Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spinal Tap "Unwigged and Unplugged"!

I had the good fortune to win tickets to see Spinal Tap "Unwigged and Unplugged" last night at the Paramount Theater in Denver. The three great comic actors, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest, performed songs from Spinal Tap, and some of their other films. The also told jokes, showed a variety of funny videos and read from the censor's notes when NBC considered showing "TAP" as a late night film back in the 80's.

If you have never seen the film "This Is Spinal Tap", well, you have pretty much wasted your life. And if you have, you may have laughed your ass off about 20 years later while watching "A Mighty Wind", realizing that The Folksmen in that film were the same guys as Spinal Tap. Christopher Guest made directed that film, along with "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show". Shearer appeared with Guest on Saturday Night Live for one fabulous season back in the early 80's, when Martin Short and Billy Crystal were also in the cast, and is also the voice of many characters on The Simpsons (including both Mr.Burns and about self love!). McKean is probably best known as Lenny on "Lavern and Shirley", but don't hold that against him.

These guys are amazingly talented. They make great films, write very witty songs, and performed them last night is a variety of witty styles you would not expect. It was 2 hours of witty, intelligent humor and music that seemed to last only 15 minutes.

So, if this tour is coming to your town, check it out. You can find the schedule at their web site here. You can also go to and download a free version of "Saucy Jack".

Oh, and Harry Shearer does a radio show every Sunday called "Le Show". It is not available in most of the country, but you can listen to the pod cast at his web site.

So stop wasting time and go "Tap Into America"! Rock 'n Roll!!!

One Really Bad Idea, and One Good Thing A-coming

The Denver post reports today that the Colorado legislature is about to hand out $50 mil per year in tax breaks to developers of a combination new home for the Great Western Stock Show and a NASCAR track, and also for "mountain development to host the Winter Olympics".

So, the suffering CO taxpayers, in danger of having higher education funding cut in half, are going to subsidize a NASCAR track, that will be used maybe 2 weeks a year, the Stock Show, which has been here forever, and the Winter Olympics, which the voters here 30 years ago said they don't want, and probably still don't. Another transfer of wealth from the general public to the already wealthy. NASCAR, by the way, said they need $150 mil, and should have been told to stick it in their tailpipe

One of the legislators said that CO needs to do this to compete with other states that are offering similar breaks. Good idea. Let's not let anyone be dumber than us. I imagine they will pass this in a way that it does not have to go before the voters, because we are far less bribeable by lobbyists and would likely give his idea the middle finger it deserves.

Since I teach Economics, I can't start one of these good news/bad news entries with the good. Sorry. The good news is that Ken Burns, producer of the great PBS series "Baseball", "Jazz" and "The War" has produced a multi-part series on our National Parks that will air this September. If it is even half as good as his other work, it will be well worth watching. Read the Daily Camera story here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yankees seats for only $1250......such a deal!

The Yankees seem to be the first team in sports to realize that you can't just write any number on a ticket and expect fans to pay it. The NY Times reports today that the Yankees have cut prices from the "you gotta be fucking kidding me" range down to "come on, that's ridiculous" (my terms, not the Times). The empty seats on TV were apparently enough to make the Yankees realize they overshot. So, now they will try to convince the wealthy in NYC that a $1250 seat to see a team with little league quality starting pitching is a bargain.

Considering the news this morning that GDP declined over 6% in the first quarter of the year, the Yankees might still find themselves with a problem. Maybe they should advertise the seats as "Swine Flu Free".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu, electic cars, and Gay Iowans.

The 24 hour news networks have really gotten all lathered up over the swine flu. It's hard to believe it won't just kill everyone! Clearly, un-warranted panic gathers far better ratings than reason.

Economists have done studies on this sort of thing. People tend to get all excited over events like this, where the likelihood that it effects them is remotely small. Meanwhile, far more Americans will die from gunshots, or from having insufficient health insurance that won't allow them to afford needed treatment, but we don't do anything about that. But everyone wants something done about this swine flu.

In other words, people are stupid.

The other day I was telling some folks that I would like to see, before I die, and electric car with a foldable solar panel in the trunk, so folks could recharge their car while they are at work. Well, today I saw a little electric car made by Small Planet Evehicles that was close. It had a solar panel on top, and was fully electric. Unfortunately, it is tiny and will only go 40mph, so there is not much chance that this car becomes widely used. But, it is a step in the right direction, and with each step the technology improves.

Finally, gay couples have lined up this week to get married in Iowa. While I don't know why gay couples want to suffer the same way that straight ones do, I can't see how they shouldn't have that right. And maybe as more people see that allowing gays to live their lives like anyone else does not ruin marriage or turn their kids gay, we will make progress toward this, just as we have civil rights for other minorities. Frankly, I don't see how the 14th amendment doesn't already give gays this right.

I was telling a gay student of mine the other day that I see so much progress in this area, at least as far as general acceptance goes. When I was in high school, I told him, there were no gays in my high school. At least, as far as anyone knew. Today, kids are a lot more accepted if they are gay. Just like with other races, each generation is a bit more comfy with people who are different than their parents. All we need now is for the Neanderthals and "my faith tells me your evil" morons to catch on.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More on the Was on Drugs in the WSJ.

It seems more and more people are coming to the same, sane conclusion about the war on drugs that I did over 20 years ago. Today, in the Wall Street Journal there are pro and con columns about decriminalizing drugs. Unfortunately, the Journal is not free on line, so I won't link to it, but if you can read it for free somehow check it out.

Writing on the side of sanity is Yale Law School professor Steven B. Duke. The most interesting thing he brings to the table her is this:
A most impressive experiment has been underway in Portugal since 2001, when that country decriminalized the possession and personal use of all psychotropic drugs. According to a study just published by the Cato Institute, "judged by virtually every metric," the Portuguese decriminalization "has been a resounding success." Contrary to the prognostications of prohibitionists, the numbers of Portuguese drug users has not increased since decriminalization. Indeed, the percentage of the population who has ever used these drugs is lower in Portugal than virtually anywhere else in the European Union and is far below the percentage of users in the U.S.. One explanation for this startling fact is that decriminalization has both freed up funds for drug treatment and, by lifting the threat of criminal charges, encouraged drug abusers to seek that treatment.

Writing for the side of continued immoral stupidity is, SURPRISE, Bush's drug Czar, the guy who thought busting medical marijuana sellers in California was a good use of your tax dollars (but, I'm sure, wants to see your taxes cut!). It would be silly to think you would get any intelligent thought from an 8 year member of w's administration, but look at this quote, from the middle of an otherwise idiotic babble about how we can't make drugs legal:
What are the indelible lessons? In the process of making the drug problem much smaller, we learned the importance of education -- not principally teaching the young about the health dangers of specific drugs, but teaching young and old about the disease of addiction. We know that the disease begins with the use of addictive drugs and that those drugs change the brain -- they create craving, impair judgment and lead to withdrawal or a feeling of illness in absence of the drug. Science has helped us see that we need to help those who are addicted particularly when they do not want our help -- every family of an addict or alcoholic knows that denial is a terrible part of this disease.

So, President Obama, since you are looking for ways to save the taxpayers some money, why not look at the war on drugs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watchers of Comedy Central also read. Who woulda thunk it?

I have recommended before, and have a link to it on the right, Barry Ritholtz's blog. Ritholtz has is about to publish a book called "Bailout Nation" about the financial mess we are in, which I can't wait to read. In fact, he had a publishing deal with a publisher associated with S&P, and they dumped him because he blasts them in the book over their ridiculous ratings of complete crap as AAA.

Today Ritholtz writes about a meeting he had with his publisher about marketing, and what whose he would appear on. Here's what he says about appearing on The Daily Show:

But the most intriguing “inside baseball” stuff we discussed was the impact of The Daily Show on book sales — in particular, two recent books that were the subject of big TDS segments. These were mentioned as prime examples of the power of Jon Stewart.

The first is House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street by William D. Cohan. After Stewart raved about the book (”Helluva book — you made finance read like a suspense novel”) when Cohan was on the show April 9th, sales of the book in stores tripled. They have been strong ever since.

The second example was the infamous James Cramer appearance on TDS on March12th. According to the people I had lunch with yesterday, the very next day, sales of Cramer’s book Jim Cramer’s Real Money: Sane Investing in an Insane World went into free fall. They absolutely plummeted — and they haven’t recovered since.

As a big Daily Show fan, I've often wondered about the authors who appear there to promote books. I guessing that Stewart's audience is a bit more educated and inquisitive than the audience for "Reno 911:.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yanks, Mets in Fix over Unsold Tix

I'm guessing the above title is the headline the NY Post would run, if it was their story, and not the NY Times story about the Yankees and Mets having trouble selling their outrageously expensive premium seats. The story says about 5k tickets have gone unsold in the 2 parks for all the games since Opening Day.

From an economic standpoint, the story is interesting in that it states that fans are selling their tickets on internet sites for well below face value. This does not bode well for the NY teams, and teams around the country. I have written about this before, and I await the realization in professional sports that a ticket isn't worth $150 just because the team printed that number on it.

Here in Colorado, the Rockies have been on the road since their opening weekend, and have been busy sucking while away. That means they will again be playing in front of a sea of unused green plastic seats. Based on the way the Rockies run their franchise, we can be sure they will be the last team in the major leagues to come up with a creative approach to filling those seats.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some enlightened talk about drugs on 4/20

President Obama had already started to change some of the extremely stupid but easy to fix policies of the Bush administration that drove me nuts. He is loosening restrictions on Cuba (but needs to go farther), and moved to put science above politics in government decisions. He has even backed off the raids on medical marijuana providers.

So, on "National Canibus Day", let's hope he puts some thought into undoing the wasteful and stupid policies of our country in general: The War on Drugs. Obama doesn't seem much interested in expending his political capital on this issue, but more and more people, from the political left, right and center, are calling for a re-thinking of our costly war on drugs.

In an interview in The Daily Beast today, former Columbian President Cesar Gavaria calls for the US to decriminalize drugs. It is demand for drugs from the US that has caused problems thoughout the Americas, and making drugs illegal just imprisons a lot of people without curing the problem.

That's sensible stuff. If you believe that it is difficult to get drugs because they are illegal, ask a college student, or even a high school student, how hard it is. This was has been sapping our money and law enforcement resources for far too long.

I know. I've said this before. But it can't be said too many times. And I won't stop writing about things that are stupid until we stop being stupid.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tea Bagging and Dilbert.

I am not going to make any "teabagging" jokes....I think the Daily Show has exhausted that line of thought. But let's look at what went on the other day.

First, we had a group of Americans so angry that many of them were unable to spell or use correct grammar on their signs. Yes, those are the folks I want directing my government on what to do.

Second, we had the guys on Fox News, who not so long ago decried any dissent regarding the actions of w as un-American, coming out in favor of dissent. Did they suddenly realize there was more to the Constitution than the second amendment?

Finally, we had Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, trying to show that he's an even bigger moron than the guy who had the job before him by suggesting that Texas might secede. My reaction to that idea: PLEASE GO NOW!!!! Take Tom Delay and Dick Armey and John Cornyn and Ron Paul and anyone named Bush with you and don't come back! We'll figure out how to smuggle out Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson and Ray Benson later. Yes, ya'll think it's the greatest place in the world, but it is in fact a big dry empty place populated mostly by morons. (OK, in fairness, they are morons with great manners who have always treated me very well when I've been there)

Not related to the teabaggers, but more amusing, is that Dilbert is picking on Economists this week, with the kind of weirdly accurate satire we've come to expect. Check out the strips here.

Oh, and will someone please explain to me how the 14th Amendment does not give gay couples the same rights as straight couples in all states, not just enlightened ones like Iowa.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Best Reality Show

American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, Dancing With The Stars, Celebrity Apprentice (Really, that's a show? Are you effing kidding?)....just some of the reality shows that I've seen ads for recently. I've never actually watched any of these shows, because they are not real, but completely contrived by their producers to create artificial triumph and tribulation. But, there is one great reality show that started tonight on the Versus network. It has drama, excitement, athleticism, grit, toughness, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and even an occasional fist fight, all of it occurring naturally. And, a respectful handshake at the end.

I am talking, of course, of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the greatest annual sporting event in the world. Real men playing a real sport really hard. No Donald Trump. No voting for the winner. No sequins. No crying. Now that's a reality show! I don't even have a favorite team in the game this year, the Sabres and Avs both having fallen short. But I'll be watching nonetheless.

If you don't love hockey, I just feel sorry for you.

The Kids Will Love These

Topps, the trading card company, will have a new product out soon that will include leaders in non-baseball areas along with the likes of Pujols and Jeter. Included in this product will be a Bernie Madoff card....and as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. He is in a series of cards of "world's biggest hoaxes, hoodwinks and bamboozles."

When I was a kid, I loved to get baseball cards and pour over the stats on the back. I'm sure today's starry-eyed kids will be just as excited to get that Madoff card. I can just see the back of the card:
2005 Returned investors 12%
2006 Returned investors 12%
2007 Returned investors 12%
2008 Ooop, those previous returns are a scam.

The set includes Ponzi himself ( a small-timer compared to Bernie) and Enron. Can't wait!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bird

Mark "Bird" Fidcrych died yesterday. The Bird, in fact, was really with us, the public, for a very short time. But those of us who saw him will surely remember him.

I saw The Bird pitch during one of his many comeback attempts, in 1979 when I was in grad school at Michigan. He had been out for a couple years, during which the Tigers were not good, although they had accumulated some good young talent such as Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish. But, they had no pitching, and the simple idea of a comeback by the Bird gave everyone hope.

So, there we were, in a sold out Tiger Stadium, hoping like the 40k other fans that he would return to the form and antics and excitement that he generated 3 years earlier in his far too brief and glorious run to fame. We weren't really Tiger fans, but how could you not want this guy back in the game!

I don't remember exactly how the Bird pitched that day, although I think he went about 4 innings and gave up a few runs. Not a disaster, not a triumph. I do recall saying to my friends that he had done better than most of the Tigers other recent starters. And it was good enough that you could hope he would make it back. That is what everyone left the park with that day: Hope.

Unfortunately, his arm went out shortly after that, and not much more was heard from the Bird. Young talented pitchers with arm trouble.....they bring so much hope and crush so many dreams, particularly their own. I imagine today he might have been treated differently on his way up. He was only 21 when he hit the big time, and today his innings and pitch count would have been closely watched, and maybe modern medicine would have saved his career.

Mark Fidrych died yesterday, but THE BIRD died long ago.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Financial Mess Explained

I've been struggling for 8 months to explain to students and others what is going on in our economy. Leave it to Dilbert (or Scott Adams) to do it in 8 panels. Enjoy it here

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Son of the Hanson Brothers

Everyone knows the greatest hockey movie in history is "Slapshot", and the greatest thing in the movie is the Hanson Brothers. So, it was amusing to read this story today in the NYT
The son of one of the famed Hanson brothers from the movie “Slap Shot” scored his first N.H.L. goal on Tuesday night, and Martin Gerber had 47 saves as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the suddenly inconsistent Devils, 4-1, at Prudential Center.

Christian Hanson, the son of Dave Hanson, a former hockey player who became an actor, capped a three-goal first period as the Maple Leafs prevented the Devils from wrapping up their eighth Atlantic Division title, and third in four years.

It didn't mention if he was involved in any fisticuffs, or knocked the toupee off the organist with an errant slap shot. I wonder if he plays with Hotwheels.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


That's all.....BASEBALL!!!! It's Opening Day, the only religious holiday that means anything to me. In fact, next Sunday, while a billion Christians around the world celebrate the unlikely story of resurrection, I will be at church as well....Coors Field!


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Ward Churchill Verdict

In case you missed it, a jury concluded that former CU Ethnic Studies prof Ward Churchill was fired in part for his comments about 9/11 victims. They awarded him $1 in compensation, but it was a victory for him nonetheless.

This case affirmed the obvious:
1) Churchill became a victim of a witch hunt by conservative, led by former CO gov Bill Owens and the crazy right wing media after Churchill's comments became public.

2) Churchill had no business being a tenured faculty member of a major university. His credentials to begin with are sketchy (no Ph.D., only a masters from some school no one ever heard of), and his academic morals were non-existent.

So, what we have here is 2 groups behaving badly. First, CU hires an unqualified Prof, and keep promoting him, because he is a minority and they are committed to diversity. It didn't seem to matter that he was unqualified, and tended to plagiarize. He was a Native American (although, much evidence shows his Indian status is a fraud, and folks who work at CU have told me it's been a joke on campus long before this hit the fan) and that is all that mattered. I believe they even created the Ethnic Studies department in order to keep him from leaving.

Then, the Crazy Right decided they need to get him fired for saying something most of America didn't want to hear. These are, by the way, the same guys who become big defenders of free speech when it comes to campaign spending. Owens led the charge, pretty much threatening to cut off CU's funding if the didn't fire him, violating all the rules of academic freedom.

There are a bunch of lessons to be learned here, and let's hope both sides learn them. Meanwhile, the big winners are, as always, the lawyers, who made big bucks to try this case and prove the obvious.

Are these headlines related?

2 headlines from today's WSJ:

Iowa Court Paves Way for Gay Marriage


Sequins? What Sequins? Canada's New Spin on Triple Loops
Figure Skaters Have a Tough Time Pitching The Sport's Muscle; 'Show the Masculinity'

Am I the only what who sees the connection here?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Our F(*&(*&ed up Healthcare System

In case you are one of the few people who think our health care system is wonderful, take a look at NPR Frontline's "Sick Around America" that aired last night. In case you don't have the time to watch it, here are the 2 most frightening stats:

1) It is estimated that 20,000 Americans die each year because they could not get the health care they the richest country in the World!

2) 24% of our health care dollars go to administration, more than double the cost in the rest of the world....WHERE THEY HAVE GOV'T RUNNING IT! That's right, our health care system spends money less efficiently than the British Government! And that 24% in part goes to the cost of making sure sick people DON'T get treatment.

The show focused on the problems of people like me, who have to purchase their own health care, and our at the mercy of a system that allows the companies to drop us, or not accept our business, if they believe we pose a risk. This appears to indicate that we will gradually have an army of people in their 50's and 60's who are too young for medicare, and, because of their age and the fact that they may have had some problem in the past, can not get private insurance.

What does that mean to me? Well, here I am, a pretty healthy 53 year old, who is told by everyone how I need to go have a physical and find out what could be wrong with me. The only problem is that if some condition is found for which I need to be treated, that will make me un-insurable in the future. So, the financial incentive is not to do the wise thing medically, but to wait until I have a real disaster and need the insurance I have. Sound crazy?

We are the only rich country in the world that allows people to die because they can't afford treatment. We have a system of private insurance companies with an incentive to NOT have you get the care you need, and that doesn't want to pay for things like physicals, because the company insuring you now wants you to be sick on someone else's bill. Our life expectancy and infant mortality rates trail the rest of the rich world. But Conservative will tell you how awful it will be if government gets more involved.

Unfortunately, the vested interests will prevail, and we will get no significant reform. Obama's proposals are not enough. We need to blow up our system and start over. Fat chance.

I'd go there!!!

Those nutty funsters at NPR played an April Fools Day joke on their listeners, doing a story about another bit of noted funsters, the Economist, planning to build an amusement park. Listen to it here.

This sounds a lot more fun to me than anything Disney has (and I bet there would be no horrible songs like "It's a small world"). I wish it were true.

Thanks to Fiona for pointing this one out.