Friday, December 16, 2011

MY ANNUAL XMAS POEM.....This time, it's personal!


Twas the night before Xmas and I was kvetching
It’s the time of year when my values are stretching
I’d bought all these presents that I was to wrap
When I knew that this holiday was a bunch of crap
The halls had all been decked out with holly
To honor a story that was nothing but folly
There’d be joy and drinking and lots of mirth
Because of some nonsense about a virgin birth.

Just as I was stuffing a secular stocking
I heard on my door a rather loud knocking
I opened the portal only to see
A fellow you would not think would visit me
He had a white beard that looked really fine
And a gut that was even bigger than mine
And black boots on whose shine he did not skimp
And a red velvet suit like you’d see on a pimp
He stood in the doorway grinning a grin
And said “It’s cold out here, can I come in?”

I invited him in, and was amazed
When to my fridge a path he did blaze
And from it what did Santa pull out
But 2 bottles of a locally brewed stout
He popped off the caps and handed me one
Sat on the couch and said “What’s up son”
“Well Santa” I said “I’m feeling some grief
About this season based on a silly belief
The story of Xmas is surely not true
It makes far more sense to believe in you
For at least every Xmas you’re down at the mall
And unlike God, you’ve been seen by all
One would have to be mentally lazy
To believe a story that is so outright crazy
About mangers and wise men and stars in the sky
To dream that all up someone had to be high
And how could you buy it unless you’re a loon
It’s a fact that Jesus was born in June”

Santa took a big gulp and let out a sigh
“Well I notice that many nice gifts you did buy
And although you are someone who does not believe
You’ll be drinking at Friday’s on Xmas eve
And fly across country in a plane packed with others
To spend another 6 days at your mother’s”

I just laughed and said “Man, you old fox
You know I am stuck in this paradox
For while I am surely an atheist
It would be awful if Xmas was missed
Cause I like this holiday, you can say that
The lights and the music and your red hat
And how people behave in a friendly way
And movies with Bing and Danny Kaye
Or a kid who wants a bb gun
And opening presents surely is fun
And bowls full of eggnog in which you could drown
And xmas cd’s by Ray Charles and James Brown
Yes, I can say it would please me to pieces
If we could have xmas without mentioning Jesus”

Santa finished his beer and said “You’re not nuts
To deny xmas is fun you would be such a putz
Go ahead and relax and enjoy this fun season
And leave the religion to those who don’t reason
Let me leave you with this fore I hop in my sled
It’s a thought you should always keep in your head
You’ll hear it from me or the Easter Bunny
Religious holidays are all about money!”
He then gave me a chocolate wrapped up in gold
And just like that headed out in the cold.

And so ,Every Xmas, wherever you roam
You’ll encounter nice folks who don’t by the tome
About Jesus and God and dudes who brought Myrrh
And that Mary gave birth but Joe didn’t schtupp her
They give gifts and watch videos of the Yule Log
Sing carols and laugh and drink Egg Nog
That this holiday is for everyone surely’s not news
The Christians, the Athiests, and even the Jews
Though my idea of Xmas you might find crass
At least I don’t have to attend midnight mass!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Study

You won't find much that makes sense on the WSJ Opinion pages, but here is something that may be helpful to stressed out students. It's about how to study.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football Singing Competition?

This idea came to me this morning while reading Sports Illustrated in......well, you know where.

ESPN has dumped Hank Williams Jr's football song, and needs a new one. And the NBA seems to be ready to dump their season, leaving a big hole in the ESPN schedule for the winter. The solution to both these problems is obvious: an "American Idol" type of show, where people around the country write their own MNF song and audition it, and the fans can vote for the winner. In fact, this seems so obvious that there must be someone in the Disney Co. who has pitched this to management. If not, then I await your check, ESPN!

And I'm thinking they should bring back Keith Olberman to be the mean judge, and of course Chris Berman. And the third judge would have to be some bimbo female pop star who knows nothing of football.

I'm not saying I'd watch this show. In fact, unless they hire me to produce it or be a judge, I wouldn't. In fact, I wouldn't watch if I were a judge either, because I hate seeing myself on video, as it turns out I am neither as tall or as thin as I think I am, and I don't sound the same as I do in my head either. But the mere fact that I would be watching hockey while this is on means it would be a ratings hit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New format

Doesn't this look dark and mysterious? Comments?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Netflix and the Post Office: Creative destruction at work

If you are a Netflix subscriber you got CEO Reed Hasting's insulting apology yesterday, telling you that they were going to split into 2 services. I saw this letter as saying "We are sorry for buggering you. Now, how about another good buggering", as now we find out that not only has the price gone up 60%, but we will now have to deal with 2 web sites if we have both streaming and DVD's. The WSJ reports that Netflix had received 16k angry emails by noon.

It is clear that the future of this service is in streaming video, a far superior way to deliver video than waiting a few days for the post office to bring a dvd to you. The WSJ story also noted that Netflix expects dvd by mail to be gone in 15 years. I'm thinking it won't last that long.

So the question now is "Once Netflix (or Qwickster) is no longer shipping dvd's by mail, why do we need the post office?". Think about it. What does the USPS bring you that you want or need? Most days whatever I pull from the mailbox gets tossed in the recycling box right away. I still get Sports Illustrated and The Economist by mail, but I could read those on line. In fact, in recent months the post office had taken to delivering my magazines 2 days later than before, making it more likely that I will begin reading on line. They must have hired consultants from the newspaper industry: when demand for your product declines, decrease it's quality and hasten your demise.

Both Netflix and the USPS are examples of what economists call "Creative Destruction". New, better ideas replace the old. The post office has been sheltered from this somewhat, in that it has a government granted monopoly to deliver the mail. This is a situation that makes no sense whatsoever, particularly today.

If the Post Office were really a private company, as it is sort of supposed to be, it would have been finding other technologies and products as it saw that the growth of the internet meant a decrease in it's traditional business. It would also have already closed the thousands of post offices that they now say they need to close. Unfortunately, they are still controlled by politicians, who control their pricing and operation. You can be pretty sure that Congress will not let them close those PO's. Would you want to hand a potential election opponent the attack slogan "He closed your post office"? I am betting that even those government-hating Teabaggers will not allow their own local PO to close.

Here's what we ought to do: get out of the postal business. Sell the post office in an IPO and let it be run as a real business. Let competitors compete with it, thus improving service and lowering costs. I am guessing that in a competitive business, the postal workers wouldn't take their lunch break at noon, just when the few customers they still have come in to use the post office.

Protecting the post office makes no more sense than protecting the typewriter business would have 25 years ago. Or, protecting the DVD business does today.

Isn't it interesting that the government dictates that everyone gets postal service, which we could certainly live without, but not medical care, for which our need is far more important!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Some people never learn!

The Boulder History Museum has asked me to be the MC for their fundraiser again this year. Since it is only 2 weeks away I can only assume they spent the last 50 weeks trying to find someone better, but were unsuccessful. If you live in or around Boulder, please think about going. They have a history scavenger hunt, and it is great fun. You can get details HERE.

And while I'm pluggin my gigs, I'll be doing murder mysteries at the Boulderado again this fall. Murder is set in 1959, and I get to play a director of bad of them was called "The Ticklish Economist". You get amused, fed, and even get valet parking for $68. Might even have someone die in your lap. Details are HERE

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Bit About Game Theory

While I'm watching the first NFL game of the season, I have also had time to read this story in the Economist about game theory. Has nothing to do with the football game, but the new NFL kickoff rule, which now leads to about 6 straight minutes of no action, sure does give a fellow time to catch up on his reading. And remember, the ball is only in play for about 11 minutes during the 3+ hours the game is on.

I don't know much about Game Theory, but I am fascinated by it. It is soundly based on one of the few things economists know for sure, which is that incentives matter. Reading Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's (if his nickname isn't "Skeeter", then he has not hung out with the right people) book "The Predictioneer's Handbook" was a real eye-opener about how looking at incentives will tell you how something will turn out.

Game Theory models are being used in all sorts of places now give people an edge in negotiations, or just make them work more smoothly. Let's hope Obama hires one of these consultants before he allows the GOP to kick his ass again and lets the country get destroyed by the Tea Party!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Education Industry Needs a Bill James!

With school starting, there seems to be a lot of chatter about how to fix our public schools. Of course, if there were a simple magic bullet for this, we'd have already shot it. Based on the stuff I have read and heard over the years, including this very interesting conversation on Econtalk, there are a few things we know for sure, and a few big hurdles to fixing things.

Here's what we know for sure
1) The value of good teachers to society is enormous!!
2) The negative effect of bad teachers is also enormous!!
3) Incentives matter, which is of course something we know about the world in general, and one of the few things you would find economists agreeing on.

That's about it for the knowable. Here's what we don't know:
1) How to "make" a good teacher.
2) How to accurately measure teachers to determine which ones are good and which should be selling Lady Kenmores.
3) How to get people who would be good teachers to teach, and keep them from burning out.

Of course, we do get a lot of bullshit from politicians about easy fixes. Conservatives say that the unions are to blame, and if we just got rid of them we could fire all the bad teachers, make schools compete and problem solved. And certainly they are right that unions have stood in the way of changes that would allow bad teachers to be fired, and incentive programs put in place to reward good performance. But, if you look at my list of "don't knows", well that won't fix it.

Even if there were no unions and we could fire all the bad teachers, we still need to replace them with good ones. And it is unlikely that any school district could afford the type of teacher pay that would attract good teachers and get them to stay. If fact, lack of unions would probably mean teachers in general were earning less, and getting fewer benefits and that would deter talented people from taking up the profession. And the competition argument is unproven. Some charter schools outperform regular schools, but that data I have seen does not show conclusive evidence that the existence of charters, or competition with private schools is definitely beneficial. Also, some "choice" programs, like the one in Jefferson County here in Colorado, seek to send money religious schools, which is both unconstitutional and not a good idea.

Liberals of course say we have to spend more money. While this is probably true in poorer districts, the data I have seen do not support the idea that money alone will fix the problem. The Economist published a study a few years ago comparing results among countries, and the countries that get the best results do not spend more than we do.

And everyone liked the idea of more testing, but that just gives schools an incentive to teach kids to do well on the test, no necessarily learn what they should. In the worst case, it gives the schools incentives to cheat, as has happened in Georgia.

So, what do we do? I wish I had an answer, because I think the problem is cultural, which is hard to overcome. And certainly, changing the work rules in schools would be a great first step. But then what?

First, we need a Bill James of Education, someone to come in and look at the data and get to the heart of how to measure success on the school and teacher level. The Econotalk I linked to above talks about some progress in this regard, and some problems.

But here is the really hard part. We need to identify young, enthusiastic, hard-working, talented people who would be good and teaching, and get them to become teachers. Then we have to pay them enough to keep at it, and make sure they don't burn out on it. Getting rid of the bad teachers won't help us much unless we can find better ones to replace them.

The problem is, in our society, teaching is not a high status profession. The Economist study mentioned earlier determined that in the countries that do the best job of education, it IS a high status profession. Teachers are chosen only from the top of their college classes, and becoming a teacher is considered a major achievement. This is a cultural issue, and culture is very hard to change. I fear that our since we consider teaching to be more of a mid-level achievement, that we will have a hard time making huge gains in improving our education.

Ok, so there it is. More depressing news from the Economics teacher. I promise in the next week that I will write here the story of Mr. Lynch, the one teacher I had in high school who had no business teaching. It is a hilarious story, but depressing none the less.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why S&P is Right This Time

Let me start by stating that I have no love of the ratings agencies. People respond to incentives, and the ratings gang was incentivized during the last decade to stamp AAA on securities backed by crap and take their big fees. They were not doing the job they were set up to do, and they are scumbags!!!

But, S&P was right to downgrade US debt. In fact, just like the did with CDO's, they probably have given us a AAA rating for too long. Let's look at the facts: We now have a national debt of around 100% of GDP, like Italy and a lot of other countries who debtors are worried about. On top of that, we have a completely disfunctional federal government, particularly a Congress that is being held hostage by the Tea Party, a bunch of morons who get up in the morning in their house whose mortgage was affordable because of government-insured loans, drives to work on government-provided roads, then get on the government-created internet and use their government-taught ability to read and write to complain about how government can't do anything right.

The likelihood of our current group of politicians coming up with a solution to our debt problems that is sensible, and will allow us to continue to invest in the education and infrastructure that is necessary to be a successful wealthy country, is close to nil. The Tea Party doesn't understand the importance of government investment in human capital. And they now appear to be driving the bus. Which means we are completely fucked. S&P should have downgraded US debt after a bunch of these whackjobs got elected. If they were really doing their jobs, they would have downgraded us when Bush got re-elected, the most obvious sign that a large portion of this country is too stupid to make sound decisions.

So, get used to the downgrades. I find it hard to see much positive about the future of a country who would elect the group of self-serving, power hungry scum (and I am not just talking about the Teabaggers now!) we have in DC, and all other governments around the country.

We are at a point where we don't have any obviously good decisions to make. Cutting government spending will send us back into recession, and continue to run deficits as we do now threatens our future financial help. We have old people who depend on the government to stay alive, and we are getting older. We have tough decisions to make that require thought and cooperation.

Good luck with that!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bad Incentives Yield Bad Government

It is one of the few great truths that Economists will agree upon that people respond to incentives. If you want to change behavior, change the incentives. If you have a system where people are incentivized to behave in a perverse and destructive manner, guess what happens? A bad system of incentives caused the financial meltdown (a system, by the way, that has not been fixed!!!), and it is now doing the same thing in the debt ceiling crisis.

Sane people would see that the debt limit must rise, and come to some agreement on doing this. Then, they would go about fixing the long-term budget problems that pose a threat to our solvency down the road. That is, sane people with a sane set of incentives. But our current Congress is operating under a situation that causes most of the assholes in Washington to act in a destructive way. The sad thing is that it is not easily fixed.

Here is what is going on. First, we must understand that the primary interest of politicians is to remain in office, or to step up to a bigger job, where the, campaign contributions....are bigger. Most members of the House are elected from districts that have been gerrrymandered to be be safe for their party. Safe GOP seat, safe Dems seats. And the nation is now so divided between red and blue states that many Senate seats are also certain to go to one party or the other.

So, if a House member wants to stay in office, chances are his biggest fear is not losing to a member of the other party by going to far to the right or left and being unreasonable. While that type of behavior violates good sense, good government, and the wishes of most of the electorate, our Congresspersons have been incentivized to do exactly that. Why? Because they don't fear that sane folks in the center won't re-elect them, they fear a primary challenge from the extremists who tend to vote in primaries.

While this is somewhat of a factor in the Democratic Party, the ignorant d-bags in the Tea Party are now the the real threat to sane government. They challenged a lot of incumbents in the last election who were not nutso enough for them, and are threatening to do the same in the next election. John Boehner knows he should make a deal with the Democrats, but fears if he does that the Teabaggers will attack, and he will lose his leadership role and perhaps even his seat in the house.

And, since the Tea-D-Bags have decided that Obama is the root of all evil, they threaten anyone who would even hint at making a compromise with him. Oh, and then there is the House GOP leader Mitch McConnell, a complete lying scumbag who has only spoken the truth once in his life: When he said his goal is to make sure Obama doesn't get re-elected. That's a really great way to negotiate!

Politicians suck, but remember, we let them do this to us. But, if you see a member of Congress on the street this week, kick him in the nuts!!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Stuff from The Standup Economist

"The Tea Party believes in social darwinism, but they don't believe in Darwin". And other fun stuff.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another Example of Why Soccer is a Great Sport

OK, I admit it. I haven't been to an MLS game in a few years, even though the defending champions play here in Colorado. Mostly that is because they seem to play their home games when I am busy, but it is pretty tough to get too excited about an MLS regular season game.

But, I will continue to proudly admit to being one of America's only soccer fans over 50. And if you watched yesterday's US-Brazil Women's World Cup game you should be joining me.

This was just a great game from start to finish. Two very good and evenly matched teams trying to overcome a horrible officiating job, matching each other's moments of brilliance. The amazing Marta, who is probably good enough to play in MLS, scores minutes into overtime, and tough and skilled Amy Wambach heads in a perfect cross as the game is about to expire. If you are a sports fan and missed this.....well, this is the reason we are sports fans. It also demonstrated what makes soccer exciting, the fact that it only takes one miracle play to change a game. This game had several.

Kudos to the American girls for never giving up, even after they had tripply screwed by the ref in what looked like a disaster. They kept working, kept their composure, and seemed to wear down the Brazilians, as there is no way that Megan Rapinoe should have been given the time she had to play that heavenly ball right onto the head of the Wambach. Great stuff girls. You are now America's Sweethearts, which makes me happy that we are celebrating women who play a real sport (yes, I am talking about YOU, gymnasts and figure skaters!).

Can't wait until Wednesday's game!

Friday, July 8, 2011

In Praise of The Woodman

I will admit to having been a Woody Allen fan since I saw "Bananas" in college, back in the days when phones were attached to walls and had dials. In fact, one of my favorite movies is "Annie Hall", which I think all film makers should be forced to watch before they fill their films with a bunch of time-wasting nonsense.

As much as I admire his films (and, his standup comedy, if you can find it!), he has made some stinkers. He has been up and down in the past 20 or so years, making some brilliant stuff like "Deconstructing Harry" and "Match Point", and some that just leave you scratching your head, like "Small Time Crooks".

As a patriotic American, I thought there would be no better way to spend our nation's birthday than seeing Woody's latest "Midnight in Paris". If anyone was worrying that Woody had lost his fastball, well, this movie is proof that he is still brilliant.

The last time I raved about a comedy film on this page was a few years ago, when I compared "The Hangover" to "Animal House". Well, this comedy can best be compared to.......the best of Woody Allen. Smart, clever, makes you laugh from start to finish without ever making you feel dirty for doing so. The fun of revelation of who the main character hangs out with as he goes to Paris in the 1920's is hilarious, and the only disappointment is that the main character turns down Hemingway's challenge to a boxing match (oh, and Corey Stoll is fantastic as Hemingway!).

And clearly Woody Allen could care less about selling tickets to his movies. Do you see him on Letterman or Colbert promoting? Never. And in this case he has made a film for a group of people who barely exist anymore.......people who read books. If you are one of those people, put the book down for 90 minutes (yes, Woody still knows that a comedy film should only last that long!) and go see "Midnight in Paris"!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Afganistan and Viet Nam

I was reading Leslie Gelb's piece in the Daily Beast today, and it occurred to me how much like Viet Nam the war in Afganistan, and Iraq too, are to the situation 40 years ago. In all cases we are fighting an unconventional enemy in a war that our troops were not trained to fight. Like then, we are supporting corrupt political regimes that have been "elected", but don't seem to have the legitimacy to govern. Like then, the locals dislike our presence, and do not appreciate whatever it is we think we are trying to do for them. Like then, it is probably time to go.

Many still debate our exit from Viet Nam. In hindsight, it is not at all clear what we were doing there. We had no vital interest in Viet Nam, just as today in Afganistan (I guess you could say oil is our interest in Iraq). And it is very unclear how life for Americans was negatively effected by leaving, or how it would have been better if we had stayed and "won", whatever that might mean in this case.

We have spent over $1 trillion on these wars (hey, Tea Partiers, TARP, which you hate, only cost $130B and IT WORKED!) and it is hard to imagine the situation in these two backward countries being "fixed". It is time to cut our losses, stop sending our youth to be killed, and re-tool our military for the challenges of the 21st century. Oh, and a real re-evaluation of when and why we should use military force would be a heck of good idea. Certainly the "Bush Doctrine" should be trashed, another expensive failure of the worst President in our history.

Politicians on the right and the left are now starting to see the folly of these wars......and politicians are usually the last to admit a war related policy is dumb. This could give Obama political cover to do the right thing and pull out, without worry about appearing weak on defense. Now, if we can just get the morons to see how dumb the war we are still fighting from 40 years ago, the one on drugs, is!

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Agree With a WSJ Opinion!

The WSJ Opinion page is usually so off the tracks crazy to the right (they employ the criminal Karl Rove for one thing) that it precludes any need for the paper to have a comics section. However, today Mary Anastasia O'Grady brings a rare light of sanity to the page with this piece comparing the end of Prohibition with the call last week by many important people to end the moronic War on Drugs as we know it. Read it.

Best quote is this quote about the border with Mexico:
The border is unfriendly not because of too few fences, drones or soldiers, but because American drug habits finance the traffickers. "These dollars, and nothing else," writes Mr. Codevilla, "are responsible for the near collapse of law and order south of the border and for the insufficiently publicized corruption on the northern side."

How about we use market forces to curb our drug use, you know, like we did with tobacco. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it, educate, provide treatment. Can't work any worse than what we have been doing!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Challenge to My Conservative Friends

I am agnostic about most things. I don't believe in God because there just isn't enough evidence to convince me that God wasn't cooked up by humans as a way for primitive people to explain what they didn't understand (the reaction of religious people to science is further proof of that to me!).

So, when conservatives try to convince me that tax cuts are what needed to fix the economy, I want some proof. Same goes for liberals who might think we need to raise them. What evidence ya got? Do you just not like paying taxes, or can you somehow prove that lower taxes will lead to economic growth and benefit the country?

So, here is an intellectual challenge, mostly in this case for my conservative friends. Read this post by Bruce Barltett, who was an economic advisor to Reagan and Bush the less dumb (so you can't dismiss him as a liberal who hates America) and convince me that tax cuts are what is needed to turn out economy around.

Here is a summary of the facts in Bartlett's post:

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that federal taxes would consume just 14.8 percent of G.D.P. this year. The last year in which revenues were lower was 1950, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The postwar annual average is about 18.5 percent of G.D.P. Revenues averaged 18.2 percent of G.D.P. during Ronald Reagan’s administration; the lowest percentage during that administration was 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in 1984.

corporate taxes are expected to raise just 1.3 percent of G.D.P. in revenue this year, about a third of what it was in the 1950s.

So, there you go. Those facts would lead me, and Bartlett (Did I mention he worked for REAGAN?!) to believe that tax cuts would not do much for our economy.

So, convince me otherwise. I am an open minded guy with no dogmatic beliefs. I used to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but facts convinced me I was wrong. Or, if you are a lefty and don't want to leftied out, then convince me why we need to raise rates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How My Dad's Death Effects You

Last week I wrote a tribute to my dad, who died last Monday. I was not in the mood at the time to think about it as an economics teacher would. But, since Medicare is being kicked around as the reason that the Congressional District full of Republicans where I grew up just elected a Democrat, I am ready to revert to the rational thinker.

Here are the details of my dad's medical situation before his death. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's about 2 years ago, had become quite withered and weak, and his once sharp mind had lost it's edge. In recent months doctors discovered serious heart problems. His options before the the extensive heart surgery from which he never recovered were this: do nothing and likely die within a year, or have massive surgery that might kill him, and live a few more years if it succeeds. Not a very good set of options.

My dad chose to have the surgery, after making sure that almost all of the cost of it would be paid by Medicare. Hey, it's free, why not! If you don't see the insanity here, then you aren't paying attention.

Sarah Palin was lying when she said that the health care law contained "death panels". My question is, should it? I have no idea what a 6 hour heard surgery done by a top surgeon, followed by 2 weeks in intensive care with added procedures cost taxpayers. My guess is that decisions like this are repeated multiple times around the country. And one has to wonder weather doctors suggest such procedures merely because they know they will be paid for with government dollars.

My dad's situation was one with a very limited upside and a huge cost, a type of investment that any sane person or business would turn down. It is just a cold, hard fact that, as my generation joins the Medicare system, there is no way we can continue to afford to make bad financial decisions like this. With 2 parents who have been on Medicare for 20 years, I have witnessed quite a few things that leave me, as a taxpaying economics teacher, shaking my head. My mom broke her shoulder when she was 78, and they just replaced it. She had a sore foot, and they ordered her a cane, not because she wanted it, but it was "free".

Medicare is, in theory, a great idea. But someone has to start making tough decisions about what is a necessary and smart expenditure, and at what point we are just throwing away money on long shots, which, I am afraid, is what happened in my dad's case. We can't live forever. We can't afford to pretend that we can, unless we want to bankrupt the productive generations of our country. Sorry folks, but sometimes it is just time to die.

And, like most of the truths I point out in this blog, nothing sane will be done about it, because to do so would be political suicide.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Dad

I have a big poster of Roberto Clemente over my bed. Why? Because when I was a kid, my dad, who grew up in Pittsburgh, took me to Pirates games at Forbes Field. A kid couldn't have a better hero than Clemente, who was not only an amazing ballplayer, but an equally amazing human being. We were even at Three Rivers Stadium in the early 70's for Roberto Clemente night.

My dad died this morning. He hadn't been well in a while, had serious heart surgery, and never got better. The call that he had died was a relief, as we knew if was coming soon. I went out and played 9 holes of golf this afternoon, with the same shitty swing that my dad taught me. Why would a guy who can't break 90 think he can teach someone to play golf? Because I was his son, and that's what dads do. No Earl and Tiger Woods were we!

It may sound like spreading the blame, but I got a lot of my personality from my dad. He was a real schmoozer, friendly to everyone (especially the ladies), loved a joke and knew how to tell one. He was a good shitgiver.....not as viscous as me, but I certainly got the skill from him.

I don't know if he planned it, but when I was pretty young he taught me about baseball box scores in the newspaper, and how I could see every day how my heroes, Clemente, Willie Stargell and the rest of the Pirates, had done the night before (this is before the internet and Sportscenter brought us that news way earlier!). After that, I couldn't wait to get to the newspaper every morning. To this day, I still don't feel right until I've read the morning news.

We're born, we live a while, we die. Maybe along the way we do something that leaves an impression. I guess my sister and I are that impression of my dad. Thanks dad.

This blog lost one of it's steady readers today (I guess that is about 25% of my audience!). Dad didn't agree with most of what I write here, but he read it anyways.
That's what dad's do.

For those of you who didn't know him, I apologize, but writing this makes me feel better. Soon, I will write the kind of scathing stuff you expect from me regarding the cost to taxpayers of his surgery. Not up for that today.

So it goes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who Did You Play Against, Joe Dimaggio?

With this season being the 60th anniversary of Joe Dimaggio's seemingly untouchable record of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games, there has been a great deal of chatter about why no one had come close to matching his record since 1941. Statisticians might call this a "Black Swan", an outlier so far outside the standard deviation as to be nearly impossible. In the years since, the closest anyone has come to Mr. Coffee's record is Pete Rose with 44, which is the same number that the previous record owner, Wee Willie Keeler (did that nickname keep him from getting dates?) in 1897.

Kostya Kennedy has a small piece in Sport Illustrated about what an enigma this record is, including some explanations about why no one has come close. The standard explanations are that pitchers are so much more specialized today, and have so much more information on hitters. But don't hitters also have more info, as well as modern technology as a teaching tool to groove their swings?

I have another explanation. Joltin Joe was not playing against the best players in the world when he set that record, only the best white players. I have long believed that any record set before baseball fully integrated should have an asterisk for this reason. As I write this I am watching the Bosox try to hang on for a sweep of the Evil Empire. Andruw Jones is playing for the Yankees tonight, which reminded me of all the hits he took away from hitters when he was younger and a brilliant fielder. Take all the minority players in the game today who would not have been invited to play in the Majors in 1941, and replace them with inferior White players, and tell me there wouldn't be a lot more hits falling. I bet some clever Sabremetrician could even estimate this effect.

The real question is why no one on TV ever has the guts to point this out!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Our Crazy Health Care System

This speaks for itself. Makes it hard to understand why we can't fix this!

Why Your Stitches Cost $1,500 - Part Two
Via: Medical Billing And Coding

Wouldn't a Lion Make a Nice Pet?

Saturday Kip and I visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO, about 30 miles east of Boulder. This is a place that rescues large, wild animals that have been kept or raised in captivity, and might otherwise be destroyed. So, we spent the afternoon watching lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!) running, eating, roaring and socializing, as well as wolves, leopards and cougars. This place has been featured on 60 Minutes (see video) and recently in the Wall Street Journal, a feature that talked about their recent adoption of 17 circus lions from South America.

Very cool place that probably shouldn't have to exist. Many of the animals were confiscated from idiots who thought they would make nice pets when they were young, you know, because they would never grow up and be dangerous. Kind of like humans with a cute new baby, not realizing it would some day be a teenager. Makes you wonder how we claim to be the most intelligent animals.

If you're in Colorado, go visit. But take your binoculars, as this is NOT a zoo. Although some of the animals are still caged, as they are being socialized, there is only one large observation area, and many of the animals are in large areas a ways away.

60 Minutes News Story from Wild Animal Sanctuary on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Freedom Riders" airs 5/16 on PBS

Back in Feb. I wrote about the film "Freedom Riders", which I had seen at the Boulder International Film Festival. Great documentary about the brave men and women who risked their lives to help desegregate the south.

It is airing on Monday 5/16. Watch it with your kids! They need to know how far we have come in this country in 50 years, how far we still have to go, and how far backwards the Tea Baggers want to drag us!

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Did killing Bin Laden help Obama?

You can watch all kinds of talking heads on TV speculating on the above question, but what does the market say? Well, the chart on the futures contract for his re-election soared last night from 58% to 70%, then settled at 62% by this afternoon. Intrade allows people to be on future events. Pretty cool. See the Obama chart HERE.

Interesting take on Bin Laden death

Not wanting to get all my news from the "Lamestream media", I found a very interesting alternative. We know what Americans are thinking. What about the rest of the world? You can get an interesting take at Al Jazeera in English. They had pictures of Osama's compound I had not seen on US tv, and reaction from Taliban in Pakistan, who, as you would imagine, pledge revenge.

Wish they could have waited a week to do this. I am up to my ass in school stuff to grade, but all I want to do is follow this story.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How DID the National Debt Get So Big?

Last week of school, so not much time to write. However, I just must share THIS WASH-POST STORY about how we went from surpluses to huge deficits and a serious debt problem all in 10 years. But remember, no matter what the facts say, it is all Obama's fault!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where are the raging moderates?

A few years back I was having dinner with some auctioneers at the state convention, and politics came up. We had earlier been treated to a right-wing rant by a guy who runs a real estate auction company during one of the meeting sessions. One of t people who knew I also teach Econ asked what I thought about his opinions (he was repeating the bullshit about the Community Investment Act being responsible for the whole financial system problem) and I tried to be polite and said I think he missed a lot of the problem. This led to some discussion of that caused me to ask "Where are the raging moderates?", a line that drew a good laugh around the table.

Well, if ever we need some raging moderates, it is now. So, enjoy this Economix blog post by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser about the need for radical centrists.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Maybe I'm an atheist because.....

I am watching game 7 of the Sabres-Flyers series as I write this, which reminds me of perhaps one reason that I have no god. Since th 70's, when the Flyers were the root of all evil in the NHL, they have played "God Bless America" (written by atheist Irving Berlin) before games. If there was a god he would have had nothing to do with that team, particularly the year they beat my Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Which brings up another question: How come atheists never knock on your door to spread the word? I am occasionally visited by some bible-toting fool who wants to enlighten me about his specific version of the Invisible Man in the Sky. But nobody has ever come around saying "Have you heard the good word? There is no God, so you are free to believe in logic and science. We are spreading the word so people will stop killing each other." I have a couple of weeks in May with not much to do. Anyone want to go door to door with me? And let's really make it fun and go to Colorado Springs.

And while I'm on the subject, if we can have a National Day of Prayer, how about a National Day of Thinking Rationally? A day where you are encouraged to put aside whatever you may believe and look at facts, reason and science to see if your beliefs have any bearing in reality. Congress in particular could use about a month of this!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Obamacare was not enough change, and the GOP is dead wrong about health care

Data speaks for itself, but the chart I wanted to show here doesn't embed properly. So, CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW US HEALTH CARE COSTS COMPARE TO THE WORLD.

Warning: We are NOT #1, except in cost!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Choices are Bad

Wow! Everyone is suddenly concerned about the budget deficit. Standard & Poors, (who, by the way, should no longer be in the bond rating business based on the fact they stamped AAA on a bunch of crap CDO's and helped fuel the housing mess) said they sorta, kinda might think about maybe downgrading US government debt in the future if we don't get our shit together. President Obama came out with a plan to reduce the deficit last week, after basically ignoring for almost a year the work of his own deficit commission. And Paul Ryan and the GOP have their own ideas, which, since they are Republicans and hate everyone who is not rich, includes lots more tax cuts for the rich, and a deep bow to the disproved "voodoo economics" of supply side theory.

First, let me say this is good, sort of. Not good in that I expect this problem to be solved be adults who have a logical discussion and then do what is best for the county. If I believed that, I might as well also believe that I actually am tall and thin. No, this is good because it means that at least people are talking about a problem than intelligent people have been yelling about for years, and politicians have been sweeping under the rug because it involves difficult choices. This raises the likelihood that we will avoid a Greece-like financial crisis from 0 to....oh, maybe 3%.

Reasonable people have been saying for years that we need a combination of spending cuts and tax increases in order to really deal with this problem. Based on that truth, President Obama puts forth a much more realistic program than Congressman Ryan. In fact, Princeton Economist and form FED Vice-Chairman Alan S. Blinder writes today in the WSJ that Ryan's plan would do little to decrease the deficit over the next 10 years, because most of the reductions in deficit spending he proposes would go to tax cuts (because, you know, taxes were lower in the 2000's than the 1990's, but the economy grew more in the 1990's, so clearly we need more tax cuts for the wealthy).

The GOP is now so far to the right, it appears they want to return the country to it's glory of 100 years ago, when the rich were rich, minorities were kept in their place, and if you didn't like it you could go fuck yourself. At least, that appears to be what the teabaggers want, and they are now driving the GOP bus, with the threat of taking the whole country off a cliff.

Since everyone is coming up with ideas to cut government spending, I have a few easy and sensible ones. They won't balance the budget by themselves, but we gotta start some where:
1) Stop wasting our tax money prosecuting athletes who do steroids. This is the problem of the their sport, not our government. Barry Bonds is an asshole and everyone knows it, but do we really have to waste $10 million proving it?

2) Stop wasting our money on the war on drugs in general.

3) Stop wasting our money prosecuting on-line poker sites. People want to play poker with their money, that's their problem. At least it is an intellectual exercise. It's not like they are blowing it on Kenny G concert tickets! And hey, if on-line poker were legal, that would increase tax revenues.

There. Problem solved. Your welcome. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Free Parking Destroyed the World

The school where I teach has had a surge in students in the past few years, and renovations are now being started to the campus. Combined, those 2 facts are causing a parking problem on campus. Students and faculty are charged a small fee for parking each year, whether or not they drive to school, and no matter how often they drive.

Meanwhile, the latest attempt to get a bus pass program for employees of the school recently went bust. The RTD, the regional transit company here in the Denver metro area, has a program called Eco Pass that businesses can enroll in, but we could not get all employees to agree to kick in.

Does anyone see the problem here?

Many economists will tell you that cheap parking causes incentives that make our world dirtier, our traffic worse, and help push up the price of gas. Here in America, we expect to drive everywhere, and are pissed off when we have to pay to park. So, when we build most anything, we include acres of free parking, with the exception of highly congested areas, and events like concerts and sports. My school, just like most other businesses in the area, provides cheap parking because that is what the customers and employees have come to expect.

As a result of so much free parking, we have built a society where we live a long way apart and drive too much. We believe we have the right to drive our own cars, alone, to work, play and shop, and extremely cheaply. Anyone who has traveled abroad knows what a joke public transportation is in this country. Why? Because we have free parking!

How would an economist solve the parking problem at my school, while at the same time making the environment cleaner? Easy. Change the incentives. Charge daily for parking, raising the marginal cost of driving your car to school. Then, use the money to make sure that students and staff all get bus passes at a very reasonable cost. Finally, the people who made this brilliant decision would need ear plugs to avoid all the whining from people who think their God-given right to drive around and pollute the earth at the lowest cost in the developed world. Imagine, being forced to ride public transportation! The indignity!

Think I could run for Congress on the "No Free Parking" ticket?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why don't they alter the prices?

There are several team, including the NY Yankees, that are experiencing ve bad attendance in the early days of the baseball season. There are a lot of reasons for this, and certainly this does not mean that the country has lost interest in baseball. In much of the country the weather in April does not exactly inspire fans to head to the ballpark. Personally, while I love the game, I want to sit in the park on a nice warm afternoon an enjoy a cold beer, not a freezing evening with a hot chocolate keeping me from freezing.

To an econ teacher, this raises this question: Why don't ticket prices vary more game by game? While the supply of seats in a stadium is perfectly inelastic no matter who the opponent ( in English: same number of seats to sell against popular team in July v bad team in April), clearly the demand for each games varies by opponent, time of year, pitching matchup, and day of the week. So, why don't teams realize this and vary the prices more?

Many teams now have different levels of game prices based on opponent. Here in CO, when the Yanks, Bosox or Cubs come to town, the price goes up as those teams have enough fans in the area to fill the park. Still, it does not vary enough. If the Rockies are playing the Pirates on a Tuesday night in early May, the price of those tickets should be.....well, probably free plus parking. And it is likely they don't maximize revenue when the Yankees come to town, as tickets sell out fast even at the higher than normal prices.

Yes, we do see special deals on tickets on less possible games as way to deal with reduced demand. And I remember reading last year that the Giants were testing a system that would calculate the variables in demand and reprice tickets. I've not heard any more about this, but it sure makes sense.

Friday, April 1, 2011


It's opening day here in CO, and it's sunny and in the 70's. Almost enough to make you believe in God.....except for all the times it has snowed on this most sacred of holidays!

Sorry I haven't written in a while. Not much going on in the world, of course, other than the middle east uprisings, bombing Libya, the nuclear contamination in Japan (and resulting panic by idiots on the west coast of the US), and rising gas price. All of these things are Obama's fault, of course!

So, what am I going to write about? How about the AT&T buy T-Mobile.

Any idiot knows that competition will bring better products at lower prices, which is why the folks in big companies hate it. So, instead of innovating and doing a better job, AT&T has decided to buy a rival, so that it and Verizon will have a duopoly on cell service. We have anti-trust laws to prevent this type of non-competitive behavior, and we consumers had better hope the the Obama administration hikes up their pants and says no to this deal.

How important is competition? Check out the speed and cost of internet service in the rest of the developed world. An example is France, where providers are forced to share their infrastructure, and therefore there is far more competition than the 2 choices we have here in my neighborhood. So, they get 28M speed service for less than $40/month, with digital TV often thrown in. Here in the US, our politicians have happily let the telecom industry line their pockets in exchange for laws that block this kind of competition. I just switched to Comcast, where I will pay much more for service that is less than half that fast. Throw in the TV, and were talking $130 a month. Monopolist bastards!!

So, if you want your phone service to get worse, then buy the argument that I am sure you will hear from some idiots that to block the merger would be to interfere in "free markets". These are the people who want to turn back the clock 100 years in this country, to the days when a monopolist could do whatever he liked, as long as he kicked back enough to the pols. You know, when there was no income tax, so the country had to be better off. Yeah, right!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Collateral Damage in the NFL strike

Here in America, of course, we are sad and concerned for our Japanese friends....and of course we are riveted by the frightening videos on the news. But, American males are far more concerned about March Madness (The CU buffs got SCREWED!!!!) and the NFL labor dispute.

Friday night I was watching the CU-Kansas game at the local sports bar with a bunch of guys, several of whom may or may not be entrepreneurs who provide the service of allowing sports fans to take a financial interest in a sporting event. These guys do most of their business during the NFL season, that is, if they are even in this business, and I am certainly not saying that they are.

These businessmen are of course very concerned about the NFL situation, and the news about the breakdown in labor talks had just come out Friday afternoon. One of these guys, who may or may not be named Alfonzo, had this to say:

What about us? These guys don't care about us. If there is no NFL season, I am going to have to go out and get a job. And I have some serious holes in my resume. Would you hire me?

My answer to Alfonzo is that I would, since the fact that he may have been involved in the business we were discussing for so long means to me that he is likely both trustworthy and good at math. But, I am not in position to hire anyone, and understand his angst.

Here is my sports labor prediction: The NFL is making too much money, both the players and owners, to kill their golden goose. Players with short careers can't afford to miss a year, and a lot of teams need cash flow to pay their debt service on new stadiums. So, the season will not be canceled. The NBA, on the other hand, has some serious business model problems that may require an NHL like lockout to solve.

How Fragile Our Societies Are.

The situation in Japan points out how fragile our lives really are. As far as preparation for disaster goes, Japan in the anti-Haiti.....fairly wealthy, with strong building codes, and a cultural history that remembers past disasters. If there was a country that is prepared for a natural disaster, you would have to expect is to be Japan.

Yet, look at what is happening. Thousands dead, towns destroyed, power outages and a threat of a severe nuclear meltdown. One of the most civilized societies in history thrown into turmoil.

Humans have spent generations developing technologies that allow us to live our current comfortable lives. Middle class people today live far better lives than the rich did 100 years ago, when you take all we have into consideration. Yet, we still can not tame our planet, and it has the ability to throw us back into the stone age pretty fast. We pretend we can build structures strong enough to survive earthquakes, but can we? I remember reading a boast by the extremely dangerous Army Corps of Engineers in the early 90's that they had tamed the Mississippi River.....right before the floods on 1993. Are we just kidding ourselves?

So, don't take you electricity, smooth roads, and electronic entertainment for granted. It could all be gone in a flash!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interesting Business Problem

Next week the first round of March Madness comes to Denver. 8 teams will be playing games here on Thursday, and the winners play on Saturday. As I was pointing out to Banjo Billy today, thousands of fans will be traveling to Denver on short notice for Thursday's games, and some staying for Saturday. That means a lot of people in town on Friday with nothing to do, and we happen to do tours in Denver that tourists just love.

So, here's the problem: How do we get the word out to the fans of those 8 teams that are coming to town in the time between when they are announced on Sunday night, and they have time on their hands on Friday? I have a few ideas, but if any of my brilliant young former Econ students who are now studying business would like to show of their genius, I'd love to hear from them.....or anyone else.

Let's see who has the best idea.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Boehner Seems Reasonable.....for about 15 minutes

Speaker of the House John Boehner is not one of my favorite people, and not because I hate Orangemen. In fact, I have a lot of good friends who went to Syracuse. I do, however, have a dislike for lying scum who take big payoffs from lobbyists and help the rich at the expense of the health of the country. So I was shocked that I actually had some respect for this particular orange man for about 3.5 minutes this morning.

On the front page of the WSJ today is a story about Boehner's plans to tackle the costs of Social Security and Medicare. Now, anyone who understands the long-term fiscal trouble our country is in knows we have to do something about these programs (they also know that taxes will also have to be raised, the military budget cut, and our ridiculous health care costs addressed, which Boehner did not address). So, good for him. I was even more encouraged by this quote in the story:
"I offered to the president we could lock arms and walk out and begin the conversation about the size of the problem," Mr. Boehner said, adding that Mr. Obama responded "positively."

Wow, work with the opposition to solve a real problem, the mention of which is loaded with political danger! Then I got to this part of the story:
Mr. Boehner made it clear the Republicans are not themselves offering a detailed plan anytime soon. Rather, the budget is likely to contain cost containment goals, but no specific ideas on how to achieve them.

And there we go, back to the bullshit! Cost containment goals but no specifics? Just the same old bullshit from an old bullshitter. We are going to say we have goals to fix the problem, but leave the specifics up to someone in the future after we have retired. So, in fact Boehner has proposed nothing of significance.

I do wonder why he would say this. Proposing cuts to seniors' benefits is the third rail of politics, and he just put his foot on it. And he did it without even a real plan that would do anything. So, they way I see it, he has given the Democrats a club to beat the GOP over the head with....cuts to social security....that will heavily influence the group of people most likely to vote, and most easily frightened. Even the Democrats are smart enough to figure out what a gift he just gave them. And he did it without even a real plan that would benefit the country, or even the intent of developing one. Is he an idiot?

As if to answer the "is he an idiot?" question, he announces today that he is mounting a defense of the indefensible and unconstitutional "Defense of Marriage Act", which should have been called the "Discrimination against people who make us uncomfortable act". Go ahead orange dude, take it to the Supreme Court and try to explain how that law doesn't violate the 14th Amendment.

Nice work Mr. Speaker. You were off my "complete asshole" list for 3.5 minutes. Now, you are up there just a few rungs under Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bad Governments Kill Economies

This week in my macroeconomics classes we have been discussing what makes a country productive, and therefore wealthy. It is beyond dispute that investment in human capital, technology and infrastructure will facilitate economic growth. Also beyond dispute is that corrupt incompetent government will do just the opposite. And the worst thing that can happen to an economy is a crazy dicatator like Kim Jong Il or Hugo Chavez.

Along these lines of thought are a couple articles in today's NY Times. Tom Friedman, who I link to often on this blog because he is the most sane commentator in the country, has spent a lot of time in his life trying to figure out the Middle East. His column today has an interesting list of things that he believes has helped to incite the uprisings we are now seeing accross the Arab world, including Google Earth. Really. Go read his column HERE. In general his column cites that the Arab world, and particularly the young, have become more aware of how crappy their governments have performed compared with China (which used to be far poorer than Egypt) and their enemy Israel, where corrupt politicians are actually put in jail.

And let's not forget bad government policies here at home. One of the most egregious cases of stupid government here in the US is our subsidies for agriculture. Most of this $20B per year goes to big corporations, and also is focused on subsidizing things like corn, which is helping to make us fat. So, we spend $20B a year to be less healthy, and increase the profits of corporations who do not need our money. Brilliant! Mark Bittman writes about food for the Times. He suggests we redirect our subsidies toward the fruits and vegatables that we would make us healthier if we were to consume more of them. Like fixing our tax system, this is an idea that whose logic is so crystal clear that you can be sure our politicians will never enact it. Read it here before your enjoy your cheesesteak, fries, and corn syrup sweetened soda for lunch.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A REAL Hero!!

We throw the word "hero" around pretty easily these days. I have probably written here that Dave Barry is one of my heroes. Win the big game, you are a hero. Last week Kip and I went to the opera for her birthday, and the cast received a standing ovation, as if they had done something heroic. Not to belittle these achievements, but are athletes, singers and even Dave Barry really heroic?

They aren't compared to the Congressman John Lewis. The Boulder International Film Festival took place over the weekend, and we went yesterday afternoon to see the film "Freedom Riders", a documentary about the brave young men and women who took on the Jim Crow laws of the south in the early 60's. It is an amazing story that shows the courage of these people, who faced beatings and abuse at the hands of cowardly racists, who attacked small groups of non-violent young people in armed mobs with the protection of corrupt police. At the same time, this film made me feel ashamed that I am a white American yet proud of how far our nation has progressed in 50 years.

One of the Freedom Riders was John Lewis, who is now a Democratic Congressman from Georgia, a state where he would likely have been unable to safely vote in 1961. Rep. Lewis also attended the screening, and answered questions afterward. I realized during the film and as he spoke that for one of the few times in my life, I was in the presence of a real hero. Here is a guy who risked his life to right a wrong, stuck to his non-violent convictions, and helped change the world for the better. He could easily have stayed in law school and let others fight the fight, but he acted.

Lewis of course received a hearty standing ovation from the audience when he came on stage after the film. After, I said to Kip that if the audience had given a standing ovation to the opera singers we had seen on Tuesday, that Lewis deserved something about 10 times as enthusiastic.

I know some of my students and former students read this blog, and many are young enough that this kind of racism in America seems like distant history. When Obama was elected and I told my class I never thought I would live to see a black president, many didn't see what the big deal was. While it is great that today's young people see race far differently than older generations, they should still understand the struggles that had to take place for us to get here.

The good news about this film is that you will be able to watch it in May, as it was made for American Experience on PBS. And there is already a web site for the film, which you can visit HERE. Don't miss it!

Oh, interesting side note: Congressman Lewis was introduced by our Congressman, Jared Polis, who is openly gay. Lewis made it clear that he supports equality among all people!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who pays for the war on drugs

One of the things that economists know for sure (and there aren't many!) is that if you want less of something, tax it. I am pretty sure most economists would prefer a legalize and tax approach to drugs than our expensive, destructive, and unsuccessful "WAR ON DRUGS".

From today's NY Times, you should enjoy this short little take on how the costs of drugs are pushed onto poor people, without any compensation for it. Another reason to re-think a horrible policy, especially at a time when everyone is concerned about government spending.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I Swear I Beat This Guy at Bowling!

Here is a picture of my high school friend Mark Murphy holding up the Super Bowl trophy. Am I jealous? HELL YES!!! I just wish he had been a dick instead of a good guy, so I could hate him.

One of my other high school friends asked this question: How many guys have Super Bowl rings earned as both players and executives? Anyone think of another?

Congrats Murph! Everyone who knew you in school was a Packers fan the past few weeks!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Wonder Our Students Know Little About Science

A few weeks a report came out about how few American students had the scientific knowledge that they should have. One reason for this might be explained by examining incentives, as we like to do in Economics. Schools get judged now mostly on how students do in reading and math. So, the incentive is for schools to focus on reading and math so they don't get shut down. That leaves less focus on other subjects. Less science, less history, less phys ed.

Today's NY Times has a story that may also explain it. It appears only 28% of biology teachers are teaching it properly, and by that I mean teaching evolution as scientific fact. Instead, most choose to hedge somewhere in the middle and discuss creationism, or "intelligent design" as an option to believe in. And the story estimates that 15-20% are teaching creationism.

How can this be? How can we allow science teachers to promote such nonsense? And how did they even become science teachers if they can't understand science?

If you were a math teacher teaching kids that 2+2=5, or an English teacher teaching that xojhsdf is how you spell cat, you would be fired in minutes. Yet science is given the same weight as a silly myth?

Maybe tomorrow I will teach my students that prices are not based on supply and demand, but are set by an invisible man in the sky.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


With the Super Bowl (Go Pack!) coming up on Sunday, what better time to take another blast at the taxpayers getting reamed in stadium funding deals (sorry Art!). If you follow football at all, you are already aware of Jerry Jones $1.2B monument to his giant ego, funded with $350M of taxpayer money (and that's just the explicit part). You can be sure they won't mention what a bad deal taxpayer funding has turned out to be for those poor schmucks called taxpayers, as the sports media tends to be big cheerleaders for this kind of financial rape.

Thank goodness for Mark Yost's story in the WSJ that discusses how taxpayers are constantly shafted (my words....the WSJ would never use such language!). It has a particularly nice list of debts still owed on facilities that have been torn down, such as the old Giants Stadium and the Astrodome. He even suggests that the Tea Party should be raging against taxpayer funded facilities.

I recently read "Field of Schemes" by Neil deMause and Joanna Cagan, a somewhat dated book (published almost 10 years ago) tale of how stadiums conned fans into new stadiums. Thanks to Yost's article, I discoverd that deMause also has a blog by that name, which I have today added to my list of Fun Eco Blogs on the right.

Good advice: Just vote "NO!!".

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Onion on TV

In case you have been living in a cave, there is a humerous newspaper that comes out every week called The Onion. They also have a pretty funny web site.

The paper generally has very funny headlines (Man from future: "Everyone is eating Dippin Dots"), but the articles that followed tended to run out of funny after the first paragraph.

In the past month, The Onion has debutted 2 new TV shows. Tuesdays on Comedy Central, you can catch their parody of Sportscenter called "SportDome". On Fridays on IFC, get a half-hour report from the Onion News Network, a send-up of CNN.

I am a bit surprised but very pleased to say that, from what I have seen, this is good stuff. They are not afraid to be outrageous, with features like "Who would you kill", or the sports shows running coverage one week of a boxing match where everyone was hoping for the big story, which would be the death of one of the fighters. Maybe that doesn't sound funny here, but they pulled it off. I was afraid the news show would look like a Daily Show rip-off, but it has it's own voice.

So, kudos for the Onion for coming up with 2 very witty shows. Let's hope they can keep up the good satire.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hey Murph, Can I Get Some Superbowl Tix?

See the guy receiving the George Halas trophy in the video? I went to High School with him. Played baseball with him (well he played, I mostly sat on the bench and coached 3rd base). Worked with him too. So, congrats Murph! Now, about those tickets.......

Athletes, Drugs and Incentives

Since reading "The Predictioneer's Game" by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, an outstanding book about Game Theory and how you can predict outcomes by looking at movitations, I have begun to think more about how much incentives matter in everything. In fact, you could certainly blame the financial meltdown of 2008 on a system of horrible incentives.

Today, I was reading the latest Sports Illustrated "Lance Armstrong did drugs" expose, and thinking about how, taking into consideration how much incentives matter in our decision making, it is highly unlikely that Lance won all those Tours while clean. Look at it from the point of the athlete (and this goes for other sports as well). The upside of doing drugs is a whole shitload of money, fame, cars, girls, respect. No doubt Lance has gotten all of that in spades.

And the downside? Well, first you would have to get caught, which during most of the 90's and early 2000's seemed pretty unlikely. Then, you get fined or suspended. Given that deal, what would you do? Oh, I know, we all like to think we would do the moral thing and stay clean, and watch everyone else succeed while we end up selling Lady Kenmores (see "Bull Durham!). But most of us don't face these big dilemmas.

The SI article has a lot of pretty compelling evidence. Given the incentives to take drugs, it is highly unlikely anyone, in any sport, stayed clean. That some probably did should, I guess, give us some positive feeling about human nature.

Look, I rooted for Lance as much as anyone. And I would love to believe that the wonderful story he has been selling us is true. Overcome cancer to become the greatest ever in the most punishing sport on earth, then use his money and fame to cure cancer! That's an awesome story! But I have to look at the evidence, and what I know as a student of Economics and conclude that it is pretty unlikely that Lance was the only guy on a bike not on drugs, AND he kicked everyone's ass.

I wanted to add a bit of research of my own to this story, so I asked a friend who was a professional cyclist, and knows Lance (but does not like Lance at all!!) this question: If you had to guess, would you say he was using performance enhancing drugs? The response: "Absolutely he did drugs!".

So, Lance was probably on drugs. Mark McGwire was on drugs. Mickey Mantle was a drunk. Kirby Puckett was an abusive nutjob. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were on drugs. The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were really your parents. The Easter Bunny's eggs will make you fat and diabetic.

Good thing I teach The Dismal Science!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Times Poll Shows Our Big Problems

The NY Times/CBS poll data that came out yesterday shows the frightening problem we are going to have as we attempt to keep our national debt from turning us into Greece. As the Times excellent Econ reporter David Leonhardt points out in this story from the paper's Economix Blog, we have a disconnect between the results we want, and what we are willing to do to get them. A couple of quick quotes( I recommend you read the whole story):

In truth, the coming deficits are a result, above all, of the fact that most Americans are scheduled to receive far more in Medicare benefits than they have paid in Medicare taxes. Conservative and liberal economists agree on this point. After Medicare on the list of big, growing budget items come Social Security and the military.

The three programs are roughly as popular as tax increases are unpopular – which is precisely why solving the deficit problem will be so difficult.

Herein lies the political problem. We want to cut spending. We just don’t want to cut the benefits that the spending pays for.

Those polled, in general, preferred reducing the deficit by cutting spending versus raising taxes, and a depressing 56% thought it would be possible to fix the problem without raising taxes, disagreeing with most who have seriously studied the problem. And given the choice of cutting Social Security, Medicare or Military spending, the military comes out as the big loser, with 56% saying to cut it first. (Looks like Socialism had already won out as the predominant ideology in America! Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will be driven even crazier, if that is possible.) So, folks want to cut the deficit, but they don't want taxes raised, and they don't want benefits cut.

The real problem is that politicians, who generally just care about getting elected, don't want to tell anyone this. You didn't hear the GOP talk about cutting Medicare or Social Security in their recent electoral victory. Instead, they lied about cuts to Medicare in the new health care legislation. And you won't hear the Dems talk about it either. So, down the road to ruin we coast, with no steering wheel and no competent driver. Cutting earmarks and other pork-barrel spending is a great idea, but it won't balance the budget. Not even close. And the idiots in Congress don't even have the guts to bring up wasteful and stupid things like farm subsidies, let alone the big entitlements.

I'll stop ranting now, because this is all just too depressing, and I see very little hope for solving this problem before it becomes a crisis.

You can see a nice presentation of some of this data HERE.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Things to See and Read

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of seeing "The King's Speech". This may be amazing news to readers of this blog who are students, but it is possible to make a fantastic film without blowing up a boat or using CGI to create monsters or a new world. And it doesn't even have to be 3D! Colin Firth and Geoffry Rush are brilliant in this witty film about having to overcome one's weaknesses. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

I am currently reading, and enjoying very much, "All the Devils are Here". There were a lot of books that came out right after the financial crisis about how it's causes, mostly focused on what had happened in the mid-2000s to cause the trouble. With a bit more time to do research and put the whole story together, Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera have put together a more complete story, going back to the creation of the mortgage backed security. If you are looking for one person to blame for the mess, you will be disappointed, as it took a long trail of actions by the financial industry, regulators, Congress, and several Presidential administrations to bring about the perfect storm we witnessed.

Finally, the other night I watched a documentary called "Waiting for Armageddon" via Netflix (I am, by the way, very much enjoying being able to download Netflix movies to my TV via my new Sony DVD player). I think many of us who are not Evangelical Christians will be shocked to find out exactly what these people believe, and how it may influence are Middle East policy. Quite scary to think these people are walking around loose. The documentary is done without commentary, so it is the participants telling their own stories about what they believe. Quite an eye-opener!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Probably Won't Hear it on Fox News but.....

NOAA announced that 2010 tied for the warmest year on record with 2005. In fact, 9 or the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Read the story HERE, because I'm pretty sure that this story gets buried at Fox, where there is no science or fact, only opinion. But remember, climate change is a liberal myth, evolution is just a theory, but God for sure exists, even though the science shows the opposite.

Oh, and I imagine that the folks on Fox also won't tell you that "God Bless America" composer Irving Berlin was, in fact, an Atheist. Go figure!

There is"Funny" and "Econ Funny"!

Saturday night I attended the Comedy in Economics presentation at the American Economics Assn meeting in Denver. It lead me to the conclusion that funny for an economist is not the same as funny in general. The "presentation" (this term is used because the dismal scientists had spent the week presenting papers on serious eco matters all week) featured four speakers, and only Yoram Bauman, The Stand-up Economist really understood the demands of performing comedy before a large audience.

First up was David Lefkovits, whose blog Limericks Economiques features exactly what you would think. His limericks are very intelligent and witty, although many would go right over the heads of most people. But not his audience this night. Like the other presenters, he used Powerpoint to try to bring life to his presentation, a big mistake. My experience is that Powerpoint does just the opposite. It sucks the life out of everything. That is why you won't see me using it in my classes. I will be adding this blog to my list on the left, because I am a big fan of the limerick, and Lefkovits does a fine job of writing them.

Next up were the 2 PhD candidates who write the Ecocomics blog (see link on right), with a spirited presentation on how Villainy could be done more efficiently. For instance, it turns out that villains spend an inordinate amount of their resources on activities like trying to kill Batman and taking over the world, and have a very poor success rate. However, they do much better with "niche villainy" such as Riddling, and should stick to that. They also discussed the optimal number of henchmen a villain should hire. Pretty clever stuff.

The third presenter was the toughest to watch, and nearly brought sympathetic flop sweat to my armpits. Jody Beggs is a lovely young lady, very intelligent and witty. And her blog, Economists Do It With Models is very clever and smart, and I will likely be stealing some of her material for my own teaching. And kudos to her for discussing the Economics of the Simpsons, the best show in the history of TV. I only wish she had taken time out from her research and writing to take and acting or public speaking class, as her presentation lagged and deterred from her clever material. If you are reading this Jody, find an improv class there in Cambridge to take. You have the guts, but you need the skills.

Last up was the headline performer of the evening, Yoram Bauman, the Standup Economist (see link at right). Unlike the others, he has considerable experience performing. I have been using his brilliant sendup of Mankiw's "10 Principals of Economics" to entertain my classes for several years, and they love it. I'm not sure if he is focusing his life more on standup or Eco, but he has a very fine way of putting them together. Go to his web site and enjoy his videos, and get on his email list so you can see him if he comes to your town.

Thinking back, I may have been the most experienced comedian in the room that night. And the least qualified to speak in front of the world's leading Dismal Scientists.

Oh, one other note. I dragged Kip along with me, and we were having dinner in a restaurant near in Denver beforehand. I saw an older, balding man across from us eating dinner alone (on sat night) and reading while he ate. I said to Kip that I was sure he was an Economist because he was dining alone. Sure enough, when he got up from the table, he was wearing his convention name tag.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stand -up Economist in Denver on Sat.

If you live in the Denver area and are into Economics and comedy ( and who isn't?) then you might want to check out the American Economics Association 3rd annual Humor in Economics Conference, part of the AEA convention taking place in Denver all week (that's right local folks, as if winter isn't gloomy enough, the town in now crawling with Dismal Scientists!) It is at 8PM Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. The "show" includes Yoram Bauman, the Stand-up Economist, and others, and includes a presentation on the Economics of the Simpsons. And it is free and open to the public. Think there will be a tall, thin guy in the audience?

True Grit, and other thoughts

Even though I haven't written here in a few weeks, my brain has not been completely shut off. So here are a few things I want to comment on:

1) FORTUNE COOKIES: Kip took me to see "True Grit" for my birthday on Sunday, and to dinner at Chey Thuy, a Vietnamese restaurant that I am quite fond of (get the stuffed grape leaves!). After dinner, we were brought the fortune cookies which are now apparently required at any type of Asian restaurant. Kip's said she would be a leader in her community. Mine was empty. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that my empty cookie means I will be dead soon, and Kip will become a leader by starting a foundation to prevent whatever it is that kills me.

2) TRUE GRIT: If you are a fan of the Coen Brothers, you have probably already seen this entertaining film, or are planning to. If you are not a fan of the Coens, I would have to wonder about your taste in films. Anyway, I recommend you go see this for 2 reasons. First, it is a very entertaining film, and the use of formal dialog will remind you of "Raising Arizona". Second, in our economy we vote with our dollars, and it is important to vote for this type of intelligent, witty adult film so that we get more of them.

3) HULU PLUS: I received as an Xmas gift from Kip a dvd player that also has streams video via wifi from services like Netflix and Hulu plus. If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I was a big fan of Hulu from the start. Which is why I am so deeply disappointed in what a complete crap service Hulu Plus is. Fortunately, I get a 3 month free subscription with the device, and you can be sure that I will not pay for more. What sucks about it? Well, first, even though it is a pay service, the shows are full of ads. Second, despite being called "plus", it has access to LESS content than the regular Hulu service. Some shows available on their regular service are not there at all, and others do not have the latest episodes. Apparently, this service is a "plus" for Hulu, in that it gets more money, but not for the viewer, who gets crap.

4)SNOW: Several people have asked me if I had any problems in Buffalo because of the big storm on the east coast on Xmas weekend. In fact, on Boxing Day I was at my friends Budd and Jody's house watching the Bills game, and switching over to the Weather Channel between Bills turnovers to laugh at video of people in N. Carolina trying to drive in snow, and yelling "pussies" at the TV when they canceled the football game in Philly (Who DOESN'T want to play football in the snow!). As TWC cut between various reporters in different cities standing in what appeared to us to be a bit of snow, we commented that no one was ever in Buffalo when it is not snowing going "Hey, it's NOT snowing here", nor are they there in July when the weather is quite beautiful. Not to say the weather was nice in Buffalo at that time.

5) WORLD JUNIOR HOCKEY: The World Junior Hockey Tourney is taking place in Buffalo right now, a great event for Buffalo to host. Unless you are a hockey nut, or Canadian (redundant?), you probably don't care. But the Canadians were poring over the border to watch their under-20 boys take on the world. Budd and I went to a Tuesday afternoon game between Finland and Switzerland. Fun thing to do on a Tuesday. Unfortunately, it was a mismatch, and I concluded that we were watching a team full of future NHL-ers (Finland) play a team of future bankers, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dave Barry Reviews the past year

Why do I put a link to everything Dave Barry writes on this blog? Because he's the writer I would like to be, sort of, if I had the talent. I have been resting my typing fingers the past few weeks, but fortunately, Dave has not. So it would be foolish for you to do anything right now other than GO HERE TO READ DAVE BARRY'S YEAR IN REVIEW.