Why I think Karma is Crap (sort of)

Disclaimer: I know that attitude can make a difference. For example, weight lifters have a saying: “if the mind doesn’t believe it, the body won’t heave it”. That is, having the right focus and having confidence can help….to a point.

Example: being ready and “knowing” I can do it might help me bench press, say, 210, 220 or even 225 (right now: my current “max” is 200, though I can get 5 reps with 185, and 8 with 170). But all the mind games in the world won’t get me 300. 🙂

I know that in small settings, a positive attitude can help everyone, and that those who think about others and show them care, concern and consideration might end up attracting more friends who give that back.

So, when I talk about this belief in “Karma” (or whatever it is), I am not talking about the above.

What I am talking about and why I started to think about this
I remember the 1990 NCAA basketball tournament. Texas went to Indianapolis and beat Purdue in the Midwest regional. The game was close (73-72) and featured some close calls (cases where a lay up was made, both players crashed to the ground, but no foul (either a charge or a block) was called.

Afterward the Purdue coach (Gene Keady) was disconsolate; he then proceeded to moan in a press conference. He sounded like he was ready to cry…he talked about “you do everything right; you graduate your players and do things the right way and you end up…”

(note: many of the Texas player got their degrees too)

I found that curious; it was almost as if Keady felt entitled to a win, based on “doing everything right.”

Or, there are times when someone gets a bad disease (say, cancer) and you hear “why did this happen to him/her…he/she was such a nice person!”

Does being “nice” entitle someone to a pass from the statistical laws of nature?

Or…you saw this in Amadeus (the movie): Salieri bitterly complained that HE was the one who took a vow of chastity and lived a good life…only to see Mozart be better at music (and Salieri was in a position to see it; others at his time did not!) He cried about Mozart being “the creature”. Salieri (again the character, not the real man) felt entitled to that talent because he had done various things.

And so it goes.

Guess what?

Being nice (and religious, charitable, etc.) doesn’t mean you win the race. You win if you run faster than your opposition, period.

Being nice doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer. You can lower your risk by not smoking, eating “right” and choosing the best possible environment, but that does NOT drive your risk to zero. You are subject to the same laws of nature and chance that everyone else is. There is no “nice guy”/”nice gal” dispensation.

Being nice doesn’t mean your bridge will hold up. Designing the bridge properly, building it properly, maintaining it properly and not having extreme bad luck (e. g. earthquake) will ensure that it stands up.

Success depends on talent, execution, diligence and, yes, a bit of good luck. Being nice changes none of these factors.

Why this is important
During political debates on social policy, all too often people think that if people just “do the right things”, they will be ok. So if someone is struggling, well, they must have done something wrong.

Yes, of course, people do wrong things. They conceive a child when they have no job, no prospect and no means (that happens, A LOT). They do drugs; they slack; they goof off; they drink too much; they waste money or fall for con artist scams. They steal, drive while texting, or do other risky things.

People do make bad choices; no doubt about it. I’ve seen plenty of this.

But this is not always the case! Often, economic hardship is the result of:
lay-offs, disasters (say, a crop famine), illnesses (untimely illness to them or their family), accidents, or a crime committed against them.

Being nice, going to the right church, praying the “right way”, etc. is no defense against these things.

Hence, I remain in favor of a robust safety net that sets a “floor of dignity”, not only on economic grounds (stimulus for the economy) but on moral grounds.

July 31, 2013 Posted by | economy, political/social, politics/social, social/political | , , , | 2 Comments

Krugman: the influence of the VSP on the decline?

Paul Krugman talks about Larry Summers:

Whatever happens with the Fed succession — and boy, did Obama’s inner circle make a gratuitous mess of this one — it’s been one heck of a revealing episode, and not just because of the sexism on display, which started out with thinly-veiled talk of “gravitas” and eventually went into full-blown masculinity panic. […]

Anyway, it’s also clear that Summers made some pretty big mistakes in his campaign. Neil Irwin points to his silence on monetary policy, which was supposed to be cagey but ended up looking slippery; John Cassidy points to his failure to offer any kind of mea culpa for past errors, which arguably was about preserving gravitas but ends up making him seem unreformed.

But why did Summers make these errors? In part because he is a whip-smart academic, the terror of the seminar room, who likes to play political operator — and as a political operator, he’s a great academic. But there is, I’d argue, a larger issue: Summers did not recognize the extent to which the political world has changed. He’s been carefully cultivating an image as a Very Serious Person, in a world where VSPness has gone from a source of cachet to being a liability on both right and left.

Think about it. Carefully cultivating a reputation for Seriousness does you no good on the right in a world where the Republican Party is more or less officially committed to crank economic doctrines, and where the GOP’s universally acknowledged intellectual leader is an obvious flimflam man.

Meanwhile, many if not all Democrats are well aware that the VSPs have been wrong about everything for the past decade or more, from the risks of financial deregulation to the fear of nonexistent bond vigilantes. Coming across as the return of Robert Rubin may have seemed savvy back in, say, 2008; it’s worse than useless now.

As far as the public goes: I’ll make a wild conjecture. Remember the 2012 election? The VSP said that the election was “razor tight”; you heard this from the talking heads at NPR all the way to Fox News.

Those who read the actual polls knew that this was not a close election. It was the nerds vs. the “very serious” and the neards won in spectacular fashion. Bottom line: the polyester pants set have been wrong…on just about everything.

July 31, 2013 Posted by | 2012 election, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Berea KY, day 3 and books

Workout notes
I couldn’t find the gym that I was looking for, so I took advantage of the cool weather to run on the track.
I had to stop and loosen my back (mild pain and stiffness; perhaps from the batting cage yesterday).

1 mile warm up
4 x 800: 3:54, 3:53, 3:57, 4:05 (dead) rests: 2:54, 3:16, 3:43,3:53. Cool.
so this was about 4 miles.

The last couple hurt. The rests: first two: 100 walk, 300 jog. Last: 200 walk, 200 jog.

Once I loosened up, I was fine.

So now I am in the library.

Misery of friends
One friend has a teenage kid who has had back surgery; maybe there will be full recovery but this kid will have a bad back for a lifetime. One friend was hit by a car while running and has a broken pelvis. And one of my wife’s friends (40’s) has gone into hospice; she has cancer and while she attempted aggressive treatment, it didn’t work.

Cancer is so nasty; the cells mutate so fast that the genome of cells at one part of a tumor might be different from the genome of the cells in another part of the same tumor.

That, plus human variation means that what works for some in one clinical trial might fail for someone else.

I found lots of used books here (cheap):
Terry Bradshaw’s book (the football player)
Talking Irish: oral history of Notre Dame football
Sand Pebbles (the book which the movie was based on); it is about a US Navy gunboat in China at the time of the Boxer rebellion.
Bait and Switch: this is another Barbara Ehrenreich book; I’ve read Nickled and Dimed and Bright-Sided
In Defense of Elitism

Now, for one dollar apiece, I picked up Bowling Alone and Barack and Michele.

Seven books: 21 dollars, and I am almost through with one of them.

July 31, 2013 Posted by | books, injury, running, travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Berea, Kentucky Day 2

I am sitting outside of our motel since the Wi-Fi reception is better out here. In the general strip mall area some guy is parading around with a leaf blower just seemingly blowing at random. We hear about unemployment but from the army of seemingly useless leaf blowing wielding warriors….maybe employment is too high? 🙂

Just kidding; I know that many see professors as being mostly useless when they aren’t actually teaching in the classroom.

Workout notes
52 minute walk (over 3 miles; perhaps 3.5 or so) around the bike paths here. The back is a bit tender though and I had some trouble with the toes (ragged nail) that bothered me a bit; lube helped.

Later I went to a batting cage while Barbara and her brother played mini-golf.


When she does this, she is very careful to NOT face away from me. 😦

But I spent my time at a batting cage; I took 200 pitches (sets of 20) spread between the 40 mph (3), 50 mph (3) and the 60 mph (3) and the “girls fast-pitch softball” (1). For the baseball I wiffed a few times until I got the timing down. The softball: my reactions were good enough to hit from the get-go. Then I did another 20 pitches in the soft ball while Barbara watched.

Surprisingly, I got tired while in the cage; I am just not used to it. But I am a bit surprised I got to where I could at least connect a bit.

For the 50, 60 mph cages, I wiffed about 20-25 percent of the time.

We ate at a Indian restaurant (pretty good) and there were a few signs that we were near a university (Eastern Kentucky in Richmond)


July 30, 2013 Posted by | big butts, travel, walking | , , | Leave a comment

Someone saw this and said that they thought of me…

Why would this cartoon make anyone think about me? 🙂


July 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berea, Kentucky and other topics

Workout notes  On the treadmill; 20:25 for the first 2 miles (0 to .5 elevation), 17:16 for the next 2 miles (.5 elevation) for quality. 

Then  We took I-75 to Berea, Ky.  We took lunch and I found a used/new bookstore right next door; I came away a bit poorer.


Then we drove to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in Mt. Vernon


There was much more here than meets the eye at first; the text next to the displays was outstanding:  well written, informative and entertaining.  I was surprised at how tied to US history the evolution of “music delivery” of bluegrass was; basically the depression drove potential bluegrass fans to the cities, which lead to country music being offered in the large cities, then the idea to have “destination” music halls in the country was born.  



July 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Visit to the National Museum of the Air Force (among other things)

Workout notes: 4 mile run on the treadmill (42:25). I started out slowly and did .5 mile segments at elevations 0, .5, and 1. then every .25 miles, I went 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 3.5, 3, 2.5, 2. It was enough and though I felt it a bit on the first step.

It is good that I didn’t do much as we did a LOT of walking at the Air Force Museum.


Barbara teased that this plane was named after her. 😉

In all honesty, the Air Force buff could well take all day; real fans might make an entire weekend of it. There is just so much to see; of course the airplane displays stole the show for me.

I liked the big bombers (B-52, B-36, B-17, B-24) the best, but there were many different types of Air Force planes along with histories and details about, for example, aircraft engine development and the challenges that were faced and solved. It was also kind of awe inspiring seeing pre-WWII aircraft (say the P-26, B-18) and then seeing the end (B-29, and yes, a German Me-262 jet fighter).

If it weren’t for the realization that these planes were, in effect, killing machines, well, it would have been a joy to see. Still….I can’t help it….interesting.

The B-36 had to be seen to be believed.

Other topics

Paul Krugman had this to say:

Consider the following thought experiment: you are driving on a road — let’s arbitrarily call it Interstate 91 — and must choose a lane. Traffic is so heavy that you can’t really change lanes thereafter. But there are many bad patches along the road; half of the distance can be covered at 60 miles an hour, but the other half only at 15.

You might imagine that your average speed is halfway between 15 and 60, but a little thought shows that this isn’t true: your average speed is only 24 miles an hour. Also, the lanes aren’t perfectly correlated: sometimes your lane is going 60 while the next is going 15, sometimes it’s the reverse. Again, you might think that this means you spend equal amounts of time watching the other lane whiz by and whizzing by yourself, but not so: you spend four times as much time watching the other guys race past.

And this creates intense frustration and anger, a sense that it’s grossly unfair that you are in the wrong lane. This sense persists even though (a) you have worked out the analysis above, and realize that in principle the lanes are equally good or bad and (b) you have in fact been playing leapfrog with the same Boltbus the whole way, so that you know that in fact neither lane is better. No matter; you are angry, frazzled, and late for your family event. (Which you make up for by having a good time, and drinking enough wine that it’s past 9 when you realize that you didn’t post Friday Night Music).

You might read the comments; some people tried to tell Paul Krugman that he was wrong (about the bolded fact).

This cracks me up about many people. If someone this smart says something that doesn’t immediately make sense to them, they figure that Krugman (Nobel laureate economist) must have made some elementary mistake that THEY were capable of catching. 🙂

Funny, but when this happens to me (a very smart, accomplished person says something mathematical or scientific that strikes me at strange) my FIRST reaction is “ok, what am *I* missing here”. But, I’ve had the experience of being around very smart people and I know enough to know that, while they are imperfect and sometimes make mistakes, if we disagree on something technical, more often than not, *I* am missing something.

Now if you STILL think that Krugman is wrong and don’t want to take the time to see why he is right, he gives a slower explanation here.

Note: his assumption is that the lanes are always going at different speeds; 15 mph is never with 15 mph and 60 is never with 60.

Trade: believe it or not, those large metal shipping containers have made a HUGE difference in trade; shipping costs are way down, BUT a disaster that takes a port out of commission can have a bigger shock effect. Here is why.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | aircraft, mathematics, running, social/political, travel, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

My favorite movie villains …

This is MY list and I admit that I am not consistent. Some I just find creepy; some I just like. You have professional killers, ruthless people, stalkers, sex criminals, rapists, cranky computers and…frogs. (ok, toads).

No, it isn’t a complete list, and these aren’t the most vile ones I can think of (at least some of them). But they are CREEPY….or…hoppy…or…not of this world….or…ok, plain ridiculous in a few cases.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Odd Job in Goldfinger

Ok, he was your run of the mill James Bond Henchman.

The reason I like him:


Yes; he won a silver medal in the 1948 Olympic games in weightlifting (light heavyweight). He really was a strong man! He also did professional wrestling. And he was popular enough to have a commercial.

Blowfeld (various James Bond episodes)


Best quote (from You Only Live Twice): Chinese representative upon Blofeld changing the conditions of the deal: “That’s Extortion”. Blofeld: “Extortion is my business”.

Dirty Harry: Scorpio

This guy was a psychopathic killer and child rapist with no remorse; just plain creepy.

Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men


He is a professional killer who would kill you as easily as he’d look at you. But he is even creepier because, well, he kills on the principle of it…just because…well, he feels obligated, or, in his twisted mind, it is the right thing to do, or because a coin flip went a certain way.

This scene is among the creepiest:

Antonio Salieri, Amadeus

First of all, I am talking about the *character* Salieri, and not the real person (who struck me as a pretty good guy). True, Salieri didn’t kill anyone, but he was a self-pitying, sexually repressed (*), back stabber who couldn’t be content with his own (considerable) success.

Note: to see what a complete worm he is, watch the “director’s cut” of Amadeus. It doesn’t come out as clearly in the usual version. Example: in the director’s cut, you understand why Mozart’s wife was enraged to find Salieri with Mozart at the end; Salieri really cruelly humiliated her in the director’s cut.

Here is Salieri getting “showed up” by Mozart. Note: in real life, the initial piece was a real Salieri piece and what it was turned into was a real Mozart piece.

(*) the real life Salieri had lots of kids and so wasn’t too sexually repressed. 🙂

Daniel Plainview: There Will Be Blood
This guy didn’t kill as many as the professional killers in other films, but was still cruel, cold-blooded and ruthless.


He is probably most famous for this:

Baby Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Jane Hudson is a child movie star who flopped as an adult whereas her sister did well. So she torments her sister mercilessly. Ok, you might cry “foul” as this movie has a surprise ending; things aren’t as they seem.


Here is a famous scene:

Annie Wilkes: Misery
A lonely fan rescues a famous writer from a car crash….but then….well, watch the film. The “hobbling” scene is tough to watch. She is almost as creepy as the book character.


General Jack D. Ripper: Dr. Strangelove

Well, he went crazy and started a nuclear war; he felt that because he couldn’t…”get it up”, there must have been some Communist conspiracy to spike the water.

“Alex” Forrest: Fatal Attraction
This is a later version of Play Misty For Me, except this time, the guy is married and the villain doesn’t something very mean to the family bunny.


Evelyn Draper: Play Misty For Me
This is the psycho stalker character:


Mrs. Mott: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
Mrs. Mott is married to an obstetrician who has a bad habit of sexually molesting his patients. He gets turned in, and commits suicide. Mrs. Mott no longer has access to her husband’s assets due to lawsuits…and so decides to take a long, drawn out revenge on one of the whistleblowers.


Anyone who has a baby and suffers from asthma will find this beyond creepy.

And I remember these scenes:

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 8.58.45 PM

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 8.53.45 PM

Martin Burney: Sleeping with the Enemy
Wife beater and creepy stalker; he has the black mustache Wagner listening Hitler like presence. She fakes her death to escape. But it doesn’t quite work out and he ruthlessly tracks her down….


Grady: The Shining

You’ve seen this: the Jack Torrence character who goes crazy while care taking a mountain resort during the winter:


And he does kill and tries to kill his family:

But to me, the REAL villain is Grady who has, well, an interesting way of “correcting” his daughters:


Roman Castevet: Rosemary’s Baby
Ok, now we are in the realm of the “supernatural”. And Roman has a plan for Rosemary and her baby; this is one of the few “supernatural” movies that can still creep me out.


Ash: Alien
Ok, Ash was really an android:


But he was ruthless and completely willing to sacrifice the crew of a ship to obtain these aliens as a biological weapon. I didn’t see the aliens as villains as they were acting in their own self interest, just as humans would.

And I remember this:

(and yes, the science was pure BS but the movie was a thriller)

Hal: 2001, A Space Odyssey

Hal decides to kill the crew of a spaceship going to Jupiter when they decide that Hal has made a mistake.
Hal does kill many of them.

The Frogs: Frogs
Ok, the Frogs are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Ok, this is a movie about nature’s revenge because of bad ecological practices and the villains are frogs…which are, in reality, cane toads (an invasive species, by the way).

The Frogs direct various assassinations by “ribbiting” (dubbed in Pacific Tree Frog ribbits) and end up ribbiting the main human villain to death.

Bernard Posner: Billy Jack
Bully, Rapist and Murderer. The spoiled son of the local Sheriff; ok, he is a cardboard villain for Billy Jack extract justice from.



Bernard gets rejected:

See Bernard getting beat up (among others)

And the final humiliation:

Hitler: Downfall
Ok, this is a bit of a cheat because Hitler was a historical figure and probably one of the very worst monsters of all time. But I am referring to this character, whose famous rant has been made into many parodies. Google “Downfall parody”

Hit Man (unnamed): Bullitt
There were two hit men in Bullitt and a main character that Bullitt was after. My favorite: the character played by professional driver Bill Hickman in this famous scene (he is the driver of the Dodge Charger)

July 28, 2013 Posted by | movies, Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

We are in Cincinnati for the weekend and we took in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center today.

I admit that, at times, I felt a self righteous anger building up as I read the story of slavery and the attempts of people to flee it. But I had to step back and realize the following:

1. Slavery was COMMON in humanity for thousands of years, and in many different locations on the globe. The idea that slavery was grossly immoral is a relatively recent idea.

2. If slavery didn’t take root in a location, it was mostly because it didn’t make sense (e. g., Europe had plenty of peasants and didn’t need slaves). The immorality of the practice was mostly developed from the outside, so to speak.

And please, spare me the religious BS. Slavery was condoned in various religious texts, including the Bible. Yeah, some said that their religion’s values found slavery abhorrent but there were many who saw it as a manifestation of “God’s natural order”.

You might remember the Biblical (though not historical) mention of Israel being enslaved by Egypt and their God (via Moses) letting them go. But when they got out, they had no problem with slaughtering others who may have what they wanted and they had no problem with enslaving others. This “Let My People Go” wasn’t about universal morality; it was naked self interest, period.

And so it was with, well, humans.

There was a section of modern “invisible” slavery, but at least, modern slavery is illegal (technically) and it used to have the sanction of governments.

So, humanity has made progress.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | social/political, travel | , | Leave a comment

Travel Workout

I’ve got an assortment of “workouts you can do when traveling”; the idea is to not have to get up so early that I fall asleep at 8 pm that evening and not not make my spouse fume.

OUr hosts are an athletic family and I took advantage of their treadmill. One decent travel workout:

warm up for about 10 minutes
Do 15 minutes (about) at whatever pace I could sustain for a 30 minute race
Cool down for 5 minutes

Today I modified that just a bit; 10:50 mile, 17:00 2 mile, cool down mile of walk .5 miles, jog .5 miles at a 10 minute pace.
I kept a 2 degree incline for most of the run. It was just enough to be a workout, and not so much that I am tired and my back tolerated it well.

I think some of my back trouble came from over striding.

Note: the back is slightly stiff, but I didn’t take Naproxen last night nor this morning; i’ll attempt to do without it. (I was on it for about two days)

July 27, 2013 Posted by | injury, running, travel | | Leave a comment