Tuesday, December 30, 2008

N.Y. Times: Divorcing Couples Now Battle Over Who DOESN'T Get The House

"With homes worth less than their outstanding loans, some divorcing couples are battling not to get the house."...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Separated at Birth? - Glenn Campbell and J.K. Simmons

This blog entry (Less Than Successful, 12/28) claims I look just like actor J.K. Simmons (Juno, The Lady Killers). This has never occurred to me before, but now I see a resemblance. You decide.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Life of Brian: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

Here are the lyrics and the mp3 file from the closing number from Monty Python's Life of Brian: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." It's a catchy little tune suitable for any crucifixion.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wall Street Journal: What It Cost to Fly Your Baggage

I may have played a role in this article in the Wall Street Journal.

A researcher for The Middle Seat contacted me about my article on baggage handling published on my Kilroy Cafe blog (Zen and the Art of Baggage Handling). He was going to interview me for a WSJ blog but never did. Nonetheless, I think some of my info got into the article.

One interesting factoid:
One rough formula sometimes used in the airline business to approximate fuel costs is that it requires 3% to 5% of the weight of an object in fuel to fly it one hour. That means at current fuel prices, it would cost about $1 to $2 to fly a 40-pound bag on an average three-hour trip.
That may lead to an estimate of how much fuel my own airline uses to fly me across the country (maybe $10-20 per trip).

L.A. Times: A Home for the Homeless

It's a nice humanitarian idea, but it won't work in the real world.

MY COMMENTS: Here's the essential problem: If you give the homeless a comfortable place to stay, they are going to stay there... and stay and stay. If you give someone a tent to live in, you are implicitly giving him permission to set that tent up somewhere, probably on land owned by someone else. That someone is going to protest and squelch the program.

It is a little like feeding the pigeons in a city park. If you do, then more pigeons will come, and eventually whoever controls the park is going to have to put a stop to it.

Essentially, there is no institutional solution to homelessness. By definition, it exists at the limits of tolerance. If someone is sleeping under a bridge, it may be illegal, but the authorities probably won't intervene. If 100 people are sleeping under a bridge, then authorities have to intervene.

Like with many well meaning acts of charity, if you give people tents, you could be upsetting the local ecology -- the equilibrium that has already been worked out. That's the potential risk with any technological solutions to social problems. -- GC

Washington Post: Ponzi - Name Stands Alone

Sorry, Mr. Madoff. Despite your prodigious alleged accomplishments -- $50 billion of investors' money, vaporized! -- you're no Charles Ponzi.

The feds, in their complaint, allege that you, Bernard L. Madoff, admitted to colleagues that you've "been conducting a Ponzi-scheme" through your investment advice business. Some Wall Street experts, struggling to convey the scope, say it's perhaps "the biggest Ponzi scheme in history."

Wow! And there have been so many.

But for all your Palm Beach Country Club connections and your sterling Wall Street résumé, you're still just walking in the shadow of the great Charles Ponzi.

Reuters: Most People Will Torture If Told To

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some things never change. Scientists said on Friday they had replicated an experiment in which people obediently delivered painful shocks to others if encouraged to do so by authority figures.

Seventy percent of volunteers continued to administer electrical shocks -- or at least they believed they were doing so -- even after an actor claimed they were painful, Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University in California found.

More than 5000 Friends Now Allowed on Facebook

This tech article suggests that none of us will be hitting our Facebook friend limit anytime soon.

However, another article suggests that there is a limit to how many new friends you can add in a day: perhaps 20-30. This restriction is apparently enforced to prevent Spam and to keep Facebook a social site rather than a commercial one. (Imagine if Facebook starting being used for porn distribution. The number of "friends" per account would skyrocket.)

New York Times: Drug Treatment May Not Work

The single most important thing I learned in Family Court is that drug treatment doesn't work, as suggested by this recent New York Times article...

Everyone wants it to work, and many governmental systems depend on it working, but statistics show that treatment, per se, is ineffective in the long run. This includes both "talking cures" like Alcoholics Anonymous and chemical treatments, like Nicorette gum.

There are only two things that can change addiction: (1) Changing the environment in which it occurs, such as taking a child away from his drug-addicted family, (2) The person suffering so much pain from the real effects of his addiction that he decides on his own to change. Any other "treatment" is ineffective in the long term.

Treatment can appear to be effective in the short term. For example, an addict in drug court will clean up his act knowing that a judge is watching him and he will be thrown in jail if he tests dirty. But as soon as the supervision ends, his relapse rates are no different that if he had never gone through the program.

The implications of this are huge. It means that vast sums of goverment money are being wasted on ineffective programs. It also means that if you have a drug addicted friend or relative, there isn't a lot you can do to help them. No third party treatment program is going to fix the problem for you. There are things you can do, but they are often radical or unpleasant: change the environment, or let the addict fall on his face.

This was the general topic of my Family Court newsletter in March 2008: Words Don't Work.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Coyote Springs Update: No Change

Another traveler passed by Coyote Springs recently and posted some new photos....

Coyote Springs is the new community an hour north of Las Vegas that has an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and nothing more. This supplements my own photos of Coyote Springs.

Within the past week, the Clark County Commision approved a zoning change to allow a casino to be build here, but that won't change anything. The community is destined for ghost town status even before the first house is built.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New York Times: Wall Street Bonuses

From today's New York Times:

As regulators and shareholders sift through the rubble of the financial crisis, questions are being asked about what role lavish bonuses played in the debacle. Scrutiny over pay is intensifying as banks like Merrill prepare to dole out bonuses even after they have had to be propped up with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. While bonuses are expected to be half of what they were a year ago, some bankers could still collect millions of dollars.

Critics say bonuses never should have been so big in the first place, because they were based on ephemeral earnings. These people contend that Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fortune: Why a $1 Trillion Deficit is a Good Thing

From Fortune magazine (12/12/08)...

All of the above forces represent an inescapable reality. Neither the recession nor the financial crisis were developments that could have been brushed aside. ...

Although specific aspects of how the bailout funds have been used so far can be open to question, not undertaking a massive program of stabilizing the financial system in the last few months was never really an option, as it would have exposed the entire U.S. economy to a potentially catastrophic outcome.

Monday, December 8, 2008

L.A. Times: Paul Volcker is Back

From today's Los Angeles Times...

His concerns go to the very core of how America lives and how Wall Street operates. A child of the Great Depression and a man of legendary personal thrift, Volcker thinks Americans have been living above their means for too long.

"It is the United States as a whole that became addicted to spending and consuming beyond its capacity to produce," Volcker lectured the Economic Club of New York in April. "It all seemed so comfortable."

Bringing consumption back in line with income would not only crimp individuals and families, but also require major readjustments in the global economy, which has relied on the U.S. as consumer of last resort.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Airlines No Longer at Risk

It looks like the domestic airlines are not at risk even in an economic downturn, especially now that the price of oil has crashed....

Airlines ready for fewer travelers in 2009
(Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/5)

This is significant to me (as a furloughed airline employee) since my free flight benefits are only good if my airline survives. I want my airline to do well, but not so well that they hire me back.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New York Times: Triage at Work

New York Times, 12/3:

If the Hardys lived in the United States or just about any European country other than Britain, Mr. Hardy would most likely get the drug, although he might have to pay part of the cost. A clinical trial showed that the pill, called Sutent, delays cancer progression for six months at an estimated treatment cost of $54,000.

But at that price, Mr. Hardy’s life is not worth prolonging, according to a British government agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The institute, known as NICE, has decided that Britain, except in rare cases, can afford only £15,000, or about $22,750, to save six months of a citizen’s life.
Yes, there has to be a price on anything. The delusion in America is that the price of a few months of life is unlimited -- part of the reason our healthcare is in such dire straits.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Family Court: Presumptive Certification Struck Down

Nevada's "presumptive certification" law for juveniles has been struck down. See an AP article...

The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional a law that made juveniles admit guilt to charged crimes to avoid trial as an adult -- and let prosecutors use the admissions if juveniles wound up in adult court anyway.

The Supreme Court's ruling, overturning an earlier high court decision that had upheld the law, was sought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the national Juvenile Law Center, public defenders of Washoe and Clark counties and other groups and activists. ...

While the decision does away with the "presumptive certification" law, justices said prosecutors who want to try juveniles as adults can still petition "in appropriate cases" under a separate discretionary certification provision that remains on the books.
Also discussed in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article: Law set to prosecute youths cut (11/27/08)

This law was essentially giving all discretion to prosecutors to decide which youth should be tried as adults in a broad category of felonies. Now, there should be more of a balance in the process.

I described juvenile certification in one of my newsletters: CERTIFICATION NIGHTMARE!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New York Times: Age Verification

From the New York Times (Nov. 18)...

Child-safety activists charge that some of the age-verification firms want to help Internet companies tailor ads for children. They say these firms are substituting one exaggerated threat — the menace of online sex predators — with a far more pervasive danger from online marketers like junk food and toy companies that will rush to advertise to children if they are told revealing details about the users.

“It’s particularly upsetting,” said Nancy Willard, an expert on Internet safety who has raised concerns about age verification on her Web site over the last month. “Age verification companies are selling parents on the premise that they can protect the safety of children online, and then they are using this information for market profiling and targeted advertising.”
An example of how hysteria over well-publicized but statistically insignificant threats can lead to far worse damage overall.

Onion: "Pain-Inducing Advil"

From The Onion (Nov. 21)...

PHILADELPHIA—Wyeth Pharmaceuticals unveiled a new pain-causing line of Advil this week that will help millions of benumbed, hollow consumers to feel at least somewhat alive for up to four hours.

Onion: "Area Man Loves That Crazy Bitch"

From The Onion (Nov. 22)...

RENO, NV—Despite her continued efforts to drive him out of his goddamn mind and turn his every waking hour into some kind of living nightmare, Craig Shearer, 32, admitted Monday that he still loves that crazy bitch.
Yeah, I can relate.

L.A. Times: Dido

A profile of the singer Dido Armstrong appears in the Nov. 18 Los Angeles Times:

I consider her a two-hit wonder ("White Flag" and "Thank You"), and I'm not a fan of her other songs, but her style is interesting.

Blog Post: "What Do You Do With 8 Bedrooms, 9 Bathrooms and 19000 SF?"

A realtor in Las Vegas wrote a blog article using some of my photos (with permission):

The story is about the mansion of a newspaper tycoon in Las Vegas. After the man's death, the family gave the property to Clark County for use as a child welfare training facility. Shortly thereafter, I visited the property and wrote a report.

It is curious how people will create shrines to themselves if given the resources. The tycoon transported his entire childhood home to Las Vegas and set it beside his ugly "mansion." The guy's still dead, however, and his mansion is being demolished, proving that you can never really make yourself immortal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Entertainment Not Recession-Proof

Los Angeles Times, 10/29/08:

For decades, entertainment executives have boasted that Hollywood is "recession-proof." No matter how dire the economy, the argument goes, consumers will always be willing to spend on entertainment to escape. ...

This time, however, past may not be prologue. Unlike the rudimentary entertainment economy of 75 years ago, when the downtown Bijou was about the only diversion, consumers now have a near-limitless array of entertainment options to occupy their leisure time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paul Simon, Songwriter

This short interview with Paul Simon appears in today's USA Today...

Also, some background anecdotes about some of his most famous songs...

He is my ideal songwriter, the sort I would like to be.

Notice that he doesn't seem to care whether he makes any money, at least at this point in his life. He just wants to write great songs!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Author Michael Crichton Dies

Los Angeles Times: Michael Crichton dies at 66; bestselling author of 'Jurassic Park' and other thrillers (11/6/08)

Crichton wrote the first "grown up" book I ever read, The Andromeda Strain. For a while, I wanted to be him. Now, I see that he got frozen in time and never really grew as an author. He produced efficient techno-thrillers but never grasped the human world.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Really Bad Review (Criss Angel in Las Vegas)

It can be refreshing at times to read a really bad review.

New Criss Angel show is unbelievably bad, sad, Las Vegas Review Journal, 11/3/08
Wooooooooow. Criss Angel's new Cirque du Soleil show is terrrrrrible.

I had heard firsthand from some people who had seen "Believe" that it was abysmal and maybe unfixable, creatively. So my expectations were rock-bottom low (although open-minded), when I saw it Friday on opening night. And yet, it was EVEN WORSE than how it was described to me.

How bad could it be? Oh my God! Let me see if I remember how to spell this: "D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

L.A. Times: "In this economy, even sex doesn't sell"

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 2008
At Donna's Ranch, a brothel in Wells, Nev., most of the customers are long-haul truckers. High fuel and food prices have drained them of 'play money.' So the working girls sit and wait.
By Ashley Powers
Reporting from Wells, Nev. -- The women at Donna's Ranch are crowded around the kitchen table on a warm summer night, dining on stir fry, tugging at thigh-high dresses, griping about depleted bank accounts. At this northeastern Nevada bordello, which marks a gravel road's end, they woo grizzled truckers and weary travelers for a single reason: money.

Lately, the women don't go home with much. ... Continued