Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thought for food

With our national day of thanks here once again, it's a good time to take note of things of note.

Like "The 10 Most Tweeted Moments of all Time." I won't give away the most tweeted event in human history, but No. 3 was the indelible moment when the Brazilian national soccer team was eliminated from Copa America. Who could forget?

What I want to know, though, is the moment in this twitter time when the pound sign (#) became the hashtag (#). Could someone tweet me the answer during Thanksgiving dinner? Thanks.

Or, consider the musings of Daniel Kahneman in last week's Time Magazine. Kahneman, as we all know, won the 2002 Nobel prize for economics for his "prospect theory" in behavioral economics.

Anyway, he was asked about experts and if we should trust their instincts. 

Kahneman said: "There are domains in which expertise is not possible. Stock picking is a good example."

I think believers in Warren Buffett and a few other stock pickers would dispute that notion.

Kahneman also offered his thoughts on happiness: "When you analyze happiness, it turns out that the way you spend your time is extremely important. Decisions that affect how much time you spend with people you like are going to have a very large effect on how happy you are  -- not necessarily satisfied with your life -- but happy."

That's good to know when breaking bread with in-laws on Thanksgiving.

It also helps to show a bit of gratitude. A New York Times story reports that "Cultivating an 'attitude of gratitude' has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners."

Then, naturally, we get another story that says "two studies out this week indicate that negative comments can have health benefits."

So when a considerate sibling turns to you while passing the candied yams and helpfully suggests that "you get a life!" you should show some gratitude and say thank you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nittany Lions headed for state pen

What is amazing about the scandal involving Penn State and its longtime head football coach Joe Paterno is that so many are supporting JoePa in the face of his obvious moral failings.

When the PSU Board of Trustees announced that the longtime school president was fired, along with the head football coach, the only thing reporters wanted to know was: "who was going to coach the team?"

Then the students rioted.

On the Fox News website, they had their usual un-scientific poll asking viewers what they thought of Paterno's firing and if the board of trustees did the right thing.

Only 60 percent of Fox viewers agreed with the firing.

Really? Do conservatives discount alleged child sexual abuse that easily? Apparently, they do.

The culture of top-tier college football has long tolerated a lengthy list of abuses, from crime to drugs to exploitation.

Well, this is where we are.

Add child-sexual abuse to the long list of problems that afflict major college football.

Big money corrupts everything it touches.

And Penn State football was a huge money-making operation. From TV revenue to donations, PSU grew, thanks largely to Paterno's football success, from a backwater, middling college into a huge, 45,000-student institution. During Paterno's tenure as head coach from the mid-1960s until last week, PSU's endowment grew from around nothing to $1 billion.

Anything that could derail this money train had to be squelched or covered up.

Well, as we've learned for decades, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

Although, in this case, the crime of child-sexual abuse is hard to beat. In fact, another rumor out there is that Jerry Sandusky, the ex-assistant PSU coach at the heart of the scandal, pimped out some of the kids he abused to big donors of his non-profit group, Second Mile Foundation, that supposedly helped underprivileged kids.

The alleged crimes and cover-up will spread collateral damage far and wide beyond the abused children and their families. From the school president to head football coach, the entire athletic director's office along with all the football coaches at PSU will lose their careers. They're done.

Civil suits could, and should, drain that huge PSU endowment.

All that blather about high standards and living a life of honor are just hollow phrases. JoePa looked out for JoePa and look where that got him. They even took his name off the Big 10 trophy.

It's all about the money. And now, they can kiss that good-bye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The big, wet issue of our time

Well, thanks to $22.7 million campaign financed by Costco, hard liquor drinkers in Washington state can now get their fix at the corner grocery store or, better yet, at the gas station.

Thanks to the voters Tuesday, Washington returns to its days of yore.

The term "Skid Road," which is often called Skid Row, originated in Seattle where logging roads were lined with joints selling alcohol to weary loggers. The term now means any run-down section of town where the inebriated loiter.

The heat, now, turns on Oregon, which has a similar state-run liquor control business. Beer and wine are sold everywhere.

In Bend, we have just four liquor stores, one of which, is inside Ray's Food Place.

Gee, I remember those long, difficult days when we only had two liquor stores. And, they closed on Sunday, of all days!

The local daily has long championed easy access to hard liquor. Why? They must like their scotch.

Evidently, in this era of high unemployment and diminished expectations, we need a quicker way to spend whatever money we have left on vodka or tequila to drown our sorrows away.

Never mind the social ills caused by alcohol-abuse, just think of the jobs that will pour forth once Oregon gets wetter than it already is.

Let's see, we'll need more alcohol treatment centers, which employ people, not robots. Same for shelters for battered women. We'll see a greater need for police to deal with more drunken drivers. Auto repair shops will employ more to fix the increase in the number of damaged vehicles. Don't forget tow trucks. And, we could always use more divorce lawyers.

I guess it's a win-win situation.

Except that Washington has a sales tax. It estimates that with the number of liquor outlets expected to increase five-fold next summer, the state could reap $80 million in taxes over six years.

Oregon has no sales tax, so the revenue, $178.3 million last year, would no longer go to the government.

Not that it needs any money, with massive budget cuts, school closings, skyrocketing college fees, fewer state troopers, an ailing health care program, crumbling infrastructure and the like.

But, damn, it'll be easier to toast our failings when we can get our hard stuff at 7-Eleven.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bend home prices improving, Zillow says

Bend home prices, year to year, rose 3.1 percent to $192,700, according to the real estate website Zillow's Home Value Index.

That's good news, but Zillow also shows that it's far down from 2006, when the price was $383,000. In essence, we're at the same level as of January 2003.

Sisters also saw an uptick of 1.2 percent to $233,500.

La Pine, though, fell 5.8 percent to $114,700 and Redmond was down only 0.4 percent to $125,500.

Bend fell so far the fastest that it's not that surprising it is rebounding better than the other metro areas in the state.

While the Bend metro area was up a modest 1.7 percent to $174,500 (one of the few bright spots in the state), Portland was down 4.3 percent to $209,000, Salem plunged 7.5 percent to $154,400 and Eugene also dropped by 7.5 percent to $170,300.

Overall, Zillow says that, nationwide, nearly 29 percent of homes remain "underwater," meaning that more is owed on them than they're worth.

Zillow also reports we can see the bottom of this national housing mess, but we're not there yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Conversation? Is there an app for that?

How I long for a "smartphone."

It will be yet another way for me to ignore family and friends, especially during mealtime.

And, it will make me seem more important when I have to read a score update rather than talk to the person in front of me.

Remember the pager, that little gadget attached to your hip?

When it beeped or vibrated, it was a convenient way to say, "gotta go."

And you were believed. By appearing that you had more important things to do than talk to another human being, you earned respect.

The cell phone expanded this modern dynamic with texting, yet another case of a noun switching to a verb.

The smartphone has taken this to a whole new level of social avoidance.

With the Facebook smartphone app, you can update your Wall while you're having lunch with a mutual friend, who is doing the same thing on his or her Facebook Wall.

Or consider the modern tableau featured in the Bizarro cartoon. It's great seeing simians enjoying time together even though everyone is playing with their smartphone.

It expands interaction beyond the four sitting there, to everyone following them on Twitter.

Just imagine Thanksgiving this year. There won't be any arguments because everyone will be busy cruising the web on an iPhone, Thunderbolt or Galaxy. There won't be food fights because, hey, those phones are expensive.

In more intimate settings, when you don't have anything to say to the person across the table, you no longer have to chat about that always safe subject: the weather.

With a mere swipe, you can find the weather in Bend or Bangalore, average highs and lows, plus long-range forecasts. You'll sound impressive doing so, even though the person you're with doesn't care at all about the weather in Bend or Bangalore.

No need anymore to ask anyone for directions to anywhere or for suggestions on restaurants, movies or music. It's all at your fingertips.

Disagreements can be settled instantly, rather than waiting to look up something later in a dictionary, encyclopedia or almanac.

Need to figure out when and where Hitchcock appears in "Dial M For Murder?" No problem. Google it on your Droid.

The pursuit of trivia supremacy is now at your fingertips.

Where would we be without the smartphone?