL and Champions League on Fox Soccer Channel, along with the start of the MLS playoffs, for those few Americans who are fans of the World's most popular sport. This, along with my own busy life, is why I put my Netflix membership on hold in October.

There was a story in the NY Times yesterday about attempts to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California. It appears to be a serious discussion, fueled by the state's huge budget problems. If the Great Recession can get people seriously discussing this type of sensible policy, then it is worth the pain.

Those of you from Buffalo, enjoy the photo, taken moments ago from my dining room.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bloviators Backgrounds

Since, as we learned from the Balloon Boy incident, only people with their own TV shows matter at all in our society, it seemed to me a good idea to check on the backgrounds of the media blowhards on both sides who now seem to be more important in setting government policy then anyone who is actually an expert in such matters.

Being an Economics teacher, I was wondering what credentials TV's most well known talking heads have to speak about Economic issues, since, you know, they all know exactly what should be done. So, for the leading big mouths on the right and the left, here are their academic careers:
Glenn Beck: High School diploma, took one religion class at Yale.
Rush: High School Diploma, dropped out of SE Missouri State U. after one year of "failing everything".
Hannity: Dropped out of NYU and Adelphi

Olberman: BS in Communications from Cornell, which he entered when he was 16.
Rachel Maddow: Bachelors in Public Policy from Stanford.

(All info from Wikipedia)

Gee, other than Maddow, not a lot of background there for people who seem so confident on telling us what our economic policies should be. And you can see how liberals got that "elitist" label, what with them actually going to college and attending class and getting degrees. How dare they! And certainly we can believe all the conservatives when they deny that global warming is taking place, since, with their high school educations and all, they are clearly better qualified to speak on the subject then those elitist scientists with their fancy degrees and knowledge. I'm sure Rush learned just as much while flunking Ball Room Dancing.

So, the next time you here one of these talking heads telling you how to fix the economy or the environment, remember, they really don't know shit about shit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sensible talk from a former Supply Sider

If, like the George W. Bush administration, you believe that tax cuts are the way to solve all problems, you should read this article by Economist Bruce Bartlett, one of the original "Supply Side" economists. You might also read it if you don't believe that. He helped shape the tax cuts during the Reagan administration. While he doesn't say those cuts are wrong, he does make some interesting points about conservatives adopted the ideas that tax cuts would solve any problem, and that the idea of "starve the beast" was nonsense. ("starve the beast" suggested that if you kept cutting taxes, government would have to shrink. It has instead helped cause our huge deficits). He also had some positive things to say about Keynes....very surprising for a guy with his background...and the idea of TARP.

It's a bit long, but very interesting least to me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Our Murder Mystery Group in the Paper

The Boulder Daily Camera did a story on our murder mystery group yesterday, and even put some video from one of our shows at the Boulderado on Youtube. To read the story GO HERE. As for the video, I must call and thank the photographer for shooting me from a low angle, making me look even taller and thinner. Enjoy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dire Predictions, and wrong too

A week or so ago I ran into a woman named Ann, who I met back in 1995 when we both worked on the political committee responsible for passing Boulder's smoke-free restaurant law. We laughed about the dire predictions made by our opponents at the time, mostly the closing of all bars and restaurants in Boulder and the destruction of the sales tax base. Pretty laughable, particularly since, within months of the law's passage, investors started million dollar remodels of 2 downtown bars. In fact, Boulder restaurants found they could comfortably invest in making their places nicer, knowing that smokers wouldn't yellow the interior.

It got me to thinking about other dire predictions that never came true. Of course there is the original dismal scientist, Malthus, who predicted mass starvation as the population outgrew the world's food supply (he may be right some day, but probably not in this century). Then there were the conservatives who, back during the depression, were sure that Roosevelt's New Deal would lead to communism and economic destruction.....much like the Glenn Beck crowd proclaims today (I guess if you are a Beck follower you would say this has all happened already, but you would be nuts!). Sounds alot like the health care debate today.

I also seem to remember that it was certain that measures to clean up the environment would also destroy the economy. Didn't happen! Remember that one as the world debates what to do about global warming (which, contrary to the lies on Fox News, is not in doubt to half the scientist who study it, but only a few).

Since we crazy Boulder nutjobs passed our radical smoking law back in 1995, 21 states have now passed similar legislation. Oh, and the horrible results? Well, read this story from today's Denver Post to see what has happened regarding heart disease.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More about oil money.

Yesterday I spewed out a not-very-well-thought-out rant decrying the idea that oil producing nations should get compensation if a global warming agreement causes lower oil consumption. I am not the least bit sorry for using the "f-word" to suggest an appropriate reply to this idea. I am a bit sorry I did not take the time to explain why this such a criminal idea. Fortunately, it appears, based on this book review in the Economist, that Peter Maass may be doing that in a book called "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil".

Here is a fact: Countries with natural resource based economies tend to do far worse than those with more diverse economies. This is contrary to what we might reflexively think, but look at who is rich and who is poor in the world. Oil does not make a people rich, and in fact, according to Maass' book and most other studies, retards the development of the rest of the economy. Here are a few quotes from the book review, paraphrasing the book itself (I have not read this book, but hope to!)

Oil weakens the bonds between governments and people by flooding public coffers with money, removing the need for wise spending. And it rends societies, making them vulnerable to civil war

The recurring tragedy of oil is that it produces wealth but not what is needed most in poor countries: jobs. Once wells or refineries are built, they take few men to run them. So the money just pours out of the ground, much of it hauled off by foreign companies, and the rest sucked up by greedy regimes. Equatorial Guinea’s tiny population and recent oil discovery should make it one of the richer countries in the world. Its capital, Malabo, has a direct flight to Houston. Yet most of its people remain miserably poor while its cartoonish and bloodthirsty ruler gives himself a presidential Boeing 737 with gold-plated bathroom fixtures.

So, I guess what I should be wanting to say to the Saudis is....well, pretty much what I said yesterday, adding "...We'd be doing your people a favor by getting your country off it's addiction to oil money".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saudis want WHAT?

This story in today's NY Times says that the Saudis and some other oil producing countries think they deserve compensation from the rest of the world if oil consumption declines as a result of a global warming agreement. I can imagine only one sane response to this request: "GO FUCK YOURSELVES"!!!

Maybe the oil producing world could make that claim morally if, in fact, any of the billions they receive every year ended up helping the average resident. But most oil producing countries are in fact kleptocracies, where the few, well connected get rich off the oil, and the rest of the country goes poor, uneducated, unfed, and unhealthy. Very little of that money is invested in human capital, and human capital is what lifts a country from poor to rich. And I'm not even going to go into the fact that some of the oil money we send them goes into the pockets of jihadist terrorists!

So, we should say to these rich Saudi sheiks, "Fuck off you greedy, selfish, backward bastards". Not that I feel strongly about this or anything.

Calvin Trillan has the answer.

I've been a fan of writer Calvin Trillin since I heard on "Imus In The Morning" back in the early 90's. He has the kind of clever, understated, sophisticated since of humor that you seldom see any more (If you want to see it in films, watch the old "Thin Man" movies!).

In today's NY Times, Trillin has a piece speculating on what went wrong on Wall Street. The problem: Smart people started working there. Very funny, and possibly even true. Enjoy it HERE.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Committee "havin' a laugh"

As everyone knows by now, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday. This has given the mouth-breathing morons like Rush more reason to hate him, since those Nobel guys are pussy Euros who don't understand that the US was granted the power by God to tell everyone else what to do, so of course they love Obama, who, as we all know, hates America and wants to surrender to Al Queda.

However, this has left even many supporters confused. The only thing he has done to deserve this award is NOT be George W. Bush. While not being Bush is something anyone should be proud of (unless they are named Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Rove), it hardly qualifies Obama for this award. He's only been in office for 9 months, and was only for 1 month when nominated. It is pretty hard to defend his winning this award.

So the question is: What were the Noble people thinking?

I have a theory. I don't know who these Nobel pickers are, but they have this image as a bunch of very serious people who gather to give out serious prizes. But what if they are instead a bunch of guys who read Dave Barry, watch football, and enjoy a good laugh. They decided that, without anyone really doing anything to further peace in the past year, why not give it to Obama and see if we can make Glenn Beck's head explode, and maybe Hannity's too. It would also explain that they usually give the literature prize to the most depressing book they can find. As the English would day, they're "havin' a laugh"!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Invention of Lying

When I went to check on the showtimes for the Ricky Gervais film "The Invention of Lying" on Yahoo movies, I was surprised to see that the general public's grade of the film was lower than the critics. Usually this is the other way around, as people don't tend to go to films they don't expect to like, whereas critics have to see them all.

What was the problem? If you've seen the coming attractions, you expect a story about a guy who tells the first lies ever, mostly to get women. What the coming attractions don't cover is that the big lie in the film is that there is an "invisible man in the sky", and that after we die we go to this wonderful place and get a mansion. Understandably, most of the very negative reviews on Yahoo were the result of people seeing the film and being pissed that their faith in the invisible man in the sky was being challenged and mocked.

I found the film mostly witty and clever, and very enjoyable....but then, I am in the 12% of Americans who already know that the "invisible man in the sky" is a lie. But I do understand that 1) the marketers of this film did not advertise this story line, as questioning God in a religious society like ours is not the path to boffo box office and 2) that religious people were upset that they found out after paying their $9 that they were being mocked.

That said, I would ask the question to the religious: If you are afraid to have your faith questioned, how true can your beliefs be?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Good Luck Signing Free Agents, Rush!

Word is out that Rush Limbaugh wants to become one of the owners of the St. Louis Rams. Recall a few years ago Rush's short-lived tenure on ESPN's "NFL LIVE", where he was fired for saying that the media loved Eagles QB Donovan McNabb because he was black (It is a shame Tom Jackson didn't jump over the desk and strangle him!). Then there are Rush's constant racist rants against Obama and,....well, anyone else who is famous and black. Can you see a problem yet with this guy owning an NFL team?

I find it pretty hard to imagine that any African-American star on the free agent market will be anxious to sign with a team owned by a famous racist. I'm guessing about half the players in the NFL are black, so that is going to make the Rams one really bad, white team. I don't think many black fans would be wanting to give Rush their money either.

Of course, Rush would just claim that the black players were racist for not wanting to play for him, and his followers, with their Dittoheads up the Dittoasses, would believe him.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I bet you thought Boulder had healthy food!

A couple weeks ago I was in downtown Boulder looking for a snack, and stopped into a shop called Tea & Cakes that specializes in cupcakes ( and sells them for nearly $3!). One of the offerings was a chocolate bacon cupcake.....and no, I am not making this up or having a Homer Simpson hallucination! They make a cupcake with chocolate icing and bacon bits on top. For some reason I didn't try it, which is too bad because now it appears that this cupcake has made them famous. Watch the video below from The Food Network.

Go Rox!

Kudos to the Colorado Rockies for making the playoffs. In April and May they couldn't hit or pitch, and looked like a complete disaster. Then Clint Hurdle was replaced as manager by Jim Tracy and they went from playing way below their potential to way above it. Tracy will surely be named NL Manager of the Year. Somehow he got talented young players like Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez, Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez to play up to their potential.

It's great fun being a baseball fan in a city with a team in the playoffs. Maybe this will create enough excitement that the local sports bar will actually put the Rockies Sunday games on one of their many TV's (unlike last Sunday!).

I can't imagine the Rox getting past the first round of the playoffs.....they swing at too many bad pitches and the bullpen has shown it's vulnerable. But, I really hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Many Starbucks?

I was reading Barry Ritholtz's blog "The Big Picture" today, and he spoke of a discussion another blog, call, was having about how many Starbuck's are within 5 miles of your location. So, Ritholtz entered his address in the Starbucks locator and number came up an amazing 215. That is not an misprint. Of course, he lives in Manhattan. I live on the outer edge of Boulder, a town of 103k. My total was 13. How many near you? Leave a comment.

Brings to mind the classic film "Best in Show", where the yuppie couple met at Starbucks.....but not the same Starbucks, they were at 2 different ones across the street when their eyes met.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Some Monday Thoughts

Watched the first part of Ken Burns' "The National Parks" on PBS, and I will be catching the rest of it through the rest of the week (still using the primitive technology of the VCR to make sure I catch it all). It reminded me of what an amazing place Yellowstone is. If you have never visited a National Park, then get off your ass and go find one, and the best of the many I've been to is Yellowstone, which has everything you could want in such a place....spectacular scenery, geological wonders and weirdness, bears, moose, elk, wolves and bison.

The baseball season has one week to go, and the Rockies magic number for the playoffs is 5. They have returned to earth lately, after playing far better than the probably are during the summer. I do wonder, however, when the national sports media will discover Troy Tulowitzki. He is a shortstop who bats cleanup with 30 homers and 88 RBI, and plays great D. If he were playing on either coast he would be hailed as the "Next Cal Ripken".

Finally, I will be appearing in a play for the first time since 8th grade this November. It is called "The Man Who Never Died", and is about labor organizer Joe Hill. I play an incompetent sleezy lawyer. I figured after all these years of getting paid to be an "actor" I should do at least one play, although rehearsing and learning lines are not in my usual showbiz repertoire.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Economics and Beer

Thanks to Fiona for sending along this concise little PRI piece that discusses world economics as viewed through a beer glass. Listen to it HERE.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Food Dude

On September 12, a man died who whose death should have gotten about 100 times the publicity of Micheal Jackson and Ted Kennedy's deaths combined. Of course, I am speaking of Norman Borlaug.


The Economist, in their obituary, calls Borlaug "feeder of the world", but I think "Food Dude" is a lot cooler. He is the man primarily responsible for developing new strains of wheat in various parts of the world, allowing much of the poor world to be able to feed themselves. His work allowed Mexico to become food self-sufficient for the first time in 1956. He was responsible for the "green revolution" in India that did the same thing, and won a Nobel price in 1970. In short, his work allowed the world to greatly in increase food production, avoiding for who knows how long a Malthusian disaster.

Avoid a what?

Thomas Malthus was an early Economist who predicted that, in a nutshell, populations would grow to a point where it was impossible to feed everyone with the earth's resources. Here's a quote from his theory on population:

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

While Malthus has yet to be close to correct over 200 years after this dire prediction, he is probably most responsible for Economics being known as "The Dismal Science". So, he's got that going for him, which is nice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tom Friedman Strikes Again

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been writing well thought out, brilliant books and articles about world affairs for many years. He is fair, thoughtful, and not held hostage to any particular political doctrine. In other words, he actually thinks about problems and how to solve them best. Therefore, he has ideas that are both brilliant and quite sensible. So, you can be pretty sure that politicians will continue to ignore him, as he both makes sense and does not foam at the mouth, which apparently is the only way the public and our politicians will pay any attention to a commentator. What a shame, because, as today's column shows, Friedman makes sense.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lewis Black is back and angrier!

Lewis Black has been doing hilarious commentary on The Daily Show for many years, most of it screaming angry rants. So he is happy that America is also raging crazy now. Enjoy!
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Angry Outbursts
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Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Stop the Punting!

It is hard not to laugh at how conservative NFL coaches are in their decisions. Even to the casual observer, it is clear that they have much more fear of a bad thing happening than they do hope for a good thing. Anyone who watches a game with me will hear the words "effing idiotic wimp" whenever a coach chooses to punt from the opponents 37 on 4th and 2.

It turns out that my gut reaction is also statistically correct. And, it is even more correct if you are discussing this decision at the college or high school level, where the results of a punt or field goal attempt are less sure than in the NFL.

There is a short article in Sport Illustrated this week called "Just Go For It" about a high school coach in Arkansas named Kevin Kelley who never punts or tries field goals, and also tries and on-sides kick on every kick off. His reason? He has done the numbers and determined that the potential gains from going for it are greater than the potential losses of failing. He's done the numbers and calculated the probabilities. Oh, and he wins a lot more games than he losses.

Meahwhile, over at the NY Times, stats geek Brain Murray has done his own study, and concluded that NFL coaches are far more conservative than probability models would suggest they should be. This is the same conclusion University of California economist David Romer came to a few years ago when he studied the same thing. You can read his whole paper here if you are so inclined.

So, why are these otherwise macho guys such wimps when it comes to risk? I would agree with what others have postulated: that coaches do what everyone else does so they don't get fired if a riskier decision goes wrong. It is also likely that most of them have never done the math, and that is they took a stats class in college they might have slept through it.

I read something about this a few years ago, and it turns out the NFL coach who goes for it most often on 4th down is Bill Belichick. Why? Maybe it's because his job is certainly very secure, or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he has a degree in Economics.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

Saw Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" last night. Another amusing and very violent film from Tarantino that was a bit too long. Great dialague and interesting characters, but Tarantino seems to have reached the point where he is now too big to be edited. No reason for this film to run 150 minutes. Actually, he reached that point a few years ago with "Kill Bill", which should have been edited into 1 normal length film, not 2 drawn out mediocre films.

Now, the question is, how many people are seeing this movie and wondering about it's historical accuracy?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trade is Good. This is bad.

The WSJ today reports that protectionist measures are rising world wide, which will result in a 10% decrease in global trade in 2009. Smoot-Hawley lives, apparently.

Trade is Good!!! TRADE IS GOOD!!!

Better than watching football.

Since it appears that my Buffalo Bills are about to embark on a 16 game march towards the number 1 draft pick, it might be a good idea for me to find something to do on Sundays that is better than watching football. Even though the Bills don't play until this evening, I did one of those things yesterday.

It had been a few years since I'd gone up to Rocky Mountain National Park for Elk Bugling season. Every Fall, the male elk round up as many females for mating purposes as possible by letting out a loud, high-pitched noise and showing off their racks. If you've never been in Colorado for this, you need to come and check it out.

Yesterday we had a great day of elk watching. First, on the way to the park we happened upon 4 young bighorn sheep, enjoying the grass along the side of the road. Then, while we were on a short hike before elk time (they tend to become most active a little before dusk) a good size, brightly colored red fox ran about 10 feet away from us. So, we had already chalked up some bonus critters before the elk show even started.

Not only did we see a bunch of large elk belting out their mating noise, but we also saw 2 young males going antler to antler in a process they apparently do to show off to the young ladies what good mating partners they are. This looks kind of like a couple of wrestlers locked head to head. It is pretty common to see the elk bugle, but not all that common to happen upon he antler wrestling.

We also saw a few females who switched guys......when we first saw them they were with one male, but they then wandered across the street to another dude, who then chased off the other males around.

Nature. Pretty cool stuff. If only there had been a guy with a telestrator and instant replay to explain it to us.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Looking at problems from another angle

Two stories in today's NYT that deal with different but important issues, but take an approach to them that differs from what Congress is debating.

First is an op-ed piece by Micheal Pollan, a healthy diet guru who has authored several books on the crap that we eat. He would like to see the horrible diet of Americans added to the health care debate. In particular, he is rightfully upset over the fact that our tax dollars subsidize the production of corn, which becomes high-fructose corn syrup, which is incredibly bad for us.
But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Clearly, eating better will not cure all the ills of our health care system, but it sure would help. We subsidize corn, which is not good for us, but not broccoli. In other words, our tax dollars go to making us less healthy, which then costs us more in health care. Could we be more stupid?

Meanwhile, Congress is also debating a "cap and trade" system to reduce greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. A story in the Times business section notes that some countries in Europe, which has had a cap and trade system for several years, are now considering taxing carbon emissions directly instead. The first line in the story says it all:
Economists have long seen a carbon tax as a good idea because of its simplicity: Polluters pay at a level that is set by decree.

It is clear that a tax is a much more fair and simple way to decrease carbon emissions than cap and trade. But since merely saying the word "tax" will cost an American politician his next election, we will instead get a costly, ineffective, and probably corrupt system instead. And it will allow politicians to give out the right to pollute to the industries in their districts. We need to realize that "TAX" is not a bad word when placed on something that is clearly bad for society (we call that "negative externalities" in econ talk!).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stuff you might have missed this weekend.

While you were out enjoying the Labor Day weekend, we here at The Tall Thin Guy were diligently scouring the intellectual world for important work......okay, we were mostly drinking beer, but we did stumble across 2 interesting pieces in the online print media that are well worth reading.

First and foremost is Paul Krugman's article in the NY Times Magazine section called "How did Economists Get It So Wrong". This is a long but interesting story about the history of macroeconomics, and will leave you with the impression that these guys have no idea what they are talking about. He's particularly harsh on the Chicago school of Economics, the true believers that markets are always right despite all the evidence to the contrary. Worth the time to read it. It will give you an idea how dismal the Dismal Science really is.

And if you weren't frightened by the idea of President Sarah Palin already, you need to read Max Blumenthal's article from The Daily Beast "Inside Sarah's Church". If you can read this and still not conclude that she is batshit crazy, then you may just be batshit crazy yourself. Frightening!

Hope your holiday weekend was more festive than mine.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Portugal's success with liberalized drug laws

I have been harping on health care for a while, and ignoring one of my other favorite subjects, our moronic war on drugs. The Economist has a story this week about a report from the Cato Institute claiming that things have improved in many ways in the 8 years since Portugal decriminalized drugs. More addicts feel comfortable getting treatments, AIDS cases among drug users is down, and there has been no rise in drug usage as a result. In Portugal now, drug users are treated as people with a disease that needs treatment, not criminals. Read the Economist story here.

Or, you can read the complete Cato Institute report HERE. Here is a quote from the summary at the beginning of the report:
decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.

One weakness of this report is that it contains no data on the amounts of money spent by taxpayers under the current system as opposed to before decriminalization. It would be interesting to know if Portugal is getting these results and also spending less taxpayer money on drug issues, as one might guess.

I am not in agreement with the libertarians at the Cato Institute on too many issues, but when it comes to the war on drugs, these guys are right on the mark.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes......from far away!

It's been very hazy here on the usually sunny and clear Front Range of Colorado the past few days. Yesterday when I was out riding I thought that the sky last looked as it did when we were having large fires in nearby forests.

Well, it turns out I was right. The Daily Camera reports that the haze covering Boulder is the result of smoke getting into the jetstream and being swept here from Utah and California fires. In fact, it is enough smoke for it to be unhealthy for some folks to go outside.

This is a reminder that in matters of the environment, there is no such thing as a local issue. You burn coal in Wyoming, it effects people everywhere. You pollute the river in Pittsburgh, and it pollutes the water everywhere. You cut down your forest, and it raises the temperature all over the world. Some people think all decisions like this should be local, but that is ridiculous. We are all on this planet together, and we impact each other with our actions.

Finally, the comic Prickly City is picking on Economists this week. I can't get it to embed properly, so you can enjoy it HERE.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Scary Moment and Advice from an Economist

2 things today that are not at all connected:

First, earlier today I witnessed a woman fall off her bike while riding down the hill near my house. Well, I didn't really witness it, I heard it. I was riding up the hill with my head down, and she was riding down when I heard a thud, looked up, and saw her lying face down in the street about 100 yards away. A woman working in her yard got to here before me, and I quickly pulled out my phone and called 911, even before I saw the blood on her head. She hadn't moved in the time it took me to ride up to her. By the time the paramedics arrived, she had rolled over and was breathing, but didn't know her name or what happened. I am pretty sure she had a concussion, but did not appear to injured anywhere else. None of us actually saw her fall, so we don't know what made her go down, but there was nothing in the road she would have hit, and no other vehicles near her. We did, however, notice her I-phone lying in the street next to her. I see far too many people using their phones to talk or text while riding their bikes, or driving their cars.

On a happier note, Fiona sent me this story from NPR "Pricelss Advice from "The Undercover Economist". This guy writes an advice column in the Financial Times, giving advice about every day issues to folks from an Economists perspective. You may want to pay particular attention to his advice about choosing the right gift, siting the classic Deadweight Loss of Xmas. I have added a link to his column on the right.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Myths of World Health Care

My friend Art says I should stop obsessing about our nonsensicle health care system, and the likely botched or non-existent reform of the mess, because, quoting Rodney Dangerfield, if we all take really good care of ourselves, we will get old and die. He is right, of course, and his choice of philosophers is excellent.

Despite Art's sound advice, I can't stop myself from being driven crazy by our rotten system, and the lies and stupidity being bandied about regarding health care abroad. The Washington Post has an article today written by T.R. Reid called "Five Myths about Health Care Around the World", that debunks much of the nonsense that the morons and thieves who want to prevent our system from changing keep spreading. Here is the one paragraph that makes me craziest:

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France's health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada's universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.

By the way, that is 20% of insurance money, which means it is probably not counting the fact that the bill to the insurance company also includes the administrative costs incurred by the provider to get paid.

It's not a long article, but makes some outstanding points. Take the time to read it by going HERE.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A few questions on my mind

Did Sports Illustrated know it was entering the health care debate when it published a story last week about Marc Buoniconti? If you have not heard of him, he is the son of Dophin's linebacking great Nick, who was paralyzed while playing football for the Citadel, and has gone on to use his fame and family connections to help a lot of people in a similar situation. Included in the story is this quote from Marc:
Much of Buoniconti's $500,000 annual nursing bill, as well as the cost of his $60,000 customized van and $24,000 electronic wheelchair, is covered by the health-care package that his father, Dolphins Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, received during his post-NFL days as president of U.S. Tobacco.

"My dad did well for himself, but if we didn't have the insurance I have, we'd be broke trying to take care of me," Marc says. "No—I'd probably be dead."

So, the question is, what has happened to all the people with similar injuries who weren't fortunate enough to have wealthy parents? Have they died? Was health care rationed to them, because they didn't have the resources Buoniconti does?

How Dumb are Texans? Well, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent over $1billion on a new stadium, including the worlds biggest high def TV screen. But, that screen hangs low enough over the field that the punters were hitting it over the weekend. You'd think Jerry could have thrown in a few bucks to measure that, but he was probably too busy listening to himself tell himself how great he is.

Why are Harleys so damn loud? I mean really, there is no reason for it, other than the fact that Harley owners think this negative externality is cool. Other vehicles try to be as quiet as possible, but Harley owners have their pipes hollowed out to make even more noise. Is that because they are mostly middle aged guys, putting this loud thing between their legs to compensate for the lost power of something else that is there?

Just asking!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Don't spread the flu

As anyone who has been to my house will tell you, I am a long way from a germophobe. But they seem very concerned about the spread of swine flu at school, as they should be. In order to raise our awareness, they showed this hilarious video at the faculty meeting. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One place business is booming!

What do you do when you just got laid off from that job you didn't really love in the first place? Apparently, go back to school. With the economy in the toilet and unemployment at 9.4%, community college enrollments are up around the country.

We just had our beginning of the semester meeting at Front Range Community College and enrollment is up 21%. This presents an interesting problem, as the state of Colorado, like most states, is suffering a budget crunch and would like to cut the budget for higher education. Fortunately, Obama is a big fan of the CC's, and has made some stimulus money dependent on not cutting higher ed.

I have four classes this Fall, one of them on Saturday morning, and they are all full. This is the first time a Sat. class has even been close to full. Unfortunately, all these new customers don't add up to more money for those of us who provide the valuable service. But then, no one ever went into teaching for the big bucks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Congressman on Colbert

Steven Colbert does a thing he calls "Better Know a District", a 435 part series where he plans to feature every congressional district in the country. Most Congressmen don't feel comfortable talking with a comedian who is coming out of left field, but mine does. In fact, Jared Polis, our new congressman in the 2nd district of CO is the second of my congressmen to be on the show, as Mark Udall, now a Senator, was on a few years ago.

It's a pretty hilarious interview, and you can enjoy it at the link below (sorry, couldn't get it to embed)
One interesting thing about Polis, and maybe our district. Polis is gay, but that was never, ever mentioned during his campaign for Congress. Not by him, his GOP opponent in the election, or his 2 Dem rivals in the primary. I guess gay bashing just won't fly in a highly educated district like ours.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How stupid are people?

If you are ever in doubt of the fact that people are basically stupid (which, according to The Standup Economist is one of the 10 principles of Economics), there is plenty of evidence afoot. There was the guy who yelled to his congressman "Keep the government away from my Medicare". There are the legions of people who believe that the new health care program will include euthanasia and various other lies propagated by lying scumbags like Rush, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. Oh, and the ones who believe Obama in not a US citizen. And then, of course, there are about 40% of Americans who do not believe in evolution. It is the sad truth that in order to keep the freedoms we have in this country, we must also allow complete idiots to believe anything they want, no matter what the evidence is to the contrary.

If you need more evidence, enjoy this story from today's NY Times about preachers of the "prosperity gospel". How stupid can someone be to get scammed by these charlatans! Hell, I am not a christian, but even I know that the teachings of Jesus had nothing to do with accumulating cash.

Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stewart and an Economist

At a time when TV is full of raving loons, John Stewart asks straight questions and gets straight answers from Obama admin Economist Austan Gooldsby. By the way, there was a story circulating recently that right wing guys like to go on The Daily Show because, even though Stewart grills them, he does it with respect and an honest interest in learning what they have to say. Heard anyone say that about Beck, Hannity, or O'Reilly? Enjoy

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Austan Goolsbee
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A few more words about health care.

Let me start by recommending this story from a blog called The Baseline Scenario called "You Do Not Have Health Insurance". It makes the case that, since most Americans get their insurance through their employer, and are therefore very likely screwed if they lose or leave their jobs, that their health is only insured as much as their job is ensured. Ask your unemployed neighbor about those odds.

Second, the opponents of reforming out horrid system are now shamelessly spreading any type of lie they can think of. My friend Jerry Zremski writes in today's Buffalo News about a the congressman from my home town of Clarence, NY (Motto: "Beware of Falling Planes) who sending an email that says 120 million people will lose their health care if Obama's plan passes. This is quite simply a lie, taking a number that is wrong to begin with, an misusing what it says to make the lie even worse.

Meanwhile, quite a few GOP'ers have been spreading the false idea that seniors will be forced into suicide under "Obamacare" (these same crazy righties would prefer many of us get "No Care"!). This would be hilarious if it weren't tragically helping their lying cause. First, it is not at all true. The provision they state states only that seniors would receive counseling on getting affairs in order. Second, the very people who are making that claim are also the "get govt out of everything" righties who believe that Medicare, which is responsible for keeping many of our seniors alive now, is a communist government program. If they don't, then why don't they want all of us to be taken care of as well as seniors are. And, by the way, Medicare recipients are far happier with their health care than the rest of us. Clearly the government can't do anything right!

Which gets to the guy, often quoted, who yelled at his Congressman to "keep government hands off my Medicare". This is the level of ignorance that symbolized the nutty right, lead by idiots like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and, well, just about anyone on Fox News. They appeal to the folks who are proudly stupid and ignorant. Fortunately for them, there are a lot of those people in this country.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Taxing Calories

For many years I had students in my classes write a paper using what they've learned in class to solve some of society's problems. One of the options was to solve the problem of Americans being so fat. Many of them chose to put some kind of tax on food that is bad for us, and the better papers would then use the money to subsidize food that is good for us (which is, by the way, the opposite of what our government food policy does!).

The "Economics Focus" column in last weeks Economist speaks to this issue. It is a rather interesting examination of the idea, but if falls short in a couple of ways. First, it fails to recognize that not only do we not now tax food that is harmful to our health, as would make sense if we are trying to make Americans healthier, but in this country we actually subsidize its productions. For an entertaining look at this, get the video "King Corn". Corn is not good for us, at least not the way we eat it in this country. But our government encourages it's production, instead of encouraging production of, say, broccoli, which is good for us.

Also, the column talks about a food tax as being as ineffective as the taxes on tobacco have on decreasing tobacco use. Again, they ignore a couple of important facts: 1) Tobacco addicts in this country have dropped from almost 50% of the population in the 1960's to under 25% today (far more successful than the War on Drugs!), and 2) That cheeseburgers, while delicious and often craved, are no where hear as addicting as cigarettes.

Still, a story worth reading, and an idea worth talking about. I am strongly in favor of Pigouvian taxes, as in Gregory Mankiw (see link at right). Seems to make sense to tax bad stuff and subsidize the good. Too bad our politicians are too gutlesss to make the right call. And, by the way, if you haven't noticed the dollar menu at McDonalds doesn't have any salads on it!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

No Futbol in Argentina

The NY Times reports today that the Argentina Football Assoc. has announced that the league schedule will not begin on time because of huge debts at many of the best clubs in the country. It is just shocking that a country where futbol is bigger than God should not have it's main professional league operate. Here in the US the biggest sports victims of the economy so far have been the Arena Football League and the Phoenix Coyotes. How long until a story like this hits our shores?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Here's a crazy movie idea....

One of my students told me today that he missed class last week because he had his identity stolen. I kidded him that whoever stole his identity didn't show up in class either, so maybe he didn't take the whole thing.

Now, while this poor kid is worrying about passing the class and his grade, I am thinking thru the hilarious possibilities of identity theft gone too far. The person who steals your identity not only spends your money, but shows up for your court date, your dental appointment, your colonoscopy and your economics exam. When you get it straightened out, you discover you know have been cited for contempt for calling a judge an asshole, you have had your wisdome teeth out, you have colon cancer and have failed Economics. Oh, the horror!!

There, Judd Apetow, make a movie out of that!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Save on Textbooks

I know that some of the people who read my blog are former students who are still making their way to a degree. And a few others are friends who have kids who are going to college. So, in an effort to help you save a few bucks off the outrageous cost of textbooks, enjoy this AP story from today's Denver post. Hope it helps.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hilarious Hangover

I remember back in 1980 seeing ads and coming attractions for a film called "Airplane". Nobody really famous in it, but the ads made it appear that it would probably be a mildly amusing film, and a decent way to get some A/C on a hot afternoon. I was shocked then when I saw the film and laughed my ass off through the whole thing.

Similarly, I had no reason to think, based on the ads I'd seen, and the mediocre nature of most recent comedy films, to expect much from "The Hangover". I was surprised that Kip, the woman I have been dating, said I HAD to see it, and would see it for the third time with me. She said it was hilarious, and she was not lying.

If you haven't seen it yet, go see it NOW!! It is not a movie you chuckle thru, it is a movie you laugh really hard at for the whole time. Several times I tried to take a sip of coke at after a long hard laugh, only to nearly do a spit take when the next big laugh came unexpectedly. The beauty is you never see anything coming.

"The Hangover" is going to be a cult classic, a film that people will be watching and laughing at 30 years from now. Don't wait 30 years to see it. Go today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I keep harping on heatlh care

I keep writing about our screwed up health care system, but like everyone else, it is easier to see the problems than find the solutions. It appears that America is not ready to move to a system like those in Canada, Britain or France, in part because the special interest groups with a vested interest in our awful system have been successful in scaring Americans into believing that folks in these countries are receiving no health care.....a pretty odd assumption since they generally have better outcomes than we do, and at half the cost.

Today's NY Times has another article, written by David Leonhart, about the problems with passing sensible changes. It is saddening. I am pretty sure that our gutless, scumbag politicians of both parties will do what is expediant and profitable, not what is right. Based on their behavior of the past, there is no reason to believe otherwise. That means we will either not make any changes, and allow the current system to bankrupt us while fewer and fewer get decent health care, or we will make superficial changes that don't address the tough cost issues, and bankrupt us in a different way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

We already ration health care!

I have been saying for years that the two most ridiculous arguments against government run health care are: 1) That health care would be rationed and 2) that a government bureaucrat will determine your care. Why? Well, because these 2 things are already occurring in our system, but in a way that is far less fair, moral, and efficient than in countries with universal coverage.

We already ration health care in this country, based on who can afford it. If you need, or want a treatment and have insurance that will pay, or can afford it out-of-pocket, you get it. Otherwise, good luck. You may get it in an emergency room, but only if it is an obvious emergency. Need your high blood pressure meds to keep from having a stroke and can't afford them, too bad. And as for the bureaucrats....well, what would you call the people who work at the insurance companies, and are hired to try to keep the company from paying for your care? I would call them murdering bastards, and I would prefer a bureaucrat to a murdering bastard!

That said, take a gander at the article in the NY Times Mag section this week by bio-ethicist Peter Singer. He maintains, as I do, that we are already rationing health care, but not wisely or fairly, and suggests some better ways to do it. In case you don't want to read the whole thing, here are a few relevant quotes:

On a blog on Fox News earlier this year, the conservative writer John Lott wrote, “Americans should ask Canadians and Brits — people who have long suffered from rationing — how happy they are with central government decisions on eliminating ‘unnecessary’ health care.” But as it happens, last year the Gallup organization did ask Canadians and Brits, and people in many different countries, if they have confidence in “health care or medical systems” in their country. In Canada, 73 percent answered this question affirmatively. Coincidentally, an identical percentage of Britons gave the same answer. In the United States, despite spending much more, per person, on health care, the figure was only 56 percent.

Health care is a scarce resource, and all scarce resources are rationed in one way or another. In the United States, most health care is privately financed, and so most rationing is by price: you get what you, or your employer, can afford to insure you for. But our current system of employer-financed health insurance exists only because the federal government encouraged it by making the premiums tax deductible. That is, in effect, a more than $200 billion government subsidy for health care.

A recent Commonwealth Fund study led by Cathy Schoen and Robin Osborn surveyed adults with chronic illness in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Far more Americans reported forgoing health care because of cost. More than half (54 percent) reported not filling a prescription, not visiting a doctor when sick or not getting recommended care. In comparison, in the United Kingdom the figure was 13 percent, and in the Netherlands, only 7 percent. Even among Americans with insurance, 43 percent reported that cost was a problem that had limited the treatment they received. According to a 2007 study led by David Himmelstein, more than 60 percent of all bankruptcies are related to illness, with many of these specifically caused by medical bills, even among those who have health insurance. In Canada the incidence of bankruptcy related to illness is much lower.

Singer goes on to discuss some methodology for determining what a life is worth, so rationing could be applied sensibly and fairly. Of course, we are no where near coming to any sensible conclusions about our health care system. Obama's plan is a small step in the right direction, but too small in my opinion. We need to blow this mess up and start over. And over at the GOP, they think the problem is that too many people have access to health care. They would like to return to the times of 100 years ago, when the robber barons worked people to death, then they just died and got out of the way.

Gay Marraige and the Constitution

Interesting Op-ed piece by famous lawyer David Boies in today's WSJ about the lawsuit he has filed attempting to overturn California's gay marriage ban. I personally do not understand how the equal protection clause, amendment 14, of the constitution does not protect the right of people to marry anyone they want. Right now, I have the right to marry a woman (not that I'm gonna!), but my sister does not (not that she wants to!). How is that equal protection?

This seems to be the approach that Boies is taking. A few quotes from his article:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the right to marry the person you love is so fundamental that states cannot abridge it. In 1978 the Court (8 to 1, Zablocki v. Redhail) overturned as unconstitutional a Wisconsin law preventing child-support scofflaws from getting married. The Court emphasized, "decisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals." In 1987 the Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional a Missouri law preventing imprisoned felons from marrying.

So the ban on permitting gay and lesbian couples to actually marry is simply an attempt by the state to stigmatize a segment of its population that commits no offense other than falling in love with a disapproved partner, and asks no more of the state than to be treated equally with all other citizens. In 2003 the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas held that states could not constitutionally outlaw consensual homosexual activity. As Justice Anthony Kennedy elegantly wrote rejecting the notion that a history of discrimination might trump constitutional rights, "Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom."

There are those who sincerely believe that homosexuality is inconsistent with their religion -- and the First Amendment guarantees their freedom of belief. However, the same First Amendment, as well as the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, preclude the enshrinement of their religious-based disapproval in state law.

Let's hope he succeeds, and we can put this ridiculous issue behind us, and the dinosaurs who promote these bans go extinct from having their heads up their asses.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Simpson's theme acapella

Okay, my posts lately have shown little thought, but it's summer. So enjoy this awesome acapella version of the Simpson's theme.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why it is good to live a mile above sea level!

Is Roger Corman making a movie in San Diego? Otherwise, how do you explain this headline:

Jumbo squid invade San Diego shores, spook divers

Read the whole story HERE.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Gotta Watch This!

Watch this Bill Moyers interview with former Cigna executive Warren Potter, then tell me that our health system is not inefficient and immoral, and that insurance executives aren't the most eveil people on earth.

Sorry, no "embed" link, so you'll have to link to this amazing and scary interview HERE. Please watch and share with everyone you know!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Interesting Health Care Article

What's wrong with our health care system? I would say one of the big problems is that, having visited the doctor 3 times in June, and having blood tests twice, I have received 6 pieces of mail from the provider and my insurance company, all saying "This is not a bill". Meanwhile, the bill, which is under my deductable so will be paid by me, but I have not received a bill or paid a cent yet. But numerous dollars have been spent on paper pushing, none of which is making me or anyone any healthier.

Administrative insanity is one big problem, but economist David Leonhart writes about another silly situation in today's NYT. Why don't we know what treatments work best?