A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
The Curmudgeonly Professor blog has reached the milestone of its 900th post and the completion of his first year of blogging. Somehow it seems like this post should be something special, something commemorative. What it really feels like is that this last year is that the year has gone by faster than the proverbial bat out of the lower regions. I have had to stop and think about what this year has meant and what blogging has meant to me. The first thought that comes to mind is if I hadn't started blogging, the year would have gone by anyway and I would have had less to show for it.
For my one year, 900th post, I thought that I would list a few of the positive things that blogging has done.
1. Blogging has kept me in much closer contact with my family than would otherwise have happened.
2. I have had a tremendous incentive to learn to take more and better photographs.
3. I have had to think a bit more seriously about what is going on in the world and whether there is anything worthwhile I can say about any of these happenings.
4. I have learned to write quickly, "on the fly," so to speak, with only a minimal re-read and a faint hope that my errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar are not overly egregious.
5. I feel somewhat comforted in the fact that I actually started a project and carried it through to completion, promising at the start that I would continue doing my blog for at least a year.
6. My blog has spawned a family of other blogs so that other family members are connecting to each other and other family members are writing serious and thought-provoking narrative.
7. I have proved to myself that blogging is a worthwhile and constructive activity. Keeping a blog tended on a daily basis keeps the mental juices flowing and generates new thoughts and ideas.
In keeping with the commemorative spirit, here are a few of my favorite activities and thoughts:
1. Bugging my wife. She can finish my New York Times Crossword Puzzles in a flash, being smarter than I am. But there is no one else around here to bug, so what am I to do?
2. Talking to and seeing my kids and grandkids. I have tried to leave a constructive legacy for my children and grandchildren, but I am not sure whether all of the ideas, reconstructed hymns, and vocabulary will bring demerits to my eternal progress report.
3. Talking to my sisters and my brother. My sisters are a devious lot, and they think I am a bit dumb and vulnerable so they keep trying to put things over on me. I'll show them a thing or two.
4. Deliveries from Fed Ex, UPS, and the post office, which usually means new books.
5. Yelling at Fox News while I am restraining my vocabulary.
6. Taking photos of everything in sight and then looking at the wonder of them when I blow them up, edit them, and share them with others.
7. Walking along the Jordan River Trail and visiting with the ducks. They quack loudly when I talk to them.
8. Attending the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Tuacahn plays and musicals.
9. Attending the BYU football games and thinking mean thoughts about our dear adversaries at the U of U.
10. Watching the Utah Jazz.
11. Going to Marv's Hamburgers in St. George.
12. Watching for daily changes wrought by the wonders of Mother Nature.
13. Watching tiny toddlers who haven't quite mastered the art of walking trying to run away from their mothers, waving their arms and laughing in great glee.
14. Watching the Utah winter weather conditions in Salt Lake from our winter home in St. George.
There are probably other favorite things, but this list will do for now. I thank all of those who have read my blogs, commented on them, and who have encouraged me and offered kind words of support. Thanks also for tolerating my rants, which, of course, are always objective and justified. I'll write more later on my goals for another year of blogging.
As we near the one year anniversary of the Curmudgeonly Professor's Blog on November 1, (actually, truthfully, mid-November, but we'll round it off to provide a neat time frame) the Professor must address some timely questions.
Question Number 1: Is the Curmudgeonly Professor a true curmudgeon? Or does he just pretend to be one? Actually, an unending variety of gripes have been posted on this blog. At the same time, hundreds and hundreds of photos of flowers and scenery have been posted. Would a true Curmudgeon post pictures of flowers?
We have seen complaints about suspenders, crossword puzzles, snowbirds, accompanying your wife to the grocery store, accompanying your wife to Costco, the fickleness of computers, sports announcers and sports channels, television ads, political campaigns, economic illiterates, college students who whine and make excuses, self-improvement programs, angiograms, tooth extractions, cardiologists, IKEA, fabric stores, artsy-craftsy stores, ignorant dog owners, losing 5000 photos on my hard drive, stuffy noses, Matlock reruns, boneheaded drivers, cell phone yapping in inappropriate places, text messaging virtually anywhere, ignorant behavior in movie theaters, running ten-twelve minutes of ads for every 30 minutes of television, "news in depth" covered in a two minute sound bite, body function TV ads at dinner time, and I am sure I have omitted some important topics. This catalogue of society's ills and malfunctions has truly been embodied in an impressive literary treasure trove, which should surely validate the Curmudgeonly Professor's claim to being a Curmudgeon. Besides, the name Curmudgeonly Professor regularly gets him into the top ten or twenty on Google search categories where zillions of other less imaginative folks rank down in the millionths. So why change?
I'm always interested in learning something new about something I have known either nothing or precious little about. Our neighbor loaned us her copy of the video Breaking the Code, a feature documentary about the 200 year quest to decipher the hieroglyphics of the Ancient Maya, by David Lebrun. The documentary is based on a book by Michael Coe which was labeled by the New York Times as one of the great stories of 20th century scientific discovery, a story of "false leads, rivalries, colliding personalities, extraordinary linguists, mathematics, adventurers, architects, and eccentrics." Interestingly, some of the great discoveries were made by a boy who began his study of the Mayan hieroglyphics when he was twelve years old. Give yourself an opportunity to learn something new and see Breaking the Code.
Bless Doug Robinson, sports writer for Salt Lake City's Deseret News for his brilliant, insightful, and landmark column on troglodyte (my word, not his) behavior at football games in today's newspaper. Read his article What to do at a stadium here.
My favorite comment in his column is about
The guy who gets up every few minutes, and squeezes sideways down the row like a burglar on a narrow balcony, stepping on toes, bumping knees, blocking the view, forcing people to stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight.
Robinson suggests a rule limiting people to two exits per half--but only one return. The writer also vents on males who go shirtless, eating cotton candy, people who stand the entire game, low-riding pants, lack of stadium parking, prices of concession food, and P.A. announcers blasting out of the scoreboard. An excellent, excellent list that should be reproduced and sent out with all season tickets to all football teams and all football games. For those who can't read or write, an interpreter and/or reader should be provided.
As good as Robinson's points are well taken, the Curmudgeonly Professor offers a few additional questions to Robinson's question answerer, Mr. Know It All.
Question 1: Why are people who bring stadium seats so stupid that they place their seats six inches over the back of their own seat, then lean back and take up three-fourths of the space in the aisle behind them, and then ignore requests to kindly move their body and their seat up to their own space?
Question 2: Why did the girl sitting on my left spend much of the second half text-messaging, and why did she come to the game?
Question 3: Why did the silly girls in the top row of the student section below us stand with their backs to the game ninety percent of the time trying to act cute, silly, and ignorant, thus annoying everyone around them?
Question 4: Why did the person sitting next to me two games back spend all of his time reading the newspaper?
Question 5: Why do people who get up a half dozen times to go out for food, bathroom, or for whatever reason want to stand in front of us so they can see the current play, not having brains enough to realize they are blocking the view of dozens of people who must watch the feeble replay on the tiny scoreboard monitor?
Question 6: Why did the man behind me have to sit on the front one-fourth of his seat and jam his big bony knees into my back for the last three games?
Question 7: Why did another man sitting behind me have to yell with a special twang every time the opposing team got ready to run a play "Watch it, they're going to paaass," to no avail. When the other team didn't pass, this energetic fan then yelled "I guess they weren't going to paaass."
Question 8: Why did BYU concessions have plenty of vendors in the stands on Saturday, a relatively cool day, when on hot days when people were passing out and the EMT's were resuscitating people under the stands, no vendors were in sight.
Question 9: Why didn't the stadium managers realize that when they announced the stupendously generous policy of allowing people to bring empty water bottles into the stands that they would each bring four or five empties and jam the water fountains in huge crowds so no one dying of thirst could get within miles of water? The only other option was to stand in a concession line for 20 minutes to buy a bottle of $2.50 water and miss 20 minutes of the game.
Question 10: Why do parents of very young infants, perhaps nearly newborn, bring babies to toast in the sun and get dehydrated on really, really hot days? Are they that desperate to see a football game?
Question 11: Why do BYU fans not plan on coming to the game until the first quarter is nearly over and then start leaving in droves when the game is tied and there are ten minutes left to play?
The Curmudgeonly Professor will await answers from Mr. Know it All. Meanwhile, he will debate whether he will renew his season tickets next year to endure another season of rude behavior. On the other hand, perhaps he will find a few new questions to ask about the continuing parade of interesting kinds of rudeness and unforgettable behavior.
Who actually belongs to the "middle class?" And what, actually, is the "middle class?" Are these people in the middle class just people who are more prestigious and elite than the lower classes, like the people in steerage on the immigrant ships, but not as elite and prestigious as those who dwell in first-class cabins, own multiple automobiles and houses and attend black tie social events and get their names and faces on the ultra-ultra society pages of the local newspaper? The problem is that class distinctions often take on a pejorative overtone. Upon meeting someone for the first time, the overwhelming temptation is to ask them, "So what do you do for a living?" We tend to have one reaction if the person tells us, "I'm a corporate attorney with Blah Ex and Litigate Law Firm," and another reaction if they tell us, "I'm a welder in the oil fields." The next game, mentally, is to estimate how much money each person makes, learn what kind of a house they live in, how many kids they have, what colleges their kids are going to, whether they belong to the Country Club, and, with a little luck, figure out whether they are a Republican or a Democrat. If they are a Republican or a Democrat, we try to divine whether they are a liberal, middle-of-the-road, or right-wing party member.
Our true test of civility and manners comes when we treat everyone with the same social grace and consideration. Income may or may not be a measure of worldly success and class status, since some people did nothing to earn what they have, or heaven help us, did nothing legal to earn what they have, and others can be distinguished people who have fallen on hard times. Education may be another criterion for class distinctions. Merely having a college degree, however, does not make anyone smarter or inherently more capable than another person. I have known auto mechanics who possessed an awesome array of talents and technical knowledge as I have known college professors who have raised my doubts about how they ever got a Ph.D.
In economic terms, however, the focus is on how much money people make and occupation is often considered a proxy for economic well being. Income is important to society in terms of attaining a minimal standard of living, enough to meet basic needs for housing, food, medical care, education, and similar expenses. The upper class has more than it needs for such requirements. The middle class extends from meeting minimal requirements to having somewhat more than needed. And the lower class is found wanting, short of necessary funds to meet basic expenses.
And thus is born the total nonsense and bizarre ideas about redistribution of wealth and about how redistribution of wealth is labeled "socialist" or, heaven help the density of some observers, even "communist." As the distinguished right-leaning and brilliant columnist George Will pointed out the other day, "95% of government programs are concerned with redistribution" of some kind or another. The U.S. economy is what we call a "mixed-economy," having major elements of capitalism and important elements of government intervention. Each time some one proposes another government program, the right begins yelling "socialist" or "communist."
The history of public finance scholarship in the United States has a long and distinguished academic background. The analysis of government programs hinges on the level of externalities, or costs that individuals generate that are paid by others, like pollution, or benefits of programs that extend to many others, like education. In the case of pollution, and dozens of other programs, unless government regulates pollution and other programs that inflict harmful and burdensome costs on others, the industries causing such problems are getting by without paying the full cost of the harm that they do and too much of bad stuff gets produced. In the case of programs like education, voucher arguments aside for the moment, when providers cannot charge for all of the benefits they generate, too little will be produced and society will suffer the consequences.
The foundation of our federal tax system is that of a progressive income tax, meaning that a higher percentage of income tax is assessed higher income earners than is assessed lower income earners. The basis for a progressive income tax is the fundamental argument of equity, and fairness. Simply tinkering with rates that are already in existence could not be more distant from making the tax system "socialist" by changing the rate structure slightly at the margins.
The Curmudgeonly Professor suggests that economic illiterates who bandy the words "socialist" and "communist" around go spend five minutes studying the meaning of these terms before they use the terms as loosely as we are hearing these days. Once more, the Professor would have been happier if more economics students had read the textbook and listened to the economics lectures so we did not have to put up with these inflammatory and groundless attacks. The Curmudgeonly Professor should apologize for writing a long and boring blog, but that is what Curmudgeonly Professors do. Thank you.
To show how desperate the Talking Bloviator business has been for topics of substance, a character who asked a question in a campaign rally has been elevated into a position of prominence as "Joe the Plumber." Next he will probably run for Congress or the U.S. Senate, since name recognition means everything. He may be even better known than Senator Barack Obama. Presumably, Joe the Plumber is a metaphor for the middle class, whatever that is, presumably somewhere between the lower class and the upper class, or the liberal eastern elite.
When I taught school, most of the students didn't really get too serious about studying economics, so big chunks of them ended up with C's. These students were in the middle class. They did not have good enough grades to go on to med school, dental school, law school, or even get admitted into the accounting program. Those who were dismal students got D's or E's, E being, for some arcane reason, a failing grade. What is the matter with calling an F an F? These students were in the lower class. The students who paid attention, read the book, came to class, and studied, got B's and the best got A's. These students were the upper class, or the elite. The elite were some times frowned down upon by the middle class C's and the lower class D's and E's, since everyone in those classes protested that they were just as smart as the upper class and only the unfair test, the ambiguous questions, the requirement that they read a couple of chapters in the textbook, the expectation of being able to do long division and read a graph, and their many hours invested in courtship kept them unfairly from getting an A.
Often, when some student unfairly got an A while another was cheated out of a high grade by egregious practices of the examination procedure and of the instructor, the comment would be made, "I know more about the material than so-and-so knows. I even tutored him for the exam."
Of course, class distinctions arise in virtually every phase of life. Are plumbers really in the middle class? Our heating and air conditioner guy finds something wrong every time he comes to inspect our furnace and air conditioner. The typical charge for fixing something wrong is usually either $79 or a multiple of $79, like $579. It cost $79 to replace a small strip of tin in the exhaust tubing. The tin probably cost 50 cents. I know, I know, a heater and air conditioner guy may or may not be a plumber, but the same principles apply.
We even have class distinctions within the field of economics. When I went to graduate school at Michigan, Michigan was regarded as a major outpost of Harvard Keynesian economics, or economics based on fiscal policy. In other words, economic stabilization would be attained by taxing, spending, budget deficits or surpluses, as the need arises. We thumbed our noses at monetary economists, who were University of Chicago types who believed economic muddles could be resolved by controlling the money supply through interest rates and other arcane methods. Monetary economists had found the truth and, appropriately, looked with disdain upon Keynesian economists. I was reputed to be the only Keynesian economist who had ever been hired at BYU. Monetary economists from Chicago were deemed to be more in tune with a less-government, more free enterprise type of economy and society by Brigham Young and his descendants.
As readers have grown weary of this discussion, we will have to pause here and continue this discussion another time. The topic of class names and distinctions is a mother lode of rich material which we will continue to exploit in further installments of this posting. Class is now dismissed. Your assignment is to observe how many class distinctions you can observe, identify, and classify before our next class period.
The Curmudgeonly Professor now offers further observations and deep philosophical musings on what he would do if he found a windfall of $150,000. What I should do is to put it in my retirement funds to replace a bundle I have lost from the actions of greedy lenders, borrowers who didn't stop to think that they didn't have any money, and government gate tenders who didn't tend until the house of cards collapsed. Now, with $700 billion in flush funds, bankers are sitting around asking themselves, "Gee boys and girls, what the heck shall we do with all this money? Buy another bank? Pay ourselves a nice fat bonus to mitigate our nervous strain and suffering? Go to Starbucks? Buy some new ATMs? And such."
So you can see that I have a smaller problem in spending a paltry $150,000 and not a gargantuan $700 Bill. So here's what I thought I could do if I were forced to spend the $150,000 windfall. Buy the best Canon camera I could buy with the best lenses available.
$5,000. Flat screen HDTV TV (two, one for St. George, one for SLC) $6,000. Books: $2,000. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood oater DVDs: $300. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions: $500. New MacBook Pro computer with two large screen monitors: $3,500. Picture framing stuff: $1,000. Reprint best photos for framing: $500. Random trip to Costco once a month for 12 months: $1,200. Cruises and tours: $15,000. Two color-coordinated pairs of suspenders: $50. A spare pair of shoe laces: 75 cents.
There. That completes my Santa Claus wish list. Total = $35,000.75. Leaving me $116,499.25 to spend. For that kind of cash, I could buy abut 300 Vita-Mixes and give them out free on our street corner. My wife has now made a total of 5 smoothies on the Vita Mix I generously and considerately gave her, reducing the average cost per smoothie to about 80 bucks apiece. Not bad, when you consider what a smoothie costs in a store. Or I could buy maybe 400 Ronco Rotisseries depending on whether they are reconditioned or not so 400 people could set it and forget it and then spend an hour cursing it and cleaning it up and wondering why they didn't go to Costco and buy a rotisserie chicken for $5.50 (up 50 cents the last couple of months to pay for the high cost of corn due to the ethanol binge) in the first place. Or I could give my four sisters $500 apiece to go to the fabric store so they could spend two days or more apiece buying more fabric to store in their color-coordinated fabric storage boutiques, total of $2,000, leaving $148,000 to spend on myself. Or I could go to Marv's Hamburgers for lunch every day at noon in St. George, the best hamburgers in St. George--even better than In'N'Out burgers--for about the same price.
The lesson to be learned here, pupils, is that a handout of either a massive $700 B or a paltry handout of $150 K is a temptation for much mischief and tomfoolery, as in contracts for rebuilding, so to speak, Iraq and other gummint enterprises. What to do with it? One thing you could say about the alleged candidate for higher office in our democracy, this alleged candidate had no trouble whatsoever blowing $150 K on wardrobe items, which allegedly will be worn only two-three times and then donated to charity in Wasilla, Alaska. I could spend $50,000, max, of my $150,000, if I worked at it, leaving $100 K. My wife couldn't spend $1,000 in a dozen years. Her idea of shopping is to wait for the Kohl's or Penney's deep discount sale. Find an item that started at $80, reduced 50 percent, then another 20 percent, and then geezer discount day additional 10 or 20 percent, and basically leave the store with a blouse or shirt originally priced at 80 bucks and now with a net cost of $1.98. At this rate, she could work the sales 365 days a year and never spend over $250, max. You can see, if it wasn't for the Curmudgeonly Professor's long suffering wife, he would have been broke and in the homeless shelter many moons ago.
So you can see that merely plowing $700 B into our stagnating economy is not necessarily a huge bonanza if the stupid lenders who got us into the mess in the first place are entrusted with the task of spending it. As my economics professor at Michigan used to say, "That would be like putting a prostitute in charge of the vice squad." But, truly, I think I would enjoy watching the NBA season on HDTV flat panel LCD television, and having the best in camera equipment to post another few thousand photos on my garden of blogs. I just wouldn't know what to do with the other $140,000. Turning it over to the financial markets isn't much of an option right now. I'd rather have the TV and the camera stuff than watch it go down the you know what.
Thank you for your attention, class. The Curmudgeonly Professor will offer further insights, further light and economic truths, as his inspiration prods him to impart. A few more classes will be required to impart the knowledge he gained from nearly five years of graduate school, most of which he forgot decades ago, and 40 plus years of teaching, years during which he never deviated from the subject at hand or inserted any nonsense. Whatever.
With a little last second luck, BYU survived the UNLV Rebels by intercepting a Hail Mary pass in the end zone with a second or two left on the clock. Beginning with the season with an invincible appearing team, clearly headed for the BCS and, who knows, even the national championship and a Heisman quarterback, BYU is now lucky just to eke out a win over what is supposedly a so-so team. But a clear and beautiful autumn day still provides a gorgeous setting for a football game in a stadium with 64,000 people alternately booing and cheering. Here are a few photos. Many more are posted on Summer Mornings blog, linked at the right.
The alleged $150,000 allegedly spent by an alleged candidate for one of the highest offices in the land on expensive clothing in elite and highfalutin stores got the Curmudgeonly Professor to thinking, as often occurs when an historical event of this magnitude piques his curiosity about silly and stupid occurrences. First, I asked myself, "What did I spend the last year for my wardrobe?" Two pair of Dockers to replace the old ones with the cuffs frayed and dragging on the floor because I chose not to look like Larry King each and every day and avoided wearing my harness (suspenders) = $90. One pair of shoes, $70. One pair of shoelaces to replace the ones that have been about to break for six months, 75 cents. Five polo shirts my wife found on sale at Kohl's Department store, originally $24 bucks apiece, now $8 apiece = $40. I now have about 150 polo shirts, most of which I am sick of and should throw away but I have a sentimental attachment to my wardrobe. Six pair of socks on sale to replace the ones with vast holy areas in them for $12. Total Curmudgeonly Professor wardrobe expenditures for the year = $212.75, thus leaving me $149,787.25 for my wardrobe allowance.
Of course, it will be pointed out to me that the Curmudgeonly Professor is not running for one of the highest offices in the land. Therefore, blogging does not require a Brooks Brothers wardrobe and an occasional trip to Costco can be accomplished by being nattily attired in a new pair of Dockers and a spiffy new Polo shirt, wearing my new shoes with one new shoelace. I could even throw in a $10 haircut at Rick the Barber's barber shop, or $13 with tip. The Curmudgeonly Professor thought earlier about running for President, as discussed in an earlier post on this blog, since he knew he more than possessed all of the necessary experience and requirements for this high office.
Even though the Curmudgeonly Professor is an economist, it has already been proven one can be a candidate for the high office of President or Vice President without knowing that marginal costs are supposed to equal marginal revenue or even knowing the difference between monetary and fiscal policy. Thus, a half century of collecting knowledge of economics tidbits, such as how to tend the Fed and the financial markets, is merely superfluous as we say in the Who Knows What's What Secret Society. One can merely make an occasional foray out the back door of the White House and hold a 30 second press conference, assuring the populace and the world elite media that all is well, the ship will be righted in the storm, so clear the streets of Dodge, go home to your Fruit Loops and gourmet elite lunches, and don't bug the gummint about these miniscule worries. Then vanish back in the bowels of the shiny executive mansion and sit at one's big desk in the Presidential oval office doing and deciding and commanding to keep the engine of our great democracy humming for another couple of months. But wait, the Curmudgeonly Professor had vowed earlier to avoid all things political here, so he cautions readers that what is being discussed here is merely economic policy, a topic on which the Professor is academically qualified by virtue of being a genuine Doctor of Philosophy, having passed his German exam by 1/6 of a point on the sixth try exactly 100 years ago today.
The Professor has many, many more things to say about spending a windfall $140,000 bucks, but he has gotten carried away with writer's inspiration this morning, having had a decent night's sleep, and will have to postpone further analysis of this topic for a later posting. Be alert for further erudition, or to use the word he has coined for such tasks which actually should be in the Webster's Dictionary, or further extrusionations on this important topic of our times. Thank you and we hope to see you here again tomorrow night.