Category Archives: Friends

Pay To Recline, Pay to Be Recline-Free

In the latest round of First World Problems that receive way too much attention from the chattering classes, there’s the debate over the knee defender device and reclining in seats on airplanes. Naturally, given my penchant for devouring an amount of media and social media well above the average, I’ve seen people I know weigh in on the topic on both sides.

My colleague Mark Hemingway even was called out in the New York Times for his view that recliners are monsters. (To be fair, I, while tall, am not as tall as Mark is. And we all know where most tall people stand in this debate.)

I almost exclusively fly Southwest Airlines for obvious reasons — it’s the best airline in the world and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Southwest is not nearly as guilty as its counterparts, both budget and mega carriers, who charge customers for what used to be randomly-assigned or luck-of-the-draw benefits. Like aisle seats, party row seats (remember those?), emergency exit row seats, and snacks. Some, like Spirit Airlines, charge you more to bring a carry on item, since it increases departure times and reduces time-in-air.

I don’t like flying United, not because I don’t respect their efficient ways of making profit from things (I do), but because I just enjoy Southwest airlines that much more. And their wifi always works for me. And I don’t get charged for wifi that doesn’t work. When flying United alone — my wife is #TeamUnited — I will opt to pay for a bigger seat. Because I am tall and I have what parents describe as “ants in my pants.”

I need room. And, I’m willing to pay to get that room.

Some find this concept abhorrent. (Usually they’re net neutrality proponent types whose sense of neutrality and “fairness” disappears when talking about bike lanes, bus rapid transit lanes, or car pool lanes.)

When it comes to short domestic flights, I’ll admit reclining is annoying. But it’s an annoyance I can deal with. On long-haul flights, pretty much everyone reclines and it’s not a problem.

We get it, you're not as tall as BuzzFeed's John Stanton.

We get it, you’re not as tall as BuzzFeed’s John Stanton.

Barro’s NYT piece opens with a nice discussion of economics, but he loses me at property rights. I don’t think a plane ticket is a guarantee of property rights, since the airline can pretty much move you around without your consent. (And, let’s not forget loud children, people who violate your space, and the “talkers.”) A ticket is sort of a guarantee to get from one place to another, except when it isn’t.

As such, I don’t agree with his contention that you should pay each other directly for reclining or not reclining. Or when he turns it into a war on tall people.

If this is such a problem that has requires a national debate (hint: it isn’t!) I have a solution that both sides will probably hate, which is why I’m inclined to think it’s a good one.

Here it is, in its simplicity: If you don’t care, you get a discount/pay normal price. If you do care, you pay.

EconPop — The Economics of the Lego Movie

As usual, Heaton delivers describing the movie my Lego doppelgänger is the star of:

Can Reason Save Cleveland?

Earlier today, I shared Matt Yglesias’s story on why Silicon Valley should relocate to….Cleveland.

The facebook post I shared came with this message:

Yglesias writes “It’s time for tech hubs to go where they’re welcome.” And he picks…. Cleveland? What? Off his rocker.

The post received a number of comments, including one from a thoughtful a neighbor, whose son I played hockey with. He writes:

So Jimmy, you have been away long enough that you are now a Cleveland basher as well? True, we have three months of bad weather…..but unbelievable property values, great cost of living, great culture (I would put the Cleveland Orchestra up against any from San Francisco or Washington), the largest theater district west of NYC, a great art museum, the Hall of Fame, fantastic restaurants, great music ……and, oh yeah, you can actually get to all of them within 30 minutes – not 2-3 hrs. BTW…how much would your old home on Eaton Rd cost in either SF or Washington?

I frequently, and sometimes more harshly than I should, criticize Cleveland. I’d like to clear the air and share my thoughts on the matter. I don’t hate Cleveland, I criticize because I love where I grew up and want my hometown to thrive — despite its efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here’s my response to my former neighbor, an all around good guy who frequently inspires great discussions on my facebook wall:

Dr. S. — I don’t disagree with your points on Cleveland the region. I do think, and agree, that the region would be good to host a wide range of industries for the reasons you express. And, for what it’s worth, I love the bad weather.

Indeed, the house I grew up in on Eaton road would easily go for a million or two here in Washington or San Francisco, if not more. (So, three to six times the cost.) Detroit, as Yglesias notes, has even more affordable housing, but he wrote them off as a lost city, noting that if he had picked Detroit, people likely migrate to Ann Arbor. I don’t think Cleveland is lost yet, but it’s not going out of its way to improve things, in my opinion.

Solving Cleveland’s inability to attain the growth it could attain is a puzzle, one with locally imposed constraints and with ones imposed by the state. The Cleveland area has many great attributes and it also has some things it needs to work on. That goes for Ohio, as well.

While I am frequently critical of Cleveland — sometimes more harshly than I should be — it’s because I’d love for my hometown to be the next Silicon Valley, but at present, I don’t think it can be. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t. Some of that is on the city of Cleveland itself, some on the suburbs, and some on the state. Before I forget, some of it is on Cuyahoga County — now with less corruption!

One reason is because I think that municipal income taxes are a poor way to structure things, especially if individuals who live in one city but work in another have to pay taxes to both in some respect. Unlike other comparable jurisdictions in other states, potential employers would have to pay more in salary and benefits to offset the tax differential. Not exactly a welcome beacon to relocate to NE Ohio. Sure, low-income earners get an exemption, but, in the case of the Yglesias example, tech employers probably employ fewer people exempted than those subject to paying taxes in Cleveland and (insert name of other jurisdiction).

Like the electoral map, Ohio has a bunch of residential clusters and a larger swath of area with lower population density.  Yes, California has high taxes — but it doesn’t allow city income taxes the way Ohio does. I do think an examination of the state’s tax policies are in order. That could benefit Cleveland and NE Ohio greatly.

Yglesias is correct to note that, unlike Detroit or Buffalo (no offense to my Buffalo friends), Cleveland could be fertile ground for such a resurgence. But, knowing that Cleveland and nearly every other major city does what it can to sell itself to businesses (like Philadelphia is doing to California’s Sriracha maker, under fire from the city in which it does business), businesses aren’t flocking to Cleveland. I wish they would, because I’d love to move back some day and watch the Browns lose in person. Maybe some day, we’ll win big.

My other concern/criticism with his piece is, at least as it pertains to the city, is this: If Yglesias thinks that it’s time for “tech hubs to go where they’re welcome” because SF residents are complaining about private bus stops — wait until he learns about some of Cleveland’s NIMBY problems.

Cleveland’s zoning and regulatory policies, for me, leave much to be desired. In my opinion, the city of Cleveland’s problem isn’t due to one-party rule, it’s more a problem of ideology. It’s more of a “our job is to help business ‘thread the needle‘ of regulations” than it is to make the regulations and laws more conducive for businesses to want to locate there in the first place.

My TL:DR is this — If Yglesias were revealing some secret about why everyone should “flee to the Cleve” and move their business there, people would already be doing it. I wish they were, as Cleveland is a great area with a lot to offer. But they aren’t. It’s not because of a lack of publicity or PR. Other journalists, with a love for Cleveland and Ohio, have already suggested some reasons why Cleveland might want to shun PR and focus on change, but they’ve largely been ignored.

While I’d love it if Ohio and Cleveland adopted the Texas and Houston models, that is unrealistic. It won’t happen. It’s part of the culture, which is fine. Even some modest changes in that direction, though, could help Cleveland.

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UPDATE: I recommend this post by Daniel McGraw on the same topic.

A Great Weekend

I had a great weekend in Madison County, Virginia with my good friends and groomsmen to celebrate one of my last weekends of bachelordom.

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The view from the cabin on top of the mountain.

This photo, taken by Bobby Metzinger, shows the delicious meats we got from Echo Valley Meat Company.

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Three great products make for an excellent breakfast.

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Surrounding hills. Yes. That’s tie-dye you see. No, not mine.

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The exterior of the cabin (click to expand).

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The interior.

Cap South — What It’s Really Like to Work in Congress

There are tons of funny shows out there that touch on what it is like to work in the federal government. House of Cards is excellent, and the scene work is phenomenal. Veep — a show I just started watching — is entertaining, but not on the same level for me as House of Cards.

But, one new show might change all that. It’s a forthcoming web series starring my good friend / mortal prank enemy and former room mate, Andrew Heaton as the lead character. His girlfriend in real life, Naomi Brockwell, also stars in it.

It’s called Cap South. (You can learn more about it here eventually, but you can learn more now by following it on facebook.)

Since Andrew’s involved, and the show is run by a fellow Congressional Expat, I expected the dialogue to be highly realistic and very funny. I was correct. Below is what it is really like to answer un-screened phone calls.

Here’s the Trailer:

Answering the phone on the hill in real life (left) versus in Cap South (right). Spot on.
phone

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Win or Lose, Mainly Lose: My Fantasy Sports Retirement Manifesto

About a decade ago, I had a brief love of auto racing, and by brief, I mean a matter of a weekend or two. At the same time, Yahoo! Sports had just started to run the fantasy sports field, and I was intrigued

by what Fantasy Sports were all about: at that point mainly spreadsheets and dropdown menus. So I signed up for a NASCAR fantasy driver league. Well, my infatuation with NASCAR lasted all of two weekends, and so did that fantasy league.

A few years later, a couple of fraternity brothers and I joined a football league that was based in Gainesville, Florida — as the Commissioner and most of the players attended the University of Florida. This was my first foray into the “real” smack talking, chat room using, relationship-destroying world that is fantasy football.

I still didn’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do terribly for my first time, finishing mid-pack in the 10 team league. I just didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t understand how the waiver wire worked, or why I couldn’t drop certain players. So, I plodded along making after-the-fact moves, and not really wanting to break my team up (after all, I was their coach).

After 6+ years of fantasy football, all I can really say is that I am terrible at it, and still haven’t really learned how work the waiver wire, use my IR spots, and use QB/WR tandems to your advantage. Why is this, you ask? Well, mainly… I just don’t care. I am not one to spend all of my time watching SportsCenter for all the latest news. I have no desire to get up and watch NFL Network at 8:00am central time on a Sunday.

It’s funny though, my last year in that Florida league? I actually won the thing. How? I really couldn’t tell you.

There were also short affairs with fantasy hockey and fantasy baseball. I know nothing about hockey, and I really don’t care to learn. That’s not to say I dislike the sport, but I’ve never been one for cold weather. Baseball on the other hand, I played at a fairly competitive level, coach at the youth and high school levels, know plenty of the game’s history and roots, traditions, strategy, and superstitions. I can explain the infield fly rule in depth, and argue the strengths and weaknesses of small ball, to the power game. I can talk about arm slot, blocking techniques, and hitting drills. In other words, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable on the game itself.

Despite all this, I’m still terrible at fantasy baseball.

I’m going to say something heretical here: Fantasy Baseball is BORING. Baseball itself is nuanced and filled with tension. Fantasy baseball is filled with… you guessed it: spreadsheets and dropdown menus. For all those guys that are so fanatical about fantasy baseball, this is my advice. Go to a batting cage and hit some balls, play catch with your kid (hell, anybody).

Back to my point, I am retiring from fantasy sports. I will no longer be sucked in by the digital version of my friends sitting at a sports bar berating them for starting Bradford over Flacco, or get pissed that I lost by .5 on a recount Tuesday morning when the final scores come out. I will not care if Yadier Molina takes the sure out at first on a bunt instead of initiating the double play. I am going to sit back and enjoy my sports and watch when I want, and not watch when I don’t, not feeling obligated to do research on a 2nd string catcher from AAA Durham because some guy on the Big Club goes down.

And hockey? I guess I will watch, when they are not locked out, boycotting, or doing whatever it is the NHL does to keep hockey from actually going on.

Joe LaMonica lives in Saint Louis

Bomblecast #17 — Canadian Bacon

Friends: This week, join me & Andrew Heaton on the Bomblecast to discuss Canada, economic freedom, and advances in technology.

“Thanks, friend. Yours, Patrick Wessel”

My late friend Patrick Wessel was a hipster years before hipsterism was cool. I think he’d probably regard most modern hipsters as phonies.

Since today would have been his 27th birthday, I figured I should share a memory. A facebook message he sent me and others. Patrick was always the entrepreneur.

Patrick Wessel
  • hello friend

    hello friend, i am selling my keyboard. before i put it on ebay, i thought i might let you know. the price is 695. it is a roland e-200 intelligent keyboard. go to http://www.keyboardmag.com/story.asp?storycode=117 to see a review of this keyboard. it is a great keyboard and the retail price is 1200. but, at 695, i am giving you one hell of a deal, friend.

    THIS GREAT KEYBOARD INCLUDES a roland dynamic footpedal priced at 50 dollars FOR FREE! also included is a keyboard stand, valued at 100 dollars, FOR FREE! this is a bargain you can’t pass up! if you are interested, let me know as soon as possible, because this baby will be up on ebay very soon, where bidders will probably send the price to about 1000 dollars.

    ALSO, now available from me is also a KEYTAR. That synthesizer sound from the 80s is back as can be, and YOU NEED a KEYTAR. RIGHT NOW. Made in Italy, this Roland AX-7 (see http://createdigitalmusic.com/2005/04/21/keytar-lives-rolands-ax-7/ for a review), is hip, and now you can be hip to it! If you don’t have a keytar, you’re not a hipster…you’re a hipster doofus!

    The Roland AX-7 is now going for the low-low price of $195, even though it is valued at $495, and is ACTUALLY PRICELESS! It includes a strap and a midi cable. You’re not going to find this keytar this cheap, anywhere else!

    Both of these instruments are in near-mint condition. Just slight use, which includes a few very small scratches. Nothing noticeable.

    This is one great deal that you can’t pass up. If you or anyone you know is interested in making a purchase before I put these babies up on Ebay, let me know, ASAFP.

    Thanks, friend. Yours, Patrick Wessel

At least he cleaned my sink

My new room mate has too much free time on his hands. Please, somebody, offer him a job where he can put this creativity to productive uses — other than cleaning my bathroom for me.

My Night at Monster Jam

There’s something uniquely American about attending a monster truck rally. Aside from a NFL stadium filled with dirt, looking through the stands you’d think you were at a Brad Paisley concert. That is, until a huge truck blows over a jump with a deafening sound.

In early June, my friend Aaron and I took our significant others to the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam “Path of Destruction” tour in Baltimore. Since it was Maryland, driving was nightmarish, and because it was Baltimore, parking was even worse.

We got to our seats a little late, only to find they’d been occupied by a teenager with a mustache bigger than I could ever grow. Fumbling for our tickets, he realized he was in our seats and moved down. The entire two rows in front of us were a large extended family. He must have been the black sheep, that, or he drew the short straw.

I wondered — are there any liberals here? Sure, being Maryland, there were Democrats, but real, ultra left liberals? The beer guy came, so I ordered a cold one and asked him how many liberals came to these things as best he could tell. “5 percent tops,” he said, “and that’s being generous.” Beers were cheap at $7.75, but cotton candy was $15. Probably because it came with a Monster Truck hat.

Why would liberals want to see big trucks destroy cars? Then I remember they loved cash for clunkers! Surely liberals would love to see these gas guzzlers destroyed by even bigger gas guzzlers. Monster Jam for the environment!

I set out to find a liberal.

Monster truck rallies usually start with racing. A few rounds of monster trucks doing two laps around the field, interspersed with ATV racing where about 40 ATVs divided into two teams, each representing a state. This time, it was New York and Maryland — New York took two of the three. On the third race, Maryland won and the captain thanked all the Maryland fans. Obviously, they don’t have teams set up for each and every state, they probably just change the team names everywhere they go — doesn’t everybody here know this is fake?

Apparently not. The family in front of us had custom made “Captain America” signs and, unlike Mitt Romney’s campaign staff, they could actually spell America. Hot Wheels, Wolverine, Monster Energy Drink, Spiderman, and the Avenger were all sponsored trucks. And each had loyal fans. Some kids in our row dyed their hair green and and some even sported green M’s in their hair.

After the races, which were boring, loud, and uneventful, we got to the main event: the freestyle. Caterpillar bulldozers emerged from all corners of the stadium like medics on Omaha beach. They dismantled the race course and set it up for freestyle, complete with old cars and RVs. (They also flip over the trucks when they crash.)

I leaned back to the group behind me and asked, “do you think many liberals come to these things?” They looked at me suspiciously. Maybe it was because my friends were all dressed up (by that I mean wearing normal clothes) and I was wearing a Dale Jr. Hendrick Motorsport shirt, a Bass Pro hat, and my big “ears” from the shooting range. I think they thought I was a poser. And I was a poser, since I had to google which driver’s number was on my t-shirt, just not a liberal poser. The guy answered the question like it was a matter of fact: “No, not really.”

Me, in disguise, grabbing a beer beforehand.

Waiting in line for the bathroom, I was next to guy with a mohawk. Since there was a truck called “Mohawk Warrior,” I asked if he was a big fan. He said “No, I didn’t even know there was a truck with a mohawk. I’ve never been to one of these.” I wanted to ask, “do you think many liberals come to these?” Fearing he was one of the violent occupy protesters, I just let it slide and assumed he was a punk rocker who didn’t vote.

Returning to my seat, it was time for freestyle. Everyone was excited, including me. The first few trucks only had a few cars and vans to destroy. Less loud than racing, it was better — who doesn’t love seeing a Ford Econoline van getting destroyed by one of these monsters?

After round 3, they brought out an RV to loud hoots and hollers. It dawned on me, this is set up just like wrestling! Nobody seemed to notice or care except me, probably because a big truck with the likeness of a hearse and the name “Grave Digger” was about to make mincemeat of an RV. It was one of legacy trucks, and everybody loved it. And it was totally awesome to watch.

As time went on, I came to conclude something different. It wasn’t “set up”, but rather, the advantage was given to popular crowd pleasers. My favorite truck, Monster Mutt, looked like Lloyd and Harry’s truck from Dumb and Dumber. That, and any good Cleveland Browns fan must cheer for the Dawg in the home of the much hated Baltimore Ravens. (Fellow Brownies will be happy to know that I gave a double middle finger to M&T on the way out and yelled “Go Browns!”)

For a few rounds, the Mutt held first place until the more popular trucks came along. More RV’s came out on the chopping block when the popular trucks did. Coincidence? Probably not. Unlike wrestling, where it’s easy to choreograph an actual plot, these trucks need to drive and compete to win, so at least there’s skill in the thing, even if I think the scales are tipped. One truck’s tire blew off and it didn’t stop the guy from continuing on. The crowd went wild. Another flipped over and caught on fire for short spell. One truck’s tire popped completely off.

Even if this didn’t seem like a fair competition, at least the competition between the popular trucks had some semblance of it.

By now, I had stopped caring about whether or not liberals attended this event. I think the beer guy was right, and he should know. There probably weren’t many, if any, there. All I cared about was whether or not the next truck was going to complete the infamous backflip. (Spoiler: He landed on his roof, the monster truck equivalent of the belly flop.)

There were fireworks at the end. I breathed in the acrid smell of carnage and thought: “this is America.”