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December 31, 2011

The power of vulnerability

The University of Houston's remarkable Brene Brown.









Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 30, 2011

The Pistol

With the start of a new NBA season, it's always good to take a look at the NBA stars of the past, such as the amazing Pistol Pete Maravich and this 68 point gem.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 29, 2011

There are no mistakes on the bandstand










Posted by Tom at 6:17 AM |

December 28, 2011

The Ultimate Con Man

The incomparable Robert Preston as Harold Hill of The Music Man at the 1971 Tony Award show singing "Trouble." It's amazing how many contemporary governmental officials resemble Harold Hill. And, unfortunately, how many of their constituents resemble the gullible townspeople.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas Everywhere

Posted by Tom at 7:58 PM |

The Santa Tracker

Don't miss the hilarious story in this video from the NORAD officer who took the calls from children looking for Santa based on a wrong phone number contained in a Sears catalog advertisement.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 25, 2011

Larry Ribstein, R.I.P.

lribstein_136My friend and Clear Thinkers favorite Larry Ribstein died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 65. I convey condolences and deepest sympathies to Larry's wife Ann and their daughters, Sarah and Susannah.

Larry was a teacher who understood precisely what his life's purpose was and pursued it with an endearing combination of intellectual curiosity, vitality, humanity and good humor. Although I will miss Larry deeply, I feel blessed to have known him.

Larry and I came across each other in 2003, early in our respective blogging careers. The particular case that brought us together was that of Jamie Olis, which involved many of the issues about which Larry wrote passionately over his eight-plus years of blogging - criminalization of agency costs, over-criminalization generally, prosecutorial misconduct, anti-business mainstream media business reporting, etc. 

But Larry and my friendship really ripened during the Enron case. Inasmuch as Larry and I both blogged frequently on business generally and business law issues specifically, we both watched in horror as the Enron case exposed many of the worst flaws of the American criminal justice system.

Larry and I were initially two of the only writers in the blogosphere who contended that most of the Enron-related criminal prosecutions were based on appeals to juror prejudice against business executives rather than true crimes, so we fast became blogging colleagues and commiserated often, eventually not only on Enron, but on a wide array of business law cases that arose after that seminal case.

Stephen Bainbridge, Ted Frank, Ilya Somin, Geoff Manne and others have already posted fine remembrances of Larry, whose academic contributions were prodigious. However, I believe that Larry's most important contributions were his blog writings, which - along with those of Professor Bainbridge - have done more to improve the legal profession and general public's understanding of complex business issues than any other information source over the past eight years.

To get a taste of Larry's insights, just take a moment to review the dozens of Clear Thinkers posts over the years in which Larry's research and observations are highlighted. The breadth and depth of his body of work is truly remarkable.

Beyond his special intelligence and intellectual honesty, though, the trait that drew me most to Larry was his humanity. Although he decried how our government's senseless criminalization of business was destroying jobs and hindering the creation of wealth, Larry cared even more deeply about the incalculable damage to executives and their families that resulted from the absurdly-long prison terms that were often the product of such dubious prosecutions. When family members of wrongfully prosecuted executives came upon Larry's writings, many of them would reach out to Larry for support, which he generously provided to them.

And I will never forget Larry's touching note to me after he read a blog post that I wrote on the death of Bill Olis, Jamie Olis' father. Larry understood in his big heart what it takes to be a loving father.

Larry Ribstein - husband, father, lawyer, teacher, scholar, colleague, writer, counselor, friend.

A fine legacy, indeed.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

December 24, 2011

The hidden light of Afghanistan










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 23, 2011

"So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost"

tsa-sarcastic-logoCharles C. Mann meets security expert Bruce Schneier to assess the state of the Transportation Security Administration's security theater at U.S. airports:

Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as "security theater": actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe. [.  .  .]

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. . . .

Read the entire article. It is a sad reflection of the increasing non-responsiveness of government that this utter nonsense continues to be foisted upon U.S. citizens.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

December 22, 2011

How not to conduct a coaching search

RhoadesGiven the recent success of the University of Houston football program, UH athletic director Mack Rhoades has been able to fly largely under the radar of public scrutiny.

Rhoades came to UH after the past two UH head coaches Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin were hired, so he really had nothing to do with the revitalization of Houston's traditionally innovative football program that Briles and Sumlin engineered.

Rhoades' first coaching change after coming to UH was dubious, although he at least had the good sense to mitigate the negative impact of that decision by hiring a protégé of the coach that he replaced.

Rhoades' second coaching change was equally uninspired. Why replace an older coach who had at least revived the basketball program somewhat with another older coach who had been out of coaching for several years?

But despite those missteps, Rhoades was in a perfect position to hire the best coach available to replace Sumlin, who everyone even remotely connected with college football knew was going to be plucked by a program in a BCS conference after leading UH to a 12-1 record. Given UH's recent success, how hard could that be?

Well, maybe harder than you would expect, particularly if you are ill-prepared to conduct the search.

Two weeks after Sumlin elected to take the head coaching position at Texas A&M, it is painfully clear that Rhoades was inexplicably unprepared to replace Sumlin.

After being used by the coaches at Wyoming and Louisiana Tech to improve their respective contractual positions, Rhoades panicked and bestowed the head coaching position at Houston to Tony Levine, an obscure assistant coach who has never been seriously considered for a major college head coaching position before.

Indeed, but for reaping the benefit of Rhoades' questionable decision-making, Levine probably would not have been a candidate for more than a relatively minor assistant coaching position at another college program.

Meanwhile, Rhoades chose Levine over a more qualified member of the Houston staff, Jason Phillips, whose background is remarkably similar to that of Sumlin at the time the latter was hired as Houston's head coach. Phillips - who is indisputably the best recruiter on the current UH staff - will almost certainly now move on to greener pastures, probably as the offensive coordinator for SMU's June Jones, who tried to hire Phillips four years ago when Sumlin persuaded him to stay at his alma mater. After being rejected by UH for a less-qualified candidate, it is extremely doubtful that Phillips will stick around this time.

And realistically, given that Levine has never coordinated either an offense or a defense at the major college level, how likely is it that he is going to be able to attract the coaching talent necessary to sustain Houston's tradition of innovation that has been built under the regimes of Bill Yeoman, Jack Pardee, John Jenkins, Briles and Sumlin?

As a Houstonian and a UH alum, I hope Coach Levine well. He appears to be a genuinely nice fellow and a good member of UH's current staff.

But as a longtime observer of - and participant in - the politics of big-time college football, my instincts are telling me something much more troubling about the UH athletic program.

That is, Mack Rhoades is a lightweight who is in way over his head.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 21, 2011

Understanding Consciousness










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 20, 2011

Plane Truth for the golf swing

Houstonian Jim Hardy is one of the one of the best teachers of the golf swing in the world. These days, Jim dedicates a substantial amount of his time to instructing other golf pros from around the world on how to teach the golf swing.

On a chilly November afternoon a couple of weeks ago, my buddy Jerry Sagehorn and I participated in one of Jim's teaching seminars at Houston's Blackhorse Golf Club in which Jim assisted teaching pros from around the world in analyzing our swings and giving us instruction on how to improve. Here is a video of the concluding part of our sessions in which Jim identifies the key flaws in our swings and instructs us on how to correct them. The video is an example of a master teacher at work.

Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 19, 2011

Compact Swing

Continuing on the previous post's golf theme, here is another segment in our continuing series on creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 18, 2011

Do Not Quit Your Job

Another entry in our continuing series of innovative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 17, 2011

Four on Six

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 16, 2011

Voices from the front lines of America's worst war

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 15, 2011

Inspiring action










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 14, 2011

Experiments in self-teaching

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 13, 2011

"500 Miles"

The magnificent Rosanne Cash absolutely nails it.

Watch Rosanne Cash "500 Miles" on PBS. See more from AUSTIN CITY LIMITS.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 12, 2011

Gratitude

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 11, 2011

Fueling the Age of Enlightenment

H/T Greg Mankiw.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 10, 2011

The Gift of Water

[AC] Haiti Orphanage from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 9, 2011

George Carlin's key to his success

It's when he finally realized the importance of not giving a shit what people think.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 8, 2011

Justin Townes Earle's "Harlem River Blues"

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 7, 2011

The amazing story of Dr. Terry Wahls

The University of Iowa internist tells her fascinating story on battling M.S.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 6, 2011

The paradox of income equality


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 5, 2011

Visualizing the explosion of medical data

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 4, 2011

The benefits of regret










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 3, 2011

Making Florida One

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 2, 2011

How toilets can change the world

Watch live streaming video from techonomy at livestream.com

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

December 1, 2011

Can Technology be Society's Economic Engine?

techonomy on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 30, 2011

Philosophy in Prison










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 29, 2011

Visualizing Conception to Birth










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 28, 2011

Woody Allen: A Documentary

The latest segment in PBS's excellent American Masters series explores Woody Allen, one of America's finest comedians and filmmakers. Both parts of the documentary can be viewed here, and the clip below on Allen's legendary improvisational skills provides a glimpse of the documentary. Enjoy.

Watch Woody's Improv: The Punatoriam on PBS. See more from AMERICAN MASTERS.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 27, 2011

Baden Powell "Samba Triste"

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 26, 2011

Jack and Johnny

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 25, 2011

Telling stories with data and interfaces











Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 24, 2011

Carve Away!

For the past several years, I have been passing along on Thanksgiving Day the instructions below, this interesting article and this excellent NY Times video that provide insightful butcher tips on how to get the most meat out of your turkey. Enjoy!

carve-650

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 23, 2011

Defending Earth










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 22, 2011

Amish Centerfold

Another great episode in our continuing series of wonderfully creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 21, 2011

Tory Gattis' Open City of Opportunity

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 20, 2011

Salman Khan on reinventing education through video










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 19, 2011

Lyle Lovett's "My Baby Don't Tolerate"

Arguably Houston's best singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 18, 2011

The Lost Steve Jobs Interview

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 17, 2011

Hayes Carll raising the profile of Arkansas

Hayes Carll talks about his Arkansas project.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 16, 2011

Inside Out Bastrop

A remarkable story from the epicenter of the devastating Texas wildfires of 2011.

Inside Out Bastrop from frog on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 15, 2011

Protecting Houston from the next killer hurricane

Recommendations from Rice University's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. But do we have enough financial clout to pull this off while financing an array of expensive urban boondoggles?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 14, 2011

The Secret of Planet Earth

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 13, 2011

Wyman Meinzer's West Texas

Wyman Meinzer's West Texas from Wyman Meinzer on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 12, 2011

"Look at Miss Ohio"

Watch Gillian Welch "Look At Miss Ohio" on PBS. See more from AUSTIN CITY LIMITS.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 11, 2011

Mapping the Brain










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 10, 2011

A plane you can drive










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 9, 2011

A closer look at the Euro debt crisis

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 8, 2011

Giving away the secrets of cancer research

Harvard researcher Jay Bradner discusses his approach to open-source cancer research.









Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 7, 2011

How much is corruption worth?

Jerry-SanduskyThe corrupt nature of big-time college football and basketball has been a frequent topic on this blog. Entertaining, yes, but corrupt nonetheless.

So, is it really a surprise that one of the flagship programs and legendary coaches in this corrupt system are being implicated in a particularly repulsive web of corruption?

Condemnation of the actors involved has been the almost universal reaction in social media over the weekend, but caution is advised. We have heard only the prosecutors' story so far and that story may not be true, at least entirely. The reputations and careers of prominent people are at stake here, so restraint at this point is prudent. Hindsight bias and our scapegoat instinct remain strong.

Yet, the allegations remain hugely troubling. A prominent assistant coach was allegedly caught by another coach in a compromising act with a minor. Another employee apparently also testified that he came upon the coach engaging in sex with a minor on school property.

What was done in response? Was it enough? Did it comply with obligations under applicable law? Did university authorities downplay the seriousness of the matter in order to protect a highly popular friend of the football program? Did one of the witnesses not pursue disclosure of the incident further because the football program gave him an assistant coaching position? Were the university's lawyers advised about the incident at the time" If so, what did they advise?

These are the questions that will be asked in the coming days, weeks and months. And the answers may well be troubling.

Make no mistake about it. Not only are these the type of allegations that can destroy lives, careers and families, they can shake institutions even as wealthy and time-honored as Pennsylvania State University to its core.

And at some point the leaders running such institutions must confront a very basic, but troubling, question:

Is the corruption worth it?

And for honest leaders of other institutions who realize it could just have well been theirs involved in this mess, it's a question well worth considering.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 6, 2011

The Rational Optimist

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 5, 2011

Conan delivers Chinese food in NYC

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 4, 2011

"What a Little Bit of Love Can Do"

Jeff Bridges is one of finest actors of our time. He's also a pretty darn good country music musician (H/T Austin City Limits).

Watch Jeff Bridges "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do" on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 3, 2011

Billy Cannon's Punt Return

As no. 2 LSU prepares to play no. 1 Alabama on Saturday night, this video provides a glimpse at another big LSU game -- the 1959 battle between no. 1 LSU and no. 3 Ole Miss that propelled LSU legend Billy Cannon to a Heisman Trophy and a rich professional contract with the Houston Oilers.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 2, 2011

Sonia Arrison on the science of living longer

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

November 1, 2011

The real lesson about Steve Jobs' cancer

steve_jobs135148Since Steve Jobs' death almost a month ago, much has been written about his approach to dealing with his pancreatic cancer.

However, David Gorski over at Respectful Insolence here and here has provided the most level-headed analysis of Jobs' ordeal that I've read anywhere to date.

The bottom line is that we simply do not know enough about Jobs' circumstances with this particularly pernicious form of cancer to know whether his nine-month flirtation with quacks before submitting to the Whipple surgical procedure made any difference in his death. The Whipple procedure can save the lives of a very small percentage of pancreatic cancer patients, but we do not know if Jobs' tumor was of the specific type that can be effectively eradicated through that procedure. About the only sure thing that can be said about Jobs' foray into the ephemeral field of "alternative medicine" is that it didn't help his situation.

The optimistic view of therapeutic intervention in medicine that post-World War II doctors embraced has resulted in enormous advances in our understanding on how to cure, or mollify the effects of, disease.

But the real lesson of Steve Jobs' cancer is that there remains much more that we simply do not know.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 31, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Prohibition

The futile and damaging nature of drug prohibition is a frequent topic on this blog, so check out this Nick Gillespie interview of Ken Burns on the unintended consequences of prohibition and then review this Radley Balko/Freedom Daily article on the enormous collateral damage of drug prohibition.
A truly civil society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 30, 2011

Gladwell on the Norden Bombsight

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 29, 2011

Colbert and that entertaining form of corruption

Stephen Colbert provides his amusing spin on the corruption of big-time college sports by interviewing Taylor Branch, author of the e-book The Cartel, which is an expanded version of Branch's cover story from the October issue of The Atlantic, The Shame of College Sports (H/T Jay Christensen).

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 28, 2011

Epstein on the benefits of inequality

In less than ten minutes, Clear Thinkers favorite Richard Epstein lucidly explains the societal benefits of providing economic incentives that produce inequality in a market economy (H/T Bart Bentley).

Watch Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 27, 2011

Look who is advising the FBI

Andrew Weissman2So, former Enron Task Force director Andrew Weissmann has found his way back into government service, this time as general counsel to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is the fellow who - among other outrageous tactics -- is primarily responsible for prosecuting Arthur Andersen out of business and for destroying the careers of several innocent Merrill Lynch executives in the notoriously misguided Nigerian Barge case.

And now he is the primary counselor to the federal government's primary investigative force.

Weissmann's track record of abuse of power should be grounds to preclude him from such a position. But in this day and age, it is viewed as sound preparation.

Not a particularly pleasant thought to have if the Devil ever turns on you.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 26, 2011

Margin Call

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 25, 2011

Physical Exercise - Preventive treatment for Dementia?

Dr. Eric J. Ahlskog of The Mayo Clinic's Department of Neurology discusses his article appearing in the September 2011 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings on the effect of physical exercise as a disease-modifying treatment for dementia and the aging brain (H/T Art DeVany).

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 24, 2011

Building a stadium

Check out this cool time-lapse photo video of the construction of Target Field, the new stadium of the Minnesota Twins.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 23, 2011

A prosthetic arm that feels

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 22, 2011

That deserves a Carlsberg

Yet another in our continuing series of creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 21, 2011

Generating Energy Right Where We Are

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 20, 2011

Merle Hazard on moral hazard

Merle Hazard's latest, Diamond Jim (H/T Greg Mankiw)

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 19, 2011

The WSJ's Myths

Sherron Watkins_3We Americans do love our myths, as the Wall Street Journal reminds us this week with its glowing 10-year anniversary (!) tribute to Enron "whistleblower," Sherron Watkins.

Of course, even a cursory review of the facts demonstrates that Ms. Watkins is not - and never was -- a whistleblower.

Nevertheless, the nation's leading business newspaper persists in a myth that is demonstrably wrong. In fact, the Journal's coverage of Enron was questionable from the start.

Why is that?

Well, such levels of disingenuity are rarely attributable to one or even just a few factors, but Dio Favatas notes an interesting aspect of the Journal's coverage of another business executive - Frank Quattrone - whose stellar career was sidetracked by a dubious prosection.

You may remember the Quattrone prosecution - a paper-thin case in the Enron mode that should never have been pursued. After Quattrone was convicted in a farce of a trial, the Second Circuit resoundingly reversed the conviction. Quattrone eventually settled with the prosecution in a favorable deferred prosecution agreement under which he admitted no wrongdoing whatsoever.

You would think that the injustice that was heaped upon Quattrone before the Second Circuit intervened would give the Journal pause regarding its demonization of Quattrone before, during and after the trial. But as Favatas chronicles, the Journal instead continues to attempt in a sophomoric manner to make Quattrone out to be something other than the hard-working, talented and successful investment banker that he is.

To make matters worse, in doing so, the Journal assigns a reporter to write the story who has a financial interest in making Quattrone appear to be a shady character.

Clarence Barron founded the Journal in the early 20th century on the personal credo that the Journal "must stand for what is best in Wall Street."

It is sad to see how far the Journal has drifted from that salutary foundation.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 18, 2011

Barriers to Action

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 17, 2011

Micheal O'Brien, Texas' photographer

Ben CrenshawAustin's Michael O'Brien, author of The Face of Texas (Bright Sky Press 2003), is one of Texas' finest photographers. Checking out the portraits on his webpage is a very good way to start the week. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 16, 2011

Finding life we can't imagine

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 15, 2011

Meet Gareth Maybin

Gareth Maybin may not be as well known a professional golfer as his fellow Northern Ireland mates Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.

But he takes a back seat to none of them in terms of athletic ability.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 14, 2011

How to spot a liar

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 13, 2011

What hallucinations reveal about our minds

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 12, 2011

Your web presence after death

Adam Ostrow: "By the end of this year, there'll be nearly a billion people on this planet that actively use social networking sites. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they are going to die."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 11, 2011

Thinking about Jobs

steve_jobs_apple_iphoneWe are quickly approaching overload on articles about the late Steve Jobs, but Martin Wolf's post in the Financial Times on what Jobs' career teaches us is definitely worth a read.

In short, Wolf explains that Jobs was the quintessential American entrepreneur who was able to marry form with function while bringing a showman's bravado in promoting Apple products. Not a bad prescription for success.

Meanwhile, David Gorski provides this interesting analysis of Jobs' bout with the pernicious disease that killed him, pancreatic cancer. Inasmuch as that cancer deprived Houston of one of its greatest teachers, I have followed the clinical research on the disease with interest over the past several years. Dr. Gorski does a masterful job of explaining the complexities involved in treating pancreatic cancer, while also taking a well-deserved swipe at the snake-oil salesmen who were quick to seize upon Jobs' tragic death to hawk their "alternative treatments" for this deadly disease.

One of many good points that Dr. Gorski makes is the risk that patients such as Jobs take in delaying surgery on cancers such as this while exploring alternative medicine treatments:

If there's one thing we're learning increasingly about cancer, it's that biology is king and queen, and that our ability to fight biology is depressingly limited. In retrospect, we can now tell that Jobs clearly had a tumor that was unusually aggressive for an insulinoma. Such tumors are usually pretty indolent and progress only slowly. Indeed, I've seen patients and known a friend of a friend who survived many years with metastatic neuroendocrine tumors with reasonable quality of life.

Jobs was unfortunate in that he appears to have had an unusually aggressive form of the disease that might well have ultimately killed him no matter what. That's not to say that we shouldn't take into account his delay in treatment and wonder if it contributed to his ultimate demise. It very well might have, the key word being "might." We don't know that it did, which is one reason why we have to be very, very careful not to overstate the case and attribute his death as being definitely due to the delay in therapy due to his wanting to "go alternative."

Finally, Jobs' case illustrates the difficulties with applying SBM to rare diseases. When a disease is as uncommon as insulinomas are, it's very difficult for practitioners to know what the best course of action is, and that uncertainty can make for decisions that are seemingly bizarre or inexplicable but that, if you have all the information, are supportable based on what we currently know.

In short, despite the advances of modern medicine, there is still much that we do not know about how disease attacks our bodies.

Patients beware.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 10, 2011

The interactive digital book

Regardless of what you think about Al Gore's books, the format of his latest is pretty cool.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 9, 2011

Unleashing a locked-in artist


Posted by Tom at 12:47 AM |

October 8, 2011

Help

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM |

October 7, 2011

Marilyn

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 6, 2011

The promise of the driverless auto

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 5, 2011

How Algorithms are shaping the world

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

October 4, 2011

The Genomic Revolution

Posted by Tom at 7:18 AM |

October 3, 2011

"I kiss so hot"

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 2, 2011

Backstage with the Fab Four

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

October 1, 2011

Sophie's Choice

Professional golfer Sophie Gustafson is an extremely interesting woman.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 30, 2011

Battling Bad Science

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 29, 2011

Markets in Self-Publishing

BainbridgeDespite our legislators' efforts, it's hard to keep vibrant markets down.

One of the most interesting emerging markets that I've been following recently has been in self-publishing. UCLA business law professor and longtime blogger Stephen Bainbridge - who, along with Larry Ribstein, is a blogosphere leader in advancing the understanding of corporate and business law principles - self-published his most recent corporate law book as a Kindle e-book. Professor Bainbridge passes along his reasoning for doing so here.

In short, Professor Bainbridge reasons that he will make money with his e-book than for law review articles, he controls the marketing and price of the book, and he keeps all the proceeds instead of just royalties. Moreover, the self-publishing route allows him to update his work in a timely manner so that he can provide analysis of recent court decisions that wouldn't be possible under the conventional book model.

Meanwhile, similar self-publishing ventures are emerging in the music industry.

For example, popular Houston-based musician Robbie Seay - the worship leader at Houston's fascinating inner-city church, Ecclesia - recently went the Kickstarter route to raise the funds necessary to self-produce his new CD. Seay - who melds spiritually-based contemporary music with a rocker's edge - raised enough money to self-produce his CD in two weeks and is now shooting to reach 1,000 backers in the next two weeks.

These are wonderful developments. Talented individuals taking risks that provide consumers at low cost with scholarship and music that might not otherwise get published.

In other words, the power of markets at work.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 28, 2011

Martha's comeback

You know, for someone who has had to endure the dark side of the federal government's criminalization-of-business lottery, Martha Stewart sure seems to be having fun with her post-prison life. Bravo!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 27, 2011

It's football season, but . . .

Bill Haas' incredible shot from a water hazard on the final sudden death playoff hole in the Tour Championship on Sunday was worth a cool $11.44 million.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 26, 2011

The Generosity Experiment

Sasha Dichter: The Generosity Experiment from NextGen:Charity on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

September 25, 2011

Tsunami in a car

H/T Paul Kedrosky.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 24, 2011

The Quiet Beatle

Check out the trailer for Martin Scorsese's HBO documentary on George Harrison, whose widow Olivia is interviewed here.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 23, 2011

J. Edgar

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 22, 2011

The Rescue Reel

Inventing a new way to escape tall buildings from TED Blog on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 21, 2011

50 Greatest Plays in College Football History

College football season is a special time in Texas, so it's easy to take some time and get lost in this entertaining compilation of the 50 greatest plays in college football history.

Of course, as with any such list, there are going to be oversights, not the least of which is the late-in-the-game 4th down pass from Texas' James Street to Randy Peschel to set up the go ahead touchdown in the 1969 Game of the Century.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 20, 2011

Niall Ferguson on The Great Divergence

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 19, 2011

Obama’s hypocrisy on drug prohibition

drug-warThere are many reasons to be disappointed about Barack Obama's presidency, but arguably no reason is more galling than Obama's failure to back up his campaign promise to re-evaluate the federal government's dubious drug prohibition policy.

Jacob Sullum sums up Obama's hypocrisy on drug prohibition in this masterful Reason.com op-ed:

It is not hard to see how critics of the war on drugs got the impression that Barack Obama was sympathetic to their cause. Throughout his public life as an author, law professor, and politician, Obama has said and done things that suggested he was not a run-of-the-mill drug warrior....

[But] Obama's drug policies ... by and large have been remarkably similar to his predecessor's. With the major exception of crack sentences, which were substantially reduced by a law the administration supported, Obama has not delivered what reformers hoped he would. His most conspicuous failure has been his policy on medical marijuana, which is in some ways even more aggressively intolerant than George W. Bush's, featuring more-frequent raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ruinous IRS audits, and threats of prosecution against not only dispensaries but anyone who deals with them.  "I initially had high hopes," says Marsha Rosenbaum, "but now believe Obama has abdicated drug policy to the DEA."

It would be going too far to say that Obama has been faking it all these years, that he does not really care about the injustices perpetrated in the name of protecting Americans from the drugs they want.  But he clearly does not care enough to change the course of the life-wrecking, havoc-wreaking war on drugs....

We know how Obama responds when the question of marijuana legalization comes up in public: He laughs. The highest-rated questions submitted for his "virtual town meeting" in March 2009 dealt with pot prohibition. "I don't know what this says about the online audience," Obama said with a smirk, eliciting laughter from the live audience, "but...this was a fairly popular question."

Obama's dismissive attitude was especially galling in light of his own youthful pot smoking, which he presents in Dreams From My Father as a cautionary tale of near-disaster followed by redemption.  "Junkie. Pothead," he writes.  "That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the would-be black man."  Judging from the reports of friends interviewed by The New York Times in 2008, Obama exaggerated his brush with addiction for dramatic effect.  More important, he has never publicly acknowledged the plain truth that people who smoke pot rarely become junkies or suffer any other serious harm as a result -- unless they get caught.

As Richard Nixon's National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse pointed out when Obama was all of 10 years old, the biggest risk people face when they smoke pot is created by the government's attempts to stop them.  In 1977, when Obama was a pot-smoking high school student in Honolulu, President Jimmy Carter advocated decriminalizing marijuana possession, telling Congress that "penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself."

That is hardly a radical position.  Polls indicate that most Americans think pot smokers should not be treated like criminals...

In New York City, where marijuana arrests have increased dramatically since the late 1990s, blacks are five times as likely to be busted as whites.  The number of marijuana arrests by the New York Police Department (NYPD) from 1997 through 2006 was 11 times the number in the previous 10 years, despite the fact that possession of up to 25 grams (about nine-tenths of an ounce) has been decriminalized in New York....

Obama attended Columbia University in the early 1980s, well before the big increase in marijuana arrests that began a decade later.  There were about 858,000 pot arrests nationwide in 2009, more than twice the number in 1980, and the crackdown has been especially aggressive in New York City under Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg (another former pot smoker).  "The odds are not bad," observes Ethan Nadelmann, "that a young Barry Obama, using marijuana at Columbia, might have been arrested had the NYPD been conducting the number of marijuana arrests then that it is now."

A misdemeanor marijuana conviction could have been a life-changing event for Obama, interrupting his education, impairing his job prospects, and derailing his political career before it began.  It would not have been fair, but it would have spared us the sorry spectacle of a president who champions a policy he once called "an utter failure" and who literally laughs at supporters whose objections to that doomed, disastrous crusade he once claimed to share.

Inasmuch as I do pro bono work in the juvenile justice system, I experience first hand the absurdly destructive effects of the drug prohibition policy on young people and their families. We get the quality of political representatives that we deserve, but Obama's disingenuousness and insensitivity with regard to the government's drug prohibition is reprehensible even by the low standards by which we evaluate U.S. politicians. That no Republican Presidential candidate other than Ron Paul is willing to take Obama to task for his hypocrisy is a reflection of the sad state of political discourse in this country.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 18, 2011

Richard Pryor - the real first black president

Posted by Tom at 6:36 AM |

September 17, 2011

A good way to start a football Saturday

Houston Texans Performance on Sept. 11, 2011 from Barker Productions on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 16, 2011

This is our time?

As avant garde comedy, this University of Texas 2011 football video narrated by Matthew McConaughey is pretty good.

On the other hand, if not avant garde comedy, this video is seriously delusional and reflects much of why the UT is not a particularly attractive member for conference affiliation purposes right now.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 15, 2011

A masterful piece on that entertaining form of corruption

USC Song Girls 2Regular readers of this blog know that I have regularly commented on the corrupt nature (see also here) of big-time college football and basketball.

Although corrupt, big-time college football and basketball resist comprehensive reform because - let's face it - they are a very entertaining form of corruption.

But as this masterful (and quite long) Taylor Branch/Atlantic article explains, that resistance to reform is being challenged:

A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news. We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table. But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.

Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes--and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.

And one of those lawsuits is by a former Rice student-athlete!

For anyone interested in the future of big-time college football and basketball, this is a must read. A series of short interviews of Branch are associated with the article and provided below:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 14, 2011

Skilling II at SCOTUS?

skilling_201The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not exactly distinguished itself in regard to its handling of the various appeals that emanated from the various Enron-related criminal prosecutions.

In particular, the Fifth Circuit recently denied former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling's motion for a new trial even though Skilling's theory of the case for a new trial was upheld by Fifth Circuit panels in two other Enron-related appeals.

So, per the motion below, Skilling is once again preparing to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Fifth Circuit yet again and order the Fifth Circuit to issue a mandate to the U.S. District Court to give Skilling a new trial.

Frankly, as implicitly reflected by the prosecution's agreement to a stay of the Fifth Circuit's current mandate pending Skilling's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Skilling has a good case for a new trial. Stay tuned.

Jeff Skilling's Motion to Stay Fifth Circuit Mandate Pending Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 13, 2011

How to win this particular war

War on TerrorIn the context of the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Spencer Ackerman reminds us of the point that James Fallows and others have been making for over five years - the most effective way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized:

In case you haven't noticed, hysteria is what the terrorists want. In fact, it's the only win a decapitated, weakened al-Qaida can get these days. The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. That's how Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure -- not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.

And that points to the only way out of a trap that's lasted a decade. It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics. The U.S. has to embrace the reality that terrorism is not anything remotely like the existential threat we make it out to be. We can honor those 2,996 without being permanently haunted by them.[.  .  .]

The risk, in other words, is a political risk. The culture of fear: It's a bipartisan race to the bottom. And it's why the National Security State constructed by the George W. Bush administration has found a diligent steward in President Obama. Asked recently if the post-9/11 security apparatus might diminish soon now that al-Qaida looks weak, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, replied, "No." [.  .  .]

Only when citizens make it acceptable for politicians to recognize that the threat of terrorism isn't so significant can the country finally get what it really needs, 10 years later: closure.

Read the entire piece. That citizens still have to endure such outrages as security theater reinforces the truth of what Ackerman writes.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 12, 2011

The Forger

In Bloodlands (Basic 2010), Timothy Snyder provides an extraordinary analysis of the human cost of the tyrannical regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Sarah Kaminsky's father lived during those times and understood that cost. Ms. Kaminsky in the video below explains how her father figured out a way to reduce it.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 11, 2011

Opening Night, Apogee Stadium, University of North Texas

Apogee Stadium

Posted by Tom at 1:41 AM |

September 10, 2011

From the top

Ben Hogan's swing from the top of the backswing.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 9, 2011

Technological overload in the cockpit

airfrance447This Chris Sorensen/Macleans.CA article provides an excellent overview of an issue that is of interest to all air travelers - that is, the increasing number of loss-of-control airline accidents over the past five years:

Statistically speaking, modern avionics have made flying safer than ever. But the crash of [Turkish] Flight 1951 is just one of several recent, high-profile reminders that minor problems can quickly snowball into horrific disasters when pilots don't understand the increasingly complex systems in the cockpit, or don't use them properly. The point was hammered home later that year when Air France Flight 447 stalled at nearly 38,000 feet and ended up crashing into the Atlantic, killing all 228 on board.  .  .  [. . .]

Why is it happening? Some argue that the sheer complexity of modern flight systems, though designed to improve safety and reliability, can overwhelm even the most experienced pilots when something actually goes wrong. Others say an increasing reliance on automated flight may be dulling pilots' sense of flying a plane, leaving them ill-equipped to take over in an emergency. Still others question whether pilot-training programs have lagged behind the industry's rapid technological advances.

It's a vexing problem for airlines, and a worrisome one for their customers. Unlike mechanical failures that can be traced to flawed design or poor maintenance, there is no easy fix when experienced and highly trained pilots make seemingly inexplicable decisions that end with a US$250-million airplane literally falling out of the sky. "The best you can do is teach pilots to understand automation and not to fight it," [flight simulation expert Sunjoo] Advani says, noting that the focus in recent years has, perhaps myopically, been on simplifying and speeding up training regimes, secure in the knowledge that planes have never been smarter or safer. "We've worked ourselves into a little bit of a corner here. Now we have to work ourselves back out."

Read the entire article. And then have a stiff drink before you get on your next commercial flight.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 8, 2011

How a virus works

H/T Guy Kawasaki.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 7, 2011

On unintended consequences

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 6, 2011

Stopping polio for good

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 5, 2011

"A cunning tax on everyone else"

government_bailout1-260x223If you don't read anything else this Labor Day weekend, check out this Nassim Taleb/Mark Spitznagel op-ed on the impact of dubious government bailout of Wall Street and big banks over the past several years:

For the American economy - and for many other developed economies - the elephant in the room is the amount of money paid to bankers over the last five years. In the United States, the sum stands at an astounding $2.2 trillion. Extrapolating over the coming decade, the numbers would approach $5 trillion, .  .  . That $5 trillion dollars is not money invested in building roads, schools and other long-term projects, but is directly transferred from the American economy to the personal accounts of bank executives and employees.

Such transfers represent as cunning a tax on everyone else as one can imagine. It feels quite iniquitous that bankers, having helped cause today's financial and economic troubles, are the only class that is not suffering from them - and in many cases are actually benefiting.

As I've been saying for years, it's not rocket science.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 4, 2011

Me & Bobby McGee, Aussie-style

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 3, 2011

Are you ready for some college football?!

Posted by Tom at 7:59 AM |

Hayes Carll "Stomp and Holler"

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 2, 2011

Passacaglia

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

September 1, 2011

Ben Hogan 1953

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 31, 2011

Kevin Sumlin's big season on Cullen Avenue

sumlinThe Houston area's entertaining football season kicked off with high school and NFL pre-season football over the past couple of weeks. But the season really takes flight this weekend as the University of Houston hosts UCLA at Robertson Stadium. And for a variety of reasons, that game will be among the most interesting of the first weekend of the 2011 college football season.

The return of exceptional UH QB Case Keenum for his sixth (!) season is one of the obvious storylines. But an even more interesting one is whether UH head coach Kevin Sumlin will be able to steer the Cougars to a key win over a BCS conference opponent in what is his most important season of his 23 year college coaching career.

Last October, as UH's football season hung in the balance after Keenum was knocked out for the year, this blog post noted that how the Cougars finished the season would go a long way toward defining the direction of Sumlin's head coaching career.

Unfortunately, the finish wasn't what Sumlin wanted. After wins over SMU and Memphis had the Coogs entering November 5-3, UH finished the season 0-4, albeit against good teams (UCF, Tulsa, Southern Miss and Texas Tech).

But add to that disappointing finish the fact that Sumlin's Coogs lost to Rice for the second time in Sumlin's three seasons at UH and legitimate questions arise over whether Sumlin has what it takes to build a consistent winner on Cullen Avenue.

There is no question that Sumlin can coach offense. Even after losing Keenum last season, the Cougars ended the year fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision ("FBS") in passing, 11th in total offense and 13th in scoring. Not what it would have been had Keenum been at the controls all season, but not bad considering that a true freshman QB (David Piland) was under center after Keenum and his backup (Chase Turner) went down in the UCLA game.

However, no one knows at this point whether Sumlin can piece together a decent - much less a good - defense. Sumlin fired defensive coordinator John Skladany after his second season and brought in Brian Stewart last season to implement a 3-4 scheme. The result? Stewart's defense was far worse than either of Skladany's two defenses as DC, finishing 110th among the 120 FBS teams.

So, incongruously, the offensive-minded Sumlin's coaching career is largely dependent upon whether he can turnaround his team's defensive performance.  Indeed, if Keenum stays healthy all season, the defensive improvement doesn't need to be all that much - Houston's explosive offense will cover up many warts on the defensive side.

But until the Cougars' defense can show that it can stop even a hard-chargin' marching band - something that Houston's defenses haven't been able to do consistently since Jack Pardee's coaching stint over 20 years ago - Sumlin's promising coaching career (as well as Houston's BCS conference aspirations) will remain firmly planted in the second tier of big-time college football.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 30, 2011

Why the Astros deal will get done

Jim-Crane-small1Major League Baseball has been slow-trading approval of Drayton McLane's proposed sale of the Astros to a group headed by Houston businessman, Jim Crane.

As a result of MLB's lethargy, a cottage industry of skeptics - such as the Chronicle's Richard Justice and Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown - have speculated that Crane's somewhat hard-knuckled past in business dealings may provoke MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to persuade MLB owners not to approve the deal.

That's possible, but not probable.

I have no inside knowledge regarding the Astros deal. However, I've been involved in sorting out complex business deals for over 30 years, so I've got the perspective gained from that experience to pass along. And that experience tells me that this is a deal that will get done.

First, the suggestion that Crane's past business dealings are giving other MLB owners pause is laughable.

I mean, really. MLB owners are a group that has endured such owners as George Steinbrenner copping a plea to criminal charges while he owned the flagship franchise in the business. And that's not to pick on Steinbrenner -- MLB owners are not exactly a pristine fraternity (remember the Yawkeys and Marge Schott?). Thus, a highly suspect EEOC complaint and problems with the DOJ over a fraction of the business that Crane's companies supplied to the federal government's war logistics over the past decade will not cause MLB owners to blink over Crane.

Similarly, Crane's failure to close on the deal that he supposedly had to buy the Astros back in 2008 nor his attempt to buy the Cubs and Rangers over the past couple of years pose any real problem. MLB owners understand that the financial crisis in credit markets in 2008 doomed Crane's earlier bid for the Astros. Likewise, even though Crane was not MLB's favored bidder for either the Cubs or the Rangers, his participation in the bidding process ultimately increased the prices paid for those franchises. Believe me, MLB owners appreciate that.

Finally, even the somewhat highly-leveraged nature (at least for MLB) of the Crane group's bid for the Astros (supposedly $220 million of the $680 million purchase price will be debt financed) is not a dealbreaker. Although that level of debt would put the Astros out of compliance with MLB's self-imposed debt-to-equity rule (supposedly around 10%), at least nine out of the other 29 MLB clubs are currently operating out of compliance with that rule. The Crane group's proposal is not close to being among the most highly-leveraged of those deals.

So, if none of the foregoing are real roadblocks, then what's holding up approval of the Crane group's bid?

It's anyone's guess, but my sense is that simple gamesmanship is far more likely the reason rather than any problem with Crane. Given his prior efforts to buy the Astros, Cubs and Rangers, MLB owners know that Crane really wants to own controlling interest in an MLB team. They also know that he understands that he will have no chance of doing so if he pulls out of a deal again.

In short, MLB owners know they can make Crane wait awhile without much risk of him backing out. Uncertainty at the top of an MLB team is rarely good (as reflected by the 44-90 Astros record so far this season). Crane's soon-to-be-competitors don't mind grinding the Astros down a bit more before approving the deal.

And why then do I think the deal will ultimately be approved? Well, that's easy.

MLB's business model is not exactly rosy right now. One club is currently in bankruptcy (the Dodgers), two other clubs just recently exited bankruptcy (Cubs and Rangers), and another club's ownership is dealing with fallout from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme (the Wilpons and the Mets). MLB attendance is flat this season and its media revenues are dwarfed by the NFL's, which continues to distance itself from MLB as the premier sports entertainment business in the U.S.

On the other hand, Crane's group will pay $680 million for the Astros, the lease on Minute Maid Park, and a stake in the newly created Comcast SportsNet Houston, a regional sports network partnership with the Houston Rockets that will launch in 2012. That sales price for an MLB team and related assets ranks behind only the $845 million that the Cubs sale generated in 2009 and compares quite favorably to the $593 million price that Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan's group paid for the Rangers last year.

The bottom line is that MLB owners are not employing Commissioner Bud Selig to scuttle a near-record purchase price for a franchise in a down and uncertain market.

And that's the reason that the Astros deal will get done.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 29, 2011

Milton Friedman on the futility of changing legislators

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 28, 2011

Open Your Mind

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 27, 2011

Sam Sparks' Kindergarten Party

If you have a hankering to attend a Kindergarten Party, then just file a frivolous motion to quash discovery in Austin-based U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks' court. Maybe he will issue an order similar to the one below.

Sam Sparks Order

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 26, 2011

On being just crazy enough










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

August 25, 2011

Three Myths about Capitalism

H/T Greg Mankiw.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 24, 2011

NFL Flowchart

H/T Interpretation by Design. The box leading in to the Texans is spot on.

football-flowchart-500px

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 23, 2011

The flawed theory of bailout

bailout3-300x290A couple of items from over the weekend are well worth reading for those who are interested in financial health of the U.S.

First, the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, Jr. notes that Bank of America's declining value reflects that the federal government's bailout of Wall Street during the financial crisis of 2008 has been of dubious merit:

Let's revisit the theory of the bailout. The government holds a safety net under the financial system, preventing a worse panic, with consumers and business cutting back spending more radically, with more people losing jobs, with more houses going into foreclosure.

It made sense on paper and underlies claims today that the government has been a net profiter from its bailout activities.

But it becomes apparent that the 2008 crisis isn't over. And our bailout strategy?

In one presumed lesson of the Great Depression, a splurge of deficit-financed spending is supposed to support the economy while consumers and businesses get over their shellshock. But as George Soros noted to Der Spiegel, the U.S. government in the 1930s wasn't saddled with huge debt. Unless today's deficit spending is visibly directed at projects with a positive return, he says, it just frightens the public that the government itself is going bankrupt.

Meanwhile, this Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz/Bloomberg article reports that the Federal Reserve loaned an astonishing $1.2 trillion to Wall Street during the 2008 crisis. Interestingly, that amount is roughly equal to the amount that U.S. homeowners currently own on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages.

The foregoing does not surprise regular readers of this blog. Efficient operation of markets depend in large part on the allocation of losses based on who took the risk of loss. Remove the consequences of that risk and the result is that the politically well-connected profit, not necessarily those who carefully assessed and hedged risk.

Remember, it's not rocket science.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 22, 2011

So, why shouldn't the rich pay more taxes?

warren_buffet_0Warren Buffett's NY Times op-ed of last week generated a substantial dose of self-righteous indignation.

I mean, really. If someone as wealthy as Warren Buffett thinks that the mega-rich people should pay more taxes, then why shouldn't they?

Although the issue seems so simple, as with many things in life, it's not.

Apart from the fact that Buffett is not averse to taking positions that protect himself at the expense of others, the taxes that the mega-rich pay are already highly disproportionate

And as Jeff Miron notes, assessing even an additional 10% surcharge on taxpayers earning over $1 million would not generate enough to make a meaningful difference in reducing the budget deficit. Miron zeroes in on Buffett's error in reasoning in the following passage:

Buffett errs, most fundamentally, by focusing on outcomes rather than policies. The right question is which policies promote differences in incomes that reflect hard work, energy, innovation and creativity, rather than reward the unethical, the politically connected and the tax-savvy.

In economics, as in sports, we should adopt good rules and insist that everyone play by them. Then we should stand back and applaud the winners.

Indeed, check out what David Logan discovered when he crunched the numbers:

So taking half of the yearly income from every person making between one and ten million dollars would only decrease the nation's debt by 1%. Even taking every last penny from every individual making more than $10 million per year would only reduce the nation's deficit by 12 percent and the debt by 2 percent. There's simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country's problems by waving some magic tax wand.

Finally, to put everything in perspective, think about what would need to be done to erase the federal deficit this year: After everyone making more than $200,000/year has paid taxes, the IRS would need to take every single penny of disposable income they have left. Such an act would raise approximately $1.53 trillion. It may be economically ruinous, but at least this proposal would actually solve the problem.

And as Charles Koch and Harvey Golub note, it's not as if government has distinguished itself in the way in which it has used tax revenues.

Meanwhile, Peter Gordon insightfully points out why indulging in class warfare against the wealthy is dangerous.

Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands (Basic, 2010) reminds us of the horrors of what occurs when the dynamics of racial and class warfare collide.

Are those who fan such flames confident that similar outrages could not happen here and now?

Or do they even care? 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 21, 2011

Maria Callas "O Mio Babbino Caro"

Posted by Tom at 12:01 PM |

August 20, 2011

Mark Seymour "Westgate"

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 19, 2011

So, what's the plan?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 18, 2011

The continuing quest to criminalize business judgment

handcuffs-fraud-300x200Yes, our Congress is back at it:

Since the Supreme Court limited the definition of “honest services” fraud in last year's landmark Skilling v. U.S., the Obama Administration has been looking for a way to restore essentially unlimited prosecutorial discretion to bring white-collar cases.

Last fall Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer told a Senate committee that Congress should act to “remedy” the Court's decision. Three bills moving through the House and Senate would try to do so, expanding the reach of prosecutors to go after unpopular politicians or businesses whom they can't pin with a real crime.

In Skilling, the Supreme Court ruled that the honest services statute was “unconstitutionally vague” and restricted its application to clear cases of bribery or kickbacks. The new legal template of Senate bills sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, the liberal Democrat, and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk would end run that change, transforming many state or local ethics violations into federal felonies any time there is an allegation of undisclosed “self-dealing.” .  .  .

Where to begin?

For starters, as Bill Anderson points out, why on earth do our political leaders think we need even more people in prison?

Moreover, as Larry Ribstein has been saying for years, granting the government this type of unfettered power to criminalize merely questionable business transactions has proven to lead to even worse prosecutorial abuse that is rarely sanctioned.

How is justice served by turning such prosecutions into a lottery? Is public confidence in the federal criminal justice system really promoted by unfavorable comparisons to Russia’s?

And let’s not forget the incalculable human toll of such prosecutions.

The truth is that this type of amorphous criminalization of business judgment is fundamentally bad regulatory policy. Such prosecutions obscure the true nature of business risk and fuel the myth that investment loss results primarily from criminal misconduct. Besides, allowing wide discretion to prosecute business judgment deters businesspeople from taking the business risks that lead to valuable innovation, wealth creation and - most importantly these days - desperately needed jobs for communities.

So, in the face of such compelling reasons to forego such criminalization, why do our political leaders and prosecutors insist on more?

Ayn Rand’s observation about socialists who use state power to further their supposedly altruistic goals seems particularly apt:

“[T]he truth about their souls is worse than the obscene excuse you have allowed them, the excuse that the end justifies the means and that the horrors they practice are means to nobler ends.”

“The truth is that those horrors are their ends.”

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 17, 2011

Thunder Soul Houston

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

August 16, 2011

The origins of pleasure

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

August 15, 2011

The latest from the Standup Economist

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 14, 2011

Throw your arms around me

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 13, 2011

John Cleese on football

John Cleese gets us ready for the first weekend of one of the most mind-numbing sport seasons of the year, NFL Pre-season football.


Stupid videos

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 12, 2011

So, what's the verdict?

Il Volo - Extraordinary talent? Or more the product of slick marketing?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 11, 2011

Houston's next urban boondoggle?

MetroRailAs in most major metropolitan areas, Houston has its share of urban boondoggles.

Let's see now.

First and foremost, Houston has the financial black hole known as Metro Light Rail, which will continue to require enormous subsidies for decades to come.

But Houston also has the $100 million Bayport Cruise Ship Terminal, which has never docked a cruise ship since its completion in 2008.

Of course, who could overlook the continuing dither over what to do with Houston's expensive and obsolescent Astrodome?

Or the Harris County Sports Authority's problems servicing the junk debt it issued in connection with financing the construction of Houston's Reliant Stadium for the NFL Texans?

And don't forget the City of Houston's decision to build a downtown convention center hotel that is almost certainly a huge money-loser, as well as the City's ill-advised financing of several smaller downtown hotel projects and Metro's dubious real estate development deals.

Which brings us to the most recent boondoggle -- the local governments' decision to throw about $50 million or so into the construction of a minor-league soccer stadium.

With that track record, I guess I shouldn't be surprised with anything that local politicians might cook up as the next urban boondoggle.

But really. Financing of grocery stores?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 10, 2011

The power of stories

Chris Seay is the pastor of Ecclesia, the innovative inner-city Houston church that has been the subject of previous posts here and here.

In the engaging TedXHouston video below, Chris insightfully talks about the power of stories in defining and directing our lives. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 9, 2011

It's mostly about trust

standard-poorsIn early 2005, back when Eliot Spitzer was taking his first pot-shots at American International Group, Inc., I wrote this blog post explaining how even mighty AIG could suffer a fate similar to that of Enron Corporation.

Inasmuch as AIG had a net worth of about $80 billion at the time coming off a previous year of $11 billion in net income on almost $100 billion in revenues, no one (including me) thought there was much of a chance that what I was suggesting could happen to AIG would actually happen to the firm.

Less than four years later, AIG would have suffered the same fate as Enron but for a massive federal government bailout.

The lesson here is that if creditors trust the federal government, then the government's credit standing will remain high regardless of what the New York analysts say. In reality, the market rates the government's credit continuously each moment of every day. Just look at fluctuations in interest rates on government debt.

So remember, regardless of what the Washington pols suggest, this is not rocket science.

Quite simply, it's mostly about trust.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 8, 2011

Divenire

A wonderful eight minutes to begin the week.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

August 7, 2011

The one-dimensional man

The late Duke University philosophy professor Rick Roderick talks about, among other things, the underpinnings of the drug culture of the United States.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 6, 2011

Be Here to Love Me

One of the first performers who I saw when I moved to Houston in 1972 was the late Townes Van Zandt at the Old Quarter on Market Square.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 5, 2011

Tiger's back

Tiger_WoodsAfter rehabilitating knee and Achilles tendon injuries, Tiger Woods is playing his first tournament in four months this weekend at the World Golf Association-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Woods shot 2-under for his first round, which is impressive considering his lack of practice time during rehab and the length of his layoff from competition.

Meanwhile, Geoff Shackelford notes a couple of recent articles on how a couple of Woods' big-shot friends are drifting apart from him after his troubles over the past couple of years.

However, the irony of those stories is that Woods' biggest problem may well be that he doesn't have any real friends at all.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 4, 2011

The transforming nature of language

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 3, 2011

These guys are really . . . maybe better than the PGA Tour?

This is really remarkably creative advertising.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 2, 2011

The Second Circuit corrects an injustice

GenReOver the years, I've written quite a bit (for example, here, here, here and here) on the questionable nature of the prosecutions and convictions of the Gen Re and AIG executives who were involved in the finite risk transaction that prompted Eliot Spitzer to demonize Hank Greenberg. As if Spitzer needed any prompting to grab some cheap headlines.

By now, the story regarding this transaction is well-known among those in the legal and business communities who have followed it. AIG booked the finite risk transaction as insurance, which increased its premium revenue by $500 million and added another $500 million to its property-casualty claims reserves. Generally accepted accounting principles at the time required insurance and reinsurance transactions to transfer significant risk from one party to another if either party accounted for the transaction as insurance. Absent risk transfer, such transactions had to be booked as financing, which defeats the purpose of the transaction. In the General Re-AIG deal, $600 million of potential losses were transferred from General Re to AIG in return for the $500 million premium paid by General Re.

The deal did not affect AIG's net income and was the type of transaction that AIG -- and many other companies in the insurance industry - had done for years without any adverse market reaction, much less a criminal investigation. Moreover, the transaction in question was disclosed to and approved by AIG and General Re's independent auditors.

That made no difference to avaricious prosecutors, who proceeded to pursue a dubious prosecution because any executive even vaguely associated with AIG after the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 were easy marks. They were right - the four Gen Re executives and the AIG executive were all convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, securities fraud, and making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission

Thankfully, some appellate court panels (unlike some others) are still willing to correct such injustices. In the decision below, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of the Gen Re and AIG executives and remanded the case for a new trial. The essence of the decision is that the prosecution used spurious stock price data to inflame the jury against the defendants and persuaded the trial court to use an incorrect jury instruction on a key intent issue in the case.

However, as this appropriately scalding Wall Street Journal editorial points out, this case is really about abuse of prosecutorial discretion: "The collapse of this case renders even more appalling the way that prosecutors used it to force both companies to fire their CEOs--Joseph Brandon at Gen Re and Hank Greenberg at AIG. In the latter case, the resulting loss of shareholder wealth--and creation of taxpayer risk--has been staggering" and in this "latest embarrassing episode, the abuses include prejudicial evidence, botched jury instructions and 'compelling inconsistencies' suggesting that the government's star witness 'may well have testified falsely.'"

And although the Second Circuit came to the right result relying on a version of the facts most favorable to the prosecution, it's important to note that most of the decision overrules the defendants' other grounds for reversal where the prosecutors at trial may well have suborned perjury from the key prosecution witness.

It's never easy being an appellant, even after a trial that is chock full of prosecutorial misconduct.

That's why there shouldn't be criminal trials in this type of case in the first place. Let the civil justice system sort out responsibility for any provable damages caused by wrongdoing among all of the parties involved.

That's a far more just -- not to mention humane -- approach than throwing a few sacrificial lambs in prison over conduct of dubious criminality.

Update: Larry Ribstein, who has also been following this case from the beginning, notes an ironic -- and extraordinarily damaging -- aspect of this sordid prosecution.

US v. Ferguson, Et Al 2nd Cir Decision

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

August 1, 2011

The cult of overcriminalization

scales-of-justice-150x150Last week, this Gary Fields/John Emshwiller article addressed an issue that this blog has hammered on for years - the absurd overcriminalization of life in the United States:

The U.S. Constitution mentions three federal crimes by citizens: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. By the turn of the 20th century, the number of criminal statutes numbered in the dozens. Today, there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, according to a 2008 study by retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker.

There are also thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties. Some laws are so complex, scholars debate whether they represent one offense, or scores of offenses.

Counting them is impossible. The Justice Department spent two years trying in the 1980s, but produced only an estimate: 3,000 federal criminal offenses.

The American Bar Association tried in the late 1990s, but concluded only that the number was likely much higher than 3,000. The ABA's report said "the amount of individual citizen behavior now potentially subject to federal criminal control has increased in astonishing proportions in the last few decades."

A Justice spokeswoman said there was no quantifiable number. Criminal statutes are sprinkled throughout some 27,000 pages of the federal code. [.  .  .]

Great point, but it would have been more meaningful had the WSJ admitted its complicity in promoting the overcriminalization culture in the first place.

Oh well. This Heritage Foundry post does a good job of placing the overcriminalization issue in perspective.

My question is this: Is it reasonable to think that it is possible for Congress to curtail overcriminalization when Congress to date has been incapable of striking down something as clearly unreasonable as the abuses of security theater?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 31, 2011

Menu Psychology

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 30, 2011

Listen Up!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 29, 2011

Thinking about Psychiatry

psychiatryMarcia Angell, an internist and pathologist who is a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, has recently written two lengthy book reviews for The New York Review of Books  -- The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? and The Illusions of Psychiatry - that has re-ignited a debate among medical professionals regarding the effectiveness of modern psychiatry.

Dr. Angell reviews three books that challenge the effectiveness of psychiatric medications and the hypothesis that disordered neurotransmitters cause psychiatric ailments. Irving Kirsch's The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth analyzes research on antidepressant medications and concludes that the vast majority of their impact stems from the placebo effect.

Roger Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America is even more disturbing in that Whitaker contends that the huge increase in diagnosis of serious psychiatric illness is actually caused by the detrimental effects of the medications. According to Whitaker, the problem isn't that medications don't help, it's that they make the problem worse. Yowza!

Finally, in Dr. Angell's second article, she takes on the entire profession of psychiatry in discussing Daniel Carlet's Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry -- A Doctor's Revelations About a Profession in Crisis and the American Psychiatric Association's controversial "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" a/k/a "DSM."

As Harriet Hall points out, Dr. Angell's criticisms - particularly in regard to DSM - borders on psychiatry-bashing, which is of dubious merit. Sure, psychiatry is less science-based than other medical fields, but it has undeniably saved lives and improved the quality of life of many tortured souls. Are we simply to dispense with that progress?

Nevertheless, Dr. Angell reviews - as well as the books that are their subjects - provide a more nuanced view of human interaction that takes into consideration both the importance of both the "brain" and the "mind" without forcing a choice based on competing pseudo-truths.

These are discussions that need to be nurtured, both for the benefit of developing better protocols for patients afflicted with such disorders and for a society that still struggles on how best to deal with the social impact of such disorders.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 28, 2011

Sports Century

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 27, 2011

Rory Stewart on the Afghan War

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 26, 2011

A brush with governmental bankruptcy

Obama-Discusses-the-Talks-to-Avoid-a-Government-Default.jpg

As Washington dithers over whether the federal government should default on its debt obligations, it is helpful to remember that New York City faced the same problem a generation ago.

This Financial Times video provides an excellent overview of the background and implications of that financial crisis.

Remember the government's fear mongers from 2008?

This is not rocket science.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 25, 2011

Reflecting on the Space Shuttle

The space shuttle Atlantis' landing this past Thursday was the end of an era of U.S. space exploration.

Lawrence Krauss contends that the space shuttle was a dud and that we can do better in space exploration. Former shuttle program manager Wayne Hale disagrees and believes that the shuttle program was worthwhile.

Meanwhile, Neil deGrasse Tyson asserts in the video below that the space shuttle program was never really about the promotion of science in the first place.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 24, 2011

The state of the tablets

The iPad's apps still give it the edge in the tablet wars. But Android products such as the Asus Transformer are closing the gap quickly.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 23, 2011

Revolutionary Ideas, Microsoft-style

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 22, 2011

Deskbound Physical Therapy

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 21, 2011

Classic Walken

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 20, 2011

Why Jeff Skilling’s case remains important

skilling 040711So, why is it that prosecutors won't go after Wall Street executives for supposed criminal conduct in connection with financial crisis that began in 2008 and continues to bedevil the U.S. economy to this day?

That's essentially the question that this recent NPR story asks. It's not hard to find other mainstream media pundits asking the same question.

Or course, NPR - as with most of the mainstream media -- utterly fails to recognize that the government's pursuit of criminal convictions of businesspeople over the past decade has had much more to do with chance and politics than truly criminal conduct.

Could it be that the lack of criminal prosecutions stems from federal prosecutors finally coming to the realization that merely taking business risk in an effort to create wealth and jobs really is not a crime? Indeed, the rationalization for the lack of villains now as compared to earlier crises has never been particularly compelling.

The truth is that criminal prosecutions based on merely questionable business judgment has always been fundamentally bad regulatory policy.

Few people object to criminal prosecutions of true business crimes, such as embezzlement and kickbacks.

But prosecutions based on failed business judgment obscure the true nature of business risk and fuel the myth that investment loss results primarily from criminal misconduct. Policy that deters business risk is counterproductive because such risk is what leads to valuable innovation, wealth creation and - most importantly these days - desperately needed jobs for communities.

Which brings us back to the sad case of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, who continues to serve a brutal 24-year sentence in a Colorado prison.

As I've noted many times over the years on this blog, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not distinguished itself in regard to the appeals emanating from Enron criminal cases, including Skilling's.

First, there was the appellate court's affirmation of a local U.S. District Court's absurd criminal conviction of Arthur Andersen, putting a nail in the coffin of that legendary firm and over 30,000 jobs in the process.

Although too little and too late to save Andersen, that gem of a decision was subsequently overturned by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court.

Then, in 2009, another Fifth Circuit panel affirmed a local U.S. District Court's 2006 conviction of Skilling. Subsequently, in 2010, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court disassembled that pearl of judicial wisdom and, in so doing, struck down the prosecution's "creative" (and unsupported) use of honest services wire fraud to prosecute defendants over merely questionable business transactions.

But not to be outdone, on remand from the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit panel produced yet another clunker, this time affirming Skilling's convictions on the conspiracy and securities fraud counts that the Supreme Court did not address in reversing Skilling's conviction on the honest services counts. This panel decision is so bad that it contradicts two previous decisions in Enron-related criminal cases that other Fifth Circuit panels actually got right -- the Kevin Howard case and the Nigerian Barge case.

In the second Skilling opinion, the Fifth Circuit panel rationalized that it was somehow "harmless error" for the prosecution to present the false honest services theory of criminal conduct regarding Skilling to the jury so long as there was sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict on any valid alternative theory of criminality. The panel ruled that way even though the Skilling jury returned a general verdict that did not distinguish on which theory of criminality they actually relied in convicting Skilling.

Unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit panel - as pointed out eloquently by Skilling's petition for rehearing en banc below - applied precisely the wrong standard in determining whether the remaining counts against Skilling should be reversed.

When the trial court committed the error of allowing the Skilling prosecution to obtain a conviction by pursuing its false honest services theory, the question as to the remaining counts is whether there was any evidence in the record that could rationally lead to acquittal of Skilling on those counts, not simply whether there was evidence that a jury could have relied on in convicting him. As the Skilling petition notes:

A "reviewing court making this harmless error inquiry does not .   .  . become in effect a second jury to determine whether the defendant is guilty." [cite deleted] Because determining guilt or innocence is solely the province of the jury, an error requires reversal if a rational jury could have found for the defendant on the valid theory because of the contested evidentiary record. [cites deleted]

There is no question that Skilling provided substantial evidence at trial contravening all charges against him, including the conspiracy and securities fraud counts. No reasonable review of the Skilling trial record could conclude that a jury might not have found in favor of Skilling on those counts. In fact,  the jury found in Skilling's favor on nine of the original 28 counts in the first place!

In short, the Fifth Circuit panel blew the application of the standard in adjudicating the remand from the Supreme Court of the remaining counts against Skilling. If the Fifth Circuit judges are honest with themselves and the law, then they will withdraw the panel decision and remand Skilling's case to the U.S. District Court for a new trial.

The mess that is the prosecution against Jeff Skilling is a quintessential example of what happens when government is given the leeway to bastardize charges to criminalize merely questionable business transactions and then appeal to juror resentment against a wealthy businessperson to procure a politically popular outcome.

The damage to the defendant, his career and his family that such an abuse of power causes is bad enough. But the carnage to justice and respect for the rule of law is even more ominous.

Do any of us really believe that we could stand upright in the winds of such abusive governmental power if that gale of prosecutorial power was turned toward us?

The remaining charges against Jeff Skilling should be reversed and his case remanded to the District Court for a new trial in a fair and non-contentious environment.

Not only for his protection, but for ours.

Petition for en Banc Review and Hrg2

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 19, 2011

Lessig on the assault against sharing

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 18, 2011

Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 17, 2011

Anderson Fair, Houston

When I moved to Houston 40 years ago, one of the first clubs I visited was Anderson Fair.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 16, 2011

Tim Harford on trial, error and the God complex

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 15, 2011

A lack of prosecutorial discretion

roger-clemens-mlbsluggerscom2As regular readers of this blog know, I don't think that Roger Clemens should have ever stood trial for allegedly perjuring himself in connection with Congress' investigation into use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports.

Nevertheless, the government refused to exercise prosecutorial discretion and insisted upon pursuing the case against Clemens.

But to make matters worse than that dubious decision, the prosecution was either so cocky or negligent with regard to prosecuting its case against Clemens that prosecutors violated an order of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton not to disclose certain information the the jury.

Whether arrogance or negligence, the result was dire for the prosecution - Judge Walton declared a mistrial on the second day of the trial.

So, now the threshold question is whether Clemens can be prosecuted again for the same offense without violating principles of double jeopardy that protect citizens from the government prosecuting an individual multiple times for the same offense.

As Scott Greenfield relates, that issue essentially comes down to the prosecution's mens rea in exposing the jury in Clemens' first trial to the forbidden evidence.

If the prosecution did so intentionally in an attempt to get away with violating the judge's order in an attempt to influence the jury, then the judge ought to dismiss the indictment against Clemens.

On the other hand, if the prosecution falls on its sword and persuades the judge that the prosecutors are such imbeciles that the presentation of the forbidden evidence to the jury was the result of an unintentional mistake, then the judge will probably allow the prosecution to tee up another prosecution of Clemens.

Just out of curiosity - does anyone other than some prosecutors and a few paternalistic judges really believe that the prosecutors in a case under this level of public scrutiny would unintentionally present forbidden evidence to the jury?

It is high time for this case to go away.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 14, 2011

The Daryl Morey Dilemma

Daryl MoreyAs noted in this previous post, the Houston Rockets have been the third best team in Texas for most of the past decade.

In May of 2007, Daryl Morey succeeded Carroll Dawson as the general manager of the Rockets. Over the past five seasons, the Rockets have won about 60% of their games and appeared in the playoffs twice, winning one series (the only playoff series that the team has won over the past 15 seasons).

As this Wages of Wins post and related chart reflects, the Rockets have accomplished the foregoing without having a player ranked in the top 60 of NBA players in terms of productivity over the past five seasons.

And, although all of them are complementary players, the current roster of Rockets players is as deep in terms of raw talent as any Rockets team that I can recall in my 40 years in Houston.

So, on one hand, a case can be made that Morey has done a reasonably good job under the circumstances. Inheriting a team that was based on brittle superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Morey cobbled together a unit that remained competitive despite the loss of both McGrady and Yao. Sure, Morey made some mistakes (remember Joey Dorsey?), but maintaining a winning culture and building a strong roster of complementary and developing players under the circumstances is no small accomplishment.

On the other hand .  .   .

Morey has had five seasons to turn the Rockets ship around and he clearly has not done so. He has not been able to swing a deal in trade or on the free agent market to land the superstar player that would elevate the Rockets' cast of complementary players to a legitimate NBA championship contender. And not having at least one player in the top 60 most productive players in the NBA over the past five seasons does not reflect well on Morey's talent evaluation skills. The bottom line is that he inherited a team that was the third best NBA team in Texas and the team remains the third best team after failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

So, which appraisal of Morey is right? I lean toward the former because I don't believe that Morey can be faulted for having to deal with the consequences of the ill-advised McGrady and Yao commitments. Now finally cleared of those commitments, let's see what Morey can do.

Yet, professional sports is a notoriously bottom-line business and the Rockets continue to be mediocre. Although he may have an eye for developing talent, does Morey lack the skill set to attract the dynamic superstar or stars that are a typical component of an NBA championship-caliber team?

What say you?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 13, 2011

Public Choices

cincinnati-paul-brown-stadium2This Reed Albergotti/Cameron McWhirter/WSJ article provides an absolutely devastating account of the way in which Hamilton County, Ohio political leaders pledged an enormous portion of the county's resources to pay most of the cost of a new stadium for the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals:

At its completion in 2000, Paul Brown Stadium had soared over its $280 million budget--and the fiscal finger-pointing had already begun.

The county says the final cost was $454 million.  .  .  .

But according to research by Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor who studies stadium finance, the cost to the public was closer to $555 million once other expenditures, such as special elevated parking structures, are factored in. No other NFL stadium had ever received that much public financing. [.  .  .]

On top of paying for the stadium, Hamilton County granted the Bengals generous lease terms. It agreed to pick up nearly all operating and capital improvement costs--and to foot the bill for high-tech bells and whistles that have yet to be invented, like a "holographic replay machine." No team had snared such concessions in addition to huge sums of public money, Journal research shows.

To help finance its stadiums, Hamilton County assumed more than $1 billion in debt by issuing its own bonds without any help from the surrounding counties or the state. As debt service ratchets up, officials expect debt payments to create a $30 million budget deficit by 2012.

"The Cincinnati deal combined taking on a gargantuan responsibility with setting new records for optimistic forecasting," says Roger Noll, a professor of economics at Stanford University who has written about the deal. "It takes both to put you in a deep hole, and that's a pretty deep hole."

The stadium's annual tab continues to escalate, according to the county's website. In 2008, the Bengals' stadium cost to taxpayers was $29.9 million, an amount equivalent to 11% of the county's general fund.

Last year, it rose to $34.6 million--a sum equal to 16.4% of the county budget. That's a huge multiple compared to other football stadiums of the era that similarly relied on county bonds for financing. Those facilities have cost-to-budget ratios of less than 2%. [.  .  .]

The Bengals had said that with a new stadium, the team's revenue would increase, allowing it to sign better players, win more games and attract more fans to the area. In 2000, the new stadium's first year, the Bengals had the same record they'd had the previous year, 4-12. Since then, the team has managed just two winning seasons in the new facility. Its attendance levels have actually dropped.

Houstonians might be tempted to shake their collective heads at how badly Bengals management took Hamilton County to the cleaners in the stadium financing negotiations. But then we are forced to confront that Houston has more than its share of similar boondoggles, such as the financial black hole known as Metro Light Rail, the $100 million Bayport Cruise Ship Terminal (which has never docked a cruise ship since its completion in 2008), the continuing dither over what to do with the obsolescent Astrodome, the Harris County Sports Authority's problems servicing the junk debt it issued in connection with financing the construction of Reliant Stadium for the Texans, and - most recently - the City of Houston and Harris County's dubious decision to throw about $50 million or so into the construction of a minor-league soccer stadium.

The expenditure of a billion or two of public money on building a lightly-used light rail system and stadiums for privately-owned businesses has real consequences, such as leaving inadequate funds available to make the improvements to Houston's flood control system, road infrastructure and other improvements that actually improve the safety and welfare of Houstonians.

As I've pointed out before, the relatively small interest groups that benefit from urban boondoggles have a vested interest in preventing citizens from ever examining those threshold issues. The primary economic benefit of such public projects is highly concentrated in a few interest groups, such as representatives of minority communities who tout the political accomplishment of shiny toy rail lines while ignoring their constituents need for more effective mass transit; environmental groups striving for political influence; engineering and construction-related firms that profit from the huge expenditure of public funds; and real-estate developers who profit from the value enhancement provided to their property from the public expenditures.

As Peter Gordon has wryly-noted: "It adds up to a winning coalition."

Unfortunately, once such coalitions are successful in establishing a governmental policy subsidizing such urban boondoggles, it is virtually impossible to end the public subsidy of the boondoggle and re-deploy the resources for more beneficial projects.

How do these interest groups get away with this? The costs of such boondoggles are widely dispersed among the local population of an area such as Houston, so the many who stand to lose will lose only a little while the few who stand to gain will gain a lot. As a result, these small interest groups recognize that it is usually not worth the relatively small cost per taxpayer for most citizens to spend any substantial amount of time or money lobbying or simply taking the time to vote against such boondoggles.

But would citizens react differently if their leaders advised them that their lack of action in the face of an urban boondoggle might prevent the funding of much more beneficial projects?

No one knows for sure. But I'd sure like to see local political leaders engage in some truth-in-advertising before the financing of such boondoggles is placed before the voters.

We all might just be surprised.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 12, 2011

Dying efficiently

elderly careAs noted in earlier posts here, here and here -- as well as in connection with the final years of Dr. Michael DeBakey -- one of the thorniest issues confronting effective reform of the U.S. health care and health care finance systems is the extraordinary allocation of health care resources to end-of-life care under the current systems.

My interest in this issue prompted me to note this insightful NY Times op-ed from over the weekend.

The author of the piece -- Dudley Clendinen - is a former national correspondent and editorial writer for The Times. He is terminally ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS., more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) and is preparing to die in the most peaceful and efficient manner possible:

There is no meaningful treatment. No cure. There is one medication, Rilutek, which might make a few months' difference. It retails for about $14,000 a year. That doesn't seem worthwhile to me. If I let this run the whole course, with all the human, medical, technological and loving support I will start to need just months from now, it will leave me, in 5 or 8 or 12 or more years, a conscious but motionless, mute, withered, incontinent mummy of my former self. Maintained by feeding and waste tubes, breathing and suctioning machines.

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don't think I'll stick around for the back half of Lou.

I think it's important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don't talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren't one of life's greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative -- not governing -- in order to be free.

And that's the point. This is not about one particular disease or even about Death. It's about Life, when you know there's not much left. That is the weird blessing of Lou. There is no escape, and nothing much to do. It's liberating. [.   .    .]

I'd rather die. I respect the wishes of people who want to live as long as they can. But I would like the same respect for those of us who decide -- rationally -- not to.   .   .   .

After World War II, the U.S. health care system was a leader in the medical world in embracing the optimistic view of therapeutic intervention in medicine, which was a fundamental change from the sense of therapeutic powerlessness that was widely taught to doctors by pre-WWII professors.

Isn't it ironic that this remarkable health care system has not yet figured out a way to allow elderly patients to die in a peaceful, dignified and non-wasteful manner?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 11, 2011

Amazing soccer

With the U.S. Women's Soccer team's inspirational World Cup victory yesterday over Brazil, what better way to start the week than to watch a remarkable soccer commercial? Yet another in our continuing series of creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 10, 2011

Key Tip of the Day

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 9, 2011

Monty

Richard Gillot performs an absolutely spot-on imitation of Colin Montgomery.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 8, 2011

The remarkable story of Simon Lewis

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 7, 2011

A better tablet?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 6, 2011

We do love our myths, don't we?

morality.jpg

The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens makes a good point about the way in which the mainstream media pounced on a morality play in the initial reporting on the rape case against former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

.   .  .  the media (broadly speaking) has too often been guilty of looking only for the evidence that fits a pre-existing story line. It doesn't help that in journalism you can usually find the story you're looking for, whether it's record-breaking heat in some corner of the world, or malicious Israeli settlers making life miserable for their Palestinian neighbors, or evidence of financial chicanery in Manhattan, or of economic prowess in Shanghai.

But anecdotes are not data--which happens to be the world's most easily neglected truism. Also true is that sloppy moral categories like the powerful and the powerless, or the selfish and the altruistic, are often misleading and susceptible to manipulation. And the journalists who most deserve to earn their keep are those who understand that the line of any story is likely to be crooked.

Of course, insightful bloggers such as Larry Ribstein have been pointing out this dynamic in regard to the mainstream media's coverage of business-related matters for years.

And Stephens' own employer still has not owned up to the fact that it embraced in the case of Jeff Skilling precisely the same type of morality plays that Stephens decries in the DSK affair. The fact that Skilling remains imprisoned under an effective life sentence makes the WSJ's touting of myths in his case even more egregious.

Life is complicated. Government is powerful. When the MSM embraces the latter's suggestion that the former is simple, beware.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 5, 2011

Team Coco Car Pool

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 4, 2011

Iowa River, Iowa City

IMG_1173.JPG

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

July 3, 2011

Old Capitol, Iowa City

IMG_1155.JPG

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

July 2, 2011

Aussies know beer

Another in our continuing series of creative commercials, an oldy but goody from Austrialia.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

July 1, 2011

The Minimalist Grills

grillingJust in time for the 4th of July weekend, Mark Bittman of the NY Times provides a lucid and comprehensive overview on how to grill a variety of popular foods.

Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 30, 2011

The anatomy of a computer virus

Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 29, 2011

Math isn’t just computation

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 28, 2011

Why security theater survives

Security TheaterThe latest security theater outrage from the Transportation Security Administration almost defies belief - forcing a dying, elderly woman in a wheelchair to remove her soiled diaper before she could board a flight to go die peacefully near her relatives.

And what is even more outrageous is the TSA's official response to public outcry over the incident:

"We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure."

In other words, the TSA followed its self-prescribed "process," so what it did must have been right regardless of the consequences to a dying 95 year-old.

Such reasoning is preposterous, of course. But, as Cato's Jim Harper explains, the TSA and other governmental agencies routinely get away with such nonsense because of the bureaucratic prime directive - i.e., maximize discretionary budget:

The TSA pursues the bureaucratic prime directive--maximize budget--by assuming, fostering, and acting on the maximum possible threat. So a decade after 9/11, TSA and Department of Homeland Security officials give strangely time-warped commentary whenever they speechify or testify, recalling the horrors of 2001 as if it's 2003.

The prime directive also helps explain why TSA has expanded its programs following each of the attempts on aviation since 9/11, even though each of them has failed. For a security agency, security threats are good for business. TSA will never seek balance, but will always promote threat as it offers the only solution: more TSA.

Because of countervailing threats to its budget--sufficient outrage on the part of the public--TSA will withdraw from certain policies from time to time. But there is no capacity among the public to sustain "outrage" until the agency is actually managing risk in a balanced and cost-effective way. . . .

TSA should change its policy, yes, but its fundamental policies will not change. Episodes like this will continue indefinitely against a background of invasive, overwrought airline security that suppresses both the freedom to travel and the economic well-being of the country.

As with overcriminalization and drug prohibition policies, the TSA's policies are an ominous reflection of a federal government with bipartisan support that is increasingly remote and unresponsive to U.S. citizens.

Have the incumbent leaders of both political parties become too insulated to address these policies effectively and modify them?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 27, 2011

River Oaks Country Club

RiverOaksCountryClub_sIt's been awhile since I've passed along another in my series of posts on the best of Houston's many fine golf courses (see the side panel to the right for the other courses reviewed to date), so what better way to start the week than to take a look at one of Houston's most venerable tracts, River Oaks Country Club.

A couple of months ago, my old friend Ty Sponsel, Jr. invited me for a golf outing at River Oaks, which is Houston's premier golf course among the relatively few Houston tracts that were designed prior to World War II. Even with the Houston area currently experiencing its worst drought in a century, River Oaks was in fine shape for our outing.

Designed by legendary Donald Ross, and updated in the 1950's by Joe Finger and in the 1990's by Rees Jones, River Oaks is a Houston treasure. Built along the bluffs overlooking Buffalo Bayou just a few miles from downtown, River Oaks is a freak of nature - a course with substantial elevation changes despite being situated squarely within the flat coastal plain of southeast Texas.

Jack Burke, Sr., Claude Harmon and Claude's son, Dick Harmon, were all former head professionals at River Oaks. Moreover, Jimmy Demaret used to wade across Buffalo Bayou to play the course before convincing Burke to hire him as an assistant pro at the club. Consequently, River Oaks is without question one of the clubs that established the strong Texas thread in the fabric of golf in the United States.

My favorite holes at River Oaks tend to be the ones with elevation changes, such as the 2nd -- a downhill par 4; the 3rd - a downhill par 3 on the banks of the bayou; the 5th - a wonderful downhill and then uphill par 4; the 13th - a careening par 4 along the bluffs of the bayou; and the 17th - a sharp dogleg to an elevated green with water left making the tee shot one of the most perilous on the course.

At just over 7,000 yards from the championship tees, and a pleasant 6,800 from the men's tees, River Oaks is a refreshing throwback to the golf course designs that place a premium on precision and shot-making. It is a reminder that the timeless golf courses are those that take advantage of the native terrain to test the golfer. It is an outstanding test that needs to be on the "must play" list of any Houston golfer.

Below is a slideshow of the course accompanied by the Mavericks' rendition of "Dream River," and below that is a Google Picasa slideshow that includes a caption describing each place on the course.

Enjoy!


Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 26, 2011

Bubble Monuments

boondoggle-logo2Well, Houston has its share of boondoggles, such as the Metro Light Rail, the $100 million Bayport Cruise Ship Terminal (which has never docked a cruise ship since its completion in 2008) and the continuing dither over what to do with the obsolescent Astrodome.

But I have to admit, in terms of sheer number and scope, Houston's boondoggles don't come close to matching those of Las Vegas (H/T Calculated Risk). Check out the photos.

I wonder if a bus tour of these mothballed projects has been put together yet?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 25, 2011

Distant Time and the Hint of a Multiverse

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 24, 2011

Obama’s criminalization of business?

Business crime cropped2David Henderson thinks the Republicans can make political headway against President Obama by campaigning against his administration's criminalization of business.

That strategy might be viable if the Republicans hadn't just gotten through criminalizing business for the better part of a decade.

The federal government's criminalization of business policy obscures the true nature of business risk and fuels the myth that investment loss results predominantly from criminal misconduct. In turn, that myth is one of the underlying causes of the the criminalization of business lottery, which undermines the rule of law.

Thus, Henderson is right that the criminalization of business policy is terribly counterproductive. He is simply wrong about it's political basis.

The criminalization of business policy is perfectly bi-partisan. 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 23, 2011

Project Ecclesia

EcclesiaEcclesia is a creative and community-centered inner-city church on Taft Street just outside of downtown Houston. As noted in this earlier post, Ecclesia's heart is in the right place.

Ecclesia has outgrown its current location, so the church has acquired the old Houston Fire Department warehouse just outside downtown, where the church will move once renovations are substantially completed. Ecclesia's members are handling a good part of the renovations and raising money to cover the repairs that need to be performed by specialists.

As the video below delightfully notes, Ecclesia is currently in the phase of refinishing the warehouse's floors. Making a contribution to help Ecclesia renovate its new home would be a wonderful way to give something valuable back to downtown Houston.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 22, 2011

The tutor of McIlroy’s U.S. Open touch

rory_43703t22 year-old Rory McIlroy's dominating performance in winning the U.S. Open at Congressional last weekend was plenty impressive.

However, even more remarkable is the depth that McIlroy exhibited earlier this year when he lost the Master's by shooting an 80 during the tournament's final round.

After accepting that demoralizing defeat as a true sportsman and gentleman, McIlroy immediately sought out Dave Stockton, who is one of golf's most knowledgeable instructors of putting technique.

Although a few of McIlroy's wayward drives received most of the media attention, it was actually his indecisive putting stroke on the front nine of Augusta National's perilous greens that triggered his demise during that fateful final round.

A  couple of months of working on Stockton's tips paid huge dividends for McIlroy during the U.S. Open. Although his ball-striking was superlative (he hit 62 out of 72 greens in regulation), McIlroy's putting was arguably even better - he three-putted only once in 72 holes, and that three-putt came on the 71st hole after he already had the championship in the bag. Even on the unusually moist Congressional greens (at least by U.S. Open standards), that is an amazing accomplishment.

In the video below and also in this Golf Digest video, Stockton explains his basic approach and technique. And as the precocious McIlroy recognized after the disappointment of The Master's, in golf "you drive for dough, but you putt for dough."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 21, 2011

The Rule of Law

A Man for All Seasons Paul Scofield.jpg

In an insightful scene from the Academy Award-winning movie A Man for All Seasons, one of Sir Thomas More's apprentices -- Richard Rich -- confronts Thomas while he is chatting with his wife, daughter, and his daughter's fiancee, Will Roper, who is an aspiring lawyer.

Rich proceeds to beg Sir Thomas for a political appointment, which Thomas refuses because he knows that Rich is prone toward corruption and would never be able to resist the bribes that he would be offered in such an appointment. Sir Thomas thought Rich should pursue a career as a teacher to avoid such temptations.

An embittered Rich proceeds to leave Sir Thomas and his family to take a political job with Thomas Cromwell, who has been ordered by King Henry to pressure Thomas to take the King's oath forsaking Catholicism and the Pope. It is obvious to everyone in the room that the resentful Rich will ultimately betray Sir Thomas, which indeed he does later in the story.

Rich's departure leads to the following exchange in which Sir Thomas lucidly explains to his family members the importance of maintaining the rule of law and not trumping up charges even in regard to an unsavory man who will betray him:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 20, 2011

Starting a little early, don’t you think?

PhotographerThe NFL's lockout of players isn't even resolved yet and the Chronicle's head Texans cheerleader -- Richard Justice -- is already trotting out a pre-season puff piece on the Texans' latest savior, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. As noted many times before, Justice has a propensity for such blather.

Phillips is the equivalent of NFL coaching royalty, the son of revered former Oilers coach, Bum Phillips. However, as noted here years ago, Wade is not a chip off the old block, at least in terms of being a successful NFL head coach.

But to sycophants such as Justice, Phillips' failures as a head coach don't make any difference because he remains a successful defensive coordinator.

The problem with that theory is that it's not balanced. As this Mac Engel post notes, the bottom-line performance of teams that included Phillips-coached defenses has not been all that impressive, either.

Moreover, as noted by Alan Burge - who runs rings around the likes of Justice in providing objective analysis of the Texans - it's not as if the Texans have an easy early schedule for Phillips to ease the Texans' defensive personnel into his new 3-4 scheme.

And, by the way, remember what happened the last time the Texans converted from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4?

Phillips is the first experienced defensive coordinator that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has hired, so perhaps that background will help in developing the Texans' young defensive talent into an effective unit.

But Justice ignores the substantial evidence that the Texans have again elevated form over substance in relying on Phillips to turn around one of the worst expansion franchises in NFL history.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 19, 2011

A special father

Walter KirkendallI am blessed on this special day for fathers – and every other day – by my remembrances of a special father.

Posted by Tom at 12:22 PM |

Resolved: America Should Legalize Drugs

Cato_InstituteJeffrey Miron and Robert DuPont, M.D. debate at the Cato Institute whether the governmental policy of drug prohibition should be continued or ended.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 18, 2011

Moneyball

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 17, 2011

Energy Economics 101

Beware-of-DemagoguesSounds as if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal missed Energy Economics 101 in school. But that doesn't stop them from publicizing their utter ignorance (H/T Byron Hood) of basic energy economics:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. introduced legislation today  that would require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to impose strict regulations on oil speculators, who some blame for rising gasoline prices.

Sanders said if the agency failed to meet the two-week deadline outlined in his legislation, he would call for the resignation of commission chair Gary Gensler.

The legislation, if passed, would cap the amount of oil that speculators are allowed to buy and sell annually to 20 million barrels, increase the amount of money investors would have to back bets with from 6 to 12 percent and redefine investment banks as speculators rather than hedgers - investors who use the product they are buying for business.

The bill would limit speculators' influence over the energy futures market. [.  .  .]

"There is mounting evidence that the increased price of gasoline has nothing to do with supply and demand and everything to do with Wall Street speculators jacking up oil and gas prices in the energy futures market," Sanders said. [.  .  .]

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the bill, said: "These price increases have been absolutely crushing. We need to attack these increasing prices that are the result of gaming and gambling. The CFTC should have acted five months ago." [. . .]

The instinct of most politicians and much of the mainstream media is to embrace simple "villain and victim" morality plays when attempting to explain price increases in markets or investment loss.

The more nuanced story about the financial decisions that underlie the market fluctuations doesn't garner enough votes or sell enough newspapers to generate much interest from the politicians or muckrakers.

That's why we are again enduring demagoguery regarding speculators. Thus, it's important that citizens who are not familiar with the function of speculation in markets take a moment to learn about its beneficial nature.

For example, check out Mark Perry's excellent primer on futures trading here, here and here.

Or read University of Houston finance professor Craig Pirrong's fine overview of how speculation in oil and gas markets actually helps all of us in dealing with rising energy prices.

Or peruse this Matthew Lynn/Bloomberg piece on how bubbles in oil markets are a reason to celebrate.

In Texas, one has to look no farther than Southwest Airlines' success to understand the beneficial nature of speculation. Over most of the past decade, Southwest has taken advantage of futures markets to hedge its fuel costs (previous posts on Southwest's hedging program are here). That hedging program has been one of the major factors in allowing Southwest to become the most (and one of the only) profitable U.S. airlines.

So, what Sanders and Blumenthal are really trying to do is restrict the very markets that provided Southwest and many other businesses with the platform on which they hedged fuel-cost and other business risk. The wealth and lower prices that is generated from those hedges is not inconsequential.

Stay informed fellow citizens. Demagogues such as Sanders and Blumenthal can inflict real damage on all of us.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 16, 2011

Tyler Cowen on the Great Stagnation

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 15, 2011

There's an app for that diagnosis

Daniel Kraft provides an entertaining overview of medical innovations that will likely redefine the way in which doctors diagnose their patients' medical problems.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 14, 2011

Jenkins at the U.S. Open

Dan-Jenkins-263x300.jpgIt's U.S. Open week at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, so it's time for Geoff Shackelford to renew the latest segment of his periodic interviews with Clear Thinkers favorite Dan Jenkins, who is covering his 207th (by my count) major golf championship. Any interview of Jenkins is good fun, but he particularly seems to rise to the occasion around major championships. For example:

Q: It's Saturday of this year's U.S. Open and you have a choice between watching the third round at Congressional or Obama v. Boehner whapping it around at Andrews Air Force Base. What do you choose?

"I wouldn't watch politicians do anything if it was happening in my retina."

Also, Jenkins' twitter feed during the week of any major golf tournament is highly entertaining. Here is his Twitter review of Adam Schupak's new book on former PGA Tour Commissioner, Deane Beman:

"New book out on Deane Beman. My review in one sentence: Deane never lost a conversation."

Meanwhile, check out this slick Golf.com map and overview of the Congressional golf course (Bradley Klein chimes in with a good background piece on the course here). The U.S. Open's site also provides interesting flyovers of each hole along with a narrated description.

Game on!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 13, 2011

Give’em the Wild Turkey Bird

In our continuing series of creative commercials, Wild Turkey whiskey chimes in with a clever one to start the week.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 12, 2011

Wisdom from Terry Teachout

TerryTeachoutMy experience is that good commencement speeches are rare, but I know a good one when I read one. And this one by drama critic Terry Teachout is one of the best that I've read in years. Short, clever and insightful, Teachout weaves in a profound exchange from the movie Bull Durham and a funny anecdote about the legendary actor Rex Harrison and Broadway producer Leland Hayward. Then, he concludes with the following sage advice:

If there's ever a time in life for you to shoot high, it's now. So take a long, cool look at yourself and say, What do I really want out of life? What would keep me interested until the day I die? Do I have a realistic chance to get it? And if you think you do, then go for it. Work as hard to get it as you worked to get your degree here. Settle later, if you must--but don't spend the rest of your life eating your heart out because you didn't give it your very best shot right now.

And that's that. I congratulate you, members of the Class of 2011, for doing something truly remarkable.

Remember: be proud.

Be professional.

Don't be bored. Enjoy the moment.

And be sure to get a good lunch.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 11, 2011

It's Tony Time!

Check out this excellent NY Times interactive feature of four, first-time Tony-nominated actors performing a short scene from their respective shows, including Joshua Henry's knockout performance of "Go Back Home" from The Scottsboro Boys. Here is a video clip of that song from the show. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 10, 2011

Math of the Incarceration Nation

man_in_prisonThe appalling U.S. incarceration rate has been a frequent topic on this blog, so this Veronique de Rugy/Reason.com piece on the troubling numbers involved in the U.S. prison systems caught my eye:

In 2009, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 1,524,513 prisoners in state and federal prisons. When local jails are included, the total climbs to 2,284,913. These numbers are not just staggering; they are far above those of any other liberal democracy in both absolute and per capita terms. The International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London calculates that the United States has an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 people, compared to 325 in Israel, 217 in Poland, 154 in England and Wales, 96 in France, 71 in Denmark, and 32 in India.

Incredibly, de Rugy reports that research indicates that approximate 60 per cent of those prisoners are non-violent offenders (i.e., mostly possession of illegal drug defendants). What is one of direct costs of the drug prohibition policy?:

[S]tate correctional spending has quadrupled in nominal terms in the last two decades and now totals $52 billion a year, consuming one out of 14 general fund dollars. Spending on corrections is the second fastest growth area of state budgets, following Medicaid. According to a 2009 report from the Pew Center on the States, keeping an inmate locked up costs an average of $78.95 per day, more than 20 times the cost of a day on probation.

And, as de Rugy goes on to point out, these direct costs don't even approach the indirect costs of locking up non-violent offenders with hardened criminals and leaving the children of non-violent criminals without the support of a parent during the prison sentence.

A truly civilized society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 9, 2011

The Constitutional Case for Marriage Equality

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 8, 2011

Miami Mega Jail

The closest that many citizens will get to the soft underbelly of the U.S. criminal justice system - i.e., its jails and prisons - is Louis Theroux's absolutely spellbinding BBC documentary on the Miami, Florida County Jail. Here are parts two, three and four.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 7, 2011

The Cease-Fire that is long overdue

No more drug warAmerica's dubious policy of drug prohibition has been a frequent topic on this blog, so I was pleased to see this Mary Anastasia O'Grady/WSJ column (previous posts on O'Grady's work are here) yesterday on the Global Commission on Drug Policy's statement last week calling for a "paradigm shift in global drug policy."

O'Grady's column is particularly noteworthy because of her citing of this fine Angelo Codevilla's/Claremont Institute piece that explains how one of the unintended consequences of the failed War on Drugs is the increasing militarization of America's borders. As Codevilla notes:

A friendly border is like oxygen: when you've got it, you don't think about it. Only when you lose it does its importance seize you. But by then it is difficult to remember the fundamental truth: if borders are friendly, you don't have to secure them; and if they are unfriendly, you must pay dearly for every bit of partial security, because ever harsher measures produce ever greater hostility.
Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War gives us what may be history's most poignant description of how a hostile border proved disastrous to a great power. In the war's 19th year, Sparta put a small garrison in Decelea, in their enemy's backyard, which, Thucydides tells us, "was one of the principal causes of [the Athenians'] ruin." "[I]nstead of a city, [Athens] became a fortress," with "two wars at once," and in a few years was "worn out by having to keep guard on the fortifications." Having lost a friendly border, Athens turned itself inside out trying to secure an unfriendly one.

For an excellent overview of why America's drug prohibition policy should be scuttled, check out this Milton Friedman argument. And if you are interested in how a regulatory structure for recreational drug usage could be devised, the University of Chicago's James Leitzel's TEDxUChicago presentation below provides a great starting point:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 6, 2011

Who should pay for obesity surgery?

obesity-risk-factorsSo, the NY Times reports that a company that makes lap band devices used in bariatric lap band surgery has applied to the FDA to lower the obesity threshold at which surgery can be performed. If successful, the application would double the number of obese people who would qualify for bariatric lap band surgery.

Some of the obese people who would become eligible for the surgery have health complications that make it difficult for them to lose weight without the surgery. But most of the consumers covered by the new threshold could lose weight and not require the surgery by educating themselves and following healthy nutrition regimens. With third party insurers footing most of the cost of surgery at the point that obesity becomes life-threatening, why bother wasting time learning about -- and adjusting a lifestyle to follow -- proper nutrition?

Bariatric lap band surgery is expensive. Should consumers who make the effort to control their weight and follow healthy nutrition protocols contribute a part of their health insurance premiums to subsidize surgery for consumers who choose not to do so?

If consumers elect to take the risk of health problems from being obese, then shouldn't they bear the cost of damages resulting from that risk? And shouldn't insurers be free to elect not to cover consumers who engage in such risky behavior? Doesn't shifting the cost of that risk to insurers (who pass it along to the all insureds) simply encourage the obese consumers to consume more health care and avoid confronting their unhealthy lifestyle?

As the late Milton Friedman was fond of saying, consumers will consume as much health care as they can so long as someone else is paying for it.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 5, 2011

Time-lapse Thunderstorms

Check out this amazing time-lapse assembly from the Hector Thunderstorm Project in northern Australia.

Hector Thunderstorm Project from Murray Fredericks on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 4, 2011

Defending John Edwards

john_edwards-.jpg

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm no fan of John Edwards. He represented much of what is bad about American political leadership.

However, it occurs to me that any federal indictment that is premised on the allegation that "[a] centerpiece of the Edwards' candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man" should not be a criminal matter.

The fact that Edwards is an easy target should make no difference. While it is clear that Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron financed the cover-up of Edwards' mistress and love child, it's far from clear - and simply not provable beyond a reasonable doubt - that this financing constituted illegal political contributions rather than simply payment of Edwards' personal expenses that would have been made regardless of whether he was a candidate.

The bottom line on all of this is that the financing of a cover-up to save Edwards' marriage and preserve his public image is not a crime.

If the Federal Election Commission wanted to make an issue out of this, then it should have brought a civil action against Edwards.

But this has no business being a criminal case.

Even for someone like John Edwards.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

June 3, 2011

Crosby, Nash and . . . Fallon?


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 2, 2011

Requiem de Verdi

From 1967 with Herbert Von Karajan directing. Simply delightful.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

June 1, 2011

World Financial Meltdown Explained in 3 Minutes

Posted by Tom at 5:55 AM |

May 31, 2011

Appalling hypocrisy

jim_tressel_downtroddenSo, let me get this straight.

Ohio State University throws its most successful football coach since Woody Hayes under the bus because he knew about compensation being paid to Ohio State football players, whose talents the institution exploited for enormous profit.

Meanwhile, numerous commentators castigate Ohio State and its coach for being cheaters when, in reality, virtually every big-time college football program engages in similar violations of the NCAA's dubious regulation of compensation to players who create enormous value for NCAA member institutions. Some institutions are simply better at hiding their violations than others.

I don't know Coach Tressel, but I'd be willing to bet that he is a good man who simply responded to the perverse incentives of a corrupt system.

Big-time college football is an entertaining form of corruption (see also here). But the corruption is the NCAA's regulatory scheme, and throwing decent men such as Coach Tressel to the wolves will not change that.

South Park's analysis is spot on:

Crack Baby Athletic Association
Tags: SOUTH
PARK
Eric Cartman,Kyle Broflovski,more...

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 30, 2011

Life Lessons with Tom Watson

watsonTom Watson is one of the most remarkable athletes of our time. He won eight major golf tournaments (five Open Championships, two Masters and a U.S. Open) and he has tacked on another six senior major championships since turning 50. At the age of 59, Watson had the golfing world transfixed as he came agonizingly close to winning another Open Championship.

Yesterday, Watson added to his already formidable résumé by winning the Senior PGA Championship at the age of 61, the second-oldest winner of that event in history. "If this is the last tournament I ever win, it's not a bad one," Watson observed after his latest victory. "I'm kind of on borrowed time out here at 61." Watson has now won six senior majors -- only Jack Nicklaus (eight) and Hale Irwin (seven) have won more.

But for all of Watson's success, arguably the most amazing thing about the man is that none of it has come easily. He struggled in his early years on the PGA Tour to win his first major and dealt for years with the unfair characterization that he was a choker under pressure. Then, after an extraordinary decade in which he was the best golfer on the planet, Watson inexplicably lost his velvet putting stroke, which was the part of his game that separated him from his main competitors. Then, almost another decade later, after honing the other facets of his game to compensate for his lessened putting skills, Watson again won twice on the PGA Tour in his late 40's and became a dominant force on the Champions Tour after turning 50.

All of which brings us to this wonderful post (also see here) by Joe Posnanski, who - as a fellow Kansas Citian - has covered Watson's exploits for many years. The first post above relates a fun story about Posnanski's lack of golf ability, but then explains why Watson is one of the most compelling athletes of our time:

[M]y favorite bit from Wednesday's conversation with Tom was when he talked about how every shot counts in golf. I was asking him about [Rory] McIlroy's self-destruction at Augusta, and he said that he wished Rory had fought harder. "I never once saw Jack Nicklaus give away a stroke," he said. The key to golf is that if you are on pace to shoot 80, you have to try to shoot 79. If you are on pace to shoot 90, you have to try to shoot 89.

And, Tom makes clear, this is not just about making the best of the situation. No, this is about defining who you are as a person. "When you're hitting the ball well," he says, "it's EASY. ... And golf is not supposed to be easy." The most successful people, Tom believes, are the ones who can stay fully committed to the moment, who will be dedicated to do their best even after it's clear that things are not going to work out as well as they had hoped or planned.

Tom told the story of Byron Nelson, after shooting a 72, griping about what a terrible round he'd played at the Masters. He'd only hit six greens in regulation. He was hacking the ball all over the place. He was grumbling afterward that it was as bad as he could remember playing. And his friend Eddie Lowery, who was Francis Ouimet's 10-year-old caddy when Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open, said: "On the contrary, this was the FINEST round you have ever played. Because you played that badly and you STILL shot a 72."

That, to Tom Watson, is the gold standard. Most days in life, you are not going to shoot 63. You just aren't. The wind will be blowing. The ball will bounce funny. The putt will hit a spike mark. Life is simply not set up for five-for-five days at the plate, for 19-of-21 shooting days, for hat tricks and four-sack days and rounds with 10 birdies. If you're lucky, you will have a few of those days in your life, days when everything seems to click, Ferris Bueller's day off. And those days are to be enjoyed, cherished, but that's not real life.

Real life is shooting 72 when you hit only six greens. Every shot counts.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 29, 2011

50/50

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 28, 2011

Ecclesia Houston

Ecclesia2.jpgEcclesia is an inner-city church in Houston. Its heart is in the right place, as reflected by this video.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 27, 2011

It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Oprah

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 26, 2011

Dirt Devil

Yet another in our continuing series of the most creative product on television, commercials.

Dirt Devil-The Exorcist from MrPrice2U on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 25, 2011

Paying for placebos

placeboOne of the most interesting issues in the health care finance debate is whether a consumer should be able to shift at least a portion of the cost of a placebo to a broad base of insureds. As The Economist notes, placebos are big business and - in some cases - just as effective as the real thing:

Alternative medicine is big business. Since it is largely unregulated, reliable statistics are hard to come by. The market in Britain alone, however, is believed to be worth around £210m ($340m), with one in five adults thought to be consumers, and some treatments (particularly homeopathy) available from the National Health Service. Around the world, according to an estimate made in 2008, the industry's value is about $60 billion.

Over the years Dr [Edzard] Ernst and his group have run clinical trials and published over 160 meta-analyses of other studies. (Meta-analysis is a statistical technique for extracting information from lots of small trials that are not, by themselves, statistically reliable.) His findings are stark.

According to his "Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine", around 95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined--in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology--are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments. In only 5% of cases was there either a clear benefit above and beyond a placebo (there is, for instance, evidence suggesting that St John's Wort, a herbal remedy, can help with mild depression), or even just a hint that something interesting was happening to suggest that further research might be warranted.

Should a portion of your health insurance premiums be used to pay a portion of the cost of a placebo for your co-insured? Or is this an example of the situation in which the third party-payor system simply doesn't control costs as well as a consumer-payor system?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 24, 2011

Dylan turns 70

Steve Allen interviews a painfully shy Bob Dylan almost 50 years ago.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 23, 2011

The power of smiling

One of the nicest compliments that I have ever received came from from a court clerk who told me that the court staff enjoyed having me in their court because I always came with a smile on my face. Ron Gutman provides good thoughts on smiles to begin the week.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 22, 2011

The real LinkedIn morality play

linkedin-logoSo, the NY Times Joe Nocera (as well as Henry Blodget) think that the investment bankers scammed LinkedIn's owners in favor of the investment bankers other customers.

Grand conspiracy theories - as well as criminal prosecutions - certainly have been hatched with less.

But as the Epicurean Dealmaker lucidly explains (also here), morality plays and conspiracy theories are hard to piece together given the wide variety of forces that are in play when owners of a company tap the public markets with a piece of their company. Heck, LinkedIn's shares are trading at a massive multiple to what they traded for recently in private in secondary markets.

The instinct of most politicians and much of the mainstream media is to embrace simple "villain and victim" morality plays when attempting to explain a particular outcome in which someone gained at the expense of someone else.

Take, for example, investment loss. The more nuanced story about the financial decisions that underlie a failed investment strategy doesn't garner sufficient votes or sell enough newspapers to generate much interest from the demagogues or muckrakers. That's why we periodically endure witch hunts -- such as demonizing speculators - when it's unquestionable that speculation in markets has a beneficial purpose.

Morality plays are comforting because they make it easy to identify and demonize the villains who are supposedly responsible for trouble. The truth is usually far more nuanced and complicated, but ultimately more rewarding to embrace.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 21, 2011

Security theater as comedy


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 20, 2011

Geithner as matinee idol

TimGeithnerAs regular readers know, I have long thought that Timothy Geithner is in over his head as Treasury Secretary.

So, it stands to reason that many people continue to listen carefully to what he says, this time at the opening of the new HBO film based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's book about the most recent financial crisis, Too Big to Fail.

"You can't prevent people from making mistakes," observed Geithner philosophically. "Taking too much risk and making stupid mistakes may not be a crime."

Yeah, right. Try to persuade Jeff Skilling of that.

The reality is that there isn't much difference between the way in which Geithner and Skilling reacted to their respective crisis. Yet one remains in one of the most powerful positions in government, while the other wastes away in a prison cell.

There is simply no rational basis for the disparate treatment of these two men.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 19, 2011

The Mystery of Chronic Pain

Elliot Krane lucidly explains the difficulties involved in diagnosing the causes of chronic pain.

Who can watch and listen to this video and still support our society's inhumane policies toward those who suffer from chronic pain?

A truly civil society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 18, 2011

One more thing about the Stros

Brad-Mills-GettyJust one more thing. I promise.

Some things never change with regard to the Stros and the local media. Such as this most recent puff-piece by former Chron sportswriter and current MLB.com Stros beat writer Brian McTaggart with regard to Stros manager, Brad Mills.

Yeah, Mills has been dealt a bad hand and he shouldn’t be blamed for that. And he seems to be nice fellow.

But before characterizing him as a “terrific manager,” don’t you think that McTaggart ought to require that Mills at least understand how to implement a double-switch? Just another example of the local mainstream sports media’s vacuum of analytical ability.

Here’s hoping that the new owners will look beyond such tripe.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 17, 2011

So, what's next for the Stros?

Houston_Astros2With the announcement that Drayton McLane has finalized the sale of the Stros to a group of investors led by Jim Crane, my sense is that an overhaul is around the corner.

As regular readers of this blog know, I think McLane held on to the club way too long. He probably should have sold after the 2006 season failed to repeat the excitement of the 2005 World Series run and certainly after the disastrous 2007 season, when Crane's first attempt to buy the club went awry, probably due to tightening credit markets at the time. But if McLane had sold then,  he almost certainly would have gone done in history as the best owner in franchise history.

However, Bill James' "Law of Competitive Balance" set into the Stros organization after the club's improbable 2005 World Series appearance and McLane never fully recovered from that syndrome.

He did finally clean house and hired GM Ed Wade and scouting director Bobby Heck to resurrect a farm system that McLane had allowed to deteriorate from one of MLB's best when he acquired the club in 1992 to one of the worst over the past five seasons. Although the Stros appear to have picked reasonably well over the past three drafts, most of those players are still developing on the lower-level farm clubs.

Rebuilding a barren farm system takes a long time. Just ask the Devil Rays.

Now that McLane's dubious decision to allow the Stros farm system to erode has been fully exposed, that detracts considerably from the legacy of success that the club enjoyed under his watch during the Biggio-Bagwell era. Ballpark and television network assets aside, no one in their right mind could argue that the Stros baseball operation is in better condition now than when McLane bought it in 1992.

So, what should one expect from Crane, who appears to have paid a premium price for the club?

I think there will be big changes. Crane has more baseball knowledge in his pinky finger than McLane ever had, so Crane understands the importance of rebuilding the farm system. My bet is that Crane will take a run at keeping Heck, who is well-regarded in baseball development circles. I don't think there is much chance that either Wade or team President Tal Smith will be retained, though.

Long term, Crane will emphasize a baseball operation that measures performance statistically much more carefully than McLane's baseball operation, which flubbed in that area frequently. I'm not suggesting that Crane won't make mistakes. But my bet is that they won't be of the nature of paying Kaz Matsui $16.5 million or Brandon Lyon $15 million over three years. Or Clint Barmes almost $4 million and Bill Hall $3 million for one season. Or Brad Ausmus, ever.

And for that, Stros fans should all be thankful.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 16, 2011

"In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights"

PD*29534905That's the title of this important NY Times op-ed by Michelle Alexander, who who is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press 2010). The entire op-ed is essential reading, but this excerpt focuses on one of the reasons why reforming the policy of overcriminalization has become politically difficult:

Those who believe that righteous indignation and protest politics were appropriate in the struggle to end Jim Crow, but that something less will do as we seek to dismantle mass incarceration, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge.  If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars.  A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs . Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.

Sentencing expert Doug Berman comments insightfully:

However, I strongly believe that liberty, not fairness, needs to be the guiding principle in this major shift.  After all, one big aspect of the modern mass incarceration movement has been an affinity for structured guideline reforms and the elimination of parole all in order to have greater fairness and consistency at sentence. 

What we have really achieved is less liberty as much, if not more, than less fairness.

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 15, 2011

Tales of ice-bound wonderlands

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 14, 2011

Seven Days in Utopia


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 13, 2011

Building an Art Museum on the Web

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 12, 2011

The Amazing Linotype

The fascinating documentary's website is here.

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 11, 2011

No more exaggerated fish stories?

freshwater-fly-fishing-b06So, you mean to tell me that now even exaggerated fishing stories are criminal?

That's what the Texas Tribune is reporting (H/T Scott Henson):

Fraudulent fishermen better reel it in. The Senate passed a bill today to make cheating in a fishing tournament up to a third-degree felony, sending the measure on to the governor.

HB 1806 expands existing law to all fishing tournaments, from fresh to salt water. It would make it an offense for contestants to give, take, offer or accept a fish not caught as part of the tournament. It would also be an offense to misrepresent a fish.

"I've never altered the length of a fish," says Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the Senate sponsor of the bill. But he's been told fishermen will cut the tail off a fish so it will fit the minimum length requirement. That way, they can add more fish to their bucket.

For minor tournaments, cheaters could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail or a maximum $4,000 fine. But if the prize is more than $10,000, contestants could be charged with a third-degree felony, spend two to 10 years in prison and pay up to a $10,000 fine. 

As Henson observes, Senator Hegar and the Texas Legislature apparently have not noticed the onerous overcriminalization that they and other legislative bodies have been imposed on U.S. citizens:

Texas had 2,383  felonies when the session started. No telling yet how many new ones the Lege will pass this year, but Grits' pre-session prediction was 55. Nobody really tallies them all comprehensively until the parole board must assign new felonies risk categories later this year. But there are a bunch of them. You'd never know the Lege is broke because they seem to think more incarceration can solve any and every social problem: Even dishonest, exaggerating fishermen.

A truly civil society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 10, 2011

A Stros snapshot

Houston_Astros2Through only 34 games, it's premature to characterize this season's Astros team (13-21) as one of the worst in club history. There are actually some hopeful signs. However, a main trend line is not looking good.

As regular readers of this blog know, I like to use the RCAA ("runs created against average") and RSAA ("runs saved against average") statistics -- developed by Lee Sinins for his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia -- to provide a simple but revealing picture of how an MLB club or player is performing relative to other teams or players in a particular league.

RCAA reflects how many more (or fewer) runs that a team (or player) generates relative to a league-average team (or player). An exactly league-average team's (or player's) RCAA is zero. Thus, an above-average hitter has a positive RCAA and a below-average hitter has a negative RCAA.

Similarly, RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitching staff (or an individual pitcher) saves relative to a league-average pitching staff (or pitcher). As with RCAA, an exactly league-average pitcher's (or team's) RSAA is zero, an above-average pitcher has a positive RSAA, and a below-average pitcher has a negative RSAA.

RCAA and RSAA are particularly useful because they provide a useful benchmark comparison across eras because it shows how much better (or worse) a team's hitters and pitchers stacked up against an average team of hitters or pitcher staff during a season. That's really the best way to compare teams from different eras because comparing other hitting and pitching statistics -- such as on-base average, slugging percentage, OPS, earned run average, wins and hitting statistics against -- is often skewed between teams of hitter-friendly eras (i.e., up until this season, the past 20 seasons or so) versus pitchers of pitcher-friendly eras (i.e., such as the late 1960's and early 70's).

As regular readers of this blog know, the Stros have not had an above-average team RCAA in any season since 2004, bottoming out with last season's abysmal hitting club that generated 86 fewer runs than an average National League club would have produced using the same number of outs. That was the fifth worst performance in club history.

However, even without Lance Berkman this season, the Stros have a team 13 RCAA - a slightly-above average team relative to other NL clubs. Inasmuch as the Cardinals (and particularly Berkman) are the only club really hitting well so far this season, the Stros team RCAA ranks fifth in the NL. Here are the individual RCAA of the Stros hitters:

T1   Brett Wallace             9  
T1   Jason Bourgeois         9  
T3   Hunter Pence             6  
T3   J.R. Towles                 6  
5     Michael Bourn            3  
6     Matt Downs                1  
7     Brian Bogusevic          0  
T8   Clint Barmes              -2  
T8   Joe Inglett                  -2  
T8   Jason Michaels            -2   
T11 Humberto Quintero    -3   
T11 Carlos Lee                   -3   
13   Bill Hall                       -4  
14   Chris Johnson              -5  

So, no on is striping the ball as well as Berkman (23 RCAA), but Wallace, Bourgeois, Pence and Towles are off to good starts and most everyone else has managed either to be about or modestly-below league-average. The question is whether this group can keep up that kind of production.

But the ominous signs are coming from the pitching staff, which has given up an astounding 51 more runs than an average NL pitching staff 34 games into this season. That level of ineptitude has real consequences.

This club's pitching staff's performance to date is already tied for the 14th worst performance in club history and is 28 more runs given up than the next worst staff (the Dodgers) this season. Here are the individual RSAA:

1     Mark Melancon              3  
T2   Bud Norris                   1  
T2   Jeff Fulchino                1  
T4   Aneury Rodriguez       -1  
T4   Wilton Lopez              -1  
T6   Enerio Del Rosario      -3  
T6   Wandy Rodriguez        -3  
T8   Fernando Abad            -5  
T8   Brett Myers                   -5  
T8   Brandon Lyon               -5  
11   Jose Valdez                    -6  
12   J.A. Happ                      -10  
13   Nelson Figueroa            -17   

In short, only three Stros pitchers have been above-National League average so far this season and then only barely so. Happ and Figueroa - at least until the latter was banished to the bullpen - have been among the worst starting pitchers in the NL so far this season.

Is it likely that the staff will turn it around? Over the past several seasons, Rodriguez has pitched better as the season has worn on, so there is hope there. And Myers and Happ are certainly capable of improving their RSAA over the balance of the season, although both have been inconsistent from season to season throughout their career. So, don't be surprised if they have a bad season this year.

What's my prediction at this point?

It looks as if this club is similar to the 2007 team, which finished 73-89 with a precisely league-average hitting team, but a pitching staff that posted a horrifying -79 RSAA (Woody Williams, Matt Albers and Jason Jennings all posted over -20 RSAA that season). Frankly, based on the club's performance to date, 73 wins is looking pretty good.

But even that awful 2007 club had Roy Oswalt with a 24 RSAA and Chad Qualls with an 11 RSAA and I don't see any sure bets on the 2011 club's pitching staff who can rival those performances. So, there is real chance that this club's pitching staff will get worse than it has already been.

Folks, if that happens, then this season could get very ugly.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 9, 2011

Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

There are few better ways to start the week than listening to Josh White and his daughter.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 8, 2011

Seve Ballesteros, R.I.P.

seve-thumb-400x300-155921

Seve Ballesteros - the most creative professional golfer of our time -- finally lost his battle with brain cancer yesterday at the age of 54. Geoff Shackelford does his usual comprehensive job of cataloging the tributes (see also here) to the iconic Spaniard. Also, don't miss this Jaime Diaz/Golf Digest interview of Ballesteros from last year as he reflected on his career and life.

With six Europeans (including the top three) in the current top 10 players in the World Golf Rankings, it's fully evident that impact that Ballesteros had on the development of European golf. It is not a stretch to say that his influence on the European Tour was every bit as dramatic as that of Arnold Palmer on the PGA Tour.

Ballesteros' style was quite similar to that of Phil Mickelson - a risk-taker who combined a sometimes out-of-control swing with a phenomenal short game to win five major championships (two Masters and three Open Championships). However, Ballesteros was somewhat different in that he burst on the scene as a teenager -- he won the Dutch Open at the age of 19 and the led the European Order of Merit at the ages of 19-21.  He was 22 when he won his first Open Championship in 1979 and he was just turning 23 when he was the first European to win The Masters. At the time, he was the youngest golfer to win the Masters.

Those championships propelled him to an extraordinary career, but his most compelling influence may have been in regard to the Ryder Cup. When that traditional match changed format in 1979 to become a competition between the U.S. and Europe rather than U.S. vs Great Britain and Ireland match that the Americans had lost just three times in over 50 years, Ballesteros grabbed the competition by the throat and wouldn't let go. He played eight times in the Ryder Cup, losing only 12 times in 35 matches and won the 1997 match as the Euro captain. When the Euro team dropped him for the 1981 match because he had played mostly that season on the PGA Tour, the U.S. pummeled the Euros by nine points. The Euros didn't make that mistake again.

In addition to being the most dashing and charismatic player of his time, Ballesteros was also quite witty. Few golfers will ever forget his classic response to a question of what happened when he four-putted one of Augusta National's lightning-fast greens during the Masters: "I miss, I miss, I miss, I make." Or his hilarious response to a question on how was it that he took an eight on one of Augusta National's par 4's: "I meesed a three-footer for a seven."

But Ballesteros was different from Mickelson in that he lost his game in his early 30's (although not his competitive fire - remember his captaincy of the 1997 Ryder Cup?). He was 34 when he last contended at a major championship and he made his last cut at the Open Championship at the age of 37. He made his last cut at the Masters when he was 38.

For those interested in the mechanics of the golf swing, Ballesteros' decline is fascinating. As noted swing instructor Wayne DeFranceso reverently explains in this video analysis, Ballesteros won five major championships and 87 golf tournaments around the world with a swing that contained a fundamental defect. Through his extraordinary athletic ability and amazing short game, Ballesteros was able to compensate for the swing defect.

However, as he aged, Ballesteros' swing fault became more pronounced as he dealt with chronic back pain and his short game ebbed a bit. The combination was too much for even Ballesteros to overcome, although he searched diligently for years in an attempt to revive his career. Unfortunately, he never made it to the man in Houston who specializes in golf swing reclamation projects and who just might have helped Ballesteros compete again at the top levels of the game.

The video below is a wonderful review of Ballesteros' career and shows what made him such a compelling character.

Rest in peace, Seve. You will be missed.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 7, 2011

Willie Nelson, 1974

Watch the full episode. See more Austin City Limits.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 6, 2011

From The Rough

The story behind the film -- which is scheduled to open this fall -- is here.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 5, 2011

The train wreck of entitlements growth

Another lucid presentation from Jeff Miron, this time on the inevitable insolvency that will result from current levels of entitlement spending:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 4, 2011

Technophysio evolution

Darwin2_mNobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel has been leading a research project over the past 30 years analyzing the changes in the size and shape of the human body in relation to economic, social and other changes throughout history.

As this NY Times article notes, the conclusions being reached from the project are fascinating:

"The rate of technological and human physiological change in the 20th century has been remarkable," Mr. Fogel said .  .  . "Beyond that, a synergy between the improved technology and physiology is more than the simple addition of the two."

This "technophysio evolution," powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of Homo sapiens as well. [.  .  .]

To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

Across the Atlantic, at the time of the French Revolution, a 30-something Frenchman weighed about 110 pounds, compared with 170 pounds now. And in Norway an average 22-year-old man was about 5 ½ inches taller at the end of the 20th century (5 feet 10.7 inches) than in the middle of the 18th century (5 feet 5.2 inches). . .

Despite this accelerated physical development over the past 150 years, one factor that the researchers did not anticipate is threatening to derail the progress:

One thing Mr. Fogel did not expect when he first started his research was that  "overnutrition" would become the primary health problem in the United States and other Western nations. Obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and some cancers, threatens to upset the links in the upward march of size, health and longevity that he and his colleagues have spent years documenting.

And as this recent post notes, that "overnutrition problem" is not going to be an easy one to solve.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

May 3, 2011

The end of the notebook?

The iPad began the notebook computer's demise. The Android tablet looks as if it might finish it.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 2, 2011

The perspective of Ric Elias

Ric Elias was a passenger on US Airways Flight 1549, which Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger crash landed in the middle of the Hudson River a couple of years ago. But before Sullenberger landed that Airbus A320 and the flight crew successfully evacuated everyone, Elias and the other passengers confronted the very real prospect that they were going to die. In this inspirational five minute video, Elias explains how that experience changed him. Watching it is a good way to start the week. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

May 1, 2011

Shake Your Moneymaker

Led Zeppelin and James Brown? Genuis!.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 30, 2011

Dress for the moment

The latest in our continuing series of creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 29, 2011

Why art is important

Legendary director Warner Herzog reminds us of the importance of art in his latest film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The trailer for the film and a Scientific American interview of Herzog are below. The NY Times review is here.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 28, 2011

Warren Buffett, self-preservationist

warren_buffett2Professor Bainbridge surmises that Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett threw David Sokol under the bus in connection with the Berkshire audit committee report on Sokol's front-running stock purchases, which may be the subject of criminal investigations at this point. Frankly, the Professor makes a good case.

However, no one should be surprised if that was Buffett's purpose. As noted here, here and here, there is certainly precedent for Buffett offering up sacrificial lambs to protect himself and Berkshire. That precedent certainly had consequences for the ones who were fingered, too.

Meanwhile, Jeff Skilling remains living in a Colorado prison under the cloud of a 25-year prison sentence, partly because he was unwilling to emulate Buffett's behavior.

Neither Warren Buffett nor David Sokol is a criminal. But neither is Jeff Skilling. What is criminal is a system that offers perverse incentives for risk-takers who generate jobs and wealth to finger others to protect themselves from the government's arbitrary exercise of its prosecutorial power.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 27, 2011

Bruce Schneier on security theater

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 26, 2011

Milo Hamilton reflects the sorry state of the Stros

MiloYou know, Stros radio announcer Milo Hamilton was never in the same league as Gene Elston as a play-by-play man. But I always thought Hamilton knew something about baseball.  Heck, he's been around it for over 50 years.

Apparently not:

"I want to know, if a guy gave you $85 million, and that's what Drayton did in the last contract...and he said, 'This is your team,' and he said that...wasn't in his persona, to be a leader. Yet last night, Tony LaRussa - when asked about Berkman - 'He's now the leader on this team, he is the inspiration to the older players, he goes around an inspires the younger players," and he got in excellent shape by hiring a trainer. If he had done that the last couple of years that he was here, guys, he could have finished out a really fine career in Houston if he had given it that same dedication. I just want a simple answer - why did you think it wasn't necessary to get in shape your last couple of years as an Astro, but now for team you didn't even know, a manager you never played for, you felt it was your responsibility to get in great shape?

...Lance, I love ya. You've got a great family, you're one of the greatest ministers in all of sports...but wouldn't it have been great to have given it that same dedication to the Astros and the owner here that you did in two short months for the Cardinals?"

It is indisputable that Lance Berkman is the second-best hitter in the history of the Houston Astros, behind only Jeff Bagwell. Given that Hamilton's criticism is over Berkman's last few seasons with the Stros, let's focus on those.

He was injured in 2010 (bad knee) and had his first bad season of his 13-year MLB career. But I am aware of no evidence that Berkman could have done anything from a conditioning standpoint that would have prevented or lessened the impact of that injury.

By his standards, Berkman didn't have a stellar 2009 season, either (31 RCAA/.399 OBA/.509 SLG/.907 OPS/25 HR/80 RBI in 136 games). However, that production was far better than any other Stros hitter that season. And in most other non-Bagwell seasons, for that matter.

And in the 2008 season, Berkman had one of the best seasons of any hitter in the history of the Stros (58 RCAA/.420 OBA/.567 SLG/.986 OPS/29 HR/106 RBI/116 R/99 BB/18-22 SB).

And let's not forget that Berkman is by far the best hitter in Stros history in post-regular season play.

For that, Berkman gets trashed by his former's club's most well-known media representative.

Meanwhile, Hamilton continues to ignore the undeniable fact that Stros management mismanaged the once-strong Stros farm system for a decade after Berkman came up the MLB club. That management incompetence virtually ensured that Berkman would play out the final years of his Stros career on horrible baseball teams.

And let's not even get started on Hamilton's silence in regard to the grossly overpaid Carlos Lee, who Joe Posnanski deemed to be the worst everyday MLB player last season.

Finally, why hasn't Hamilton said anything about the Stros' disingenuous Craig Biggio Farewell Tour?

So, there you have it. The Stros are currently tied for the second-worst record (8-14) in MLB, which is frightening in that the team has actually over-performed (at least in terms of hitting) so far this season. There is essentially no rational hope that the club will win much more than 70 games, if that. The primary attractions that the club is touting at the ballpark this season are the new video screen (it's really big!) and Brian Caswell-inspired food (don't bother, it's still mostly Aramark).

And Milo Hamilton is criticizing Lance Berkman?

The sad reality is that Milo Hamilton reflects what's wrong with the Stros, not Lance Berkman.

The sale of the Stros cannot happen fast enough in this 25+ year field level ticketholder's book.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 25, 2011

Expensive Toy Trains

Houston Metro-1Cory Crow posted a good overview this past Friday on how Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority has failed to develop and operate a transit system that meets the special needs of the Houston metropolitan area (Metro's debacles have been frequent topics on this blog, most recently the here and here).

Cory's post coincided with this Richard White/NY Times op-ed in which he previews one of the themes of his new book on the financing and construction of the the 19th-century transcontinental railroads - that governmental guaranty of the bonds used to finance the construction meant that "if there be profit, the [private] corporations may take it; if there be loss, the government must bear it." As White notes, that dynamic is again at play with regard to the Obama Administration's high-speed rail proposals:

Proponents of the transcontinental railroads promised all kinds of benefits they did not deliver. They claimed that the railroads were needed to save the Union, but the Union was already saved before the first line was completed. The best Western farmlands would have been settled without the railroads; their impact on other lands was often environmentally disastrous. For three decades California commodities could move more cheaply, and virtually as quickly, by sea. The subsidies the railroads received enriched contractors and financiers, but nearly all the railroads went into receivership, some multiple times; the government rescued others.

As more astute members of Congress came to recognize, the subsidies were a mistake. .  .  .

After 1872, the country turned against the subsidizing of large corporations. It was a little late. Fraud and failure left a legacy that would lead to four decades of government attempts to get back what had so carelessly been given away. In the 1890s, Congress was still trying to recover money from the Pacific Railway.

Yet here we are again. The Obama administration proposed a substantial subsidy, $53 billion over six years, to induce investors to take on risk that they are otherwise unwilling to assume. Such subsidies create what the economist Robert Fogel has called "hothouse capitalism": government assumes much of the risk, while private contractors and financiers take the profit.

The reality is that virtually all light rail systems and most high-speed rail systems are unsustainable without massive federal subsidies, which are hit and miss, at best. Besides, the financial benefit of these rail systems are highly concentrated in only a few interest groups. Unfortunately, those groups do not include one that is comprised of a substantial number of users.

A strategy of "build as much light rail as possible now and then figure out how to pay for it later" is not a coherent transit plan for the Houston metropolitan area.

What is it going to take for Houston's local governmental leaders to understand that?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 24, 2011

Sweet Baby James

James Taylor from 1970:

And from recently, with a nice explanation of how the song came about:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 23, 2011

Drunken Poet's Dream

Clear Thinkers favorite Hayes Carll and Ray Wylie Hubbard on Austin City Limits:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 22, 2011

Lone Star

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 21, 2011

The Quantum Story

Jim Baggott talks about his new book on the history of the quantum revolution.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 20, 2011

National Security Wisdom from the Joker

Security TheaterCato's Julian Sanchez brilliantly sums up the logic behind the national security policy that leads our government to impose this kind of absurd abuse on its citizens:

Batman's archnemesis the Joker--played memorably by Heath Ledger in 2008′s blockbuster The Dark Knight--might seem like an improbable font of political wisdom, but it's lately occurred to me that one of his more memorable lines from the film is surprisingly relevant to our national security policy:

"You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan.' Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all 'part of the plan.'"

There are, one hopes, limits. The latest in a string of videos from airport security to provoke online outrage shows a six-year-old girl being subjected to an invasive Transportation Security Administration pat down--including an agent feeling around in the waistband of the girl's pants. I'm somewhat reassured that people don't appear to be greatly mollified by TSA's response:

"A video taken of one of our officers patting down a six year-old has attracted quite a bit of attention. Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures."

While I suppose it would be disturbing if individual agents were just improvising groping protocol on the fly (so to speak), the response suggests that TSA thinks our concerns should be assuaged once we've been reassured that everything is being done by the book--even if the book is horrifying. But in a sense, that's the underlying idea behind all security theater: Show people that there's a Plan, that procedures are in place, whether or not there's any good evidence that the Plan actually makes us safer.

And this is not all about civil liberties, either. As David Henderson points out, citizens who throw up their hands in disgust with the TSA's security theater and elect to drive rather than take a short-haul flight risk a fatality rate that is 80 times higher per mile than travelers on a commercial airliner face.

In short, the TSA is killing people.

As with the overcriminalization of American life, the TSA is an ominous reflection of a federal government and major political parties that are increasingly remote and unresponsive to citizens.

Is it too late to change? That would be a good question for someone to ask President Obama, who was famously elected on the slogan of "change we can believe in."

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 19, 2011

As the Rockets’ World Turns

AdelmanSo, the Houston Rockets let Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman go after yet another season in which the team was reasonably competitive, but again only the third best in Texas, much less the NBA's Western Conference.

Interestingly, the Rockets' move has generated polar opposite reactions. The majority view is that Adelman did a good job under difficult circumstances and should not be faulted for the Rockets' continued mediocrity. After all, in four seasons with the Rockets, Adelman had a 193-135 record, the best winning percentage (.588) of any coach in franchise history. His 945 wins are currently eighth among NBA coaches.

On the other hand, some folks - reflected in this Chris Baldwin's piece - think that Adelman was a bad fit for a young team trying to develop into a mature NBA contender.

As with many controversies, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The reality is that both Adelman and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have done reasonably good jobs piecing together a competitive team while dealing with the obsolescent team model that they were handed by Rockets owner, Les Alexander.

Alexander - who is viewed by the mainstream media as a competent owner primarily because of the relative incompetence of Houston's other professional sports club owners - handed both Morey and Adelman a team that was based on the talents of two physically brittle superstars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

When the injury risk took away both McGrady and Yao, Morey and Adelman performed admirably in developing a group of reasonably productive complementary players into a competitive NBA unit. Not a playoff caliber team, mind you. But one that at least won more games than it lost and generally played hard.

However, that competitiveness does not hide the truth that Alexander is the main problem with the Rockets. Despite the gibberish that is written about him in the local mainstream media, Alexander is a quite mediocre owner.

He did have the good fortune to inherit a strong roster when he bought the team back in the mid-1990's, and that group promptly won two straight NBA titles for him in the first two years that he owned the franchise.

And Alexander did have the good sense five years ago to hire Morey, who has rebuilt the Rockets' roster with relatively cheap, mostly young and productive complementary players who would probably provide a fine supporting cast for a true superstar, if only one or two were available.

Nevertheless, under Alexander's management, the Rockets have now won precisely one playoff series in the past 14 seasons. That is a streak of futility that is matched by only a few other NBA teams.

So, as with most things, it's important to place matters in context when thinking about the Rockets.

Neither Daryl Morey nor Rick Adelman had anything to do with the dubious decision to hitch the club's wagon to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. They did the best that could be expected when that decision went awry.

Blame Les Alexander for the Rockets' failure, as well as for making the team the third best NBA club in Texas for the past decade.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 18, 2011

The Power of Words

A good way to start the week is the latest in our continuing series of creative commercials.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 17, 2011

The Amazing Walkens

"For a Walken, adolescence is a difficult time. You feel like you're the only normal person in a school of nut jobs."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 16, 2011

Simon Sinek on inspirational leadership

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 15, 2011

So, why no pound of flesh?

lotteryThat's essentially the question that this Gretchen Morgenson/Louise Story/NY Times article asks. Why have there been so few criminal prosecutions in regard to the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street that prompted a huge federal government bailout that citizens will be subsidizing for decades?

Yet, the intrepid NY Times reporters can't quite bring themselves to recognize that whether the government pursued and obtained a criminal conviction of a businessperson over the past decade has had much more to do with chance and politics than prosecution of truly criminal conduct.

Could it be that federal prosecutors are finally realizing that old-fashioned greediness really is not be a crime?

Of course, the rationalization for the lack of villains now as compared to earlier crises has never been particularly compelling.

What the NY Times reporters refuse to confront is that business prosecutions over merely questionable business judgment is fundamentally bad regulatory policy.

Such prosecutions obscure the true nature of business risk and fuel the myth that investment loss results primarily from criminal misconduct.

Taking business risk is what leads to valuable innovation, wealth creation and - most importantly these days - desperately needed jobs for communities. Throwing creative and productive business executives such as Michael Milken and Jeff Skilling in prison may placate NY Times reporters, but it does nothing to educate investors about the true nature of risk and the importance of diversification.

Ignorance about business risk is one of the underlying causes of the the criminalization of business lottery. Basing criminal prosecutions on the luck of the draw breeds cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law.

Isn't it about time that dubious policy be put to permanent rest?

Update: Larry Ribstein -- who maintains an entertaining archive of blog posts that he wrote over the years on Morgenson's misfires -- comments on Morgenson's latest posse-gathering effort here.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 14, 2011

Two essential reads

thinkerIf you don't read anything else this week, don't miss what Byran Caplan and Gary Taubes wrote.

First, Caplan provides a compelling case against helicoptor parenting based on, of all things, research into twins:

But twin research has another far more amazing lesson: With a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges from small to zero.Parents change kids in many ways; the catch is that the changes fade out as kids grow up.  By adulthood, identical twins aren't slightly more similar than fraternal twins; they're much more similar.  And when identical twins are raised apart, they're often just as similar as they are when they're raised together.

Once I became a dad, I noticed that parents around me had a different take on the power of nurture. I saw them turning parenthood into a chore--shuttling their kids to activities even the kids didn't enjoy, forbidding television, desperately trying to make their babies eat another spoonful of vegetables. Parents' main rationale is that their effort is an investment in their children's future; they're sacrificing now to turn their kids into healthy, smart, successful, well-adjusted adults. 

But according to decades of twin research, their rationale is just, well, wrong.  High-strung parenting isn't dangerous, but it does make being a parent a lot more work and less fun than it has to be.

The obvious lesson to draw is that parents should lighten up. .  .  .

Meanwhile, Taubes examines a penetrating question that is suggested by this recent post: i.e., is sugar toxic?:

This brings us to the salient question: Can sugar possibly be as bad as [being the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years and the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles -- heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers"]?

It's one thing to suggest, as most nutritionists will, that a healthful diet includes more fruits and vegetables, and maybe less fat, red meat and salt, or less of everything.

It's entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it.

Suggesting that sugar might kill us is what zealots do. But [pediatric hormone specialist Robert] Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar. His critics consider that evidence insufficient, but there's no way to know who might be right, or what must be done to find out, without discussing it.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 13, 2011

San Fran to Paris in Two Minutes

SF to Paris in Two Minutes from Beep Show on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 12, 2011

An Interesting American Art Project

Looking for a creative art project to support? Check this out:

Posted by Tom at 12:09 AM |

April 11, 2011

The joke that is the budget compromise

budget compromiseDon Boudreaux sums up perfectly why the budget compromise that was reached late last week is a joke:

Suppose that in a mere three years your family's spending - spending, mind you, not income - jumps from $80,000 to $101,600.  You're now understandably worried about the debt you're piling up as a result of this 27 percent hike in spending.

So mom and dad, with much drama and angst and finger-pointing about each other's irresponsibility and insensitivity, stage marathon sessions of dinner-table talks to solve the problem.  They finally agree to reduce the family's annual spending from $101,600 to $100,584.

For this 1 percent cut in their spending, mom and dad congratulate each other.  And to emphasize that this spending cut shows that they are responsible stewards of the family's assets, they approvingly quote Sen. Harry Reid, who was party to similar negotiations that concluded last night on Capitol Hill - negotiations in which Congress agreed to cut 1 percent from a budget that rose 27 percent in just the past three years.  Said Sen. Reid: "Both sides have had to make tough choices.  But tough choices is what this job's all about."

What a joke.

Which reminds me of what H.L. Mencken observed about the primary talent of successful politicians:

"Their power to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 10, 2011

More Security Theater

Security theater endures to absurd levels. Is this dispositive proof that citizens no longer can limit abuses of power by the federal government?:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 9, 2011

Stomp and Holler

The Woodlands native Hayes Carll at SXSW 2011.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 8, 2011

So, what's your favorite hole at Augusta National?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 7, 2011

The Fifth Circuit punts on the Skilling case again

skilling 040711The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not exactly distinguished itself in regard to the appeals emanating from Enron criminal matters.

First, there was the appellate court's affirmation of the U.S. District Court's ludicrous conviction of Arthur Andersen. That gem was subsequently overturned by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court.

Then, a Fifth Circuit panel affirmed the District Court's brutal conviction of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. That pearl of judicial wisdom was disassembled by a largely unified the Supreme Court last year.

As if on cue, a Fifth Circuit panel has predictably produced another clunker, this time affirming Skilling's convictions on conspiracy and securities fraud counts because the erroneous reliance of the prosecution on Skilling's honest services wire fraud amounted to harmless error.

In short, the Fifth Circuit rationalizes that the prosecution really didn't rely all that much on all that honest services stuff in convicting Skilling, so his convictions on the other charges should stand.

Yeah, right. The prosecution didn't rely on the honest services counts all that much? Poppycock. For example, remember the absurd amount of time that the prosecution spent during trial on Skilling's alleged honest services violations in regard to Photofete?

What is most striking about the Fifth Circuit's decision is its utter vacuity. For example, the decision contends that there was "overwhelming evidence" that Skilling committed securities fraud by engaging in fraudulent accounting in regard to several Enron units. But the decision fails to cite any of the supposedly "overwhelming evidence" and doesn't even address the rather important point that the prosecution did not accuse Skilling of falsifying any of Enron's accounting. In fact, the prosecution didn't even put on any expert evidence that Enron's accounting for the allegedly misleading disclosures was wrong, much less false. This tortured logic took this Fifth Circuit panel six months to generate?

Oh well, this matter is far from over. Not only is the case going back to the District Court for re-sentencing, but now Skilling finally gets his opportunity for the first time to seek a new trial on the egregious prosecutorial misconduct (see also here) that was uncovered after the conclusion of the first trial. And you can bet that the Fifth Circuit panel's most recent rationalization will eventually be the subject of another appeal to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a man who was a primary component in creating enormous wealth for investors and thousands of jobs for communities continues to sit in a Colorado prison.

Sure seems to me as if we could use more of those in the business community these days.

Update: Ellen Podgor has her typically cogent analysis of the Fifth Circuit decision here. Fifth Circuit Skilling Decision 06-20885-CR1.wpd

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 6, 2011

It’s not rocket science, part II

NYC Bridge loanWith high levels of municipal debt reverberating around the country, Alex Pollack provides this timely post on the what happened when New York City couldn't find any buyers for its municipal bonds back in 1975.

As Pollack explains, despite dire warnings of disaster from the financial pundits of the day, the Ford Administration declined to have the federal government bail-out New York City from its bond default. After NYC defaulted, disaster did not occur and the world financial system did not collapse.

Does that fear-mongering remind you of anything that occurred more recently?

Remember, this really is not rocket science.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 5, 2011

The changing face of medicine

Doogiehis NY Times article from over this past weekend is among the most important that I have read recently on the dynamics that are materially changing the fractured U.S. health care system.

That's not to suggest that the direction of medicine described in the article is a good thing. In fact, my late father is rolling over in his grave over what is described in the article. Patients as commodities. Doctors minimizing responsibilities so that they can get to their yoga class. Patients are supposed to trust such treatment? This is progress?

This is the reason why I pay a premium so that I have a doctor who knows me and my medical history if I am hospitalized for illness or injury.

Do most patients realize that they will not have such a resource when they need one?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 4, 2011

Taking stock of golf

MickelsonThe Houston golf community is abuzz today with Phil Mickelson's dominating performance over the weekend in shooting 16 under par over his final two rounds to win the Shell Houston Open by 3 strokes. Not a bad way to warm up for the Masters this week, eh?

Also, The Woodlands' Stacey Lewis, with whom I have hit golf balls at the local driving ranges over the years, broke through in a big way yesterday by winning her first LPGA tournament and first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Meanwhile, other aspects of the golf business aren't quite so rosy. This NY Sunday Times article surveys the carnage of Tiger Woods' first three ventures into the golf course design business, each of which is either failed or undergoing restructuring. Tiger still has not finished a golf course that his group has designed.

Of course, such problems are not solely of Woods' design business. This San Antonio Express-News article reports on the multiple, successive restructurings of the long-distressed Boot Ranch project near Fredricksburg. And with only 105 members -- and still charging a $100,000 membership fee and $12,000 in annual dues to a non-existent supply of prospective members - the developer suggests that this is a viable business model? What are they drinking?

Those interested in the golf business will sit back and put these untidy matters aside while enjoying the annual spectacle of the Masters this week. But it's not lost on those who care about the future of golf that the success of the Masters and the Augusta National Golf Club bear little relationship to the state of the golf business elsewhere.

Clinging to obsolescent business models in the face of changing market conditions is a prescription for failure.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

April 3, 2011

Hiking 2,200 Miles in Four Minutes

Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 2, 2011

You don't know Diddley!

In our continuing series of innovative commercials, Bos Jackson and Diddley corroborate on a classic for Nike.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

April 1, 2011

I miss Milton Friedman

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 31, 2011

Attack of the Hawk

In light of this week's Shell Houston Open, here is a video tribute to the best Texan golfer never to have won the tournament, Ben Hogan.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 30, 2011

The unreliable eyewitness

Daniel Simons lucidly explains what most trial lawyers know instinctively -- an eyewitness is often quite unreliable.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 29, 2011

Health Care Myth Busters

mythbustersFollowing on this post from last fall, check out this Scientific American excerpt of the new book, Demand Better! Revive Our Broken Health Care System (Second River Healthcare Press, March 2011) by Sanjaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Quantros, and David B. Nash, dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University:

Most of us are confident that the quality of our healthcare is the finest, the most technologically sophisticated and the most scientifically advanced in the world. And for good reason--thousands of clinical research studies are published every year that indicate such findings. Hospitals advertise the latest, most dazzling techniques to peer into the human body and perform amazing lifesaving surgeries with the aid of high-tech devices. There is no question that modern medical practices are remarkable, often effective and occasionally miraculous.

But there is a wrinkle in our confidence. We believe that the vast majority of what physicians do is backed by solid science. Their diagnostic and treatment decisions must reflect the latest and best research. Their clinical judgment must certainly be well beyond any reasonable doubt. To seriously question these assumptions would seem jaundiced and cynical.

But we must question them because these beliefs are based more on faith than on facts for at least three reasons, each of which we will explore in detail in this section. Only a fraction of what physicians do is based on solid evidence from Grade-A randomized, controlled trials; the rest is based instead on weak or no evidence and on subjective judgment. When scientific consensus exists on which clinical practices work effectively, physicians only sporadically follow that evidence correctly.

Medical decision-making itself is fraught with inherent subjectivity, some of it necessary and beneficial to patients, and some of it flawed and potentially dangerous. For these reasons, millions of Americans receive medications and treatments that have no proven clinical benefit, and millions fail to get care that is proven to be effective. Quality and safety suffer, and waste flourishes.

At first blush, this may seem shocking, but it really provides a great incentive for the consumer of health care services and products to be as fully informed as possible about various treatment alternatives.

The human body is an incredibly complex organism. That we can predict and control outcomes relating to such complexity in even a fraction of cases is a remarkable achievement.

The approach we need to take is to embrace that complexity and randomness, educate ourselves as best we can on the risks that certain behaviors and habits have in regard to affecting bad health outcomes, and then lead our lives in a way that deals with those risks in a manner that is acceptable to each individual.

However, the reality is that neither we - nor our doctors - control the outcome of many of our health care decisions. We can make choices based on the best available information. But life is still largely a roll of the dice.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 28, 2011

It’s SHO time!

1G Seventh Hole teeThe PGA Tour makes its annual trek to Houston this week for the Shell Houston Open at the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club. It's always a fun event and well worth attending.

After a rocky divorce from The Woodlands and its popular TPC Course, as well as a difficult transition period in which most of the best PGA Tour players avoided the event, the 2010 tournament attracted the best field in the history of the event.

The 2011 tournament does not have quite a strong a field (four of the the top 10 players in the World Rankings are playing as opposed to six last year), but the field is as good as any of the non-major, non-World Golf Championship event on the Tour.

Phil Mickelson (6 in the World Rankings), Lee Westwood (2), Matt Kuchar (9) and Steve Stricker (10) are the highest ranking players participating this year, while defending SHO champ Anthony Kim (41), Ernie Els (13), Retief Goosen (18), Francesco Molinari (16), Padraig Harrington (36) , Hunter Mahan (19), Charl Schwartzel (26),  and defending British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen (24) are other well-known Tour members in the field. In addition, local fan favorites and past SHO winners Fred Couples, Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby (30) are playing again this year.

The Houston Open is one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour and the event has really got its mojo back after picking up the week-before-the-Masters-date on the Tour schedule five years ago. The first tournament was in 1922, which ties the event with the Texas Open as the third oldest non-major championship on the PGA Tour behind only only the Western Open (1899) and the Canadian Open (1904). This is the sixth Houston Open to be played on the Tournament Course at Redstone and the ninth event overall at Redstone, which hosted its first three Houston Opens on the club's Jacobson-Hardy Course while the Tournament Course was being built.

This year's strong field is further confirmation that the tournament's move to the week-before-The Masters-date was the right one (32 participants in the SHO will play in the Masters the following weekend). The Houston Golf Association continues to do a fine job of promoting the tournament with Tour players by grooming the Tournament Course as much as possible to resemble the conditions that they will face next the following weekend at Augusta National. However, the course is a flat-land course that bears little resemblance to the hilly venues of Augusta, so that grooming only works to a limited extent.

Moreover, even with its superior conditioning, the Tournament Course is a not a favorite of either players or spectators. Although is has a decent variety of interesting holes, the routing of the course is an unmitigated disaster, with 16 of the holes separated by a long walk and a drainage ditch from the 1st and 18th holes, the driving range and the clubhouse. Unfortunately, there is not much the Houston Golf Association can do about that routing problem, so let's just hope that the course's superior conditioning and the SHO's attractive tune-up date for The Masters keeps prompting the top players to overlook the course's less appealing characteristics. Here are a few tips on watching the tournament at Redstone.

The following are a few of the back stories to follow during the tournament:

Houston will be well-represented in the field. Steve Elkington, and The Woodlands' Jeff Maggert and Roland Thatcher lead the local veteran contingent, while two new faces - Johnattan Vegas and Bobby Gates, both from The Woodlands - are legitimate contenders for a top-10 finish this week. Vegas already won the Bob Hope Classic earlier this season, and both he and Gates already have two top-10 finishes each this season. Vegas and Gates are students of Kevin Kirk, who is the head pro at The Woodlands Golf Performance Center and another in Houston's long legacy of outstanding golf instructors.

Although Mickelson and Tiger Woods still are ranked higher in the World Rankings, Matt Kuchar is currently the most consistent American player on the PGA Tour and arguably the most consistent player on the Tour over the past two years (although Bay Hill winner Martin Laird is coming on strong in that category). And, as with many things in golf, there is a Houston connection to Kuchar's rise to the top.

Defending SHO champion Kim and British Open champion Oosthuizen are both coming back from injuries that cost them a portion of theie 2010 season. Although neither has contended yet in the 2011 season, both players are extraordinary talents who could burst into contention at any moment.

Scott Stallings, who contended at The Transitions Tournament a couple of weeks ago - is a top-20 Tour player in driving distance and maintains an interesting blog Chief Executive Golfer and likely will be passing along thoughts about his experience during the tournament.

Three of the top-10 drivers in terms of distance on the Tour will be playing, J.B. Holmes (4), Angle Cabrera (5) and Transitions Tournament champion Gary Woodland (9). 

Although I've had my doubts that the HGA would be able to turnaround the SHO at Redstone, I'm happy to be wrong on that score. Houston has a rich golfing tradition and the HGA is a fine charitable organization. It's going to be another great week at Redstone, so sit back and enjoy the SHO!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 27, 2011

Julian Assange - Houseguest from Hell

H/T The NY Times Magazine 6th Floor Blog:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 26, 2011

Why comedians can't do Obama jokes


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 25, 2011

The Father of Golf Instruction

John JacobsWhile the saga of Tiger Woods' latest swing change plays out on the PGA Tour, Golf Digest's Jaime Diaz interviews the oracle of golf swing instruction, England's John Jacobs.

"The golf swing has only one purpose: to deliver the head of the club to the ball correctly, and to achieve such impact repeatedly." With that statement, the 86 year-old Jacobs really hatched the profession of teaching the golf swing during the 1950's and 60's, and then served as a mentor to many of the best golf instructors of the past generation, including Houston's Jim Hardy.  The entire interview is essential reading for anyone interested in the golf swing, in particular, or teaching, in general. The following are just a few of Jacobs' pearls of wisdom:

"Ben Hogan's The Modern Fundamentals of Golf kept me in business.  .  .  .  The book should have been called How I Play Golf, and it would have been a great anti-hook book. But the title suggested it was good for everyone."

"The feeling of wanting to take the club straight back, rather than on an arc, is intuitively human, but it's the core of many faults. We think the longer we can make a straight line, the straighter the ball will go. But golf is a side-on game with the ball on the ground, so it's the opposite."

"The hardest thing about golf is that the natural correction is wrong. Slicers see the ball go to the right and aim farther left. It only makes their slices bigger."

"Although it worked wonderfully for them, I think the team of Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter set a bad precedent for players becoming too dependent on instructors. I preferred that players work alone and ring me when they had a problem.  .   .   . I would say Jack Nicklaus had the right formula with Jack Grout: Meet once a year, with occasional visits for emergencies."

"When Tiger's mind was clear, he was probably as good as Jack, but I wouldn't say better. Jack was not as well equipped in his short game, so he had to be better internally, and that's where Tiger is being tested now. Tiger hits more bad shots than Jack did, but he has saved them with his putter and short game. Going forward, he should be focused on hitting fewer bad shots and needing his putter less."

Which, interestingly, appears to be what Woods is currently attempting to do.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 24, 2011

The greatest invention of the industrial revolution

Hans Rosling argues below that it was the humble washing machine. But Stephen Bainbridge makes a compelling argument in favor of an even more underappreciated invention.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 23, 2011

Even the Rain

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM |

March 22, 2011

Rethinking Obesity

obesity2The stigma attached to obesity has been an accepted practice of American society for a long time. Heck, even those who should know better often embrace the simplistic thinking that obesity is merely the result of an individual's lack of willpower.

But research is increasingly revealing that the obesity stigma is misplaced and counterproductive. Michelle Berman, MD noted this awhile back in this post on KevinMD.com:

Did you know that some psychologists and psychiatrists would like to classify obesity as a brain disease?

The reason for this is that there is mounting evidence that food, or certain types of food, can trigger the same addictive effects in the brain as drugs like heroin and cocaine. There is also substantial evidence that some people lose control over their food consumption and exhibit other behaviors (e.g. tolerance, withdrawal)  that may meet diagnostic criteria  .   .   . for substance dependence.

Arya Sharma, MD picks up on this line of thinking in this recent KevinMD.com post:

Recently, I attended a scientific symposium on addictions.

One of the books I picked up at that conference  .   .   .  is A. J. Adams' Undrunk: A Skeptic's Guide to AA. [.  .  .]

The definition [of alcoholism] reads as follows:

Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psycho-social and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol despite adverse consequences and distortions of thinking, mostly denial.

Let us look at this definition of alcoholism and see what aspects of it (if any) apply to obesity.

No doubt, as readers of these pages know, obesity is most definitely a chronic condition, whose development and manifestations are influenced by genetic, psycho-social and envrionmental factors. In some cases obesity may be more genetic, in others more psycho-social and sometimes purely environmental, but certainly, obesity would fit the bill as far as this statement goes.

And yes, obesity is often progressive and fatal. [.   .  .]

This may not seem as obvious as in the case of the alcoholic who dies of liver cirrhosis or totals his car (and himself) whilst DIU, but when you start looking at the many ways in which obesity can kill you, from heart attacks to cancer, there is no doubt that obesity is fatal (often after ruining most of your life first - another similarity to alcoholism).

Clear Thinkers favorite Art DeVany does an excellent job of explaining the physiological underpinnings of overeating in his recent book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness and Aging (Rodale 2010). The following oversimplifies DeVany's explanation, so definitely read the book if you are interested in this subject.

But the essence of DeVany's point is that the brain needs glucose - generally supplied by carbohydrates - in order to live and thrive. Thus, the brain signals that it needs more glucose, which triggers our desire to eat carbohydrate to fulfill that need. The body (specifically the pancreas) generates insulin to absorb the glucose into the bloodstream.

So far, so good. However, DeVany explains that most people who become obese fall into a sort of negative feedback loop in which they become "insulin insensitive." This is bad for a variety of reasons (damage on a cellular level, etc), but it is particularly damaging in in regard to obesity - the body ends up generating excess insulin, which it stores as fat.

Thus, insulin insensitivity causes a sort of negative feedback loop in which the consumer becomes conditioned to being continually hungry (the brain is signaling that it needs glucose), the consumer eats high-calorie, processed (and readily available) carbohydrate to fulfill that hunger, the body produces more insulin that it needs to absorb the glucose, the body stores the excess insulin as fat, and then the process starts all over again, partly because of the consumer's increasingly insulin-insensitive nature.

In short, willpower really doesn't have that much to do with it. Physiological impulses do.

As DeVany explains in his book (and in his excellent blog), the solution to this obesity syndrome is to become "insulin sensitive" through a lifestyle based on a diet of lean meats, vegetables and fruits, as well as exercise and recreation that promote maintenance of lean body mass. 

However, the more important message that DeVany delivers is that the social stigma attached to obesity is inhumane and counterproductive. It is that stigma that drives obese people to "quick fixes" such as fad diets and excessive exercise routines, both of which rarely result in sustained weight loss.

Rather, as with any addiction, the key to overcoming the addiction to high caloric food is to educate the addict to understand the physiological underpinnings that drive the addict's compulsion.

In short, less stigma and better education equals less obesity and better health.

Sounds like a good trade to me. 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 21, 2011

The Great Retirement Swap

retirement-for-dummies-largeThe concept of retirement is undergoing fundamental change. Does anyone really believe anymore that it's possible for most folks to live comfortably over the final third of their lives while essentially generating no income?

That changing dynamic is behind such ventures as the Great Retirement Swap:

The way that we think about retirement in America is fundamentally flawed. The current retirement system assumes that people must diligently invest in the stock market over an extended period of 30 years or more in order to buy things in the future - like food, shelter, and clothing.

But what if people are free to share, barter and swap for these goods? To travel to wherever they want, provided someone has a spare room for them to use? To have access to any item they need, as long as they have an item of similar value to swap?  [.  .  .]

Well, what if we fundamentally change the way we think about retirement to take into account the new trend toward collaborative consumption? Call it The Great Retirement Swap. At a macro-level, Americans would be swapping a bleak version of retirement for a positive, hopeful one.

At a more tactical level, older Americans would be swapping for goods and services, rather than owning them. Wealth in retirement would become a relative issue - are you wealthier if you own a second home in Florida, or if you have unfettered access to apartments across Europe, at any time of the year? [.  .  .]

While all this sounds a bit "un-capitalistic," it's actually the free market at work, on a grand scale. When you barter for goods, there is a market price established for those goods. And best of all, it doesn't require 7% annual compounded returns in the stock market to succeed.

With millions of Baby Boomers set to start retiring within the next few years, retirement nest eggs shattered by the financial crisis, and even eternal optimists convinced that Social Security is no longer sustainable in the long-run, it's time to start thinking of a ground-breaking, innovative - dare I say it - radical solution for helping Americans attain the type of retirement they always dreamed of in their golden years.

Regardless of the feasibility of the Great Retirement Swap, what are the chances that government will do a better job than markets in providing choices for retirees?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 20, 2011

Elie Wiesel on the perils of indifference

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 19, 2011

Liverpool Oratorio

Kiri Te Kanawa sings beautifully from Paul McCartney's 1991 foray into classical music. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 18, 2011

Tournament Time

With the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, it's a good time to check out the NY Times' A.O. Scott's excellent analysis of the best basketball movie ever made, Hoosiers. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 17, 2011

On why we need to protect Bradley Manning and R. Allen Stanford

Bradley ManningGlenn Greenwald has done an outstanding job of directing the blogosphere's attention toward the U.S. Army's inhumane pre-trial imprisonment of Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing classified information to WikiLeaks, which in turn published the info for the world to read.

The Manning affair has been bubbling just below the surface of public controversy for the past nine months. However, it started to become a full-blown public scandal last week when President Obama - who campaigned on the disingenuous slogan of "change we can believe in" - endorsed the military's brutal treatment of this innocent young man while giving a feckless answer to a question about Manning's treatment during a press conference.

Now, the Manning affair is turning into a firestorm. In addition to this scathing NY Times editorial, Greenwald's latest post links to the international attention that our government's abusive treatment of Manning is now getting. Constitutional Law scholar Jack Balkin and his colleagues over at Balkinization have prepared and are circulating this excellent statement to the Obama Administration condemning the "degrading and inhumane" conditions of Manning's "illegal and immoral" detention.

I applaud Greenwald for focusing attention on the gross injustice of the Manning case and for the others who are now objecting publicly to this outrageous misuse of governmental power. As with the government's vapid security theater and overcriminalization of American life, Manning's treatment is another powerful reminder of just how remote and unresponsive the government has become to civilized society.

Meanwhile, though, I'm wondering about something.

Why is Manning's treatment - as barbaric as it is - generating much more outcry than the arguably worse treatment that R. Allen Stanford has received during his pre-trial incarceration?

If we are going to forego protecting the innocent because the accusations against them are serious and seemingly compelling, then - as Thomas More reminds us -- "when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, .  .  . the laws all being flat?"

"This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, .  .  . do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

"Yes, I'd give the Devil the benefit of the law."

"For my own safety's sake."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 16, 2011

The Primary Care Doc Revolt

Exhausted, Frustrated DoctorThe demise of primary care as a profitable area of specialization under our third-party payor-dominated health care finance system is a frequent topic on this blog. Dr. Robert Center picks up on that them in this recent KevinMD.com post in which he passes along what he sees happening in the marketplace for primary care services:

I believe primary care docs are rebelling against the system.  The system has made primary care physicians suffer emotionally and financially.  The system has taken the greatest form of medical care - that consisting of continuity, comprehensiveness, complexity and completeness - and denigrated it.

Now I talk about "the system" in an anthropomorphic sense, but "the system" is virtual.  "The system" has no conscious, it is not deliberate, rather it represents the constellation of ignorance that the insurance companies, CMS and policy works have wrought. [.  .  .]

So what do primary care physicians do?  They do what any sensible economic citizen would do, they alter the rules to their benefit. [.  .  .]

So decreasing numbers of primary care physicians are taking Medicare or Medicaid.  So primary care physicians are leaving their jobs to do hospital medicine.  So many primary care physicians are leaving the CMS/insurance company grid and retreating to retainer practices or cash only practices.

The rebellion is a quiet one.  No one has declared this rebellion.  This rebellion has no Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin; no Abbie Hoffman or Che Guevera.  This rebellion occurs one physician at a time, as that physician finds continuing their practice undesirable. [.  .  .]

I believe the rebellion will continue.  Every anecdotal sign that I see tells me that the rebellion is gaining speed and power.  .  .  .

One day the wonks on Capitol Hill will realize the problem.  AAFP and ACP (amongst others) have tried explaining the problem to the politicians.  Until they understand that their constituents are angry because they cannot find a physician, they will not focus on the problem.  .  .  .

As doctors flee from primary care (see earlier posts here, here and here), the vacuum will be filled by nurse practitioners and medical assistants, who are far less trained than primary care docs in key diagnostic procedures.

Make sure those payments on the concierge practice account are current!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 15, 2011

More on that entertaining form of corruption

nfl_ncaaJames Surowieki does a good job of summing up the landscape of the litigation between the NFL players and owners:

But the N.F.L. isn't capitalist in any traditional sense. The league is much more like the trusts that dominated American business in the late nineteenth century, before they were outlawed. Its goal is not to embrace competition but to tame it, making the owners' businesses less risky and more profitable. Unions are often attacked for trying to interfere with the natural workings of the market, but in the case of football it's the owners, not the union, who are the real opponents of the free market. They have created a socialist paradise for themselves that happens to bring with it capitalist-size profits. Bully for them. But in a contest between millionaire athletes and billionaire socialists it's the guys on the field who deserve to win.

My sense is that the combination of the lockout of players and the players' litigation against the owners is going to end up being a public relations disaster for the owners. Already, I've heard that every NFL team except the Giants is requiring full or partial season ticket payments from fans during the labor impasse. I mean, really -- who is giving these guys their PR advice?

Meanwhile, though, what I'm really wondering is whether college football players should attempt to intervene in the NFL players' litigation against the owners and bring some additional defendants into the lawsuit - that is, the NCAA and its member institutions?

After all, the NCAA and its members have created a similar form of socialist paradise with capitalist-sized profits, too.

Now that would be worth the price of admission.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 14, 2011

Take Five

It's hard to think of a better way to start the work week than listening to the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 13, 2011

"Don't let your partner interrupt your dreams"

Another in our continuing series of innovative commercials, this time for Swiss furniture maker Pfister.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 12, 2011

The original Boxer

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 11, 2011

The best current American golfer

Matt Kuchar has been the most consistent American player on the PGA Tour for over a year now. And, as explained earlier here, Houstonian Jim Hardy had a lot to do with Kuchar's success. The videos below provide an interesting -- although quite technical -- analysis of Kuchar's swing by Chris O'Connell, his swing coach. Some things to think about before you hit the links this weekend. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 10, 2011

Khan on Education

The remarkable Salman Khan -- the founder of the popular Khan Academy -- talks about using video to reinvent education. Enjoy. H/T Paul Kedrosky.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 9, 2011

The Regulatory Mindset

regulation booksRichard Epstein is typically lucid in taking on the increasingly foreboding regulatory culture that creates barriers for entrepreneurial creation of jobs and wealth:

What is to be done about the compliance culture--a culture born in response to excessive regulation--that now threatens to compromise the technological advances that have long spurred innovation in the United States?

This sad chronicle of relative decline takes place in three separate stages.

The first involves the new mindset that too often finds harmful externalities and bargaining breakdowns in virtually all human endeavors.

The second involves the bulky remedial structures that government puts in place to respond to these newly identified perils.

The third stage involves the subtle alterations in the selection of the compliance culture: the rise government officials and key private officers and executives whose skills matter ever more in these more severe regulatory environments.

This three-fold progression is not specific to this or that industry, but applies across the board.  .  .  . [. . .]

No one should be so reckless as to claim that these forces operate in all cases in all ways. We still have our wonderful success stories. Yet by the same token, no one should be so naïve as to think that these forces have no role to play in the loss of innovation and competitiveness in this country, a loss felt in both absolute and comparative senses. This loss has become an ever-larger feature of the modern United States.

Stated another way, it's not that rules are unnecessary for markets to perform efficiently. But what type of rules are better?

Rules that politicians enact and governmental officials enforce generally are far less efficient than rules that emerge as a result of the voluntary interactions of millions of individuals and companies. The successes and mistakes of those individuals and companies pursuing their own interests create rules that are the product of competition and personal responsibility. When those rules become sufficiently important in the fabric of a market economy, they become formalized as common law and precedent by courts.

The distinction between inefficient government-imposed rules and the decentralized rules that facilitate productive market economies is an important one to understand as we wade through the carnage of this current era of increasing governmental regulation.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 8, 2011

What are we doing to ourselves?

man_in_prison Overcriminalization of life in America has been a frequent topic on this blog.

Mark Perry's post places the topic in perspective.

A truly civil society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 7, 2011

Baseball Flowchart

This is an absolutely brilliant flowchart. Perfect for getting ready for the baseball season. Click the image to view a larger image.

baseball chart

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 6, 2011

My Back Pages

As sung by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and the late George Harrison at Dylan's 30th anniversary concert in 1992.

Neil Young,Dylan... My Back Pages
Uploaded by ivaxavi. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 5, 2011

Touring Rice

A video tour of one of Houston's most beautiful places, Rice University.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 4, 2011

Don't try this on your weekend bike ride

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from changoman on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 3, 2011

Jeff Miron on Libertarianism

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

March 2, 2011

What’s the difference?

Lottery Ticket and dicesThe NY Times Joe Nocera notes that Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo is the latest winner of the criminalization of business lottery.

Meanwhile, Charles Gasparino explains why those who made faulty business decisions that led to a major U.S. banking crisis really shouldn't be prosecuted for crimes.

Yet, the reality is that there is no discernible difference between what Mozilo did at Countrywide or what Dick Fuld did at Lehman Brothers with what Jeff Skilling did at Enron.

Yet, Skilling continues to serve a 24-year prison sentence and endure the immense collateral damage of his fate.

On the other hand, Mozilo and Fuld deal with civil litigation and move on with life.

Neither Mozilo nor Fuld should be prosecuted for trying to save their companies. Any responsibility that they have for the demise of their companies can be allocated in the civil justice system among all the responsible parties.

But that Jeff Skilling remains in prison - particularly given the despicable way in which he was put there - remains a serious blot on the American criminal justice system.

A truly civil society would find a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

March 1, 2011

Is entitlement reform our generational challenge?

usa-income-statement

Henry Blodget passes along this revealing Mary Meeker graph on how bloated entitlement programs now comprise a staggering 58% of federal government expenditures and a corresponding portion of the $1.3 trillion federal deficit.

In his wonderfully lucid style, the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins follows up with this column in which he explains how this system is intrinsically unsustainable, but also fixable:

Nobody should be surprised that public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are fighting to preserve every penny of their promised benefits.[ .  .  .]

.   .  . this fight was penciled in long ago, when politicians and union leaders made the strategic decision to negotiate benefits without negotiating for the funding to make good on them. The mock shock and horror is all the more laughable given that events in Wisconsin are a perfect microcosm of the battle that every sentient American knows, and has known for a generation, awaits Medicare and Social Security.

Medicare is the real killer. According to Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, an average couple retiring last year can look forward to consuming Medicare benefits with a present value of $343,000, having paid Medicare taxes with a present value of $109,000. [.  .  .]

The flip side of this depressing consideration, though, is a happier one. Moving toward a system of real savings, in which payroll taxes would flow into some version of personal accounts controlled by the worker, would bring a big improvement to incentives. We could expect a sizeable growth dividend to help finance the transition.

By "finance the transition," of course, we mean today's workers having to reach into their own pockets twice, paying for their own retirement while also making up for the saving their parents and grandparents didn't do. When people talk about generational injustice, this is what they mean. But the pain can be lightened and spread more evenly with borrowing. Here's where we should not be afraid of debt. The bond market can be trusted to distinguish between good debt and bad debt--between borrowing to fix the system and borrowing to prop it up.

The global bond market demonstrably still has confidence in America even today, in the absence of a clear path of reform. How much more willing would investors be to advance us money if it were being used to put the entitlement state on a sound, pro-growth footing? By the same token, if we don't at some point justify the market's current confidence in our future, our comeuppance will be swift and overwhelming.

This is the entire political challenge today, and you cannot shower enough contempt on those politicians who try to stonewall reform by exciting fears in the elderly that they will be left out in the cold.  .  .  .

Recent past generations of Americans survived the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II to help provide a prosperous economy and great wealth for citizens.

Will the current generations of Americans accept the responsibility to take on the challenge of sustaining that prosperity?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 27, 2011

The Child-Driven Education

Posted by Tom at 8:42 PM |

Do not mess with Stevie Nicks

Watch through the end.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 26, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 25, 2011

Medicine has never been better, but our overall health is worsening

medicine_capsuleDon't miss this KevinMD.com/David Gratzer, M.D. post on how - despite the miracles of modern medicine -- the poor incentives of the fractured U.S. health care finance system encourage people not to change unhealthy habits:

But if medicine has never been so advanced, the actual health of Americans is far less robust. The Era of Modern Medicine has given way to the Age of Preventable Illness. Americans have embraced a culture of extremes: too much alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and food, and not enough exercise and restraint. American leads the way in medical innovation, winning more Nobel Prizes in Medicine than all other countries combined. We also lead the world in obesity, and have the poor life expectancy statistics to show for it. [ .  .  .]

ObamaCare seeks to divorce people from the financial consequences of their health decisions -- regulating insurance to treat people equally regardless of age or illness (community rating), offering many no-deductible services, mandating the coverage of other services, and sweetening the deal with heavy subsidies.

Let's be clear: a patient with Schizophrenia shouldn't be punished because his father and grandfather had the disease. But many illnesses are preventable. Rather than encourage health, ObamaCare seeks to socialize the costs of bad health.

As noted earlier here, perhaps the wisest investment in health care finance that we could make at this stage is simply better education?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 24, 2011

Euro Tour Fun

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 23, 2011

Wisconsin, Myth vs. Fact

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 22, 2011

The Placebo Effect

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 21, 2011

The amazingly ineffective 40-year war

norml_remember_prohibition_The dubious policies of overcriminalization and drug prohibition are two frequent topics on this blog, so this excellent Ethan Nadelmann essay on the utter failure of America's 40-year War on Drugs caught my eye. The entire piece is worth reading, but his final point is particularly illuminating:

Legalization has to be on the table. Not because it is necessarily the best solution. Not because it is the obvious alternative to the evident failures of drug prohibition. But for three important reasons:

First, because it is the best way to reduce dramatically the crime, violence, corruption and other extraordinary costs and harmful consequences of prohibition;

Second, because there are as many options -- indeed more -- for legally regulating drugs as there are options for prohibiting them; and

Third, because putting legalization on the table involves asking fundamental questions about why drug prohibitions first emerged, and whether they were or are truly essential to protect human societies from their own vulnerabilities. Insisting that legalization be on the table -- in legislative hearings, public forums and internal government discussions -- is not the same as advocating that all drugs be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco. It is, rather, a demand that prohibitionist precepts and policies be treated not as gospel but as political choices that merit critical assessment, including objective comparison with non-prohibitionist approaches.

My question is whether the elaborate law enforcement infrastructure that has been constructed to deal with drug prohibition policy become such a powerful political force that it effectively prevents Congress from changing this disastrous policy for the better good of the majority?

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 20, 2011

An English Lesson

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 19, 2011

The Boxer

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 18, 2011

Trying to right the NatWest Three wrong

Natwest Three - Copy.jpgIn the universe of unjust Enron-related criminal prosecutions, the NatWest Three case was particularly pernicious.

Three bankers from the United Kindom, who did nothing other than to have the misfortune of entering into a deal with the CFO of one of the largest public corporations in the U.S., were indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston, uprooted from their jobs and homes in the U.K., extradited to the U.S. under a post-9/11 law that was enacted to facilitate the extradition of terrorists, and forced to endure a four-year ordeal before they were able to return home to their families in the U.K. Two of the NatWest Three -- David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew -- describe the barbaric treatment that they experienced in this series of interviews on the Ungagged.Net website.

Now safely back in the U.K., Bermingham is trying to do something constructive with his horrifying experience -- that is, change the absurd U.K. statute that allowed the U.S. to extradite Bermingham and his colleagues without even the protection of an evidentiary hearing in the U.K. to determine whether there was evidence of a true crime.

Below is Bermingham's testimony before the Joint Committee of Human Rights in the U.K. Not only does he provide a lucid and compelling argument for modification of the extradition statute, he also touches on several of the troubling aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system that have been often discussed here, such as draconian plea bargains, prosecutorial misconduct, witness intimidation, and the trial penalty, just to touch on a few.

After watching this video, ask yourself this question -- just how have we gotten to the point where we are wasting our governmental resources on prosecuting people such as Bermingham?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 17, 2011

A self-righteous delusion

skilling_201.jpgSo, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a court aide to the judge in the trial of former OAO Yukos chairman and CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has admitted that the judge was forced to render a verdict in the case that was different from the one that he had drafted. As the WSJ article notes righteously:

"Everyone in the judicial community understands perfectly that this is a rigged case, a fixed trial," said [the aide],adding that she had decided to go public with her allegations because she had become disillusioned with the judicial system.

[The aide's] claims support the widespread view that the latest trial of Mr. Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and the former owner of oil giant OAO Yukos, was politically motivated. Kremlin officials have repeatedly denied those allegations. But courts in several countries in Europe have ruled in related cases that the prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky and the court-ordered breakup of Yukos appeared driven by the Kremlin's desire to scotch Mr. Khodorkovsky's political ambitions and nationalize his company.

Bad stuff, indeed.

However, is what happened to Khodorkovsky really all that much different than what happened to former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling right here in the good ol' USA? At least Khodorkovsky is scheduled to be released from prison in 2017. Skilling is currently scheduled to be released around 2030!

And let's just say that the WSJ was a healthy tad less righteous in its reporting on the misconduct that took place in Skilling's trial than it is with regard to the hijinks that went on in Khodorkovsky's.

Frankly, I don't know what is sadder. That the Skilling case makes the U.S. justice system look much like the kangaroo court that convicted Khodorkovsky in Russia, or that the U.S.'s leading business newspaper still doesn't recognize the similarity.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 16, 2011

Challenging that entertaining form of corruption

OBannonAll the talk in the sports world these days seems to revolve around the impending lock-out of NFL players by the NFL owners.

However, this Antonio Irzarry/Sports in the Courts Blog post reports on Ed O'Bannon's class action lawsuit against the NCAA, which might just end up being more interesting and change-provoking than anything that occurs in the current NFL labor negotiations:

As noted many times over the years, big-time college sports under the rubric of NCAA regulation is shamefully corrupt. Granted, it's an entertaining form of corruption, but corrupt nonetheless.

There is simply no reason why gifted young football and basketball players should be prevented from earning compensation for the entertainment and wealth that they create in the same manner that young golfers and tennis players do. 

It is far past time for the NCAA member institutions to abandon the NCAA's obsolescent regulatory system and adopt one that recognizes and rewards the risks that the players take -- and the contributions that they make - in providing entertainment and creating wealth.

Let's face it - paying indirect compensation to professional athletes in the form of academic scholarships and flashy resort facilities just doesn't cut it anymore.

Let the market sort out the institutions that are willing to take the risk of investing in what amount to upper minor-league football and basketball teams. The top 30-50 programs will probably do so, but most institutions outside of that group will not. Why risk losing even more money than most programs are under the present system?

Who knows? Perhaps the institutions that elect not to sponsor professional teams will decide to engage in true inter-collegiate competition between real student-athletes.

And with no need for the embarrassing hyprocrisy that the NCAA represents.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 15, 2011

Preventing what?

pills1My father was a master diagnostician who had an uncanny knack - honed over many years of personally examining and interviewing patients - of making the correct diagnosis of a patient's medical problem without the assistance of expensive and often time-consuming tests.

However, my father's way is not the preferred method of modern preventative care, which often tethers patients to their doctors with a dizzying array of tests.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and his colleagues at the Dartmouth School of Medicine aren't convinced that the modern way is better than my father's approach. This Abigal Zuger, MD/NY Times review of Dr. Welch's new book - Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health (Beacon Press January 18, 2011)  -- sums up the core issue well:

As the world is currently configured, the authors point out, doctors are never punished for over-diagnosis, no matter how much havoc may be wrought by untrammeled over-testing. It is perceived under-diagnosis that arouses legal and moral wrath.

Is that the way it should be?

An intriguing question, indeed!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 14, 2011

The NFL Bubble

NFL LOGO -2_2Earlier posts here and here noted the real possibility that the problems that the Harris County Sports Authority is currently experiencing in paying the debt incurred in the construction of various stadiums in Houston may be a sign of a bubble in the professional sports business that is about to burst.

S. M. Olivia of the Ludwig von Mises Institute picks up on that theme in analyzing the very real possibility that National Football League owners may elect to lock-out NFL players because of stalled negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement:

The NFL encapsulates, perhaps better than any other single business entity, the popular conceptions -- and misconceptions -- about capitalism and the nature of markets. The league is the epitome of statist "crony" capitalism. Its franchise operators demand huge government subsidies for stadiums while jealously guarding its prerogatives as a "private" business. Governments (and their media enablers) largely go along with this because they've been led to believe the NFL's popularity is so immense that no respectable city can go without a franchise.

Professional football is the ethanol of the entertainment industry. Since 1990, nearly every NFL franchise has either opened a new stadium, made substantial renovations to existing stadiums, or is currently in the process of obtaining a new stadium. Over this 20-year period the league's franchises obtained over $7 billion in taxpayer subsidies raging from direct taxes to publicly backed bonds. Ten stadiums are 100% government-financed, while another 19 are at least 75% government-financed. Every single franchise receives some amount of government subsidies. [ .  .  .]

[The ongoing NFL-NFLPA dispute is]  .   .   . simple really: The owners overspent on unnecessary stadiums, and now they want the players to work more for less pay to help pay down the debt. That's your entire labor dispute in one sentence. The league expects -- nay, demand -- the NFLPA to act like a local government in a stadium dispute and simply give the franchise operators what they want for little or nothing in return. Maintaining the "owners'" social standing is of paramount importance. [ .  .  .]

The NFL produces three things: stadium debt, intellectual property, and bureaucracy. None of these things should be confused with "free market" values. The league is a prime example of what happens when you mix politically influential egos with easy credit and a media environment that largely promotes economic ignorance. You have the perfect boom business.

But all booms eventually end. NFL acolytes -- and they are presently the majority -- will insist, as Homer Simpson once did, that "everything lasts forever." One media writer I correspond with insisted to me recently the NFL will be even more popular in 20 years then it is today. Go back to 1991 and think about all of the businesses you could have said that about, incorrectly, at that time.

That's not to say professional football will cease to exist, nor even that the present labor situation will yield some disaster beyond imagination. What I am saying is that all the positive, pie-in-the-sky press in the world can't alter economic reality. The NFL isn't just a house of cards. It's a house of cards built atop a pile of toxic waste. The only thing keeping the house from sinking is a support structure composed of television contracts.

But the networks face their own economic challenges, and unless you can guarantee that Fox, ESPN, CBS, et al., will be stronger then they are now in 2031, then you can't say with any confidence the NFL will survive and thrive indefinitely. The league is built on consumption, and when you adopt that model, eventually you'll eat yourself out of your $1.3 billion house and home.

My sense is that the NFL owners will endure a public relations debacle if they force a work stoppage, particularly if they allow it to last a long time.

For one thing, the entertainment market is far different and more diverse now than it was during prior NFL work stoppages. Thus, the market for entertainment has many alternatives to the NFL.

Moreover, the market appreciates the grave injury risk that the players endure far better than it did during prior NFL work stoppages. The public is unlikely to side with wealthy owners who are attempting to force players to take more economic risk in the face of that injury risk.

Funny thing about those financial bubbles - they are far easier to see in hindsight.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 13, 2011

Another Like You

Clear Thinkers favorite Hayes Carll -- a native of the Woodlands -- is the latest in Texas' long line of talented singer/songwriters such as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.

Carll has just come out with a new album, KMAG YOYO (and other American Stories). The following is a catchy duet from the new album called "Another Like You." Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 12, 2011

The Greatest Walk in Golf

The walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee of Cypress Point Golf Club on the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 11, 2011

Be more efficient at work . . .

In our continuing series of innovation commercials, check out this one from Norway. Outstanding!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 10, 2011

Dissecting Tiger's swing problems

tiger_07_masters.jpgI'm partial to Jeff Ritter's take, but the Somax Performance analysis (H/T Geoff Shackelford) below of Tiger Wood's swing problems is thought-provoking.

As an aside, I continue to maintain that Wood's ill-advised training regimen has had an underappreciated impact on his swing problems.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 9, 2011

Narcotic maintenance vs. Addiction

drug prohibitionThis recent WaPo article highlights one of the senseless incongruities of the U.S.'s dubious policy of drug prohibition:

Twice, the patient, a man in his mid-30s, said he lost his prescriptions for Valium and Percocet. Once, he said he was in a car accident that scattered his pills on the road. Another time, he said the medicine he was first prescribed was no good, so he "returned the pills." Another time, his wife called and said their house had been "searched by authorities" and the medicine had gone missing.

Each time, no matter the story, Peter S. Trent or Hampton J. Jackson Jr., doctors at the same orthopedic practice in Oxon Hill, refilled the prescription, according to the Maryland Board of Physicians. Over the course of 21/2 years, the doctors gave the patient 275 prescriptions, mostly for Percocet, a powerful, highly addictive painkiller.

Sometimes they wrote the patient more than one prescription for the drug on the same day. In a single month, they wrote him 11 prescriptions for Percocet, totaling 734 pills.

On one hand, maybe the patients had a "legitimate" need for large amounts of narcotics, but most doctors wouldn't write prescriptions for the drugs because they fear prosecution if they did so.

On the other hand, the patients may be addicts without a "legitimate" need for the drugs, but they seek to obtain the narcotics through prescription because it is safer and probably cheaper than buying them illegally.

Current U.S. drug policy mandates that the patients who have a "legitimate" need for the narcotics can buy them legally, but the addicts cannot.

What valid public policy purpose is served by that distinction? Such a distinction only leads to arbitrary and capricious enforcement of criminal laws that terrorizes citizens who desperately need treatment regardless of the cause of that need.

Irrespective of whether a patient has a "legitimate" need for narcotics or is simply an addict, the patient should be able to obtain the drugs legally through prescription. Such a policy would allow the patient to obtain a known product at a reasonable price without risking expensive incarceration. A reduction of the mass incarceration problem and the expensive and brutal black market for drugs would be two fringe benefits of such a change in policy.

The federal government already funds methadone clinics for heroin addicts. Why not extend such a policy to narcotic maintenance?

A truly civil society would find a way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 8, 2011

The Persistant Financial Losses of U.S. Airlines

Could this have anything to do with security theater? Check out the synopsis from Severin Borenstein's new working paper:

U.S. airlines have lost nearly $60 billion (2009 dollars) in domestic markets since deregulation, most of it in the last decade.

More than 30 years after domestic airline markets were deregulated, the dismal financial record is a puzzle that challenges the economics of deregulation. I examine some of the most common explanations among industry participants, analysts, and researchers -- including high taxes and fuel costs, weak demand, and competition from lower-cost airlines. Descriptive statistics suggest that high taxes have been at most a minor factor and fuel costs shocks played a role only in the last few years.

Major drivers seem to be the severe demand downturn after 9/11 -- demand remained much weaker in 2009 than it was in 2000 -- and the large cost differential between legacy airlines and the low-cost carriers, which has persisted even as their price differentials have greatly declined.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 7, 2011

Getting back to the basics

This Japanese banana commercial is better than any of the commercials that I saw during this year's Super Bowl.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 6, 2011

Sweet Baby James

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 5, 2011

My name is Phony Bennett

Alec Baldwin and Tony Bennett have an excellent time in this classic SNL skit. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 4, 2011

If I Needed You

The late Townes Van Zandt from the mid-1970's, around the time that he was regularly performing in Houston at the Old Quarter on Market Square.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

February 3, 2011

A low-cost concierge medicine model

conciergeThe innovation of concierge medical practice has been a frequent topic here, so this recent NY Times article on the development of a low-cost concierge medical practice model caught my eye:

With 31 physicians in San Francisco and New York, [One Medical Group] offers most of the same services provided by personalized "concierge" medical practices, but at a much lower price: $150 to $200 a year.

One Medical Group doctors see at most 16 patients a day; the nationwide average for primary-care physicians is 25. They welcome e-mail communication with patients, for no extra charge. Same-day appointments are routine. And unlike most concierge practices, One Medical accepts a variety of insurance plans, including Medicare. [.  .  .]

.  .  . One Medical is the first to try to carry out such a model on a large scale. It now has several thousand patients and a growth rate of 50 percent a year, fueled largely by word of mouth. Dr. Lee said he planned to open a third office in Manhattan next month and expand to a third large city next year.

It will be interesting to see if this model still works on a larger scale, particularly if less healthy patients use a highly disproportionate amount of doctor time and resources.

However, as this latest disclosure regarding Obamacare reinforces, truly beneficial health care finance reform is more likely to come through innovations such as One Medical Group, not through government-managed overhauls.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

February 2, 2011

The sad reality of Metro

metro-map-2012-revisedMetropolitan Transit Authority CEO George Greanias makes his best case for building expensive light rail systems here. It's all about investing for what will eventually be a "first-class public transit system."

But there is also the here and now. And the stark reality is that light rail systems are utterly unsustainable without massive federal subsidies, which are hit and miss, at best.

Metro is in desperate need of leadership that will develop a transit plan for the Houston area based on something other than a strategy of "build as much light rail as possible now and then figure out how to pay for it later."

Greanias does not appear that he will be providing such leadership.

So it goes with Metro.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 PM |

February 1, 2011

The Myth of the Enron Whistleblower

whistleblower1Just about the time that you think that Sherron Watkins has faded back into obscurity, she finds yet another way to promote herself:

Sherron Watkins, the former vice president at Enron who tried to blow the whistle on the accounting violations at the scandal-plagued Houston energy-trading giant, told an audience at a seminar Friday on the new whistleblower provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act that she and other whistleblower employees would probably take their concerns to WikiLeaks rather than the Securities and Exchange Commission now.

"People now will go to WikiLeaks to protect themselves," she said during a briefing at the New York State Society of CPAs' Foundation for Accounting Education offices in Manhattan. "WikiLeaks is a huge, huge sledgehammer that many employees will go to. People like myself will just go to WikiLeaks."

Watkins, a CPA, said that since she came forward, she has been unable to get a job in corporate America despite her years of experience as an accountant and portfolio manager. "The label whistleblower is stuck on my head," she said. She now makes her living by giving speeches, and said she has heard from other whistleblowers about their inability to get jobs in their old occupations.

Well, isn't that interesting? Courageous whistleblowers such as Watkins now have in WikiLeaks another valuable conduit for publicizing alleged corporate wrongdoing.

There is only one problem with that narrative, at least as it applies to Watkins.

She was never a whistleblower.

I wonder whether Watkins' difficulty in finding a job "in corporate America" is at least partly attributable to the fact that most prospective employers are not inclined to hire someone for a management position who disingenuously presented herself to Congress, the mainstream media and the public as a whistleblower when she really wasn't?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 31, 2011

The Agony of Defeat

Joe Posnanski artfully describes the 32 worst endings in sports history. And amazingly, not one of them involves a team from Houston!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 30, 2011

Days With My Father

DaysofMyFather.jpgPhillip Toledano's extraordinary website is now a book. Don't miss it.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 29, 2011

They don't make clowns like this anymore

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 28, 2011

Wild as a Turkey

The Woodlands native Hayes Carll:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 27, 2011

My Blackberry is Not Working

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 26, 2011

Replacing the notebooks

I still use a desktop computer when I'm in the office, but I bought a new notebook computer recently for when I'm mobile. While doing so, my tech consultant suggested to me that it will probably be the last notebook that I buy. Here's why:

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 25, 2011

Did you know you could do this with Google Docs?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 24, 2011

First Time on the Tonight Show

The late Johnny Carson's Tonight Show was an entry forum for some very talented comedians who went on to successful careers. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 23, 2011

Civility in politics is short-term

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Word Warcraft
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 22, 2011

Negotiating the Saturday morning golf kitchen pass

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 21, 2011

Experts at self-deception

mythsAmericans' proclivity to embrace myths is a frequent topic on this blog, so this Will Wilkinson post regarding Paul Krugman and this engaging William Easterly post on complexity and spontaneous order (among other things) is right up our alley. As Wilkinson notes:

It's clear by now that Paul Krugman thinks there is something seriously wrong with Republicans.  .   .  .

Though it is a challenge to accept that a man of Mr Krugman's intelligence truly believes America's ills flow exclusively from the intellectual and moral failures of the people who disagree with him, I don't believe he is arguing in bad faith. He really is that self-righteously Manichean. What drives Mr Krugman absolutely nuts is that people who are wrong about everything are just as self-righteously Manichean as he is. Where do they get off? [.  .  .]

.  .  .there is something quite significant about the evidently negative rhetorical charge of "welfare" and "food stamps" among smaller-government, freer-markets types. And there is something quite significant about Mr Krugman's evident confusion about American public opinion and his genuine alarm over libertarian "taxation-is-theft" rhetoric.

Although Americans left and right have remarkably consistent "ideologically conservative but programmatically progressive" preferences when it comes to redistributive social policy, it benefits political parties and party politicians to greatly exaggerate their differences. Partisan brand identity and distinction is achieved largely through a commitment to a certain stock of rhetorical tropes and symbolic gestures that float almost entirely free of the party's substantive commitments. People are suckers for rhetoric, which is why merely rhetorical differentiation works at both the grocery store and the polling station. It is also why we are prone to believing crazy things about what the other "side" believes. And this leads to a rhetorical atmosphere corrosive to the trust necessary to facilitate compromises over policy that would be agreeable to most everyone.

Our problem, and Mr Krugman's, is that we believe our own BS.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 20, 2011

Constructing the Model T


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 19, 2011

The wisest health care finance investment

healthcare-reform2009-06-18-1245364138Three articles caught my eye recently regarding America's health care dilemma.

This LA Times article reports on the declining quality of the end-of-life period of many Americans:

Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing. According to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago. [.  .  .]

According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity - which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility - has increased in the last two decades. For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. That number fell to 43.8 in 2006. For women, the expected years of life without a serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade. [.  .  .]

"There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease or the physiological changes that are linked to age," the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, a part of that problem is the result of the fact that many Americans have no idea what - or how much - they are eating:

Nearly 90% of respondents to a Consumer Reports telephone survey thought they were eating right -- saying that their diet was either somewhat (52.6%), very (31.5%), or extremely healthy (5.6%).

But when they were asked about what they actually eat, far fewer seemed to be in following a healthy diet.

For instance, of the 1,234 people surveyed, only 30% said they eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, just 13% step on the scale every morning, and a meager 8% monitor their daily calorie intake. [.  .  .]

bout a third of those who said they were a healthy weight actually had a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range (30% and 3%, respectively).

"It's likely that Americans are thinking about health more, and that's a good thing," said Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Still, nine out of 10 think they're doing pretty well, and to that, I'd say let's talk again."

So, asks this Dana P. Goldman/Darius N. Lakdawalla article, what would be the best investment to generate significant improvement in the health of Americans?:

The first step is to invest--not in the healthcare system, but in education. We should take the $120 billion it might cost for universal coverage, and use it, instead, to provider earlier education and to improve the quality of education. Better-educated people live longer, are less likely to be disabled, and engage in healthier behavior.

For nearly 40 years, distinguished health economists led by Michael Grossman have observed that more-educated people have much more powerful incentives to protect their own 'investments' in education by practicing healthier habits and reducing their risks of death. They also are better at self-managing chronic diseases. And, unlike universal coverage, more education has other valuable benefits to a person and to society. Less crime, less divorce, and higher earnings--can universal health insurance promise that?

The second place to invest is prevention. Primary prevention has the capacity to slow or reduce the rising prevalence of chronic disease, and simultaneously attenuate the downstream spending that is associated with it. Equally importantly, however, prevention leads to a life with less disability and more years of an active lifestyle. It simply makes a lot of sense to avoid disease in the first place, rather than try to treat it later.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 18, 2011

The problem that no big city mayor wants to confront

gpensionThe turmoil in the municipal bond markets over the past week got me thinking.

Bill King has done a great job (and see generally here) of explaining how Houston's unfunded public pension obligation represents an untenable burden on the city government's financial condition. The problem is not just Houston's, either.

So, it was refreshing to come across this Maria D. Fitzpatrick/Stanford Institute of Economic Policy Research paper (H/T Craig Newmark) that indicates that now may be the best time for Houston and other over-stretched local governments to attempt to do something about this mess:

The results show that the majority of Illinois public school teachers are willing to pay just 17 cents for a dollar increase in the present value of expected retirement benefits. The findings therefore suggest substantial inefficiency in compensation as the public cost of deferred compensation exceeds its value to employees.  .   .   . [. . .]

In this context, the main finding of this paper, that the majority of IPS employees value their pension benefits at about 17 cents on the dollar, has two important implications. First, it suggests a possible Pareto-improving and politically feasible solution to the current inability of states to pay their promised pension benefits to public employees. Governments could offer to buy back pension benefits from teachers and other public sector employees. If the results here generalize, governments may be able to buy back promised employee pension benefits, or at least some of these promised benefits, for as little as twenty cents on the dollar. Doing so would draw down the pension obligations of governments both significantly and immediately, rather than waiting for a reduction in benefits to take effect years in the future.

Meanwhile, in this WSJ op-ed, Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. passes along an innovative approach that Orange County, California - the site of one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history back in the mid-1990's - is taking to deal with its unfunded pension obligations:

The plan is a hybrid model: It combines contributions by the county and its employees with both a traditional defined-benefit pension and individual accounts, which the worker can take with him from job to job.

Here's how it works: New hires can choose either the old defined-benefit plan or the new hybrid plan when they sign up for benefits. The plan maintains a strong traditional pension, but it reduces the requisite contribution for both the county and its employees. It also redirects a portion of that money into the defined-contribution part of the plan where the money can grow over time.

Unlike a typical 401(k), the defined contribution part of the hybrid plan emphasizes retirement income as the primary goal. It incorporates affordable deferred annuity options during employees' working years that can deliver income in retirement that compares favorably with what workers can expect from the traditional pension plan alone. The hybrid plan also increases workers' take-home pay because workers' contributions are lower than they are in the old defined-benefit plan.

This new program helps workers to think about how much monthly income they will need in retirement--as opposed to how big a nest egg they're building. [. . .]

Sometimes real change begins with compromise. A new approach on pensions won't close the gap between current pension promises and the public's ability to afford them. But it points the way forward and acknowledges the reality that we have to start somewhere to address our nation's public pension woes.

Are you listening, Mayor Parker?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 17, 2011

I Have a Dream

No question about it, Martin Luther King could flat out give a speech.


And here is Robert F. Kennedy's moving tribute to Reverend King immediately after his death:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 16, 2011

How to Build a Toaster

Thomas Thwaites with a practical lesson on the importance of facilitating trade.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 15, 2011

Take It Easy

The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt from the mid-70’s.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 14, 2011

Agents Prosecuting Agents

ribsteinInasmuch as I've been in an extremely busy period in my practice recently, I haven't had time to blog much. But I came across something yesterday that I wanted to pass along.

Larry Ribstein -- the University of Illinois law professor who has done more than anyone in the blogosphere to decry the enormous financial and human cost of the federal government's criminalization of business lottery over the past decade - has posted on SSRN a new paper that he has been working on for some time - Agents Prosecuting Agents:

Significant questions have been raised concerning the efficiency of criminalizing agency costs and the problems of excessive prosecution of crimes committed by corporate agents. This paper provides a new perspective on these questions by analyzing them from the perspective of agency cost theory. It shows that there are close analogies between the agency costs associated with prosecutors in corporate crime cases and those of the agents being prosecuted. The important difference between the two contexts is that prosecutors are not subject to many of the standard mechanisms for dealing with corporate agency costs. An implication of this analysis is that society must decide if prosecuting corporate agents is worth incurring the agency costs of prosecutors. [.  .  .]

This paper contributes to this debate by approaching the subject from the perspective of agency theory and analogizing abuses of power by prosecutors to those of corporate agents. It shows that prosecutors' conduct involves many of the same agency cost problems as the corporate conduct they are prosecuting. At the same time, the sort of market and institutional mechanisms that can constrain corporate agents may not be effective for prosecutorial agents. Moreover, the particular challenges of corporate criminal prosecutions exacerbate prosecutorial agency costs in this context.

This agency analysis illuminates whether and to what extent corporate agency costs should be criminalized. It shows that if the criminal justice system is to be used to punish corporate agents for harm they cause in the course of their employment, then society must be prepared to tolerate increased costs associated with delegating discretion to its own agents, those who prosecute these crimes. Prosecutorial agency costs, in turn, must be taken into account in designing and weighing the costs and benefits of criminal liability of corporate agents. [.  .  .]

The agency costs associated with prosecution of corporate crime are at least as consequential as those related to the crimes being prosecuted. This matters for at least two reasons. First, combining analyses of the two types of agency costs sheds light on how to appropriately constrain excessive or misguided corporate prosecutions. Second, prosecutorial agency costs bear on the extent to which the conduct of corporate agents should be criminalized at all given the weak constraints on prosecutorial conduct in enforcing the criminal law. The criminal laws may provide significant deterrence of corporate agents' misconduct that other mechanisms cannot fully supply. However, we should not assume that it is socially valuable to use the criminal laws to ensure totally loyal corporate agents unless we are ready to demand similar perfection from our prosecutors.

We in Houston know all about the implications of the problem that Professor Ribstein addresses.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 13, 2011

The amazing Barry Sanders

You will not see a running back in the NFL Playoff games this weekend who could hold a candle to Barry Sanders.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 12, 2011

A Houston Gem

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 11, 2011

Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Free Trade and Drug Prohibition in Latin America

The Mary Anastasia O’Grady –  longtime WSJ Americas columnist -- is one of the most insightful commentators on Latin American politics and economics. In this ReasonTV interview, O’Grady comments on the impact of free trade and drug prohibition on Latin America:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 10, 2011

Our broken tax system

File this excellent Cato Institute video on our governments’ absurdly complicated tax system in the “why do we do this to ourselves” category of out-of-control governmental policies that include such intrusions as security theater and overcriminalization:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 9, 2011

A darn good locker room speech

Interim Miami (OH) coach Lance Guidry is out of a job after his team won the Godaddy.com Bowl earlier this week. After listening to this pre-game locker room speech, you will agree with me that he probably won’t be out of a job for long.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 8, 2011

Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 7, 2011

Louis CK is a funny guy

H/T Adam Frucci at Splitsider.


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 6, 2011

Oil and Gas Investment Explained

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

January 5, 2011

The trouble with those darn predictions

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 4, 2011

Old narratives die hard

PD*27270710A Russian criminal court sentenced former OAO Yukos chairman and CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky to another seven years in prison last week. As if on cue, the mainstream U.S. media reported on the event as a reflection of the capricious and arbitrary nature of the Russian legal system.

We really are better than those corrupt Russians, aren't we?

Meanwhile, the mainstream media continues to neglect -- and often promotes -- similar mistreatment and persecution of business executives in the U.S. I mean, really. Would R. Allen Stanford fare much worse in a Russian prison than he has in U.S. jails?

And to that the unnecessary and shameful criminalization of large segments of American society in other respects and you start wondering whether those writing for the mainstream media have any idea of what is going on in their own backyards?

Yeah, Russian criminal justice system is corrupt. The U.S. system is far superior.

Old narratives die hard.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 3, 2011

"I think you're a shot better in blue"

Stooges golfersOne of the many endearing qualities of golf is the cast of characters that the game attracts. So, it naturally follows that the game generates wonderful stories, many of which are hilarious.

Golf Digest's December issue passes along a couple of dozen of those funny anecdotes (see more here) and I can think of no better way to start off the New Year than to take a few minutes and enjoy them all. One of my favorites is one that NBC golf commentator Roger Maltbie passes along about an interview with the legendary Sam Snead:

It's 1999, and we're doing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. I'm in the tower at 18 with Dan Hicks. We decide to do an interview with Sam. He was what, 87 or something?

We were advised that Sam had good days and bad days, so we decided to do the interview on tape. The last thing you want to do is embarrass anybody.

It started slowly, but all of a sudden Sam turns to Dan and says, "You know, I sat down and thought about it once, and if I had shot 69 in the final round of the Open, I'd have won eight of them."

From that moment, he snapped in and he was lucid. Clear as a bell. So then Dan asked him about his longevity.

Sam said, "Well, I never drank much. Always took pretty good care of myself. Got to bed early, got a lot of sleep."

Then, with an old Sam Snead grin, he looked at Dan and said,

"Course, I did shake those bedsprings every now and then!"

With that, we lose it. So the interview never aired, but it was tremendous.

There are many other classics, such as the one about Boo Weekley's boxing match against an orangutan and Gary McCord's first meeting with Ben Hogan. And an article about funny golf stories would not be complete without one from Clear Thinkers favorite Dan Jenkins, who describes his nervousness in addressing his first tee shot while playing an exhibition with Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald in front of a big gallery:

I simply stood there, waiting for some divine power to move the clubhead back. I don't have any idea how or where the ball went. All I could hear was Finsterwald saying, "Go ahead and hit another one."

I suavely turned around, pitched the driver to my caddie and said, "Let's play it, baby."

"It'll be kind of tough off that roof across the street," said Palmer.

Houston is well-represented, with anecdotes from longtime residents Jackie Burke and Steve Elkington, who tells a great one about watching Colin Montgomerie polishing off a massive dessert before a big match.

But the late Dave Marr -- who was one of Houston and golf's finest storytellers - takes the top prize among Houstonians with this anecdote about a pro-am incident involving the legendarily caustic wit of the late Tommy Armour:

The best one I remember hearing involved Tommy Armour, who was acute, to say the least, in his observations of people.

He was playing in a pro-am with a guy who showed up the first day in an all-blue outfit, including his bag and headcovers -- even his shoes. And he shot a 95.

The next day he came out in an all-red outfit -- bag, shirt, shoes, everything -- and this time he shot a 96.

And he said, "Mr. Armour, I've played two days with you, and I would really appreciate any comments you have about my golf game."

Armour looked at him a minute and then said,

"I think you're a shot better in blue."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 2, 2011

Who’s Got Rhythm?

They don’t make many like the Gerry Mulligan and Ben Webster Quintet anymore.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM |

January 1, 2011

So Long 2010

The only thing better than this political ad from the 2010 campaign was the target study that concluded that it would be effective. You gotta love Arizona politics:

And amazingly, the foregoing political ad was pretty restrained in comparison to this classic plaintiff's lawyer's ad:

By the way, while growing up in Iowa City, I never realized that Cedar Rapids 20 miles to the north was such an interesting place:

Happy New Year!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM |

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