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Archive for March, 2010

The Genesis Machine

The moment of impact in the CERN super-conductor

I’m no physics guy, but from what I gather, that was one hell of an explosion that occurred Tuesday 300 feet below the border of Switzerland and France. Infinitesimally small but immensely powerful.

Two subatomic particles travelling just below the speed of light on a collision path around a 17-mile super-conductor tunnel, successfully smashed into each other, creating 7 trillion electron volts worth of energy and conditions resembling the first fractions of a second after the birth of the universe.

The great hunt is on; researchers at 10,000 laboratories across the world will be looking at the results of this and dozens of subsequent explosions in the years ahead for mysterious subatomic particles that are only theorized to exist. Along the way, they may create tiny black holes and open the door to the discovery of other dimensions. This is pretty heavy stuff.

It’s been a neat and romantic supposition that the world of the very large and the world of the very small are very similar; that electrons orbiting a nucleus are like planets circling a sun. It doesn’t work like that. Electrons don’t orbit. They sort of appear and disappear and appear again at a different place in proximity to the nucleus; no one can predict where they are or where they’ll turn up next. This incongruity between the cosmological scale and the particle scale drove Albert Einstein nuts.

He figured all his theories that proved correct about time, gravity, light and the behavior of physics in the cosmos would be replicated in the small world of particle physics. He went to his grave hunting for the elusive “unified theory” that would have predicted how both worlds operate.

The two worlds are, indeed, very different and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has put a $9.4 billion bet on the table that through it’s massive super-collider, the small world may reveal startling answers to exactly what happened in the moments after the big bang brought everything into being.

The Associated Press quotes physicist, Michio Kaku as putting it this way:

This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 — what happened in the beginning. This is a Genesis machine. It’ll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe.

Einstein may have found it ironic and perhaps irritating that particle physics might someday solve the puzzle of the origins of the larger world he pretty much figured out.

Duke or Bust

Usually, I write about things people will be interested in. Not so today. Remember how much promise and hope and optimism we all had in our cleverly crafted bracket sheets a couple of weeks ago? Remember March Madness?

A lot of things have happened along the way to the Final Four. Namely, Kansas. And Kentucky and Georgetown and Syracuse and Maryland. It’s been whacky. Though in 1st place in my office pool for the first two rounds, reality set in and dropped me as low as 16th out of 30. But I’ve headed back up to 12th and now 9th and I am currently the only one of the contenders who has picked Duke to win it all.

It’s all about the Blue Devils now. If they win the national championship, I will be cutting down my own, highly local little net.

For a lot of folks, the Duke Blue Devils are the New York Yankees. This is their 11th appearance in the Final Four under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. They’ve won three national titles, including back-to-back in 1991 and 1992. They were runner-up in 1990, 1994 and 1999.

But this is also their first Final Four in six years so a lot of folks think Coach K and the Blue Devils have lost a lot of their luster. They’re like the ’78 Yankees, back in the thick of it after a long dry spell.

I will admit there are times when I have hated Duke as intensely as any good Maryland fan should. But even when I was rooting against them, I have always held a grudging respect for Coach K. I think he’s a class act. So leaving the fate of my bracket in his hands is kind of like dealing with a Doctor you trust.

They may not survive a really, really good West Virginia team. Michigan State has been to 6 of the last 10 Final Fours and has a great pedigree too. But after all that’s happened over the past couple of weeks, I still have a rooting interest in March Madness, both for the game itself and the potential $200 in office pool money and all the lobster and steak it can buy.

For that, I have you to thank, Coach K. Good luck, buddy. Go Atlantic Coast Conference!

JP Morgan Bank: Jobless Benefits Causing More Joblessness

March 25, 2010 2 comments

An economic analyst for JP Morgan Bank by the name of Michael Feroli, has released an analysis that concludes that unemployment benefits are causing more and longer unemployment.

JP Morgan Bank is the actual inventor of the “credit derivative.” Through its own greed, incompetence and arrogance, this particular institution played a significant role in creating the credit crisis that helped send America into its worst recession in 70 years. For them to imply that eliminating jobless benefits would be good for the country- is beyond the pale. Oh, but there’s so much more that is outrageous- about this theory, how it was reached, about what it implies.

Outrage #1

Go ahead, Michael Feroli, please share your great economic wisdom with us:

Jobless benefits have the potential to increase the unemployment rate through two channels. First, by softening the blow of losing a job, they allow unemployed persons to become more selective in what job offer they accept, thereby raising the average duration of unemployment and increasing the unemployment rate.

Oh, yes, the economy is creating so many employment opportunities that people are in a position to be “selective?” What planet is this wanker living on? There are several hundred, in some cases, several thousand, applicants per job opening. JP Morgan’s resident economic genius apparently thinks it’s the other way around and that there are hundreds of job offers for every unemployed person.

Outrage #2

Let’s now go to the other leg of his hypothesis:

Second, they [jobless benefits] may encourage people who would otherwise drop out of the labor force to be counted as jobseekers and therefore in the labor force.

In his breathlessly illogical construct, Mr. Feroli is saying that because in order to receive jobless bennies you have to show you are looking for work, you are counted as a member of the job force and that makes the nation’s official unemployment rate higher. Note to Feroli: If you drop out of the labor force you are still jobless. It’s just that you’re now considered a “discouraged” worker and are no longer counted in the official unemployment statistic. But you are still without income and banks, like the institution you work for, are still foreclosing on your home.

So on one hand he says jobless benefits cause people to be “selective” and not take jobs, yet, by looking for work at all, they are contributing to a higher unemployment rate. There is no way to win with this guy.

Outrage #3

Damien Hoffman, at Wall St. Cheat Sheet, pokes great big, gigantic holes in Feroli’s twisted theory. The biggest one being- if you made $1,000 a week when you were employed, how is making $400 a week in jobless benefits any kind of incentive to not find work?

There are many macro forces which have caused one of the worst recessions this century. Therefore, I don’t buy the overly simplistic conclusion that unemployment benefit extensions are the cause of longer than average unemployment. I think the busted credit bubble played a major role.

In the entire report, there was not one mention of how much money people receive on unemployment. More importantly, there is no metric showing unemployment income compared with former income. There is also no metric showing unemployment income compared with personal/household expenses.

As of February 2009, the average weekly unemployment check in the U.S. was $293. How many people do you know who can manage on less than $300 a week? How about living in Manhattan on $405 a week? If you’ve ever visited, you know that’s a joke.

I’m not sure if Michael Feroli at JPMorgan has been at his desk for over 100 hours a week, but he needs to get out more.

Thank you, Damien Hoffman, you’re my new hero.

Outrage #4 

Do you realize how many people have been laid off by JP Morgan Bank? Since November of 2008, more than 17,000. I know many of them because I met them at a career transition service called BDM back when I was unemployed just a few short months ago.

In Feroli’s intellectual masturbation exercise, he is talking about his own laid off co-workers. Apparently, he doesn’t understand how close he’s come to being laid off himself. And, frankly, after seeing the quality of his analytical work, I would not lay him off. I would fire him for cause and he therefore would be denied unemployment benefits which should be just fine with him, because according to his theory, that would help the nation’s overall unemployment situation.

Because he would not be receiving jobless benefits, by his own conclusions, this would motivate him to try and find work faster.

Summing Up the Outrages

♦ JP Morgan Bank is paying a man to research and publish analysis about statistics that have nothing to do with real people, their real lives and the real pressures they face.

♦ He then insults those people by insinuating they’re turning down jobs because they’re happy with their big fat unemployment checks.

♦ He insinuates that without jobless benefits they would be so insecure with the prospect of destitution and homelessness that it would motivate them to get work quicker.

♦ The man getting paid to write this drivel, works for the very banking institution that helped cause the recession by inventing the “credit derivative;” that would be the one that would foreclose on the homes of the jobless and put them on the streets.

How do you sleep at night, Michael Feroli?

Health Care, Sex Offenders and Viagra

It’s going to be an interesting couple of days as we watch how a bill becomes law in the United States Senate. Despite all the health care signing hoopla over the past 24 hours, the fact remains that the Senate must pass the exact language the House approved earlier this week. If a single amendment is added it has to go back to the House again for another vote.

So Republican Senators trying to scuttle the measure any way possible are proposing amendment after amendment to put their Democratic colleagues in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions. The most interesting such amendment has been offered by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. According to Congressional Quarterly, his amendment would “prohibit insurance coverage for erectile dysfunction drugs for convicted child molestors, rapists and other sex offenders.”

I don’t know if it actually happens this way, but in my mind, I picture a late night pizza-fueled session with clever legislative aides thinking of ways to embarrass the opposition party. Under such a scenario, can you imagine the laughter in the room when the idea gets blurted out- “Hey…let’s make them vote in favor of Viagra for pedophiles!!!!” Many high-fives, giggles and snorting laughter all around. “Gives a new meaning to the phrase, ‘soft on crime!'” More hilarity and fist-bumps. “Hey, pass me a pepperoni slice!”

There are less eyebrow-raising amendments also being offered. John McCain is honing in on all the sweetheart deals that made it into the legislation in order to coax a few more wavering Democratic votes. An amendment is being introduced to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in federal health programs; another one from Team Coburn.

The Dems will likely, dutifully turn down every one of these, along the way creating great fodder for the campaign commercials you’ll be seeing this fall ahead of the mid-term elections. Cut to the grainy, dark footage of Senator X with sinister music in the background. “Did you know Senator X voted against a ban to give Viagra to sex offenders?” “Did you know Senator Y voted against cutting fraud, waste and abuse in health care programs?”

I will tell you right now I would expect the same to happen if the shoe were on the other foot and it was Dems in a position to scuttle GOP legislation. It’s the nature of our system and of politics. If you find it a little unseemly at times, I would suggest looking the other way because its not going to stop anytime soon. And nobody is going to hang a sign on top of the Capitol building saying- “Don’t Look- Sausage-making in Progress.”

Creating Villains: A Self-Defeating Strategy

March 23, 2010 1 comment

It is a bi-partisan failing. Liberals do it. Conservatives do it. And it’s not effective. Making villains of politicians or policy, like health care, is a dead-end strategy.

I distinctly recall the attempts to make Ronald Reagan into some kind of dangerous, evil figure. He was an out-of-control cowboy. A B-movie actor whose claim to fame was making a film called Bedtime for Bonzo. He was an intellectual lightweight. Except that in the Presidential debates and in his news conferences, he actually looked rather affable, optimistic, and while no policy genius, certainly in command enough of his facts. His presence, his charm, his sheer skills as a politician, belied the epithets. He ousted an incumbent President then racked up one of the largest electoral majorities in American history when he ran for re-election.

The tirades against George W. Bush were truly venomous. He was a murderer, a buffoon, a fascist. And a two-term President. So was Bill Clinton who took more slings and arrows than George Custer. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, when his opponents tried to paint Barack Obama as a socialist and a possibly non-American interloper, just as in the Reagan example, his non-threatening demeanor just didn’t jive with the extreme rhetoric. All these four guys did was win election after election because no one could possibly live down to the nasty caricatures made of them.

A similar fate may well await the American public’s initial perception of the health care reform bill. “Armageddon,” was the phrase some Republican lawmakers were using after passage. Last time I checked- that’s a reference to the end of the world. Then there were the death panels; images conjured of faceless bureaucrats deciding to kill off Grandma in favor of saving younger lives.

Well, a health care reform bill has passed and there is a high probability it will not be the end of the world. Six months from now, Grandma will not have gone before even one death panel.

I’m not saying the bill’s perfect, effective, or the right or wrong thing to do; in fact, there are both liberals and conservatives who think the legislation is deeply flawed- that it goes too far or not far enough. To be honest, I don’t know what the hell is in it besides tax breaks for small business, tax hikes for those making over 200K a year, keeping your kid on your insurance until they’re 26, banning denial of coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and making all Americans get health insurance or face the equivalent of fines.

But it’s not the end of the world. Life will go on. You’ll get your mail. You’ll watch TV. You’ll go out with your friends and go to your neighbor’s barbeques. Some people may begin to wonder what all the fuss was about. That wouldn’t be because it’s a good bill necessarily. It would be because in the game of setting expectations, health care reform was demonized beyond all reasonable proportion and didn’t actually turn out to be the end of the Republic.

Battered Brackets and We Soldier On

(Bullet-Riddled Bracket Sheet)

If it were a battlefield, the carnage would have been frightful. Georgetown, Kansas, Villanova, Wisconsin; the giants crumbling right and left while the likes of St. Mary’s, Cornell and Northern Iowa prove why March Madness is so rich and unpredictable. And poor Maryland. What a brave comeback against Michigan State and what an excruciating last second defeat.

So from a distance, here march the survivors toward work on Monday morning, with casts and slings and dinged body armor and bloody, torn and bullet-riddled bracket sheets. Kansas alone wiped out half the participants of most office pools.

At one point Sunday I had slipped from 1st to 11th. But alas, a 2nd round upset pick of Xavier and my belief in the professionalism of Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils has me back in a three-way tie for first. The number that matters now is potential points left. I have the third highest potential and the folks with more are 8th and 24th, so I’m feeling good about my chances.

My future rests with Ohio State, Syracuse, Duke, Baylor, and West Virginia. And here’s what I discovered about high-fallutin’ Pythagorean-based prediction analyses. They work. There are at least six games I would have lost had I not turned to psychopathic bracketologists.

I’ll take my 33-15 record and live on to fight another day.

As for those second-chance pools CBS Sports.com is offering up where you get to start all over with the Sweet 16; I have both my hands up making “L’s” with my fingers. There’s no crying in baseball and there are no second chances in the Bracketology wars.

Bracketology II: Hoyas Edition


Let me see, I could write about 1) politically tone-deaf Democrats conniving their way to a health care victory vs. hysterical Republicans who think Dems are God-less socialists for scheduling a vote on the Christian Sabbath or, 2) the 1st round of March Madness.

Can you believe what happened to Georgetown? For the office-pool community it’s not that bad because everybody got that one wrong. Just depends on how far you had the Hoyas going. I had them beating Tennessee but losing to Ohio State so I’m only slightly bloodied. Plus in a pool with a lot of Hoya fans, local emotions have been my ally. Emotions are good for romance and screaming matches between political parties, but not so good if you want to win the office pool.

Marquette was a tough one, but again, most folks missed that one too. And Texas made me scream at the TV each time they missed 4 of their final 6 free-throws to do the old choke against Wake Forest.

But all in all- I’m leading the office pool with a 12-4 1st round record. I owe it all to the system I adopted from a certain, unnamed ingenius bracketology freak. Three of the five 1st round upsets have come through and the other two play Friday.

So in review:

#9 Northern Iowa over UNLV- Check
#9 FSU over Gonzaga- Friday
#10 St.Mary’s over Richmond- Check
#11 Old Dominion over Notre Dame- Check
#12 Utah State over Texas A&M – Friday

Great first round. Seven of the games decided by 3 points or less. Three of those by one point. Huge upsets.

Productivity levels in American offices Friday: Critically Low.