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Happy 117th!

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Here he is, sitting for a photograph in commemoration of his graduation:

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Grampa held two degrees in architecture: one from Armour (now Illinois) Institute of Technology and one from MIT. In today’s eye, the pose might look a bit corny, but the more I look at it the more I like the concept. A graduate in academic regalia, upon the occasion of his commencement, poses with the tools and fruits of his trade. Or in this case, a tool and a fruit of his trade.

I’m not sure what I would have posed with upon my college graduation (my God– that was twenty years ago this Sunday). A supply and demand graph? A great big square L with a marked-up X in it?

The older I get the more I think of to ask him and my other grandparents. Alas.

Grampa would’ve turned 117 today if he hadn’t died preventing a false vacuum collapse.

This post was brought to you today by the number zero.

Let me begin with the sort of disclaimer that would likely stave off ad hominem attacks if used in familiar company, but would provide no such protection in larger forums such as social media:

Sesame Street was an integral part of my childhood. I still have my stuffed Ernie and Berts packed away, and we had a stuffed Cookie Monster and Snuffy and Big Bird, and the Fisher-Price figurines of both the muppets and the humans, and various puppets and toys, all of which my progeny shall play with one day. I remember Prairie Dawn and Sherlock Hemlock and Roosevelt Franklin. I remember the ice-skating special. I remember when Mr. Hooper himself ran his eponymous store, and I remember his passing. I remember when Snuffleupagus had only ever been seen by Big Bird, and wandered off whenever any other character approached, leaving us all to wonder whether he was a figment of Bird’s imagination. I remember when they decided to reveal Snuffy to the other characters on the show. And I remember a time before Elmo, who I say is the moral equivalent of Cousin Oliver and Ted McGinley combined.

I loved Sesame Street, as did and do generations of kids. So by extension, I suppose I loved PBS for giving me Sesame Street. And Electric Company. And 3-2-1 Contact.

But Congress probably shouldn’t give PBS a dime.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which governs and partially funds PBS and NPR, gets a bit less than $500 million of the over $3.5 trillion the feds spend in a year. That’s less than 0.014% of the federal budget, about a buck and a half per American. Seems like a small price to pay for Oscar the Grouch and Grover and Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross and All Things Considered, right?

Well, if it’s a small price to pay, and plenty of private businesses are already doing similar work without federal funding, why not let PBS and NPR raise their own funds? They already solicit donations; I’m sure plenty of Americans would be willing to voluntarily donate enough to make up for the shortfall. Otherwise, they can commercialize. They can sell ad time, or do product placement, or they can become a for-profit business like a subscription service, or they can sell their properties to other companies. They have options aside from digging into your pocket– let them exercise them.

Back in 1967, when the CPB was founded, there was no internet, there was no cable, there were only a handful of national media networks, and your city or town probably had just a few TV stations. Maybe federal funding of the CPB made sense back then, because you could argue that without it there might be no educational programming available at all.

But it’s not 1967. There’s more media out there than we know what to do with. We have dozens of “free” channels and stations available via broadcast TV and AM/FM radio. If you pay for TV or radio services, you can access hundreds or thousands more channels and stations. If you have internet access, your media options increase exponentially beyond that. News sites. Educational sites. Podcasts. YouTubes. Blogs. If you can’t find educational programming out there, you either [A] don’t have a TV or radio or internet access to begin with, which means you have a problem that the CPB doesn’t address anyway, or [B] you’re not looking hard enough.

True, some of your favorite PBS and NPR shows might get cancelled if the feds cut off the CPB’s appropriation, but I think some other station or channel or website would pick the more popular ones up and give them a shot. Sesame Street would definitely get snapped up– it’s arguably the most famous children’s show ever. And even if doesn’t, you can find plenty of old episodes and clips online. Same goes for plenty of other shows– search YouTube for This Old House or Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!, and you’ll get thousands of hits, if not a dedicated channel.

We don’t need the Corporation for Public Broadcasting so badly that it warrants Congress taxing you to pay for it. If Congress stops giving the CPB money, educational TV and radio won’t disappear; we’ll just have to resort to the bazillions of other options that are available today in 2017.

Or we could read books.

And as long as we’re trimming the budgetary fat, I’d like to see Congress legislate some caps on taxpayer-funded Presidential travel and protection of multiple residences. I think there’s an opportunity for some real savings there.

… …

Just thought of different post title: “That’s zero, zero dollars, ah, ah, ah!”

On the end of the Bears’ season (’16-’17).

Last summer, I bought a new Bears t-shirt. I figured it was time to replace the old one because [A] I’d lost weight and it didn’t fit well anymore, and [B] wearing it during every game three seasons in a row clearly hadn’t helped. Those were three of the Bears’ worst defensive seasons ever; they gave up 478, 442, and 397 points. New laundry, I thought, would bring new karma.

Nope. They had their worst season in my lifetime.

Just three wins. Three. The last time the Bears won only three games was in the strike-shortened 1982 season that was only nine games long. Before that it was 1973.

I write a post every year about the Bears’ season. Remarkable how last year’s downside paragraph applies almost perfectly this year:

The downside: lots of injuries (including a season-ender for the first-round pick), several winnable games were allowed to slip away, and the defense was the fourth-worst in team history.

Blown leads left and right, including against the pathetic Jaguars? Check. Fourth-worst defensive season in their history? At 399 points, that’s a check, though there was some improvement in yards surrendered. The only difference is that this year’s first-rounder didn’t go down for the season. But last year’s first rounder, Kevin White, spent the last twelve weeks on injured reserve alongside half of the other starters.

And worst of all, the two losses to the Packers mean the all-time head-to-head record between them is now tied for the first time in decades. Appalling.

The upside: the rookies looked decent. The Bears got the third pick in the draft. And my sister gave me a small charcoal grill… just about the right size for a useless t-shirt.

Have a cigar.

“When hundreds of thousands of people risk death to escape your country, your country is probably doing something wrong.” –Yours Truly, “The Fidel, The.”

Now that Fidel has finally become a good communist, the internet is awash with far wittier criticisms of him and his supporters than I can muster. I will, however, add a few comments to the… dyslogy? mallogy? anti-eulogy? Dyslogy.

Say what you will about his predecessor, Batista, but at least that guy had the common courtesy to step back from power every once in a while. That, and he didn’t kill or exile nearly as many as Castro did. And he didn’t ruin the country’s economy. And he didn’t ask Khrushchev to launch a first strike against the US. (Did you know Fidel actually asked Nikita to nuke the US? I didn’t. Scroll down in the letter paragraph beginning “In your cable of October 27…” I’ll wait. Back? OK, good.)

If a socialist revolution results in economic depression, a low-end estimate of ten thousand political executions, and a low-end estimate of a million people fleeing the country or exiled, then shouldn’t the leader of said revolution at least have the decency to not become a billionaire in the process? Or at least to resign after, say, twenty or thirty years of things not really turning around?

I hope Obama’s opening to Cuba was the right move, and I hope Trump (or whoever ends up being President) will further the process of bringing democracy, freedom, liberty, and yes, capitalism to the long-suffering people of Cuba. One tyrant down; I hereby jubilate.

Seriously, though, I thought for sure that someday we’d see that guy’s head on a pike on the road to Havana. Oh well. There’s always Raúl.

On turning 40.

MQ made an excellent birthday cake from scratch. A buttery organic white cake with vanilla creme frosting and star-shaped sprinkle things. I ate only two pieces because they were perfect enough. A less perfect cake, I’d probably need three to five pieces to be sated. Not this cake. Two three-by-two-inch pieces were just right. For lunchtime, I mean. I’ll have more in a couple hours.

Took her to a nice steakhouse, the Tree on San Jose, for dinner. Had the room to ourselves, aside from extremely pleasant and helpful waiters. Ribeye, lobster bisque, risotto, and a Malbec. After careful consideration, it was the best steak I’ve ever had in a restaurant (third best overall). Just enough blackening and caramelization on the outside, red and tender inside, consistent marbling that melted in my mouth. Good stuff.

Then we went for a short walk in a small evergreen forest. It was lovely. I might get a real tree this year.

As I said long ago, there’ll be no Jack Benny nonsense. Some odd synapse or malfunction in my brain has me thinking that the early 40s seem younger than the late 30s. Hopefully it’ll feel that way. There’s no hill to get over.

On that abomination of an election.

The good news is that Hillary Clinton will not be President. The bad news is that Donald Trump will be President.

Actually, I take that back. Not the good news/bad news part, but the “will not be” and “will be” parts. I have no business making prognostications anymore. To wit:

I thought Trump would flame out after the first debate, when novelty would yield to common sense. Then I thought he’d lose his lead in the polls as other Republicans dropped out because he was nobody’s second choice and the dropouts’ supporters would flock to a non-Trump. Then I thought Cruz’s victory in Iowa was the beginning of the end for Trump, and people would come to their senses. Then I thought there’d be some behind-the-scenes pow-wow to close ranks behind a single non-Trump, likely Rubio, and the other non-Trumps would drop out faster. Then I thought there’d be more desperation to support Cruz, especially after Rubio dropped out. Then I thought there’d be a contested convention.

At this point, I thought Trump could win, but he’d definitely have to stop acting like Trump, and he’d have to spend more money. After all, there’s no way he’d get billions of dollars worth of free media like he did in the Republican primaries, right? And there’s no way there was actually anything like a “silent majority” that planned to vote for him despite telling the pollsters otherwise, or not responding to the pollsters at all, right? And you need a traditional GOTV operation to actually get people out to vote, right? And for Christ’s sake, he’d have to stop being “a colossal @*#&$^%”, as I put it back in September, right?

And then election night came, and then I thought he wouldn’t win if he were trailing in so many national polls, and that even if he caught up he was trailing too badly in the electoral count and there’s no way he’d win in Wisconsin. Or Michigan. Or Pennsylvania. And then I thought that campaigning there was the same old Republican pipe dream: waste time campaigning in those states, then get blown away when the results come late in from Milwaukee and Detroit and Philly. And he spent too much time going after white voters, but it wasn’t going to be enough to offset losses among other ethnic/racial groups. Gains among men would be more than offset by losses among women. And I told my students to watch all night, because the whole thing would probably be called for Hillary by 11 or so.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. I think I counted that right. So, yeah, I’m done prognosticating for a while. The electors don’t meet until December 19th, and technically (and Constitutionally, which is the best kind of technically), they can elect any 35-plus-year-old natural-born citizen with 14 years residency they want, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen? Because I won’t pretend I do anymore.

There was no suspense whatsoever on the Democratic side. It wasn’t even worth considering the possibility that Comrade Uncle Bernie might win, so I never prognosticated nuthin’ about it.

I told the kids to wait for more data to come in before making snap judgements about why the results fell the way they did. The data’s been coming in for two weeks now. Compared to Romney, Trump won a higher percentage of blacks (by 2 percentage points), Asians (by 3), Hispanics (by 2), and men (by 1), and a lower percentage of whites (by 1) and women (by 2). Granted, “percentage won” is not the same as or as important as turnout, but given everything we know about how he conducted himself and how racist and sexist he and his supporters supposedly are, should any of that have happened? He only did two points worse among women than Romney? He actually lost ground percentage-wise among whites? And he gained points among any (not every) non-white ethnic/racial group?

How?

I ask that only rhetorically; there’s plenty of analysis out there explaining exactly how. I just wish the people crying “racist” and “sexist” would take a moment to think about other explanations, such as the fact that the election wasn’t a referendum solely on Trump, but an actual choice between Trump and an actual other human being with an actual track record of her own.

I also predicted that given the bizarro comeback motif in 2016 (Cavaliers, Cubs, Trump), that the Bears would turn around their then 2-6 record when Cutler came back, finish in a wildcard slot at 10-6 and win the Super Bowl. Wrong.

Dr. Hmnahmna opines that “the Cubs were [traditionally] a giant sink for all the bad karma in the US. With the Cubs actually being good, all the bad karma went somewhere else. Lots of prominent deaths, Trump, etc.” I tend to concur, and think the Cubs winning was worth it. Hopefully Hillary does, too.

Cubs win!!!

BPM is probably back down under 100 now.

I’m not a huge fan of baseball, but I’m a fan of Chicago and of my family’s history there, and so I’m a fan of the Cubs. Too many warm-and-fuzzies are rushing in to form coherent thought, so let me just ramble.

I think of:

…the taunting promise of last year’s 90-something-win team.
…watching the White Sox win and thinking the Cubs were due.
…watching the Red Sox win and thinking the Cubs were due.
…Bartman and watching the Cubs lose to the Marlins.
…Harry Caray passing away.
…watching Sosa and McGwire in the late 90s.
Back to the Future, and Ferris Bueller, and Jake Elwood’s fake address: 1060 West Addison. “Somebody with a record this bad is bound to make a mistake,” or some such.
…watching the Cubs lose to the Giants.
…watching the Cubs lose to the Padres.
…my mom, who lived close enough to Wrigley to hear the loudspeakers.
…learning about the billy goat and the black cat.
…my mom’s mom, who bought us some truck-stop-quality Cubs and Sox caps from BK or McDonald’s when we were little.
…my dad’s mom, who never saw them win once in her 95 years.
…my dad’s dad, who saw Babe Ruth point his home run in ’32, and saw the Cubs win the Series twice when he was a boy, and then never again.

And I get a little misty because I just can’t believe they won. They didn’t do what the Cubs always do, which is fail, no matter how good their record is in May or June. They didn’t choke. They actually won.

And next time they win, even if it’s not for another hundred years, I’ll think of this incredible series and tonight’s incredible game. My God.

On Wal-Mart’s higher wages.

From the mailbag:

(Blonde) directed my attention to a Gray Lady article that asks “How Did Walmart Get Cleaner Stores and Higher Sales?” and then answers “It Paid Its People More” and then asks “Can the answer to what ails the global economy be found in the people in blue vests at your neighborhood Walmart?” Click here to read it yourself.

Long story short: in 2015, Wal-Mart’s revenues dropped for the first time since God was a child, customer satisfaction was down, and so they decided to pay their employees more. Their revenues went back up while the rest of the retail market was down, and customer satisfaction improved. However, the stock price underperformed and profits dropped a bit.

So is attracting better workers via higher wages the “answer to what ails the global economy”? As any well-trained economist proficient in hedging his bets would tell you, it depends. I suppose that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

Maybe Wal-Mart’s experience validates the concept of the efficiency wage. Or, since their profits are down, I should say “may soon validate” the concept. Maybe higher profits are right around the corner. Maybe profits will continue to lag and then there’ll be a hiring freeze, or a wage freeze until inflation eats away the value of the wage. After all, the stockholders are trying to make money, too– maybe for raw profit, maybe for retirement, maybe for a health savings account, who knows why?

I’m not surprised that offering a higher wage brought in better workers, though I would like more elaboration on this little nugget:

But at the store level, managers describe a big shift in the kind of workers they can bring in by offering $10 an hour with a solid path to $15 an hour. “We’re attracting a different type of associate,” said Tina Budnaitis, the manager of Walmart No. 5260 in Rogers. “We get more people coming in who want a career instead of a job.”

If I were a cosmic justice warrior, I might take that bit about “a different type of associate” and play the “what’s that supposed to mean?” game. But I’m not, so instead I’m going to play the “what happens to the original, ‘pre-different’ type of associate?” game. Here I go:

What happens to the original, “pre-different” type of associate? If that person’s out of a job, then all else being equal might there be no net gain in employment? And if profits are still down, or stay down after hiring the “different type,” then what was gained on net by hiring the “different type”?

Anyway. Maybe it’ll work, maybe not. It makes perfect sense that if you want more productive workers, maybe you should up the bid for those workers by offering higher wages. Those workers can increase profits, but it’s also possible that the revenue gains won’t offset the higher labor costs.

Those’re just a couple of ramblings, I haven’t done much blogging in a while. Just been feeling kind of off, and I guess I’m not as– wait. Wait a minute. I just noticed some minimum wage stuff in this article. Hold on.

Forgive me for being presumptuous, forgive me for impugning your motives, maybe I’m wrong, but is this story supposed to boost support for a higher minimum wage? To chip away at my opposition to minimum wage laws and living wage laws? Is that why you sent it? “Pay people more; we’ll finally have cleaner Wal-Marts that actually have more than two lines open?”

Well, first, we already have cleaner Wal-Marts that actually have more than two lines open. They’re called Targets.

Second, as I’ve said before, minimum wage is a restriction on the worker as much as it is a restriction on the employer. Say we raise the minimum wage to whatever New, Improved Wal-Mart is paying. Remember the original workers? Not the new “different type,” I mean the original workers they had before their profits started dropping off? Some of them just got put out of work, or didn’t get hired, because they’re not the right type of different. And as I’ve said in past posts, you’ve made it harder for them to get hired, to gain experience, to make contacts, and so on.

Third, minimum wage isn’t just an economic issue. It’s a matter of rights, specifically the freedom to make contracts. This often invites a comeback along the lines of “yeah, the right to get exploited” or “yeah, the right to get paid less,” to which I respond “I’d prefer to be exploited for not-enough-money than not exploited for zero money.” And I prefer it because I’ve been there.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this’ll work out as hoped for Wal-Mart: higher revenues, more customer satisfaction, cleaner stores, shorter lines, higher profits. If paying higher wages works out for Wal-Mart, does that justify forcing other businesses to pay higher wages, too?

So, again, if it works out for Wal-Mart, great. Let others voluntarily follow their path. If it doesn’t, oh well. Hopefully others learn from it.

I need to get back to blogging more.