Thursday, March 23, 2006

Country Bumpkins

I can't believe that this story didn't get more coverage in Syracuse. Last week, New York gubernatorial candidate Elliot Spitzer gave a speech in Manhattan where he compared upstate New York to Appalachia. I don't think that Spitzer was trying to insult upstate New York (or Appalachia, for that matter) as some of his opponents have suggested, though I disagree with his analogy. I agree that upstate New York is in pretty bad economic shape, but it is facing the same problems that plague almost all of the rust belt. It's more of an urban poverty/blight issue, whereas Appalachia's problems have more to due with crushing rural poverty.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get Physical

I was flipping through an inflight magazine last month when I came across an ad for ROM - The 4-Minute Cross Trainer. I tend to be skeptical of anything that I see advertised in an inflight magazine, so when I saw an ad for a machine that looks like a torture device that promises a full-body workout in only four minutes and can be yours for the low, low price of $14,615, I thought that I had stumbled upon a satirical inflight magazine that was planted in my seatpocket by the editors of The Onion. The ROM is apparently legit, and there are even ROM gyms opening up that allow regular folks to experience this amazing workout without having to shell out 15 grand.

As this article points out, the four minute workout claim is misleading. It's a four minute upper-body workout, four minutes of rest, and a four minute lower-body workout. Maybe the ROM really is a 60 minute workout compressed into 12 minutes, I'm not really in a position to judge. Their low-quality website doesn't really inspire much confidence, and the endless barrage of high-pressure sales tactics only makes matters worse. If these two things weren't damning enough, the magazine ad included a testimonial from Tony Robbins, who owns three ROMs and keeps one at his home, one at his vacation home in Fiji, and brings the other one with him wherever he travels. Yikes.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Facts about Corned Beef

1. Corned beef was my favorite food for a number of years. My Mom made corned beef on my birthday (per my request) at least once between my sixth and eighth birthdays.
2. For much longer than I care to admit, I thought that corned beef was pork. I assumed that any pinkish colored meat came from a pig, even if it was called 'beef'.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Expectations for Demographics

A number of pundits have been using demographic data to map out the end of liberalism in America. For whatever reason, conservative pundits love to point out that Seattle has 45% more dogs than children. Since Seattle is a liberal place, this can only mean that liberals and their dogs will die out faster than they can reproduce, and voila!, permanent conservative majority, right? I'm no demographer and I have no data to back up my claims, but maybe the reason Seattle is approaching a 2:1 dog-to-kid ratio is because it's so damn expensive that families can't afford to live there anymore. Then again, according to this dataset, you're more likely to be a conservative if you like dogs, so maybe Seattle is actually the most conservative city in the US. Maybe I'm right, maybe the conservative pundits are right, the point is that cherry-picking demographic data that supports your pet thesis (no pun intended) and then extrapolating it out 20-30 years into the future is idiotic, which is exactly the point that Kevin Drum makes today.

It's probably true that religious conservatives are reproducing faster than their liberal counterparts. I'm even willing to concede that most of these kids will maintain a good chunk of their religious upbringing well into adulthood. What we cannot possibly know right now is how politics, religion, and culture will change in the future. After all, prior to the 1960s, the northeast was the power base of the Republican party and the south voted Democrat. Some people have their political affiliations imprinted on their minds at a young age and never deviate. For everyone else, the issues of the day influence their voting patterns.

Even if the important social and political issues remain the same, which is highly unlikely, the next generation of liberal and conservative politicians will have different attitudes and approaches than their predecessors. My gut feeling is that the post-boomer generation of political leaders are going to reject a lot of the culture war issues. They weren't there to take sides, so it will be much easier for both sides to cut their loses and stop arguing about the 1960s.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Tale of Two States

There seems to be a lot of resentment towards New York City up here in Central New York. I'm not sure that I understand all of it, but this article really illustrates the cognitive dissonance that exists between these two very different regions of the same state. The article addresses a bill that is going through the New York State legislature that would force all non-agricultural and manufacturing companies doing business in the state with 100 or more employees to provide health insurance to all full-time workers. This is similar to a bill that was recently passed in Maryland that critics agree was a thinly disguised jab at Wal Mart. By lowering the bar to 100 employees, the New York legislation is less symbolic but potentially, more far-reaching.

What does this have to do with the disconnect between NYC and upstate? I think this quote, from Alex Navarro of the Working Families party, says it all
...retailers such as Wal-Mart and Victoria's Secret have no choice but to remain in the market.
This may be the case in NYC, where any retail or media company that wishes to be relevant needs to have some sort of physical presence. The same is not true for update New York. NYC can get away with assessing extortionate taxes from anyone wishing to do business within its borders, since so many companies have no choice but to be there. When these policies get applied to New York state as a whole, upstate loses out since it offers most of the disadvantages of doing business in New York with virtually none of the benefits.

I'm all for sensible approaches to increasing accessing to health care, but I think that linking health care even more tightly to employment is a bad idea. I doubt that this bill would even do much to increase health coverage for service-sector employees, since I'm sure most companies would find ways to reclassify their full-time workers as part-time workers or independent contractors in order to avoid having to pay for health benefits. That's if they decide not to leave the state altogether.


411's a Joke

Are all the calls to directory assistance on your phone bill sending you to the poor house? If so, get a damn phonebook and/or Internet connection, you lazy bastard. If you can't change your ways, try 1-800-FREE-411. If you think I'm lying, you're wrong. I haven't tried it yet, but I definitely will the next time I need to call information from my cell phone.


The All-Name Team

I don't follow college hoops that closely, but it sounds like Syracuse's first-round Big East tournament match-up was a pretty exciting game. Gerry McNamara hit a three with half a second left to lead the Orange to a one-point victory over Cincinnati. I feel a little sorry for Cincinnati losing a heartbreaker like that, but I really feel sorry for Cincinnati's Jihad Muhammad. Not only did he get burned by McNamara on the game-winning basket, but his name is Jihad Muhammad. I can't think of too many names that would arouse more suspicion in this day and age than his. The only thing more surprising than McNamara's buzzer-beater was the fact that Muhammad was allowed to board an airplane to come to Big East tournament.

Iraqi Gandhi

This week's installment of The Onion is one of the better issues that they have put together in a while, and this story about an Iraqi version of Gandhi is Onion journalism at its darkest, most cynical, and most hilarious.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Rock Paper Scissors Rumble

Anyone who is still unable to figure out why people who have very similar religious beliefs have been killing each other over the minor differences between their faiths since time immemorial should read this article. Not only are there people play rock-paper-scissors competitively, but there are two federations that are embroiled in a feud over their respective visions of how RPS should be played, marketed, and officiated.

Incidentally, I once had a co-worker who told me about two alternate rock-paper-scissors throws, fire and peeing man. Fire beats all throws other than peeing man and peeing man is defeated by all throws other than fire. The catch is that a competitor can only throw fire one time in his life. I don't know if he made these up himself or there is some subculture of rock-paper-scissors players that observe these rules. I still find them highly dubious, but it's a funny story.


Credit Is Due

I called the Post-Standard out for shoddy journalism last week after they published an article about record profits at Excellus, so I should mention that they ran a much better article about a related story today. Today's article looked into the factors behind the rising costs of health insurance premiums. It looked into a bill that has been stuck in the New York State Assembly since 2000 that would reinstate public hearings any time an insurance company raises health insurance premiums by more than five percent.

This is a very complicated issue and I think today's article, which attempts to explain some of the factors behind the high cost of health care, is much more useful than last week's article. I tend to believe that onerous levels of regulation are more to blame for the high cost of health care than insurance company greed, so I have my doubts that this bill would really bring down the cost of health insurance.


Friday, March 03, 2006

You Might Be A Redneck If...

You go skiing in sunny Colorado and forget to put sunscreen on the parts of your neck that aren't covered up by your jacket or hat. I developed this truly unique sunburn on my neck just behind my ears, as you can see in this photo. Luckily, I remembered to put sunscreen on my face and nose. Also, be careful when you open that tube of sunscreen that you packed at sea level once you reach the mountains. I failed to do so, and gave Michelle, who was standing next to me at the time, a shot of sunscreen to the shirt sufficient to cover a small child from head to toe.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


The cover story from today's Post-Standard is about Excellus (the local arm of the Blue Cross Blue Shield network) and their record profits from last year. From the numbers that are reported in this article, I have no idea if Excellus is ripping off its customers or not. They posted a $198 M profit on revenues of $4.43 B, which works out to a profit margin of about 4.5%. Excellus is a nonprofit health insurer, so they don't really have a profit margin, per se. According to the article, their profits would have been $133 M excluding unusual one-time events, which brings their margin down to 3%. These numbers don't seem unreasonable to me.

The article also mentions that five executives earned more than $1 M and another 53 earned at least $200,000. The print edition listed all 58 of these employees by name and salary, but I couldn't find this information in the online version of the article. The article doesn't directly take a position on whether or not these salaries are excessive, but the fact that it took the time to list all of them in a separate table is suspect. The article doesn't compare these salaries to comparable health insurance companies so I have no idea of they are in line with the industry or totally exorbitant.

Perhaps the most telling clue about the non-so-hidden agenda of this story is the full-page ad that Excellus purchased in today's Post-Standard that compares their financial performance with some of their local competitors. The figures that they include in their ad show Excellus to be a great deal when compared to their competitors, of course. I don't expect an advertisement to present an unbiased look into the finances of the company that purchased the ad, but the fact that the company felt the need to run this ad the day that the story about their profits broke shows that either they are ripping everybody off and they know it or that they knew the article was going to portray them in a negative light.

This article was given the lead in today's paper for one reason, to manufacture outrage against health insurance providers. If any other local business posted an 88% jump in profits, the article about it would have been written in an entirely positive tone, would not have included a table of the most highly compensated employees at the company, and it would have been the cover story on the business section, not the front page.


Rocky Mountain High

We were out at Breckenridge this past weekend, and I managed to take this great panoramic shot from peak 8. Special thanks to the skiers in the right-hand corner for not moving as I snapped the pictures.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

2 Legit 2 Blog

With some help from Valleywag, I stumbled across MC Hammer's personal blog today. I didn't read too much of it, but it's sort of interesting. It's got a very DIY look-and-feel to it, so I'm guessing that MC Hammer is running the show instead of relying on somebody else to format, publish (and possibly write) his posts. He links to Wikipedia, Flickr, and YouTube and posts from his Sidekick so it seems like he's pretty comfortable with new technology. MC Hammer appears to be more intelligent and tech-savvy than I would have guessed prior to my discovery of his blog. That's not saying a lot, but it's something.

Tags: MC Hammer