Thursday, August 29, 2013

I hope Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit cleans the NCAA's clock. The Johnny Manziel fiasco.

If you've been a long-time reader, you know that I have ethical qualms with the way America runs its minor-league "amateur" sports programs through its university system-- contrary to what the rest of the world does. I question what value it adds to schools and society (see posts here, here, here, and here), the use of tax dollars and illusion of non-profit status to promote the sport, the hypocrisy of profiting the NCAA's profiting off of players who are not allowed to do so themselves (here and here), and the ethics of demanding more of 19 year olds than you demand of yourself. As someone who used to teach undergraduates, I question the ethics of forcing low-income minorities to undergo grueling physical labor, discarding them if they get injured, in order to receive a college education-- which is often watered down to so little value as to be of no use to them. I recommend watching the PBS Frontline series on Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit and following other articles in the links above.

The latest icing on the cake is the Johnny Manziel fiasco. Two recommended readings: David Wetzel's reaction:
"Johnny Manziel was punished – lightly, but still punished – by the NCAA because he knew someone was going to make money off his likeness and he didn't stop it.
It sure is a good thing the NCAA is cracking down on that kind of activity from nefarious entities interested in profiting off 'Johnny Football' T-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, etc., not to mention using his image to promote a commercial product to be sold … you know, nefarious entities like the NCAA, the SEC, the BCS, Texas A&M, Nike, EA Sports, CBS, ESPN, Yahoo! Sports and heaven knows how many other 'partner' businesses."

Also read this piece by CBS's Houston affiliate on how the NCAA basically got blackmailed into narrowing down Manziel's punishment:
"The source said prominent names from virtually every major football conference were found to have had a relationship at some level with the brokers.
The NCAA hence was faced with the prospect of damning evidence involving widespread alleged improprieties perhaps becoming public. It would have been the latest of the NCAA’s numerous embarrassing moments and might have forced the NCAA to rule on numerous cases that spanned several years similar to Manziel’s."

But every fall, people "renew their vows" with college sports-- eager to watch young men beat their brains out (ie: damage their brains) for fleshly entertainment and the kinsmanship it gives with their tribe. I have never heard this ritual, and the dollars (private and tax) that flow to it, questioned in a pulpit. I see no Senators giving speeches on the floor threatening to take away the NCAA's tax-exempt status. All I see is fans willing to turn a blind eye to the unethical nature of it all-- or even defend it-- in order to satiate their appetite and be vindicated that "our team" is better than "your team." I just really wish it were different. I really wish Christians, who care about morality and ethics, human trafficking, poverty, and education to start waking up to the realities of what the NCAA is all about and the damage it causes, and start demanding change in our institutions-- and to put their money and mouths where their convictions should also be. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm busy-- opportunity costs

The opportunity cost of blogging has gone up in the last week as I've been busy making economics videos like this:

Normal blogging to resume at some point...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Do I need to take a multivitamin?

In "The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need to Take Supplements," Dr. Paul Offitt tries to shed light on the origins of why we take vitamins, and highlights some recent studies showing vitamins are correlated with an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. He wrote a similar, shorter piece in The New York Times as well. The message is clear: vitamins are harmful, not helpful.

The basic premise is that your body absorbs synthetic vitamins differently than it does natural vitamins. Thanks to Linus Pauling, many people believe the myth that Vitamin C can cure the common cold and prevent other diseases (like cancer), and therefore the vitamin industry thrives on peoples' ignorance-- to our own detriment.

Offitt has impressive credentials, but I've looked at a few critiques of his pieces and wanted to post them here as well. The Linus Pauling Institute (no vested interest there!) argues that Offitt is cherry-picking the studies he quotes and misrepresents Pauling's positions. Since 40% of Americans are vitamin-deficient in their diets, it's better they get supplements than not enough vitamins, they say.

Paul Jaminet, a Harvard astrophysicist-turned-dietician and relational economist(!) writes a more scathing critique of the Offitt piece. He attacks the statistical techniques used in one of the studies Offitt cites. I'm sympathetic to this critique as I have "fit a curve" or two in my day as well. (Jaminet has some "halo effect" for me though because of his background and devotion to Ronald Coase.)

I tend to agree with this James Hamblin piece, on The Atlantic's website in June, that "(Vitamins) could shorten or extend your life; at this point, taking vitamins randomly is metabolic roulette." This is similar to Jaminet's conclusion that "nutrient needs differ among persons depending on their health and age, and whether a person will benefit from a nutrient depends on whether the rest of the diet is deficient in that nutrient. So any given supplement is going to be harmful in some circumstances, beneficial in others" (emphasis mine).

As Offitt and others point out, vitamins are not recommended for "otherwise healthy people." I make sure I eat a "ranbow on my plate" and keep track of my estimated nutrient intakes by entering everything I eat into I'm confident I'm getting the vitamins and balanced diet I need-- mostly through natural sources like the plants I'm consuming. So, I've given up my multivitamin. I know of other very health-conscious eaters and vegans who seem to supplement with vitamins "just in case." The studies cited in the articles above seem to show the "just in case" might mean too much, and harmful.

If you're taking a multivitamin, why are you taking it? 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Perfect green smoothie recipe (with nutrition info and Magic Bullet modification)

After experimenting over the past few months, I've settled on this simple smoothie as a wonderful post-workout recovery green smoothie. I make this in a Black & Decker Crushmaster blender (which holds 42 oz.) and it makes about three 12 oz. servings.

I usually fill up some 12 oz. drink containers and freeze them immediately after making. Thaw and drink at your leisure. However, single-serving fresh with a Magic Bullet is the way to go.

1/2 cup of blueberries
4 strawberries (remove the stems)
1 banana
1 large handful of kale
2 tbsp of Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein, Chocolate Peanutbutter
(Just add a little peanut butter if you don't want the whey protein).
Some ice cubes and water, depending on how many ounces and thickness you want.

The kale has a ... fruitier...taste than spinach, it's quite good (we're fortunate to have some locally grown kale). The smoothie will turn a nice strawberry pink color (it's not actually green).

Nutritional information:
1 serving:
107.3 calories. 2.8 grams total fat. 20.1 grams of carbs (12.3 grams of sugars). 2.3 grams of protein.  25.9 mg sodium. 415 mg potassium.
Daily allowances:
Vitamin A: 13.5%
Vitamin C: 51.4%
Calcium: 2.6%
Iron: 3.7%

With a Magic Bullet I modify it like this:
1/2 cup blueberries
3-4 strawberries
1/2 a banana
1 tsp - 1 tbsp of Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder (Chocolate Peanut Butter)
a smaller handful of kale

Nutritionally, this is about 1.5-2 servings of the above recipe.

Warning: If you drink one after doing an Insanity workout, you will suddenly feel fired up to do another workout! Enjoy!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Book Review (#18 of 2013) 25 Things to Say to the Interviewer to Get the Job You Want

25 Things to Say to the Interviewer to Get the Job You Want by Dexter Hawk was a quick read, and its reviews on Amazon are mostly either five star or one star; you either hate it or you love it. I would recommend this book to a graduating student who is out there interviewing for the first time. But he might have a hard time saying some of the 25 things without experience to prove it. Here's the list:

1. I don't guess or assume anything.
2. I'm ready for problems before my boss and they are staring me in the face.
3. I take responsibility when things go wrong.
4. I crank out more work than is expected of me.
5. I compete fair and square.
6. I've serious goals; I work hard for them.
7. I write lucid, succinct memoranda.
8. I'm always on time.
9. I'll get to know my business.
10. I read trade magazines.
11. I fit in anywhere.
12. I understand boss-speak.
13. I'm looking for a career.
14. I've a sense of humor.
15. I take a stand only on big issues.
16. I don't dismiss or underestimate anyone.
17. I get to know and learn what everyone in my company is doing.
18. I don't waste time settling scores.
19. I deliver on my promises.
20. I don't whine or complain.
21. I've a good sense of timing.
22. I keep my mouth shut (to both co-workers and outsiders).
23. I speak the truth.
24. I turn out good work.
25. I get along with my co-workers; I make myself get along with my boss.

I thought back to my last corporate interview-- a job I didn't get-- and wonder if it would have made a difference had I incorporated some of the above-- namely #11, 12, 15 and #22. Hawk goes quickly through the points, mainly giving his rote interview sentences that go along. The point is to get the job, not necessarily to be completely honest (because nobody does #22).

I think one can argue that all 25 points are biblical, or could find a Bible verse or anecdote to go with them. Truthfulness (#23), going above-and-beyond (#4), and humility (#16) are all found in the list.

As such, I liked the book. Not much meat in it-- no advice on how to insert these things to your cover letter, for example. But I'd recommend it to someone graduating from school going on interviews the first time. 3 stars out of 5.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Obamacare and Incentives -- Why They Matter

Today's Politico has an op-ed by Jared Bernstein and Paul Van de Water arguing that firms aren't cutting workers back to part-time to avoid the employer mandate. (Bernstein was VP Biden's Chief Economic Adviser for two years.) But the article contains a couple weaknesses I want to highlight:
"In the case of health reform, we recognize that the part-time incentive exists. But it hasn’t shown up in the data yet..." 

Key word: "Yet." The local news doesn't seem to have problems finding workers whose say their hours are being cut due to the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate. Indiana University, for example, is eliminating all 30+ hour positions. Even in my small offline world, I'm meeting people who say "I was told my hours are being cut due to the ACA..."

Fact: Rational people (and firms) respond to incentives. Where the incentive exists, actions will follow. Journalists and pundits on the Left have realized this. Ezra Klein, for example, argues for repeal of the employer mandate.

Bernstein's statements strike a nerve because I'm reading through Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States) having recently completed Amity Schlaes' work as well. Both the Hoover and FDR administrations ignored incentives as they engaged in policies that exacerbated unemployment-- strong-arming businesses to pay higher wages, prosecuting small business owners for noncompliance (under the NRA), ordering crops to be destroyed (under the AAA) in order to eliminate excess supply (at a time when citizens were starving), and increasing taxes. By 1938, when unemployment was again rising as the U.S. swooned into another recession, FDR's closest supporters were disillusioned and wondering "what went wrong?"

Bernstein, however, doubles down with his statement:
"American history is replete with warnings that employer mandates we now take for granted — about minimum wages and workplace safety, for example — would have large and disruptive impacts." 

Depends on what "large and disruptive" means. Minimum wage laws became constitutional in 1937, in the middle of a deflationary Depression-- on top of a host of labor-friendly bills designed to mandate increases in wages and benefits. While unemployment would eventually drop below 1930 levels, it would never again reach the 3% levels of the 1920s-- meaning hundreds of thousands of people looking for work were still unable to find it.

Bernstein has previously made similar arguments (on his blog) in regards to the minimum wage. Bernstein uses the same argument FDR's economists did in the 1930s in regards to corporate profits--they can afford to pay workers more. In FDR's case, he forced companies to pay dividends rather than see that money reinvested to expand the companies (FDR was hoping to increase consumption). Bernstein wants to reduce business investment by forcing firms to pay higher wages. Both acts give companies an incentive to lay off workers-- which was the result in 1936, same as with the minimum wage hike in our recent recession.

Sure, a higher wage is great if you get to keep your job/hours and see prices stay the same. But that never happens. Ask an African-American teenager in Detroit, an elderly person in Appalachia, or others who got axed after the last minimum wage hike in 2007. Ask American Samoa and other U.S. territories who lobby congress to be exempt from minimum wage legislation so their unemployment problem doesn't become worse. But Bernstein apparently doesn't consider the numbers affected "large" enough to merit thought, even though they are the ones at the bottom of the economic ladder that Progressives say they care about the most(!) Businesses also respond to wage mandates by raising their prices, nullifying the positive effect. Bernstein surely knows this.

In short, the employer mandate disincentive to hire full-time workers is another example of the government forcing aggregate supply to shift leftward. "A little bit here, a little bit there" leads to too much unemployment.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Book Reviews (#16 & #17 of 2013) Your Guide to Google Analytics by Ryan Dube and Learn How to Give a Great Massage by Marsha Masters

Today I review two self-published "How To" books available free (sometimes) or cheap for Kindle. I support self-publishing efforts like this, especially where free.

Your Guide To Google Analytics is a great help to using Analytics, written by someone who relies on his own (multiple, I gather) websites to generate commerce. There are many features of Google Analytics that users never get into, like the Custom Reporting and Intelligence Events, that are quite powerful and helpful. Dube has provided good screenshots and examples for every option. It's helped me customize my own Analytics setup, and I'll keep it as a reference. 99 cents. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

Learn How to Give a Great Massage is a compilation of 52 short blog post lessons by a masseuse. When it showed up as a free Kindle book one day, my wife sent me the suggestion to get it. I think she hasn't been incredibly pleased with the results. First, there are no pictures or video, only word descriptions of movements. So, what comes out on text is hard to practice. Unless you have a partner willing to read it with you and reciprocate, it's hard to get better because you have no idea what you're doing. Imagine any complex, skilled task that you can only have described to you-- doesn't work well. I wouldn't buy this book for the current $10 it's listed at, or the $17 at the author's website. At best, 2 stars out of five. Go to YouTube instead.