Friday, October 29, 2010

The Juan Williams Firing

I think NPR really blundered by firing Juan Williams for an offhand comment made on FOX News. First, there is the way he was fired--by phone rather than in person. This is incredibly shabby treatment of a valued employee who has enhanced the reputation of NPR with his insightful commentary over the years.

Juan has said that NPR has wanted to get rid of him for a long time because they didn't like his being on FOX news. If that is the case, why not call him in and say, "Look, we have a problem with your being on both networks. We need you to choose where your loyalties lie." Juan could then have chosen, and the problem could have been worked out on a cooperative basis, which is the proper way to handle employee problems.

The comment that he gets nervous when Muslims are on his plane should not have been a problem for anybody. It simply states what the vast majority of Americans no doubt feel. We seem to be unable in this country to even mention race without being accused of having nasty prejudices. Juan went on to state that stereotyping is wrong, so his comment could not have been fairly misinterpreted as carrying any kind of bigotry with it.

Shame on you, NPR. You are better than that!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The World Series in Context

There are two things which can make a World Series memorable or noteworthy. One is an exciting 7-game Series, and the other is the appearance of teams which have never been to the Series, or have not been there for a very long time.

In terms of the first category, the decade of the 2000's has not been very memorable. While we did see exciting 7-game series in both 2001 and 2002, there have been none in the seven Series since than, and only two that have even gone 6 games.

However, in terms of the second category the past decade has been quite memorable indeed. 2001 saw the first appearance by the Diamondbacks, followed by the first appearance by the Angels in 2002. Then in 2004 the Red Sox broke their drought and won their first series since 1918. The following year the White Sox did the same, wining their first Series since 1917. Then in 2007 the Rockies made their first-ever WS appearance.

Now we come to 2010, featuring the Giants, who have not won since defeating my beloved Indians in 1954, and the Rangers, who have never been to the Series but finally made it in the 50th year of the franchise. Whoever wins, the result will be monumental for the franchise and city involved. Now if we can just get the Cubs vs. the Indians for nest year's Series!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Top Five GOP Wacko Candidates

1. Christine O'Donnell. Candidate for Senate from Delaware. Has stated she used to "dabble in witchcraft". Has been accused by her former campaign manager of paying her rent with campaign donations. Has made anti-masturbation comments in the past.

2. John Raese. Candidate for governor of West Virginia. Wants to abolish minimum wage.

3. Ken Buck. Candidate for Senate in Colorado. Opposes abortion rights even in the cases of rape and incest. Infamously refused to prosecute a rape case, claiming it was a case of "buyer's remorse".

4. Sharron Angle. Opposes Harry Reid in Nevade Senate race. Opposes abortion rights even in cases of rape and incest.

5. Carl Paladino. New York governor candidate. Caught on camera threatening to "take out" a reporter who was asking an embarrassing question of him. Had to be separateed from the reporter by his handlers/bodyguards. Has made anti-homosexual comments.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thinking Through a Bridge Bidding Decision

The last hand at men's bridge club Tuesday night was interesting. I picked up a hand with 22 high card points, and since I had balanced distribution I bid 2 no trump. My partner, a solid player named Rich Geiger, thought a bit and then bid 3 no trump. When he laid down his hand he laid down an Ace, and I said, "that's enough for your bid right there." Then I was surprised to see him lay down 5 more points!

I have been wondering whether he should have bid 5 no trump, the idea being that if I have 24 points (the range for my bid is 22-24), then we have the 33 points needed to bid a small slam. Faced with a 5 no trump response by my partner, I would bid 6 with 24 points, pass with 22, and with 23 evaluate it based on 9's and 10's, and on whether I had a solid 5-card suit which I could expect to run.

On the surface, it would seem that Rich's failure to bid 5 NT would cause us to miss a small slam a third of the time. But upon further analysis his bid makes sense.

First, having the 33 points does not guarantee the slam will be made. Tired players, who aren't that good to begin with, could easily mess up a slam, especially at the end of the session when fatigue is strongest. So, let's say it gets botched half the time, dropping the instances of losing out down from 1/3 to 1/6.

The adage of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies. A vulnerable game gets you 500 points, which would be assured if you bid only 3 NT with 31+ points. The bonus for making a vulnerable small slam is 750 points. So, you are risking 500 sure points in an attempt to garner an extra 750 points. The math on this is that you would have to make the small slam 40% of the time to break even on taking the risk. (40% of 1,250 is 500.)

But here is the real kicker. Pondering this it occurred to me that a 22-point hand seems much more likely to get than a 24-point hand. If so, then it is not 1/3 each, but some other number. After some initial brick walls, I was able to find some odds on the internet. It turns out that there are 1334 million hands with 22 points, to 711M with 23, and only 355M with 24. So, given that a hand contains 22-24 points, it will have 22 points 55.6% of the time, 23 points 29.6% of the time, and 24 points only 14.8% of the time.

This lends further support for Rich's decision, as the odds of me having 24 points were not a third, but only about 15%. This is further lowered if you assume, as in our situation, that you have 9 points in your hand. In other words, given that A has a 9-point hand, the odds that his partner B would have 24 when he opens 2NT go down.

The conclusion: Rich probably should have bid 5NT, but it wasn't a blatant error.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Letter on Tax Policy

Recently the Lima News has published a series of editorials complaining about a "soak the rich" attitude which the paper perceives is now prevalent in the U.S. The News has even gone so far as to rail against a "confiscate the wealth" attitude toward the rich.

In reality there is no such movement afoot, and the News is simply way off-base in thinking otherwise. Rather than proposing any "confiscation of wealth", the current issue is simply whether to return to the top tax rate of 39.6% which was in effect during the 1990's, which by the way happened to be an era of unprecedented prosperity in this country.

I submit that a top tax rate of 39.6% is good tax policy and does not indicate any "hate the rich" attitude as the News has repeatedly suggested. Some of us are old enough to remember the 1950's, when the top tax rate was a whopping 91%. Now that *was* a soak the rich tax structure. Fortunately we have gotten away from that misguided policy and we now have a sensible tax structure, or at least we did have one until the disastrous economic policies of Reagan and George W. Bush wrecked the economy.

Teddy Roosevelt once said that "The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government." I agree with TR, and I urge everyone to keep this thought in mind the next time you here somebody rant about our taxes being too high.