Monday, December 31, 2012

Deal Within Sight?

CNN is reporting that a deal on the fiscal cliff fiasco is in sight.  While this may be in time to create the instantaneous contraction of the economy, it's not fast enough to prevent all damage to the economy.  A quick look at the Dow Jones for the past 5 days:
Generally, this shouldn't look like a mountain range 
While I don't like to equate individual stock prices directly to the health of the overall economy, I think it does show that business investors are worried about what is going to happen without a deal.  What I do see when I look at this graph is swings in confidence and general uncertainty.  However, if there was another economy in the world more promising, and more certain investment prospects, I think you would have seen steeper dives.  The question for most investors is, if not American companies, then what?  There's only so much land and gold to hoard, and if the entire global economy contracts, who can rent the land or buy the gold? 

Hoping that a deal comes sooner rather than later... and that we stop this nonsense and never do this again.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Conflict of Interest

For the Bears to go to the playoffs, the Vikings must lose.
For the Vikings to lose, the Packers must win.

Most people would conclude that Bears fans should root for the Packers.
Most people would be wrong.
No real Bears fan would ever root for the Packers.

What's a Couple Hundred Thousand Dollars?

In the interest of full disclosure, my own personal household's cash flow is dependent on government spending.  Between my subsidized student loans from the Department of Education, and my husband's research grants from the Department of State, and the VA programs that mean that I can ship my dad off to a home when he goes fully senile (thank you for your service, Dad), going over the fiscal cliff is going to be very, very, very, very bad for me personally.  No more loans, no more income, and no possible help from the Bank of Dad who now might have to provide for his own long-term health care.  In short, homelessness and starvation await. And, with no housing subsidies or food stamps that normally pick up the slack in these times, we're royally screwed.  That's just me.  And, no, my situation would not have been better if we had stayed in Indiana (my income was heavily dependent on federal spending).  If you know any students, retired folk, military members, and anyone who works in education, manufacturing, construction, healthcare, social services, or... well... anyone who sells anything to people who work in these sectors, there's a good chance that going over the fiscal cliff is going to be disasterous.

With so much at stake, Congress really needs to come up with a deal.  Like now.  Decreases in government spending will decrease the overall spending of the economy, thereby contracting the GDP of the United States.  With less government spending, private firms and individuals will have less money to spend (if you don't buy that helicopter, then there is a factory that no longer has to employ people to build that helicopter), which means that fewer transactions will take place on which income and sales tax can be charged.  Decreased spending will then lead to decreased revenues, requiring further reductions of spending, or increases in tax rates.  Neither is a good idea for growing an economy, leading me to wonder what economic training Grover Norquist actually received.  Not that Norquist is really paid to advocate for sound economic policy, but rather is paid to lobby for decreased tax rates. 

This brings me to my main question: Why is the current hold up about whether taxes should be raised for everyone making above $250,000, $400,000, or $1M?  What do these sums have to do with anything? 

Chosen just to remind me of this scene?
What I find the most troubling thing is that Congress is hung up on which ad hoc level to set.  There appears to be a complete disconnect from reality with these numbers.  Congress could actually tie this to some measure that has real bearing on the economy.  A multiple of the poverty line, based in real dollars that slides based on the number of members of the family.  If one would set this at 10 times the federal poverty line, then an individual does not see tax increases until (s)he earns $111,700 per year.  A family of four sees an increase at $230,050.  If you use the Census Poverty Threshhold, you get slightly different figures ($114,840 and $228,110 if the family of four is two adults and two kids), but still in the same ballpark.  Both methods would tie tax increases to some measure of real poverty and how much money is actually needed to provide for the basic needs of the population, or satisfiy the goal of shifting the tax burden to those who can afford it.  It takes away the method of trying to figure out which figure sounds rich and which is middle class.

But, what is a middle class income?  The answer is none of the above  Median household income for the United States was $50,054 in 2011.  That's one fifth of the smallest number that is being talked about, one twentieth of the $1M figure.  Even taking 10 times the poverty level of the US doesn't get us close to this figure.  If a solution should look at taxing the wealthiest households, then a multiplier of the median household income should be considered, be it 3 times or 5 times the national median.

What Congress should not be doing is throwing out these arbitrary numbers and think that sound policy is being produced.  Nothing about the fiscal cliff has been about the creation of sound public policy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sexualized Legos

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with a dear friend and her five children.  The five children is the reason that I had not seen her in the Midwest lately (they don't tend to travel much), and the previous distances between her home on the East Coast and the Heartland were too great for me to travel to see her.  Now, since a weekend to travel home to Chicago was too much, I gladly accepted an invitation to meet the newborn and gorge myself on food.

Her 9, 8, and 6 year old children appear to be obsessed with Legos.  The oldest boys walked us through all the characters of the Lego Star Wars universe.  Meanwhile, the oldest girl introduced us to Lego Friends, Legos for girls.  Legos for girls?  Legos are gender-specific?  When did this happen?

I have issues with targeted girl and boy products, especially where there does not appear to be any type of need.  Legos can have male figures and female figures, but really... building blocks being targeted to boys and girls differently?  I'm still skeptical, but what I could not discount was how a 6-year-old girl had responded to a purple and pink playset.  I remember having wanted a Barbie at that age, and the political debate that this caused between my parents about gender stereotypes and which message should be given to me.  I didn't care.  I wanted the glamour Barbie with the Dream House and the car that my friends all had.  Instead, I had Day-to-Night Barbie who had an office and a studio apartment - corporate drone Barbie.  None of my friends wanted to play with my Barbie, and I somehow felt left out.  It's hard to be six.

With my own personal biases on the back burner, I thought I might get a couple of the Lego Friends figures as part of a holiday care package for the kids.  I quick look at what's available at Target left me with a more startling view of the toys.  Knowing that this is going to a household where both the boys and girls are taught to dress modestly, I realized that purchasing these toys could be offensive to the household's sensibilities.  Every one of the girl figures is wearing a short skirt, low cut tank top, or both.  Meanwhile the "Boy" oriented products have fully clothed characters, with the main difference between girls and boys being hair length. 

I can understand that having pink and purple colored bricks might be appealing, mainly because you can never have too many different types of bricks.  However, to create a specific "girl" line of Legos, dress them provocatively, and then market them to 6-year-olds?  That's just not right.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Big Ten*

* Margin of error of +/- 4.  Or 6... if we can get position ourselves for TV royalties.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Sometimes things just seem to fall into place.  I've been pretty fortunate in my college education that when world events have gone down, I have been enrolled in the perfect class at that very time.  For example, when Bill Clinton was impeached, I was in a class on the American Presidency.

Currently, I'm in a class where we take economic models and apply them to public policy.  We're also about to go over the fiscal cliff.  SYNERGY!

Or, oh yeah... this blog is about to get epic...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poor Decision Rules

I know that my previous post is going to have some detractors, so I've got this one in the can and ready to post immediately following. 

Consider the following situation:  You have $100.  I tell you that you can put this in a bank account, and by this time next year, you can have $100.05.  Or, you can put it in a higher yield bond and earn $105.  Or, you can go into a business venture and earn $120.  What are you going to do?  Unless you have decided to live off-grid in a self-sustaining agrarian commune that has no use for money, you'll pick the $120.  Now, I tell you that last year, your options were $100.05 for the bank account, $105 for the bond, or $130 for the business venture.  What is your decision?  Still the business venture, right?  Of course!  Because if you want to maximize your profits, the business venture is still the best decision!  You don't suddenly go, well, it was $130 last year, so I refuse to earn $120 this year.

So how do taxes really kill jobs?  I haven't figured this one out.

If you are one of the companies that claim that Obama's policies kill jobs, and vow to cut jobs because of the threat of higher taxes, you probably have a business that's on the ropes to begin with.  Looking at some of the companies whose CEOs have threatened this, it's pretty hard to see any of these companies actually having to really lay-off people because of an increase in taxes.  While Murray Energy and Westgate Resorts are private companies, Papa John's is a publicly traded company with profit margins of 10.58% in their 2011 Annual Report.  How much of an increase in taxes (payroll, income, etc.) would it really take for this rate to be so low that being in business is no longer the most profitable option for John? 

Take this one step further, if taxes rise for John, they are rising for every business and pizza chain.  So if Papa John's slips in profitability to 8%, it's a safe bet that all other businesses will have similar shifts downward.  The attractiveness of Papa John's as an investment stays at the same level relative to the other options that exist at that time.  If John is correct though, and the margin slips to nothing, then you wave to look at the other options for investing that are available.  Interest rates for bank accounts are practically nothing.  If companies are shedding jobs left and right, then they are not expanding, the demand for loans decreases, meaning that the interest rates on loans decrease.  Even a 3-4% margin will be attractive to an investor.

However, you are assuming that profitability is a result of attracting investors.  From a labor standpoint, if a company can be more profitable by hiring more workers, it hires more workers.  If a company can be more profitable by hiring fewer workers, it hires fewer workers.  What it doesn't do, or rather should do, is think that a 5% increase in taxes for the majority owner means a retaliatory layoff of 5% of the workforce.  The stockholders sure as heck should keep the CEO in check if he really thinks that's a good decision rule.

Convenient Scapegoats

The 2012 Midwestern Granola Douche Canoe Award seldom has to look long and hard to find suitable candidates to earn the award.  This week, Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, submitted an application packet so thorough that I doubt we will find a more deserving recipient of the Douche Canoe this year.  He appears to have mastered being a douche canoe in the fields of campaign finance, labor relations, business ethics, and employment regulations, all while cloaking this in religious rhetoric.  Really.  Brilliant and thorough.

This week, you may have seen news coverage of Murray's press conference in which he fired 158 workers because Obama won the election.  If you had not been paying attention to the exploits of Robert Murray, then you really need to read these.  If you are thinking that the name sounds familiar, then, yeah... he's the guy who has those mines in Appalachia and Utah that occasionally collapse.  As a former miner whose father was injured in an accident, I don't want to believe that he really wants these things to happen in his mines, but his actions do not indicate that he is doing everything in his power to prevent deaths and hazardous working conditions. 

This year, the highlights of Murray Energy's policies have been:
  • Closing a mine in Ohio for a day so miners could attend a mandatory Romney campaign event, but not paying the workers for this mandatory event (I see a DoL Wage and Hour Division complaint here...)
  • Tied bonuses and promotions of executives to their campaign donations to Republican candidates.
  • Required executives and engineers to attend Republican fundraisers on their own dime.
  • Created the Murray Energy PAC to funnel money to Republican candidates... while PACs are supposed to create an air that campaigns and PACs cannot coordinate, let's face it, when you see an ad funded by Murray Energy PAC attacking your opponent, you know who's behind it.
Add this to his campaign to loosen government regulations of coal mines, physically assaulting environmentalists, and generally being a curmudgeon, his actions on Wednesday were truly epic.

On Wednesday, he led his workforce in prayer, asking God to forgive the horrible thing he was about to do, then went ahead and told 158 people that they were to lose their jobs because Obama won.  Matthew 6:5 aside, there are fundamental problems with this statement.  Mainly, that it is a giant crock of bullshit.

Let's get this clear: electing Obama had nothing to do with the firings.  Instead, there's a simple business reason: Murray Energy competes on cost in an industry where prices are set by the commodity market.  There's a lot of coal in Wyoming that's easy to get to.  There's less in Galatia, Illinois, and Utah, it's harder to get to, more dangerous to mine, and higher in sulfur than other sources.  If your plan is to buy the cheapest coal mines, the ones with the high sulfur coal, then try to sell them for prices near that of higher quality coal, you are going to fail.  If the government tries to internalize the externalities associated with the burning of fossil fuels, especially by regulating the pollution caused by the sulfur content of your product, then your business fails.  Most businesses do fail.  Add to this a substitute good, natural gas, which is now so cheap you could basically give this away, and even without the EPA, the invisible hand of the market is going to smack you upside the head, and you are going to fail.  Not letting Murray Energy fail?  Well... where's the moral hazard in all of this? 

Instead of blaming Obama, Murray needed to face facts: Coal is a mature industry.  The only way to stay competitive in this industry is consolidation and maybe some favorable treatment by the government.  He has a pretty good idea where Obama sits on this - he's not going to destroy the coal industry, but he's not going to help it become more profitable than it already is... and he's going to regulate the shit out of it.  However, Murray was banking on Romney being more generous.  He backed the wrong horse, so now he's having to face the problems associated for his own poor business strategy without a bailout by the Romney Administration.  If anything, he should have just kept all his money, and prepared for the slow decline of his company.  That would have been in his economic self-interest no matter who would have won.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Just hit 1,000 page views.  I'd like to thank the internet spambots and automatic indexers for coming across my page from time to time.  However, if you are an actual person with a topic that should be covered... leave me a comment, and I'll try to get to it.

Economics Instruction

One thing that I love about the study of economics is that it takes concepts that sound intuitive, but uses graphs and equations to demonstrate these concepts, which can make it easier to predict future behaviors. 

So, take your classic example of earning wages.  If you get paid $10 per hour, you could work 8 hours and make $80, or you could work 2 jobs, and get paid $160 for 16 hours of work.  If you work the same job for 16 hours, you can earn an extra $40 for overtime, meaning that you can earn $200.  If you create a graph for the first example, plotting the goods purchased by your income on one axis, and the amount of leisure that you have, then you end up with a nice smooth line showing all possible outcomes that can occur for your labor.  This is a BUDGET CONSTRAINT.  (Stick with me... this is going somewhere fun...)

When you plot out the second situation, you have a line with one slope for the first 8 hours, and a second slope for the second 8 hours.  Your budget constraint has a kink in it.  Economists have called this a KINKED BUDGET CONSTRAINT, because they tend to use terms that look easy to understand.  Generally, you see these kinked budget constraints when government policies are in play, like time and a half for overtime, or welfare payments, or the earned income tax credit.

One thing that I hate about the study of economics is that it takes concepts that sound intuitive, then give them terms that sound really, really, really, really bad if you see them over and over again.  Take kinked budget constraints.  Read this a couple dozen times when you are studying for an exam, and your brain will probably go here at some point:

tee hee hee... kinky budget constraints... hee hee...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jon Huntsman for Secretary of State

No... Really... Stick with me...

I was listening to NPR this evening, and Mark McKinnon suggested that the reason that the GOP lost on Tuesday was because they did not nominate someone like Jon Huntsman. 

This got me thinking... Jon Huntsman... he'd be an awesome Secretary of State.

If Hillary Clinton really does intend to retire, then why not nominate someone who has executive experience as a former governor who has a great relationship with China?  The political cynic in me would say that it's a smart move for Obama to nominate a Republican in order to show that he's bipartisan, but no, it's just smart to nominate a rather capable person to office, regardless of their political party.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Just Let It Go...

As the night wears on, my patience wears thin.

CNN and NPR have both called Virginia for Obama.  It means that Ohio doesn't matter at all, and neither does Florida.  Romney needs to concede.  There just is no way to have the math work out in his favor.  I see a little note that Romney will speak in 10 minutes now... please do.  I'm tired and I have places to go tomorrow.

Four More Years!

Very relieved to see that Obama won.  I'm tired, it's been a long day, and I'm just waiting for someone to get Romney to concede already so I can go to bed.

It's not that I really don't like Romney.  The problem is that as the Governor of Massachusetts, he was the type of Republican that I would have strongly considered voting for.  However, Paul Ryan as President is just too scary to contemplate for someone who is currently financing buying groceries with subsidized student loans.  So there's a giant sigh of relief on my part that I won't have to worry about having the Department of Education disappeared.

For now... just listening to Fox complain that Obama is trailing in the popular vote, even though the votes outstanding are predominantly from blue states, including California, the nation's most populous Democratic voting block.  This isn't hard statistics to figure out that it's premature to say that the President will not win the popular vote.  Maybe... but it's a little less likely as the votes come in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Midwest in the House!

I have to admit, the idea of voting for a woman from my hometown for president was rather appealing, but I have a pragmatic side that just can't see the Green Party delivering on anything without a crazy amount of tax increases.  The economic policies that provide high levels of benefits and high levels of incentives to drive behaviors the way you want them generally have unreasonable budgetary costs.  The pragmatist in me tends to be less revolutionary and more liberal - focusing on market failures and externalities.

However, the Green Party managed to run a native Chicagoan.  The Democratic party has a Chicagoan at the top of the ticket.  The Republican Party has a native Michigander at the top of the ticket and a Wisconsinite at the bottom.  Even if Janesville sucks (which it does... believe me... it's even worse than Beloit...), it was pretty impressive to see that many Midwesterners on the ballot this morning.


Very excited to vote this morning.  This will be my first time voting at a synagogue, which has the bonus of being near the Dunkin' Donuts, so I will reward my fulfillment of my patriotic duty with a Boston Kreme donut and coffee.

Speaking about Boston, it's important to note that the Revolutionary War was fought in part about taxes, so yeah, the tea party had a little bit of that right.  However it wasn't about the levying of taxes alone, but rather that the colonies had no say on what taxes would be raised, how they would be collected, and the right to determine how the money was spent.  In "Taxation without Representation", the "Without Representation" part is the key gripe.

Go.  Vote.  Have your say on who determines how to spend our money.  That's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  Then, have a cup of coffee to stick it to George III.

Monday, November 5, 2012

October Surprise

Haven't really had a chance to look through the numbers thoroughly, but the first Friday of the month is like Christmas to data junkies who follow the job market.  UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS ARE OUT!

Yes, yes, I take joy in the misery of others...

No, not really.  While the media does focus on one or two numbers, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at a crazy amount of data in 25 separate tables, and throws number after number at you until you have a robust idea of the nature of the workforce at this particular point of time.  Or, you know, the Obama campaign mentions that 171,000 jobs were created while the Romney campaign looks at that slight increase in the unemployment rate.

Neither really demonstrates what's at play right now.  I kind of like Table A-11 for this type of analysis, unemployed persons by reason of unemployment.  If it is true that more jobs existed this month than last, but the unemployment rate did not change, then what's going on?  Well, looking at this table, you start to see what it might be when you really think about what the unemployment rate is.  To be unemployed, you must have had to have actively looked for work in the preceding week.  So, when you look at how the percentages in the distribution shifted from October 2011 to 2012, you see increases in Reentrants and New Entrants to the work force.  You also see an increase in job leavers.  Put these three things together, and you have an economy where people are a little more optimistic about finding a new job than they had been a year ago.  People are leaving their crappy bosses behind figuring that they can do better.  The long-term unemployed have decided that they might be able to find jobs again (a more pessimistic point of view is that they've run out of savings and benefits and have no other choice).  Kids have decided to try to find jobs rather than hide in law school for three years.

Sure, fine, that's all well and good, but these are subtle shifts - 3 percentage points.  Yes, this is true.  I'm interested in the movement of the composition of the unemployed.  If you worry about the totals, then there's good news there, too.  When you remove the frictional unemployment, and look at the nitty-gritty bad shit unemployment, the total number of permanent job losers, there's good news there, too.  Over the past year, the unemployed for this reason has fallen from 5.3 million to 4.3 million.  It sucks if you are one of those 4.3 million, but the number is headed in the right direction if your goal is total employment.

The news really isn't as bad (or as good) as most in a campaign or the media will make it out to be.  The question is whether or not people will form their own opinions when data is thorough and readily available.  Sadly, I don't think many people know exactly what the monthly unemployment figures really are, despite how easy they are to find and how widely reported they are.

Pot Pie

The weather turned for the worse last week, and while Sandy did not do too much damage in the area, it did end up producing a decent storm.  However, it did really drop the temperature, and we had our first little flurries today.  Major snow is expected on Thursday, but for now, I'm just getting into a nice, cozy, late fall routine.

Yesterday, I roasted a chicken with some mashed potatoes, then made some gravy from the pan drippings.  This means... LEFTOVERS!

Behold, my chicken pot pie...

1) Get a really deep dish.  I have an Anchor Hocking round glass bowl that fits in a carrying case, which ends up being perfect.  It's the diameter of a pie plate, but a couple inches high.  
2) Unroll one premade pie crust into your bowl/dish/pie plate.  I am not gifted in the world of pie crusts.  Or, rather, I really can't tell the difference between my best pie crust and a refrigerated store bought crust.  Also, moving to New York, I have no counter space to roll out a crust.  
3) This is why you want a deep dish: Add 1 cup leftover chicken, 1 cup thawed frozen peas, a cup of diced carrots, a finely diced onions, maybe a cup of diced celery, and a cup of leftover gravy.  Gravy should be such that it's practically solid coming out of the fridge.  This is not a low-fat recipe.  Basic rule is at least two cups of veggies for your cup of chicken.  Combine all of this together, and throw this into your pie crust.
4) Grab the other crust.  Lay it over the top, crimp, and make the edge look pretty.  If you have no idea how to accomplish this, just roll the one crust into the other.  Pierce the crust to allow the steam to escape... 8 times should do it, making sure to space them evenly.  
5) Bake.  This is where it really depends on your brand of dough.  General rule would be to see what temperature the package recommends, then bake until the top is browned and flaky.  Otherwise, 375 for 30 minutes, check it, then adjust the time.  Because everything is pre-cooked, your main concern is cooking the crust through.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No, Still Alive

There comes a point in the life of every blog where the blogger appears to disappear completely.  I'm reasonably certain that I have not let down a large number of loyal readers, seeing that each post gets around 6 views.

I wasn't really sure if there was an overarching theme to my posts, and I still don't know if there should be.  What I do know is that I now live in an area of the country where it's going to snow a lot, that I'm not going to be going outside much because of it, and I better have some outlet or I'm going to go stir crazy.  When people go stir crazy in this part of New York, they tend to commit suicide or start religious cults, neither of which sounds like a good idea.  (However, do check out the history of the Oneida Colony... fascinating stuff.)

What I don't want to do is give up on this blog.  It does not feel as necessary as before, as I am now surrounded by the bicoastal urban liberal elites.  Yet, I do have a lot to say on the adoption of liberal policies and the resulting economic consequences.  I'm not fully sure what form this may take, but I'll work on it.  Last year at this time, I had no idea that I would have quit my job to move out of the Midwest, but it's been a good decision.  Hoping that I make some good decisions here, even if they are not fully apparent right now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bottle Deposits and Identity Theft

It took me a little time to figure this out, but New York State has a super annoying policy of charging 5 cents per bottle in deposits.  The amount is too paltry for people to fret about (less than a buck for a 12-pack), but just enough to encourage people to riffle through my dumpster looking for items that were thrown away.  Except, that they aren't thrown away - these are in the dumpster for our zero-sort recycling pick up.  The third night I was in my new apartment, there was someone, knee deep in cardboard and glass, looking for cans and bottles with the deposit labels on them.

Perhaps if recycling rates were lower, I'd be in favor of the program.  Or, if the deposit was so high that empty Coke cans were treated as currency and guarded until redeemed... so infrequently tossed aside that too few remained in the open for people to try to collect.  Instead, the middle ground finds me worried about what else I've thrown into the recycling lately.  Papers?  Important papers?  Needless to say, a criss-cross shredder was high on my list of purchases for the new apartment.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Back to Basics

I'm finding myself enjoying a lovely Sunday morning / early afternoon in Upstate New York.  It's a little adjustment (my local paper has no Sunday edition?  Seriously?), but all in all, I'm adjusting pretty well.

One thing I haven't quite gotten down is my eating habits.  I've been in my new home for a grand total of 32 days and have had my new work schedule for 11 days, but I still am not really cooking or exercising or doing house cleaning with any sense of regularity.  The cat is being fed, and I've gotten to church a couple times, but I'm not really taking care of myself very well.  Part of this is the uncertainty involved with moving, the other is the expense.  Having burned through a significant chunk of savings between security deposits, hiring movers, renting Uhauls, arranging new utilities, and the like, I really don't have a lot of money, but my routine is starting to settle down.

Last night, I found myself watching Julie and Julia, a tale of modern-day stalking and obsession.  Or, an endearing plucky young writer pays homage to her cooking heroine.  I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS, but I think that may be where this movie falls flat for me.  I liked her as a cook and a part of my Saturdays, but I wouldn't want to become posessed by her in the way that is depicted in the movie.  Julia's show was never really about what to make on a daily basis, but what to cook when company comes over or for a special event in the family.  The Frugal Gourmet was much more along the lines of what to cook on a Tuesday.  Those two, and Justin Wilson's Louisiana Chef, were my only real insights into how to cook growing up before the Food Network. 

Wondering if I could get some inspiration to rid myself of my current cooking cunnundrum, I'm watching the Food Network.  This is Food Porn.  I'm watching cuts between the chef and close ups of herb jars, and a slow pan over a pan of slowing sauteeing meat, over to a beautifully lit jar of McCormick's spices which will eventually be the key ingrediant to this recipe.  Then, you do have the shows that are about being in the kitchen cooking (not arranging flowers and setting tables that overlook the ocean), but the recipes are horrible.  Even post-diabetes, Paula Dean is cooking with butter and pork fat, and there is a curious lack of vegetables.  There's also no sense that people have food budgets.  I just watched someone burn through $5 worth of fresh limes when you could have bought organic lime juice for a fourth of the price.  So who today is cooking really healthy meals, quickly, and without burning through stacks of cash? 

It seems like we are in the middle of changing the food culture of the United States into something that celebrates local foods, fresh produce, and healthy food choices.  But, how do you do this in a budget-conscious way that does not become a full-time job?  Figure out how to combine these three competing interests, and you've created a show I want to watch.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What I really need is a 2003 IKEA Catalog

Planning a long distance move out of state is somewhat stressful.  Between calling landlords, hoping they'll return my calls, hiring people through Craigslist to check out apartments for me, and still trying to work and finish my certificate program, I really have little time.  I also have little money, which is why there will be no new furniture for the time being.

When I moved into my first apartment in Chicago after graduation, I went with the bare essentials: Bed, clothes.  However, the next apartment, my dream pad down the street from Wrigley, was fully furnished with matching furniture.  My bedroom set was lovely pine and grey wool upholstered items from IKEA.  While the various particle board stuff I've picked up here and there since then has broken and fallen apart, the solid wood stuff from IKEA remains, and is headed to Upstate New York with me. 

Not being able to buy new stuff, I'd really like to get another bedside table to make the next apartment slightly more functional.  When I purchased the line of bedroom furniture, there was only myself to consider.  Now, there's a boy in my bed.  I'd rather like to try to get another table, but I can't remember the name of the series.  I'm pretty sure there was a circle on one of the vowels?  What I need is a 2002 or 2003 IKEA catalog so I can find the name of the thing, then maybe have a chance of tracking one down online.  What I can't find is an actual copy of the darn catalog.  I guess IKEA wants me to just go to their store and buy something new, but not even a fan page of the discontinued items?  What is a poor IKEAn to do?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

And now a word from Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson is my favorite retired senator.  Quick transcript of the highlights from today's Global Public Square on CNN, and yes, I had to rewind and make sure I was hearing this correctly:

I think my party and I have different views on a lot of things.  I guess I'm known as a RINO now, which means a Republican in Name Only, because, I guess, of social views perhaps, or [hehe] common sense might be another one which has escaped members of our party.  Abortion is a horrible thing, but for heavens sake, a deeply intimate and personal decision, and men legislatures shouldn't even vote on it.  Gay Lesbian issues, we're all human beings, we're all God's children, what is this?  And for heavens sake, you have Grover Norquist wandering the Earth in his white robes, saying that if you raise taxes one penny, he will defeat you.  He can't murder ya, he can't burn your house, the only thing he can do to you as an elected official is defeat you for reelection.  And if that means more to you than your country when we need Patriots to come out in a situation when we're in extremity, then you shouldn't even BE in Congress.
You can't cut spending your way out of this hole.  You can't grow your way out of this hole.  You can't tax your way out of this hole.  So, put that in your pipe and smoke it, we tell these people.  This is madness.  If you want to be a purist, go somewhere on a mountain top, pray to the East or something.  But if you want to be in politics, you learn to compromise, and you learn to compromise on issues without compromising yourself.  Show me a guy who won't compromise, and I'll show you a guy with rocks for brains.
And you know who will get hurt the worst in that process, when interest rates go up and inflation kicks in?  The little guy, the one that everybody on their hind legs talks about, "We're doing this for the little guy".  The most vulnerable, the unfortunate.  Well, Merry Christmas.  Those guys are going to get eaten when interest rates go up and inflation kicks in.
[On Romney proposed tax cuts, and Bush era tax cuts] I wouldn't have voted for them if I had been in Congress.  How would you have voted for a tax cut if you were doing two wars on the cheap?  You had two wars you were fighting, you had things that were... the Government, all the income for the Government was only taking care of Medicaid and Social Security, and you do a tax cut.  Every time there was a surplus, and the last time was when this fine gentleman was doing it in '96, you can't get there, but you don't have to do a tax cut.  Get that out of your gourd.  You get into the tax expendatures and you start knocking that stuff off, and that's where you get your revenue.
How much more fun would politics be if Senators would actually speak their minds again? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mr. Obvious

The New York Times featured an article on mathematical models of losing weight and obesity.  Turns out, to lose weight, one needs to eat less and exercise.  However, this group is all sciency and has charts.

As part of the 97% of American women who want to lose 10 pounds, this sounds familiar.  Can we somehow use math to figure out why it is so hard to eat less and exercise more?  A comprehensive, easy to follow plan would be the break-through of break-throughs.  Until then, I'll just feel mildly disappointed each time I skip the gym to run errands.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Moving on...

When I went to vote in the Indiana primary last week, I was saddened to think that the last time I would vote in the State of Indiana, I would be listed as a Republican.  However, I just couldn't think about Richard Mourdock being seated in the US Senate.  Therefore, crossed party lines, and voted for Lugar.  That's how much I love my country.

I'm leaving the state this summer.  Since the Right-To-Work bill passed, my weak union looks to be even weaker going forward.  Benefit costs have creeped up while pay has stagnated, decreased when looking at real dollars.  Each year that I stay, I make less money.  We finally hit the point last year where expenses were hitting our income.  Time to move on.

Sadly, I found a new opportunity, but not in the Midwest.  I'm off to Ithaca, New York.  We're taking our 5 college degrees with us.  I could make the argument that we're self-selecting.  Over-educated privilidged white kids move to liberal state, leaving Indiana behind to be governed by "Real Americans" who don't need no fancy book learning.  It's an easier equation... education gives us the ability to be mobile, and we're heading off to new opportunities.  Increasingly, they just are not available in the Hoosier State. 

This blog may get more of the tone of a Cubs fan dealing with Yankees fans, but I'll always remain a Midwestern Girl.  Meanwhile, we'll probably look to return to the region in a couple years.  Just not to Indiana.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Rand Paul mocked Barack Obama about his views on marriage "evolving".  Really?  Your views on marriage don't evolve?  Because if I still held to the beliefs that I had about marriage on the day that I got married, I would have been divorced long ago.  Of course people's beliefs evolve!  If you are in a good marriage, you understand that the only real threats to your marriage come from within the marriage, not a shadowy, mystic spectre that resides outside of the marriage.  Marriage is not a zero-sum game.  Your happiness is not dependent on the misery of others.  Rather, the more happy people you surround yourself with, the happier you are. 

So, how does gay marriage ruin my marriage exactly?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Morning Politics: Radicals!

This morning on Face the Nation, Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama "The Most Radical President in United States History." 

Are you as disturbed as I am that someone with a Ph.D. in history has never heard of either Roosevelt?

I am one who defines her politics as liberal, using the term as FDR defined it (generally, protecting the citizenry from market failures, regulating key industries to create markets where players compete on equal footing, and trying to internalize the externalities).  While I had been an avid campaigner for Obama in 2008, I will not be this year, mainly because he is NOT advocating for radical policies.  Health care did not go far enough, tax policy remains skewed in favor of the rich, and the price of education means that those without wealth cannot afford college.

"Radical" refers to those who have considered breaking with past policies to create change.  In the business world, one might call them "Innovative".  You find them on both sides of the political spectrum.  Just a quick list of "radical" presidents that I could think of in five minutes is below.  No, I don't have a Ph.D. in history, but it casts serious doubts about the doctoral program at Tulane.

Radical US Presidents:
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe
  • Andrew Jackson
  • James Polk
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • James Garfield (although, radical policies may have cause assassination)
  • William McKinley
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Harry Truman
  • Lyndon Johnson (I'd choose LBJ over JFK for implementation)
  • Richard Nixon
  • Ronald Reagan
  • George W. Bush
Not a bad list to be a part of... maybe Obama should try to be the most radical president in US History.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rosie Can Be More Than A Rivetor

Soon, women in the Marine Corps and Army can attend Infantry School.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it is an important first step to address the institutional discrimination against women that is prevelent in the military.  (Seriously, stick with me.)

Women now comprise 13.4% of the Army, but less than 5% of its generals.  Even looking at the list of women generals in the Army, you'll see a trend: they are relagated to support functions: Information Technology, the Medical Corps, Judge Advocate General Corps (the lawyers), and Corps of Engineers.  General Cornum (Ph.D, MD) was a POW during the first Gulf War and wounded in combat... yet despite a shit-ton of medals for her combat service, combat roles remained closed to women.  Her combat experience was a result of being a flight surgeon in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet it highlights a problem with the organizational structure of the military in light of the changing nature of warfare.  No army will ever again fight the Battle of the Somme.  Front lines will never again be so well-defined, with "safe" areas and danger zones clearly able to be drawn on the map.  If support roles are likely to be performed under fire, then the military must provide the training to allow women nurses, doctors, engineers, and lawyers to defend themselves.  And, if they are able to defend themselves, then why limit their roles?  Why not allow them to move from supply chain management to management of a machine gun on the top of a tank?

While this is the argument that women are capable soldiers, there is a deeper issue at hand.  The Army stacks the deck in favor of those with combat experience over those without.  A basic look at a sample promotion schedule looks innocuous, but the structure of the point system highlights a covert bias against women.  The majority of the points are earned through Medals, Military Training, Civilian Education, and Military Education.  However, the greatest number of points earned in each category are for combat.  If women are prevented from training for combat or infantry roles, they have less potential to earn points in the military training or education categories.  Without training for the expectation of combat, their likelihood to earn medals for valor in combat situtations is diminished, both from the lack of training and the lack of opportunity.  (On a separate note, my father was a JAG officer in Viet Nam, but because he was originally assigned to infantry, he received combat training and did earn medals valor in combat, which pushed him up the ladder faster.  Or, maybe it helped him to survive the war.  Either way, I fail to see how additional education & training could ever be a bad thing when it may save lives.)

So, while I'm sure I'm going to have to suffer through a slew of pundits talking about how Americans will not like seeing wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters coming back from war in body bags.  It makes it sound like we're okay with husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons dying.  What opening the Infantry Schools to women does is level the playing field so that individual women can pursue this career path if they so choose it, rather than letting the rules of the institution dictate this for them.  If the military is supposed to be a meritocracy based on individual achievement, then it needs to remove the entrenched barriers that lead to discrimination.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Criminals have rights too

Last week, the Indianapolis Star reported on flaws on the state's registered sex offender database.  The Marion County Sheriff took steps to ensure the accuracy of the registry, and the Indianapolis Star wrote a piece on Sunday to congratulate themselves on forcing action to be taken and being awesome in general.  These are my least favorite articles, which is why I found myself reading it (after catching up on the Komen controversy... Hoosier-centric this week, I see).  Yet, this isn't really the point of the article.  Now, the Indianapolis Star is upset about the way in which the registry was updated.  Those who were convicted of sex crimes before the registry was created were simply removed.  Why were they there in the first place?
We have a long-standing tradition in the United States that laws cannot be applied retroactively.   You cannot be sentenced to death for stealing a pack of gum if this was not a potential sentence at the time in which one stole the gum.  How can one have a layer of punishment added to a crime which was committed before the registry existed?  The answer is a misguided Supreme Court decision in 2003 that declared that registries are regulatory in nature as opposed to punative.  Looking at the way these registries are used, it is hard to make the claim that sex offender registries do not serve to punish sex offenders after they have served their sentences.  This is a clear violation of Article 1 of the Constitution.

But what about the children?

What about them?  The problem with the sex offender registry is that it provides a false sense of security.  The registry only tracks convicted sex offenders, not all sex offenders.  Jerry Sandusky appeared on no sex offender registry when he [allegedly] molested young boys at Penn State.  It deludes parents into believing that if they stay away from certain neighborhoods and keep to others, then their children will be safe and sheltered.  It relieves the responsibility of preparing children to confront Stranger Danger, yet does not keep them from encountering known or unknown sex offenders during their daily lives.  I'm not sure what the point of such a registry is.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day

It's Earth Day!  Two years after the Deep Water Horizon explosion, and we're still cleaning up the Gulf.  Recently, reports of eye-less shrimp are making the rounds of the news, including Fox News, which begs the question about whether we'll ever know the full extent of the Gulf Oil Spill disaster.  Mother Earth is a tough old broad, but even she cannot quickly adapt to every crisis.

On a related front, positive steps still happened on the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The newly proposed route will bypass the Sand Hill region and cross the Ogallala Aquifer in an area where the water table is further from the surface.  If you believe Freedom Works, the Keystone XL Pipeline is needed to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.  This claim denies two things.  First, that getting the oil to the Gulf of Mexico does not mean that it will be available for domestic consumption.  Refineries in Texas and Louisiana are already running at capacity.   There is so little give in this system that if one refinery is shut down for maintenance, the price of gasoline spikes.  The supply-demand issue at hand is not about the supply of crude oil, but the supply of the finished product gasoline, which is determined by refinery capacity.  The other issue is that Canada is a sovereign nation, and oil that comes from its tar sands is still foreign oil.  Maybe we should have fought the War of 1812 with more gusto, but not conquering Canada in 1814 means that it is a foreign country.

We're still stuck with a number of issues.  We remain reliant on gasoline to power our transportation system.  We're looking at pumping a viscous sludge through a pipeline, not flowing crude, to refineries that cannot process the sludge, but are next to ports that can export this overseas.  And, we're not looking at alternatives - building refineries closer to the source that can process the tar sands into less corrosive forms before moving them, or building pipelines to Canadian ports on the Great Lakes, which would protect American habitats and force Canada to deal with the externalities created by their own extraction industry.

Happy Earth Day.  We're making a mess of her.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


When I moved into my first apartment, my primary thoughts on location for the at apartment revolved around how close it was located to the bars in Champaign.  Fortunately, the bars in Champaign are also close to the campus of the University of Illinois, but I would be lying if that and the cost of rent were not the paramount concerns with finding an apartment.

Life was simple then.

Currently, as I am beginning an apartment search for a town in which I have never lived before, my tastes are more refined.  It must be cat-friendly, near the farmers market, close to bus lines, have an area for outdoor grilling and container gardening, be in a quiet neighborhood with easy access to a grocery store, and within walking distance to good restaurants.  It's nice to know that maybe I am becoming more mature with age.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Matt Stone & Trey Parker, Public Defenders

I don't have much to say on the tragedy in Central Florida in which a young man was shot and killed for going to the convenience store for Skittles. However, I do have problems with the defense of George Zimmerman's being derived from a South Park episode.

Florida's Stand Your Ground law may have worked if this was 1850s Arizona, but in 2012 in an urban area when the police can be easily reached? There should be no law that justifies the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Illinois Coaching Auditions

I did not fill out NCAA brackets this year.  As a heart-broken Fighting Illini fan, there was something deflating about the end of the season, firing Bruce Weber, who would have been the coach of the Illini as long as we would have let him.  The AD seemed to have decided he was going to let him go this year, which is not surprising for new athletic directors to want to pick their own coaches.  However, I don't think Mike Thomas truly understood the hurtful way in which Bill Self left.  When Lon Krueger left for the NBA, we wished him well and even rooted for UNLV on occasion.  Contrast that with Kansas' loss to Bucknell in the tournament a few years ago: I had a photo of Bill Self crying at the end of the game hanging in my office for a month and a half.

So, this year is Illinois coaching auditions.  Ooohhh.... but who shall we choose?  If Mike Thomas has asked a handful of alumni about this, he'll have a simple list: someone who can win, someone who will get the kids to go to class (not Calipari), and someone who won't see the Illinois job as a stepping stone to a better job (not Self).  We want a Coach K.  In fact, it stings a bit that Mike Krzyzewski is from Chicago.  The next coach of Fighting Illini basketball should be someone who understands that the Big Ten (with a margin of error of 2) is the big stage, and Illinois can be a force within that stage.  A connection to the Midwest, therefore, might be a nice bump to understand this but not critical.  So, would the 32 coaches who won in the 2nd Round (formerly First Round) want the Illinois job and be happy to coach there?  Let's break it down.  Your pool is Kentucky, Iowa State, Virginia Commonwealth, Colorado, Baylor, Xavier, Lehigh, Michigan State, St. Louis, New Mexico, Louisville, Murray State, Marquette, Florida, Norfolk State, Syracuse, Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Florida State, Gonzaga, Ohio State, North Carolina, Creighton, South Florida, Ohio, NC State, Georgetown, Purdue, Kansas.

First Cut: No lateral moves.  Big Ten Coaches don't need to move to another Big Ten school.  Eliminates: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue

Second Cut: No SEC schools.  Anyone who takes a job in the SEC cannot be serious about academics by rule.  Eliminates: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt - although a good case could be made for rescuing Illinois-native Kevin Stallings, but after 12 years at Vandy, rescue would probably involve moving the school to the ACC.

Third Cut: Kansas.  While Bill Self may regret the move to Kansas after the gutting of the Big XII, we don't want him.

Fourth Cut: Someone who wants to move.  We may as well take out Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Roy Williams at North Carolina.  Those guys are not moving.  Actually, let's take out Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg.  As an Ames native who played at Iowa State, he's not leaving, and the alumni won't let him be fired.  Job for life, my friend.

Now we are left with 19.  Schools in the Midwest get an automatic bye into the next round: Xavier, Lehigh, Marquette, Cincinnati, Creighton, Ohio, and St. Louis.  Coaches at other schools need to prove a bit of Midwest loyalty by being from the region, or playing Big Ten ball.  This brings through VCU's Shaka Smart (from Wisconsin), Baylor's Scott Drew (son to Valpo coach Homer Drew, but not the son who hit that shot in the 1998 tournament), New Mexico's Steve Alford (from Indiana), Kansas State's Frank Martin (former Cincinnati Assistant), South Florida's Stan Heath (from Michigan), and NC State's Mark Gottfried (from Ohio).
Eliminates: Colorado, Louisville, Murray State, Norfolk State, Florida State, Gonzaga, Georgetown

Sixth Cut: No Hoosiers.  The only coach more hated by Illinois fans than Bill Self is Bob Knight.  No Knight disciples.  Eliminates: New Mexico

Seventh Cut: No issues of ethical misconduct, NCAA investigations, or being the assistant to someone who is an A-Hole.  Eliminates: Kansas State, due to Martin being an assistant to Bob Huggins.  Baylor's Scott Drew - possible?  A lot of questions about how he contacts potential recruits, but no firm investigation. Xavier, Cincinnati due to that nasty fist-fight - we don't need to be acting like Pacers or Pistons.

Eigth Cut: Really, they have to want to move.  No one who is either in a first year with the program, or has more than 10 years with the school.  Eliminates: NC State - although this is a soft elimination for someone who went to high school in Illinois... might be able to lure him away.

We're left with some intriguing prospects:

Brett Reed, Lehigh.  Make that Dr. Brett Reed.  No, "Doc" is not a nickname, he has his Ph.D. from Wayne State University in Instructional Systems and Sports Administration.  Will this guy be able to teach students how to play ball?  Yes.  As a Michigan native who went to Florida for school then returned to Detroit, the only "step up" he may consider would be to replace Izzo at Michigan State.  He'd be a great addition to a program that needs its players to get excited about classes and actually attend them.  Plus, with the Ph.D, it is possible that Varsity Basketball could be offered as a class in the department of Kinesiology, and students could be graded on their effort and receive 1 to 2 hours per semester.  Messed up on your freethrow drills = participation points deducted.

Rick Majerus, St. Louis: Wisconsin native, we'd be eating a lot of bratwurst in Champaign.  Downside, eating a lot of bratwurst means that Majerus may not be long for the world.  Which leads us to...

Buzz Williams, Marquette: He seems to jump around a lot, so you'd have to ask whether he'd jump ship if the Texas or Texas A&M job opened up.  He seems to be leading Marquette as well as (or better than) Tom Crean, but raiding Marquette for coaching talent just feels done already.

Greg McDermott, Creighton: Like most people from Iowa, this guy seems kind of boring.  But kind of boring is preferable to being Rick Petino.  However, it doesn't appear that he has the coaching chops for a marquee program.  Good for a program like Creighton where winning the conference tourney is your yardstick for performance, but not the Big Ten where we want a Sweet 16 appearance every other year.

Stan Heath, South Florida: Former assistant for Tom Izzo, this could be a good fit for Illinois, but a so-so record at South Florida makes you wonder if he can really coach given that he was fired from Arkansas.  The relationship to the SEC makes me wonder if he'll actually have kids stick around for their degrees, or if he'll babysit them for 2 years before they head off to the NBA.  We don't need to be another Ohio State, especially if they ever start to enforce those graduation requirements.  But, he did get Kent State to the Elite Eight, so you know, that's something.  Or may be to an AD from Akron... who may also be interested in...

John Groce, Ohio: Former Thad Matta assistant.  He's from Muncie.  He's boring.  But, he did beat Michigan.  We like beating Michigan.

Shaka Smart, VCU:  I don't want Coach Smart to be the Illinois Basketball Coach.  I kind of want him to be my friend and pen pal.  Honestly, I think you may be able to lure him over if you promise to let him have one of the copies of Diderot's Encyclopedia in his office.  Having the largest university library of any public college could be a selling point for a future coach, and that prospect makes me giddy.  My freshman year, one of the starters for the basketball team was getting his masters in mechanical engineering.  I want a coach who's going to encourage that type of pursuit, and someone who got a Masters in History while an assistant coach sounds like the kind of person I want.  We know he can coach, so that part's in the bag.  If transferring the personal papers of John Milton to a vault in the Head Basketball Coach's office seals the deal, I'm willing to do it.  Heck, if he wants to enroll in a Ph.D. program while he's at it, I think we'd let him.  Or, if he'd like to currate a collection at the Spurlock Museum, we'd be open to it.  Plus, his favorite movie is supposed to be Hoop Dreams, with the dramatic climax during the State Championships at Assembly Hall.  Coach Smart, you could do that EVERY DAY.  Every single day. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

As an Irish-American, I will be making all of the recipes that remind me of my being a child and hanging out in a relative's kitchen (except my grandmothers - she could not cook).  Today is the one day per year that I cook red meat.  This year, I have a brisket portion from a local Angus beef producer that has been brining into corned beef, which will be bathed in Guinness and slow cooked for 6 hours today.  It will be amazing.

The one downside is that today is the day that people get to mock us?  I think?  I'm not sure what's going on, but it is the day that people drink nasty green beer, get drunk, and pretend that they are celebrating Irish heritage.  Currently I'm looking at someone who is plum drunk at 9am, wearing green, and pretending to be a Leprechaun.  I can guarantee that leprechauns do not sound like that. 

Instead of acting like idiots in the streets, I would suggest that we as a people, celebrate St. Patrick's Day in a way that would have made our Irish ancestors proud.  Namely, by punching Englishmen.  Hear me out... during the famine, it was the stereotype of Irishmen being lazy drunkards prevented Parliament from interceding and providing charitable food aid to starving people.  Millions of Irish emigrated in the face of certain death.  My own great-great-grandfather left a parish in Western Ireland that lost 90% of its population between 1845 and 1860.  If people want to spend this day reinforcing stereotypes, let's do this right.  We're also supposed to be hot-headed, interested in politics, and prone to fist fighting.  So, find yourself an Englishman, let him know that you're Irish, and punch them.  Especially if he's in a bar wearing green and talking about the little people.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fixing the NCAA Men's Tournament

Like many Americans, I fully intend on spending the afternoon on my laptop working in front of a giant screen watching men's basketball while sumarizing reports.  Not that anyone in the office will complain - they'd have to be in the office to see what I'm doing.  Instead, they'll be down the street at the bar watching the tournament.  There are studies that try to quantify the amount of lost productivity in a dollar amount for the first two days of the tourney, but a safe number is to take the amount of profit generated for a day, subtract the productivity of the workforce for this day, and get the amount lost.  As the productivity of the day is probably around zero, the amount of lost productivity for the day is all of it.

One thing that bugs me is that while Thursday is the "First Round", with the expanded 68 team field, this is actually the Second Round.  Eight teams "made" the tournament, then they did not *quite* make the field.  They had to prove that they were worthy by playing in the least scenic town in America, Dayton, Ohio.  Why Dayton?  What did they do to deserve such a fate?  I know the President and the British Prime Minister were there, but Dayton?  And why do they have to "play-in", while other teams just get invited?  For teams like Iona, Brigham Young, California, and South Florida, this makes sense.  They were At-Large bids, having no right to be in the tournament apart from the decision of the selection committee.  However, for Lamar, Vermont, Mississippi Valley State, and Western Kentucky, this is rude.  Each won their conference tournament, yet the selection committee decided that their conference was not worthy of an automatic trip to the First Round, but other conference tournament winners do not have to prove themselves.

Therefore, behold my solution: The 97 team tournament.

No, seriously, 97.

Here's how this works:
All 30 Conference Tournament Winners advance to the Thursday-Friday round, along with the Ivy League champion.  If you are an At-Large team, you play-in on a Tuesday-Wednesday round.  The 31 Automatic Qualifiers will each face an At-Large team on the Thursday-Friday round, with 2 At-Large winners facing each other to have 32 games played in that round.  So, the 64 teams that play that round are 30 conference tournament winners, the Ivy League champ, and 33 teams that won a game on Tuesday or Wednesday.  So, you need 66 teams to play to produce the 33 teams.  This leads to 97 total teams.  You can keep seeding, or you can toss it.  It shouldn't matter.  You can even stack the tournament so that Kentucky plays a team like Cleveland State on Tuesday, then play Western Kentucky on Thursday.  All at-large teams are treated alike, as are the automatic qualifiers.  Whether or not the committee likes the SEC conference or doesn't like the America East conference is reflected in the teams invited, not in whether the conference tournament champ needs to play an extra game.  At least it seems fairer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Religious Employment and Birth Control

Hiatus comes to a close after a crazy couple of weeks... which will be followed by a crazy couple of months...

I must be a slut.  Being a happily married woman but without kids, it's no surprise that this is not by accident or an unfortunate medical condition.  Heeding the advice of hundreds of Republican lawmakers, my husband and I have chosen not to have children that we can't afford.  So, we're sluts.  Excuse me, I'm a slut.  My husband merely is acting on his biological urges which he can't be expected to control.  I'm a woman, so I should be above all of this.  (This is the paragraph where I find out whether or not he reads this blog.)

Considering that not having children is still cheaper than having children, the debate over whether or not insurance companies must cover contraception is silly.  Even if Sandra Fluke is correct that birth control costs $3,000 per year, it is still cheaper than the average hospital birth.  If something goes wrong during that birth, then 10 years of birth control will look like a drop in the bucket when compared to the cost of caring for a premature baby.  If an insurance company wants to maximize profits, then they want women on the pill.  The only way it could benefit insurance companies would be in marketing more expensive plans to groups that really, really, really, really want women to have babies like bunnies.  Imagine covering the health care of the Dugger family. 

The only companies in the market for such a health-care plan would be religious institutions.  Anyone whose primary focus is profit would never sign up for a more expensive insurance plan which could result in more employee leaves of absence.  Private religious institutions are the only organizations which could justify the higher costs to their constituent groups.  And, I'm sure you are thinking that their ability to do what they want is protected by the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court would make sure that this distinction is saved from the restrictions of religious freedom imposed by Obamacare.

Or, would they?  I'd say not.  Even with the current court.

NPR had a wonderful run-down on the case law surrounding this controversy, so I won't go over it here.  What I will mention is the decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  At issue is whether or not a "called" teacher is a minister, and therefore exempt from labor laws that require reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities.  In the unanimous opinion, the Justices decided that there are lay employees, and religious employees.  Religious employees have a ministerial exemption from labor laws, while lay employees do not.  However, the standard of religious affiliation is higher - ministerial employees must receive training from the governing body, adhere to the religious beliefs thereof, and answering a call from God to work through a given congregation.

Applying this concept to, say, a Catholic hospital, and it's hard to make the argument that the doctors, nurses, and technicians are actually ministers, as opposed to lay persons employed by the Catholic church.  As lay employees, it will be difficult for a religious employer to state why they are exempt from a labor law.  Now, the Nun in charge of the children's ward - that's a different story.  No one's making the case that she should be force fed Plan B.  But the janitor sweeping the floor of the children's ward?  That's a different case.  And this is why for all of the moaning, that janitor is probably going to receive free birth control should a suit go before the Supreme Court.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Annoying Side of Higher Education

Now that I have been accepted to grad school on scholarship (which, for a professional program is pretty frickin' awesome), the pressure is totally off to worry about whether my GRE scores were high enough, or whether my personal statement was succinct while showing a command of language without plagiarism, or whether the program really needed another white, middle-class, Midwestern woman.  Apparently they were, it was, and they do.

Still, since the first time I registered my GRE prep book on The Princeton Review website, my inbox has been flooded with ads for for-profit schools.  Knowing what I wanted to major in, being in contact with a professor and assistant dean at two separate schools in the field, and paying attention to the institutional source of the research I was enjoying is how I narrowed down my choices, but how do you know to do this?  I'm lucky in that I have two parents and a spouse who are all involved in higher education and accreditation, and I myself have experience in HR and credentials.  Truth is, even going to a directional state school is going to be better from a career perspective than a for-profit online school.  Unless, and I can't stress this enough that there is one small exception, you are already employed and you need a Masters degree to advance in the salary schedule.  That's it.  If you are a teacher who needs to earn a Masters before being granted tenure, go with God, because your next job will be based on your performance in the classroom, not where you received your M.Ed.  Want a Ph.D. in a social science?  If you get it at the University of Phoenix, don't expect to work for a major research institution or liberal arts college.  It's not going to happen.  But, if you are an analyst for the government and want to slide up the GS scale, enjoy!

Back to the Princeton Review (not affiliated with Princeton University).  If you decide to give them more information for their "Featured Schools from the Princeton Review" function, it's not going to be pretty.  First, there are 10 possible subjects for graduate study.  My particular program isn't listed.  So, I selected Business without a GMAT just to see what pops up.  The first 20 results are a Continuing Studies program, 9 are online MBAs, two entries are duplicates, and then you have places known for business education like, Full Sail University.  Even doing a more thorough search on their website, getting to the topic that I know I want to study, the top programs in the country are not listed.  They don't have to be: the top students in the field know how to find them.

What appears instead is a list of schools with large advertising budgets.  Naturally.  But, if you were looking at GRE test prep as a first step in going back to school, how would you know otherwise?  And, once there, what percentage of your tuition is going to pay for that large advertising budget?  Perhaps I've found one way to slow the increase in cost of higher education in the US.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Chapter

A new chapter in my personal life is about to unfold.  I received a scholarship to start grad school in the fall (someone was thinking that my GRE scores would be valuable to their rankings...).  Very excited, but fearful as to what this will do to my available blogging time. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Morning Papers: Missing the Good Ol' Days

I've never really wondered what living in a theocracy would look like, but the Santorum campaign appears to be giving me a glimpse.  He was interviewed on Face the Nation this morning (Bob Schieffer is a badass, by the way), and brought out the G word early and often.  A little snippet of how this went, after questioning whether environmentalists had bothered to read Genesis:

Santorum: "What I'm talking about is the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and have dominion over it and be good stewards of it."
Shieffer: "I don't want to just spend the whole program on this."
Santorum: "Good!"

Let's put it this way, if Santorum would have been allowed, he would have continued to dig himself into a hole by narrowly defining Christian beliefs to the point that only Evangelical Republicans are Christians.  I'm very glad that this guy has no say in whether or not I am Saved or not.  Truthfully, if he is living the narrow path that leads to salvation, I'm thinking that I'm going to hell for not wanting to have a vengeful God of bloodlust, but following a be-sandled Hippie carpenter instead.

Santorum is appearing to be running for Preacher-In-Chief.  A rundown of his platform planks as detailed on Face the Nation this morning:
  • Prenatal testing is only used to screen for disabilities that result in abortions.
  • Public schools is "anachronistic".  (That's the term he used.  Probably incorrectly, but we were just given one line out of context.)
  • Theologies not based on the Bible are phony.  This idea was presented in a political context, not a religious context.
  • Those who want to protect the Earth and prevent Christians from extracting resources from the Earth are radical environmentalists thwarting God's will.
  • Global warming is not scientifically proven.
  • The environmental movement is part of a conspiracy to consolidate power in the government. 
  • I concede that the President is a Christian.  It's just that his world view, policies, and outlook are not Christians.
  • Free prenatal testing in every health insurance program will lead to more abortions.  It's better for a woman with a fetus who will die shortly after birth to go through the whole nine months of pregnancy and be blindsided with this defect in the delivery room vs. being able to make the decision as to whether she will CHOOSE to bring this life into the world.  (Think of the power of that CHOICE vs. having no other option.)
  • Amniocentesis will be outlawed in a Santorum Administration.  It only serves to increase abortions.
  • Public schools are the result of industrialization.  They are factories. 
  • Federal and state governments should not offer public schools.  They have no clue what students need to be educated.  That's best left to parents and local communities, who know a lot more.
  • Also, Ford builds each car custom, because no one has ever gone to a Ford dealer and bought a car off the lot.
  • States can fund public schools, but they shouldn't have any say about the education that goes on in that school.
  • One in three children drop out of school.  (Despite being reported as 8% by the Department of Education.  Sorry, the unnecessary bureaucracy that is probably hiding something by reporting actual statistics because they just love to waste your tax money.)
  • Those who graduate from public schools do not have the values necessary to work hard and build communities.
This was only a 15 minute interview.  Could you imagine if he was given time to talk about the economy?  It's the kind of that that as a well-educated graduate of public schools and colleges, who is only here because prenatal testing discovered a problem that was easily corrected in utero, who likes science wants her head to explode rather than believe that the Republican base wants this guy to be President.  Remember what the world was like before health care, education, and technology?  If you've ever wanted to live in the 1880s, here is your chance.  Can't wait to play Russian roulette and see if I'll be the 1 in six women to die in childbirth!  Cholera epidemics for everyone!  Getting kids ready for engineering and technology jobs by having a strong science and math curriculum in schools?  F- That!  Creation-based homeschooling should be the gold standard.

This could get bad, people.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Proven wrong in 20 minutes

Just when I thought I was onto something, NPR pulls through with the love story of Jack & Peggy Fugelsang, and I'm lost on romance:

Seriously, had to sit in my car long enough to put myself back together before attempting to be seen around people.  This should seriously be made into a movie.  Nicholas Sparks is kicking himself for not thinking up this situation.  Rachel McAdams might be available.

A Little RomCom on Valentine's Day

I've been watching a lot of bad romantic comedies. The husband is away today on business, and I find myself alone on Valentine's Day with epic plans to catch up on some reading, ordering Thai food, and grabbing a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Yep, cliche, but I'm giving myself the day off from worrying about calories and exercise and trying to find my abs back. Totally excited.

So, I'm trying to catch up on the chick flicks that I really haven't watched over the past eight or nine years because they are all on basic cable right now. I used to like a good romantic comedy that was actually funny. Sure, there's a formula: Boy meets girl, obsticle to happiness of boy and girl comes up, obsticle is overcome, climaxing in boy and girl declaring their love in public. Some witty banter between boy and girl should occur, along with a smart story as to why we're putting ourselves through the next 90 minutes. What I've found is that there's something pretty horrible about the movies that I'm watching. "Liberated" modern career women spend their entire lives pining and obsessing over men and expensive shoes. Then, the height of romance occurs when a man proposes to a woman in a lavish display or a gigantic Kardashian style wedding. End of story.

What I want to see is a good love story in which the boy and girl live happily ever after, where the wedding was just the start of the romance, not the end. Looking back over the last 20 years of cinema, I think I found one instance, from Four Weddings and a Funeral:

This is what I want to believe... the romance continues, the love deepens. No, magical fountains will not cause Danny DeVito to fall for you, nor will sitting around with bartenders explaining why He's Just Not Into You will make him fall for you. I find it a little funny that the best example in a mainstream romantic comedy of the type of love that I want is between two gay men, with the big public outpouring of love is at the end of one's life. Compare that scene to a rose ceremony in The Bachelor.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Morning Papers: Well, was it worth it, Indy?

Today's Indianapolis Star asks the question about whether last week's Super Bowl was a blip, or whether it was the beginning of a full-scale revival.  Really?  You are asking the question?  Of course it was a blip!

I don't think it's a surprise that I really do not understand why Indianapolis exists.  It was built on spec that a canal would open up trade, but unfortunately built on a non-navigable river, with a better canal built in Chicago, and a larger river running through Lafayette/Terre Haute.  What it had was a marketing campaign that declared it the state capital.  In the Midwest, it's still one of the more forgetable capitals, with Des Moines really the only competition for Most Forgetable Midwestern State Capital.  Madison, St. Paul, Lansing, and Columbus all have large universities, and Springfield has Lincoln.  Indianapolis ends up being a convention center tied to a mall by a series of skybridges.  My first trip to Indianapolis was a bit of a surprise to my mom.  I think her first reaction to the fact that I was going to Indy for the weekend was "Why?".  As she explained, it's pretty much a sprawling suburb with no real town.  I can't argue with that.  There's really no reason for this town to exist except the desire of it's residents not to admit that they are wrong.

The Indy Star article references city leaders who think that the Super Bowl is going to increase tourism and convention business to Indianapolis.  No, it's not.  With the game between Boston and New York, you are expecting people from the East Coast to say that there is something worth going to Indy for.  If you are going to get onto a plane for a two-hour flight, why Indianapolis?  Why not even Detroit?  Cincinnati?  Cleveland?  St. Louis?  What does Indy bring to the table? 

TripAdvisor lists the Top 10 Things to Do in Indianapolis as: The Mind Tripping Show (a Vegas-style show playing at the Hilton), a children's museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Lucas Oil Field, Victory Field (Minor League Baseball), Crown Hill Cemetery (no, seriously, a cemetery), the zoo, a museum of Native American and Western art, the Indianapolis 500 Speedway (FINALLY!  Something unique!), and the Buck Creek Winery - one of a growing number of Midwestern wineries.  What is there which is going to make me opt for Indy?  Better museums could be found in Chicago.  Better zoos are available in St. Louis and Milwaukee, and if I'm a cemetery junkie, then I'm off to DC.  The reviews themselves are suspect - almost all of them are from residents of the State of Indiana.  Could it be that the great reviews of the Buck Creek Winery are because they haven't been to Sonoma?  

Unfortunately, while hosting the Super Bowl in Indianapolis put a spotlight on Indianapolis, it also put a spotlight on Indianapolis.  Those wanting to attend the Super Bowl were locked into 4 night minimum hotel stays, which meant that they arrived in Indianapolis in the week that the legislature passed Right to Work and allowed the teaching of Creationism in science class.  If you wanted to reinforce the idea that Flyover country is populated by ignorant Bible thumping rednecks, you couldn't have orchestrated a better demonstration.  So, why come to Indy when Vegas is available?  Kudos, Indy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Welcome, winter!

It's finally cold.  I'm in bed, down comforter, electric blanket, pot of coffee, watching the pretty blanket of snow out the window.  If it has to be cold, I want snow.  Cold with muddy dead dreariness is not fun.  Snow is an invitation to play outside.  I kind of want to find a sled and a hill without trees.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Portlandia: A Little Too Close for Comfort

This morning, after finishing my shopping at my town's farmers market, I found myself in the following Portlandia sketch:

Yep, someone had left their dog tied up outside.  Two other people were asking everyone as they left whether or not that was their dog.  Seriously?  Tying up your dog to a pole like a stripper?  Who does that?  It's not like it's a sunny summer day - while it's the warmest winter we've ever had, it is still cold, damp, and miserable out there.  I know I was shivering in my Columbia Polar Fleece.  Poor puppy.

I kind of love Portlandia.  Each of their sketches seem to start with a familiar situation.  Like, the dog tied up in a public place.  Then, it escalates, gradually, to a heightened place of ridicule, but you're laughing at yourself for that moment of insight.

So, this morning, before the dog moment, I found myself talking to my chicken lady, who grows free-range birds and sells the most beautiful eggs you've ever seen.  She's even branching into cured poultry meats (raised too many turkeys last year), so I'm now buying free-range turkey lunch meat.  She takes pictures of the livestock, will give you detailed descriptions on how all of the animals are slaughtered, and will even pass out driving directions to the farm if you want to check up on the conditions yourself (please use the second drive by the barn, not the first drive that goes to the house).  It makes me feel really good about where my food is coming from, and I know that my food dollar is going completely to the farmer who raises the food... with a little syphoned off for the rental of booth space to Parks & Rec and the private alternative school (i.e. the Hippie School) in town.

Portlandia had Carrie and Fred drop their forks, go to the farm, then join a cult.  I hope one of these days, the end of the sketch does not look familiar to me, even if the situation starts as a vignette of my life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Race for a Political Cause

I am utterly heartbroken about the decision by the Susan G. Komen Fund to stop payments to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings.  Since 2006, I have been an active fundraiser for the organization, and while $300-$500 per year may be a drop in the bucket, that's still a couple thousand dollars for my local affiliate that is used to finance women's health care in mammography, early detection programs, and educational programs.  Until, that is they pulled funding from the non-profit that is best equiped to deliver these services.

Okay.  Planned Parenthood offers abortions.  I get that.  If you don't like abortions, you don't like Planned Parenthood.  But until you lash out against them, what is the alternative?  What other medical provider offers low-cost or no-cost medical screenings to low-income women?  Your stunned silence is indicative of the problem.  There is none.  For someone who works, it is easy to earn more than the maximum that would qualify one for Medicaid, and if you are self-employed or work multiple jobs, health insurance may be out of reach.  If you've turned on the TV since 2008, you would know that we are in a health care crisis in the United States, mainly because of the high cost of insurance and preventative treatments.

Planned Parenthood has always been around for women who are in the gap between self-sufficiency and adequate income for health insurance.  The reason you often see clinics in college towns is their reputation, not for abortion services, but for low cost access to The Pill.  As part of that, women are receiving the annual exams that are critical to early detection of certain cancers, including breast cancer.  What a perfect opportunity for a charity whose mission is to provide preventative care and educational services regarding womens health issues!  Or, not.  And if not, then what is the purpose of the Komen Fund?

I currently live in a state where the only guaranteed health care is the emergency room of the county hospital, and you better be bleeding out of your eyes in order to be seen.  Otherwise, you are paying for health care through insurance, or the full price of a procedure which is never disclosed until the bill is presented.  Take away the one clinic in the county where the cost is negotiable, and I have no free/cheap access to health care.  There is no alternative.

No, I don't like abortion, but I will admit that there are too many complications in the world to ban it.  Women will still seek it out, so it should be safe.  If raising a child (or, most often, another child) were free, if screening procedures didn't exist to diagnose unviable fetuses (who wants to watch their child die of Tey-Sachs?), if women didn't die from pregnancies, then I might be sympathetic to the Pro-Life movement.  But the world is a complicated, messy place, and black and white declarations of right and wrong show a willful ignorance about the scope of this issue.  The fact that the Komen Fund capitulated without consulting its donors is shameful, which makes me wonder what I was working for all these years.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bad Timing for Union Bashing

This Sunday, the most watched TV show of the year will be set in Indianapolis.  Indy, the town that really has no earthly reason to exist except that the people who live there don't want to admit they were wrong.  Still, 10% of the world's population will be staring at the Hoosier State. 

Don't fuck it up, peeps.

Except, that the Indiana State Legislature is in session.  These are the same people who tried to redefine pi into something easier to remember.  So far, they have managed to push through the teaching of creationism in science classrooms, and just yesterday, passed a Right To Work bill, which doesn't seem to do anything except to reduce the political power of unions, reduce wages, and make it easier for employers to fire employees without cause. 

Funny thing about the Super Bowl... it's played by a bunch of Union members who just last summer, took action against management.  This may be interesting to watch the next couple days.  Things might get ugly, and I really hope they do.  Indiana should be embarassed about this.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Amateur Hour in the Blogosphere

I'm not too good at blogging.  My recent month-long hiatus should convince anyone of this.  However, I do feel like I should blog about things that I know about, and cite sources if I know them.  If I don't know, then I should probably not blog about the topic, or say that this is total conjecture.

What I do know about is squeezing a dime until it bleeds, which is why I was disappointed when The Consumerist (awesome blog!) linked to a blog post on saving money on your heating bill that contained no useful information.  Among the things that the blogger suggested was to keep your thermostat at 73 degrees.  Oh, honey, that's not right.

Currently, my thermostat is set to 64 degrees.  This may sound extreme, but my thermostat is on the main floor, my bedroom is on the second floor, and using the principle that heat rises, it's slightly warmer up here.  Like, 66 degrees. 

Using her outline, this is what I do:
1) I can't control the weather.  I can only try to keep the weather outside and me inside.
2) She has a 4 bedroom house for 2 people.  I have a 2 bedroom house for 2 people.  Not having unnecessary space cuts down on the volume of inside space that needs to be heated.
3) Her back door is completely closed.  So is mine.  Then, I caulked the outside, added seasonal caulk to the moving parts (which can be removed in spring), then closed off the backdoor with plastic sheeting.  I'll just use the front door until April.
4) Bundle up.  Not just wearing layers, but having slippers nearby and down throws at hand.  I have an electric heated throw, too.  Running that for 4 or 5 minutes, then turning it off and adding another throw pre-heats the space around my legs and keeps me toasty warm for the rest of the time I'm sitting at that place.  Don't heat the entire room to 72, just the area directly around your person.
5) Lower the heat when no one's home?  No, I don't.  But I do open the south facing blinds to allow the sunlight to warm the rooms when I'm at work.
6)  73?  That's hot.  My house is at 64, and I just avoid the basement.  All basement windows are caulked with plastic sheeting on them, and on REALLY cold days, blankets are put up over the wall to reduce cold air coming in.  Air tight, the temp down there is still above 60.
7) Drafts are bad.  Caulk, plastic sheeting, weather stripping are good.

So, yes, 64 might be a tad on the low side, but it's still 50 degrees warmer than it is outside.  From that perspective, it still feels warm when you walk in the door.  Isn't that the point?