Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leftover Turkey Ideas: The Turkey Burrito

Almost a week later, and I’m almost done eating the turkey.  All that remains is the turkey carcass in the freezer that will be made into broth this weekend.  I had a stroke of genius on Monday that resulted in the amazing Pilgrim-Mexican fusion dish that I like to call the Turkey Burrito. 

Take about 2 cups of the scrap turkey meat that is clinging to the bone, white meat and dark meat, and don't worry if the meat is a little tough.  Add to a saucepan with a can of tomatoes with the juice.  I like the ones with the jalapenos in them.  Add a dash of paprika or red pepper (powder, not flakes), cumin, and lime juice (1/2 teaspoon or so if you want to measure).  Set the saucepan to simmer on low for 30 minutes, stiring occasionally and adjusting the heat to make sure it is not boiling, but still staying hot enough to steam.  When the majority of the liquid has evaporated, add half a can (1 cup) of vegetarian refried beans and stir.  Voila!  Burrito filling!  Stuff a tortilla and add cheese, more veggies, and rice if you'd like.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting Life on Track

Since my husband left on a trip this week, I decided that this would be a good time to start to a new diet and exercise regime.  Why not.

The things that I have going for me:
  • Complete control of the cooking and food shopping. 
  • Fewer demands of my time to keep me from exercising
  • Full command of the DVD player for exercise videos
  • No one except the cat to see that I look ridiculous while doing sit-ups
  • After two runs to Trader Joe's, a fully stocked kitchen of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low calorie frozen entrees and premium organic snacks.  Good tea and good coffee so I won't be drinking my calories.
  • Close proximity to trails for running and biking, a weight set in the basement, exercise videos and on-demand workouts, and the Wii EA Sports Active, so the cat can mock me.
Things I don't have going for me:
  • I'm lazy.
  • I get bored easily
  • Chocolate is yummy.
  • I'm missing my partner - the one who senses when I'm stressed out and in over my head and swoops in to rescue me from myself, or doing the dishes, bringing me a cup of coffee to help me walk up, or just give me a hug while I'm preparing some type of bland fish and veggie dinner. 
That last one is going to be a hard one to get over.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Oh, fluff pieces on deal shopping!  People being maced at Wal-Mart to buy a $200 flat screen TV.  Debates over whtether it's fair for workers to give up their Thanksgiving dinners to sell toasters for $4.99.  Who will be having free shipping tomorrow on Cyber Monday?  And, the backlash of why people are stupid to wait in the cold for a $30 Blu Ray player.

Why should people care?  Because of the simple fact that consumer spending accounts for 2/3rds of GDP according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  With the remaining third coming from government spending and private investment, this is a critical portion of the American economy, especially with banks sitting on capital and talks of Draconian budget cuts to Federal spending.  So whether or not you bought some $10 sweaters on Friday morning may seal the fate of whether this is a recession or a depression. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Solution to a Midwestern Problem

Without a doubt, a strange moment occurred in thousands of households across the Midwest on Thursday.  Guests arrived for Thanksgiving Dinner, and were promptly asked by Aunt Sally to remove their shoes.  The moment of panic struck - are their holes in my socks?  Did I get that pedicure?  Do they smell?  I'm not sure why this always amazes me - I've been taking my shoes off at relatives houses since I was little.  Of course you always take your shoes off in winter - don't track the snow in.  It never occurred to me that people in other areas of the country would leave their shoes on until I lived with a pair of New Yorkers.  Then I had to vacuum more often.

A couple years ago, one of my husband's cousins brought slippers to Grandma's house for Christmas.  Genius!  Still... didn't think to do anything except pack extra socks.  I had thought about bringing extra shoes in a plastic Jewel bag like I would when I was 5, but then when you are lugging presents and a pair of pies, there's no way to carry them.  I've gone whole weekends at my InLaws with cold feet, annoyed that I forgot to bring slippers and startled that their shoe-free house policy with which I have been acquainted for a dozen years has not changed.  Then, Groupon delivered the perfect solution - foldable purse shoes!

You have no idea how excited I was about these. 

I guess Dr. Scholl's also has these shoes, but markets them as flats you can wear when your heels start hurting.  But can we go back to portable winter house shoes?  From Indy to St. Paul, our long regional nightmare is over!  We can leave our wet snowy shoes (and socks depending on the height of snow to height of boot) at the front door and still have cute things on our feet!  OMG - Patent Leather!  Sequins!  And you fit in the purse I'm already carrying!  Where have you been my whole life?  And why isn't this being marketed to Midwesterners as portable house shoes?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Puritans and Pilgrims

Today we celebrate the bounty of the harvest, and give thanks that a bunch of religious zealots left one theocracy to start their own theocracy, and then the number of theocracies in New England turned out to be ungovernable, so we started a country with no official religion.

Then the religious right took over the Republican Party in 1999...

Still, when the Puritans of Boston could not get along with the Pilgrims of Plymouth in one tiny geographic area, and neither liked the official Church of England or the Catholics or Roger Williams or uppity women, you have to wonder if religious factions might be a good thing for democracy.  If no one religion has a majority, then people are forced to talk to each other on non-religious terms.  At least I'd like to believe this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Low-Cost, High-Utility Christmas Presents

When I got married, one of the more unexpected presents that we received was the church cookbook from my husband’s Great-Aunt.  At first, I did not think too much of it, and as an elderly woman in a small rural town who probably does not shop online, there’s probably not too many options.  However, as I leafed through the pages, I found that what I was given was really a family recipe book.  My husband’s father’s family has been attending that same church for over 100 years, and each recipe appeared to be authored by aunts, cousins, second cousins, grandparents, and even nods to women who would have been the DH’s great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother.  The gift cost $15, the profits went to Senior programming at the church, and I have what may have been the most thoughtful gift we received for our wedding. 

I share this to illustrate one point – low-cost Christmas presents (or, any presents) will just look cheap if they are not thoughtful.  Thoughtful presents are thoughtful, even if they did not cost a lot of money.  The best gifts are meaningful presents that will be valued by the recipient, a concept that relates to the Economics term of Utility.  It’s not usefulness, but that can be a component, but utility refers to the satisfaction received by the end user.  Applying this concept to gift-giving is apt: Maximizing the happiness of the recipient while minimizing the costs to the consumer (you) is the goal.

Yes, buying your nephew a Wii may fall into this category if you score a deal on an excellent bundle.  Mom probably just wants you to come home.  Maybe bring a pie.  Your brother will buy his own electronics.  So what DO you get them?  The answer is something thoughtful. 

One of the things I love to give are photos.  Ready to reduce your father to tears?  A picture of your trip to Cooperstown when you were 5 in a holder that incorporates a signed baseball by Stan Musial will do it, and your sister who bought him a home theater system is going to have to hear about the time Grandpa took Dad to the game in St. Louis and they came *this* close to catching a Stan the Man homerun ball throughout the rest of the evening.  If you have even the slightest twinge of sibling rivalry, you will understand the importance of such things. 

A good place to start is a nice list of frugal gifts.  Use these with caution, though.  I thoughtlessly chosen gift from a list like this will not be doing anyone any favors (little utility for Aunt Marge).  It may stir some creativity.  If you are reading this post today, then you have the ability to take an okay present and knock it out of the park.  Figure out the recipient (maybe someone newly married, or a college student living on their own for the first time), and start asking family members for recipes.  A good starting point is Thanksgiving Dinner.  Who makes the pies?  Who makes the green beans?  Is there a secret to the turkey?  Get these recipes together – print them out on cardstock (or Avery Index Cards with a preset recipe card template) with a story on the back about the recipe & how long it has been in the family – and put them in a nice box.  The best part is with other people in on the gift, those around you at Christmas will have a vested interest when your niece opens it up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Win Black Friday

Yes, the day after Thanksgiving will have some great sales.  How do you find them?  And, is it really a good deal?  I'm awesome at shopping this day, and if you are looking at scoring some good deals that day, I hate to say it, but you are starting too late.

There are two main ideas that guide my shopping:
1.  It's not a deal if you are buying something you don't need.
2.  Your time and money are finite resources, so you may need to sacrifice one for the other in limited quantities.

The first step is to figure out what you need to buy.  Make a list of everyone for whom you will need to buy something in December.  The list should be exhaustive.  Include people at work, hostess gifts for parties, and neighbors in addition to the usual suspects.  I would start making this list in September for two reasons - first, if you have kids, syncing your holiday plans to the school year is natural, and second, setting aside money from each paycheck for 3 months will give you the cash you will need without having to resort to credit cards or layaway.  Otherwise, finish this list on November 1.  The date you should not start is Thanksgiving.  You will probably forget someone, or worse, you will start planning purchases for someone you have already bought a present for.

Already bought a present for?  This is step 2.  If you raided the Day After Christmas sales last year, drag out the box.  Did you really buy that candle set for your aunt, or did you want it for yourself?  Could that lotion basket really be given to your boss, or would it be a better hostess present for your old college roommate's ugly sweater party?  Did you buy knick-knacks on a business trip to Cincinnati for your brother?  Where did those go?  Or, were you going to treat someone to an experience - take them out to dinner, get sports tickets?  Help them move?  Step 2 is to pare down the list to just those people for whom you still need to purchase a gift.  Remember Rule 1: It's not a deal if you are buying something you don't need.

Step 3 - Figure out where you will be shopping.  Are you going to be at your aunt's house on Thanksgiving and will be swinging by the KMart on your way home?  Will you be staying within a 10 mile radius of your house, or will you be making a special trip to a regional shopping area?  The importance to deciding on where you will be shopping is to figure out which stores are in that area.  Perhaps you will change your plans based on the deals that you find, but 90% of the time, altering your plans within a few days of Thanksgiving will violate Rule 2 - sacrificing one deal for another, or adding more time to your day to save $5. 

Step 4 - Research.  Find the ads as soon as they are leaked, and go through them with a fine-toothed comb.  Sure, look at the big ticket items, but also keep track of the smaller things, like memory cards for cameras, warm winter accessories, wrapping paper, and ribbons.  Write down anything and everything that's going to tempt you, along with the times by which you will need to buy them.  Hint:  Anything on the first page will sell out in 5 minutes, and you may need to be there 6 hours before the store opens.  Then... are these really deals?  Can the items be found in the first week of November for the same or similar price (she says... writing on her netbook that she bought for $197 on Nov. 6 that has more memory and a larger screen than the one that will be at Target for $157 on the day after Thanksgiving).

Step 5 - Plan A and Plan B (and Plan C and Plan D).  After figuring out what the best deals are, start assigning deals to people.  This is where you need to keep Rule 2 in mind.  You cannot be at all stores at the same time.  Prioritize the big deals for the big recipients.  Come up with back up plans.  So, if you want to get a digital camera for your brother at one place at 4am, have another idea just in case you show up too late to cash in.  If you can get that camera elsewhere for $10 more, but also get a deal for your sister, then you need to sacrifice that $10 to get both deals... or...

Step 6 - Divide and conquer.  Get a buddy, divide the list, reconvene for coffee at 7am post-shopping.  I like to go shopping with Mom.  I'm at Sears, she's at JC Penney.  Make sure you have your exhaustive lists ready with extra gloves and wrapping paper and cheap socks.  It's less crazed if you check out once at each store, not once for the doorbusters and another time for the good deals, etc.

Step 7 - Sleep in.  Not finding deals?  Then stay home!  If you are planning on making gifts, you don't have to go out!  If there's nothing you can think of for your gift list, stay at home!  If the total savings on the list is $40, then stay home!  I personally enjoy finishing my list on the Day After Thanksgiving, mainly because there is a festive energy without the hurried sense of despiration that comes with weekends in December.  But, if you can't find what you are looking for, then you still have a month to make something happen.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Long Term Economic Policy

There is no way that the Super Committee is going to reach an agreement by the deadline.  Fortunately, there is also no way that the automatic cuts are going to go through, at least not in an election year.  Phew.  Because if you live in a Medium-Sized Midwestern College Town, Department of Education spending pretty much supports your town's economy, and any cuts in that means that I may have to resort to poll dancing in my spare time instead of blogging.

The issue at hand is the concept of Long Term Economic Policy.  When the economy imploded in 2008, Henry Paulson and George W. Bush jettisoned their Neoliberalist Economic Policy that allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse, for Keynesian economic policies that did succeed in preventing the United States from embarking on an economy based on bartering for loaves of bread.  Guess what?  It worked.  Portions of the bailout even created a profit for the government, which is mitigating the failed financial investment in Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae.  It's a classic Keynesian maneuver, that when the private sector fails to invest or spend money, then government steps up to supply spending that will try to even out the dip in a recession, especially by keeping people employed longer than they would have been otherwise.  To me, the stimulus package was not large enough, and the government sold their interest in the banks way too soon without making permanent changes to the structure of these institutions.

The problem is that sound Keynesian economic policy triggered by telltale signs of underemployment equilibrium, was replaced in knee-jerk fashion by the idea that the government should be run like a corporation and debt is bad.  Policies that allowed deficit spending to grow the economy (and then, debt becomes a smaller portion of GDP due to the growing size of the pie), were addressed in crisis mode, when the crisis truly was that unemployment was creeping towards 10%.  If the Super Committee does cut spending, the economy will contract, and debt as a percentage of GDP might start to reach Italian levels.  (Okay... it's not THAT bad...)

Even more troubling is that a number of Tea Party politicians who pushed through the debt ceiling deal is that they truly believe that government doesn't play ANY role in the economy.  Or, that they heard that Hayek and the Austrian School said that the economy is too complicated to mess with, liked that, and can regurgitate this line on Sunday Morning Talk Shows.  (To counter with Ostrom, just because an institution is complicated, does not mean it is not efficient.)  There seems not to be any idea about real economic policy behind their actions.

We are not Europe.  We have one currency, one Federal Reserve Board, and one Treasury Department.  We could have one regulatory agency if we actually wanted to regulate anything.  The problem is that we can't pick and choose long term economic policy every year.  We have to stick with something for more than one election cycle.  Even Nixon and W. ended up going with Keynes, kicking and screaming, so why not give that a 4 year presidential term to see how it shakes out.  We did elect a President to lead... and... where is he?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey-induced Inflation

The American Farm Bureau Federation is reporting that the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner is increasing 13% this year, with the largest cost increase of the meal being the turkey.  I see two possible ways to combat this cost.  First, find a wild turkey on the side of the road, hit it with your car, butcher it, and save a lot of money.  Otherwise, buy a smaller turkey and serve a ton of vegetables that are cheaper per pound than the turkey.

Personally, I'm just in charge of bringing a dessert for Thanksgiving, so a $6.99 pumpkin cheesecake has already been purchased at Trader Joe's, but I'll still make a traditional dinner sometime this upcoming weekend.  I may just make a small bird, my grandmother's stuffing recipe, mashed potatoes, the Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and my mom's cherry pie, for which she was named Cherry Pie Queen of Northern Illinois in 1962.  If money is an issue on Thanksgiving, then maybe it's only worth making those dishes that make you feel wrapped in the flavors of childhood instead of trying to make every harvest-inspired dish under the sun.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Against Climate Change Before He was For It

Shout out to my husband for remembering that this video existed:

Don't worry - Newt is not going to sabotage his campaign by doing something so stupid as to believe in scientific thingys when there's a perfectly good conspiracy theory to be had.  Conspiracy theories work much better when you are trying to connect with today's Republican base.  Today, Newt is worried about United Nations Agenda 21 and what that means for Americans.  If you already believe that the United Nations is a shadowy organization that is hell-bent on the destruction of the United States, then the fact that they weighed in on climate change in 1992 is especially troublesome (assuming your premise is true).

So, Newt was in favor of action on climate change, and now that type of action is part of a global conspiracy.  The Republican Primary just gets weirder and weirder every day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More on Low-Cost Christmas

This morning's post was on getting free gift cards to buy Christmas Presents, thus saving you money and still buying awesome things for people.

I can hear the screams in protest: But you have to BUY things to get free gift cards!

Ah ha!  Not so!

As I was having my morning coffee, I stumbled over to the My Coke Rewards website.  Today is the day that they restock their gift cards, and offer them at half price.  So, I cleared out the account, logged into my husband's account, and wiped the balances down to Zero.  Over $300 in cards are on their way to me, just in time for Christmas shopping.

Wait a minute... don't you have to buy a whole bunch of Coke products?  Isn't that wasteful to buy a bunch of bottled water or sweetened chemical drinks?

No, not really... nothing says that you have to BUY the Coke products.  All you have to do is remove any sense of shame you may feel and use the codes that other people throw away.  Even the first commercials for Coke Rewards featured a janitor removing codes from an office's trashcan and finding a bicycle.  So, all you have to do is find a legal stash of unentered codes and start entering them.  It's probably easier than you think - a recycling bin next to a Coke machine is a good start.  Plus, since the bottle cap is generally not recyclable (seriously, who knew?  I wondered why our recyclers required that we take them off), you may be doing the Earth a favor.  MCR limits points entered to 120 per week, so you need to find either 6 24 can cases (a church picnic), 12 12-can cases (a fraternity's front yard after a party), or 40 single-serve bottles (NCAA women's volleyball game at a "Coke School").  Even bottled water has points, so cases of water at charity 5Ks will work, and gives you an excuse to volunteer.  120 points over 52 weeks will equal 6,240 points, which on today's half-price gift card day could be redeemed for  $310 worth of gift cards with 40 points left over.  What annoys me is that with 2 people in our house, I could have gotten $620 in free gift cards, so I was really off my game last year.

Oh, and yeah... I delayed this post until after I had secured my own cards.  I guess I'm a little competative this way.

Low-Cost Christmas Presents

Well, with Thanksgiving next Thursday, I'm being innundated with posts on my Facebook page for both leaked Black Friday Ads, how to shop BF more effectively, invocations to shop local on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and not to buy anything at all that weekend.

Personally, why are you waiting so long to get into the game?  The best sales run the first 2 weeks of November, with the Kohl's 2-Day sales (combined with a 20% or 30% off coupon) actually meeting or beating Black Friday prices, but without the lovely 75 minute wait to check out that still has you yelling at line-jumpers in Vernon Hills, Ill at 7 o'clock in the morning.  There's no Kohl's cash right now, but if you enjoy yelling at people in suburban Chicago, by all means, wait.

This year, I'm trying to limit my Christmas purchases to $20 per person.  Truthfully, I kind of wish I had thought of this earlier, as it is forcing me to be more creative and thoughtful. 

I spent $0.69 on my Dad, and he's going to love it.

How?  Well, at CVS, when you buy certain combinations of items that total $30, you get a $10 gift card to a variety of stores including Barnes & Noble.  Stock up on cold and flu medication, use coupons, and submit a Procter & Gamble rebate, and you are getting an excellent price on NyQuil & shampoo with a bonus gift.  Watching the weekly Lifestyle section in your Sunday paper should tell you which authors are in your area.  Find an author who will be speaking (either at a bookstore, library, museum, college, film festival, or opening of a new Starbucks), and have the book signed.  Plus, you get to meet someone famous!

And, probably better than that boxed item in the men's accessory section of Target.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

College Debt - $25K in the Hole

The New York Times reported a couple weeks ago that the average student debt for someone graduating in 2010 was $25,250.  That's equal to the annual income of someone making $12.14 per hour, or someone making $5 an hour over minimum wage.  Throw in an unemployment rate of 10% and stagnant or receding wages, and we're about to have a major crisis on our hands.

That's just undergrad.  We're not even adding on the cost of a Masters in Education or a Law Degree or becoming a Neurobiology Researcher.

Which is why people have to seriously consider looking at President Obama's plan to reduce the impact of student loan debt.  Payments are capped at 10% of income to repay federal loans, and last for 20 years.  If you land one of those nice, cushy 1%-er jobs, you'll pay back your loans in full.  However, if you are a junior high school math teacher, you'll probably have a portion of your debt forgiven. 

But, it's only federal loans.  It does nothing to address the cost of college to begin with.  What keeps me from enrolling in graduate school is the price tag.  Really?  I'll spend $100,000 for a job that pays $10,000 more per year, and lose 2 years of earnings to do it?  Something needs to be done.  This may be a good first step.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Data Shows that Baby Boomers are Blood Sucking Leeches

I don't think it's a surprise that I think that the Baby Boomers as a generation are extracting far more value from the economy than they are willing to put in.  I know I've mentioned that they reaped the benefit of having reasonable, dirt-cheap college tuition that their parents provided, and then slashed state education budgets as a giant F.U. to their own children. 

Wouldn't it be great if there was a graph that displayed their dickishness?  Hey!  There is!  The Pew Research Center created a graph that displays the average household wealth contrasting age brackets from 1984 and 2009.  In 1984, the average young household's wealth was 1/10th of the value of those over age 65.  By 2009, households over the age of 65 were worth 47 times that of those under the age of 35.  FORTY-SEVEN TIMES.  Sure, those are not quite the baby boomers... the lead of that generation was 2 years away from that category. 

So, the next time that my parents wonder when we're going to have kids, I'll just show them this graph.  When they mention that they had been homeowners when they were our age, I'll show them this graph.  When they mention that they had completed multiple college degrees and were starting to establish professional careers when they were our age, I'll show them this graph.

Thanks a lot, guys.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Debate Recap: Ignorance of Federal Budget

Somewhere in America are people who spend a good Saturday night sitting on the couch in the basement watching the Republican debate.  One such household is in the Midwest, specifically mine.  Why would the Republican party hold the foreign relations debate on a Saturday night?  It makes little sense from a media deadline sense - too late to make the Sunday papers, irrelevent by Monday, fodder for Sunday Morning Talkshows, widely ignored by churchgoers.  The timing seemed designed to be off the radar of the average Republican Primary Voter.  Which might be a good thing, as some pretty dumb ideas came to light.

First, in an invocation of the patron saint of the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, Rick Perry seemed to indicate that Russia would be on the ash heap of history.  Soviet Union, maybe, but Russia seems to be  just fine and dandy and spreading it's influence around the world.

Michele Bachmann came up with the idea that U.S. sanctions on Iran alone is enough to bring the Iranian economy crashing down.  I can think of at least two countries more influential on Iran's economy than the U.S... one of which is supposed to be on the ash heap of history.

A lot of the Republican candidates are in favor of torture.  I'll just let that sit for a moment.  Republicans are in favor of torture.

Finally, in another Rick Perry moment, he is in favor of setting all foreign aid budgets to zero, and then making the case for increasing funding on a country by country basis.  What this shows is not only is Perry unaware that foreign aid exists to fund American interests (not always those of the countries to whom we give it), but that this is kind of how the federal budget process is supposed to work.  Lately, we haven't managed to pass budgets on time, but what's supposed to happen is that each department gives a detailed budget to the President, indicating which areas need more funding, and which needs less - new projects end, new ones begin.  Every year, these funding levels are voted on by Congress, unless a deal can be reached, where you get a series of stop-gap budget votes to just continue the previous budget levels.  If it feels like all we do is vote to continue last year's budget without examining what's in there, there's some truth to that.

Then, there's the dumb assertion that you can just zero out the Foreign Aid line in the budget - It's not like there is one line in the budget that reads "Foreign Aid".  We give money to foreign countries in the form of State Department funding, Military spending, Energy Department programs (like, securing spent nuclear fuel), Education grants (bringing smart future leaders to the US for education so they'll love us later... like the current President of Ireland), and Commerce Department officials who negotiate trade treaties to increase the supply of cheap dollar store knick-knacks for Wal-Mart,  and a host of smaller programs that advance American interests.  We don't give out blank checks - unless you are Israel.  Most foreign aid is targeted programs, far too little is USAid giving food to starving people.  The idea of starting each budget at zero is not even new, it came from Jimmy Carter of all people.

Only one person stood up to this moronic idea, but Jon Huntsman has no shot at the nomination.  That makes me both angry and scared.

Sunday Morning Papers: Reporters can be stupid

Have you ever wondered about the people who majored in journalism?  I do.  At Illinois, each journalism major was required to take upper level political science classes, and those of us who were in classes with them liked to refer to them as the curve boosters.  Okay, not all of them.  However, it was seen as not having as much writing as English majors, and still without the rigorous science and math classes - just pick five, don't flunk, and you are done.

So, say you are a beat reporter in Missouri when an earthquake rattles Oklahoma.  You have a quick deadline, so why not interview the local geology professor to get a scientific perspective?  The results are not pretty.  From the story, you think that the professor is kind of a dick.  Reading the comments, it's kind of obvious what the problem is: the reporter did not understand that earthquakes happen at a particular point, and you can feel that earthquake even if the point is in another state.  Someone with no knowledge (or interest) in science doesn't go to the wikipedia page on earthquakes to brief himself before writing the questions, and then cannot understand the answers.  You can tell that the professor made that distinction - the fault system is not under our town, everytime you feel shaking doesn't mean it's an earthquake, people in Missouri are not as used to earthquakes as those in California.  The reporter can't figure out that none of these facts would indicate that you wouldn't have felt the earthquake in your town.  The professor even corrected the reporter, but the reporter still doesn't get it - he actually thinks that it's being perceived as an attack piece on those who felt the quake.  The truth is that it should be an attack on a dumb reporter.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ethics and Penn State

If you want to make the average person's head explode, start talking to them about ethics.  There's no surprise that the end of Billy Madison involved the villian trying unsuccessfully to define business ethics - it's a nebulous concept that depends largely on the accepted social behaviors of society.  It's like the definition of porn - you know unethical behavior when you see it.

The problem is that not everything that is illegal is unethical, and not everything that is unethical is illegal.  Take the example of stealing bread to feed starving children.  Illegal?  Yes, property was stolen.  Unethical?  No - you saved a child's life and became the protagonist for Les Miserables.  But what about unethical situations that may still be legal?  That's what lawyers are for.

Take a look at the Grand Jury Report about Penn State and Jerry Sandusky.  If you want to have an opinion on the matter, you should probably educate yourself, but it's not something that you'll want to read.  What you will find is that a 28-year-old grad student walked in on the rape of a child, called dad to figure out what to do, and the next morning, showed up at Joe Paterno's house to discuss what to do.  Right now, not illegal.  What happens next is the question.  Joe Paterno, who is in a position of instructor in this relationship, calls the athletic director.  It takes a ten days before anyone else asks the grad assistant what he saw. Then, it was the VP in charge of Finance.  What?  If this doesn't indicate that a cover-up was in progress, I don't know what is.  At this point, manditory reporters of child abuse were involved, and not calling University Police at this point is illegal.

However, is Joe Paterno's behavior unethical?  At this point, it is hard to gauge.  However, the fact that there was another victim who was molested in his facilities after he was fully aware of Sandusky's alleged behavior.  He permitted a possible child molestor to have unfettered access to the Penn State Campus and even if there was a close relationship between JoePa and this guy, he did nothing to convince him to step down from a position where he worked with vulnerable children.

The manditory reporting laws worked in this case.  When a wrestling coach at a high school suspected inappropriate behavior, the high school reported it to authorities.  However, if Penn State had been as dilligent, then there would not have been a Victim 1.  That's why the behavior is unethical and Joe Paterno, as a teacher, should have upheld higher standards.  Yes, he deserves to be fired.  If you remember the last part of A Few Good Men, the two Marines discuss why they were court martialed.  Yes, they had followed orders, but the ethical decision would have been to disobey the order.  JoePa did the cowardly thing... and I'm glad he's gone.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rick Perry and Education, Commerce, and...

Rick Perry's campaign imploded in spectacular fashion last night.  Fortunately, it was all caught on tape.

I can see one area where we may want to think about increased spending on education.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to use the end of DST to your advantage

I wish I had written this earlier, but I only thought of this Saturday night, when I was trying to set my alarm to capture the awesome $200 laptop deal at Target on Sunday morning.  I figured I needed to be at Target 15 minutes before the store opened, give myself 15 minutes to drive there, 15 minutes to throw clothes on, and 15 minutes of snooze time.  Factor in the time change, and to get to Target for an 8am deal, I had to wake up at 8am. 

Hmm... there's an opportunity in there.

So, after waking up at my normal time, I was actually waking up an hour earlier, but without any side affects.  Monday morning, waking up at 6am instead of 6:45, I was actually getting 15 more minutes of sleep, but giving myself enough time for yoga and a hot breakfast.  Finally found a way to make it easy to wake up early in the morning.  :-)

Monday, November 7, 2011

So long, Andy

A couple months ago, I briefly wrote about Andy Rooney slowly disappearing from 60 Minutes, and his dislike of fruits.

Andy passed away on Friday, and I fear that 60 Minutes will not be the same without the weekly rant.  Please enjoy another favorite of mine, on the problem of kitchen gadgets:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Poverty

Sunday seems to be the day for human interest stories about how difficult it is for families to make ends meet during the recession.  Coming on the heels of last week's Labor Department study that 15% of Americans now live below the poverty line, it's not surprising.   However, an article in the New York Times challenges this notion and challenges the methodology behind calculating the poverty line in the U.S. 

While the Times spends two pages splitting hairs about what constitutes poverty or not, the conservative estimate is that 4.6 million more people have slipped below the poverty line since 2006.   The new study highlights that another 44 million people live between 100 - 130%  of the poverty line, or another 15% of the population.  That's about 30% of the total population who are one bad break away from homelessnees or hunger, if they are not there already. 

Something's got to give.  I'm not a Marxist, but there is only so much poverty or near poverty that a consumer spending economy can take before there are no buyers left.  Fewer buyers... fewer manufacturers... fewer jobs... fewer buyers... downward spiral.

It's time for a good ol' Keynesian intervention right now.  I'm afraid I'm going to be telling my grandchildren about what it was like to live in the 2010's, but I can't afford to have kids anytime soon.  I'm only 3 of those buggers away from the line myself.

Friday, November 4, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #48 The Kid Stays in the Picture

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge

Robert Evans must have been a bastard.  A fascinating bastard, but probably not the kind of person who would drive you to the airport.  A powerful Hollywood producer, you can see his hand all over the documentary of his life, "The Kid Stays in the Picture."  Even the title alludes to an early revelation - that he wanted to be the person in power on the set, the guy who decides who will make it and who won't in the movie business.

Robert Evans was lucky at the onset of his career.  He was noticed while half naked at a pool in Los Angeles, perpetuating the stereotype that being naked in Hollywood will get you into films.  Luckier still, he managed to marry Ali McGraw.  But, he was a coke addict, selfish, and a womanizer.  Somehow, these things are glossed over or dismissed, but he still manages not to address the fact that he married seven women.  Or that the problem was not that he was caught doing drugs, but that he did them in the first place.  I know a lot of sober people who get dragged into murder for hire investigations.  No?  Maybe that was not a witch hunt, but a possible outcome when you meet the wrong people when stoned out of your mind.

Where the documentary excels is in its ability to tell stories through pictures and film.  The colors are saturated and beautiful.  The pacing is wonderful.  Given the subject matter, it was a beautiful treatment of a narcissistic man.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: The Indefensible

While I may be in favor of some of the Occupy Movement's issues, there is a frightening trend within the Occupy Wall Street Movement that is completely indefensible: Adding spirit fingers to Roberts Rules of Order.

Can we just stop this?  Now? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Free Markets and Health Care: A Failure

Let's assume you develop Deadman's Disease.  Deadman's Disease is a lethal disease that can only be cured in one method - a shot to the arm.  The shot was developed by a large multi-national pharmaceutical corporation, which currently holds the patent for the drug.  If you were the CEO what would you charge for this shot?

From a pure Adam Smith Supply-Demand standpoint, there should be a point where the supply meets the demand, and you charge the equilibrium price.  However, what is the demand for a given price?  If you have Deadman's Disease, and the shot costs $1, you purchase the shot.  If the shot costs $10, then you purchase the shot.  If the shot costs $100,000, you buy the shot.  There is no firm dollar amount where one says, "You know, for $350,000... my life isn't worth it, but for $340K I'd consider it."  Or, even if you are wavering, there's probably a parent, spouse, child, or Cub Scout Troop fundraiser which may purchase the shot on your behalf.  Therefore, instead of a curve, you have a demand line where the quantity demanded equals the number of people diagnosed with Deadman's Disease per year.

What does the CEO of LMN Pharma Corp do?  Well, he could tally up the amount spent on research and development, production, marketing, and general overhead for this particular shot, add 10% profit, and then divide this by the expected number of shots to be sold until the patent expires.  Stop laughing - that's not the way the free market works.  The way it really works is that with a monopoly on a live saving drug, you charge as much as you can.  Turns out, there's really no limit.  The only person who really has the power to limit this charge is (no, really) health insurance companies.  However, if health insurance adjusters are former pharmaceutical executives (which many of them are), then a $125,000 shot may not seem out of line if you know that there are far more expensive options out there to treat the disease.  LMN Pharma Corp may even provide this more expensive option at $768,000 for a whole series of shots and a nifty medical device.  Relatively, in this case, the $125,000 shot saves half a million dollars.  Yippee!

Add a layer of fog between the consumer and the price board, and no one really knows what health care costs in America until the bill is mailed.  This is why health care, without substantial reform, is too important to leave to the whim of an amoral free market.  That Invisible Hand might be wrapped around your neck.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Souls Day

There is a scene in "The Others" where Nicole Kidman finds a number of Funerary Photos in the house where the dead are staged for post-mortem photographs and placed into a keepsake album.  Creepy?  Maybe... except that I remember that my Great-Aunt had a book exactly like that.  While her book was comprised of relatives in their coffins surrounded by flowers, not staged in chairs that are still visible around the house, it's not exactly something that you'd want to place on the coffee table.

When she showed me the photo of her father in his coffin in 1932, she pointed at the flowers - "Look at how respected he was."  In the middle of the Depression, dozens of people found some extra cash to provide extravagant bouquets of flowers.  So, yes, maybe creepy... but if a little comfort is found in something that doesn't hurt anyone else, then why not?  I'm not sure who ended up with the photos when she died, but I hope they appreciate them.  Just don't give them to me - yeah, they're creepy.