How I Became an Economist

As people leave high school they gradually adopt one or more identifiers to announce to the world who they are. This requires that they first 86 their temporary “cool” labels they stuck on themselves as kids. As we nose into the big world those labels become embarrassing even though they served as a training experience in stinking badges.

In theory we are all individuals, assembling facts and ideas randomly on an equal basis. But in practice most people find that they need some kind of organizing structure to arrange a selection of basic assumptions and certified facts. Religions and political parties perform this chore in an off-the-shelf prepackaged way – no thinking necessary, just add money.

As young adults we go through 2 or 3 early life changes. We find our chosen grown up tribe doesn’t work for us anymore. The tribe may say you don’t work for them anymore either. Unlike couples who grow apart these are more mental than emotional changes. The tribe can be a skill, a profession, or a philosophy which pays no bills whatsoever. I have no idea why I chose my partners or why the relationships failed but I know exactly how I came to identify myself primarily as an economist.

Between 9 and 14 I grew up on a farm. This instilled in me a desire for something as real as a living environment that could explain everything but was more abstract and less desperate than farm life. I decided I wanted to be in nature but couldn’t depend on it. After high school I dropped a professional program and then a trade school. They were not who I was. I didn’t have to soldier through since I had no financial obligations.

I started trying to figure out the world piecemeal. It seemed natural to hang out around people who also were trying to figure things out. So I joined a minor political party and went back to college for an education. I settled on the economics department. It worked in well with the political activities. Although I adopted the political byline and slogans for several years, the party topped out and pooped out early in the revelation game.

After the first year I settled in on the Wednesday night classes. This seemed like a great deal. You got your 3 hour 3 unit class by showing up once a week. But the best part was what happened after class as this was the end of the day for the professors and students alike in those classes.

I was more personally motivated, as opposed to professionally motivated or unmotivated, than the average student. This made me more interesting to the night econ profs who also tended to be the graduate committee. After a few classes I was being invited to their Wednesday night after class ritual. When the last student was out the door they would make a final cruise by their offices and head over to the 24 hour Carrows. Time to unwind with some small talk. But not just any small talk. This was the small talk of economists.

I began to notice variations and discrepancies between points in their lectures and the free flowing analysis and off the cuff remarks in these exchanges. I of course was allowed to participate and was even encouraged to comment. Unlike a formal class, the subjects were wider ranging and the opinions sharper. And unlike discussions based on personal values and prejudices this was reasoning and usually empirical reasoning.
Concepts and methods tepidly covered in class bounded forward across the diners’ table.

I’m certain that if anyone was listening at nearby tables they would have thought we were madmen or foreigners out for the night. After all, normal people don’t use the word “marginal” in so many ways about so many things. Did I become an economist or discover I was an economist? I seemed to be at home among people who can take extreme positions while agreeing and disagreeing to some extent with opposing views. Normal people lose patience when they can’t quickly tell which side someone is on. For them, “I see some problems here” is not a substitute for “I disagree.”

Most of my other conversations tended to be insipid or acrimonious. In contrast, the forays at Carrows left me refreshed and enlightened. But more important I felt I was becoming impossible to be manipulated by friends and enemies alike. Becoming an economist created a bedrock that allowed me to build other solid identifiers for myself. This is in spite of never working a job that called for any economic thinking.

Lake County Wants Lights Camera Action

So now we have an organization to promote Lake County to the mega film studios. The only concrete proposal I heard at the ribbon cutting event was an attempt to promote certain locations as scene destinations. Presumably if the big bucks studios aren’t interested in those locations pushed by local businesses and real estate interests then Lake County isn’t interested in their stupid movies.

I assume that an organization that serves the function of a producer “go to” group will also do the minimum of soliciting applications from people who want to be contacted by producers for background talent. These would include photos and be kept in a binder. If I were a location scout I would also expect to learn what permit hoops I had to jump through and what fees I had to pay to make a shoot happen. Most movies that shoot on locations are on tight budgets. “Sherman’s Way” shot in Lake County had a $350,000 budget.

If Lake County wants to stay on producers’ minds and short lists they need to develop a film/video culture here. We need to make it easy to see everything that is visually compelling, including all the tight shot gems. I suggest sponsoring a photo “Site” contest with GPS locations and upload all entries to a website. These sites can be less comprehensively promoted to the world through home grown video festivals. What about a forum to keep the discussion about movies and their future active? Ongoing exchanges tell outsiders that we are serious about what people need to create in Lake County.

The cool reception to a shouted remark about making zombie movies does not bode well for efforts to appeal to producers trying to create products that satisfy market tastes. If the Chamber of Commerce wants only movies that are focused on promoting Lake County they will have to produce those themselves.

Some of the projects mentioned can be pursued by myself and others through our websites and non profits. It would be a good idea to get some coordination to communicate who’s working on what.

Slam Poetry 2.0

The reason for judging slam poetry is to add drama to poetry events. Impromptu audience judges have done this job so far. But this poetry form was introduced 30 years ago. That’s before the internet. It is time to kick up the drama several notches and focus on the next level. The explosion of visual, on demand media requires a more compelling spectacle to keep interest from sagging in old venues and to jump start future venues.

The judging aspect of slam poetry has not developed over time. If judging is primarily for drama building then there should be no objection to more and better dramatic devices. I’ve been annoyed for years by meaningless one to a hundred scores (1 to 10 by tenths of a point) based on spot impressions in a context free setting.

Fake judging does not substitute for real drama for long. Real drama is found in the real world where there is a clear distinction between winners, losers, and big losers. The existing “sacrificial poet” concept for attempted calibrating purposes admits to the problems of point creep and fake precision. It is clear from watching slams that the patch isn’t holding.

I am offering an alternative that is more than a patch or a gimmick. I call it “racehorse slam” because it is based on 3 and only 3 judgements: “win, place, or show” in heats (races) of 5 or 6 poets in each heat. Rather than baseless “points”, poets are judged by their relative “place” within a small group. It is not necessary to have an overall winner between the heat winners in the same night. That can be a separate event.

How do we make this process visual? I believe multi track marble runs, one track for each poet, is the way to go. These runs can be simple structures or elaborate kinetic sculptures. I recommend that the runs have lights and sound effects. I’m experimenting with several designs.

You can’t talk about judging without talking about judges. Currently, the audience judges are not clearly seen by the rest of the audience. They are not part of the visuals. Being selected on the spot out of the audience is real randomness but fake democracy. Everyone has biases and the elimination of the top and bottom scores is another failed patch to moderate that bias.

Why not celebrate that bias in the service of drama? Select 3, not 5, judges in advance. Because we’re not doing the patch thing we don’t need 2 superfluous scores to eliminate. Judges should be costumed in plain view. For example: Riot gear, clown face, and reaper outfits. So people will be judged by “the Man”, “some joker”, and “Death” – just like in real life. How much more dramatic can you get?

Here is how it all works. After each poet has taken their best shot, each judge will drop either a blue (3 points), red (2 points), white (1 point), or green (0 points) marble into each poet’s track. All marbles will be released at once to much fanfare. They drop out of the run into clear bottles with the poets’ names on them. The results are immediately obvious. Ties are possible.

A separate, straight track is used to enforce the 3 minute rule. At 3 minutes into a poet’s slam a judge releases an old bowling ball down the track. The poet’s grace time is the amount of time it takes the ball to run down the track and into a garbage can which triggers an annoying alarm. This is another added source of drama.

Obviously Slam Poetry 2.0 has a lot of changes to get used to. That is why I’m waiting to see if these catch on before implementing some others. At some point a venue will be ready to move to Slam Poetry 3.0. This will move the poetry spectacle into audience participatory theater. It will involve the marble runs but also add a dramatic opportunity to over ride the judges’ verdicts. It is time that slam audiences get a chance to do something creative about the judging other than heckle.

Lake County’s Sister County

Many cites have “sister cities.” So I suppose counties can have sister counties. Political entity siblings are usually not located near each other. Its as if their drunken political bedfellow parents had a nasty separation and never wanted to see each other again. Each took one of the local mutant twins and made tracks.

So rather than speculate on who’s Lake County’s daddy, I searched for the perfect ugly sister for mutual admiration. That pit stop is Rowan County, Kentucky, population 23,655. Rowan’s newest claim to fame is that its the home of Kim Davis, the County Clerk who believed that she was an agent of God, charged with overturning that Obergefell v. Hodges heresy in accordance with some Divine plan.

Now she also took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. No one has figured out a better last word on the Constitution than the Supreme Court. The God’s word angle doesn’t always work as evidenced by centuries of religious wars by every side, all tuned into God’s word. Maybe they’re listening to different channels. Maybe the one true God isn’t broadcasting but is in the business of making radios. Davis didn’t have to take her oath of office and its only in effect from the time she plops down at her desk to the moment her car’s seat belt clicks. She is completely free to not issue marriage licenses to gays in her prayer meetings.

Why is Rowan County the right choice to partner with Lake? Lake County has also made national news for taking absurdly ridiculous positions that fly in face of legal issues that have already been decided.

Remember the Dinius case? A sail boat bumping along at 3 to 5 knots at night was run over by a speed boat plowing through the Lake at 35 to 50 miles per hour driven by the assistant sheriff. One of the sail boat’s passengers was killed. The District Attorney decided that the person at the rudder of the sail boat, who wasn’t the captain of the boat, was criminally responsible. The case drug on for months while the public and the sailing community were outraged. According to boating law the wrong person was being charged, resulting in a not guilty verdict for Dinius. In the glare of bad publicity, the DA and sheriff weren’t reelected but the speed boat assassin won election to Clearlake City Council by a landslide.

Lake County’s development in the 20th Century was fueled by selling thousands of  “paper subdivision” lots in rugged terrain with no paved roads or services. Buyers were told the services would just come someday. Someday never came and crashing land values attracted thousands of desperate people longing to own something, no matter how mean. A clique of small minded goobers got the order of events reversed and blamed the poor residents for falling property values and erosion. Their buddies in real estate were the victims not the cause of Clear Lake’s problems. This denial did not stop Lake County from becoming a poster child for California’s State Map Act which limited paper lot subdivisions without minimum improvements.

And don’t forget my pet peeve about Lake County. Lake County has the most censored public access channel in the Country. Ever since TV8 was taken over by local government and the volunteers expelled, all political programming has been put on a very short leash. The government dominated PEG Board has never sought legal advice and insisted they had the right to create new categories of speech control over looked by the Supreme Court. The attacks on volunteers who resisted have been particularly vicious.

But what about my charge that TV8 is the MOST censored public access channel? Surely I’m exaggerating even if the censorship policies were true. What about the Deep South or the Rocky Mountain states? Censorship must be worse there. Maybe it is, but not at public access channels. Why is that? Because courts have ruled that localities are not required to have public access channels. However, if they ask for them in their cable franchise contracts they have to follow free speech and public forum law. The places that would be inclined to illegally censor our free speech rights simply do not ask for public access channels, which is not a violation of our rights.

According to a survey by the Alliance For Community Media, only 18% of cable systems have public access channels. Public access censorship can only take place in this 18% of cable systems. The other 82% are off the hook even if many of them would have violated our rights. Lake County is in the 18% of cable TV who said they would follow the law but  did not. I have not found another station in that 18% that has systematically trashed our liberties over so many years.

Why would Lake County ask for an outlet for the people’s voice if they wanted the people to just shut up? Maybe they thought free speech was a locally defined thing or something only the better sort of people were entitled to. Maybe they thought they could squeeze more free equipment from the cable company if they asked for a PEG channel, discouraging anyone outside their insider club from using it. Who knows. No one who was around at that time is talking. Rowan County doesn’t even have a PEG channel anywhere within its Jesus blessed borders.

Its this complete contempt for the legal process, substituting their views of how things ought to be, that has put Rowan and Lake Counties in the same State of Denial. Think of what they could learn from each other about applying faith based vetoes to every advance since the Dark Ages. The two counties could exchange local newspapers to read about people across the Continent who were just like them. Or maybe they could ban each other’s newspapers. It would be more fun and less work than reading.

Polishing Up Censorship

On August 12th County Counsel Anita Grant made a report to TV8’s PEG Board on their free speech policies. She briefly outlined the legal rights of PEG station users that our citizens have demanded since this government dominated board was formed 8 years ago. The PEG Board members responded to the Counsel’s report as if this information was all news to them.
The County Counsel emphasized that programming decisions must be “content neutral” except for several categories narrowly defined by the Supreme Court. Her source was an issue of Community Media Review. It sounded like the one I had passed around several years back. However, the County’s PEG representative, Ed Robey, has indicated in past PEG meetings his intention to bypass this restriction by using the “time place manner” legal concept to schedule offending political programs late at night when few people will see them.
The Counsel appeared to be giving the green light to this strategy when she assured the PEG Board that they could use the “time place manner” provision in scheduling. She did not indicate that there were legal criteria to prevent this concept from being used as censorship by another name.
The current crystallization of elements that must exist for time place manner to be employed is listed and explained in “”Ward v. Rock Against Racism” 1989. In this binding decision, employing time place manner must not be content specific. But also the time restriction must be narrowly tailored and serve a “significant government interest.” Once employed, the restriction must leave ample alternative means to convey the message.
The Counsel’s remarks did not show awareness of this requirement. When the PEG Board programmer asked, “I am allowed to accept 10 videos on 1 candidate?” Grant responded, “That’s an administrative function that’s a time place manner restriction.” She did not give an example of an administrative action that would not be a content restriction in this case.

Counsel added, “You don’t want to set up a circumstance where 1 candidate CoOps the station.” This statement was curious. How can TV8 “set up a circumstance” when the station is open to all residents on an equal basis? If by CoOp the station she meant only supporters of 1 candidate chose to use the station then she is ignoring the fact that different campaigns will choose to use different strategies. You can be sure that a campaign that draws significant contributions to run mass mailings and media ads will not be encouraging their supporters to produce campaign videos for TV8. That’s for poor people.
I cannot think of a single way that an administrative action designed to curtail residents from submitting candidate videos that would not fail one or more Supreme Court tests under Ward v. Rock. Historically, these tests are derived from time place manner concepts developed in “Grayned v. City of Rockford” 1972, citing examples from numerous other cases for context. These contexts almost exclusively deal with noise, blocking traffic, and denying other people the use of parks.

These are clear government interests. Providing cover for government subterfuges would be an abuse of time place and manner. One cited example is two parades cannot use the same street at the same time. This does not mean that government has the right to schedule all non Chamber of Commerce parades at 3 a.m. in the morning.

The message was that the PEG Board needed to display the right motives when impeding residents’ political activity. Setting aside “X blocks of time” was not to ghettoize the people’s voice but rather to “make sure everyone has access.” This ignores the fact that TV8 has so much dead time that they haven’t even bothered asking for the two extra channels they are entitled to. Although the Counsel gave mundane examples of normal time place manner such as “production standards” and “allocating time among competing users” she seemed to be implying that anything that the PEG Board wanted to add to the list was legitimate. It is not.

The irony of Grant quoting from the Community Media Review article was that it was written by the attorney for the Sue Buske Group. This was the firm that advised the County and Clearlake in the late 1990’s on franchise and PEG issues. Probably these consultants recommended sending out a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) to interested non profits that would get government out of the free speech business. This is how functioning PEG stations operate. Ask Ukiah. Ask Willits. Ask Fort Bragg. Ask Humboldt County. Ask Weaverville (Weaverville!!!!!).

A local government attorney’s job is to reduce the city or county’s legal exposure as much as possible. Transferring public access functions to non profits clearly does this. But trying to convince politicians on boards to defer to citizens’ civil liberties is always a waste of time in the long run.

And We Will All Be Rich

In my adult life several game changing shifts have taken place in the American economy. At first glance they would appear to signal a clear step backwards in our comfortable lifestyles. In each case we were told by select think tanks, business leaders, and their employees in Congress that economic changes are always difficult but change is what made America great. We were confidently assured that after a period of adjustment this or that restructuring would make us all rich.

When the “rust bucket” industries went belly up we were told “Don’t worry about “reindustrialzation.” Heavy manufacturing will be replaced by clean, well paid “knowledge work” – computers, software, and the work-at-home jobs they make possible. We will all be rich.

The computer age came, followed by the internet sequel. However, they seemed to make only a few people rich or better off. The goodies must have gotten stuck in those boxy computer things we now all use. We just have to figure out how to get our riches out of the boxes. And all those work at home jobs? They appeared as promised…. but the homes were in India.

Another “make us rich” scheme was the replacement of “employees” by contractors, usually outsourced contractors who often made job offers to former employees at a fraction of the pay and benefits they were receiving. Apparently we have to wait until we are all replaced by contractors before we can all be rich.

NAFTA had to be a sure winner to make us all rich, right? After all, a larger free market area would be a larger area to create wealth. No one suggested that it might make a difference whether this mega free trade zone should adopt Mexico’s standards or the United States’ standards. I guess they flipped a coin and decided on Mexico’s.

Speaking of contracting, someone decided that outsourcing shouldn’t arbitrarily end at America’s border. Allowing our corporations to contract with China’s corporations to make America’s products had to be an amped up path to contracting riches. In fact, our corporations would only be too happy to share the piles of new found wealth with the rest of America.

Backtracking to the original brainstorm to make us all rich by giving a few talented visionaries political privileges, there was the 1913 decision to give a few private bankers, humorously named the Federal Reserve System, exclusive control over the money supply. This was necessary to eliminate wealth destroying boom and bust cycles. Now you know the inspiration that gave America a century of financial stability.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and dumping those opportunity crushing wall street regulations had to be a no-brainer in making us all rich in a stable, risk free environment.

One tactic that also allowed working people to also participate in getting rich without tangible production was land speculation. This was charmingly referred to as “flipping real estate.” It works better if you put a minimum amount down on several properties and flip them before some party pooper forecloses on you. The beauty here is that those who didn’t do their part in making us all rich were penalized with higher house prices or higher property taxes.

The latest proposed installment in making-us-all-rich inventions is the Trans Pacific Partnership. This will magically bring to us all the good things to us that international corporations have by silencing those barriers to riches called American Laws and Regulations. Think of the TPP as NAFTA on steroids or maybe crank.

OK, so most people don’t feel rich after all that has been done for them by our leaders. That’s because they haven’t learned that being rich for us is more of a state of mind than a physical reality. We are all rich by definition.

No More Bus Strikes

Lake County will not have another bus strike. Say it. Now everyone in a leadership position say it. “We will not have another bus strike. We will not allow take-it-or-leave-it scorched earth positions. We will address relevant issues and not put out a management contract that is tailored for the Lake Transit Authority to hide behind.”

During the last strike the the Transit Board held up their management contract and said “See we have a contract. Our hands are tied.” Of course, they are the ones who tied their own hands when they rubber stamped Mark Wall’s provisions. These provisions gave a mere management contractor the power to force a strike. Encouraging a contentious labor environment is not in the public interest. The elected members of the Lake Transit Authority should know this.

We have a short period of time to act before this dereliction of duty is repeated in the next management contract. Tell those Supervisors and Council people on the Board that we will not tolerate an attitude that says “Gee, too bad our vulnerable citizens are caught in a labor crossfire. It’s a good thing that, even though we are in charge, we can’t do a thing about it because of a contract that we never even looked at before it went out to bid.”

I’m sure the Transit Board is not using the contract as a cover for anti union bias or general contempt for Lake County’s poor and disabled. They just got a little lazy and now that they have seen the damage their lack of oversight has caused they will diligently fix the next management contract before it goes out to bid this Summer. Otherwise we will have to suck it up for another three years or longer.

Here is what must go into the next transit management contract to avoid future disasters.

First, and this should be obvious, we need a binding arbitration clause. This involves a competent third party that examines the facts without personal agendas. People with personal agendas will not like this. But this is Lake County residents’ bus system, in case anyone needs to be reminded.

Second, we need a wage and benefits structure that encourages bus driver longevity. Note that this does not mean a higher starting wage. A structure will create an incentive to develop as drivers and mentors here in Lake County. A wage structure says, we want drivers who will stay to develop the skills and acquire the experience to serve our most challenged citizens. A low, flat wage results in Lake County training drivers for other counties. Obviously, this is a waste of our taxpayer money as well.

Having a transit team saturated with new drivers is a public safety issue. Even Paratransit’s operation manager Wanda Gray admits that Lake County Transit has more bus damage than any other Paratransit unit. Unless this is an admission that she is hiring anyone with a pulse, we have to assume that this is the result of fewer than normal experienced drivers.

Finally, we need provisions in the management contract that prohibit management contractors from pursuing personal agendas. To ensure this, we need performance clauses with teeth. The performance clause in place during the strike was completely meaningless according to the transit tzar Mark Wall himself. Then why was it even in the contract? Was it a dumbed down version of an earlier contract’s performance clause?

Insist now, that the next transit management contract have binding arbitration, a wage structure, and a meaningful performance clause to serve the public interest and not personal philosophies. Lake County residents deserve it.