Saturday, November 28, 2009

Audit the Fed

As anyone who follows politics realizes quickly, some things stay the same, some things change. I've been shocked that this Audit the Fed bill, pushed by Rep. Ron Paul, has gotten as far as it has. First off, who cares about monetary policy? Second, with super corrupt politicans running both parties, who'd a thunk that they would support the audit of an organization that so many of them, just months ago, said should run the unsupervised distribution of trillions of taxpayer dollars. Ahhhh yes, the voters are mad. I guess that still makes a difference in this day and age. Voters getting mad has changed, politicians doing anything to keep their jobs has not.

I encourage you to watch this whole video, it's not super long, just over 13 minutes. Take the time to understand how confused some of these experts are on the difference between auditing an organization and controlling it (would they object to a corporation getting audited as the same thing as relinquishing control of it?). Look how mad the opening Republican is. I also especially like the ending of it, where the healthcare bill slips into conversation, as does Clute, TX.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Illusory superiority

I am a decent cook. Actually, I am an above average cook. I don't do it a ton- my wife (God bless her) does much more than me. But when I actually do head into the kitchen to make something, it usually turns out to be pretty good.

At least that is what I have for a long time believed about myself.

Then Sept. 23 rolled around and that entire thought was blown to pieces.

Before I finish the above story, I need to delve into something called "illusory superiority." This is a bias that exists in each one of our minds that makes us either overestimate what we see as desirable qualities in ourselves or underestimate the degree of what we see as negative qualities. This defense mechanism creates a belief in our mind that we are better at those things we wish we were good at than we really are. A classic example of this was a study done by a researcher named Swenson in 1981 that surveyed Swedish and American drivers about their driving ability. What they found was pretty impressive- nearly all (93%) of the American drivers thought that they were in the top 50% of drivers with regards to driving skill and safety. Swedish drivers were not quite as generous but still thought they were better than they probably were (69% placed themselves in the top 50%). With regards to safety as an individual measurement, 88% of the US group and 77% of the Swedish group put themselves in the top 50%.

This effect of illusory superiority has been demonstrated time and again and brings us to a very uncomfortable conclusion- none of us are as good as we think we are in nearly every aspect of our lives. For instance, I have been involved in 4 car accidents as a driver, three in which the car I was driving was totalled (one of the contributors to this blog and one of its frequent readers might remember one of these events). Yet, despite this, I would not only say that I am in the top 50% of safe drivers out there, but I would also probably say that I am in the top 10% of safe drivers on the road.

This brings me back to the story of Sept. 23. As I mentioned above, I have always thought of myself as an above average cook. On Sept. 23, my wife's birthday, I decided to make her a cake. A german chocolate cake to be exact. I had visions of this cake turning out perfectly and me winning years of "Good husband points" as a result. But the truth of the matter was not quite so pretty. The cake, to put it mildly, sucked. I forgot to put icing between the two layers of the cake so it literally started to fall apart about 10 minutes after I iced it. To make matters worse, this was not a cake made from scratch. This was actually a box cake and it practically made itself, or would have if I knew what in the world I was doing. In the end, it looked like a bear had eaten a bag of shredded coconut and then crapped on a cake platter. Here are two pictures- see for yourself.

My wife was great about this. I actually acumulated all the necessary karma points but she did email the above picture to all of her friends. I would have, too, if I were her.

So this above experience has caused me to try to take an accurate assessment of my life. I am trying to get outside of the illusory superiority that exists in my brain and see if I can identify where I really stand on certain skills. Below is a list of aspects of life that people often think that they are better than they really might be. After much reflection, the first ranking is what I now think is an accurate assessment of where I truly stand on these skills. The rankings in parentheses are actually where I used to believe I stood (100% being the best in the world, 0% being the worst).

Athletics: 40%- this is difficult. I think that I am a top 20% runner but yet I am a bottom 20% basketball/football player. Since most people's idea of sports is weighted towards team sports rather than things like running, I give myself a less then 50% vote- (80%)
Sense of humor/wit: 80%- (70%)
Driving: 95%- (40%)
My skill at my profession: 90%- (75%)
Looks: 50%- (50%)
Poker playing ability: 25%- (25%)
Photography: 80%- (50%)

Please feel free to comment on your own assessment of yourself or your assessment of my assessment of myself.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going Rouge

Ahhhh, Sarah Palin is back in the news. Or maybe she never left. What an odd phenomenon she represents in both the U.S. and in "conservative" circles. With her new book coming out, some are rushing to the stores to snatch their copy of "Going Rogue". Actually, more than some, she already enjoys one of the highest nonfiction opening days in history, selling over 300,000 copies (just under Bill Clinton's first day, but surpassing Hillary's).

Mrs. Palin is a surprisingly complex woman. She is a walking composite wedge issue -- you can find something to like or hate in her, depending on what's important to you. This makes her both divisive and perhaps less important ultimately than her attention warrants. Let's hit upon some issues she seems to represent as well as some of the traits she embodies that have so many people talking about her.

She's pretty.

I think it's tough to deny that Sarah Palin is a pretty woman. Many liberals might gag at this because they are overwhelmed by her other attributes, but they would probably have no trouble saying Tina Fey is pretty. Mrs. Palin is attractive enough (but not too attractive) to invite the admiration of other women. In men, she might stir a chivalrous reaction. Beauty is one of the first things we notice about people, and we spend an inordinate amount of time looking at our politicians on TV. So it's hard to throw out looks as unimportant, especially when so many female politicians trend in the other direction.

She's a full time employee, full time mom.

This is one of the most important draws in my mind for Mrs. Palin. The women of Generation X have been the first generation in America raised on the bad medicine that they can have it all. Actually, depending on who you are and where you're from, many women have been taught to put their careers first and hold off on family. But one way or the other, millions of working women, working moms and soccer moms across the nation struggle to find this balance in their own lives just to survive. Mrs. Palin has five children, a grandchild from her single daughter, a decent if unremarkable husband and was the governor of Alaska. Talk about a full plate -- a plate full of modern day apple pie successes and problems. It's not so much that other women look to her as "she's done it", but they look to her as "she struggles just like me."

She's a simpleton.

I mean this with all due respect. There's nothing wrong with keeping it simple on a personal level. But in many ways, when I hear Mrs. Palin talk, I am instantly reminded of Dan Quayle. In fact, the parallels are numerous: Vice-president material, concerns about ability or gravitas, good looking, etc. [For full disclosure, I have an autographed copy of Dan Quayle's "Standing Firm" that my dear mom stood in line to get signed and gave to me as a present. Dan Quayle and I share our alma mater and are both better than average golfers. His book was as difficult to read as you might imagine.]

This is where the MSM really lurched at Mrs. Palin. Recall the inappropriate Charles Gibson interview, where he cornered Mrs. Palin about the "Bush doctrine." I had never heard of the Bush doctrine either, and I follow these things fairly closely. In fact, I doubt Mr. Bush accomplished enough as president to establish any doctrine of note -- I've never heard anyone else speak of the "Bush doctrine." Well, watching Mrs. Palin squirm was a telling moment for both "sides". One group thought this proved she was an idiot, the other group thought it proved the MSM is rigged and she could hold her cool under pressure. In either case, this childish tactic could have backfired on Mr. Gibson as his ratings continued to drop and he was eventually forced to announce his "retirement" this September.

There are numerous other stories and quotes that one group interepreted one way and another group the other way. What Mrs. Palin may lack in worldly experience she seems to make up for in honesty and common sense -- two qualities dearly lacking in D.C. However, common sense can only go so far especially when the office of President of the United States is concerned.

Guns, Abortion, Christianity

This decently clever photoshopped picture to the left sums up a lot of images that people like or hate to have about Sarah Palin. On guns, she's a hunter, and all winter long her family lives off harvested meat. On abortion, she has five children, one has autism, and her single daughter has a child. She has not only made it verbally clear, but walks the walk that abortion is not an acceptable part of her life. She is an unabashed Christian, although her apparent membership in a Seventh-Day Adventist Church is as controversial as it is reassuring to traditional Christians.

By contrast in the previous election, our current president made fun of small town folks -- explaining them away practically as aliens to a more important crowd in San Francisco -- for bitterly clinging to guns and religion. He had also said that he would advise his own daughter to abort his own grandchild if the situation should ever occur that she might be saddled with an unexpected baby. Quite a contrast indeed. This political gap on hot-button issues of our time immediately made Palin a star and enemy to many.

Who else is the GOP gonna turn to?

This is perhaps the saddest truth about the situation. John McCain was a straight talk express trainwreck of a candidate. His independence streak ended up not emerging from strong, unshakable principles, where the rest of the world zig-zagged around him as he remained constant as the northern star. No, his "maverick" ways were the result of a superficial political expediency, going which ever way he could to make a name for himself and appear bi-partisan. By the end of the day, he was clearly more aligned with Joe Lieberman than conservatives like Ron Paul. He knew he was losing and needed a boost. In swings the dea ex machina Palin.

And now that the GOP has been thoroughly destroyed and humiliated for its sins of the recent past, there is a vacuum of power and direction in the party. Things are so bad for the brand that characters ranging from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to Mitt Romney and Mike "Shucks" Huckabee to Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty, and yes, even to Sarah Palin are being thrown around as the "future" of the party. The GOP is so clueless even now as to why it lost so badly while it helped destroy our country that it is further exaggerating its own limited imagination, as its website is trying to make the party look home to diversity and multiculturalism. (This from a group so lacking in free speech concerns that they wouldn't let Ron Paul on the stage in some debates!) I know there are and have been plenty of black Republicans, but let's not let reality get completely distorted. African-Americans as a group continue to be political sheep, and they baaaa towards the Democrat side, not the Republican. The GOP will get nowhere chasing race.

Meanwhile, "conservatives" are rising up all over the country in reaction to the liberal landslide in what appears to be independent thought and outrage. As the GOP tries to take advantage of this, they continue to betray the truth of their own allegiance to big power, not to the people. Here is a very recent speech by John Boehner, arguably the most powerful GOP left in office, as he completely confuses the Constitution with the Declaration of Inedependence (imagine the uproar if Nancy Pelosi had made the same mistake? Ahh, the conservative movement has far to go in honesty and alertness)

[I deeply apologize for asking the reader to watch Rick Sanchez, who is absolutely awful.]

She's a real person.

This may seem like an empty or sarcastic comment, but I saved it for last as I believe it ultimately is Mrs. Palin's greatest charm and attraction (and her greatest real public attribute). It is also perhaps her most unspoken aspect and one that Americans need to be willing to talk about in regard to whom we elect as leaders. We know where Mrs. Palin comes from. We know where she grew up. She has a regional accent. She doesn't come from privilege. She is as typical as most girls are in this country. Contrast that with politicians like George Bush and Al Gore, who claim to be from states they're not really from; who were raised by political families and groomed purposefully albeit poorly to become something they were incapable of becoming, and yet were forced upon us anyway.

Compare that to our current president, who was born in Hawaii, had his father abandon his family, spent a good chunk of his childhood in Indonesia with a step father, lived in Kansas for awhile, travelled the world on someone else's dime, was finally baptised for the establishment by Harvard, is torn between two religious identities, two racial cultures and is more a child of the world than a child of the United States. Despite (or because of) the idiotic birthers movement, very few people openly questioned the importance of the background of our president. Or perhaps because his background was so hard to define, we could barely even talk about it -- a lot of simplistic lies really hampered discussion. Now along comes a person like Sarah Palin. And she is attacked by many for precisely the things we should be seeking in leaders: some kind of normalcy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Other White Meat

If you're in the Lou this Friday night and looking for some rock n roll, head down to Vito's. Known for their ability to make people dance and at times inspire riots, Pork has been a local favorite since the mid-90's.

Although their relationship with their fans has often been described as lustful (their really love their fans), tensions in the last 6 years have actually kept the band offstage. While never officially breaking up, the band hasn't played a show since January 3, 2003. The reason for the disharmony? An intra-band dispute over writing credits for their songs. But fortunately for the St. Louis music scene, the band has come to a consensus that the majority of their songs were probably written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

So if you're a fan of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, or any other band, come on down to Vito's and check out Pork, who will take the stage about 10:30. And... I'll be sitting in with them on bass, trying to do my best Bill Wyman impression (or at least my best Mike Callahan impression).

Hope to see you there!

News Nits

"All the news that's fit to reprint."

President Obama is lighting the place up for better or worse. The "unintended consequences" of representing our president in the fashion (depicted on the right) by Chinese artist Liu Bolin perhaps outweigh his actual sentiment, which is completely lost on Occidental cultures. However, the phrase "unintended consequences" probably will end up best representing President Obama's legacy, as the gigantic federal programs he has continued from the Bush era and greatly expanded in his own way will leave a huge footprint on the backs of the American middle class. News Nits credits our president with his first good move of reversing the missile shield slated for the Czech Republic and Poland. Although some experts have critiziced him for his lack of tact in an area that demands diplomacy and delicacy, it is at least the right move strategically. Otherwise, it is business as usual in the nation's capital. [N.B. News Nits knows that the missile shield reversal was old news, but we are constantly trying to find positive things about the current administration and are willing to be redundant when faced with a vacuum.]

The internet is freaking out. First off, speaking of freaking out, Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, revealed her complete lack of composure and tact (despite her obvious intelligence) by insulting the people we are both bombing and fighting for. This now seems to be a pattern with Mrs. Clinton, who earler freaked out immaturely as she was horrified that someone might ask a question about her husband, the former president.

Now back to something much more interesting, the internet, er, freaking out. A district judge has ruled that email is not protected by the fourth amendment, which restricts the government from conducting unlawful search and seizures of property. Although we at News Nits are constantly hawking over any government infringements of civil liberties for you, dear reader, it is tough to disagree with this ruling. Email resides on a third-party server and is their property, not yours. We shudder to think of the implications, though, that companies like Google and Facebook literally own so many parts of us. It does beg the question that there might be a business opportunity here though... email that functions more like letters or phone calls than like, well, email.

Also, internet addresses are set to change from their Latin base only to accepting other character bases, like Chinese or Arabic. I smell opportunity again. Facebook has won a lawsuit against super-spammer Wallace to the tune of $711 million. And in a weird move yesterday, Mark Cuban announced a plan he has to kill Google. (News Nits wishes he would focus his brilliance on the Mavericks.)

Time for the News Nits wrap up. Wired remembers the death of Leon Theremin with a nifty little piece about him and an almost touching video of him playing his bizarre instrument. Here are six really cool(?) things you can do with electricity. As the energy/oil/military/foreign policy/gas prices/climate change debate heats up[sic], it's perhaps more interesting to focus on some of the simpler aspects of reality, like that currently, about 10% of the energy in the U.S. comes from recycled nuclear warheads, many of which come from the old USSR. And in an ongoing thread here at News Nits that examines the effects of sports technology designed to increase the safety of athletes while possibly actually causing harm (re: expensive running shoes...), the WSJ writes about a link between football helmets and concussions. Talk about unintended consequences.

If anyone can figure out what the Frank is going on with Iran, News Nits wants to know. When Russians aren't busy selling us their fissional material, they're selling chopped up humans to kebab houses. And the Post Office announced it lost $3.8 billion last year. If you work for the USPS don't worry about layoffs, a bunch of jobs are about to open up in the government healthcare sector. Finally, we think this picture is funny and would be appreciated very much by contributor Roller.
You know how Congress is. They'll vote for anything if the thing they vote for will turn around and vote for them. Politics ain't nothing but reciprocity. -- Will Rogers

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Phil Ivey

As I type this post, the final table of the World Series Of Poker Main Event is underway. You've probably seen commercials on ESPN, you're probably familiar with the poker boom, how to play No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, and you have probably at least seen the gentlemen to the right's face a few times. The final table of the Main Event will air on ESPN on Tuesday night, and Phil Ivey will be one of 9 players who beat a field of over 6,000 entrants and made the final table. Beating a field of 6,000 is an incredible accomplishment for all players at the final table, but it caps off a pretty remarkable 15 year run for one Phil Ivey.

For those of you who don't know who Phil Ivey is, at the age of 18 he introduced himself to a table of 7-Card Stud regulars at a casino in Atlantic City as Jerome. On his 21st birthday he came in and reintroduced himself as Phil. Fast-forward 12 years, and he's widely considered the best poker player in the world. He plays (and wins) in the highest stakes you (he) can find, both online and live. Aside from making millions of dollars a year in poker, Ivey is also a part-owner of FullTiltPoker. (Cha-ching).

Money, talent and compulsion to gamble makes for a pretty insane life... one that I can't help but gawk at from time to time. Ivey has been asked by Tiger Woods how he handles the pressure of making million-dollar decisions. He's teased Michael Jordan, asking him why he's "nitting" it up, when Jordan "only" bets $10 grand a hand when they play BlackJack. You remember the last play of the first half of last year's Super Bowl? Ivey had the Cardinals in the first half. That play cost him $800,000 (he said he was watching the game with his mom, too, so he couldn't exactly express his true feelings at the time).

Before the beginning of the 2008 WSOP, a confident Phil Ivey laid a lot of people pretty favorable odds that he would win a bracelet in one of the tournament's 50+ events. He found many takers. Time passed, and no bracelets. More bets made. No bracelets. Big bets on NBA playoff games. No bracelets. The picture to the right sums up Phil Ivey's 2008 WSOP (Phil wasn't upset because he's a big Jazz fan).

Before the beginning of the 2009 WSOP, a confident Phil Ivey laid a lot of people even odds that he would win a bracelet in one of the tournament's 50+ events. Again, he found takers. It didn't take long before Phil won one (his 6th overall), and minutes later he was offering anyone who wanted double-or-nothing. He found takers, and won another bracelet soon after. He offered more action, but by that point no one was bold enough to bet against him.

The WSOP ends each year at the end of July with the Main Event. Ivey showed up for the Day 1 of the event coming straight from a 36-hour session at Bobby's Room. (Barry Greenstein, half-jokingly, said that unless Phil wins the $8.5 million first place prize, playing the tournament might have actually cost Ivey money. The games in Bobby's Room were pretty juicy, with pots over $1 million a few times a day.) Eight days later, play broke when Jordan Smith was eliminated in 10th place. Immediately thereafter, just like many of the seven days prior, Ivey was overheard on his mic whispering to a member of his crew, "Lock me up a seat at Bobby's."

Tournament promoters and sponsors finally got what they'd been wishing for: one of the most well-known and respected pros at the Final Table with a complete amateur like Darvin Moon, the lumberjack from Maryland. The perfect balance of a champ to pull for and a "hey, if this guy can do it..." Joe Average. Ivey only has about 30 big blinds going into the Final Table, good for 7th in chips. He'll need a little luck in the beginning to keep from being chased down by the blinds and antes, but if he does manage to chip up, look out (Las Vegas odds makers aren't too worried, laying the man 7th in chips 7:2 odds to win the whole thing).

Anyone else out there completely bedazzled by all this? Anyone else tuning in on Tuesday night to hopefully watch Ivey pull down his 8th bracelet?