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Archive for August, 2009

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Gotta Hand It to the Oakland Fans…

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I’m a life-long Yankee fan, but when I see pure genius in another team’s fans, I’m a big enough person to give them their due. This awesome scene was caught on the YES network during a Yankees-A’s game in Oakland:

Well done, little girl…

Categories: Sports Talk | 4 Comments »

Random Acts of Blogging – 8/18/09

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

A few quick items I found interesting or humorous:

First it was an epidemic, then it was a global pandemic, and now the Swine Flu is a video game! The game is free, and can be found at http://www.thegreatflu.com. Heck, if the latest Harry Potter movie can be a video game, why not swine flu, right?

Next, there’s this post from BoingBoing, which explains that you can get G-mail to stop putting advertisements on your e-mails, simply by putting words or phrases like “9/11″ and “suicide” in the mails. You see, G-mail doesn’t want to appear insensitive by putting ads on e-mails about such serious topics, so if you fool it into thinking that your e-mail refers to such subjects, then you can be ad free. Here’s my favorite line from the article:

Questions remain [such as] How do you avoid scaring the people who receive your emails with your seemingly pointless references to incest and gang rape?


Moving on, we have Elsie Poncher. Elsie’s late husband, Richard, bought two tombs in a Los Angeles mausoleum (for him and his wife) from Joe DiMaggio in 1954. When Mr. Poncher passed away in 1986, he was laid to rest in one of them, which wound up being directly above DiMaggio’s ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe. Fast forward to today, where Elsie wants to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage on her Beverly Hills home.

So, she’s put her husband’s grave on eBay. Her plan, you see, is to move him to her spot, and have herself cremated. Sound crazy? Well, the starting bid was $500,000, and as of yesterday, the bidding had reached $2.5 million. It seems Ms. Poncher will pay off the mortgage and have some money to spare. My favorite part? The text of her ad:

“Here is a once in a lifetime and into eternity opportunity to spend your eternal days directly above Marilyn Monroe. In fact the person occupying the address right now is looking face down on her.”

Does that make this a “tomb with a view?” (Ba dum! I’m here all week! Don’t forget to tip your waitresses…)

UPDATE: Final bid: $4.6 million.

UPDATE #2: Sanity returns to the world. Unidentified $4.6 million bidder pulls out. A second auction, with reserve price starting at $500,000 closed with zero bids.

And finally, there is the somewhat sad news that the venerable magazine, Reader’s Digest has declared bankruptcy. There are details available in the link, but for some reason, I feel the need to tell you about this in a short, summarized paragraph.

That’s all for now folks. Hope you enjoyed the show. Have a great day…

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 5 Comments »

Go Penn, Beat Harvard!

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

If you’re an Ivy League football or basketball fan, you’re used to the occasional news story about Penn beating up on schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. But here’s one area where you don’t often see Penn atop the standings:

The University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League school founded by Benjamin Franklin, beat Harvard University’s endowment by choosing the right stock pickers, investing in credit strategies and boosting its Treasury bonds.

The Philadelphia university’s stocks outperformed market indexes, said Kristin Gilbertson, chief investment officer of the fund. Penn’s endowment fell 16 percent in the year ended June 30 to $5.2 billion, better than Harvard’s estimated 30 percent decline and the 26 percent loss for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, including dividends.

Penn, where endowment returns have funded 9 percent of the budget, has limited layoffs and spending cuts and will enter the school year with a balanced budget, President Amy Gutmann said this week. Investment losses at Harvard and Yale University, whose endowment declined an estimated 25 percent, have forced those universities to reduce budgets and fire workers. In the past year, endowment earnings covered more than a third of spending at Harvard and Yale, the wealthiest U.S. schools.

OK, so we’re crowing here about a 16% drop in value, but still – it could have been much worse. Way to go, Quakers!

Categories: Money Talk, University of Pennsylvania | 1 Comment »

A Quick Shot of Healthcare, Part 3 – The Deep End of the Pool

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I’ve been watching the current healthcare debate with great interest, and have a lot of opinions on various aspects of the matter, but can’t seem to consolidate them all into a single blog post. Instead, I’m queuing up a list of “quick shots” – thoughts on particular aspects of the debate – which I hope will spur some discussion

When Barack Obama was running for President, his campaign was lauded for its ground-breakingly effective use of the Internet to organize and mobilize supporters. Millions of people all over the country not only donated money, but received real-time updated talking points, personalized assignments on where and when to “Get out the Vote,” and requests to participate in local causes, such as the election of a particular Democratic congressman. The Obama campaign made use of online tools, social networks, automated demographic analyses, and other such technologies to turn his supporters into what Glenn Reynolds once called an Army of Davids.

Today, when discussing universal healthcare, one important topic is the way our current healthcare plans are tied to our employer. Insurance companies quote relatively flat, discounted rates to large employers because their employee population is heterogeneous, which allows the healthy employees to implicitly subsidize those with chronic, pre-existing, and/or expensive health conditions. Too many people, the President has told us, are unable or unwilling to leave their jobs because once they leave that group, their pre-existing condition might make them ineligible for new healthcare coverage at a reasonable price somewhere else.

What we need is a way to group people together independent of their place of employment. And yet, the same man who just recently inspired the formation of a multi-million member group and then organized them to elect him President of the United States, cannot think of another way to group self-interested, uninsured or at-risk citizens together other than creating a massive government bureaucracy, mandating that everyone in America join it, and then paying for it by taxing millionaires?

Why do I get the feeling that we aren’t being as creative here as we could be?

Where are the online insurance purchasing collectives? Where are the bureaucracy-free, citizen-created “Facebook Group”-like social networks that pool together people into attractive, insurable groups that the private sector can service, all at reduced rates (due to the lack of overhead and increased homogeneity) and independent of where (or if) they work? If tens of millions of people can come together online to elect a President, surely similar numbers will willingly participate in similar activities to secure stable, cheaper healthcare!

Perhaps the paradigm of large, government-run entitlement programs are a “pre-existing condition” that we, the people, should consider not covering?

Categories: Political Rantings | 4 Comments »

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Avery with TrumpetLadies & gentlemen, let it be known that there is officially one more trumpeter in the world tonight! Also, may I remind everyone, that the music room in our house is soundproof.

Avery’s goal: to play The Red and the Blue with the Penn Band at Homecoming (November 7 against Princeton). Lessons have begun!

(NOTE: Click on the picture (or click here) to see a brief slideshow of pictures)

Categories: Family Matters, Words about Music | 1 Comment »

A Quick Shot of Healthcare, Part 2 – When Morals Meet Medicine

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I’ve been watching the current healthcare debate with great interest, and have a lot of opinions on various aspects of the matter, but can’t seem to consolidate them all into a single blog post. Instead, I’m queuing up a list of “quick shots” – thoughts on particular aspects of the debate – which I hope will spur some discussion

Remember, back in the early 1980′s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic burst upon the scene? Without full information about what caused the disease or how it was transmitted, there was quite a bit of misinformation floating around. Specifically, I remember a burst of homophobia spewing forth – terms like “the gay plague,” claims that AIDS was God’s revenge on homosexuals, and so forth.

The whole thing kicked off a more fundamental debate. On one side was the radical, religious right who used the medical crisis to demonize the homosexual community. On the other side was the homosexual community and a host of more liberal social groups who’s message was basically “what two people do together in the privacy of their own home is none of your business.” And while this debate isn’t completely resolved (there will always be bigots in the world), I think that we’ve made tremendous progress in our society in accepting not only homosexuals, but a wide variety of groups who share some characteristic that makes them different from the majority.

Now, imagine the early 1980′s with a federal program of significant size providing healthcare to tens of millions of Americans (single payer or otherwise – doesn’t matter for our purposes here). Suddenly, the “what two people do together in the privacy of their own home is none of your business” argument has a massive hole in it. With one group (homosexuals in this case) consuming a disproportionate amount of health care expense, the live-and-let-live crowd would certainly lose some percentage of its members. After all, if your private activities are costing me some of my hard-earned tax dollars, then it very well might be my business after all. It makes me wonder, had the debate taken that tack, whether we would have made the kind of progress we’ve made today with regard to tolerance and equal rights.

Anyone who thinks I’m being an alarmist about this need only look at the current rumblings about obesity floating around the Internet (and, to some extent, Congress) these days. For now, we’re kicking around taxes on cheeseburgers. Are federal laws denying healthcare to those who’s BMI is over a certain threshold that far behind? How tenuous does the link between an activity and healthcare costs have to be before the government is allowed to legislate against it? Skydiving? Motorcycle riding? Hunting? Belonging to a college fraternity or sorority? Each of these activities presents known risks, and potentially raises the average cost of healthcare above the costs for those who don’t participate. Does that give us, the taxpayers, a vested interest in regulating them? And, more to the point, what of those people who will claim a vested interest, even when none truly exists?

It seems clear that some degree of additional government involvement in healthcare is inevitable at this point, and perhaps even warranted. However, I don’t think the implications of this involvement have been fully considered…

Categories: Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

A Quick Shot of Healthcare, Part 1 – When Progress Hurts

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I’ve been watching the current healthcare debate with great interest, and have a lot of opinions on various aspects of the matter, but can’t seem to consolidate them all into a single blog post. Instead, I’m queuing up a list of “quick shots” – thoughts on particular aspects of the debate – which I hope will spur some discussion

Remember, when Barack Obama first took office, how he vastly expanded federal spending for stem cell research? As he did, he spoke inspirationally about the potential benefits from this kind of research – possible treatments or cures to everything from Alzheimer’s Disease to heart disease to neural/muscular disorders. There was even some talk about growing replacement organs in patients where the originals were failing.

Now that we’re talking about healthcare reform and ways to keep healthcare costs under control, it occurs to me – what happens if this stem cell research succeeds? To be sure, medical breakthroughs can sometimes reduce overall costs. I don’t know what the polio vaccine costs per patient, for instance, but I’m guessing it’s cheaper than the series of wheelchairs, braces, and physical therapy sessions that once guided a polio patient through many painful years until the disease overtook them.

But then there are diseases like cancer. Certain types of cancer used to be death sentences – if you contracted them, your life expectancy could be no more than a few months. Today, while there are still no cures, there are surgeries, preventative drugs and monitoring techniques that can remove the cancer, minimize the risk of recurrence, and catch it if it does come back early enough to effectively treat it again. Lacking the actual data, I can only imagine that the total cost of these treatments far outweighs the costs we used to pay for end-of-life care for these cancer patients.

So what of stem-cell research? Surely we’re all rooting for the kind of success that the President and others have boldly predicted. But what if the resulting therapies, drug treatments, or surgeries far outweigh the costs of treating these diseases today? And even if not, we should consider that people who don’t die from heart disease, ALS, or the like will live long enough to die of something else. So even if the cost of treatments were a wash, overall health care costs would still go up.

My point is this: the President’s recent claims that health care reform will be cost neutral seem like disturbingly short-term thinking. His own initiatives seem to be (rightly) shooting for new, innovative treatments that will likely increase the cost of healthcare, along with the benefits it provides.

It seems to me that our true goal isn’t cost control at all, but rather the reduction or elimination of inefficiency and fraud, so that we provide the highest possible benefit at the lowest possible cost. As the benefits increase (through technological advancement, for example) costs should go up, just not excessively.

I don’t hear anyone talking about this concept these days…

Categories: Political Rantings | 2 Comments »

The Ultimate Reality Show

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Sorry I’ve been away so long – its been a combination of being busy with non-blog things, a dearth of short, pithy things to say, and a host of longer, meatier topics that I’d like to discuss, but haven’t had the time to write about. I’ll try to strike a better balance going forward…

So, while I’ve got a few minutes today, I thought I’d flesh out an idea that I had a while back when I walked by an advertisement for Dance Your Ass Off, a TV reality show that seems to combine Dancing with the Stars and The World’s Biggest Loser. Apparently, this new reality show has contestants performing dances, after which they are judged not just on how well they dance, but on how effectively all that dancing makes them lose weight.

Brilliant! If we combine these shows together, then there can be less of them, right? And then we’d be able to avoid them more easily, right? Certainly, this is an idea worth pursuing. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present you my idea for. . . (cue theme music) . . .

The Ultimate Reality Show

One hundred overweight men, one hundred super-models and one hundred aspiring chefs are simultaneously stranded on a remote island just off the coast of Africa.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Primetime TV, Random Acts of Blogging | 2 Comments »

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