Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Murder Mystery Video

Occasionally I talk about the murder mysteries I perform in. Many of you will never see them (most of you probably don't want to!). The mysteries are interactive, with the actors like me mingling with the audience, dining with them, and allowing them to solve the murders. Usually, there is not a lot of scripted, set action. But the show we just did at the Hotel Boulderado revolved around a "live" radio broadcast. First we rehearsed it, then perform it later (hint: things change!). So, thanks to Kip, we were able to get some video. Here, in 2 parts, is the opening of the show.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Man v Food v Banjo Billy

You know that show on The Travel Channel "Man v Food", where a guy named Adam travels around the country attempting ridiculous food related challenges? Me either. Well, that is, I had not heard of it until the middle of last week, when Banjo Billy told me they were coming to Boulder to shoot a show, and would be doing some shooting on the bus. He invited a bunch of his friends, include yours truly, to ride along. I asked him which we were going to be, but he didn't know. In fact, until we picked up the crew, we had no idea what they wanted to do. That's show biz!

If you've never been involved in shooting a movie or video, you would be shocked to know how much time goes in to producing so little entertainment. The gang from the show road around on the bus, stopping to shoot a few segments, for about 2 hours. The show is a half hour long show, which means, since it is on cable, that there is probably less than 20 minutes of actual show time. Considering that the show's focus is usually on the show's food challenge (in this case Adam eating 50 wings in 30 minutes at the West End Tavern) that means all that time went in to what will probably be about 3 minutes of actual TV time.

The upside is....well, we had fun. Adam and his crew were pretty cool for show biz people. The star joked around with everyone and seemed to really enjoy hanging out and drinking beer with us on the bus. And, for Banjo Billy it means a couple minutes of national exposure that cost him a few hours of his time and a few gallons of diesel fuel. Not bad!

Don't know when the show will be on, and you won't see me as anything but background, but I'll pass along any info I get.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where are the raging moderates?

The above is a question that I keep wondering about. The crazy right has already taken over the GOP, promising to dump any candidate who dares to even talk to a Democrat. The crazy left is threatening to do the same to the Dems, although there is definitely a wider range of positions there than in the GOP. On TV and in print, you get the same thing, crazy rage from the outer edges of the spectrum, with very little fact or pragmatism.

So, where are the raging moderates? The best we have is Thomas Friedman of the NY Times, who writes today about this very subject. What we need is more good policy, less dogma. More research and fact, less blind faith in political idea. Meanwhile, our politicians bring us just the opposite.

Take health care. The rational thing would have been for the politicians to agree that our health care system is an expensive, unjustifiable mess that is on the way to bankrupting the country. Then, we could have gotten a much better bill. Instead, we got one party negotiating with itself, while the GOP decided it was in their best political interest to say no, even at the risk of keeping an unsustainable status quo.

We get the same thing when it comes to the federal budget. Something must be done about entitlements, particularly Medicare, or we will be bankrupt about the time I'm supposed to get Medicare. But, because we have no raging moderates, we get Republicans who think tax cuts are the answer to all problems, and Dems who see any attempt to cut government spending as heresy. Look at what the GOP says about a reasonable Republican like Alan Simpson agreeing to work with the Obama administration on this problem.

Oh, and as for health care, it appears that the GOP claim that the bill just passed went against the wishes of the majority of Americans, take a look at this USA Today poll on the subject. It appears more Americans support the bill than oppose it. And, the behavior of the GOP is viewed most negatively during the process. Somebody tell Fox News that the tea parties represent a small percentage of the country, not the majority. They seem to think we are all ignorant racist cranks, because that is all they allow on their network.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Movies worth seeing.

The Blockbuster near me is going out of business, much like the entire company likely will be soon, which allowed me to pick up a copy of "The Hurt Locker" on DVD for only $10. It also seems to be re-appearing in cinemas now that it won the Oscar for best pic. If you get a chance to see it either way, take it. From the moment the film opens, you are tensely on the edge of your seat, as the team of soldiers attempt to defuse bombs, as well as personal demons, and make it home alive. We were about an hour into the movie when I checked the time, and it seemed like 15 minutes. Very well made movie, deserving of the accolades it has received. Probably not a good film to watch with the kids.

Last night I did go the movie theater to see "The Ghost Writer", Roman Polanski's new thriller. Say what you like about Polanski's personal life, but he sure knows how to make a fine film. A few weeks ago I had watched his masterpiece "Chinatown" for the first time in years, and was reminded that the 70's, while a horrid decade for America as a whole, did produce a crapload of great films (crapload is the official measuring device of film).

If you like thrillers, mysteries, creepy politicians and spies, then you will like "The Ghost Writer". Very reminiscent of "Chinatown" in its ability to keep you guessing, and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Remember, in America we vote with our dollars for what is produced. I implore you to go see these films, or buy the dvd's, so that the powers that be in Hollywood will realize there is a money to be made by producing intelligent films for adults, and if you have good story and characters, you don't need 3D.

Now, a joke from my now favorite TV show, "The Big Bang Theory": A neutron walks into a bar and asks "How much for a beer?". The bartender replies "For you, no charge." Think about it!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Ha! That's likely what is being said by the liars and scammers on Fox News. (If you don't think they are scammers, ask Glenn Beck how much money he's made on Gold while also promoting its purchase, and check out THIS STORY about Hannity's charity)

As I have said before, the health care bill is not perfect. Far from it. But it is a good start, and if it did not pass we could go another 16 years before anyone has the balls to take this up again, and we couldn't afford the last 16 year delay, let alone another. As Obama correctly said, and other intelligent commentators pointed out, the status quo was not sustainable. It would result in more Americans without health care, and the percent of GDP spent on health care would continue to climb. And if you think it is somehow moral, as apparently all the "good Christians" in the GOP do, to allow insurance companies to cancel your insurance once you get sick, and let you die, well, the the status quo was a great idea.

The biggest fault with the bill is that is does not do enough to control costs. It doesn't change the two big perverse incentives in our system: doctors getting paid for procedures instead of care, and tax free insurance as a employee benefit. Republicans actually had some decent ideas regarding cost control. Had they behaved like adults and negotiated in good faith, instead of behaving like 2 year olds, they might have gotten them inserted into the bill. And if they don't add more cost control to this package, health care will still head us towards bankruptcy as a nation.

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck fans can grab their guns and stand by the window waiting for the Obama Brownshirts to come and take them to the concentration camps he has planned for white people.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Murder Mystery Photo

We are currently performing a murder mystery at the Boulderado Hotel set in 1941. This is a photo we took clowning around before the show. Despite how it might appear, we are not advocating violence against women!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness Never Disappoints

I don't watch much college hoop during the regular season. There are so many teams, so many games, so few players of note who stick around more than a year, that I find keeping up with it all too tiresome. So, I usually don't get interested until the NCAA tourney starts.

I don't know how long it's been called "March Madness", but it is aptly named. In fact, I would offer the notion that the annual basketball bash is the only sporting event that consistently lives up to it's hype. Super Bowls often suck, the World Series is too often won by the Yankees, the Olympics are usually ruined by scandal and silly events, and the World Cup tends to end a month of good football with the winner being decided by a shootout after 120 minutes of anal defense. But I can't remember ever saying "Boy, the NCAA tourney really sucked this year".

Of course, not all 63 games are gems, and the final has sometimes been less than stellar. But watching Murray State win on that last minute shot yesterday is the kind of thing that makes me a sports fan (even though I had Vandy making the "Elite 8"). And I'm sure I'll be treated to more fun like that. And, since I have a bit of flesh in the game, I care about most every game.

The worst part of the event is the lame coverage by CBS, who seem to think they are covering one game at a time, not an event. Too often, one game will end, and they will go to interviews or studio talking heads instead of cutting immediately to more action. Why they would think we care what Clark Kellogg has to say about what we just saw more than a game that is on is a complete mystery. For those of you who are not aware, you can now watch all the games on your computer at the CBS March Madness site.

You may have heard of the clinic that was suggesting that Tuesday was the best day to have a vasectomy, as it requires sitting around for 4 days after the surgery, thus giving a guy the perfect excuse to lie on the couch and watch hoop. While this sounds like a clever strategy, I would suggest that if a guy needs to go that far to get his wife's permission to watch basketball, that, well, he can't have very much down there to get snipped. Maybe that explains why I've never been married!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Awkward Family Photos, THE BOOK!

It had been a while since I visited the Awkward Family Photos web site, so when I had a few minutes before class today I checked out the latest in creepy pictures of family fun. I discovered some big news: the have a book coming out. Not sure why,but they do. You can check it out HERE.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Daylight Savings Time Must Change.

I am starting a movement. Every year we "Spring Ahead" one hour over the weekend. With the new rules, that means a crucial weekend during which many people started celebrating St. Patrick's Day was shortened by a crucial hour. This is just plain immoral!

Here is my solution: We should move the time change to a Tuesday afternoon, at about 3PM. Allow Americans to shorten their work day by 1 hour one day a year. Politicians will love could you not vote for a guy who let you go home an hour early.

As for the "Fall Back" part of the deal, let's keep the extra hour on the weekend.

Food Inc.

Every time I talk about our skewed food system, somebody suggests I should watch "Food Inc", Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser's documentary about where our food comes from. So, I finally watched it the other night while having dinner, which, by the way, is probably not the best way to enjoy a film that shows your meat being processed.

A few days ago I posted the chart about where our food subsidy money goes, versus what we should be eating, and "Food Inc" covers that subject to some extent. More alarming, though, is the revelation that our food supply is controlled by only a few huge corporations with monopoly power, which our anti-trust laws are supposed to prevent. Monsanto, for instance, sells 90% of the soybean seed in the US, which is a market share Microsoft can't even dream of.

Where is the FTC? Bought and paid for by the corporations, as is the FDA and USDA, particularly under the Bush administration, where lobbyists were hired to oversee the industries who paid them previously. Any wonder then why we have had so many outbreaks of e coli? While I am sure that the Obama has replaced the Bush lobbyists with more scientific leaders, I am not sure if inspections at packing plants have been increased, and certainly nothing has been done to change our ass-backwards farm programs.

"Food Inc." makes clear that most of our food is not grown, it is manufactured. Animals in huge feedlots who never eat the foods they were meant to, industrial corn turned into all the ingredients on the side of the cereal box. As our health care costs march us toward national bankruptcy, with no help in site, we need also be aware of the effect our food policy has on our health care costs.

Okay, writing this has bummed me out. Anyone got a deep fried Twinkie?

If you have Netflix, you can watch "Food Inc." on your computer. For more info on the movie and other food stuff, check out the Food Inc. web site.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This needs no comment

If you don't live in CO, you might have missed this beautiful picture.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How Dumb is Our Food Policy?

An editorial in the NY Times today endorses the proposal in Albany of a tax of 1 cent per oz on sugary sodas. A similar tax idea was dropped recently in Colorado. Clearly, something this sensible can never be passed in a nation racing to stupidity as fast as ours.

One of the things all economists know is that if you want less of something, tax the hell out of it. In a nation with an obesity problem and health care costs out of control, it not only makes sense to tax sodas as we do cigarettes, but to add a lot of other foods to that tax list as well. If I were dictator, we would be paying for our health care system by taxing foods based on how bad they are for you. We already tax alcohol and cigarettes because they are bad for us, so what is the big deal with taxing soda? That would result in less usage of sugary soda, which could reduce obesity and diabetes. The only problem with the New York proposal is that the tax is probably not big enough to substantially reduce soda sales.

I am not a nutritionist, but I am guessing that two sodas a day are probably worse for you than 2 glasses of wine. (Anyone know the answer to that?).

Another thing economists know is that if you want more of something, subsidize it. So, it makes sense for the government to subsidize things that are good for us like renewable energy and education. What doesn't make sense is to subsidize, instead of tax, things that are bad for us. So we can only be described as complete morons for tolerating the subsidies shown in the chart above, which came from THIS story in the NY Times Economix blog. That's right, the food people say we should eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies, but we instead subsidize meat and cheese. As a result, you can see the comparative costs of healthy foods versus unhealthy have moved in the wrong direction.

And if you're not convinced yet that we are a nation of morons, then listen to the interview on Fresh Air from NPR with David Walker, who had been warning us, to no avail, of impending national financial doom. He makes great sense.....which explains why no one in Washington is listening.

Hey, I'm an Economics teacher. It's my job to bum you out!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wish I'd Seen It!

Unlike last night's Oscars show, which was pretty my lacking in any entertainment, I wish I could say I have seen "The Hurt Locker". But I didn't, and the odds are you didn't either. It only grossed about $21M, which is about what Avatar did in it's first weekend at my local theater.

So, bravo for the academy voters for not making the same mistake they did with James Cameron's previous Oscar winner, the dreadful "Titanic". They chose a movie that they thought was the best, paying no attention to the ticket sales. And a big "BOOOOO" to Hollywood in general for not putting any money into the marketing of the winner. And another big "BOOO" to the theaters, for running a system where good films only last about a week if they aren't doing big box office.

Here in Boulder we now have only one theater, with 16 screens. This sucks. Before this theater opened, we had an art film house across the street from where it opened. I likely would have had a chance to see "The Hurt Locker" there. But it closed when the new theater opened, as did every other theater in town. So, now we have one high tech theater that shows mostly big budget crap, and have to go to Denver or wait for Netflix to see the stuff that doesn't appeal to the masses. And we can just forget about seeing a documentary if we don't want to go to Denver (the exception is "The Cove", which won best doc last night, and was made by Boulderites). I find it astounding that a city as educated and ....well, Boulder can not support an indy theater.

Hopefully, "The Hurt Locker" will reappear in theaters now. In the mean time....Please Landmark Theaters, open another place in Boulder! I promise to go every week. I'll even stop sneaking in my own beer and M&M's.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hey, I had this idea!!

A couple years ago, when I was hanging out with Fiona (who often comments on this blog), she became interested in genealogy. She did a trace of my ancestry and managed to connect me to all kinds of famous people, including Malcomb, King of Scotland made famous in Shakespeare's "McBeth". I believe this makes me the rightful king of Scotland.

As she kept tracing my ancestry and discovering this interesting stuff, we had an idea for a reality show. You trace people's ancestry, and at the end of the show reveal something fascinating about the person's former relatives. We thought it would be great for the history channel. Of course, we didn't know anyone in showbiz, nor have the cojones to go around pitching this idea, so we just amused ourselves with the discussion. We also didn't think to include celebrities. But we did figure to get to sponsor.

This morning, I read in the paper that NBC has a new show called "Who Do You Think You Are". It is exactly the show we had come up with, including the participation of, with the exception that they are tracing the genealogy of celebs instead of normal folks. I am so bummed out.

I guess the moral of the story is that you no matter what stupid idea you may have for a TV show, you should pursue it. No telling what kind of crap they will put on TV.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nominal versus Real Movie Grosses

I've been teaching my macro classes about the concept of "real" versus "nominal" numbers recently, so I thought I would share some info I became aware of from the Economix blog at the NY Times.

In nominal terms, "Avatar" is the all time leading earner in the movie business, having raked in over $700B of our dollars in the US. But is it really? Not if you adjust for inflation. In fact, according to this chart at Box Office Mojo, it is only 15th, when adjusted for inflation, or, as economists would state it, in "real" terms. In fact, it trails James Cameron's previous over-rated blockbuster "Titanic".

While this may be a bit of fun trivia when discussing movie box office, it is important when discussing more serious economic issues. To compare "nominal"....and by that, I mean numbers achieved at the time they were achieved"....numbers from one year to another, particularly if those years are far apart, is utter nonsense. Yet, you will hear politicians, pundits and journalist do this.

More meaningful numbers are made "real" via a few methods, depending on the number. One is to just adjust the numbers by the rate of inflation between periods. You can find an adjuster on the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site that will do that for you instantly. For other statistics, say size of deficits or government spending, you can make numbers meaningful by comparing it to the size of the economy in general.....stating it as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If someone is using numbers from different times to make a point, find out if they are "real". If not, they are worthless.

Moral of the story: Beware the nominal number, and mistrust anyone who would use them to make their point.