Monday, November 29, 2004

If I Were a Republican...

My Head Would Hurt.

We're talking eye-ball squinting, pounding temple proportions.

One the one hand, I'd believe Social Security was facing a relatively imminent crisis. One the other hand, I'd believe the solution required heightening and bringing forward that relatively imminent crisis.

But first, a bit of background. A segment of the wages America's workers earn go to pay for Social Security. Roughly 5 out of every 6 dollars the Social Security Administration receives is immediately passed out to current retirees. The 6th dollar is placed in the so-called Trust Fund. The Trust Fund trades with the US Treasury- each 6th dollar for a special issue government bond. The Treasury takes that 6th dollar and drops it in the General Fund- to pay for roads, civil service salaries, bombs, you name it. The Trust Fund squirrels away its bonds- now nearing $1.5 trillion worth- for a later day. As currently projected, that later day will begin to arrive in 2018. In 2018, current retirees will need all 6 of those 6 dollars and a little bit more. To come up with that little bit more, the Trust Fund will have to cash in some of its government bonds for cash. Which means the General Fund will be on the hook for a small but increasing portion of retiree benefits. Come 2042, the Trust Fund will have exhausted its supply of government bonds- at which point (barring a change in the interim) Social Security will not have the funds to pay full benefits.

Republicans have taken to arguing that 2018- i.e. the moment Social Security must draw on the General Fund- marks the onset of the collapse of Social Security. Their solution- the addition of individual accounts- carries sizable transition costs. Transition costs which must be paid out now (as the transition occurs). Barring a willingness to employ tax strategies- which is not on the table- the General Fund will be forced to pay for a portion of retirement benefits sooner than 2018.

If we can't trust the government to pay it's debts to Social Security in 2018, how can we trust it in, say, 2007 or 2012?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Why I Love My Job

Reason #59

The 59 Minute Rule

Yes. Rule. The President, Cabinet Secretaries, and their immediate Deputies are empowered to grant more than an hour of leave. Which leads us to the 59 minute rule. The director of my agency and his associate directors (and possibly others... it is possible I have 59 minute authority under the proper circumstances) can grant leave of less than one hour. This is their holiday treat, which they pass out... eventually. There is nothing so simultaneously yearned for and ridiculous as the email invoking the 59 minute rule.

We do not take this rule lightly. I am told there have actually been debates regarding the authority of the invoker to invoke the 59 Minute Rule. In the interests of full disclosure, I have no first hand knowledge of the veracity of this claim. I was too busy leaving at the time to notice.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Fans and What They Deserve

Allow me to begin by being perfectly clear. The fans are completely off base and out of control. They need a reality check and an attitude adjustment- pronto.

I suppose I should have begun with the standard statements of disapproval- something along the lines of no player should ever go into the stands. But something more basic is missing from that statement. No fan should ever throw any object at a player or in the direction of the playing court/ field. No fan should ever attempt to personally denigrate an athlete (i.e. the Kobe rape chants of last season).

Somehow, fans- in professional basketball and across the board- have developed a sense of entitlement. Michael Wilbon not only captured but endorsed this sense recently when he wrote, "The price of a ticket allows a paying customer to boo, even taunt, players from the stands. It does not allow for turning concessions into projectiles and throwing chairs." The proposed remedies- locking up the guilty, suspending beer sales late in games (or as The Sports Guy gamely suggested yesterday, a 60 day beer sale suspension in Detroit), or moving fans back from the action (or, as ESPN's Marc Stein offered, have the Pistons play a game before an empty house)- fail to address this sense of entitlement. Beer sales are not a right. There is no alcohol to be purchased at Maryland games and I suspect that's fairly common across college sports. But patrons still show up. Beer sales are not a right, but they are a cashcow. Moving the fans back simply condones the loutish behavior by attempting to move them too far away to have an impact. And would, similarly, hurt the league's wallet.

Taking a step back for a moment, the remedies and punishments toward fans are, universally, recognized by those who suggest them as dead letters because doing so would hurt the bottom line. No one, however, seems concerned about that problem. They recognize what is 'right', realize it won't happen because of the almighty dollar (i.e. greed), and just drop it. This is a problem, no?

The Game goes on, with or without the fans. For every NBA arena packed with 20,000 fans, 20,000 schoolyards and driveways are hosting games without a spectator. Fans are a nice addition, not a necessity. They are the guests at someone else's show.

Instead of tough love for fans, we have statements from a Tony Kornheiser arguing, "only the players are under the system of law that Stern operates... He [Stern] had to do this to regain the confidence of the public. You can't ever worry that if you buy a ticket to a game, your life will be in danger from large muscular men running into the stands with mayhem on their minds. If you don't feel safe going to the game, you won't buy a ticket." Or, from Jennifer of Akron, OH,
"There is absolutely no excuse for what happened at that game. There was no reason for Artest to go into the stands, whether he got a cup in his face or not. NBA players are professionals and have a level of professionalism to maintain. As a first grade teacher, I am mortified that these professional players that my students want to be just like, would demonstrate such irresponsible behavior. Whether players want to be role models or not, it becomes part of their job due to their visibility. Yes, fans need to be under control and not throw things at the players. But, Artest's choice to go into the stands escalated the situation to what it became last night... it is clear that what happened last night would not have if Artest did not charge the stands."

I cannot think of a single incident- at least on the professional level- of a player going into the stands unprovoked. Previous incidents in baseball have been instigated by fans grabbing players belongings (see, Dodgers vs. Chicago), for instance. To all the fans worried in the way Tony K. warns, the solution is simple. Don't throw items at players, don't cheer if it happens. Or, in short. Don't go around picking these fights. Speaking of role models- how about the fine upstanding citizens- fathers and mothers of first graders, no doubt- who showed themselves to be quite the role models themselves. Kids do look up to athletes. But they are far more likely to be fans than participants as they grow older. They should emulate neither side's behavior.

Thus far, I have avoided the divide between players and fans. "It begins with the question: has the sport become too edgy, too young and culturally black, for the predominantly corporate and well-heeled white audiences." The overriding frame of these discussions goes something like: the players had better right their ship and re-sync their values and behavior. Which implicitly assumes the fan culture is right. I see no evidence to support that assumption.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Words Fail

I'll just turn the mike over to the obit writer:

The rap artist ODB, whose demented rhymes, wild lifestyle and incessant legal troubles made him one of the most vivid characters in hip-hop, collapsed and died inside a recording studio Saturday. He was 35...

ODB -- also known as Ol' Dirty Bastard, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus or his legal name of Russell Jones -- was a founding member of the seminal rap group the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s. With his utterly unique delivery -- alternately slurred, hyper and nonsensical -- ODB stood out even in the nine-man Clan, which featured such future stars as Method Man, RZA and Ghostface Killa.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Who Am I?

I find this to be rather scary. In a moment of existential boredom I asked Google "Who Am I?"

The results:
#1 HotorNot.com - Tragic.
#2 Free Tarot card readings from Facade.com
#3 Which Video Game Charact Am I?
#4 Something from Needhim.org
#6 AmIAnnoying.com
#10 Which Tin-Pot Dictator are you?

I haven't a clue what it means, but I'm quite sure it's not good.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Why I Love My Job

Reason #53

I'm sharing an office with Milton. As in Milton from Office Space.

He has managed to pigeon hole himself into a corner of the shared office. Hemmed in by two walls, his desk, and a filing cabinet he is nearly invisible in the office.

He is humorless. But he doesn't quite know it. Which is tragic.

I hope I don't snap at him... It really could happen.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Why I Love My Job

Reason # 19

I am mostly happy to report that I have been released from Cubicle hell and have been returned to an office among the general population. My joy in leaving Cubie City is mitigated only by new officemate.

The sole nugget of information from my new employee ethics briefing which has managed to stick in my mind: The number one cause for termination is looking at porn at the office. (Please take a moment to let your head and shoulders bow and sag. I leave the accompanying sigh of disappointment to your discretion.)

My new officemate, however, is quite the clever fellow. Porn searching is among his workday rituals. You may ask, "How does he get away with it?" I would respond, "British Tabloids mostly. Topless women are a regular feature over there apparently."

I would like to append this to a previous post and reaffirm, May That (Also) Never Be Me.

TegWar Does Movie Reviews

Sideways. See It!

Quite simply, Sideways is the best wine movie ever. Two friends, a week long road trip, California wine country, and the hijinks that come their way. Such accolades do not do this movie justice (let's face it, there's not a lot of competition in the wine movie category). Entertaining in every way. Sideways is insightful and hilarious but very calmly walks the difficult line between taking itself too seriously and laughing at its subject.

Enjoy.

Making It Up, Day by Day

Proposed David Brooks headline: "I'm so Smart. And Ahead of the Curve"

It is actually a fairly hilarious column. Brooks wrote a book on exurbia but couldn't reach his audience- exurbans. It seems the infrastructure and social network is not there yet. Instead he found himself peddling his book in old line urban centers- to audiences who Just Don't Get It.

I'm completely unpersuaded by the exurban myth- a breaking free from the city and clutter. Exurbs sound a whole lot like suburbs to me. More accurately, are exurbs not the suburbs to the suburbs? The suburbs have never been the jobless bedroom communities of lore (try Joel Garreau's Edge City, published in 1991, for starters). Exurbs add the twist that they are too far from the 'center city' to maintain regular interaction (jobs, culturla life, etc).

Paul Krugman's "The Spatial Economy" or even "The Self-Organizing Economy" (to highlight relatively easily approached texts) and the so-called New Economic Geography strike me as a far more interesting approach.

Like nearly everything Brooks writes, he is neither terribly right nor terribly wrong. Probably intentionally so.