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Archive for April, 2010

As you may have remembered from last September, I am a supporter of Chelsea FC of London.  Well, the club has welcomed me into the fold by being title contenders all season long – and now with only 2 games remaining we must win on Sunday against Liverpool to have any chance of winning the title.  Man U is short on our heels, and any slip up from Chelsea will most surely give them the edge.  So be watching, or at least praying, for our beautiful Blues this Sunday.  It won’t be easy.

So I bid you a wonderful weekend, and a joyous uplifting song to carry you (and me) through Sunday.  Blue IS the color.

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Imagine a magician standing on stage. He plucks you from the audience and asks you to think of a number between 1-10. He then instructs you to multiply that number by 9 and to add the digits together to make a single number. (For instance, if your number is 47, you would add 4+7 to get 11.)  He tells you to subtract that number by 5. This will be your new number. He asks you to convert that number into a letter of the alphabet where A=1, B=2, C=3, etc…and to think of a country that begins with your letter. (If your number is 1, you may think of Albania.) Now he asks you to take the second letter of your country and think of an animal that begins with that letter. (If the country was Albania, you might choose a lion, since the second letter is “L”.) Now imagine the color that typically goes with that animal. (For my example, I would say a yellow lion in Albania.) Got it?

The mentalist stares at you intently, as if reading your mind. You try to project your carefully chosen phase into his head. He places his hands on your temples and receives your “vibes”. An image comes to his mind. He tells you that he now knows what you are thinking but finds it very odd,  “considering…there are no grey elephants in Denmark!” Your mind is completely blown. The audience applauds and you go back to your seat wondering how he was able to read your every thought. With so many choices, how could he have possibly known what you were thinking?

Obviously, there is no magic involved. It’s just a silly math trick. Adding the digits of any multiple of 9 between 1-10 will always equal 9. Any number you choose would have resulted the same way. 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90…they all equal nine when the two digits are added together. The rest is just a roundabout way to get you to think of the letter D by creating an equation that results in the number 4. The more choices you “make” the more you are led to believe you have free will in the matter. The truth is, as long as you did the math correctly, you will always end up with the letter D. Denmark is the obvious country. Elephant is the predictable animal to choose. The rest is just showmanship on the part of the mentalist, how well he sells his “mind reading”.

Tricks like this work because most people don’t stop and question the process. If greater inspection were given, one would see that the game is rigged from the very beginning. The outcome is always predetermined. It’s a lot like the election of 1912. (more…)

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I ended up appearing on the Wheel of Fortune pretty much by fluke: one night, while agonizing over our finances, I told Jana that I wanted to get on a game show. I didn’t really care which one; I just wanted to make some money. And so I searched online looking for applications and casting calls. I filled out an application for WoF but never dreamed I’d make it on, and because I actually wasn’t very good at the game, almost hoped I wouldn’t. I tried out for a game that was more up my alley called “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” but failed the written test to get to the audition stage. I taped some questions that were used on the show but never won any money. I really wanted to get on “Lingo” but, as far as I could tell, it wasn’t taping anymore. Then, much to my surprise, I got an email a year or so later informing me of a tryout for WoF and, even more surprising, I actually did alright at the tryout and got a letter that I was going to be on the show.

I say all of that to make clear that my appearance was in no way born out of a great ability to solve word puzzles. I never got the “toss-up” puzzles before the contestants when watching the show and rarely figured out puzzles before anyone else. I could count on one hand the number of times I figured out the bonus puzzle. When Jana and I would watch together she would routinely figure out the puzzles well before me, sometimes before I’d even figured out a single word.

Once I knew I was going to be on I studied the game carefully, watching it every night and trying to uncover strategies that might help me. I suppose I got a bit better in the process (and learned to really appreciate the show, something I wrote about here), but I still felt pretty shaky about my abilities. I figured that I had no chance on the toss-ups (I told myself that if I solved even one I would consider my appearance a massive success) but reasoned that, if I could land on a big dollar wedge, guess a good letter and solve one or two puzzles, I could have a respectable appearance and maybe win $3 or $4K. It is, after all, the Wheel of Fortune.

I never dreamed that fortune, or more appropriately misfortune, would be my undoing. I solved 5 out of 7 puzzles, including (inexplicably) all three toss-ups (my reaction after the first toss-up was telling- shock mixed with euphoria and pure adrenalin). By the time I was done solving all of the first three puzzles, I had effectively shed any trace of stage fright and was completely in my element, and it was evident that my skills were not going to be a problem. Then, the prize puzzle came along and, like clockwork, Gentry (one of my opponents) landed on $3500, guessed a letter of which the puzzle had three (for $10,500 in one turn), solved the puzzle (which was worth over $7000, since it included a trip to Hawaii) and was sitting at more than $20,000 to my $4200, all without me even getting a turn. In other words, she had the kind of turn that I assumed was my only chance at decency. I solved two more puzzles after that and won a trip and ended with a cash and prize total of $13,900 (which is one of the highest second-place finishes I’ve ever seen, and a total that would have won quite a few games I’ve seen since then) but it was not enough to catch Gentry, who ended up solving one more puzzle and totaling over $27,000 before winning even more in the bonus round.

I’ve pinpointed two crucial missteps that I’d love to reverse: guessing an “I” in the last puzzle (which wasn’t really a mistake per se, just a wrong guess, though it was perfectly logical) when an “o” would have unlocked the puzzle for me. My less forgivable mistake came when I realized the answer to the final puzzle I solved. I called out “k” because it was the first sure letter I thought of, and all I could think about was solving (and securing a trip). But I could have called “p” or “g” or “b” (there were two of each of those)- a $600 gaffe. Some people have given me a hard time about that and also told me that I should have been slower to solve and spun more, but I’m not letting them get me down because I know just how low my expectations were and how insanely well I played by comparison. And I realized that, no matter how well you play “The Wheel,” you are always at the mercy of that fickle lady fortune.

P.S. I am working on getting my episode up on youtube, but given my technological ineptitude, it’s slow moving. One of my students told me that he saw it on www.surfthechannel.com though, so you might be able to see it there if you’d like. If anyone would like to assist me in getting this thing online please let me know.

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I want you to ask yourself something that you know intuitively… does competition bring more benefit to the customer or the company?  I know, it’s too easy… the customer.  Competition forces organizations to do one of many options: improve their product, become more efficient and lower their costs, decrease profit margin to attract customers, create new and exciting products.  In all these scenarios the customer wins out.  They either get a highly improved and quality product, or they can receive incredible value for their dollar in the form of low prices.

Now I want you to ask yourself… who is the customer and who is the company when thinking about education?  Obviously, the customers are the students – and indirectly, their parents as well.  And one of the easiest and most convenient ways to bring competition to education is through school vouchers.  The amount of money allotted from our government for each child’s education remains the same as it is now, but instead of the public schools getting the money directly from the government, they get it from the students (read: parents) in the form of a voucher.  So now the student has a choice of where they want to go to school, and all schools are competing for their dollar vouchers.

Who do you think will benefit most from this arrangement?  The students and parents, correct?  So who do you think would be most opposed to it?  Public-funded schools and their teachers, correct?  And it’s true, the teachers unions and school districts are the most vocal opponents of the voucher system.  But I don’t get that.  If you claim to be most concerned about students and learning… wouldn’t you support what’s best for them?

But as is typical with union mentality and protectionist measures, the interests of the few are put ahead of the many.  Competition may mean that your job isn’t as secure (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that others do things better than you (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that you don’t get a pension (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that you work more than 9 months a year (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean working more hours than you previously worked (again… how novel an idea!).

But guess what?  Competition may mean that good teachers actually get paid more (unbelievable!).  Competition may mean that bad teachers are fired (aghast!).  Competition may mean that some schools will close (never!).  Competition may mean that our education system finally gets on track after years and years of a downward spiral brought on by the elimination of innovative and competitive thoughts and actions by a highly centralized bureaucracy (hope AND change!).

In addition to the competitive forces that vouchers would release… it also would seem to me to be the most fair for taxpayers.  No longer would a parent who sends their child to a private school be paying into their education twice.

Just what was running through my head this morning.

I’d love to hear the thoughts against vouchers, because from where I’m coming from I don’t see them.

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Welcome To Josh

CAI is continuing to staff up… and our most recent addition is new writer, Josh.  Josh jumps right into the game with his first post, Suckers At The Table. Be prepared for Josh to try and enlighten you to what’s been going on behind the scenes that you may not know about.  Why don’t you welcome him to the scene with friendly agreement, or devastating debate!  Glad to have you, Josh.

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One of the largest frauds in the history of the world is happening right now. And make no mistake about it, like all other frauds this, too, will come to light. It will make the housing crisis seem insignificant. It will shake the financial markets to the core. It will likely cause the dollar to lose immense value and may even lose its reserve currency status. Simply put, this is the mother of all crises and it has yet come to pass. It’s the brainchild of Robert Rubin. And no one gets to be Treasury Secretary or Fed Chairman without understanding how and why it works. And when the shit hits the fan, your tax dollars will be used to bail out the banks that, right now, are making billions hand-over-fist by manipulating markets. Like all great frauds, this one started with a simple, moneymaking scheme that eventually became institutionalized corruption.

Back when Robert Rubin was in London overseeing Goldman Sachs’ gold trades, he figured out a very clever way to finance operations. He borrowed gold from central banks at 1% interest, virtually free money, and then sold that gold at market value, investing the revenue into US Treasuries, which during this time had interest rates between 6-12%. That may not seem like a big deal, but bear in mind that it is illegal for the Federal Reserve to sell its gold without congressional approval as its technically “our” gold. But a legal loophole allows them to swap and lease that gold, running on the assumption that the gold it leases will be returned. But therein lies the rub.

How do you sell something you have leased and must now return? Simple. As with any fungible commodity, you just buy it back. But in order to make it a profitable endeavor, it’s best if you buy it back at the same price that you sold it. So after selling the gold, Goldman Sachs hedged its bet by going long on the gold futures market, opting to repurchase the gold at a later date, at a predetermined price. This allowed Goldman to buy back the gold and return it to the central banks while making a big profit in process. All the while, the central banks never counted the gold as having left their books, as is the case with a lease. This created a “double booking” of gold, a situation where real gold was sold on the market, increasing supply, while the same amount was also being counted as if it were still in the central banks’ vaults. The illusion of more gold was created, which suppressed the price. Thus allowing the game to continue. The only problem was the limits of supply.

In order to understand what’s happening now and what the fraud really is, one must understand the Gold ETF market. Think back to a time when the dollar was still redeemable for gold. Each bank was required to keep a minimum amount of gold in reserve, a fraction of the paper money in supply. The concept worked on the assumption that not everyone will demand gold at any one time so it only needed a fraction of the wealth it claimed to possess. This allowed for banks to lend out and create out of thin air more paper money than gold it actually had. So long as confidence remained and there was no run on the banks, the system worked. Eventually, any pretense of having a commodity-backed currency was eliminated and the US switched to full fiat money. In truth, the gold-backed paper was fiat too. It just operated on the false notion that the paper could, theoretically, be redeemed for real gold and silver. But having a fractional reserve system makes that unsustainable in times of crisis, which is the only time people would want their gold. Getting off the gold standard ended the charade completely. But that’s currency. (more…)

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I realize there was a shooting involved in this story… but it was a dog.  I see at least 3 cop cars and enough yellow tape to seal off a whole town.  However when my neighbor’s house was broken into while she was home and she was confronted by the burglars – who then went on to immediately try and break into my house while my wife and baby were home and then my other neighbor’s house who was also home – only one officer arrived (after 10 minutes, and they were long gone) and he interviewed only my neighbor for a few minutes but not my wife or other neighbor who saw the thieves.  What gives? Do you really need a forensics team on the killing of an animal?  Where were they in our neighborhood situation?  Not interested in tracking down witnesses of actual crimes… just rabid dogs?

Get your s*** together.

photo credit: Samuel Lippke

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