Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quote of the Week

So, this week's Quote of the Week is really just going to be part of a broader post about Ohio State and Jim Tressel, which will also include a bit of a mea culpa referring back to a post of mine from five months ago. To refresh your memory,
On Monday I was highly critical of the NCAA and its response to the tattoo scandal at Ohio State. To the institution's credit, Ohio State stepped up and did what the NCAA was apparently unwilling to do, forcing its players to take responsibility for their actions.
Ohio State players facing five-game suspensions next season would not have traveled with the team to the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they had not pledged to return in 2011, coach Jim Tressel said on Thursday.
The five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, have been punished by the NCAA for selling championship rings and memorabilia and taking discounts from a tattoo parlor.
Tressel said he wanted to make sure that the players wouldn't "skirt the consequences" by playing in the Sugar Bowl, then declaring for the NFL draft and avoiding any punishment...
Obviously I've got complex feelings about the NCAA and its policies. I don't think that they should punish players for selling jerseys (or other paraphernalia) while allowing the universities and corporate sponsors to profit from doing the same. So, in isolation, I think that any punishment of the Ohio State players for these violations is unjust. However, I am all for consistency, and the treatment of the Ohio State players in comparison to A.J. Green smacks of favoritism by the NCAA and cowering to corporate interests (despite their denials, which rely on such badly flawed logic that they're not even worth dignifying with a response here).
Luckily, Ohio State has stepped up and ensured that their players do face some punishment (as I wrote earlier this week, the NCAA's "punishment" left open the possibility that the players could escape repercussions entirely by declaring for the NFL Draft). Will Ohio State benefit from having those players around for the second half of next season, instead of not at all? Sure. But I'm not quite cynical enough to think that's the real (or at least, the only) reason they took this course of action. I think they did the right thing here, and made a statement in favor of equal punishment for equal crimes. Good for them.
Yeah... I'm gonna have to go ahead and take that back now. Over the past several months, there has been a series of revelations of exactly what Ohio State and Coach Tressel knew, when they knew it, and what they did (and did not do) to alert the NCAA and the department's own compliance office. This whirlwind of events finally came to a head yesterday, with Coach Tressel's announcement of his resignation as head coach, effective immediately.
It turns out that Tressel wasn't nearly as innocent as he'd let on, and was in fact complicit in this wrongdoing from the very start. His duplicitous nature as these incidents were coming to light (including his actions in December, which now are revealed to have been a transparent attempt to shift all blame and responsibility from his shoulders onto his players' shoulders--some leadership, huh?) is nauseating in retrospect, and frankly I shouldn't be surprised. I've been on record before as being particularly hard on many college coaches (especially Nick Saban) who profit massively on the backs of free labor from their players while letting their own ethics slide--this incident officially represents a new low for that group.
Without further ado (or further ranting), here's a nice quote from Tressel's preachy 2008 book "The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life", which shockingly turns out to have been one of the most hypocritical books ever written.
"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."
                                             - Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel
You said it, Jim. For all the preaching about religion and faith and discipline and "doing things the right way", you failed miserably when the spotlight was brightest. And what's worse, you tried to let others take the fall for you as it was happening, staying hypocritical right up until the very end. Your moral corruption knows no bounds, and you deserve your fate. Let's just hope that Terrelle Pryor--whatever his shortcomings--doesn't suffer the same fate as the last Buckeye football player to challenge a broken system, Maurice Clarett.

Strange happenings in DC

While the men's lacrosse team at Mr. Jefferson's University was celebrating a most unexpected national title in Baltimore yesterday, quite a different scene was taking place somewhere between M&T Bank Stadium and Monticello, at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington. Per The Washington Post,
The U.S. Park Police is investigating whether its officers were too aggressive in arresting five demonstrators who were dancing in protest over the weekend at the Jefferson Memorial.
Videos that have surfaced online show the officers forcefully arresting the protesters on Saturday afternoon. One officer is seen in the videos with his hands around a protester’s throat.
The protesters were challenging a recent federal appeals court decision that upheld a ban on dancing inside the memorial.
Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said Monday that concerns have been raised about the actions of some of the officers, and the chief has directed the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation. Schlosser says the protesters were arrested for demonstrating without a permit.
The above-referenced video is here:

To be fair, the park officers definitely start out with a reasonable tone, and they only respond with the so-called "violence" and "brutality" upon repeated provocation. But the sight of officers using physical force to restrain what can only be described as the most peaceful of protestors is ludicrous, and of course that's the whole point of the demonstration. I mean, what is this, Footloose? (Wait a second, they're remaking that movie and releasing it this fall? Oh, for Christ's sake...)

Now, I don't really understand why you would want to dance at the Jefferson Memorial (aside from maybe celebrating a lacrosse national title), but I don't really care. I think that it goes far beyond the scope of our federal government to begin declaring what are and are not appropriate ways of visiting memorials and monuments (though I guess I'd agree that behavior that constitutes vandalism is inappropriate, but that's covered under pre-existing laws and statutes, and it certainly isn't what's at issue here).

It's a colossal waste of our national resources to enact and enforce a frivolous law like this anti-dancing law, and I'd argue that it's indicative of a broader lack of focus on what's important down in Washington. Mr. Jefferson would be very upset to see something like this occurring on land dedicated to honoring his life and work; we did his memory and legacy a huge disservice yesterday.

[Washington Post]

Friday, May 27, 2011

Slowing migration

About six months ago, I wrote a post discussing the link between high unemployment and low labor force mobility. In that post, I pointed out that our paradoxically declining labor force mobility (telecommuting and the internet should be making us more mobile, not less so) was a huge driver behind slowing economic growth and increased unemployment.

Recently released Census data indicates that it's a trend that isn't improving, a dynamic that should give us pause if we're expecting a robust economic recovery.
Domestic migration last year reached its lowest level since the government began tracking it in the 1940s, the Census Bureau said, as the lingering effects of the recession continued to curb Americans’ mobility.
About 10.5 million Americans changed counties from 2009 to 2010, or about 3.5 percent of the population, the lowest percentage since 1947, when the government first started tracking the numbers, according to census data released this week.
It was fewer than the 11 million who moved the previous year, and down by a third from the 15.8 million who moved from 2004 to 2005, when the economy was doing well.
The number caps a decade whose final years had steep declines in migration, as the recession and effects of the housing crisis continue to freeze Americans in place.
One dynamic that I don't think the Times article picks up on is the fact that the decreasing mobility is in fact deepening the economic recession that the authors claim caused the decrease in mobility in the first place. That reciprocal relationship has the potential to create a devastating vicious circle, from which our economy could have a very difficult time recovering.

The old view of the "American Dream" was to own a house and raise a family and grow old there, but increasingly it's seeming like the pursuit of that dream is hamstringing people throughout the country. For many, a house has become an anchor more so than anything else, weighing families down and limiting their opportunities and economic capabilities. It's a terrible irony, and it would behoove our government to recognize that their irrepressible push for homeownership is now proving to be a net negative for the economy at large.

I wrote earlier this week about how the problem with innovation in America isn't that Americans aren't innovating, it's that they aren't fully adopting the new technologies that have been made available to them. I think that our decreasing mobility is a particularly ironic and damaging example of our lack of adoption, since the internet should by all means be increasing our mobility, allowing us all to work from anywhere at any time. Instead, there's an incredible mismatch between workers and job opportunities, and economic growth suffers as a result.

We shouldn't be in this quandary, and yet here we are. The question is, how do we get out of here?

[NY Times]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Clip of the Week

Well, I really did think about re-posting the awesome Tim Thomas save that I posted back on Tuesday, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I already angered the hockey gods or the Clip-of-the-Week gods by jumping the gun with it the first time around, and I paid for it with last night's devastating loss (yes, I am that superstitious, which you'd know if you'd been reading me long enough).

So rather than tempt the hockey gods any further with Game 7 coming up tomorrow night, I'm gonna keep to the original script and go with my normal Clip of the Week choice. So without further ado, this is mesmerizing, this is nauseating, this is interesting and cool to watch, and this... I have no idea what this is. But this is inspirational, and it's also your Clip of the Week, because anyone who has this much heart deserves to be recognized.

Two counties in Kentucky join the Wasteful Hall of Fame

Alright, as promised in my earlier post (rant), what I have here is a(nother) post about government spending gone wild. You might remember my previous posts about the Los Angeles Unified School District and the town of Bridgewater, NJ joining the "Wasteful Hall of Fame"--a figment of my imagination that I never intended to turn into a running theme on my blog, but that ended up becoming one anyway.

Well, move over L.A. and Bridgewater, you've got company--seems like the South wanted in on the action.
Beginning in 1999, fiscal courts in McCreary and Pulaski counties made a series of misguided decisions that now have them trying to figure out how to pay a legal bill of $456,881 plus interest.
Their first bad choice was hanging stand-alone copies of the Ten Commandments in their respective courthouses. After the American Civil Liberties Union and local residents filed a suit correctly challenging the displays as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman ordered the displays removed.
It could have ended there. But fiscal courts in the two counties just kept making bad decisions. They appealed Coffman's decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also concluded that the displays were unconstitutional because the motive for putting them on the courthouse walls was clearly religious.
Again, it could have ended there — not as cheaply as it could have ended if the two fiscal courts had accepted Coffman's initial decision, but at less cost than the two counties are facing today.
But, no, the fiscal courts tried a new angle, passing new resolutions including the Ten Commandments in displays with other historic documents such as the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, which ironically includes the First Amendment they've kept trying to violate for the last dozen years.
That didn't work. The courts weren't fooled. A federal appeals court described the new displays as nothing more than an attempt to cover up the "blatantly religious" motive for the initial stand-alone displays of the Ten Commandments. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the lower court's decision.
Case closed for McCreary and Pulaski counties. And because they lost in a civil rights action, they became responsible for the legal fees the ACLU incurred while challenging the unconstitutional displays.
As the Herald-Leader's Bill Estep reported in a May 19 story, finding the money to pay the $456,881 bill plus interest may be tough for the two counties. But find it they must.
And if it ultimately comes from the counties' taxpayers, well, it might be time for voters to consider electing fiscal court members who will make better decisions about issues of religious freedom.
This is taking wasteful government spending to a whole new level. We now have a government agency spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money, all in an attempt to violate the law. There's something infuriatingly ironic about a government body using one list of 10 Commandments (big C) to violate another list of 10 commandments (little c, also known as amendments), only one of which it is duty-bound to uphold as one of its most basic functions.

I don't even know where to start with this one; I can't rationally say anything about it. Everything here is wrong. This isn't about religion, it isn't about what should and shouldn't be allowed as displays in public buildings, it's about what does and doesn't constitute a justifiable use of taxpayer money--this protracted legal battle absolutely does not qualify, under any definition or justification. Kentucky, you lose. Welcome to the Wasteful Hall of Fame--you've now created your own wing of this ever-expanding clubhouse.


My head just exploded

Alright, we all know that I spend a lot of time here talking about deficits and debt and government spending gone wild (in fact, I've got another post coming later today on that last issue--stay tuned), and that I also think (read: know) that trying to balance our budgets by shaving pennies off of small piles isn't going to get us anywhere. So when I read this article in the Wall Street Journal this morning, you can imagine that it all sort of came together for me, and, well... my head exploded.
Karen Dombi was thrilled when her three oldest children were picked for student government this year—not because she envisioned careers in politics, but because it was one of the few programs at their public high school that didn't charge kids to participate.
Budget shortfalls have prompted Medina (Ohio) Senior High to impose fees on students who enroll in many academic classes and extracurricular activities. The Dombis had to pay to register their children for basic courses such as Spanish I and Earth Sciences, to get them into graded electives such as band, and to allow them to run cross-country and track. The family's total tab for a year of public education: $4,446.50.
"I'm wondering, am I going to be paying for my parking spot at the school? Because you're making me pay for just about everything else," says Ms. Dombi, a parent in this middle-class community in northern Ohio.
Public schools across the country, struggling with cuts in state funding, rising personnel costs and lower tax revenues, are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.
At high schools in several states, it can cost more than $200 just to walk in the door, thanks to registration fees, technology fees and unspecified "instructional fees."
Weak, dude. Look, I fully appreciate the gravity of budget shortfalls--more than most people in this country, it seems. But pinching pennies at our public schools really isn't going to solve the overall problem of unrealistic entitlement spending at both the state and federal level (and the deficits it creates). Ballooning Medicare/Medicaid costs (Medicaid takes up an average of 22% of a state's total budget outlay), underfunded pension funds (be they teachers' funds or just basic Social Security), and plummeting tax revenue (due both to economic recession and some ill-advised tax cuts) are the real culprit, and balancing any budget must start there, with the big-ticket items--NOT with pinching pennies in relatively small pots like we're reading about here.

And that's... wait a minute. These people are charging a fee to learn Spanish... and to run cross-country and track!??!? THOSE SPORTS DON'T COST ANYTHING!!!! Seriously, running cross-country consists of throwing a bunch of kids out into the middle of the woods, and having them run around for a while until you tell them to stop. Really, that's it. You don't even need a track. You barely need a coach. How in the hell are we justifying charging parents a fee to have their kids run cross-country? That's just silly. I... I mean... I need to sit down.

No, you're right though, Medina school district--charging fees is the way to go. Really, it's the only way. And if you cut far enough, to the point that our students are paying more in fees to go to public school than they would to go to private school, you just might be able to pay for a half a percent of Ohio's ballooning Medicaid expenditures. And then, and only then, we can rejoice.

[Wall Street Journal]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another interesting TED talk

I get a kick out of Morgan Spurlock. He's a funny guy, not afraid to do unconventional things for the benefit of learning and teaching, and he frequently takes on interesting topics for his documentaries. So I'm interested to see his latest movie, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold", even more so after watching this TED talk from earlier this year.

One line in particular from Spurlock stayed with me: "If you train your team to be risk-averse, they will end up being reward-challenged". I think you could change "your team" and "they" to "yourself" and "you" and have some pretty fair words to live by.

The problem with innovation

Alright, you're probably tired of the topic of innovation by now, and that's fine. But since I've been writing about the topic so much lately, I thought it was appropriate to follow up with my latest thoughts. I thought it was especially pertinent today since I came across this post from Bill Conerly's Businomics blog, which brought together two of my favorite topics--innovation and education.
In the medieval university, books were scarce and expensive, far too scarce to expect every student to buy a half dozen textbooks. So professors lectured. It was a cost-effective way to transmit information.
Today, most professors still lecture. Not just in seminars covering rare information, but in basic courses taught in every college in the world: introduction to economics, first year chemistry, Calculus I, etc. Think about that. There are books covering everything said in the lectures. There are videos of great professors lecturing on the common topics. It's a colossal waste of time for every professor to lecture.
Most anything can be learned by a dedicated person studying on his own. However, most of us do better with some structure, and efficiency calls for a guide to the material and a person to answer questions when we get stuck. That should be the role of the modern professor. Design the body of material to be studied for a particular course. Recommend reading, videos, exercises, problems and projects that will help students. Be available to help students who get stuck. Ask stimulating questions. Promote discussion. Evaluate student performance, and advise on how much progress is being made. The teacher becomes a consultant...
It's time for education to step out of the medieval era.
Well said, Dr. Conerly.

He's right, of course. The problem with innovation isn't that not enough people are creating and innovating (though sometimes, that is the case)--rather, it's that we all are too slow to change our habits and adopt the new technologies that are available to us.

In the world of education--especially since the advent of the internet--basic knowledge (and even some fairly complex concepts) has never been more accessible to more people. Sites like Academic Earth and the Khan Academy have democratized education in a way that can and should be transformational for our society, and yet relatively few people have any clue that they even exist (I myself only learned of their existence a couple weeks ago).

Ultimately, people don't like change, they fear what is different, and they are devastatingly slow to accept new technologies and actually change the rhythm of their lives. Frankly, we like the current system of education and the status markers that it affords (nothing screams legitimacy quite like a degree from a highly-regarded school). Break that down, and we no longer have any reliable way of drawing distinctions between people, no smoking gun on their resumes that ensures us that they are what they claim to be. We view the democratization of education as dangerous not so much because of the uncertainty of how and what we will learn, but more because of the auxiliary systems that it threatens to destroy.

That's a hard hurdle to overcome, and it's certainly not unique to the world of education. I think that a fair analogy exists in the world of business, where despite the options for telecommuting and online meetings that services like Skype and GoToMeeting afford, we continue to spend hours commuting (and companies spend millions on commercial rent) so that we can keep on slaving away in offices with coworkers who we don't honestly like. We do this despite the fact that very few of us actually need to be in an office surrounded by our coworkers--for most companies in most industries, there's little that we gain from daily colocation, except maybe for a little bit of office camaraderie that might make us more productive. But that's an expensive trade to make, both for our companies and for ourselves.

The task, then, for the innovators and for all of us, is to figure out ways to make change less threatening. I've already embraced the freedom that the virtual corporation affords (I've worked in three different states and two different countries already this year), but I'll readily admit to being a bit of a Tory when it comes to the existing system of education--maybe that's just a result of self-preservation, since the abolishment of current institutions would be devastating to the value of my Harvard degree, but I digress.

The point is, if we're going to complain about the way things are (as so many of us like to do), we need to be ready--and I mean really ready--to drop our existing assumptions and habits when a new option comes along. Otherwise, we forfeit our right to complain about the status quo--our stubborn conservatism makes us complicit. If we want real innovation, we need to reward it by changing ourselves at the same rate that we change our technologies.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

I haven't given a minute of my attention to the NFL lockout so far, because I really just don't care. Both sides in this mess are being beyond idiotic (seriously, I can understand a millionaires vs. billionaires fight when the economy's booming, but when unemployment is stubbornly high, such a standoff is devastatingly tone-deaf and completely idiotic--who puts an unprecedented run of success at risk for no good reason?), and I can't find an ounce of sympathy for anyone in this melodrama.

I assume that eventually they'll figure it out and play some football, and if they don't then I'm even more glad that I didn't pay them any mind along the way. With all that said, sometimes you come across something that's so amazing you just can't ignore it. Enter Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.


"Do this research if we don't have a season -- watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up, if you take away our game... There's too many people that live through us, people live through us... There's nothing else to do."
                           - Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis

Holy inflated sense of self-importance, Batman! Are these people serious? Do they really think that if we take away football for a year, people will be so bored, angry, and despondent that they'll turn to a life of crime as the next best alternative? I mean, really?

I should be numb to this sort of egotism by now, in the wake of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein's assertion that his blood-sucking, economy-crumbling company was doing "God's work", but somehow I'm still amazed when I hear statements like these. Wake up, guys, you're not nearly as important as you think you are, no matter what your bank account says.

Ironically enough, our friends over at the Freakonomics blog did a little study to see if there was any credence to Lewis' prediction. If the lack of a football season is expected to lead to an increase in crime, then we should probably see an uptick in crime every year when the football season ends, right? Eh, not really. In fact, if anything, gamedays tend to lead to an increase in crime, especially when the home team suffers an unexpected loss (granted, this study focused on college rather than the NFL, but the fan bases aren't so far different that I'd call the results irrelevant). It seems that cramming 50,000 drunken people into a tight space and jacking up the testosterone level isn't a crime deterrent... who knew?

Although, let's give Ray-Ray some credit here... maybe he was just talking about the players themselves. Touché.


Now that's what I'm talking about...

Engadget has a nice summary of last week's New York Design Week, and it's chock full of the kind of innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity that I've been begging for forever--and that you're probably tired of hearing about from me. As a sports fan, I was particularly intrigued by this paragraph, which has me thinking of all sorts of new possibilities over the next several decades.
Energy-generating architecture got some buzz this week with the unveiling of a piezoelectric energy-generating sports stadium that just broke ground in India, a floating solar-powered stadium for Miami, and an algae-powered office building that just won Metropolis Magazine's Next Gen competition. Photovoltaic technology was a hot topic as well as MU researchers developed a new breed of nano-cells capable of capturing 95 percent of solar energy and Diffus unveiled a chic solar-powered bag that flaunts its solar panels instead of hiding them.
With all of this creativity and innovation coming down the pike, it's really too bad that we've already spent billions of taxpayer dollars in the U.S. replacing nearly every ballpark and football stadium over the last two decades, all without any of the cool new technology that we really could have used (and that could have saved us big money).

With cities and states around the country facing budget crises as a result of underfunded pensions and plummeting tax receipts, it's unlikely that we'll see any of these stadiums replaced any time soon, and that's a shame. Large stadiums and arenas represent fertile ground for technological experimentation, and with the traditional use of taxpayer dollars to fund the projects, there's no excuse for not employing state-of-the-art technology and energy efficiency. Hopefully future projects will indeed employ these new efficiency-gaining technologies, and the taxpayer will benefit (or maybe won't even be needed at all, but that's probably a pipe dream). As always, time will tell.


Pre-Clip of the Week

No, Tuesday isn't Clip of the Week day--it's Quote of the Week day, and that's coming later. But I've already got my Clip of the Week picked out for Thursday, and this one's too good to ignore here or to let wait until Thursday. Without further ado, I give you Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, with a series-turning save against the Lightning:

Lucky? Sure, a little bit. Awesome? Absolutely.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Studying movie sequels

Courtesy of BoxOfficeQuant comes this awesome infographic studying whether or not Hollywood sequels lived up to the quality of the original--a pertinent study with The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (#4 in the series) set to dominate the box office this summer. The results shouldn't really surprise any of us (below the line means the sequel was worse than the original), but it's interesting nonetheless.

That clustering on the far right side of the graph indicates that the best original movies have a little better chance of producing better sequels--that's where we see movies like Godfather II, Toy Story 2, and The Dark Knight, all of which were fantastic originals with equally entertaining sequels.

Things are a little tougher for mediocre (terrible?) movies like Big Momma's House, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, and Agent Cody Banks, where the sequels were just stale remakes of material that was already fairly weak, a point that is reflected in the data.

Incidentally, this is some data I'd love to have in front of me to play around with, because I'm kinda bored and this is exactly the type of idle data-crunching that I enjoy (wait a second, there was a sequel to Teen Wolf?). But for now, I'll just enjoy this graphic and then end up ignoring it anyway when I go to the movies this summer.

(h/t Barry Ritholtz)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public Service Announcement

Pay particular attention to the sub-headlines on the right side. That's the important stuff to be aware of. You've been warned...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Going dark again

I've got some family matters to attend to today, and I'll be gone for the rest of the afternoon, so there won't be any regular posts this afternoon. For now, I'll leave you with this fantastic clip from The Colbert Report. Glorious. This officially displaces Walken's Poker Face as my favorite internet recitation ever.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
John Lithgow Performs Gingrich Press Release
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Clip of the Week

Well, I was going to go with this ridiculous catch by the Nationals' Roger Bernadina from over the weekend (note how he stays down for a bit, Rod Tidwell style, to milk the moment--well played), but MLB is apparently an evil blog-hating demon who won't let anyone embed any of their videos anywhere. So, sorry Roger, but you can't win this week, because I refuse to give the title to a non-embeddable video.

Unfortunately, the rest of the field isn't as strong as it could be, so even though we've got this solar-powered plane landing in Belgium (kind of a big deal), and this oddly entertaining animal-related video, we're gonna go with this for the Clip of the Week, because it amused me.

Yeah, college baseball rain-delay stunts for the purposes of YouTube videos are getting dangerously close to jumping the shark (it all started here, and it's continued here), but as of now they're still creative and entertaining. My only question on this one is, what coach would let his players do stuff like this? I mean seriously, my coaches barely let me slide headfirst into second base...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

World's most marketable athletes

This post sort of falls in line with my previous post about the world's highest paid athletes (by country), only this time we're looking not at salary but general marketability. According to SportsPro, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt--world record holder in both the 100m (9.58s) and 200m (19.19s) distances--is the most marketable athlete in the world.
World and Olympic 100 and 200 metre champion Usain Bolt has replaced NBA star LeBron James as the most marketable sportsman on the planet...
Athletes have been ranked according to their marketing potential over a three-year period. James drops to second in the list, with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo ranked third.
The list comprises the 50 athletes deemed by SportsPro to offer value for marketing money if signed today to a long-term global endorsement deal.
This year’s list features 16 new entries but only five women. There are 19 Americans on the list, six Britons and, in all, representatives from 19 countries. 18 sports are represented, including seven racing drivers and seven basketball players. Six soccer players make the list.
The complete Top 10 is listed below, courtesy of Paul Kedrosky.

It's remarkable, though probably not surprising, that so many of the top 10 are from international (Olympic) sports--especially when you consider soccer to be an international sport, which it no doubt is. It's hard to maintain marketing clout when the majority of people in the world are only paying attention to your sport once every four years, but there we see that 2 of the top 10 (Bolt and Phelps) are Olympic athletes. Include British track star Jessica Ennis (#12) and American snowboarder Shaun White (#14), and you've got 4 of the top 15.

That's pretty impressive, and it definitely speaks to the power and reach of the Olympics. We as spectators may not care about the sports in and of themselves, but we definitely care about the dedication, patriotism, and drama that comes along with training for the Olympics, laying it all on the line for just one event.

As a side note, am I the only one surprised by how frequently these Formula 1 guys show up on these lists? I must be massively underestimating the popularity and global reach of those funny little cars... Also note that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian cricketer who figured prominently in my highest-paid athletes post, also finds his way into the top 10. Once again, take that, A-Rod (not in the top 50, though Joe Mauer and Brian Wilson are).


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This is not how you manage your employees

In the "oh, that poor guy" department of the sports world, previously unknown Kansas City Royals pitcher Vin Mazzaro--a 24-year old with less than 220 total innings of previous major league experience--leapt into the daily conversation with a historically bad performance last night against the Indians.
Needless to say, Monday night was a rough one for Royals pitcher Vin Mazzaro. First of all, he wasn't even supposed to pitch. He was slated to start Tuesday, but an early injury to starter Kyle Davies forced Mazzaro into relief duty. 
What followed was sheer catastrophe. 
Eight hits. Two walks. Ten earned runs. All of this happened in the fourth inning... 
Mazzaro's final line was an even worse nightmare. He went 2 1/3 innings and allowed 14 earned runs, making him the third pitcher since 1947 to allow 14 earned runs since 1947 and the first since 1998.
Yikes. Pitchers are notorious for their mental fragility, and leaving a young guy out there to get pounded like that is bound to be devastating to his confidence. The concept of the sacrificial lamb is well-understood in baseball circles--one pitcher takes one for the team in a lost cause game, so that the rest of the pitchers on the staff can rest their arms--but it's almost always done with a journeyman middle reliever who's been around the block a few times and understands the drill.

This guy hasn't been around the block at all, and the first that most of us have ever heard of him is last night's debacle. He'll forever be "Vin Mazzaro, the guy who gave up 14 runs in a relief outing", and it's going to be difficult for the young guy to get past that trauma. Bad call, Royals. Really dumb.

But of course, that wasn't the worst of it. After Vin took one for the team and probably endured a shattering blow to his ego, the Royals organization piled on after the game, apparently punishing him by sending him down to the minors.

Sure, it's possible that the minor league demotion was just a standard roster management move--a necessary evil so that the Royals could call up another pitcher to start in Mazzaro's place tonight--but try telling that to Vin. Big man just sacrificed his start to save the team, got his brains beat in for the whole country to see, and you reward him by busting him down to Omaha.

Great management, there, guys. Clearly, there's a reason you're the Royals, proud owners of exactly one winning record (and eight last place finishes) in the last 16 seasons. Clowns.

Here's hoping Vin bounces back to have a nice career despite last night's debacle. And let's hope it's somewhere besides Kansas City, because with last night's idiocy, that organization has shown that they don't deserve to reap any of the benefits of Mr. Mazzaro's career work. Keep your head up, Vin.


Quote of the Week

This week's quote definitely leans toward the jargon-y side of things, and it's admittedly a little heavy compared to what I usually showcase here. But the line caught my eye, and I think it dovetails nicely with my mini-rant on auto bailouts from the last segment of this morning's link dump.

I'm often writing here about the perils of bad science, and bad statistics, and how people try to draw conclusions from data that is inherently biased (or at least not properly controlled). In complex systems (and almost everything in human interaction is a complex system), it is almost impossible to reliably isolate and determine the impact of just one variable--but that never stops people from trying.

The response to the financial crisis is, of course, fertile ground for such statistically-challenged efforts. Without further ado, courtesy of The Daily Reckoning blog, here goes nothing... 


"The change that is happening in the financial markets is a chaotic mess. I believe the simultaneous execution of radical monetary policy, fiscal policy, and financial regulatory reform is introducing rather than reducing systemic risk in the global financial system by ignoring the simplest lesson of the scientific method. Rather than change one variable in a complex system and test the outcome, regulators and policymakers are changing virtually all of them at the same time."
                                    - Michael A.J. Farrell; CEO, Annaly Capital Management

Farrell goes on to enumerate a laundry list of major economic changes, all of which are going on at the same time: QRM [quantitative risk management], risk retention, the Volcker Rule, Basel III capital rules, derivatives clearing and related margin requirements. GSE reform. FAS 166 and 167. Zero-bound fed funds policy and QE2. Deficit financing, structural budgetary imbalances, and debt limit debate.

Yeah, that's a lot. And in any system with that many moving parts, it's absolutely impossible to know which one of them is having a positive impact, negative impact, or no impact on the overall outcomes. Remember that next time you see a politician trying to take credit for the supposed successes of "his" policy (or, in the case of Ben Bernanke, simultaneously taking credit and blame-shifting)--there's simply no way of knowing what's helping and what's hurting when we can't isolate just one variable.

Too much good stuff

You all know by now how much I hate the concept of a link dump, but every once in a while I must admit it's a useful tool. With the couple of days off that I had to take last week, there's a ton of stuff that I would have posted about that fell through the cracks. Since I'll never really catch up if I don't write about this stuff now, it's time for another pseudo-link dump.

As with the last time I did this, I'll post the links to the relevant articles, give a quick blurb with my thoughts on the link (or links), and you can choose whether or not you're interested enough to read the whole piece. I enjoyed all of them thoroughly.

It's harder to get a job at Walmart than it is to be admitted to an Ivy League school
Jerry Shenk; American Thinker

Jerry Shenk notes that while acceptance rates are extremely low at Ivy League schools--6.9% at Harvard, 8.2% at Princeton, 11.5% at Dartmouth--these rates are nothing compared to hiring rates at many midwestern Walmarts. One Cleveland-area store reported a hiring rate of only 5% (6,000 applicants for only 300 jobs), whereas the sheer number of applications was staggering at a pair of Chicago-area stores--15,000 and 20,000 total applications, for reportedly similar numbers of jobs to the Cleveland store.

Shenk notes that 2% fewer college graduates received jobs in 2010 than 2009, which no doubt means that the Class of 2011 will be fighting with a few long-term unemployed graduates when they leave their campuses after graduation this month. That's not good for them, and it's certainly not good for our nation's colleges (Ivy League schools included). Who would bother going through the arduous application process, spending four years at college, and taking on over $100,000 in debt if there's no jobs available on the back end? Why not just throw your hat in the ring at the local Walmart and get a head start on the game?

The People vs. Goldman Sachs
Matt Taibbi; Rolling Stone
Goldman Viewed Unfavorably by 54% as Poll Shows No Damage
Christine Harper; Bloomberg
As Wall Street Firms Grow, Their Reputations are Dying
Steven M. Davidoff; New York Times

These stories are all closely related, and frankly they deserve their own post (especially the Taibbi piece, but that's true about almost every Taibbi piece). But I could honestly write for days about this issue, and I've been consistently too lazy or too busy to give this one the time it deserves. So rather than let it go entirely unaddressed, I'll address it here. Ultimately, the point is that there is an extreme divergence at present between the profitability of the banks (particularly Goldman Sachs) and their general reputation. Almost everyone hates the banks, but they just keep on printing money.

Several reasons are given for this divergence, especially in Davidoff's NY Times article. But I think the explanations all basically miss the point. The point is, this is what happens in bailed-out industries. Companies who don't need to worry about failing also don't really need to worry about customer service. What's happened with airlines in the last 20+ years is now happening with banks. With unconditional federal support, there is no longer any incentive to do things properly or in a way that keeps your customers happy. That's why we all hate airlines, and it's why we're all beginning to hate banks, and it won't change until our federal government decides that it's going to stop bailing out failed companies and failed industries.

As for Goldman, they'll just keep on stealing until somebody decides that they've stolen too much. I'm not holding my breath.

Library of Congress Revives Thousands of Vintage Recordings
Caroline Cooper; WQXR.org

The National Jukebox, a project launched last week by the Library of Congress, has compiled more than 10,000 rare and previously unavailable recordings of music, speeches, and comedy acts (all of it recorded between 1901 and 1925) into a free streaming database. Also known as: Ken Burns' wet dream.

I think it's a pretty cool use of the internet (along the lines of yesterday's super-nerdy interactive solar system post). Some of the stuff is actually really fun to mess around with, even if there is enough old-timey ragtime music on there to make me feel like I'm walking around inside an early Mickey Mouse cartoon. Good work, Library of Congress.

Opinion: The Auto Industry Bailout - Still Debated But Worth Every Penny
David Kiley; AOL Autos
GM's Profits are Still a Huge Net Loss For Taxpayers
Megan McArdle; The Atlantic

Another pair of related articles, this time with drastically opposing viewpoints. From my discussion above about Goldman, you already know where I come down on bailouts of all kinds, but that's hardly the point.

The point here is that the true costs and true benefits of any of these bailouts will only be known with the benefit of several decades of hindsight. Any attempt to write a post-mortem on these bailouts now is early at best, ignorant at worst. Note that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 had many of its roots in the fiscal and monetary response to 9/11, but we only fully appreciated those links nearly a decade later (and some of us still don't fully appreciate that dynamic). Therefore, to pretend that we can properly assess the long-term impacts of our bailout strategies at this point is foolhardy.

Of course, my greatest criticisms of the bailouts is that they sacrifice the long-term at the benefit of short-term stability, so maybe I'm just letting my own viewpoints here bias my reading of the articles in question. But I really do believe that we will only fully appreciate the impacts of these bailouts long after any of us has stopped thinking about them. That's what scares me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This is too cool

Okay, yes, I admit that I'm a huge tool, but I'm pretty much overwhelmed by how much this interactive (click-and-drag) 3-D model of the solar system beats the hell out of the lame styrofoam solar system mobiles that we used to mess around with back in the elementary school days.

This is one of those times and places where innovation has indeed enriched our lives. My kids are gonna have a lot more tools at their disposal for learning about stuff than I did back in the dark ages of the 1980s--hopefully they'll use it wisely.

Click here for interactive graphic

(h/t Barry Ritholtz)

...and, we're back!

Well, it seems like my two-day hiatus was actually fairly well-timed, since a massive Blogger outage means that my posts probably would have been lost to the fickle internet gods anyway. At any rate, I'm back on the map and only a little worse for the wear, so I'll be posting regularly again beginning today.

I do realize that I missed Clip of the Week on Thursday, so I'll make amends right away on that front. This is impressive, this is funny, this is pretty cool, this makes me feel old (and like I wasted my childhood), but this is your Clip of the Week.

After a week spent attending and planning for wakes and funerals, it's natural for me to start to wonder whether I'm making the most of my life. Then this guy has to come along and rub it in by flying in a jetpack over the Grand Canyon. Jerk. (All sarcasm aside, this is pretty awesome to watch, even if the music is lame.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Going dark

Just a heads up to all my millions of enthusiastic readers (ha)... I may be going dark for a couple of days here and not posting much. A couple of unfortunate and untimely deaths (a friend's husband followed by my grandmother) mean that I've got a funeral or two to attend to, and I'll be on the road for a bit. So don't be mad at me if I'm not around... it's been a strange week.

Great journalism

I spend a lot of time here harping on bad journalism and bad science, but I probably don't spend as much time as I should praising the great journalism that does still exist.

Incidentally, I could probably spend a week perusing and appreciating the contents of this site, which has compiled some of the best pieces of journalism (nearly 100 of them) from the last year, spanning topics from science to crime to media to sports and everything in between. In fact, I just might. But for now I'll just share with you this fascinating piece about Trader Joe's, the fast-growing hippie-tastic grocery store (coming soon to Charlottesville!) that's as famous for its organic, environmentally-friendly products as it is for its Two-Buck Chuck.

The company has a very cool and different business model and incredibly devoted customers, and I'm curious to see just how scalable their model can be before cheapening the original mission (some would argue that's already happened). At any rate, here's an excerpt. Feel free to read the whole thing.
Trader Joe's is no ordinary grocery chain. It's an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries -- Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews -- that you simply can't find anyplace else.
Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you're unhappy with a purchase -- no questions asked. At the Chelsea store opening, workers greeted customers with high-fives and free cookies. Try getting that kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly.
It's little wonder that Trader Joe's is one of the hottest retailers in the U.S. It now boasts 344 stores in 25 states and Washington, D.C., and strip-mall operators and consumers alike aggressively lobby the chain, based in Monrovia, Calif., to come to their towns. A Trader Joe's brings with it good jobs, and its presence in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart.
I guess that means that my neighbors and I are about to become worldly and smart. I'll keep an eye out for that...


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Quote of the Week

There has been a fair amount of reaction this week to Harvard economist Greg Mankiw's most recent monthly column in the New York Times, in which he essentially admitted that he didn't know what to make of the U.S. economy at present. It's rare to see any academic (or professional in any field) concede defeat, but Mankiw (whom I had as a professor as an undergraduate, and whose work I have featured here once before) did so in a humble, eloquent manner that I salute.


"After more than a quarter-century as a professional economist, I have a confession to make: There is a lot I don’t know about the economy. Indeed, the area of economics where I have devoted most of my energy and attention — the ups and downs of the business cycle — is where I find myself most often confronting important questions without obvious answers."
              - Greg Mankiw, Harvard economics professor

Mankiw goes on to issue a fairly stern (and level-headed) criticism of the culture of punditry in America, one that continues to be fed by our 24-hour news cycle that requires and spews out "analysis" at all times, regardless of its basis in fact. He writes:
By its nature, punditry craves attention, which is easier to attract with certainties than with equivocation. But that certitude reflects bravado more often than true knowledge.
Well said. Plus bonus points for using big words.
I, for one, work in an industry that craves analysis, opinion, and prediction. Everyone wants to know where the market is heading next, even though nobody really knows. The best any of us can do is give a range of probabilities and outcomes, and position ourselves favorably for all potential outcomes. But that type of approach doesn't sell many books (or attract many investors). Neither does earning a slow, steady 6-7% per year into perpetuity.

No, the managers and economists who grab the headlines are the ones who make huge bets, put all their eggs in one basket, and are eventually lucky enough to see it pay off. They certainly are fairly quiet about revisiting their predictions when they fail (and they most often do), but they receive huge accolades when they happen to be right. John Paulson, who predicted and profited from the bursting of the housing bubble, knows this dynamic well. But he was wrong for a long time before he finally became right. Insert "stopped clock is right twice a day" wisecrack here.

Either way, I think it's refreshing to see a pundit take a step back and admit weakness and confusion. Every once in a while, we'd all benefit from some humility.

[New York Times]

Monday, May 9, 2011

On corporate America and innovation

In writing this post, I feel that it is necessary to first state that I have a pretty deep-rooted disdain of "Corporate America" in its traditional sense. I think that large corporations--especially those that are publicly traded--tend to lose sight of the things that made their businesses great to begin with, focusing on short-term profitability and several other often-misguided metrics at the expense of what is actually best for the company over the long term.

Meanwhile, employees are consistently minimized, deliberately made to feel as though they are replaceable cogs in the corporate machine, always with an emphasis on process over results. While I appreciate the economic benefits that large corporations with their economies of scale can provide, I think there are often devastating emotional and psychological costs to the employees (and often the customers) of those companies.

Furthermore, true innovation tends to suffer as large corporations gradually become risk-averse and afraid to be great, afflicted with the dreaded curse of mediocrity. This last point is what leads me to write today's post. In a brilliant post on his "Overcoming Bias" blog (which I will post in its entirety because it's short), economist Robin Hanson writes about one of the more insidious roles that large corporations play in our economy, often when we're not looking.
To run an airline, you need not only pilots, airplanes, and fuel, you also need landing rights at airports matching your planned routes and times. Today airlines must buy these rights one at a time via trades, and so risk ending up with mismatched slots that they cannot use.
Thirty years ago economists designed and tested package auctions to overcome this problem. In such auctions people can bid for the package of landing slots desired, and be assured of getting either all or none of the items in their desired package. Lab experiments have documented their efficiency advantages.
At a conference yesterday, someone said that the big airlines have consistently blocked attempts to field such auctions. The reason: because they buy more total slots, big airlines can more easily put together the packages they need. Big airlines oppose innovations that would make it easier for small airlines to compete with them.
This seems similar to how last year big movie studios got Congress to change laws to block the introduction of movie futures. Such futures would make it easier for small movie studios to get funding and to convince viewers that they had a product worth seeing.
Better economic institutions help people to better coordinate. But big firms suffer this problem less, because they can more easily coordinate in the absense of such institutions. Even in the US today, big firms (often with the assistance of law and government) block a great deal of institutional innovation, in order to retain this advantage.
As if there weren't already enough barriers to entry into many industries, it's clear that the largest corporations are also capable of using their political clout (due simply to their size) to squeeze out smaller competitors in ways like those documented here. Innovation (and the economic efficiency and prosperity that innovation could provide) often ends up as collateral damage in the process.

While Hanson uses two very apt analogies, I think there is no more devastating (and wide-reaching) example of this dynamic than the auto industry. The internal combustion engine that we continue to use is incredibly old technology, and we could all enjoy the benefits (both economically and, you know, from a foreign policy standpoint) of a push to kick our oil habit. But far too many (very large) companies have far too much at stake here, and true innovation in the auto space (say, something like this) has thus lagged generations behind our technological capability.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any change in this "large corporations rule the world" dynamic is imminent. Mish Shedlock posted over the weekend about Illinois' schizophrenic and self-defeating stance with respect to corporations, one which does absolutely nothing but harm small business competitiveness. In a recession that has already been devastating to small business, Illinois somehow feels the need to give them yet another big middle finger. That's great for large publicly traded companies' bottom lines (and CEO paychecks), but it's not necessarily good for America or the economy. Such is the state of our current political environment.

While there are definitely several large companies who buck the innovation-blocking trend that Hanson has cited, and much of my personal disdain for corporate America is admittedly emotional based on personal experience (and the experiences of several close friends and relatives), any of us who have spent hours on the phone with a "customer service" representative who dryly recites corporate policy can certainly sympathize with my feelings. But until further notice, we'll probably just have to get used to it. Unless, of course, we all feel like trying to start our own businesses...

[Overcoming Bias]

Friday, May 6, 2011

Clip of the Week

Seems like I forgot to post Clip of the Week yesterday. Whoops. Also seems like Blogger has been very ornery today, and so I haven't been able to get this up until now. Double whoops.

At any rate, there were some good things this week. This video was oddly mesmerizing, this one cracked me up, and this one was just frightening. But I'm a sports nerd, and as you all know by now I'm a sucker for anything that mixes the athletic with the intellectual.

This video from the New York Times definitely qualifies, and while I might hate the Yankees, I have nothing but respect for their closer, Mariano Rivera. He is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and I can say with near certainty that we will never see another pitcher quite like him again.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

These stories are related...

... so I'll just post excerpts from both. First, from SportsBusiness Daily:
A U.S. District Court in California earlier this week dismissed a complaint against EA Sports in the Ed O'Bannon licensing case. The former UCLA star sued EA Sports, the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company in '09 on the grounds they were using his image and likeness without his consent, and the suit later grew into a class action involving Basketball HOFer Oscar Robertson among several others.
Judge Claudia Wilken for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the complaint against EA Sports, ruling, "This purported conspiracy involves Defendants' concerted action to require all current student-athletes to sign forms each year that purport to require each of them to relinquish all rights in perpetuity for use of their images, likenesses and/or names and to deny compensation 'through restrictions in the NCAA Bylaws.' The Consolidated Amended Complaint, however, does not contain any allegations to suggest that EA agreed to participate in this conspiracy."
For what it's worth, the judge did not grant similar motions from the NCAA to dismiss claims, so those cases are still pending. For now, it's just EA that gets a pass on the exploitation of athletes.

The related article is from the Los Angeles Times:
The soon-to-be Pacific 12 Conference has the richest television deal in college history. And that's no accident. 
Rights fees for televised sports keep climbing, even in a challenging economy. Proof came Wednesday as Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott confirmed a new 12-year deal with Fox and ESPN that is estimated to be worth $3 billion. 
Randy Freer, Fox Sports Networks president, said televised sports is getting to be the equal of entertainment programming. 
"I think we're all making a bet on the future where we believe college sports and sports in general is one of the leading lights of generating large audiences," he said.
Well, Randy, I think you're really all making a bet that college players will continue to allow their services to be exploited for BILLIONS OF DOLLARS simply because professional leagues are hiding behind anti-trust exemptions that force athletes to play for college teams without just compensation.

I've personally come a long way on this issue in the past few years. It used to be that I told the players to stop whining, that they were getting a (very valuable) college education for free, and that was compensation enough for their services. But two recent developments have challenged my original position, and I therefore no longer think that view applies.

One development is simply the explosion in revenues, and the fact that schools are now asking their athletes to do more and more to satisfy the networks who own their television rights. Thursday night football games, Tuesday night games, basketball "marathons", and more have continued to take students out of the classroom with increasing frequency, making it incredibly clear how low a priority the athletes' education actually is at these institutions. When students are never actually in the classroom, it's hard to argue that the "education" they're receiving actually has any value at all--they're there to play their sport, plain and simple.

But the second--and more important--development that has changed my mind is the forced nature of these players' efforts. Both the NBA and NFL have used technicalities within anti-trust exemptions to essentially require that athletes attend college before turning pro--the NFL's exemption was challenged multiple times, to no avail. College sports, then, are nothing but a forced apprenticeship, a way for the professional leagues to "protect their product" while the athletes have no choice but to spend years of their lives providing free labor to what has become a multi-billion dollar business. That's pretty close to slavery, and it simply wouldn't be allowed in any other industry.

Labor laws are extremely strict with regard to unpaid internships for most companies (banks, retailers, manufacturing companies, etc.), but the NCAA is able to exploit a strange loophole by claiming that the athletes are "students" (for what it's worth, banks also frequently take advantage of a labor law loophole by providing classroom credit for their unpaid internships, but that's another issue entirely).

Either way, whether or not the athletes actually WANT their college education (many of them have little interest in the classroom, and that should be their prerogative), it's the only compensation they're allowed to receive during those years. This, while ESPN, EA, Nike, Under Armour, the NCAA, and their schools and conferences (oh, not to mention their coaches, who are not pimps, as Nick Saban has so kindly reminded us) profit handsomely.

The higher these dollar amounts climb, the harder it becomes to justify the college sports system as it's currently set up. A breaking point is coming, and it won't be pretty when it does come. Just don't be surprised when dozens more incidents like these ones hit your newspapers--it's inevitable, and frankly justifiable given the current environment.

If I had to guess, the first thing to give way will be the leagues' ability to prevent players from bypassing the college game. If the NCAA won't step up, the courts eventually will. But it might take some time, and it will probably take a coordinated legal effort on the part of the players. We'll see what shakes out. Enjoy the gravy train while it lasts, Pac-12.

[SportsBusiness Daily]
[Los Angeles Times]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This is new

I've ranted here plenty about inflation, and by now I'm pretty much numb to the concept of the ever-depreciating dollar. But I've never seen this before (menu insert courtesy of Farmington Country Club):

Those are some pretty scary increases over a 90-day period, and they can't be explained away simply by referring to "unrest in the Middle East".

Yes, bad weather has played a role, as the insert makes clear, and the "manmade disasters" they refer to are I assume the continued after-effects of the Gulf oil spill, which has particularly impacted seafood prices. But a doubling in the price of iceberg lettuce? WTF? Yeah, I'm gonna throw that one in the "unstable politics" category of explanation.

I'm no math major, but an increase from $8 to $9.25 is 16%, in 3 months. Using compounding, that's an annual inflation rate of over 80%. Um... transitory?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Quote of the Week

On occasion, I'll cheat a little bit on Quote of the Week, using it as a weak excuse to post what is in fact a clip rather than just a quote. This is one of those times.

But what can I say--this clip is too good to save until Thursday, and it seems especially pertinent given the events of the past weekend. Many of you have probably watched Seth Meyers' amusing remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. I enjoyed his standup, but I found the first few minutes of President Obama's remarks to be absolutely hysterical.

I fully recognize that many people are incapable of letting down their political guard to enjoy the humor of a situation--I am not one of them, but if you are, I apologize in advance. You won't find this funny. But it is. Without further ado...


"As some of you heard, the state of Hawaii released my official long-form birth certificate. Hopefully, this puts all doubts to rest. But just in case there are any lingering questions, tonight I'm prepared to go a step further. Tonight, for the first time, I am releasing my official birth video."
                              - President Barack Obama

I highly recommend that you watch up until the 4:15 mark in this video. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.