Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Post Game Interview I Want to See

At the end of tomorrow's Super Bowl, you can be sure that at least one player on the winning team will be praising God for the win. We know Kurt Warner will be the guy doing that on the Cardinals if they win. So, I have 2 questions for Mr. Warner:

1) Why does God like him so much more than he does the rest of us? You will be praising him for giving you the talent to win, yadda yadda yadda... Why does he love you enough to make you tall, strong and able to throw a football brilliantly and win 2 Super Bowls, and he made me a short fat ugly guy who dropped $20 in the pool at the bar? Does he hate me, because I sure got screwed on this deal. And what about those other guys who used to bag groceries with you when your career wasn't going anywhere when you were young....did God give them NFL caliber talent as well? If not, why not? This God guy doesn't sound very fair, certainly not someone I want to work for.

2) If the Cardinals lose, does that mean God was against you this time? This is what I want to hear Kurt Warner say if he loses tomorrow: "God screwed us today. He wasn't with us at all. He made Bodin pull his hammy in the first quarter, and gave the Steelers D more quickness than I could deal with. That's why I threw those 3 picks. It was God's fault. He really did us in, and I'm pissed."

That's what I want to hear: God take the fall for the losers. Based on the evidence, if there is a God, he sure as hell must hate a lot of people here on earth.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Remember Mystery Science Theater?

I stopped by trivia night at The Scotch Corner last night, and some of the questions were about the great tv show "Mystery Science Theater", which reminded me of the web site Riff Trax. If you never saw MST3K, well you missed out, and you can go to their web site and try to figure it out. In recent years, the same guys started a thing called Riff Trax, doing their same commentary over newer films. For some reason, the web site they used to have doesn't work, but, you can go to You Tube and watch a bunch of the stuff for free. It's better than most of what you'll find of TV these days!

Here is a clip from the beginning of Terminator 3.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pick up line for the times.....

"Hey Baby, have I've got a stimulus package for you!"

Go ahead, try it out, let me know how it works.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dave Barry's Inaguration Story

In case you missed it, Dave was in the big parade.


OK, I know it's been out for quite a while, but I just finally got around to seeing Frost/Nixon yesterday, on a frosty afternoon, in a theater full of people who were certainly old enough to remember the 2 main characters. This being Boulder, it is likely some of the war protester Nixon railed against so often were in the theater.

The film sets the Frost interviews of Nixon as a battle of wits between Frost, who wants to "give Nixon the trial he never had" and Nixon, who is trying to redeem his reputation, in hopes of "getting back in the game". The sparring between the 2 is excellent, with Nixon winning the first rounds until Frost realizes the skills of his opponent, and takes the game seriously. By the way, interesting fact about Nixon the strategist: Nixon was an expert poker player, who financed his first political campaign with money won playing poker while in military during WWII.

Also interesting is that Frost was pursuing the American Dream with this project. He risked everything on this project, in an effort to be a success again in America (his US show had been canceled a few years earlier) and get his table back at Sardi's.

I couldn't help but think, as I watched Nixon manipulate Frost early on, what a mental giant Nixon was. In fact, in terms of brain power, he and Clinton certainly reign over all other presidents in my lifetime. Yet, they both thought they were clever enough to cover up their indiscretions, and the cover up is what bit them both. Clinton was a particular disappointment in this regard, having had Tricky Dick's mistakes to learn from.

I'm pretty sure the appeal of this film is mostly to those of us who are old enough to remember the Nixon years. But, it is very appealing to someone like me, who recalls spending a lot of time one summer watching the Watergate hearings on TV.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Funny, I didn't remember them.

We enjoyed some about a week of warm weather here in Colorado, but it has cooled off again, so I spent the afternoon working around the house and listening to NPR. Good thing, as I heard a great story on This American Life.

It was about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall, a couple of comedians who you may remember from appearances on such shows as The Match Game and The Love Boat. Back in the early 60's, they were a struggling comedy team (they are also married), when they finally got their big break to be on the Ed Sullivan show. There was another act going to be on the show they were excited about meeting....Frank Gorshin (an impressionist who you may remember as The Riddler on "Batman"). They weren't really to aware of a certain musical act from Britain who were making their first appearance in the US.

You should really take the time to go here and listen to the whole story (it starts about 5 minutes into the show). I can't really do justice to the way they tell it here. Suffice it to say, in their own words "We Sucked!".

I remember seeing that show....well, that is, I remember seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, a memory as important in my young life as JFK's assassination and man on the moon. But I don't have any recall of Charlie and Mitzi. I think those young English lads made a bigger impression.

Now, in case you missed the Fab Four, here they are (sorry, couldn't find Charlie and Mitzi)

Presidents by the numbers.

I teach my students that the President gets far too much credit for the economy, whether good or bad. However, as the most important person in the world, he certainly has influence, particularly over things like the budget and deficit. That said, enjoy this chart of economic numbers for all the Presidents since WWII. And the economic situation is just one of the many failures of the Bush Administration.

Sanity Prevails

As a follow-up to my last post, the sane people prevailed in Texas (can't believe I could string those 4 words together) in the evolution debate. Mostly. It is just so sad that the debate takes place at all. Why do people want their kids to be ignorant?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Mis-Informers Attack!

Take a look at this story in Wired about how Professor Robert Proctor at Stanford has created a new term he calls "agnotology: The study of culturally created ignorance". He is attempting to explain why more debate about some subjects leads to people having worse information. This is as a result of attempts by certain parties to spread dis-information for their own gain. Thus, tobacco companies claiming smoking doesn't cause cancer, and the belief by many Americans that Obama is a muslim, or that Saddam was behind 9/11. The story doesn't mention it, but, as an economics teacher, I would add the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves to that list.

Now that you've read that, you can make the connection to this story in the NYT about how the religious right wants teachers to lie to their students regarding evolution. The Texas school board is debating new standards right now, and the religious right wants that to include discussion of the weaknesses in evolution theory. "Evolution is just a theory", they say. So is gravity, but I'm pretty sure that this computer falls on my foot without the table under it. Have all the gaps in evolution been closed? Of course not. That is what scientists do, use previous theory and proof to make new advances.

We can't let the idiots who would believe religious myths over science poison the minds of a generation of youth. This nonsense has got to stop, and somebody has to have the cojones to tell the creationists that they are backward morons whose beliefs are supported by no evidence other than a book written thousands of years ago by primitive, superstitious people trying to explain the world around them. We can't let this nation get any dumber, and I can't believe in the 21st century that this conversation is taking place.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Bush Legacy: The Crisis President

As I write this, the world is only minutes away from ridding itself of w, which now can only be interpreted to stand for "worst president ever". You can find analysis of the various horrors of the last eight years everywhere. The Economist, which endorsed w in 2000 (but not in 2004....unlike w, they can learn from mistakes)had this to say in their article:

The fruit of all this can be seen in the three most notable characteristics of the Bush presidency: partisanship, politicisation and incompetence. Mr Bush was the most partisan president in living memory. He was content to be president of half the country—a leader who fused his roles of head of state and leader of his party. He devoted his presidency to feeding the Republican coalition that elected him.

I'm not going to comment on the many evils of the Bushies, but instead take a look at w as manager. Remember, back in 2000 he was going to be the first MBA President. He was going to bring good management and adult supervision to the White House, after those horrible 8 years of peace and prosperity we suffered under Clinton.

So, let's take a look at w the manager in relation to the 4 crisis of his administration: 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, and the financial meltdown (as he leaves, we could probably add Afganistan to that, as w's incompetent handling of that situation seems to deteriorate daily).

Supporters of w would say that none of these were his fault. I would say the fact that they became the major crisis that they did are totally w's fault.

Let's start with 9/11. While the bushies became so vigilant about terrorism after 9/11 that they were willing to shred the Constitution, before 9/11 they were not the least bit interested. They had been warned by the Clintons that it would be an issue, and there is that famous document "Al Queda Determined to strike". What did they do? Nothing. They were asleep at the switch until 9/11. Could they have prevented the attacks? Maybe, maybe not, but we don't know because there is no evidence that the Bushies cared until the planes crashed.

Certainly, we can't blame hurricane Katrina on w (although many environmentalists would like to). But again, given warning that there was a possibility of a severe problem, what do the bushies do? They wait until it becomes a crisis to prepare. w himself is off playing air guitar. And the fact that "Brownie" didn't know a thing about handling this problem was an indication of a key failure of the bushies, filling jobs based on loyalty, not competence. Did they teach that at Harvard?

We can blame w for every problem in Iraq. He is hoping it becomes a thriving democracy, so that history will make him look better than he does now. However, this war, started on false pretenses for no good reason, will go down as one of the biggest blunders ever by a US President. And though the effort started out well, when things started to go bad, what did w do? He stuck with the plan that was failing, until it reached a crisis situation. The Bushies continued their claims that things were going well, until the losses by the GOP in 2006 finally forced w to fire the idiot Rumsfeld and change course. Again, even though they should have known it was going south, they waited for a crisis to do something.

Finally, the financial mess. Again, we can not blame the problem entirely on w. In fact, this is a huge problem with blame to go around for a lot of people. But, just as with the above situations, w, although warned that things were getting bad, did nothing until the credit markets froze (OK, I'll be fair and say he did suggest further regulation of Fannie and Freddie in 2004). Again, no action until there is a crisis.

So, is this what w learned at Harvard Business School? I have an MBA from the University of Michigan, which used a lot of the same teaching methods as HBS at the time I was there. At Michigan, there was no class called "Ignoring problems until they become a crisis", and a quick check of the HBS web site today doesn't show that idea as a core teaching belief. In fact, we were taught just the opposite, and I imagine w was as well. Of course w was probably drunk most of the time he was at Harvard, so maybe he wasn't paying attention (which might explain how all the companies he started failed). Clearly, the idea that he was going to bring some type of high level executive management skills to the job is as big a joke as him being a "uniter".

As I finish writing this, w is no longer President, and we have sworn in our first African-American President. A Republican friend told me Obama would be a disaster. I ask, "Compared to what? The incredible competence of the last 8 years?". No matter what Obama may do or turn out to be, it would take a hell of an effort to do a worst job than w. He should get his ass back to Texas and thank the God he talked about so often that he was the mis-leader of a civilized country that doesn't drag it's failed leaders into the street and beat them to death.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Audacity of Hoop

I stole that title from an interesting article in Sports Illustrated about how basketball, particularly pick-up ball, both shaped and revealed Obama's character, and how it played a role in his career. In case you haven't read or seen enough about "Barry O'Bomber", and the hype around his inaugural will make the Super Bowl hype seem subdued, it's worth checking out.

I found the article interesting because I feel it is such a shame that kids today do not get together in their neighborhoods and play unsupervised sports. Thinking back on my own childhood, the lessons learned from that experience have been extremely valuable in life. When nine kids of various ages and skills show up to play football, it requires creative problem solving and negotiating skills to put together 2 teams of almost equal talent, so no one quits, and set up the rules. And it requires character on everyone's part to play fair. And, you have to make up your own plays. Those are a lot of valuable things we learned.

Kids today only play sports on a nice lined field with refs to keep the game fair and coaches to tell them what to do. Other than actually playing the game, what are they learning? Unfortunately, their parents are so paranoid about the 1 in 1 billion chance their kid is abducted, that they won't let kids go out and play. I assume this is why my students can't think for themselves.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gran Torino

Wanna see a great scowl? Go see Gran Torino. It opens at Walt Kowalski's (Clint Eastwood) wife's funeral, and he just stand there and scowls at everyone there..... his family, well-wishers, and the young priest at the service. About 2 seconds into the film you know that this is not a guy who is easy to get along with.

Walt goes from scowling to adopting the Hmong family next door, and the film, though generally grim and tense, also has some genuinely funny parts. When Walt decides he has to "man-up" his young neighbor, the effort turns out to be quite funny, without feeling strained.

The ending of this excellent film is both tense and surprising. I imagine conservative old farts who think today's kids aren't worth the water contained in their bodies will enjoy it, but it will not be limited to them. And if you've seen the ads that make it look like "Dirty Harry the Angry Old Man", well that isn't too far off. Another interesting effort from Clint Eastwood. And I believe that is him singing over the closing credits!

Friday, January 16, 2009

This is amazing

This Week's NY Times book section has a review of King's Dream by Eric J. Sundquist, a book about Martin Luther King's famous " I have a dream" speech. According to his research, the most famous lines of this great speech were not written in advance. He ad libbed them. That is just amazing! Read the review here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Madoff the mobster?

If you visit this site periodically, you may have taken the time to check out the links on the right, or maybe not. One of them is written by an extremely interesting guy named Jon Taplin, who seems to have done everything at a high level at some maker, financial exec, college professor, just to name a few.

Taplin believes that Madoff may have been connected to the mob (I know that my Dad will want to check this out, as he was convinced everyone in Buffalo was in the mob, and was probably half right!). I won't try to explain his theories, other than there are some seedy connections for a guy like Madoff to have, and Taplin also believes that the reason no one has stepped forward from S. America to complain about their losses is that he was laundering drug money. Read posts from yesterday and today here, and see if it makes sense to you.

This may sound like wild conspiracy theory stuff, but that is not what Taplin does. He's a really smart guy who is great at connecting dots from all over. It will be interesting to see if he's right this time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Price of Oil

If you missed 60 Minutes last night, you missed this report on how the price of oil hit $147 last summer, then finished the year worse than the Buffalo Bills.

Watch CBS Videos Online

The most ridiculous thing I heard last year was the claim that speculation had nothing to do with the price. The number of contracts written on oil had multiplied many time, there were hedge funds set up to trade oil, and ETF's to make it easy to speculate. None of those buyers was going to refine the stuff into gas! And all that money moved into commodities has got to bid up the price.

What I am also guessing, and this report doesn't explore, is that the speculators were borrowing money to do this, and when the doody hit the financial fan, there was no more money to borrow, which hastened the oil drop during October and November.

Having been a day-trader during the end of the tech bubble, I could see the same behavior in the oil market last year. Analysts were making wild claims about future prices that moved the market by themselves. And all news was bullish news. When Iran or the Bushies made threatening statements, the price would jump $4 on expectation of attack.....but when the attack never came, the jump stayed in the price.

Let's not be too hard on these guys though, as some good has come from this. $4 gas made Americans see the folly of driving cars far bigger than they need, and hopefully the threat that we could see $4 again will keep us thinking that way. We suffered some short term pain for, hopefully, long term gain, as burning less oil is better for this country in so many ways.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Andrew Zimbalist answers sports-eco questions

If you are interested in both sports and economics (and who isn't?) you might want to check out the Q and A with leading sports economist Andrew Zimbalist at Freakonomics.

Economic news from Auctioneers

I spent the last 2 days at the Colorado Auctioneers Association annual convention in Denver. If you are not aware, I attended Auctioneer School last Sept with intentions of becoming an auctioneer for Charities and Benefits.....if you need an auctioneer, please call!.

The largest market for auctions in the country is real estate, and while this is not a business I am likely to get into, everyone else there seemed to be licking their chops at the idea that there is all this foreclosed real estate sitting around needing to be auctioned off. However, there were a few attendees there who already established in the business, and they point out one key problem: yes, there is more to sell, but no qualified buyers, and no financing for them. Particularly, banks who own foreclosed properties are not willing to provide financing when they are sold at auction. So, that means qualified buyers at auction need cash.....not an easy buyer to find.

Another interesting story I heard was from a gentlemen who runs an auction house in rural Colorado. He said he had an auction in August, just as things were starting to hit the fan in the financial world, that included precious metals, primarily gold and silver. At the time, silver was trading at $9 an ounce, and gold in the $700's. However, the metals he had to sell (all in raw form like bars or jewelry or otherwise added value) were selling at auction for far more than the than the world market price. Apparently, fear of a coming financial collapse had already set in.

Meanwhile, the talk was also that crowds were up at auctions for things like furniture and antiques, as everyone was looking for bargains, but dollar volume was down, as the crowds were not willing to spend. It's likely some people who attend auctions intend to re-sell what they buy for more money. That buyer is gone.

As a student of economics, if was interesting to listen to the stories these guys (and auctioneers are almost all guys, likely white ones in cowboy hats) told about what they were seeing in their businesses. There is no better indication of supply and demand in action than an auction. If you want to learn something about current market conditions, talk to a guy with an established auction business.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The End of the Financial World

Great, and very long, 2 part op-ed piece in today's NY Times about the financial meltdown and what should be done about it. Written by Michael Lewis ("Liar's Poker" and "Panic") and David Einhorn. I won't take the time to summarize it, but you should take the time to read it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

January 2 is my birthday, and since it occurs at a time of year when everyone, including me, is tired of partying, I always celebrate by taking myself to the movies (and sneaking in a really good beer to enjoy during it!).

Yesterday I saw an exceptional film, "Slumdog Millionaire". This is an Indian film that is getting quite a bit of early Oscar buzz, and for good reason. On the surface it is about a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire", who is accused of cheating, in part because he is an uneducated product of Mumbai's slums. What impressed me was the interesting story-telling technique. The film uses his answering the questions on the show as a method of flashing back and telling the main character's life story. In fact, you have 4 things going on at once: the question of whether he will win the big money on the game, the question of whether the police will be convinced by his story and let him go, the story of his very hard life growing up, and a love story.

This is truly and outstanding and different film, so go see it before it leaves your local theater. And don't leave before the credits run, because, as it is an Indian film, there is a big dance production number at the end.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Any idiot could see......

Under the "Any idiot could see..." department are 2 articles in the NY Times today.

First is a story about the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of Castro's takeover in Cuba. Several years later, the US started a trade embargo that was certain to bring Castro to his knees. And it has clearly worked, as he is certain to die of old age any day now, having ceded power to his brother.

Any idiot could see long ago that this embargo is unproductive, along with being expensive and immoral, having deprived Cuban citizens of the comforts we take for granted, and making the US an easy scapegoat in Cuba for all their problems. But, because old Cuban exiles wield so much power, and nobody wants to look "pro-commie", this stupid policy lives on.

Also, the Times has an editorial in support of Sen. Jim Webb's efforts to re-assess our criminal justice policies. It seems we have a higher percentage of our citizens in jail than any other country, yet we still have plenty of crime. Any idiot could see that keeping non-violent drug offenders in jail for extremely long sentences is unfair, immoral, expensive and unproductive. But no politician wants to risk looking "soft on crime". So these policies live on.

In both of these cases, any idiot could see how stupid our policies are. Which means that our spineless politicians who fail to change these ridiculous failed policies are more than just any idiots....they are a special class of idiots!

These would be 2 great places for change we can believe in to start.

My New Years Eve Gig

It's hard to imagine many things more unlikely than me being an evangelical preacher harping on the evils of alcohol. I haven't been to church since 1972, and I think that the invention of beer is probably mankind's greatest feat (oh, sure, the wheel is good too, but if you are not going out to get beer, you really don't need the wheel!). But that is exactly who I was for about 90 minutes last night.

The beautiful Boulderado Hotel celebrated it's 100th anniversary last night, and the director of marketing decided it would be fun to have some characters from the hotel's past there to tell some stories. So, they hired 4 of us from the murder mystery company I work for. I portrayed the Reverend Billy Sunday, a former major league baseball player who left baseball to become a preacher, and was quite famous for his fiery sermons demonizing drinking, dancing and card playing.

We introduced ourselves to the crowd during the band's first break, with each of us having a brief statement. I declared that I was dismayed to see that "Boulder is an even greater cesspool of iniquity than it was when I stayed here 100 years ago". That got me some laughs. When I followed with " and I intend to put a stop to it" it got me booed. Some actors might not like to get booed, but that was just the reaction I was looking for. Then, I spent the next hour damning the drinkers, while really wanting to join them.

The interesting question asked to me: If alcohol is so evil, how come Jesus turned water into wine? My answer: It wasn't safe to drink the water back then.

A rather unusual way to spend New Years Eve, but actual much better than getting drunk and watching a ball drop!